KoW naval battles

when i created my “pirates of the havens” setting, the writing bug grabbed my brain tight and wouldn’t let go until i’d also written a set of very work in progress rules ideas for naval battles. inspired in part by the Siege rules for castles, since in many ways ancient naval warfare has a lot in common with siege warfare, only with the ‘castles’ able to move to varying degrees.

these rules are very preliminary, and probably need a lot of work. especially since i only recently started the game myself so there are probably rules interactions i’ve overlooked.

there are a number of resin, plastic, and MDF kits making various pre-modern ships that could be adapted to use with these, and it would not be hard to scratch build some ships from foam or card either. so i haven’t ironed out things like sizes yet. (i have a zip file with some templates for a scratch built “pirate ship” if anyone wants it)

Kings of War: Naval Combat

(Notes and Ideas)

Naval combat in pre-modern historical settings is very different from more modern naval combat. Even with the advent of gunpower and cannon, the most effective method of combat is simple. Maneuver alongside your enemy’s ship, and send troops across to kill the enemy troops and crew. Archers, Muskets, Ballistae, Cannons, and other such weapons are usually just a means by which you soften up the enemy defenders before sending over your boarding parties. Fantasy settings like Kings of War have a wide range of ship types available to them, with many anachronistic mixes possible, as well as many fantastical elements such as Monsters and magic. But the basic truism about the nature of naval combat would remain.

My basic assumption is that rules for naval battle should be an adjunct to the standard Kings of War rules, where you can use your army as troops aboard ships. As such, the rules should allow the ships to actually hold the army models on their bases. Similar concept as the Siege rules, in many ways. This means the ships will be in the 25 to 32mm scale of the standard game, and will likely place larger vessels as well over a foot long.

Ships effectively act as mobile fortresses. Each vessel will have their own stats in terms of movement, defense, and Nerve, as well as special ability rules governing specific aspects of their movement. In addition, each ship will have a unit capacity listing, representing the maximum size of unit or units it can carry. When drawing up these notes I worked on the assumption that the ships would be modeled with large enough open spaces on deck to place multi-based models, for visual effect. (if they were not actually on deck, and just marked on a card or roster sheet, might as well just make an all new game in a different scale.)

Most normal units cannot attack a ship directly, as they cannot hurt it. Only those units with Crushing Strength , Blast , and Breath Weapon may damage a ship directly. Aside from those limitations, attacks against ships are resolved as normal. A ship’s nerve value represents its crew’s will to continue to perform their jobs in adjusting the rigging, row, performing damage control, and so on. A crew that Wavers will be unable to make the adjustments that allow a ship to maneuver. One that Routs will leave a ship dead in the water. This is the only change from the standard Nerve test for a Ship. On a Rout, rather than the ship being removed from the board, it is marked as Disabled and remains where it was when it routed, as an immobile platform for any troops aboard. Disabled ships could end up as major navigational hazards later in the game if enough of a fleet is taken out. (Historically naval vessels were very difficult to destroy in combat, and even In the late gunpowder age it was far more common for a ship to be disabled than destroyed.

Ship movement: Ships have a set movement, and use the standard rules, with the following additions.

Ships may only remain on terrain designated as water terrain. In most naval battles this will be the majority of the flat surface of the map.
Only Ships with Rowers may move “ At the double ” or “ Charge

Ships may not interpenetrate while moving.

Ships treat all Hills as Impassable Terrain. (basically, they may not change elevations.) Hills are typically employed to represent small islands or other areas of land projecting out of the seas.

When setting up the board for the game, the players or campaign master should declare a wind direction, coming from one of the edges of the board. Wind Direction will effect certain types of ship movement.

Ships have two types of movement abilities. Sail and Rowers .

Rowers indicates the ship uses banks of oars for its movement. Ships with rowers may make “At the double’ moves, allowing it to cover extra distance, and may treat a “Ram” as a “Charge” for the purposes of movement distance.

Sail indicates the ship is using masts and rigging for motive power. When moving ‘with the wind’
(away from the board edge the wind is coming from) ships with Sail movement active receive +1D6 inches of movement distance, rolled before the ship begins its movement.

(All ships meant for use outside a harbor will typically have a sail which provides their main propulsion, however on rowed ships this sail, and sometimes the entire mast, will be taken down prior to combat and during battle they rely entirely on the rowers. Those ships without rowers will continue to rely on the sail even in battle.)

New movement orders:

Ramming: If a ship is close enough to end its movement in contact with another ship, the player can declare a Ram and move their ship into contact with the opposing ship. The rammed vessel takes [damage to be determined], and the ramming ship is rotated to be side by side in contact with the rammed ship. A Ram can occur without declaration of a charge. After a ram the ships are Locked in Combat .

Docking: If a ship is close enough to end its movement in contact with a friendly ship, it can declare a docking. The ships are moved to be side by side, but are not locked in combat.

Boarding Combat: any troops that are aboard ships that are locked in combat can now engage each other. Combat occurs as normal, with the exception of unit facing and Flanking.

Aboard a ship, combat orientation is centered on the side of the ships, not the front and back. A unit aboard ship will automatically redeploy to face an enemy ship. Thus the ‘front’ of the unit aboard is the side of the ship in contact with the first enemy ship. If a second enemy ship comes in contact with the opposite side, that ship will be flanking and receive double the attacks.

Only one unit may fight per side. If a ship has more than one unit aboard, and a 2nd enemy ship becomes locked in combat on its opposite side, the 2nd onboard unit may orient towards the new enemy.

Breaking combat: Should any onboard unit waver or rout, the attacking vessel must make a nerve test to remain locked in combat. On success the ships remain Locked in Combat. On failure the ships are separated to one inch apart and may move normally on the next turn.

Ranged Combat: Onboard units with ranged attacks may use those attacks to attack enemy units (or ships, if possible) within their range. The unit must declare which side of the ship they will be firing from to determine firing arc. However Units aboard a Ship count as in cover for ranged combat.

Disembarking and transfer between ships: A ship which has moved into contact with non-water terrain (usually an island or the shore), or while docked with a friendly ship, can transfer one of the embarked units aboard it. This takes a full turn, and the unit cannot engage in any other action during this time. If disembarking onto shore, place the unit onto the non-water terrain in base contact with the ship.

Monsters: All Units of the [Mon] or Hero[Mon] are treated being Aquatic, and thus do not require a Ship and can travel directly on the sea, otherwise treat their movement as normal.

(issue: by all rights Naiad’s and the entire Trident Realms faction should have Aquatic, making them the only faction that does not require ships. This may be difficult to balance however.)

Ship types: The ship types on this list are generic. Although they have been named after types of vessels from history, their exact appearance and design is up to the player. Depending on faction, these may not even appear to be traditional ships, and may take the appearance of rafts, magical platforms, or even large animals.

Troop capacity: The ships below have a troop capacity, expressed as a numerical value. This value governs the size of the unit or units that can be carried. A Troop or Warmachine requires 1 capacity, a regiment 2, a horde 4, and a legion 6. regardless of the Capacity, all ships may carry as well a single Hero.

Sail Ships:
Cutter – 7 inch move, Capacity 1.
Sloop – 7 inch move, Capacity 2.
Barque – 5 inch move, Capacity 4.
Corvette – 5 inch move, Capacity 6.

Rowed ships: May choose to add a Ram prow for +[Points], which adds +[attacks] to a Ram.
Launch – 5 inch move, Capacity 1.
Courser – 5 inch move, Capacity 2.
Penteconter – 4 inch move, Capacity 4.
Dromon – 4 inch move, Capacity 6.

Faction specific ships: (ideas. These would be specific ship types available only to that faction or related factions. which would have either their own weapons built in, or just some special rules/stats different from the standard types.)
Dwarven Windjammer
Rhordian Ironclad
Basilean Fortress Ship
Goblin Turtleship


There are also a lot of 3D printable ships (including flying ones) out there if you have a friend that can print. Here are two I recommend.


you have a lot of good ideas there. I might “borrow” some for the ruleset I have been working on if you don’t mind. here’s the ruleset and you are welcome to use anything out of it you find useful. (it is a part of a campaign system I have been working on for some time so ignore anything that does not seem to link up)

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haven’t given it a in depth read, but looks a little more complex than i was aiming for. different perspectives, obviously. certainly looks less complex than GW’s rules for ships. (have read those for WHFB and the LOTR game… yikes.)

I would be atracted to a naval game that had at number different styles of ships at a minimum. One needs to take an army of boats.

Obvious big war ships, Fast small ships, boarding ships, support ships, gun ships, ramming ships and I really feel like they should explore weapons. Get creative. Floating explosives, flaming catapults, Rotating cannons, Grappling hooks. make the game interesting to play. 3 warships forexample would be super boring.

The game rules would be different if playing a fleet game or a ship game – one can make a very involved ruleset for a 1-3 ships per side or a simpler one to be used for higher ship numbers

@MikeGrant: Take a look at my draft of a ruleset – it allows for the flexibility/diversity you may be looking for

couple of things…

1, this isn’t really a ruleset yet, just a series of connected ideas. still very very early in the stages of development. when you start something like this, you work on the basics first, get fancy once you have the basics worked out.
it is worth noting that the “race specific ships” which i did not attempt to stat out are where i figured any fancy weapons or rules would show up first. the basics are just figuring out the ship movement, damage, and boarding actions, which can be best worked out using the basic transport ships. especially since setting wise you are more likely to see those for the bulk of a fleet anyway… after all it is the armies that are the source of power in the setting, and the majority of naval power is going to be focused on either trade, or on moving armies around quickly to their land campaigns. naval battles are going to mostly be a case of fleets of transport vessels meeting, ramming each other and the troops aboard hopping into the other ship to fight hand to hand. (gunpowder technology of the setting being of the sort we see before the 17th century… limited use against mobile ships but equipped mostly for the devestating power when they did hit, and besieging harbor fortifications from the seaward side)

2, the isn’t really a “naval game”. it is a land warfare game fought aboard ships. the focus is on boarding actions and infantry combat. if this was a naval game i wouldn’t even bother intergrating it into the standard KoW rules, i’d just be writing an all new ruleset and use a smaller scale miniatures so you can fit bigger fleets and more room to maneuver. the real goal of these rules, ultimately, is to let you play games of KoW where water features are more than just level zero hindering terrain, to allow things like storming beaches, or battles like that of Svolder, Salamis, or Lepanto, literally perhaps if you want to get that large.

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It was interesting to learn some historical facts along your thoughts about naval warfare rules.
I did buy Dreadfleet back in the day, but never got to play it. Maybe now I get the chance to use that awesome looking playmat that came along with it.

not sure if the mat would be big enough but who knows?

to give an idea of the scale here… i have a Revell 1:50th scale Viking Longship kit waiting to be assembled. (was gonna use it for a display board)
assembled it’ll run about 15 inches long, maybe 4-5 wide amidships. size wise that would be about ideal for it to fit about 2 regimental bases on it, so 2 regiments of infantry or a horde. maybe a legion if i’m lucky. which honestly is about right for a 28mm scale longship. (especially if using MMC). so a Penteconter or Dromon sized ship.

if i wanted to put all of my 1500pt Viking army (historicals list) on such ships, i’d need to have at least 5 such ship models on the board, as the army has 3 hordes, 4 regiments ,and 4 heroes. (probably arrayed with the spearmen and 2x huscarl hordes on their own ships, and two ships with mixed warrior and archer regiments. heroes stationed around using the hero exception in the carrying capacity. (which reminds me, i need to figure out how the heck Inspiring and rallying work aboard a ship, or rather, how they work in effecting other ships.)

as you can imagine, 5 greater than a foot long ship models, with probably a similar number on the other side if running a battle purely at sea, would probably be a bit crowded on a 4ftx4ft table, and might even want more than 4x6ft if there is much in the way of say, islands or rocks to force maneuvering decisions. part of the reason i’m focusing on the “ram and board” aspect more than naval gunnery.

eventually i expect i would add an option to add some sort of guns to a ship as an upgrade, reducing carry capacity for each mounted. but with the wide variety of field and siege weapons in the game, many of them race specific, that would be a fairly daunting task. and certainly there could be upgrades like grappling hooks or the like, if effects can be worked otu for them that make sense. but most of that is putting the cart before the horse, since the rules for ships themselves are still being worked out. got to have basic rules before you can get fancy.

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If the focus is on the boarding action, the artillery exchange can be included as a pre-game phase. If a more Maneuver-and-shoot game is desired, I would suggest a different scale such as 1:1200. Uncharted Seas was a good rule set and had some great models.

Been toying with this idea as well, will have a look at your draft rules later! :slight_smile: