"Yar har, fiddle di dee, Being a pirate is all right with me, Do what you want 'cause a pirate is free, You are a pirate!"
- – LazyTown
"Oi! You'z lot! You'z part of my crew now. Any problemz with dat, you talk to da complaintz department. Dat'z me gun, by da way."
Pirates are scavenging sea bandits that raid and loot anyone on their sight. Despite being the seaborn equivalent of muggers and car-jackers, they are a far more glamorous cultural icon. They were known to be pretty cool for having a ship with black skeleton flag, as well as being badass as fuck for fighting heavily armed navy on daily basis (or so the legend goes; while there were a number of impressive battles, pirates preferred easier marks like unprotected merchant convoys). Sadly, it isn't a profession with the best long-term benefits since they would most likely be hanged by the navy or died of scurvy (though there were exceptions of course). But if they did succeed, they became famous and feared by everyone, and soon that pirate's flag became something people fled as soon as they saw it.
Pirates, despite being a band of misfits, were quite varied. In real life they were cutthroats and bandits with ships or boats, while during later ages in fiction they were romanticized as something of a concept of freedom despite their infamy. In all cases, pirates are well known thanks to modern pop-culture depictions as anarchistic and anti-governmental. They opposed the oftentimes brutal authoritarian life in the navy and wanted to live out their own lives without others telling them what to do. The reasons were many and this resulted in pirates being (ironically) closer to the modern establishment. While in Europe kings and queens ruled through an absolutist system of rule, pirates had something akin to modern democracy (the crew choose a new captain from among themselves by voting). While slavery was normal and nations fought each-other, pirates did not care about racism as a whole as necessity and a desire for freedom meant a pirate crew could be multi-national and include slaves among their ranks. In fact, equality was common among pirates and slaves saw this as one of the few ways to feel free and equal. Some crews did not discriminate if you could do the job. They took in everyone who wanted to join. One particularly famous example was the Brethren of the Coast, a coalition of pirates and privateers who operated in the Caribbean. However, remember what they are; some pirates would force people to join their crew at times, had brutal punishments for those who broke their rules and some were known to trade slaves if the money was good enough.
A free(er) lifestyle is what attracted writers who presented pirates in a romanticized way, as misfits who seek out a life of freedom, portraying them as anti-heroes. This has some basis in truth, as some pirates began their careers as legitimate privateers in the service of their king until political winds changed. Others were genuine legends whose stories impress readers to this day.
TL;DR piracy is fucking awesome... unless you actually encounter pirates - usually in places like Burma, Nigeria, and Somalia.
Famous Real Life Pirates
- Edward Teach - Also possible Edward Thatch but better known as Blackbeard, one of the original Golden Age pirates known for his intimidation tactics, which including exaggerating and weaponizing his fearsome reputation. His nom de guerre came from the fact that he had black hair with a long thick beard, put gunpowder and fuses in said beard and set it off to give himself a terrifying appearance (it helped that he was over six feet tall when most men of the time were about five and a half). He also often let his victims live to talk about their encounters with him. He was also quite smart, as he once raided a town (as in, blockaded the entirety of Charleston and held its sailors hostage) for medicine because most of his crew was riddled with diseases - sexually transmitted ones, then when some of the crew he sent to negotiate got drunk he marooned them in disgust. Another claim to fame was his flagship, a captured frigate he renamed Queen Anne's Revenge; as an actual warship, this gave him another advantage over other pirates, who mostly used captured merchant ships, slave ships or schooners. He died in battle, fighting despite five gunshot wounds and nearly 20 sword slashes before being attacked from behind and having his throat cut. And not before severing three of his killer's fingers and breaking his sword.
- Henry Avery - The most successful (and mysterious) pirate in history. How successful? He was named the king of pirates after looting the Mughal Emperor's treasure fleet, which was worth £52 million today, and seriously pissing off the East India Company. Shortly after, though, he vanished. Neither he nor his treasure was seen again. Some vidya speculate that he went on to found the pirate utopia of Libertalia in Madagascar.
- "Calico" Jack Rackham- A fairly unremarkable man by the standards of this list, who didn't do much major raiding and whose greatest act turned out to be the recruitment of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. While in life he may not have been much more than a mugger with a boat that provided a backdrop for the stories of those two women on his crew, he managed to leave his mark on history by flying one of the best Jolly Rogers out there (or maybe not, but it's still a great flag).
- Anne Bonny and Mary Read - Two of the most famous female pirates. Here they get one entry as they have fairly similar life stories and worked together for a time: born in destitution, were disguised as boys early on in their lives, moved to the Caribbean where they took up piracy, and both became the lovers of Calico Jack plus renowned pirates in their own right. When Anne and Mary first met, both were disguised as men and Anne was attracted to Mary, so Anne confessed she was a woman, leading Mary to do the same with rumors that they became lovers anyway with Calico Jack's approval. Despite their eventual capture, they only avoided execution because both were pregnant (although Mary died of a fever while in prison while Anne's fate is unknown except that she wasn't executed, with her either being released after giving birth to her child or also dying in prison), though that didn't stop them from fighting off their captors virtually alone, telling off Calico Jack for being a cowardly drunk and even shooting a few of their crewwmates for being too drunk to fight in the battle that led to their capture (don't underestimate pregnant women).
- Edward "Davies" Davis - An English pirate active in the late 1600's who made a career of raiding Spanish silver shipments. Noteworthy for his opposition to slavery; Davies and his crew hit a number of slave ships, liberating their prisoners and recruiting some into his crew. Eventually paid off the British crown for a pardon and retired; part of his haul went into founding the College of William & Mary in Virginia, the second oldest university in the Americas after Harvard. Probably discovered Rapa Nui (Easter Island) although the records are disputed since he wasn't the first to actually report it to anyone.
- Walter Raleigh - One of the first English pirates; a minor lord who decided to try multiclassing as an Adventurer-Politician. Founded Virginia and a few other less successful colonies, and was obsessed with finding the mythical golden city of El Dorado. He'd rob Spanish treasure ships as needed to fund his antics, and then brag about it in front of the Spanish ambassador in Elizabeth's royal court. Even plundered the Queen's bedchamber, marrying one of Elizabeth's ladies in waiting. Eventually went from looting ships to looting Spanish settlements. The Spanish responded by telling King James that if he didn't have Raleigh executed, they would treat his attack as a sanctioned act of war. Raleigh was executed, but comported himself to the point of even chatting with and goading his executioner.
- Sir Francis Drake - The best illustration that the line between regular merchant, pirate, privateer and genuine military officer could be very tenuous at times. A full account of his long career can be found elsewhere, but let us just say that he started his career as a regular merchant occasionally getting rowdy with the Portuguese and the Spanish, then realized looting them for silver and gold was profitable and he became a full-fledged (and endorsed) raider. He was so good at liberating riches from them that he was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth, then later offered the post of vice-Admiral of the Navy when the Spaniards became fed up with the Anglos raiding them and spectacularly failed at trying to get even. Also something about circumnavigating the Earth (Magellan would've been first had he survived the trip) but who cares, it's not piratey enough.
- William Adams - Served under Drake for long enough to get the title. More famous for going to Japan and becoming one of the few foreign-born Samurai. How's that for Multiclassing?
- Kanhoji Angre - An Indian privateer who spent 30 years forcing England and Portugal to pay him taxes. Probably the closest thing the world has seen to a pirate admiral, and considered today the ancestor of the Indian Navy. At the height of his career he had Dutch sailors coming to him for work hunting European merchants.
- Abduwali Muse - A well known modern pirate. Isn't as charming and heroic as the above but gets a mention due to being younger than all the above and the media coverage of his actions. Abduwali led small gang of teenage pirates from Somalia (he was 16-19 at the time, and the oldest among them) hijacking the ship Maersk Alabama, an unarmed container ship, from the Port of Salalah in Oman, with orders to sail through the Guardafui Channel to Mombasa, Kenya. Like almost every Somali pirate, he didn't have a good childhood due to living in extreme poverty, with food and work being scarce and poor quality; he turned to piracy to pay off a local warlord. When navy ships got involved, the gang took Phillips hostage and fled onto a lifeboat, resulting in Phillips' rescue and the deaths of every pirate save Abduwali himself, who got a 33+ year prison sentence in the U.S. Despite having no achievements that compare with historical pirates, his story did help create the film "Captain Phillips" - named for the Captain of the ship Muse tried to take - and a meme. (Look at him. He's the captain now.)
- Ching Shih/Cheng I Sao - Chinese Pirate Queen who not only led one of the biggest pirate fleets but also managed to successfully retire. She got her fleet through marrying a pirate, who gave her half his fleet. And when he died she got all of it by way of political maneuvering with her husband's family. The Chinese government tried to take her down, but she was so good that she stole their ships until they were forced to use fishing boats. She even created a set of pirating laws, including one that made rape of female captives punishable by beheading. She eventually beat the empire so hard that the Chinese Government had to sue for peace. She negotiated for amnesty for herself and any of her pirates that wanted to quit the life, so she retired from piracy to set up a gambling den and brothel.
- John Paul Jones - An angry Scotsman who sided with the colonists in the American Revolution so he could go on a big piracy spree up and down the English coast. At one point he showed up in the Netherlands and his ship was so badly shot up the flag was gone and the Dutch were like "you need a flag or we have to arrest you as a pirate" (also it wasn't his ship; HIS ship SANK in the battle where he captured the one the Dutch were now hassling him about). But they didn't like the English either so they looked the other way while Jones found someone to quickly sew a new flag (that looks nothing like an American flag and suspiciously like a Dutch flag cut into ribbons and sewn back together) and he was free to go. He kicked so much ass and was so popular that one of the places that he raided actually gave him an official pardon in 1999.
- Gertrude Walton - A real life ghost pirate! The RIAA claimed that she uploaded pirated copies of over 700 songs despite her being dead. Immortalized in a Weird Al song.
- Stede Bonnet - The "Gentleman Pirate," Steve was a former plantation owner from Barbados who got fed up with always being in debt and his nagging wife, so he decided to become a pirate. Bonnet is supposedly one of the pirates who originated "Walking the Plank." Despite his gross inexperience, he was able to attract a crew by promising a guaranteed wage as opposed to a share of plunder. Things went relatively well until he got bamboozled by Blackbeard (yes THAT Blackbeard) into giving up command of his ship and effectively became a hostage. He was later bamboozled again by Blackbeard and swore revenge, in which he surprisingly became a more competent pirate. But he was captured before he had the chance. Dramatic Reenactment now included!
- Felix von Luckner - Nicknamed "The Sea Devil", he is the best example of a Lawful pirate (okay, privateer) in RPG terms. Commissioned as an officer in the Kaizerlische Marine during WWI, he was given command of a three-master (at a time where most boats had switched to steam) with orders to do some commerce raiding and make himself a pain in the hindquarters of the Allies. And he did so. Beautifully. In less than one year, Luckner captured and sank no less than fifteen ships through guile and superior seamanship. And the best part? he did so barely ever firing a shot. Over his entire career, he and his crew killed only a single enemy soldier (a poor soul unlucky enough to be right next to a steam line that ruptured when Luckner ordered the enemy's radio shot). For the rest, he made sure everyone was safe and sound before sending his prizes to the bottom. And when he just became overburdened with prisoners, he ordered the latest his prizes to throw the cargo overboard and bring all his prisoners to a neutral country, and then they'd all be free. A pirate and and gentleman indeed, and a bizarre counterpoint to the way in which submarine warfare, the more modern way to attack shipping, was conducted in the 20th century.
Famous Fictional Pirates
(For the sake of keeping things brief, we'll ignore Vidya pirates, and try keep it to Movie and Book pirates that your parents or nephews/nieces are likely to have heard of, depending on your age.)
- Long John Silver, from Treasure Island.
- Captain Hook, from Peter Pan.
- Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbarossa from Pirates of the Caribbean
- For that matter, the ride Pirates are of interest.
- Captain Blood, from the book series and movie of the same name.
- Captain Harlock, space pirate.
- One Piece has a quite a few. We'll not list them, as it would take forever, just like the manga.
- Captain Nemo, from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.
- One-Eyed Willy, from The Goonies.
- Pirate Jenny, from the song of the same name.
- The Dread Pirate Roberts, from The Princess Bride.
- Many, many advertising pirates.
Types of Pirate
Buccaneers - The first major Caribbean pirates, operating in large numbers throughout most of the 17th century until the empires became strong enough to drive them out. The buccaneers, or, to de-Anglicize the term, boucaniers, were named not for their raiding but for their use of boucans to smoke and dry meat. Largely situated on the island of Hispaniola, where the most profitable sugar plantations in the New World were situated, they lived in the jungles to the north, out of the reach of Spanish and French authorities. They were the outlaws of the New World, men and women who usually had no world to return to: deserters from warships and colonial militaries, criminals fleeing Europe, escaped slaves, everybody that needed a little bit more than just a job on a ship on a long voyage to hide. Originally, they just hunted and chilled out in the woods, raiding only occasionally when it was convenient, but when the Spanish started trying to wipe out the animals they lived on and trying to drive them off of the land, many of them moved to raiding full time, leading to:
The Pirates of the Caribbean These guys are a little more complicated, so let's set the stage first. As soon as Columbus got back and the Spanish Empire, finished with the Moors and looking for someone else to beat up, really got going, the great Atlantic powers of Europe wanted to develop their own colonial empires in the New World. Unfortunately for everyone else, the Spanish and Portuguese crowns claimed everything they could stick a flag on, then claimed everything else just to be safe. This was about as enforceable as a speed limit in Texas. Spain was strong, but not strong enough that it didn't have to pick and choose what to defend, and England and France soon claimed large, also poorly defended chunks of the New World. While wars would rage between empires until Spain got its final colonial asskicking in the Spanish-American War, there was a constant low-key running battle between anyone and everyone in the Caribbean, as everyone was in easy striking distance of something and commerce raiding was easy. England, France, and whoever else could defend a fort and a flagpole for a few growing seasons relied mostly on commerce and plantation farming for their colonial revenue, but Spain had another, more pressing interest in the Caribbean. One of the first things that the conquistadors did once they got the Aztecs to stop sacrificing Mexicans to the gods was to start sacrificing Mexicans to the gold and silver mines. This revenue travelled across the sea to Spain in massive treasure fleets carrying absurd sums in bullion, coinage, and funny doodads stolen from temples. Stealing this money both funds your own operation and makes the financially unstable Spanish crown even more so, so the English began paying privateers to raid the Spanish whenever they were at war. As soon as the war ended(and, let's be honest, until it inevitably started again), there was a surplus of heavily armed ships and men who knew exactly how they could get very rich very quickly. Some colonial governors carried on an unofficial policy of "no peace beyond the line," turning a blind eye to raids as long as they weren't against their own nation's shipping. You can see where this is going.
A life of piracy in the Age of Sail was not fun. The utter chaos of exchanging fire at three hundred yards with guns that splinter twenty inches of layered oak then boarding another ship and beating the everloving shit out of everyone on it tends to result in nasty injuries of the kind that kill or maim permanently. Life at sea was hard; water and food went bad fast and you were stuck with a couple hundred other stinky fucks in a big wooden box that might sink if something, like a storm or a much bigger warship or some drunk idiot, fucks up the extremely complicated system of ropes and canvas that keeps it moving forward. To top if all off, if you were caught you were hanged, with not much change for reprieve. However, all of this was more or less the same in the merchant or naval service and being a pirate A. meant you wouldn't get flogged for not saluting some 12 year old kid whose father paid for him to be a midshipman, B. eliminated the danger of being raided by pirates, as you are, in fact, now a pirate, and C. paid WAY more than a sailor's wages and had a more equal distribution of prize money when a ship was taken than the navies at the time would give. For these reasons, piracy remained popular until the empires got strong enough to put a stop to it by force, and places like Port Royal, Tortuga, and Nassau, beyond the reach of the law or just being conveniently ignored by it, were filled with men who would get kicked out of the Disney Imagineering offices before the interview, even if they could sing perfectly. These are the pirates of pop culture, partly because of our enduring fascination with people who tell the biggest bullies around to suck it and survive, and also because these pirates encouraged ludicrous tales about their atrocities, as they made people surrender without a fuss (and probably impressed the whores), which would eventually blend with reality and become the tales that survive to this day of the lives of real pirates. They often used smaller, shallow-draft vessels that let them hide in swamps and rivers where bigger ships couldn't chase them, and the romantic images from Pirates of the Caribbean movies exaggerate quite a bit on how well-organized and well-armed they might be, but the flamboyant dress, fueled by frequent theft of expensive cloth bound for the colonial elite, was real, albeit probably extremely dirty. The Jolly Rogers, the black flags that said "Gimme ur shit n00b ill rek ur ass" to all merchant captains unlucky enough to see them, were real as well, coming in many forms but often featuring the same motifs: skulls and skeletons, hourglasses, swords, blood, etc. In regards to the popular legend of successful pirates burying their treasure; this was largely a myth perpetuated by Treasure Island. Pirates ended up taking most of their ill-gotten goods in the form of trade goods which had to be sold or bartered off, and the average pirate hand would piss away most of their gold on boozing and whoring. Occasionally, pirate captains who could accumulate large amounts of solid metal currency would bury treasure on occasion, usually just for insurance (and even then, it was only done sparingly): in the event that they were captured, they'd use their hidden loot as a bargaining chip to save them from the noose. This didn't work all the time, as the captors either couldn't be bribed or didn't buy the story. Still, the mystique of a lost and forgotten treasure trove just waiting to be discovered made for great stories in taverns full of adventurers, so legends about buried treasure persisted throughout the centuries in fictional writing. Plank walking is hardcore as fuck and cool and dramatic and completely imaginary, invented by authors and artists for those reasons. Why go to all that fuss when you can just stab the bastard and chuck him over the side? King George's Act of Grace, the actions of Woods Rogers, a pirate hunter as legendary as the pirates themselves, and the increasingly obvious fact that Britannia ruled pretty much every wave from Spithead to Montego Bay, mostly got rid of these guys, but they live on in our imaginations.
Privateers - Not pirates per se, but many pirates started out as privateers, or, in the case of those like Henry Morgan, waffled back and forth as the situation allowed. Roughly the naval equivalent to land-based mercenaries, these sailed on privately, (probably) legally owned ships who were employed by their home country to raid enemy supply lines (or in rare cases, rival nations that are not at war). Typically a privateer carried "Letters of Marque and Reprisal" to show the legality of their actions; it was only if they stepped outside the bounds of the letter or otherwise lost it that they'd become pirates. Some were even captained by commissioned officers of their host nation and provided access to naval facilities and supplies as de facto navy vessels. But even so, enemy nations would sometimes ignore the letters of marque (not without justification, since letters would often be rendered invalid or else forged easily enough to fool the illiterate) and hang captured crews as pirates instead of kept as prisoners of war. Nevertheless, there was rarely a shortage of eager sailors for privateering, as the potential pay for taking a ship as a prize was very lucrative. Of course the opposite was also true; under King George's Act of Grace, former pirates who renounced their ways would be pardoned and hired as privateers to raid the Spanish. Although they mostly did things like turn Port Royal into Ancapistan, raiding Spanish commerce at the encouragement of English merchants, some captains licensed as privateers did some pretty impressive stuff, usually combining their military obligations with the chances of huge personal enrichment. In a story too long to put here but worth reading, Henry Morgan himself organized multiple raids on Spanish cities, most famously assembling thousands of men and dozens of ships, all legally not pirates under his letters of marque, and sacking the city of Panama, making off with everything not nailed down, and living out a long, happy life retired inland on Jamaica, becoming one of the fat old bastards he once stole from and earning the respect and love of both sides of the law.
Vikings - Scandinavian pirates with badass beards. Despite common depictions, their helmets did not have horns. Existed long before the Caribbean pirates, and they sure made themselves famous all over medieval Europe. "Vikings" specifically were raiders, but the Norsemen often sailed their great ships through the rivers and seas of Europe on missions of trade and settlement, stealing, selling, and leaving graffiti as far away as Constantinople. Nevertheless, when they went raiding they were brutal, taking slaves, burning villages, and doing unspeakable things to sheep across northern Europe and the British Isles until the early Christian saints finally proselytized them into submission.
Corsairs - Also known as Barbary pirates. They mainly came from North Africa and most of their attacks were focused on capturing slaves rather than stealing loot, although they wouldn't turn it down if they found it. They operated primarily in the Mediterranean sea, but were known to sail as far north as Iceland, depopulating small islands that have yet to recover centuries later. Nations could avoid having their ships attacked if they paid a steep tribute to the Barbary states; it wasn't until the early 19th century, after the military revolutions in Europe created navies that could severely limit their operating range, that Western nations decided to fuck that noise and decided to shut them up for good. The young United States in particular participated in a number of campaigns over insults and stolen merchant ships, eventually launching a few attacks against the ports the pirates operated out of (One of these incidents is the source of "The Shores of Tripoli" bit in the US Marines' Hymn). The term usually refers to pirates in service to specific nations, as they were often employed as something in between a navy and a privateer fleet by the various kingdoms of North Africa.
Modern Pirates - Mostly just poor 3rd world uneducated people who are survivors of various wars and regimes. Not too different from the boucaniers, really, they just got there by a different road. Their makeup is similar too: Former fishermen who had knowledge about the sea, war veterans who specialize in weaponry, or at least know where to get some, as well as technical experts who operates on electronic devices like GPS devices, but they are still too green when compare to the actual navy. Not to mention the days when any wannabe pirate could find a merchant ship, arm her with some cannons and then go toe-to-toe with a genuine military ship have long since past. The US Navy, absurdly large since the end of WWII, is arguably singlehandedly preventing large-scale piracy from happening in the modern world, but even the Burger Fleets can't be everywhere. Today's pirates are armed with many modern-day weapons from assault rifles to rocket launchers that were salvaged from the conflict. They raid the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea, the Straits of Malacca, and Indian Ocean using just skiffs and can travel hundreds of miles from home. Their targets tend to be two varieties: either slow commercial ships held hostage for steep ransoms, or oil tankers that they siphon raw petroleum to sell on the black market. They tend to be on the skinny side due to the lack of food and health care, and they tend to be serious and extremely determined, since most of them just want to survive and they had to turn to piracy when they have no choice due to the terrible living conditions in the war-torn countries they come from. Modern piracy is still popular in places like Africa and Asia, and actually costs the companies anywhere from hundreds of millions to billions in losses. Due to this, its not uncommon to see heavily armed mercenaries aboard civilian freighters in high-risk shipping lanes to deter pirates from boarding and there are permanent international task forces deployed in areas with chronic problems. The modus operandi ranges from firing warning shots to force a surrender to straight up perforating the boat with CIWS fire. Cargo ships in turn have Private Military Contractors with sometimes better than military issue gear, water cannons and other deterrence factors. Occasionally a navy logistics ship gets mistaken for a cargo ship by pirates, leading to hilarity(for the warship, at least).
Internet Pirates - Hackers who "illegally" download foreign internet goods like manga scan, anime, books or newly released video games for free (though sometimes they do hack, acquire and release data that shady corporations want to hide or make certain douches pay for their crimes like Anonymous does from time to time). As technology advanced and the invention of 3D printer came along, the "pirate" is able to download miniature blue prints for 3D printers. These pirates, unlike their predecessors, need no romanticism to make them glorious antiheroes, fighting the reemergence of cable by swinging aboard servers and navigating hidden coves to evade the Copyright Law Navy. Unfortunately they do tend to smell the same.
Porch Pirates - people who steal other people's packages. Normally, these are just lazy douchebags who steal a package that's been left on someone's doorstep, and more often then not, the package isn't something worth stealing. More enterprising pirates, however, have gone so far as derailing cargo trains and looting them wholesale.
The "Pirate Accent"
We all know and love pirate-speak, what with all its "YAAAAR!"s and "YO-HO-HO!"s and all, but something to keep in mind, at least as far as historical pirates are concerned; most scholars agree that there is no universal "pirate accent," and that most of today's perceptions of it stems from the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, and the Dorset accent of Robert Newton's Long John Silver. While the West Country of England certainly has a long maritime history, keep in mind that pirates came from just about any sea-faring society, so you're more likely to see a blend of accents and even languages around busy trade routes and other piracy hotspots, such as the Caribbean or the East Indies. If you're doing voices for characters, the "pirate accent" is a good standby, but work up a few more English-speaking accents and throw in a little Spanish, French, West African, etc.
Swashbucklers - The Noblebright side of the Fantasy pirate coin. Swashbucklers actually overlap with genres outside of pirate fiction, such as with the Three Musketeers or Zorro, but their are plenty of pirate examples too. These guys are basically buccaneers who seek adventure and right wrongs. They may be exiled princes or other political fugitives forced into a life of outlawry. They are also masters of swordplay and trickery; so basically they're more akin to musketeers or Zorro, but with ships of their own. Think of Dread Pirate Roberts from the Princess Bride or Captain Blood.
Dread Pirates - The Grimdark side of the Fantasy Pirate coin. Not to be confused with the legend that Dread Pirate Roberts cooked up for himself; these guys are the real deal. Take a buccaneer and mix in the supernatural or even eldritch. This type of Pirate frequently appears as the antagonist in the Pirates of the Carribean movies. See Ghost Pirates for a specific subset below.
Space Pirates - You know pirates, BUT IN SPACE! A seemly possible concept. After all, the golden age of piracy happened because the naval powers in those day struggled to maintain power on the edges of their empire (new world) and the vast wealth they were extracting, which meant pirates had a reason to exist. Eventually, the great powers managed to extend control across the fullness of their empires and pirates ran out of room for safe harbors, ports and so on. In space however, it is is infinite enough to run around from any Space Navy, and if there are enough valuables goods trades between planets, one could have an reason to do so. On paper piracy in space does seem possible, contingent of course on the idea of there being FTL drive of some sort, else our pirates have to be in stasis 99% of the time. Since space has no oxygen, pirates had to wear concealed power armor to board ships in order to loot and plunder. In some indie games like FTL, the crew can use teleportation device to board enemy ship without space suit, the same goes to the lighting strike ability in battlefleet gothic armada. And instead of making you walk the plank, they'll just throw you out the airlock. Another common convention is hidden bases on remote asteroids or space stations that don't orbit anything (which Star Wars dubs a "shadowport"). Despite rumors of this happening already, the only recorded crimes committed in space is a white collar crime involving somebody illegally accessing their spouse's bank records during a divorce dispute.
Ghost Pirates - it is said if some pirates are too badass to die, they become ghost and continue to terrorize ships for fun. Some said it was the caused of some voodoo curses, other thinks they are just too tough to stay in hell. These dead pirate sail in literal ghost ships that are seemly broken pirate ships crawling with moses and maggots while being seemly impervious to cannon fire. SPOOOOOKYYY.
Airship Pirates - Piracy in the sky with steampunk technology. They'll still say "Yarr!" and "Avast!" but their clothing is decidedly more Victorian instead of Baroque, with lots of goggles and brass thrown in. Let's not forget the short legged version for Age of Sigmar. There is exactly ONE example of airship piracy in history: when the German Zeppelin L23 captured a Norwegian schooner during the first world war. An instance of an airship privateer may have existed with the U.S. World War II blimp Resolute, which was reported in 1946 to have been the last use of the United State's power to issue a letter of marque, as part of a legal wrangling to put a civilian vessel into the chain of command rather than intending it loot anything, but no record of this mark being issued exists.
Warhammer Fantasy Pirates - A lot of pirates tend to operate either in the seas near Tilea or around Lustria, where there's always opportunities for gold-hungry adventurers (though death is also a high probability due to disease or dismemberment by dinosaurs). There's several different varieties:
- Most famously are the Norscans being the fantasy equivalent of Vikings, in that they like to wreck the Empire's shit by raiding their border and would also took the opportunity to explore the new world for plunder and destruction in the name of their gods. The Norscan are nature born sea faring adventurer that back in the old day, a Norscan by the name Losteriksson being also the first old world to settle in the new world Lustria. There he became famous after plundered the shit out of it and founded a coast settlement named after his daughter that was born on this land: Skeggi, then encourage even more Norscan to have a piece at the place despite its seemly high mortality rate from jungle disease, wild cold ones and Lizardmen. The Skaeling tribe in particular is famed for their seafaring. Wulfrik the Wanderer uses a magic longship to teleport anywhere whenever he wants or needs (because chaos gods) to go wreck some fools.
- Dark Elf Corsairs using Black Arks (which are city-sized FLYING ships) in their raids and like to take captives hostage to be sold into slavery. Lokhir Fellhart is a famous example, who likes to wear Cthulhu-looking mask that he likely looted from Lizardmen.
- The Zombie Pirates were a White Dwarf army list under the leadership of Luthor Harkon, who formerly worked for Abhorash before striking out on his own for Lustria and establishing his own goddamn kingdom called the Vampire Coast. And with all the dead bodies of unfortunate sailors, he's got plenty of recruiting opportunities. Another undead admiral operating in the area is Captain Noctlis of the Dreadfleet, a Von Carstein vampire who teleported his entire freaking castle into the Galleon Graveyard, and thanks to the mighty technosorceries of vydiagaems they are a fully fledged faction in the Total Warhammer.
- There are also the Sartosan Pirates of the Principality of Sartosa (aka: AN ENTIRE NATION OF PIRATES) that lies south of Tilea. One of the most famous Sartosan pirates is the sea mutant Aranessa Saltspite, rumored to be the daughter of the sea god himself.
Warhammer 40K Pirates - Ranging from chaos worshiper, sadistic spiky ear slave trader, cunning spiky ear glass cannon and the fucking orks, they are all badasses. Rogue Traders probably count as pirates too (corsairs would be the most accurate term), but they are first and foremost explorers of the Imperium (otherwise is HERESY and would probably be anally raped by inquisitions ship's nova cannon, or an cyclonic torpedo) but of course, unless they were pillage and plunder a xeno ship, is fine lol. For /tg/ brewed 40K pirates, see Black Locks who are both pirates and Space Marines. There is also at least one known loyalist chapter that does piratey things like abducting the entire population of a loyalist planet to bolster the ranks of their recruits and chapter serfs, but they work far from the Imperium, and don't really have the opportunity for easily recruited manpower. Desperate times...
One Piece - As the pirate king, Gold Roger, was executed, he told everyone that he hid his treasure at the ass-end of the world, kickstarting a golden age of piracy! Some are using this chance to amass riches or oppress the weak, others just want to be free from the dictatorial World Government. The world is vast and uncharted, people get anime superpowers by eating cursed fruit or training really hard, and there exist sea monsters that are bigger than your ship. Have fun!
Space Pirates from the Metroid Series - while not being human and lacking the Caribbean pirate stereotype, they are aliens that like to raid and destroy vessels while trying to be the biggest of dicks to every other species, especially the Federation. They are led by Mother Brain with Ridley, a species of cyborg/gargoyle/dragon alien being their military commander. They all got shit on by Samus unfortunately...non-stop.
Worldbuilding And Moral Considerations
How evil a Pirate in a given setting defaults to has a few inputs that are worth considering:
- Slavery is a big one. If the people they're raiding practice slavery and the pirates don't, that's a very serious point in the favor of the Pirate (in fact, it was exactly this moral ambiguity that gave the Buccaneers what good press they had) especially if they free slaves. If it's the other way around (slave raiders on free peoples), the resulting pirates are probably evil villains, full stop.
- Keep in mind that many people adore Jack Sparrow for simply saying "People aren't cargo, mate!", which was Jack Sparrow's entire descent into piracy to begin with.
- How badly they treat captured crews. If they let them go once they've robbed the cargo holds, they probably are considered more "moral" than if they kill or enslave anybody who sees them. (Hostage taking may or may not count for this purpose; if it's purely for ransom, it's in a gray area, with the shade depending on how well the hostage is treated.)
- Enforced enrollment in the pirate crew is on the evil side, and also somewhat on the stupid side: having a bunch of people who don't want to be there as crew on a ship is usually a bad idea when mutiny is a problem. However even proper navies were known to do (and in some cases infamous for abusing) exactly that: the war of 1812 began in part over the British going overboard with forced enrollment. (Look up 'impressment', you'll get the idea.)
- How badly non-pirate sailors are treated by their captains: when the Navy press-gangs their crew into service and keelhauls/flogs wrongdoers around the fleet; a pirate ship is easily seen as a bastion of freedom in contrast.
- Pirates who don't do anything are a thing in media. As they don't do the pirate thing, they usually don't count as pirates.
- How prone they are to mutiny is also a consideration; although any pirate crew is liable to mutiny, the causes of said mutiny can be important in determining morality. If you're sailing under Bill the Bastard has random crewmen flogged and branded for looking at him funny, stealing his hat while he's wearing it and original sin while never giving out a fair cut of the pay and hogging all the Grog from himself, mutiny is an extreme if understandable response.
- What do they spend their plunder on. Most pirates spend their booty on upkeep of their ship, cannons, guns, swords, booze, food, fancy things and, well, booty. But some will also spend it on their families while others decide to give some of it to an orphanage or school or something in their home port.
- Privateers, mentioned above, are usually considered more "moral" than their freelancing counterparts. Usually.
Note that multiple kinds of Pirates can exist in a given setting, each with their own niche in the Alignment Chart (Even Lawful Good, Neutral Good and Lawful Neutral depending on where you draw the line between lawful navy executing 'commerce raiding' and piracy), although given the nature of Piracy, only a few Privateers will be Lawful of any kind.
The big one: Piracy is never a safe job, even when you're in port, and every action has a degree of risk to it. Pirates are criminals who endanger shipping, which makes people with money and power annoyed, which in turn leads to a good deal of energy being expended in getting rid of any pirate that causes too much trouble. Unless they're being backed up by another, similar power, or have decided to transition from just stealing shit to forming a functional republic with a navy and laws and borders, a pirate port is not stable. Even then it's not particularly stable either, although it's got a start on the climb to being a nation. Always remember: piracy comes with danger and is affected by politics much bigger than little ships with black flags. You'll present a more engaging setting if there's more to a pirate's life than you can see at Disney World.
With that in mind, pirates still need a safe port of some kind to operate. Ships require a lot of maintenance that can only be done when at rest, and the pirates need to be able to sell or trade their captured goods. This has many subtle implications, with a few possibilities:
- The Pirates are effectively sponsored by some port. This implies either full state sponsorship of some kind, or a state that effectively doesn't care about their raiding, usually because the Pirates in question only target the enemies of whoever owns the port. French Tortuga and Dutch Curacao were like this, being effectively surrounded by a target rich environment full of Spanish and ruled by governors who simply did not give a flip about what happened at sea. In particular, Curacao's natural harbor with a tight channel overlooked by a fort on a ridge made it practically impossible to raid from sea, so the Dutch DID NOT care how angry the Spanish got with them over piracy because nothing short of an invasion would dislodge them. Tortuga otoh got raided by the Spanish repeatedly, but there were just too many French and English on the island to suppress.
- The Pirates are disguising where their goods are coming from. This is harder then it sounds, as ships are usually easily identified, and any port that cares about contraband will almost certainly be interested in the origins of whatever goods are coming into it. This will be complicated and will probably require a reliable fence who can move the goods quietly and with the illusion of legitimacy.
- The Pirates are operating on a frontier, like the boucaniers did. Small colonies and settlements are usually much less concerned about the legitimacy of cargo if its something they can use. They may not be able to pay very much for it, but they often can pay in other ways such as provisions and repairs.
- Pirates who figure they can operate their own port are usually faced with the fact that most of the people who engage in piracy are not exactly reliable sorts, which is what is desperately needed in order to have a functioning port. 
For piracy to really catch on somewhere, there needs to be cargo worth capturing. A lot of stuff that gets shipped is very hard to sell, not just because it is the proverbial "hot goods", but because it is effectively worth money only to the right buyer (who is usually in one of those ports that care about contraband). You need something that is both valuable, and a commodity. Historically, sugar qualified, as did tobacco and other luxury goods; of particular interest here is exotic pets, such as monkeys and, yes, parrots (really any large feathered birds, since feather quills were used as pens). Whale oil (used in lamps) was another hot item, with whaling ships often making easy targets returning from hunts. But whatever the cargo, there is a fine line of intersecting interests, between the risks of accepting stolen goods, the risks of stealing them in the first place, and the potential profit. Of course, there's always robbing payroll ships, but if they were easy to hit everyone would do it.
For a nation whose government is fairly loose and rudimentary, the distinction between "Pirate", "Honest Trader" and "Navy" is sometimes difficult to make. Many pirates would prefer to go after foreign prey rather than people from their home ports. A down on his luck merchant captain might try to steal the stuff from a rival ship from a rival country if the choice is "make a profit, pay the crew, eliminate some of the competition and live to sail another day" or "starve to death/have a mutiny for unpaid wages/have the ship founder for disrepair/go bankrupt". Privateer work was common in times of war when said actions got sanctioned and sometimes a merchantman could have a few extra guns put on her and be made into a ghetto warship.
To complicate matters even further, even powerful and well-organized nations like France and England had 'prize money' laws in place that made capturing enemy vessels and their cargo a very attractive prospect: any ship captured at sea and its cargo became de jure property of the crown, but the king would generously compensate the crews with money/valuables once the prize was brought in. On top of that it wasn't uncommon at all for the winner of a naval engagement to quietly enroll any surviving sailor to replace losses and/or keep manning their now captured ship (the defeated sailors were generally down with this since the alternative was usually sitting in the hold in chains), no matter their nationality; so even a 'national' crew from an 'official' Navy ship could sound like a weird mix of freebooters hauling their capture in when coming into port.
If you get enough pirates in an area, they might come together and found a town. It starts off in some place with a natural harbor to shelter in storms and repair their ships between fights. Then crews begin swapping stuff if one of them has a surplus of gunpowder and the other has a surplus of food and similar. A couple of guys are left behind from each crew (as well as captives who could not be ransomed off) to collect timber, first when it's expected that there will be some damage taken in the near future and latter more regularly around a growing logging camp. A couple of docks go up to make things go more smoothly, as does a forge or two and a couple of vegetable gardens. If there are native peoples in the area they start showing up to trade, or occasionally raid necessitating some basic defenses.
Then some enterprising pirate cobbles together a pub, selling plundered Beer, Grog and Rum to passing pirates and shore-side workers at first and soon enough is brewing there own, especially when a few full fledged farms get going to provide produce. Soon enough the Pub has some prostitutes and by extension some bastards. Those pirates which had lost limbs to the job may settle down with their compensation package for an easier and steadier life ashore. Tents and lean-tos are replaced by small cottages and shanties and after that houses. Workshops gradually come together and more and more of the population becomes permanent.
Soon you get a thriving and lively if disorderly and dangerous new settlement, which attracts the attention of whatever state power claims control over the area. A governor and garrison will be dispatched who start keeping out the roughest sorts, and things settle down into a more quiet and businesslike place much to the chagrin of old timers who miss the gold old days of loose women, hearty songs, exciting brawls and the odd knifings which made things dangerous and interesting.
An archetype where you master the ins and outs of fighting on ships. It was originally a rather limited archetype that appeared on the 2018 playtest before vanishing. It would show up again in the Advanced Player's Guide, looking just as small when compared to other archetypes. This is likely because it's already relying on two other skills with feats that would otherwise overlap with it: Athletics (which helps with rope climbing) and Intimidation.
The prerequisites for entry pretty much boil down to "look scary" (read: trained in Intimidation) and in exchange, you can walk on boats without issue, learn lore about sailing and gain a special action that pretty much lets you go Errol Flynn and swing your sword while swinging on a rope.
Mordheim Pirate Warbands
One of the more popular "semi-official" Mordheim warbands, pirate warbands are based on the simple facts that a) there have always been pirates in the Empire, b) the Empire relies heavily on river-conducted trade, and c) this meant the titular city was a big port before the warpstone meteor hit. So now you have plenty of bold and/or crazy pirates sailing up to the ruined dock and daring to launch raids into the city.
As a warband, Pirates of Mordheim have the special rules Ship-Based (if you hire both elf and dwarf Hired Swords simultaneously, increase their upkeep by +20 gold pieces, as the tight confines of the ship exacerbate their racial animosity) and Shanghai. This is their mainstay special rule, and what it means is that pirates can actually swell their own ranks by recruiting captured enemies or even the random survivors of Mordheim. Because there are several situations where a pirate crew can successfully shanghai a person, this rule gets complicated...
- Firstly: a Pirate Captain can only attempt to shanghai normal human warband members; nonhumans refuse to obey or are too dangerous even for pirates to keep, whilst Hired Swords and Special Characters have no interest in the pirate life.
- When an enemy Hero is Captured, instead of exchanging/ransoming them or selling them, the Pirate Captain can attempt to convince them to join the crew. Roll 2d6 and add the Leadership of the Captain, then do the same for the captured Hero, adding +1 to he roll of whichever side won the fight. If the Captain wins, then the Hero defects and joins his crew, becoming a normal Crewman - this includes resetting his ability scores and skills if necessary and swapping all his gear for stuff from the Pirate Equipment list. If the Hero wins, then the Captain simply pressgangs him; the Hero retains his original skills and stats, but loses all his gear for stuff from the Swabbie list and can be deployed as a Swabbie in subsequent battles. Presumably, if the Pirates Rout against a shanghaied Hero-turned-Swabbie's former warband, he rejoins them.
- When the Pirates win a battle against an enemy warband, roll a d6 for each enemy Henchman that was killed (1-2 on their post-game roll after being taken Out of Action); on a 4+, they actually weren't killed, but were instead dragged back to the pirate ship and patched up. The Pirate Captain can attempt to shanghai them in the same manner as a captured hero, as described above.
- If the Pirates discover a Straggler when exploring Mordheim, the Pirate Captain can attempt to shanghai the half-crazed survivor instead of the other options. This requires making a simple Leadership check for the Captain; if he passes, then you gain a free Swabbie (the Straggler is too bonkers to make it as a crewman).
- Similarly, if the pirates discover Survivors when exploring Mordheim, the Pirate Captain can attempt to recruit them. Roll a d3 to see how many survivors there are, then make a Leadership check for the Captain for each Survivor. If successful, the survivor eagerly joins and becomes a Crewman; they can either start a new unit as a basic Crewman, or be added to an existing unit, whereupon their Exp and Stats match their brethren. If the check fails, however, the Suvivor is reluctantly pressganged, and so becomes a Swabbie.
Like all Mordheim warbands, you start with 500 gold pieces to outfit your Pirate Crew, which can be no larger than 15 models.
A Pirate Warband's leader is, of course, the Pirate Captain - you must start with one of these guys! They start with 20 EXP and can gain special skills from all of the standard skill tables (Combat, Shooting, Academic, Strength, Speed) as well as the Pirate Skills table. They cost 60 gold, have the Leader rule, and start with M4, WS4, BS3, S3, T3, W1, I3, A1 and LD8.
Ship's Mates are your standard secondary hero; you can have 0-2 of these in your crew. Ship's Mates cost 35 gold to hire and start with 8 experience as well as M4, WS4, BS3, S3, T3, W1, I2, A1 and LD7. They have the Inheritor special rule; if your Captain gets killed, then one of the Mates will take over the warband, just like how the standard Mercenary warband uses Champions to take over. They can learn Combat, Shooting, Strength and Pirate skills.
Cabin Boys are the obligatory "bare-faced recruit" type hero. 0-2 of these guys, who cost 15 gold to hire and start with 0 EXP and M4, WS2, BS2, S3, T3, W1, I3, A1 and LD6. They can learn Combat, Shooting, Speed and Pirate skills.
Now, for Henchman... your standard henchmen are, of course, the humble Crew or "Crewmen". 25 gold to hire, and statted up with M4, WS3, BS3, S3, T3, W1, I2, A1 and LD7. You can have any number of crewmen you like.
Gunners are the ship's cannoneers and marksmen; you can only have 0-2 of these guys, and they have the same stats and cost as the Crew, but they get access to some more firearms - blunderbusses, handguns and swivel guns (aka miniature cannons), specifically, alongside the pistol and duelist pistols that regular crewmen and Heroes ca take. They technically have a special rule in "Swivel Guns is Dangerous, Matey!" but that's more a rule about the Swivel Gun - namely, you can only take 1 Swivel Gun in your warband, and the bearer splits off to form an independent unit, because nobody's stupid enough to stand too close to somebody carrying a miniature cannon that could go off like a bomb at any moment.
Boatswains are the ship's riggers, and make excellent scouts in Mordheim. They cost 32 gold, have the same stats as a Crewman, and you can only take 0-5 of them. They start play with a Rope & Hook and will never, ever part with it. They also have the special rule Expert Riggers, which lets them reroll failed Initiative tests made to climb a rope, leap a gap, jump down, or perform a diving charge.
Finally, there are the Swabbies. You can have 0-5 of these, and you can only recruit them via the aforementioned Shanghai rule, though in a one-off game you get 2 Swabbies for free. Statwise, they have M4, WS2, BS2, S3, T3, W1, I3, A1 and LD6. They also have the largest amount of special rules of any model in the warband:
- Not Hired: You don't pay for Swabbies, you Shanghai them.
- Never Gain Experience
- Rabble: You can give a unit of Swabbies any mixture of weapons that you like. Swabbies gained by capturing heroes do not benefit from spellcasting ablities or skills they had before.
- "Blimey, they got away!": If the Pirates Rout, all Swabbies who had left the table on previous turns successfully escape; remove them from the warband roster.
- "Don't mind them mates, they ain't true pirates!": Swabbies who run or get taken out of action don't count for the purposes of taking a Rout test.
The Pirate skill table consists of:
- Sea Shanty Singer: At the start of Close Combat, the Hero can burst into song, forcing one opponent in base contact to pass an LD test or lose 1 attack for the turn. Doesn't work on non-living targets.
- Sea Legs: If the Hero Falls, roll a d3; on a 4+, ignore all hits caused by falling. Additionally, if the hero is knocked down or stunned when within 1" of a precipice, they can reroll their Initiate test to avoid falling.
- Cutlass Master: If the Hero is both equipped with a sword and in closed quarters (in cover, in a building, within 2" of a terrain feature, etc), then the Hero can Parry by rolling equal to the To Hit roll, as well as by rolling higher.
- Booming Voice: Only Captains can have this skill; reroll for other characters. Once per turn, if on his feet and not engaged in close combat, the Captain can target a single pirate within 8" who has either faileds their test to see if they will flee combat or who failed their test to stop fleeing. The targeted pirate can immediately reroll their test.
- Hardy Constitution: When the Hero takes a Critical Hit, roll a d6; on a 5+, the Critical Hit is downgraded to just a normal hit.
- Swashbuckler: At the end of any Hand-to-Hand phase in which he is in base contact with an enemy model, his own or the opponent's, the Hero can make an LD test. If successful, the Hero can immediately make a normal movement away from the enemy without taking any hits.