Pirates and Campaign Design

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It is widely assumed within the FreeSpace community that there are no pirates in canon FreeSpace, and that pirates are an entirely non-canon invention. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not the case; there are pirates in the Silent Threat mission Cloak and Dagger.

Cloak and Dagger is the only canon FreeSpace mission that includes pirates. 2-3 wings (depending on the difficulty level) of these craft jump in. Once these pirate wings are destroyed, several pirate-hijacked freighters attempt to sneak by and steal valuable cargo. This makes the pirates appear somewhat more intelligent (and less of a sheer-force-of-numbers type) than they are shown as in user-made campaigns. This is normally fine; pirates are treated as "filler enemies" to occupy the player for a few missions until a more interesting foe arrives. However, campaign designers seeking to create realistic and viable pirates need to leave the beaten path.

Cloak and Dagger was actually a good example of how real pirates would operate. A study of this Silent Threat mission versus most other community-made pirate missions has revealed some interesting comparisons.

  • Pirates in user-made campaigns are often just a horde of dumb bandits. This contradicts historical experience; in the past and in the present, pirates have worked independently, in small groups, and were few in number compared to a military force like the GTVA. This contrasts with Derelict's endless waves of respawning pirate wings flying obsolete craft. In Cloak and Dagger, on the other hand, pirates are flying what was top-of-the-line military equipment in FS1. They only arrive in one wave.
  • Pirates in user-made campaigns normally attack for no apparent intelligent reason. The goal of a pirate force is to win loot or ransom, but little or no reference is made to this during user-made-campaigns. In Cloak and Dagger, the pirate's goal is clear; destroy Alpha 1 and his wingmen so that the pirate freighters could make off with the loot. By contrast, the first mission in ITHOV features pirates making a tactically suicidal attack on a massive and well-guarded cruiser convoy. Rather than attempting to capture the cargo, they try to destroy it. No mention is made of ransom demands anywhere in the campaign.
  • Pirates in user campaigns seem to be unusually heroic, spawning in wave after wave after their comrades had already been blown to space dust. There is one Derelict mission where waves of Ulysses attempt to kamikaze the GTC LoneWolf. How did the pirates get so many ships? Why would a greed-driven pirate want to do something so suicidal? What financial gain would the pirates get from destroying a single cruiser?

Usually, not much thought is put into pirate strategy or motives. Again, this is fine if you're only using them as "filler enemies". However, FREDders seeking to create realistic pirates have several options.

The most obvious is to have the pirates capture cargo, or, if you're willing to make the stretch, have the pirates destroy a ship and secure the area to salvage the debris. This would be difficult to make a mission out of, however. Intelligent pirates only attack if they are absolutely certain that they will get away with it. They will probably warp away from a convoy once they see it has fighter escort, especially if that escort includes Alpha 1. Pirates look for loot, not posthumous medals, and historically have tried to avoid combat.

Another, perhaps better, option is to have the pirates seek to inflict damage on civilian equipment and ask for ransom. This is used by most modern pirates, such as those that prowl the coast of Somalia. When you have 5 guys in a motorboat armed only with an RPG and a few AKs, you can't really go through the trouble of hijacking a passenger liner, so you seek to fire a few rounds at it, damage it, and make the operator pay for the expensive repairs. Eventually, the passenger liner company will cave in and pay some ransom. In FreeSpace, pirates have no need to blow up your Argos. If they can inflict damage on them, the freighter company will decide that it's cheaper to pay ransom.

Lastly, pirates, or rather common criminals, may have an interest in harassing the local police forces to cover up whatever illegal activity they are performing.

Whatever you decide, remember that a logical pirate would only do things in his financial interest. A spontaneous mass kamikaze attack on the GTC LoneWolf just wouldn't happen.