Skull & Shackles
Ships cannot function without order and structure. Every captain has her own preferred rules and enforces those edicts in different ways. While the rules may vary from ship to ship, pirates as a group have developed general codes of conduct. When pirates capture an enemy ship, they sometimes offer the crew a choice: join the pirates’ crew, or face slavery or death. A crew willing to turn pirate must sign or swear to a code of conduct.
Some articles of a code of conduct mention the most common punishment to be delivered if a sailor breaks a specific rule. Others leave such matters to the captain’s discretion. Punishments include whippings, being put ashore at port, marooning, keelhauling, and death —naturally, vicious and criminal captains tend to gravitate toward more sadistic punishments. A pirate put ashore at port is dismissed in a loud and obvious manner, so word soon spreads of her disgrace (-2 Reputation), inhibiting her ability to sign on with a new crew.
Most of a pirate’s code focuses on mutual defense and avoiding conflict through equal wealth distribution.
- Every man may request a vote on affairs of moment; has equal title to the fresh provisions, or strong liquors, at any time seized, and may use them at pleasure, unless a scarcity makes it necessary, for the good of all, to vote a retrenchment.
- Every member of the crew gets an equal share of treasure. Anyone caught taking more than his fair share of loot, or refusing to report its discovery in a timely manner, shall be marooned. The captain receives extra shares of any treasure, as do shipwrights, carpenters, and officers to lesser degrees.
- Every member of the crew must tend to his weapons and keep them ready for battle.
- Anyone who shows cowardice in the face of the enemy or deserts in battle shall have his throat cut or be marooned.
- Take what you can and give nothing back.
- No crew member shall hide his abilities from the crew. A sailor who can perform magic shall use his abilities on behalf of the ship.
- Any man who falls behind is left behind.
- No fighting is allowed between crewmates. Quarrels shall be set aside until shore leave, at which point grievances may be settled with violence on shore.
- All crew members must obey the captain and his officers.
- No man shall go on shore till the ship is off the ground, and in readiness to put to sea.
- Any pirate found stealing from crewmates shall take 30 lashes and be put ashore at port.
- Respect Parlay.
- If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement, shall have 400gp; if a Limb, 800.
- Every sailor has an equal right to vote in decisions put to the crew by the captain.
- We shall not give way; the sea is our domain and it is free.
Often called a “privateer’s code” or “gentleman’s code,” the following strictures are usually adhered to only by officers or those sailors whose captains consider themselves to be more than simple criminals—most frequently buccaneers who operate with government approval.
- A privateer shall not engage in one-on-one combat with an unarmed foe.
- Passengers and prisoners who may be objects of lust to crew members are not to be imposed upon or harassed.
- A privateer shall never refuse satisfaction to an honorable opponent.
- A privateer shall always accept the surrender of an honorable foe—such prisoners may later be ransomed or press-ganged into the crew.
- A privateer shall not beat or mutilate slaves or prisoners.
- A privateer shall never attack from concealment nor strike down an unsuspecting foe from behind.
- A privateer shall take what he deserves by virtue of his strength of arms, but shall not plunder the poor.
• A privateer’s word is as strong as his steel. He shall never break a promise nor renege on an agreement.
• A privateer shows discretion in conversation and does not pry into matters that don’t concern him.
Many of the following rules are common sense, and may be enforced on pirate, military, and merchant vessels.
- Any sailor caught below deck with open flame, magical or mundane, will suffer 10 lashes. All candles and lanterns are to be extinguished at sunset.
- No sailor is to play cards or dice for money while onboard, nor use such things to take advantage of her crewmates on shore.
- No sailor is to bring aboard a husband, wife, child, person of ill virtue, or any passenger
unbeknownst to the captain. Both sailor and passenger face marooning.
- Every sailor must do his fair share of work, and neither shirk his duty nor pass off work to another, lest he face 20 lashes. A ship’s bard may rest 1 day per week, but must stand ready to entertain on all others.
- Every sailor receives an equal share of food and drink, and 1 ration of liquor every day.
- Any sailor found drunk on duty shall face 10 lashes. Any sailor too drunk to function effectively during battle shall be killed.
- A sailor who suspects a hazard, be it storm cloud, sea monster, or enemy ship, must raise the alarm immediately. Any sailor who sees an unfamiliar sea creature must inform the captain immediately.
- A sailor shall not speak to any creature of the sea without the captain’s permission.
- A sailor must not speak ill of the dead lest they summon restless spirits to the ship
“Carve your name on the ever-changing sea with a saber of terror and triumph. Fight for plunder, fame, and glory, and earn your place among the legends of the sea.”
The Pirate Queen’s holy text is Besmara’s Code, just a few pages detailing treatment of crew, treasure, and captives. Most priests who can read make copies in their own hand; those who cannot read memorize the text’s key points and ignore what doesn’t concern them.
- End Your Quarrels on Shore: Whatever disagreements one sailor has with another, onboard ship is not the place to settle them, for everyone’s survival depends on the crew working together. If one member of the crew has a disagreement with another, let them settle it in port on upon some sandy beach.
- Thirty Stripes Lacking One: The traditional punishment for a serious infraction on the ship is thirty lashes on the bare back. The captain or boatswain, however, may choose to reserve the last (30th) lash as an act of mercy. Still, the captain always has the option to make the last strike at any time -a threat to ensure better behavior from the target. This “lash debt” is typically cancelled once the ship makes port.
- Truce Ends at the Horizon: While pirates recognize the need for parlay, any truce is only valid until the opposing ship is past the horizon. Breaking this part of the code is seen not only as unsportsmanlike, but a threat to all pirates (-1 Reputation).