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Naval notes for the Savage Coast

by Kenneth Baggaley

I've been thinking about the naval side of the Savage Coast. The illustrations in the Savage Baronies book shows a galley, complete with oars. I think this is the correct way to go.

Look at the SC geographically. Compare it to real world layouts. Naval commerce is key to the SC. Control of the sea means control. A few points about the ships. On a long coastline like this, most commerce would hug the shore. Long range "oversea" commerce would exist, but be specialized. After all, no sailor takes chances in the open sea when land can be kept in sight.

This makes a strong case for the Galley as Warship and short trader, and a cog-like vessel for longer voyages.

Galleys have very little draft, i.e., they can sail in shallow water. They are most often used in coastal trading. The galley has very little storage capacity. It can manuever in calm weather, and close to shore. It does not require a deep or special harbor, hence it was a favorite of Barbary pirates. Short trades with small cargo amounts would work for galleys. Galleys require rowers, and most merchants don't invest in that kind of manpower. So small galleys would be used for short, light trading, or transporting goods between short stops along a coast.

For medium to large trading, high ended sailing vessels like medieval cogs would be used. These have no oars, are wind powered, and have very few crew. They are at the mercy of the wind, and voyages are less predictable than with galleys. But they can store huge amounts of cargo. They require special harbors, but the profits are probably bigger. Remember, for this period, these are hardly the racing vessels like the Clipper Ships of later history. These are real clunkers, but get the job done because of their tonnage (how much they carry). Sailing them is an art understood by only a select few. The ability to steer by the stars is still developing - again, another reason to hug the land!

For warfare, the galley is the preferred vehicle. First, its manueverability in combat is critical. Second, it doesn't need to store huge amounts of food. Food is carried on fleets of cogs which follow the war galleys. And the warfleet hugs the coast anyway. Third, combat is still a matter of ramming and boarding. Cannon may appear in the front of galleys, but naval gunnery hasn't begun to be understood. Mostly it's point blank firepower (you literally point the galley!) then forward, men! Galleys make much better infantry platforms. Fourth, since most battles are close to shore, rough weather is less of a concern, and quick disembarkations are easier.

Cogs have high sides, good for rough weather and difficult to board. But you can ram one easily, and they're not manueverable. If the wind dies, the ship is yours.

This is why the galley survived as the key warship from 500BC to 1570AD. Only firepower, increased sailing skills, improved ship design and more global-range fighting demands finally did them in.

One other note: galleys require rowers. These can be freemen (volunteers in wartime), debtors, contract labor (we were starving from the bad harvest, so we signed on for 4 years!), prisoners and slaves. Prisoners and slaves are not pleasant subjects for a game, but they are needed for galleys. D&D players have the additional advantages of using monsters, magic or non-human races to assuage any ill feelings (chained Orcs? Teams of Tortles?).

I hope this is food for thought for anyone playing the Savage Coast.

So, how do the Baronies "staff" these many-oared ships? Captives? Debtors? Former Dole campaign staffers? Former Clinton business associates? (sorry.....).

Seriously, the Mediterranean used slave raiding extensively. Crews were usually a composite of types:

Slaves - no rights, no pay, work the oar 'till you die.

Prisoners/Debtors - no rights, no pay, condemned for life or a set term of years (and hope you're lucky enough that someone remembers when your term is up!).

Contract labor - Some rights, some pay (though usually paid by food).The harvest failed, and it's better than starving. One to four years "signing on".

Professionals - Some profession. Rights and pay. Usually worked short-trip merchant galleys. A whole crew could be expensive.

Volunteers - Yes, some did! Full rights, a token pay or none. Usually in time of danger, citizens rushing to the oars (or owing oar service to the lord in charge). Could be very effective. Carried some weak weapon to help with the combat. Very short service, usually until the crisis passed.

As I said, SC could add magic and monsters to the above categories. I have this visual image of 40 galley slaves on the left, one minator on the right, and the captain saying to the drummaster "I'ts no good, we're STILL going around in circles!". Maybe some beasts could be chained to wheels, like giant hamsters, working a complex gear/rowing device. There's a dwarven project for you!

by Bruce Heard

The City States and Ispan baronies other than Vilaverde and Texeiras would be using prisoners/debtors almost exclusively. Vilaverdan ships use volunteers (mostly all adventuring types, rogues, fugitives, and pirates). Texeiras uses some volunteers and many more *paid* professional rowers and contract labor. Hule uses mostly slaves and some prisoners. Tribes from the Orc's Head Peninsula use mostly native warriors (with some slaves who occasionally double up as extra food supply) in their giant war rafts. Other ships (a minority) from other nations should be treated on an individual basis, as need arises.

Gombar and Suma'a Naval Notes