Friday, March 23, 2012

Mare Nostrum

A while ago, I was looking for some good naval rules that I could incorporate into my toolbox for D&D and Labyrinth Lord. I was looking for a simple set of rules that I could tweak a bit and make work for a scenario I have in mind down the road in my current campaign. That search made me realize that there really are not that many medieval or fantasy naval games available.

All of the fantasy sets I could find had too many fantasy elements that complicated the rules and make the games harder to play. They may be good in their own right, but they don't fit with what I wanted. Most of the historical naval games seem to cluster around ancients, the Age of Sail, or modern, including World War II. Obviously the modern rules were out. In terms of tactics, medieval naval fighting follow the ancient period for the most part, but there are a few telling differences. Unfortunately, most of the ancients games didn't allow for medieval developments. The Age of Sail games all include cannon and tactics that derive from their use. Since I'm not a fan of gunpowder in D&D, that ruled them out.

Finally, I found a set of rules that covered both the ancient and medieval periods, were simple and self-contained, and (best of all) free. Mare Nostrum seemed to have everything I needed. Unfortunately, the rules were in Italian, a language that I don't even pretend to read or speak. I managed to find the author's email address and dropped him a message. Despite not speaking a bit of English, he was able to put enough together to let me know that the game was only available in Italian.

A couple pleas on Google+ fell into the void without any real response, so I did what I could with Google Translate, Babel Fish, my rudimentary Latin, and a bit of naval history. In the end, I was able to put together a basic English translation of the rules for Mare Nostrum. I fired off another email to Mr. Affinati, and he agreed that I could publish the rules here.

I don't pretend this is the most accurate translation. I tried to present the intent of the rules rather than a word-for-word rendering. If anyone knows Italian and can suggest improvements in the translation, let me know. Also, if you play the game and have suggestions for ways to improve it, I would be happy to hear those comments as well.

I'll be working on translating the scenarios and adding some variants as I get time. If anyone has suggestions for what they might want to see in that regard, drop me a line.

Mare Nostrum Rules - English


  1. Well done Bob, I look forward to hearing how well these rules work with your game.

  2. I've always played naval combat in D&D as highly abstracted (exchange of catapult fire) then, once the ships grapple and board, it essentially becomes a dungeon crawl, often with a hastily scribbled map by the DM, although, "all hands on deck" usually means that the bulk of the fighting is on the first deck. Sometimes there's weirdness to be found down in the hold.

  3. Might I suggest RAMSPEED from Metagaming? Out of print but you can find the rulebook online.

  4. Thanks for the comments, everybody. I'll definitely let you all know how things work in the game when we get there. It's still quite a ways off at the rate we're going.

    @Fey Enchantress - In the past, this is exactly the way that I have treated both naval combat and mass combat. Lately I've been reconnecting with a lot of my wargaming instincts, so I wanted to bring some of that back into my RPGs. I'm not at all interested in man-to-man combat using miniatures, but I do want to have some larger battles on the table top as special events. I plan to use Chainmail, Swords & Spells, or some mix for small-scale actions and then move into Warmaster for the large-scale stuff. At the same time, I plan to have some big naval actions happening. The PCs may be directly involved in any or all of these, but they won't have as much effect as they would if they were in a standard D&D combat. They will be the heroes, generals, or admirals, and I want to have systems that allow that level of abstraction.

    @eltf177 - Ram Speed looks like a good game, but it doesn't advance anything past the ancient period that I found. If you know of any resources for advancing RS to the medieval period, let me know and I'll check it out.