Travel, seafaring, etc. in fantasy games

edited January 2012 in Story Games
So, this is actually a specific request for advice and information relevant to my game, but I figure it might spur a more general discussion around the topic as well.

I'm currently running a TSOY game based on an old D&D campaign. Right now, one PC is trying to sail from one island to another in a small, perhaps 30 or 50-oar galley (a triaconter or penteconter; this is an ancient Mediterranean-flavored setting). This evening I found myself figuring out how many nautical miles it was from one island to the next, and vainly searching the internet for information on the average knots per day of ancient vessels, in order to figure out how many days it would take the PC to complete his journey. I was unable to figure this out. Obviously there are no seafaring rules for TSOY. The question is, am I getting too old-school D&D with this? How can I handle overland and overseas travel in my game without getting bogged down in minutiae, while still making things like... one PC having a particularly fast ship (represented by multiple Secrets) meaningful?

Are there any games or game books that include this kind of information, or good systems for this kind of travel?

More broadly, how do you handle long-distance travel in your fantasy games?

Comments

  • If it's TSOY, why not just treat the vessels as weapons and make the journey into a conflict? Treat the sea as a character if you have to; it fits the genre.
  • Distance and Communication in the Roman Empire, by land and by sea.

    From a link on the website for Travel and Religion in Antiquity, which has various other links relating to travel in the ancient world.

    From Google Books: Travel times in the Roman empire and the limits of vine and olive cultivation.

    That's a start.

    Sea travel is pretty fickle, due to weather, so you can adjust travel times to suit your narrative. If one dude has a faster boat, just make him travel faster.
  • I'd guess about 6 to 10 knots for an all-day long cruising speed depending on wind and currents and weight of the boat. Between islands they could run into strong tidal currents with whirlpools and sheerlines. Headwinds and storms could throw them off course and reduce speed to a crawl.
  • edited January 2012
    Posted By: Marshall BurnsIf it's TSOY, why not just treat the vessels as weapons and make the journey into a conflict? Treat the sea as a character if you have to; it fits the genre.
    This sounds like fun.
  • Actually, I've written some seafaring material for TSoY - don't know if you'd consider it "rules" as such. There's also more stuff on the topic in the preceding chapters.

    The way I handle distances in TSoY when seafaring is, I use distance measurements I'm comfortable with myself, and tell the players a rough ballpark figure of how far something is. ("It's about 300 kilometers over water from here to Inselburg" or whatever.) Then, I use dramatic coordination to determine how long the journey takes. This is a process heuristic:
    • Do I have interesting bangs to present on the way? Then the journey takes long enough for me to narrate them in. In moderation, of course.
    • Does it matter how long the journey takes? Does a player have leverage to influence the matter? If yes, then it's a conflict! If no, you can still have the player make a seafaring ability check just for fun, to see how well they handle their craft.
    • Third and last, think up an amount of time that is in harmony with the above factors but is not outright insane in relation to the distance to be travelled. If your number seems shaky, ad-lib in-fiction reasons for why the journey is faster or slower than one might expect; perhaps the weather causes them to lose days, or there's some disease on the ship, or they happen upon a sea current that helps them along.
    Despite having spent some time fleshing out my Ammeni stuff with galley seafaring material, I find that I never needed to actually know how far it is from point A to point B in exact terms while playing the game, and neither have I needed to know how fast a ship is in absolute terms. It's always been sufficient to say that "it takes a couple of days of travel to reach your destination by sea" or whatever, and I've played some exclusively maritime games with TSoY. When the speed of ships has come up, it's usually been as a flavour element. For example, I might remind the players that ordinately their galley moves at a leisurely walking pace, but now that every man on board knows that it's do or die against the Black ship and its mad captain - why, a galley can get up a surprising acceleration, it dashes along like a wild beast on the last legs as it piles on ramming speed. I find that it's possible to play through entire campaigns with poetic terminology like this, never touching on concrete facts, as long as you have a basic sense of how things work in the world.
  • Hmm...

    Marshall, I think I am going to use something like your idea for hazards like storms and that kind of thing...

    Johnstone and Bryan, thanks for the information.

    I am still having a hard time figuring miles (or nautical miles) per day. The d20 SRD has 72 miles per day for a Viking longship (based on what exactly, I don't know).

    Bryan, your guess of 6-10 knots sounds about right, maybe 3-10 if we include adverse conditions... do you happen to know if ancient galleys typically maintained that kind of speed 24 hours per day (with half the crew resting at a time, say) or whether that kind of speed could only be kept up 8 or 10 hours per day?
  • Posted By: cscordryBryan, your guess of 6-10 knots sounds about right, maybe 3-10 if we include adverse conditions... do you happen to know if ancient galleys typically maintained that kind of speed 24 hours per day (with half the crew resting at a time, say) or whether that kind of speed could only be kept up 8 or 10 hours per day?
    It's not possible to sail a galley at night. You'd crash on the coast or get lost at sea (both real concerns during the day, virtual certainty that either of the two will happen at night). Also, it would be very difficult to carry enough water for the large crew on the galley, as the ratio of crew to cargo space is so much less than on a sailing ship. In practice the ancients would prefer to beach the galley for the night and look for water on land, setting camp to sleep in comfort outside the ship. A galley crew would stay on the ship overnight only when there was no alternative for some reason.

    The above are probably the most important drawbacks of the whole idea of a galley in comparison to a sailing ship. Technically there shouldn't be a reason why a galley design wouldn't outperform a sailing ship in military use far into renaissance if the above logistics were not an issue. After all, you get much higher speeds, better maneuverability at short distances and better weather-resistance with a galley. (If it seems like I've looked into this specifically for TSoY, that is exactly what it is.)
  • Wow, Eero, you have done a ton of work on this stuff...

    Thanks for the link and for sharing your experience.

    This is how I'm thinking I'll handle seafaring, in general.

    1. Estimate distance using my campaign map.
    2. Estimate ship speed (miles per day) (this the part where I'm kind of BSing it) and figure out how long the voyage will take, (e.g. "about 4-6 days").
    3. Have someone (whether PC or NPC) roll Seafaring and adjust the results accordingly.

    For the situation at hand, I want the PC (Prince Tasadar of Samos, who is Adept at Seafaring) to run into a storm. I am thinking I'll stat the storm up as an SGC (really, the only stat it probably needs is Power (V)) so that Tasadar can choose to Bring Down The Pain if necessary. This should be interesting.
  • edited January 2012
    Posted By: cscordryThe question is, am I getting too old-school D&D with this? How can I handle overland and overseas travel in my game without getting bogged down in minutiae, while still making things like... one PC having a particularly fast ship (represented by multiple Secrets) meaningful?
    Set a sailing-scene or more, and frame the content of the scenes to highlight the "Secrets" of the character.

    Let the number of scenes, or the way you frame them, convey how long the voyage is. Don't count days if the time-use is of lesser importance (being in a race, having a deadline, or something).

    Have fun!
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