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Johnny’s Five – Five Quick Tips For A Pirate Themed Game

[1]Arrr, ye fair and gentle readers. Ye be knowing what today be, donch’a? Why of course it be International Talk Like A Pirate Day [2]. That be meaning we ought to be talking about, and like, Pirates. Well ole redbeard Johnny has a small treat for ya. In honor of the day, I’ll be dropping some nuggets o’wisdom on how to make your game a little more piratical.

  1. Pirates Need Conveyance! – Whether or not yer pirate game has anything to do with the little traversed waters of reality, all pirates need some form of conveyance. While there might be means of piracy capable of being committed without a ship [3] o some sort, nothing screams the idea of pirate like a ship. Be it a triple masted schooner, a trim and tight helium powered airship, or even an underground tunneling giant worm, the idea of pirates is almost always linked to traveling about. A pirate’s ship is more than his means of travel. It is his home, the thing that keeps him safe from the people he plunders from, and the place he spends most of his life. In your games you can easily make a ship of some sort available. The players might acquire it through the traditional piratical methods of taking it from someone else. It might be granted to them for the purpose of harassing a king’s enemy (in which case they would be freelancers), or the players might find themselves stranded near an old wreck that they need to fix up. Granting the players a ship changes the paradigm of the game a bit, but it can enable whole new ways to play.
  2. An Enemy – One thing common to all pirates is that they are against something or someone. Whether it be as simple as the fact that most pirates were freelancers who attacked enemy nations, or is merely the idea that the pirates are out for their own profit and that puts them against the forces of law and justice, pirates are always pitted in constant struggle. Noble pirates might be struggling against a corrupt empire. Scoundrel pirates might be fighting for themselves. Whatever the case, the enemy of the pirates becomes a defining point of any game involving pirates. You can explore worlds of interesting ideas all around a pirates enemy. A pirate game can be a great place to showcase that BBEG that you’ve always wanted to try. Players tend to take notice of the enemy in a pirate game more so than in a game full of standard fare.
  3. The Potential for Profit – Pirate games should be about being able to profit in some way. There is nothing better in a piratical game than looting a galleon and getting an incredible surge in wealth. That feeling is one of accomplishment and reward.  If you are running a pirate game, but don’t want it to be a monty haul game, there are many ways your players can be kept in check. Pirates prey on other pirates all the time. Ship upkeep is required and expensive. There are also tithes if a crew is operating on behalf of someone. The fine line to walk with a pirate themed game is providing the reward of loot, but not letting it overburden the game. You can always dip into a pirate theme for a while if you want to give your group a needed cash inflow.
  4. The Switch To Piracy – The skills required by a pirate crew are often different than the skills required for most adventurers, even when you are talking about modern day settings. When switching into a pirate themed game from an already existing game, allowing players to modify character classes, skills, and abilities to be more effective for the ship might not be a bad idea. You might let them replace their most recent 2 class levels or give them some temporary points in something that would be relevant to the ship. This is a great way to throw some rewards your players way and to let them try out new and  interesting character classes.
  5. Outside The Law (Freedom) – A very freeing thing about a pirate game is that the players get to be outside of the law a bit. They get to loot and pillage without worrying about the moral grey areas. Not the right fit for the paladin, but a great fit for most gaming groups. Looking over the horizon and saying "Jolly well, let’s plunder that ship today just because we can!" is a very freeing attitude, and that is something really attractive about pirate games. They are often less restricted by the nature of the theme.

So what be ye thinking about a pirate game? Have ye run or played in one? What was the most fun thing about it?

IMG: cc_icon_attribution_small-1cc_icon_noderivs_small-1 [4] Some rights reserved [4] by Kid’s Birthday Parties [5]

6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Johnny’s Five – Five Quick Tips For A Pirate Themed Game"

#1 Comment By Riklurt On September 19, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

Avast! I have a somewhat related query fer a future arrrticle:

How does one go about to make a ship or base of operations something that the players will genuinely feel like the characters’ home? It’s always nice when the players care about their ship / spaceship / fortress / underground secret lair, but how does one help build that feeling of “home”?

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On September 19, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

[6] – I’ve got a couple of things planned along those lines. For an upcoming convention game, I’m going to be building many airship models and planned to do a video on how to do that. I’ll see about expanding and talking about other things to do with a base as a companion article.

To find a few in the archives, the article no place like home deals with changes to a homebases ( [7]) and I wrote one on ships and transportation a while back ( [8]). As far as what you are specifically asking for, I’ll see about addressing that in an upcoming article. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few visual tricks:
* Make a map of it. That way they can see what it looks like.
* Have things happen there, like having it attacked so that they have to defend it or having it be the focus of some event.
* Make a trophy room. If you make a map, throw in a trophy room and tape their trophies onto the map so that it becomes significant.
* Give it a cool feature. My one group captured a base with a perpetual wind tunnel. A couple of modifications later and we had central air conditioning.

Anything that makes it unique and intertwines it into the party is going to make it feel like home. Arrrrr.

#3 Comment By Razjah On September 19, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

I just started a skypirates game and am about to have the third session later this week. One thing that I have been working on is getting the party together. One player joined a week late and wanted to play a noble. That means he is rich, so he is a rich merchant with a shipping business that is a bit down in its luck.

He is now aided by the party and their small, fast, and heavily armed ship. The ship the party has was issued a letter of marquis. Now the plan is to capture ships, loot them for the crown, and then turn the ship over to the noble to convert to a a cargo ship.

I am going to revisit this article when I am prepping for the game. It will be great during breaks from reading and working on papers for school.
I need to make a map of the ship they have. I am also working in a recurring villian, a dragon horribly burned from a geyser the party crashed this dragon into. They are scarred by the infamous enemies that lurk in the region, now they need someone chasing them when it can.

#4 Comment By CalebTGordan On September 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

I am currently working on putting together a steampunk airship with dragon riders and sky cities campaign. The players will be considered pirates by some of the countries of the world, while having the letters of mark that make them official privateers for others.

I plan on having the buried treasure be in dungeons surrounded and filled with dangerous foes, and of course there will be rivals trying to grab the treasure as well.

#5 Comment By Bercilac On September 24, 2011 @ 2:01 am

I ran a pirate game a few years back. Some lessons:

1. Think of who’s at sea (or air, or space, or whatever)
A lot of people travel by sea (etc). Some will be pirates, some will be merchants, some will be a regular navy, some will be nobles in great convoys, some will be fishermen. Don’t make every encounter the same!

2. Make your encounters interesting by varying the circumstances they occur in.
If every encounter starts with the two ships sighting each other on the horizon, and the faster one deciding to engage (or disengage) the encounters will be boring archery duels every time (big D&D game; really no fun). So what if a fog means the two ships are almost on top of each other before they see each other? What if one ship blockades another in a harbour? What if there are rocks and reefs that a clever (or foolhardy) captain can lose or lure his rival in? What about combat at night? In a storm?

3. Think a bit about distances and travel times.
You don’t need to do a perfectly scaled map of your entire world, but have a think about how long it takes to sail between places. A group of islands may take only a few days (or a day!) to sail around; some seas may take weeks or months to cross. Assuming you give your players at least a rough map (and you ought to; it can be vague), make sure they know which voyages they can take at a moment’s notice, and which ones will cause them to worry about supplies of fresh water.

#6 Comment By Bercilac On September 24, 2011 @ 2:02 am

[9] – That sounds like an awesome campaign idea. I may have to pirate it.