Narrative Naval Combat

Combat In and On The Water

Aquatic terrain describes a number of penalties and limitations for characters and creatures fighting in the water. The short summary is simply this: You take a -2 attack penalty and deal half damage unless you're using a piercing melee weapon or a natural weapon that strikes as a piercing weapon. These penalties apply to both aquatic and non-aquatic creatures. However, creatures with a natural swim speed are not subject to these penalties when attacking with natural weapons that deal piercing damage (including bite attacks) or with their tail attacks.

In addition to the natural weapons mentioned in Aquatic terrain, creatures with natural swim speeds are not penalized for the following attacks:

Fire: Nonmagical fire (including alchemist's fire) does not burn underwater. Spells or spell-like effects with the fire descriptor are ineffective underwater unless the caster makes a Spellcraft check (DC 20 + spell level). If the check succeeds, the spell creates a bubble of steam instead of its usual fiery effect, but otherwise the spell works as described.

A supernatural fire effect is ineffective underwater unless its description states otherwise.

The surface of a body of water blocks line of effect for any fire spell. If the caster has made a Spellcraft check to make the fire spell usable underwater, the surface still blocks the spell's line of effect. For example, a fireball cast underwater cannot be targeted at creatures above the surface.

The Arms and Equipment Guide presents a detailed vehicle combat system in which you maneuver vessels on a grid of the appropriate size. However, relatively few D&D encounters depend on precise maneuvers between ships. D&D combat is about melee battles, not vehicle encounters, and the game works best at the scale of individual characters. Most ship-to-ship battles of the D&D world are resolved in one of two ways: by devastating battle magic, or by grappling and boarding.

The best way to keep your D&D game running smoothly during a ship-to-ship encounter is to make any naval battle in which the PCs participate into a boarding action as quickly as you can. Unless the PCs have enough magical firepower at their disposal to destroy a ship before it can close, the fight will come down to a furious melee across blood-slick decks anyway - so the faster you can get to this decisive stage of the encounter, the better.

The rules for naval combat presented here provide a different system for resolving naval combat. Use these rules or the rules described in the Arms and Equipment Guide, whichever you prefer. The narrative rules presented here presume the following: the skill of the characters controlling the ship is the most important factor in the ship's maneuverability; exact maneuvers don't matter, only the range to the other vessel and the heading of each ship; powerful characters or monsters are the most decisive weapons any ship possesses.

Initiative And Advantage

In a narrative combat, you determine initiative normally. However, ships don't move on the turns of specific characters in the initiative order - instead, at the end of each round you will update the ships' positions relative to each other. In effect, you can assume that over a single round the character (or characters) engaged in steering or otherwise controlling a ship perform numerous small tasks and adjustments that have a cumulative effect tallied at the end of the round.

The movement step at the end of the round follows all character actions for the round, and consists of the following steps:

A.Check for advantage, if necessary.
B.Opposing ship declares heading and speed.
C.Advantaged ship declares heading and speed.
D.Ships Move. Adjust the ships' range based on the declared headings.
E.Opposing ship resolves special maneuvers, if any.
F.Advantaged ship resolves special maneuvers, if any.
G.Round ends.

The Advantage

During any naval battle, one vessel or the other possesses the advantage. The advantage might reflect a ship in a superior sailing position (upwind of its foe, for example), a nimble ship that enjoys more room to maneuver in restricted waters, or simply a vessel handled by a more experienced captain.

Determining Advantage: At the beginning of a naval encounter, the commanders of each vessel involved make opposed advantage checks to determine who holds the advantage at the outset of the battle (the captain with the best check modifier wins ties). An advantage check is a Profession (sailor) check, modified by the vessel's shiphandling bonus.

Keeping Advantage: Once advantage has been established, it remains with the winner until one of the following events takes place, at which point a new advantage check is made.

Holding the advantage means that you get to choose your maneuvers in response to your adversary's movements. You are also more effective at closing or opening the range.


Most of the characters on board a ship in a fight are free to act as they choose. They can move about the decks, cast spells, make missile attacks, wait for an opportunity to board, or do whatever they think best during their turn each round. However, some individuals on board a ship must devote some amount of their actions each round toward controlling the ship.

Captain, Master, or Commander: The individual in command of the vessel must use a standard action each round to direct the actions of the crew and observe the enemy's actions. No specific skill check is necessary. If the commander fails to use at least one standard action in the course of the round to direct the ship's movement, he cannot direct the helmsman to change heading or the watch to change speed, or order the ship to perform any special maneuvers. In addition, if he currently holds the advantage, his failure to command means that the opposing captain gains a new advantage check in the movement step at the end of the round (as long as the opposing captain did use a standard action to command).

Helmsman: The individual steering the vessel must use a standard action each round to make course changes as directed by the commander. If the helmsman fails to use a standard action to steer, the ship cannot make heading changes in the movement step following the current round.

Oarsmen: A ship being rowed requires that the oarsmen use full-round actions to man the oars. If the minimum number of rowers necessary do not spend their rounds rowing, the ship's speed falls to zero and it cannot make heading changes in the movement step following the current round.

The Watch: Every vessel has some number of sailors who must spend a standard action each round operating the vessel - keeping the sails in trim and adjusting the rigging. If the minimum number of crew needed on watch do not use standard actions to attend to the ship, the vessel cannot make speed changes in the movement step following the current round.


Your ship's position relative to the enemy vessel has only five significant components: the range between your ships, your heading, your speed, the enemy's heading, and the enemy's speed.


The range between two ships dueling each other at sea is crucially important in determining what spells, weapons, and tactics they can use against each other. Thrown spears or close-range spells pose little threat to enemy crewmen on a ship 500 feet away. Determining just how close you want to get to an enemy ship (and how close you want to let them get to you) is a complicated tactical challenge for any captain.

At the end of each round of combat, update the range based on each ship's heading and speed. Two ships closing on each other at a combined speed of 60 feet per round will naturally reduce the range by 60 feet each round until they collide or pass each other, at which point they'll open the range by 60 feet per round unless one or the other decides to come about.

Opening Range: If you don't know what range to set for the beginning of the battle based on the circumstances of the encounter, you can assume that a typical battle begins at a range of (2d6+2) x 100 feet.


Basically, there are three directions a ship can be facing relative to the enemy vessel: closing, holding, or opening.

Closing: The ship is generally pointed at the enemy and is trying to get closer. Weapons that bear forward can be fired at the enemy. Enemy attacks target the bow of the ship.

Holding: The ship is maintaining its position. It might be drifting in the water or sailing along some course that doesn't really close or open the range, simply maneuvering at a relatively constant distance from the enemy ship. You can choose whether your bow, stern, port side, or starboard side faces the other vessel. Weapons that bear in that direction can fire at the enemy, and enemy attacks target that part of your ship.

Opening: The ship is pointed away from the enemy and is trying to open the range between the two vessels. Weapons that bear aft can fire at the enemy. Enemy attacks target your ship's stern.


You can set your ship's speed at any value up to your ship's maximum speed based on the current conditions.

Oared vessels can assume any speed they like from round to round, limited only by their maximum speed, provided there are sufficient rowers to move the vessel.

Sailing ships do not accelerate or decelerate with the same ease. A sailing vessel can only change its speed by 10 feet per turn (up to its maximum current speed based on the wind and current). It must have a sufficient number of sailors on watch who use actions to help adjust rigging, raise or furl sails, and attend to other such tasks. A sailing ship's maximum speed is based on its movement rate and the strength of the wind and current.

Sprinting: The rowers of an oared vessel can pick up the pace for a quick sprint but risk exhaustion soon afterward. An oared vessel can add +50% to its speed for up to 10 rounds, but after such a sprint the rowers are fatigued and the ship reduced to half speed for as long as the rowers are fatigued.


In the narrative combat system, ship movement is simply a set of declarations at the end of each combat round: Do you want to get closer to the enemy, and which way to you want to be facing?

If you hold the advantage, your opponent must declare his heading first (closing, holding, or opening). You then declare your heading after you have observed your opponent's heading.

After both ships have declared their heading, adjust the current range between ships accordingly:

Narrative Movement
AdvantageOpponent Heading
CloseMinus sumMinus adv. speed+/- difference
HoldMinus 1/2 opp. speedNo changePlus 1/2 opp. speed
Open+/- differencePlus adv. speedPlus sum

Minus Sum: Add the speeds of the two ships together and reduce the range by this much.

Minus Adv. Speed: Reduce the range by the speed of the ship holding the advantage.

+/- Difference: Change the range by the difference in the two ship's speed, as the situation warrants. If the faster ship is closing on a slower ship, reduce the range; if the faster ship is opening on a slower ship, increase the range.

Minus 1/2 Opp. Speed: Reduce the range by 1/2 of the speed of the ship that does not currently hold the advantage.

Plus 1/2 Opp. Speed: Increase the range by 1/2 of the speed of the ship that does not currently hold the advantage.

Plus Adv. Speed: Increase the range by the speed of the ship holding the advantage.

Plus Sum: Add the speeds of the two ships together and increase the range by this much.

It's possible that you can wind up reducing the range to 0 or less. When this happens, the ship with the advantage has the opportunity to attempt a ram, grapple, or shear; see Special Maneuvers, below. If the ship with advantage chooses not to ram, then any negative range indicates that the faster vessel passes the other (an ideal opportunity for grappling and boarding; see below). If the negative distance is larger than the length of the ships, then the active ship is now past the other by the appropriate distance. Whichever ship was previously closing (possibly both) is now opening; if one ship was previously opening when it was overtaken, it is now closing.

For example, two ships begin the round 40 feet apart. Both are closing, one at a speed of 20 feet, the other at a speed of 40 feet. The sum of those speeds is 60 feet, so at the end of the round, the distance has been reduced to -20 feet. If both ships were only 10 feet long, this means the ships have gone past each other by 10 feet, and since both were closing before, both are opening now - they're stern-on to each other and drawing apart. If at least one ship is 20 or more feet long, the ships end that turn alongside each other.

Special Maneuvers

You can order your ship to attempt a special maneuver in the movement step. You can attempt to come about, grapple, escape a grapple, ram, or shear. A ship can attempt only one special maneuver per round.

Come About: You put the helm hard over and try to change your course quickly. Reduce your speed by 10 feet and choose a new heading. If you do not currently hold the advantage, you can attempt a DC 15 Profession (sailor) check to force an immediate advantage check against your opponent.

Grapple: If you have the advantage and close to within 20 feet of your adversary (or have actually gone past your adversary but are still within 20 feet) you can attempt to grapple. If the opposing captain accepts the grapple, the attempt is automatically successful. If the opposing captain does not want to be grappled, you make an opposed Profession (sailor) check modified by your ship's shiphandling bonus. If you equal or beat your opponent's check, the two ships are grappled.

Grappled ships fall to zero speed. During the next movement step, your ships will be adjacent to each other (enthusiastic boarders can try to swing, swim, or jump the gap between the vessels in the round before the ships are adjacent).

Escape a Grapple: You can attempt to free your ship of a grappling ship and get underway again. You must succeed on an opposed Profession (sailor) check against the opposing captain, but the captain attempting to maintain the grapple gains a +4 bonus on her check, and the captain trying to escape takes a -4 penalty on his check. If the escape attempt succeeds, the escaping ship's speed increases by 10 feet, assumes the heading the captain has chosen, and is no longer grappled.

Ram: If you have the advantage and close to within 0 feet of your adversary (or could actually go past your opponent) you can attempt to ram. If your opponent wants to accept the ram, your attempt is automatically successful. Otherwise, you must equal or beat his Profession (sailor) skill check, modified by each ship's shiphandling bonus.

If the ramming attempt is successful, you deal ramming damage as appropriate for your ship and speed. For example, if your ship deals 3d6 points of damage per 10 feet of speed and is traveling at a speed of 30 feet when you strike, you deal 9d6 points of damage. If the ship you ram has an opening heading, reduce the damage you deal and take by 50% (you were overtaking your foe from the rear, and have less relative speed at the moment of collision).

If your ship is equipped with a ram, you take half the damage you deal with your ramming attempt; otherwise you take the same damage you deal. Both ships drop to zero speed and are now grappled.

Shear: If you have the advantage and close to within 10 feet of your adversary (or actually go past your opponent), you can attempt to shear off her oars, if she has any. If your opponent wants to accept the shear, your attempt is automatically successful. If she doesn't, you must equal or beat her Profession (sailor) check, modified by the ships' respective shiphandling bonuses.

If you successfully shear your opponent's oars, her speed is reduced to zero, and she cannot change speed until she puts out new oars, which takes three full rounds. The ship can still change heading, but it is spinning in place and not making any headway.

Ship Versus Monster

When a ship carrying the player characters meets a monster, the easiest way to handle the fight is to simply treat the ship like a stationary piece of terrain. It stands still in the middle of whatever map or diagram of the battlefield you create, and the monster or monsters come to the ship instead of he other way around. This works well if a ship's speed is 10 feet per round or less. Faster ships are a little trickier, since they force swimming monsters to keep moving in order to keep up. However, instead of continually moving or redrawing the ship on your battle mat, try this: Once per round at initiative point 0, move all creatures in the water astern of the ship. For example, if a ship is traveling at 30 feet per round, once per round you'll simply move anything else in the water 30 feet straight back. Usually it's a lot easier to reposition a handful of swimming sahuagin or a giant octopus miniature than it is to try to redraw or reposition the ship and all the characters on board.


The most effective way to bring the fight to your enemy is to get alongside and board his ship. However, circumstances might dictate that you try to defeat him at a distance with magic, artillery, or missile fire. At the very least, your ranged attacks can kill or injure enough of the enemy crew that your ensuing boarding action will be easier than it otherwise would be.

A ship is composed of a number of hull sections and a number of rigging sections. When you attack a ship, you attack a section at a time. A ship section is an inanimate object. Its AC is usually very low, but it has hardness and is also protected by the fact that many weapons and forms of attack deal only partial damage to objects.

Targeting the Ship: If you don't particularly care which section of the ship you hit, you can fire at the ship using its overall AC. A ship's overall AC is normally 2 or 6 points worse than its section AC, depending on the ship's size. If you score a hit, you hit a randomly determined section. Against a large ship, you'll find it difficult to accumulate enough damage in one particular section to hole it, because you'll be scattering your damage over a number of random sections.

Targeting a Section: To target a particular section, you fire at the enemy ship using that section's AC. The ship's section AC is better than its overall AC, but you have the advantage of concentrating your damage on one section at a time, which can hole the enemy vessel more swiftly.

Attack FormDamage
Melee weapon, piercinghalf
Melee weapon, otherfull
Ranged weapon, Small or Mediumnone
Ranged weapon, Largehalf
Siege engine, ballistahalf
Siege engine, otherfull

Ranged Weapons

Most missile weapons are not effective against shipboard sections. You can't shoot through a ship's hull by peppering it with arrows or sling bullets. However, ranged weapons of size large or greater are effective enough to deal half damage to a ship.

Siege Engines

Siege weapons are described in Siege Engines. In general, they're not terribly effective against other vessels; it's hard to score a hit against a moving opponent unless you are armed with ballistae bombards, or other direct-fire weapons. If you want to defeat another ship in a hurry, use powerful magic or ram and board them.

Siege engines cannot be fired if a ship is taking heavy rolls or water over the decks.

Direct Fire: You make ranged attack rolls and fire directly at the entire enemy ship, a specific section, or a specific creature on board, as you choose. If your attack misses, you hit nothing.

Indirect Fire: You make a special check to fire an indirect fire weapon. The DC of the check is 15 + target's AC (overall or section, depending on what you are targeting), +5 if the firing platform is moving, +5 if the target is moving. For most ship-to-ship battles, the DC is 22.

Your check is a d20 roll modified by your base attack bonus, Intelligence modifier, the range increment, and the cumulative bonus for previous shots, as described in Siege Engines. Maneuvers on the part of either the target ship or the firing ship (any change of heading or speed) interrupt the bonus for successive shots at the same target. After any maneuver, you must begin again with no bonus for previous shots.

If the check succeeds, you hit the section you were aiming at (or a randomly determined hull section if you were firing at the overall ship).

If the check fails, you might or might not miss altogether. If you were firing at the overall AC, you miss outright. If you were firing at a specific hull section, you miss that hull section. If your check result wouldn't hit the ship's overall AC, you miss outright. If your check was good enough to hit the ship's overall AC but not the section AC, your shot can still hit. Roll 1d8 to determine the direction of the miss; a 1 falls short (back toward the firing weapon), with 2 through 8 counting clockwise around the target square (a square in the target hull section). Count 1d4 squares away from the target square for every range increment of the attack.


When you attack a ship with magic, you can choose which hull section you will hit. You must be able to see the hull section to target it; for example, you can't attack the bow of a ship that has an opening heading, because it's pointed away from you.

Vessels count as unattended objects, even if they're occupied by someone. They never make saving throws. Magical augmentations on a vehicle can make saving throws, however; their save bonuses are equal to 2 + 1/2 the caster level.

Damaging spells attack all hull sections in the area. Spells with unusual or noteworthy effects in naval combat include the following:

Acid Fog: If you cast this on an enemy ship, the cloud does not move with the ship. However, the solid fog effect reduces the ship's speed to 5 feet per round as long as any part of the ship remains within the fog.

Animate Objects: An animated vessel can't attack characters who are on board, but it otherwise moves as the caster directs.

Animate Rope: Ships have plenty of rope close at hand. You can use this spell to muck around with an enemy ship's rigging, which reduces the enemy vessel's speed by 5 feet for the spell's duration.

Cloudkill: The cloud does not move with the enemy ship, unless the ship is opening at a speed of 10 feet per round (in which case the vapors are moving away from you at the same speed that the enemy ship is moving away from you).

Control Water: The enemy ship cannot move for as long as the spell lasts. The ship must succeed on a seaworthiness check (DC equal to your caster level) or founder.

Control Winds: The area is stationary once created, so it does not move with an enemy ship (although it might very well prevent an enemy ship from moving). The spell does not persist long enough to raise the waves a long-lasting wind raises and therefore does not force the enemy vessel to make a foundering check.

Earthquake: This spell has no effect in open waters.

Evard's Black Tentacles: The tentacles do not attack ships, but they can attack crewmembers on ships that pass within reach.

Fire Seeds: The acorn grenades can start a fire.

Fire Storm: This spell does not start fires.

Fireball: The fireball can start a fire.

Flame Arrow: A flame arrow can start a fire.

Flame Blade: If you attack the ship with the blade, you can start a fire.

Flame Strike: This spell does not start fires.

Flaming Sphere: The sphere can start a fire. If you attempt to direct it to move across open water, you must succeed on a DC 22 Spellcraft check or the sphere is extinguished.

Fog Cloud: The cloud does not move with the enemy ship.

Gate: Ships of Colossal size are too big to pass through the gate created by this spell.

Gust of Wind: You can direct the gust at your own ship to increase your speed, in which case the wind is considered Severe (a x3 modifier to your ship's sailing speed, if the master succeeds on a DC 15 Profession (sailor) check) for the next two movement steps. You can direct the gust at an enemy vessel, creating a headwind it can't sail against for the next two movement steps. The gust does not persist long enough to raise the waves a long-lasting severe wind raises and therefore does not force the enemy vessel to make a foundering check.

Heat Metal: This spell can start a fire in rounds 3-5 of the spell.

Incendiary Cloud: See cloudkill. This spell does not start fires.

Invisibility Sphere: You can cast this spell on a vessel of Huge size or smaller to conceal the vessel and all on board.

Ironwood: Any ship is far too large to be created with this spell.

Lightning Bolt: The bolt can start a fire.

Magic Missile: This spell cannot damage objects.

Meteor Swarm: This spell can start a fire.

Mind Fog: The cloud does not move with the target ship.

Obscuring Mist: The cloud does not move with you.

Otiluke's Freezing Sphere: If you create ice that touches the enemy vessel's hull along at least 50% of its length on one side (or surrounds the ship altogether), its speed falls to zero for the duration of the spell.

Passwall: You hole one section of the enemy ship. The section counts as destroyed (as if destroyed by damage), but when the spell ends it is restored to its normal condition.

Polymorph any Object: Any vessel of Huge size or larger is too big to be affected by this spell.

Prismatic Spray: The energy damage dealt by this spell does not start fires.

Produce Flame: The flames can start a fire.

Pyrotechnics: The smoke cloud does not move with the ship.

Quench: This spell is useful for putting out fires, of course.

Repel Wood: A ship you are standing on is not affected, but any wooden vessel approaching within 60 feet of you is.

Reverse Gravity: A vessel does not fall out of the water unless you can completely enclose it in the spell's area, although people and loose objects on board might fall off the decks. If you can affect a whole vessel, the ship must make a foundering check (DC equal to 10 + 2 per 10 feet it "falls") or founder when it comes back down.

Rusting Grasp: This spell holes one hull section of an iron-hulled vessel.

Scorching Ray: This spell does not start fires.

Shatter: You can't damage a vessel with this spell.

Solid Fog: See acid fog.

Stinking Cloud: See fog cloud.

Storm of Vengeance: The cloud does not move with the target vessel (although a target vessel can require some number of rounds to sail out from under it due to the spell's large area).

Sympathetic Vibration: You attack one section at a time with this spell.

Wall of Fire: This spell does not start fires.

Wall of Force: A ship that runs into a wall of force is reduced to zero speed and takes damage as if it had been in a collision.

Warp Wood: You can't damage a ship with this spell; the area affected is too small.

Attacks on the Crew

Many spells are directed at an enemy crew and affect the rest of the ship as an afterthought. Fireball is perhaps the best example of this - the real point of a fireball is to kill or incapacitate a number of enemy crewmen quickly; if it damages some hull sections and sets the ship on fire, all the better.

On the main deck, the gunwales provide cover (+4 bonus to AC, and 2 bonus on Reflex saves) against attacks originating from outside. Characters inside the sterncastle or forecastle, or fighting through a port, hatch, or window, enjoy improved cover (+8 bonus to AC, and +4 bonus on Reflex saves) against attacks from outside.

Crew Losses: losing able-bodied crewmembers makes it more difficult to handle a ship, depending on their assigned tasks.

Rowers: If an oared vessel falls below the minimum number of rowers needed to man the oars, reduce its rowed speed by one-half. If the vessel falls below half of the minimum number of rowers needed, reduce its speed to 5 feet per round.

Watch: If a sailing ship falls below the minimum number of sailors on watch, its shiphandling modifier is reduced by -4. If the vessel falls below half the minimum number needed, its shiphandling bonus is reduced by -8 and it can no longer change speed. If the ship changes heading, its speed is reduced by 10 feet per heading change - without sailors to adjust the sails and rigging, the ship is no longer sailing in an efficient trim.


Wooden ships are not floating tinderboxes (at least, not until the introduction of powder magazines). Fires can and do destroy ships, but it usually takes more than a single flaming sphere to start an unstoppable fire. When a ship is exposed to an effect that can start a fire (a fire spell of the right type, alchemist's fire, etc.), make a fire check. This is an unmodified d20 roll; the DC is determined as shown below. Spells that cause an instantaneous blast of fire usually don't catch inanimate objects on fire, whereas fire spells that burn for multiple rounds are more likely to start a shipboard fire.

DCFire Check Cause
5Struck by flaming arrow
8Struck by alchemist's fire or firebomb
15Struck by firespout
10+spell level Attacked by ongoing fire spell or effect
Save DCAttacked by monster with a fire aura, breath weapon, or similar fire ability

If the affected ship equals or betters the DC, it is not set on fire by the attack. Ships prepared for battle (sails and lines wet down, buckets of sand and water close at hand) gain a +4 bonus on this check.

When a ship catches fire, half of the squares exposed to the attack (minimum 1 square) ignite. A burning square is on fire, dealing 2d6 points of damage per round to that hull section and dealing the same damage to any character who enters the square. Each round that the fire burns, roll d%: 01-10, 1 square of the fire dies out; 11-75, no change; 76-100, the fire spreads to 1 adjacent square (a fire typically spreads to 1 new square for each 4 squares currently burning).

As a full-round action, a character can attempt to extinguish a fire in an adjacent square by beating it out, stomping it, scattering burning materials, dousing the flames with sand or water, or similar efforts. A DC 10 Strength check extinguishes 1 square; a DC 20 check extinguishes 2 squares. A create water spell extinguishes 1 burning square per 4 gallons created (minimum 1 square). Quench extinguishes all burning squares in its area.

Damage, Sinking, And Repair

Damaging a ship means damaging one or more of its hull sections or rigging sections. A ship can accumulate several different states of damage, as shown below:

Damaged: One hull section is reduced to 50% of its hit points or less. A ship that is damaged loses 5 feet from its base speed.

Severely Damaged: Two or more hull sections are reduced to 50% of their hit points or less. A ship that is severely damaged loses 10 feet from its base speed (this is not cumulative with the speed lost from being damaged).

Holed: One hull section is destroyed (reduced to 0 hit points). When a hull section is destroyed, all hull sections adjacent to that section are weakened, and immediately reduced to 50% of their normal hit points in the following round. This collateral damage can cascade across a ship from round to round and section to section, possibly destroying more sections in succession if they were sufficiently damaged to begin with.

A holed ship is severely damaged (see above), since the destruction of a section and the damage dealt to the neighboring sections meet the criteria for that condition as well.

Each time a ship is holed, it must make a sinking check (see below).

A vessel with at least 25% of its sections destroyed has been demolished, and sinks immediately.

Rigging Damaged: If a section of the ship's rigging is reduced to 50% of its hit points or less, the rigging is damaged. The ship loses 5 feet from its base speed.

If two or more sections of rigging are damaged, the wind is treated as one category lighter than its actual strength; the ship can't capture the wind as well as it should.

Dismasted: If a rigging section is destroyed, the ship is dismasted. Unlike hull damage, rigging damage does not spread to adjacent sections. If the vessel possesses only one mast, it can no longer sail. If it possesses two or three masts, its base sailing speed is reduced by 10 feet (this is not cumulative with the penalty for damaged rigging). A dismasted ship takes a -4 penalty on shiphandling checks if it is missing 1 out of 3 masts, or a -8 penalty if it is missing 1 out of 2 or 2 out of 3 masts.

A sailing ship that has been completely demasted typically becomes a derelict.


When a ship is holed (a hull section destroyed), it is at risk of sinking. Minor damage to the hull can produce leaks and a fair amount of nonthreatening flooding, but a destroyed section represents a mortal threat to a ship.

Each time a ship is holed, the commander must make a sinking check. This is a Profession (sailor) check modified by the ship's seaworthiness rating. The DC is 15, +4 for each hole after the first. For example, the sinking check DC for a ship holed for the third time is 23.

On a successful check, the ship is not in immediate danger of going down. However, the captain must make a new sinking check 1 hour later, and once per hour after that until the damage is repaired or the ship sinks. Some captains deliberately ground their ships in such straits, given the opportunity, or else use the time to launch the lifeboats.

On a failed sinking check, the ship begins to sink (see Sinking and Shipwreck. A ship normally requires d% minutes to sink, but if the ship lost 25% or more of its hull sections, reduce this to 1d6 minutes.


Controlling damage and patching or repairing damaged hull sections is a crucial task on board any ship.

Repairing a Damaged Section: Repairing a damaged section requires a Craft check (carpentry for wooden ships, armorsmithing for metal ships, or sailmaking for rigging) and 1 minute of uninterrupted work. For every point by which the check result exceeds 19, 1 hit point is restored to the damaged section. Only the character leading the repairs on the section makes a skill check; any other people assisting use the aid another action to increase his or her Craft check result. Normally, a crew of three to five carpenters and assistants tackles any minor damage of this sort.

Shoring a Weakened Section: A section that lost hit points due to the destruction of an adjacent section can be shored up. Shoring requires 1 minute of uninterrupted work and a DC 25 Craft check. If successful, half the hit points lost due to the destruction of the adjacent section are repaired. For example, if a ship has 60 hit points per hull section, a weakened section loses 30 hit points when the section next to it is destroyed. A successful shoring effort repairs 15 hit points, restoring it to 45 hit points. From that point on, it must be repaired normally.

Repairing a Destroyed Section: A section that has been destroyed is more difficult to repair, requiring time and money. The cost of the repairs in gold pieces is equal to the number of destroyed sections divided by the total number of sections times half the ship's cost. Each repair crew makes a DC 20 Craft check once per day; on a successful check, the crew repairs 100 gp worth of damage. The crew repairs 200 gp worth of damage if they have access to a dock or small repair shop, or 500 gp worth of damage if the vessel is in a large shipyard.