Raise the Black Preview – New Ship Upgrades

By Joseph Forster

I’ve got another peek behind the scenes into the upcoming Raise the Black expansion for Blood & Plunder and I have a new preview article for you!

There will be a dedicated section in Raise the Black for new Ship Upgrades reflecting the new technology and practices in sailing, shipbuilding, and fighting techniques in the 18th-century. These new rules are currently in the play testing stage so they are subject to change (and comments and suggestions are welcome!).

Here is a selection of upgrades you will be able to purchase to upgrade your 18th-century ship!

Additional Speed Upgrades

This first grouping of upgrades will only be available to forces dating from 1700 and after. These represent the improved shipbuilding design and new sailing techniques. and can be added to many different ships.

The first upgrade is:

Improved Rig (only ships that do not have the Fore-and-Aft or Lateen traits) +4 pts

This includes the various improvements to the strength and rigidity of the rigging (for example additional stays, the bobstay, shape of the tops/spreaders for the upper shrouds).

A ship with this trait gains +1 to its maximum speed characteristic. (Note this is maximum speed not its actual sail setting values, making it mainly useful with a sailing master, or in an increased wind etc)

This could be helpful by itself in a few situations, especially if you have aggressive wind.

The rig limitations exclude Tartanas and Sloops and focus on the square-rigged ships.  For 4 points, it seems a little expensive to add to ship on the off chance you’re playing in high wind but, it will really shine when combined with:

Additional Sails (size 3 or greater ships only) +6 pts

With a stronger or more advanced rig, ships were able to carry extra canvas (for example Topgallants or Topgallant Royals, extra stay sails, or studding sails). However, in any kind of significant breeze this could make handling the ship difficult, and make the vessel less effective as a gun platform as the deck would roll and heel steeply.

The crew on a ship with this trait may set or remove the additional sails with a Change Sail action (mark the additional sails with a token or note on the ship card on the mainmast section). A ship may choose to begin the game with zero, one or two additional sail tokens already on its card).

While the Additional Sails are set the following rules apply;

  • If the ship has one or more additional sail tokens The ship may not perform advanced sailing manoeuvres (except to remove an additional sails token), nor may it attempt grappling actions.
  • If the ship has one or more additional sail tokens any enemy targeting the rigging of the ship with cannons receives a -2 bonus to the initial “to hit” dice.
  • If the ship has two additional sails tokens The ship gains the “Swift” trait to a maximum move of 6” per ship activation
  • If the ship has one or more additional sail tokens Units assigned to Cannons receive a +2 to hit penalty on their initial to hit roll when firing; all other ranged weapons receive a +1 to hit penalty.

There’s a lot of text there but basically, with some work, you can increase the speed of your ship by 1″ when combined with Improved Rig. Swift gives you that extra inch when sailing downwind if you have a unit assigned to the Sheets and Braces. This opens up the dangerous possibility of a ship moving 6″! This will be amazing for the likes of Blackbeard who would rather board and intimidate than have a cannon dual which requires discipline, patience and skill. If you move 6″ on all 3 of your moves in a turn, tha’s 18″ in a single turn. You’ll cover the board super fast! There are drawbacks which you’ll have to account for, but there is real value there for Pirates! If you want to really run a fast pirate ship that is intent on boarding, adding the combination of Additional Sails and Improved Rig will make your ship fly across the table! The combined cost of 10 points is not inconsiderable so I don’t think this will be a universal “auto-include.” If you see this on your opponent’s ship, you know what tactic to expect!

The third 18th century ship upgrades is the Ship’s Wheel which we have already seen on the 6th Rate Frigate. For 3 points you can get a consistent -1 bonus to Advanced Maneuvers in your ship. I’ve used this ability on the 6th Rate Frigate and once you combine it with some Expert Sailors or a Sailing Master, those tricky maneuvers become very consistent.

The final upgrade in this 18th century section is the Streamlined Hull. As a proud owner of a Fluyt, I’m excited about this one.

Streamlined Hull +4 pts

Shipwrights were forever experimenting with ship design, or the “lines” as they were often called. Changes were introduced, adopted and rejected in the ratios between length, depth and breadth of the vessel, the shape of the hull below the water line (its angle of entry at the bow, it’s run off aft toward the rudder), and the height and angle of the upper works at bow and stern; all designed to improve hydrodynamic performance below the waterline and reduce drag above. In particular, a well designed hull would be able to point better toward the wind when on a bowline, and keep her speed through the water.

Whilst at her highest sail setting, a ship with this trait may decrease her windward penalty by 1” (to a minimum of 0”) in one of her three activations per turn. This may be used in the same turn, but not in the same activation, as the Sailing Master ability if the crew has it.

Reducing your Winward Penalty by 1″ per turn doesn’t sound huge, but if you’ve every been in a ship with a top speed of 4″ that has to fight against a -2″ windward penalty, you know it can be torturous to cross the wind or try to make your way up the wind at all. Even using that extra inch one can help your aim into the wind so you can Tack once instead of twice before you can safely Wear away from the wind.

Generic Ship Upgrades and Traits

These upgrades can be applied to ships of any era and are not restricted to the 18th century.

The upgrades we’ve looked at so far really offer a lot to army forces that intend to board and fight a melee battle. This next upgrade can offer some sort of defense against that speedy frigate!

Anti Grappling Measures (any size 2 or greater ship) 3pts per ship

Ships would often prepare defences to stop an enemy grappling or coming alongside to board; axes could be strategically placed at key points to cut ropes attached to the grapnels, or spare yards, booms or even heavy sweeps could be used to fend off an enemy vessel as it tried to close.

A unit attempting to grapple a ship with this equipment must roll two dice on any grappling test, and use the lower of the two results. 

The Anti Grappling measures have no effect on a grappling test from a ship that is either 1) a boat (any size 1 vessel), or 2) if the maneuvering skids of the two vessels are within 5” of each other.

This is huge! It encourages the historical tactic of sailing alongside an enemy ship rather than boarding from the prow or stern. It brings the chance of a successful grapple down by a huge margin and that’s often where a game is won or lost at sea. A normal grapple attempt succeeds on a 5+ which gives it a .60 probability. Rolling “with disadvantage” brings that down to a .36 probability. This seems a little cheap for a strong upgrade, but considering it makes the game more historical and it helps counteract the bonus the Additional Sails/Improved Rig gives boarding lists, I think it’s reasonably balanced. I anticipate it getting included in a lot of sea lists as a precaution but those 3 points exclude another cannon crew model (without a pistol) so it’s not entirely without consequence if you take it.

The next upgrade is one I’m really excited about. I’ve play tested it a little and it’s very good!

Freshly Careened Hull (any size 2 or greater vessel) +4pts per ship

A freshly careened Hull could give a ship’s Master a significant advantage in “the chase”, and allow him an extra turn of speed that might effectively get the jump on any potential quarry…

A ship with this trait gains the Vanguard special rule – the ship itself being moved at its starting sail setting and speed (with usual modifiers for wind speed/direction. Additional sails, the “swift” trait and sailing master abilities are not applied to this move).

Any scenario that requires you to either chase down an opponent, get away from an opponent, or reach an objective will change with this upgrade available! Keep that hull clean and you reap the reward! It just feels good to be able to move before your enemy too. Feels like cheating!

Four points is enough to give you pause but doesn’t break the bank.

The last new rule we’re going to take a look at is an update to the Repair action.

Repairs Extension (as an errata to existing repair rules)

A unit taking a repair dedicated action may choose to either fix the effect of a critical hit (where permitted to do so – exactly as current rules), or may restore a single Integrity point that has been damaged by an attacker. This may restore Fortitude if enough Integrity is repaired. Crews may not increase the original starting Fortitude or Integrity of the ship.

This isn’t a huge game-changer but it can be handy. Standard games of Blood & Plunder aren’t long enough for this to be abused but it could be nice to restore a point of Fortitude to your ship if you’ve taken a beating in the early game.

Raise the Black should be an amazing expansion and I’m looking forward to some real piratey games! I think these upgrades are very flavorful and will reinforce the nautical combat experience in an awesome way. Honestly, I just wish there were more! But maybe there will be… How do these new upgrades look to you? Is there other ship upgrades, or advanced sailing ideas that you would like to see in the game?

Rumor has it there could be another refinement of the cannon rules as well which should be exciting! But that is another preview for another day.

Thanks for reading!

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