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Savage Seas: Pirates, Corsairs & Buccaneers of the Savage Coastby Giampaolo Agosta from Threshold Magazine issue 10
Savage Seas: Pirates, Corsairs & Buccaneers
“Fifteen men on the dead man's chest- Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
by Giampaolo Agosta (Agathokles)
In this article, I will try to cover a topic that is overlooked in the Savage Coast books: pirates and corsairs. While the Savage Coast tells us much about piracy, and introduces several swashbuckling corsairs, it doesn't give as much of a coverage of this issue as it gives to other aspects of the Coast.
In the rest of the article, I will give a brief coverage on what Pirates, Corsairs and Buccaneers are on the Savage Coast and what character kits and races can be used for piratical PCs and NPCs. Then I will review the areas of this region where Pirates, Corsairs and Buccaneers can be found, and close up with some sample NPCs and adventure hooks.
Pirates, Corsairs & Buccaneers
The seas and wilderlands of the Savage Coast are rich in dangers, first of which are outlaws. There are two main types of sea-based outlaws: pirates and corsairs. Another type of outlaw, the buccaneer is also closely related with pirates.
Pirates are outlaws of the high seas. Their ships prowl the trade routes of the Savage Coast looking for merchantmen to plunder.
Pirates work in groups large enough to man a ship, but only rarely two or more ships will cooperate. In fact, each crew answers only to the captain, which is usually elected by the same crew. Therefore, it takes a lot of diplomacy for even the most powerful and successful pirate to lead other captains to cooperate. When a new ship is captured, the crew might be asked to join the pirates. In this case, the crew divides between the available ships, and each crew elects its captain.
A pirate ship usually recognize only two officers: the captain and the quartermaster, though other specialized roles do exist. As the captain, the quartermaster is also elected by the crew, and acts as a spokesman for the pirates, ensuring a degree of “democracy” against the autocratic rule of the captain. The quartermaster is also more likely to be a sailor and a navigator, while the captain is more of a battle leader.
Pirates divide the plunder in equal shares1 tend to spend their share of plunder quickly, usually in drinks, women and the like. However, the more successful pirates are those who keep their money in sight of retirement. These characters sometimes hide their treasures in secret locations.
Corsairs, or Privateers, are seamen who have been issued a letter of marque from a state. The letter of marque states the terms in which the privateers can “legitimately” attack another ship. Usually, this means that the privateer ship can attack ships from nations that are at war with the power that issued their letter of marque without fear of retribution from that power. Of course, the victimized nation will often consider the privateers as pirates, and not extend to them the rights of war prisoners, in case of capture.
While pirates are governed by a sort of democracy, privateers are organized more as a military or mercantile ship, with the owner (be it a nation or individual) selecting a captain (often the owner itself) and paying a salary to the seamen. “Requisitioned” goods may be shared or kept by the ship’s owner, depending on the privateers' contracts, but a middle ground is common.
Privateers sometimes double as merchants or supplement a nation's navy.
Contrary to Pirates and Corsairs, Buccaneers are not seafarers. Rather, they are poachers or simply hunters that live in wilderness areas near the sea. They hunt buffalos, aurochs or other similar prey, eating the meet and selling the hides for weapons, alcoholics and other goods that they cannot produce.
They sometimes provide help to pirates or corsairs, either by trading supplies for stolen goods, or by enrolling in pirate crews, or by joining pirates in individual operations - especially attacks to plantations or even towns. Other buccaneers may manage to get a small ship, and act as pirates for a while.
The buccaneers are less organized than either pirates or corsairs, since they are not constrained to a ship. The basic social structure of the buccaneers is the mates' pair: two buccaneers (often an experienced one and a newcomer) bound themselves as mates, sharing all properties. If one of a pair dies, the other inherits all properties, and can select a new mate.
Buccaneers are a rough lot, more akin to the Gaucho than to the Swashbuckler. They rarely have spare money or great treasures, which is the reason why sometimes they join pirates. However, they are great hunters and exceptional snipers. Due to their limited resources, they are often forced to rely on older weaponry, such as arquebuses or matchlock muskets.
Characters of the Savage Seas
In this section, we describe the characters that belong to the three groups, in terms of AD&D 2e classes and kits.
Character Classes & Kits
The Savage Coast Campaign Book presents a single kit that can fit for piratical characters, the Swashbuckler.
Swashbucklers, however, represent only a fraction of the possible pirates, corsairs and buccaneers. Other kits are needed for these characters.
A word is also due on the Red Curse: many Pirates and Corsairs are not affected by the Curse, since they spend most of their time on the ships. Those who are cursed, though, prize Cynnabryl high: the news of a ship carrying the precious ore can move these pirate to foolhardy actions, and prisoners are always stripped of their Cynnabryl.
Buccaneers, on the other hand, often live in the cursed regions, and are very likely to be affected by the Curse. Few have access to clerical aid, and Cynnabryl is costly, so many Buccaneers suffer from Affliction, making them even more sulky and less communicative.
Swashbuckling pirates are possible, and even common in Vilaverde, but the less glamorous pirates should be portrayed through different kits.
The Pirate from the CFH and the Buccaneer from the CTH can fit this role. Note that the latter kit has nothing to do with actual buccaneers. The Pirate kit from the PO:S&P is another viable choice.
However, it is also possible, in the Savage Coast, to find pirate wizards and priests - since many pirate ships begin their careers after a mutiny, the ship's priest or wizard may well be involved.
Corsairs are typically Swashbucklers, though privateer ships may well include other character types, especially Myrmidons, if the privateer has close connections with a government.
Pirate kits can also be used for less savory privateers.
The Buccaneer is often a Ranger, though a Fighter or Thief can fit the role, especially for non-Good Buccaneers.
Races and Nationalities: the Buccaneer can come from any society that knows the use of firearms: the Savage Baronies, Bellayne and Renardie are acceptable.
Requirements: there are no gender restrictions, and no alignment restrictions as well, though few Buccaneers are Lawful. The Buccaneer must be hardy and have a good aim, so Constitution and Dexterity scores of 13 are required.
Class Modifications: there are no class modifications, except for Thief Buccaneers who have a penalty of 10% to Pick Pocket and Open Locks, and a bonus of 10% to Move Silently, Hide in Shadows and Hear Noise, but only in wilderness settings.
Weapon Proficiencies: the Buccaneer must take proficiency in the arquebus or musket, and specialize if Fighter. Another initial proficiency must be spent on the knife. Other typical weapons include the machete, hand axe and cutlass, as well as the belt and horse pistol.
Non-weapon Proficiencies: bonus proficiencies are survival and hunting. Required proficiency is fire-building. Recommended proficiencies include alertness, set snares, gunsmithing, boating, cooking, endurance, tracking, orienteering and herbalism. The Buccaneer cannot take the etiquette proficiency at the beginning of the game.
Equipment: the Buccaneer does not use heavy armor - actually, he usually wears no armor at all, since it is costly and interferes with his hunting and survival skills.
Special Benefits: the Buccaneer receives a bonus of +3 to his survival rolls in his home environment. Moreover, he receives a +1 bonus to hit rolls with a arquebuses and muskets.
Special Hindrances: the Buccaneer is considered at best coarse, at most a dangerous criminal, in civilized environment, and a weird outsider in primitive societies. Therefore, he receives a -3 penalty to reaction rolls in these cases. Moreover, the Buccaneer is usually poor (see below).
Wealth: the Buccaneer receives a firearm, a knife, plus another weapon, and up to ten useful items - mostly scavenged or bought from pirates or Traders. He only starts with 1d6 dies in small change.
Pirates, corsairs and buccaneers in the Savage Coast come from the Savage Baronies, and therefore can include humans and demihumans as well as Lupins, or from Bellayne or Renardie.
The people of Eusdria sometimes performs raiding or piracy, and Eusdrian pirates are not uncommon, even though they should be treated more like Northmen sea raiders. There are also many Hulean and Traladaran pirates and the Traladaran City-States also sponsor privateers.
Among the more monstrous races, Orcs of the Dark Jungle are fearsome pirates, but they are too primitive and fall into the range of the Savage Warrior rather than the Pirate.
The piratical culture has influenced other, more primitive races, such as the Neshezues.
Ports of Call & Buccaneer Coves
This section describes the regions of the Savage Coast most likely to host pirates, corsairs, and buccaneers.
Pirates of the Eastern Gulf
The eastern Gulf of Hule has several good ports for pirates, and all major trade routes between the Savage Coast and the Known World lay along its coastline. Moreover, the City-States sponsor privateers.
Hule sponsors pirates through the Bleak League, a crime network. They are openly based in the Hulean ports, though Vilaverdan and Texeiran navy ships sometimes launch punitive raids, burning the ports and sinking the Hulean ships, pirate or not.
The Hulean government never recognize its pirates as privateers, and these pirates never acknowledge the rules of war.
Hulean pirates are even more colorful than their Guardiano counterpart, with flashy clothes and extensive piercings, though they lack panache - few Swashbucklers can be found here.
Zeren ``Blackbeard'' Tural leads the Hulean pirates from his base in Boyazka, and answers to the leaders of the Gulf Wing of the Bleak League, the Basgil family.
Zeren Tural: Human (Hulean) Pirate F9, CE.
The Sea Powers
Of the so-called Sea Powers, Vilaverde is a veritable haven for pirates. Even its merchantmen double as pirate ships and its aristocracy is composed of successful pirate captains.
Texeiran privateers, on the other hand, play more by the rules - their government issues letters of marque, usually against Vilaverde, Hule and Narvaez, but open piracy is frowned upon.
The Colinas Grutescas & the Guadalimas
These wildlands on the coast north of Puerto Morillos are home to bandits and pirates as well as some buccaneers who hunt in the swamps.
Pirate crews sometimes hide their loot in the caverns that dot the hills.
Narvaez sometimes launches punitive raids against the Bandits and Buccaneers, though usually with little success, but otherwise does not seem interested in taking over the region.
Delta de Pozaverde
While Gargoña is not a naval power and does not sponsor privateers, the Delta de Pozaverde is a haven for pirates and buccaneers, with its hardly navigable network of channels and swamps.
Much smuggling has been going on between Gargoña, Almarrón, and Narvaez.
The Almarróñan Coast
The high cliffs and forested coast of Almarrón, while less than optimal for pirates, are home to many buccaneers.
Also, with its troubled history, Almarrón has always had a large number of smugglers and some privateers, sanctioned by the new Baron or the former dictator.
The Free City of Dunwick, while not directly engaged in piracy, it a neutral port where privateers of different nations can meet. Pirates sometimes can be found, trading their loot, though they must disguise their ships.
The infamous pirate Donovan Keir can sometimes be found in Dunwick.
Colony of the Horn
This Texeiran colony is home to a famous privateer, Miles Killian o'Kane2.
The wooded lands of the region are also home to groups of buccaneers, many of whom are escaped convicts from the local penitentiary. Others are Afflicted who work to pay for treatment in the clinic at Bom Jardim.
This seedy domain is a former Vilaverdan colony, which declared independence during the Wrath of the Immortals. It covers a large territory on the Arm of the Immortals, but most of it is wilderness, and the population is only of 8,500, mostly living in the plantations.
Porto Maldição itself is a village of some 600 or 700 people - and one of the worst hives of scum and villainy on this side of the coast. Here can be found a mix of Vilaverdan pirates, Dunwick traders, Torreóner and Krolli3 mercenaries, Renardois heretics, Bellaynish outcasts, and jungle explorers. The village also serves as a base for explorers and spies trying to reach Eshu.
Mato Grande, the only other significant urban community, has 300 inhabitants, and is mostly a farming community and a market village, serving as a collection point for the products of the southern part of the colony. It is also the starting point for the exploratory expeditions known as Bandeiras. The Bandeirantes explore the Western Orclands and the Pântano Podre3, looking for routes to the mountains, where they hope to find gold, silver, or cinnabryl mines, and also for slaves among the orcish, lizard-kin, and Gyeran tribes. Many Bandeirantes are explorers and adventurers by trade - Scout Thieves and Rangers - but others are simply people who hope to make the adventure of the life - and usually end in the orcs' pot.
In addition to a large buccaneer population, it is also a note pirate refuge, far enough from the civilized lands to let a crew spend some time while letting their trace grow cool: Porto Maldicao has earned its name for the unusual frequency of shipwrecks - ships attempting to navigate using the stars often are misled, and only experienced pilots can lead a ship safely to the harbour.
The main activities of the colony are a plantation agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Hunters are almost always Buccaneers. They hunt a variety of prey, though the most unscrupulous hunters hunt and kill the Tigrillo Preto, a type of savage Rakasta prized for its black fur.
Agriculture is based on large haciendas, which use slave labour extensively. Each hacienda employs a large number of slaves - often more than one hundred, and several overseers. Slaves come from the Savage Coast or even further east.
Small fishing villages dot the coastline. They are inhabited by old explorers, retired pirates, a few escaped slaves
Porto Maldição is ruled by Dom Iago, a Texeiran adventurer who founded the colony more than a decade ago, then switched sides to Vilaverde, and finally claimed independence as Barão de Porto Maldição. He has enrolled the help of 50 Torreóner mercenaries to defend his small fort, and has 15 former buccaneers and 35 scouts on his payroll that run more or less regular patrols, though the “Barony”' is certainly too large for them to control. Dom Iago also owns a small warship, which patrols the waters off the colony, looking for shipwreck sites to scavenge.
Dom Iago: Human (Texeiran) Swashbuckler Thief 10, NE, age 43.
This Renardois colony occupies a large territory in the Arm of the Immortals. A recent colony, it has a single village, Preuve, inhabited by fishermen and farmers. A small fort houses the Preuvois garrison, 40 crossbowmen and 10 musketeers, all veterans, the Governor, and the administrative staff.
Preuve has the highest population of Renardois Buccaneers and hunters, more than one thousand. The rest of the population is composed of plantation farmers that live in farms around the village of Preuve. Many Preuvois Lupins are follower of Pflarr who have relocated in order to escape religious persecution.
Renardois Corsairs often stop at this port.
This small free city controls a large but savage land in the Yalu Bay, west of the Bayou and south-east of Zuyevo.
It has a population of more than two thousand humans, tortles, and demihumans. Another three thousand farmers, hunters, prospectors and explorers live in the wild lands around the city.
Most businesses in the city are owned by the LB Trading Co., which also runs the government, including the hundred pistol-toting warriors that keep the peace in the city and act as a deterrent against Zuyevan intervention. The Texeiran navy from the Colony of the Horn provides defence for the LB merchantmen.
Buccaneers are common in along the eastern coast, and range east even to the outer ranges of Cay to hunt aurochs - which is cause for a lot of friction with the Cay.
The Corsairs and Their Legends
Many legends have been told in the posadas of the Savage Coast about fearsome pirates and great treasures...
This section describes a group of mysterious corsair, the Three Corsairs, a Lupin Buccaneer, and the tale of a famous pirate, Juanita Alvarez.
The Three Corsairs
The Three Corsairs are the brothers, Kerendan nobles, who have arrived on the Savage Coast circa four years ago4, pursuing the man who betrayed and murdered their elder brother during the siege of Redstone in the War of the Wrath.
The three brother, using their last funds, had a ship built for each of them, gathered small crews, and started wandering along the coast looking for their enemy. Each of them took on dressing in a single color - green, red, and black. So the Three Corsairs were born.
But their enemy, a Thyatian wizard, had not been idle. Having obtained vast riches from his betrayal, he had bought a new name, Diego de Montelimar, a Vilaverdan title of nobility, and the protection afforded by Torreóner mercenaries.
With this huge advantage, and the power of his magic, he has managed to have the Green and the Red Corsair captured and hanged. The last of the three, the Black Corsair, recovered his brothers' bodies and buried them in the sea just off the Gargoñan coast, in front of the northernmost branch of the Pozaverde. They now haunt the area as ghosts, while the Black Corsair closes in on the traitor: he knows that his enemy is now a Vilaverdan noble, so he has obtained a Texeiran letter of marque allowing him to prey on Vilaverdan ships. It is said that the success of the Black Corsair is due to a Shadow Symbiont (or perhaps more) he always wears, which allow him to escape Montelimar's magic.
The Black Corsair: Human (Thyatian) Swashbuckler Fighter 11, LG.
Diego de Montelimar: Human (Thyatian) Militant Wizard 9, NE.
Living in the Almarróñan woods near the frontier with Gargoña, Lope Barrejo is a leader among the Buccaneers of the region. This Ispan Pistolero Lupin dresses in rough leather clothes, with a jerkin of Succulus leather and a wide-brimmed hat. Barrejo has a third eye in the middle of his forehead, the effect of his Affliction with the Sight legacy. When he goes to town - which is only rarely - Barrejo covers his third eye with a bandana. He completes his equipment with an arquebus, a belt pistol, a dagger, an horn full of smokepowder. He has around himself a persistent smell of smokepowder and smoked meat.
Lope Barrejo was born in 961 AC in Almarrón. As a young Lupin he was a soldier in the Almarróñan army, and took part in the revolution of 980, when the noble family that ruled the country was ousted by the commoners after the disastrous war against Gargoña and the secession of Cimarron. However, he was quickly disappointed by the new republican leaders, so he left the army and became a professional hunter.
Having seen the effectiveness of the Cimarron firearms Barrejo managed to acquire an old arquebus - he was one of the first Almarróãn to own a firearm. When the Alcalde of Ciudad Tejillas took the power, Barrejo was among the first to rebel, refusing to pay taxes to the dictator's lackeys. He took refuge in the woods of the Sierra Borgosa, hunting wild boars and other game, and selling meat and furs to smugglers from Paso Montano and Gargoña. As a testimony of his hunting prowess, Barrejo is one of the few people to have killed Succuli, and even a straggling Herathian Juggernaut.
When the Torreóner mercenaries came to capture him, he led them in a merry chase in the forests, waiting for occasions to take a shoot at the pursuers or at their dogs.
In time, other rebels came to the woods. Barrejo was a natural leader, though not a strong one - he does not believe in authority, and would never gather more men than those who freely came with him. When the Narvaezan alliance threatened the Enlightened States, he led a small band of Buccaneers to join the Saragóner militia.
At the end of the war, he refused all accolades, and went back to the forest. He supported the second revolution that ousted the dictator, and now don Maximiliano, the heir of the old ruling family, has asked his help in capturing don Esteban. Barrejo has agreed to keep an eye open, but will not commit himself further - not that he likes don Esteban, but he does not wish to get involved with the new government.
Barrejo is a rough Lupin and a tough fighter, not one to allow advantages to an enemy, though he is not without honour or compassion. He is also courageous to the point of being foolhardy - in part as a legacy of his Affliction. Barrejo has a reputation of being an infallible sniper, and entire companies of Torreóner mercenaries have come to fear his arquebus.
Lope Barrejo Lupin (Ispan Pistolero) Buccaneer Ranger 10, CG, age 47.
Some twenty years ago, a couple of pirates, Juanita Alvarez, a rebel fighter from Narvaez and Nureddin Blanco, a Saragóner adventurer, became famous in the Gulf of Hule for their daring attacks to Hulean and Narvaezan ships, and for their ability to escape all pursuivants.
Their ship, “El Rayo”, disappeared a decade ago, but their secret harbour - which was supposed to hold great treasures - was never found, even though the small islands of the eastern coast of the Gulf of Hule have been thoroughly searched by treasure hunters. Among the treasure collected by Alvarez and Blanco was also a scroll that was said to come from the lair of a green dragon in the Dark Wood and to hold secrets vital to the Master's servants in the Tower of Azurun.
Many still search for these treasures, but no treasure hunter will found them in the Gulf of Hule: the harbour was built on the shell of a Zaratan, a giant turtle, which slept and drifted in the sea. However, at the time of the disappearance of “El Rayo” and its crew, the Zaratan suddenly awoke and dived, dragging the pirates in the water, where most of them drowned.
Juanita was among the few survivors, and managed to reach the coast. She is now a simple fisherwoman in the Isla del Cayo off the coast of Gargoña.
The Zaratan, called “La Tortuga” by the crew of “El Rayo”, resurfaced only recently, off the coast of Dunwick. However, a deadly danger awaits any would-be treasure hunter: Nureddin Blanco, driven by his sense of guilt for not having foreseen the awakening of the Zaratan - he was the ship's sage and wizard - and therefore having caused the death of his crew and his lover - he does not know that Juanita survived - has returned as one of the living dead, a fearsome ghost that kills his victims by choking them.
The Zaratan is also known to the Free Tortles and the Clau-rin, who consider it an avatar of Mother Ocean. However, they will not divulge any information about the Zaratan's location to people they do not trust.
Juanita Alvarez: Human (Espa) Pirate Fighter 9, TN, age 53.
Savage Coast Campaign Book
Savage Coast Monstrous Compendium Appendix
Source of information on the less civilized areas of the Savage Coast.
Gazetteer 4: Kingdom of Ierendi
The best source on piracy in the Sea of Dread.
Corsairs of the Great Sea
From the Al Qadim campaign, Sinbad-style adventures for Arabian corsairs that can be adapted to the Savage Coast with some effort.
A French RPG about Pirates: nice reading on pirate-based campaigns.
Complete Fighter's Handbook (CFH)
Source for a Pirate Fighter character kit.
Complete Thief's Handbook (CTH)
Source for a Buccaneer Fighter character kit.
Player's Option: Skills & Powers (PO:S&P)
Source for a Pirate character kit available for different classes.
The Bleak League by C. Constantin
The Hulean crime syndicate sponsors hulean pirates.
R.L. Stevenson, Treasure Island
It's simply impossible not to include this book in any work on pirates!
E. Salgari, Il Corsaro Nero
Source of the Three Corsairs story, and one of the most popular books on corsairs in Italy.
B. Larsson, Long John Silver
More than a retelling of Treasure Island, this great novel builds a pseudo-biography of Long John Silver - one of the major sources of this article.
1Though officers get double shares, and other conventions can be found depending on the individual ship.
2See The Savage Coast Campaign Book for more details on Miles.
3Krolli are a race of lizard-kin native to the Arm of the Immortals. Porto Maldição is a gathering point for Krolli mercenaries.
5An adaptation of the short adventure ``Terrapin Isle'' from Corsairs of the Great Sea