Historically pirates in the late 19th century were rare in the Atlantic. The American Navy hunted down pirates in the Caribbean and the English Royal Navy hunted slave traders and pirates off the coast of Africa. Pirates in the late 19th century were common around China and in the rivers of the Americas. The conditions that allowed piracy to flourish in the open ocean was the chaos of several countries grabbing and trying to control territory. Governments were strained trying to defend their territory from other nations, sometimes even promoting piracy against their rival nations.
If there are a large number of pirates in the setting it’s likely to be in a similarly chaotic environment where navies are otherwise occupied or cannot easily reach.
Ships used in piracy are often small and maneuverable but some pirates did acquire large vessels.
Blackbeard’s flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge was a Frigate with 40 cannon, one of the largest pirate vessels in the Caribbean. Before taking the ship Blackbeard used two sloops, small fast vessels.
For each cannon the ship’s gun multiplier is one, so a ship the size of the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a gun multiplier of 40. His smaller sloops carried 12 guns and 8 guns respectively. This gives the 12 gun sloop named the Adventure a Gun Multiplier of 12. The Gun Multiplier does not always have to signify the number of guns on a ship, a large gun by itself may have a multiplier of 2 or more depending on how big it is.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge had a crew of as many as 150 pirates. The Adventure reportedly had a crew of 120 although it may have been overloaded to storm the frigate. A large frigate is a much stouter ship so it has a SP Multiplier of 2. Along with Blackbeard himself (SP 20), the Adventure would have an Story of 140 while the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a Story of 340.
Sloop – Adventure
Crew 120 + Blackbeard
Gun Multiplier 12
Maneuverable – Agility +3
Frigate – Queen Anne’s Revenge
Crew 150 + Blackbeard
SP Multiplier 2
Gun Multiplier 40
In the steam age, steamships and ironclads add to the possible kinds of vessels a pirate can encounter or operate. Steam vessels get the method Under Steam – Intelligence +3. (The pilot’s intelligence is used for the vessel’s speed) Ironclads get the Iron Hide trick and a SP multiplier of at least +1 but possibly more. An ironclad the size of a frigate like the Queen Anne’s Revenge would have a SP Multiplier of at least 3.
Airships can work similarly to seagoing vessels but also get the method Flight – Agility +3. Depending on the design of the airship and how it is kept aloft, the number of guns are likely to be fewer and therefore the Gun Multiplier lower. Dirigible and blimp type airships are also more vulnerable to damage and so are unlikely to have an SP Multiplier.
While there were unarguably many smaller naval vessels in the league of the Queen Anne’s Revenge in the various navies, there were also larger vessels.
Ship of the line
SP Multiplier 3-4
Gun Multiplier 60-140
Many Ship of the line were refitted as steamships later in their careers, the addition of paddle wheels often eliminated space for guns and reducing their Gun Multiplier by 20.
Honor Among Pirates
It should be remembered that honor is still important to a pirate in Victorian times. In the 18th century it was common for a pirate crew to do no further harm to a crew that had surrendered.
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