The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

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The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Reynard » Mon Jul 07, 2014 8:30 pm

I recently perused Book 6: Scoundrel and found a section for pirates which definitely influenced the purchase. Pirates in a Traveller Universe fascinate me. Of any career, they best represent the age of sail in the far future. Playing a pirate can be the most difficult to play yet also be the most fun as a 'romantic' adventurer whether as the bad boy plunderer or the more noble privateer commerce raider the latter being no different than the popular mercenary company.

I made a sector for the purpose of seeing how a pirate campaign would work. So far I mapped out the important worlds ( A-B starports, Population 6+ and TL 10+) and major communication and trade lines - the Express boat routes. Next I find all worlds with pirate bases to see the distribution of 'friendly' ports and worlds with very low law levels 3- especially LL 0. The overall picture shows where the best 'fishing holes' will be with Jump 2 in mind. Privateers will have an easier time but may still need to establish safe planets inside enemy space though often they are hired by planetary governments to take on equally local worlds or clusters of worlds.

I'm looking forward to pirates. Anyone actually run or play in pirate based campaigns whether your group just decided it's a side business to regular adventuring or you serve Monarch and World in the depths of space?
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby sideranautae » Mon Jul 07, 2014 8:39 pm

Reynard wrote:
I'm looking forward to Pirates. Anyone actually run or play in pirate based campaigns whether your group just decided it's a side business to regular adventuring or you serve Monarch and World in the depths of space?
A couple decades ago I had a group of player take up pirating. It is an extremely difficult "occupation" and can only be done without almost certain death in lower TL, backward systems. Or, if one gets REALLY lucky (for the pirate) otherwise.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Reynard » Mon Jul 07, 2014 9:17 pm

The corsair or any purpose built pirate vessel is a pickle unless they are built at worlds with very low law level and an A class shipyard. The other explanation is they are built by governments for their use in privateering and commerce raiding then at some point get sold off with weapons removed. Less scrupulous government probably don't actually concern themselves with who buys them as long as the money is good.

Anyone have examples of pirate bases? Sounds like more successful and industrious pirates discover a place to set up a safe house for their operations as their business grows. It could be on a world that tolerates and probably benefits from the trade. It could also be hidden in a belt or a normally useless or inhospitable world. I can see some run by retired pirates and handing over the keys to the ship(s) to the next generation whether they be actual family or recruits that must earn the knowledge of such a base.

On my map, I put a 2 parsec boundary around each system with a pirate base since most ships are only 1 or 2 PCs. This give me an idea what is most available to the pirates then see what exists farther out to extend the pickings and throw off authorities. One area on my map has two bases overlap and that can mean a rivalry. Another two bases were separated from the first two by a parsec so now there are several rivals within the area of a subsector. Plenty of activity for a pirate campaign!
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby alex_greene » Mon Jul 07, 2014 9:52 pm

This is going to sound like the utmost heresy, but in MTU piracy is on the outs. Cybercrime is the most popular form of thievery going: hack into the cargo manifests, redirect the destinations of the choice cargoes, let them be dropped off at Warehouse 17 rather than Warehouse 4, and the job's done with a minimum of fuss and no Naval ships bearing down upon you.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby FreeTrav » Mon Jul 07, 2014 9:55 pm

alex_greene wrote:This is going to sound like the utmost heresy, but in MTU piracy is on the outs. Cybercrime is the most popular form of thievery going: hack into the cargo manifests, redirect the destinations of the choice cargoes, let them be dropped off at Warehouse 17 rather than Warehouse 4, and the job's done with a minimum of fuss and no Naval ships bearing down upon you.
Perhaps no gunboats, but I'd think that the local/Imperial equivalents of the FBI, IRS, Secret Service, RCMP, KGB, or et cetera might well be more scary...
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Matt Wilson » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:25 pm

Reynard wrote:The corsair or any purpose built pirate vessel is a pickle unless they are built at worlds with very low law level and an A class shipyard.
Yeah, dedicated "pirate" designs like the corsair are a little weird. I think for piracy, you'd be more likely to face repurposed merchant vessels, like a beowulf that's had a larger engine installed and the turrets might have illegal weaponry. Whatever you can do to make your ship look less conspicuous than rolling into port in a 400t corsair. "Oh, hi, we're... accountants. Yeah. This is our ship, the Friendly Puppy."
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby alex_greene » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:26 pm

The Stainless Steel Rat fan in me kind of looks upon piracy like this as being self-defeating. It's more likely that, rather than raid cargoes, pirates are going to be more into smuggling - sneaking contraband into the system with outsystem Jumps, arranging rendezvous with smugglers in the craters of airless moons to transfer the cargoes from one modular cutter to the other in a game of "swap the modules" and looking as legitimate as possible by travelling around in Free Traders rather than big, obvious "shoot me please, Mister Big Naval Dreadnought" corsairs.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby alex_greene » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:27 pm

Matt Wilson wrote:
Reynard wrote:The corsair or any purpose built pirate vessel is a pickle unless they are built at worlds with very low law level and an A class shipyard.
Yeah, dedicated "pirate" designs like the corsair are a little weird. I think for piracy, you'd be more likely to face repurposed merchant vessels, like a beowulf that's had a larger engine installed and the turrets might have illegal weaponry. Whatever you can do to make your ship look less conspicuous than rolling into port in a 400t corsair. "Oh, hi, we're... accountants. Yeah. This is our ship, the Friendly Puppy."
Surely you mean the Crimson Permanent Assurance?
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Reynard » Mon Jul 07, 2014 10:59 pm

I think the corsair is a bit of a cheat saying it can reconfigure itself and change transponder signals without having a component displacement and cost but hey. For all these decades and editions we accept that the corsair can disguise itself well enough to get close to prey and passed the authorities so it is a good ship for its purpose.

I think what everyone forgets pirates who scream and leap into a system attacking anything that moves are dead poor or dead.. or both. The successful one, like maybe player characters, plan their raids as well as any mercenary group. This is especially true for privateers. Scope out one or more base of operations and friendly ports while learning about the region's trade, ship traffic and possible opposition. Create strategy for hunting targets and dealing with anything that can fight back plus contingencies when it gets too tough.

Pirates and privateers are the challenge.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby sideranautae » Mon Jul 07, 2014 11:02 pm

alex_greene wrote:The Stainless Steel Rat fan in me kind of looks upon piracy like this as being self-defeating. It's more likely that, rather than raid cargoes, pirates are going to be more into smuggling - sneaking contraband into the system with outsystem Jumps, arranging rendezvous with smugglers in the craters of airless moons to transfer the cargoes from one modular cutter to the other in a game of "swap the modules" and looking as legitimate as possible by travelling around in Free Traders rather than big, obvious "shoot me please, Mister Big Naval Dreadnought" corsairs.
This makes more sense in the average TU.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby GypsyComet » Tue Jul 08, 2014 4:32 am

Reynard wrote:I think the corsair is a bit of a cheat saying it can reconfigure itself and change transponder signals without having a component displacement and cost but hey. For all these decades and editions we accept that the corsair can disguise itself well enough to get close to prey and passed the authorities so it is a good ship for its purpose.
My explanation is that the most common Corsair designs are locally common Type R variant hulls. The reconfiguration is a matter of fins and discrete bits of chameleon-skin hull, and looking a lot like dozens of other local ships. You still get to answer the "Who builds these?" question, but the answer is easier since you are looking for chop shops instead of certified shipyards.

"Who maintains these?" is still a ticklish question, but in some parts of the Imperium that becomes "the Vargr", "Sydites", "Arden", or even "the Solomani".

Use the Type R stats to fill the Corsair hull you prefer (MGT has several semi-legal 400 ton hulls) and voila, most of your camouflage is taken care of.

As for what Pirates do, my preferred definition is "Use of a starship in the commission of a felony". Yes, that covers a lot...
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Somebody » Tue Jul 08, 2014 9:51 am

GT used the explanation that the origins of the "Corsair" is actually a small rescue/salvage ship that is aquired and up-armed by pirats. So the base hull is legally build and the "Corsair" tries to do the "salvage operation" route
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Reynard » Tue Jul 08, 2014 3:09 pm

That could make sense considering the ability to carry any space craft inside with low berths integral for medical emergency rather than trying to outfit for medical facilities. I wonder how many Jump carriers were absconded over the centuries?
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Bardicheart » Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:20 am

I've not actually used the "corsair" design in a very long time. Pirates in MTU use other more common ship hulls that have been converted, often with pop up turrets and improved maneuver drives, to practice their skull duggery. That gives them the ability to "blend" in when necessary and surprise a target.

But one of the biggest problems to piracy was simply ship speed. By the time ships get far away from a planet to where interceptors from the planet would need an hour or two to arrive, the target craft is moving so fast actually intercepting it would be nearly impossible. Two of the most common solutions used in the past by either myself or other players were a) a fake distress call (which gets the target to come to you, but its easily over used), or b) the inside job. Get someone hired on the target as part of the crew, they sabotage the ship near the 100D limit before it can jump and the waiting pirate craft (which until it pops its turrets looked like an ordinary subsidized freighter or some such) swoops in for the "kill". That's actually been one of the more plausible scenarios I've come across.

More recently I've experimented with a house rule regarding making jumps such that it normally requires several minutes to actually make the jump and prior to that the ship needs to slow down (preferably come to a complete stop). This means those fast moving ships are slowing down to speeds where its possible to intercept them out near the 100D limit, you just need to track them and plot an intercept course. It also means a would be pirate has a "window" of a few minutes to attack and disable the ship before it can jump away. If they can disrupt the jump bubble by dispersing some of the hydrogen they can force the ship to abort its jump completely. Time it right and they will have expended enough of their hydrogen fuel they can't jump away and can only make a run for the planet. Its not explicitly in the rules, but neither does it strictly violate them either. It also makes piracy (and intercepting pirates or smugglers or blockade runners) more plausible and creates some interesting limits and conditions on interstellar warfare as well.

In general, piracy in high pop, well patrolled systems just isn't viable. That pushes piracy out to the backwaters and secondary routes. Piracy also probably gets mixed with planetary raiding, if the system is poorly defended in some cases it may be easier just to land and steal directly from a warehouse or what have you. Same for slaving. Those stolen cargoes probably at some point end up on a smuggler's ship being smuggled into those high pop, well patrolled systems. At least that's how it tended to work in campaigns I ran.

Just food for thought.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby sideranautae » Fri Jul 11, 2014 2:48 am

Bardicheart wrote:
More recently I've experimented with a house rule regarding making jumps such that it normally requires several minutes to actually make the jump and prior to that the ship needs to slow down (preferably come to a complete stop). This means those fast moving ships are slowing down to speeds where its possible to intercept them out near the 100D limit, you just need to track them and plot an intercept course. It also means a would be pirate has a "window" of a few minutes to attack and disable the ship before it can jump away.
I have ships jump at a slow speed. BUT, space is too big. ANYONE on an intercept course is going to be considered a pirate. Thus, the ship will evade at speed while calling for help. Would only work in a system that was low TL and lacked near main planet defenses.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby alex_greene » Fri Jul 11, 2014 8:43 am

Have you considered that sometimes, the characters can be approached by a Patron with the mission of going out and stopping a pirate - or even an entire pirate fleet? It's possible to run an entire campaign with nothing but terrifying stories of pirates and raiders, encounters with wrecked hulks surrounded by frozen, distended corpses exposed to the vacuum, and never encounter a single pirate vessel - until this mission.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Somebody » Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:07 am

Bardicheart wrote:I've not actually used the "corsair" design in a very long time. Pirates in MTU use other more common ship hulls that have been converted, often with pop up turrets and improved maneuver drives, to practice their skull duggery. That gives them the ability to "blend" in when necessary and surprise a target.

But one of the biggest problems to piracy was simply ship speed. By the time ships get far away from a planet to where interceptors from the planet would need an hour or two to arrive, the target craft is moving so fast actually intercepting it would be nearly impossible. Two of the most common solutions used in the past by either myself or other players were a) a fake distress call (which gets the target to come to you, but its easily over used), or b) the inside job. Get someone hired on the target as part of the crew, they sabotage the ship near the 100D limit before it can jump and the waiting pirate craft (which until it pops its turrets looked like an ordinary subsidized freighter or some such) swoops in for the "kill". That's actually been one of the more plausible scenarios I've come across.
A rather large number of crafts come to mind for this job. From the 600dt Subbie (cargo variant) to the 2000dt Frontier Transport. The former has a canon "Q-Ship" variant that shows what can be done. Any ship with a large, "flat" cargo space and big hatches sounds useful. A "low tech" unit that can be upgraded with more advanced drives/reactors etc. (And the freed space used otherwise) also can help.

And some variants of the salvage crafts from IIRC Traders and Gunboats could be useful, maybe with a second craft doing the initial "catch". Disable, grab, jump. And look somewhat legal while doing so.



More recently I've experimented with a house rule regarding making jumps such that it normally requires several minutes to actually make the jump and prior to that the ship needs to slow down (preferably come to a complete stop). This means those fast moving ships are slowing down to speeds where its possible to intercept them out near the 100D limit, you just need to track them and plot an intercept course. It also means a would be pirate has a "window" of a few minutes to attack and disable the ship before it can jump away. If they can disrupt the jump bubble by dispersing some of the hydrogen they can force the ship to abort its jump completely. Time it right and they will have expended enough of their hydrogen fuel they can't jump away and can only make a run for the planet. Its not explicitly in the rules, but neither does it strictly violate them either. It also makes piracy (and intercepting pirates or smugglers or blockade runners) more plausible and creates some interesting limits and conditions on interstellar warfare as well.
The "come to full stop before jump" was always the way we played it. Makes jump arrival safer for the average ship to arrive at a basic standstill instead of with a bad vector and say a non-starting M-Drive. The average "free trader" IMU is a bit "overdue with maintenance", "not current on the map software" and more often than not "crewed by the bottom of the class".

You can jump at speed if
  • You have a good navigator, current charts and enough time for calculations
  • It is "jump or die"
  • You are too stupid to survive to an old age


In general, piracy in high pop, well patrolled systems just isn't viable. That pushes piracy out to the backwaters and secondary routes. Piracy also probably gets mixed with planetary raiding, if the system is poorly defended in some cases it may be easier just to land and steal directly from a warehouse or what have you. Same for slaving. Those stolen cargoes probably at some point end up on a smuggler's ship being smuggled into those high pop, well patrolled systems. At least that's how it tended to work in campaigns I ran.

Just food for thought.
That is how piracy in the "golden age" basically worked. Up to the point where pirats openly sold their loot in some oversea colonies where the locals asked "how cheap" rather than "where did it come from". And one of the (few) long term sucessful pirats was better known for raiding spanish cities than for seamanship (Henry Morgan).

As an alternative you can always go "Barbary coast" and hope that the 3I navy is too busy to visit.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby alex_greene » Fri Jul 11, 2014 9:57 am

I kind of like the idea of exploring where Traveller's pirates come from. The one thing that fuels piracy more than any other, IMO, has to be The Draft.

Piracy was rife during the Golden Age of wet piracy because a lot of the pirate crews were innocent citizens who got pressganged into service. The equivalent of pressganging in Traveller is The Draft. A lot of Naval crews could have been pressed into service to fight a war, then laid off on some strange world at the end of the war with no money, no chance of going home and even fewer prospects.

Given the prospect of rotting away in a fleapit motel in Startown or actually having a job to do, even if it is on a pirate vessel, a lot of the conscripts would choose piracy as a career if there was a chance of getting paid. The prospects would be risky, but then again piracy is a career with a high turnover and plenty of opportunities for promotion to command.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Somebody » Fri Jul 11, 2014 10:54 am

alex_greene wrote:I kind of like the idea of exploring where Traveller's pirates come from. The one thing that fuels piracy more than any other, IMO, has to be The Draft.

Piracy was rife during the Golden Age of wet piracy because a lot of the pirate crews were innocent citizens who got pressganged into service. The equivalent of pressganging in Traveller is The Draft. A lot of Naval crews could have been pressed into service to fight a war, then laid off on some strange world at the end of the war with no money, no chance of going home and even fewer prospects.

Given the prospect of rotting away in a fleapit motel in Startown or actually having a job to do, even if it is on a pirate vessel, a lot of the conscripts would choose piracy as a career if there was a chance of getting paid. The prospects would be risky, but then again piracy is a career with a high turnover and plenty of opportunities for promotion to command.
Well that is, within limits, true for WESTERN pirats. Even there more than a few where Ex-Privateers, Mutineers, "volunteer" ship crew joining the pirat crew that just captured their ship and simple down on their luck sailors

And other cultures had their pirats as well. The "Barbary coast" are the best documented and most effective. Granted, they where "semi-privateers" in having a government that at least did not oppose them (also Letters of Marque where IIRC rare) but their crew structure likely was different.

The Far East had pirats as well. At least some where family clans that practiced the trade for more than a generation and/or had other criminal activities going as well.

And the Lafitte brothers came from smuggling roots.
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Re: The Pirate in the Traveller Universe

Postby Reynard » Fri Jul 11, 2014 11:49 am

Unless you munchkin your players with a 6g ship to start, you're not going to often run down a target. Obvious intercept tactics is the realm of the novice pirate who either evolves or goes on to sling burgers somewhere. Successful pirates 'hide their colors'. This is why the Corsair is configurable and many other pirate favored vessels are common hulls that get pimped for piracy. A good predator sneaks up on prey before pouncing. There is no reason a ship would be automatically identified as a pirate vessel just because they are near another vessel unless they're all too obvious bearing down. As vast as local space is, ships often follow paths to and from intra-system travel or jump points. Sure people will always be nervous when another ship is nearby maybe a bit paranoid but, unless pirates are striking the same system time and time again, they watch and hope and breath a sigh as the other ship moves on. And that's what the pirate relies on as they close as best as possible then turn and strike. Like any predator, they aren't always successful but it's the best tactic.

Of all the pirate vessels, the Corsair should be in the business of shipjacking, grabbing spacecraft. They can't jump, they may contain cargo and they are themselves sellable. That's why there's a hold built to contain those vessels. Nice pirates will put the crew in lifepods and a beacon, not so nice may try ransom and bad pirates...

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