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Player's Handout - Tame River Boating

Apr 09, 2021 · 10 mins read
Player's copy - Tame River Boating
Our party just stole three large, serviceable rowboats and have set off down the “Tame River” to a place called Riverfort.  They are an estimated 80 miles upriver from their destination.  Along the way, they will face many challenges in addition to wandering monsters.  The B/X and BECMI rules provide little guidance for such a situation, but there is a set of rules scattered around the Wilderness Survival Guide (WSG) and Dungeoneers’ Survival Guide (DSG) that seem up to the task.  When one tries to figure out how to actually run “the game” using these rules, it becomes apparent that nobody ever play tested them.  I have tried to restate the rules below in a more game worthy fashion.  I have found that the number of checks per day for things like drop offs and rapids would ensure nobody without a boating proficiency ever would reach their destination.

As my players have been using Old School Essentials and OSE Advanced as the rule base, we found one character in the party who has secondary skills as a “Seafarer.”  I have decided that this is sufficient to qualify as a Boating Proficiency and that character is in the lead boat.  The party took these boats while fleeing a dicey situation with a hostage.  They set off still armored and without sufficient iron rations and water.  How will they fare?

I have given them some homework before our next session: 

To create these rowboats in FoundryVTT, we took the “mule” monster, tweaked it to add inventory, and changed the names.  I noted the hull points for each vessel in the hp field.

I gave each of my players a copy of this guide so they understand what they might face and how it will be resolved at the table.  For my own preparation, I have rolled several days worth of wandering monsters/special events/locations.  I’ve also developed my own chart.  Here are two sample entries for the chart:

Distance Downriver
River width
Collision % and number of checks
Drop Offs
Geographic Reference
5 miles 
Medium - PORTAGE 0.54 miles long where joins Tanara as tributary at two swampy symbols
Plains north (good portage) and Fens south
2 checks - bottoming chance
Gridline northeast of landmark X
10 miles
Wide (120-150 YARDS across)
2 checks while getting orientated
Adjacenty to landmark Y
Without further ado, here are the rules.  I highly encourage you to purchase both the WSG and DSG as they are great resources from the AD&D “1.5” era.

Party can make a dugout canoe (15 man-hours per 2 person canoe and set of paddles without semi-permanent water-proofing) at either the put-in or else at Cairntown.

Movement (WSG pg. 45) (no effect of current.  Up to 60’/minute difference at swiftest)
  • Small canoe - 8 hours of normal rowing = 10 miles.  8 hours of maximum rowing = 12 miles.
  • Small rowboat - normal 12 miles.  Maximum 14 miles.
  • Large rowboat - normal 8 miles.  Maximum 10 miles.
  • If nobody aboard with Boating proficiency then movement rate of kayak, a small canoe, and a coracle are reduced to 1/2 number while large canoe or large rowboat are reduced to 2/3 normal. (WSG pg. 44)

Current Adjustments
  • Very Swift = +40%
  • Swift = +30%
  • Medium = +20%
  • Placid = +10%

Rowing (WSG pg. 45)
  • Max oar rate = 1 turn rest for 2 turns effort or can become fatigued or exhausted.

Fatigue and Exhaustion (WSG pp. 88-89) (DSG pp. 21-22)
  • Fatigued = All ability scores, saving throws, attacks and damage rolls are at a -2 penalty.  Must spend two hours resting
  • Exhausted = All ability scores, saving throws, attacks and damage rolls are at a -4 penalty. Can do very little.  Must rest one hour before having chance to roll to simply be fatigued.
  • Constitution check to go from exhausted->fatigued->normal
  • Failed Con check to go the other way
  • [House rule] Make Con check at the start of the first hour of effort beyond the 8th.  Then determine in which hour of the next 8 the effect will manifest.

Capacity (WSG pg. 44)
  • Small canoe 2+2500
  • Small rowboat 2+2000
  • Large canoe 4+4000
  • Large rowboat 4+4000

Portage (WSG pp. 45-46) 
  • No help from severely encumbered characters
  • Encumbrance values given on pg. 44 account for bulkiness too. Average encumbrance in coins, time to get underway to normal speed and maximum speed in rounds, hull points, draught.
    • Small canoe 800, 1-2, 1-2 HP, 1/4’ draught
    • Small rowboat 850, 1-3, 1-3, 1/2’
    • Large canoe 1100, 1-3, 2-3, 1/3'
    • Large rowboat 1400, 2-5, 2-4, 3/4'
  • Once encumbrance is distributed, no more help from 2x # of characters porting it.  A fifth wheel unlikely to help.

Additional WSG references
  • pg. 50 - 4 days w/o food no problem 
  • pg. 52 - 3 days w/o water no problem
  • pg. 73 - outdoor range of vision typically 500 yards
  • pg. 85 - fighting in water is probably a -4 penalty at least under conditions on the Wild River and reduced damage may apply

Swimming (for shore) (WSG pg. 41) and Encumbrance
  • Humans 4” base and demihumans 3”
  • Strength 16-17 = +1” modifier
  • Strength 18 = +2 modifier
  • No encumbrance = x2
  • Light = x1
  • Moderate = x 1/2
  • Heavy = x 1/4
  • Severe = impossible, will sink at 3x the diving rate

Holding Breath (WSG pg. 43) 
  • 1 minute x 1/3 Con rounded up
  • If not able to fill air with lungs cut time in half
  • If strenuous activity cut time in half
  • Start making constitution checks every minute with +2 accumulating penalty

Drowning (OD&D 1974 vol #3 Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: Naval Combat: Swimming pg. 33)
  • Metallic armor must shed their armor or drown (1 round/AC is my house rule on that)
  • Plate = 100% (no ability to remove in time is assumed by these rules)
  • Chain = 80% drowning and must remove
  • Leather = 20% of drowning, do not need to remove but can
  • In gale/storm [or rapids/cascades) there is a 50% chance that any man in the water will drown.  Roll once per TURN.

Drop Offs (DSG pg. 48)
  • Occur during rapids or cascades
  • Are 1d8 feet high for cascades (DSG pg. 45)
  • Are 1d4 feet high for rapids (DSG pg. 44)
  • Can cause the boat to capsize or cause collision damage
  • There is a 5% / foot fallen chance of collision damage.  Roll on Table 26: Boat Damage pg. 48 DSG.
  • There is also a 5% / foot fallen chance of capsize, however, if there is a character with a Boating* proficiency in the boat and that character successfully makes a check, the boat is righted before it overturns.  Limit 1 check per boat per drop off.
  • *Boating proficiency is an ability check against Wisdom with a +1 modifier to the d20 roll thus making the check harder to succeed.  

Collisions (DSG pg. 48) 
Represents smashing into a large boulder or rocky promontory 
Is a function of width of waterway, speed of the water, and any Boating proficiency as shown in Table 25: Collision Probability at the top of the left column.
  • Width (DSG pg. 44)
    • Narrow width = streams and rivulets and waterways less than 20’ wide and less than 3’ deep
    • Average width = streams and small rivers from 20-60’ wide and usually 4-8’ deep
    • Wide waterways are more than 60’ wide and the depth in the center is generally greater than 8’

Bailing (DSG pg. 48)
A person not occupied with rowing or steering can bail enough water to offset a small hole in the hull

Capsizing (WSG pg. 45)
  • Entering or leaving the boat
  • Abrupt movement within the boat
  • Any other time GM determines
  • DSG pg. 48 says that all loose objects in the boat fall free and must be recovered individually.
  • The chance of capsizing is increased by 25% anytime the chance is non-zero if there is nobody with a Boating proficiency in the craft (WSG pg. 45)
  • If more than one person with the Boating proficiency is aboard, each reduces the chance of capsizing by 20% (WSG pg. 45)

Chance of Capsizing for a Large Rowboat (Table 26, WSG pg. 45)
  • Mild conditions (light wind<15mph or current Placid) 0%
  • Moderate conditions (wind 16-30mph or current Medium) 10%
  • Dangerous conditions (current Swift) 25%
  • Severe conditions (current Very Swift) 40%

Use of capsized vessel (WSG 46) - do all 3 or failure means it will sink beneath the surface
  • Evenly distribute weight
  • Get rid of all gear in boat except 10% of capacity
  • Up to double # of passengers can use for floatation
  • Per DSG pg. 48 it takes 1d4 minutes to refloat a capsized boat (holes must be repaired first)

Rapids (DSG pg. 44)
  • Water travels at 120’-240’/minute
  • Descent of stream bed is 30-200’ over the course of a mile
  • The sound of the rapids can be heard by characters and creatures within 1000’ 
  • Has shorter drop offs (see above)

Cascades (DSG pg. 44)
  • Water travels at 240-600’/minute
  • Waterway descends at a slope of 200-1000’ over the course of a mile
  • The thundering roar of a cascade is usually audible at least a mile away

Waterfalls (pg 45 DSG) = 1000’+ drop/mile 
  • The speed of the water plummeting over the fall is at least 600’/minute
  • Anywhere the water plunges at a slope of more than 1000’ per mile is considered a waterfall for purposes of this rule
  • It is impossible to control a boat going over the falls.  
  • Surviving the plunge is more a matter of luck than skill.

Surviving a tumble over a waterfall (WSG pg. 42)
  • A character carried over a waterfall less than 40’ in height takes no damage.   
  • If a saving throw versus breath weapon succeeds and the waterfall was 40-100’ high, no damage is taken.  
  • If the waterfall is >= 100’ and a saving throw versus breath weapon succeeds, the damage will be 1/10th normal damage (rounded up)
  • A character carried over a waterfall of more than 40’ who fails a save versus breath weapon will take falling damage at half the normal rate