A privateer is not a common criminal. Far from an ordinary pirate, the privateer is a professional thief whose operations are supported by a legitimate government. In human history, privateers were authorized to engage in piracy by governments that lacked sufficient resources for a traditional army or navy. The privateers’ thievery was not illegal but rather licensed by heads of state and internationally recognized as a licit form of warfare. Notably, privateering could reduce war casualties because the peaceful transfer of resources resulting from a successful robbery could damage a warring nation’s economy and cripple its military.
Privateering is not just an historical curiosity. It is also an ideology based on the lesser-of-two-evils principle. In war, given the choice between thievery and destruction, which is worse? The privateer’s superior ethics dictate that leaving enemy capital intact and simply changing its ownership is the correct way of waging war. Needless destruction harms everyone involved. Through this deep and abiding moral sensibility, the privateer can proudly proclaim that violence is the wrong course of action when simple thievery will suffice.
We Privateers in the Echo Cluster follow the same lofty principles. Our commanders authorize us to steal enemy capital and resources in order to attain our goals. Often we are thus able to wage nonviolent war simply by exploiting the goods of others.
We have only one truly marvelous tool at our disposal, our prized Meteor Class Blockade Runner. When this iconic starship appears, it may strike fear in your heart because you may recognize it as sign of coming misfortune. When the looting begins and you are deprived of your riches and your starships, take consolation in knowing that your resources are being confiscated for higher purposes. As you doubtless already know, there’s no escaping the robber unless you can somehow figure out some of the Echo Cluster’s most difficult puzzles.
In spite of the sheer magnificence of the venerable Meteor, its downfall is in self-preservation. Our beloved flagship may be able to fly unseen through deep space at double speed, but one hit from a surprise minefield brings it permanent destruction. It can scarcely survive combat and is easily captured.
Consider something for a moment: how would you feel if the strongest ship you could build was the Bloodfang Class Carrier? It is a respectable vessel, but cannot stand up even against the medium-sized carriers of stronger races. The Privateer gets no free fighters and can rarely afford to buy any. Moreover, the Bloodfang is simply the only thing in the Privateer fleet that can reliably defeat the defenses of moderately well-defended planets. Every other race has a medium-sized multipurpose ship that can accomplish this most basic feat of expansion. Hence, we can conclude that indeed, in the Echo Cluster, the Privateers have no traditional military.
We Privateers therefore must go to great lengths to do simple tasks that everyone else takes for granted. Our lack of traditional forces necessitates that we exploit the resources of others to compensate for our own shortcomings. Moreover, when our opponents make life difficult for us with their minefields and their Loki Class Destroyers and their suicidal glory ships, we must respond by claiming their ships and their minerals and their money to subsidize our economy and to weaken theirs in order to prevent further violence. When our enemies bring blatant, brutal attacks, using battleships and bloody destruction, we may choose not to parry with our Bloodfangs. We will likely respond in the most honorable way known to our ideology. We will purloin our enemies’ goods and emerge as happy, noble warriors who happen to have made a profit from others’ mistakes.
In our most triumphant hour many ages ago, we proudly sat at the table and added our signature to the Treaty of Nimbus 7. No one else realized at the time that the hallowed Treaty would henceforth become the key to many of our greatest techniques of piracy. For ages to come, we would send fuelless stolen freighters out into deep space, waiting patiently for anyone to take the bait. The Treaty even allowed for any vessel with beam weapons to become a pod for larceny. When guided by just one of our beloved blockade runners hidden in the background, these vessels could never be attacked by an enemy ship but their robbers could be secretly empowered through a surreptitious fuel transfer.
Dear reader, perhaps you have been the unfortunate victim of a burglary and have made the decision to guard yourself against such an occurence henceforth. Perhaps you lay minefields any time you sniff a Privateer within a 4000LY radius. Perhaps you set the primary enemy on all your capital ships to “Privateer” beginning on turn 1. Perhaps your first serious task in any given campaign is to find a Fed or Lizard and trade for a Loki. Perhaps you compulsively beam up even though you already have plenty of fuel. Perhaps you even make a concerted effort to build two-engine ships between turns 2 and 5 so that you can have ID numbers low enough to tow yourself away from the robber’s grasp.
We, the Privateers, are terribly sorry to force you to take such precautions. Please understand that in this non-meritocratic dystopia, someone must serve the cause of justice. As the Robin Hoods of the Echo Cluster, we snatch the stockpiles of the wealthy and use the booty for righteous purposes. When the strong and powerful initiate violence, we respond with cunning tactics. We regret every bit of trepidation that we cause by our skulking and we wish to inconvenience no one. Nonetheless, it is our honor and our sworn duty to follow our orders and emerge victorious.
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”