Interlude 29: The Ransom
When a pirate crew captures a prize, there's more than just the cargo that's of value to them. The ship has its own worth, of course, but sometimes the passengers themselves are more lucrative than anything else. After all, pirates can demand payment for their release, and particularly notable hostages demand high prices.
This interlude assumes that a ship has been taken, and that the pirates responsible for doing so have issued a demand for ransom. The demand could be for a large some of money, but could be for other things, too. For example, Blackbeard's crew once demanded a chest of medicines, probably for treating venereal diseases, for the return of certain prisoners. Another option is for an exchange of prisoners, possibly offering a relative of the governor in trade for crew members who've recently been taken prisoner. Whatever the case, since refusal generally isn't a good response, the recipient of said demand decides to comply with it.
That's where the PC's become involved. Said recipient approaches them, asking them to make the delivery. This could be someone they already know through previous adventures, or somebody who knows them by reputation. The influential, wealthy family members detailed in a previous Interlude could be good candidates for such delicate business. Whatever the case, the PC's seem like the best people for the job. For that reason, that person approaches them in a suitable location—possibly leading to other difficulties—and makes the pitch.
Of course, matters are never so straightforward as they should be. Perhaps the person being extorted wants to double-cross the pirates, and asks the PC's to stage a rescue while the exchange is taking place. That could entail finding and then sneaking aboard a ship while it's anchor, or raiding a hideout in a similar manner. Another options is that the PC's, while trying to make an honest delivery of the ransom payment, learn that the business is based on deceit and treachery. A few of the possibilities include the following:
- The person being extorted could be a merchant who has acted as a fence for goods taken through piracy, and then tried to go clean by ending such ties; now the pirates have chosen to use force to settle the old score. In that case, there's plenty of evidence that the merchant wants to suppress, and it's up to the PC's to decide how they want to handle such information.
- The pirates could demand payment in the form of a map, leaving the PC's to decide whether they want to make the delivery or keep it for themselves and try to discover it secrets.
- Another option is that the victim of the kidnapping is actually in league with the pirates, perhaps someone who has fallen in love with a dashing captain or a traitor in the organization of the recipient. In this case, once the money or item is delivered, the pirates and hostage depart, leaving the PC's to explain the matter to the person be extorted.
- There could also be conflict between the characters who receive the demand. For example, while a father is willing to pay the ransom, a brother might wish to stage a daring rescue.
- Some of these options could even be combined. The recipient could have been a fence for the pirates, and is thus willing to capitulate, while the daring son considers that to be a slight against the family's honor. Just how Junior reacts when he learns his father's dirty secret could make for some good roleplaying.
- The recipient could also use the PC's as unwitting dupes, sending them with a fake payment while intending to ambush the pirates. Just how the PC's react when the truth is revealed could make for all kinds of interesting developments.
- One of the people involved—especially the hostage or the recipient of the ransom demand—could be a romantic interest of one of the PC's, making the whole business personal for one or more characters.
However the matter develops, it can make for many different, engaging scenes.