With the return this week of the Starz series Black Sails, I thought it best to return to this blog's true roots~desperate piracy. Being a pirate is very hard work and it's usually work done with little or no reward. The phrase "No prey - No pay" was common in the articles of those desperate enough to "go on the account". All pirates dream of the rich merchantman who gives over after they are shown the black flag, but such things are rare indeed. More likely is a costly fight. The captain must balance the butcher's bill plus spent powder and ball against what? Was the reward worth the cost? Sometimes the answer was yes, but more often perhaps, it was no. This table is for those times when winning really meant losing in another way. Without further ado, here for your perusal are 20 Prizes that Weren't Worth Winning.
A small two-masted, coastal fishership with 9 stinking and starving fishermen and maybe a week's worth (in terms of feeding your crew) of poor quality fish. The fishermen will fight until there are five or less of them before they surrender.
A medium-sized merchant hulk listing to port. Sails are luffing and there is no crew visible above decks. If approached closely or boarded, it can be determined that the ship is slowly sinking and is overrun with rats. Among the rats is a family of 1d6 wererats looking to escape this death-trap.
A small galleon full of preaching, puritannical missionaries who will upon seeing the pirates will become convinced that the Gods have made converting that crew of evil swashbucklers their purpose in life.
A burning medium-sized merchant ship is spotted just after dark. There's little above the water when you get there, but a trio of men and one woman with a coffin in a longboat request permission to come aboard. One of the men and the woman are seeing their father to his final rest. The other two men are the surviving crew of the Gazelle.
A pair of single-masted sloops turn out to be 18 fishermen with nothing in their holds but bait and torn fishing nets. They tell tales of a great leviathan in the area which they were lucky to survive. They are the two surviving ships of an 11 boat fleet which the beast destroyed.
A damaged merchant ship surrenders quickly to the black flag. Once you board her you realize that she has already been hit by pirates and there's nothing and no-one left worth taking. Many of the sub-standard crewmen WANT to join your ranks.
A three-masted carrack sitting low in the water looks like she might finally be a good haul. She strikes her colors quickly after being shown the black and after an inspection of her holds you learn why. She carries nothing but ballast stones, poor quality coal, and manure.
A fat-bottomed cog is far too slow and ungainly to escape, even though the crew makes a valiant effort to run with her. After long hours of chase, the logs and a survey of the hold confirm your prize: thirty tons of poor quality iron ore.
A small yacht is spotted just before dark. You slip up on her in the middle of the night and find three teenage boys playing pirate. They have no supplies, no guns, and little clue as to what they are doing. They claim to have stolen the ship from a deserted beach on a nearby island. They don't know in which direction the island lies.
An old and strangely painted barque, decorated with colorful, tribal symbols and patterns, drifts with her sails up, but no crew to man them. The decks are awash in blood and littered with the long-dead remains of the crew and 4 large smashed wooden cages, which are lashed to the deck. In the hold, now free of their cages, are 3 female lions and 1 male lion. Hiding invisible in the rigging is a rakshasa.
A two-masted carrack that might just be more barnacle than ship below the waterline gives up quickly.Her logs show she off-loaded 170,000 gold pieces in uncut gems 3 weeks ago, but now all she carries is 50 tonnes of wine that turned bad 5 months back.
A flat-bottomed river barge adrift upon the waves. What crew is left to her is deep in the throes of malaria. Her only cargo is some rotting canvas and some strange wooden masks and idols of some unknown tribal manufacture. The masks and idols seem strangely dry and are made of a deep black wood that is smooth and cold like stone to the touch. Surely they are valuable; you should take them.
A slow moving merchant ship sitting low in the water puts up but a little fight before striking her colors. While the log is being reviewed and the already-plundered holds are being examined, the desperate merchant crew makes a play to take these marauders, the second pirate ship they've seen in 30 hours, by surprise. The merchantman has cracked her keel on some coral and is slowly sinking. Taking the pirate ship by boarding from her far side, via ships boats and stealth swimming, is the merchant crews plan for survival. If your PC's lose their pirate ship, they'll never forget the npc that tricked them. >;^)
A longship with 4 sheep, 22 wolf hides, 3 crates of broken pottery, and some rotting fruit. The ship is otherwise filled with 72 starving berserkers who will fight like demons to kill the pirates attacking them.
A two-masted xebec adrift on the waves. Her sails are up, but her sweeps are not out. She is devoid of life with the exception of the captain's caged parakeet. Her holds are completely bare. The deck is littered with 18" long, black and silver feathers. There is much muttering among the crew; most of the old salts take this as a very ill omen.
A two-masted ketch so low in the water her deck is nearly awash puts up no fight when shown the black flag. She is carrying only straw, clay, and stones for a nearby building project.
An old whaleship belching smoke is in the middle of a strip and cookdown on a small whale. Whaleoil is both extremely valuable and extremely flammable. The blood in the water from stripping the blubber has a frenzy of sharks all around the whaler. There are 48 crew including the captain. Is this a fight worth having or a disaster in the making?
A large, three-masted caravel is scudding before the wind, but doesn't out manuever you. She bears the flags and banners of a colony vessel. As you approach her, you can see that there are very few crew men. As you get closer, you realize the ship is now veering hard toward you; the ship was filled with once-hopeful colonists, but now only hungry men, women, and children zombies remain.
A leaking, two-masted brig with a like number of hungry scallywags to your own sailing under a different black flag. Which are you today, brothers of the coast or opportunistic pirate hunters?
A small, but gaudily-decorated galleass is easily captured. Its crew puts up no resistance. The ship is the property of the bishop who controls the region, but his emminance is NOT aboard. His secretary, a simple preist, is conducting routine inspections of missionary settlements for the bishop. The ship has no cargo beyond basic stores.