Life of a Pirate

Plunder & Infamy

The acquisition of wealth and the spread of grim reputations motivate pirates to deeds of daring and depravity. The following two subsystems present GMs with ways to gauge and track their PCs’ success at achieving what all pirates desire most.


There’s a difference between plunder and the gold pieces in a pirate’s pocket. While gold doubloons and fabulous jewelry can be plunder, pirates are rarely lucky enough to encounter a ship with a hold full of such treasures. Typically, there are trade goods, foodstuffs, spices, and valuables of a more mundane sort. Such takes can fetch significant prices, but for scallywags more interested in looting than the specifics of what they loot, this system provides a way for parties to track their plunder without getting bogged down by lists of commonplace cargo and their values down to the copper piece. Aside from streamlining the collection of riches, this system also allows characters to increase their infamy, paying off crew members and spreading their wealth with more appealing dispensations of loot than what was aboard the last merchant ship they robbed.

Winning Plunder: Typically, at any point the PCs claim a ship’s cargo, conquer an enemy’s hideout, or find a significant treasure, there’s the potential for a portion (sometimes a significant portion) of that wealth to translate into plunder. Plunder means more than five wicker baskets, a barrel of pickled herring, three short swords, and a noble’s outfit; it’s a generalization of a much larger assortment of valuable but generally useless goods (and serves to help avoid bookkeeping on lists of random goods). Rather, a cargo ship carrying construction timber, dyed linens, crates of sugar, animal furs, and various other goods might equate to 4 points of plunder; plunder serves as a useful shorthand for what varied mundane treasures are discovered and can be sold for values in gold. Characters can also buy plunder if they wish, though those who do so risk becoming known as merchants rather than pirates.

Value of Plunder: Plunder is valuable for two reasons: It can be sold for gold pieces, and it helps you increase your Infamy (Infamy is further detailed below). In general, 1 point of plunder is worth approximately 1,000 gp, whether it be for a crate full of valuable ores or a whole cargo hold full of foodstuffs. Regardless of what the plunder represents, getting the best price for such goods is more the domain of merchants than pirates, and just because cargo might be worth a set amount doesn’t necessarily mean the PCs can get that much for it. Exchanging 1 point of plunder for gold requires a PC to spend 1 full day at port and make an applicable skill check. Regardless of how much plunder the PCs have, one PC must spend a full day trading to exchange 1 point of plunder for gold. The PC trading also must be the same PC to make the skill check to influence the trade. The larger the port and the higher the skill check, the better price the PCs can get for their plunder. At smaller ports there’s little chance of getting more than half value for plunder, unless a PC can employ a skill to make a better deal. At larger ports, the chances of finding a buyer willing to pay a reasonable price for cargo increases, and PCs can still employ skill checks to make even more lucrative bargains. PCs seeking to win a higher price for their plunder can make one of the following skill checks and apply the results to the table below: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or any applicable Profession skill, like Profession (merchant). A poor result on a skill check can reduce the value of plunder. If the PCs are not satisfied with the price they are offered for their plunder, they need not take it, but a day’s worth of effort is still expended. They can try for a better result the next day.

The table below explains how much PCs can expect to get for their plunder in communities of various sizes, the skill check DC required to increase this amount by a set percentage, and the maximum amount buyers in a community can be convinced to buy plunder for. Each column is explained in brief here.

Community Size: The size of a community is determined by its population, noted in every community stat block and further detailed in the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide.

Base Sale %: Every community is willing to buy plunder from the PCs, but not necessarily at its full value. This column lists the percentage at which a community is willing to buy 1 point of plunder (along with that percentage’s expression in gold pieces).

DC to Increase Sale: This is the skill check DC required to increase the sale percentage a community offers for plunder. Every community can be convinced to offer more for plunder (to a maximum sale percentage listed in the final column of the table below), but this requires the PCs to make a skill check. The DC of this skill check is 10 + an amount determined by how much the PCs are trying to increase the sale percentage. For example, if a PC is unwilling to accept a mere 20% of the value of his group’s plunder when attempting to sell it in a hamlet, he can attempt to increase this percentage by 5% by making a DC 15 skill check. If he wants to attempt to increase the percentage to 30% (the maximum amount the hamlet can possibly pay), he must make a DC 20 skill check. Failure results in no increase, and this skill check can only be made once per day. In larger communities, the DC to increase these percentages rises, but the percentage also increases, as does the maximum percentage buyers can be talked up to.

Maximum Sale %: This is the highest percentage at which a community can be talked into buying 1 point of plunder. Merchants in a community will never buy plunder for a higher price than this. Additionally, this column lists the skill check DC required to haggle buyers up to this percentage, and how much the percentage is worth in gold pieces.

Spending Plunder: In addition to its value in gold pieces, plunder is vital to increasing a pirate crew’s Infamy. See the Infamy subsystem for more details.

Buying Plunder: Although gold typically proves more valuable and versatile than plunder, some parties might wish to exchange their traditional wealth for plunder. In any community, a party can buy 1 point of plunder for 1,000 gp. What form of goods this plunder takes is determined by the GM.

Community Size Base Sale % (GP for Plunder) DC to Increase Sale Maximum Sale % (Max DC & GP for Plunder)
Thorp 10% (100 gp) 10 + 5 per 5% 20% (DC 20; 200 gp)
Hamlet 20% (200 gp) 10 + 5 per 5% 30% (DC 20; 300 gp)
Village 30% (300 gp) 10 + 5 per 5% 40% (DC 20; 400 gp)
Small town 40% (400 gp) 10 + 5 per 5% 60% (DC 30; 600 gp)
Large town 60% (600 gp) 10 + 5 per 5% 80% (DC 30; 800 gp)
Small city 80% (800 gp) 10 + 10 per 5% 90% (DC 30; 900 gp)
Large city 90% (900 gp) 10 + 10 per 10% 120% (DC 40; 1,200 gp)
Metropolis 100% (1,000 gp) 10 + 10 per 10% 140% (DC 50; 1,400 gp)

Infamy & Disrepute

Some pirates only do what they do for the promise of wealth, being little more than brigands of the waves. Others do it for the reputation, fearsomeness, and power that comes with numbering among the most notorious scallywags on the seas. That’s where Infamy comes in. Numerous times over the course of their careers, the PCs—as members of a single pirate crew—will have the opportunity to recount their victories, boast of the treasures they’ve won, and spread tales of their outrages. All of this has the potential to win the PCs Infamy, but that alone isn’t the goal. At the most basic level, infamous pirates have the potential to press-gang unfortunates into their crews, get repairs to their ships in nearly any port, and win discounts from merchants they’d prefer not to rob. As a crew becomes more and more infamous, however, its legend stretches across the seas, allowing it to garner support from other pirate lords, win more favourable vessels, and even rally whole pirate armadas under its flag. This system allows characters to track how their legend is growing over the course of the campaign, along with providing them tangible rewards for building appropriately piratical reputations.

Infamy and Disrepute Scores: A party has two related scores: Infamy and Disrepute. Infamy tracks how many points of Infamy the crew has gained over its career—think of this as the sum of all the outlandish stories and rumours about the PCs being told throughout the Shackles. Infamy rarely, if ever, decreases, and reaching certain Infamy thresholds (the first one at 10 points) provides useful benefits and allows others to be purchased using points of Disrepute. Infamy is limited by actual skill, however, and a group’s Infamy score can never be more than 4 × the PCs’ average party level.

Disrepute is a spendable resource—a group’s actual ability to cash in on its reputation. This currency is used to purchase impositions, deeds others might not want to do for the group, but that they perform either to curry the group’s favour or to avoid its disfavour. This score will likely fluctuate over the course of a pirate crew’s career and can go as high as the group’s Infamy (but never higher), and at times might even drop to zero. This isn’t something to worry about, though, as a low Disrepute score has no bearing on a crew’s overall reputation—on the contrary, it merely means they’re making use of the benefits their status has won them. However, it does represent that even the PCs’ legend can only take them so far, and if a group’s Disrepute drops lower than the Disrepute price of a benefit, the crew must spend time building its Disrepute back up before it can purchase that benefit.

Winning Infamy and Disrepute: A few things are required to gain Infamy: an audience, a deed to tell about, and a flair for storytelling. Proof of the group’s deed in the form of plunder doesn’t hurt either.

To gain Infamy, the PCs must moor their ship at a port for 1 full day, and the PC determined by the group to be its main storyteller must spend this time on shore carousing and boasting of infamous deeds. This PC must make either a Bluff, Intimidate, or Perform check to gauge the effectiveness of her recounting or embellishing. The DC of this check is equal to 15 + twice the group’s average party level (APL), and the check is referred to as an Infamy check. If the character succeeds at this check, the group’s Infamy and Disrepute both increase by +1 (so long as neither score is already at its maximum amount). If the result exceeds the DC by +5, the group’s Infamy and Disrepute increase by +2; if the result exceeds the DC by +10, both scores increase by +3. The most a party’s Infamy and Disrepute scores can ever increase as a result of a single Infamy check is by 3 points. If the PC fails the Infamy check, there is no change in her group’s Infamy score and the day has been wasted.

Occasionally, deeds of exceptional daring or depravity might win a party increases to its Disrepute. This sort of discretionary bonus to Disrepute is noted in the context of an adventure or determined by the GM.

Infamy and Disrepute per Port: No matter how impressionable (or drunk) the crowd, no one wants to hear the same tales and boasts over and over again. Thus, a group can only gain a maximum of 5 points of Infamy and Disrepute from any particular port. However, this amount resets every time a group reaches a new Infamy threshold. Thus, once a group gains 5 points of Infamy and Disrepute in Quent, it can gain no further points of Infamy from that port until it reaches the next Infamy threshold, though the crew can travel to another port and gain more Infamy by boasting to a new audience.

Plunder and Infamy: Plunder can modify a PC’s attempt to gain Infamy in two ways. Before making an Infamy check for the day, the party can choose to spend plunder to influence the result—any tale is more believable when it comes from someone throwing around her wealth and buying drinks for the listeners. Every point of plunder expended adds a +2 bonus to the character’s skill check to earn Infamy. The party can choose to spend as much plunder as it wants to influence this check—even the most leaden-tongued pirate might win fabulous renown by spending enough booty.

Additionally, if a PC fails an Infamy check, the party can choose to spend 3 points of plunder to immediately reroll the check. The party may only make one reroll attempt per day, and spend the plunder even if the second attempt fails—some people just aren’t impressed no matter how much loot you throw at them.

Spending Disrepute: A group’s Disrepute can be spent to buy beneficial effects called impositions, though some impositions might only be available in certain places—such as at port—or might have additional costs—like forcing a prisoner to walk the plank. Spending Disrepute to purchase an imposition requires 1 full day unless otherwise noted. When Disrepute is spent, the group’s Disrepute score decreases by the price of the imposition, but its Infamy (and, thus, the group’s Infamy threshold) remains the same. The prices of impositions and the Infamy threshold required to make those impositions available are detailed below.

Infamy Threshold

The following benefits are available to groups that achieve the listed amount of Infamy.

Title & Infamy Required Benefit
Disgraceful (10+ Infamy) Characters may purchase disgraceful impositions.
The PCs may choose one favoured port. They gain a +2 bonus on all Infamy checks made at that port.
Despicable (20+ Infamy) Characters may purchase despicable impositions.
Once per week, the PCs can sacrifice a prisoner or crew member to immediately gain 1d3 points of Disrepute. This sacrifice is always fatal, and returning the victim to life results in the loss of 1d6 points of Disrepute.
Notorious (30+ Infamy) Characters may purchase notorious impositions.
Disgraceful impositions can be purchased for half price (rounded down).
The PCs may choose a second favoured port. They gain a +2 bonus on all Infamy checks made at this new favoured port and a +4 bonus on Infamy checks made at their first favoured port.
Loathsome (40+ Infamy) Characters may purchase loathsome impositions.
Despicable impositions can be purchased for half price (rounded down).
PCs gain a +5 bonus on skill checks made to sell plunder.
Vile (55+ Infamy) Characters may purchase vile impositions.
Notorious impositions can be purchased for half price (rounded down). Disgraceful impositions are free.
The PCs may choose a third favoured port. They gain a +2 bonus on all Infamy checks made at the new favoured port, a +4 bonus on Infamy checks made at their second favoured port, and a +6 bonus on Infamy checks made at their first favoured port.


The following benefits can be purchased by groups that spend the listed amount of Disrepute and have achieved the requisite amount of Infamy. Over the course of the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, characters might find other ways to spend their Disrepute.

Disrepute Cost Imposition Benefit
Disgraceful Impositions
2 Yes, Sir!: For the next hour, the PCs’ crew completes any mundane tasks they’re assigned in half the expected time. This typically relates to Craft and Profession (sailor) checks made to prepare, maintain, or repair the ship, and cannot be applied to combat or more complex deeds like crafting magic items.
5 Captain’s Orders!: As a standard action, a PC on board her ship can cast fog cloud, heroism, make whole, quench, or whispering wind with a caster level equal to her character level.
5 Walk the Plank!: The PCs may sacrifice one crew member or prisoner to grant themselves and their crew one of two bonuses: either a +2 bonus on all skill checks or a +2 bonus on attack rolls. These bonuses only apply while on board the PCs’ ship and last until either the next day or when the captain leaves the ship. If a sacrificed character is returned to life, the PCs and their crew members take a –2 penalty on both skill checks and attack rolls for 1 day.
10 Get Up, You Dogs!: Every PC and allied character on the deck of the PCs’ ship is affected as per the spell cure light wounds, as if cast by a cleric of the PCs’ average party level. This imposition can only be used once per week.
Despicable Impositions
5 Lashings!: The speed of the PCs’ ship doubles for 1 day.
5 Shiver Me Timbers!: While on board their ship, the PCs and their entire crew can reroll initiative or roll initiative in what would otherwise be a surprise round. The benefit of this imposition can be used immediately, but only once per week.
10 Besmara’s Blessings!: As a standard action, a PC on board her ship can cast animate rope, control water, remove curse, remove disease, or water breathing with a caster level equal to her character level.
10 Dead Men Tell No Tales!: While on board their ship, the PCs can use this imposition to automatically confirm a threatened critical hit.
Notorious Impositions
5 You’ll Take It!: The PCs can spend up to 5 points of plunder in 1 day at 50% of its value (regardless of a community’s maximum sale %). This amount cannot be adjusted by skill checks.
5 Honour the Code!: The PCs and their crew gain a +4 bonus on all Charisma-based skill checks made against other pirates for the next 24 hours.
10 Master the Winds!: As a standard action, a PC on board her ship can cast call lightning storm, control winds, mirage arcana, or telekinesis with a caster level equal to her character level.
15 Chum the Waters!: For every Infamy threshold they possess, the PCs summon 1d4 sharks into the waters surrounding their ship. These sharks are not under the PCs’ control and viciously attack any creature in the water.
Loathsome Impositions
5 Evade!: Teleport your ship 100 feet in any direction. This imposition can be used once per day.
10 You’ll Take It and Like It!: The PCs can spend up to 5 points of plunder in 1 day at 100% of its value (regardless of a community’s maximum sale %). This amount cannot be adjusted by skill checks.
10 Master the Waves!: As a standard action, a PC on board her ship can cast control weather, discern location, hero’s feast, or waves of exhaustion with a caster level equal to her character level.
20 The Widow’s Scar!: Choose one enemy to curse. You and your crew gain a +2 bonus on attack and damage rolls against that NPC for 1 week. The enemy is aware of the curse and who cursed her, and can end the effect with a remove curse spell.
Vile Imposition
10 More Lashings!: The speed of the PCs’ ship quadruples for 1 day.
15 The Hungry Sea!: A PC aboard her ship may cast elemental swarm, storm of vengeance, or whirlwind as an 17th-level caster.
20 Dive! Dive! Dive!: The PCs’ ship submerges and can travel underwater at its normal speed for up to 1 hour. During this time, the vessel is encompassed by a bubble of breathable air and takes no ill effects from the water—even most sea creatures keep their distance. The ship leaves no visible wake upon the waters above, but might be visible in particularly clear water.
25 Summon the Serpent!: One sea serpent comes to the aid of the PCs’ ship. This sea monster is under the control of the PCs and serves for 10 minutes before disappearing back into the deep.

Roles Aboard a Pirate Ship

A pirate crew is more than just a mob of cutthroats on a ship; all crew members have specific roles and responsibilities, with harsh punishments being meted out upon those who shirk their duties. Listed here are some of the standard roles aboard a typical pirate ship.

Boatswain: The boatswain is responsible for the upper deck of the vessel and above. This makes the boatswain accountable for all rope, rigging, anchors, and sails. At the start of the day, the boatswain and those under her weigh anchor, raise the sails and report on the general condition of the ship’s deck to the captain. As she oversees many of the ship’s basic daily labours, the boatswain is often responsible for keeping discipline and dispensing punishment.

Cabin Boy/Girl: Servant to the captain and other officers, this low-ranking and typically young crew member assists other sailors in their duties and runs various errands across the ship, requiring him or her to gain a measure of understanding of almost all the ship’s roles. Older or more respected people in this role are called stewards.

Captain: The ultimate authority on any ship, his word is law to all on board. The captain chooses where to sail, what to plunder, and who fills the other stations aboard the vessel, among many other command decisions. Leadership often proves perilous, however, as a captain is, above all, meant to secure success for his ship and crew. Failing to do so increases the threat of mutiny.

Carpenter/Surgeon: No matter what enchantments or alchemical unguents augment a pirate ship, its heart and bones are still wood. This simple fact makes the carpenter one of the most important positions aboard any vessel. Carpenters are chiefly responsible for maintaining the ship below the deck, finding and plugging leaks, repairing damage, and replacing masts and yards. As the crew member most skilled with the saw, the carpenter typically serves as a ship’s surgeon as well—bones cut just as easily as timbers.

Cook: While the quartermaster normally allocates the rations, the cook and his apprentices make and distribute meals to the crew. Although some better-outfitted vessels employ skilled cooks to attend to the captain and the officers, many cooks are drawn from crew members who have suffered crippling injuries, allowing them to still serve even after such trauma.

Master-at-Arms: Concerned with the security of the ship, the fitness of the crew, and the dispensing of justice, the master-at-arms typically is one of the most feared and dreaded of a ship’s officers.

Master Gunner: The master gunner is in charge of all shipboard artillery, ensuring moisture and rust don’t ruin the weapons and that the crew knows how to use them. On board ships with firearms, the master gunner maintains the vessel’s cannons, firearms, and powder supplies; on ships without such weapons, she maintains the ballistas, catapults, and so on.

Quartermaster: The quartermaster oversees the supplies and items stored aboard the ship. She maintains the supplies of food and weaponry, oversees the disbursement of food to the cook, and doles out the rum ration to the crew.

Rigger: Riggers work the rigging and unfurl the sails. In battle, next to that of a boarding party, the riggers’ job is one of the most dangerous, as they pull enemy vessels near enough to board.

Swab: Any sailor who mops the decks. Also used as slang for any low-ranking or unskilled crew member.

Piratical Punishments

To maintain the obedience and effectiveness of their crews, most captains enforce strict schedules and shipboard laws upon their vessels, all maintained by the swift dispensation of brutal punishments. The following presents (in order of severity) the game effects of a variety of typical nautical punishments, which the PCs have the potential to face or inflict during their piratical careers. Most of these sentences are meted out just before the evening meal, at an event typically referred to as the bloody hour. Victims are tied to the whipping post on the main deck and their backs stripped for punishment—with penalties doubled for those who resist. Although the victim is bound, the punishers simply lash their victims, and are not allowed a full-round action to make a coup-de-grace. A roll of 1 on such an attack is treated as a non-damaging fumble that still counts as a strike, much to the amusement of the crew.
Rope Bash: Little more than an admonishment—and occasionally used as a sign of endearment—a rope bash is a single attack with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope that delivers 1 point of nonlethal damage.
The Lash: This is an attack using a whip. Damage dealt by the lash during bloody hour is typically nonlethal.
Cat-o’-Nine-Tails: This is an attack using a cat-o’-nine-tails, also referred to simply as a cat—a Medium version of which deals 1d4 points of slashing damage on a successful hit. See page 18 of Pathfinder Player Companion: Pirates of the Inner Sea for more details on this weapon.
Confined in the Sweatbox: A cramped metal box left on deck and exposed to the sun, a sweatbox is terribly confining and replicates unbearably hot conditions. Each hour a character spends in the box, she must succeed at a DC 15 Fortitude saving throw or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. The DC of this save increases by +1 for each consecutive hour the character spends in the box. Any creature with fire resistance is immune to the effects of the sweatbox. Victims typically spend 8, 12 or even 24 hours locked up in the sweatbox.
Keelhauling: The most frightful of pirate punishments is keelhauling, as it generally ends in death—often by decapitation. Being keelhauled involves being tied to a rope looped over a ship’s keel and dragged down one side of a ship, underwater across the barnacle encrusted hull, and up the other side. Keelhauling takes several rounds and can be done either fast or slow. If done fast, the barnacles cut deep and flense the victim, dealing 1d6 points of damage per round. If done slow, shallower cuts are incurred, dealing 1d3 damage per round, but the risk of drowning increases (see page 445 of the Core Rulebook). In either case, the victim can make a DC 20 Reflex save each round to take half damage. How long keelhauling takes typically depends on the vessel, with a keelhauling on a ship like the Wormwood taking 6 rounds if done fast and 12 rounds if done slow.

Pirate Entertainments

With time on their hands and precious few places to go, Shackles pirates have come up with an astonishing array of pastimes.
One way pirates amuse themselves is through songs and stories. Pirates love a good sea chantey, and characters with Perform skills quickly find themselves popular members of the crew (although pirates aren’t generally big on Chelish Opera). If a character succeeds at a DC 20 Perform check, he gains a +2 circumstance bonus on all Charisma-based skill checks made to interact with any listener among the crew for the next 24 hours. A Perform result of 9 or lower, however, indicates that the next time he attempts to use Perform to entertain the crew, everyone ignores him unless he makes a successful DC 15 Bluff or Intimidate check before doing so.
Aside from telling stories, singing songs, and other recreations (all of which might be simulated with the Perform skill), these pastimes have two things in common: they are dangerous, and they are played for money. When betting on any of the following games, the minimum bet is 1 gp, and the maximum ready cash any NPC in the lesser crew is likely to have is 20 gp. Some people are bad losers—the ramifications of this are left for the GM to decide.
Arm Wrestling: Not merely typical arm wrestling bouts, such matches are usually conducted on a barrel top covered in broken glass, knives, or caltrops. Participants make opposed Strength checks, with the higher result determining the winner, and the loser taking an amount of damage equal to 1d2 + the winner’s Strength modifier as his hand and arm are pushed onto whatever lies on the table.
Hog Lob: Participants lob a lead ingot covered in a greased piglet skin, the “hog,” as far across the deck as possible. This game is resolved by d20 checks between any number of players, who agree on a bet beforehand. The hog counts as an improvised weapon, imposing a –4 penalty on all rolls using it unless the thrower has the Throw Anything feat. Checks are resolved as attack rolls using the character’s CMB. Characters toss the hog a number of feet equal to their adjusted rolls; for example, a character who gets a result of 22 throws the hog 22 feet. Some pirates claim to have participated in games played against Asmodeus using a live hog.
Heave: This potentially deadly drinking game is played with rum and takes place between any number of pirates, who bet to predict the winner beforehand. Each pirate drinks a half pint of rum in one swig. Doing so forces participants to make a successful DC 15 Fortitude save or have the damage dealt by the rum ration increase by +1 (see sidebar; this is in addition to the normal effects of the rum ration). This DC increases by +3 for each consecutive drink. Pirates then take turns drinking until only one is left standing. Some tales tell of entire crews drinking themselves to death through this game, leaving ships of drunk ghosts wandering the shipping routes.

Life of a Pirate

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