View Full Version : The Seaman [3.5 NPC base class][WIP, PEACH]

2012-06-10, 08:50 PM
The Seaman

"They were nearly always uneducated, often unable to read or write, and they had generally lived very hard all their lives; but there were some wonderful men among them, brave, very highly skilled at their calling, magnificently loyal to their shipmates and to their officers if they were well led."

Patrick O'Brian, "Men-of-War," p. 56


One of the many disappointments of Stormwrack is that, in a book supposedly devoted to the oceans, there's hardly any attention paid to the sailors themselves.

We're meant to assume that a man who spends his working life wrestling halyards a hundred feet above a heaving sea, isolated from home for months or years at a time, would be no different from a weaver who works his loom in a dry, stable workshop a few steps away from his kitchen--and who doesn't have to drop his work and fight for his life at a moment's notice. In a pinch, this may work for the crew of a coastal trader, but fighting sailors in a professional navy deserve something more.

So I sketched out the Seaman as an NPC class for my seafaring campaign, and I'd appreciate any constructive feedback on what, for want of a better word, we can call its design. All I've done is combine the Expert's skills with the Warrior's combat progression, and then tried to add a few minor class features that could be expected of the ordinary seafaring man.

I wouldn't expect most seamen to advance more than a few levels over the course of their working lives, so the later levels would be reserved for those few, exceptional cases where ordinary sailors rose to command a vessel, a squadron or a merchant fleet. In my campaign I don't expect to use any seaman NPCs above tenth level, so that's where I've concentrated the class features; they tend to thin out above that, and I'd welcome any suggestions for the levels beyond.

Game Rule Information
A seaman has the following game statistics.
Abilities: Good Dexterity is essential to climbing high in the rigging or balancing on a pitching, deluged deck, and also helps offset the seaman's typical lack of armor. A strong Constitution is also important to surviving the rigors of a voyage at sea, and Strength is useful for half a thousand chores, from hauling ropes and working the capstan to manning the sweeps when the sails are slack--or fighting off a hostile boarding party.
Alignment: Any. Most seamen are accustomed to the set schedules and strong hierarchies of a working vessel, and may have a slight lawful tendency--although this disappears the moment they step onshore.
Hit Die: d8.
Starting Age: As rogue, although many seamen first go to sea as boys of ten or twelve.
Starting Gold: 1d4 X 10.

Class Skills
The seaman's class skills (and the key ability for each skill) are Balance (Dex), Climb (Str), Craft (Int), Knowledge (nature) (Int), Knowledge (geography) (Int), Profession (sailor) (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Spot (Wis), Swim (Str), and Use Rope (Dex).
Skill Points at 1st Level: (6 + Int modifier) X 4.
Skill Points at Each Additional Level: 6 + Int modifier.

The Seaman

{table=head]Level|Base Attack Bonus|Fort Save|Ref Save|Will Save|Class Features

+0|Illiteracy, Skilled Sailor

+0|Martial Weapon Proficiency, Sailor's Feat

+1|Sailor's Trade, Skilled Sailor

+1|Exotic Weapon Proficiency, Grog Bonus, Sailor's Feat

+1|Trader's Tongue, Skilled Sailor

+2|Well-Known Sailor, Sailor's Feat

+2|Skilled Sailor

+2|Trader's Tongue, Sailor's Feat

+3|Skilled Sailor

+3|Celebrated Captain, Sailor's Feat

+3|Trader's Tongue, Skilled Sailor

+4|Sailor's Feat

+4|Skilled Sailor

+4|Trader's Tongue, Sailor's Feat

+5|Skilled Sailor

+5|Sailor's Feat

+5|Trader's Tongue, Skilled Sailor

+6|Sailor's Feat

+6|Skilled Sailor

+6|Trader's Tongue, Sailor's Feat[/table]

Class Features
All of the following are class features of the seaman.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: The seaman is proficient with common simple weapons and with light armor but not shields. (Many seamen eschew armor altogether, because of the restriction on their movements and the expense.)

Illiteracy: As barbarian. A seaman may spend 2 skill points to gain the ability to read and write all languages he is able to speak. A seaman who gains a level in any other class automatically gains literacy, and a seaman who starts at first level with the Education feat is automatically literate.

Skilled Sailor: The long, often monotonous days and weeks at sea provide abundant opportunities to endlessly practice one's skills. At 1st level, and every two levels thereafter, the seaman gains a +3 bonus on a single skill of his choice, as the feat Skill Focus.

Sailor's Feat: At 2nd level, and at every two levels thereafter, a seaman gains a bonus feat drawn from the following list: Agile Athlete, Alertness, Athletic, Blooded, Daredevil Athlete, Endurance, Great Fortitude, Lightning Reflexes, Sea Legs, Seaman's Hands*, Topman*, Toughness, Waterman*, Water Rat. (*New feat described below.)

Martial Weapon Proficiency: At 2nd level, a seaman gains proficiency with a single martial weapon (light or one-handed melee weapons only).

Sailor's Trade: At 3rd level, a seaman adds his ranks in Profession (sailor) as a circumstance bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate or Gather Information checks involving sailors or other maritime professionals. The seaman also ignores any Charisma penalties when interacting with other sailors.

Exotic Weapon Proficiency: At 4th level, a seaman gains Exotic Weapon Proficiency as a bonus feat.

Grog Bonus: With daily exposure to his alcohol ration, a seaman gradually builds a tolerance to strong drink. Starting at 4th level, a seaman gains a +4 bonus on saves vs. alcohol and a +2 bonus to saves vs. poison. At 8th level, the bonuses improve to +6 and +4 respectively.

Trader's Tongue: Years of travel and the necessities of commerce have slowly impressed the seaman with a working knowledge of other tongues. At 5th level, and every three levels thereafter, a seaman learns the basics of a new language--typically a trading pidgin, the home tongue of a frequently visited port, or the language of a competing seafaring nation.

The Well-Known Sailor: Hard-earned seamanship and many successful voyages have contributed to the seaman's growing reputation. At 6th level, a seaman may add half his class level to his Leadership score when recruiting sailors as followers. (Leadership must still be taken as a separate feat.)

Celebrated Captain: Many years plying the oceans have marked the seaman as a leading figure in the brotherhood of mariners. A seaman with Leadership ignores Charisma penalties to his Leadership score.

New Feats (shorthand version):

Seaman's Hands
Long hours of working in the topgallants have sharpened your surefootedness.
Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus on all Balance and Use Rope checks.

You are one of the elite sailors who man the highest yards.
Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus on all Climb checks, and +4 on Climb checks to ascend a ship's rigging or similar structures.

Growing up on the coast has made the water your second home.
Benefit: You receive a +2 bonus on all Swim and Profession (sailor) checks.

So, as I mentioned in the Introduction, this is intended as an NPC class, and very much still a work in progress. I'd be glad of feedback overall, but especially on the first five to seven levels, since I'm planning to include a shipful of these gentlemen in my next game session.

6-11-12 Changed the Leadership bonus from ranks in Profession (sailor) to class level.

2012-06-10, 09:16 PM
The first thing that strikes me here, is that this is in no way a suitable NPC class. It is automatically a better fighter, and a better skillmonkey, than Experts and Warriors. This is worthy of a very oddly specific Base Class for PC.

Beyond that, the Leadership enhancing feats are broken to the point that you max out your Leadership score at level ten, or level twelve if you're low on ability scores. That's the power of 135 level one characters behind you, not to mention the other, higher level followers you accrue.

The main problem I see is that this isn't a class that really needs to exist, sorry to say. If you want to represent an Expert, but with different skillsets... that's why you get to choose an Expert's class skills. If you want to make someone very, very good at a specific thing, like sailing, then they probably don't deserve an NPC class, but actual class levels.

2012-06-11, 07:02 AM
Well, this is my first attempt at working up an NPC class, so I appreciate the critique. I'm certainly a beginner at homebrew.

And maybe because of that, I'm not sure how this class is automatically a better fighter than the warrior. Warriors are proficient with all simple and martial weapons, plus all armor and shields; the seaman only gets a single martial weapon, light armor and no shields, which seems like a very limited subset of the warrior's options. In particular, the seaman has no ranged proficiency whatsoever, apart from the crossbow.

For skills, he receives a series of small static bonuses, which I'd thought were the weakest sort.

As for Leadership, I was looking for some simple way for his seamanship to impress potential recruits to his crew. I can see how keying it off his ranks in Profession (sailor) might be going overboard; I might change it to class levels instead. Either way, though, keep in mind that the bonus only comes into play with other seamen. After a few levels he may receive enough followers to fill out a ship's crew, but apart from being a good crew, I can't think of what other trouble they could make.

I mainly wanted something that was a cut above the other NPC options, but only when operating in a specific environment. Strange as it may sound on this forum, I'm hoping it's a little weaker than a straight fighter.


Morph Bark
2012-06-12, 05:15 AM
Due to Skilled Sailor, the Seaman is much better at any of his class skills than the Expert will ever be. Furthermore, since he has 9 skills plus Craft, by the end of the class he'll have Skill Focus in all of them (or a lot of Craft skills). I suggest giving them Skilled Sailor at 1st level and then every 5th level instead, perhaps lowering the bonus to +2, but allowing them to take it on the same skill multiple times.

Two good saves is instantly very good. The good Reflex plus the 6 skill points per level make him a combined Warrior-Expert, plus class features. This already bumps him up a bit, allowing him to compete with some of the weaker PC classes (Samurai excluded). Give them less skill points and only one good save and bump their BAB to medium. They are fighters, yes, but they are moreso focused on working on the ship and making the ship go properly. I'd consider removing light armor proficiency entirely.

Sailor's Feat has a list of 14 feats, but you get it 10 times. While the feats are less useful than Fighter feats, they get nearly as many as a Fighter. Or, a better comparison, a Martial Rogue (a Rogue who switched his Sneak Attack for Fighter feats, as per Unearthed Arcana -- also in the SRD). This, combined with Skilled Sailor puts him nearly on par with the Rogue. I'd take away feats from half the levels, making them get feats at level 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20.

Exotic Weapons are hella useful, so be careful giving an NPC free choice of proficiency in a single one. Even under PCs, fighting styles with martial weapons are rather limited, but with exotic weapons they get expanded a whole lot, or existing styles are made better by them quite a bit. I'd just take this out.

Grog and Trader's Tongue are flavourful abilities that don't add too much generally, especially in the way of combat. Keep them, but consider putting them at other levels if you make changes to when the other abilities come.

Well-Known Sailor and Celebrated Captain strongly suggest a Seaman should be allowed to take Leadership, even though you don't get it. Keep in mind that Leadership is the strongest feat in the entirety of DnD, as it can give you a cohort two levels lower (or even one level lower), which can have levels in PC classes. The cohort would most likely be more powerful than the Seaman himself. If you insist on keeping these abilities, add in a clause that says they can only take followers and cohorts with Seamen levels only, and put the abilities a lot later. Celebrated Captain sounds like a perfect capstone, in fact.

One major "mistake" you made is that you gave them no dead levels. The only official NPC classes with any class features at all are the Adept and Magewright, which are spellcasters, and they are the strongest NPC classes because of that. All the other classes have 20 dead levels. Not having dead levels is great for PC classes, but not so much for NPC classes as it pushes them further into PC regions.

There are also some people here on GitP that have made NPC classes (and PrCs) before, who sometimes made them 20 levels long, but usually made the classes only 10, 6 or 5 levels long. When making NPC classes, don't think about things you would do if you were making a PC class. Don't think "why is this class good?", think "why is this class bad for PCs, but good for NPCs?" If a class would be good for PCs, you're probably... erm... "doing it wrong".

Let it be known that I kinda dislike that phrase though.

2012-06-12, 07:28 AM
Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed analysis, I really appreciate it. That's essentially a short course in homebrewing, and it's a fair amount to think about it, but now I'm convinced some major overhauling is needed.

In fact, at one point I'd thought about making this a 10-level class, but I wanted to leave room for the very rare individuals who advance to the command of more than one ship. Seen in the context of your comments, though, I think that situation calls more for a PrC.

Thanks again for taking the time to look through it. Lots of options to consider.

Morph Bark
2012-06-12, 03:22 PM
No problem. I actually have to commend you for making a class fit for a PC really well for a first try, while your aim actually was to precisely not do that! It's more than a lot of people can say.

A final note I can make though: the Seaman's starting gold is rather low even for an NPC class and has a 1/4th chance of being less than that of the average Monk. I forgot the exact values on the Commoner, Expert and Warrior (but check the DMG, since they're not in the SRD), but you can safely go higher than 1d4 x 10 gp.