Federation-Apocalypse Session 64: The Black Navy

   When you come right down to it, in those cases where there’s any real question about the outcome, naval races and combat revolves heavily around the piloting skill; in a race? Roll and add the speed modifier. Maneuvering for position or in a fight? Roll piloting and add the maneuver modifier; the winner gets a better position (+2 to hit) and gets to shoot first. In general, a ship in a fight can use two sets of guns – one side and either fore or aft – in any given round. A ship that’s lost motive power may use one set, and the two captains roll opposing maneuver checks to see who gets to pick them.

   The Distant Voyager, commanded by Captain Rata, is a three-masted schooner. While the good captain prefers peaceful trading and exploration, over the last couple of thousand years he’s made sure that he’s ready for pretty much everything – right down to taking most of the Rider sequence and Skill Focus (Epic Stunts) with his piloting skill. Like so many other Captains of the Manifold however, he prefers relatively small ships to larger targets.

  • Schooner Basics: 90×18 feet, 160 HP, Universal DR 8/- (Copper-Sheathed Oak), AC 12 (Base 16, size modifier of -4), Cargo Capacity 80 Tons, Draft 7-8 feet. Critical hits may do extra damage, damage a randomly-selected system, cause crew injuries, or start leaks, with roughly equal odds.
  • Crew: Nominally Captain, Navigator, Carpenter, Surgeon, Magician / Technician (depending on primary area of Manifold operations), Gunner/Armorer, twelve seamen, and up to four apprentices, with provision for up to six upper-class passengers. Can carry a contingent of up to 16 additional sailors or marines with crowding. Currently Captain Rata, Navigator Maui, several specialists (as yet un-named), and 16 Thralls as seamen.
  • Drive Systems:
    • Low-Tech Mode: Wind, crew 8, Speed +8, Maneuver +2. Standard iron anchor and sea anchor.
    • Mid-Tech Mode: Unknown, a steam system is likely.
    • High-Tech Mode: Unknown. Likely none, since Captain Rata spends most of his time in low-technology regions and probably wouldn’t want to waste the space.
  • Instrumentation:
    • Low- and Mid-Tech Mode: Lookout and Spyglass, Sounding Line, Compass, Sextant.
    • High-Tech Mode: Unknown, but unlikely. Neither Captain Rata nor Navigator Maui need such things.
  • Weaponry and Defenses:
    • Low–Tech Mode: Four light catapults (apparently using greek fire firebombs).
    • Mid-Tech Mode: Muzzle loading black powder cannon. Two light chasers each forward and aft (Swivel mounts. Cannon Ball; 3d6, Crit 19+/x3, 200′ range increment, or Grapeshot; 2d6 to all hit within a 5′ line, 40′ range increment), six medium cannon (5d6, Crit 18+/x3, 150′ range increment), each port and starboard.
    • High-Tech Mode: Repair microbots, otherwise unknown.

   The Saucy Wench, commanded by Captain “Black” Marty Tabard, is a light sloop, rigged for exploration, speciality trading (due to limited cargo space specializing in light, high-value, low-bulk items), and light anti-pirate actions. Despite Marty’s ambitions, he does not yet feel comfortable commanding the hundreds of men that crew really large sailing vessels.

  • Light Sloop Basics: 85×20 feet, 180 HP, Universal DR 8/- (Copper-Sheathed Oak), AC 12 (Base 16, size modifier of -4), Cargo Capacity 60 Tons, Draft 6-8 feet.
  • Crew: Nominally Captain, Lieutenant, Carpenter, Surgeon, Cook, Sailmaker, Magician / Technician (depending on primary area of Manifold operations), Gunner/Armorer, twenty-four seamen, and four apprentices, with provision for up to four upper-class passengers. Can carry a contingent of up to 20 marines, but this gets pretty cramped. Currently Marty, Limey, Kevin, Jamie, A’ikana, 22 werewolf-Thralls and 14 Thralls. Fortunately, thanks to Marty’s inspirational abilities, the Thralls are generally capable of handling most of the specialist jobs.
  • Drive Systems:
    • Low-Tech Mode: Wind, primary mast and foremast, crew 8, Speed +6, Maneuver +2. Standard iron anchor and sea anchor.
    • Mid-Tech Mode: Steam, light boiler (the tank of fuel oil is good for about twenty-four hours at full steam, can burn coal or wood with minor adjustments), crew 4, Speed +6, Maneuver +6.
    • High-Tech Mode: Fusion generator, rating-II force-field generator (+10 AC vrs physical attacks, +10 DR versus physical attacks, manipulate up to 50 tons of material, crew 2, Speed +10, Maneuver +8
  • Instrumentation:
    • Low- and Mid-Tech Mode: Lookout and Spyglass, Sounding Line, Compass, Sextant.
    • High-Tech Mode: Radar, Sonar, IR/UV, Chemical, and various other systems, generally with a base range of 3000 feet (or to the horizon for radar). Computer piloting and force-construct assistance. Four probe/light-combat crew-support drones.
  • Weaponry and Defenses:
    • Low–Tech Mode: Two light catapults, two light ballistae.
    • Mid-Tech Mode: Muzzle loading black powder cannon. Two light chasers each forward and aft (Swivel mounts. Cannon Ball; 3d6, Crit 19+/x3, 200′ range increment, or Grapeshot; 2d6 to all hit within a 5′ line, 40′ range increment), four medium cannon (5d6, Crit 18+/x3, 150′ range increment), each port and starboard.
    • High-Tech Mode: Four microfusion missile launchers (5d20, 10-40 foot radius depending on setting, no criticals, 200′ range increment to a maximum of -6 due to active guidance), Rating-II Force-Field Generator and Casamir Negative-Energy Generator (+10 AC vrs physical attacks, +10 DR versus physical attacks that also protects passengers from external attacks, energy-absorption capacity of 150 points recharging at ten points per round).

   With the expedition underway – hopefully to wind up at the Crusade Kingdoms (although you never really knew out in the Manifold) – things rapidly settled down into a shipboard routine. The first day or so out of the harbor (when it would be easy to turn around) always went smoothly.

   Well, mostly. With a monk aboard who didn’t approve of any of them in the slightest, twenty-two werewolves trying to sort themselves out into a pack, and a sentient child laptop/spellbook who was a bit too fond of polymorph effects, things never really had a chance to get entirely quiet.

   At least they didn’t get stopped by any of the upper-circle carrier battlegroups on patrol. Quite a few of the first and second-circle worlds made a point of patrolling their waters, whether in an attempt to restrict shipping, to stamp out the slave trade, or simply in self-defense – and they tended to use high-tech, military-class, ships to do it.

   And, in a way, they really couldn’t deny being slave-traders, even if they did recruit volunteers.

   The lookout did sight an unmarked ship on the horizon – but Captain Rata simply gave it a wide berth. After all, it could be pirates – and you never knew what sort of weird powers they might have (or what kind of creatures they might be) out here on the open seas. It could be ordinary saber-and-pistol types – or it could be something far worse.

   He kept it on the horizon, never losing sight of it until they were well around it. Whoever-it-was either did not notice or did not (apparently) care.

“Well, that was easy enough!”

“Whew.”

“Aye, it is a good omen. Hopefully the rest of this voyage will be so easy.”

   Marty and Kevin got on a private channel… “Oh no, he jinxed it!” “By this time I bet he has an immunity to jinxes!” “But do we?” “No, I think our mere presence tends to jinx things.”

“We should be coming up on the straits here sometime in the next day or so. Hopefully things have died down since the last time I was through there.”

   Marty, Jamie, and A’ikana got busy on what they could expect, what plans they might make, and on general preparedness.

   Kevin – who had long ago concluded that the Manifold was pretty much impossible to anticipate, and that the best you could do was make sure you were ready to go and relax otherwise – opted to snag one of the werewolves and start tickling. Limey joined in; he was about equivalent to eight now, and thought that werewolves made GREAT pets. (Marty thought that Limey’s TEEN years were going to be interesting – although then he’d get old and wrinkly, and start needing to be dipped in the fountain of upgrades / youth).

   As far as preparations went, it seemed that “the” Straits (actually a selection of straits in one area) were normally under the control of the British (depending on where you went the Napoleonic, Victorian, or Colonial Empire bunch). The British were usually well-mannered and ran a smooth and efficient operation there; a ship came by, an assessor came on board – or called for assistance if the ship was a blatant pirate, slaver, or full of undead or something – and asked a few questions about cargo, origin and destination. After that, the assessor usually leveled some sort of fee for free passage through the straits – most of which apparently went to paying for the patrols. It was well worth it for the travel time saved by not having to go the long way even if you didn’t need the protection of the patrols.

   Unfortunately, the last time he’d been through, there had been some pretty fierce fighting going on. It had looked like the French and German navies had been trying to assert control over the straits or otherwise blockade traffic.

   Meanwhile, Kevin and Limey were giving the (rather embarrassed) young werewolf a belly rub… So the French were after the straits? It might be part of what was going on with the English Magi and the Continental Werewolves in that quasi-Napoleonic realm they’d pulled most of their current crew out of; that sort of thing tended to echo in nearby realms. He’d have to tell them to stay in human form for awhile. Otherwise they might wind up with people after them from all sides.

“Oh well… Who’s a french werewolf then? I’ve got your ears!”

   A’ikana gave Kevin a rather chilling look for that; did the boy have no respect for the dignity of his bondservants at ALL? – but it just slid off him like she wasn’t even there.

   The dawn wasn’t particularly impressive, unless – perhaps – you were into lowering clouds, general dimness, and chilling winds. Distant thunder, distant gunfire, and flashes of light up ahead. The seas were rough, and getting rougher – and there were traces of foul magic everywhere. Blasted psychotropic landscape. Well, at least there was enough magic to use.

   Marty had Limey go inanimate and put him away for the moment: no use getting him exposed to cannonfire again.

   Within the straits, they had rain, lightning, thunder, cannonfire, magical spells being hurled, and general destruction. It looked like there was a good-sized battle going on.

“Well drat, I was hoping this business had finished by now. It looks like the battle is running even fiercer now than last time. The way I see it, we have two choices here; we can go around and add two or three weeks to our travel time or we can run the straits and hope the Brits have those bastards busy enough not to notice us.”

“Well, you’re the ship pilot: I’d prefer speed, and we can defend ourselves fairly well – but I don’t have much information on the risks here.”

“Alright, speed it is then.”

   They signaled to the Saucy Wench to follow fast and tight and started their run through the straits.

“Looks like their foul magics are kicking up a storm as well, so I want everything tied down! Make sure the weapons are ready if we should draw unwanted attention!”

   Kevin and the Thralls got to work on a selection of minor protective, blurring, and speed-boosting spells on both ships. They couldn’t do much to a ship with low-level magic, but every little bit would probably help. By the time they were done, and the rest of the preparations were complete, the rain was falling hard and heavy. Lightning, flashes of magic, and cannonfire lit up the dark sky as ships and coastal fortifications duked it out in the midst of the storm.

   Kevin and the Thralls kept an eye out for swimmers, floaters, and small boats; they could fish them out pretty easily with a bit of telekinesis without even having to slow down – and they might have some useful information. If they were really hostile, and they didn’t pick it up on the way up, they could always toss them back in.

   They picked up about a dozen – all there seemed to be – when they passed the burning remains of a British vessel slowly sinking beneath the waves. Definitely a magical zone; none of them were at all surprised at being snatched from the water by invisible forces.

“Thank you for saving me and my men, I am captain Ramius, former captain of the HMS Gertrude.”

“Oh you’re welcome. Couldn’t just leave you to drown.”

“Well, welcome aboard the Distant Voyager. Captian Rata is over there. I am ambassador Kierroth, and this is Captain Marty; his ship is currently following. I take it there is an ongoing battle in the area?”

“Pleased to meet you. And yes, there is a rather significant naval engagement going on. Looks like the French have allied with some German prince and are trying to make an attempt for the Straits. Bloody bastards are using necromancy.”

“That a German specialty?”

“Well, that’s usually self-destructive in the long run.”

“Germans never have a set specialty, every bunch of them seems to have their own little thing. Some can be the most unflinching supporters of God, and then others aren’t. This just looks like one of the worst of them.”

“So what are these guys making corpses into?”

“Well I will tell you it’s been pretty destructive around here. We’ve lost about 20 ships thus far and although the French have lost more than that the Germans are fishing up bodies and using them to replenish the French forces. Thus far we’ve seen ghouls, skeletons, zombies, and the occasional lich from one of our mages. Luckily mainly skeletons and zombies.”

   Kevin had to fight the impulse to wander off into a local ID and get involved. That was just the adaption talent working!

“Well, I hope that we do not encounter any major battles: we are not exactly set up for them since this is, in theory, a peaceful mission.”

“Well good luck with that, as the bastards have been pretty focused on our ship and fortifications. Although some of the German ships have been attacking merchant vessels looking for more corpses to add to their ranks.”

   The occasional stray cannonball lent that some emphasis, even if they did tend to prompt Marty to wave and grin.

“Blast; seas are too rough to run along the edges of the straits. We are going to have to move a bit closer to the center. I want some wind in those sails and I want it now! Should be plenty lying around as we’re sitting in the middle of a damned storm. So move it!”

   The Saucy Wench was struggling to keep up, so Marty called on his girlfriends to help him out with a telekinetic boost as he jumped back over. It was his ship, and he was by far the best sailor normally aboard.

   As he leapt into the air, soaring across the sky, he landed on one foot on top at the top of the mast of a French vessel. The mast bent over into a inverted U shape as it absorbed Marty’s momentum and he had a brief moment to wave at the French captain – staring, with his jaw hanging open – as he bounced off again towards the the Saucy Wench.

   Marty spoke French, so why not?

“Surrender now, I know you’re going to anyway!”

   The mast – already weakened and overstressed in the storm – rebounded, slapped the water on the other side of the ship, and broke in half. Marty left a storm of angry curses behind as he landed on the Saucy Wench. He laughed and brandished his blade, drawing on his inspirational talents;

“Hoist the sails, ye buccaneers! The Distant Voyager be fast, and I don’t want to be too far from it! The wind be blowing mighty fine, and I wish to tame this wench!”

   Marty had things running more smoothly soon enough – Jamie was strong on discipline, if not much for piloting sailing vessels – but found it almost impossible to make up the distance (except when Captain Rata hung back a bit) or to avoid coming closer to the other ships in the strait than the Distant Voyager did. While they were only a thousand feet or so apart, one of the German ships got close enough to the Saucy Wench to try an interception.

   Kevin and Captain Rata got the message through a Thrall – but without a local ID, Kevin’s power was pretty limited at that range. He could start their rigging decaying, but it was going to take a couple of minutes to really take effect.

   Kevin hyped up his senses and started in on watching for incoming spells and on destroying the rigging of all the French and German ships he could spot. It looked like the locals were into more flashy magic, so his little long-range curses might pass unnoticed long enough to cause some real trouble – especially in a storm like this.

   Meanwhile, Marty was readying the cannon. He couldn’t match the locals raw firepower, but his ship and crew were fresh, his crewmen were tougher and stronger than any normal human – and their morale was perfect. He might take more than he gave in an exchange of broadsides, but he could make it up again in the boarding action – and all he had to do was hold them off for long enough for Kevin’s little cursing spree to take effect.

   Back aboard the Distant Voyager, Captain Ramius was evaluating his hosts. Marty’s little leap had been pretty impressive – although it didn’t really seem like much of a spell on it’s own – but this youthful Ambassador apparently also had magic to burn, and Captain Rata’s skills were most impressive as well, despite the fact that the crew seemed to consist entirely of youngsters. The flag though… It was stirring some old memories. Nursery tales? No, Fairy Tales. The seal of… One of the kingdoms of the fey? Tir Nan Og? Oh, surely not.

   Then he looked at the crew and the “Ambassador” again.

   Well, they seemed to dislike necromancy, they wanted to sail the straits without them being a war zone, and it wasn’t like they couldn’t use some allies. It wouldn’t make up for the loss of his ship of course, but it was something positive to report.

   Meanwhile, Marty was having a grand time. With the sea so rough, cannonfire wasn’t quite a waste of time – but it wasn’t far from it either. It was going to come down to a boarding action, and that was HIS speciality.

   Marty pointed and laughed as cannon shots proceed to go all around the Saucy Wench, hitting everything but it. There was swearing in German as whoever was in charge aboard his opponent shouted at his crew.

“Do ye need new glasses cap’n, or just new eyes?!”

“Maybe I will take yours! SCHIESSEN!!!”

   Marty had the Thralls hold their fire until the last moments of closing: at that range you almost couldn’t miss! He brandished his blade as he shouted the order to unload a full broadside into the enemy ship – and scored four direct hits!

   Sadly, neither could the enemy – scoring four hits as well before the boarding action began!

   Still, it was all well above the waterline. Nothing critical on either side. He and the enemy got in another barrage each – both aiming low (despite the fact that that order clashed with every ridiculous motivational seminar that Marty had ever had to attend), and scoring several hits – but then the ships were simply too close. Artillery duel; inconclusive. They’d both be taking on some water – but not enough to stop them any time soon.

   One of the sailors they’d rescued started blasting away with fire magic – some sort of pillar of flame effect or a minor elemental or some such – but it was a bit too soggy for that to be an ideal choice.

“Prepare for boarding!”

   The crew – and the non-spellcasters among the Brit’s they’d rescued – began scrambling onto deck with a variety of weapons. Many were thrown from their feet as the ships collided, but Marty held his ground – and led the charge, screaming, frothing at the mouth, and milking his Presence power for all it was worth!

   The wave of undead horrors rose to meet him, bringing with them the sickening stench of an opened grave as they strove to overwhelm the crew with sheer numbers!

   They were a nuisance – but such minor undead were no match for Marty, Jamie, A’ikana, and a crew of werewolf-thralls in a melee. The fact that several of the older Thralls – better trained in the use of their abilities – simply leapt over the undead swarm to take the fight directly to the living enemy was a nasty surprise for the Germans as well. When the British mage hit the enemy sails with a fireball it was just icing on the cake.

   Marty let his wounds heal themselves as he hewed his way through the swarm – but the enemy mage hit the British mage with some sort of electrical attack, sending agonizing electrical arcs rolling across his body. Fortunately, there were more than enough Thralls available to help him out – and he got off another spell, although it didn’t have any obvious effect until a wave of undead reinforcements ran into an invisible barrier when they tried to leap across the gap between the ships and fell into the sea.

“Yarr! Me ship is too good for ye scallywags!”

   Marty was mildly impressed; invisible barriers were pretty handy, and it was a good spell to be able to get off after what had looked like a pretty nasty hit. It started looking even better after the necromancer’s next spell bounced off it – starting him cursing furiously.

   Unfortunately, the barrier kept Marty from reaching the Necromancer as well. Ah well, they were just trying to hold them back and it looked like their mage was down to magic missiles.

   With it’s sails scorched and crumbling, the attackers started to fall behind. The Necromancer threw an ominous bolt of dark destruction at the wall of force – which held for a moment, but then collapsed. The mage swore as the necromancer gloated – and a last few boarders managed to cross the gap.

   Marty had about half the Thralls give the ship a telekinetic push. They couldn’t keep that up for very long – but it sent the ship lunging forward, beginning to gain speed as it crushed undead between it and the enemy ship and ran others down.

   Marty grinned and started eliminating the last remnants of the boarding party. They’d lost about half a mile during that brief conflict – but a lot of the other enemy ships were having trouble with their sails.

“No eyes for ye, ye Kraut!”

   They managed to make up some distance on the Distant Voyager before the telekinetic push wore off. Cannon fire zipped by all around them as ships fired at each other – but it looked like Captain Rata’s course was successfully zig-zagging them past the battle areas and avoiding getting in-between the opposing sides. Soon enough, they were through the battlezone and in the straits.

   Well, they’d annoyed at least one German captain and necromancer, and hopefully Kevin’s curses had annoyed others among the French and German combatants. It certainly looked like they’d had some effect, since the British seemed to have a good edge at the moment.

   According to the British sailors the French had been attempting to take over as many of the major trade and navigation hubs and chokepoints as they could. It looked rather like they were trying to seize the Manifold travel choke points. The Germans were a recent addition to the mess, and their motives weren’t exactly clear.

   It looked like there was a major age of exploration trade war going on. The type of economic activity that Marty could normally get right behind (He’d have to open up an office around here!) – but the undead were definitely a downside. They weren’t any fun, a suit couldn’t make them presentable, and they couldn’t sell stuff worth crap.

   The British had a stronghold at the other end of the Strait. It would be a convenient place to drop off their passengers. There were places for sailing overland, but this wasn’t one of them.

   The place was a mess though. There were warships attempting to go the other direction, ships coming in for repairs, and merchantmen dropping of supplies to be carried overland to the battle. They tried to avoid formal entanglements; there would be inquiries of course – in fact, someone was coming to meet them as they pulled into the docks – but they might be able to get away without too many formal explanations.

“Welcome to Las Kaches. I am Jason Custone, a member of the dock authority here. May I please ask for your names, ship names and business?”

“I’m Captain Marty of the Saucy Wench.”

“I am Ambassador Kierroth, this is Captain Rata (Kevin ran through the list of officers), the ships are the Distant Voyager and the Saucy Wench, and we are simply passing through; we of course rescued those in need of assistance on the way.”

“Ah good, nice to have good Samaritans help out along the way. I am rather surprised you managed to get through the battle at the other end based on everything I’ve heard. Must have been some real good sailing to have gotten through that mess with as little damage as you did. We shall pay you then for the return of our sailors. That should be more than enough to cover the repairs, but I am afraid you may have to go elsewhere for that or do it yourselves. As you can see our shipwrights are rather busy.”

“Where’s the nearest port?”

“That would be the Port of Reung about 15 nautical miles out, an island situated near the entrance of the straits. Not officially ours, but well governed.”

   Hm. The Thralls could do a lot of mending where magic worked, but it would be a lot easier – a day or less rather than a week or more – if they weren’t underway at the time. They thanked Mr Custone for his directions.

“Thank you for returning our sailors, and if you are ever looking for some cash, please remember we pay privateers handsomely for their services.”

“Thanks, I’ll definitely remember that.”

   Kevin sighed. Marty was going to be starting a navy next… The Battling Dutch East Indies Company?

   Port Reung was decent enough. While repairs were underway, Kevin took a look around for local thrall-candidates; it gave him a chance to try out his summoning talent. He looked for “kids who need someplace to go and are desperate enough to really seriously consider signing up”. That would reach a six mile radius – and there might be a few; large-scale war made a lot of orphans and such.

   As it turned out, there were six available. They got a good meal, and some money to pay for their walk, and the usual sales pitch. All of them signed up, so there was no need for memory-blurring. That would cover Marty’s office staff here – but he refrained from setting up a gate for them as of yet. That would sort of undermine the traveling-by-sea-to-avoid-detection bit.

   Marty spent some money and got an office set up. It would be handy for starting that fleet!

   Secondarily, he reported in and spent some time with Limey and tried to gauge his maturity. What kind of training would be best for him? He was fair at magic and his social skills should improve with more interaction – but it looked like he’d be good at number crunching, reference searching, and other abstract skills. No real surprise there, but he’d have to get Limey some more spells and perhaps a computer programming and security tutor.

   Well, so far it hadn’t been too bad. According to Captain Rata, it should be fairly clear sailing until they hit the border regions near the End of the World. There were some pretty ugly storms that they were going to have to sail through.

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