Pirate
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Basic Information

A Pirate is someone who engages in Piracy. Specifically, and for the purposes of this page, piracy by sea - consisting either of siezure of ships at sea or amphibious attacks on land targets.

Within a story, they tend to serve one of two purposes: either the heroes are dashing piratical swashbucklers, or else the pirates are terrifying and ruthless villains; either Chaotic Good or Chaotic Evil. Both concepts, and nearly all the tropes, characters and concepts we have regarding pirates today come from the Golden Age of Piracy… well, except for that bit about them being the mortal enemies of the ninja.

However, piracy has been around since long before the 16-17th century and continues to this day, pretty much wherever there is an absence of capable navies willing to enforce control of the sea.
Julius Caesar was taken hostage by pirates - who made the fatal mistake of assuming that he was joking when he promised revenge once released - and the Romans fought several subsequent wars before Pompey Magnus could justifiably claim to have eliminated piracy in the Roman seas1.

After the fall of Rome piracy was more or less endemic to European seas until the late middle ages saw the return of national navies - and even after the threat of indigenous pirates was suppressed Islamic Barabary Corsairs raided for slaves and plunder throughout the Mediterranean and as far North as Cornwall as late as the 1600s2. European pirates, unwelcome at home, began to move to the fringes of European power, inflicting misery on the peoples of the new colonies - their reign in the Carribean3 is what is often known as the Golden Age of Piracy, although they were active elsewhere as well.

Elsewhere, European travellers encountered strong pirate populations in the Indian Ocean and South East Asia. Arab slavers and pirates operated freely along the African East coast (much as European pirates were involved in the opening up of the Atlantic Slave trade) and the patchwork kingdoms of pre-colonial India spawned a great many "sea dacoits" whilst the lawless archipelagos of South East Asia were prey to Japanese and Chinese pirate junks and the prayas of Dyak pirates.

Modern venues for piracy include the Horn of Africa and the Malacca Straits (both historical venues risen from the dead) and, to a lesser extent, the Carribean (again) where there is a significant tenedency to steal small private watercraft for use in the contraband recreational drugs trade.

Costume and Characterization

Weapons

Behavior, Codes, and Terminology

  • Democracy Common pirate practice was for the crew to elect the Captain and Quartermaster, who would then appoint other officer positions. This form of representative democracy predates the US Constitution by more than 100 years.
  • The Jolly Roger
  • Run Out The Guns

Crimes, Punishment, and other nasty things Pirates do to you

Pirate Booty

Historical Pirates

Fictional Pirates

Pirate Variants

See Also

Sources

Bibliography
3. non-fiction book: The Pirate Primer by George Choundas

Game and Story Use

  • A band of pirates can make a good Adventuring Party, especially if they're the swashbuckling chaotic good type, or at least privateers. You get to use the Walk the Earth and Adventure Town tropes, but transported onto the high seas.
  • Pirates can be a scourge, menace and challenge for the PCs.
    • Threat of piracy can spice up seaborne travel.
    • An amphibious raid by pirates can be a sudden surprise twist for a campaign set in a coastal region.
    • Perhaps a dread ship with a black flag pursues the PCs to the ends of the earth.
      • Or the PCs are racing said ship to their hometown, in hopes of saving their families.
        • Just hope it doesn't end like the subplot in The Watchmen.
  • As evidenced by the Pirate Variants section (above), it's very easy to transport the pirate meme to other settings. See the Golden Age of Piracy page for more ideas.
  • The classic pirate image and accent is a vary powerful trope / meme. With a single "Arrr" everyone knows what type of character you're playing. This makes a pirate a really good PC archetype for a free-wheeling one-shots or a good Villain of the Week.
  • Counter-piracy operations are a good option for a campaign - they were traditionally shoe string operations for most navies and/or subcontracted to privateers, enabling the PCs to play the officers or a relatively small enforcement ship with a fairly free hand to "take, sink, burn or destroy" all pirate shipping and to conduct amphibious raids against pirate bases. Liberating slaves, re-capturing plunder and rescuing hostages will be key operations and political intrigue and treachery with local government can inject some role-playing interest.
    • This sort of campaign can be modelled on any of the historical campaigns - from Pre-Pompeian Rome, to medieval pirate hunting (perhaps in the employ of the Hanse, the Fuggers, the Medici or even the Templars) to a classic "Golden Age" game to the Bombay Marine's operations in the Lacadive Islands or Raffles' suppression of the Dyaks. You could even put them into a modern setting, perhaps as part of a PMC, hunting pirates on the Horn of Africa.
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