When Do You Become a Privateer?
The Vexing Toad had waited in ambush for a few days. The Shining Credit was scheduled to emerge from jump space within 6 hours. The pirate ship had received the flight plan from a confederate in the Credit's departure system. Another compatriot had relayed it t the Toad.
A jump trace exploded on the Toad's sensor array. The pirate ship immediately powered up and readied weapons with the speed of countless drills and...
... another merchant ship jumped in, then another, and another. The convoy established multiple weapon locks on the Toad.
... the 'hapless' merchant deployed pop up turrets and fired first, a salvo of missiles were inbound!
... the newcomer was not a fat merchant, but a mercenary cruiser loaded for space future bears.
I may have given the impression that free traders and merchants were soft targets for piracy, that it was a question of when, not if they'd be taken by pirates, boarded, looted or otherwise inconvenienced economically. Not quite, or there would be no merchants. just pirates who hauled freight on the side. Say what you want about traders, they aren't that bad.
One of the quaint customs of the Free Traders IMTU is the Trade Meeting. Basically a bunch of captains figure something is a problem and they get together to discuss how to deal with it. A half dozen free traders or more can cause trouble out of all proportion to their tonnage. The mildest response is an embargo. Big deal you say? Kind of. Even bustling worlds serviced by the subsidized merchants and shipping corporations require free traders. They carry priority and hot shipments the corporations miss because hey, they have a schedule! The more the world is a backwater, the bigger the fraction of trade that comes through free traders.
Many ships refuse to break an embargo. Even the big company ships. Again, the companies need ships to make unscheduled runs and free traders have long memories. A hot shipment will usually save the shipper from paying late fees.
Traders can make all manner of other problems. Stuff happens to your ships when they're landed or berthed for example, or your trade offers dry up. Factors have to deal with free traders to ship freight.
At best the local government says screw this and hires a mercenary ship to cruise in and blast the pirate or otherwise convince it to seek greener space lanes.
Traders are also fond of transporting mercenaries. The ground pounders are thrilled to travel two to a stateroom and always carry a lot of cargo. In this operation they give greatly discounted ticket prices to the planet they want to fess up to causing a problem (or just ignoring it). The mercs arrive. Usually they are coming off a long tour, stressed out and flush with credits. They lease a bit of the starport, set up camp and do training stuff.
The traders collaborate so the planet gets at least ten or more mercs a week. The unit keeps growing, flushed with off world weapons (oh the traders will do lovely spec trade with them when they get a load of RPGs). The mercs show no sign of leaving say, what are they up to, it's been two months?
Eventually the local government may think this could be a slow moving coup. You'd be surprised how few mercs it takes to worry some planets and... they can't do a thing really. The mercs are on neutral ground till they decide to move. Right now they're doing pushups and painting nose art on their air cars but tomorrow, who knows?
The traders will announce they will move the mercs to their next ticket, but the unit is a little low on funds. Maybe the government will eat the difference, and address the problem?
A completely illegal move, that traders will practice (as long as there are several suspects to muddy any investigations) is to import invasive and dangerous species to a planet. Face it, this happens quite often with wilderness refueling and untidy cargo holds. However, this screws the starport, and other ships landing there. Fines have to be given out. Inspectors are exposed to the fauna hitching a ride. Exterminators need to be called. It is usually done before declaring an embargo because, hey, you can sell critter traps and such measures when the embargo lifts.
Under solving the problem themselves, traders have two options to deal with pirates: convoys and Q-ships. For a convoy a number of lightly armed traders will synchronize their jump drives and arrive in a system at once. This will require very tedious jump plotting, synching drives etc. Then they teach the pirates what we all learned playing Ogre.
Q-ships are a quaint custom dating back to pre-spaceflight days (unless you count those V-weapons). Take a merchant ship and arm the shit out of it. Buy concealed weapons, more weapons. Load it with those cute little 10 ton fighters. It only takes one q-ship to make a pirate truly paranoid. The q-ship shows up and does its damndest to end whoever is causing trouble, pirate, privateer, or even overzealous border patrol (read overzealous as ‘shake down their own mother for a centicredit.’)
Anyway those are my ideas for leveling the field for traders.