I wanted to take a moment to look at potential ship bonuses and how they can impact gameplay. Right now, there are four ways ships can get a variety of bonuses:
1. The wood(s) the ship is made out of.
2. The random bonuses such as "cramped," "very fast," and "agile."
3. The permanent modules that are put on the ship.
4. The skill books used on a ship.
5. The port port bonuses when the ship is crafted.
This can lead to some rather strange things. This morning, a Xebec was just a shade slower than my speed-rigged, Fir/Fir Pandora 190 degrees off the wind. Similarly, I've seen square riggers sail just as fast close-hauled as a Prince. We routinely see speed-capped Teak/WO vessels, and some have been made so fast that the speed curve turns into a flat line, as they lose any "bad" points of sail. To boot, when they get close, their hulls manage to still be thick enough to shrug off most damage, or to repair through the lion's share of it.
Simply put, the ability to stack bonuses has gotten us to a strange place, and we have not yet even seen how much further the very high port bonuses will over tip the scales of realism and arcade. I am aware that there are plans to nerf skill books and modules, but I suspect that it will not go nearly far enough.
Instead, what I propose is a general idea to keep in the back of the developers minds. We already have balancing mechanisms for perks and port investments. There are X points to spend, and more things to choose from than you can spend them all on. Simply put, there are Either/Or scenarios put upon the players. Those Either/Or scenarios are not present in ship building. You really can have a ship that is so excellent at so many things that it negates any weak spots it might have left.
So, the brass tacks of the proposal:
1. Keep in mind a sort of "point" system for ship characteristics. I would argue a good starting point would be a specialized ship should be no more than 10% better than the base model vessel in one aspect. A hyper-specialized ship should be no more than 20% better than the base model vessel in any one aspect, and should come up with 10% points in other aspects where it is in fact worse.
2. Divvy up how you want those bonuses to originate. If you want half of them to come from the shipyards, then they should only get 5% bonuses to something OR 10% bonuses to something with a 5% penalty to something else.
3. Get rid of sail force modifiers. They have too many follow-on effects, such as tacking, the ability to stop suddenly, and are entirely broken with the Xebec.
4. Look at sailing profiles of ships again, and try to make them more distinctive so there is less ability to "flatten" speed curves.
How might this look in practice:
If you want half of the bonuses to come from port investments, a quarter from woods, 20% from modules and skill books, and 5% from random bonuses, a pure speed built vessel might look like this:
Fir/Fir for a total of 5% speed boost, Negative 2.5% hull integrity; Very Fast for 1% speed boost, negative .5% turning ability; a port investment of 10% speed boost and negative 5% hull integrity; and a variety of books and modules (ten total!) adding up to only 4% speed boost and negative 2% in other attributes (such as 1% in turning and 1% in hull integrity). This would make for a vessel 20% faster than others, but with 8.5% less hull integrity and 1.5% less turning ability. The average book and module would only add .4% speed and take away .2% in something else.
This would further mean that the best ship would be only 10% stronger than the base model, or 20% stronger with 10% of weaknesses in other areas, but the average ships would be significantly closer, reducing the equipment gap and allowing for skill to more truly shine through.
However, the true gist of the idea is this: Please have a finite cap in mind for how much bonuses ships should be able to get. What number feels right to you? What should players sacrifice to get those bonuses? How much more powerful should a fully kitted out vessel be than one fresh off the docks?
For those who read this far, thank you. If you have examples of ridiculous ships, particularly your own, where you can demonstrate how it was built, how it was outfitted, and what the effects are in combat, please post them up here so that we might bring balance to bonuses before the launch of the game.