Rules for Airship Combat

Rules for Airship Combat

These have been condensed, altered, and more or less bastardized from the Narrative rules for naval combat found in Stormwrack, pg 25, copyright Wizards of the Coast publishing, 2005, blah blah blah.

Narrative Airship Combat

The Arms and Equipment Guide presents a detailed vehicle combat system in which you maneuver vessels on a grid of the appropriate size. However, relatively few D&D encounters depend on precise maneuvers between ships. D&D combat, especially in the Eberron setting, is about action, melee combat, flying spells, and not vehicles — and the game works best at the scale of individual characters. Most ship-to-ship battles of the D&D world are resolved in one of two ways: by devastating battle magic, or by grapping and boarding.

The best way to keep a D&D game running smoothly during a ship-to-ship encounter is to make any aerial battle in which PCs participate into a boarding action as quickly as you can. Unless the PCs have enough magical firepower at their disposal to destroy a ship before it can close, the fight will come down to a furious melee across blood-slick decks anyway — so the faster you can get to this decisive stage of the encounter the better.

The rules presented for combat here provide a different system for resolving ship to ship combat. The narrative rules presented here presume the following: the skill of the characters controlling the ship is the most important factor in the ship's maneuverability; exact maneuvers don't matter, only the range to the other vessel and the heading of each ship; powerful characters or monsters are the most decisive weapons any ship possesses.

Initiative and Advantage.

In narrative combat, you determine initiative normally. However, ships don't move on the turns of specific characters in the initiative order — instead, at the end of each round you will update the ships' positions relative to each other. In effect, you can assume that over a single round the character (or characters) engaged in steering or otherwise controlling a ships perform numerous small tasks and adjustments that have a cumulative effect tallied at the end of the round. The movement step at the end of the round follows all characters actions for the round, and cosists of the following steps:

A. Check for advantage, if necessary.
B. Opposing ship declares heading and speed.
C. Advantaged ship declares heading and speed.
D. Ships move, adjust the ship's range based on the declared headings.
E. Opposing ship resolves special maneuvers, if any.
F. Advantaged ship resolves special maneuvers, if any.
G. Round Ends.

The Advantage

During any airship battle, one vessel or the other possesses the advantage. The advantage might reflect a ship in a superior position, a nimble ship that enjoys more room to maneuver, or simply a vessel handled by a more experienced captain.

Determining Advantage: At the beginning of an airship encounter, the commanders of each vessel involved make opposed advantage checks to determine who holds the advantage at the outset of battle. An advantage check is a Profession (airship sailor) check, modified by the vessel's shiphandling bonus (if any).

Keeping Advantage: Once advantage has been established, it remains with the winner until one of the following events take place, at which point a new advantage check is made.

-The commander with advantage does not spend a standard action to actively command his vessel
-The vessel with advantage is holed
-The vessel without advantage successfully performs the come about special maneuver.
-The vessel with the advantage fails on an attempt to perform the grapple, ram, or shear special maneuver.

Holding the advantage means that you get to choose your maneuvers in response to your adversary's movements. You are also more effective at closing or opening the range.


Most of the characters on board a ship in a fight are free to act as they choose. They can move about the deck, cast spells, make attacks, wait for an opportunity to board, or do whatever they think best during their turn each round. However, some individuals on board a ship must devote some amount of their actions each round toward controlling the ship.

Captain, Pilot, or Commander: The individual in command of the vessel must use a standard action each round to steer the course, and, if needed, direct the actions of the crew. If the person steering the vessel fails to use a standard action to steer, the ship cannot make heading changes in the movement step following the current round. In addition, if he currently holds the advantage, his failure to command means that the opposing captain gains a new advantage check in the movement step at the end of the round (as long as the opposing captain did use a standard action to command)

The Watch: Every vessel has some number of sailors who must spend a standard action each round operating the vessel. If the minimum number of crew needed on watch do not use a standard actions to attend the ship, the vessel cannot make speed changes in the movement step following the current round.


Your ship's position relative to the enemy vessel has only five signifcant components: the range between your ships, your heading, your speed, the enemy's heading, and the enemy's speed.

The range between the two ships dueling each other mid air is crucially important in determining what spells, weapons, and tactics they can use against each other. Thrown spears or close-range spells pose little threat to enemy crewmen on a ship 500 feet away. Determining just how close you want to get to an enemy ship (and how close you want to let them get to you) is a complicated tactical challenge for any captain. At the end of each round of combat, update the range based on each ship's heading and speed. Two ships closing on each other at a combined speed of 60 feet per round will naturally reduce the range by 60 feet each round will naturally reduce the range by 60 feet each round until they collide or pass each other, at which point they'll open the range by 60 feet per round unless one or the other decides to come about.

Basically, there are three directions a ship can be facing relative to the enemy vessel: closing, holding, or opening.
Closing: The ship is generally pointed at the enemy and is trying to get closer. Weapons that beat forward can be fired at the enemy. Enemy attacks target the bow of the ship.
Holding: The ship is maintaining its position. It might be drifting in the water or sailing along some course that doesn't really close or open the range, simply maneuvering at a relatively constant distance from the enemy ship. You can choose whether your bow, stern, port side, or starboard side faces the other vessel. Weapons that bear in that direction can fired at the enemy, and enemy attacks target that part of your ship.
Opening: The ship is pointed away from the enemy and is trying to open the range between the two vessels. Weapons that bear aft can fire at the enemy. Enemy attacks target your ship's stern.

You can set your ship's speed at any value up to your ship's maximum speed based on the current conditions.

In the narrative combat system, ship movement is simply a set of declarations at the end of each combat round: Do you want to get closer to the enemy, and which way do you want to be facing? If you hold the advantage, your opponent must declare his heading first (closing, holding, or opening). You then declare your heading after you have observed your opponent's heading. After both ships have declared their heading, adjust the current range between ships accordingly:

Advantage Heading Close Hold Open
Close Minus sum Minus adv. speed +/- difference
Hold Minus 1/2 opp. speed No change Plus 1/2 opp. speed
Open +/- difference Plus adv. speed Plus sum

Minus sum: Add the speeds of the two ships together and reduce the range by this much.
Minus Adv. Speed: Reduce the range by the speed of the ship holding the advantage.
+/- Difference: Change the range by the difference in the two ship's speeds, as the situation warrants. If the faster ship is closing on the slower ship, reduce the range; if the faster ship is opening on a slower ship, increase the range.
Minus 1/2 Opp. Speed: Reduce the range by 1/2 of the speed of the ship that does not currently hold the advantage.
Plus 1/2 Opp. Speed: Increase the range by 1/2 of the speed of the ship that does not currently hold the advantage.
Plus Adv. Speed: Increase the range by the speed of the ship holding the advantage.
Plus Sum: Add the speeds of the two ships together and increase the range by that much.

It is possible that you can wind up reducing the range to 0 or less. When this happens, the ship with the advantage has the opportunity to attempt a ram, grapple, or shear; see Special Maneuvers, below. If the ship with advantage chooses not to ram, then any negative range indicates that the faster vessel passes the other (an ideal opportunity for grappling and boarding; see below). If the negative distance is larger than the length of the ships, then the active ship is now past the other by the appropriate distance. Whichever ship was previously closing (possibly both) is now opening; if one ship was previously opening when it was overtaking, it is now closing.

For example, two ships being the round 40 feet apart. Both are closing, one at a speed of 20 feet, the other at a speed of 40 feet. The sum of those speeds is 60 feet, so at the end of the round, the distance has been reduced to -20 feet. if both ships were only 10 feet long, this means that both ships have gone past each other by 10 feet, and since both were closing before, both are opening now — they're stern-on to each other and drawing apart. if at least one ship is 20 or more feet long, the ships end that turn alongside each other.

Special Maneuvers

You can order your ship to attempt a special maneuver in the movement step. You can attempt to come about, grapple, escape a grapple, or ram. A ship can attempt only one special maneuver per round.
Come About: You put the helm hard over and try to change your course quickly. Reduce your speed by 10 feet and choose a new heading. if you do not currently hold the advantage, you can attempt a DC 15 Profession (airship sailor) check to force an immediate advantage check against your opponent.
Grapple: If you have the advantage and close to within 20 feet of your adversary (or have actually gone past your adversary but are still within 20 feet) you can attempt to grapple. If the opposing captain accepts the grapple, the attempt is automatically successful. If the opposing captain does not want to be grappled, you make an opposed Profession (airship sailor) check modified by your ship's shiphandling bonus. if you equal or beat your opponent's check, the two are grappled.
Grappled ships fall to zero speed. During the next movement step, your ships will be adjacent to each other (enthusiastic boarders can try to swing, swim, or jump the gap between the vessels in the round before the ships are adjacent).
Escape a Grapple: You can attempt to free your ship of a grappling ship and get underway again. You must succeed on an opposed Profession (airship sailor) check against the opposing captain, but the captain attempting to maintain the grapple gains a +4 bonus on her check, and the captain trying to escape takes a -4 penalty on his check. If the escape attempt succeeds, the escaping ship's speed increases by 10 feet, assumes the heading the captain has chosen, and is no longer grappled.
Ram: If you have advantage and close to within 0 feet of your adversary you can attempt to ram. If your opponent wants to accept, your attempt is automatically successful. Otherwise, you must equal or beat his Profession (airship sailor) skill check, modified by each ship's shiphandling bonus.
If the ramming attempt is successful, you deal ramming damage as appropraite for your ship and speed. For example, if your ship deals 3d6 points of damage per 10 feet of speed and is travelling a 30 feet when you strike, you deal 9d6 points of damage. If the ship you ram has an opening heaiding, reduce the damage you deal and take by 50% (you were overtaking your foe from the rear, and have less relative speed at the moment of collision).
If your ship is equipped with a ram, you take half the damage you deal with your ramming attempt; otherwise you take the same damage you deal. Both ships drop to zero speed and are now grappled.

Damage, Crashing, and Repair

Damaging a ship means damaging one or more of its hull sections. A ship can accumulate several different states of damage, as shown below:
Damage: One hull section is reduced to 50% of its hit points or less. A ship that is damaged loses 5 feet from its base speed.
Severely Damaged: Two or more hull sections are reduced to 50% of their hit points or less. A ship that is severely damage loses 10 feet from its base speed (not cumulative with the speed lost from being damaged).
Holed: One hull section is destroyed (reduced to 0 hit points). When a hull section is destroyed, all hull sections adjacent to that section are weakened, and immediately reduced to 50% of their normal hit points in the following round. This collateral damage can cascade across a ship from round to round and section to section, possibly destroying more sections in succession if they were sufficiently damaged to begin with.
A holed ship is severely damage (see above), since the destruction of a section and the damage dealt to the neighboring sections meet the criteria for that condition as well. Each time a ship is holed, it must must make a crashing check (see below). An airship that loses its sink amount of hull sections (usually 100%) automatically begins to crash.
Coupling Damaged: If a section of the ship's elemental binding ring is reduced to 50% of its hit points or less, the coupling is damaged. The ship loses 1/2 of its base movement (before other penalties), and the pilot must immediately suppress the elemental (either by spell or via a Wheel of Wind and Water), reducing the speed to 5 feet per round, or the couplings strain under the pressure and shatter in the following round (allowing a round to abandon ship); see below.
Coupling Broken: If the ring is destroyed, the ship's elemental seizes the opportunity and breaks free, usually by exploding through the Khyber dragonshard and bursting forth onto the deck. This explosion usually holes or at least severely damages a ship, as the elemental deals damage equal to 1d10 per HD in an explosion, radius 30 feet, centered on where the dragonshard was housed. The now free elemental either begins attacking in rage, or leaving the derelict ship to is demise.

When a ship is holed, or when it loses all of it's hull sections, it is at direct risk of crashing. The weight of the cargo now outweighs the remaining planks of soarwood, the change in balance has caused the ship to enter a downward spiral, etc — whatever the case, a ship damaged enough to require a crashing check is a mortal risk to the survival of a ship.
Each time a ship is holed, the pilot must make a crashing check. This is a Profession (airship sailor) check modified by the ship's airworthiness rating. The DC is 15, +4 for each hole after the first. On a successful check ,the ship is not in immediate danger of going down. However, the captain must make a new crash check 1 hour later, and once per hour after that until the damage is repaired or the ship crashes. Some captains deliberately ground their vessels during this time, or use the opportunity to collect various goods and grab a nearby Life Ring.
On a failed check, the ship begins to crash. At this point, the pilot can make one last ditch effort Profession (airship sailor) check, the DC now being 10 higher than the one the pilot failed. If this check fails, the ship is plummeting to the ground, and unless the crew wishes to become part of the wreckage, they'd best abandon ship.

Controlling damage and patching or repairing damaged hull sections is a crucial task on board any ship.
Repairing a Damage Section: Repairing a damage section requires a Craft check (carpentry) and 1 minute of uninterrupted work. For every point by which the check result exceeds 19, 1 hit point is restored to the damaged section. Only the character leading the repairs on the section makes a skill check; any other people assisting use the aid another action to increase his or her Craft check result. Normally, a crew of three to five carpenters and assistants tackles any minor damage of this sort.
Shoring a Weakened Section: A section that has lost hit points due to the destruction of an adjacent section can be shored up. Shoring requires 1 minute of uninterrupted work and a DC 25 Craft check. If successful, half the hit points lost due to the destruction of the adjacent hull are repaired. Shoring can only occur once per section, unless fully repaired at some point, and afterwards it must be repaired normally.
Repairing a Destroyed Section: A section that has been destroyed is more difficult to repair, requiring time and money. The cost of repairs in gold pieces is equal to the number of destroyed sections divided by the total number of sections times half the ship's cost. Each repair crew makes a DC 20 Craft check once per day; on a successful check, the crew repairs 100 gp worth of damage. The crew repairs 200 gp worth of damage if they access to a dock or small repair shop, or 500 gp worth of damage if the vessel is in a large shipyard (found only in the Lhazaar Principalities or Zilargo).

How to Read the Statistics Blocks for Airships

Size: The size of the vehicle, using the same size categories as creatures do.
Airworthiness: The ship's overall sturdiness. This modifier is applied to any Profession (airship sailor) checks the captain or master makes in order to avoid rolling over and other hazards that large, well-built vessels avoid more easily than small frail ones. However, nearly all airships are built extra sturdy, to accommodate for the elemental housings.
Shiphandling: The ship's agility and nimbleness. This modifier is applied to Profession (airship sailor) checks the captain or master makes in order to avoid collisions, come about, sail close to the wind, and other situations that small, swift vessels avoid more easily than large and clumsy ones.
Speed: The ship's speed and its nautical maneuverability rating.
Overall AC: The AC of the ship as a whole. Ships of Huge size or larger rarely use this, since an attacker targets a single hulls ection at time when attacking a Huge or larger ship.
Hull Sections: The number of hull sections the ship possesses.
Sink: The number of destroyed hull sections necessary to sink the ship outright. Airships only sink when all hull sections are destroyed (e.g., the ship is destroyed)
Section hp: The number of hit points and the hardness of each hull section.
Section AC: The Armor Class of each hull section
Coupling hp: The number of hit points and the hardness of the elemental struts and ring around the airship.
Ram: The damage dealth by the vehicle per 10 feet of speed it currently possess if it rams another object. For example, a ship with a base ram damage of 3d6 deals 3d6 points of damage if moving at a speed of 10 feet, 6d6 at a speed of 20 feet, 9d6 at a speed of 30 feet, and so on.
Space: The length and width of the area taken up by the ship
Height: The height of ship, top to bottom. Airships also have the height of a fire ring, measured similarly.
Watch: The number of crewmembers necessary to make course changes and generally handle the ship. Usually the watch consists of a pilot, a lookout or two, and a small number of deckhands.
Compliment: The number of crewmembers, passengers, and soldiers who can be carried by the vessel for extended voyaging. For a short voyage (a day or less) a ship might be able to cram two or three times this number of people on board.
Cargo: The capacity of the vehicle's hold, in tons (1 ton = 2,000 pounds). Most ships are slowed to 3/4 normal speed if carrying half this load or more.
Cost: The vehicle's cost in gold pieces.


Wheel of Wind and Water: This ornately carved wooden wheel reembles the helm of a mundane sailing ship, but is mounted at the helm of an elemental galleon or a House Lyrandar airship. By gripping the wheel, a character with the wind's favor ability of the lesser Mark of Storm can telepathically control the elemental bound into the vessel, forcing it to move the vessel as the dragonmark heir desires.
If a wheel of wind and water is mounted on a mundane sailing ship, a character with the wind's favor ability of the lesser mark of storm can create an area of ideal conditions around the vessel, enabling it to sail at a rate of 6 miles per hour.
Strong conjuration; CL 12th; Craft Wondrous Item, control winds, planar binding, creator must have the Mark of the Storm; Price 8,000 gp; Weight 30 lb.