Motivated By Mayhem – Artillery in B&P

There’s nothing quite so romantic as the idea of swashbuckling pirates exchanging broadsides with their quarry, board-on-board, ripping gaping holes through hull and crew alike. Veteran players of ‘Blood & Plunder’ will tell you though that cannons have been a lackluster choice in the game since it was new. Indeed, the rules for B&P have been pretty stable (2 major expansions without a “Second Edition”) except for the artillery. ‘No Peace Beyond the Line’ changed the cannon rules once. Then came the rebalancing of points between Swivel Guns and the bigger artillery. Now, ‘Raise the Black’ has updated the cannon rules once again! So, today we’re going to dive in to the question that has beggared many a sea-beggar for millennia: does size matter?

Spanish defenders form close line, guns bristling, in the bay outside of Perico during the scenario at Fall-In 2019

Actually, the blog’s editor says she won’t let me answer that. So anyway, here are some tips on how to blow shit ships up with cannons in Blood & Plunder

What’s Changed
The ‘Raise the Black’ artillery rules were uploaded to Firelock’s downloads section a few months before the release of ‘Raise the Black’. Those of us “in the know” have been playing around with these rules for about 18 months (a healthy 18mo old cannon ball should weigh about 12lb). The rules are included in ‘Raise the Black’ for those who’ve bought it, or you can download them.

The major change to cannons is their range band. Instead of a penalty at every 4 inches of range, cannons now get 8 inch bands, and an Initial To Hit of 4+ for any target within 8 inches. From 8-15 inches, the roll is 5+, and 16-23 is 6+ etc. You can see how switching to 8 inches lets you really reach out and touch something. Once you’ve rolled your initial hit, each size of cannon throws a number of additional dice to figure out how much damage is inflicted; the target number for this roll is the enemy ship’s Fortitude, plus the range modifier from the previous step.

Combined, these changes to artillery make cannons great at doing what they should: pounding holes in ships from a long distance. Really, with most scenarios starting the ships 24 inches apart, you’re going to have an easy time getting shots on target right from turn 1. Yes, this does mean that you have a lower chance of causing damage than you currently have at very close range, but this is mitigated by the fact that you can now reliably blast someone to splinters before they can even get a musket shot on you.

Smoke and iron roar from the barrels of Pieter Schuyler’s cannons. A rare ‘Motivated’ captain, Schuyler is capable of replacing all the air in a given space with hot iron shot.

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck
With all those changes, do cannons really hold up against the old standby of small-arm lists or “swivels & board” tactics? The answer is “yes, but.

Cannons work great, but you have to invest in them. A boarding list can do almost anything it wants because swivels are cheap and having crew on deck turns into cutlasses in bellies once you hop the rail. Fielding cannons in a boarding list is a waste – you aren’t planning to sit back and shoot. A small-arms list seems like a good place for cannons, but when you’re less than 12 inches away (the ideal range for musketry) it’s better to bring more small arms than spend 20 points on a medium gun and 3 crewmen. And you will be buying Medium Guns. Light cannon just don’t pack enough punch. No, if you want cannons to work, it’s going to get spendy and it’s going to change how you play the game.

To set a baseline for what cannons can do, let’s look at a regular unit of Expert Artillery Crew, getting a Command Point. This is something that any unit of Artillery Crew can accomplish simply by fielding a ‘Master Gunner’ (a must-have for virtually every good cannon list). But, if you’re English, Dutch, or “navy” and already have Expert Artillery, then you can just get there with your Captain yelling at you to load faster. We’re not assuming you Push, but we’re also not assuming that you lose any actions to inbound fatigue. Keep that in mind, it’s important.

In these conditions, the Expert Gunners + 1 Command Point should be able to fire their cannon 5 times in a 6-turn game. They’re going to spend their 5th turn reloading, so realistically you’re going to get 4 shots in 4 turns and you’d better pray it’s enough to break the enemy down and keep them off your decks.

Your shot will “fall back” an action every time. On the first volley, your first action is to shoot. On your second turn, the unit’s second action is to Shoot. On the third turn, the third action, and so on (for our purposes, the Free Reload counts as an action)

Method 1: Motivated
Motivated is a special rule available to a select few named commanders in the game. Ever since ‘Fire on the Frontier’ came out, I’ve been using the English commander Pieter Schuyler to blast holes in people by using English Militia at sea. Now, the Dutch Marine faction has gotten their own Motivated Captain, and he’s going to be terrifyingly effective at making guns go boom more often.

With Expert Artillery Crews getting 2 Command Actions from a Motivated Captain, you can speed up your timetable for getting those shots out. Shoot, Reload, a Free Reload from Expert Arty Crew, and then your final 2 Reloads from the Motivated Captain means that you can shoot your guns off every turn like clockwork. There’s no “falling back” of your actions.

In a pinch, you can ‘Push’ your gun crew to get a second shot in the turn, but it will cause the “falling back” effect and starts racking up Fatigue. In this way, you can potentially get 7 shots in a 6 turn game. That means firing twice on your first turn volley. Getting 3 shots in 2 turns can be a massive advantage, especially if you hold back your shooting until your opponent is in the sweet-spot of 16-23 inches.

A busy gun-deck, with gun crews siting their quarry down the barrels of medium guns

Method 2: Double Gun Crews
This method can be extremely expensive, but also very deadly for your opponents. You field 2 units of Artillery Crew, and swap them on and off your guns each turn to load quickly. This bends the rules a bit regarding Assignment Actions.

Normally, an Assignment Action is a dedicated action. This means that when you decide that a unit will assign to artillery, that is all that it can do during it activation – it cannot reload, or shoot. However, if you use a Command Point for an Assignment, it leaves the unit free to take actions normally.

For double-crewing to work, you need 2 Command Points per deck of guns. These can come from either an Experienced Commander, an Inexperienced Commander and an Officer, or certain Fighting Men. Of particular note is the new Boatswain from ‘Raise the Black’ – he has 1 Command Point and it can only be used for Assignment actions.

Start with a unit on the guns. Shoot, then reload as many times as you can. Then, use a Command Point to pull the unit from the guns. Use another Command Point to assign the second unit to the guns. The second unit then activates and finishes reloading, then fires. Using this method, you can fire off your cannons 8 times during a game. You’ll double-fire on 2 turns; the first and the last. Just like Motivated, you can speed up your timetable if you’re willing to Push both units. In that case, you can fire 4 times in the first 2 turns, after which you’ll probably spend Turn 3 reloading and rallying. Then, you’ll start fresh on Turn 4, firing twice each turn before being spent again on Turn 6.

The negative to using the Double Crew method (besides cost) is that you can only have 2 units per section. So your entire gun deck is now devoted to manning that artillery, and every shot is going spread casualties and fatigue through your deck. You’re also limited by space on your decks. Almost every ship has enough space to hold two crews for its guns, but on some of them, space is tight and you won’t have many extra bodies to fill in casualties.

Bonus Method: Double Crew + Motivated
For the criminally insane, you can combine the methods. Using a Motivated Command to squeeze one more reload before Unassigning, you can get 9 shots per turn. Firing twice per turn on turns 1, 2, and 6. Adding Pushes to this get hectic, and speeds the timetable up so that you fire 7 times by the end of Turn 4. But, your ship is going to be extremely fatigued.

Weight of Broadside
Within the era of fighting sail, ships were often measured by the weight of their broadside. This meant how much total weight of lead the ship could put in the air with one volley. Sure, a ship mounting a 30 gun broadside might be scary, but if every one of those guns is a 6lb gun, that’s only firing off 180lb of shot. If that ship were up against an enemy mounting just a dozen 18lb guns, it would be slightly outgunned.

The same is true in B&Plunder – except the “weight” of your broadside is how many dice you throw per successful Initial Hit. A Sloop mounting 3 Light Guns would have a “weight” of 6 dice. The same ship mounting the same number of Medium Guns would have a weight of 9 dice.

Because of the breakdown in points costs between sizes of cannon and the extra crew needed to man it, it is always better to go “up 1 size” of gun, rather than add more guns. 4 Medium Guns plus the 12 Unarmed Sailors to crew them costs 76 points. To get the same “weight of broadside” from Lights requires 6 pairs of guns and 12 Unarmed Crew – a total of 78 points. However, if the points you save by fielding smaller guns, or the space you save by needed smaller crews allows you to get extra shots? Then it can tip the scale.

Carrying on our example above – it costs a total of 18 points to upgrade your 3 Lights to Mediums and add an unarmed Sailor to each gun crew. However, for the same 18 points you could get a second unit and start double-crewing your lights. Now you’re firing the guns 3 times in the first 2 turns; a total of 18 dice, compared to “standard firing” the Mediums only twice for a total of 12 dice.

Carnage aboard a Sloop as cannonballs fly. Hit with a stern rake by the red-painted Sloop, the powder magazine was ignited and the ship destroyed outright. 1-in-100 odds, and yet… you can’t do it with a musket.

Extra: Broadside, Master Gunners and Strict
No, ‘Ruthless’ doesn’t work on Artillery. Sit down.
The two ways to get a -1 Bonus on your Initial Hit are to use either a Master Gunner, or Strict. These can stack together. The Master Gunner is almost an auto-include in any artillery-focused list. Strict however, costs a point of Fatigue to use it. We must take a moment to call out the excellent combination available to the new British Royal Navy faction: they can get a commander with both Broadside and Strict, and all of their gun crews are Tough. Fire the guns with your Captain, use Strict for the shot bonus, and then let Tough remove the fatigue while your crews are loading.

When using a Master Gunner, do not stand him in the Captain’s unit (if your commander has Broadside). A unit can only be issued a single Command Point per phase. If the Captain has Broadside, then he’s probably using it to fire other units’ cannons, rather than giving the point to himself. This leaves him free for a Reload Order from a nearby Master Gunner. The command range of a Master Gunner is 3 inches – that is just enough to yell to an adjacent section, but no further.

New players often question the purpose of Broadside, or think that it’s necessary in a cannons list. Broadside allows you to fire multiple units of artillery and count it all as a single attack. This makes it more likely that you cause a critical (you score a Critical when your total damage from an attack is double the target’s fortitude after the attack is resolves) and can also allow you to overwhelm Shoot Saves when hitting the target deck. If you only have one unit firing, then you don’t need broadside – this is common on the O.G. Sloop, which has 1 deck of cannon. On something like a Brigantine or a Fluyt, with multiple decks of 2 guns, Broadside makes more sense.

Two vessels line up board-on-board and firing at devastating close range!

One interesting thing to understand about Broadside which even some veteran gamers don’t realize – you can move the ship between shots, and still have them all count as a single volley. On activations where the ship moves, you can move the ship at any time during the activation – including in between actions. So you really can “fire as she bears” – shooting with one section, then moving the ship ahead, and firing with the next section. With Broadside, all of those attacks will still count as a single volley. This is important for very long ships with relatively narrow gun decks, like the Fluyt and the Sixth Rate.

The Short of It (TLDR)
Sorry to drag you on this long like some kind of food blog – I know you just want to know how to blast stuff with cannons, and don’t really care how I learned this wonderful lasagna recipe from my wife’s-grandmother’s-sister’s-daughter’s only niece. The short of it is this: group big guns together for better action economy, throw in a multiplier like a Master Gunner or Strict+Tough, and then try to roll shots as often as possible. Hang out somewhere between between 12 and 23 inches so you can outshoot the small arms, and for Morgan’s sake, don’t let them come aboard!

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