WNH Ship Roles
Key Abilities: Intelligence (Vehicles - Water), Charisma (Intimidation, Persuasion)
The captain commands the vessel. They are the final authority aboard that vessel, even acting as judge and jury if necessary. But this means that the buck stops with the captain as well – failure or tragedy is usually heaped on the captain's head at day's end. The captain's job is to ensure the vessel accomplishes its aims, start to finish and top to bottom, and a good captain does so by finding and appointing talented folk to officer positions and managing them accordingly.
Key Abilities: Charisma (Intimidation, Persuasion)
This specialist keeps the crew's morale high by providing supervision, encouragement. and discipline. Though the first mate holds command when the captain isn't on deck, the first mate's primary role is to interface between the captain and the rest of the crew. A good first mate usually interacts with the crew based on the captain's demeanor: an aloof or distant captain is best served by a friendly, one-of-the-lads sort of first mate, while a friendlier or inspiring captain usually needs a stern hard-ass of a first mate.
Key Abilities: Strength (Athletics; Carpenter's Tools)
The bosun (or boatswain) provides technical advice to the captain and crew and leads repair and maintenance efforts. Generally speaking, the bosun sits between the crew and the command, with the bosun typically in charge of hiring and firing crew and doling out shift assignments. When neither captain nor first mate are on deck, a bosun usually is in charge, but this isn't an expectation of command, per se: a bosun keeps everything operating ship-shape and normal, and if anything comes up that requires a command decision, the bosun immediately fetches the captain or first mate. In port, a bosun oversees transition of cargo, as well.
Key Abilities: Charisma (Intimidation)
Only vessels whose specific purpose is combat will likely have a master-at-arms. Generally speaking, the master-at-arms checks the preparedness of shipboard weapons (calling on the bosun if they are found in need of maintenance) and maintains the ship's armory. A master-at-arms also typically drills the crew in basic combat readiness. If a vessel has dedicated marines or artillerists, the master-at-arms commands them. During a boarding action, the crew usually defers to the master-at-arms' commands as well, unless the first mate or captain are directly involved. On a ship with no master-at-arms, this role is usually fulfilled by the first mate.
Key Abilities: Intelligence (Nature; Navigator's Tools)
The quartermaster has a number of tasks, but they can best be summarized thusly: the quartermaster makes sure the ship can get to where it's supposed to go. While at sail, this means that the quartermaster generally checks bearings and makes sure the vessel stays on course. The quartermaster tends to act as navigator, plotting and checking the route taken. At port, the quartermaster oversees the supplies for the vessel, ensuring it has the food and materials it needs to make whatever journey the quartermaster has plotted for it when they depart. As such, the quartermaster also frequently manages the ship's books and pay chest. In the ship's hierarchy, the quartermaster does not have command over anyone except the cook (and a wise quartermaster lets the cook rule their roost with minimal interference).
Key Abilities: Wisdom (Medicine; Herbalism Kit)
The ship's surgeon tends to injuries, keeps illnesses from spreading throughout the ship, and oversees sanitation. The surgeon's relationship with the crew can vary – sometimes they're the meddlesome wag who insists things aren't being cleaned well or often enough, other times they're the champion insisting to the command that you be given a day or two to recover from an illness, and at yet other times, they're the terror deciding whether or not you lose that limb! A surgeon's direct commander is the first mate, and they are at equal status with the bosun.
Key Abilities: Constitution, Intelligence (Brewer's Supplies, Cook's Utensils)
A ship's cook works with the limited ingredients aboard a ship to make meals. A skilled cook keeps the crew's morale in top shape, while a poor one drags down the entire crew's performance. The cook's immediate superior is the quartermaster, and is frequently given charge over a few of the crew who are a deft hand in the kitchen (or who are so useless in other tasks or in need of punishment that they end up dumped in the galley).
Key Abilities: Intelligence (Vehicle - Space), Wisdom (Perception)
Though they're often referred to as the ship's spelljammers, the proper term for them is "helmsman" – a spelljammer is a ship, after all. The helmsman is the magician attuned to the spelljamming helm of a vessel, providing it motive force. The helmsman takes orders from the officers.
The ship's roles are generally learned through a sort of apprenticeship (although they're usually not called that, because an apprenticeship usually infers not just youth but also free labor). Those who serve in this function, learning the ropes of one of the ship's major roles, is referred to as a "mate." (This is why the first mate is called such, as they are effectively learning to be captains.) Being chosen as a shipboard mate doesn't come with any additional authority or pay, but the training is usually a promise of better in the future, so they are coveted positions among the crew. It should be noted that being taken on as a mate does not free up a crewman from their normal crew responsibilities – they typically take a shift on deck, and then do other tasks afterwards.
- Quartermaster's Mate: A promising crewman with a head for numbers or talent for navigation may often assist the quartermaster in their tasks, particularly the onerous chores like taking inventory and overseeing cargo loading and unloading.
- Bosun's Mates: On even the smallest vessels, the bosun typically has two mates, who oversee the bosun's duties while the bosun isn't on deck. They are rarely empowered to make decisions, but will instead fetch the bosun (much in the same way the bosun fetches an officer when command decisions are needed).
- Surgeon's Mate: If a surgeon finds someone with the stomach, steadiness of hand, knowledge of healing, or temperament to act as surgeon (and ideally, a candidate should have two or more of those), they will often take them on as surgeon's mate. They tend to shadow the surgeon as they go about their tasks, with the surgeon explaining the hows and whys of their duties, and the mate doing the fetching, boiling, and other preparatory work in emergency situations. Particularly large vessels may even have one or more dedicated surgeon's mates, who have no deck tasks, but who tend to the surgeon's duties exclusively.
- Cook's Mate: Unlike the typical crew assigned to the galley, a cook's mate is nearly the equal to the cook in terms of running things. In a big enough crew, a cook's mate is likely to be assigned to the galley permanently, tending to the long daily tasks of feeding three shifts worth of crew and officers. Even in smaller crews, the cook is usually expected to find one or two crew who are comfortable in the galley and make sure they're trained in the duties of a cook, in case of tragedy.
Any given shift usually has a small crew of sailors who work to keep things running smoothly. Generally, deck crew are in one of three assignments. The deck crew typically look to the bosun or bosun's mate (whoever is on-shift) for their direct command.
- Deckhands: Members of the crew assigned to the deck.
- Rigsman: Members of the crew assigned to the rigging.
- Lookout: A member of the deck crew assigned to a perch either in the rigging or in a crow's nest, scanning the horizon for ships, land, and other sights of interest.
It is usually only military vessels with a dedicated fighting crew – even pirate vessels can't afford the luxury of fighting sorts who don't do anything else day-to-day. The fighting crew of a vessel is under the command of its master-at-arms.
- Artillerist: Crew responsible for manning artillery such as ballistae or catapult. Under the command of the commanding officer on duty when in battle, or the master-at-arms outside of it.
- Marine: Fighters.