Pirate Encounters for Gulliver's Trading Company

by Karl Brown

New material for use with Gulliver’s Trading Company Grub Street Edition (GTC) a roleplaying game of exploration of strange lands in the 18th century. GTC is set in the world of the classic satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels. It uses game system derived from FUDGE and FATE second edition. FATE 2e is a story-oriented roleplaying game system by Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks.

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Pirate Incidents at Sea
This article describes example incidents to be used with the sea travel rules in GTC. Under those rules a ‘Pirate’ incident is any encounter with foes from without. A ‘Pirate’ incident could be pirates but might also be a naval vessel of a opposing nation, a hostile animal, or even vermin. However, most of the incidents in this article are encounters with actual pirates, i.e. rogues aboard sea-going vessels.

The incidents at sea rules are there to model the fact that sea voyages in the 18th century were risky, especially for the unskilled and unprepared. They are not intended to overly detract from the voyage’s destination or purpose. Nor are they intended to be onerous for the referee to prepare. Accordingly, using the maritime combat rules if the players are prudent and seek to escape they usually will. Referee’s should not be disappointed if the PC’s ship escapes; this is supposed to happen most of the time so you can get to the proper adventure sooner. The pirates can be used again and again until the PCs get a very good look at them.

In this article I have use an ‘O’ to indicate check boxes for aspects and extras.
Thieves by Night
When the ship is near land, a small boat approaches it in the dead of night. This could be a native canoe, a mud lark rowboat, or other vessel consistent with the location. Make a fair roll against the ship’s observation skill or the natives managed to sneak aboard and steal a trade opportunity worth of small valuable goods.
If detected, the boat turns around discouraged and vanishes into the night.
Pirate Attack
This is an encounter with a small fast European-built pirate ship like those found in the waters around Europe and the European colonies. Begin as a standard maritime combat. In most cases the player’s ship will escape after a few of turns but unfortunate or brave characters could end up in actual canon fire and boarding.
Pirate Sloop
Typical Colossal Vessel
This is a typical coastal pirate sloop or schooner armed with small cannon and carrying 40-75 ruthless pirates. Small single or double masted vessels like this actually represented the most common form of pirate; only the most successful pirates had larger vessels and few pirate ships were over 200 tons. The Fiery Dragon, ironically destroyed by fire in 1721, was typical.
To threaten larger merchant vessels the sloop relies on speed, superior numbers on boarding, and intimidation.
150 tons, 52’ Colossal. Crew of 70.
Aspects: Pirate Sloop O, Fast O, Open decks above and below* O, Only the Captain has a cabin O, Flush fore and aft (the upper deck is all one level no forecastle or stern roundhouse)* O
*both of these aspects create more room to house pirates or canon and for fighting. They are especially useful for boarding actions.
Weaponry: five 3Lb minion cannon on each side (Average WR9)
One 1Lb swivel gun (Average WR6)
Ram WR7
Armour: AR9
Skill levels are those of a typical pirate or average.
Skill Crew Member(s) providing it (level)
Alertness Typical Pirate (Fair).
Cooking Ship’s cook (Average)
Logistics Commander (Average)
Geography Commander (Average).
Intimidation Commander (Average).
Observation Crows nest (Average)
Oratory Commander (Average)
Navigation Commander (Average)
Persuasion Commander (Average)
Sailing Typical Pirate (Average)
Strategy Commander (Average)
Tactics Commander (Average)
Weapon Skills Cannon (Average). For deck fighting use the typical pirate skills and weapons
Typical Minor NPCs
Given that these salty rogues are likely to be encountered in a boarding action they are given here ready for savage deck fighting.
Nationality: (varies) O
Aspects: Pirate O O, Bully O, Cruel O, Debaser O, Roaring O
Conscience: Corruption 3.
Extras: Cutlass Fair WR2, Knife Good WR1, Naval Pistol Average WR2, Item of Gold Jewellery
Sailing 3 0 Average
Pistol 3 - varies
Single Handed Melee 3 - varies
Brawling 3 - Good
Alertness 2 1 Fair
Intimidate 2 -1 Mediocre
Ornery Leviathan
There are recorded instances of bull sperm whales attacking sailing ships. A particularly huge and ornery whale takes a disliking to the PCs’ vessel. Run this encounter as a maritime combat. During the Spot scene the whale will burn a corruption point to approach beneath the water in an attempt to avoid detection. The whale uses swimming rather than sailing and all the whale’s attacks are brawling attacks. If combat occurs the whale will typically travel just below the surface and can be attacked as if a ship but can invoke aspects to use deeper water to aid its defence, attack from below &c.
Sperm Whale
Collosal Animal
This bull whale is a massive 67’ sea-monster.
Nationality: Sperm Whale O O
Aspects: Ornery O ? Collosal Scale O Canny Beast O
Conscience: Corruption 3 (use for actions fuelled by anger or deception)
Extras: Ramming head +1 Fair WR8, Powerful tail-slap +1 Fair WR7, Conical teeth +1 Fair WR6, Thick Blubber AR7, Dive Deep and Long.
All weapons and armour already include the effect of scale.
Survival 3 2 Good
Swim 3 2 Good
Alertness 2 1 Fair
Brawling 2 - varies
Strength Feats 2 1 Fair
Athletics 2 1 Fair (good for breaching the surface)
Deception 1 0 Average
Intimidate 1 0 Average
Resist 1 0 Average
Stealth 1 0 Average
Tactics 1 0 Average
Barbary Dogs
Pirates: A small pirate ship (an Arab-built Xebec) attacks. Barbary corsairs are most active around the Mediterranean and West African coast but have been known to raid as far afield as South America and Iceland. They seek valuable cargoes and people to take as slaves.
Typical Colossal Vessel
160 ton. Colossal. Crew 300
Aspects: Arab Xebec O, Large Crew O O Galley Slaves O this ship uses 24 chained slaves to pull her oars, Arab Xebec O this type of ship is narrow with lateen rigged sails on two or three masts, an arrangement that is swift and agile. Additionally, the xebec has oars like a galley enabling it to gain extra speed to catch becalmed ships. Cunning Captain O
Armour: wooden hull (3+Scale 6) AR9
Weaponry: nine 4Lb Cannons on each side (Average WR10), two 2lb Swivel Guns (Average WR7), not equipped with a ram.
Skill Crew Member(s) providing it
Skill Crew Member(s) providing it (level)
Alertness Typical Corsair (Average).
Cooking Ship’s cook (Average)
Logistics Commander (Average)
Geography Commander (Average).
Intimidation Commander (Good).
Observation Crows nest (Average)
Oratory Commander (Average)
Navigation Commander (Average)
Persuasion Commander (Average)
Sailing Typical Corsair (Average)
Strategy Commander (Average)
Tactics Commander (Average)
Weapon Skills Cannon (3 varies). For deck fighting use the typical corsair’s skills and weapons
On the xebec
If boarding action occurs use the mass combat rules, remember there are 300 corsairs! Should the PCs and crew board the pirate ship some might think to get the slaves to revolt. If they do, there are three problems they must overcome.

Firstly, the slaves are chained to their benches. Second, there are only 24 slaves, the slaves are out-numbered, and they know it. Thirdly, years of backbreaking toil and the lash have broken their spirit. A social combat will be required to convince them to help.

In the unlikely occurrence of the players being victorious, the pirates have some loot mostly as worn items. Players can pick up an item of gold jewellery and pirate weapons as temporary items. The pirate captain’s cabin has fine cutlery and tableware of silver and ivory. There is also a good deal of hashish onboard.

If it comes to a boarding action and the corsair win, they will enslave (most) or hold for ransom (the rich) the PCs and their crew. Any character who is strong will be put to work on the oars and separated from the others in the hold. The PCs have until the slavers reach the Barbary Coast to escape or foment a revolt. The pirates will keep the PCs ship (cargo intact) in convoy with the xebec until then. The PCs must get out of their chains, open the hatch to the hold which is barred from the outside, sneak across the deck, swim or steal a jollyboat, cross to their own ship and retake it from the skeleton crew aboard. Alternatively, a long arduous sea crossing could be attempted in the jolly boat.
Barbary Corsairs
Typical Minor NPC
Nationality: Arab or Berber (do not speak English) O
Conscience: Corruption 2, Pride 1
Aspects: Barbary Corsair O, Knows the xebec well O, Cruel O, Bully O, Slaver (can be used on starter attacks) O
Extras: Armed with a dragon (WR2 but see page 55 of the core rules, Mediocre -1), scimitars (WR 2, Fair +1) and a starter (WR1, Good +2). Has an item of gold jewellery.
Intimidation 3 2 Good
Single Handed Melee 3 (varies)
Observation 2 0 Average
Cannon 2 (varies)
Pistol 2 (varies)
Galley Oar Slaves
Apprentice Minor NPCs
Nationality: varies O
Concience: Enlightenment 3
Aspects: Galley Slave O, Down-trodden O, Strong O
No Extras
Athletics 3 2 Good
Strength Feats 3 2 Good
Observation 2 0 Average
Jolly Boat
The jolly boat is a small rowboat used to ferry small numbers of people, inspect the ship while at sea, and other tasks where only a small number of people need to be afloat. On most ships it is kept at the stern on a pair of davits (small cranes) enabling the little boat to be rapidly launched. There are two sail masts that can be assembled after launch if desired
Large Unstable Vessel
16’ Large, can hold nine.
Aspects: Jolly Boat O, Clinker-built O, Removable sail masts O, Barely room for nine O.
Armour: Wooden hull AR4
Weaponry: there are no weapons mounted on this vessel. The crew can use personal firearms when the maritime combat rules indicate swivel guns may attack. Ram WR2 not reinforced to ram.
If maritime combat or a sea crossing occurs in the jolly boat the player’s will have to assign positions to characters.
Skill Crew Member(s) providing it
Alertness Commander
Cooking Ship’s cook
Logistics Purser
Geography Master
Intimidation Commander, or Head Marine
Observation Commander
Oratory Commander
Persuasion Commander
Sailing Crew
Strategy Commander
Tactics Commander or Head Marine for deck fighting
The First Plague
Don’t tell the players this is a pirate, there should be some doubt. The observation phase of combat can reveal such details as: the vessel flies no pirate flag, looks like a French naval vessel but no French flag, instead she flies the St. Andrew’s Cross. She is better armed than the Hopewell but poorly armed for a naval ship. The figurehead was Neptune but the god’s skin has been painted red.

This is the ship of Red James, the Gentleman Pirate. Red James is interested in profit to sustain a lavish lifestyle, not bloodshed. At the closing phase of maritime combat James tries to manoeuvre close enough to shout across to the other captain. As a referee let players know that on his first chance to attack James lets the opportunity slip by, the players can still have their ship fire.

Red James proposes a that the officers of the PC’s ship attend dinner aboard the First Plague (unspoken hostages) while his men conduct a thorough search of the player’s ship(s). Social combat is entered. If the PCs actively get the crew involved this becomes an Intrigue instead and numbers matter. There are 200 jeering pirates aboard the First Plague.

Run as normal except on each hit scored the attacker can gain a concession. Red James has a scribe who is recording the details. It is likely that the players will use Ship Combat to escape the pirate rather than go to dinner. That’s fine, Red James ranges widely over the sea, they will likely meet him again.
Some salvos from Red James:
I would like to avoid tasteless bloodshed
I am a Gentleman and an Englishman and offer you my word allow youself to be boarded and no harm will come to you.
You are outgunned
You are outnumbered
My crew are veterans of a bloody war but are faithful and will keep my word.
The dinner is in James’ cabin. The cabin is luxuriously appointed with French style furniture. The Dinner is a delight. The food is somewhat French: thin onion soup, roast fish in a white wine sauce with a selection of local vegetables, fruit platter, bread and raison pudding, coffee (no milk). Conversation over dinner is not a social combat, once he has the upper hand Red James is quite talkative and open, he is pleased to have gentleman guests. The xplains he is sorry he has to ‘tax’ them so severely but he must hold onto what luxuries he can now the war is lost and he is exiled. Player’s might initiate social combat to win concessions, perhaps Catholics among them might appeal to his better nature. If so rolls for social combat can be declared trade rolls if that optional system is being used.
When the player’s return to the ship they will find it stripped of all food, and valuables that can be carried by hand. If the optional trade rules are in use half of the ship’s trade opportunities are lost. Food stores are so depleted that the ship must make immediately for a port to restock.

The First Plague.
Typical Gargantuan Vessel
400 ton. 120’ Gargantuan. Crew of 200.
Aspects: Purpose built Transport O, Thick Hull O, Faithful Crew O, “Pull Together Lads”*O, Catholic Crew O, Excellent Cook O
*good for pushing the ship’s capabilities e.g. speed ,manoeuvrability etc.
Armour: warship hull AR18 but ensure you use the Thick hull aspect.
Weaponry: 2x6 12Lb Cannons WR21, 2x2lb Swivel Guns WR7.
Can ram: (2+Scale) WR8 (Reinforced bow) see the GTC maritime combat rules for ramming rules.
Skill Crew Member(s) providing it
Alertness Captain or Crow’s Nest (Fair)
Cooking Ship’s cook (Good)
Logistics Purser (Average)
Geography Master (Average)
Intimidation Captain, or Head Marine (Average)
Observation Captain or Crow’s Nest (Average)
Oratory Of Captain (Fair)
Persuasion Of Captain (Mediocre)
Sailing Crew (Average)
Strategy Captain (Average)
Tactics Captain or Head Marine for deck fighting (Average)
Cutlass 3 1 Fair
Pocket Pistol 3 0 Average
Cannons & Swivel Guns 3 -1 Mediocre

Red James, the Gentleman Pirate

Experienced Major NPC
Born a gentleman’s son James Pollock Grew up on the family estate. However in his early teens his family was exiled for their Catholic faith. From France James joined the Jacobite rebellion as a naval officer. When the rebellion failed he and his crew fled to Far East and turned pirate. James and his crew have given up on returning to England and instead seek the luxuries that can be gotten from loot. James is interested in treasure not bloodshed and always behaves as something of a gentleman.
Nationality: English O
Conscience: Quality 1, Corruption 1, Pride 1.
Aspects: Strapping O, Gentleman O, Catholic O, The First PlagueO O, Pirate Captain O O.
Extras: Pocket Pistol (-1 Mediocre WR1 but don’t forget rules for pistols at close range)
Cutlass (+1 Fair WR2)
Father Isaac
Old O
Brother John
Youth O
Brother Michael
Cabin Boy O
Lucky Rosary
Lucky O
The First Plague
Thick Hull O
Transport O
Pull together lads O
Large Crew O
Catholic Crew O
Crew Minions O
Alertness 1 0 Average
Geography 1 -2 Poor
Persuasion 1 -1 Mediocre
Sailing 2 -1 Mediocre
Weapon Skill Pistol 2 - varies
Art, Culinary 2 0 Average
Cutlass 3 1 Fair
Oratory 3 1 Fair

Catholic Pirates

Typical Minor NPCs
Nationality: Scots, English or French O (Note all speak English and the Englishmen speak French)
Conscience: Pride 1, Enlightenment 1, Corruption 1
Aspects: Faithful to Red James O, Catholic O O, Ex-Navy O, Jacobite OO
Extras: Cutlass (+1 Fair WR2), Pocket Pistol (0 Average WR1, but remember rules for pistols at close range), little luxury (e.g. snuff, candied fruit, good pipe etc.), religious item (rosary, crucifix, icon etc.).
Sailing 3 0 Average
Weapon skill single handed melee 3 - varies
Weapon skill Pistol 3 - varies
Weapon skill Cannon 3 - varies
Alertness 2 1 Fair
Language (French or English) 2 0 Average

Jean-Pierre the Ship’s Chef
Experienced Major NPC
As well as providing James and the crew with excellent fare, Jean-Pierre uses his barber and herbalism `skills to do the best he can as a substitute surgeon. The First Plague does not have a proper surgeon.
Nationality : French OO
Conscience: Pride 2, Corruption 1
Aspects: French Chef OO, Catholic OO, Outrageous Accent O, Pirate O
Extras: Bubber’s Liver, Literate, Chef’s knife (+1 Fair WR1) with Fine Steel O
Cooking 4 2 Good
Art, Culinary 3 1 Fair
Stewardship 3 1 Good
Logistics 3 0 Average
Single handed melee 3 – varies
Herbalism 2 -1 Mediocre
Barber 2 -2 Poor
Insult 2 1 Fair
Conversation 2 0 Average
Natural History 2 0 Average
Horticulture 2 0 Average
Climbing 1 0 Average
Dance 1 -1 Mediocre
Intimidation 1 0 Average
Geography 1 -2 Poor
Boating 1 -1 Mediocre
Language English 1 -1 Mediocre
Language Spanish 1 -1 Mediocre
Language Italian 1 -1 Mediocre