This article describes the articles use aboard pirate ships, along with ways that they can be used to create roleplaying opportunities in a game.
Interlude: The Articles
Amongst pirates, it's common practice, before setting sail on a cruise, to write up the ship's Articles and have all of the crew members sign them. They serve both as a business contract, detailing how many shares each person should receive after successful action, and as the rules by which all operate while at sea.
In this way, the Articles can be used to create a number of good roleplaying opportunities. One such is the initial negotiations, with different characters bargaining for their proper number of shares. This can include the PC's as well as any NPC's with special abilities, such as a carpenter, surgeon or musician. The GM might bring a prepared list if the PC's are not in charge of the vessel, or the players could devise their own before signing them.
Another possibility is when infractions of the rules occur. There might be temptations for the PC's, such as the chance to do some prohibited gambling. Any female PC who lives in the guise of a man would be in violation, as would those who know her secret but choose to keep it. In a similar manner, the PC's might, as part of their loot, find an item of value that they need to keep hidden from a vicious captain or other untrustworthy crew members. Said rivals could make unobtrusive attacks, while direct retaliation is forbidden. Any violations of the rules, if discovered, could lead to punishment such as flogging or worse.
Sample Ship's Articles
Detailed below are the articles used aboard a ship commanded by the notorious Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts.
Article I - Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
Article II - Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes,
because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
Article III - None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
Article IV - The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
Article V - Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
Article VI - No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
Article VII - He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
Article VIII - None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man's quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draweth first blood shall be declared the victor.
Article IX - No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of l,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
Article X - The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
Article XI - The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.