What’s a Round Ship?


Designed for carrying cargo and passengers, the round ships are also used for war and are what we’ve seen in every pirate movie. The round ships primarily use sails for power. When there’s no wind, or an unfavorable one, oars can assist the smaller round ships (up to a frigate in size). Later ships are more maneuverable than long ships like the galley except in calm weather. The round ships mentioned in this chapter are square-rigged on all masts unless otherwise noted.

The man-o-war is not a specific ship type but a generic English name for a three-masted war ship outfitted with soldiers and cannons. This includes the frigate and ship-of-the-line, among others. On our invented world, we can apply the term to similar ships even if an Earth equivalent is not deemed a man-o-war.

While there are many specifications about round ships, the ones listed in this chapter offer a quick comparison regarding ship length, guns, crew, and maximum speeds. Finding definitive answers for each proves somewhat challenging due to conflicting specs cited in various sources. One source might say frigates are from 135-175 feet while another might say they range up to 200. Such details might be insignificant, especially given that, as world builders, we’d be discussing ships on our imagined world, where anything is possible and details could differ at our whim. Still, some effort should be made to know the guidelines before going so far outside of norms as to strain credibility.

To that end, the approach used to compile these specifications was to find reputable sources stating the range of widely accepted possibilities. Further, specific ships of each type with known stats were also considered. In the end, if two sources provided similar numbers, such as 24-40 and 24-44, the larger range is indicated on the chart. If one source provided a number far higher than others, such as 24-40 vs. 24-60, then the higher number was added in parenthesis with a question mark, such as the frigate gun count below, where it reads “24-40 (60?).”

Note that the maximum speed in knots is in ideal conditions with a strong wind on the optimum point of sailing (which direction the wind is blowing in relation to the ship’s heading). No ship experiences such conditions throughout a journey, making the number somewhat useless for determining a trip’s speed. These numbers are mostly for understanding a ship’s capability.

Ship Type Length in Feet Guns Crew Max Speed (Knots)
Brig 123 10-18 155 11
Frigate 135-212 24-40 (60?) 217-345 (815?) 14
Galleon 140-160 30-74 200-400 10
Gunboat 49-72 1-3 12 14
Ship-of-the-line 150-250 64-140 494-1280 11
Sloop 60 14 75 11
Sloop-of-war 60-110 8-24 112-125 11

What follows in the next articles are some of the more well-known ship types of Earth.