Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A little info on Ships

Traveling by ship is a staple of fantasy gaming. By far the most popular ship of the mid-medieval centuries was the "Caravel", an extremely versatile vessel sturdy enough to travel long distances and yet small enough to navigate the shallower rivers and coastal regions. This makes it a great choice for both merchants and explorers, and a reliable means of long-distance transportation. Along with the cog, the carrack, and the Norse knarr, the caravel saw use for centuries and was often modified/customized for widely different, specialized purposes. Combat modifications to this ship would eventually result in its specialized evolution into the huge, notorious fighting galleons of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The Caravel typically sported 2 or 3 square-rigged masts, with a triangular lateen sail on the mizzen (a small mast near the back of the ship) to help with fast tacking and manueverability. The ships weighed in at about 50-150 tons, and had a hull length of 60-90 feet, with a width of 15-20 feet. Crew size was typically 15-20, and the crew usually lived on deck, under canopies in times of inclement weather. Below-deck was reserved for cargo and stores, particularly during long voyages, and a couple of small cabins were available for the captain or important passengers. Cooking was done on deck with small coal braziers, and experienced sailors knew to supplement the usual "hard-tack" biscuits and salted meats with the occasional lemon or apple to avoid scurvy.

A good sized caravel could carry roughly 150 tons of cargo.

The average speed of the caravel was roughly 4 1/2 mph, and the ship could often manage 100 miles per day in open seas, and up to 150 miles per day - weather permitting. The narrow width of the ship made it capable of bursts of speed up to 10mph if wind conditions were favorable. In stormy conditions, the main sails would be furled to prevent the masts from breaking, and in calm or still conditions, up to 20 oars could be deployed for short periods.

A good, short glossary of ship terminology may be found here.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. A modified and enchanted caravel dubbed 'The Lucky Lucy' is the main mean of transportation in the superheroic D&D/Homebrew campaign I am currently running.

    Great post and very helpful link.

  3. Very cool. All too often when gamers think sailing, they think classic pirate trappings that really fall into the late Renaissance / Early Colonial time frame.

    But adventures via ship can fall into almost any time period (consider Jason and the Argonauts or the Odyssey). Pretty much any period between Trojan-era Greeks to post-Napoleonic exploration right up until the 20's and 30's era pulp adventure can involve elements of sea-faring adventure.

    And a ship the size of a caravel (or some equivalent ship depending on the time period) is the perfect conveyance for a group of PCs.

  4. That's great information. I was just researching the Caravel a couple of weeks back. I thought my players may attempt to steal one from some pirates but it hasn't happened yet.

  5. I have been running an island based campaign for the past several months and am at the point now where the players need me to flesh out the sea travel aspect, lest they be like the Gilligan, Skipper, and the rest of the gang. This is good stuff. Thanks!

  6. "The Caravel typically sported 2 or 3 square-rigged masts, with a triangular lateen (sic) sail on the mizzen (a small mast near the back of the ship) to help with fast tacking and manueverability."

    Oddly the picture you chose shows all of the masts with lanteen sails. I believe the lanteen sail was more commonly used in the Mediterranean. The configuration you describe being more common in the north.

  7. Thanks for this. I've been meaning to read up a smidge on this for Isle of Dread.

  8. I am looking for more information on the specific ways the sailors worked -- I am working with 4th graders and want to help them experience what it might have been like to have joined an vessel of exploration.....

  9. @Westmeade - a little more info here: http://beyondtheblackgate.blogspot.com/2009/12/more-on-ships-crew.html

  10. Pretty useful! What's your source for this info?



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