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Pirate Lords of the Sea of Dreadby Colin D. Wilson from Threshold Magazine issue 3
One of Mystara’s many virtues is as a magpie campaign setting. The original authors of the Mystara modules happily took any shiny thing from history or literature and put it into the setting, creating a bizarre patchwork of countries and peoples. This peculiar effect is one of the reasons Mystara is so brilliant. Fortunately that means we can follow in their footsteps and shamelessly borrow anything that takes our fancy.
This article was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, specifically the concept of the Brethren Court. I was intrigued by the idea that, beneath the anarchy, pirates might have some sort of formal command structure. I wondered how that would work in a magical world, so the first half of this article explores this. The second half is a handy overview of some of the main pirates of the Sea of Dread, very much in the style of the AC series. There are plenty of adventure hooks for any GM to choose from.
For those who want more of this sort of thing, the article is completely compatible with the forthcoming Sea of Dread Gazetteer, which should be out around May 2014. Now, on to the ocean waves.
The Pirate Lords of Mystara
Pirates may ply their trade for many reasons: some do it for treasure, some for excitement and some simply from a love of violence. But for the most powerful pirates the goal is to become a Pirate Lord. A Pirate Lord is a pirate so powerful in his sphere of influence that all other pirates in the area bow to his superiority and offer tribute. Though each pirate is a king on his own ship, they all owe fealty to the Pirate Lord.
Becoming a Pirate Lord is a simple process in some ways. When a pirate is so feared and so powerful that no other pirate risks a battle with them, they can claim the Pirate Lordship of their Sea. This is normally achieved through a combination of bribery, fear and personal loyalty. A simpler method is to kill the previous Pirate Lord, though holding the title may then become more difficult. Once accepted as Lord, all other pirates in the area must send them regular tributes. How much and what form these tributes take are all up to the Pirate Lord in question. Asking too little will mean they are not respected, but asking too much may lead to a concerted effort to depose them.
Apart from the benefits of regular tributes the Pirate Lord can also require the buccaneers in his domain to form a pirate fleet under his command. This isn’t often done, but should a country ever try to erase piracy from a region this may be the result.
There are Pirate Lordships up for grabs in every sea on Mystara. The Sea of Dawn has a Lord based on the island of Ne’er-do-well. Another can be found in the Izondian Deep, sailing from the Barony of Vilaverde. Even the Merry Pirate Seas have their Lord, currently Necco-the-Black. But the Sea of Dread is different. The high concentration of pirates and the difficulty in navigating its depths have meant that, after the death in a storm of the last Pirate Lord a century ago, no pirate has ever managed to hold the claim. Many now feel they might have a chance and the next few years are likely to see ever more violent battles as the contenders fight it out.
Secrets of the Pirate Lords
For those fighting for it, being a Pirate Lord is all about the title. Little do they realise that, once they are granted the position, the role is much more than that. The Pirate Lords were created over a thousand years ago by a magician and pirate of astonishing power known as Twistbone. Nobody knows his true name and his place of birth is lost to history. Even the Immortals are unsure, and some speculate that he came from another plane entirely. In his prime he was the most feared pirate on Mystara, using his supreme magical abilities to overwhelm his foes, burning their ships, taking their treasures and attacking their ports with impunity. With his magically long life, he sailed all the seas of Mystara and brought them under his control. But one man could not rule all the seas alone, so he created the Pirate Lords, each responsible for one Sea and answerable only to him.
Using his powers he crafted a brass ring for each Lord. With these he could track their movements, communicate with them and summon them to him. The rings also granted some magical abilities to their wearers. With his Pirate Lords he sought to rule the seas forever. But one should never forget the treachery of pirates. Within a decade, the Pirate Lords turned on him and magically imprisoned him in an ornate mirror. They agreed that none should have overall rulership of the seas and instead agreed to keep to their domains. Since that time there have been many such Lords. As each dies, a successor eventually takes their place and the rings magically find their new wearer.
The Lords recognise no leader, but continue to meet secretly to ensure that piracy maintains its grip on the seas of the world. The meetings are irregular and are arranged using the rings to communicate. They take place in the captain’s cabin on The Scourge, Twistbone’s original ship, which is where the rings take their bearers when requested. The ship creaks and groans as it floats in a dark sea that is unknown to any Pirate Lord who has yet visited it. The ship has somehow become magically entangled on a series of sharp rocks, so the front half is separated from the back. On one of the rocks is a small lighthouse which illuminates the continual rain. With the ship stuck fast, no Pirate Lord has managed to leave the rocks to find out more about the region.
Inside the cabin sits a huge table surrounded by thirteen chairs, usually more than enough to accommodate all living Pirate Lords at any given time. Two walls are taken up by the windows and the door. On the third wall hangs a massive mirror, entirely covered with a thick, green cloth, while on the fourth there sits a framed painting of a huge port filled with lights and ships, cowering beneath a lighthouse that reaches almost to the cloud layer. Beneath the painting is a glass-topped, wooden display case containing a large map of Mystara, on which sit the rings of those Seas currently without a Pirate Lord.
Rings of the Pirate Lords
Pirate Lord Rings have the following abilities.
Once per day: clear sight, nightwatch, water breathing
Once per week: talk to sea creatures, control winds, weather control1, commune with pirate lords, teleport
Commune with Pirate Lords
This allows the wearer to mentally commune with the other Pirate Lords. The wearer can target a specific Lord or all of them and they are put into instant mental communication.
This spell will teleport the wearer to the Captain’s cabin aboard The Scourge (and back again whenever they wish). It cannot be used to teleport to any other location.
On the death of their wearer, the rings magically return to the display case on The Scourge. When a new Pirate Lord of a particular Sea is declared and recognised, the ring for that Sea appears on their finger. While the rings can be removed, they cannot be discarded. Even if thrown over the side, they return to their owner at midnight, reappearing on their finger. The same occurs if the ring is stolen (though its other functions can be used in the intervening time).
Pirates of the Sea of Dread
There are thousands of pirates plying their trade on the Sea of Dread and many have no interest in the Lordship. But a few have heard of Pirate Lords on their travels and consider that they should rule the waters between Davania and Brun. This section outlines some of the main contenders for the title.
Cold Captain Wyther
Captain Wyther (F15) is broad-shouldered and clean-shaven with a handsome face and chiseled look. He was born in Hojah, one of the City States on the Savage Coast. At a young age he was pressed into service aboard a pirate ship that preyed upon the shipping around the Savage Coast. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually became captain of his own ship, The Crimson Scar, which had red sails and a crew entirely equipped with red steel weapons. Through diplomacy and conquest he became admiral of a collection of ships known as The Crimson Fleet and eventually became Pirate Lord of the Izondian Deep. But four years ago he lost that position to a pirate even more ruthless than he was. Rather than serve under another, he and his crew sailed round the Serpent Peninsula and began raiding the richer lands around the Sea of Dread. The Crimson Fleet is now based in Scuttlecove2, on Sekorvia, and Wyther is eyeing another Lordship, though he hasn’t the strength to claim it yet.
‘Black’ Nikolas Hackett, the Tattooed Captain
Nikolas Hackett (or Black Nick, F12) is tall, broad-shouldered and covered from head to foot in tattoos. He was a young swashbuckler from Ierendi who delighted in the sea. He was also arrogant and quick-tempered, but these traits did not manifest themselves often. He left Ierendi as a sailor and returned after several years to find a friend of his, Kester Grace, married to a beautiful Espan girl called Imogene. He fell immediately in love with her and pursued her aggressively. Eventually she relented and the two eloped. Unable to return to Ierendi, Nick took to the sea and swiftly fell into the life of a pirate. Since then he has sailed the Sea of Dread preying on shipping and making a name as one of the most black-hearted pirates on the waves. He named his ship after Imogene and hid her in Garganin on Davania, while making his home in Scuttlecove. Over time he has gained many pirate followers and has several ships at his command.
Captain Clegg, the Devil (of Tarastia)
Clegg (C13) is tall and thin, with pale eyes and hair and a fierce expression. His real name is Kester Grace and he was born in Ierendi where he was a pleasant, if wild, young man with a devout nature. In his early twenties he met and married an Espan girl called Imogene who had recently arrived in Ierendi by ship. Only a few months later Imogene eloped with Nick Hackett, who Grace regarded as a friend. Grace went mad with anger and grief at her loss and swore to get her back at all costs. He set out to sea in pursuit of them but was captured by pirates. Within a few hours, he overpowered his guards, slew their captain in single combat, and took command of the ship, Brimstone. From then on he became Captain Clegg, pirate of the Sea of Dread. He spends his time taking ships and pursuing Black Nick, intending to kill him for his betrayal. Nick has yet to work out that Clegg and Grace are the same person but the revelation must come soon. Despite his originally good nature, Clegg has fallen far and fast. He is as dangerous a foe as any on the seas and utterly ruthless in his quest to find Imogene.
Ah Ling (M10) is an Ochalean mage of unremarkable appearance. After many years of study he yearned for excitement and so left Ochalea to pursue a life at sea. He swiftly joined a group smuggling drugs and slaves between Sekorvia and Alphatia and, through judicious use of magic, rapidly became its leader. Since then ‘The Seven Blessings’, as the gang is known, has successfully branched out into piracy and may even threaten The Crimson Fleet in time. Ah Ling himself almost never sails with his fleet and, as he magically changes his appearance, even his own henchmen are unsure precisely what he looks like. Most of the time he lives a quiet life on Ochalea running things from a distance.
Kotorolo (T10) is a Pearl Islander with brown eyes and short black hair. Though he is shorter than average, he is surprisingly stocky. He is a serious man who rarely smiles and has never been heard to laugh. In his youth, he came to believe that his people were regarded as little more than primitives by the Thyatian nobility. Before he reached twenty he had gathered a group of like-minded individuals and began to fight, violently, to make the Pearl Islands independent. Unfortunately he was captured and sentenced to life as a galley slave on a trading vessel, plying the routes between the Islands, the Isle of Dawn and Brun. Against the odds, he survived for three years, during which time he gradually gained a following among the other slaves. One day, when the ship was far away from land, he organised a revolt. The slaves broke their chains, killed the Thyatian crew and took up the life of pirates, with the long term aim of freeing the Pearl Islands from Thyatian rule. Now the Freedom preys on ships throughout the Sea of Dread, concentrating on Thyatian vessels when possible.
Ismeron (M12) is a dark-skinned man with large black moustaches and greying hair. A magic user from Jalawar, in Sind, he was originally court mage to the Rani Drisana Madhar. As he grew older, he began dabbling in dark magics, summoning creatures from other planes and specialising in predicting the future. Eventually he attempted to overthrow the Rani, but the rebellion failed and he fled from Sind. Using his magic he commandeered the ship he left on, the Sindhi Queen, and set off on a life of piracy on the high seas. Now he makes his base in Jaibul and uses his magic to foresee the location of the weakest victims with the most treasure.
There are many Hin pirates who sail the waters south of the five shires. Some are dabblers who engage in piracy for sport, others do it for adventure, while some even do it for the treasure. But Greylan Narrowgirth (Halfling 8) does it because he’s good at it. Greylan is tall for a hin, with short, brown hair and a mischievous expression. Like many others he started his career as a buccaneer because it was more interesting than being a trader. He did both for a while, but eventually settled on piracy as he continually lost money on trading trips and gained it through thievery. It was, in fact, the only thing he’d ever truly excelled at. Unlike the more ruthless pirates of the region, he abides by an unbreakable set of rules: no needless death, no Halfling ships, no slavery. However, like many Hin, he is not to be underestimated and will kill those threatening him with no warning, using both the blade he wields very well and the considerable number of magic items he has amassed over his life. He can be found sailing the western Sea of Dread in his ship The Juggler’s Fool and, if he’s in a good mood, may tell the story of how it came to have such a curious name over a pipe and several flagons of ale.
Sariena (Elf 9) is an elf of medium height with long pale hair and distinctive mismatched eyes, one green, one blue. She is very beautiful, but also cold and distant. Though born among the water elves of Minrothad her mother is a shadowelf who was sent out of their caverns to learn more of the elves of the south. To maintain her cover, her mother formed a relationship with one of the Meditor elves and Sariena was the result. Like many of her clan, she learned to sail at a very young age and trained as a trader, eventually rising to the rank of captain. Her skill with arms and her lack of fear soon led to her being trained as a privateer by the Minrothad government, and she now sails her ship, the Seastar, around the northern Sea of Dread, sinking enemy trading ships and taking their treasure for Minrothad. She is one of their most prized captains and it is in this role that she has been asked to investigate the possibility of shadowelf spies among the elves of Minrothad, a task she intends to undertake with vigour.
Marie (F14) is a human of medium height with long brown hair that falls in waves to her shoulders. She wears brown leggings and boots with a white blouse that she lets hang open, a ploy to distract her opponents. She uses a sword, and wears jewellery and an eye-patch, having lost her eye in a battle five years ago. Marie was born in Minrothad on Trader’s Isle. Her parents were very devout and originally planned for her to be cleric in a contemplative order, locked away from the world. Unfortunately for them Marie turned out to be wild, wicked and generally unsuited to such a life. After she caused untold mayhem in her village, her parents arranged for her to be married to the local blacksmith’s apprentice. He was not an unattractive man, but Marie had no interest in being tied to one man forever. She couldn’t escape the wedding but crept out of her new home early the following morning and left, leaving the ring on the blacksmith’s anvil. She made for Harbourtown and took a place as a deckhand on a trading ship, looking for a life of adventure. The ship in question turned out to be a raider, rather than a trader, but Marie found that all the more exciting. The ship’s captain, another woman with an uncertain past, took a liking to Marie and taught her how to sail and fight, eventually bequeathing her the ship itself. That was twenty years ago. Since that time Marie has become a major player in the criminal community of the northern Sea of Dread. Aboard the Maiden’s Revenge, she sails out of Crossbones and is the most respected pirate in the Minrothad area. She is no privateer though, and will prey on any ship that crosses her path.
Marcus (F9) is a good looking young man with a ready smile and an easy manner. He was brought up in Thyatis City as the second son of a merchant family. A combination of boredom and a taste for the high life led him into gambling, which he turned out to be very good at. In the course of a few years he won jewels, money, property and even a ship. Eventually he had won so much that he was suspected of cheating. Though nothing was ever proven, he had made enough enemies that he was run out of the city, escaping on his ship with only the goods he could carry. Within a few weeks he had turned pirate, putting his extraordinary good fortune to work in robbing the shipping lanes near Thyatis and the Isle of Dawn. He now makes his home in the town of Crossbones and his ship, the Lady Luck, can regularly be seen there, often with the sounds of music and laughter drifting from below decks. He’s not considered a great pirate yet, but his star is on the rise and some of those who have heard of him are beginning to wonder whether his luck can be entirely natural.
Nathaan (F12) is a young man with broad shoulders, huge muscles and a dour expression. He is the nephew of Baron Uthgaard McRhomaag, the ruler of the Barony of Caerdwicca on the Isle of Dawn. When he was a boy, Baron Uthgaard noted that Nathaan was both strong and ill-tempered, which he felt were the main requirements for a truly successful pirate. Uthgaard had been a pirate himself when younger, had heard of the Pirate Lords, and had even sought to become one of their number. However, his accession to the Barony prevented him doing so. Instead, he intends to help Nathaan secure the Lordship. Although the Baron supports many pirates, Nathaan received goods, training, men and even a ship, the Cleaver, from his uncle. Nathaan now leads the Caerdwiccan pirate fleet and is trying to extend his influence further. Should he ever achieve the position of Pirate Lord, his uncle may find him a good deal more difficult to control than he thinks.
Adrienne Xylonias, of Petra
Adrienne (C11) is from Kastelios on the continent of Davania, and has the dark hair and golden skin common in that region. As a young girl she was sent to serve in the Temple of Petra and so was trained as a fighting cleric, dedicated to defending the weak. When she was in her early teens her father, a trader plying the routes on the Davanian coast, was killed by pirates. This event gave focus to her abilities and, with the church’s blessing, she took command of a ship and set sail to destroy any pirates she found and return their booty to the temple for the glory of Petra. Her approach since then has been simple; she sails the southern Sea of Dread in her ship, the Vengeance, preying only on pirates. Since there are plenty in the area, she is never short of targets. Ordinary trade ships are completely safe with her, but any pirate ship will be attacked. For them she has no mercy and will commonly execute the entire crew, steal any treasure and burn the ship where it stands. This is certainly an odd form of piracy but it’s possible, if enough pirates fear her, that she could gain the Lordship by default.
Krem (Orc 7) is a red orc from northern Davania. He is short, squat, ugly and has enormous ears. When he was a young man he was driven out of his village after losing a fight with another male over one of the tribe’s females. He made his way north and eventually met a pirate who was sheltering in a cove on the coast. The pirate offered Krem a place on his ship and the orc spent several years learning the ways of the sea. Eventually he rose to first mate and, when the Captain was lost in a storm, he took command of the ship. Now he prowls the seas around Davania attacking shipping and looting the coastal villages. His ship, the Marauder, is a terrifying sight with hideous red and yellow eyes painted on the hull.
1 All of the above spells use the statistics from Gaz 9: The Minrothad Guilds
2 Scuttlecove appears in the Savage Tide Adventure Path published in Dungeon Magazine.