It’s time for another review! This week we’re taking a look at Captains & Cannons by Drifters Game Workshop. This product presents us with a way to run naval combat in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, using material from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. They aim to streamline naval combat whilst keeping it realistic, and in accordance with the existing 5th Edition combat rules.
Each product I review is given a rating out of five in each of three categories: Design, Writing & Production. Design focuses on mechanics for player and DM supplements, and on the narrative of adventures. Writing focuses on the style of the writing, including how well it has been edited and how comprehensive it is. Production takes into account layout, artwork and the general flow of the document. Also, despite receiving a free copy of this product to review, I’d like to stress that all views are my own, and I’ve not pulled punches where I feel improvements should be made.
This title was published on October 24th 2018, and has already achieved a Silver Best Seller. It’s got two reviews so far which place it at 4 stars. It also already has a great video review from Mr Tarrasque. Essentially, this product gives us new rules based on existing material for running naval combat in D&D 5e. It contains stats for ships and their weapons and potential upgrades. It also has different combat encounters outlined that you could throw straight into your home games, and some environmental challenges (kind like complex traps for ships). All in all, a detailed supplement for combat coming to 42 pages for $7.99.
Part 1 – Ship Combat & Statistics
In the first part of this supplement the author takes a look at what makes a ship a ship. They break this down into several categories which help a ship function in and out of combat such as Armour Classs, Hull Points, Damage Threshold, Crew Members, Weapon Slots, Speed Units etc. Each of these statistics informs the reader of a specific quality of a ship, and allows them to quickly and easily compare and contrast between multiple ships, to see which are designed to do what. All of this is condensed into a table, which could easily be added to by a DM should they wish to expand the supplement. Each statistic is intuitive, and clearly explained so that having read this section, you already get a feel of what the author is aiming for.
The second part of the supplement deals with ship combat. The author breaks down ship combat into two phases; the character phase and the ship phase. This breakdown is well explained and is actually very simple. In the character phase all the characters, including NPCs, take actions. The actions they can take could be the usual ones made by a character (Attack, Dash, Dodge etc.) or, if they are a member of the crew, they make take a Crew Action. The Crew Actions are Sail, Helm, Operate, Command and Ready Action. Each of these has a specific function that should already be clear, but essentially they allow the ship to move and use weapons. One thing I love about this method of handling naval combat is that it allows characters to do all the cool things they’re playing the game for, and more! Spellcasters can still throw spells if they wish, archers can still fire volleys of flaming arrows at incoming pirates, but people who are struggling for something to do, or who fancy firing a cannon, can certainly do so!
During the Ship Phase the Crew Actions resolve. Each ship has a fixed initiative and they act in this order, unless characters have taken actions to change this (such as the Command Ship Action). During this phase the ship moves and attacks. Movement has been simulated to resemble real naval navigation, only allowing for 45* turns, and preventing absolute stops. The attack options vary wildly from firing cannons and ballistae to grappling and ramming. Some of the rules here are taken from the Dungeon Master’s Guide which I love! It means I know the supplement has a solid mechanical base.
The final section of the chapter dives into (excuse the pun) sinking ships and repair. It uses the Hull Points and Hull Dice mechanic in a similar way to Hit Points and Hit Dice, making for an intuitive repair system. Finally, we get some DM advice. This section provides help for DMs running large crews, running ships as single units, and creating crews.
Writing: 5/5 I have yet to notice any spelling or grammatical errors. The writing is clear and concise, but there’s room for a little spice here and there. Because the mechanics are the core of this book so far, the author has done a great job of condensing them and making them easily understandable.
Design: 5/5 The author has masterfully constructed mechanics that whilst being crunchy are also highly intuitive. They have taken material from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and elaborated on it in a way which makes clear sense, and should slip seamlessly into a D&D 5e game.
Production: 4/5 The author has used homebrewery to make sure the layout f the product is on point, and has used sidebars to help divide information. They have used the DMsGuild Art Packs to add a little colour to the publication which works well. This score could only be brought higher through better cropping/presenting of artwork or using custom art.
Part 2 – Challenges & Encounters
Chapter 3 takes us through a whole host of environmental challenges and hazards including weather and terrain. Obviously wind plays a large factor here, and there are several tables to help you determine wind conditions for naval combat scenes. Whilst these are likely to see a lot of use, I’m far more likely as a DM to pick something narratively appropriate rather than roll on the tables. If I want to give an extra challenge to the characters, I’ll drop a dead wind on them, if I think they need help, the wind will certainly be in their favour. Other potential hazards presented include water currents, fog, extreme cold etc. All of these have been given mechanical effects which impact either the ship or the crew itself.
We are then presented with a handful of Environmental Challenges. These read similarly to the Complex Traps from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and I like them a lot. As with the afore mentioned traps, the hazards have active, dynamic and constant elements such as destructive winds, tidal waves and hail. The only thing the author hasn’t made clear are the countermeasures a crew could take to either avoid or escape these hazards. We’re given sizes for each effect, so presumably the crew just need to sail the ship out of the danger zone, but some kind of Skill Challenge would be preferable in my opinion.
Chapter 5 contains brilliantly naval combat encounters including Lizards of the Coast, Back Galley Brawl and Smoke on the Water. Each of these encounters has a recommended level range, a list of equipment on board the ship, a list of crew and a description of tactics and even a statblock for the ship. These encounters are great because they give you an idea of how the author intends the rules to be used. We get this insight through the tactics subheading, which tells us whether ships will pepper the characters with cannonballs or crash right into their side.
Writing: 4/5 All of the mechanical information is well presented and easy to read and understand. My only issue is that the encounters contain perhaps a little too much information. It’s unlikely that the characters will care to explore the backstory of a random encounter captain. I’d rather see those words used to better describe the tactics of the crew.
Design: 4/5 Great design again for the most part. My only request would be a countermeasures section for the Environmental Challenges so that I have a better idea of how my characters can circumvent or overcome the challenges.
Production: 4/5 As before, the layout and artwork are better than the average DMsGuild production, but could still be polished a little to get that 5/5 score.
Part 3 – Upgrades & Equipment
The final pages of the document contain information about potential weapons that can be mounted on ships, which range from cannons to grappling hooks to fire-breathing dragon heads. We also get options for upgrades such as plating and melee weapons like rams. These are all well presented, and draw on information from the Dungeon Master’s Guide to balance damage and other statistics. Each of these weapons can be placed in a ships weapon slots which, for the purposes of realism, are located either at the bow, starboard, stern or port side of the ship. Whilst this does continue to make naval combat more realistic, it requires a little bookkeeping to ensure everything is located and used correctly in combat.
Finally we are presented with an appendix of ship statblocks which are very useful as bases for NPC and PC ships. We also get a few tables of prices for the ships themselves, their equipment and ammunition. These seem well balanced against the existing cost of ships and siege weapons from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook.
Writing: 5/5 Clear and concise descriptions of weapons and upgrades make this section easy to read and run on the fly.
Design: 5/5 The author has based this on the existing rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide which helps to ensure everything is well balanced. By only misgiving is that the placement of weapons might be a little annoying during combat if a situation arises where you are prevented from using weapons thanks to speedy opponents.
Production: 4/5 As before.
Conclusion – 4.5/5
If you and your group are looking for a realistic way to simulate naval combat in your D&D game that adheres to the basic principles of D&D 5e combat then this is certainly the supplement for you! The rules in some areas are perhaps a little clunkier than necessary, but only in the interest of preserving realism. Depending on your group, the bookkeeping aspect of ship management could be a huge appeal, and I think you’d struggle to find a group that wasn’t interested in naval combat in some form. This supplement provides a great base for these kinds of encounters, presents ships and upgrades ready for use, and environmental hazards and combat encounters that you could run at the drop of a (tricorn) hat!