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Pirate, Why Do You Plunder?

If you are enjoying reading Neverland Fantasy Role-Playing or Neverland - The Impossible Island and want to run the setting like I do, your mind might turn to pirates. Or maybe you have another sea or space based pirate RPG you enjoy. We know what pirates do, but why do pirates plunder? Why flout the law and risk a hanging? Here are d6 ideas why your player character might choose to say, “A pirate life for me.” While these ideas are written with the high seas in mind, they can easily be ported into space as well.

pirate.jpg

picture courtesy of Pixabay

1. Revenge

Someone did you wrong. Maybe you were made to walk the plank but managed to swim to shore or were marooned on a desert island. Once you make it back to another crew you likely want to work your way up the ranks and plot to extract your revenge one day. Revenge may be something that drives you or it might be in the back of your mind waiting for the right time to be brought to fruition.

2. Rum-Soaked Dreams

You drink a lot. Life seems to blend seamlessly between rum-fueled dreaming and real life. You talk to the unseen, you never walk in a straight line, and your crew never knows exactly what you may do next. However, you always come through in a fight or when sailing the high seas. You are chaos incarnate and dangerous as hell when swords cross.

3. Press Gang

Piracy was not a choice because you were press ganged into it. Then you found out you were good at fighting, drinking, and raiding. And your old life seemed dull by comparison. You have taken to the pirate life, but you remember those who forced you into it. Whether you want them to pay for kidnapping you remains a choice you haven’t made just yet. Until then you will sail and loot and live your new life.

4. Ruthless

You might have been kicked out of the Royal Marines for brawling, just avoiding the hangman. Or the merchant marine cashiered you for drunkenness. You are just too mean and too rough for legal work on the seas. But as a pirate those violent skills and lack of impulse control can take you far, if you avoid angering the officers. And if they cause you too much grief, well, mutiny can always lead to a brand new command if needed.

5. Wanderlust

You kill when needed and take what you need. But what you really enjoy are new port towns to visit, hearing a new foreign language, and smelling salt spray from many different seas. Maybe you collect seashells or take notes on what you’ve seen or you only feel truly alive while at sea. You want to sail and keep sailing and you’re willing to kill to keep enjoying the privilege.

6. Buried Treasure

You’re in it for the gold. You want to be rich or maybe you just want piles of loot. You know you have to be careful if you aren’t the captain to keep your greed hidden. Dead men tell no tales may be a cliché, but it is a cliché for a good reason. If you discover the location of buried treasure you have be very careful who you share that secret with.

Next time you decide to play a pirate, pause for a moment and consider how your pirate joined the life and why he stays. Then hoist the Jolly Roger and sail off to unearth buried treasure and take to a life of skullduggery on the high seas. Or pick up a blaster, board a beat up starship, and head for the Outer Rim as a pirate in search of merchant prey.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Historically, they tended to be the same murderous, raping, scum who commit similar crimes on dry land. Small-tie losers, cowards, and failures. The vast majority through the ages did not sail far; they tended to man small, fast boats and attack ships in constrained waters. then retreating to land. They have persisted through the ages when other forms of banditry went to their well-deserved gallows because they have exploited international law and waters. There are few groups so thoroughly despicable, throughout history, as pirates.
 

payn

Adventurer
Well, many pirates were also sanctioned by governments to wreck havoc on other governments too. In a way, it was patriotic for a privateer to raid the enemies of their homeland.

The series Black Sails on Starz was a sort of prequel to Treasure Island. The entire premise of the series was to build wealth to afford protection and liberty from what the pirates saw as oppressive government. Essentially, plundering to buy their own legitimacy and security for Nassau.
 

Historically, they tended to be the same murderous, raping, scum who commit similar crimes on dry land. Small-tie losers, cowards, and failures. The vast majority through the ages did not sail far; they tended to man small, fast boats and attack ships in constrained waters. then retreating to land. They have persisted through the ages when other forms of banditry went to their well-deserved gallows because they have exploited international law and waters. There are few groups so thoroughly despicable, throughout history, as pirates.

Captain Hook, thankfully, isn't historical.
 




aco175

Legend
A line that goes along with the gold is that they may need to just to survive. The modern day pirates along Ethiopia attack ships for loot, but there is also few options for them in town. Still does not make it right, but at least it is understandable.
 

A line that goes along with the gold is that they may need to just to survive. The modern day pirates along Ethiopia attack ships for loot, but there is also few options for them in town. Still does not make it right, but at least it is understandable.

Yeah, this article is more about fantasy pirates. Adventuring pirates who go out with a wizard and halfling to face down a menacing giant crocodile. Nothing in the article is about the real world. The sci-fi space pirate thing is also fiction.
 

tomBitonti

Adventurer
I thought there was a fuzzy line between "private" and "privateer", with the latter having a commission to capture enemy merchant vessels? And, that often "privateers" might become "pirates" (haha: not "privates"), if their commission expired, or if they just didn't want to stop plundering, or if they weren't careful enough about whom they attacked, or because of political expedience.

Also, might not there be pirates which were lawful military vessels which due to circumstance went rogue? Either, because of a lost war, or because of disrupted supply lines, or just because they could?

TomB
 

I thought there was a fuzzy line between "private" and "privateer", with the latter having a commission to capture enemy merchant vessels? And, that often "privateers" might become "pirates" (haha: not "privates"), if their commission expired, or if they just didn't want to stop plundering, or if they weren't careful enough about whom they attacked, or because of political expedience.

Also, might not there be pirates which were lawful military vessels which due to circumstance went rogue? Either, because of a lost war, or because of disrupted supply lines, or just because they could?

TomB

A letter of marque makes a privateer legit, at least for the country issuing the letter.

7. You lost your letter of marque, but raiding is all you know. You have gone from privateer to pirate with the loss of one letter.
8. You were part of a warhip crew but your kingdom lost the war. Now you raid the enemy with no flag and no refuge.
 

MGibster

Legend
Historically, they tended to be the same murderous, raping, scum who commit similar crimes on dry land. Small-tie losers, cowards, and failures. The vast majority through the ages did not sail far; they tended to man small, fast boats and attack ships in constrained waters. then retreating to land. They have persisted through the ages when other forms of banditry went to their well-deserved gallows because they have exploited international law and waters. There are few groups so thoroughly despicable, throughout history, as pirates.
Sadly, Professor Jd Smith1 is correct. Thankfully there are enough colorful fictional and non-fictional pirates we can use for inspiration in our role playing games. Blackbeard was certainly murderous, thieving scum but he was colorful at least. Another factor that might lead to a rash of piracy is unemployment. When peace unfortunately broke out at the end of Queen Anne's War you suddenly had a bunch of young, physically fit men prone to violence who were no longer permitted to be privateers. What's a guy to do?

If you all get a chance, check out A General History of the Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson first published in 1724. This book set the gold standard for pirates that continues to influence us today. I swear, there's an actual pirate in this book with a damn peg leg and it's glorious. This book influenced Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, and countless others.
 


mockman1890

Explorer
I think basically the way you make pirates palatable PCs in a roleplaying game (or palatable protagonists in any medium) is, you depict 'the authorities' as so evil and corrupt that the outlaw pirates (at least the PC pirates) are the good guys. This holds true from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, to the One Piece manga/anime.

There's even sorrrrrta a historical basis for it, in that piracy was an option for escaped slaves and other outcasts, in the horrific colonial Caribbean world. Of course the pirates themselves committed plenty of atrocities too. > _ < But, I think establishing that "the law is corrupt, the authorities are corrupt, piracy = REBELLION" is one of the best ways to set up a sympathetic-pirates game.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think basically the way you make pirates palatable PCs in a roleplaying game (or palatable protagonists in any medium) is, you depict 'the authorities' as so evil and corrupt that the outlaw pirates (at least the PC pirates) are the good guys. This holds true from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, to the One Piece manga/anime.
The Godfather took steps to make sure we didn't think too harshly of the Corleone family by making sure we never saw them shaking down a green grocer for protection money, breaking someone's thumb because they're late on a loan payment, or smacking a prostitute around because she's not earning as much as she should. I guess most of us are so far removed from piracy that it's easy for us to romanticize them a bit.

Still, I cant help but think some people totally miss the point of being a pirate.

Pirate.JPG
 

Ulfgeir

Adventurer
We had here in Sweden a princess (Cecilia Vasa) that engaged in piracy. She got a letter of Marquee to attack the Russians, but decided to also go after Danish ships. And she had frequent quarrels with her father and her brothers.
 

Pirates rob ships for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: That's where the money is.

For a really good lesson on privateers versus piracy, I recommend hitting up Steam or GOG and downloading the all-time classic Sid Meier's Pirates. Not only is it a heck of a game, even now, but you get the whole picture on piracy pretty quickly. (Spoiler: One nation's naval hero is another nation's pirate and even the most well-meaning captain can find themselves doing some dark things to keep their crew of murderous thugs happy.)
 

collin

Explorer
Pirates plunder because they enjoy the thrill, the juice, and don't want to do a regular job. They want to live life on their terms.
 


Pirates plunder because they enjoy the thrill, the juice, and don't want to do a regular job. They want to live life on their terms.
Only in fiction. Criminals don't live life on their own terms. They live it day-to-day, with very little (and what little, is poor) long-term planning.

Poor impulse control and short-term thinking would be the hallmark of a pirate, which is why the vast majority die in horrible and interesting ways.

Pirates prey upon the weak, and flee & hide from anyone who can fight back.

The funny thing about pirates is that like most thieves, they're lucky to get ten cents on the dollar when re-selling their loot. They risk their lives for chump change (and the opportunity for rape).

The men who become rich off piracy are the fences, the men who buy stolen cargoes for a pittance, and who procure their pardons by selling pirates to the gallows. Pirates are the day laborers of a criminal enterprise.
 
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