Over the last couple of days, the subject of armed vessels has come up two or three times, and while they are represented in the Campaign Rules, they aren’t well-developed. The larger merchant vessels can have defence points (at extra cost) and we have Military Launches – but none of that has been defined particularly well.
So a quick review of the position. The Stolen Lands game is set on a large river system, dotted with lakes, swamps and marshes. It is a long, but narrow, water system, where the water can be very shallow. Compared to the sea, it is a very restricted system – and suitable for different types of vessel and, perhaps, different types of fighting. The vessels that work the Sellen are much smaller than seagoing vessels, carry less sail and generally have a very shallow draft. While most of them would cope with estuaries and sheltered coastal waters, very few would survive at sea.
Pirates, Monsters and Barbaric Tribes (human or humanoid) are the main risks, the same as at sea, but because the waterway is so narrow the risks are different. In the deep ocean, the tribes and monsters are aquatic, and pirates tend to sail the open seas in large vessels searching for prey. On the River, you are more likely to be attacked from the riverbanks, rather than the seabed. Sure, there are fully aquatic monsters in the river system, but there are many more semi-aquatic threats such as hydra, lizardfolk or crocodiles. River pirates are more likely to launch attacks from the riverbanks in small boats and try to swarm the vessel, rather than to hammer it into submission with siege weapons.
That all leads me to conclude that armed, or defended, vessels are likely to have crews with military training, or a unit of specialist soldiers to defend them, rather than any fancy weaponry such as ballistae or bow-rams.
Let’s get the very small vessels, that can’t be bought with BP, out of the way first. Punts, Skiffs, Dinghies, Row boats, Coracles etc, have a very small range and are normally used very close to home. They are normally crewed by one or two commoners and perform mundane functions within a mile or two of their home base. These vessels can’t be armed or defended, however, the fishermen will defend themselves with their work knives (Treat as Daggers and proficient)
At the Jetty
The first vessels of significance are those found at a Jetty. In the rules you will find Fishing Boats, Shallops and Military Launches that can be purchased and kept at a Jetty, although you might also find the Great Punt at swamp or marsh jetties.
Fishing Boats, or Great Punts in wetland areas, work further away from home and normally have an expert as Skipper, supported by a crew of commoners. They generally act as fishing or local work vessels, but also have a secondary role as small scale local trade vessels. While they can travel up to five hexes, they generally work within a couple of hexes from home. The Skipper is likely to defend themselves with a belaying pin (club) or fishing spear (shortspear), while the crew use their daggers.
Shallops are larger vessels, commonly used for fishing, although many also operate as local trading vessels. While they can travel up to ten hexes, they generally work within four or five of hexes from home. A shallop may well have two experts (skipper and mate) aboard, supported by a couple of commoner fishermen/sailors.
A Military Launch is a similar size to a fishing boat, but normally rowed by a crew of a dozen marines and is dedicated to very local patrol duties. With such a large crew, and powered by oar, the vessel stays close to its home jetty, although it can be sailed (slowly) over longer distances. Marines (in this game) are L3 warriors (soldier/sailors) equipped with light weapons and armour who specialize in water-based combat. Military Launches are not found at commercial jetties, but can be found at Military or Public jetties.
A Patrol Vessel is almost identical to the standard shallop, except that it fitted out for twenty-five marines. The central hold has been converted to a cabin area that can sleep half the complement of marines at any one time, with minimal catering facilities. It can stay away from base overnight, but it is cramped accommodation, and these vessels aren’t generally sent on long missions. Mainly used for local patrols within a couple of hexes of base. Patrol Vessels are not found at commercial jetties, but they can be found at Military jetties.
At a Wharf
There are no specifically military vessels found at a wharf, because the river system doesn’t really allow for naval style warfare, however, any large vessel can be tasked (on a temporary basis) with delivering troop units to specific location. The downside is that you need to get the troops from somewhere – mercenary units work well, or you could transport part of your army.
Most vessels follow the same pattern as the smaller vessels – a Skipper with a mate or two (experts armed with simple weapons) supported by a crew of ordinary sailors Commoners armed with daggers, to provide basic defence. However, these larger vessels are intended for trade and can travel much longer distances. Keelboats are the smallest, but they can navigate the Vallani Canals that connect Feyfalls to Whiterun and enable trade between Tusk and Restov. Wherries and sailing barges are larger and carry more cargo but can’t work between Restov and Tusk.
Armed vessels (Keeler, Wherry, Barge) have larger, enhanced crews of about a dozen. The normal crew are trained in arms and combat techniques, the numbers are rounded out by marines, and the Skipper has a level of Aristocrat. Overall, they count as an Auxiliary Unit, if they ever get involved in the mass combat system.
A secure barge follows the same pattern for their crew, but also has a unit of marines aboard. If they become involved in the Mass Combat rules, they count as one Auxiliary and one Light Foot unit.