Play by the Rules: Random Ship Selector

Game Ready Content Generators gming House Rule Ideas

Guided by a firm belief that the books are just the beginning, we here at Intwischa are pleased to present “Play By The Rules”, an ongoing series that will provide custom mechanics for your favorite RPGs! These posts will strive to give players and storytellers alike original, creative, game-ready ways to add spice and texture to all kinds of role-playing experiences. Here’s hoping you’ll try one out, leave a comment, or suggest your own!

Francesco Miglionico – Sailing Ship ploughing the Waves by Scarygami via Flickr

Ahoy mateys! If ye be steering yer gamin’ group toward a nautical-themed adventure then ye may be wantin’ to test these waters… Ok, so I’m no sailor. In fact, I’ve never been on a real ship. Don’t want to. Afraid it will sink. With me on it. But that irrational fear has never translated to my favorite campaigns, where several key plot lines depend on high-sea hijinks and maritime mayhem. Centered on a prominent family who owns their own shipping line, our adventuring party played the crew of one of the finest ships in the fleet. Each of them had a hired position on the vessel. Their foes all lived in, or drew their strength from, the seas swelling around them. My lack of personal experience, however, made it necessary to do a little research to craft a (somewhat) convincing nautical yarn.

A major component in this ship-borne storytelling is the vessel itself. The ship is really an NPC, a character in its own right, that takes on a personality and a role in the adventure. It has a name. It (usually) has some kind of stat block. However, if (like me) you have little or no background in this area it can be challenging to put together a craft that seems real enough to keep the characters invested and provide a salty stage for their exploits. While I spent lots of time on lots of websites digging out all the details I needed to “build” a convincing vessel, you don’t have to any more! Thanks to Intwischa you can use our new Random Ship Selector, a valuable tool for players and game masters alike to create their very own unique sailing ship. Use one table if you get stuck, or use them all to start from scratch. All you need is a D20 and a lot of imagination!

NAME (D20)

1. Proper Name: Male (The Alexander)

2. Proper Name: Female (The Elisabeta)

3. Proper Name: City (The Manitawoc)

4. Proper Name: Famous Person (The Gary Gygax)

5. Animal (The Narwhal)

6. Weather Feature (The Monsoon)

7. Color + Weather Feature (The Black Rain)

8. Color + Female Name (The Red Mariah)

9. Color + Male Name (The White William)

10. Color + Animal (The Green Tiger)

11. Precious Metal + Animal (The Platinum Porpoise)

12. Precious Metal+ Weapon (The Golden Lance)

13. Precious Metal + Weather Feature (The Silver Squall)

14. Precious Metal + Female Name (The Brass Candace)

15. Precious Metal + Flower (The Copper Lily)

16. “The” Adjective (The Resplendent)

17. Male Name + Precious Stone (The Gregory’s Pearl)

18. Precious Stone + Weather Feature (The Opal Gale)

19. Precious Stone + Animal (The Jade Lobster)

20. “The” Ship’s Role (The Instigator)




1-2/Argosy: 3 masts, large trading vessel capable of carrying substantial quantities over long distances with relatively small crews; difficult to maneuver in rough open waters, despite an average crew of 150 or more.

3-4/Carrack: 3 masts, very large ship used for exploration & cargo, cumbersome but easily maintains her course and heading through all kinds of weather; rarely sails with over 75 crew members.

5-6/Chebec: 3 masts, expensive to build and sail as its complicated rigging system requires over 150 bodies to run; fast, maneuverable vessel with optional oars for steerage and rowing by an average crew of 50 or more.

7-8/Corvette: 3 masts, lightly armed vessel frequently used for coastal patrols, where its speed and maneuverability make it ideally suited; sails with 50 bodies plus optional gunnery crew.

9-10/Frigate: 3 masts, medium sized vessel with a decent armament, most often used for escort and reconnaissance duties; can sail easily with a crew between 30 and 40 men.

11-12/Galleon: 4 mast vessel with an immense cargo hold, usually lightly armed and very stable in any weather; crew size usually starts at 150 sailors, but depends on the cargo.

13-14/Hulk: 2 masts, large vessel mainly used for transport of passengers and large cargo alike; hard to steer but sturdy and requires only a minimum crew of 25 bodies.

15-16/Packet: 2 masts, relatively small craft but large comfortable quarters for its role as a passenger vessel; needs only a dedicated crew of 20 sailors.

17-18/Pinnace: 2 masts, small ship to ensure speed and handling to make it ideal for supply runs and delivering messages and personnel; requires a minimum crew of 10 bodies, but runs smoothly with just over 20.

19-20/Tartane: Single-masted commercial vessel with unequalled speed, used to carry passengerss and cargo locally; usually sails with 15 crew members aboard.

[**For an exhaustive and scholarly list of every sailing vessel imaginable, check out!]


1. Salvaged: The ship must undergo extensive repairs before it can set sail; the mission is delayed D6 days (@1000 gp per day).

2. Custom Craft: Special modifications give this ship an edge; each character aboard receives a +1 background bonus to a defense value of their choice.

3-4. Work Horse: Regular maintenance is necessary to keep this ship running reliably; invest 1 day/1000 gp in the needed upkeep.

5-6. Veteran Crew: Experienced sailors are a worthy investment; each player character receives an advance of D20 x 25 gp for their service before the journey begins.

7-14. Ship Shape: The ship is fit to sail, and the voyage may begin immediately.

15. Old Salt: Years of service are catching up with this vessel; the ship needs 2 more days/2000 gp of repairs before launching.

16. Pride of the Fleet: The name of this vessel is known wherever she sails; each character aboard gains a +2 morale bonus to Charisma-based skill checks so long as they remain with this crew.

17. Flying Colors: Proud to sail under this ship’s flag, each character aboard gains a +1 morale bonus to Initiative rolls so long as they remain with this crew.

18-19. Short handed: Additional crew members must be hired and paid before the ship can set sail; spend D20 x 50 gp for the remaining needed crew members.

20. Guided by Stars: This vessel always seems to find its way home; each character aboard ship receives a +2 luck bonus to one trained skill of their choice so long as they remain with this crew.



1. Shipping Precious Cargo (legal)

2. Shipping Precious Cargo (contraband)

3. Deliver a Message (routine)

4. Deliver a Message (urgent)

5. Provide an Escort (military)

6. Provide an Escort (cargo)

7. Provide an Escort (transport)

8. Picking Up Cargo

9. Transportation (civilians)

10. Transportation (dignitary)

11. Transportation (commissioned)

12. Exploration (destination)

13. Exploration (open water)

14. Rescue Mission (stranded ship)

15. Rescue Mission (missing person)

16. Treasure-Hunting (open water)

17. Treasure-Hunting (artifact)

18. Ship/Cargo Salvage

19. Hunting Expedition (common)

20. Hunting Expedition (extraordinary)

Can you tell us a tale of the bottomless blue? Have you been heav’d by the leg with a runnin’ bowline? Were you as freaked out as we were by the mermaids in “Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides”? Don’t put that message in a bottle- leave it in the Comments!


  1. Posted 06/07/2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I love charts. I’m of half a mind to draw up “what kind of cargo” or “what kind of contraband” to add to this :)

  2. avatar BryanMD
    Posted 06/07/2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Please do! I only stopped in the interest of space. I began sketching out charts for “Starting Weather Conditions”, “Starting Location”, “Crew Generator”, etc. but I’m only calling dibs on that last one. Please add to it if you can- I love charts as much as you I think!