Pirates. Buccaneers. Corsairs. Privateers. Seahawks. Reavers. Freebooters. You can't tell your pirate-type without a scorecard. So here you go. A quick guide to who is shivering your timbers and making off with your booty. Get ready to walk the plank. Its time to raise the black flag!
Pirate-Types in the Flanaess
By: Glenn Vincent Dammerung (aka GVDammerung)
Used with permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior from the author.
Piracy may be serviceably defined as the taking by force or intimidation of vessels, and the conversion of their cargoes, from their lawful possessors upon the high seas. Piracy, however, is not the sole province of pirates. "Pirate" is something of a catchall term that is more accurately "pirate-type." There are a number of different pirate-types, the chief of which are described below.
Pirates are considered criminals by all, ocean going thieves, bandits or robbers. Nowhere are pirates given safe haven except among their own kind. A pirate ship is analogous to a floating, violent thieves guild. The crew will come from all walks of life, all nations and all cultures. Pirates have a deserved reputation for wild, cutthroat ferocity borne of the knowledge that all hands are turned against them and even their own crewmates may, if it is in their interest, turn on them. Pirates may expect only that honor that may be found among thieves. All fear pirates because they know they can expect no mercy or pity or even a clean death at their, often blood-stained, hands.
Favored Classes: Any
Special Advantage: Intimidation
Commonly Found: The Pomarj, Bandit Kingdoms, Olman Islands
Buccaneers are much like pirates with the notable difference that they come from a specific home territory, nation of culture, within which they are tolerated so long as they do not harass the shipping of that territory, nation or culture. Local officials will tend to tolerate buccaneers and look the other way as long as the buccaneers prey solely upon foreign shipping and do not cause too much trouble. Within their home waters, buccaneers may even become something like local heroes, particularly if they prey upon ships of a nation or people deemed oppressors. Because buccaneers share a point of origin, they are much more cohesive than the typical pirate crew. Buccaneer crews tend to stick together and work well together.
Favored Classes: Fighter/Thief
Special Advantage: High morale
Commonly Found: Lordship of the Isles (Pre-Greyhawk Wars), Hold of the Sea Princes (Pre-Greyhawk Wars)
Corsairs are similar to buccaneers in that their crews mostly come from a defined area. Corsairs, however, are not regarded as criminals within their home nation or culture and are in fact fully supported in their efforts. Such nations and cultures that spawn corsairs are generally highly territorial, often tribal, and see all foreigners as outsiders and fair game. With no foreigners to prey upon, corsairs will often raid the shipping of rivals within their own society. Such raiding within the society is seen as normal and not piracy in the criminal sense. To the victims from outside the culture, of course, such raids are purely piratical. Corsair tactics are also different from those of pirates and buccaneers. Where pirates and buccaneers prowl open water looking for prey, corsairs will often stay much closer to shore, using shallower draft boats, often oared, to dart out from concealment to attack.
Favored Classes: Barbarian
Special Advantage: Initiative
Commonly Found: Hepmonaland, Amedio Jungle
A privateer is a pirate or buccaneer who operates with or under a Letter of Marc from a nation that grants the privateer official permission or sanction to attack and pillage the shipping of a specific rival nation or nations. In addition to pirates and buccaneers, privateers may also consist of official naval vessels of the nation granting the Letters of Marc, which then commit acts that would otherwise be unabashed piracy. Less frequently, privateers may be granted Letters of Marc from an organization or from a rogue state that sells freewheeling Letters of Marc to all who can afford them. In all cases, Letters of Marc granted to attack shipping will be tantamount to an act of war or an opening of hostilities. Privateers are safe only in the ports of the nation granting the Letters of Marc or in neutral ports.
Favored Class: Fighter
Special Advantage: Authority
Commonly Found: Keoland, Aerdi, Irongate, Sea Barons, Medegia
Seahawks are a special type of privateer. A seahawk is not granted a Letter of Marc but is treated by a host nation as if a Letter of Marc had been granted, so long as the host nation is given a cut of the seahawk’s pillaged treasure. Unlike granting a Letter of Marc, sponsoring seahawks is not tantamount to an act of war or an opening of hostilities because the sponsoring nation can truthfully claim that it did not authorize or officially sanction the attacks. The sponsoring nation’s complicity comes only after the fact when it receives a share of the captured treasure or profits from its sale. This is a fine distinction and leaves the sponsoring nation open to being caught in the act after the fact but it avoids initial trouble so long as the seahawks go undetected in their association with the host nation. Seahawks will, not surprisingly, often come from the host nation, often her best sailors not in the navy in fact, and are thus like a cross between buccaneers and privateers.
Favored Class: Fighter
Special Advantage: Seamanship
Commonly Found: Nyrond, Furyondy, Urnst States, Principality of Ulek
Reavers are unlike almost every other pirate-type. While reavers will commit acts of piracy upon the high seas, their speciality is raiding inland. A reaver ship is generally designed to be able to be beached, unlike most other pirate ships with perhaps the exception of some corsair vessels. Typically, reavers take what small unarmed prizes they come upon, ignoring larger vessels and any that may be armed, on their way to raid a specific coastal area. Like buccaneers and corsairs, reavers come from a specific nation or culture and like pirates, they are greatly feared for their ferocity. In the spring of the year, reavers will set sail from their home waters for a coastal area they intend to plunder during the summer months. Once in such coastal area, reavers will often set up a temporary camp and raid out of it, often sailing to a point on the coast then raiding ports or inland cities, even as much as 30 to 60 miles inland, before returning to their temporary haven. In the fall, the reavers will return to the safety of their home waters for the winter.
Favored Classes: Barbarian/Ranger
Special Advantage: Berserking
Commonly Found: Frost, Snow, Ice Barbarians
Freebooters see piracy as a business and operate in a such a fashion. Often allied with smugglers and unscrupulous merchants, freebooters are in the business of illicitly obtaining cargoes for resale, which may themselves be illicit. Freebooters tend not to attack shipping in general. Freebooters prize knowledge of specific cargoes and tend to attack only those ships they believe will be carrying cargoes the freebooters know they can sell for a profit. Unscrupulous merchants or even guilds are often allied with certain freebooter captains with whom they will regularly deal. A typical freebooter operation may see a merchant express interest in a particular cargo, providing details to the freebooters, who then take the prize and hand it off to smugglers, who bring it ashore and to the merchant without attracting suspicion by, or paying duties when, being seen to unload a great deal of cargo in port. Freebooters may also be hired to obtain a cargo other than by piracy and are in this way much like mercantile mercenaries, raiding temples, tombs or cities in search of a specific item or items.
Favored Class: Thief
Special Advantage: Appraise or Gather Information
Commonly Found: Greyhawk, Dyvers, Hardby, Rel Astra
The Favored Class given for each pirate-type may confer a 10% XP bonus in OD&D, 1E and 2E and Favored Class treatment in 3E.
The Special Advantage given for each pirate-type in OD&D, 1E and 2E, can translate into either a skill/proficiency or a plus to a roll in appropriate circumstances. In 3E, the "+2 rule" should apply in appropriate circumstances.
While the areas where a pirate-type may be Commonly Found are given, this should not be taken as an exclusive statement that restricts placing pirate-types elsewhere. Pirate-types are highly mobile and they get around, often in search of better prizes or to escape areas where they are being relentlessly pursued.