Breaking Down 'Dungeons & Dragons' New Vehicle Rules

Dungeons & Dragons has a new set of rules that will feature in its new and upcoming adventures. Today, Dungeons & Dragons is releasing Ghosts of Saltmarsh, a new adventure book that contains updated versions of seven classic nautical-themed adventures. These adventures can be played separately or together as a nautical campaign. One major part of Ghosts of Saltmarsh is an appendix containing rules on how to manage a ship, including new rules for naval combat. Not only do these rules breathe new life into any nautical campaign, they also form the foundation of new vehicular combat rules that will also appear in Descent Into Avernus, the just announced D&D storyline that will be released in the fall.

One core part of D&D's new vehicular rules is the introduction of vehicular stat blocks that contains ability scores, a list of actions, movement speed, Armor Class, and other stats you'd expect to see in a traditional monster stat block. Vehicles now having their own hit points and saving throws, as well as special abilities that they can unlock during its turn. In Ghosts of Saltmarsh, ships have their own initiative, and its actions are determined by its captain, which is one of several roles that a character can assume while on the ship.

Another innovation is that every vehicle has a "damage threshold," a minimum amount of damage that an attack needs to do in order for the ship to actually take damage. For instance, if a player fires an arrow at a ship with a damage threshold of 10 but only rolls 9 damage, that ship wouldn't lose any hit points as the damage is considered "inconsequential." However, if an attack's damage exceeds the damage threshold, that ship would take the full amount of damage, which differentiates damage threshold from the damage resistance rules seen in previous editions to Dungeons & Dragons.

As noted earlier, while manning a ship, players can assume one of several roles that tie into various non-combat checks and encounters a ship might encounter at sea. A First Mate can raise morale of the crew, thus preventing the crew from mutinying, while a quartermaster can navigate to keep the ship on course and avoid becoming lost. Other encounters (such as fires breaking out, or bugs infesting the food supply) can be solved by other crew members making certain checks, which often result in the crew's "quality score" either increasing or decreasing. The quality score not only impacts certain ship-wide checks and rolls, such as noticing threats on the horizon, it also determines how likely a crew is to mutiny against its captain...and presumably his party members.

Last weekend, also had the opportunity to participate in a play session at D&D Live 2019: The Descent, which featured players controlling and customizing an Infernal War Machine that will appear in Descent Into Avernus. The rules for the war machines worked similarly to Ghosts of Saltmarsh's ship rules, although individual players had slightly different roles during combat. For instance, a player manning the helm determined how the war machine maneuvered around the battlefield, but individual players could operate individual weapons on the war machine during their turn in the initiative order. Manning either the helm or a weapon provided players with partial cover, but you did have to watch out for enemies jumping onto your war machine and attacking you. You could either operate your vehicle/weapon or defend yourself, which could complicate encounters immensely. The War Machine combat also featured a "mishap" rule, in which machines suffered additional drawbacks when they suffered immense damage from a single attack. Some mishaps (which were determined by rolling a d20 and then consulting a table) affected the speed of a vehicle, while others lowered the vehicle's AC or caused engine damage...which caused the vehicle's crew to suffer acid or fire damage. It's unclear if these additional rules will be part of Descent Into Avernus, or if they were limited to the D&D Adventurer's League Epic that we played through during the event.


The new combat rules provide a dynamic and elegant way to run large vehicle combat in D&D, a set of rules that were widely missing from the game. Not only does this make sea campaigns a bit more fun by providing different roles and encounters, the vehicle rules also open up whole new avenues of possibilities, some of which we'll see in upcoming Dungeons & Dragons adventures.

Note: This is not a sponsored post, but if you purchase one of the awesome products featured above, we may earn a small commission from the retailer. Thank you for your support.