Publisher: Living Imagination
Series: Twin Crown: d20
Review Dated: 18th, April 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
In the world of movies there are two kinds of successes: the blockbuster and the sleeper. The blockbusters are those movies that launch with much fanfare and acclaim; blockbusters make their impact and their revenue in the first few weeks. The sleepers are the movies that have a much lower profile but which people keeping on coming to see and then have DVD/videos that keep on selling. Over the course of a few years sleepers make as much money as the blockbusters. If Broadsides! was a movie then it would be a sleeper success. It’s not the money making that interests me, it’s the inherent quality that a sleeper needs to have to make it successful and the quality and interest that Broadsides! certainly has.
Broadsides! is a nautical d20 supplement and although that’s not unique, it’s certainly rare. You don’t really need to have the Twin Crowns setting from Living Imagination, the Broadsides! publishers, or even know anything about the world to use the book. It’ll help though. Broadsides! has a few pages of rituals and the rules for these are in Twin Crowns: Age of Exploration book. The Twin Crown campaign setting is full of magic and has Renaissance level technology and so you’ll find rules for magical boats (flying ships) as well as some information on ships and navigation techniques that are best suited to Renaissance or thereabout worlds.
One of the ways Broadsides! does well is with sheer thoroughness; rules for ships, for navigation and piloting, naval combat, underwater adventures, equipment, feats, prestige classes, new spells, magic items, sea creatures, notes on nautical adventures, organisations and even a glossary of nautical terms. This is why Broadsides! is the sleeper success that it is; there might be no compelling reason to rush out and buy a nautical supplement but when you come to want one the chances are pretty high that you’ll find yourself buying Broadsides!.
The Navigation and Piloting rules introduce a bunch of new skills. New skills are required. The core d20 rules simply wouldn’t cut it. The rules are quite detailed, taking key elements of sailing one at a time and providing mechanics for them. The problem with this is that you don’t really have an easy and generic sailing d20 roll to make; you and the GM will have to work out all the modifiers for the skill roll and for the DC value. The advantage of this is that it’s easy for the GM to cut out influences that aren’t appropriate; if your campaign world doesn’t have a magnetic pole then it’s a simple matter to remove the compass modifier. The winning factor, that single thing that tips the scales and gets my support for this detailed approach, is that plotting and planning a nautical journey in game terms manages to carry through some of the feel of a Sea Captain studying old charts, calculating the odds and making the decision. Sample rules include altitude for flying ships and for working out just how much ice a vessel can ram through.
The second chapter presents a bunch of sample ships. You’ve illustrations, description and stat block for a number of ships. The stat blocks include the size (length, keel, beam, depth), crew numbers (optimal through to skeleton), riggings/sales, oars/oarsmen, speed, acceleration/deceleration (by sail and oar), manoeuvrability, seaworthiness, cargo, transport, hull (hp and hardness), deck (hp) and notes on armaments. Types of ships include ones you might find here on Earth, flying craft, elf, dwarf, gnome and other fantasy race vessels too.
The third chapter puts the first two together and comes up with rules and mechanics for the whole Voyage. It’s here that you’ll find modifiers for trying to sail straight over the ocean with nothing but shifting waves in sight compared to trying to hog the coastline, rules for weather and random encounters.
The Naval Combat chapter stretches to include the wide range of possibilities between high magic and gun powder technology that needs to be catered for in a Twin Crowns adventure (other games too, Ravenloft for example). Just as you’ll find rules for magical fireshooters used by elves you’ll find rules for cannon too, catapults, rams, ballista and all sorts of things. Of course there’s the core nautical combat rules as well, not just mechanics on how to do damage with interesting bits of equipment. There are rules for damaging ships with magic as well. A minor quibble; under these rules sea battles would be mapped out on hex paper. Hex tends to be more precise than squares but it lacks clear “North, South, East and West” points (unlike the edges of a square) and the basic sailing rules use these cardinal points. Diagonal movement from a squared grid would also cater for northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. Broadsides! provides rules for repairing damage done to ships but there are no detailed rules for building and designing a ship from scratch.
It might well be the case that you don’t really care too much about ships at all and are simply interested in an underwater adventure; Sea Elves versus the Sahuagin for example. Broadsides! has rules for you – although it’s not really the book’s focus. The Underwater Adventuring chapter takes a rather unique (since I’ve not seen it in other underwater rpg notes) look at issues of buoyancy and temperature as well as complications with depth. The chapter takes a quick look at problems with spell casting underwater but gets to the point quickly with the note that unless the caster has the Silent Spell feat its unlikely they’ll be able to vocalise as required. Broadsides! has a Submerged Spell feat which insures that spells cast below the surface of the water work in exactly the same way as they would above the water no matter how the elements might react. I like this. It’s magic. I do puzzle at players who are happy with the notion of a ball of fire leaving the fingertips of some old man, travelling in a firing arch for a considerable distance without dispersing and then impacting with an explosion as it hits a selected target – but who think its unrealistic to have a flame burn in water. There are quite a few other feats in the book, a whole chapter’s worth, but that’s the one that stands out the most.
Where there are feats there are prestige classes. Broadsides! gives us the Harpooneer, Marine, Oceanic Sentinel, Privateer, Surgeon, Sea Captain and Sea Scout. I think some of the racial restrictions to these classes are subjective (again bias towards Twin Crown) but they’re easy to ignore. They’re all ten level classes with the exception of the Surgeon. There are enough PrC special abilities in each class to avoid being one of those powerful but dull Prestige Classes.
Most of the spells the book introduces have a suitable nautical slant. Aspect of the Shark, Call School, Founder Ship, Glassbottom, Solid Water, Summon Drowned and Underwater Communication are some examples from the 8 pages of spells. The new rituals (which you do need Twin Crowns for) have 6 pages to themselves, I think they’re also clear enough as to be easily converted into your game or just used a plot device. There’s a bunch of nautical magic items too.
For some reason, in the small chapter of sea monsters, I find myself fixated on wondering whether the Orctopus (half giant, half squid) is boneless or not and just how small a hole could a 15-foot adult squeeze through. There’s about a half dozen new creatures here.
The Adventuring chapter contains some sample encounters – just one off scenes which could be thrown into almost any setting. There’s a sample adventure designed for 4 to 6 characters of 4th to 6th level (and, yup, for Twin Crowns too).
The book finishes with some record sheets for ships and a two-paged glossary of terms. I really do like to have snippets of glossaries in RPG supplement and especially so for nautical supplements since the players know fine well that sailing is steeped in jargon. A GM needs to be able to talk about the backstay, the boom, the transom or a ship being by the lee while he’s NPCing a sailor otherwise it just doesn’t feel right.
Even though I mentioned the Twin Crown settings a half dozen times in this review I’m going to stick by what I said near the start; you don’t need the book to use and get plenty from Broadsides! Broadsides! is a success by the time it’s reached chapter four; by then a GM will be able to run a smooth and interesting nautical adventure. The rest of the book serves as bonus material or as extra-special bonus material if you had a specific interest there (in the nautical spells or prestige classes, say). Since it does well in such a key and under catered for speciality the Broadsides! really is one of those rare “should haves” for any d20 GM.