Marine Skills

There are two key skills for travel on board ships: Profession (sailor) and Knowledge (geography). Profession (sailor) covers all aspects of shiphandling—maneuvering close to the wind, steering through a storm, passing through hazardous waters such as crossing a river bar or threading one’s way through ice floes. Knowledge (geography) covers the rare art of piloting and navigation—knowing where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there from here.
A third skill which is almost as important is Knowledge (nature). Most skilled mariners are students of the weather and the natural patterns of the ocean. Recognizing a dangerous squall line or determining the proximity of land from the types of fish and seabirds in the area are useful applications of this skill.

Seafaring Roles

Artillerist: If a ship carries any large weapons for use against other ships or shore targets, the crew includes one or more artillerists. An artillerist is usually an expert with at least 2 to 4 ranks in Profession (siege engineer). Usually only one or two members of a weapon crew are artillerists; the rest are deckhands who simply assist by winching or handling heavy projectiles. Depending on the ship’s armament, an artillerist might be called a bombardier, cannoneer, or gunner’s mate. A sailor with more than 4 ranks in Profession (siege engineer) and 4 or more ranks Craft (alchemy) is known as a master gunner. He is responsible for preparing charges for bombards is the vessel is so equipped.
Boatswain: A boatswain is an experienced sailor who supervises the deckhands in performing their duties. He is also skilled in deck rigging and handling cargo—setting up cargo booms, rigging hoists to raise heavy loads over the side, lashing ships together, and other such tasks. A boatswain is usually a commoner or expert with at least 4 to 6 ranks in Profession (sailor) as well as several ranks in Climb or Use Rope. However, some barbarians from seafaring societies make excellent boatswains. Large ships often have a chief boatswain and a number of junior boatswains who answer to him. Boatswain is often abbreviated (and pronounced) bos’n or bosun.
Captain: A ship’s captain is usually an experienced sailor, navigator, and commander. There is a good deal of overlap between captain and master; generally, a master is someone who owns the ship she commands, while a captain is someone who does not. A ship might sail with both a captain and a master, in which case the master generally permits the captain to exercise command and only intercedes if she feels her vessel is at risk. A captain is usually an expert (or multiclass expert), bard, fighter, paladin, or rogue with at least 7 to 10 ranks in Profession (sailor), 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 2 to 4 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, and 2 to 4 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate.
Deckhand: Most of the sailors on a large ship are deckhands—that is, able-bodied seamen who handle the ship’s sails, lines, small boats, and deck maintenance as directed by their boatswains or officers. Deckhands generally are commoners, experts, or even warriors with 1 to 3 ranks in Profession (sailor) and 1 to 2 ranks in Climb and Use Rope.
Helmsman: Ships usually don’t carry dedicated steersmen. Instead, deckhands who are on watch handle the helm as directed by the conning officer (whichever officer is currently in charge of keeping the ship on its course). Skill checks for the handling of the ship are generally made by the person commanding the helmsman, not the helmsman himself—although if the conning officer takes the helm himself, or if the helmsman ignores the orders of the conning officer, the person with his hands on the ship’s wheel makes any skill checks associated with shiphandling.
Mage: Any vessel with a crew of more than a dozen or so is likely to carry a ship’s mage—an arcane spellcaster who can help defend the ship from various natural or unnatural hazards, ranging from pirate attack to doldrums. Useful magic for making quick repairs or speeding a ship’s voyage with a favorable wind is highly sought after, even in peaceful areas. A ship’s mage is usually a sorcerer or wizard of 3rd to 6th level; warships with large crews could carry as many as half a dozen mages and apprentices.
Master: The term master can overlap with the term captain in some degree. In general, a master owns her vessel, while a captain doesn’t but typically exercises complete authority over all matters of sailing, navigation, discipline, and administration of the crew. A master is usually an expert (or multiclass expert) or rogue with at least 7 to 10 ranks in Profession (sailor), 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 2 to 4 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, 2 to 4 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate, and 2 to 4 ranks in Profession (merchant).
Master-at-Arms: The ship’s master-at-arms is the petty officer charged with keeping order among the crew and supervising the ship’s armory. If a ship carries soldiers, then officers and sergeants among the soldiers fulfill these functions. A master-at-arms is usually a warrior, barbarian, or fighter with a rank or two in skills useful to his job, such as Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Sense Motive.
Officer: Officers supervise the crew, navigate, and function as an extension of the captain. Small merchant ships might have no officers at all—only a master, a pilot, and a chief bosun. Larger merchants ships and most warships have officers who stand watch in the captain’s stead, making sure that the ship keeps its course and avoids various hazards. The first officer is the ship’s second-in-command; large ships might have a second or even a third officer, and very large ships might have even more than that. An officer is usually an expert (or multiclass expert) with at least 4 to 7 ranks in Profession (sailor), 2 to 5 ranks in Knowledge (geography), 1 to 3 ranks in Knowledge (nature) or Survival, and 1 to 3 ranks in an interaction skill such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate. A cleric or a ranger can also serve as an officer.
Pilot: The pilot is the ship’s officer in charge of navigation. On smaller vessels, the ship’s captain or master serves as its pilot, but on larger ships the pilot is one of the officers who performs her duties under the captain’s supervision. A pilot is usually an expert or wizard with 4 to 7 ranks in Profession (sailor) and 4 to 7 ranks in Knowledge (geography). It’s quite common for knowledge of navigation to be a secret deliberately held only by a ship’s captain and officers. (Without the ability to find their way home across the seas, crews are much less likely to mount a successful mutiny.)
Prelate: The ship’s prelate (or ship’s chaplain, or priest) is a divine spellcaster who advises the captain, lends his healing skills to the crew, and uses divine magic to protect the ship from hazards and assist in battle. Prelates are normally carried only on ships of moderate or greater size; small ships might have a speaker or acolyte who represents the most prevalent faith on board, but that person might or might not actually have a level in a divine spellcasting class. Warships often carry more prelates because of their usefulness in battle. A typical prelate is a cleric of 2nd to 5th level.
Surgeon: The officer who treats injuries and wounds. Small ships rarely carry a surgeon, but even a small crew has at least one or two members who have a couple of ranks in the Heal skill. A ship’s surgeon is usually an expert with 4 to 7 ranks in Heal, but it’s not uncommon for clerics, favored souls, healers, or even druids to fill this billet.
Windsinger: In some seafaring societies, a ship’s crew is not complete without a windsinger—a character whose spells can soothe or command the winds. A windsinger is usually a bard or a druid, but sorcerers and wizards can fill this job as well, provided they know the right spells. The windsinger’s duties are generally not as militant or officious as a ship’s mage or ship’s prelate; few ships carry all three. Windsingers help ships avoid battles, not win them, and they often serve as spokesmen for the crew. A windsinger is usually a bard or druid of 3rd to 6th level with several ranks in Profession (sailor) and Knowledge (nature).

Seafaring Skills

Boats and ships offer clumsy characters a variety of ways to fall. Many characters who spend time on or around boats pick up a rank or two in Balance, simply because you never know when your life could depend on it.

Most climbing in seafaring games takes place on or around ships. Characters scramble up into rigging, sahuagin clamber up the sides, and stealthy rogues can creep up anchor chains while a ship is in harbor.

Many craft skills are required to fabricate various parts of a ship—carpentry for the hull and masts, blacksmithing for the iron fittings and nails, sailmaking for the sails, even ropemaking for the thousands of feet of hawsers, stays, and line necessary to rig the ship correctly. However, small craft such as canoes, rafts, and skiffs are all covered under.

Craft (boatbuilding)
A boatbuilder can handle any vessel of Huge size or smaller, although a single boatbuilder working on a ketch or launch of Huge size might take six months or more to finish the work. Building a larger ship requires the skills of a shipwright (see Knowledge). The chief difference between a shipwright and a boatbuilder is that the boatbuilder rarely works off of any sort of plans, instead using various rules-of-thumb and his own skilled eye to build a serviceable vessel. Some sample Craft DCs for rafts and boats that can be created with the Craft (boatbuilding) skill appear below.

In places where travel, trade, and war at sea are commonplace, governments naturally develop various licenses, letters, and documents in order to regulate and administer the activities of those who travel by sea. A skilled forger can be a valuable asset, especially for a captain or crew who wish to pass off a stolen ship as their own vessel.

Handle animal
Clever animals with natural swimming ability offer a unique way for a human to accomplish tricky work in water. Creatures such as porpoises or seals can swim faster and stay submerged far longer than a human can. Many animals don’t need to be taught to swim. Obviously, any creature with a natural swim speed is perfectly at home in the water. Animals without swim speeds might simply be inclined to swim or disinclined to swim. Chimpanzees, for example, detest water and just don’t like to swim. Most dogs, by contrast, take to water with enthusiasm and will likely carry out commands such as fetch or come even if they must swim in order to comply.

Fast swimmers can hurl themselves entirely out of the water in order to leap over a horizontal barrier such as a your body except for the last foot of your body length gets out of the water, at least for a moment.

Several aspects of the Knowledge skill are vitally important to characters who venture out on the seas of the world. Ranks in a Knowledge skill measure more than just the store of trivia a character has access to; they also measure a character’s study in a specific field of technical expertise.

Knowledge (architecture and engineering)
This skill encompasses the science of naval architecture, ship design, and construction techniques for large vessels. To some extent it overlaps Craft (boatbuilding), but boatbuilding is the skill used to build small craft—vessels of size Huge or smaller. Building ships of Gargantuan or Colossal size requires a shipwright, not a boatbuilder, and Knowledge (architecture and engineering) is the signature skill of a shipwright.
Large vessels exceed any normal application of the Craft skill, since they represent the collaboration of dozens or even hundreds of specialists, none of whom possess all the skills necessary to build a ship alone (unlike the boatbuilder, who must know at least a little bit about many related skills such as ropemaking, sailmaking, carpentry, and even ironwork). Instead of having each specialist make separate Craft checks to fabricate individual components of a ship, the chief shipwright simply makes Knowledge (architecture and engineering) skill checks to successfully design and oversee the building of a large vessel.
The DC of your shipbuilding check varies with the ship you’re trying to build and the craftsmen and materials you have on hand. The materials required to build a ship are equal to half the ship’s indicated price (see Chapter 5); in addition, you must pay the shipyard workers an amount equal to one-quarter of the ship’s indicated price.

Knowledge (geography)

The absolutely crucial tasks of navigation and piloting fall under the description of Knowledge (geography). While Profession (sailor) covers the maneuvering and handling of a ship, the science of navigation requires a distinctly different set of training—mathematics, geometry, optics, and astronomy, among other fields. Navigation revolves around two basic tasks: course setting and piloting.
Course Setting: When you set out on a voyage, you need to know how to get where you’re going. The difficulty of setting an accurate course depends on the quality of information you have about where you’re going: The DM makes this check for you, since you don’t know for certain if you have planned an accurate course.
Piloting: Piloting is the art of not getting lost and determining where you are in relation to your intended course, so that you can make corrections as necessary. Piloting actually involves a variety of related techniques: celestial navigation, dead reckoning, and true piloting—using landmarks on shore to establish your position.
Each day of your voyage, you make a piloting check to establish your position and make the routine corrections necessary to hold to your intended course. The DC of this check depends on the methods available to you; on open ocean with cloudy skies, you have no landmarks and no celestial bodies to observe.

Knowledge (nature)
This skill is useful in helping to predict the weather—something any mariner’ s life might depend on. While predicting the weather is an aspect of the Survival skill, ranks in Knowledge (nature) provides a synergy bonus to Survival checks.

Water is a better conductor of sound than air; sound waves propagate faster and attenuate less over distance. However, land creatures don’t necessarily hear well underwater, because it’s very difficult to establish direction and discriminate the components of a sound if your ears are intended for hearing through air, not water.

Profession (sailor)
This skill covers a broad variety of tasks and training, ranging from routine jobs such as steering, setting sails, and dropping or raising anchor to smart shiphandling, tactical maneuver, and handling a ship in a storm.
Characters with only 1 or 2 ranks in Profession (sailor) are simple deckhands—competent to work as part of a crew and handle jobs such as reefing sails, manning the helm under the direction of a commander, and generally make themselves useful.
Characters with 3 to 7 ranks in Profession (sailor) are petty officers, officers, or technical experts such as boatswains.
Characters with 8 or more ranks in Profession (sailor) are expert shiphandlers. They know how sails should be set for current winds. They can handle tricky tasks of piloting such as crossing a river bar. And they are skilled at tactical maneuvers in battle such as executing or avoiding a ramming attack, bringing a ship alongside for boarding, and using the weather gauge ability (see page 57) to remain at range, rake an enemy’s bow or stern, or fall away from action.

At sea, spotting another ship without being spotted yourself gives you a great advantage—you can decide whether to seek out or avoid meeting the other vessel. Assuming good visibility (daylight, clear conditions), the basic spotting distance to detect another vessel at sea depends on the height of the observer (swimming, deck, masthead, or flying) and the height of the other vessel or feature.

The open ocean is one of the most hostile environments in the world. Food and drinking water are extremely hard to come by; drinking seawater simply increases the rate at which dehydration kills anyone unfortunate enough to be caught out at sea without fresh water to drink, and mid-ocean waters can be surprisingly barren of fish to catch and eat.

Naturally, the ability to swim and to swim well is a very useful skill for adventures in which you might go into the water at any moment.

Marine Skills

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