Don't Forget Your Boots

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Tag: pirates

Every-Pirate Skills (and other traits)

There are certain Skills that are all but ever-present in a pirate-themed GURPS game.

Seamanship is the most common Skill aboard a pirate ship. Having points in Seamanship is what makes a person a useful crew-member. Since we’re talking about a 17th-century sailing ship, a point in Knot-Tying should be considered a prerequisite for Seamanship. A member of the crew who is going to go aloft in the rigging would be wise to invest in Climbing, as well.

The counterpart to Seamanship is Shiphandling. It’s the skill of directing the crew. Page 220 of the GURPS Basic Set: Characters tells us that one needs points in Leadership, Navigation (Sea), and Seamanship before buying Shiphandling. Only a handful of people will need this Skill, but it’ll be a key skill when it comes time to take a prize. Similarly, Freight Handling would be of great use to the crew, but only a few members would need points in it to supervise loading and unloading of cargo.

While Navigation (Sea) will tell you where to go, Weather Sense will tell you when it’s best to stay home.

A knowledge of smaller boats is likely to be useful and common. Boating (Unpowered) is required to take out a rowboat, while Boating (Sailboat) is necessary if under sail. Smaller boats can often transition back and forth from one specialization to the other, so it’s best to invest in both.

If a character is going to aim the cannon, that character needs to put points into Gunner (Cannon), while those using mortars will want Artillery (Cannon). Loaders and assistants don’t appear to need either Skill, though it could be helpful. A skilled crew might improve rate of fire, for instance.

Now that we’ve sailed up to a target and unloaded the cannon, it’s time for boarding. Most pirates are going to want some sort of combat skill for when the fighting moves from ship-to-ship to hand-to-hand. (Also useful for settling fine points of justice between sailors.)

The favorite ranged combat skill is Guns (Pistol), for flintlock pistols, with Guns (Musket) close behind, for longer arms. A TL4 sharpshooter might have Guns (Rifle), but they would be more commonly found on land. At TL4, it was expected that a gun would be fired and then be used as a melee weapon for the rest of the fight (see GURPS Low-Tech pg 63, under “Musket or Rifle” and “Pistol”), so a pirate might also want Axe/Mace or Two-Handed Axe/Mace for the follow-up.

The classic pirates’ weapon is the Cutlass, customarily used with the Shortsword skill. It also offers the option of a hilt punch, using Boxing, Brawling, or Karate. Other melee weapons commonly used during the Age of Sail include the boarding pike (not the Pike from GURPS Low-Tech, which has a Reach of “4,5”, but the Spear, with a maximum effective Reach of 2), the boarding axe (certainly used with Axe/Mace skill, but could use the weapon stats of a Hatchet, Axe, Small Axe, or even a Pick), and all manner of knives and improvised clubs.

Historically speaking, few 17th-century sailors knew how to swim. Cinematic pirates, on the other hand, all seem to be Trained By An Otter, and it works well for them.

Pirates who find themselves marooned on some deserted shore had better hope they have points in Survival (Island/Beach) or possibly Survival (Jungle). Knowledge of several languages is also quite common among pirates.


Regarding traits beyond Skills…

Sense of Duty (Brethren of the Coast) [-10] and/or Code of Honor (Pirate’s) [-5] are highly recommended. Remember, this isn’t an attempt to be true to history. The pirates might be unwashed, violent thieves, but they’re the Good Guys!

Most pirates aren’t rich (yet!), and the usual pirate load-out (cutlass, pistol or two, rags, bare feet) isn’t all that expensive. A Wealth level of Struggling or worse is recommended, but not required.

One who has been convicted of piracy, but not hung for it, might have Social Stigma (Criminal Record). They’re also likely to be sporting a stylish brand, just like Captain Jack Sparrow.

Speaking of which… being a pirate puts one firmly on the wrong side of somebody. In this case, that means Enemy (Spanish Navy, 9 or less) [-20] at a minimum, for nearly any conceivable PC. The price is based on “a city police department” from GURPS Basic Set: Characters, page 135, figuring that’s the default value for “wanted by the authorities”. A really famous pirate might bump up to a -30 point Enemy, if pursued by entire fleets or especially powerful ships. Off-hand, the only way I can see for a member of a pirate crew to avoid taking the Enemy would be if they could claim to be serving under duress. Such a state of grace wouldn’t last long. It’s hard to claim one’s innocence when caught red-handed, forcing captives to walk the plank.

 

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Shiver me timbers! The poll be closed!

The voting seems to have settled down, so it’s time to close the poll. With 58 votes cast, we’ve come up with a tie, between “Pirates!” and “Apocalypose Again: Fifteen Years Later”. Given the desire for a change of pace, I’m going to break the tie in favor of the pirate game. Everybody’s got to run one, right?

For inspiration, I’ll be re-reading Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides.  Yes, they made a Disney movie that used the name and the movie rights to the book, but the two are actually quite distinct. They use all the same pieces, but the results are different.

After flipping through my copy of GURPS Swashbucklers (3rd edition, but still useful) and doing some scholarly research (*cough*), I’m leaning towards starting the campaign during the time of the buccaneers. Say, 1657, when the governor of Port Royal invited the Brethren of the Coast to use that port. PCs are assumed to be members of the Brethren, based out of Port Royal and/or Tortuga. That year puts us firmly into TL4.

A thing to keep in mind here is that the Brethren are tight. They have been forged by shared adversity. They’ve been hunted by the same governments. Even members of different crews, on different ships, on different business, will help each other out. They won’t steal from each other. They won’t cheat one another. The assumption is that any member of the Brethren will have Sense of Duty (Brethren of the Coast) for -10 points, and quite likely a Pirate’s Code of Honor as well.

Another advantage of using the Brethren is that they seem to have operated in a democratic/anarchic way, making them a natural source for PCs. They were, according to GURPS Swashbucklers (page 61)

…English, Dutch, French, and other nationalities, and were largely criminals, escaped indentured servants, and out-of-work sailors, but with an occasional gentleman adventurer.

Yup, that sounds like PCs to me.  Finally, the Brethren fought the Spanish. At the time, Spain was engaged in the slave trade. If you take a romantic view of history, you could see a sort of “rag-tag band of freedom fighters against the vast empire” story shaping up here. It might be possible to have a band of PCs who consider themselves the good guys, not just another random gang of murder-hobos.

(I guess they would be murder-seamen in this campaign, though, wouldn’t they?)

This implies that the center of action for the campaign would be somewhere around the southern end of Cuba, between Haiti and Jamaica. Sailing ships in the mid-17th-century had quite a range, though, so there’s no telling where the story might go from there.

Now, I know my players. I know the second question is going to be about magic.

(The first question would be “Can I play a vampire? ghost? demon? alien? time-traveller? Batman? James Hetfield? small block of overripe cheese? Pete?” The answer would be, no.)

Given the genre and setting, I think this would be an excellent time for us to experiment with Ritual Path Magic, from GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic. I’ve threatened my group with this magic system before. It’s the one where most magic is going to be cast as a ritual, and where there’s a mechanical benefit for packing in a lot of ceremony and incense and so forth, so the magic should feel more like what you see in the movies than the casual spell-slinging of Dungeon Fantasy. There’s a lot more flexibility, as well. Rather than being restricted to a single list of spells, that’s it and that’s all, a RPM spellcaster can try to do just about anything. Want to curse the governor so any time he wants a hard-boiled egg, he gets soft-boiled instead?

With magic comes other spookiness, so I’ll be open to the weird traits, like Medium or True Faith, that seem to be true to the genre. Keep in mind, I’m not expecting “Harry Potter on a boat”, though. No more than “Ars Magica on a boat” at the very most.

My usual quirks about PC traits apply. Don’t bother with Weirdness Magnet. It exists in a notional sort of way, but you’ll never see it in the wild. Feel free to be Cursed. Just know that mine is an evil laugh, and your character shall pray for the sweet release of death before the end of the first session.

I’ll allow appropriate styles from GURPS Martial Arts. Page 245 of that work points us towards the various fencing arts, as well as Bare-Knuckle Boxing, Capoeira, Dagger Fighting, and Savate. I would expect the Traditional French School and French Smallsword to be somewhat more common among the Brethren who put any points into a fencing style at all. Most won’t.

PCs start with 150 points, with up to -75 in Disadvantages and up to 5 Quirks. Starting wealth is $2000.

Any questions?

 

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