Gads, Quicklime and Forecastles

I have completed the Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World AD 500 – AD 1500 … finally.  I will post the full review on Monday, but the final chapter on naval warfare really rocked my boat. 😉

Primarily, my interest peaked on some tactics that struck me as gameworthy.  Rather than the standard “get close and board dramatically” there is an exciting alternative to add spice to your game’s naval combat.

Hollywood portrays naval battles as devastating broadsides from massive ships of the line, essentially giant gun platforms. These are a later development. Pre-gunpowder naval battles focused heavily on the forecastle . It was literally a shielded wooden platform on the ship’s bow. Often it was several feet above the rest of the deck. It actually decreased a ship’s performance, so they often removed them during peace time.

During a battle, ships attempted to ram enemy vessels at a 90 degree angle. That is, to strike the broadest side of the enemy vessel with your bow. This pushed the forecastle over the enemy deck. A tactic that provided both a stable, raised platform for mischief, but it also offered cover to fighters in the forecastle. Defenders had to fight from a lower position, which is a classic tactical advantage for the attackers. Marines could jump down and begin fighting on the deck, but there are other options.

Initially, bags of quicklime dumped on  to the deck blinded the enemy crew.  The vileness of this attack is truly legendary. Quicklime causes chemical burns, lung damage and permanent blindness! Once the crew started gasping and choking in a noxious cloud, the gads arrived.

Gads are large iron darts thrown from the forecastle or the mast. I cannot find a good picture of one, but there is a modern equivalent.

Lawn darts

The defends are now blind, choking and perforated by lawn darts. Things look bad for our heroic defenders. It will get worse.

The attackers, should they be English, start using the legendary English longbow on a stable platorm, with a height advantage, against blinded sailors on a small deck with no cover. Fish in a barrel. Other nations might use crossbowmen. It really did not matter.

By the time the marines actually hit the enemy deck, it was a clean up operation.

Forget Hollywood and their dramatic “grappling hook and swing  over” boarding parties. Real men ram the enemy, use chemical weapons, drop sharpened lawn darts on you and then shoot you down with bows. It may not be dramatic or honorable, but it works.

I am not huge fan of naval history or tactics  and I would be interested to hear what other gamers do in naval combats. Drop me a comment if you have a clever tactic.

Remember, reality makes for better gaming.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.