Today it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, but I’d rather talk about pirates and other assorted ship-based scoundrels and adventurers.
And because I am still promoting like hell my game Hope & Glory, why not give a look at piracy in the skies.
After all, Hope & Glory is a game that features airships.
And indeed, the scenario The Man that would be Quinn includes piracy in the sky lanes, the piracy in question being loosely based on South Cina Sea piracy.
And Emilio Salgari.
We’ve been there already, and you know the Tigers of Mompracem did have an influence on my game.
But really, let’s talk about pirates and adventurers, and Hope & Glory.
In the Hope & Glory setting, the seas are dangerous.
The Catastrophe radically altered the global climate, and the oceans are a place of freak storms and other dangerous phenomena, and the oceanic currents and trade winds have changed.
And then there’s monsters in the waters.
Just as prehistoric beasts like mammoths and giant cave bears are found on land, so the seas are now home to a few unusual specimens.
And there’s a full scenario in the Game Master’s Guide if you feel like an ocean-based adventure.
But given the dangers of the sea, and a few other peculiarities of the setting, it’s the skies that are, if not exactly crowded with airships, certainly well trafficked.
And if you check the Game Master’s Guide, you’ll find a whole plot point campaign hinging – also – on the issue of piracy.
Now, the main influence on sky piracy, as I said, is certainly the works of good old Emilio Salgari – the sky pirates of of Hope & Glory are not the peg-legged, hook-handed scurvy dogs of classic pirate stories, but more likely a bunch of disgruntled individuals with an axe – or a grappling hook – to grind against someone.
Someone like, say, the Honourable East India Company – that is not gone down on record, in the real world or in my fictional one, as exceedingly honourable despite the name.
These sky pirates are therefore disenfranchised individuals, usually led by a bold and brave captain, a man with a past.
This of course means that pirates can be heroes in the game. Or you can use them as negative heroes – the bad guys that in the end you come to like.
Almost somewhat piratical, and one of the first elements I developed for the game – well before there was a game, in fact – are the tai-pans.
Loosely connected with the aforementioned East India Company, the tai-pans are merchant-adventurers, that walk the line between legit commercial ventures and shadier pursuits: they buy and sell, they salvage (often breaking the Treaty of Samarkand, that regulates access to the remains of lost Europe) and in some cases they smuggle, they steal, they cheat.
Anything to stay afloat, so to speak, and keep flying.
And if Firefly is certainly an influence on the tai- pan character – together with James Clavell’s novel, Tai Pan of course – the business model is strongly based on what’s described in Tim Severin’s The Sinbad Voyage.
In Hope & Glory, a would-be tai-pan will find himself a boat – usually by getting in debt with the Company – and a charter – dealing with the Company again – and then will get himself a crew and a cargo and a destination.
The destination will be a market in which to sell the current cargo and invest the money in a different one, to be sold back in the port of origin.
The tai-pan will with time develop a route or a circuit, in which each port of call is a place where wares can be sold for a profit and bought for cheap.
And maybe a few places where it is possible to pick up and sell stuff that’s not supposed to be on the market: ancient books and art from Lost Europe and the frozen provinces of China, drugs and chemicals from the Csar’s domains, restricted technology from the Republic of Iezo.
Their loyalty to the Company somewhat fluid, the tai-pans are a class among themselves, and serve their own interests, and those of their crew.
Playing a tai-pan and her crew means building a campaign based not only on high-adventure and swashbuckling, but also diplomacy and commerce, resource management and the occasional spot of espionage.
There is no better way to explore the world of Hope & Glory.