Ships & Weapons
Corvette The French navy first built these small warships during the Age of Sail, and in the Age of Steam they have come to be one of the most common military vessels on the sea. Four of a corvette’s armored gunports house short-range cannon, but two aft hatches hide longer-range medium cannon–along with another medium cannon mounted in a forward-firing position near the prow of the ship.
Destroyer Where once sea-going fleets carried cannon to defend themselves, many cargo convoys are now accompanied by armed destroyers dedicated to escort duty, carrying armor and weaponry so freighters can safely carry more cargo. Pirates and freebooters prepared to face the onslaught from a destroyer’s six cannon–four short cannon and two medium cannon–may still crumble under the barrage of the destroyer’s three batteries of small rockets before they can reach their prize.
Frigate As they have been for more than a century, frigates continue to be a common and incredibly versatile vessel, modified to a multitude of both civilian and military uses. Many frigates have been captured by pirates, who make good use of their heavily-armored hulls as they close in on targets for boarding, clearing the way with the frigate’s full complement of six short-range cannon.
Cruiser Though slower and less maneuverable than many other boats at low speed, the cruiser is a formidable ship often used as a flagship for many fleets. While getting up to speed, cruisers are protected by their thick hulls and hammer away at enemy ships with a pair of long-range cannon until they can draw within range of the six short-range cannon and two medium-range cannon on its fully-loaded gundeck.
Dreadnought Without Fulton’s steam drive, sea-going vessels as massive as the dreadnought would have remained theoretical impossibilities far into the future. Carrying one of the largest steam drives outside of the Union Line, the powerful steam drive of a dreadnought lets it sail fully armored and with more than a dozen cannon. Only two of those cannon are dedicated to attacking potential boarders at short range, while the other ten cannon reach out to medium- or even long-range, giving the dreadnought a terrifyingly large area of effectiveness in battle.
Sea Support Craft
Torpedoboat Early torpedoboats were themselves boats that were also torpedoes, one-time threats ramming into enemy ships at high speed to detonate their explosive payloads. Modern torpedoboats in the Age of Steam are continuing nightmares to sailors, small craft that skim behind the waves, darting into position to fire at range from their single forward-pointing torpedo tube before skimming away to circle for another attack.
Gunboat The outcome of sea battles often depend on which fleet can get a cannon into a position of strategic advantage at the critical moment, so while an admiral’s giant flagship may be the pride of his fleet he knows his reputation truly depends on his swarm of tiny gunboats. With as little draft as a rowboat, the steam drive of a gunboat can push it across shallows to intercept larger enemy vessels stuck in deeper channels. Though gunboats sail with unarmored hulls to keep them light and agile, they take on the excess weight necessary to be armed with the longer range of a medium cannon.
Rocketboat Much as torpedoboats and gunboats can harry surface vessels using torpedoes and cannon, rocketboats swarm across the surface of the sea to attack aircraft in the skies above. Though most effective against balloons and dirigibles, the single rocket battery that gives a rocketboat its name can also be used to attack sea vessels.
Attack Sub Though Robert Fulton is best known for constructing the first steam drive, his experiments with submersible ships at the opening of the nineteenth century led to these modern military vessels. Able to dive beneath enemy blockades and even floating barriers, attack subs are exposed only to attack by depth charges until they surface within striking range of their target and unleash the full power of their three medium-range torpedo tubes.
Heavy Sub Though attack subs were quickly recognized as a threat, especially during the American War of Secession, they proved (and continue to be) vulnerable when they surface to attack. Heavy subs were developed for underwater ventures into particularly dangerous waters, carrying a pair of torpedo tubes to make a first strike after surfacing but also both a medium- and short-range cannon that make it as much a threat above the waves as it is below.
Bomb Balloon With the help of the Codex Faria, the aerostats of the Montgolfier Brothers have evolved into these mobile platforms for aerial bombardment and aerial piracy, their small cargo compartments filled by a bomb bay and a rocket battery. Yet they have other uses as well, such as the balloon outfitted by famed author for his attempt to follow in the steps of his character Phileas Fogg and circumnavigate the globe in less than 80 days.
Dirigible In the thirty years since Henri Giffard flew the first steam-driven airship over Paris, he and his engineers have led the way in developing dirigibles as military and civilian vessels. Encountering difficulty building larger vessels due to the heavy cooling systems necessary for the large steam drives required to propel them, Giffard Aerostatique entered into partnership with the Connecticut Zephyr Company for access to Union technological advances in electrical motors. Giffard’s dirigible airframes and electrical hybrid engines were quickly copied by other companies launching military dirigibles in recent years, and though the thin-hulled gasbag of a dirigible makes it a tempting target, they are more than capable of defending themselves with a pair of medium-range air-to-air cannon as it rains destruction from its dual bomb bays.
Zeppelin As aircraft became a bigger threat in the skies, the need arose for a flying battle platform capable of defending ships down on the waves from all aerial threats. Captured by the Confederacy during the War of Secession, Ferdinand von Zeppelin designed the first of the flying battle platforms that bear his name, armed with six aerial cannon capable of readily fending off smaller aircraft, opening fire with its long-range cannon while the smaller aircraft push to get into attack range for their own weapons.
Biplane These short-range aircraft most protect their base of operations on land, but sometimes fly escort patrols above particularly important fleets or in search of especially dangerous enemy ships. Fast and highly-maneuverable, zeppelins drawing close to attack a biplane risk the plane snap-circling to counterattack with its single front-mounted machine gun.
Weapons of Destruction
Steam Cannon The name of modern steam cannons are a slight misnomer, as they are still loaded with gunpowder. But the power provided by steam drives aboard military vessels helps gun crews more easily aim their weapons and absorb the shock of recoil. Quick loading of cannon still requires skilled powder monkeys (and in some cases, application of the lash by the first officer), but more steam power makes a ship even more deadly than ever before.
Rockets Rockets have long been part of the naval arsenal, such as the “rocket’s red glare” of the rockets fired from the HMS Erebus in 1814 to inspire the American national anthem. Though those rockets were fired mainly in an attempt to frighten or terrorize opponents, modern military rockets are much more accurate and carry heavy gunpowder payloads that can do extreme damage when they strike a target. Modern rockets are mounted in racks called batteries that allow vessels to fire many in quick succession at the same target.
Torpedoes Famed inventor Robert Fulton crafted the first modern torpedo, an underwater naval explosive towed behind his submarine, the Nautilus. But as Fulton’s focus shifted to the development of the steam drive, other American inventors picked up where he left off and crafted improved torpedoes powered by compressed air and wound-spring clockwork. However, many of these inventors lived in southern states, and when the War of Secession began it was the Confederacy that made torpedoes an important part of their naval arsenal. Famously, when Union admiral David Farragut attempted to break through the Confederate blockade of Chesapeake Bay, his ship was torn to pieces without a single cannon being fired, leading to Farragut’s famous last words: “Damn these torpedoes…” Most torpedoes carried by modern submarines are fired from underwater launch tubes and travel straight-line trajectories to detonate when the contact trigger in its nose strikes the target.
Machine Guns Though pepperbox guns capable of firing multiple barrels at once have existed for more than a century, the modern machine gun made its first appearance as the Gatling guns towed atop wagons by the Union army in the 1860s. English soldiers blockading Union harbors during the War of Secession reported the deadly efficiency of the Gatling gun, and Queen Victoria offered a prize to the first inventor who could craft a machine gun capable of being moved, fired, and maintained by only two men. In the late 1870s, American inventor Hiram Maxim moved to England specifically to bring England his idea for a recoil-powered machine gun, and not only won the prize but a title from the grateful queen. Now commonly known as the Maxim gun, Sir Hiram Maxim’s machine gun can indeed be pulled by two infantrymen but has seen its quickest adoption by the world’s burgeoning air corps, with biplanes in particular providing a mobile yet stable firing platform. Some captains have tried to mount Maxim machine guns on their steam vessels, but even minor swells can throw off the weapon’s aim, leading most to call them “a waste of good lead”.
Bombs Gunpowder bombs have found a new use in warfare with the rise of aerial vessels, with smaller vessels like bomb balloons created for the sole purpose of raining explosions on targets below. Heavy iron casings filled with weighty gunpowder, larger bombs can only be dropped from larger vessels like zeppelins.
Secret Weapons Every military in the world strives to give their forces an edge by any means possible, with many ships fielding strange and unique weaponry developed in the laboratories of inventors like Sir Hiram Maxim and Nikola Tesla. Some of these only amplify existing weapons, giving them a greater rate of fire, a longer range, or more destructive potential. But rumors abound of weaponry with strange and incredible effects that must be seen to be believed, such as ‘freeze rays’ that paralyze a ship’s crew, and weapons that can call down lightning from the heavens to destroy entire fleets of ships.