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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ships of the Sea.

In my past few posts I mentioned that I have been working on an RPG called "Shards of Thimbral." This has been kind of an endless project. (You can go back on this blog and look at the  tags if you like that sort of thing.) It's not that I have spent that much time on the project. I have read about people who work on a game for years and years before they are ready to present. What I can say is for all the time I have been kicking the idea of "Shards" around for a couple of years and have shockingly little to show for it.

What I do have to show for it is a notebook with ideas, and sketches of bigger ideas. Part of those ideas has always been a very exploration, discovery based game that give the characters ample room to make their own story.
It started as "Floating islands in the sky" however, it turns out someone already did that and my ideas were way too close to theirs for my comfort.
So I have moved on to actual islands in the sea, which has it's own charms and complications.

One of those complications is this, once I start talking about ships on the sea lobbing cannonballs at each other, I have touched history. Once a designer touches history, even if it's just a glancing blow, then some nod to history should be made. If real history is totally ignored then the  framework of the game becomes surrealist and our boats can be made to look like anything and behave in any way. That's not my intent.  I would like surreal exceptions in a game with a degree of structure.

So with that as a goal now I have to research warships from the age of sail but predating the full on "ship of the Line designs of the 17th to mid 19th century. Not that I don't love  giant ship as much as the next fella, I do! However, in game terms I don't want to keep track of all that fire power. besides French 74's are the gateway drug to every player wanting to pilot their own Mahmudiye or Valmy. I am thinking I will stick to technology dating from  pre-1588 or pre Spanish armada.

Here again  I don't want to hedge myself in. It's the internet's fault mostly. I know very well that whatever setting distinctions I make for the  ships in my fantasy game, there will be some  internet Phd who wrote their thesis on naval tactics circa 1500 who can and will pick the historic details, no matter how tenuous, apart.  What I am not looking to write is a complex tactical ship combat sim. Fist of all this is an RPG and  I'm not in the camp that thinks RPG's benefit from long drawn out simulations. Secondly I don't have enough knowledge on the subject to write a good ship combat sim. Or at least a combat sim that would not get picked over like a dead opossum on the side of the road as soon as I posted it.

So I am left with a design decision.
I very much want to boil the  ship to ship combat down to what is important to me. For me the ship itself is secondary to the  quality and disposition of it's crew. Plainly put you can have a great ship but if the crew is garbage, you're in trouble.

For the ship aspects of my game I'm going to be concentrating on the ships crew, and damage to that crew during battle. My goal is to write a system where the players will honestly lament the death of a key crew member. I want the crew to grow with the ship and with the characters.

To that end:

  • I will start the party off with a ship and  a small crew. 
  • Players will be able to level up crew members as their character level up.
  • Ship maneuvers and firing in combat will be crew based. 
  • Orders will be given by players and the crew will carry the orders out based on the crews experience and skills.
  • The crew will be broken into groups of 5 individuals.
  • The groups will take damage when a ships hull is breached.
  • Crew will get injured and killed in a pretty unforgiving random fashion. Cannonballs shower a deck with  splintered wood, some live, some die there's no reason to it.
  • Bigger ships will require bigger crews.
  • Bigger guns will require whole groups to fire and reset.
  • Bigger crews will require more supplies to support.
My final goal is to write the ship to ship combat portion of the game so that players take the decision to engage another vessel very seriously. They might hesitate because the  cost is not just hull points or rigging, it's NPC's that the  players have grown since they first created their characters. In other words a fight puts at risk a resource the players would find harder to replace than simple timbers.