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Methods of piracy in the Known World

by Jesper Andersen

Discussing the apparent lawlessness of the Sea of Dread in this thread, I started thinking about what ways a pirate would ply his trade in order to be succesful? I came up with 4 concepts so far:

The pirates pick an area as their "hunting grounds", where they know that the pickings ought to be good. It will usually be along a well known and much used trade route. In a sense it is similar to picking a good spot to fish. The trick is, that if you hunt too close to civilization, the authorities will usually have patrols in the area hunting pirates such as you. So you need to find an area that is rich with opportunities but at the same time far enough from civilization for the prey to get sudden help from a warship.

This is by far the most complex but also the most profitable form of piracy. Using informants and spies in every port, the pirates know exactly which ships sail when, where and with what cargo and for which destination. They use this information to carry out a well planned ambush, usually in a place that favours attacking and limits the chance of their prey escaping. This method involves careful planning and paying off a lot of people, but it is well worth it if you can identify that one ship in 40 that will be both loaded with rich cargo and lightly defended.

This method is usually used by pirates who are bound to a certain area - it could be northmen reavers operating out of their home village or slavers working out of Fort Doom. Whatever the reason, there may not be an area with rich pickings within easy reach of their base and so they content themselves to just having a look at what come across their path - and if it seems juicy and relatively weak, just like a mugger the pirates will pounce on the target. This method is for pirates who are either not ambitious or courageous enough to go for the big score

"Completely random"
Some pirates prefer never to stay in the same area too long, so as to not get a reputation and thus the attention of the law. Pirate crews such as this are drifters on the high seas, and every time they capture a prize, they will usually move on to a different area for a while. Naturally, using this method will give slim pickings and most pirates don't have the patience or discretion for this approach.