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Dragon Age Seafaring Rules

Page history last edited by Michael 2 years, 3 months ago

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     Information and proposals for the use of ships in the Dragon Age RPG. We have a separate page with descriptions and information about vessels.


Magic and Ships




     Wind from this spell becomes the local wind; it does not add or mingle with weather conditions. Wind speed in knots is equal to the caster's Spellpower (or less, if he or she desires). See DA Core Rulebook, pg. 127.




     This spell affects local weather conditions -- out to at least one mile in radius. It does not control the wind, thought it can stir up a wind or calm a storm, it does not control the direction of the wind like Wind-Weaving does. See DA Core Rulebook, pg. 126.


Fire-Fighting and Drinking


     A Spring spell (DA Core Rulebook, pg. 124) produces a number of gallons per minute equal to the mage's Magic, a paltry amount if what you really need is a fire hose. Better-prepared ships will have a large store of water available for bucket-brigades, and bailing buckets, or a water-pump. The Spring spell is useful in providing fresh drinking water, however.


Nautical Terms


Turning, Veering (or wearing) and Tacking


     When a sailing vessel wants to travel somewhere "upwind", there's a limit to how "close to the wind" it can sail -- no (medieval) square-rigged sailing vessel can sail within 60 degrees of the wind, and a caravel or cog would be doing well to sail within 90 degrees of the wind. A fore-and-aft rig (e.g., lateen sails) can get within 45 degrees of the wind -- these historically weren't common in Europe before the Ninth Century AD. We will ignore for the moment various lug sails, settee sails, etc.

     But how to get "upwind", where you destination might be? You sail back and forth, in big zig-zags -- or you wait for better winds. There are two ways to zig-zag.


Veering aka Wearing Ship


     In this maneuver, you turn your ship downwind, and sail around in a big semi-circle so that you are on the "opposite tack".




     Far more stylish than veering, but not all ships or crews can manage it. You use the ship's momentum and turn "into the wind" until you have pointed your bow on the "opposite tack".




     A galley or longship with a trained crew can pivot in place when stopped, or even row backwards. 


Game Mechanics


Focuses, Talents & Specializations


     Existing ability focuses that apply to watercraft are Rowing, Cartography, Crafting, and Navigation.

     Proposed new focuses might be Nautical Lore (under Cunning) and Sailing (under Perception).

     A possible talent: 



CLASSES:  Warrior, Rogue

REQUIREMENT:  You must have Perception 1 or higher, and the Perception (Sailing) focus.

You can control a ship on the high seas.

NOVICE:  You have gained your sea-legs, and know how to handle lines, sails, oars, a tiller or wheel with ease. You can stand a watch at the helm, and know the complex jargon used on large ships, and most sailors' traditions. A vessel under your control, with sufficient trained crew, will make about a knot more speed on average. OTHER MECHANICS HERE.

JOURNEYMAN:  Your time as sea has put you in tune with the ways of wind and water. A vessel under your control with sufficient trained crew, will make about two knots more speed on the average. You know obscure sailors' traditions. OTHER MECHANICS HERE.

MASTER:  You can get the most from your vessel -- with enough crew you can get about three knots more speed on the average. OTHER MECHANICS HERE.

  A proposed talent.


Things these focuses or talents might do:  add 1 hex of movement, or allow a 1 hex side turn ...


    Specializations (if they exist) might include Swashbuckler (piracy and privateering), Seafarer (exploration and long voyages), and ... War Captain? (naval combat).




     Travel aboard ships and boats. Time, hazards, etc. MORE TO COME




     Historical sailing voyages of as little as the distance from Malta to Rome (a bit more than 200 miles) were delayed by days, weeks, or even a season by bad weather or strong contrary winds.


Touching the Bottom


     Vessels have a draft:  the measure of how deep they sit in the water. For galleys and longships, this will rarely change, as they depend on the oars being the correct height above the water surface. Other vessels might sit deeper (if very heavily loaded) or higher (if lightly loaded).

     Boats, pinnaces, cogs and longships can sit on mudflats or beaches while remaining reasonably upright and stable; caravels, carracks and galleys will "heel over" quite a lot if beached or striking bottom, and possibly take on water over their gunwales. Galleys long hulls aren't designed to be supported unevenly -- if their weight isn't evenly supported, their keels will break.


Awkward Ships


     This is a permanent or temporary condition. Cogs, heavily damaged ships, ships with untrained crews, ships with insufficient crews, ships in weather they aren't meant for ...


Crack Ships


     Another permanent or temporary condition. Ships in excellent condition, with well-trained crews having useful Focuses and Talents, have this status.


Fair and Foul Winds


     A fair wind is one that blows more generally towards where you want to go; a foul wind is blowing generally against your preferred course. A trip of days or weeks with foul winds will take "as much as" five times as long as one with fair winds; a simple sailing ship will average, over days, 2 to 2.5 knots with a foul wind.


Sail Type


     We've simplified rigging to two types:  square or lateen (also called "fore and aft"). Square rigged vessels can't sail as close to the wind (see Turning and Handling rules below); large lateen rigged ships are less safe and maneuverable in storms or heavy weather (-2 to any sort of maneuver or "survive the storm" rolls in bad weather).


Travel as a Fleet


     A fleet or convoy travels at the speed of the slowest vessel; and large groups of vessels can't all be "above average" in crew and vessel quality. A fleet of more than four ships should probably travel at the speed of the slowest ship, minus 1 knot. Small craft (i.e., boats) don't affect fleet speed, and just follow along with the fleet at its speed.


Voyage Speed


     Take the base speed in knots of the vessel, and modify it with the numbers in this chart:


Vessel Speed Modifiers

Condition or Effect

Change to Base Speed

Light Galley in Bad Weather


Other Galleys in Bad Weather


Other Ship with Lateen Sails in Bad Weather


Ship with Square Sails, or any Boat, in Bad Weather


Effect of Wind Weaving Spell


Crack Ship


Awkward Ship


Many Rowers have the Constitution (Rowing) Focus

+1 or more

Captain is Novice Mariner


Captain is Journeyman Mariner


Captain is Master Mariner


Heavily Loaded Ship



     "Bad weather" refers to heavy seas, rain, strong winds, etc.; the negative effects of bad weather are reduced 2 knots (not below zero) by the use of Weather Weaving spell. A ship whose speed is reduced to zero knots won't usually drift backwards, but could be in danger of foundering, capsizing, losing sails, masts, rigging, crew overboard, etc.


Michael is presuming here that Weather Weaving doesn't affect the size and direction of waves.


     Focuses may allow a ship to avoid storms, treacherous rocks, doldrums, and other hazards. Magics that would affect Constitution or Rowing might allow a rowed vessel to travel faster or farther.


Example:  the Mistral is a heavy galley, currently an Awkward ship (due to her untrained crew); but her captain is a Master Mariner.

Wind Weaving spells are continuously available. Sailing in "ordinary" weather she proceeds at: 

Base 3 knots, +3 for Wind Weaving, -2 for Awkward ship, +3 for Master Mariner = 7 knots.

From Highever to Kirkwall is about 90 miles, which the Mistral can do in less than 13 hours.




     Blah, blah ... MORE TO COME


Encounter and Battle


     This scale of activity involves combat, actual maneuvering of vessel counters on a hex map, etc.


Time and Distance


     For sea battles, a turn is the same 15 seconds of time as a round in melee combat.

     "Sea battle" hexes are 50 yards across; in general Dragon Age terms the crossbows and longbows can shoot at "long range" into the adjacent hexes, and at "short range" into the same hex; short bows and maybe throwing spears can attack at "long range" against ships in the same hex.


Sea Movement





30 seconds



15 seconds (1 round)



7.5 seconds



5 seconds



Turning and Handling


     Ships have a Turn Rating; divide their current speed in knots by the Turn Rating to give the number of hexes they must sail before making another 60 degree (one hex side) change in direction. Note that ships may sail longer than the this amount if they wish!

     Smaller Turn Ratings are better! Ships with a Turn Rating of zero (0) can turn 120 degrees (two hex sides) after sailing one hex. The following picture shows the tightest turns a ship can make for a given Turn Rating:


blue = Turn Rating 0

green = Turn Rating 1

yellow = Turn Rating 2

red = Turn Rating 3


     Turn Rating 1 is actually pretty common; Turn Rating 2 would be sluggish craft like cogs and other barge-like vessels. Turn Rating 3 would be the huge or Imperial galleys and other massive ships.

     If they are not moving this round, vessels with Turn Rating 0, or longships and galleys with a full crew of trained oarsmen, can pivot "in place" by 3 hex sides. Other ships (if not Awkward), or oared ships missing "a lot" of their rowers, can pivot "in place" by 2 hex side if not moving (they may be using oars, or sails, we're not going to be that detailed). This maneuver includes "tacking" for purposes of these rules.

     Boats (under the size of pinnaces) can freely pivot at any time.

     The ship's crew might be able to make a turn a bit tighter, based on some skill or talent ...

     Moving under sail involves the wind direction.


     A ship can sail at it's full rated speed if the wind is in the "blue" zone; square-sailed ships are at 1 less speed rating in the green and yellow zone. Lateen-rigged ships are still at full speed in the green zone, but at one less speed rating in the yellow zone. None of these ships can sail within 30 degrees of the wind (the red zone), although a more "modern" ship (even by the 19th Century) could get within 22 degrees of the wind.

     A ship which:


  • isn't Awkward

  • is rowing with a reasonably full set of oarsemen and

  • has a useful amount of wind in the "blue zone"


     ... gets a bonus to speed of 1 hex.


"Useful" is waiting on the game mechanics for how fast you can sail with a given breeze.








       Ships, and some boats, can mount nautical versions of siege weapons. Most of these can't do much damage to the hull of a ship, but the ship's crew can be killed, injured or distracted, and equipment -- rigging, yards, oars, the helm, and other armaments -- can be affected.

     Grappling hooks are often carried by strong rowing vessels; and most rowed vessels, if they know they will be in combat that day, will take down their sails, railings, and other things that might allow a grappling hook to snag on (or a flame to catch on).




      A sort of large crossbow. It shoots a large arrow-like one-pound, 40" long bolt with a half-inch diameter shaft and an iron head, or a small rock or a grenade of 3 to 5 pounds weight (any particular ballista shoots either bolts or "chunks", not both). The usual ballista weighs anywhere from 500 to 800 pounds, and will have a four-person crew in combat.

     In King's Tongue, the names are "bolt-thrower" and "rock-thrower".

     They have a range of 125 yards with rocks, balls or grenades (close range 1 hex, long range 3 hexes), or 300 yards with bolts (close range 3 hexes, long range 6 hexes). They are fired once every three rounds. If they are using grenades, there has to be at least one person on the crew with the Poison-Making Talent. These weapons are under the Bows group.

     Sophisticated multi-shot or "self-loading" ballistas have been seen -- the creation and operation of these calls for some odd skills.

     Throwing grenades with a ballista can be very effective -- or very dangerous! They still have to be prepared just before firing, and fired as soon as possible.




     Any of various crew-served heavy weapons -- the largest that can hit a moving ship.  Some are torsion- or tension-powered crossbows; others use a swinging or tilting arm with a "spoon" or container on one end. In any case, they throw a rock, metal ball, grenade(s), or a mass of flaming debris, up to 50 pounds weight. The projectile flies for several seconds, so hitting a particular person is very difficult.  Best fired into a group of enemies, or other "area" targets (such as the quarterdeck); more than one person might be injured by the projectile. Range of 125 yards, and weight 3 to 10 tons. Combat crew is 6 to eight people.

     These usually cannot be fired into a target within the same 50 yard hex (unless it's higher than the catapult); their short range is "one hex away", long range is "two or three hexes away". These weapons are under some group not seen in the DA Core Rulebook ...




     Throws a large rock, or a mass of flaming debris, up to 300 pounds or so. Very heavy, slow to reload, not very long-ranged, and entirely unable to hit a moving target ... they can be carried as cargo, but not fired from the deck of any regular ship. A purpose-built siege barge could carry and use one of these weapons, against a castle or city. Some possible projectiles:


  • stones

  • sharp wooden poles and darts

  • lumps of burning pitch

  • casks of burning tar

  • dead, diseased, or mutilated human or animal bodies or parts

  • dung, or other rotting or putrid matter

  • casks of quicklime


     These devices weight up to 24 tons (including a 6 ton counterweight at that size); the 8 man crew can reload it in half an hour (4 of the men run in two treadwheels). The maximum range is 300 yards (6 hexes); the projectile takes 8 or 10 seconds to reach the target. If a ship were to be hit, the projectile would probably keep going through the ship into the sea! Building a 24 ton trebuchet takes 50 men three months, and costs 15 gold coins in salaries alone.


Nautical Stunts




Damage to Ships


     Igniting things, fire-fighting, running aground, hull damage, capsizing, sinking, dragons and other large beasts, etc . ... MORE TO COME

     In the age of rowed warships, un-needed equipment would be left ashore if possible -- this included the "large sails".







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