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    submitted 02 July 2017 @ 11:50

Designing and Playing a Pirate

Article written by CrownedInBlood
Rating: Good (3) (3 rating, 1 ratings)

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Hello there! I am CrownedInBlood, the new guy on the block, and today I want to talk to you all about a topic near and dear to my black, salt-crusted heart: roleplaying a pirate! I've been playing pirates in various settings for a very long time (along with fantasy classes, and sci-fi characters, and even a few contemporary-style characters), and while I have fun with all those others, it's the life on the sea that calls to me most loudly, and I like to fancy myself a bit of an expert on the subject. So whether you are considering playing your first gentleman (or lady!) of fortune, or are a seasoned hand before the mast, I hope you enjoy my first contribution to the roleplaying articles her on FRStoryForge.

The first thing to do, if you want to play a pirate, is to determine your character's motivation. I know this sounds cliché, but trust me; it makes all of the difference in the world to how one should carry themselves and act when assuming a pirate's mantle. Are they just a free spirit who enjoys the adventure and the rewards a life of piracy can bring? Are they a sailor who previously served under a legitimate captain, or was once a legitimate captain themselves, who turned from their former life? Are they a down-on-their-luck sailor who took to piracy out of desperation? Or were they conscripted by a pirate crew? Or are they just a callous, murdering, drunken bastard determined to seize as much of the world as they can claim before sinking to a watery grave?

Each of the scenarios above will lead naturally to a very different outlook for your character. In particular, those who formerly served in legitimate navies are going to require a bit more thought. Why, specifically, did they turn from their old life to sail beneath a pirate flag? Historically, many pirates actually fell into this category; they were generally competent, hard-willed men who were tired of the tyranny, the low pay, and the privation that went with service in the royal navies of the day; many were conscripts who just decided that they'd had enough of the yoke of a sea-born slave. Whatever your character's motive for turning pirate, it will say a lot about them, and guide their philosophy.

The second matter to consider is their rank among the crew with which they serve. While most people will want to play a captain (after all, they get all the publicity, and usually a double share of the treasure... not to mention all the best pirate groupies), it can be very interesting playing as a lesser officer, or a rank and file crew member. Never forget, one of the most compelling of fictional pirates, John Silver (of Treasure Island fame) was not a captain, nor even an officer aboard the Hispaniola; he was the cook. Not being in the spotlight gives you wonderful opportunities to play around with things that couldn't easily be done as a pirate captain.

For example, it was often the mates aboard a ship who were most directly involved in the day to day life of the crew, and while the captain of a pirate ship was almost never an autocrat who ruled by fiat, they never the less tended to be more distant. Also, pirate captains rapidly earned themselves either a spot in Davy Jones' locker, or the kind of notoriety that meant that they couldn't really get away with going incognito any more than a powerful noble could... too many people knew who they were, and too many tongues were prone to wagging, for them to be able to put their feet up at the local watering hole without someone taking note. Lesser officers and crew members are much more easily able to blend with the local populace whenever they are in port.

The third matter is to learn a bit of the lingo. Very few people will be able to call you out on it if you don't know the difference between a brig and a sloop (hell, most pirate enthusiasts I know couldn't rattle it off the top of their heads, although you can bet your last doubloon that they know that there IS a difference, and that it can be significant), but if you don't know the difference between your starboard and your stern, it's time to learn a couple of key nautical terms. It also wouldn't hurt to learn a bit about nautical combat and traditions. Really, more is better here; even if you never use a specific piece of information or lore, having it in your toolkit can never harm you, only help.

The next order of business is to determine what kind of personality you have. Generally speaking, the most memorable pirates are fairly extreme characters in some fashion or other; after all, they lead fairly extreme lives. One moment, they'll be flush from their share of a recent prize, with more wealth in their pockets than most people see in a lifetime; the next, they will be broke again. One moment they are drinking, eating, and enjoying pleasurable company in port; the next, they are fighting or fleeing for their lives. Don't be afraid to go a little bit overboard here. Whether you are the gruff, monosyllabic, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-never type, the gregarious one moment and belligerent the next type, or the thundering, towering will holding together a desperate crew, you should stand out from those around you at any point in time.

Now it's time to flesh out details. What ship do you sail/fly (yes, a lot of my points above hold true for air and space pirates, as well)? Under what banner? To some pirates, a flag is just a flag; to others, it is heavy with symbolism and personal significance. What do you wear? What (if anything) about you makes your nature obvious to those who meet you right away? Answering these sorts of questions for yourself during the character creation process may seem trivial, but taking the time to do so will pay solid dividends when it comes time to actually play them, even if the answers have not been marked out on your character sheet. Merely having devoted some thought to the questions will make your play deeper.

Last but not least, there is the most important guideline of all: have fun with it! As Bartholomew Roberts supposedly said, the entire point is to enjoy a merry life, no matter how short.

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