Yar! Yo ho, me hearties yo ho! Today, we are going to be exploring Pirates of Drinax, a supplement and campaign for Mongoose Traveller (we’ve previously done a Meet the Party), where the party is brought in to be privateers…and then allowed to do whatever they want, so long as they are willing to pay the consequences for it!
There’s been a long-standing fascination with the pirates of popular culture, sticking with the romanticized notion of piracy of the Golden Era. For some players there is an absolute appeal to that time, and it suits their play style well: ships packed with treasure, the freedom of the high seas, noble ladies (and men) to swoon over you, and the general lifestyle that generally suits the “remember, pillage then burn” mentality that I have seen a lot in gamers. But all of that stuff is in the 16th century? Why are we stuck with just cannons and swords? Well, you could dream up an Alternate History, or you can go well into the future for some Space Piracy!
While it’s more of a speculative fiction, the analogy of the oceans in the Age of Sail to outer space works well. The distances hold a vastness that eclipses the distances of Earth itself, and offers the chance to mash up all the wonderful tropes of piracy with the wonderful tropes of sci-fi. It’s been done a variety of ways, from the over-the-top trope mashup that was Outlaw Star, multiple more serious iterations in the Gundam franchise, down to a hyper crunchy, realistic-ish version seen in Honor Harrington . . . where the characters, active duty navy members, have particular disdain for pirates, and have an entire book about wiping them out.
With all of this in mind, I have been keeping an eye out for something to run as a secondary campaign in our group, and while digging through my research for my recent Traveller article I found the Pirates of Drinax. Pirates is a combination of campaign and supplement that expands upon a situation taking place in the Trojan Reach, a subsector of space that lies between two empires, the Human Imperium, and the Aslan Hierocracy. For about two millennia the small space kingdom of Drinax (closer to a duchy to a true empire) managed to hold its reach over a number of planets in the system, keeping order and defending its territory . . . . all until about 200 years ago, when one king made the mistake of levying a heavy tax on the Aslan while being completely unprepared for the repercussions. Drinax was devastated, its empire shattered, and its planet’s surface bombarded so hard that it is unlivable. And yet, for some reason the Floating Palace, the seat of the entire aristocracy and their science, was left untouched.
Now, King Oleb of Drinax is looking for a way to restore his kingdom to glory. In order to do so, he needs leverage to bring the Imperium and the Aslan to the table for negotiations. He needs a network of alliances and agreements between his old territories. He needs a navy, prepared to defend his planet against an invasion similar to the one which devastated it originally. And he needs to do so without any of the major players in the region realizing what he’s up to. His daughter, the princess, has an idea: privateers! Pirates, ostensibly loyal to Drinax, to raid the shipping in the area, visit his old territories without drawing notice, and to amass a fighting force. Now, with the last known commerce raider built before the war, all he needs is a crew . . .
Apart from my enjoyment of the plot, there are some legitimate benefits to picking up Pirates. It just so happens that it fits the needs of my gaming group well. At this point, we are looking at a number of players with scattered availability, some who would need to be gone for long gaps of time. This has the potential to derail a promising campaign if the group is unable to meet quorum for a long time, and can leave one player out in the cold. Thus one of the best benefits of Pirates of Drinax for us is that it has been designed to be episodic, and it has rules for hiring crewmen to take the place of a missing character (or to be their backup). That structure makes it an excellent fit for the role of a fallback campaign, and it can pretty easily simmer on the back burner.
Second, it offers both the GM and players a soft-ish landing into a new system. Traveller has a lot of history, and it covers a wide expanse of territory, and on top of all that has rules for building new star systems and planets. While these rules aren’t gone, one of the three books that is included is The Trojan Reach, which is a pretty hearty supplement to a vaguely referenced area in the core rule book. It provides a laundry list of planets and potential allies, and provides a lot of in0depth details about the setting. While it doesn’t have to be conclusive, I have found that it helps to have something predefined when jumping into a new system.
For character creation, it offers background choices for humans that fit the campaign well: a noble from Drinax, someone whose family survived the surface, or someone from Asim, a recent conquest of Drinax. Players are not required to choose these backgrounds, and can easily have come from elsewhere without much difficulty, but it does provide some nice flavor for the immediate;y relevant to the setting. Even better, it spends a great deal of time really expanding Aslan character creation. The core rule book had rules, but they were pretty simple (+2 STR, -2 DEX). Pirates goes deeper: the rules in the core were the rules for the outcasts of Aslan society. What about those who grew up heavily embroiled in clan life?
I don’t want to spend too much time on the differences between the two, but as a quick point Aslan will have an easier time getting into careers for which their position in society is supposed to get into, and have societal benefits based on their place in the clan. However, they are far more hidebound in what each gender should take, and you are expected to try to stay in your career far longer. Falling out early disgraces you in Aslan society in a way that human society will not. Humans have more difficulty in getting into (and surviving) their careers, but have far more flexibility in going between them.
Pirates of Drinax makes things easy to start by limiting your ship choices: they give it to you. One of the more difficult pieces of Plot Welding when I worked on my Meet the Party was how to reconcile a number of disparate benefits the provided access to different ships. Here, they are all melded together as ship shares to help repair (or upgrade) the Harrier-class commerce raider the players start with. It focuses the party, and gives them an immediate goal for “things to spend our shares on”.
With all of these benefits, I have to stop to note: the authors have seen where this campaign often leads. They have given a lot (and I mean a lot) of options open for the players to go with as they wish, while still working towards the overall plot. They have an endgame in mind, and one that can give an epic finale, but it seems as if the writers have thought about a lot of ways that players might go, and even better, have provided the flexibility to re-purpose plots to suit the GM’s needs.
There is one other unique feature: while there is plenty of detail provided in order to run the modules that lead up to the finale, Mongoose offers even more supplements to flesh out the encounters. Yes, I am aware that they are selling supplements to go on top of supplements, and I am aware that this is a way for Mongoose to wrangle a few extra dollars out of buyers, but in this case it makes some sense. As much as the world is an open sandbox, there is always a chance that players decide to settle down in one particular area for a while. Perhaps they push the plot in a way that breaks what you have planned. For a prospective GM, it is a great asset to have something prepared so that they can answer the question of “Ok, what is the logical consequence of what these savages (the players) just did?” One that I plan to pick up is the supplement for the Harrier-class Commerce Raider the players are lent to start the campaign. I just know they are going to want to fiddle with it, because we’ve done so with our ships in other campaigns/systems.
On that note, I tell my prospective players…good luck! I want to see you push Sideways, Down and Up, because I can’t wait to see what you do.
Yarr, The Pirates of Drinax can be found where X marks the spot (or for purchase at DriveThruRPG.com) The featured image has been lovingly plundered from Mongoose Publishing. Raise your colors in the comments, or on Twitter @WHalfling and @HungryHalfling.