Where's the Pirate Code?


Skull & Shackles

Scarab Sages

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I've heard this talked about a few times. Maybe it's in a sidebar somewhere that I'm just overlooking, but can someone point me to where the Shackles Pirate Code is discussed? I see small mentions here and there, but the way people talk about it makes me think there is something larger I'm missing.


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Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

It's on p. 30 of Pirates of the Inner Sea. I don't know that I'm allowed to just copy and paste the entire thing, but that's where you'll find it.

Scarab Sages

I see it now, I should have checked that book. Honestly forgot it existed, when it's one of the more useful ones for this campaign. Thanks! :D


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

My pleasure!


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

It really more a set of guidelines than actual rules.


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I provided the following to my gang. It included my own take on the code as well as examples of pirate codes both made up and historic. Perhaps this will help.

Pirate Code:
Code of Besmara- The code has undergone many changes over the years to serve different captains and purposes. Longer and more complex versions are known to exist but most agree these are additions of famous captains than from the will of Besmara. While this list is vague it is used in the creation of longer and more complex codes of most pirate vessels. The Code of Besmara often serves as the framework for sometimes lengthy bylaws. It is common for pirates to advise someone to look at the size of a ship’s charter. Too long is the sign of a litigious captain and crew given to loopholes often aimed at cheating sailors of their due. Too short is the sign of a rookie crew and captain who will have a long road of contentiousness ahead till reasonable guidelines are struck.
 
1. Ye don’t sail or ride for Free
2. Blood and sweat has a price
3. Fortune favors the courageous action but martyrs and fools don’t live to spend the reward
4. One fool can sink a whole crew
5. Keep ye blades sharp and boots ready
6. There is no rule 6
7. Neither soft-hearts or tyrants can keep a ship or crew long
8. If ye fall behind ye gets left behind
9. Keep the peace of the ship
10. The code is more a guideline than actual rules
 
Common Code Expectations
1. Ye don’t sail or ride for Free
· Ye work not ye eat not- The captain, quartermaster, first mate, boswain or a vote of the crew can deny food, water or grog to any able bodied member of the crew who does not work. Only by captain’s command or vote of the crew can charity be given. If a crewmember wishes to bestow charity on the lazy it comes from their own rations.
· Each crewman gets a wage, and a share in the treasure, that captain gets 3shares, the quartermaster, first mate, and sailing master get 2.
2. Blood and sweat has a price
· Double normal wages (Hazard Pay) will be paid the man or woman who braves a hazard be it battle or daring on behalf of the ship or proper order.
· Any sailor injured in performance of orders shall receive full wages and a share in plunder just as any who is fit until ships doctor finds them able. If they lose a digit they get 200 gold. If they lose a limb 800 gold.
3. Fortune favors the courageous but neither martyrs nor fools live to spend the reward
· Often quoted but rarely additional ship rules attached
4. One fool can sink a whole crew
· Sailors found deficient in their duties will be left in the nearest safe port.
· No open flames below deck, light a lantern. Sailors who court with fire below deck will be marooned.
· If any crewman acts in violation of local law or custom outside of the chain of command risks the whole crew. Such a sailor can be left to his fate.
5. Keep ye blades sharp and your boots ready
· All crew must keep their weapons ready, clean and fit for action failure will result in being left in the nearest safe port
· Cowardice before the enemy or desertion of post is punishable by death (provided the sailor is not under enchantment)
6. There is no rule 6
· Often quoted for things that a crew feel should be self-explanatory. Though it is likely an insult to Asmodeous is often associated with excessive rules and the number six and is one of the principle targets of Besmara’s own efforts.
7. Neither soft-hearts nor tyrants can Captain a ship long
· Like several other items in the code this one results in few rules but is often invoked when a captain is viewed to soft, weak, or alternatively cruel or reckless with the lives of the crew.
8. If ye fall behind ye gets left behind
· Easily the most broken of the code. While it expresses the somewhat callous nature of pirates captains or crews take a measure of pride of rescuing crewmembers or even engaging in revenge. But the flip side is also true. Piracy is a bloody business and it should not be the crews fault that someone unable to the task took the risk.
9. Keep the peace of the ship
· Disputes are to be settled by arbitration of the Captain or First-mate. If that fails any grudge must be set aside till the crew members are off ship and in safe harbor.
· Stealing from crew members is punishable by marooning.
· While a crewman has the right to put issues to a vote no direct order during the course of sailing or in times of danger will be disobeyed. Insubordination will result in a lashing. Grumbling against the captain or officers will result a flogging.
10. The code is more guidelines than actual rules
· While generally no actual law of ship is created with this guideline it is often invoked when exceptions are warranted or defiance of the rules is prudent.

Example Codes

• 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 own 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.
• 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.
• No crew member shall take a position on a new ship or talk
of leaving until each crew member has acquired at least
1,000 gp worth of treasure through his labors.
• 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.
• Any pirate found stealing from crewmates shall take 30
lashes and be put ashore at port.
• The person who spots a sail shall have first pick of its loot.
• Any crew member who loses a limb in service to the ship
shall be paid 800 gp for its loss.
• Every sailor has an equal right to vote in decisions put to
the crew by the captain.

Privateer’s Code
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 she deserves by virtue of her
strength of arms, but shall not plunder the poor.
• A privateer’s word is as strong as her steel. She 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 her.

Shipboard Conduct
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 her fair share of
work, and neither shirk her duty nor pass
off work to another, lest she 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.

Real world example

Honor Among Thieves
This charter of conduct drafted by Bartholomew Roberts' crew was preserved in Captain Johnson's General History of the Pirates.

I. Every man has a vote in affairs of the 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.

II. Every man to be called fairly in turn, by list, on board of prizes because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels, or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.

III. None shall game for money, either with dice or cards.

IV. The lights and candles to be put out at eight o'clock at night: if any of the crew, after that hour, still remain inclined for drinking, they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.

V. Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass, and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.

VI. No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man were to be found seducing any of the latter sex, and carrying her to sea in disguise, he shall suffer death.

VII. He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.

VIII. None shall strike another aboard the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner: at the word of command from the Quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall walk an agreed upon number of paces, turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the Quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim, they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draws first blood shall be declared the victor.

IX. No man to talk of breaking up their way of living, till each had shared £1,000. If in order to do this, any man should lose a limb, or become a cripple in their service, he was to have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock, and for lesser hurts, proportionately.

X. The Captain and Quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize: the Master Gunner and Boatswain, one share and a half, and all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.

XI. The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only, by right, on all other days, by favor only.

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