Thursday, September 1, 2011

Obscure Gygaxiana

The following post is one I stumbled on over at the Axe & Hammer blog, an interesting spot for gamers. Grendelwulf has done a whole series called Gygax Legendarium. I have been working on ship-to-ship combat rules lately and thought this post was interesting. I copied it directly from Grendelwulf's site and hope he doesn't mind...

Don't Give Up The Ship!

GG WM105 Don't Give Up The Ship! (1972) /
TSR 6006 Don't Give Up The Ship! (1975)

Don't Give Up the Ship! is a set of rules for conducting Napoleonic era naval wargames. The game was published by Guidon Games in 1972 and republished by TSR, Inc. in 1975. It was the first collaboration between Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons. D&D fans may also recognize the name of contributor Mike Carr, who edited the rules and researched the historical single ship actions that are included as game scenarios.


The name comes from the dying words of James Lawrence to the crew of his USS Chesapeake, later stitched into an ensign raised by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812.

In the foreword, Gygax writes about the genesis of the rules:

"During 1968 I began to gather material in an attempt to devise some sort of rules to encompass the single-ship actions of the War of 1812, but it soon became apparent that the task was going to require more than an offhand effort [...] it wasn't until next year at the Lake Geneva wargames convention that things began moving again. There Dave Arneson displayed some of his 1:1200 sailing ship models, and in a subsequent discussion of my attempt he mentioned that his group [the MMSA] in Minneapolis-St. Paul were currently developing just such a set of rules. Thereafter began a long correspondence wherein we exchanged rules and ideas [...] while Mike Carr eventually joined us in order to devise much of the optional rules and arrange the mass of material Dave and I had put together."

The rules Gygax and Arneson developed call for pencil and paper, six-sided dice, rulers and protractors, and model ships, ideally of 1:1200 scale. Single ship engagements can be played on a tabletop, but fleet battles require more space.

Wind speed and direction are determined by a roll of the dice; sail ships can only make slow progress against the wind by tacking. A protractor is used to measure the angle between the wind direction and the ship direction and hence determine ship speed.

The protractor is also called into use to determine which cannons can fire on an enemy ship. Cannons can aim at the masts or at the hull, and the chance of hitting is 5 in 6 at short range (4") and 1 in 6 at long range (16"). The amount of damage from a hit is determined by the weight of the cannonball.

The rules are elaborate and cover morale, sinking, fires, broken masts, and boarding. The conclusion of the book provides the statistics necessary to re-enact historical encounters such as took place between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. The second edition adds 4 pages of simplified rules for battles between fleets, as well as a map for the Battle of Trafalgar. However detailed scenario information is not included to reproduce the battle.

  • 1st edition, 1972, Guidon Games, 50 pages, blue & black cover
  • 2nd edition, 1975, TSR, Inc., 58 pages, blue, white & black cover

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