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Ghosts of Saltmarsh provides both stat blocks and deck plans for the several kinds of ships listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide. The stat blocks include, among other things, ship sizes expressed as "X ft. by Y ft." Deck plans, meanwhile, are presented as maps on a standard grid of 5-foot squares.

However, the deck plans don't all match up with the ship sizes stated in the stat blocks. The sailing ship, in particular, is listed in its stat block as having a size of "100 ft. by 20 ft." But its deck plan clearly shows only 16 squares, or 80 ft., from bow to stern.

It is tempting to try to resolve this discrepancy by supposing that a ship, like a creature, might control a space larger than its actual physical size. (See PHB p. 191.) The typical medium humanoid, after all, isn't 5 ft. wide; it's smaller than the space it controls. However, that supposition is undermined by the galley, which is listed as "130 ft. by 20 ft." and yet measures 27 squares, or 135 ft., from bow to stern. It is difficult to imagine how a ship could be larger than the space it controls -- and so the whole notion that ship size is about controlled space rather than actual size appears to break down.

What, then, is the actual length of a sailing ship? Is it 100 ft. as its stat block states, or 80 ft. as shown in its deck plan, or something else?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not looking for open-ended musing about the sizes of any conceivable sailing ship. I'm asking about a specific stat block with game-mechanical ramifications. \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 6:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ For what it's worth, it is common for creatures to extend outside their controlled space. The most obvious example is a human, whose height typically exceeds 5'. If you prefer a 2D example, the stated wingspans and nose-to-tail lengths of Dragons typically greatly exceed the controlled space of their size category. \$\endgroup\$
    – starchild
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @starchild The invalidity of that theory is addressed in my answer. Of the four ships in GoS, the Sailing Ship is the only where the statistical dimensions don’t match the grid map. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov sure, and I agree. My comment is a response to It is difficult to imagine how a ship could be larger than the space it controls, not the question itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – starchild
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @starchild Your point is fair. I guess it didn't occur to me because the creatures you're talking about -- humans and dragons -- are (for lack of a better word) limb-y, gangly, capable of stretching, squeezing, twisting, etc. A ship is a rigid object with a fixed shape. It's a little counterintuitive. \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 8:05

2 Answers 2

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It appears to be an error. The Sailing Ship should be 80 feet long.

Ghosts of Saltmarsh includes maps for five ships:

  • Galley (130 ft. by 20 ft.) Map grid is 26 x 4, as expected.
  • Keelboat (60 ft. by 20 ft.) Map grid is 12 x 4 as expected.
  • Longship (70 ft. by 20 ft.) Map grid is 14 x 4 as expected.
  • Warship (100 ft. by 20 ft.) Map grid is 20 x 4 as expected.
  • Sailing ship (100 ft. by 20 ft.) Map grid is 16 x 4, not the expected 20 x 4.

The other four ship layouts correspond properly to the dimensions given in their statblocks. This demonstrates at least a reasonable expectation that the statistical dimensions should correspond to the map grids given without giving consideration to "space controlled in combat". It is clear that the discrepancy in the Sailing Ship dimensions is not to be accounted for by saying the ship controls more space than its physical dimensions. It is clearly unintentional.

Further, we see in the Of Ships and the Sea Unearthed Arcana, the Sailing Ship's dimensions are given as 80 ft. x 20 ft, and these are the only dimensions that were changed for publication in Ghosts of Saltmarsh.

So the Sailing Ship is most likely supposed to be 80 ft. by 20 ft. Obviously this is not definitive, but the evidence seems to be pointing toward 80 feet being the correct length.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I double checked the UA-to-official stats, and it looks like the sailing ship was shortened by 20 ft., but none of the others were changed. Also, both the galley and longship are drawn as 5 ft. longer than their stats, but match their stats for deck grid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Journer
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ media.wizards.com/2018/dnd/downloads/UA_ShipsSea.pdf \$\endgroup\$
    – Journer
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I'd like to accept your answer, but can you clarify? In order to call the galley 26 x 4, you'd have to be counting only grid squares where there is occupiable deck surface. From tip of bow to edge of stern, the galley is definitely 27 squares. (I've recounted it about a dozen times now, ugh.) Is that what you're doing? Also, in case it affects your reasoning, there are actually five ships in GoS (not including the rowboat); you've omitted the longship. \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 7:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @screamline The galley is 26 not counting the tiny stick at the front. I’m not seeing a map for the long ship. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 13:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov The longship deck plan is (somewhat confusingly) on the same graphic as the keelboat, bearing the heading "Smaller Ships." \$\endgroup\$
    – screamline
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 13:51
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The length is correct at 100 feet showing 16 squares. What it fails to mention is 20 feet of the length is the Bowsprit; the "Mast" that juts out the front. If you look at ship sites like threedecks.org. They list the ships length but also the length of the "Gun Deck" which would be the 16 squares shown on the map. So when maneuvering the ship it's 100 feet long. At the DM's discretion if you have to maneuver through a 80 foot space side-ways you may loose your bowsprit without damaging the ship's hull.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The other ships appear correct without having to account for a bowsprit, so it would be odd to have to account for it on only this ship. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 10:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would chalk it up to the game designers not doing there due diligence in describing this vessel properly. The warship should have a bowsprit as well making it about 140 - 150 feet long. It comes down to IRL accuracy vs. game mechanichs I learned many decades ago that game designers are more interested in game mechanics than accuracy. I took me years to figure out why a Lucerne "HAMMER" did greater damage against a mounted foe when set like a pole-arm. So game mechanics Sailing Ship 80' IRL War Ship 140' and to be accurate the only difference between the 2 should be if they are armed or not. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 15:49

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