I am currently GMing a pirate game (running since 2009) where the PCs have become the command crew of a pirate ship. Their crew is they typical mix of pirates from other ships they've overcome (join or die!), recruits from land (both willing and impressed), prisoners they've forced to sign the Articles, characters' girlfriends...

Are there any good rulesets I could easily crib out there that might help me track overall crew attitude/morale and things that might happen when sentiment starts getting negative? The campaign's Pathfinder but anything adaptable from another game is fine too.

The captain, a monk, is thorough about beating anyone who gives him lip or seems insufficiently motivated, and the crew gets a decent amount of loot, but frequently for "operational security" they aren't allowed liberty in ports... Seems to me there might be something that takes stuff like this into account for either a ship's crew or even just a group of hirelings or whatever.

In general we have three levels of NPC crewman -

  1. Full major NPCs, often recruited in their fully written up forms from adventures they've been in (Lavender Lil the tiefling hooker from Riddleport, for example). Largely indistinguishable from the PCs. (At least one is a former PC whose player left.)
  2. NPCs unique enough we give them their own character sheet, though they're supporting cast from being low level or generally not as motivated as a PC. "Slasher Jim the serial killer, Ftr3, full stat block..."
  3. NPCs all with with names and descriptions that mostly share common stats with their group - like the pirates they drafted after beating a given pirate ship. Like on their ship the have "The Bunyip pirates" from the defeat of the Black Bunyip, all Exp2/Rog1's, the "Araska pirates," the "freed slaves..." Individuals may have some slight variations. "Tanned Hank, Araska pirate, ship's carpenter. Can swim. Cloak of resistance +1."
  4. The category 4 of unnamed guys is reserved for NPCs on enemy ships and whatnot until a PC talks to them; I'm pretty militant about names/descriptions/etc for everyone in the world so if they become crew, they're already to category 3.

I could just track individual happiness of ~50 guys but that turns into a tracking problem not really solved in Relationship Mechanics for D&D/Pathfinder?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Might have a look at the first book in the Carrion Crown module. It has a system for how much the town hates the PCs and might be modifiable to work with a boat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 20:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ This entry might be helpful as well: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/6726/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 13:12

6 Answers 6


You can use Pathfinders own attitude/reaction mechanism (as per the diplomacy skill) for this, but instead of treating every single crew member with their own attitude treat them as a group or, more realistically, several as this will better represent the crew as a group.

First, set a Current Diplomacy DC for each group; The Diplomacy DC will determine each groups current attitude towards the captain and what they're likely to do. "Unfriendly" could result in surly comments, the captains hat "being lost" whilst "friendly" could mean morale bonuses and volunteering for dangerous missions and so on.

As bad things happen you can make the captain make diplomacy/intimidate checks against the crew elements (making the rowers work longer, giving the first mate an extra share) and slip their attitude +/- 1 (or more) on the scale depending on their reaction to things going on if the captain doesn't do anything to mitigate this. This can easily represent slow change rather than the more immediate attitude rebellion that is usual in the diplomacy system. So a change of 5 represents a change of an entire attitude category.

For example You could decide to break down the crew into three groups - sailors, marines and the first mate and set the following DC's.

Marines: 16 (Indifferent)
Rowers: 22 (Unfriendly)
First Mate: 12 (Friendly)

The Captain decides to row to shore to beat a rival buccaneer to the chest of loot; he tells the first mate about this and promises him a share in making sure it's kept secret.

The rowers add 1 to their Diplomacy DC (less happy) unless the captain motivates them, for all that extra rowing.

The first mate subtracts one from their Diplomacy DC (more happy) as there is potential loot just for him.

The marines don't change attitude as they have no idea what's going on.


Some quick suggestions for different attitude levels, it's a roleplay opportunity and obviously will be effected by who the group is. The ships parrot being unhappy isn't as dangerous as the marines all sulking.

The AD&D SRD has some one word suggestions for the different levels in the Diplomacy skill.

Hostile: Plotting mutiny, switching sides in fights, frequent brawling, refusal to obey, deserting, very hard to find new crew, theft of goods and treasure; -3 to crew/ship checks

Unfriendly: Talking back, questioning commands, starting ugly rumours, slacking off duties, withhold information, harder to find new crew, insulting commanders; -1 to crew/ship checks

Indifferent: Life is normal

Friendly: Friendly banter, offering advice, more singing (may be bad!) better health, no brawling, friendly crew contests +1 to crew/ship checks

Helpful: Offering additional help, working longer hours, recommending to recruiting, easier to find extra crew, volunteering secrets/knowledge, +2 to crew/ship checks

Fanatic: Fighting to the death, insane heroic acts, much easier to recruit extra crew, big reputation bonuses ; +3 to crew/ship checks

Dealing with differing happiness levels

If you're dealing with lots of individual NPCs I'd still group them together into small clumps, as like minded individuals tend to gather - people who are complaining about their job will hang around with other people who want to complain about their job.

The overall "happiness of the ship" can then be easily determined by averaging the happiness of everyone together, I'd not worry about group size too much in this weighting as the groups can be roughly put together to indicate influence; so although the first mate (in my example) is just one person they get their own attitude rating as they have such a bearing on the ships morale.

So for my example

Marines: 16 (Indifferent)
Rowers: 22 (Unfriendly)
First Mate: 12 (Friendly)

Overall happiness is (16+22+12)/3 = 16.66 (Indifferent)

Of course if one particular group slipped into particularly low morale then they may leave or do something dangerous.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A good approach, and allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of who finds what to be motivating/demotivating. Was hoping for something that had some of the +/- effects spelled out. And the more named NPCs you have, it gets a bit unwieldy - the tracking's not hard but if it's "8 random people like him and 8 random people are indifferent etc" what does that mean overall? \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 4:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Personally I'd start to clump them together in small groups, as like minded individuals tend to gather - people who are complaining about their job will hang around with other people who want to complain about their job. I can add in some suggestions for different happiness levels if you like. If you want an overall happiness level, average it out amoungst the groups, I'll add some more notes... \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 9:01

Pirates are highly dynamic and any attempt to math-model them ends up feeling wooden, IMHO.

I find that creating 4 hierarchies of NPCs is more satisfying to players and simply keeping a basic record of their conditions can do a better job of informing on mutiny and other negative/positive events than even the most detailed set of number-rules can. And with a lot more flavor for the players too.

  1. Full-flesh NPCs.
  2. Supporting NPCs
  3. NPCs with 1 basic character trait.
  4. The Rest (a number and a condition)

They all have a basic set of conditions for health and mood. And the overall mood of the crew, or the town, or the military can be understood through the direct actions of the players against or in favor of people they can interact with. Normal, Injured, Sick. Happy, Content, Displeased, Angry, Vengeful.


  1. First Mate Skully Scrimshaw has a girl, Elizabeth, back home on Mino who is taking care of his sick mother, Regina. He regularly sends substantial portions of his gold home to support them. He joined the crew 3 years ago expressly to be able to afford the expensive medicine his mother needs, and to secure a fortune on which to build a life with Liz. He is currently happy, since the Captain saw fit to detour for a stop at Mino so he could visit them in person.

    • Boomer is a stoic loner Half-orc. He mans the canon and spends most of his spare time mixing powder in different ratios. He has a very short fuse. He's currently angry because the Captain scolded him for leaving dangerous powder dust laying about.
    • Beebol is a Bugbear master of arms. He is deadly with a cutlass but dimwitted and chronically in a bad mood. He is happy with the Captain, however, since he always gets to collect 'meat' from the decks of the ships he helps attack.
    • Wenda is an Elf whore. She was picked up in Barbott 2 years ago for the life of an innkeeper, her father, and she since acclimated to life at sea. Her favorite is Boomer, but she hates Skully because he won't visit her. She is happy with the Captain, ahem, for reasons..
    • Peggy the Orc klutz, happy
    • Don the Human ex-rich-guy, angry
    • Wino the Dwarf braggart, injured (broken arm)
    • Polly the Kenku with echolalia, happy
    • David the Gnome, misses his wife, vengeful
  2. 25 other crewmen, content.

You can do the same for towns, military groups, rival pirates, and any other group the players will have regular contact with. I don't believe that nameless and faceless organizations make for fun/good story, so if your pirates are fighting 'marines' who just aimlessly hunt down pirates. Consider giving them a group of leaders that lead these ships and can build a rapport with the crew.

Each town or group can then have an over-all attitude towards the Pirates based on a rough assessment of each individual by rank. No math, just a basic scan of the conditions of the crew for flavor. The example crew, for instance, is overall happy, because the most important people are overall happy. The people with immediate access to weapons and with command are mostly happy.

Once armed with these conditions, you can assign DCs to them and allow rolls against the whole group, sub-groups, or individuals with ease. Like the other models listed as answers, you can roll diplomacy or other skills against these DCs to see how the crew will react.

Inspire them to do well, and the crew may bestow a bonus on the task at hand. Rowing harder, or fighting with more ferocity. I wouldn't roll for mutiny, however. Mutiny is an action of agency. It should be role played not roll played.

  • \$\begingroup\$ you've incorrectly spelled cannon \$\endgroup\$
    – blade
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @blade Cool. I'll get around to correcting it in another 5 years. \$\endgroup\$
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 6:41

There are some navigation rules in WH40KRP Rogue Trader. This includes rules for population and morale. Both are mesured in percents. When the score is below 100 negative effects to the ship operation are applied. There are events and conditions that can raise or lower the population or the morale. There are also, of course, mutiny rules, and I recall them to be quite complete, with leadership competitions and things like that.

Rogue Trader is a space exploration game, but it intentionally mirrors the sea travel. You only need to pay attention to the costumes and devices. As you can see here or here.

EDIT: Here, an outline of mutiny rules:

  • Each time morale drops below 70, 40 and 10, the Captain must make a Command Test. If failed, a mutiny happens.
  • A NPC character is chosen (or created) as the mutiny leader.
  • PCs chose one of them to confront the mutiny.
  • PCs leader must roll opposed test against rebels leader of Command, Charm or Intimidation, depending of the approach.
  • Use Command for a military approach. If won, mutiny ends, but the ship loses 1d5 morale and 1d5 population during the repression.
  • Use Charm to meet the rebel leaders, address the demands and placate the rebels. If won, mutiny ends, but loses 1d10 morale for the PCs are now seen as weak leaders.
  • Use Intimidate to threat with really bad consequences (like releasing portions of the crew to space). If won, mutiny ends, but the ship loses 1 population and 1d10 morale.

Rolls are repeated until PCs win (they restore the order on the ship) or the mutineers win by 3 success degrees (they take over the ship).


There was a Kickstarter project (successful) for sea-faring rules called Admiral o' the High Seas. It's been released, now, and should be available at Paizo.com (should have options for the PDF) and/or Amazon (just the hardcover, I think). It has options for anything sea-faring related, and that includes crew attitude up to, and including, mutiny. I'm a fan, and not just because I was a backer of the project...


For tracking the fortunes and parameters of any group, the Company rules from would be applicable - that's what they're for.

The five qualities of a Company (a Company is any organization, from a club to a kingdom, pirate crews being somewhere in the middle) are Might, Influence, Sovereignty, Treasure and Territory. You're asking for something just to help you track Sovereignty:

Sovereignty is one of the five Qualities that Companies possess. It's one of the more abstract Qualities, as it measures loyalty and dedication and collective spirit... all elements that are hard to picture in and of themselves, but which have a way of coloring decisions and influencing action the way the more quantified Qualities don't. Sovereignty is a measure of group identity. If Sovereignty is strong, the members of the group might be willing to die for it. If it's low, they're one grumble away from leaving in disgust, if not actively rebelling.

The Reign rules are available without the associated setting information in the Reign Enchiridon.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll check them out, I think I have a copy of Reign around somewhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 4:49

I'm not aware of any mechanic for tracking mutinies but I think that you can very simply/easily create a mechanic that will work for your situation. I would make a scale of mutiny likelihood (maybe 10 steps from 0-100% likely). Whenever the captain whips someone, the loot seems a little light, liberty is denied without a reasonable accommodation (Can't go ashore, but I'm bringing in 10 extra barrels of ale to compensate for it); make a roll against the number they are at. If they DON'T mutiny, raise the target number for the next check.

Narratively, I would also clue in the PCs that the crew is clearly not happy. Have them overhear grumbling from across the bulkhead, but when they enter the room the conversation stops. Maybe someone who is supposed to be whipped begs to be killed and "freed from this hell", etc.


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