Piracy for Dummies

Getting a Ship

The most crucial element of being a pirate is to have a pirate ship…

For many wannabe pirates the acquisition of a ship is an adventure (or three) in and of itself. Some pirates acquire their ships through acts if terrible treachery, turning a crew against their captain and casting him adrift in a ship’s boat with nought but two biscuits and a cabin boy. Well to do pirates, who like to style themselves as gentlemen, may be given a ship by their country or a wealthy patron provided they prey only upon suitable targets. Out of luck merchants or other ship owners occasionally turn to piracy to solve their short term financial fluidity problems and end up enjoying a life of piracy as much easier than an honest trade. While cursed pirates and lucky pirates alike come into ships by bizarre circumstances best not dwelt upon at length. Some brave souls are even foolish enough to invest a hoard of gold into a pirate venture.

However a captain comes into a ship he or shoe will have several key motivations:

  • A      captain must steal enough treasure to pay off the crew and any patron
  • A      captain must keep crew, officers, and patron happy
  • A      captain must avoid losing their ship to mutiny, bad weather, the navy, and      other pirates

The size and type of ship controlled by a pirate captain will determine the type of opposition that can be preyed upon. A six gun sloop cannot hope to challenge the targets that a thirty two gun three master can take with ease, an ocean going ship with a deep keel cannot hope to raid far upriver, and a flat bottomed scow cannot dare to catch a fast merchant vessel.

Recruiting a Crew

Recruiting a crew and officers for a pirate venture is quite easy, however the experienced captain will ensure that his officers are not too good and his crew does not have any dangerous elements so that he will retain sufficient control over them during their expedition.

Gather information checks are used to recruit crew and officers, each days work will net a number of crew equal to half the check roll rounded down and a number of officers equal to one tenth the check roll rounded down.

Each day’s batch of recruits may be vetted with a single sense motive check (DC 20) to determine whether or not they are suitable. If the check is successful it will reveal any recruits who do not match the captain’s criteria and they may be accepted or denied at the captain’s discretion.

Most crew will only sign up to a pirate venture that has suitable articles drawn up and provides for a fair split of the treasure received. Captains may either draw up articles themselves (DC 25 Profession (lawyer) check) or use the services of a suitable lawyer, clerk or experienced pirate. Badly drawn articles will give a -4 modifier to both gather information and sense motive checks to recruit a crew.

Finding Suitable Targets

Only a foolish pirate captain would put to sea with no idea of where to go and what to do. Thus it is vitally important for a captain to have a suitable target for the venture, suitable targets might include a seaport ripe for raiding, an enemy fleet laden with treasure, or even a certain sea-lane where wealthy merchant ships are known to pass at regular intervals.

Gather information can be used at various ports and cities to find suitable targets for a pirate raid, however suitable targets may be few and far between so it can take a long time to discover them as the DC for finding one is high.

Target Difficulty
Merchant ship 25
Wealthy merchant ship 30
Sea-lane 35
Well travelled sea-lane 40
Seaport 45
Treasure fleet 50


At their very best pirates are a surly mob who turn quickly upon those they feel are incapable of providing them with a suitable pile of treasure at the culmination of their endeavours. Captains of piratically inclined ships will need to keep their crews morale high with regular diplomacy checks, particularly in difficult situations.

The crew and officers of a pirate ships are each treated as separate entities for purposes of morale skill checks to be made to alter morale. Thus each time the captain wishes to improve the morale of either his crew or officers he must make separate skill checks against each group of npcs.

When setting out on a new voyage with a new crew and officers their initial morale is generally indifferent, the captain may make a Diplomacy check to improve their attitude at the start of the journey with rousing tales of derring do and hints of great rewards to come, this sets the crew/officer morale until one of the following situations occurs:

  • Encounter      with another ship
  • Shore      raid
  • Long      time at sea
  • Foul      weather
  • Return      to port

Each time one of these situations happens the crew and officers’ morale will automatically drop one category. Then the captain may attempt Diplomacy checks to improve morale again based on the new category.

Use the table below to determine the effectiveness of the captains Diplomacy checks (or Charisma checks) made to influence the attitude of the crew or officers.



Initial Morale

New Morale (DC to achieve)

  Mutinous Unhappy Indifferent Happy Loyal
Mutinous Less than 20 20 25 35 50
Unhappy Less than 5 5 15 25 40
Indifferent Less than 1 1 15 30
Happy Less than 1 1 20
Loyal Less than 1 1


Situation Modifier
Recent victory +5
Recent failure -5
If you have 5 or more ranks in Profession (Sailor), or   Knowledge (geography). +2
Leadership feat with followers as crew +4
Lack, or poor quality, of rations and drink -2
Any crew or officers of higher level than captain -2
Crew and officers at least 4 levels below captain +2

The various morale categories have different bonuses and penalties to actions, the modifier listed in the table below is applied to all Profession (sailor) checks made by the captain. In addition the crew and officer’s actions are influenced by their state of morale.

Morale Modifier Possible Actions
Mutinous -4 Mutiny, interfere, berate, flee
Unhappy -2 Mislead, gossip, avoid, watch suspiciously, insult
Indifferent +0 Normal shipboard life
Happy +2 Chat, advise, offer limited help, advocate
Loyal +4 Protect, back up, heal, aid


All pirate captains dread the thought of mutiny and act to prevent it in any way possible. A captain may receive warning of a mutiny via sense motive or gather information checks and act to prevent it with a diplomacy check at -4.

Mutinies come from either the crew or officers, a mutiny led by the officers is most likely to succeed as the captain and any loyal shipmates will be the only ones not involved. A mutiny led by the crew may be thwarted by the timely action of the captain and officers, diplomacy checks to thwart a mutiny by the crew are made at -4.

Once a mutiny is under way the captain may either combat the mutineers in the hopes of defeating the mutiny or surrender and hope for leniency from the mutinous crew. A captain combating the crew will need to defeat the majority in order to sufficiently dissuade the remainder. A captain opting for leniency should make a diplomacy check to avoid the fate the crew have in store.

Prize Ships

Occasionally a captured ship is of a suitable quality to keep as a prize and many young pirate captains have started their career in such a ship.


Successful pirates take vast hauls of treasure, far more than any normal character would. However pirates also have very high expenses and the treasure is almost always split fairly amongst the entire crew, according to the well drawn up regulations that pirate crews use.

Thus when a GM sets treasure for a pirate crew they need only worry about the reward that the player characters will receive, as normal. If it is really necessary to work out the total haul of loot down to the last piece of gold then simple multiply the coins and goods received by the number of the crew (or more accurately the number of shares the crew receives), plus a bit to account for reasonable expenses.