Skull and Shackles
A Pirate's Life
Roles Aboard 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. Pirate code prohibits any abuse of any kind towards the cabin boy/girl and they are strict non-combatants in fights.
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 chief ly 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. The master-at-arms maintain’s the ship’s weapons’ locker.
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.
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: Genearl laboror, responsible for cleaning, general maintanence, bilge work, loading and unloading cargo, and other low-level work. Also used as slang for any low-ranking or unskilled crew member.
To maintain the obedience and effectiveness of their crews, most captains enforce strict schedules and shipboard laws upon their vessels, all maintained by the swift dispensation of brutal punishments. The following presents (in order of severity) the game effects of a variety of typical nautical punishments, which the PCs have the potential to face or inf lict during their piratical careers. Most of these sentences are meted out just before the evening meal, at an event typically referred to as the bloody hour. Victims are tied to the whipping post on the main deck and their backs stripped for punishment—with penalties doubled for those who resist. Although the victim is bound, the punishers simply lash their victims, and are not allowed a full-round action to make a coup-de-grace. A roll of 1 on such an attack is treated as a non-damaging fumble that still counts as a strike, much to the amusement of the crew.
Rope Bash: Little more than an admonishment—and occasionally used as a sign of endearment—a rope bash is a single attack with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope that delivers 1 point of nonlethal damage.
The Lash: This is an attack using a whip. Damage dealt by the lash during bloody hour is typically nonlethal.
Cat-o’-Nine-Tails: This is an attack using a cat-o’-ninetails, also referred to simply as a cat—a Medium version of which deals 1d4 points of slashing damage on a successful hit. See page 18 of Pathfinder Player Companion: Pirates of the Inner Sea for more details on this weapon.
Confined in the Sweatbox: A cramped metal box left on deck and exposed to the sun, a sweatbox is terribly confining and replicates unbearably hot conditions. Any creature with fire resistance is immune to the effects of the sweatbox. Victims typically spend 8, 12 or even 24 hours locked up in the sweatbox.
Keelhauling: The most frightful of pirate punishments is keelhauling, as it generally ends in death—often by decapitation. Being keelhauled involves being tied to a rope looped over a ship’s keel and dragged down one side of a ship, underwater across the barnacle encrusted hull, and up the other side. Keelhauling takes several rounds and can be done either fast or slow.
With time on their hands and precious few places to go, Shackles pirates have come up with an astonishing array of pastimes.
Songs and Stories: One way pirates amuse themselves is through songs and stories. Pirates love a good sea chantey, and characters with Perform skills quickly find themselves popular members.
Arm Wrestling: Not merely typical arm wrestling bouts, such matches are usually conducted on a barrel top covered in broken glass, knives, or caltrops.
Hog Lob: Participants lob a lead ingot covered in a greased piglet skin, the “hog,” as far across the deck as possible. Some pirates claim to have participated in games played against Asmodeus using a live hog.
Heave: This potentially deadly drinking game is played with rum and takes place between any number of pirates, who bet to predict the winner beforehand. Each pirate drinks a half pint of rum in one swig. Pirates then take turns drinking until only one is left standing. Some tales tell of entire crews drinking themselves to death through this game, leaving ships of drunk ghosts wandering the shipping routes.