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Wooden Ships and Iron Men—A Wet Navy Career for Mongoose Traveller

Editor’s Note: In our August issue, we announced a contest for a low-technology Wet Navy career, in connection with a Freelance Traveller project that we are removing from the back burner. For more information on this project, please see the article on page 30 of the downloadable magazine, or on Freelance Traveller's website. This career definition was part of the winning entry; for the Classic Traveller version of this career, also part of the winning entry, see the magazine article or this page on the website.

This career is presented for Mongoose Traveller, and requires an appropriate set of core rules. Unless otherwise noted, it should be assumed that all guns, whether personal or crew-served, are black-powder muzzle-loaders. In most cases, skill differences from the standard rules will be noted; where not otherwise indicated, any skill which might depend on the technology base available should be assumed to be at the TL3-TL4 level.

Wet Navy

Career Progress
  Survival Advancement
Sailor DEX 7+ EDU 7+
Gunner STR 7+ EDU 6+
Marine INT 7+ EDU 5+
Commission: SOC 8+
Mustering Out
Roll Cash Other
1 2 Months’ Wages +1 STR
2 6 Months’ Wages +1 DEX
3 1 Year’s Wages 2 Shares (Sailing Ship)
4 2 Years’ Wages Blade
5 3 Years’ Wages Musket
6 5 Years’ Wages +1 EDU
7 10 Years’ Wages Frigate

You are a member of an ‘Age of Sail’ navy on a low technology world, protecting the seas from pirates, ensuring the safety of trading ships, and on a balkanised world defending against foreign powers.

Enlistment: Automatic (Throw 2D6; if 5-, enlistment is mandatory due to ‘impressment’.)

Assignment: Choose one of the following:

Sailor: You’re either a Topman climbing the rigging, handling lines and sails or a Forecastle man (pronounced “fo’c’sle”) handling the anchors and capstan or engaged in other deck duties from cargo stowage to manning the ship’s boats.

Gunner: You’re part of the gun crews manning the cannon which are the main offensive weapons of the vessels you serve on. You are also familiar with the lighter field guns which may need to be deployed ashore, even some distance from the ship.

Marine: You’re a ‘soldier at sea’ and while not unfamiliar with sailing ships, you’ve trained in musketry (either the longer flintlocks on land or the shorter sea service musket), and can fire from a moving deck, high up in the fighting tops, or can be deployed ashore as necessary. You can also use a muzzle loading pistol for close quarters combat. Duties may include guarding the ship or a shore establishment, guarding against mutiny in port, or even occasionally impressment duties.

While the typical Traveller career assumes that the character starts at age 18, Midshipmen can start at age 14, and Ship’s Boys can start as early as age 10. If you use these two positions, assume that the character’s stats as rolled represent what he will be at age 18, and reduce them to reflect the reduced age. Ship’s Boys may only roll on the Personal Development or Service Skills table until age 18, when they may select an assignment (usually Sailor).

Midshipmen additionally have the Officer Skills table available to them. Both Ship’s Boys and Midshipmen may roll on the Advanced Education table if they qualify.

Skills and Training
Roll Personal Development Service Skills Advanced Education
(available only to EDU 8+)
Officer Skills
(available only to Commissioned)
1 +1 STR Seafarer (Large Sail) Medic Leadership
2 +1 DEX Survival Navigation Navigation
3 +1 END Jack-of-All-Trades Leadership Seafarer (Large Sail)
4 +1 STR Carouse Persuade Science1
5 +1 DEX Melee (Blade) Broker Tactics2
6 Athletics (Coördination) Gunner (Cannon) Art (Writing) +1 SOC
1. Select Philosophy or any Natural Science specialization.
2. Naval Officers receive Naval Tactics specialty; Marine Officers receive Military Tactics specialty.


Specialist Skills and Training
Roll Specialist: Sailor Specialist: Gunner Specialist: Marine
1 Trade (Sail Making) Gunner (Cannon) Gun Combat
2 Trade (Rope Making) Gunner (Field Gun) Gunner (Field Gun)
3 Seafarer (Large Sail) Seafarer (Large Sail) Athletics (Endurance)
4 Seafarer (Long Boat) Gambler Tactics (Military Tactics)
5 Carouse Melee (Bludgeon) Melee (Blade)
6 Recon Explosives (Gunpowder) Leadership

Warrant Officer Duties

Quartermasters steer the ship, keep ship’s time, and oversee the stowing, and Purser’s issuing of, provisions. They are responsible for navigation (setting course, finding the ship’s position, maintaining the compass, and checking the midshipmen and mates take noon sightings correctly) and the ship’s sails, rigging, anchors, and alcohol. They are virtually equivalent to Lieutenants in seniority and eat in the wardroom with the other officers.

The Chaplain, Purser and Surgeon are the only other Warrant Officers to dine in the wardroom. Those three and the Schoolmaster are ‘civilian officers’ not in the chain of command and are appointed directly by the Captain. The Chaplain is responsible for the crew’s spiritual well-being; the Surgeon is the chief medical officer; the Purser is a combination accountant and inventory control officer (under the direction of the Quartermaster); and the Schoolmaster is responsible for the education of Midshipmen and Ship’s Boys.

The Boatswain (pronounced “bosun”), Carpenter, Cook, Gunner, and Purser are ‘standing officers’ who remain with the ship when laid up in port (placed in “Ordinary”) between commissions and have much more job security. The Carpenter is responsible for structural maintenance and repair of the ship, and also for such wooden objects within the ship as furniture, temporary partitions, and gun carriages. The Gunner is the senior non-commissioned officer in charge of manning and commanding the ship’s cannon in battle, and operates under the direction of the Captain or a senior Lieutenant. The Cook is responsible for overseeing the galley and the preparation of meals. The Boatswain is a senior non-commissioned officer responsible for overseeing general operations and maintenance, cargo handling, signalling, and training of deckhands.

In battle, Lieutenants command four gun crews.


Ranks and Benefits
Rank Sailor Gunner Marine Officer
  Title Skill Received Title Skill Received Title Skill Received Title Skill Received
0 Sailor1 Melee (Unarmed) 1 Gun Crew Melee (Bludgeon) Marine Private Melee (Any) 1 Midshipman (Age 14-18) Seafarer (Large Sail) 1
1 Ordinary Seaman   Lead Gun Crew   Marine Gun Combat 1 Lieutenant Gunner (Cannon) 1
2 Able Seaman Seafarer (Large Sail) 1 Gun Captain Gunner (Cannon) Corporal of Marines      
3 Petty Officer2   Quarter Gunner   Sergeant of Marines   Commander  
4 Warrant Officer3 (see Warrant Specialty table) Half Gunner Gunner (Field Gun) Officer of Marines Gun Combat    
5 Boatswain’s Mate   Gunner’s Mate   Marine Lieutenant   Captain Leadership, +1 SOC
6 Boatswain or Master4 Leadership 1 or Instruction 1 Gunner Leadership 1 Marine Captain +1 SOC Admiral Persuade, +2 SOC

1. For the first six months of service, a sailor’s title is ‘Landsman’.
2. Petty Officers may choose titles indicating their duty. Examples include such titles as Armorer, Cooper, Caulker, Coxwain, Master-at-Arms, Captain-of-the-Foretop, Yeoman-of-the-Sheets, Yeoman-of-the-Powder-Room, or any Warrant Officer Specialty followed by ‘Mate’, e.g., Quartermaster’s Mate, Sailmaker’s Mate, Surgeon’s Mate, etc.
3. Warrant Officers choose a specialty and receive a skill according to the Warrant Specialty table below. On promotion to rank 5, Sailors become Boatswain’s Mates; all other specialties retain their Warrant Specialty titles. All specialties gain an additional level in their specialty skill.
4. Quartermasters take the title of Master upon promotion to rank 6, and receive Instruction 1 as a skill. Boatswain’s Mates take the title of Boatswain, and receive Leadership 1. All other Warrant Specialties continue using their Warrant Specialty title and receive Leadership 1.
“Boatswain” is pronounced as if written “bosun”; “Coxwain” as if written “coxun”.


Warrant Officer Specialties
Specialty Title Skill Received Specialty Title Skill Received
Sailor Seafarer (Any) 1 Sailmaker Trade (Sail Making) 1
Carpenter Trade (Carpentry) 1 Schoolmaster Instruction 1
Cook Steward 1 Surgeon Medic 1
Purser Admin 1 Quartermaster Seafarer (Large Sail) 1
Ropemaker Trade (Rope Making) 1    


1D6 Description
1 Severely injured in action. (This is the same as a result of 2 on the Injury Table on page 37 of the Core Rulebook.) Alternatively, roll twice on the Injury Table and take the lower result.
2 You are injured in action and lose an eye or a limb. Reduce STR or DEX by 2.
3 You are marooned on an island with 2D6 others. Gain 1D6 Contacts, 1 Enemy, and Survival 1.
4 You barely survive a bout of scurvy or pox. Reduce END by 2.
5 You are shipwrecked. Lose 4 years (1 term) of time, but gain Survival 1
6 Injured. Roll on the Injury Table.


2D6 Description
2 Disaster! Roll on the Mishap table, but you are not ejected from this career.
3 You are caught pilfering the rum ration and are keelhauled. Lose 1 STR
4 You are made Ship’s Cook. Roll Steward 8+. If successful, your food is appreciated; gain one level of Steward and 1D6 contacts. If unsuccessful, your food is universally reviled, and you’re always unlucky with weevils in the biscuits and meat rotting too quickly.
5 While in port, you are impressed by (caught by the ‘press gangs’ of) another ship’s crew. Change specialty and gain 1D3 contacts.
6 You are found guilty of a minor infraction of the harsh rules required to maintain discipline aboard ship and are flogged with a cat-o-nine-tails you’ve had to make yourself. Gain Trade (Rope Making) 1, but also scars on your back.
7 Life Event. Roll on the Life Events table. (At the Referee’s discretion, a result of ‘9—Travel’ is only on the homeworld.)
8 Sailor: Your sharp eyes as lookout mean that your ship gains the upper hand in combat with an enemy. Gain Recon 1 or Seafarer (Large Sail) 1, and DM+1 to your next Advancement roll.
Gunner: Your contribution to your gun crew’s rate of fire marks you out for promotion. Gain DM+2 to your next Advancement roll, and Gunner (Cannon) 1
Marine: Firing from one of the ship’s fighting tops (high in the mast) you identify and shoot an opposing admiral on his flagship. Gain Gun Combat 1 and an Enemy.
Officer: You design an improved life preserver which is particularly useful given that so many sailors can’t swim. Gain a Contact, Science (philosophy) 1 and DM+2 to your next Advancement roll.
9 Your ship is laid up for refit. Gain one level of Carouse, Gambler or Melee (unarmed).
10 You are part of a company taking several field guns across rugged terrain to relieve the siege of a town. Gain +1 STR, +1 END and a medal, but throw on the Injury table.
11 You perform exemplary service for your Captain. Gain DM+4 to next Advancement roll.
12 Your ship is the first to discover a new land or island. Gain either a year’s wages or +1 SOC.

Skills (where different from the Mongoose Traveller core rules)

Explosives (gunpowder): Gunpowder (black powder) in various quantities and packaging are needed for muskets, field guns and cannon. It requires preparation, special handling and extreme care. (If the Referee doesn’t want skills to proliferate, Explosives as per page 54 of the Core Rulebook can simply be used instead, but it should be clear that this does not mean anything beyond gunpowder.)

Gun Combat: As used here, applies to muzzle-loading pistols or muskets only. Such weapons use black powder to fire solid lead ball projectiles. Record as Gun Combat (muzzle-loader) for campaigns where other forms of gun are available.

Gunner (cannon): This skill covers the wide range of abilities required to clean, load, move, aim and fire a cannon as part of a gun crew. For example, an 18 pounder (8kg) is nine feet long (2¾m), weighs two tons (1.8tonnes) and requires a crew of ten men. A high rate of fire can make all the difference in battle. Projectiles might include chainshot (anti-mast and rigging), roundshot (anti-hull), pellet shot, grapeshot, and scattershot (anti-personnel). A cannon designated as “x-pounder” (e.g., 12-pounder) is designed to fire roundshot of weight x in normal use. Most cannon can be “double-shotted” for a limited number of rounds during battle, at a small cost in range and accuracy, and a slightly increased risk of bursting.

Gunner (field gun): This skill covers the operation of a muzzle loading field gun as well as the physically demanding abilities and teamwork needed to move the gun, its limber and ammunition carriage, possibly over long distances and rough terrain, to where it is needed.

Instruction: The ability to teach others knowledge or a skill that the character possesses. Level 3 in this skill allows the teaching of a skill to the PC’s own skill level; Level 2 allows the teaching of a skill to one less than the PC’s own skill level; Level 1 allows the teaching of a skill to two less than the PC’s own skill level (e.g., Instruction 3 and Science (Philosophy) 2 would mean the latter skill can be taught to skill level 2). Instruction takes 3 months with little other activity or one year interspersed with other tasks. Throw 5- on 2d6 after that period to simply fail to ‘get it’ and not learn the skill (Intelligence can be used as DM).

Seafarer (large sail): This skill is for larger ‘Age of Sail’ ships rather than yachts. (If the Referee doesn’t want skills to proliferate, Seafarer (sail) as per page 57 of the Core Rulebook can be used instead, but it should be clear that this relates to multi-masted square sails handled in teams from the rigging, not from the deck.)

Seafarer (long boat): This skill covers manning a long boat and working as a part of a team at the oars. You know the commands and disciplines necessary to row, handle the craft, beach it, and also bring it alongside a ship at anchor.

Trade (carpentry): This skill covers ‘traditional’ carpentry such as furniture making (for officers and crew) but also the ability to inspect and repair wooden ships at any time and in particular after battle with limited tools, space and equipment. This might include plugging holes in the hull, repairing a mast or yardarm, or replacing a gun carriage.

Trade (ropemaking): This skill enables the character to earn a living making ropes from the smaller ‘lines’ to the heavy anchor ropes necessary for large vessels.

Trade (sailmaking): This skill enables a character to make a living making and repairing sails. Checking for mildew and drying sails is also an important part of the role on board ship.