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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


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Vast majority of the RPG community. Anyone who ever played D&D. Or Warhammer RPGs. Or RuneQuest. Or Star Wars. Or Traveller. Or Gangbusters. Or many other RPGs where PCs can play criminals.

I've GM'd D&D, War Hammer, Runequest, and Traveller. Never allowed criminals. So, not 'anyone' who played those games.
 

I've GM'd D&D, War Hammer, Runequest, and Traveller. Never allowed criminals. So, not 'anyone' who played those

All of those RPGs have criminal options for PCs. So if you played them and introduced players to them you opened the door to them playing criminals in RPGs. Maybe not in your game. But certainly in others.

And discussing criminal backgrounds is completely okay for those GMs who do want those elements in their games. And obviously many do or so many RPGs wouldn't include them.

And why not? Westley became the Dread Pirate Roberts in a Princess Bride and he's an adventurer. Han Solo was a smuggler. Should playing someone like him not be an option in an RPG? Robin Hood was a bandit. Why could't a PC be him? Conan was a thief. Biblo was a burglar. Zorro was a wanted man. Captain Jack Sparrow was a pirate captain. Mouser was a thief. The list is long.
 

All of those RPGs have criminal options for PCs. So if you played them and introduced players to them you opened the door to them playing criminals in RPGs. Maybe not in your game. But certainly in others.

And discussing criminal backgrounds is completely okay for those GMs who do want those elements in their games. And obviously many do or so many RPGs wouldn't include them.

And why not? Westley became the Dread Pirate Roberts in a Princess Bride and he's an adventurer. Han Solo was a smuggler. Should playing someone like him not be an option in an RPG? Robin Hood was a bandit. Why could't a PC be him? Conan was a thief. Biblo was a burglar. Zorro was a wanted man. Captain Jack Sparrow was a pirate captain. Mouser was a thief. The list is long.

I was pointing out the fallacy of your argument. Nice attempt at deflection, though.
 


I've GM'd D&D, War Hammer, Runequest, and Traveller. Never allowed criminals. So, not 'anyone' who played those games.
If you actually used WFRP as written (1st, 2nd or 4th), a number of the starting careers are in fact criminals. Which implies strongly that you've not run it as written, but with significant change to Char Gen. Is this the case? Or have you just been lucky.
 

Corrosive

Adventurer
All of those RPGs have criminal options for PCs. So if you played them and introduced players to them you opened the door to them playing criminals in RPGs. Maybe not in your game. But certainly in others.

And discussing criminal backgrounds is completely okay for those GMs who do want those elements in their games. And obviously many do or so many RPGs wouldn't include them.

And why not? Westley became the Dread Pirate Roberts in a Princess Bride and he's an adventurer. Han Solo was a smuggler. Should playing someone like him not be an option in an RPG? Robin Hood was a bandit. Why could't a PC be him? Conan was a thief. Biblo was a burglar. Zorro was a wanted man. Captain Jack Sparrow was a pirate captain. Mouser was a thief. The list is long.
I'm just imagining this guy at a screening of Star Wars.

"What, Han Solo is a SMUGGLER? I DEMAND YOU STOP THIS FILM IMMEDIATELY! I WILL NOT CONDONE FILMS WITH PROTAGONISTS WHO BREAK THE LAW!"
 

I'm just imagining this guy at a screening of Star Wars.

"What, Han Solo is a SMUGGLER? I DEMAND YOU STOP THIS FILM IMMEDIATELY! I WILL NOT CONDONE FILMS WITH PROTAGONISTS WHO BREAK THE LAW!"

This is totally unrealistic. This guy has left the theater already, when Leia resisted lawful arrest in the opening scene.

More on-topic, romanticized illegal behavior, either by having criminal backgrounds (charlatan, spy, criminal, possibly urchin if begging is outlawed) and classes (rogue...) in core classes, as been a default from corebooks. Besides drawing from novel sources, it's not surprising given the expected behaviour of PCs. They will often use killing as the default way of solving problem with sentient beings (because the logistic of taking prisonners is too boring, so let's conveniently kill...), plunder shamelessly (I have never seen PCs trying to identify the legitimate owners of the gold in the dragon's treasure). But many of the regular activities a PC engages in would result in them being considered criminals in the real world at various points in history. There is a cathartic value in solving your problem by killing the evil wizard when you don't kill your evil pointy-haired boss ; I don't see "pirates" being inherently more problematic than your regular, land-locked killers-for-hire called adventurers.
 
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If you actually used WFRP as written (1st, 2nd or 4th), a number of the starting careers are in fact criminals. Which implies strongly that you've not run it as written, but with significant change to Char Gen. Is this the case? Or have you just been lucky.

My players were careful to choose careers with minimal baggage.
 


MGibster

Legend
It's been years since I ran a pirate campaign, but I set the PCs up with this premise. They were privateers during the War of Spanish Succession and they've spent the last seven years as prisoners on a Spanish hulk after their former captain betrayed them. The war is over and with their newfound freedom they'll have the opportunity for vengeance.
 

then you houseruled, because RAW, it's not a choice... it's roll randomly. How randomly varies by edition.

Not judging, just pointing out that your experience is atypical and trying to grasp why.

I always houserule, but IIRC, there were provisions for cherry-picking your first career, and from there you followed the various exists. But is has been many years. But I don't think I've ever used a rules system as intended. I am, after all, the greatest game designer I've ever known.

And yes, my gaming experience is atypical, because the best always stand out from the herd. ;)

Actually, from what I've seen since '79, most gaming is non-standard, which is why I always find such humor in posters who make generalizations about the hobby.
 

It's been years since I ran a pirate campaign, but I set the PCs up with this premise. They were privateers during the War of Spanish Succession and they've spent the last seven years as prisoners on a Spanish hulk after their former captain betrayed them. The war is over and with their newfound freedom they'll have the opportunity for vengeance.

I actually set up a Sundered Skies campaign with the possibility of piracy, using the 'Browncoat' approach from Firefly (the TV series, not the movie), but the PCs immediately turned to whaling and commerce.
 

I always houserule, but IIRC, there were provisions for cherry-picking your first career, and from there you followed the various exists. But is has been many years. But I don't think I've ever used a rules system as intended. I am, after all, the greatest game designer I've ever known.

And yes, my gaming experience is atypical, because the best always stand out from the herd. ;)

Actually, from what I've seen since '79, most gaming is non-standard, which is why I always find such humor in posters who make generalizations about the hobby.

Since you are now engaging in personal attacks I'm done discussing with you.
 

One campaign approach for piracy that I've considered is the prevention of disaster.

Its still at a basic stage, but using the Golden Era of piracy in the Caribbean as a general concept, the basic idea is that the PCs or their patron/employer has ascertained that X coming out of the New World (frontier system, etc) is innately dangerous (think Call of Cthulhu, War Hammer warpstone, Justin Bieber CDs, or similar). The powers that be have dismissed the claims as legend, conspiracy theory, etc, so the PCs spy out which cargoes contain X material, and acting as 'pirates', seize the cargoes.

Could be PCs are of noble intent, or just guys getting paid per item of X. Or other motivations.
 

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.
I think this is definitely the approach! In my experience, players want a pirate game not for the historic killing of innocents, but for the romantic search for treasure, rebellion against authority, and boundless territories of the open sea.

D&D provides so many cool ways of having an evil authoritarian force, too: royalist vampires, clockwork aristocrats, mind flayers and thrall... Even having the authority be slavers should be enough!

I think one fun thing that could be added to a pirate game is a "Pirate Code" that the players can expect (most) pirates to follow. Something like:

1) Never make deals with a royalist.
2) Always pursue treasure.
3) Help a pirate in need.

With something like a pirate code, you can define what sort of pop culture pirate exists in the game world.
 

D&D provides so many cool ways of having an evil authoritarian force, too: royalist vampires, clockwork aristocrats, mind flayers and thrall... Even having the authority be slavers should be enough!

And people who are somehow targeted by an oppressive judicial system sometimes have no other available mean of subsistance than staying in illegality. If you know you'll be sentenced to death for stealing a loaf of bread and, for some reason, you had to steal a loaf of bread and was seen... Then plundering is your only mean of subsistance. An escaped duergar slave in a mind flayer empire would be an ideal pirate. "Yes, I don't have anything against you, dear mindflayer merchants, but i'll take your goods and particularly gold (no need to fence...) because the system makes me do that. I am sorry about the guards I had to kill on your planeshifting ship but since I am already wanted for escaping my destiny as a sacrifice to feed the elder brain, I suppose I couldn't really worsen my case." Historically, you had some escaped slaves turning pirates for this reason, except that they had England instead of Illithid.
 

I think this is definitely the approach! In my experience, players want a pirate game not for the historic killing of innocents, but for the romantic search for treasure, rebellion against authority, and boundless territories of the open sea.

D&D provides so many cool ways of having an evil authoritarian force, too: royalist vampires, clockwork aristocrats, mind flayers and thrall... Even having the authority be slavers should be enough!

I think one fun thing that could be added to a pirate game is a "Pirate Code" that the players can expect (most) pirates to follow. Something like:

1) Never make deals with a royalist.
2) Always pursue treasure.
3) Help a pirate in need.

With something like a pirate code, you can define what sort of pop culture pirate exists in the game world.

Great idea. I really do like the idea of a code. Especially one like number 3 that creates moral dilemmas. What do you do when a pirate known for savagery is in need but you're a pirate with lines you won't cross? Do you follow your Pirate Code or break it? And what follows after? That makes for some great roleplaying and spins off future adventures.
 

I also find it odd that there is a great deal of effort to twist logic so as a play a reprehensible role on sea as a PC, but little effort to base campaigns on banditry and road murder. Yet both are identical occupations.
You should have played with me in middle school. My little brother and friends were like locusts.
 

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