Monday, October 22, 2018

Product Review Piracy and Privateering

Review of Piracy and Privateering

by Josh Peters
Publisher: Stellagama Publishing
Length: 83 pages

You might have thought that the pirates were supposed to be the NPCs, but surprise! The book begins with a persuasive essay aimed to encourage players to play as pirates!
When you're a Professional Pirate . . .

The book contains five sections:
  1. Setting up the campaign
  2. Space Encounters
  3. How to Make money
  4. Adventure Seeds
  5. Sample NPCs
The book is system-neutral throughout. It leans toward the 2D6 dice rolling mechanic, but it would not be difficult to transition any of the tables into any 'variable degrees of success' dice rolling system. For OGL legal reasons they can't say it works with Classic Traveller, but I can. It does. That makes me happy.

Setting up
Is the campaign going to be in a Star Spanning Empire, or among competing star nations, or the fringes where it's every planet for themselves? This is an important consideration, and the author lays out the good and the bad of each type. My TU is competing star nations, and a lot of Independents. Pirates will use different tactics depending on where they are.

Wherever your piratical PCs set up, there has to be enough potential for profit to make it all worthwhile. The referee/GM has to consider this or it will be a short and unhappy campaign.

For the sake of players and GMs who aren't familiar with the practicalities of piracy, the book lays out a method of doing the deed, labeled “Piracy 101”. This section goes into a helpful amount of detail on things like:

  • Finding a target
  • persuading them to surrender
  • deciding what to take, including whether or not to steal the ship directly
  • escaping pursuit
  • turning the loot into cash (but more on that later)

The GM may want to hold back this section from the players if the PCs do not have any pirating experience. This is my thought, not the author's. Hear me out.

Some games, like Traveller, have a Pirate prior career path, which means they are already seasoned pirates at the start of the game. If the PC crew were legit spacers who decided to turn pirate, then they wouldn't always know the 'right' things to do. The learning curve could be fun for the players, or it could be a buzzkill.

A section near the start of the book surprised me. The author includes a page-long essay on the question of lethality in the game. Should PCs have plot armor, or is the next TPK just around the corner? How can the GM manage the deadliness of all the PCs inside “a single metal coffin, surrounded by volatile fuel that powers a controlled thermonuclear explosion.”? He offers some good advice that both novice and experienced GMs will appreciate.

Space Encounters
Space is big, and for the most part empty. It's the people (and things) you meet that make it interesting. For pirates, those people are merchant captains, yacht owners on cruises, bulk cargo carriers and the Space Patrol. The GM gets a lot of help in plotting out these encounters.

The book identifies five regions/zones where encounters can take place:
  • the main world
  • the arrival/departure zone
  • the gas giants
  • the asteroid belt (if there is one)
  • the periphery
and gives encounter tables for each zone.

The author created two original factors to describe star systems. They are the Traffic Level and the Safety Level. Combining these two concepts you get eight combinations of factors, the types of systems.

Eight Types of Systems
  • Middle of Nowhere (Corner of 'No' and 'Where')
  • Bandit Territory
  • Going Concern
  • Rail Head System
  • Wild West system
  • Capital system
  • Bazaar system
  • Hive of Scum and Villainy (Wretchedness optional)
There is an explanation for each type, and each one gets its own encounter tables.

Next we have descriptions of the many classes of encounter types, like derelicts, abandoned bases, space junk, and planetoids.

I am pleased that the book mentions Derelict Ships – I've written about the dangers the PCs can encounter while exploring a derelict.

A standout section is the discussion of 'stations' – all those kinds of inhabited bodies that aren't the main world. Seven pages of inspiration to help the GM create locations of interest and adventure.

Encounters can be designed by the GM, but can also be rolled for on the tables, with a great variety of outcomes. No more “oh, here comes another patrol corvette; bet it's the same as the last three we fought.”

Making Money
That's the point of all this, right? Pirates want to gain profit. How do they achieve this?

Every pirate needs a fence to help them move their goods. Every GM will be glad to know that this book lays out the business of working with a fence in detail while also keeping it simple. This is not an exercise in accounting.

Privateers get their own section. In case you didn't know, a privateer is a ship that has a contract with a government to do piracy against that government's enemies. Usually this happens in the context of a war, but not always. Privateers are auxiliary combatants, not criminals. At least to the side that hired them. Privateers get their own Financial section in the book. The process of selling off legally acquired booty is different from what pirates do.

Next, we get eight pages of adventure seeds. These are in the Traveller “76 patrons” format. That is, a short paragraph laying out the situation before the players, then six optional approaches. The GM picks from these to direct the course of the adventure. This way, the GM can give the adventure a paint job and a new transponder, then use the same premise with a different twist.

The book wraps up with two star systems fleshed out with encounter tables, and specific contents, followed up by a few pages of sample NPCs. All are described in text, with no game statistics. The GM can use what's given to create the stats.

This 83-page book covers the topic well enough that whatever game system you use, it makes the pirate based campaign a viable and exciting option. I recommend it heartily.

Once again, my thanks to Omer Joel The Lizard King! for providing me with a copy of this book. I have worked on a number of projects for Stellagama Publishing, but not this one. I receive no royalties or compensation for this review, or for sale of the book.