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Privateers and Gentlemen - piracy in proto-Traveller

mike wightman

SOC-14 10K
In the original Library Data the first/lowest tier of Imperial government is the sub-sector Duke.
They are tasked with seeing to the economic well being of the worlds within their sub-sectors, overseeing the deployment of Imperial resources, and ensuring that worlds pay their taxes ;)

Rivalry exists between sub-sector Dukes, they are competing for limited Naval assets, they are trying to encourage megacorp involvement within their sector, and they are constantly striving to exploit the resources the sub-sector offers.
A sub-sector Duke who can encourage the development of a couple of high pop worlds, or a nice mix of industrial, rich and agricultural worlds, will have considerably more influence at the sector level - and may even aspire one day to that lofty position.

How to stop your neighbours doing the same? What if a world just over the sub-sector border offers great trade potential?

Megacorportions are the power behind the throne of the Imperium. They exploit the resources, operate the refineries and factories, transport the goods to market.
They conduct exploration - to find new markets and resources - they conduct research and development - to stay ahead of the competition, they found colonies, buy and sell whole worlds, and pay their taxes... ;)

So what if a rival company is making inroads into your market share? What if a world that used to provide the raw materiels for your factories decides to trade with someone else? What if an upstart transport company starts to undercut your transport monopoly? What if another megacorporation perceives your foothold in a particular region to be weak and ripe for takeover... hostile takeover.

Individual planets are free to govern themselves as they see fit. They are free to build their own naval ships, to subsidise trade, develop their own economies, exploit their own resources...

So what if a rival world has ambitions to claim an uninhabited part of your system, or you want to develop the potential in another worlds system because they lack the resources?
So basically I can see how each of the above groups would sponsor raiders within the territory of their rivals.

By claiming "Trade War" you have partial immunity from the IN blowing you out of space because of your activities. The letter of marque is a natural extension of this IMHO.

This helps me to explain three things:

how the pirate career can have such a well defined structure

where Corsair class "speculative traders" come from (and why it is a standard design ;) )

how pirates can find a ready market for their booty.
My understanding of the corsair type of 'speculative trader' is that it is a type of mercenary cruiser, that like most merc types can easily intimidate or defeat merchant vessels in a straight fight, also it's large cargo hold makes it ideal for piracy. As for Trade war, I would have thought that all conflicts would be within the 100 diameter limit of each world in question (even if within the same system) as beyond this the IN has total jurisdiction. Whilst in the 10-100 diameter limit it has shared jurisdiction with local forces. What is interesting is if those local forces would be 'invaders' or those belonging to a corporate entity that has claimed an uninhabited in system world and now stands in conflict with the designated system mainworld. I suppose if you can defend your claim, either militarily or legally than the IN would be obliged to assist you fighting of the mainworld's marauding commerce raiders, though would have to ignore any defined military units from either side due to the 'Imperial Rules of War'. This makes for great adventure material as conditions are confusing both politically and militarily.
The Traveller Adveture trade war chapter makes for interesting reading ;)

I can't really see the difference between what happens in that scenario and full on piracy.

Since this is accepted business practice for megacorps, it sort of stands to reason that planetary governments and rival nobles can use the same "rules" to justify their ethically challenged trading practices ;)
I've always made the same logic leap, but add an additional factor:

The Imperial Government ENCOURAGES this kind of infighting, in order to keep the locals too busy with each other to seriously consider rising against the imperium.
Yep, I can see that happening.

If the Dukes are busing infighting they are less likely to band together to challenge the sector Duke or even the Emperor himself.

And no sub-sector Duke can have much authority over a megacorp.
When are you going to grasp that the megacorps ARE, in essence, OWNED by the Nobility. The nobility won't let the corps do that which is bad for the Nobles since they are the stockholders.

The canonical data shows significant ownership of most resting with the nobles, at least when one factors out other megacorps... which are likewise owned mostly by nobles and megacorps.
I actually think it's more the other way around ;)

The megacorps own the nobility - using share issues to nobles as a means of control.

Only a couple of sector Dukes, or the Emperor himself, come close to having controlling shares in any megacorporations, assuming that is that Delgado, Hortalez, Igsiirdi, Schunamann, Tukera, and Shiishugginsa are all noble houses, and that their head holds at least sector Duke authority somewhere.
But the people who control the course of action a megacorp takes ARE going to be nobles Sigg. Very important and very rich nobles.
Yep, I agree. Nobles are going to have positions of power and influence within megacorporations.
But who do these people side with when push comes to shove?
When there is a conflict of interest who do they remain loyal to, the Imperium, or their megacorp?

Who has the greater influence over a sub-sector Duke? The sector Duke who can direct Imperial resources for use by that sub-sector, or the megacorporation factor who says "do this and you'll earn a few voting shares in the corporation"?
What if the megacorp rep and the sector Duke are one and the same?

Several sub-sector Dukes could get together to challenge the dominance of a megacorp within a sector, and build up their own megacorp in the process?
This is why the Imperium would prefer the sub-sector Dukes to be competing.
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It's an interesting mix, because the same competing Dukes are all stakeholders in megacorporations, just like the Emperor... and other megacorporations.

The governing board of megacorporations need not be nobility, though I'm sure it happens. How people get voted onto these boards is probably a lot like how people get elevated to nobility and the Moot: power politics.

I presume, therefore, that megacorporations are just another axis of complexity in the equation, with the Emperor (and the Navy?) on one axis, the Dukes on another, and the megacorps on a third. That their purposes intersect in many places is a given, but they also diverge independently in many other places as well.

A balance of power, perhaps.
This thread may be of interest to some taking part in the piracy redux thread - but it's been so long I've forgotten how to post links to other threads so I'll just res this one instead :)
I presume, therefore, that megacorporations are just another axis of complexity in the equation, with the Emperor (and the Navy?) on one axis, the Dukes on another, and the megacorps on a third. That their purposes intersect in many places is a given, but they also diverge independently in many other places as well.

In practice, this means the only real difference between piracy and tradewar is a wink from a Duke...
If the MegaCorp does not get caught, then it is a tradewar. If they do get caught, it is piracy and a sub-sector director of some sort is used as a fall guy / scapegoat :devil:
I've just been re-reading the merc tickets in 76 Patrons and LBB4, the megacorps are certainly more than capable of some very nasty machinations.

A wink from a duke may not even be necessary if you are the one underwriting his/her lavish lifestyle...
I suppose it is Tradewar if the Duke feels it in the Imperium's(or his own) for it to be, and piracy if it is not. Calling it trade-war has certain advantages. If it is piracy, someone has to be arrested. But the Duke(assuming he is honestly seeking the Emperor's interest-or at least not inclined to be dishonest at this particular moment) might have reasons not to press formal charges. On the one hand he might actually prefer the trade war for reasons already given. On the other hand he might think arresting a flunky is not a hard enough lesson, and prefer to apply a squeeze in other ways. For instance he might wage what is in effect a trade war of his own against one or both of the parties. Or he might simply resort to economic warfare. For instance using Imperial funds to buy local resources and deny them to the megas. Or LBOing some dependant companies in which the Mega holds shares.
The Duke's position might be rather like a Warden of the Marches on the old Scottish border. Theoretically he must keep the law and watch his rival the other side of the frontier. However as the peculiar situation of a hostile border , insufficient manpower, and powerful clans made keeping normal law impossible(a position similar to that of Archduke Norris) a substitute was a "Warden Rode". What this was, was a raid, in technique no different then a foray by one of the clans, that hit a clan that the Warden thought most obnoxious. It couldn't keep the clans down, but it reminded them that the King was not necessarily amused. In the same way a sector Duke might prefer to use unofficial methods to control trade war. It would probably be more subtle then a "Warden Rode" because the trouble takes a different form. But it would have similarities.

Actually all this gives a bit of interest to a Free Trader game. If there are great interests dominating the sector and vying for power, the PC's could be allowed to think of themselves as not merely seeking money but fighting for freedom. It puts actual villains in a Free Trader campaign. Or less dramatically, the PC's could be merely keeping a low profile and making a few Crimps. Or both-they are not incompatable. But having a trade war threatening the livelihood of Free Traders may make an interesting game.
Another possibility is to have a whole planet be in a state of trade war with a megacorperation for generations. The Megacorperation would be trying to dominate the subsector. So the companies on the planet would be not unreasonably picturing themselves as fighting against odds for patriotism and "free trade and spacer's rights". Perhaps after a while, this state of affairs would be taken as part of life and institutions would grow up around it. The Merchant Fleet Academy might for instance openly offer a class on smuggling with the assumption that the Evil Megacorperation is the enemy. All this goes on under the eyes of the Imperium which is not prepared to intervene.
Another idea along this line is that the PCs are working for the Duke to mess up the Megacorperation that is displeasing him. A variant would be that the target suddenly gets an excess of remorse, the Duke welcomes it back into his favor.
And the PCs? Well, you can't make an omelete without breaking a few eggs...
My universe is my own design and has very little resemblance to the OTU as a result of having been developed long before the OTU existed. So allow me to offer how I conducted trade wars as a variant.

First, I have a bonding authority in my universe that acts a legal clearing house for mercenary tickets, letters of marque, and trade war declarations. I call it Lloyds Mercenary Bond Authority (yes, a wink to the old maritime house). They have schedule of the bonds that have to be posted before declaring a trade war or setting up a mercenary ticket which will help ensure everyone plays by the rules, and help cover collateral damage to life and property of noncombatants, ransoms of crews, and making sure mercenaries get paid.

So to declare a trade war you have to post the bond and file a letter of intent. Lloyds registers it and notifies local authorities so crews with letters of marque are properly indemnified and pirates are not. Communiques are sent out by X-boats to the companies that are involved giving them the start date of hostilites. No one can jump the gun, or there are fines to be paid and potential loss of trade routes.

Rules laid down can vary, but the standard ones are:

1) Ships and thier cargoes are free targets. Crews and customers are to be ransomed.

2) Company trading outposts and compounds are safe zones which cannot be treated as legitimate targets. They can be blockaded.

3) Company personnel at the executive levels can be targets of assasination. Their families and property are not targets. Personnel inside a safe zone are considered "out of bounds".

Hostilites continue until on side is forced out of the market in the area in dispute. Lloyds then arbitrates reparations and settlements. Everyone shakes hands and goes off to make some money or lick their wounds and plot.

So long as everyone behaves themselves cargoes are lost, routes trade hands, maybe some executive deadweight gets retired (good way to settle some scores in the office), and mercenary captains make some money but casualties and damage are relatively low. Lots of opportunies for adventuring without hardly trying.

A common early adventure in my campaign has been the players acting as bodyguard exec runners who try to get the exec in question to safety at some trading post just as hostilies open, but before the blockades start and he becomes a moving target.
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IMTU Universe the weapons of choice for trade war are EMP missiles that will force the target to stop for repairs and hopefully go into port. In port sabotage is frequent. Normally lives are lost only by accident and a good time is had by all. The normal "rules" are framed accordingly. For instance it is bad manners for a guard to wear armor during a trade war because then an attacker will not be able to attack with a tranq dart and escalation becomes more probable.
Sometimes though it escalates to the point of using deadly weapons. This is regretable.
In either case the war ends when one parties expense reaches a point where it must concede. Or when the State becomes impatient and forces an end. Say because it is starting to escalate to much, or because trade is being disturbed, or the balance of power is being knocked out of kilter.
This refers to a situation where both parties have the same homeworld and are thus well refereed. When this isn't true things are a bit more difficult.