IMC :: Amber’s Navy

Once a year or so, the Amber Mailing List actually decides to rattle about something interesting and pertinent to the game. We have the Navy under discussion this week.

The Newberry Library: Smith Center Publications
The most important improvement in ship design, however, was a change from single-masted square-rigging to multiple lateen sails. This fore-and-aft triangular sail, employed on small Mediterranean craft from the seventh century, most likely was brought from the Indian Ocean by Arab conquests in Egypt. Northern European crusaders gave the lateen sail its present name when they encountered the distinctive rig in the southern waters of Latin countries. The segmented spread of triangular canvas distributed over a longer hull allowed a craft to point, pivot, tack and run as wind directions necessitated. Pre-constructed framing, upon which flush, edge-joined, (‘carvel’) planking was nailed, provided support for the multiple lateen rig of the caravel. The addition of an axial stern rudder, as opposed to traditional steering oars on either stern quarter, proved essential for maneuverability in the open ocean.
This combination of multiple lateen rig, ‘carvel’ hull and sternpost rudder, adapted from the seafaring attributes of different regions through maritime trial and error, comprised the characteristics of the classic caravel. Built for speed and seaworthiness rather than cargo capacity, the caravel possessed the qualities needed in her time. Expeditionary voyages down the western edge of the dark continent prompted the use of three lateen yards set on raked masts for clawing to windward and making rapid steering maneuvers. Aerodynamically, this grouping of triangular sails would have increased a caravela latina’s speed, especially if the mizzen sail was trimmed to spill wind into the main.
The first stage in the development of the Mediterranean carrack was the stepping of a second mast into a small forecastle on the bow; an improvement that soon was imitated in the north. As early two-masted carracks ventured into the open ocean, their builders began to understand the need for a third sail aft of the mainmast to balance pressure on the rudder exerted by the foremast, and a mizzenmast was added at the stern. Soon, fully-rigged carracks increased their propulsive power to include four, and sometimes five masts. The introduction of topsails above the mainsails allowed the expanse of canvas to be separated into smaller combinations that made the ship easier to handle. To support this variable assemblage of spars and sails, heavier standing rigging was employed; shrouds came to be fitted with rope ladders (ratline), so that sailors could quickly clamber up the rigging to adjust the various sails. This rig became the standard for the later carracks, which were to ply between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.
A typical carrack of the sixteenth century was a strongly-built round ship reinforced with numerous vertical fender wales attached to her sides. The now was surmounted with a high forecastle superstructure which often contained two decks and projected forwards over the stempost. The waist of the ship was relatively low, but the massive sterncastle was made up of two or more decks with galleries and gunports. Often, both castles were covered with large awnings supported by a network of open beams. The tonnage of carracks increased from around 400 tons at the beginning of the fifteenth century to more than 1000 tons at the beginning of the sixteenth.
*images from here: the Amber Pattern Navy

In order to understand the scope of Amber’s Navy, I like to start with population and manning a navy that sails the double dozen seas of shadow. My Amber is a cosmopolitan place that adds crew from nations of many places and shadows. Many sailors live the life of the sea and need not be accounted for in the support of an urban life.
Still, IMC Amber is a city of moderate size. The naval officers need to come from the population. It is a matter of how thoroughly three to five officers and five to ten ‘non-coms’ may control and train a crew of a hundred men that tells me a bit about how big the Navy is and how many ships sail the Golden Circle.
Assumptions go something like this:

  • ship crew size limited to ten times number of Amber cadre (10 officers/non-coms = crew 110)
  • there are no ‘marines’ in the Navy as all crew are trained to board
  • there is no ‘merchant fleet’ in the Navy as all ships are carrying cargo and doing trade
  • there are seldom crews waiting ships, but often ships waiting crews
  • Amber ships are usually built in Amber of the finest wood and most elegant designs
  • the ship designs take into account materials better than can be found elsewhere and designs polished by centuries; Amber ships are typically larger and faster than anything else in the water
  • shadows near the Golden Circle do not support gunpowder
  • shadows near the Golden Circle do not support potent magic
  • the Golden Circle is about eight to ten weeks at sea IMC; it includes about two major ports in every nation, and more often than not many days between ports; there are about 18 ports
  • Amber’s Navy also sails the ‘double dozen seas’ of lands just beyond the Golden Circle; there are over 100 ports in this region
  • there are four types of ship in the Navy: carracks (large), caravels (medium), couriers (small) and ‘outshadow’ ships called cutters (various)
  • while there are ‘outshadow cutter’ designs in the Navy, they are specialized to particular regions of shadow that are not near the Golden Circle or ‘double dozen seas’; they do not satisfy the Navy strategy of ‘placement and patrol’
  • Caine long ago set an ideal minimum Navy at one which could put a ship in every port (approximately 120 ports) each week; this is the ‘placement and patrol’ mandate

The Navy is usually expanding its list of crews and looking to promote officers to captain new ships.
Amber maintains 25 percent of the fleet as carracks crewed by 550.
Amber tends to build and maintain more fast caravels than other type ships; 70 percent of the fleet is this type crewed by 110.
Amber loosely maintains 5 percent of the fleet as couriers crewed by 22.

  • the Navy currently lists over 470 ships not counting cutters
  • Amber currently has a up to three ships in each port each week
  • Ports on average see an Amber carrack almost once a week; see an Amber caravel twice a week; see an Amber courier every five weeks
    The long and short is that there are over 100,000 men in the Navy not counting the cutter crews, most of them not native to Amber (city pop: 100,000). It also shows the Naval cadre (over 12,000) is twice the size of the standing Amber Army IMC. The ‘outshadow cutter’ crews are generally more than 90% foreigners.
    And cannons?
    No. Not nearly as useful to the Amber Navy as the windlass or chain drive catapults perfected several centuries ago. There are also ‘special delivery’ missiles that the catapults can heave onto enemy ships.
    But esoteric weapons are common on the ‘outshadow cutter’ fleet.