PIRACY IN TRAVELLER
A simple primer on how to be a pirate
Piracy in general is the illegal seizure of interplanetary/interstellar ships and/or their
cargoes in space by another another ship and its crew. A pirate can operate either as a
single vessel; a small squadron ( either on a temporary or permament basis ); or as a part of
a large organized piracy operation ( i.e., Vargyr corsairs, Webrunners, Dark Goddesses) that
may or may not have a legal trading front.
PIRATE CAREER OPTIONS
There are several types of pirates you can consider as player templates.
1. NAVAL PERSONNEL. Navy crews who seize vessels as part of a personal agenda or
implementing government policy.
2. HIJACKERS. Individuals who specialize in signing as crew or passengers for the
purpose of seizing control of said vessels. Hijackers' usual motives is the selling of the ship
whole or for parts. Usually operate from a secure base. Some pirate start as hijackers.
3. PRIVATEERS. Military or paramilitary vessels with letters of marque issued by some
government for plundering commerce of a specific enemy of said government. On some
planets, political factions will issue letters of marque. Privateers operate singly, in
squadrons or as part of a fleet. Some privateers carry on their trade after war ceasess.
4. PIRATES/CORSAIRS. Vessels that indiscriminately attack commerce without legal writ.
Most are out and out criminals. Some, for personal, social, or racial reasoncan be selective
in their victims. Cultures such as the Vargyr and Toishani, for example, consider piracy an
honorable trades. Some, like the infamous Bette Noire, can very romantic towards their
5. SMUGGLERS. Crews whose import or export of trading goods violate some local,
national, planetary, or interplanetary law. Some smugglers will also specialize in the
transport of stolen vessels between other pirates and a fence.
6. FREE TRADERS. As much as Free Traders hate pirates, hard luck, pirates, corrupt
officials, etc., can tempt them to try the "black trade" to pay the bills. These pirates tend
to operate against their oppressors, real or proxy.
WHO BECOMES A PIRATE
Here are a few templates:
1. TRADITION. It's a family, cultural, or planetary thing. Vargyrs are a good example.
2. OUTCAST. Someone who lives outside the system. This can be cashiered military
personnel, blacklisted trader, exiled noble/politician, or just a plain criminal.
3. REBEL. One actively works against the system for noble ( or not ) reasons. Can be
utopians, idealists, anarchists, for example.
4. ROMANTIC. He/she has gotten into the "black trade" for the adventure. Can be the
most honorable or ruthless of pirates.
5. SOCIOPATH. Other sentients exist as prey. Piracy makes an excellent cover for
6. THE AVENGER. Individual who is avenging a wrong against themselves or society,
race, planet, etc.,. Quite often, monomaniacs who are self-destructive.
Lifestyles of the rich? and infamous
PIRATES IN SEARCH OF PROFIT WILL ENGAGE IN ANY OR ALL OF THESE OPERATIONS:
1. PIRACY. Illegal seizure of a vessel by direct asault either by ground forces or
2. HIJACKING. Illegal seizure of a vessel from within either by inserting pirates into the
crew or passengers; or by subverting 1 or more crew members.
3. SMUGGLING. Illegal trading without paying import or custom duites; or the trading of
4. LEGITIMATE TRADE. Any successful pirate is part trader.
5. PRIVATEERING. Whether carrying a Letter of Marque or Reprisal, privateering can
a legal cover for piracy.
6. MERCENARY. Pirate vessels, whether armed traders or small warships make
excellent vessels for merc operations. One of the reasons pirates are tolerated in some
circles. This can be risky, since some merc operations can be pirate suppression.
7. PROTECTION. Extorting money from ships, trading companies, governments, or
planets in exchange for not raiding them.
8. BARRATRY. Illegal shipping practices in violation of charter agreement. The most
common is the re-direct where the crew takes on a consignment of cargo & re-directs the
cargo to a port of their choosing, selling the cargo off for the crew's own profit. The crew
can sell at very low rates & high profits since they have little overhead expenses.
Like everything else in Traveller, economics drive pirates in search of profit at the lowest
overhead possible. A rule is that profit is commensurate with damage sustained in the
taking, so make sure that cargo is worth tangling with that patrol cruiser bearing down.
Also, if you don't have an organization looking after your interests, be careful of your fence.
A one ship operation can easily cheated by the fence they are dealing with. Worse, the
fence could play both sides of the equation; make profit off by selling you and your goods.
And police, naval forces will pose as fences to trap pirates.
HERE ARE POTENTIAL IDEAS FOR PROFIT
1. CARGO. Rare spices, metals, luxury items, electronics, weapons, exotic minerals,
robotics, medicines, for example, make good loot. Bulk cargoes, such as ores, foodstuffs,
furs (unless real exotic), animals are poor loot items unless you have a ready market.
2. PARTS. Often the most important loot comes from stripping captured ships. Jump
drives, life support systems, computers, weapons, etc., can be very valuable, especially sold
to starports of C-E classification. Often, pirates grab ships just to provide spare parts or to
make repairs on their own vessels. This is very important if you have no safe port to do
3. DATA. A ship's data can be very valuable. This is in two parts. First of all, any
acquired data improves your own operations through codes, astrogational data, trade
information, political developments, etc. Secondly, the data can be sold on the open or
4. SHIPS. The ships themselves, can be sold in some market where ownership won't
be questioned. Also, you might find the ship you've just taken is much better than the one
you took it with. A captured trader can also be used as an auxiliary, shuttling supplies,
captives,loot, or small vessels.
5. KIDNAPPING. Quite common, but risky. There's always the chance the victim's
people won't pay ransom. They may also decide that a dead kidnapper is more important.
There is a flip side to this operation. A pirate might be approached to conduct a rescue
6. SLAVE RAIDS. Uncommon in Imperial or Zhodani space, slaving is common in
areas outside those goverments' authority. This is a particular bane on planets where
governments are weak, the tech level is low, or corruption is high. In the Beyond sector,
Phyllis' Surrender is the main emporium for the slave trade.
7. PERSONNEL. Recruiting crew or passengers off your victims for their expertise, is a
risky but common procedure. It increases profits adding needed skills to your own skills.
Common people suborned are doctors, engineers, astrogators, computer operators, pilots,
sensor experts, and gunners.
THE PROFESSIONAL PIRATE
There are five basic steps in successful piracy.
1. INTELLIGENCE. Knowledge is power. Data gathering is broken down into the
A. ASTROGATIONAL. Know your area of operation. Avoid or take advantage of navigational
hazards such as asteroid belts, neutron stars, odd gravitational fluxes and the like. Often
planets with interstellar don't explore or keep updated public records on their own system.
This lack of foresight can create many places to hide insystem from victims or reprisal from
the authorities. Also knowing the normal breakout points can allow you to hit starships at
their most vulnerable time-breakout. However, depending on the system, this is risky since
most navies keep patrol vessels near breakout points. Also gaining knowledge of of a
world's UPP can give (if reliable) you a good idea of trade and possible traffic. If you are a
legitimate trader (or good at deception) you can just update data at the the local starport
just like any honest starship captain.
B. SHIPPING. What are the main routes through a sector, subsector, or system? Is the traffic
predominately free traders, small firms, or large coporate shippers? Do the ships carry
minimal (or no) armament or are heavily armed or escorted? What is their arrangement
with the local navy or government? What cargo do they carry? How tolerant of piracy are
they? How do they respond to distress calls?
C. DEFENSES. What is the military strength of the system you plan to raid? Their TL? Do
they maintain patrols? Their military efficiency? Do they employ robotic defenses(drones,
satellites, mines)? Are they more concerned with internal security than external threats?
The latter is important since governments with internal concerns (i.e. dictatorships, for
example) are vulnerable to pirate raids. What are the morale and personality profiles of
D. MERCHANDISE. Know the economic profile of worlds and systems in your area of
operation. This is important both in raiding and selling of loot. Offtimes an adventure can
start because some has-not will hire you to steal for them.
E. POTENTIAL COMPETITION. Know your competition and deal with them. Corsairs from the
same organization can easily be persauded to join up in an allied effort. Non-allied pirates
can be dealt with by intimidation, destruction or arranging for the local forces to deal with
your rivals. The latter is very effective if you have an aggreement with the locals(see
F. DISPOSAL. If plunder can't be be converted to credits, all the robbery in the universe
won't make you rich(or at least maintain repairs). Arrange before raiding a place to sell you
loot. Organized pirates such as most Vargyr bands, Dark Goddesses and Webrunners in the
Beyond, this isn't a problem. The lone operator has much more of a problem; and if they are
not careful will usually get cheated and sometime betrayed to the police or navy.
G. BRIBERY. What officials (government, military merchant) are bribeable? Their price?
Also who should not be approached? Also bribed officials can if they become insufferable
be threaten with exposure( after all, in most cases the official will be dealt harsher than the
H. LOGISTICS. Find out what ports are available for R&R, routine maintenance, repair, and
re-equipment for your ship and its crew. Create business agreement with said bases.
Again, the organized pirates have an easier task in maintain their logistical support.
2. DECEPTION. Deception is most important in raiding. The corsair who can't surprises a
victim will see it call for help, or worse, jump out of system and harm's way. Deception can
be gained three ways.
A. SENSOR DECEPTION. There are two basic ways to deceive. The first is Electro-Magnetic
Masking(EMM), a method of creating false sensor data for a potential victim's sensors to pick
and record. Using EMM packages and an extensively research library data on ships; a pirate
may attempt to deceive enemy sensors of its true identity. An alternative of this is using
EMM to go into a stealth mode with only passive sensors working. A second, more direct
approach is sensor jamming, blocking the victim's active or passive sensors. There is risk
involved with jamming. One of, is danger of collision with a suddenly blind victim. Another
is that if jamming is detected a distress call will be forcoming. Most competitent corsairs
use sensor deception since they will have an edge over traders on the skill level of sensor
B. PHYSICAL DECEPTION. The classic example of physical deception is the old 'P' class
corsair with its movable sections. A variant I came up with is inflatable modules that
attached to the hull that can be inflated to change the profile and shape of a vessel. EMM
device can be attached to these modules to give false impressions( heavy armament,
deceptive drive locations, etc.,). These modules won't hold up in a fight, but they can give
an edge. Asteroids mined out and fitted with a bridge, drives, weapons, etc., are also known.
C. MIMICRY. Imitating a ship's crew and transmission. Useful in luring a victim by pretending
to be a local patrol ship, known traders, or whatever would convenient in a situation. You
can also mimic your victim to throw off any alarm. You can even with the right protocols,
uniforms, etc., successfully pretend to be the local navy and board the victim and take it
without a shot fired.
D. DECOYS. These can be inflatable decoys or drones loaded with EMM and other gear
operated by remote or by program. You can also utilize asteroids and space junk as decoys
by attaching EMM modules.
A last warning on deception: what you can do to others , they can do unto you.
SEIZING THE PRIZE
Capturing traders either by hijack or ship combat must be quick and brutal. Whether or not
surprise is achieved, you must first shut down the victim's ability to transmit a distress call.
Use jamming or weapons fire, depending on which skills are better in your crew. I prefer
jamming as this frees the gunners to knock down the the jump drive on the first attack. A
method favored by my wife (who reminded me to add it!) is to hack into the victim's
computer via the comlink & gain control of the ship's computer system(my wife would love
to have Cowboy Bebop's Radical Edward in her crew). And of course one of the ways to
take a ship is when it is on the ground & can't jump out. Simple burglary or a holdup by a
small group (often disguised as mechanics, cops, merchants, or officials is preferable to
open assault in this case.
Most victims will surrender if they cannot call for help or or escape by jump. If they fight,
knock out the weapons. If they try fleeing on manuver drive, knock that out. Any more
resistance, 'politely' tell them the next shot hits where the most damage will occur. This is
very effective on ships with passengers.
When they stand down, send over a heavily armed, disguised boarding party and secure the
bridge and engineering. Then secure the crew and any passengers. A second boarding
party can then start the chore of loading loot. Most sane crews won't oppose pirates since
A: The boarding is usually larger the victim's crew & B: More importantly, at lot better
armed & skilled than the average merchant crewman.
Prisoners. As a rule of thumb , quasi-legal pirates don't kill their prisoners usually. This isn't
altruism, it's self-protection. Pirates with a rep for ruthlessness have a tendancy to to go
out airlocks without a suit when captured by the authorities. Usual method is to let
prisoners either drift in their looted ships( or lifepods) with the drives and commo
eliminated. Other variants include marooning them on a planet far from the system they
were attacked in.
Deception is required if you are going to remain a humane pirate. Wear battledress or vacc
suit to disguise appearance( keeping spare suits used only for this task is useful). Do use
electronic scrambling to disguise voices or develop a skill at mimicing dialects. A good ploy
ploy is keeping some non-human crewmen and allow them only be seen by prisoners to
confuse them. Some Dark Goddessess vessels will have a few male crew to keep prisoners
from suspecting they're in a Dark Goddessess ship.
Still, blood does run hot, especially if a firefight is started by a crew who 'surrendered'. And
there are those captains who just like to kill.
FURTHERMORE, not all pirates loot ships. A great deal of booty can a had by a quick
planetside raid. This is often safer than space attack & your victim won't be able to do an
emergency jump to escape. Mining installations, temples, mansions, warehouses, factories
(particularly armaments & high-tech industries), chemical plants are good examples of
targets. Also, if you are going after ships, the best way to take them is in port, where most
of the crew may away from the ship, either on business or pleasure. It also so helps if port
security is lax or corrupt.
Well, that's the end for now.
Remember, Piracy isn't an adventure, it's a job.
"The margin of profit is concurrent with the level of damage
incurred." Whe Kif, Poicxh corsair.
|"Who seeks to grasp too much ends by holding nothing".
Captain Peter Blood, from 'Captain Blood' by Rafael Sabatini
|"PROTECTING THE WEAKER PEOPLE IS THE PRINCIPLE OF SPACE!'
Komachi Kiyo, pirate. AIC's Tenchi Muyo GXP
1. COUNTERMEASURES: For traders, knowledge & equipment is survival. Ship
captains & their owners need to know much of the same data that pirates do.
A. ASTROGATIONAL: The need to know the system(s) you trade in, their breakout
points, navigational hazards, asteroids, comets, space junk or anything giving a
pirate a hideout or ambush point. Systems with a strong system defense force will
have several bases along navigational routes, knowing the closest to your
programmed breakout could save your ship.
B. SHIPPING: Knowing the standard breakout points & in system shipping routes
is important. Using them is even more important. While it is tempting to program
breakout points closer to the destination to cut travel time, it is not advised. Besides
the hazard of collision, competent pirates also know about these routes. A big, well
armed freighter is probably safe, any ship below 1000 tonnes is fair game for a
determined pirate & the nearest help is probably far away. In keeping to the
established system routes there is a benefit. Some systems maintain deepspace
traffic control stations where ships jumping into the system can join up to convoy
together(safety in numbers). These same bases will also maintain SDB's or fighter
craft to escort trading vessels.
C. PIRACY: Researching known pirates attacks can also benefit the trader. Besides
the particulars of an attack ( size & firepower of attacker, method of attack,
casualties), learn about what kind of ships & cargo were taken. If there is a trend in
attacks in a system you can try to avoid shipping cargo pirates want. On the other
hand you can learn what pirates want & carry it to buy pirates off. Often it can be
cold, hard cash, especially with small-timers. In our own 21st century, many large
shipping companies carry cash aboard just in cash of pirate attacks.
D. THE SOPHONT EQUATION: Screening prospective crew members is very
important. So is keeping them happy. More than half piracies succeed because the
pirates either placed one or more of their henchmen in a crew or subverted a
existing crew member. With free traders & small operations that fairly easy since
they tend to be very clannish in nature with few outsiders. Medium or large sized
concerns are at the most risk, partly because of the number of employees, poor pay
in many cases, the poor quality of the crews on those. Concerns such as Oberlindes,
Beaufort Lines which maintain high pay & high standards don't have those
problems. Most lines, however are more concerned with cutting costs both with ships
& crew. Passengers are a different problem, being very hard to screen except for
weapons & hazardous material. The best bet is to keep in touch with local &
interstellar police forces & establish a ship's database of known criminals.
E. ELECTRONICS: Maintain & upgrade your computer & programs constantly to
prevent hacking into your system by pirates. If you are not a concern that can
maintain company computer service, find a reputable dealer or do it yourself.
F. MAINTENANCE: Service, upgrade, & otherwise keep your ship in good
condition. You never know when you will need that emergency jump or need to fight.
2. TACTICS: When it comes to pirates, it smarter to let the navy deal with them. If
they can't, won't, or there isn't a navy in that system, here are a few ideas.
A. JUMPOUT: The best, surest defense against piracy is an emergency jump. The
drawback is that if you jumped insystem, you don't have the fuel to jump
again(unless your ship is equipped with drop tank or has a large fuel storage).
B. CONVOY: Travel with other trading vessels if possible while in normal space.
There is safety in numbers.
C. ELECTRONIC COUNTER MEASURES: If you intend to resist, use any means to
prevent the pirate from jamming your sensors & commo. If you can broadcast,
someone may hear your mayday. If your sensors get jammed by the enemy, you
cannot navigate in normal space or fight. Also if you can rig your ship with devices
that give off a false weapons energy signature making your ship seem better armed
than it is or that is a disguised warship. Most pirates aren't crazy, they'll back off
from a attack if they feel the profit isn't worth the risk. A more important
countermeasure if you intend to fight-don't establish communications with the
attacker. Pirates will usually carrying computer gear & operators better than yours
& if they can establish a commo link, they can & will hack into your system. Of
course on the odd chance you have a prince of hackers aboard your ship, you could
try to take over theirs. Also, maintain your ship security protocols to prevent piracy.
There is nothing more distressing than parking your ship, leaving it to engage in
business or R&R, & coming back to an empty slot where your ship once was. In my
games & some I played in pirating a ship when it is in port is very, very, popular.
D. COMBAT: Only engage in ship to ship if you are well armed. The average
pirate will be better armed, & probably better crewed. Even a pirate running a 100
tonne scout may unpleasant surprises. Prevent a boarding. Pirates will carry a
larger, better armed, & will be more willing to blow out sections of your ship to
force surrender. Even if you can turn your ship into a deathtrap, it will only cause
the pirates' ship to open up with everything & blow you away. Of course if you feel
you have nothing to lose & want to take the pirate with you, you can just scuttle
your ship, blowing it & the pirates up together.
E. SURRENDER: If A or B isn't possible, C don't work, try option E. Combat with
pirates is usually a no-win situation for merchantmen, & only succeeds in annoying
pirates. Most pirates (unless they are 'Black Dog' McKimmon or the like) won't
space the crew, while resistance can get the crew massacred.
F. BRIBERY: Arranging to pay protection (whether credits or other goodies) to a
pirate band may be good business. However, it is an option that is easier for bigger
shippers to engage in. For free traders or small concerns, protection can be paid
by services rendered to the pirates(fencing, smuggling cargo or personnel, etc.).
"Stand down, Beowulf, your turrets are smashed, your jump drive
disabled, your commo jammed. I repeat, Stand down