The open sea, primal and unknown, beckons.
Of Ships and the Sea is packed with information on the ships of the AD&D game, rules for sailing them to exotic lands, and two system for conducting naval combat. The action extends below the waves, too, as this book also reveals the secrets of underwater adventuring and exploration-rules for travelling, fighting, and casting spells underwater, new spells, new magical items, and a new character kit, the fathomer.
Dive into a whole new dimension of gaming.
DMGR9: Of Ships and the Sea (1997), by Keith Francis Strohm, is the ninth supplement in the "Dungeon Master Guide Rules Supplement" series for second edition AD&D. Like the three before it, Ships doesn't actually display the DMGR serial code, as TSR stopped using module codes in 1994.
Ships was originally scheduled for release in June 1997, was published around October 1997, and went out of print within a year. Both the late publication and the quick disappearance of the book suggest the problems that AD&D was facing in the year following Wizards' purchase of TSR.
The End of the DMGRs. Ships was also the final DMGR release - a series that had been running on an approximately yearly basis since 1990. Over that time, the series covered a wide variety of topics, including: GMing advice (DMGR1, DMGR5, DMGR6), setting info (DMGR2, DMGR5), equipment listings (DMGR3), deities (DMGR4), NPCs (DMGR6, DMGR7), alternate classes (DMGR7, DMGR8), and rules additions (DMGR8, DMGR9).
The DMGR series was thus one of the longest-lived of the prestige series from the AD&D 2e era - lasting longer than the CGR Campaign Guide series (1992-1994), the HR Historical Reference series (1992-1994), the PG Player's Guide series (1993), and even the PHBR Player's Handbook series (1989-1995). Only the FOR Forgotten Realms series (1990-2000) kept publishing longer. The DMGR sequence was not the series with the most books, however; that honor belongs to the PHBR series, which managed 15 releases in just seven years.
A Split Book. As its title almost suggests, DMGR9: Of Ships and the Sea covers two related topics: nautical adventuring and underwater adventuring. (Perhaps it should have been called "Of Ships and the Undersea" for clarity.)
About Nautical Adventuring. Ships includes rules for ships, nautical travel, nautical encounters, and nautical combat. Rules supplements covering these topics - and especially ship rules - have been very common in FRP games over the years.
Bireme and Galley: Naval Warfare, Egypt to Lepanto (1978), for Chivalry & Sorcery, may have been the first such book. Other early naval FRP books include Thieves' Guild VI (1982) for generic FRPGs; White Wolf (1987) for Stormbringer; Adventures on the High Seas (1987) for Palladium; Sea Law (1994) for Rolemaster; and Sailing on the Seas of Fate (1996) for Elric. Such a preponderance of nautical FRP books clearly shows the interest in the subject - despite the fact that ship rules in FRPs are liable to have the same problems as ship rules in science-fiction roleplaying games: too much power put in the hands of captains and of Lady Luck.
Though Ships offered a pretty definitive take on "nautical adventuring" for AD&D, it was far from the first look at the topic in the various D&D games. X1: "The Isle of Dread" (1980) for Expert D&D may have been the earliest take - though that adventure is largely focused on the island wilderness, not the sea surrounding it.
In the 2e era, several different books included statistics for ships, rules for ships, seaside adventuring, or all three - but there was no particular continuity among them for the most part. FOR3: Pirates of the Fallen Stars (1992) was the first and one of the most noteworthy, since it contains one full chapter on ships and one full chapter on movement and combat. Two Al-Qadim products are also worth mentioning: ALQ1: Golden Voyage (1992) contains stats and maps for several ships, while Corsairs of the Great Sea (1994) features nautical adventures.
Finally, Naval Battle Rules: The Seas of Cerilia (1996) was published just a year previous to Ships; it's set in the world of Birthright, TSR's campaign setting that focused on politics and warfare. Like its predecessors, Seas of Cerilia is incompatible with DMGR9 - though the latter book notes that GMs might use its ship combat rules if they want a "less arbitrary method for resolving naval battles."
About Underwater Adventuring. Underwater adventuring is a noble D&D tradition that dates back to AD&D's U3: "The Final Enemy" (1983). D&D also covered the topic in X8: "Drums on Fire Mountain" (1984), and AD&D 2e returned to it in GA1: "The Murky Deep" (1993) - an adventure that TSR supplemented with a few articles in Dragon #190 (February 1993). Ships provides a lot more depth than its predecessors, though. Prior to its publication, there had also been many descriptions of underwater races, the most notable of which was PC3: "The Sea People" (1990) for Basic D&D.
Some of the Underwater Adventuring section of Ships focuses on "Underwater Survival" and "Underwater Topology." As such, it feels a bit like an "Underwater Survival Guide" that could have complemented the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986) and Wilderness Survival Guide (1986) for AD&D 1e.
Future History. Ships was released simultaneously with The Sea Devils (1997), a book on the sahuagin, as well as three related "Monstrous Arcana" adventures: Evil Tide (1997), Night of the Shark (1997), and Sea of Blood (1997). These four sahuagin books, with their underwater focus, form a nice (and purposeful) complement to Ships. A few years later, the Forgotten Realms Sea of Fallen Stars (1999) supplement was written with these previous five books in mind - and in fact summarizes some of the DMGR9 rules.
WotC also returned to the topic of seaside adventuring in two issues of Dragon: Dragon #250 (August 1998) generally covers the Deep; in it, "Warships of the Sea" (by Ships author Strohm) specifically adds cannons to the Ships game system. Dragon #273 (July 2000) brings the 2e era to an end with "Swashbucklers" - a somewhat related topic.
More recently 3e revisited the marine environment in Stormwrack (2005).
About the Creators. Strohm was an editor at TSR from 1995-1997, and he also wrote several articles for Dragon and for Dungeon; Ships was his only RPG sourcebook. Keeping to the undersea theme, Strohm later wrote "And the Dark Tide Rises," a short story for the Realms of the Deep (1999) anthology. He's since written a few RPG novels.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.