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Skull and Crossbones: Piracy in Clement Sector

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue.

Skull and Crossbones: Piracy in Clement Sector. John Watts.
Gypsy Knights Games http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com
87pp., PDF or Softcover

While piracy has been accepted as more-or-less given in the default Traveller setting, there has been little development of it, either as a career or as a background for adventure. Gypsy Knights Games has changed that, providing this extensive sourcebook for piracy in their Clement Sector setting.

Looking at the Table of Contents, the book promises much, by section: a history of piracy in Clement Sector, strategy and tactics, havens, famous pirates and pirate bands, pirate life, two common pirate ships, efforts to combat it, gear, adventure seeds, and encounters. It starts to deliver immediately, with a look at some pirate action in the form of a story beginning in media res, appearing to tell how the narrator was captured and “inducted” into the pirate crew.

The historical section looks first at an overview of piracy over the entire inhabited sector, starting with piracy against ships coming through the conduit from Earth, and expanding toward the frontiers, then dropping nearer the centers. It then goes on to look at each of the inhabited subsectors separately, focussing on particular worlds and their responses to piracy. It is clear that both local politics and interstellar “geography” influence both the nature of and the response to piracy in specific systems; this in turn sets up tensions within the sectors and subsectors that can provide fodder for adventures, or even campaigns—and all this becomes visible before we’re 30 pages into a book that feels like it’s far longer than the 87 pages it is!

Strategy and tactics is no more than a summary of the various types of piracy that can occur. There is some brief summary discussion of boarding actions, with relevant tasks to roll. It should be noted that one tactic described, the use of moles, technically straddles the line between piracy and the different (but equally serious) crime of barratry.

Pirates need to operate from a base somewhere, and also to be able to dispose of their takings. The section on pirate havens offers both, operating under a variety of rules (though always generally friendly to the pirates). Even though pirates are outlaws, the pirate havens have laws and codes of conduct of their own; they’re not anarchic free-for-alls where large brawls or near-wars between ship crews are something to expect. They’ll all have similarities, but there’s just enough information presented to inspire a creative referee to expand on into a location with a flavor of its own.

Many who have never experienced piracy first-hand, either as the pirate or as a victim, may well think that it’s “romantic” in some way. The section on famous pirates and bands “plays” to the “romance” to some extent, giving a capsule version of each pirate’s or band’s story, similar to what you might have seen in a Freelance Traveller “Up Close and Personal” or a GDW JTAS “Casual Encounter”. Many of the stories here show how easily the line between privateering and piracy can be crossed—or perhaps how indistinct the line is in the first place.

Even among pirates, there are rules, traditions, and customs. While some of their aspects may be distasteful to those who live within lawful societies, they nevertheless do form a code of conduct that most pirates will conform to. The section on pirate life provides a good look at the way pirates behave among themselves. Fundamentally, pirate society is a society, merely operating on some different assumptions, and as a society, it needs rules, customs, traditions, agreements, and all of the other appurtenances of society that enable people to live with each other and work for the good of all.

While there are commonly-used ships that are often used for piracy, there can also be ships designed specifically for it. The section on pirate ships provides a look at two designs used exclusively by pirates: the Demon-class “lembus”, a well-armed and fast ship, and the Ironbard-class “longship”, a ship designed for attack and plunder, with large amounts of cargo space. Each has specifications, a stat sheet, a deck-by-deck description, deck plans (in the classic monochrome line-drawing plan view), architectural elevation views (side, fore, aft, top), and rendered images.

Where there is unlawful activity—like piracy—there will be activity to counter it. The section on anti-piracy efforts gives an overview of a variety of measures used to increase the risk inherent in piracy, from direct attacks on piracy (self-defense and letters of marque) to legal deterrence (harsh punishment and prize courts [bounties]). A missing factor here is how to referee the various measures (e.g., tasks and other rules).

Pirates have equipment suited to their peculiar needs, and there is a section describing it. Each item gets a basic description, a tech level, and a cost (in Hub Federation Credits). Some items (e.g., the ‘parrot-drone’ and the boarding suit) will include additional information specific to the item; regardless, you get enough of a description to be able to use the equipment in play. Note that it’s also not difficult to think of ‘legitimate’ (non-piracy) uses for much of the equipment described.

Adventure Seeds and Random Encounters are also included, though only a dozen of the first. These seeds are not the “long seed” format of a setup with denouements, but are instead one- or two-sentence descriptions of an idea. More and longer would have been nice—but the book is so material-rich that most referees should be able to come up with their own ideas fairly easily.

There is enough artwork to keep the book from being a solid block of grey text. All three artists (Bradley Warnes, Ian Stead, and Michael Johnson) have done excellent work.

Indexing is … not trivial … so perhaps it’s a bit much to ask. However, having the table of contents link to the respective pages in the book is something that most word processors can do almost trivially (and most page-layout programs can probably do so as well), so it’s mildly saddening to see that it wasn’t done in this book.

It is not by any means an exaggeration to say that this can be the considered the definitive piracy sourcebook; while it is focussed on GKG’s Clement Sector setting, it provides enough ‘insight’ into piracy as a job and as a lifestyle that a good referee should not find it either difficult or burdensome to convert this material to any other Traveller setting. A solid buy recommendation.