Pirate Ships; Cannons or Casters?


Advice


I'm thinking of running Skulls and Shackles, and as I'm reading through the books it occurs to me that any ship-to-ship combat scenario is entirely made moot by a singular fireball to the sails.

The cheapest cannon available costs 6k gold, not including the price of cannonballs and blackpowder, ontop of requiring 3 mooks to fire the thing. After that, it requires an attack roll with a 5% chance to jam, and no guarantee of damage (6d6, which is quite laughable honestly). Oh, and a range increment of 100ft, which at that point you may as well start getting ready for boarding action.

You could get three cannons and have them fire one after the other, but that's 18k down the drain, 9 mooks, and that much more gold for ammunition.

For 18k a year, or even 6 months if you wanna be generous, you could easily get a cadre of 6 mages to fart out a single fireball each per day, two casts of scorching ray, and three casts of obscuring mist for ship stealth purposes.

So other than flavor, is there any good reason to have cannons rather than wizards?

Silver Crusade

It depends entirely on the GM's choice. If the GM chooses to allow powerful (i.e. level 5+) Wizards as hirelings then go with that. Many GM's (this one included) will rule that such powerful wizards have better things to do with their time then hire out to pirates. It depends entirely upon the feel the GM wants.

If, in your world, one can easily hire a cadre of 6 mages then sure, do that. In my worlds that's simply not an option.

The Exchange

merciful wand of fireball. rake the decks, capture the ship and crew and sell them. having ran this AP, magic wins the day. heck. a water walking monk gets crazy


Opuk0 wrote:
For 18k a year, or even 6 months if you wanna be generous, you could easily get a cadre of 6 mages to fart out a single fireball each per day, two casts of scorching ray, and three casts of obscuring mist for ship stealth purposes.

I'll do you better. A Bard with a Lyre of Building, a Decanter of Endless Water, and an Eversmoking Bottle. Look at the price of ships. It seems absurd that any decent-sized merchant ship doesn't have a complement of all of the above

I guess the way to go with cannon is to have an Alchemist captain a battery of cannon with your mooks reloading them so that 1 is ready each round for the Alchemist to load his Bombs into the projectiles and fire every round.


If you're worried about your players destroying every encounter with fireball, you can just put sorcs/wizards on the enemy ship who can counterspell with their own fireball or a dispel.

Another thing is that Fireball requires line of sight to the area you're targeting while a cannon can be fired without line of sight, so Fog Cloud and Obscuring Mist would work.

If your players are trying to cheese or EZ mode an encounter, just remind them that anything they do can be done back to them :)

Grand Lodge

There is a reason why magic rules golarion and not guns.
But you could hire or play a siege gunner with vital strike and a alchemist to build “special” bullets.
And cannons/other siegeweapons can keep shooting all day, while the wizard runs out of evocations in a minute or two.
As a GM i would let other ships hire wizards too if the PC went too far down that road...

Edit: Sails have 360 hp on af sailing ship. 90 squares of sail with 4 hp. each. (so hp damage over 4 i irrelevant)
To make area damage easier just count the fireballs damage. 80 dm. is equal to 20 squares of sail destroyed and slowing the ship with 20-25%.

To compare. A cannon vital strike with a chained shoot (double damage to sails) is doing 24d6 dm.


Logically, ships and sails and such could be magically treated to not only resist fire (in the case of fireball) but to also be more durable. There's already rulings on magically-treated walls in the Dungeon section. There's no reason that ships can't also be treated similarly. While an expensive prospect, it wouldn't be unheard of, especially since a ship is a large investment. Even buying some unguents of timelessness are not hugely expensive (except for large ships), but you can definitely coat sails (and have spare sails), and exterior parts of the hull. That will increase saves and allow for saves against magic from those parts and objects.

Also, remember that against objects, the fire damage is halved before applying it against the hardness. Also, if magically-treated, the area gets a save, which can halve it further, before applying any resistance to fire and hardness. A cannon, on the other hand, is likely considered a siege weapon and may ignore hardness or ignore the half damage from ranged attacks against objects at the least.

While cloth has no hardness listed, you might consider sailcloth to be heavier stuff, with at least a small bit of hardness to help, but there's no reason a sail couldn't also be made from special materials, like darkleaf cloth (hardness 10, and much higher hit points). An expensive prospect, but an incredible investment, especially if treated with flame resistant coating.


Pizza Lord wrote:
Logically, ships and sails and such could be magically treated to not only resist fire (in the case of fireball) but to also be more durable. There's already rulings on magically-treated walls in the Dungeon section. There's no reason that ships can't also be treated similarly.

It should also be noted that canvas sails are not tissue-paper. They're rather thick and substantial, and were coated with various substances IRL to render them less porous to the wind and to ward off rotting due to withering tropical sun, insects, and salt spray.

Basic element-damage protection would be an integral factor of wooden sailing ship maintenance in a magical world, and the bigger or richer the ship, the more it would likely have.

As well, a sailing low-in-the-water merchantman would represent a rich prize to pirates; the last thing they're going to do is firebomb it if they're of a mind to capture -- until their plans go pear-shaped, of course (probably due to the interference of the PCs).

Pizza Lord wrote:
A cannon, on the other hand, is likely considered a siege weapon and may ignore hardness or ignore the half damage from ranged attacks against objects at the least.

Cannonballs will automatically punch holes in sails, but this would not materially affect ship movement unless a lot of its sails are perforated many times. The most effective use of cannon is via grapeshot massacring deck crews (who are required to operate the sails), chainshot to bring down the masts, or shell-shot to penetrate the hull and then explode, killing gun crews and touching off powder magazines.


The price for spell casting assumes you that you go to the caster and he casts it in the safety and comfort of his own dwelling. At best he may travel a short distance, probably no more than an hour. It does not include putting the spell caster in danger. That is going to multiply the cost by a lot.

The price also assumes that you go to the caster and they cast the spell. This leaves him free to charge other people for his other spells. If he is accompanying you, you probably need to purchase all of his spells every day even if they are not cast. By my estimate a 5th level wizard can make 1,000 gp per day by selling all his spells. This would mean to have a spell caster travel with you costs at least that much.

So assuming the caster is doubling the cost for hazardous duty that would be about 2,000 gp per day per caster. If you hire 5 of them, that works out to about 10,000 per day or 300,000 per month. So to hire 5 5th level caster per day on a pirate ship should be about 3,600,000 gp per year. That also does not include room and board, or the fact that the spell casters may decide they deserve a share of the treasure.


Mysterious Stranger wrote:

The price for spell casting assumes you that you go to the caster and he casts it in the safety and comfort of his own dwelling. At best he may travel a short distance, probably no more than an hour. It does not include putting the spell caster in danger. That is going to multiply the cost by a lot.

The price also assumes that you go to the caster and they cast the spell. This leaves him free to charge other people for his other spells. If he is accompanying you, you probably need to purchase all of his spells every day even if they are not cast. By my estimate a 5th level wizard can make 1,000 gp per day by selling all his spells. This would mean to have a spell caster travel with you costs at least that much.

So assuming the caster is doubling the cost for hazardous duty that would be about 2,000 gp per day per caster. If you hire 5 of them, that works out to about 10,000 per day or 300,000 per month. So to hire 5 5th level caster per day on a pirate ship should be about 3,600,000 gp per year. That also does not include room and board, or the fact that the spell casters may decide they deserve a share of the treasure.

Would your adventurers make that much for traveling on a ship? If not, why not?


It's been a while since I played this AP we got to level 12. Anyways, I think we had fireproof sails on our ship by the time we stopped playing.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

First thing I would say is that the ship-to-ship combat rules in Pathfinder and Scull and Shackles are not great. I'd strongly recommend the Razor Coast Fire as She Bears supplement as an alternative.

Leaving that aside for now, I think you are missing a few things about Pirates. While Pirates may occasionally buy things for their ships, they are usually more interested in stealing them, and the ships themselves of course. If you manage to take a board a ship with cannons, then you don't have to buy them. I suppose you could try enslaving mages as an alternative, but that is somewhat problematic even if the moral issues don't bother that particular band of cut throats.

I also think you underestimate the cost of hiring mages. Yes, their are rates for spell casting services, but those rates generally assume the spell caster is staying home in comfort and safety, not living on a pirate ship.

And as others have mentioned, even with the Pathfinder rules magic is not as impressive in a ship-to-ship battle as you seem to think.

In our group, the focus was always getting in close as quickly as possible and boarding in any event. We didn't want to destroy the other ship, we wanted to take it intact and sell it (or keep it).


Sometimes I imagine I am a videogame designer creating a real-time-strategy using an adaptation of d20 system for mass battles, and looking for a right balance of power between two opposite classes, the gunslingers and the warmages.

Gunpowder is cheaper than magic item, but it can suffer sabotage by means of magic tricks. A little piece of ectoplasm could be enough to block a canon, illusory magic could avoid to point to the right target, worse with a spell as Fog Cloud to get an effect as a smoking grenade.

In a naval ship your worst nightmare could be a stone with a teletransportation rune thrown to your ship and a pack of war dogs appears on you deck, poisonous snakes (that happened in a real battleship against Rome and Carthago, in ceramic jars) (that if you are lucky, your DM could use crazy weresharks) or chemical weapons as poisonous gases.

In my setting the war gods don't like the gunpowder and to punish the firearms in the battlefield they open planar portal from the Walhalla to summon bulletproof petitioner warriors. Then everybody are forced to fight with melee or traditional ranged weapons.

---

In the real History Spanish ships went from America to Europe in convoys to avoid attacks by pirates. The most of attacks by pirates were against little towns on the coast. Once Spanish villagers could avoid a pirate attack sending against them a bull herd with firing horns. You could imagine those beasts were really furious and aggressive. Now imagine in a fantasy world a mind-controller beast-master sending (cheap canon fodder) beasts against squads of musketeers.


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So after reading over everything, it's starting to sound like spellcasters just don't exist on the high seas at all. Maybe I'll make that into a rule, no casters since anyone with 14 int or higher would know piracy is a dead end job.

Should that include alchemist's as they're technically casters?


Opuk0 wrote:

So after reading over everything, it's starting to sound like spellcasters just don't exist on the high seas at all. Maybe I'll make that into a rule, no casters since anyone with 14 int or higher would know piracy is a dead end job.

Should that include alchemist's as they're technically casters?

Aren't there rules that make it harder to cast spells while on a ship: Concentration Checks or something?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

No one is saying there are no casters who are pirates or no casters who aren't engaged in protecting ships from pirates.

They are just saying you can't buy them for a few thousand gold a year.

Also, alchemists are technically not casters, which creates all sorts of problems for alchemists that want to craft magical items.


What I was trying to get at was whether it was more realistic/feasible for a pirate ship to have cannons or mages.

With what everyone's said, the answer is mages don't exist in high seas settings.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Once again, that isn't what anyone has said.

Mages would be present in a high seas encounter about like they would in any other encounter.

For example, if a treasure ship of a kingdom is transporting something of enough value, a powerful spell caster might very well accompany it. A naval ship dedicated to hunting pirates might have a mage as part of the ships company. A mage might choose to become a pirate captain (or crew) for lots of reasons, just like they might choose to adventure in caverns underground.

What they probably wouldn't be is simple hirelings employed for a fairly low amount.

I would say that it would be rare for a ship to have a mage without having cannons etc. unless that mage was a pirate that was just starting out or something similar.

So ships in order of power would most commonly go something like this:

Lowe: Just crew with personal weapons
Medium: Cannons and such
High: Cannons and spellcasters

Obviously there would be exceptions, but that is what I would most commonly expect to see.


Taking the fact that Alkenstar canonically massively limits its exports in order to create artificial scarcity aside for a moment, there's a logistical issue in equipping a fleet with a decent number of level 5+ PC-classed characters per ship compared with acquiring cannons.

A 6000 gp cannon costs 600 gp in raw materials and 6 days for a character with the Gunsmithing feat to make, and that character can be level 1. Outfitting a ship with a complement of 8 cannons (3 per side, 1 fore, 1 aft), would cost 4800 gp in raw materials and take 48 days or about a month and a half if you only had one such person making cannons. Compared with the time it takes to make the ship in the first place, that's not too bad at all.

Training a first level Wizard or Sorcerer can take years initially, and it can be extremely variable how long it would take to level them up to 5th level.

From a player character perspective, the closest you can get to creating a 5th level NPC is combining Downtime's Rooms and Teams subsystem to hire/create/train up a team of Craftspeople (4th level Experts) and then use the Retraining rules to take 12 days and a bunch of gold per member of that team to convert those levels in Expert into levels in whatever PC class you desired.

Though that's more than a little kludgey.


Mages exist on the high seas just like anywhere else. But that does not mean they are cheap. Any mage is probably going to be an officer on a ship, not a crew member. If you are lucky you may be able to convince one to join up, but you are not going to hire 6 of them for a few gold a day.


It's not exactly pertinent perhaps, but this thread is reminding me of an encounter from my last campaign. We were on a ship and were being attacked by a megalodon type of creature. We were only level 7, I think, and the only caster at the time (me, a Hunter) didn't have large damage dealing spells. Mostly utility spells and some buffs. The ship did have cannons, but the meg was too close to the ship to aim them at it. So our fighter picks one up and fires it. Does a big chunk of damage, but the GM makes him do a Reflex save against recoil. He fails and both he and the cannon fall into the water and get swallowed on the meg's turn. Luckily for him, his con save was high enough that he could hold his breath long enough for us to finish killing the meg and pull him out.


Opuk0 wrote:

What I was trying to get at was whether it was more realistic/feasible for a pirate ship to have cannons or mages.

With what everyone's said, the answer is mages don't exist in high seas settings.

No, what people are saying is the economics of finding high level mages to man a pirate ship are not favorable. If you look around for 1-3rd level hirelings you should be able to find a fair amount of them. The higher level you look for, the less you'll find.

And when you start looking at casters they generally wanted to be treated as something special. They aren't 2 silver a day common laborers. They aren't going to be satisfied with 1 share of plunder. Any caster that would be useful enough to replace a cannon would probably want an equal share of all treasure as a party member.

Now if you want to ask if magic items could replace a cannon, the answer is yes. If you need 3 cannons to fire every round, that would be 18k plus the cost of ammo. A wand of fireballs would be 11,250gp for a 5d6, or 12k for a 6d6 fireball wand. A Staff of Fire would be almost 19k and would let you use 5 fireballs at wielder's CL before you empty it of charges. Not quite as reliable as a wand, but free recharging and it scales.

And instead of just hitting the other ship like a cannon, magic items can be used to defend your ship. A wand of Fog Cloud can be a cheap and highly available defense that lets you close with enemy ships.

Focus on using magic items that run in the same price range as the cannons instead of hiring casters to replace the cannon crew. The extra bonus to using magic items instead of cannons is you take the items with you when adventuring on land. So if someone boards you ship while your off plundering, you don't have to worry about enemies using your own cannons against you.


Why not Both?!


Ryan Freire wrote:
Why not Both?!

Because Wizards stupid enough to take that archetype have Int too low to cast spells.


The Siege Mage archetype is in my opinion the worst archetype in the game. I completely overhauled it in the game I run - it functions more like an Arcane Archer, but for Siege Weapons.

Siege Weapons in Pathfinder are unfortunately very hard to be made effective. The amount of actions it takes to load and aim is (while realistic to a point) not worth the small amount of damage you get out of it. 6d6 damage for a 3-round delay? That's an average of 7 damage per round. You're getting more damage from a level 1 bowman with a non-masterwork, non-composite Longbow with the Rapid Shot feat. I'd say once your PC's are level 5 and up, there's little point in them using Siege Weapons as they're written in the book.

For this reason, I tweaked the rules for Siege Weapons in addition to the Siege Mage for my S&S campaign:
-Against objects, Siege Weapons automatically crit, even though objects are normally immune to crits.
-Against creatures, a successful attack roll counts as a critical threat. An attack roll that would have naturally been a critical threat (20 for cannons, 19-20 for ballistae), the confirmation roll receives a +4 bonus.
-To balance this huge increase in damage (a crit from a cannon deals 24d6), Siege Weapons have misfire values, just like firearms. Siege Weapons with simple or mundane firing mechanics like catapults or ballistae have a misfire value of 2. Siege Weapons with more advanced firing mechanics, such as utilizing black powder (cannons) have a misfire value of 5. The Reliable property (lowers a firearm's misfire value) can be added to a Magical Siege Weapon, just like a Firearm. A siege weapon that misfires has its misfire value doubled, and it gains the broken condition. Clearing a siege weapon of a misfire requires 2d10 rounds-worth of Standard actions from its crew. If it misfires again while it has the Broken condition, it explodes, or else is destroyed in a violent display, dealing its crit damage to all creatures within 10' of it.
-A Siege Mage can cast Make Whole as a Full-round action to clear a Siege Weapon he's bonded with of its misfire. In this instance, Make Whole doesn't heal any hp damage from the target.

I've found these changes to make Siege Weapons a viable choice in combat without making them instant battle-enders; having a cannon is a huge advantage, but it has a 25% chance per firing to basically be taken out of the fight. 24d6 is on average 84 damage, which can mean death to both NPC and PC if they're not careful, but that's still only 28 damage per round, and it forces the group to think very tactically, like breaking from combat (sometimes even volunteering attacks of opportunity) to find cover on the enemy's third turn.

Without these changes, I'd say Casters every time, unless the group is level 1-4.


Its a friggin NPC archetype, of course pc's wouldn't take it. Its solid at what it does which is enhance siege weapons with spells.


In long travels you can bet in great ships you will find divine spellcasters, for religious ceremonies, to heal injured or sicks sailors. With the help of the rest of the crew they could do rituals to reload some single-use magic item (scroll, potion, rune, tattoo, talisman) or to block teletransportation when an enemy ship appear.

Usually magic is too expensive to be used by ordinary people, but some rituals could allow special effects by low level characters.

Maybe if the ship is too old then it become a sentient construct, with some magic tricks as repair itself. Or to be the host of some sea spirit/fae, working like a demigod or local idol.

We need a lot of playtesting for warmage vs gunfighters. Today there are new videogames set in the age of pirate but with fantasy elements, and then spellcasters are with or against musketeers. Or maybe the firearms are replaced with crossbows what reload themself with some muscle of biopunk organic technology.


Cannons do damage to the ship.
Spells do damage to the ship.
Pirates want to capture ships, not raise them.
Therefore, it does not matter what does the damage. You don't want to sink the ship. You also need to repair it after you take it.

Cloudkill is better for capture. Get rid of the crew without damaging the ship. Hard to get on a moving ship.

Deeper Darkness on a cloudy day gets you darkness which can really hamper the enemy ship's navigation and aiming.

Wall of Thorns does lots of damage to the crew but not the ship. Add Thorny Entanglement for AoE damage throughout the area even if they don't move. If you are not high enough level for TE, use Garden of Peril.

Wall of Blindness/Deafness is great for a moving ship. Make all the sailor minions blind, and thus unable to do anything useful.

/cevah


Depends on the waters. You're 100% right that pirates didn't use/don't want to use cannons against a ship they attack, instead focussing on entering the ship. They wouldn't even want to kill the crew, because hey, slaves! They might still want to use cannons to defend the pirate ship against military ships, send to protect the merchant ships or to straight out combat pirates.

Although I'd think that ship to ship combat would be vastly different with magic, when a third level Druid could possibly singlehandedly sink a ship using Air Bubble, Touch of the Sea, and Wood Shape.

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