I'm planning a campaign that will involve a fair amount of ship to ship combat and boarding. My group is accustomed to using a square grid battle mat, and I'm concerned about the mechanics of the PC's and enemies essentially being on separate pieces of moving terrain.

How do I handle the situation when the ships move relative to each other, with regard to character tokens? Will I have to move an entire ship and all of it's tokens?

Are there any effective methods for handling this problem of moving terrain?


2 Answers 2


These are on two different scales. Generally it does not matter where a Player Character is on board a ship in ship to ship combat. Treat each ship as a figure until they are at boarding action, then the exact location matter and change scale. That is, for ship to ship combats have a Sea Map with Ships on it. Once the ships are in contact, change to two ship floor plans for the boarding actions. Normally there is enough time for characters to be prepared and ready so they can place there character where they want them to be at that exact moment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this. The only time tactical scale matters is during boarding maneuvers, at which point the ships will be grappled and be very unlikely to move relative to each other. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 17:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Not necessarily! My Pathfinder group's favorite boarding tactic is to teleport aboard the other vessel while our ship does its best to dodge/evade. Thanks to not splitting the party we've been able to simplify things a bit, but if the DM ever uses our tactics against us we'll need cross-ship tactical scale. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon - You're using cross-ship tactical scale. I don't think it means what you think it means. If you're on two different ships, that's tactical scale (for this discussion). When the ships are fighting, that's strategic scale (again, for this discussion). The two only interact if a tactical scale figure enters the strategic scale, i.e. someone jumps off of a ship. If you teleport from ship to ship, you're just going from one map to the other- not changing scale. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wraith808 We can fly too :) Terminology aside, the point is: Doing ship stuff, then switching to doing character stuff won't work forever in our situation. C. Ross's situation may vary. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon - I think you are splitting hairs really. If you have cut out like you say you move your character from your ship to the Sea Map, fly over to the other cut out arrive on it or around it transfer to the other cut out. Boarding actions (as in the question) where ship meets other ship, only really happen when ships touch and that is only really going to happen when there is no teleporting or flying or when it no longer really matters. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 7:58

Option 1: Reference Speed

This is the quick and dirty approach (and the one I've used most). Effectively, you move the map at the same speed as one of the things on the map. That thing doesn't move, everything else moves around it.

For example, a ship moving north at 30 squares/turn, chasing another ship moving north at 25 squares/turn. The faster ship doesn't move, the slower ship moves five squares south each round.

If an unmoving object is dropped off the boat, it moves south at thirty squares / round.

If you're dealing with two ships moving relative to each other, you'll want the ship pieces to be printed on a separate sheet from the map itself, allowing you to move them (slowly and carefully) with the minis aboard.

This approach has two downsides:

  • If the ships are large relative to the characters, you'll run out of map space quickly. Turning ships becomes quite difficult.

  • If the ships are moving in different directions, figuring out final positions can get tricky.

Option 2: Cutouts

This is the more robust solution. Have maps of each individual ship, with the characters minis on those. These maps can either be a portion of the larger map, or (ideally) something separate that can be placed off to the side.

Your larger map represents the naval battle. Use a larger scale for this one, such that each ship is only one or two squares.

This way, you can have detailed character combats aboard each ship, without bogging down the naval battle. Calculating range from a character in one ship to another is fairly simple: distance from attacker to ship edge + distance between ships + distance from defender to ship edge.

Characters moving through "ship scale" squares round their movement down to the nearest ship-scale square.


  • More setup.

  • Cutouts may consume most of your map space.

Option 3: Simplify

This option questions whether or not you really need full tactical simulation at both scales. Pick a battle that's more interesting/important, and use the map for that. Reduce the other to a handful of rolls that you can intersperse throughout the combat.


The PCs are aboard a ship and plan on boarding their opponent. The game starts out with tactical ship combat.

Once the players board the opposing vessel, the GM determines which combat deserves the map. Generally, this will be the boarding. The less interesting combat is removed from the map, and the more interesting combat takes its place.

The boarding is run tactically as per the rules. For boarding actions that cross from one ship to the other (ranged attacks, teleportation, flight, etc.), make default assumptions about distance and heading to the other ship. Or roll for them.

Summarize the less interesting combat (the naval combat in this case) with die rolls. Make basic assumptions like "it'll take you about three rounds to get out of range" or "spinning around like you usually do, I can generally hit you about once every other round." Playtesting will help with these assumptions.


  • Less detailed.

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