Life Aboard a Ship in D&D 5e Part 1: Crew | World Building in D&D 5e

Life abroad a ship in a Forgotten Realms or any D&D Setting – Part 1: Crew.Pirates fighting for Treasure

Life on a ship on the sword coast or dragon coast is not going to be an easy one. Not only do you have to deal with other sailors, pirates, and the weather, but you also have to contend with the monsters that roam the sea. Later in this series I am going to have some nautical based encounters that you can run for you hearty crew of adventurers, but this series of posts is going to talk about some of the more mundane struggles and parts of day-to-day life on a boat. This time we are going to start with positions on the crew.

Positions on the Crew

Most of the crew is going to be made of up just that — Crew. The crew is the sailors who make things happen, you of course will have a Captain, First Mater, Quarter Master, Boatswain, and a plethora of other positions depending on the size and needs of the ship.


Is your boat part of the Navy out of Waterdeep or some other place, is it a crew of pirates out for adventure in the high seas, is it a privately owned vessel out for fortune and glory? The role of captain can be slightly different on each ship. On a Navy ship and some Privately owned vessels the captain decided where the crew went and what the crew did. On a pirate vessel the captain is often an elected official who only had absolute authority in the head of battle or when chasing down a target.

The captain always has the opportunity to express what they think is best for the crew and most of the time the crew would go along trusting their captain, but it could just as easily be put to a vote by the crew and the course could be changed.

Captains of pirate ships tend to be charismatic leaders who inspire the crew to great feats and put fear into the hearts of their enemies. They are often involved in the recruitment of new crew and negotiations with captured ships. But, what makes a captain great is experience of when the crew should fight and when the crew should flee.

First MateAnne Bonny Fearsome Woman Pirate

On a merchant or navy ship you would often have a First Mate. This position was often held to help the captain out, and would take control of the ship should the captain be taken out of service. This was a very respected part of the crew, and if part of the navy, would be next in line to captain their own ship. Pirate ships however, do not have this position. This has to do with the way captains are elected by the crew. Most of the duties that would befall a first mate would fall to the quartermaster.


The Quartermaster is one of the more interesting positions on a pirate crew. They typically where elected after the Captain. They had many duties on board, including taking over should the captain fall while in a combat situation. But, they also in charge of maintaining order on the ship by stopping infighting among the crew and making sure goods are distributed appropriately. They also where the main authority when settling minor disputes and breaking of rules while on the ship, and lastly should the crew take a ship as a prize the Quartermaster would often captain that ship until it was disposed of.

Navigator/ Sailing Master

A good sailing master is hard to come by. These are the officers who can read the charts and use the instruments at their disposal. They are in charge of keeping the charts safe and up to date. With diviners available in some of the ports this makes some of the charting easier, but there are many spots in Chult that it is hard to divine the layout of the lands due to ancient and strong magics. Often, if a ship is taken and the crew has a good sailing master on it they will easily find a job upon the next crew.

BoatswainPirates stashing the loot

The Boatswain or Bosun on a ship is in charge of making sure the ship and the supplies are taken care of and accounted for. Typically their day would start out by checking the rigging, the food stock, and then reporting that to the captain so plans could be made. During voyage they would also be in charge of weighing anchor and making sure that the sails are taken care of.


Ships are made of a lot of wood and so is the mast. The carpenter would take care of the ship’s structural integrity and would often answer tot he Boatswain. They would often also double as the ship’s surgeon since they had access to saws that would be handy for removing limbs.

Master Gunner

The Master Gunner is in charge of the gunners. The gunners handle the cannons, balistas, and other projectile weapons. The Master Gunner makes sure that each of his gunners has the training they need, and is in charge of moving powder monkeys into gunner status. Since black powder is rare in Fearun they Master Gunner is sometimes the Master Archer who helps the other archers choose when to use plain arrows, flaming arrows, and when the right time to loose them is.


The riggers are the sailors who are assigned the role of working the rigging and unfurling the sails.

Other roles on a ship

There are mates who are usually just officers after the first mates, cabin boys on navy or merchant ships, surgeons, and powder monkeys. There are also rarely cooks, typically this is a role that a normal able bodies sailor takes on since food on a ship isn’t very complex.

Some ships may even have bards, wizards, druids, clerics, or sorcerers on their ships. Most of the time they will have the ability to turn the tides of combat, assist the crew’s success, and even control the weather. There are even a few who specialize in magic that is usefully on ships.

Getting paid on a ship is why people are on it. And, for an idea of what the pay structure on a pirate ship might look like use the table below. But, remember this can be different from ship to ship based on the way the crew votes when creating the ships rules.

Captain2 Shares
Quarter Master2 Shares
 Boatswain (Bosun) 1 1/2 Shares
 Master Gunner 1 1/4 Shares
 Carpenter 1 1/4 Shares
 Sailing Master 1 1/4 Shares
 First Mate 1 1/2 Shared
 Skilled Magic User 2 Shares

A Pirate Shipe

Where ever your character fits on the crew is up to them, and on a pirate ship that give a lot of flexability as to what their role is going to actually entail. Check back again to see the next in the series of day to day life on the ship

Let me know what you think about running a pirate crew for your game would be like, would you have gun powder, does your wizard get a specific role, who swabs the deck?



  • Patrick Taby

    February 17, 2019 at 11:20 pm

    Is there a part 2 of this coming out. My friends and I will be campaigning in a pirate one-shot over the next few weeks and having more guides like this one would be really helpful.


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