Maneuvers and Actions

A pirate ship can be as much of a character as the scoundrels crewing it. Whether fighting rival pirates in hand-to-hand combat on the deck of a sailing rig, attacking a merchantman with a hold full of riches to plunder, or sending an entire fleet of ships against an enemy armada, naval combat plays a significant role throughout the campaign.

Battles at sea are handled in one of two ways: personal combat (fighting on board a ship) and ship combat (battle between two or more individual ships). The rules for the latter are detailed on this page.



A typical naval battle is fought between two ships, although more can be involved. Chasing and closing scenes are organized into phases. Each phase in a ship-scale encounter represents 1 hour in the game world. Chasing and closing is the immediate predecessor to naval combat.

Naval combat is organized into rounds and turns. Each round in ship-scale encounters represents six minutes in the game world. During a ship-scale round, each vessel takes a turn. The order is determined at the beginning of the encounter, after the vessels have closed with one another.

Initiative determines the order in which ships act during combat. When combat starts, each side makes a Navigation check. The side with the weather gauge has advantage on this roll. Vessels take their turns each round in order of their initiative, which remains consistent from round to round.

The DM determines the order between any ships that tie their Navigation check for initiative.

Ship Turns

On its turn, a ship’s navigator can maneuver the ship and each crew member can contribute one action. A vessel can produce several crew actions each ship-scale round, so long as it has sufficient remaining crew to meet each action’s crew cost.


During each round of Engaging, each ship must attempt one maneuver, doing so in order of initiative. Some maneuvers have special requirements, provided in their descriptions.

Full Ahead: With this maneuver, a ship tries to increase, reduce, or maintain the distance between it and another ship. The navigator attempts an opposed Intelligence (water vehicles) check. Success allows the vehicle to reduce or increase distance by one-quarter mile, or to maintain distance.

Hard Alee (Hard Aweather): The ship tries a sharp turn, forcing the other ship to react quickly or lose distance. The navigator attempts an opposed Intelligence (water vehicles) check. Success increases distance between the two vessels by one-half mile. A ship must have superior position for it to perform this maneuver. Successful or not, the ships return to neutral position.

Stay the Course: The vessel continues its direction and speed. The maneuver cannot be performed if an enemy ship acted earlier in the same turn and used the Full Ahead or Hard Alee maneuver, unless this vessel chose not to oppose such maneuvers, conceding the result without rolling Intelligence (water vehicles). Using this maneuver requires only half the normal crew actions needed to man the vessel.

Heave To: The ship makes an immediate stop, as immediate as such a vehicle is able to make at its current speed. This maneuver is sometimes used as a feint in battle, particularly to confuse a foe that has lost sight of the vessel. Sometimes it is used to facilitate the rescue of a crew member lost overboard. Reduce the speed of the vessel by 3 mph for this round. If the speed becomes 0, the ship stops. If the ship still has some of its speed, it may return to full speed next round or it may use this maneuver again for another 3 mph reduction.

Ram: The vessel attempts to ram another vessel. The distance between the vessels must be 1/4 mile or less. The ramming ship must have an effective speed of 2 mph or greater.

(requires superior position, move to 0 while having superior position, ram doubles DT for its own resistance?)

Broadside (disadvantage on Navigation check, do reduction by DT)
Shear (requires superior position)
Grapple (bad if other is sinking, uses crew actions, crew actions to remove grapples)

Tricky maneuver, force other ship to react?


Manning the Ship
Manning the Guns
- Crew (partial cover)
- Hull
- Rigging
- Steering
Immediate Crew Actions

Breaking a Grapple

Boarding (and counter-boarding)

Shipboard combat is normally a battle between the “primaries” of the two ships—usually meaning that the PCs fight the enemy ship’s captain and any other major NPCs on the enemy ship in normal combat. Meanwhile, the two ships’ crews are assumed to be fighting each other in the background.

Whoever wins the “primary” combat (either the PCs or the enemy NPCs) wins the entire battle. In other words, a ship’s crew is victorious over an enemy crew if their captain defeats the enemy captain. While a ship’s crew will likely take losses in a battle, it is assumed that enough members of the defeated crew join the victorious crew to replenish any losses. This keeps the PCs from having to play out combat between large numbers of low-level opponents, and from needing to track exactly how many casualties their crew takes in each battle.


Aflame Condition: Fire is an ever-present danger on every wooden ship, but while most ships are not in danger of going up in flames from a dropped torch or lantern, alchemical or magical fires can be much more dangerous. Note that many instantaneous fire spells do not automatically catch a ship on fire, but those that deal fire damage over multiple rounds have a better chance of causing a fire on board a ship (see Magic below).

When a ship takes fire damage (such as from alchemist’s fire, flaming arrows, certain spells, and other effects at the GM’s discretion), it must immediately make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + damage dealt) or catch fire. Unless an attack specifically targets a ship’s means of propulsion (such as sails), it is assumed that such attacks affect the structure of a ship itself.

Once a ship has caught fire, it automatically takes 2d6 points of fire damage per round (ignoring hardness) as the fire spreads. The ship’s crew can attempt to extinguish the flames as a full-round action for the entire crew, allowing the ship to make a Reflex save (DC 15 + the number of rounds the ship has been on fire). A successful saving throw means the fire has been put out. A failed saving throw results in the ship taking the normal 2d6 points of fire damage for the round.

A ship must take the “uncontrolled” action each round that its crew attempts to put out a fire, as they are not sailing the ship at this time.

Those who would like more detailed rules for fires, spreading flames, and fighting fires can use the system presented in the “Catastrophe!” article in Pathfinder Adventure Path #30: The Twice-Damned Prince.

Broken Condition: Ships—and sometimes their means of propulsion—are objects, and like any other object, when they take damage exceeding half their hit points, they gain the broken condition. When a ship gains the broken condition, it takes a – 2 penalty to AC and to the navigator’s Intelligence (water vehicles) checks. If a ship becomes broken, the ship’s maximum speed is halved and the ship can no longer gain superior position until repaired.

Sinking Condition: A ship that is reduced to 0 or fewer hit points gains the sinking condition. A sinking ship cannot move or attack, and it sinks completely 10 rounds after it gains the sinking condition. Each additional hit on a sinking ship that deals more than 25 points of damage reduces the remaining time for it to sink by 1 round. A ship that sinks completely drops to the bottom of the body of water and is considered destroyed. A destroyed ship cannot be repaired—it is so significantly damaged it cannot even be used for scrap material. Magic (such as make whole) can repair a sinking ship if the ship’s hit points are raised above 0, at which point the ship loses the sinking condition. Generally, nonmagical repairs take too long to save a ship from sinking once it begins to go down.

Slowed Condition: If a ship’s rigging is shot away or half its oars sheared off, the vessel becomes less seaworthy. If a ship’s means of propulsion damaged, reduce its speed by 1 mph, to a minimum speed of 0. If the ship is in motion and traveling faster than its new maximum speed, it automatically decelerates to its new maximum speed. A ship can receive this condition multiple times, with cumulative effect.


The fastest and easiest way to repair a ship is with spells. Mending is not powerful enough to meaningfully affect an object as large as a ship, but make whole affects a ship as if it were a construct, repairing 1d6 points of damage per level. In addition, more mundane methods can also be used to repair ships. Because of their specialized construction, ships (as well as oars and sails) usually require the Craft (ships) skill to repair. Depending on the nature of the damage, skills such as Craft (carpentry) or Craft (sails), or even various Profession skills, can be used to repair ships with the GM’s approval. In general, a day’s worth of work by a single person using the appropriate skill to repair a ship requires 10 gp of raw materials and a DC 10 skill check, and repairs 10 points of damage on a success, or 5 hit points on a failure. Fabricate can also be used to create the raw material needed for repairs. New oars can be purchased for 2 gp each (Core Rulebook 159).

Maneuvers and Actions

Heroes of Freeport Randy Randy