Golden Age Of Piracy
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Basic Information

From the 1650s1 to the 1720s, the seas were a particularly dangerous place. Pirates and Privateers roamed the waters of the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, as well as the waters of the Atlantic off the American coast. This ships engaging in Triangular Trade were vulnerable to attack by otherwise unemployed sailors since the end of Queen Anne's War. The tropes and characters of many a pirate tale are based upon this era.

Here's how the Golden Age of Piracy came about, in a nutshell: There was a series of wars in Europe and The Colonies, and those wars needed sailors. So, many men were trained in the military and nautical arts. But then the wars ended, and the men were no longer needed. They had skills and ships, but no way to make an honest living. Piracy was the result.

There was also the small matter of nation states not adapting to the start of the colonial era - they had colonies and high value trade with them, but had not yet developed the infrastructure and military capacity to govern and police them (the Spanish in the Caribbean were something of an exception … but against that, they were also the targets of privateering from almost everyone else and the poorly governed northern European colonies also gave easy shelter to genuine pirates as well). This gave motive and opportunity to anyone with the means to steal and so piracy flourished. The Golden Age ended with the rise of professional navies, extended periods of peace - or at least detente - between European powers and improved governance of overseas colonies making pirates and privateers alike unwelcome.

Famous Pirates of the Era

See Also: Barbary Pirate and Piracy



Game and Story Use

  • Numerous RPGs are set in this era, or some fictionalized version of it. My favorite is 7th Sea, but there's also Pirates of the Spanish Main and half a dozen d20 System takes on the era.
  • The era can be transplanted to another setting easily enough. The campaign doesn't have to end just because the war did. Picture Star Wars 6 months after the Battle of Endor, or Star Trek 6 months after the Dominion War. There's all these heavily-armed spacecraft out there, and no more enemy to battle. So the PCs paint a skull and crossbones on their transparent aluminum prow…
  • Anywhere there is stuff to steal and little or no state organised protection, this trope can flow - the Star Wars setting above, for example, will suffer at least as much from the dispersal of the Imperial Fleet as it will from the excess of former rebel crews - until the New Republic forms a functioning navy (or other space control force) - everyone who fancies going on the rob will be able to do so, with only limited (and typically local) opposition.
    • And that assuming that no vermin … like, for example, some kind of deformed mouse … start causing problems.
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