Beyond The Shore
A pirate crew is more than just a mob of cutthroats on a ship; all crew members have specific roles and responsibilities, with harsh punishments being meted out upon those who shirk their duties. Listed here are some of the standard roles aboard a typical pirate ship. Not all of these roles might be represented on every vessel, but such details can help players understand their characters’ daily duties.
Captain: The ultimate authority on any ship, his word is law to all on board. The captain chooses where to sail, what to plunder, and who fills the other stations aboard the vessel, among many other command decisions. Leadership often proves perilous, however, as a captain is, above all, meant to secure success for his ship and crew. Failing to do so increases the threat of mutiny.
First Mate: The “First Mate” or “Captain’s Mate” is the second in command of the ship. The first mate is customarily a watchstander, filling in for the captain when he is not on deck, and is in charge of the ship’s cargo and deck crew. He is responsible to the captain for the safety and security of the ship. The First Mate is also typically the officer in charge of personnel for a ship, whether that be managed through hiring, press-gangs, or other methods.
Sailing Master: The sailing master is trained in and responsible for the steering and navigation of a sailing vessel. The master’s main duty is navigation, taking the ship’s position at least daily and setting the sails as appropriate for the required course and conditions. During combat, he is stationed on the quarterdeck, next to the captain. The master is responsible for fitting out the ship, and making sure it has all the sailing supplies necessary for the voyage. The master also is in charge of stowing the hold and ensuring the ship was not too weighted down to sail effectively. The master, through his subordinates, hoists and lowers the anchor, docks and undocks the ship, and inspects the ship daily for problems with the anchors, sails, masts, ropes, or pulleys. Issues are brought to the attention of the master, who would notify the captain. The master is in charge of the entry of parts of the official log such as weather, position, and expenditures.
Weather Worker: Not all ships can afford to employ a sorcerer of sufficient skill to command the weather and turn the winds in their favor, but those that do gain a significant advantage over their opposition. Spellcasters of this caliber always receive an officer’s pay. On most ships, the weather worker reports to the Sailing Master, and will work directly with the Master’s Mates and Helmsman in the day-to-day steering of the ship. The most powerful weather workers may be able to run a ship entirely by themselves in a pinch, and often soon find themselves promoted to positions of Sailing Master or Captain.
Boatswain: The boatswain (pronounced “bosun”), is responsible for the upper deck of the vessel and above. This makes the boatswain accountable for all rope, rigging, anchors, and sails. At the start of the day, the boatswain and those under her weigh anchor, raise the sails and report on the general condition of the ship’s deck to the captain. As she oversees many of the ship’s basic daily labors, the boatswain is often responsible for keeping discipline and dispensing punishment.
Master-at-Arms: Concerned with the security of the ship, the fitness of the crew, and the dispensing of justice, the master-at-arms typically is one of the most feared and dreaded of a ship’s officers.
Master Gunner: The master gunner is in charge of all shipboard artillery, ensuring moisture and rust don’t ruin the weapons and that the crew knows how to use them. On board ships with firearms, the master gunner maintains the vessel’s cannons, firearms, and powder supplies; on ships without such weapons, she maintains the ballistas, catapults, and so on.
Carpenter: No matter what enchantments or alchemical unguents augment a pirate ship, its heart and bones are still wood. This simple fact makes the carpenter one of the most important positions aboard any vessel. Carpenters are chiefly responsible for maintaining the ship below the deck, finding and plugging leaks, repairing damage, and replacing masts and yards. As the crew member most skilled with the saw, the carpenter typically serves as a ship’s surgeon as well—bones cut just as easily as timbers.
Surgeon: While this role is often filled by the ship’s master carpenter in a pinch, ships that can afford them (especially those of the Imperial Navy) always prefer to carry a properly trained physician. The ship’s surgeon (or ship’s doctor) is the person responsible for the health of the people aboard a ship at sea, caring for the members of the ship and dealing with wounds from battle, scurvey, disease, and other medical problems. Clerics, with their abilities to magically dispel sickness and injury, are much preferred in this role, and many ships will even accept the heretical Puritans as surgeons in a pinch.
Quartermaster: The quartermaster oversees the supplies and items stored aboard the ship. She maintains the supplies of food and weaponry, oversees the disbursement of food to the cook, and doles out the rum ration to the crew.
Cook: While the quartermaster normally allocates the rations, the cook and his apprentices make and distribute meals to the crew. Although some better-outfitted vessels employ skilled cooks to attend to the captain and the officers, many cooks are drawn from crew members who have suffered crippling injuries, allowing them to still serve even after such trauma.
Helmsman: The helmsman’s sole duty is the steering of a ship. While any member of the crew may be able to hold the helm steady on the open sea, only the most skilled seamen will be given charge of maneuvering in restricted waters or other conditions requiring precise steering. A professional helmsman maintains a steady course, properly executes all rudder orders, and communicates to the Sailing Master relating to ship’s heading and steering. The Helmsman reports directly to the Sailing Master. On smaller crews, the Sailing Master may man the helm himself, while on larger ships there may be several Master’s Mates able to relieve the Helmsman of his watch as needed.
Minor Officers: Most officers aboard a ship have at least one “Mate” who reports directly to them, aid them in the performance of their duties, and fill in on deck when the officer is sleeping, injured, or on leave. Serving as a “Mate” is generally considered a direct line for promotion in the respective role, and a step above the general swabs and riggers. Such roles include Bosun’s Mate, Master’s Mate, Cook’s Mate, Carpenter’s Mate, and Gunner’s Mate.
Cabin Boy/Girl: Servant to the captain and other officers, this low-ranking and typically young crew member assists other sailors in their duties and runs various errands across the ship, requiring him or her to gain a measure of understanding of almost all the ship’s roles.
Rigger: Riggers work the rigging and unfurl the sails. In battle, next to that of a boarding party, the riggers’ job is one of the most dangerous, as they pull enemy vessels near enough to board.
Swab: Any sailor who mops the decks. Also used as slang for any low-ranking or unskilled crew member.