The consensus was: tactical ship movement suffered the flaws of turning the game into a chess/wargame, and that of being between one player (the captain) and the DM – much like the “Crime Pays” game add-on that I have discussed before. D&D is about encounters. They can be social/skilly sort of encounters or they can be combat, but maneuvering ships around a grid is not D&D.
The group combat rules were fine, though. The entire “crew” is turned into a single stat block, and the two crews fight one another while the players have their fight with the bosses. The crew’s hit dice serve in place of hp, and if one crew is much bigger than the other, it gets bonuses to hit and damage. The upshot is that the crew combat happens at pretty much the rate that the player’s fight happens.
The great advantage of this system is that as players whittle down the mooks in their boss fight, you can pull them out of the general crew-on-crew melee. Your crew has 20 HD left, the opposing crew has 24. Pulling out 3 second-level fighters into the player’s melee means shaving 6 HD off the opposing crew. No probs. You could have two of those guys already beaten up on half hp, say, and only take 4 HD off the opposing crew. You can do cinematic things – the boss fight is already in progress, say, with good and bad guys. As the players enter the fray, those guys peel off and join the general melee.
The mass combat integrates nicely with the actual game and avoids, on the one hand, having to manage stats for each of a dozen or more crew; and on the other, having the player’s fight occur in some eerie parallel dimension or bubble that’s unconnected with the more general fight.
The “Book of the Sea” system for mass combat looks like too much work. Way too war-gamey. A “unit” has a number of “faces” – one attack per face. Opening a face is a move action. To move you need to “close” all but one “face”. You can be in skirmish formation, close ranks formation, and so on. Meh. Cool and playable, maybe, but not D&D.
This week I think we two need to look at overland movement. It’s also not as exciting as combat, but I think it helps give a feel for the world having size and scope. Paizo published a set of rules for moving around the island of Smuggler’s Shiv in the “Serpents’ Skull” campaign, and we might be able to re-purpose those. Maybe there was more detail than we want – stuff about making camp and foraging. The islands in this part of the world are mostly civilised – wandering through and making camp in most places will earn you a visit from the local samurai. But it would be cool if it takes two days to bush-bash across an unpopulated island on foot, and a ship can get from one side to the other in four hours. As in “this is why people invented ships in the first place”.
Most of the Paizo modules have minigames with auxiliary rules. It might be nice if Paizo could do some sort of omnibus volume integrating those rules from all of its adventure paths – factions and fame, money and trade. Kingmaker’s rules for city building, and war. It’s the book that the Game Mastery guide should have been, and isn’t.