The Dichotomy of Piracy

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phavoc
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The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby phavoc » Mon Nov 12, 2018 7:11 pm

Piracy sounds cool and all that. Who doesn't want to get something for nothing? Wear an eye patch, have a peg-leg in your space-suit, or a very weird space suit with a parrot on your shoulder (unless, of course, we have a parrot in a parrot-sized space suit on your spacesuited pirates's shoulder... now THAT is how piracy in the 52nd century SHOULD BE!!). Yada-yada-yada...

The rule though is that raiders and pirates can't stand up to a real navy. An under-strength, weak and nearly non-existent navy, sure. But the fact of the matter is a vibrant economy has to be in place to make it economically possible for raiders and pirates to exist in the first place (privateers are a slightly different matter). Which means the people you raid have the tech and the money to blow pirates out of space, but they choose for whatever reason to not do so. In the Imperium the Navy doesn't usually patrol the local spaceways unless and until pirates become a big enough nuisance to materially impact the local economy. So that job is left up to the local system entities to deal with local piracy.

Which begs the question - at what point would pirates become so successful they would incur the wrath of the Navy and die? And die they would, for the teeny little starships pirates use would simply die under the fire of any naval destroyer which greatly outmasses and outguns it. Not to mention most likely out-techs it as well. Sure, raiders could try to hit inside the Imperial borders and escape to someplace outside the Imperium, but that would be relatively limited due to astrography. And not to mention no outlier government could stop the Imperium from doing a sweep through their system to destroy pirates and their bases/ support structure.

Which means pirates, to survive, have to remain hidden and scurry out like cockroaches in the night, fleeing when people emerge to kill them. Or, they can survive in the open because no one really has the means to swat them (but this also means their targets are very rare indeed).

Do you, as players, have pirates and raiders operating in a different manner in your gaming sessions? Are they swashbucklers in space, raiding fat merchants and dueling or outrunning local navies while scurrying to freedom when real warships appear on the ecliptic? Or are they semi-professional businessmen who are smart enough to skim off the top without becoming too much of a pest? Perhaps they utilize bribes to buy off police and naval personnel like a space criminal cartel?
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby JMISBEST » Mon Nov 12, 2018 7:28 pm

Maybe like my 1st Pirates of Drinax did with 2 Alias. 1 as Pirates doing it to try and start a 3-way between Drinax, The Hierate and The Imperium that they hope to achieve with Plastic Surgery and imposter ships and the other alias as senior Drinaxian Nobility(even if 3 of the 5 didn't start as Nobility) who where trained to, equipped to, given sufficient finances to and loaned sufficient ships from the none-full time branch of The Reserves Branch of The Drinaxian Navy to hunt down and kill the imposters, and all, on paper, A PR Stunt
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Condottiere » Mon Nov 12, 2018 7:31 pm

Usually it comes down to disruption of commerce, insurance rates going up, and the shipping companies lobbying Parliament.

Then if the Navy starts looking for live fire exercise opportunities, especially during those times they aren't being bored anchored in front of enemy ports.

If pirates become too powerful, they might move out of the brigandry game and into the protection racket, and eventually devolve into the genesis of an interstellar polity.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby paltrysum » Mon Nov 12, 2018 8:36 pm

Some of my players are dubious of the notion that piracy could exist in or near the 3I setting as well. They feel that as soon as a pirate takes something of value to the Imperium or one of the other powers, their navy would send in a disproportionately large force to clean things up. And I don't believe they're wrong to think this. The Imperium can and would respond. They have the money, means, and motivation to clean up regions of space that have value to them and that have become unruly. But large bureaucracies also have a tendency to ignore less pressing matters or at least to delay reacting to them until such time as they become a problem that they just can't ignore any longer. Piracy, such as that being proposed in the Outrim Void region could be lucrative under various circumstances and for a limited length of time.

The question is: What are those circumstances and how long would they exist? The Void setting is good for this type of story whether or not it stretches your willing suspension of disbelief beyond its breaking point. It's lawless, poorly patrolled, and needed for the transport of goods between polities that want to trade with each other. That said, the "Pirates of Drinax" setting posits the existence of dozens of pirate bands, a few of which are pirate lords due to their great success at it. They even ostensibly have a home of their own at Theev, a mere three parsecs from the Imperial border. There are spoiler reasons why this is considered possible which I won't go into here. Presumably, widespread piracy could not go on forever without incurring a large, aggressive response. Perhaps that's the story we're telling here: Of that little window in which such a thing could occur before the big, bad 3I came in and spoiled all the fun. The king of Drinax never saw his sponsorship of commerce raiding as a long-term enterprise anyway. He merely wanted to inconvenience the big powers enough to get their attention and to motivate the people of the Void to unite.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Old School » Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:12 pm

You and your players are correct within the Imerium, but I’m not so sure about “near” the Imperium. the Imperium is a trading empire first and foremost, so whether they do anything about anything is largely going to come down to economics. The big Imperial players with their big ships on the Hierate route already get Imperial escorts. Its the tramps that fall victim to pirates, and the Imperial ties to those tramps are few.

One supplement I read not long ago mentioned that the Imperial Navy was very heavy on cruisers and above, as these are the true war fighters. They are light on destroyers and below, which are your anti-piracy vessels. This decision to allocate resources to fewer, bigger ships is expecially acute in Deneb, due to the multiple borders with semi hostile forces. In other words, even the Imperium has limited resources, and beyond the sweeps of “punitive fleets,” their priority is elsewhere.

Even in you give full credit to the scenario as I described it, Theeve could not possibly exist without the (spoiler spoiler spoiler) and the (spoiler spoiler). Straight piracy doesnt pay those kinds of bills on its own, and if it did (possibly by the widespread theft of ships), it would be a big enough nuisance the warrant attention, and therefore destruction.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby paltrysum » Mon Nov 12, 2018 11:12 pm

Another thing to consider: Why try to quash piracy if nobody cares? If we extrapolate from our own cultural experiences, we have to consider that
  • People in a society only care if something directly affects them or stirs their emotions in a more or less group-think fashion. In the west, certain terrorist organizations do things that stir our emotions as a society and drive us to do something about it. We consider their actions heinous, travesties against civilization. Would piracy be looked upon the same, when most of society lives dozens or even hundreds of parsecs away? It might! But it also might be beneath their notice, especially when you consider the main communication artery of the 3I—the Xboat routes—doesn't even delve into the Void (or perhaps barely does, communicating with its extraterritorial scout bases).
  • People have short memories. After one crisis is considered for about two weeks, we either forget about it or move on to the new thing, whatever that may be. Not to mention that news only travels multiple weeks at a time. It doesn't travel instantaneously like Ursula K. LeGuin's ansible. It's carried by ships and takes a long time to get across large amounts of space.
  • It'd be a little hard to keep the Imperium focused on or invested in an effort to quash a bunch of little pirating gnats who barely tilt the scales at the bank. The theft of most ships would not register financially enough for the Imperium to act upon it most of the time. Now the theft of a treasure ship...that might be worth investigating. Still just small change to the Imperium ultimately, but symbolically you can't just let someone rip you off like that without some kind of response.
So with all that said, why would the Imperium invest in expensive fleets to hunt pirates when large starships are very expensive to operate, it's not your usual stomping grounds so the territory is unfamiliar, and searching for pirates operating ships of 1,000 tons or less is like searching for a needle in a haystack? Unless you invest some fast destroyers in large numbers, the more successful pirates with the faster, more powerful ships would probably get out of trouble more often than not. Better for the Imperium to invest in a few Q ships, bust a few modified Beowulf-operating, bottom-feeding pirates, and bask in the glow of the media attention it garners. "We got 'em! Piracy is over!" Wink, wink.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Saladman » Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:16 am

Next time I get to run, I'm going non-3I, small ship universe, partly for this reason. It feels like more possibilities for adventure as well.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:19 am

The Imperium operates on the level of battle squadrons and billions of people. A few Free Traders are much too small to bother about.

If the pirates try to capture large ships on the main trade routes, or in the local space of pop 9+ systems they will be noticed and crushed. If they pick off a few tiny ships in irrelevant backwaters (pop 8-?) no-one on the sub-sector level will notice, only local "Coast Guard" SDBs will give chase.

If the pirates are careless enough to be seen or have their transponder scanned, someone will start to ask questions sooner or later, e.g. at reputable starports or routine inspections.


Compare with what would the US Navy do if a few sailboats are robbed or disappears in some Caribbean or Pacific backwater?
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Reynard » Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:48 am

There are old pirates and there are bold pirates who are dead. Bold pirate are overconfident and arrogant and think they can take on bigger fish. They attract attention and keep fishing the same pond.

Old pirates stay out of the core regions where worlds fat with treasure also have lots of funds to afford the best security. Privateers go where they are told to go and have to engage in different tactics to survive mission. Pirates can pick their targets and environments. They learn the territory and every advantage offered. They learn what prey is available and are they cost efficient for any risks. The Traveller system generation system frequently creates subsectors with a lot of backwater and low security regions with excellent trade routes linking those lucrative islands of prosperity. Plenty of prey tied with plenty of hiding places. Old pirate DON'T get greedy! Leave that to corporate executives. You are not working for a government to disrupt trade or sabotage another government, you're making a (dishonest) living and have all the time to build up that nest egg. If you hit an area too often, you focus opposition there so go find another fishing hole. Wrecking an area of trade is like a predator killing all the prey causing them to starve. Go elsewhere and let the trade recoup to a healthy level.

In many ways, your kind are the ones with the time and connections to go chase those rumors of treasure worlds and valuable lost ships. After a good haul recently fenced, time to hit the startown watering holes for some loose lips.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Old School » Tue Nov 13, 2018 3:05 am

Saladman wrote:
Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:16 am
Next time I get to run, I'm going non-3I, small ship universe, partly for this reason. It feels like more possibilities for adventure as well.
Small ship universe definitely has its appeal. Hard to feel like a player in the big game when you see a dreadnaught that is 2,000 times the size of the ship you’re struggling to make payments on.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Reynard » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:26 am

Those are called 'plot devices'.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby NOLATrav » Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:29 am

I get canon and everything but let us not forget that we can all define our Imperiums as best fits our gaming tables. If you want piracy in your game, you can have it, quite easily.

You can bleed off the big Impie ships out of Tobia subsector with a TAS newsbrief about <anything> requiring naval forces to heroically defend <whatever to core/trailing> leaving only a small handful of cruisers and destroyers to patrol from Senlis to Drinax.

You can go with the old Civilization strategy of only a couple real ships on the front line, with leap frog maneuvers supplying reinforcements from farther and farther away. So your dastardly pirates are only dodging a few real ships at a time, for a little while anyway.

You can place an arrogant/ignorant/treacherous Noble in charge of patrolling the border who looks the other way or even might consider a deal with your pirates.

Megacorps. Capable of anything.

Pirates don't always pillage and plunder. Sometimes they strongarm brokers to get lucrative cargo runs, or blackmail a TAS agent to get a high paying passage. A pirate band maybe could have no ships what so ever, just working the docks and highports and hiring undesirables with the ships necessary for the score.

If you accept legally dubious Free Traders (ie, player characters/murder hoboes) making a living on the dregs and scoring big every once in a while, it should not be a big jump to realize 'pirates' are merely the flip side of that same coin.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:59 am

Old School wrote: Small ship universe definitely has its appeal. Hard to feel like a player in the big game when you see a dreadnaught that is 2,000 times the size of the ship you’re struggling to make payments on.
Unless you remove the high pop worlds or change the economy, you will only see hundreds of smaller ships instead of the battleship.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby locarno24 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 10:33 am

I'm pretty much on board with Reynard, Paltrysum and Phavoc:

~ Piracy - as in, random guy lurking in a ship near a major port, looking to attack it and go "ahahahahahahah!" for the sake of being evil doesn't work and never has in reality.
~ Any attack by pirates on a recognisable 'flagged' asset of a nation is inviting a massive military response which will squash any realistic pirate force like a bug.


What makes piracy 'work' in the Traveller universe? Well, what has made it 'work' on earth?


Border regions and sparsely settled regions where there isn't a single large nation to enforce the law.
~The Carribean 'golden age' was during eras where the various islands and coastlines were owned by a multitude of different nations who were antagonistic or actively at war with one another
~ Somali pirates operate out of a collapsed state with no central government
~ The Barbary States were a nation which operated state-sponsored piracy during an era of significant European wars (Marlborough and Napoleon) - whilst their fortresses weren't that powerful in the grand scheme of things, they were strong enough to be an obstacle to anything the major powers could be bothered cutting loose to deal with them.

Friendly ports prepared to deal in stolen ships and goods
~ Whether it's a world which will buy anything 'no questions asked' or a one issuing broad 'letters of marque', if you don't have anywhere to sell your cargo, fuel and fix your ship, and hire crew, piracy dies quickly.

Trade routes carrying valuable goods
~ The carribean trade routes had a lot of valuable stuff passing through it - most infamously the Spanish treasure ships - and Somalia is a haven for pirates not just because it's a safe port but because it sits in a position which controls the sea anyone using the Suez canal has to use.




A state will do something about this when it ceases to be an annoyance:
~ If the perceived cost of continued depradations is more than the perceived cost of smashing the pirates (either in battle losses for smaller patrol ships or in mobilization of a true warfleet)
~ If it feels its been given no choice by an attack which is an atrocity or a direct challenge to its authority ("we kidnapped the ambassador")
~ If it feels it can. Theev is a good example - knowing Theev is somewhere in a parsec-across space is all well and good but (theoretically) no-one has accurate charts to jump to the place. Sending in a cruiser (the Eurisko) to rampage around swatting pirate ships is great but the number swatted is pretty minimal compared to the number of ships; the inevitable problem with massive overkill.
~ Someone very influential is telling them to do something (with a purely economic, amoral view, megacorps don't mind light piracy - their smaller competitors losing ships as it drives more trade into the big, protected, convoy-escorted megacorp freighters. If they lose one of them, though, expect a massive change of tune)
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby phavoc » Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:11 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:59 am
Unless you remove the high pop worlds or change the economy, you will only see hundreds of smaller ships instead of the battleship.
There is no way free traders, or even 2,000 ton ships can meet the trade needs of the Imperium. Trade would need to be carried in much larger hulls, in the 20kDton to 60k Dton range in order for the interstellar economy to work. Free traders are equivalent to the semi-trucks you see on the roads today. A 10kDton ship would be the same as a train (US style, that are, on average, 10,000ft long and carry 300 containers).
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:12 pm

locarno24 wrote: ~ Piracy - as in, random guy lurking in a ship near a major port, looking to attack it and go "ahahahahahahah!" for the sake of being evil doesn't work and never has in reality.
Like other crime, piracy can be suppressed, but not eliminated. When a few ruthless individuals can potentially steal millions or tens of millions, someone will try...

locarno24 wrote: ~ Any attack by pirates on a recognisable 'flagged' asset of a nation is inviting a massive military response which will squash any realistic pirate force like a bug.
Pirates currently operate in many parts of Asia and Africa. They occasionally take large ships for hostage. No Western state has chosen to go to war with, say, Indonesia, or, reputedly, China over piracy, or even launched punitive expeditions into Somalia.

No pirate forces have been crushed like bugs.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby locarno24 » Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:27 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:12 pm
locarno24 wrote: ~ Any attack by pirates on a recognisable 'flagged' asset of a nation is inviting a massive military response which will squash any realistic pirate force like a bug.
Pirates currently operate in many parts of Asia and Africa. They occasionally take large ships for hostage. No Western state has chosen to go to war with, say, Indonesia, or, reputedly, China over piracy, or even launched punitive expeditions into Somalia.

No pirate forces have been crushed like bugs.
Right, but what I meant by that point is that there's a difference between taking a corporate cargo ship which is nominally part of your nations merchant marine (which is not really 'yours' as a state) and, say, capturing a ship which is actually part of your navy.

If a bunch of pirates stole an RN/USN/MN/PLAN fleet auxiliary ship (which is probably not all that much harder than capturing a Maersk lines container ship or similar) I imagine you'd see a much more energetic response.

Also - the Somali pirates did get a response - CTF-151 - [url]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_ ... ce_151[url]
Understand that I'm not advocating violence.
I'm just saying that it's highly effective and I strongly recommend using it.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Old School » Tue Nov 13, 2018 7:10 pm

AnotherDilbert wrote:
Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:12 pm
locarno24 wrote: ~ Any attack by pirates on a recognisable 'flagged' asset of a nation is inviting a massive military response which will squash any realistic pirate force like a bug.
Pirates currently operate in many parts of Asia and Africa. They occasionally take large ships for hostage. No Western state has chosen to go to war with, say, Indonesia, or, reputedly, China over piracy, or even launched punitive expeditions into Somalia.

No pirate forces have been crushed like bugs.
The majority of reported pirate attacks are simple armed robberies at anchor. Two guys with knives try to sneak on board an anchored vessel, and if successful make off with the cash box and whatever they can carry. Hardly worthy of a response form anyone other than the port authorities, if that. A few local fishing vessels also get stolen in an average year.

What the heck does piracy have to do with war on China or Indonesia? Are you claiming they are sponsoring privateers? Because if they are, they aren't doing a very good job. Can you cite one vessel with a Western flag, crew or owner that was attacked by anyone sponsored by the governments of Indonesia or China?

I count a grand total of four hijackings of commercial cargo vessels in 2017. Two off the coast of West Africa, two off the coast of Malaysia. Exactly one resulted in cargo being lost. None resulted in loss of life or vessel.

The only recent case of pirates systematically causing any economic damage by capturing cargoes and vessels was Somali pirates from 2007-2012. They captured many vessels and received millions of dollars in compensation for releasing vessels and crew. Killed some hostages. Reportedly sold some valuable cargo as well, including military hardware. The end result? Squashed like bugs. Russian, Indian, Korean, American, and Dutch militaries all were involved in shooting incidents that left pirates dead or captured and their vessels sunk. Commercial vessels also figured out how to arm themselves (a difficult proposition considering that even small arms are illegal in almost every port). Somali pirates have successfully hijacked one commercial vessel in the past six years, and released that ship and its crew without receiving a dime. So I'm gonna have to say that the evidence agrees with Locarno on this one.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby Reynard » Tue Nov 13, 2018 9:20 pm

Rather than worry that Traveller isn't following current 21th century Earth events and behaviors and every realistic minutia, I prefer to get back to pirates of the Caribbean and tales of the golden monkey where empire are surrounded by wild, often lawless territories allowing adventurers to risk life and limb against both government forces or ruthless scoundrels trading laser cannon fire while exploring backwater worlds for fame and fortune.


Seriously, the real world is incredibly dull, often miserable and boring. I'd rather be pirating.
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Re: The Dichotomy of Piracy

Postby AnotherDilbert » Tue Nov 13, 2018 9:42 pm

Old School wrote: What the heck does piracy have to do with war on China or Indonesia? Are you claiming they are sponsoring privateers?
Not sponsoring privateers or tolerating pirates, no.

Where do the pirates in SEAsia go hide? Local harbours in e.g. Indonesia, Malaysia, and possibly China. They might possibly be tolerated by corrupt local officials.

Foreign warships trying to enter those harbours for "energetic response" would be an act of war.

Old School wrote: I count a grand total of four hijackings of commercial cargo vessels in 2017. Two off the coast of West Africa, two off the coast of Malaysia. Exactly one resulted in cargo being lost. None resulted in loss of life or vessel.
According to wiki two ships were temporarily seized off Somalia in 2017 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_s ... rates#2017). One was reputedly used by more powerful organisations in Somalia and released, the other was freed while still at sea.

I agree that this is much less than earlier and that piracy has been temporarily suppressed.

Old School wrote: The only recent case of pirates systematically causing any economic damage by capturing cargoes and vessels was Somali pirates from 2007-2012. ... The end result? Squashed like bugs.
A few attacks have been repulsed recently, killing a few pirates and some small craft. No successful Somali pirates have been tracked down and 'squashed like bugs' after the fact?

The pirates and their ships are still there, even if the activity is suppressed. But if the naval patrols were withdrawn piracy would bloom. No pirate infrastructure or organisation has been crushed.


Meanwhile piracy in West Africa and SEA continues at low intensity as you say. Insurance rates have occasionally been elevated e.g. in the Straights of Malacca and given the volume of trade there caused (slight) economic damage.


I don't know what the actual numbers are but this anecdotal source (http://time.com/piracy-southeast-asia-malacca-strait/) talks about "... Commander Benyamin Sapta, who commands 174 marine police officers based on Indonesia’s Batam Island. This year, 18 of the region’s 47 pirate attacks occurred in the waters surrounding Batam, which lies a mere 45-minute sail from Singapore’s main harbor".

So 47 attacks in just one region of Indonesia a few years ago. The total number should be much higher. Few of the attacks are against major first world ships, so the world takes no notice and sends no foreign warships.


Likewise I suspect the Imperium would be rather unconcerned if a tiny Free Trader or three disappears in some backwater system.

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