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In an upcoming D&D encounter that I am running the party has taken command of a small ship and are trying to sail across the sea to a secret island with a lost treasure (never bean done before).

On their way they are going to get intercepted by a pirate ship. I don't really have any experience with naval encounters and don't know how to run them. What mechanics for naval combat exist in D&D 3.5 and in which books are they in?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I had the same exact problem with my party some time ago. I would definately propose Stormwrack. It has everything you need to run aquatic adventures/and or campaigns inside and outside of the water. This book and Sandstorm are some of the greatest books in my opinion for DND 3.5 because everything in there is set in the theme of the adventure you need in any case (this one for seas, Sandstorm for desert-themed adventures). Give a it a try and I believe you will be really interested. For more information you can also check this forum subject in the Giant of the playground forum. You will see there that also many of the user refer to stormwrack too. Good luck with your adventure!

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While the links you provide are probably great resources, this answer should be more than just a collection of links. What happens if those links stop working in the future? This answer becomes useless. You should include some of your own content, and content from the linked pages as well. It will make this a better and more self-contained answer. Not to mention that as it currently stands, this answer will probably get removed for Low Quality. – Inbar Rose Jan 16 '14 at 9:32
He named a sourcebook that covers seaborne and aquatic campaigns - and contains one forum topic link. This is not just a link-only answer. It would help, though, if the answer expanded on what Stormwrack actually has to offer - what does it have that makes it everything you need? – doppelgreener Jan 16 '14 at 12:48

If you're running 3.5, then the Pathfinder adventure path Skull and Shackles (a pirate themed campaign) has some naval battle rules that you should be able to port in without much in the way of modification.

That said, the rules are a little bit dry and we tended to skip quite a lot of them and go straight to the boarding.

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I'm sure there is a book for adventures. If you will feature many ship-to-ship battles, you probably want to look that up. @Drunken_Guy's suggestion of Stormwrack looks like the way to go.

Some tips if this will be a one-off:

  • How fast are the ships?
  • How maneuverable are they?
  • Now that you know how fast/slow the two ships will maneuver relative to each other, I would recommend either using a bloody huge mat, or leaving the PC ship in the center square and moving the other ship relative to the player's. To make this simple, I would mark the center PC square and let the players move the ship wherever they want/can for their turn, then count the squares between the two ships and move the NPC ship to that new spot relative to the center square and put the PCs back in that center square. This is because if the PC's decide to hoof it, you will be running off of the grid each turn and that gets real old real fast.
  • Are there any large waves/etc that would provide cover for either ship? Sure, if one ship is on the "downhill" side of a large wave, that boat should be able to go a little faster that round but that's too much math for me... but a large wave between the two ships can provide temporary cover/concealment; unless there is a crow's nest in one/both of the ships to overcome this issue.
  • Likely the pirates goal is to raid the ship. To do this, the pirates need to be able to pull up to the side and match speed with the target ship. Then it's a matter of hooking the two ships together (grappling hooks and ropes) and then jumping/roping over. Then it is a simple melee/missile combat.
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-1 not remotely an answer. – mxyzplk Jan 17 '14 at 1:20
Pulsehead, you should know better. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jan 17 '14 at 3:59
wha? Apparently I've broken some unwritten rule that is not apparent to me. Or maybe I ate a stupid pill for the last 2 days... I don't understand the downvotes. – Pulsehead Jan 17 '14 at 14:21

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