- Character tropes: things that a character can have or do. For example, peg legs, pet parrots, eye patches, hook hands, and saying “arr!” between every other sentence.
- Character type tropes: there are character archetypes. For example, the “noble” blaggard captain, the jolly cook who makes disgusting food, and the privateer with a clear code of honor.
- Plot tropes: this is all about what happens to the characters! For example, seeking freedom, looting stuff, assaulting other ships with scimitars, and finding lost treasure on a deserted island
Now think about how you can subvert them! Instead of copy-pasting a trope, compare it to the campaign setting and find how you can tweak it so it’s a better fit for the world.
Part of making a setting believable is adding details that feel real, and there’s no better way to do this than taking to the seas yourself! GACUCON is the greatest way to do this, as they are a cruise ship full of geeky activities like cosplaying, RPGs, and more. Sign-ups for next year’s cruise are open! The D20 Cruise in 2023 will be a 5-day cruise with a 24/7 D&D convention center, so you’ll not only experience the sea but you’ll also get to play your favorite games as much as you want!
When you’re on the ship, make sure to take in (and even write down!) everything that you feel. What does looking to the horizon feel like? What does the sea smell of? How does the fresh air coming from the sea feel against your skin? These are all things that your pirate characters will feel constantly, so it’s important to get them right! If you have personal experiences, the players will definitely feel it.
Earlier I mentioned that getting inspiration from different sources is very important. The truth is that even great writers take inspiration from other books or movies, and they definitely do their own research on the topics they write about! The History of Pyrates by William Defoe is a great resource if you want to go beyond Wikipedia on your non-fiction research (you can download it from Project Gutenberg).
If you’re looking for inspiration from other fiction works, here’s a list of movies and series to get you started!
- Pirates of the Caribbean (movie series)
- Black Sails (TV series)
- Our Flag Means Death (TV series)
- Peter Pan (movies, animated and live-action)
- The Pirates of Penzance (movie)
- Treasure Planet (animated movie)
- Treasure Island (movie)
- One Piece (anime)
As you can see, even though these are all pirate stories, they are from wildly different genres, but you can probably draw inspiration from all of them! Choose your favorites and add them to your world’s meta document to always have them handy.