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Ramming speed

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Razortongue bestrides the trireme’s prow as it drifts further away from shore, his harp crackling with electricity. “Look!” he shouts, pointing a clawed finger to the horizon, his dragonish snout wrinkling. “The Shadow’s ship is coming around!”

“Perhaps we can ram his ship with ours!” cries Crogg the half-orc, brandishing his axe.

Thistledown pauses in the middle of looting the corpse of the ship's Captain, looking contemplative. “For the balance of nature to be preserved... let’s sink his stupid ship to the bottom of the ocean.”

Wilfred finishes untying Gothilde from the mainmast; she shakes off the ropes with an irritable huff. “Look,” she says, “I’m all for ramming these assholes into oblivion, but do any of us actually know how to steer a ship?”

“Ugh, buzzkill,” Gary says.

Cass snorts and folds his arms, and Leo shoots Natalie a dirty look. “What?” she says, looking unrepentant. “It’s a specialised skill, and I know for a fact none of you took the sailor background. Do we really stand a chance in a sea-battle against high-level enemy navy dudes?” She gestures at the elaborate map of the deck spread out on the table.

“Well...” Leo mutters.

“That's how you know it'll be a good fight!” Gary says.

“Do you have a better idea?” Cass challenges. “The big bad is right there. We can take him now and win the campaign!”

“Or we could all get horribly killed, and the last month of sessions will end in a TPK with no escape because we’re in the middle of the friggin’ ocean,” Natalie points out.

“Don’t mind them,” Lodge tells her. “They’re just whining because it’s the first plan they’ve agreed on all campaign.”

“Plus I really want to hit a ship with another ship!” Leo says brightly.

“For what it’s worth, though,” Lodge continues, “Wilfred is totally down with the plan. If TV has taught me anything, it’s that ramming always works.” He turns his head. “Honey? What do we have to do?”

Behind the DM screen, Joanna smiles at them all with what Gary thinks is a suspiciously benevolent expression. She might be a relative noob at running games, but he’s already learned to fear and distrust her. “Okay, guys,” she says. “Since none of you have the specific skill, I’m going to call this a flat Wisdom roll.”

“What?” Cass says, with theatrical indignation. “We’re working out a problem intellectually. We can obviously use skill checks on this.”

“Says the bard with all his points in Int-based skills,” says Leo, leaning over to eyeball Cass’ character sheet.

“Knowing how a boat works in theory isn’t the same as being able to operate one,” Joanna points out.


“DM says no,” Joanna says. She points imperiously over her screen. “Anyone who wants to ram, roll.”

“Can I roll to figure out if this is a bad idea?” Natalie says.

“Sure! Roll insight.”

There is a clatter of d20s.

“Ugh, six,” Cass says. “Stupid 9 in Wisdom.”

“What?” Gary says. “You haven’t fixed that? We’ve had, like, two ability score improvements since this campaign started.”

Cass glowers. “Feats are better,” he growls, “Get off my case!” Gary holds up his hands. Like he wants to get into this.

“Seventeen!” Leo says proudly. “Crogg could totally steer a boat.”

“Twelve,” Lodge says gloomily, staring at the 8 on his dice. Even Wilfred’s high-falutin’ ranger wisdom doesn’t help if the dice aren’t on his side.

“Nineteen on insight!” Natalie crows. “Damn, where as that roll when I was tied to a mast for three rounds?”

Gary stretches elaborately and clasps his hands behind his head. “And once again, the druid saves the day. 22 for Thistledown!” He drums his hands on the table. “Tell me I know how to steer this ship.”

Joanna nods thoughtfully. “Okay. Here’s what you figure out...”

Razortongue searches his repertoire of songs and stories, and remembers that boats are steered by rudders. Or possibly oars and sails. Annoyingly, sea shanties don’t tend to explain their sailor lingo. Whatever, he’s here to inspire heroism, not do drudge work.

Cass tilts his chin, looking mollified.

Wilfred, being a forest-dwelling Halfling, has had very little experience with boats. He might be able to figure out how to steer a full-sized trireme, but not with confidence, and not in the time they’ve got before The Shadow’s ship is upon them.

“You’re so good at characters,” Lodge says adoringly.

“Ugh, dungeon master’s boyfriend,” Gary says. Joanna ignores this.

Crogg is well-versed in the movement of bodies, and can figure out the forces it’d take to run the trireme at speed into the enemy ship’s broadside. Thistledown, though, gains insight from the wind and water, and knows exactly what he has to do. Between the two of them, they can carry out this plan.

Leo gives Gary a high five that rings through the room. Gary does a hip thrust of victory on his way back down to his seat that he feels is well-deserved.

“Okay, so we’re doing this, right?” Leo says excitedly. “Prepare for ramming speed!”

“Hang on a second,” Natalie says. "How did my insight roll go?"

Gothilde realises that none of them bothered to check below decks after they finished fighting everyone up top.

“...Balls,” Gary says.

Lodge shakes his head. “I knew I should have checked that hatch on the map.”

Joanna smiles sunnily. “Roll initiative,” she says.


The ensuing battle takes another hour to play through, and by the time they’re done clearing the ship of tieflings, imps, and one total asshole of a clay golem, they are out of spell slots, out of arrows, and out of time. The Shadow’s ship disappears over the horizon, sailing away from another day, and Leo is muttering about having to open up the store at a respectable time tomorrow.

“Ugh, ending a game early so I can go to bed at a respectable time?” Gary says. “What’s happened to me?”

“Tell me about it,” Cass mutters. “I never thought I’d be playing a campaign with two ex-girlfriends.”

“Oh, no,” Natalie says perkily, “You’re capable of friendship with women you aren’t banging. What kind of man are you?”

“I can’t tell which part you’re being sarcastic about,” Cass says, frowning.

Joanna pats his arm. “That is why you fail,” she says. “Good game, everyone. See you next week!”