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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Working on a pirate confederacy in my setting; it's a confederacy of hundreds of pirate crews, that have agreed not to directly attack each other, and to defend one another when one of them breaks the pact.
    In terms of alignment, they run the gamut- though regardless of alignment, they're still pirates.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Fear. What would the others do if they found out that I failed to uphold my end of the bargain? If I attack you now when I hold the advantage but don't kill you, what will you do when the tables are turned?

    Honor. Just because I'm a conventionally-honorless and amoral or immoral pirate doesn't mean that I don't feel bound by my word - though I might have a somewhat more flexible interpretation of what my word means than a conventionally-honorable and moral person might.

    Enlightened self-interest. Alright, fine, helping you isn't really in my interest right now, but if I don't help you now then you're probably not going to help me later, and possibly neither will any of the others in the group who hear that I failed to render aid as required by the compact - after all, if I wouldn't help you, why would I help them and so why should they help me?

    Simple self-interest. You're a pirate with a well-armed ship, a large crew, and little cargo of value unless you've recently taken a prize, not a merchantman with a relatively small crew, Quaker guns behind half the gunports, and a lot of valuable cargo. In other words, you're a probably-harder and most likely less rewarding target.

    An external threat. We might be a loose consortium of largely-independent "businessmen," but we collectively want to remain largely-independent "businessmen" - we don't want to be brought under the control of the mob or the mafia or other equivalent, and we don't want the navy (or the more and less legitimate businessmen upon whom we prey) to get funny ideas about coming into our safe-ish havens and putting us out of business the hard way.
    Last edited by Aeson; 2021-01-03 at 03:15 PM.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    Working on a pirate confederacy in my setting; it's a confederacy of hundreds of pirate crews, that have agreed not to directly attack each other, and to defend one another when one of them breaks the pact.
    In terms of alignment, they run the gamut- though regardless of alignment, they're still pirates.
    Large salient threats.

    There's a really old saying among the hill tribes and nomads I grew up (partly) around that amounts to: "me against my brother, my brother and I against our cousins, my family together against all outsiders." Whether they like each other or not, the in-group has a culturally-determined way of doing things and forms of conflict resolution that they all agreed on. A pirate confederacy is made up of ships and fleets that might compete with one another for bounty and raiding territory, but they all accept the premise that it's necessary to subsist through piracy.

    Other socio-political entities that are more centralized might have privateers that are supposed to strike targets of specific nationality with putative justifications relating to law, but their basic premise is "only we can do it on our terms." Even if they ultimately allow piracy as long as it hits not-them...they still view themselves as the arbiter hanging down the license to be pirates to free pirates, and can and will withdraw that license when they see advantage. And political centralization means larger, strategic naval campaigns with lots of forces that be concentrated, if they chose to bear down with force...more than a pirate vessel or fleet could contend with.

    Pirates have a strong incentive to establish basic rules of mutual aid in a situation where any other power could bite into their territory: individual losses by pirates erodes the general welfare of pirates.

    And if the setting is lived-in...there's probably a few bloody demonstrations of what happens when a captain gets a notion to become a king or serve a king, and what happens when a national navy really applies pressure to a pirate fleet.

    But more deeply...the ocean is at best indifferent to men gliding atop its surfaces, and people devoted to life at sea know how fast things can go lethally wrong. Other people are protected by laws of the sea--a bigger mutual aid system where you try and help castaways or aid ships in distress--that the pirates have set themselves outside of by living off of piracy. Pirates have to help one another because they're out-law...nobody else is going to. And in a magical/fantastical setting, this logic of mutual aid could also apply to fantastical dangers--creatures that are dangerous to boats, sea witches, etc. Pirates may not have full-time control over territory like a nation, but they have to have places to hide, shipping lanes to interrupt, access to settlements to raid, and "free berths" where they can sell stolen goods and get repairs: anything that disrupts these activities disadvantages all pirates.

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    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Honor. They follow the pirate's code, maintaining a complex web of betrayals, feuds, promises, and alliances between the different crews and captains. Captain A might want to kill Captain B, but then he would have to deal with Captains C and D, all while keeping his partner Captain E, who is allied with Captain B, happy. It is isn't good will or friendship that keeps him from gutting Captain B, it is the fear of loss of power, life, and allies.
    Last edited by Erik the Bard; 2021-01-03 at 03:23 PM.

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    A combination of enlightened self-interest and brutality: They need to stick together to survive, which means anyone outside the confederacy is a fair target to everyone who's part of it, and anyone who betrays/harms the confederacy gets dealt with. Brutally.

    Presumably, these pirate crews and fleets banded together because, otherwise, they'd be poached and killed by privateers or navies in service to established nations. This would mean that:

    1) There were enough pirates with enough men/ships/coin to set up the confederacy, or a single pirate who had enough influence. Either way, you'd have certain crews/fleets with the men and influence to set up the confederacy, be a tangible threat to other naval powers, and make clear examples of traitors.

    2) These pirates lacked the power to properly protect themselves/their lifestyle without support from other crews AND valued their lifestyle enough that they'd rather band together in a chaotic government with other crews, rather than become privateers under one of the other naval powers. This would need piracy to be a viable lifestyle: ports-of-call that are known pirate havens, plenty of smuggling opportunities to earn a coin, and no large disparity between the naval strength of the average pirate/pirat fleet and the average trade ship/trade fleet.

    So, they banded together out of both military pragmatism, and some romantic ideal of independence, likely under leadership of the captains of every crew/fleet. These would be the cornerstones of such a confederacy: Every pirate is a free sailor, every crew/fleet a free nation within the confederacy, and any crew or captain that threatens that freedom gets a one-way ticket to the ocean floor.

    Of course, there'd still be struggling between groups within the confederacy, but they'd show a united face to any outside group. And if anyone doesn't feel like showing a united face, they're out without appeal, left to fend for themselves for however long they manage or just sunk on the spot.
    Last edited by Taevyr; 2021-01-03 at 03:41 PM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    Working on a pirate confederacy in my setting; it's a confederacy of hundreds of pirate crews, that have agreed not to directly attack each other, and to defend one another when one of them breaks the pact.
    In terms of alignment, they run the gamut- though regardless of alignment, they're still pirates.
    Hundreds of pirate ships is a lot, like size of the naval fleet of a major maritime power numbers. At that point they become a pseudo-state with some unusual views on maritime law.

    Because this state cannot possibly fight all the other navies of the world at once, they probably come to agreements with other powers to receive tribute in return for (mostly) leaving their vessels alone or not raiding their coasts. Since this tribute is probably paid out to the rulers of the major port city-states this confederation controls and only then redistributed to various captains, the captains have to pay nice in order to continue to receive their share of the tribute and to continue to have use of controlled ports in order to sell off their plunder back into the economy.

    A historical example of this sort of confederation would be the Barbary Pirates.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    The number of crews is probably a bit much.

    Also for clarification: They operate within wealthy somewhat inland sea, roughly the size of a the Black Sea.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    The number of crews is probably a bit much.

    Also for clarification: They operate within wealthy somewhat inland sea, roughly the size of a the Black Sea.
    In a inland sea, the big issue would be limited berths that accept pirates.

    Having just been in the Black Sea region last year: sure, there are lots of room to move cargo, but the places you can actually dock and unload is comparatively small, and those locations are very valuable to state actors.

    Since there's less running room than ocean-and-islands (like the Caribbean or around SE Asia), pirates would either have a few dedicated berths--locations okay with accepted stolen goods from wherever--or play a very delicate game of being freelance privateers--stealing from one nation to sell in another nation, but not getting caught. Either way...or both...means they'd have to tread very carefully, and some mutually-agreed upon rules of engagement would make each pirate crew less likely to experience excessive retaliation, or collapse the whole piracy economy.

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    The number of crews is probably a bit much.

    Also for clarification: They operate within wealthy somewhat inland sea, roughly the size of a the Black Sea.
    My question would become: if there's hundreds of organized pirate crews on a not-too-large inland sea, why is anyone still doing sea trade the normal way? Land travel takes longer, sure, but if the danger of piracy is that big, why not send most goods overland?

    If land travel is impossible, why is there not some tributary arrangement, eventually? Merchant cartels or cities (if they exist) would surely eventually either hire their own mercenary fleet, or just pay lump sums to the pirates to be left in peace. At which point the pirates eventually become just another state levying taxes and tariffs. Both are things that have happened historically.
    Last edited by Eldan; 2021-01-04 at 06:44 AM.
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Also: Statistics.

    Sure, you've got your outliers... the ones who will blatantly violate the code. And you've got the ones who will be a bit loose in its enforcement... they won't attack another ship, but they might fail to help if their help is of anything resembling questionable in value (i.e. "I couldn't save him" with my fleet of five Ships-of-the-Line against that one Coast Guard Cutter). But, for enough of them, a voluntary mutual aid association fits in with their own interests.

    I'm also thinking of Firefly and Out of Gas... there may be a degree of "I help you because you'd help me", but there's also going to be "Well, I helped you, so now I'm gonna help myself to a share of that treasure." Or supplies. Or crew.
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    Flumph

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    As several people have said outsider threats would probably be the biggest one...but there are also options for self policing that allow for pressures to maintain this too.

    Firstly if there are lots of pirates merchants are likely to convoy and act in ways that make lone pirate attacks less successful so ad hoc pirate fleets would likely be needed and may be invitation only...and being known for helping out your fellow skull-and-crossbones flying friends is good way to be invited to the best raiding opportunities.

    Second. . . Okay where do the pirates sell their booty. Because without a good fence a lot of this stuff is not worth risking your life + limb. So if adhering to the code can result in shunning at this level that is a threat to the code breakers that may well have an effect on even the more antisocial types.

    And there is also social sunk cost aspects. By the time one person makes it to being a captain they probably have been aided or aided others a couple times. And are likely to have seen members of their in-group killed because of that. Or even they have just good raiding chances to fulfill the code. To then accept rejection of the code is to toss away those emotional sacrifices (I had to pay for the code so others do to!).

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by MonkeySage View Post
    Working on a pirate confederacy in my setting; it's a confederacy of hundreds of pirate crews, that have agreed not to directly attack each other, and to defend one another when one of them breaks the pact.
    In terms of alignment, they run the gamut- though regardless of alignment, they're still pirates.
    They aren't pirates, but privateers. The area around the sea are owned by nations that do not trade with each other, but have valuable cross-empire cargo. They each allow privateers to attack each other's shipping and then return ladden to their respective shores with the booty. The privateers have made a deal that they will trade with each on the pirate island so that they can return with what is most profitable to their own countries. The actual "pirates" operate as a free trade nation that attacks the weak navies of the empires involved to keep the arrangement going.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Glyphstone View Post
    Vibranium: If it was on the periodic table, its chemical symbol would be "Bs".

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    When we look to real world examples, we find that piracy thrived when multiple kingdoms contested one another in a region. Government A would overlook crimes against Government B assets, or even sponsor such crimes.

    Meanwhile, the pirate is able to thread a path of alternating loyalties between the rival empires, always aware that the worst situation for himself is to have the competitors join forces or to have one win and become dominant.

    A pirate brotherhood can offer sanctuary against a government that wishes to prosecute pirates, and can be a local fleet in being to prevent any of the rival fleets from undertaking an all out offensive against the pirate bases or each other.

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    Planetar

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    A very important point: it doesn't need to be intact.
    An association of chaotic individuals is more likely to be constantly changing rather than maintaining traditions.

    Peoples will try to improve it. Peoples will tear it apart for personal gain. Peoples with reunite it against a common threat. Peoples will agree to respect some rules because they've seen the effect of not having those rules, but two generation later peoples will disregard those rules and make the same mistake again.

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    What era?

    The "shape" of distance and the like will vary with the striking range of ships, the combat capabilities of ships, the ability to transport troops, the cost of building ships, etc.

    In an inland sea you'll run into the problem that simply taking out all of their bases becomes practical. And with nowhere to land, your pirates can't repair their ships or do much with the goods they are stealing.

    OTOH, if instead of pirates they are a dominant naval power, they will instead levy a tax on trade. High enough to make a fortune, low enough that trade continues. Only traders who don't pay tribute get attacked. But this is less piracy.

    So you could imagine an inland sea with an island nation, which is a dominant naval power (where do they get the raw materials for their ships?) in the sea. Attacking them directly is hard, as you have to beat their navy. But this doesn't fit your description.

    Large "pirate" cultures generally involved great nation warfare or conflict, where one nation would sponsor privateers on another. These privateers would have the right to sell plundered goods (and even ships) in the sponsoring nation.

    Piracy, if it doesn't shut down trade, has to be only harvesting a fraction of the trade. This means that the nation that is getting the benefits of said trade must almost certainly be richer than the pirates (as it has the trade plus its own resources), which means it can project more power, which means it can beat up the pirates if push comes to shove.

    Tribute is a way around that; it lets you 'peacefully' harvest the surplus of the trade, ensuring you have more wealth to build your navy than the merchants you are preying off of, while still allowing the merchants to profit enough to continue to pay tribute.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    I feel like a curse would be appropriate. Have the captains sign on to the alliance (the alternative is living as rogue pirates where they are fair game for others) and force them to accept a curse if they break the terms.

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Dread Pirate Bob is a devil or fiendish hybrid who forces pirates to sign contracts. They have to pay Bob a certain share of their loot, and if they get no loot Bob comes looking for them. Breaking the contract before buying it off invokes a geas, and refusing to sign leaves one prey to every pirate who has.

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    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Charisma. A highly charismatic leader can hold together a disparate group. See, for instance, a large horde leader, as in the 2E Horde Lands supplement:
    large group
    disparate, often hostile, smaller subgroups included in large group
    large group did not remain intact after his death
    Last edited by thorr-kan; 2021-01-07 at 10:19 AM.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    when i play my pirate game, what keeps my crew together:

    1. lots of successful raids on enemy ships
    2. sharing the booty with the crew
    3. playing games below decks
    4. participating in rituals and observances important to the superstitious
    5. resolving crew conflict
    6. listening to your men
    7. good food
    8. high quality booze in large volumes
    9. not backing down from an inferior foe
    10. short winded speeches that promote mutual interests with crew

    this can be expanded to a fleet of ships by expanding the scale of parties, enemy targets, and having good chefs or cooks in your private pirate party island.

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    There's been a lot of good discussion here. What you initially described would normally be an inherently unstable situation. If there are hundreds of pirate ships, merchants are either going to pay tribute, get the navy involved, or just abandon the trade routes.

    Since you've got an inland sea, one possibility is that the overwhelming majority of ships are small. Small ships are much less expensive to operate, and if the average pirate crew is less than ten people they can sustain themselves through hitting small targets or just stealing from coastal farms.

    But if you are looking for a Pirates of the Caribbean-type pirate armada, I've got two suggestions:

    1) The pirates all follow a diety that forbids them from killing a co-religionist. Feuds, rivalries, brawls, and stealing from each other are normal, but killing another pirate is likely to get you marooned, and attacking another pirate ship on the high seas is unthinkable.

    Attacking people who follow other faiths is fair game, or even encouraged.

    2) Ethnic (or demi-human racial) solidarity.
    Twenty years ago, their homeland had overwhelming naval superiority, and there were hundreds of vessels, both military and merchant, plying the seas. The nation also established a number of heavily guarded forts around the sea. Then, the homeland was lost to some type of cataclysm: overrun by orcs, sunk beneath the waves, massive volcanic eruption, etc. Suddenly all those naval crews had no means of support. Many of them turned to piracy. The old forts now effectively operate as tiny pirate kingdoms with an economy fueled by plunder.

    Again, rivalries are common, but given your shared trauma actually killing another pirate is highly taboo ("there's fewer of us every year..."). Since the officers were probably all nobles (or at least served on each other's crews as midshipmen), the stakes would have to be extremely high to get one to attack another with the intent of sinking them. Destroying a ship from their homeland might be an even bigger deal than killing another pirate, since no more are being produced.

    If you want this to be stable in the long-term, give the pirates hope that their homeland can be reclaimed. Maybe it's not lost, it's just cursed: frozen in time, trapped behind howling magical gales that no ship can breach, etc. The hope of reclaiming their homeland keeps them from murdering each other, but as time passes hope is fading, and the crews are less sympathetic to appeals to patriotism.

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by Slipjig View Post
    There's been a lot of good discussion here. What you initially described would normally be an inherently unstable situation. If there are hundreds of pirate ships, merchants are either going to pay tribute, get the navy involved, or just abandon the trade routes.

    Since you've got an inland sea, one possibility is that the overwhelming majority of ships are small. Small ships are much less expensive to operate, and if the average pirate crew is less than ten people they can sustain themselves through hitting small targets or just stealing from coastal farms.

    But if you are looking for a Pirates of the Caribbean-type pirate armada, I've got two suggestions:

    1) The pirates all follow a diety that forbids them from killing a co-religionist. Feuds, rivalries, brawls, and stealing from each other are normal, but killing another pirate is likely to get you marooned, and attacking another pirate ship on the high seas is unthinkable.

    Attacking people who follow other faiths is fair game, or even encouraged.

    2) Ethnic (or demi-human racial) solidarity.
    Twenty years ago, their homeland had overwhelming naval superiority, and there were hundreds of vessels, both military and merchant, plying the seas. The nation also established a number of heavily guarded forts around the sea. Then, the homeland was lost to some type of cataclysm: overrun by orcs, sunk beneath the waves, massive volcanic eruption, etc. Suddenly all those naval crews had no means of support. Many of them turned to piracy. The old forts now effectively operate as tiny pirate kingdoms with an economy fueled by plunder.

    Again, rivalries are common, but given your shared trauma actually killing another pirate is highly taboo ("there's fewer of us every year..."). Since the officers were probably all nobles (or at least served on each other's crews as midshipmen), the stakes would have to be extremely high to get one to attack another with the intent of sinking them. Destroying a ship from their homeland might be an even bigger deal than killing another pirate, since no more are being produced.

    If you want this to be stable in the long-term, give the pirates hope that their homeland can be reclaimed. Maybe it's not lost, it's just cursed: frozen in time, trapped behind howling magical gales that no ship can breach, etc. The hope of reclaiming their homeland keeps them from murdering each other, but as time passes hope is fading, and the crews are less sympathetic to appeals to patriotism.
    Maybe all of the surrounding countries are their homeland. When the Empire collapsed, Fleet Admiral Guy took the entire Imperial Fleet out of harbor to keep it from being seized by the insurrectionists. The pirates are literally crewing the old Imperial Navy vessels, and most of the captains are former crewmen from those ships. They all pledge to restore the imperial center, and don't consider themselves pirates at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by The Glyphstone View Post
    Vibranium: If it was on the periodic table, its chemical symbol would be "Bs".

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Here's another option: there is a school of magic (or order of druids) dedicated to naval combat and weather control. Maybe it's based on bloodline, but if not the wizards involved guard their secrets jealously. Ships without weather witches can sail, but stand almlst no chance in combat against a ship that has one.

    The weather witches have leveraged their value into captaincy of all the major pirate vessels, and generally refuse to attack each other (though sufficiently high stakes might test this).

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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    What makes them 'chaotic', anyway? I mean... pirates have to do seafaring, warfare and logistics. None of these work very well without a certain reliability and discipline.

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    Librarian in the Playground Moderator
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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by Berenger View Post
    What makes them 'chaotic', anyway? I mean... pirates have to do seafaring, warfare and logistics. None of these work very well without a certain reliability and discipline.
    I mean, they make their living by stealing ****. That's pretty chaotic.
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    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    That's lawless, at least from the targets point of view, but on an operational level indistinguishable from regular warfare or legal privateering. I still don't imagine pirates as chaotic in their daily lives because a sailing ship with a reckless, irresponsible crew that disrespects authority is fundamentally unable to pull off any successful naval action. I mean, pirates are literally known for drawing up and adhering to strict and draconic codes of conduct.
    Last edited by Berenger; 2021-01-15 at 07:13 PM.

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    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Chaotic evil frost giants are able to dominate their fellow chaotic evil frost giants through strength. There's no reason a band of chaotic-aligned rogues and swashbucklers are incapable of cooperating for common benefit- and there's no reason one of them couldn't end up captaining a crew of pirates. And being chaotic doesn't mean a complete rejection of authority- there are types of authority that may be seen as legitimate or illegitimate by different people. Expertise, for example.

    Chaotic alignment could be viewed as skepticism of authority, and a tendency to be skeptical of authority.
    Last edited by MonkeySage; 2021-01-15 at 07:21 PM.

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Quote Originally Posted by Berenger View Post
    That's lawless, at least from the targets point of view, but on an operational level indistinguishable from regular warfare or legal privateering. I still don't imagine pirates as chaotic in their daily lives because a sailing ship with a reckless, irresponsible crew that disrespects authority is fundamentally unable to pull off any successful naval action. I mean, pirates are literally known for drawing up and adhering to strict and draconic codes of conduct.
    Chaotic does not mean reckless or irresponsible.

    While Chaotic individuals tend to place their own needs ahead of those of the group, in a ship, one's own needs include "not being flogged to death" and "not dying in the middle of the ocean." Pirates come together, in common interest, to steal things... but they are not bound by anything unwillingly. While they had strict codes of conduct, those were voluntarily entered in to. If you want to stop being governed by them, you opt out when you reach shore... to do so earlier you're up against everyone else's
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  28. - Top - End - #28
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Like barbarians, charismatic leaders attract followers and establish their mode of leadership. When they fail the leaders are deposed or deserted. When they succeed followers flock to them.

    A kind leader who gets half his crew killed might have a harder time recruiting than a successful cruel captain. Either way, the rules are set by the captain and the crew serves by choice.

  29. - Top - End - #29
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

    Join Date
    Oct 2020

    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Convenience. True, anyone could go rogue and do their own thing. But, then again, so could everyone else. Is it really worth it to turn this into a free-for-all? Would our profit margins really justify all the additional risk? Sounds like the pirates have a good thing going, best not to rock the boat.

  30. - Top - End - #30
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Lizardfolk

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    Default Re: What would keep a largely chaotic pirate confederacy intact?

    Well considering.. Pirates, money is a good answer.
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