Wednesday, March 24, 2010

[My Google Skills are Crap] Sailing Ships

I can't delay any longer on getting the sea exploration adventure together, but I'm still quite unconvinced by the OGL maritime rules out there and wish to do some research on the subject.

Unfortunately, my ability to find anything on Google that doesn't have entries on Wikipedia or videos on Youtube is astonishingly awful.

(and being in Finland, going down to the library is a very iffy proposition for this sort of thing)

I need info on sailing ships from about 1400-1700. Size, minimum crew, speed, cargo capacity, cost, that sort of thing, for merchant ships, warships, exploring ships, etc. Not that I'm going to have realistic!!! stuff in the game/adventure, but I'd like it to have a relationship to reality.

Recommendations for websites or books to buy work well for me.


  1. Though it isn't particularly 'succinct', I dound a blog on the subject that may be of some help—It has a mix of ancient and medieval ships and some information on them.

  2. dound = languages.

  3. If you can find it, Dragon #116 has some great charts for terminology, operating and max crew compliment, dimensions, draft, etc.

    You can pick it out in a crowd by the fact that the cover is a photograph rather than the usual painting.

  4. Some 17-1800's to more modern, but this may be of some use:


  5. I might have Dragon 116 on disc. If I have and you want it, PM me and let me know the best way to get it to you.

  6. I don't have access to my copy right now, but you might want to take a look at _Six Galleons for the King of Spain_ by Carla Rahn Phillips.

  7. Here's another factual link to fill in some blanks...


  8. Ship types and general info

    I have the following pdfs if interested:

    The Duyfken Project: an Age of Discovery ship reconstruction as experimental archaeology
    International Journal of Nautical Archaeology -

    Sources of Productivity Change in Ocean Shipping, 1600-1850 Douglass C. North
    The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 76, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1968), pp. 953-970

    Crew size, ship size, men per ton ship, speed, etc.. in the above article

    Warships and Cargo Ships in Medieval Europe
    Richard W. Unger

    I have some others kicking around as well.



    All I got :)

  10. (rereads comments and notes Allandaros') Whoops, 1400-1700, ok that's a bit more documented and interesting to me. I was thinking an earlier cutoff.

    Erm right, Spanish Armada! Osprey has books on that, down to a book on English volunteer troops that never moved more than a mile from their homes. You may find some transport and sailing notes for the 100 Years War since it was a concern.

    Elizabeth the Golden Age is a very good recent treatment of the Spanish Armada and has great fleet shots. The making of the dualsided ship they built might also be useful.

    If you include galleys, that's more Battle of Lepanto and Byzantine/Venice/Turk stuff.. At some point you get to Nelson type stuff, but I'm really fuzzy on naval battles pre-1700 aside from there being a lot of Dutch involved.

    Finally I'm tempted to add GURPS Swashbucklers, one of their better historical books. And it's on PDF now.

  11. If you want some absurd detail about a mid-1700s ship, you want Boudriot.

    This may or may not be useful; we ended up spending several hundred dollars for the four volume set here at work. However, a good academic-oriented library might have it, and I know for certain that the Seattle library has it.

    There's essentially no better resource for raw information about the construction, manning and operation of a lineship of that era.

    (There was a time when I could have pointed you to my company's site, where we had lots and lots of reference material on ships of the 1720s. However, at some point we appear to have taken all that material down. You might still find something useful on our site though:

  12. I've got Dragon 116. I'll check out that article.

    Keep the suggestions coming, the more reference points the better!

  13. You would be wanting the Almanac...

    Colonial America to 1763
    By Thomas Purvis and Richard Balkin

    available here:

    My local library (built by Andrew Carnegie)used to have a reference copy. They sold it as part of a book auction to raise money.

    I did manage to scan a few pages for my personal library before they did this, and am e-mailing some relevant information concerning shipbuilding, and ships styles, added as jpg attachments. Let me know if I need to send it via postal mail.

  14. Hmm just lost a post so this version will be more abridged...

    Tremendous suggestions above! I can't top them. But, I challenge the paradigm of "Ships from 1400-1700" in three manners.

    1) What sort of sea faring? A> Oceanic B> Mediterranean C> Large Lake D> Rivers Ships were optimized for these varied purposes... For example, ancient greek triremes were perfectly suited for mediterranean ramming battles with ship-to-ship fighting... and generally galleys militarily, can hold many more troops, cargo... But they can't do oceans well.

    2) Secondary consideration is that the dhips towards the end of the periods you mention took account of gunpowder artillery and navigational aids as well as knowledge of winds, etc. Anyway, would ships with or without some of those things really end up being Euro-style?

    3) Lastly: Meta-refereeing, and meta-realifying for a second... Ships in high fanatsy campaigns not only have to contend with storms, dearth of women, scurvy, restless natives, pirates, dearth of women, dearth of women... but also, a shortlist that includes angry gods, seas that end at the underworld, serpents, merfolk, krakens, aboleths, flying dragons, and errant fireballs aimed at sails...

    Anyway, you catch my drift, the challenges are daunting for oceanic travel in high fantasy, I am sure the risk is so high the insurance premiums would make US healthcare look cheap. In all seriousness, I challenge RPG creators to take liberties with how to render it practical at all. Imagine ships that are fireproofed, that always have a merfolk a standard member of the crew (for recon and sea creature diplomacy), and are crusted with metal spikes just in case an aggressive giant squid entangles it...

    Anyway, you catch my drift.

    I don't want to ruin all of the traditional swashbuckling fun, afterall, Pathfinder did okay with the Savage Tide thing. Castles are almost as impractical and we don't pick on them too much. But, just trying to provoke some thought.

  15. "I need info on sailing ships from about 1400-1700. Size, minimum crew, speed, cargo capacity, cost, that sort of thing, for merchant ships, warships, exploring ships, etc."

    I've found that the OD&D Vol-3 rules are almost everything I need. I read a bunch of academic medieval texts, and the truth is the Vol-3 numbers hew very close to realism.

    Crew & speed are in OD&D. Size was added in AD&D. Cargo you'd have to find elsewhere. Realistic cost is almost impossible to document (they weren't sold in cash transactions).

  16. Oh man, I've been writing a nautical campaign setting for my players. I've spent way too much time trawling the internet for this kind of thing. Here's some of the best links from my research folder:

  17. Icelander in the GURPS forums has done great research and conversion of 14-15C ships.
    Its in gurps stats so its pretty crunchy

  18. @Delta: Hence my recommendation of "Six Galleons..." above - it's been a few years, but I am pretty sure that it covers the costs of ship construction.