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 . 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.
- 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  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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?