It is 2218, a decade after the Treaty of Sirius brought an end to the Zodiac War. This war had, at one point or another, engulfed most of the Pacific Arm. A staggering array of weapons were deployed and stratagems ranging from the latest infoattack methods to techniques old when the first spaceships lumbered out of Earth's atmosphere. Among the latter was the issuance of Letters of Marque by several Zodiac states, allowing for armed auxiliaries to fight for their nation. After the war some gave up their letters or had them revoked. Others kept their status as privateers.
This is their story.
Privateering in the 22nd century
Human space is a dangerous place. Most of this danger comes from Velan mechanolife, sometimes-aggressive self-replicating machinery that is the remnants of an alien civilization otherwise dead for millions of years. Awoken by humanity's bumbling exploration they have once again started on their ancient, enigmatic tasks. While warships of various nations keep these semisentient machines away from busy shipping lanes and inhabited worlds, anyone going outside of tightly-patrolled space is advised to carry a weapon - just in case. This has bred a certain rugged self-reliance among those who travel the spaceways and it is from these that modern-day privateers are drawn.
The first official privateers of this new stellar age were called up in the Shore War of the late 2180s by the young Zodiac organization. They accepted a commission to put their civilian ships - often idled since the Breakdown of 2172 - into paramilitary service, receiving arms, refits and precious repaired FTL jump drives. Many of these were patriotic Hampshirans though eventually privateers hailed from all Zodiac worlds, filling in during the first phase of the war until purpose-built warships were built in sufficient numbers to replace them. A strong minority eventually joined the military organizations but most retained their autonomy, fighting alongside but not under the 'official' militaries.
(Note that this differs from the Solomonic War where both sides rapidly nationalized every ship capable of carrying a gun or missile - by the end of the Solomonic War the 'private' interstellar spacecraft had all but disappeared and only reappeared in the post-war drawdown of forces.)
These civilian conversions were sometimes ramshackle, often inefficient and never identical, but the valor of those who served onboard was rarely found wanting. They would go on to fight in all major and most minor engagements of the war and by the endgame around Heaven's Shore and APEX-579 their status has been legally formalized. Still independent, but with the full force of Admirality law behind them.
Many privateers maintained their commission in reserve even after hostilities were completed and their ships were returned to (mostly) unarmed civilian configurations. A few carried on, becoming xenomachinery hunters operating on the fringes of Zodiac space and into the now-reopening PACT and Euro arms. All this would have been a historical curiosity and a colonial expedient if not for the descent into hostilities between several members of the Zodiac organization and their original national sponsors in the early 2200s - this was to become the Zodiac War.
In the years leading to the war proper an undeclared conflict had been waged for several years as privateers clashed with 'advisors' and core-friendly militia proxies, often with inconclusive results. The official declaration of war caused those privates who hadn't joined in the borderspace free-for-all rushed to reactivate their commissions and rearm their ships, throwing themselves into the war once again. The enemy this time was not Shivans and exhuman reavers using ships and weapons not particularly different from those of the privateers themselves though, but the dangerously well-equipped and highly organized militaries of the Core. After the first few embarrassing and disheartening losses these auxiliary crews and ships shifted their targets to softer ones - civilian shipping and unprotected bases.
Privateering in the 23rd century
The signing of the Treaty of Sirius and associated bilateral restrictions created an entirely new relevance for privateers. Being nominally private citizens operating in a regulated but autonomous manner they fell outside of the status of force agreements and became a loophole the Zodiac worlds exploited. Only retroactive agreements hastily tacked on at the end of negotiations limiting the letters of marque and thus the privateers they legally enabled to ones existing as of the armistice prevented the literal explosion of Zodiac privateers and the complete collapse of the peace agreements - and quite possibly the resumption of fighting.
Today the exact status of Zodiac privateers remains murky and subject to regular dispute, but in practice they can broadly be considered paramilitary forces, though ones operated privately. This has led to the coining of the term 'private paramilitary forces'.
What is not murky - or at least reasonably clear - is how they relate to the formal armed forces of the Zodiac states. They are regulated by the government of their sponsoring nation and must adhere to all rules of war. Furthermore, due to the wording of the final treaties, their letter of marque is non-transferrable except to legal descendants.
With the war receding and the consequently profit-making opportunities vanished, many of them returned to civilian life, maintaining their letter merely in reserve status. Others, however, continued their life of adventure wherever it may lead them . . .
The Zeno II
The first privateer to bear the name Zeno was a converted freighter, built around Earth in the '50s and stranded in Hampshire orbit by the Breakdown. At the outbreak of the Shore War the Mustang Pioneer was sold by the local factor of its owners and renamed the Zeno, then refitted with a number of gun and missile systems for the war. Featuring progressively greater armament over the several years she was in service the Zeno was, nonetheless, a somewhat slapdash refit like all the other privateer ships of the period. Much of the missile (but not the gun) armament was disembarked at the end of the war and she continued on in an only slightly less eventual career in the less well travelled Zodiac periphery. Called back to official service for the war in the Pacific Arm, she was eventually crippled and cornered in APEX-17 where her crew was forced to abandon ship, her hulk scuttled by a nuclear demolition charge. Making their way back to Zodiac space on a captured tramp, the surviving crew received a new ship, which they promptly named the Zeno II.
Unlike the original, the Zeno II was conceived from the outset as a raider. One of approximately a dozen broadly similar hulls built by Hampshire during the war she truly a warship, not a converted merchantman. Each one was unique, though all shared elements such as low-observability features and an emphasis on speed as opposed to staying power. The Zeno II was paid for in part by the pooled prize money of the crew and in part by the Hampshiran government.
The Zeno II underwent several upgrades to armament during the war, with at least one of these involving fitting weapons taken from a defeated UNASUR Q-ship. By the armistice she featured not only two heavy beam turrets and several railgun systems but a concealed antiship missile launch system and a Velan xenodrone plasma cannon as well. While she had the firepower of a light cruiser the Zeno II had a limited infowarfare suite, particularly with the adoption of 4th gen systems in the final year of the war. While capable enough and with excellent long-range passive detection gear (to find targets or find enemies to avoid), overall the avionics fitted to the Zodiac privateers was intended primarily for use against civilian and auxilary shipping, not front-line warships.
As befitting their roles as raiders, all of the Hampshiran-built hulls included ample fuel and cargo space as well as habitation accomodations for marines with associated boarding shells and paraphernalia. Secure brig space for captured crews was also included as a matter of course, though it was expected that those captured on prize ships would be dropped off at neutral stations or ships as soon as feasible. Some of the privateers (including the Zeno II) were built with mobile suit bays, giving them even greater versatility. For the duration of the war the Zeno II operated a quartet of old Space Ugrade Peltasts.
As seen on Sphere RPG System Mechanics; there are 7 attributes:
To avoid mucking about with costs, all characters have one attribute at 4, three at 3 and three at 2. If these are proving to be to low on a regular basis, they will be increased.
Characters have 7 points to buy Abilities; any Ability point over 3 costs double (thus getting 4 costs 5, 5 costs 7)
Take a few points of Skills to round out your character.
Again, to avoid dealing with costs at this juncture, everyone should chose something from Genetic Templates - they can be tweaked as necessary/appropriate.
You have access to any mass-produced personal items you could want, so don't worry about specifying. In terms of big expensive Cool Shit, the better the template you take, the less of this you'll get. Classics get giant robots, Ishtars and Atlases get power armor. Exhumans get . . . themselves.
Minisphere Pirates is basically a concept test and validation; if you want to do something ask 'how do I do X' and if we don't have rules they will be made up and written down.