Can’t talk about the good guys without touching the bad guys, but these aren’t always the bad guys. Close enough though. Pirates are a favorite enemy in adventure stories. Either they’re the main villains, the opposing army, the minions, or a momentary problem that the heroes stumbled into. For some reason, fantasy stories have oceans full of wandering pirates that pray they never run into a protagonist. Let’s be serious here. If they do run into a main character then their fate is a choice between death and noble heroism. That second option only happens if they have lines beyond ‘Arrrrr!’. ‘Tis a difficult life for a buccaneer in fantasy.
Seriously though, it is always a lot of fun to write pirates in a fantasy setting. They have such a hodgepodge of personalities, quirks, and gear. Think about how they loot ships for money and resupplying. The collection of magical items alone makes them a fairly unpredictable force. You don’t know if you’re getting a swashbuckler with a regular sword, enchanted sword, magic boots, or a wand of fire wasps up their sleeve. This is a reason why the navy hasn’t wiped out the pirates too. It’s difficult to plan against a force that isn’t a unified group. Every ship for herself with some flimsy alliances and nothing more than common rules to join them.
Now, I am making pirates seem rather goofy and random here. They can always be that sometimes. Yet, they are a major threat or a great ally depending on what happens. Most times, a pirate will be selfish and become a hindrance if they join a team. Their nature is to look out for themselves, their crew mates, and their ship. So there is a loyalty similar to what the navy has. Both have a foundation of family in a way, but they deal with betrayal a lot differently. Navy will fire or jail you while pirates will kill you. Usually since they could also turn a traitorous crewman over to the authorities for the reward by using a middleman that gets a cut. In this way, the Windemere pirates are very cunning and most of those that rise up the ranks study the history of their profession. These aren’t stupid or lazy people.
My pirates do tend to be more like the ones you see on TV and in movies. If they show up as bad guys then they’re fairly aggressive and most will fight to the last man. Those that show up as good guys are jovial, tough, and will leave as soon as they lose interest in the adventure. I should say typically because there are a few series that involve pirates to some extent. One has them in a closed off area and the ‘crew’ are people taken from various worlds. Still trying to figure that one out or see if I should simply make them all different types of pirates. Another has a character who decides to become the pirate captain of a ship and crews it with elementals. So, it’s hard to put them into the same category as the standards.
I would say as far as power and influence goes, the pirates have a leg up on the navy because they travel everywhere. With no kingdom to control them, they only have their whims and desires to restrain their travels. Probably makes them rather appealing to people in that world too. Also, it’s the big reason you will see them turn up more often in my stories.