Originally born in the wake of the Imperium’s first colonial war, the nine merchant families who controlled the Bellgraeve System fled before the destruction of their home worlds. Hunted and marked as criminals and fugitives from justice, the Clans took to hiding themselves in clusters of whatever starships they had available to them out in the furthest recesses of known space. In time, the need for resources, new ships, caused some of them to venture into Imperial space to acquire what they needed.
No one seems able to agree about who began the first altercation, some sixty years after the end of the first colonial war. Children of the Red Dragon clan insist they were assaulted by Imperial Security Forces when simply attempting to broker a deal for spare parts, water purifiers, and assorted dry goods. Imperial Forces claim the Red Dragon ships were attacking a freighter convoy and that Security Forces were deployed in response to a distress call. The freighter captains, unfortunately, never were able to comment – their ships were destroyed at some point in the altercation, and most of the debris seemed just to disappear. The result, however, was that the Imperium redoubled its efforts to hunt down the fugitives from Bellgraeve and placed a bounty on the heads of all such “pirates”.
Without a means to challenge the Imperium’s claims, the Clans were driven to desperation. Beset on all sides by bounty hunters, law enforcement, and military assaults, the Clans were forced to do whatever was necessary to ensure their own survival. Many Clans simply folded family members back into Imperial society with false identities, hoping that these individuals could be of service to their Clans at future dates. Others in the Clans, however, became the very types of criminals they were accused of being – better a thief than to starve, and better a murderer than a dead man. Most of the younger generations, born after the flight from Bellgraeve, saw piracy as a viable answer to their problems. In time, more and more among the Clans took to that vocation in order to provide for their families and the hope of building a better future.
To this day, the merchant families who ruled Bellgraeve refer to themselves as the Merchant Clans. While each Clan is an autonomous entity, and many Clans have been known to war against each other from time to time, they are quick to put aside their differences in order to come against a common foe – the Imperium and the Powers who, in time, grew out of them. The Clans adopted articles of general law to help see to their mutual, long term survival, and within each Merchant Clan, family laws have been drafted. People who break these laws are subject to a range of penalties including fines, public humiliations, penance activities, execution, and exile.
The “Freespace” concept first was implemented by the Clans, referring to areas of space were no aggression or predatory action was to be instigated so that representatives of the Clans could come together and trade, share news, mingle and marry, resolve disputes under general law, and plan for their collective futures. Such locales would remain for only a limited amount of time before the assorted Clan vessels would scatter and return to their normal business.
Clanners tend to spend their lives in space, dwelling on ships, often formed into small fleets, that travel together across the void. Clan vessels tend to be tight knit communities, with larger ships often resembling small cities. While the Clans are referred to as families, in truth they are composed of multiple familial bloodlines. These families form sub-units within the clans, and the larger ones may even be broken down further still. Inbreeding is frowned upon among the Clan folk, though most individuals do tend to marry within their Clans, and thus it does happen from time to time. Men may take multiple wives, though only the children born from the First Wife remain with the father’s family. The children born from other wives are presented to that wife’s family for them to raise if they desire. Children are raised by the family community, and parents may have as much or as little contact with their children as they desire.
Culturally, most Merchant Clans are rather similar. They share a common language, have been known to intermarry, and share a common religion. They are very much a scattered, itinerant Nation in space, with each Clan analogous to its own State or Region within that Nation. Unlike the various criminal syndicates who undertake many of the same illegal pastimes, the Clan’s focus less on profit and more on the continuance of their way of life.
Merchant Clans may have been the first pirate clans, and remain to this day among the most prominent of that ilk, they are by no means the only ones. Many smaller piracy groups, noting the successes of the fugitives of Bellgraeve, have adapted over time to follow a similar structure, swelling their numbers from the ranks of volunteer and assorted other methods of recruitment. Laws among these “true pirate” clans tend to be simpler and punishments more brutal. The Merchant Clans have recognized a few such pirate organizations as worthy Clans, and sent offers of inclusion provided they accept the articles of general law. Merchant Clans and those other pirates who’ve adopted the Articles tend to frown on “lesser” pirates.
This is not to say that the Pirate Clans present a solidly unified front, or that they are always successful in ensuring their own survival. The Star Tiger Clan, one of the original Merchant Clans, simply fell apart after several hundred years of struggling. Their members split apart, some folding themselves into Imperial society, and others joining other Clans who would have them. The Green Jade clan – a true Clan tragedy – was cast out from unity with the other Clans and the protection of the Articles after growing increasingly more aggressive. They attempted to wrest control of a new space station in a free territory, and much of their Clan fleet was destroyed when they failed. Furthermore, because they had been cast out from the protection of the Articles, the other Clans would offer them neither aid nor sanctuary when the corporate owners of that station hired soldiers to hunt down and exterminate the Clan. Most recently, the White Dragons – another of the original refugees from Bellgraeve – had an internal schism resulting in many of their families failing in an attempt to seize a Gateway from Regency control. Thousands of that Clan’s members were slaughtered by Regency soldiers and hired mercenary companies when the Gateway was reclaimed.
Some of the currently active Pirate Clans are:
- Red Dragon: A very active Merchant Clan in what is now Alliance space, the Red Dragons have notable contacts among several Warlords in the Freespace. This clan is known for its tenacity and fast-attack, small unit tactical assaults on freighter convoys.
- White Dragon: A once prominent Clan, it is now in decline after some of it’s members thought they could spit in the Regency’s eye without repercussions. They specialize in exotic trade goods, both legal and illegal. The White Dragons have moved into the recesses of Kokoran space to lick their wounds and, it seems, to examine a potential market for Kokoran products.
- Black Star: Known as “gentlemen corsairs”, the Black Stars range far and wide across the Interzone, the Freespace, and what is now Coalition space. Black Stars tend to prey on Corporate vessels, and from time to time may hire themselves as Mercenaries to private interests.
- Blue Diamond: A less aggressive clan rumored to have ties to various corporate and government interests in both the Coalition and the Alliance. The Blue Diamond clan deals with almost any trade goods they get their hands on.
- Water Horse: Known for attacking unaligned pirates, the Water Horse can be found mostly among the Collective, the Freespace, and the Interzone. They are rumored to be key players in the human slave trade, picking up much of that activity after the Green Jade Clan’s destruction at the hands of Ragnarok Arms.
- Double Star: Bold to the point of reckless, the Double Star Clan began as the Double-Star gang, before being brought under the Articles. Known for harassing the Imperium/Regency, they got their start during the Coalition’s period of transition. They are the only pirate clan ever to successfully mount an assault on freighters in orbit around New Terra. Most of their efforts focus on the holders of Imperial Charters for Mining/Ore Extraction, and they have a few solid contacts within the Freespace.
- Sky Forger: Bouncing between Collective, Regency, and the periphery of Interzone space, the SkyForger’s tend to focus their efforts on technology. They will acquire and trade, both legally and not, all sorts of new technologies which they will use and put for sale. The Sky Forger Clan developed the Arc-Light Clan Ship.
- Triple Mountain: An aggressive clan who tends to keep to the various regions of the Freespace, they will occasionally venture into Kokoran and Regency space to prey on freight carriers attempting to pass through their respective gateways into the Freespace.
- The Colesons: Initially born from a single family and its hangers on, the Colesons became a highly effective organization of the criminal persuasion out in the regions of the Frontierspace. They were invited to join the Clans under the Articles after coming to the aid of the Double Star Clan in a pitched battle with Imperial Custom’s Officials.
- Dark Eye: Well known for using drone ships and openly recruiting Mutants into their ranks, the Dark Eye pirates trade information and robots primarily. They are the most scattered of the Clans, with small, family-based fleets found in the backwaters of most of Faction space.