The great thing about Ultimate War is that it expands the abstract mass combat system of Ultimate Battle into new areas. Yesterday we examined what that means for battles in the air, and today’s preview brings it back down… not to the ground, but to the wild and raging sea! Behold an excerpt from this section, which is similar in many ways to the introduction to aerial combat we presented yesterday, but has its own unique dynamics.
Naval battles are similar in many ways to ground combat, as long as all of the combatants are operating in the same plane, like a fleet of ships fighting another fleet of ships. Unlike aerial battles, which always occur in three dimensions, sea battles might have that added level of complexity, but it is not always the case.
Sea Level: When all combatants are operating on the surface of the water, active participants operate in the same zones described in Ultimate Battle.
Melee: Vessels and creatures in the melee zone are considered to be engaged in active boarding actions against one another, either from ramming and coming aside with bridges or by swinging from yardarms across onto the decks of enemy ships. Aquatic monsters operating at this level are considered to be clambering up the sides of a ship or reaching into it from the water and directly engaging the crew.
Ranged: Most naval combat occurs at this range, either with standard ranged weapons in the hands of their crews or with siege weapons.
Camp: This zone represents ships hanging back from active participation in the battle. It may include transport and supply ships, damaged vessels limping toward safety, or simply ships being held in strategic reserve. Ships considered in the Camp Zone may still be targeted with siege weapons, and enemy ships can make a concerted effort to close with them and prevent their escape.
Command: The Command Zone represents the flagships of the respective fleets. While there is an element of realism to suppose that any ship in the enemy fleet might be targeted at any time, the same rules of dramatic tension and abstraction apply in a fleet engagement as they do in a land battle, and the enemy commanders are generally assumed to survive to the endgame of any naval battle. When the Command Zone is overrun, enemy commanders can be engaged directly by the PCs using standard Pathfinder combat rules, or can be captured or otherwise dealt with as described in Ultimate Battle.
Depth Levels: When dealing with aquatic creatures or unusual naval units, naval battles can suddenly become a lot more complex, as some units in a battle may be operating exclusively on the surface but others may not have that limitation. When a battle involves one or more units that can operate underwater, sea battles use a second set of zones that operate similarly to the zone used in Ultimate Battle and, more specifically, to the aerial combat altitude levels. Like them, these depth levels are abstract and do not represent specific physical distance, but rather a simple shorthand for describing the relative position of creatures in or under the water where a naval battle is occurring.
The Surface: Most naval battles take place at the surface level, for the simple reason that most creatures even in a magical campaign world that focuses on events on land cannot breathe or move easily in the water. Swimming creatures may dive underwater to escape detection or combat, but they must rise to the surface level to use their own natural or manufactured weapon attacks. An aquatic unit must move at the surface in order to attack or be attacked in melee.
The Shallows: Units in this depth zone are beyond the reach of melee attacks, except by other creatures that are also swimming in the shallows. However, they can still see creatures and vessels on the surface and can be seen themselves, though with some difficulty. Creatures in the shallows can attack with or be attacked by ranged attacks, though such attacks are made at a substantial penalty.
The Deep: Units in this depth zone cannot effectively see units on the surface or be seen by them, and are too far away to effectively attack or be attacked by them.
The Seafloor: This is a special depth zone that applies whenever there is a submerged structure or terrain that is relevant to the course of a battle. The Seafloor can exist in the Shallows or the Deep, depending on the depth of the water. A battle on the Seafloor works similarly to a second Surface depth level, in that creatures on the Seafloor and creatures in the adjoining Shallows or Deep can engage in ranged combat but cannot engage in melee unless either the swimming creatures come down to the Seafloor or the creatures on the Seafloor leave it and swim up into the open water.