Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Raise the Black Flag: Ship Combat

After looking through a lot of Fate material both old and new, I have come to a few conclusions on how I would like to do Ship Combat in Raise the Black Flag. I will be starting with an already solid combat system that I think will work with a bit of tweaking. I will be using as a basis for ship combat Diaspora's Starship Combat minigame.

The reason is that when it is played it feels a lot like combat is described in Pirate and Age of Sail Stories. And that is what I would like to emulate. So there you go. there are some issues though. Firstly, their are no electrics or sensors or the like, so I will need to swap those out for something else or else remove them from the mini game altogether. Overall though I think that very little of it needs to change in order for ship combat to feel just like I think it should.

The other issue is how to do a ship to land attack. I really would like there t be a way to defend a shoreline fort from a sea vessel in a fun and imaginative way. This is the area I have the least understanding of how to do. I want fort defense to be fun and interesting. I want the players to be able to plan and figure, without having to go into minutiae and their plans must matter mechanically. I want there to be advantages on both sides of the fight. The ships are able to maneuver but the land has better supply or defense or something.

The issue I am having is a way to have defenders be able to make plans and defend without it getting bogged down. I would like to do something like a tower defense in Fate, but I have no real idea on how to do that. Also I would like a way to do a ticking clock that does not feel arbitrary. Maybe the players come up with a defense and that sets a couple of the difficulties and then the rolls will alter the time frame of the attack? I just can't quite get my head around this idea, but I know it has the potential to be amazing.

So any thoughts on how to handle those problems would be greatly appreciated. I have some ideas, but I don't necessarily have the best ones.

Pirate Word of the Day:
Landlubber: A person unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship. A sailor on the first voyage. A person who lives and works on land. The guy you definitely don't want next to you on a sea raid.


  1. Sensors in pirate combat would be handled by ship spotters and the crows nest. It was an exceptionally important role having to call out the manoeuvres of the opposition ships. Instructions needed to be clear concise and up to date. It was a position that was totally necessary on a ship.

    As for the defence land to sea. What phase is your pirate battles in? Gunpowder and cannon phase or is it something earlier or later. From the picture above I could assume cannons but I do not want to assume, do a lot of the thinking and then be wrong, not that it should matter overly much within a Fate structure...

    1. I will be setting it in the equivalent of the golden age of piracy. Think Pirates of the Caribbean. You can check my previous post where I lay out what I am aiming for in this hack.

  2. Ok, cool. I would like to look at what you come up with as I am a swashbuckling fan also.

    Forts used to strike a bit of fear into a pirate's heart as they were in the Caribbean as they were there for two things. 1 Storing gold and 2 cutting down on pirates and "freebooters". Fort's were generally constructed on tactically defensive coves that caused any waterborne vessel through a bottleneck where cannon fire could be concentrated. Each fort also tended to have some lighter, faster ships to attempt to entice pirates to the honeypot.

    So for Fate I would suggest a few scene aspects;

    Sails on the Horizon - the fort always had lookouts for this very thing a sail on the horizon was the easiest time to spot a pirate ship and with a looking glass they were easily detected during the day or at night. The only time it was difficult was at the point where weather was overcast at night where the horizon could not easily be made or in torrential downpours which made sailing hard going anyway...

    Concentrated Fire - Any ship in the bottleneck (or mouth of the cove) was in the perfect position to be blasted to kingdom come. It allowed for quick fire as aiming was not required (already been calibrated) and it just required the cannon crew to focus on black powder, ball, ignite.

    Merciless Defenders - The forts (was almost always Spanish forts) hated pirates. Saw them as the lowest of the low. They would attempt to capture officers only and put pretty much the rest of the crew to the sword or in front of a firing squad.

    For the zones of a fort approach I would split the waterborne portion up to four zones. open water, bottleneck, cove and landing. The assault on the fort if done by foot would be a different scene set up based at the point and would be largely dependent on the damage done to the ship and the fort.

    Just some thoughts off the top of my head.



  3. Yeah, I like the idea of the "timeline" being the approach - for the ship, it's a matter of maneuvering out of range, or around the edge of the battery, or under the cliff before you get pounded to pieces. The Fort could easily have more and heavier guns, and do MUCH more damage - but couldn't be aimed as quickly and precisely (if I remember my Patrick O'Brien correctly.)

    Maybe the fort needs to decide on which zone to focus their guns? Either try to hammer the incoming ship when it's still a ways off, or wait for it to be a lot closer and then open up on it.

    Traditionally, the wind plays a huge part here, as would the current and the tide. A good assault might come in on the rising tide and escape on the outgoing tide; if a fort can change the timing of the attack by pinning down the attackers, the ships might be out of luck. Or the wind might change, and drive the ships into or out of range - or trap them in a harbor.

  4. I've been discussing how to run a space combat that keeps everyone involved in my own blog:

    My current thoughts on the subject are to abstract the mainstay of the combat down to a single roll, modified by the respective strengths of the two sides and any Aspects that are being compelled/invoked and only 'zoom in' on the action when it is a scene involving everyone such as, in your case, boarding actions, storming the fort, etc.