Playing Dungeons and Dragons is an exciting adventure where players can take on the roles of different characters and embark on epic quests. One of the most thrilling experiences in D&D is playing as a pirate crew on a ship, navigating treacherous waters and facing dangerous foes. With the right group of players and a skilled dungeon master, a D&D pirate campaign can be a swashbuckling adventure that keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. That sense of adventure pairs nicely with the adventures to be had in the Blood & Plunder pirates miniature game.
Our guest blogger for our foray into D&D roleplaying with pirates today is Guy Bayes. He has around forty years of experience as a D&D Dungeon Master and a few years on the quarterdeck of Blood & Plunder. Today, he is going to talk about using Blood & Plunder pirate ship models in his own Dungeons and Dragons campaigns.
Dungeons and Dragons and Pirates!
What could possibly go better together? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate right? And in many ways this is true. I’ve been running such a homebrew campaign for 2+ years now and it’s been an amazing experience. There are also a fair amount of published adventure books (like Saltmarsh) out there if you don’t have the time to homebrew. Whether you are looking for a short jaunt on to the high seas as a casual change of pace from the grind of dungeon crawling, or planning on making Tall Ships and Piracy a central feature of your campaign, a nautical campaign can bring a lot of enjoyment to your players.
In addition, pirate campaigns are not the only type of campaign that can take place on the high seas. Whether your intrepid crew are merely traveling from one place to another, searching for a particular person or place, or merely exploring to see what is out there, ships and the sea can be a fun adventure. Even if the sea you travel is the Astral Sea (as part of a Spelljammer campaign), or the air itself in a Steampunk style airship, you will find such campaigns have more in common with one another then not. For one thing, you will need a ship.
D&D Pirate / Ship Encounter Ideas
Encounters at sea are one of those things that help break up a game session and give your players something to interact with on their way to the main objective. Here is a short list of a few ideas you might incorporate into your game
- Other Pirates
- Sea Monsters
- Dragon Turtle
- Water Elementals
- Giant Sharks / Megalodon(s)
- Sea Hags
- Uncharted Islands
- Merchants – goods to trade or pirate
- Weather/Environmental Hazards/Storms/Fog
- Can use these for abnormal skill checks like rope use.
- STR checks to keep the wheel angled properly
- DEX or Skill checks to avoid obstacles sliding on deck
- Lightning causing a fire
- Man overboard rescues – can require multiple steps to recover… turning the ship, throwing a line, pulling him back in, swimming, etc.
- Watching/avoiding rocks/sandbars
- Sails breaking loose
- Rafts – perhaps and a castaway NPC in need of rescue or a native tribesman with a warning/message
- Fishermen with rumors aplenty!
- Ghostships – both kinds! Simple abandoned vessels for suspense or the ethereal ghastly variety!
- Marooned NPCs
- Treasure maps – real or fake
- Island tribes, cannibals or lizard folk
- Water shortages/spoiled food
- Doldrums / low wind
- Reefs – normal or sentient (I’ve heard of people using Ents as sea reefs!)
- Whales / Dolphins
#1 Centerpiece for Your D&D Pirate Games – A Ship!
When it comes to playing a pirate-themed campaign in Dungeons and Dragons, having a good ship model can greatly enhance the overall experience. A detailed ship model can help players immerse themselves in the world, making it easier to visualize the layout of the ship and the different areas on board. It can also be a useful tool for the dungeon master, allowing them to better describe the ship and its surroundings during combat or exploration. Whether it’s a physical model or a digital representation, investing in a good ship model can take your D&D pirate campaign to the next level.
There are some things to keep in mind though:
- Firstly, whether your high seas escapade is a short diversion or a major centerpiece, If you are doing a side quest or two, then expanding fully into minis and ships may not be your thing. But if you are going to do more than 3-4 game nights and turn it into a full campaign, you’ll want to do some planning.
- If you play with miniatures you are going to need ship models. While you may think you can pull this off with 2d maps, the reality is that once your ship starts tussling with another ship, the maps don’t move so well.
- You will need not just one, but two ships, more than likely, assuming your heroes would like some high seas combat. There are a few options out there, but to me one of them stands out.
Ship Options for Your Campaign
There are lots of options for ships to use in you campaign. I’ll go through a few of the more common options:
The WizKids Falling Star Pirate Ship Model
So let’s start with the most obvious, the Wizkids Falling Star. This guy is going to pop to the top of pretty much any google search on the subject. It has it’s perks for role-playing, but there are some downsides to buying this baby that are worth considering. And in my opinion there are some better choices out there.
Cons of the Falling Star Ship Model
Firstly, secondly, thirdly and lastly with regards to downsides is the price point. At a whopping $250 + shipping, it’s at the top end of the price range comparatively. And you want to have a ship for an opposing crew, you probably need to buy TWO of these guys, you are looking at $500 easy. You can do much much better for $500.
Price isn’t the only negative. The thing is, let’s speak frankly, kind of ugly. It’s long and it’s lines are kind of toy-like. The hull doesn’t have much in the way of details or decorations, other than the figurehead. This is exacerbated by its short, stubby masts and crazy lack of cannon for its length. It reminds me of the Fisher-Price toys I used to get when I was eight, it’s almost like a design that is intended to be durable above all else.
If you have any historical realists among your players or anyone who knows sailing they are going to laugh at this tub and wonder if it would float. You cannot picture Jack Sparrow on this ship, at least not without bitching about it for the entire movie. Pirate ships should be pretty!
Pros of the Falling Star Ship Model
There are two upsides, however, to the Falling Star. The playable area of the deck is massive and you don’t have to paint it. The deck area is nice and pre gridded which is handy, but it’s probably more massive than you need honestly.
Not having to paint it is a double edged sword though, since if you want your characters actually fighting another ship, you need another ship, and it’s much cooler when the two ships fighting aren’t identical. So even if you spring for the Wizkid ship as your primary player character ship, you might still consider some other mode for adversaries.
3D Printed Pirate Ship Options
The second option you are likely to find is the various 3D prints out there, most notably the Lost Island’s Kickstarter, which is, in my opinion, the best of the 3D options. These aren’t perfect, but definitely better. They at least look like real sailing ships, there is a fair amount of variety, they are a lot prettier, and the price points, even if you don’t have a 3D printer and have to order from Etsy, are more reasonable. At the time of this writing you can pick up a sloop for around $80 and a larger vessel for under $200. If you have your own printer it will likely take a full roll of filament or more for larger ships. It’s also going to take quite a while to print.
Some downsides do exist though. Firstly, either you or your Etsy supplier will often need to print these guys in sections. This can lead to some nasty seams when you glue them together. Some designers thought of this, and have done their best to disguise those via decorations on the hull, but it’s still noticeable.
Secondly the assembly. After you paint them, If you want masts you will need to go out and buy dowels, cut them to size, and then use the fiddly and easy to break plastic parts to put the masts together. The designer has provided helpful videos to walk you through this, but it is still a pain. Even worse, IMO the dowel sizes and deck holes that go with them are too thin. This not only makes the masts look weird but makes them flimsy. I have several of these models and whenever I put them on the table I live in fear of snapping the masts.
Fighting Tops on 3D Printed Ships
Another thing I don’t like about this line is the design of the fighting tops. The fighting tops are the platform about halfway up the mast where a sailor can shoot down on the enemy deck. Your players are going to LIKE the fighting tops. They are going to get a lot of use. The ones in the Lost Islands kickstarter are suboptimal, too small, and can really only accommodate one figure. One figure is simply not enough, you’re likely to have more than one player want to use them, and if you get boarded, the bad guys are going to want to storm them.
Another thing to keep in mind with ordering large, 3d printed models on Etsy or elsewhere, it can take quite a while for those models to be printed and arrive. In the event that there are a lot of finicky parts (which there are), bits are often missing or damaged, either by shipping or by lack of quality control by the person printing it. I’ve ordered several ships this way, and about half the time something is wrong and I need to go back and forth with the supplier to get it fixed. So make sure you have a LOT of time before you need to put these on the table. Months, not weeks.
Finally, I’m just not a fan of super large 3D printed plastic models. The plastic used by most printers isn’t that strong, so things get brittle and break. It often doesn’t take paint that well, tends to get fuzzy on the details, and the textures often look strange and unrealistic, especially when the material is meant to be wood. This particular line is not terrible, it’s honestly pretty clever in a lot of ways, but there is a better alternative.
Blood & Plunder Ships from Firelock Games
And that brings me to the best alternative for your dnd 28mm ship models…. a company called Firelock Games. Unfortunately, this company is probably NOT the thing that is going to come up when you search for “dnd 28mm ship models”. Because it is a 28mm miniatures game not an RPG company , not specifically aimed at the d&d crowd. However, th they make utterly gorgeous ship models at a very reasonable price.
Their models are all either resin or hard plastic, so they are durable, they take paint well, and because they are designed for miniature gaming they also have a lot of deck space and are usable. Finally this may not matter to you, but they are bang on for historical accuracy.
Did I mention they are gorgeous? They are gorgeous.
Additional Benefits of Using Firelock Games Ships in D&D
- They sell these models along with all the dowels, rigging and pieces that you need to assemble the masts. The masts are generally much thicker than the Lost Island’s ones, and hence more durable. The assembly pieces for the masts are made of either wood or hard plastic so you don’t have to worry about them snapping.
- The fighting tops are designed to hold four models and are nice and roomy.
- The hulls are super well detailed, sometimes incredibly so, with complex decorations around cabin windows and things, they can really be quite gorgeous.
- Also, as a bonus, they also come with nice metal cannons and swivel guns to fully outfit the ship with weapons. Your PCs will love the option of seeing and interacting with the weapons.
Specific Blood & Plunder Ship Suggestions
So, IMO this is what you want to get. But which ones exactly?
Currently, there are about a half dozen base versions of the ship models i would recommend. Most of these are resin kits, but there are newly released, less expensive plastic sloops that make excellent options.
2 Player Blackbeard vs Maynard Starter Set
If it wasn’t for the price point I’d say go for the resin models (I am an old grognard and just generally like the heft of a resin model), but the 2 player plastic sloop starter kit is an incredible deal. For $145 you get two ships that hold up to 21 models (just right for a party size of 4-8 PC’s and some NPC crewmembers). It also comes with 24 28mm pirate models and 2 commanders.
The plastic Bermuda sloop models are slick looking too, with their rakish masts. They do require some assembly though as they come in kits like old airplane models.
This is absolutely the right buy if you are planning a nautical arc for your PC’s and are on a budget. You basically get two ships to fight each other, and the bad guys to fight, all in one big box, for about 66% of the cost of what one “Falling Star” would cost you. It’s a great deal.
The Downsides of the Blood & Plunder 2 Player Starter Set
But it does come with one catch. Painting and Assembly. The reason this is so cheap is the models come in pieces, on sprues. You have to cut them off, glue them together like an older model airplane kit. The boats and minis also come unpainted. Now, this is no surprise to any miniatures wargamer, this is the way pretty much all miniatures games are going. Not only is it a lot cheaper, but the assembly process gives you a lot of customization over how the model looks, as you mix and match heads with arms and such. It’s not that much of a pain, and it comes with upside but it might be a surprise to a D&D’er who is used to assembling models.
Firelock Games 28mm Resin Pirate Ships for Use in D&D
Option two is the older resin line of ships and metal miniatures. The resin ships are quite reasonable, you can pick the resin Sloop up for $82 and the Tartana for it to fight for $70. These both have the nice metal cannons and the mast dowels and bits, so overall a slightly better deal then the 3D printed stuff, and a much nicer product. So this is also a fine on-a-budget choice, especially if you don’t need the mini’s for the bad guys.
Small Pirate Ships for D&D Parties – 28mm Scale
But it’s the slightly higher price point where the Firelock line really shines. Sloops are fine. Historically they were the most common design for a pirate ship. Fast, seaworthy, great at sailing upwind, able to mount enough of a broadside to take a merchantman, and a shallow draft so they didn’t run aground. The only place they fall short is they don’t really LOOK like what we have come to expect from a pirate ship. We really expect something that looks more like “The Black Pearl”, a larger, three masted square sailed warship. But have no fear, Firelock has you covered here!
Medium Scale 28mm Pirate Ships
Meet the Light Frigate. At $142 this guy is pricier but still well under The Falling Star. It’s quite a bit bigger though and it just SCREAMS pirate ship. It’s a gorgeous model, not at all hard to paint or assemble and always draws some ooo’s and ahhh’s when it hits a table. If you are planning a sea focused game, or just have more budget, this is your go-to for your PC’s ship.
Several other models live at around this price point as well. At $107, you have the Brigantine which is an excellent enemy for the Light Frigate. Not quite as pretty, but still gorgeous, and the sail plan and appearance different enough to make it not feel like two identical ships are scrapping. In addition, there is the Flyute at $216, slightly more expensive but it’s a gorgeous model that really has that “merchantman” vibe.
Larger 28mm Pirate Ships compatible with Dungeons & Dragons
And then finally we have the upper end, for those with money to burn, the 6th Rate and the Galleon. The 6th Rate is really just a larger, fancier, light frigate. The main differences are size (longer and much taller masts) and the detailing on the hull. The detailing is amazing and beautiful. However, warning, it does require some skill with a brush to paint both these guys, as opposed to the others which are surprisingly easy to paint. The 6th Rate is what I picked for my PC’s ship in our pirate campaign. It’s expensive, but it’s gorgeous.
28mm Galleon Compatible with DND Miniatures
Finally, the Galleon is sort of the merchantman equivalent of the 6th Rate. It’s REALLY big. It has a capacity of 120+ models. It’s got amazing details on the hull. It has this really neat galley in the rear that is an awesome way for a stealth minded PC to sneak aboard. It screams “I am a big, slow treasure ship loaded with treasure”. This ship would make an AWESOME object for any campaign as a target or as the BBG, final boss fight.
Accessorizing Your Ships To Personalize the Campaign
Finally a word on sails and flags. None of these ships come with sails. You don’t really need them, but making your own sails out of glue and paper is surprisingly easy and it will make your models much prettier. There are many tutorials online. A few words of advice though. You want your sails to be removable, especially the lower mainsails. They will get in the way of using the decks. This is also easily done by PROVIDING YOU THINK ABOUT IT AHEAD OF TIME by attaching rare earth magnets to the mast and sails rather than just gluing them on.
Similarly there are a lot of cool 28mm paper flags and banners that can be bought by the sheet for a few dollars and can also jaz your models up. There are easy methods to attach them in removable ways, and to add waves to them (as if they are blowing in the wind).
Both of these methods (sails and flags) can also allow you to get more mileage out of your models. If you make several different sets of colored sails, or sails with designs on them, you can easily transform that royal warship into a scurvy pirate just by switching out the sails and flags.
D&D Pirate Style Miniatures Suggestions
The good news is, if you bought the 2 player Firelock starter kit, you are good for human style sailor miniatures. Even if your campaign doesn’t include personal firearms, you can build the firelock figures as melee sailors with cutlasses and such.
For non-humans, most of your humanoids (goblins, orcs, etc) will work fine on board a ship. They won’t have muskets or pistols, but honestly, it doesn’t really matter much.
There are also a lot of great 3D printed options out there for nautical monsters, krakens, sea serpents, giant squids can really liven up a D&D session.
D&D Pirate Themed Terrain, Addons & Misc Resources Suggestions
For terrain, the nice thing about sea battles is they mostly take place on (you guessed it) sea so terrain needs are more limited than most D&D locations. You will need some good ocean mats, and probably some scatter for islands or reefs. Tablewar has some great maps and feature scatter here. There is an entire section of Pirate themed terrain suggestions on this blog.
You might also want to consider some buildings and docks to put together a small port town. Pretty much any of the buildings you already have will work well, augmented with some 3D printed docks and maybe a lighthouse.
Final Thoughts on D&D and Blood & Plunder
Lastly, one other consideration with regards to buying Firelock Games products. In addition to supporting your D&D habit, the Blood and Plunder miniatures game is a great game and of itself. By outfitting yourself with the Firelock ships or the starter pack, you can play that game too. And finally, D&D rules for ship to ship combat, while serviceable, are not the greatest. If you are venturing out on the high seas for a few sessions, they will do fine, but if you are planning on making the sea and ships an ongoing centerpiece of your campaign, there are ways to incorporate the Blood and Plunder rules into D&D to make ship combat considerably faster, more streamlined and a lot more fun.
- Ser Carlos Fernedez for some of the snazzier paint jobs
- Seamons Quality Sails for the cloth sails
D&D Pirate Theme Campaigns or Adventure Book Suggestions
Content in this section written/provided by Jason Klotz
I’ve played RPGs and by a DM/GM on and off for almost three decades. The following are some a plugs for several of the D&D related books that I’ve collected/read over the years. I may do an article in the future that goes into each in greater depth to give you some suggestions on what to buy/where to start with a pirate themed D&D campaign.
Dungeons & Dragons Ghosts of Saltmarsh
If you are looking for an official Wizards product related to a sea based, pirate campaign, then the Dungeons & Dragons Ghosts of Saltmarsh book is what you are seeking! This is both a resource book and a camapaign setting with a series of seafaring adventures, to take characters from level 1 to level 12.
- Introduces the port town of Saltmarsh, the perfect starting point for a nautical campaign.
- Each adventure can be played individually or inserted into your games or combined into full blown nautical campaign.
- Rules for ships and sea travel
- Deck plans for various vessels
- An appendix with rules for new and classic monsters, and much more.
Pirate Campaign Compendium – 5e
The Pirate Campaign Compendium – 5e is a MUST BUY book if you are interested in running a sea based campaign. It’s got 448 pages of solid content. Lots of encounter ideas and new monsters to throw at your party. Lots of sea based weapons and spells. It pairs nicely with the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign book.
The Complete Guide to Nautical Campaigns – PDF
This is an AWESOME PDF set put together by Guy Sclanders of “How to be a Great Game Master“. If you’ve not checked out his YouTube Channel you NEED to do it sooner rather than later. This 180 page PDF is worth every penny. Content includes:
- Ideas for misc roles for PCs & NPCs to help keep players engaged
- New rules on ports, fleet actions and maintianing crews
- New magic items
- Five playable races designed for underwater campaigns, plus underwater combat rules
- New monsters
- Rules for ship expenses, maintenance, stores, crews payments, etc.
- Port templates and stats for interacting or even engaging in fleet battles.
If you are interested in getting the PDF you can get it here: The Complete Guide to Nautical Campaigns – PDF
RuneQuest: Pirates is part of another roleplaying game system that isn’t D&D, but it definitely has some solid content worth adding to your library. Its an expansion module for produced by Mongoose Publishing in 2007. It’s less than 100 pages so it’s light reading. Its a softcover about the size of Fire on the Frontier for Blood & Plunder.
- Tables to randomly generate the history and attributes for pirate themed PCs
- Quirks and addons for characters like abilities & vices
- Rules for reputation that can be used to take a PC or party’s fame.
- Lots of charts and lists to roll things like random gear, plunder, & cargo
- Dueling rules
50 Fathoms for Savage Worlds
50 Fathoms is an older supplement for use with the Savage Worlds RPG system. While it isn’t a D&D module, any DM worth his salt can easily adapt some of the ideas and content from the book. This book is primarily a campaign setting more than rules.
- 9 playable races
- Elemental based magic to take advantage of the sea setting
- New weapons, armors & monsters
- Plot hooks and encounters
Savage Worlds also has at least 3 different adventure modules for 50 Fathoms, but I’ve not read or purchased them so I can’t comment on them. But the core pirates setting book is definitely worth picking up for fluff content in your roleplaying adventures.
Mythic Vistas: Skull & Bones
Mythic Vistas was a d20 system product line produced by Green Ronin that blended historically based elements with a fantasy setting. They produced several great books in a series of others that include:
- TESTAMENT: a Biblically based RPG setting in the Old Testament and Jewish/Babylonian times.
- Trojan War: This one brings Homer’s Iliad to life. Fight with Achilles or Hector in the Trojan Wars Everything you need to bring Bronze Age Greece to life
- Medieval: Everything you need to have exciting adventures in the age of Christianity and the crusades.
Unfortunately, Skull & Bones is now one of the more sought after books so it’s pricey on Amazon and ebay fetching $60-90 a copy. But that is an indicator of it’s value.
Why “Skull & Bones”? It’s a “low-magic” setting that ties in history more than the wild / high magic fantasy of some D&D campaigns.
- It adds character classes based on historical elements like the sea dog, buccaneer, and shantyman and prestige classes like the master of fence, sea officer, and mystic navigator.
- Charts to generate character backgrounds and fortunes.
- A complete system for Voodoo magic.
- Campaign ideas and GM advice.
- Treasures tables, magic items, weapons, armor, etc.
- Small bestiary of 20+ creatures
- A gazeteer and maps of the islands of the Caribbean based on historical colonies and settlements
- An introductory adventure and several campaign suggestions
- Legends of Piracy – several famous pirates you can useas NPC characters