Have you wanted to run an adventure on the open sea? I’m not talking your general adventure where it will take the party n days to reach Destination B by catamaran. I’m talking storm surges, pirates, and ship-to-ship combat. Sounds fun, right? But maybe you get intimidated by what sorts of mechanics to employ? Well, Captains & Cannons by Drifters Game Workshop has you covered.
Captains and Cannons: A Ship Combat Guide in D&D 5e
Writer: Drifters Game Workshop
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 41 pages
Growing up playing D&D my main DM always shied away from sea adventures and, consequently, so have I. I think people generally stick to what they know. When I ran Goblin Stone’s The Chapel on the Cliffs I was reminded by the very brief water encounter that I’m really unfamiliar with the appropriate mechanics for a convincing water scene. Note: you don’t need extensive naval mechanics knowledge to enjoy Chapel; it just reminded me that it was unexplored territory for me.
At any rate, this supplement will help you hone your skills for ship-to-ship combat, damage and repair, equipment, weapons, upgrades, weather, and more. Let such mundane statements as “okay, your two weeks at sea pass uneventfully” be a thing of the past.
I won’t claim that these are the first rules anyone has ever laid down for ship combat and all that goes along with ship encounters. However, the author’s focus on streamlined rules and mechanics that are in keeping with the spirit of 5th Edition’s “speed and accessibility” is a great asset to this supplement. These rules help make ship encounters more engaging and memorable. But they also help you, as a DM, create an entire session at sea if you want.
Despite what I said about keeping the 5E spirit alive, there is no way around the inevitable crunchiness of the rules for ship encounters. Being able to communicate tedium into engaging writing is truly an art and Drifters Game Workshop has some masterful writing here. I was worried the writing would be encyclopedic and that I would only reference things on an as-needed basis, jumping from here to there. But it was easy to sit and read this supplement straight through.
The production is excellent. The Table of Contents is not only intuitively organized but each entry is hyperlinked for fast access when you’re looking for something specific. The chosen art complements the product instead of taking center stage. And, most importantly, the content is laid out aesthetically that maximizes utility. Great use of chapter headings and sub-headings as well as information boxes and charts/tables too.
As I’ve stated already, these rules are crunchy. They are not unnecessarily burdensome but instead they are thoughtfully meticulous. You will be able to handle large crews with ease as well understand the particulars navigating a sloop or ramming a warship with a galley or even docking for a period of time to repair or upgrade a ship. What form of propulsion does the ship have (wind, oarsmen, magic)? Which types of weapons will be on these ships? Canons? Catapults? Ballista? What are their stats? You’ll find it all here.
Additionally, there are sample encounters such as the tongue-in-cheek title Lizards of the Coast and a nod to Deep Purple with Smoke on the Water. As someone who puts a lot of music references in my writing, I love a good hard rock reference like that. These encounters also have stat blocks and NPCs for your use.
This is the first release from Drifters Game Workshop and I hope it’s not the last. I noticed the product has a 3-star review on DMs Guild but there are no accompanying thoughts or comments with the rating. It is undeserving of that rating. If there are any drawbacks to this supplement it is the most subjective of them all…price and art. $7.99 is a price that some people will consider exorbitant, a notion I still can’t grasp. For the cost of a fast-food meal you can have a supplement that you will access time and time again. The art, for me, was similar enough in style and theme to maintain a cohesive feel throughout.
That being said, this product is not for everyone. If you don’t plan on ship combat then skip this. But if you want to add some flavor to waterborne adventures you should not miss out on this. Go buy it and set sail!