One of the most appealing features of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is being able to captain your own pirate ship and set sail in any direction, with no man as your master. But piloting your own ship around the Caribbean is far from being a one-man task. You need people you can trust to help guide the ship through rough waters or difficult encounters with government ships less than welcoming to someone waving a black flag. You need a crew. In an interview with EGMAssassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag game director Ashraf Ismail talked at length about this key gameplay detail.

“We have two types of crews, there’s the named crew and then there’s sort of the Red Shirts. A lot of gameplay comes from the named characters, like your first mate. They have some side missions, which are very key to flushing out their story, to give them a bit more meat and purpose in the overall narrative. And they play gameplay roles as well.”

And while describing unnamed crew as “Red Shirts” might suggest they’re expendable, Ashraf says they aren’t just there to be randomly killed off. They still play critical roles in your adventures on the high seas.

“These are the crew that you can gain or lose based on how you play the game. The unnamed crew is really important for boarding.  If you’re taking on a man-of-war, and you go on with only 10 guys, you’re going to have a lot trouble,” explains Ismail.  “So you need to worry about your crew.  If you lose too much crew, you can’t populate your ship.  So you really have to pay attention to them in regards to the number you have on board.”

Should you fail in your duties as captain to protect and take care of your crew, you need not worry too much—it seems there are a boatload (pun intended) of available crewmen in Assassin’s Creed IV who would love to come aboard the Jackdaw.

“There’s a lot of mechanisms for acquiring crew [through] finding systemic events that have happened in the world that you can see,” says Ismail. “You can save crew and pirates from government patrols, you can go to taverns for crews, you can hire and pay for crew, you can save crew during some boarding scenarios based on some actions that you do, and you can also gain crew who mutinies from enemy ships.  So there’s a lot of ways to gain or lose unnamed crew.”

Through our conversation with Ashraf, we also learned that there is a limit to how much crew you can have. So if you are a phenomenal captain and thought you could just hoard potential crewmen, think again. The Jackdaw’s crew quarters are upgradable, though, so you can always bring more crew along over time (up to a point), of course.

For more information on what to expect from Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag—launching on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U October 29 with PC, PS4, and Xbox One versions to follow—be sure to check out EGM #260, available on newsstands everywhere now!