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"What's your biggest issue with pirate rules?" Topic

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Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 9:39 a.m. PST

I've been painting pirates this past week, and looking over at my collection of rulesets and trying to justify if I want to try to take the plunge into "Blood and Plunder". That's a pretty hefty investment there.
And I got to thinking. "What is it the biggest issue with Pirate Rules that I seem to have?"
And for me I would think that it is ship battles.
I haven't found a "just right" set of rules that cover ship battles. Either they are too simplistic (roll dice to see how many points damage you do to the ship), or too complex, (You rolled a six on Chart 1 which then says port hull hit which then makes you roll on Chart 4 and consult sub chart B… in which you divide your number of hits and apply each on to each part of the hull as outlines back on Chart 4…)

But I can understand why.
Ship battles were ugly things. A few well placed shots and a players ship can easily blow up or go to the bottom. No player wants his ship shot out from under him in the first go round.

So that's my issue with Pirate rules.

What are yours?

D6 Junkie19 Oct 2021 11:32 a.m. PST

I really like the idea of a big game with 8+ ships and some 200 pirate crews, but I want rules that can handle that and get it done in 5 hours. Still looking for the rules, either they handle the landside well but ships badly or the other way around

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 11:35 a.m. PST

Ah, the gap between historical accuracy and the game rules in general. The torture, murder and rape that was a common feature of their "battles".

I understand the gaming intent of the rules, just struggle with the way it is presented. This is not just Pirate gaming, there are a number of periods that struggle with hiding known common activities. Pirate movies are just as bad, by the way.

So, not an attack on those that like gaming pirate actions, just a point about blurring the reality of what is gamed, which is not an unique event in our hobby.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 12:08 p.m. PST

Okay, no need to "cancel" silly pirate movies and silly pirate games— as if plenty of evils haven't been present in warfare since the beginning of time.

Also, plenty of pirate interactions would have occurred (and did) without any of these— in most cases, merchants simply surrendered and gave the pirates what they wanted, and the pirates never abused anyone except by theft. In some cases, the pirates didn't even claim the ship or take any hostages, just took the cargo and let the ship, captain and crew sail away unharmed.
Which isn't to say there weren't criminal excesses or that pirates weren't criminals— just that the excesses were not universal among all pirates or among all pirate actions.

Besides, most pirate games are scenarios among rival pirates or between pirates vs the British Navy (or "evil" Spanish conquistadors), which didn't involve any of what you mention except technically "murder"— though warfare has plenty of killing in and of itself, so that's sort of moot. One shouldn't take the games seriously.

As for rules, I think one has to decide what sort of scenario one wants.
If you want one ship vs. one ship, with boarding actions then one needs a separate set of rules than with multiple ships in combat.

I like the rules TMPer "Nashville" created and used in Nashcon from time to time. Simple and a lot of fun.

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 12:13 p.m. PST

"Ah, the gap between historical accuracy and the game rules in general. The torture, murder and rape that was a common feature of their "battles".

Dan Cyr; if that is your take on it and struggle with the way it's presented, then why do you play the genres that you do? Do you do WWII?…Do you play F&I?…Do you play Ancients or Medieval?…

All of that and more are featured in those also.

HMS Exeter19 Oct 2021 1:45 p.m. PST

I think Pirate rules get distorted because they're taken out of context. Piracy hasn't changed all that much over the years. It's all about $£€¥, and piracy's attempts to skim off a few pence,cents,centimes,farthings.

The guys at the top want to make as much $ as possible, skimping on protection as much as they figure they can get away with. It is the the skimp zone where Pirates try to eke out a living. Piracy has an overhead like everything else. That's why most piracy was small and weak vs small and weaker.

The giant pirate ship battles we see where it's 15 pirate frigate vs 15 frigate warships is economic insanity. I'm sure Pirates assembled groups of big ships to attack a treasure convoy, but they'd be paid off asap the spoils were divided up. The overhead would be murder.

I think the Blood and Plunder products are without equal, but the rules just seem like there are too many moving parts.

For naval rules I still think you'd be hard pressed to do much better than Limeys and Slimeys. (Don't judge me!)

For a similar group of crew ashore, mounted on washers, TSATF maybe. It's a pretty durable system.

But at base nothing can make any sense until your accountants have gone over it.

Mister Tibbles19 Oct 2021 2:40 p.m. PST

Thank you, Murphy. I was thinking the same thing about what Dan said. Good topic as well, Murphy.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 3:06 p.m. PST

Actually, the most successful pirate ever was "Black Bart" Bartholomew Roberts, who amassed a fleet of 11 ships. He had very rigid codes of conduct for his crews for the day— no drinking, women were to be left unmolested (on pain of death), and no woman was allowed aboard his vessels. He and his crew became quite wealthy. He met his end when he relaxed his rules on drinking to allow his crew to celebrate a successful cruise. The next morning, when everyone was hung over (if not still drunk), a British Naval vessel appeared. Roberts gave chase, thinking it was a merchant ship. A crewman recognized the vessel as a British warship as they drew closer, but it was too late. Roberts determined to fight it out, and jumped astride a cannon. According to accounts, his throat was almost immediately torn out by a British cannonball. His crew tossed his body overboard, along with a fabulous diamond studded cross he wore (captured from the Portuguese treasure fleet he'd raided). The crew fought on for a while, but eventually surrendered.
This set off the largest trial of pirates of the century, held at the British port of Whydah in Western Africa. A significant portion of the crew were released as "forced men," meaning they had been captured by Roberts and forced to be pirates (interestingly, Roberts may have started his piracy career as a "forced man"). A large number were hanged, while others were sentenced to a life of hard labor. This pretty much broke the back of piracy in the 18th century.
I suspect the "Dread Pirate Roberts" from The Princess Bride is based on Black Bart.

I did a lot of research on 16th-18th century pirates a few years back. It's a deeper study than most people realize.

And, for the record, there's no actual evidence of any pirate ever forcing a captive to "walk the plank."

Schogun19 Oct 2021 6:08 p.m. PST

A group I gamed with had great success and fun using Pirates! by Flagship Games for ship vs ship battles.

John the OFM19 Oct 2021 8:32 p.m. PST

I've never seen a good melding of Ship combat and melee combat.
Rules good for one are not good for the other.

Plus, there were very few ship to ship Pirate encounters. The weaker side inevitably ran away. Those who wish to play boarding actions want movies. Not history. But, I'm ok with that. grin

Another problem is that there is a huge difference between accurate ship models, and Wargame friendly models. You cannot okay with crews swanning about and rigging. "Oops! Sorry!"
Then, the guns, if accurately modeled in scale, take up too much room on the deck, and figures have no room to play.

If you want to play ship to ship, play those rules. If you want to play melees, use a different set of rules.

Prince Alberts Revenge19 Oct 2021 9:05 p.m. PST

I'm not sure if it's the rules or me. I like Pirates, would love to game them but have no interest in rules blended with land/boarding and ship action where they are two seperate systems.

Most historical pirate actions that I have read about were one-sided by purpose. There were some even actions but they most likely unintended.

One day, I will game Blackbeard's last stand…when I figure out how exactly to do it.

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP19 Oct 2021 9:13 p.m. PST

Actually, Murphy, I am selective in my games. I only paint and use SS troops for the defense of Berlin (few if us would want to play where we'd have to roll to see if SS troops killed their prisoners, even thought it was a reality). English captives pointed in a number of sources that it was the white civilian French forces that raped and not the Native Americans so I can cling to that as a reason I play F&I war games, etc. Yes, one can be selective in what one wants to spend their time playing.

I suspect you're trying to state that any conflict had ugly happenings and I'd agree. However, trying to assert that game rules should ignore or cover up behavior that was the prime purpose, focus and real rationality for such actions seems kind of silly (like how many actual ship to ship or fleet actions can one list of pirate actions)? I also made it clear that I was responding to the rules that do so. A crime based game, if it is pirates, 1930s gang wars, a WWII concentration camp, modern day drug wars, etc., can only succeed by removing the real motivation the conflicts exist. I was very careful to not attack players of such games, just the selective contents of the game rules that they play and can enjoy because of what has been left out.

Your mileage may vary, that is the way it goes.

Thresher0119 Oct 2021 9:43 p.m. PST

"One day, I will game Blackbeard's last stand…when I figure out how exactly to do it".

There's an on-line article of a set of game rules to do just that. Can't recall where now, but it looked pretty good, for good, quick, short, participation games at a convention.

The vessels used in it looked very nice, though they were incorrectly, two-masted vessels, as opposed to single-masted ones. Still, the images of them are superb. They were produced by Tiger Miniatures IIRC, back in the day, though I believe they are no longer in production now, sadly.

You can use some more accurate proxies in 15mm, or 25mm/28mm scale now, if you prefer.

I agree, some/many of the naval rules for pirate games are less than adequate for the needs of many gamers.

Also, a lot of the combat and morale rules are inadequate too, or overly complicated.

Few seem to capture the spirit of the period, or the ability to play encounters on land out quickly and convincingly.

Sadly, there's also little in the way of campaigns, or linked game structures either, like there are for some RPGs, like for D&D and other games, where the characters gain experience and loot, etc. It would be nice if there was something to permit that, e.g. a small band of like-minded individuals going to sea, mutinying, etc., and then trying to survive, and earn a living, or to amass great wealth.

It would be nice if there was something like that, to permit the pirates to set course, and suffer the consequences of their actions. As we know, most pirates didn't live long, or get rich, but they certainly lived interesting lives for at least a brief time.

From what I've read, the Blackbeard boardgame seems to be about the best at representing a ship and crew on the high seas, and is the crew and pirate captain gain more fame, they also attract the attentions of the law authorities in the region too, resulting in a greater chance of encountering a strong naval presence in short order.

Thresher0120 Oct 2021 2:38 a.m. PST

Here's a link to a set of rules to permit you to run "Blackbeard's Last Stand", with game play of the naval skirmish, as well as the boarding actions:

PDF link

It looks really great, and the rules for the game begin on page 6, though there's background info on Blackbeard and the history of the period starting on page 3.

Blackbeard gets a number of saves, as well he should, since he was slashed and shot a number of times before succumbing to his wounds.

Enjoy, and post pics and a battle report if you decide to play this out.

Dexter Ward20 Oct 2021 8:33 a.m. PST

Blood and Plunder are ok, but we found them very fiddly, having to keep track of actions and fatigue especially when you have ships and land action, and the activation system doesn't work so well for ships. Donnybrook and Donnybrook at Sea we find strike a great balance, and the rules for characters are great. They are strong but not invincible and the effect is very cinematic

Personal logo Murphy Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Oct 2021 9:51 a.m. PST

"English captives pointed in a number of sources that it was the white civilian French forces that raped and not the Native Americans so I can cling to that as a reason I play F&I war games, etc. Yes, one can be selective in what one wants to spend their time playing."

So you're okay then with ignoring what the natives did at Ft. William Henry?…Okay then.
You're right. You can be as selective as you can justify.

Considering that I was asking about the issues with Pirate rules, (playability), and not the morality of their actions.

YMMV and probably does….

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2021 9:53 a.m. PST

It does.

Thresher0120 Oct 2021 4:08 p.m. PST


Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2021 8:45 p.m. PST

Actually, in case I did not explain myself well, I was not trying to argue about the morality of "pirates".

I was saying what someone else said better, that the rules that I know of, are based on the highly romanticized myths and Hollywood films of pirates, not any remote reality of who and what they were.

Hopefully that make sense, but your YMMV may vary (smile).

I'll let this go now, thanks for the exchange.

Legionarius20 Oct 2021 8:51 p.m. PST

Pirates hated rules!

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2021 8:57 p.m. PST

They preferred guidelines! wink

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP20 Oct 2021 9:02 p.m. PST

Dan, nobody brought up what you brought up except you. So you weren't responding to anyone's comment. Secondly, it's rather obvious that a thread on the Pirates board is 99 times out of 100 going to be about fictional, over-the-top pirates from novels and film, not the historical personages themselves, nor about modern piracy. Thirdly, it was about actual rules, of which you mentioned exactly none. So I'm left wondering why you bothered, especially if you don't play pirate games.

Crazycoote21 Oct 2021 2:44 a.m. PST

To answer the original question…

Same for me until I started playing Blood and Plunder. I simply didn't find a rules set that integrated ships with skirmish level gaming in a way that I found both enjoyable and credible. At the level of small ship actions (1-5 vessels or so) I want a set of rules to make me think tactically about how I use my ships, how I move them, and have to make choices as to what the crews will spend their time doing (shooting/manning guns/making repairs/changing the sails etc). But I also want the rules to be simple enough to remember and not to have to use the complex charts or tables that have historically bedevilled naval wargaming.

Rules are subjective in their appeal, but I have explained why, in my opinion, Blood and Plunder does that in the thread below, and why I find Donnybrook to be vastly inferior on almost every level.

TMP link

To answer some of the comments above relating to how pirates were largely thugs who would avoid a fight generally – of course there is some truth to this. If a pirate could get what he wanted through intimidation/reputation/whatever, then that's going to happen. But it also depends somewhat on context and the definition of pirates you use. If one means just the c18th Caribbean pirates of Johnson – they did occasionally fight and take ships, but mainly bullied the weaker or ran from the stronger.

If one looks further afield however, and expand the definition of pirates for gaming to include the buccaneers of the c17th century, or the Red Sea men, or privateers of any of the wars of the period (many of whom went on to become genuine pirates), then there are countless accounts of engagements at sea between single ships or small groups. As long as a rules set is broad and deep enough to be able to handle such diversity, there is a lifetime of gaming to be had – and without having to get too bogged down in the morality (or lack) of Edward Low…

Blood and Plunder is that system for me, and I highly recommend you give it a try.

Here is a link to a blog which has a ton of articles on how to get started – so you can check it out properly before diving in.

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2021 7:57 p.m. PST

Sorry, Parzival, I game pirates, just a lot earlier than most think of their period. I find that gaming the attacks on the Spanish Main, cities and ships, including fleet actions in the 1550-1650 period is great fun. The various French, Dutch, English, Moors, etc., against Spanish and Portuguese, allows pirates, privateers and state actors to be in the mix. For true fleet actions, I've gamed the battle of Vila Franca do Campo, lots of small ship actions and land actions including attacks on Trujillo. Lots of small battles between a few dozen men on each side. Not pirates (per say), but the battle of Hudson Bay has always been one of my favorites for the period).

Nice to be able to 3D print 1/600 ships for the 17th century.

Got my interest when I was a Boy Scout living in Quarry Heights and my troops spent weeks cutting down the trees and bushes, then clearing the fortifications Spain had built on the Atlantic side of Panama.

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP21 Oct 2021 8:28 p.m. PST

Thank you, Dan. That puts your comments in much needed context. Your previous statements implied you didn't game pirates at all, which it's obvious now you didn't mean to imply. So aside from pirate rules not including heinous acts (why would they?), which really aren't conducive to gaming anyway, what rules do you use and what do they have (or lack) which you like or dislike?

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