View Full Version : DM Help How do you handle Naval ranks for your players?

2017-12-29, 10:16 PM
Your players are manning a naval vessel. They can't all be Captain.

How do you handle that?

For the Science Fantasy game I'm preparing, my players are the core crew of a starship, and one of them will be the captain of the ship.

I was thinking of putting it to a vote among the players, let them decide who gets the captain's seat.

Would that be a mistake, though? I don't want my players to think I'm favoring one in particular.

2017-12-29, 10:46 PM
Depending on what kind of game you are planning, you might be better off having the Captain be an NPC. No matter what Star Trek tells you, Naval captains don't do a lot of dangerous missions themselves, especially away from the ship.

That way, your PCs can be the rest of the bridge - Communications Officer, Security/Tactical/Captain of the Marines officer, Navigator, Executive officer, maybe Science Officer or Senior Physician. They are all roughly equal in prestige (the XO is nominally higher ranking than the others, and becomes Captain if the Captain is incapacitated, but it's not nearly the gap as between Captain and the rest of the wardroom).

2017-12-29, 10:54 PM
When playing Sci-fi on a spaceship we usually decide during character creation. Usually there is the captain, a flyboy, a grease monkey, a security specialist, a scientist and a medic. Sometimes if we are short handed each character has a multiple roles manning the ship. This doesn't mean that the captain gets to boss everybody around.

Koo Rehtorb
2017-12-29, 11:35 PM
I don't think you need to dictate crew arrangements to them. They're perfectly capable of deciding on a captain themselves, or deciding that none of them wants it and it should be an NPC instead.

2017-12-30, 04:10 AM
The one time that I've played an RPG where we were on a ship with positions, it was Stars Without Number, so your characters actually needed to be good at their thing to do it. I was the only person with any combat (gunnery), so I was the head gunner. That said, I'm pretty sure everyone was the pilot at some point, either because the actual pilot was MIA or because she'd managed to knock herself out of her seat (at which point I legged it from gunnery to take her place - fortunately, the pilot can fire one weapon per round anyway). So the answer of "Who's the captain" can quite easily be handled with "Who's actually good at it".

2017-12-30, 04:47 AM
Have a wargame competition . Player who shines the brightest gets to be squad leader .

2017-12-30, 09:42 AM
None of them are captain, or his 2IC, or even bridge officers. They are all junior officers elsewhere on the ship. During the first mission (deep in enemy territory and months of travel away from a friendly base), the bridge is penetrated by a missile and everyone there gets spaced. Several other decks get damaged, and all officers there are taken out. The external comm system is destroyed, so they cannot contact their superiors back home or request replacement officers.

The four to six PCs are all that the crew has left, and none of them has more than eight years of experience. They are only trusted with a dozen men at most, and now they are all that's left to lead a crew numbering in the hundreds. Existing SOPs mention that a junior officer can take command in the absence of any senior officers, but do not provide guidance on who specifically should lead.

It can be hard to give your players that much freedom. Trust them. They will be able to decide who they want leading. Or perhaps they will decide to lead as equal partners. Whatever they come up with, it will be an arrangement that they are happy with. Whatever you force upon them would almost certainly not be.

2017-12-30, 09:59 AM
The one who is the most qualified should be captain. And if none of them are a definite yes to that then you should bring out an NPC that is.

2017-12-30, 12:16 PM
It depends on the exact genre I'm emulating.

If I want to do a pulp story, I'd actually have nobody be the captain. The PCs are all friends who are able to run a ship without anybody being in charge, although one of them may be the official owner (in nonpulp stories I'll generally suggest that each character owns a portion of it if they're private). Even in a military rank is an afterthought compared to ADVENTURE.

I am currently planning a harder space opera game using GURPS, where the players can buy rank up to the level I assign to Commander (so nobody has the Captain rank). If only one person buys Commander then they'll be the official captain, otherwise one will be chosen as the commanding officer and the others will be assigned positions based on their skills. Or have them be in a merchant or exploration vessel with no official rank structure, of course.

I've also considered having the official commanding officer be an AI who prefers to delegate positions to the PCs. So the PCs don't have to obey orders but nobody has command over them.

Xuc Xac
2017-12-30, 05:27 PM
The last time I had a group of PCs with a ship there were different roles for each of them:
Captain/Owner: Had no skill in sailing, but decided the ports of call and made tactical decisions (setting target priorities for gunners, mostly)) in combat.
Navigator/Pilot: decided the best routes between ports and maneuvered the ship during combat.
Carpenter: maintained the ship and directed repair crews
Boatswain: directed the sailing hands to assist in maneuvering (the pilot steers, but the boatswain's crew provided speed and maintained stability)
Marine captain: directed infantry to shoot enemy crew at short range, repelled boarders, or led boarding actions against other ships.

"Being bossed around" shouldn't be a problem if everyone has a different job. The captain should be "ordering" them to do things that they want to do anyway.

2017-12-31, 04:27 AM
This question is harder then it should be. There are a lot of factors to consider.
First, is the ship part of a larger organization? If so, then having a chain of command becomes more important. The traditions of the organization also shape the answers. For example, in Rogue Trader, the Captain is required by tradition to be involved in the dangerous stuff, otherwise he cannot claim certain prizes.
Second, how large is the crew of the ship? If the entire crew is comprised of the PCs, then let them figure it out however they want to, as long it works in universe. The ship owner is typically the Captain, but not always. If there is a larger crew, then an actual Captain becomes more important.
Third, in a larger crew, what role do the PCs fill? Senior officers are rarely given the most dangerous tasks (aka the best adventure hooks), especially multiple senior officers. Captains are even more protected by their rank from most adventures. In such a case, maybe the PCs are not all officers, but mostly NCOs, so that they are more likely to be thrust into the dangerous situations.
There are like more that I'mnot thinking of, but it is 2am and I should be sleeping.

Outside factors can also change the relationship of the Captain and different members of the crew. For example, if you have a aristocratic society, and one of the players is a Duke's heir, then the Captain is likely to give him more leiway then a random officer of the same rank. Prior relationships may also have the Captain play favorites. If the Captain and several officers just transfered together from another ship, they are likely to be treated differently then the other crew. This could be a reason that the PCs keep geting sent out on adventures, if one of them doesn't come back, then the captain's favorite gets a promotion.

All that being said, I generally find it best to ask the players who wants the job, and tell them the advantages and drawbacks of it. Sometimes the game system will help the decision, by forcing the players to choose something like Status or Rank if they want that.

Fun fact, during the Golden Age of Piracy, most pirate ships did elect the officers, and if the officers failed in the duties were ousted and new ones elected. And making the crew money was one of the most important duties for the officers.

2017-12-31, 08:01 AM
Is the focus going to be on stuff that happens on board the ship, or on away mission type settings? If the latter, I'd go for an NPC captain who actually commands the ship but doesn't go on away missions. If the former, or a mix, then I'd be more inclined to have the Captain be a PC, and it would probably be best to have the players pick from among themselves.

2017-12-31, 08:43 AM
It depends on the campaign premise. Some premises specifically lend themselves to certain ranks, such as a game about the players being hotshot fighter pilots tending to put them in the command structure under that of the commander of their fleet carrier. Generally I'll let the players figure it out in the campaign premise, and if there's a small ship where they're the entire crew there isn't necessarily a captain at all.

Occasionally you get changes in rank in game, which can come about in bizarre ways. My favorite example of this was in my Shrodinger's Hummingbird campaign, where the crew was getting chewed out by police for their recent mercenary actions, a police officer demanded to know who the captain was, and the group threw one PC under the bus by collectively claiming that he was the captain on the spot. The rank persisted long after the charges had been rendered irrelevant.

Xuc Xac
2017-12-31, 02:02 PM
You could also run it like Ars Magica. Everybody has a senior officer who does important intellectual stuff on the ship, a junior officer who goes on away missions, and a bunch of redshirted ensigns who fill out those away missions.

For example, one player might have one character who is the tactical bridge officer in charge of security and weapons and stuff. They also have a junior science officer who leads exploratory away missions to gather samples or take some readings or administer vaccinations to the colonists or whatever. Then an ensign in each of the colors of the rainbow: a marine private for when another player's Junior security officer leads a tactical patrol, an engineer's mate for when another player's Junior engineering officer leads a technical crew to repair or hack or build something, a fighter pilot for when the carrier is attacked and the captain orders the fighters to scramble, etc.

2018-01-01, 09:51 AM
In my last Traveler game (I was a player) the captain of the ship was the character that spent 5 credits on buying a captains hat.

We had all earned credits towards the ship but he had the hat, what can you do....

I aren't saying this was the best system but it is how things got sorted in my last game.

2018-01-04, 09:00 PM
I find, both as a player and DM, that the best thing to do is delegate authority to the players who don't abuse it--i.e. those who are able to go with what the group wants to do based on their experience as a player, and moderate that via their character. It's a role that takes some getting used to, and it's generally best to have a conversation with that player beforehand. Nonetheless, it makes sense both in game and out of game. Generally, it results in everyone having fun and allowing the players to learn to work together, as well as creating a safety feature against going murderhobo.

For example, in my current Starfinder campaign (in which I am a player), one of the other PCs became captain by GM fiat as above. However, he promptly went ahead with our plan to challenge space gangsters to a death race...think podracing with gunners. It worked out well.

2018-01-05, 02:18 AM
It can be hard to give your players that much freedom. Trust them. They will be able to decide who they want leading. Or perhaps they will decide to lead as equal partners. Whatever they come up with, it will be an arrangement that they are happy with. Whatever you force upon them would almost certainly not be.

100% this。。。

Besides, especially if the Captain is an NPC, this feels very much like the DM issuing orders to the PC's, and there's nothing Players resent more than being told what to do.

2018-01-05, 09:37 AM
100% this。。。

Besides, especially if the Captain is an NPC, this feels very much like the DM issuing orders to the PC's, and there's nothing Players resent more than being told what to do.

Well, if it's a naval vessel (implying they're part of a navy), someone's eventually going to tell them what to do, even if it's a Badmiral, unless the "navy" is an unstructured confederation of ships like pirates or some sort of weird paramilitary/mercenary flotilla.

2018-01-06, 07:54 AM
I don't.
Playing Rogue Trader has taught me that differing ranks amongst player characters is a great way to leave some people feeling unsatisfied or like they don't have an ability to have any input in a game - When one player has the ability to call upon the strength of an organisational structure like a Navy which can have any Player that doesn't agree with them court martialed (Or, in the case of 40k, just arbitrarily spaced), that's just a recipe for abuse, intentional or not.

In a situation like this it's very easy to be just "playing your character" as a superior officer, which can easily involve making all the decisions, so when I'm running games I actively avoid situations where that might come up - I think everyone should have an equal say, in character and out.