Saturday, August 24, 2013

Three More Relics

Detailed here are three more items drawn from tales of piracy and swashbuckling.


Da Gama's Ashes
Vasco da Gama is a renowned explorer, one who helped to connect Europe to Arabia and India at the same time that Cortes was leading the conquest New Spain. Even though da Gama is regarded as an explorer and not a warrior, however, he has an act bloodshed on his record that can rival anything Cortes ever did. It happened when he encountered a ship carrying Muslim pilgrims en route to Mecca from Calicut. After claiming that the treasures that it carried, da Gama had his men seal the passengers aboard it and then set it on fire. According to the tales, they then watched while the unfortunate victims pleades for their lives, and let them die. It is not known just how someone came to be in possession of ashes from the ship. Moreover, it is not known if they come from the wood of the ship itself or from some of the victims aboard it.

In game terms, a pouch containing these ashes grants to its possessor the benefits of a prayer spell once per day.

Gainy's Pieces of Eight
During one of the expeditions that William Campier accompanied across the isthmus of Panama, the buccaneers found themselves needing to cross a torrential river. To do so they rigged a rope across it, and then tried to use that as an aid for fording. One member of the party, George Gainy, carried a backpack containing 300 pieces of eight. Such was his greed that he would not leave them behind. He learned his lesson, of course, when the force of the water tore his overburdened self from the line and he drowned somewhere downstream.

Although the buccaneers never recovered his body or his lucre, somebody else did so. Now these accursed pieces of eight are in circulation, carrying their taint. The person who acquires them also gains the Vice fortune as it applies to greed; he or she becomes obsessed with stockpiling money, even if that means risking everything that once was more important.

La Popa Madonna
Many people believe that calling on some kind of supernatural force--be it the loa, a saint or the spirit of an ancestor--can provide real protection in life. Such is the case with this item, a statue of the Virgin Mary from the nunnery that overlooks Cartagena. The Spaniards in the area frequently called on her to deliver their prayers for retribution against buccaneers, freebooters and other such scallywags. Indeed, some credit her with the skinking of Captain Henry Morgan's flagship, the Oxford.

In game terms, praying to the Madonna allows a person to inflict the effects of the doom spell on an opponent, one that lasts for a full day. Doing so requires that the supplicant succeed at a DC 18 Knowledge: religion check, and failure by five or more means that the supplicant instead suffers the effects of the spell.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unusual Equipment

As I've been reading about pirate history, I've come across references to a number of usual incendiary devices. Knowing what kind of fun they could add to a combat, I've written some stats for them.


Unusual Equipment
Pirates are innovators of violence. They are willing to experiment with any tactic that could provide quick and easy victory; for that reason, they are more likely to try out new types of weapons than are members of official military organizations. Detailed below are a few of the ingenious device they are known to have used.

Item Cost Weight
Fire Pike 1 reale + pike 4 lbs.
Smoke Pot 3 reales 8 lbs.
Stink Pot 4 reales 8 lbs.

Smoke Pot
This pot, containing a variety of combustible materials such as lamp oil and gunpowder, creates thick, opaque smoke starting one round after it is ignited. The smoke fills a ten- foot cube (treat the effect as a fog cloud spell). The pot burns for five rounds, and the smoke dissipates naturally at a rate determined by the strength of the prevailing winds: five rounds for no wind, two rounds for a light breeze and one round for stronger winds.

Stink Pot
This item functions in the same manner as a smoke pot, but the addition of caustic material such as sulphur (more commonly known as "brimstone") gives the smoke an acrid, cloying smell. For that reason, characters caught in it must make a DC 11 Fortitude save or become nauseated. This nausea lasts as long as the victim remains in the cloud, and for 1d4+1 rounds thereafter.

It is said that Blackbeard once prepared items such as these and ignited them in the hold of his own ship, daring other crew members to last as long as they could in such hellish conditions.

Fire Pike
The buccaneers somtimes uses these weapons, which augment a normal boarding pike with a jar of combustible materials on the end. Because this makes the weapon awkward to wield, the user suffers a -4 penalty to hit with it. On the first successful hit, however, the target must make a DC 10 reflex save or be lit on fire, suffering an additional 1d6 damage per round. Should that occur, the victim can make use a full-round action to make a DC 15 Reflex save to put out the flames, with a +2 bonus for falling prone and rolling on the ground. Of course, trying to put out the fire grants opponents an attack of opportunity.

Note also that, if the wielder of the fire pike rolls a natural 1 to hit, that character must make the Reflex save to avoid being lit on fire.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Interlude: The Kid

Here's another encounter that could be a single event, or that could develop into an ongoing element in a campaign.


Interlude 49: The Kid
One of the lesser-known, but no less remarkable, pirates from the annals of history is a young fellow by the name of John King. He was a passenger aboard the ship Bonetta, when it was overtaken by Samuel Bellamy and his crew aboard the ship Mary Anne. He was a passenger when the cutthroats claimed their prize but, to their surprise, he insisted that he be allowed to join their crew. Although the pirates initially scoffed at that notion, the boy threatened suicide if he should be refused. With that, perhaps the youngest scallywag in the history of piracy began his career. (It is also interesting to note that, when the wreck of the Whydah was discovered and excavated, it is believed that John King's remains were found and identified.)

This interlude, of course, features a similar situation. It can begin in the aftermath of an attack by the PC's on another vessel, at some point when they meet a young boy named Zaccharias. He takes an immediate liking to the PC's and declares his intention to join the crew. Should they be less than enthusiastic about it, he insists that he can do what pirates do; he tromps around the deck brandishing his wooden cutlass and saying pirate-sounding things like "Avast, there!" and "Run out the guns and hoist the Jolly Roger!" Failing that he pleads to be allowed to join. At that point he seems to except the decision--but later he intends to sneak aboard and hide somewhere until the ship has sailed. (Note that this interlude assumes a boy has decided to join a predominantly male crew, but it could just as likely be that a girl wants to join a band of female pirates.)

As long as he does manage to sail with the PC's, Zaccharias then chooses one PC who is his complete hero. This could very well be the most dashing, charismatic and swashbuckling member of the crew. On the other hand, it could be fun for this to be a character who is not very personable at all, even one who might be displeased by such hero worship. Whaterver the case, the boy slowly begins emulating that character--dressing in a similar manner, carrying the same kind of weapons, using the same language and expressions, etc. This should be subtle at first, but eventually grows to be quite blatant.

While this situation is developing, there's also the question of combat and other dangers of life at sea. As Zaccharias begins to mimic his hero, he also begins taking more and more risks. This could be trying to join a boarding party, or it could be more mundane tasks like climbing the mainmast and the like. It should be apparent that he is doing these things out of a desire to be like his idol; it's up to the PC in question, along with the rest of the party, to decide whether or not such behavior is encouraged. If the GM is tracking shipboard NPC's as suggested in the article "A Motley Crew," the boy can develop just like other characters--but there's also the chance that he could be injured or killed in combat.

Commoner 1; CR 1/2; Size small; HD 1d4; hp 5; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 12 (+2 Dex); Atk -2 (1d4-2, wooden sword) or +2 (ranged, modified by nonproficieny penalty); SQ details; AL NG; SV: Fort +1, Ref +2, Will +2; Str 7, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 8, Wis 14, Cha 13.
Background: None.
Skills: Climb +7, Jump +2, Swim +2.
Feats: Rope Monkey.
Fortunes: Kid.
Equipment: Clothing, wooden sword.

Zaccharias is a tow-headed young kid with blue eyes and a bright smile. He dresses in a manner suitable to the situation in which the PC's first encounter him.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Building on yesterday's post, here are rules for a game within the game.


In his book How History's Greatest Pirates Pillaged, Plundered and Got Away with It, Benerson Little asserts that a favorite dice game among pirates was one called passage. While there are some different variations known, presented here is a more streamlined version.

A dice game such as this can be useful in a number of ways. For one thing, the players and GM can always throw some dice for in-game money while waiting on others. Alternately, the game could be part of an encounter while the PC's are meeting an important contact. Against a particularly ambitious or reckless NPC, the stakes could become very high indeed.

1. Each of the players involved antes a certain bet, such as one piece of eight.

2. Each player takes turn rolling the two six-sided dice.

3. The player with the lowest opening total then rolls one die to "set the point;" that becomes the number needed to score points for future rolls during that game. (In the event of a tie, the two tying players can roll off against each other.)

4. The player with the highest opening roll starts playing by rolling both dice. That player scores one point for each die that matches the "point" number, and three points total if both dice in one throw match it.

5. Play proceeds around to the left until one player scores eleven points, at which time that player wins the pot.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Four Magical Items

Recently during a trip to the used book store, I found a title by Benerson Little--ow History's Greatest Pirates Pillaged, Plundered, and Got Away with It. I'm always excited to find new additions to my piratical library, and this one has proven to include tales of scallywags not so thoroughly covered in other texts. As a result, it has inspired four new legendary items for use in a Skull & Bones campaign.


Four Magical Items

Corso's Rapier

In his volatile but not-too-well-documented career, the Spanish captain known as Juan Corso racked up an impressive string of victories. He started out by harassing logcutters and turtle hunters operating around the Bay of Campeche, but eventually expanded his operations to include much of the Spanish Main and the Caribbean Sea. Throughout all of these he captured numerous vessels and hundreds of crew members from the enemies of Spain. The Spaniard developed a reputation for ruthless and cruelty rivaled only by the deeds of his hated pirate enemies. Indeed, it was a voyage in search of Sieur de la Salle, who led an expedition to settle somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, that led to Corso's death after being shipwrecked on the coast of Florida. According to the tale, after the crew made its way to a desolate wilderness shore, only a handful of sailors survived--and only by resorting to cannibalism were they able to do so. It is believed that someone must have claimed his rapier and managed to pass it along to a new owner.

In game terms, Corso's rapier functions as a +2 weapon, and is bane against Dutch, English and French sailors.

De Tineo's Pike
According to legend, it was an otherwise little-known Spanish lieutenant by the name of Garcia de Tineo who slew the notorious corsair Arouj "Kheir ed-Din" Barbarossa. Even so, the event was immortalized on the coat of arms of that family, and the weapon that he used, a boarding pike, became an heirloom. In game terms, this weapon functions as a boarding pike +1 of wounding. As far as is known, this item is still in the possession of the Spanish family in question, but there is always the possibility that someone could substitute a fake in order to abscond with the real thing.

Jol's Peg
Cornelis Jol was a Dutch captain born in 1597. During his highly active career he made numerous voyages to the New World to do battle with Spanish and Portuguese ships and settlements. It was during one of these that he lost his leg, replacing it with the pegleg from which his nickname Houtebeen is taken. Jol died from Malaria on the island of Sao Tome. Some believe that his trademark wooden leg was not buried with him, but instead passed along among the sea rovers as a relic.

In game terms, Jol's peg reduces penalties for having a pegleg from -10 feet movement and -2 to Reflex saves and various skill checks, to -5 feet and -1, repsectively.

Sharp's Dice
Among other reasons, the buccaneer captain Bartholomew Sharp has a reputation as an extraordinarily lucky gambler. It is said that he won most of the games of passage that he played, even though the chance of winning in that game is fifty-fifty. Ironically, the freebooter died in prison while serving a 
sentence for debst incurred.

In game terms, these two six-sided dice grant their user a +2 enhancement bonus to any Profession: gambler checks made. Additionally, once a day, the character can choose to re-roll a result from throwing the dice during games of chance.