Letter of Marque
A Letter of Marque is a government license authorizing a person (known as a privateer) to attack and capture enemy vessels and bring them before admiralty courts for condemnation and sale. Letters of marque are only ever offered during times of war.
In general, these letters are authorized by governors of Gardish colonies, authorizing the capture of Arcish or pirate ships. (They may also be issued by Lasani governors when Lasant is at war.) Attacking a ship, even an enemy ship, without such a letter is considered an act of piracy, and is punishable by death.
It should be noted that Arcland has never recognized letters of marque. Arcish governors hang captured privateers as pirates. (On occasion, governors instead ransom captured privateers in exchange for large sums of gold.) Letters of marque are not valid in the Old World – they are only used in the Bocan Islands.
A letter of marque specifies either a single individual, ship, or privateering company. In any case, a single letter represents the right to operate a single privateering ship; any captured ships are required to be brought back to port and sold at an admiralty court. A common practice for these courts is to offer less than the market value of a ship, but they will usually permit a company which has captured a superior vessel to keep it, and sell its old ship instead.
Bearers of a letter of marque can still be prosecuted in their home countries if they should attack a non-enemy vessel. But a common practice for privateers who cannot find enough prey is to attack friendly shipping, and then later claim to have seen an enemy flag flying from its mast. When it proven, this practice is almost always punished by death – but it is very hard to prove.
The Imperial Commission (or Royal Commission in Lasant) is similar to a letter of marque, except that it authorizes a privateering company to maintain and operate a number of ships simultaneously. Usually, a limit is imposed between 5 and 10 vessels. Unlike the letter of marque, colonial governors are not empowered to grant these commissions. Only a high admiral in the Old World has that authority.
Imperial Commissions are handed out very sparsely, and only to groups which have proven their ability and loyalty. The understanding is that privateers under Commission are more independent, and consequently at greater risk of infighting or becoming pirates.