Saturday, December 28, 2019

Bireme & Galley

     I picked up what I believe is the penultimate piece in my first edition Chivalry & Sorcery collection (the Arden campaign setting is the only book I don't have now), Bireme & Galley Naval Warfare, Egypt to Lepanto.
    The first 34 pages are descriptions of Mediterranean and Atlantic vessels from Egyptian Punts used in the East Africa trade to the early modern Caravel type sailing vessels.  They are copiously accompanied by line drawings by Edward Simbalist, done very much in the style of one R.N. Jones late of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, Navy Department of the United States who is credited with the ship drawings in the source material this work draws upon - Admiral Rodgers seminal Greek and Roman Naval Warfare and Naval Warfare Under Oars.  These volumes have graced my own shelves for a number of decades, legacy of my previous professional life in the USN.

     The next sixteen pages are data tables for each of the ships, giving physical characteristics such as beam, length, number of oars; the complement of sailors and marines manning them and derived characteristics, such as expected speeds.  All very handy for wargaming, whether with naval battles or working out how long a voyage will take and what kind of ship they need to haul the paladin's warhorse for roleplaying games.

     After this, alas!, I find what wasn't included in the used copy I purchased.  The plastic turn radius overlay, deck plans and ship counters.  I could probably work out the first, although it's been years since I did any Advance and Transfer calculations.  The second I covet, after Colin Spears on MeWe said he uses the from adventures. I will have to check with my sources who own B&G to see if I can get a copy, as the authors granted permission to xerox for personal use.  Although, again, they give the dimensions and good descriptions, so I could draw my own if I had the time or need.

     After the list list of (not) included bits, we get a dozen pages of reasonably good rules for simulating being at sea.  Only reasonably good in my opinion - having spent a number of years professionally messing about in ships on the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
     While they give charts for determining the  weather, they suffer from almost all random weather systems - they are stateless.  That is tomorrow's weather doesn't take into account what it was today, so you can jump randomly back and forth from Gale to Becalmed to Gale.  Also, the weather charts don't take into account latitude in the Atlantic, the storms of the North Atlantic are quite impressive and can be deadly even today.  And hurricanes should have a chance to appear in the mid-Atlantic as well as doldrums and trade winds.   In the Mediterranean, it is more reasonable to treat the area homogeneously, but again extreme weather is missing - I have seen waterspouts dancing across the Alboran Sea, east of Gibraltar.

    Wave Action is called out in terms of the danger of the ship taking on water, but they don't discuss the effect on the speed over ground, or the ability to make the desired course.  Indeed, they ignore the issue of sailing ships needing to tack into the wind which effective slows the voyage.

   And speaking of slowing, what caught my attention immediately was the speed conversion tables from knots to feet to inches at scale.  They go down to 0.1 knot - it's very rare that a ship can go this slow even today.  The authors are apparently unaware of the concept of "steerage way"; the minimum speed at which a vessel can maintain the desired course.  It can vary of course, but as a rule of the thumb, any time the vessel slows below about a half a knot the effects of wind and current will overcome the propulsion and the vessel will begin to drift with the current if there is one, otherwise down wind.

   Once we move to the last section of the book involving Naval Tactics and Campaigns, the work is excellent.  They understand that you don't ram bow to bow unless you are suicidal, as both ships will be severely damaged.   And they describe the deikplous tactic of sheering oars with more clarity than I remember the source material doing so.
   They include information for building historical fleets throughout the time periods of the book, as well as rules for Greek Fire and C&S Magick on sea battles.
    They end fleet composition for a number of ancient battles, from Corinth vs Athens at Petras to Rome vs Carthage at Mylae.

    Overall, glad I picked it up at a very reasonable price for C&S first edition material, as it's missing the deckplans and turning overlay.  But think I'll put it back in the plastic as I don't see much of a reason to refer to it in gaming.


  1. Sounds pretty useful overall for any pre-gunpowder setting.

    Although with a strong current, there may be cases where the speed over ground is only 1/10 of a knot.

  2. Correct, I ignored that use case as they don't have rules for the effects of current.