One of the first orders of business when you acquire a seventeenth century pirate ship is to go through it from stem to stern and identify what items you need to pick up to make a go of things. Whether your prize is a little bitty sloop, a nimble corvette, or something that defines a classification of its own, there are bound to be be a few additions which will make a pirate's life more efficient and productive.
- To set sail. If you have picked up your ship under stressful conditions there may be certain repairs needed to make it shipshape again. Remember that it is the nature of the pirating enterprise to decline in crew strength toward the end of a campaign, so you will want to incorporate any innovations which make the vessel easier to sail shorthanded until such time as you can build up your numbers again. Also a specially-ordered set of black sails and sheets to facilitate stealthy nighttime raids is a nice touch in the interest of style.
- Crew accommodations. There are a few concessions to the existence of miserable human chattel serving aboard your craft, though none of them are likely to be mistaken for creature comforts. To maintain shipboard morale, the Cat o' nine tails and the plank are essential. For subsistence, lay in a modest stock of moldy, worm-eaten seabiscuits and a cask or two of grog (primarly for officers and for medicinal use). Black powder and Toledo steel cutlasses are the mainstays of both offensive and defensive supplies, perhaps supplemented with a few matchlock sidearms.
- Naval battle stations. There are times when your craft may be confronted by a versatile frigate, a ponderous and heavily armed galleon or man-of-war, ships of the line crewed by dozens or hundreds of disciplined sailors and with arms likely to outclass any firepower you are able to bring to bear. This is when you should rely on fleetness and elusiveness as your main defense. For smaller adversaries, it is good to have a number of heavy cannon in working order, and a few good gunnery crews who might be trusted to stay sober and clearwitted enough to operate them at least a few times in the throes of battle (unlikely to hit anything directly, but useful as a display for deterrence).
- Booty calls. Install a heavy safe with extra space for valuable cargo, accessible from the pirate captain's quarters only. Include some moneybags or partitions to keep the jewels, doubloons, sovereigns, and pieces of eight separate and organized. With some crews, it might be advisable to set up a flintlock in the ceiling attached to a tripline to fashion a booty booby trap.
Strokes of genius
- Planning for efficiency. Piracy obeys the 80-20 rule when it comes to profit and loss. Most of the value added by buccaneering activities occur during the relatively brief encounters when your crew grapples with their merchant vessel prey, boards them, and makes off with the booty. On the other side, the vast majority of your variable expenses are incurred in the long intervals in between as the brigands make its way from Tortuga to Jamaica or wherever, consuming provisions, brawling among themselves, and possibly plotting mutiny. Any tricks you might employ to reduce the duration of these unproductive stretches would naturally help with the bottom line. It is like planning the location of your lair: you want to situate your pirate hotbed in the midst of vulnerable merchant traffic, while avoiding locations of enemy naval activity.
- Cheating. If your raiders are intended as an exercise in historical re-enactment, going after real reales and pigeon-blood rubies that are not paste, it is a far different matter from sailing about in a sketchy virtuality or a mirror universe jaunt where the ahistorical elements may be fudged without penalty. The introduction of things such as railguns and poison gas during melées, or outfitting your ship with iron sides and a nuclear power plant, so despised by the purists, then become simply means to an end, and may even possibly be justified in the context of a "what-if" intellectual pastime. If anyone actually cares, that is.
Traps for mere fools
- Citrus fruit. The role of vitamin C in the diet in order to forestall the development of scurvy was not identified until the year 1753, long after the golden age of piracy, so spongy, bleeding gums, spots on the skin, and general listlessness is part and parcel of the authentic seventeenth century pirate experience. You would not want to have any part of something that would take away from all of that, clearly.
- Musical instruments. A dance number is liable to break out if you are not careful.
- Stowaways. Best dealt with by keelhauling. Plucky, brazen youths are particularly important to discourage in this manner.
Precious and needful
- Pirate flag. Blood-curdling, if possible.
- Artificial limbs.
- How to lie to someone's face
- How to rule men's minds through sex
- How to serve man
- How to play the bagpipes
- How to pillage a city
- How to betray your master
- How to cause a flood
- How to collect damned souls
- How to earn money part-time
- How to curse an Emperor's ransom
- How to reign over love slaves
- How to build a head collection on a budget
- How to win at dice
- How to run a virtual world
- How to be an evil consort
- How to interest young people in evil
- How to recruit and retain henchmen
- How to summon spirits of the dead
- How to understand warrior maidens
- How to survive a road trip
- How to conduct a manhunt
- Image credit Pirate Ship! by Serolynne
- Image credit Pirate ship pt. 1 by alex-pl
- Image credit Rifled Barrel by Greg from Cobb Mountain