Skull & Shackles
Life on a Pirate Ship
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.
Boatswain: The boatswain, or bosun (pronounced “bosun” either way), 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.
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.
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.
Carpenter/Surgeon: 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.
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.
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. He maintains the ballistas, catapults, and so on.
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.
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.