Elite Dangerous: So, You Want to Play a Pirate


Give me freedom or give me the rope. For I shall not take the shackles that subjugate the poor to uphold the rich. – John Goldenwolf (American pirate)

Become one of us and discover the true richness of Humanity. – Archon Delaine (Kumo Crew)

I’m going to step up on my soap box here for a second, so bear with me. I’m going to say something here that may grate, shock, and annoy. Are you ready? Ok, here it goes (deep breath): Pirates are not psychopaths. Still with me? Ok, let me explain.

Historically speaking, Pirates were, and still are, groups of desperate, disenfranchised men, and even women, who resorted to violence and theft, on the high seas, for monetary or sometimes political gain. The term can also apply to such acts committed in the air and, in the case of Elite: Dangerous, even in space. The immediate goal of these actions, regardless of how they would be leveraged later, was always the acquisition of currency and/or commodities, be they goods or people, with as little loss as possible to the Pirates themselves and their vessel.

What does this have to do with playing a Pirate in Elite: Dangerous? It means, as bluntly as I can put it, don’t be an asshole; attacking an unarmed Trader without word or knowing if they even have anything worthwhile in their hold is not only bad business, it’s a dick move. If that Trader also happens to be another player, it definitely puts a big dent in their fun which will eventually lower your fun. That’s not to say that you can’t attack players, because you definitely should, but there’s a right way to do the job. Ok, stepping off the soap box now.

The Job


Piracy in Elite: Dangerous is, in my view, one of the most role play heavy careers available in the game, because it’s going to invariably bring you into contact with other players. Of course, there are numerous NPC targets for Pirates, and you could certainly spend your entire career never attacking another player, but eventually you’re going to see a player in a big haul and that trigger finger is going to get itchy. Or, worse, some goody-two-shoes (I really needed to look up the etymology of that term) player Bounty Hunter is going to find you.

While the Pirate is, in fact, the antithesis of the Bounty Hunter, the mechanics of their jobs and their tool sets are almost identical. Pirates, like Bounty Hunters, have to know where to find their targets, how to identify them, how to tell if the risk vs reward is acceptable, and be able to survive to fence any goods they might acquire. Unlike the Bounty Hunter, though, violence is almost always a Pirate’s last resort.

Remember, the goal here is Credits. To get Credits you need booty to fence. If you drop in on a big haul, guns blazing, you’re going to lose a lot of booty in the ensuing explosion. Now, threats of violence and menacing actions like Interdictions and Cargo Scans are the Pirate’s stock and trade. The tools of that trade are all in the Pirate’s ship.

The Ship


The Pirates of yore favored smaller, well armed, maneuverable vessels, and even today’s Pirates have been successful in commandeering large, unarmed freighters with nothing more than outboard powered, inflatable zodiacs, hand held machine guns, and shoulder fired rockets. This is because their goal is not to sink the target vessels, but to disable the vessel and/or her crew just enough to board her and grab the loot. The Pirates of the Milky Way, in Elite: Dangerous, are no different.

If you’ve spent any time in game you’ve likely come across NPC Pirates, at least. Their behavior is telling. In supercruise, Pirates will Interdict potential targets, and then assert there will be nothing to worry about if the target drops their cargo. In normal space, such as in RESs, Pirates will first scan potential targets, to see if they have anything worth stealing, often moving on when they find empty cargo holds or nothing worthwhile.

Players who feel like the Pirate’s life might be for them, should pay heed to these cues. To do so you’ll need a fast, well armed, and well shielded ship with cargo space for all the sweet, sweet plunder you’ll be lifting from your marks. You’ll also find there are a few specialized tools to make your life easier.

A Hatch Breaker Limpet Controller will allow you to pry open the cargo hatches of target ships, forcing some of their cargo to spill out. The alternative is either asking them to dump cargo, in the case of player targets, or smashing the hatch open with weapons fire and risking damage to the cargo and blowing up the target ship. A Cargo Scanner will allow you to scan a target ship and see if they have anything worthwhile, thus avoiding having to engage a target and then coming up empty handed. A Frame Shift Drive Interdictor and an FSD Wake Scanner are also useful for chasing and pinning down targets.

Do remember that your actions as a Pirate are illegal in most systems, so you need to be prepared to either fight System Authority vessels and Bounty Hunters, or be able to tuck tail and run. A Collector Limpet Controller can come in handy here, for quickly scooping up cargo as you run ahead of the cops. You’ll also be racking up a heft bounty, if you’re operating in anything other than a Lawless system, so take that into account.

Doing the Work …


r/ElitePirates has some great posts with a wealth of information for those aiming to misbehave. I personally have never engaged in piracy myself, but as an Elite Trader I have had more than my fair share of encounters with both the player and NPC varieties. I have more than a little familiarity with where they lurk and what they’re looking for.

There are, of course, piracy missions available from local factions. Most of these involve interdicting Trading vessels of an opposing faction and stealing a specific type of cargo. But if you’re looking to really make a name for yourself, you need to plot your own course. Ironically, the best way to do this is to do what Traders do. After all, Pirates are really just aggressive merchants, right? Right!?

In order to get the best loot, you need to know where it comes from and where it’s being moved to. The best tool in figuring this all out is the in game Galaxy Map. Using the filters in the Galaxy Map, you can bring up the trade routes for the system you’re in, and even purchase trade data by clicking the opposing arrow icon on neighboring systems. This will show you the commodities being imported and exported by those systems. Tech, metals, weapons, medicines, and certain consumer items are all valuable.

Once you know what systems to look in, it’s time to roam interplanetary space in them, looking for targets to Interdict. You’re looking for trade vessels: Haulers, Adders, Type-6 Transporters, Type-7 Transports, and Type-9 Heavies are all good targets, but Asps, Cobras, Diamondback Explorers, Imperial Clippers, Federal Gunships, and Pythons are also known to be used by Traders. They will mostly likely not be Wanted, so you can go a long way toward avoiding other Pirates by only targeting Clean vessels.


Once you find your target, Interdict them and get them into normal space. If it’s an NPC, scan their cargo and, if they have something you want, target their drives to disable them and keep them from running, and either launch your hatch breakers or blast their cargo hatch. If it’s a player, this is where the role playing comes in. Engage them in coms and let them know what you’re up to, “Hi! I’m your friendly neighborhood pirate. This will go a lot easier if no one panics.” Remember to not get greedy; no Trader is going to give up their entire haul without a fight, and if it’s a big haul you won’t be able to carry it all anyway. Ask for a few tons, 10-15% of their haul, as a toll. If they drop it, pick it up and send them on their way. If they run, treat them like NPCs. It’s always a good idea to delay weapons’ fire for as long as possible; if System Authority vessels aren’t already on the way because of the Interdiction, they’ll definitely head over when you start shooting a Clean target.

Much like Bounty Hunters, Pirates often slink around in Resource Extraction Sites and near Nav Beacons. Here, cruising around in normal space, a Pirate can scan targets at leisure, looking for worthwhile booty, then simply engage desirable marks with no Interdictions necessary. The only problem with these locations is that they are often patrolled by System Authority vessels, so their response times are much shorter. The upside, at least where RESs are concerned, is that you can often get valuable metals and minerals fresh out of the oven, as it were.

If you want to specifically target players, then you need to go where players are. Systems involved in weekly Powerplay goals and weekly Community Goals are great places to find other players. In fact, if you’re interested in the political aspects of the game, Pirates even have their own Power. You can check out the subreddit they use for strategizing here.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never played a Pirate myself. The above, though, are definitely tried an true methods that have been used one me by the numerous Pirates I’ve encountered as a Trader. That said, for real granular and first hand experience, definitely check out r/ElitePirates.

… With the Right Tools


Now that you know where to find your targets and what to look for, lets talk about the tools you’ll need to make things easier: the ships. Muffindrake posted a nice Guide to Piracy on the r/EliteDangerous subreddit. In it, they also go over ship builds that are ideal for NPC Piracy. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, and because Muffindrake is no doubt more experienced in Piracy than I am, you should definitely check it out. If you’re interested in targeting players for Piracy, check out imnotanumber42‘s PvP Piracy Guide.

The bottom line, though, is that you need a fast, agile, well armed vessel with cargo space. You should have good shields and armor, and tools to bring your prey to you, gather up the loot quickly, and bug out before System Authority or some white knight Bounty Hunter shows up to make your day less than profitable. A decent jump range is also a good idea, since you’ll need to be looking for stations with Blackmarkets to fence your stolen goods.

EDDB.Io‘s Stations page is an excellent resource for finding Blackmarkets near you. Simply select Blackmarket from the Has Facilities drop-down, enter the system you’re currently in in the Reference System text box, and click Find Stations in the lower right. EDDB.Io‘s information is usually pretty dependable, but remember that the availability of a Station’s facilities can be affected by both Powerplay and the Background Simulation.

You’ll also need to slink into the stations that have Blackmarkets, while avoiding the scans from System Authority vessels; the fines for carrying stolen or illicit goods can really put a dent in your margins and sometimes your hull. Good thrusters and a steady hand on the stick help here. Check out ThatTinyDude‘s video on avoiding System Authority while smuggling.

Wrapping it up

All of this said, Piracy in Elite: Dangerous is not the best Credit making scheme in the game. The folks who play Pirates, in Elite: Dangerous, do it for fun. As such, it should be fun for you, and as painless as possible for your targets. Remember to be the flavor; that’s why you’re doing it. And don’t be an asshole.

In fact, if Credits per Hour are your motivation, there’s no better game, in-game, than the Trader. Tune in next week to find out how.


  1. Galactrix October 13, 2016 8:53 pm  Reply

    So pirates aren’t the kind of people who would blow up your ship for no reason while you’re landed on the surface of a planet? Good to know

    I’m looking forward to the trader guide next week because that’s usually my kind of space 4X game play style

    • Tenten October 13, 2016 9:58 pm  Reply

      LOL Yeah, that guy was just an asshole.

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