Don't Forget Your Boots

Meandering aimlessly around the GURPS landscape

Tag: pirates

Pirates! Session #5: “Operation Greasy Jesus”

Embarrassing side note: The PCs were seeking Jacob, the NPC who had escaped Hell alongside Van der Decken, to use as a guide back into Hell. Due to a memory slip, I spent the entire session calling him “Joshua” rather than “Jacob”. Sigh.

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, aspiring wizard
  • Gabby, cannon-whisperer
  • “Mad” Mags, destroyer of sheds
  • Mo’, ax man
  • Raphael, peeker at doors
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, vanishing voodoo priest

What Happened:

As we left off last time, Captain Courvoisier had approved of Gabby’s plan to go ashore and wreak havoc upon Port Coleman. She was given command of the ship’s boat, with a dire warning of the consequences should the boat be lost, along with a crew of “volunteers” – all the PCs.

Port Coleman was a rough village on a rocky area of the Moskito Coast. There was a single crude dock at one end of a strip of beach, with a handful of makeshift barns and sheds spead along the beach. A wooden stairway and capstan-driven lift provided access to the top of the thirty-foot bluff that sat behind the beach. The main part of the village was built atop this bluff. In particular, there was an earthen fort there, with several cannon aimed out to sea.

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Thanks to those cannon, the ship could not approach the harbor. Courvoisier performed some clever navigation and anchored the ship well inside the cannons’ range, but in the shelter of a tall outcropping of rock off the beach. Raphael took a spyglass to examine the fort, noting that it flew the English flag – a disappointment to the several members of the crew who would rather be fighting the Spanish.

The mission started with a flurry of “hurry up and wait”. First, there was a rush of last-minute preparation:  folks loading their weapons, knocking the bottom out of a barrel and putting it in the boat (for reasons unknown, as it remained there for the rest of the session), and so forth.

Papa performed further magical healing on Raphael to un-cripple his sword arm.

Raphael brought out a jug of oil and suggested that everyone cover themselves with it, with an eye towards making them too slippery to grab. There was no rush to take advantage of this plan.

Dirty attempted a ritual which backfired badly, disintegrating his fine clothes and leaving him wearing nothing but a loincloth. “Meant to do that,” he announced, taking the oil jug from Raphael and upending it over his head.

Finally, the group decided that they needed to wait for nightfall, anyway. The rushed preparations were shelved, and the deep plotting and planning began. In the end, they came up with a daring plan, which they dubbed “Operation Greasy Jesus”. (GM Note: I think it’s best appreciated if you pronounce it with a Dixie accent:  “greeeee-zeee”.)

Dirty, still covered in oil and nearly naked, cast a ritual to allow him to walk on water for a few minutes. Papa, being a much quicker worker of magic, cast another ritual in parallel, summoning a school of bio-luminescent jellyfish, and ordered them to follow Dirty, under the surface, to provide dramatic lighting at the proper moment. The rest of the party set off in the boat with muffled oars, stealthily heading towards the dock, while Dirty set off at a trot, angling for a spot further up the beach. When he came close enough, the jellyfish lit up and he started chanting a few ominous-sounding biblical phrases that Mags (being an English-speaker, unlike most of the other PCs) had taught him.

In short, the plan was for Dirty to provide a distraction, so that the others could get ashore unobserved, by pretending to be the bizarre arrival of Jesus to the shores of the New World.

As it happened, the plan was fairly successful. Only a few of the bystanders on the beach were overcome with religious awe, but all eyes were at least drawn by the spectacle. Several people began moving towards Dirty, just to get a better look. Stepping over the waves, Dirty waved for a couple of nearby men to approach, which they did. He raised his hand as if in benediction, stepping out of the water onto the beach. This, of course, triggered his “dapper me!” charm, which instantly stripped all the oil from his body and left him wearing the cleanest, whitest loincloth you would ever care to see. He waved his hand as if blessing one of the approaching men, even as the man’s eyes went wide from seeing the sudden change from “greasy Jesus” to “clean probably-not-Jesus”… and Guillermo, Dirty’s magically-animated “living bullet”, zipped in from where it had been lurking in the darkness, going straight through one of the man’s ears and out the other.

Meanwhile, the others had taken advantage of the distraction to pull the ship’s boat up to the docks. The crew approached the peering bystanders from the rear, some more stealthily than others. Of the small group of four standing near the docks, only one noticed anything amiss, and he was only able to shout “Hey!” and point out Raphael before the PCs cut the entire group down. Notably, Mo’ cut down more than one person with no more than a single swing apiece from his boarding ax.

Papa stepped out of the boat onto the dock, but never made it to the sand of the beach. Instead, he vanished in a cloud of voodoo magic on an unknown, but no doubt important and mystical, mission of his own. (GM Note: Player had to leave. All kinds of mystical.)

During the initial scuffle, another enemy walked out of a nearby barn to see what the commotion was, only to be cut down with a major wound. Mags paused to poke him until he stopped wriggling, and Raphael moved to make sure there were no other reinforcements lurking inside the barn.

Unfortunately, there were three more men in the shed. Brandishing his blood-covered rapier and utilizing his fearsome glare, Raphael cowed them through intimidation. They obeyed his gesture to sit down and stay put. Then, Mags and Mo’ came in, planning to kill everyone inside. Mo’ again demonstrated how he could nearly bisect a man with one swing of his ax. Mags decided to one-up him: she reached out her sword and tipped a nearby candle over. Onto some straw. Right next to a keg of black powder.

The evacuation of the shed was immediate. Everyone besides Mags tried to leave. In the case of the local men, they managed to successfully evade Mags and make it out the door. As for Mags, she lingered in the doorway, stabbing folks in the back as they tried to run away. When the shed exploded a few seconds later, Mo’ took some incidental damage from flying debris, but since Mags had used up so much of her running-away time in Bloodlust, she took the brunt of the explosion. This was enough to throw her across the beach, into the water. Through sheer grit (and good dice rolls), she did not lose consciousness, and was left badly wounded, barely able to hold her head above water.

Meanwhile, further up the beach, Dirty was engaged in his own fight. He was able to use Guillermo and the element of surprise to take down another man, but then found himself pursued by a sailor carrying a flintlock. Dirty retreated back out onto the water, throwing himself flat to take cover behind the waves. After a few seconds of cat-and-mouse, Dirty finally found his shot, and took it, killing the enemy.

At some point during all this excitement, there came the sound of cannon fire from the fort. There was some concern that the fort was firing on the beach, but since nothing on the beach besides the shed exploded, the pirates concluded that this was not the case.

After the adventure with the shed, Raphael was even more determined to not let anyone get behind them and close off their path of retreat. He moved to the next shed up the beach, opened the door, and stuck his head inside.

Unfortunately for him, what he did not know was that there were two men inside that shed. They had heard the events outside, and had decided to mount a last, desperate stand. They were both armed with a pair of flintlocks. The plan was for one of them (later identified as Bob) to throw open the door, at which point the other man would charge out, guns blazing. The plan was for Bob to follow directly after. As it happened, though, Raphael opened the door first.

Even as this triggered the second man’s Wait, Bob got off a shot at Raphael, hitting him in the face. Only a grazing blow, this wasn’t quite enough to put Raphael down for the count, but it did put quite a fright into him and knock him to the ground. The second man rushed outside, meeting Gabby’s ready and waiting blade.

Even as she repeatedly stabbed the man, Gabby explained about how she was here to do a job, and she was going to do that job, by thunder, if she had to chew the eyelids off every man-Jack on the Spanish Main! She pointed her rapier at Bob, announcing that she was here to kill Bloody Bill Coleman, and asking if he would like to give her a hand?

Bob agreed that he had never really liked Bloody Bill all that much, anyway. Furthermore, it had been his life-long dream to one day turn pirate. What a lucky day it was for both of them!

With the immediate fight over, and everybody besides Gabby wounded, some gravely, the pirates took shelter in Bob’s shed. As they took turns bandaging one another, they searched through the shed’s contents. Luckily, they discovered a supply of medicine, which was a big help in getting Mags back on her feet, if only barely. Gabby interrogated Bob. They learned that Bloody Bill was up in the fort, no surprise. More usefully, Bob told them about a palm tree growing nearby that could be used to climb up to the top of the rise with ease.

Once regrouped, the party went to check out this palm tree. After some debate, they came up with a new plan. Gabby went up the tree, scouted out the situation, dropped a rope, and then slipped off to skulk around in the darkness. Everyone else gathered behind a building at the top of the cliff. (Dirty left Guillermo on patrol at the bottom of the tree, to defend their escape route.) There, Mags tied all their hands together, using trick knots that they could untie with a single tug. Carrying only concealed weapons, they had Bob drag them into the light, loudly claiming that he (and his comrades, still on the beach) had captured a bunch of attacking pirates!

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This bluff was sufficient to get them into the fort itself, which was abuzz with activity as they fired the cannons out to sea. There, Bob was directed to a particular shack. He knocked, announcing the “news”. The door opened from inside. Bloody Bill Coleman stuck his head out. All the supposedly-bound pirates, and Bob, threw themselves prone. And…

… we rewind back to when Gabby slipped off into the darkness. With utmost stealth, she made her way to the only unattended cannon in the fort. (GM Note: As I recall, my words were something like “What unattended cannon? <looks> Oh, I guess there is one…”) Using the noise, smoke, and confusion of the cannons as cover, she had turned the cannon around, so that it was aimed directly at Bloody Bill’s front door. Then, when his face came into view and all Gabby’s comrades got out of the way… she fired a round of canister shot at him.

….

Well, it hit him, of course – Gabby’s a gunner prodigy, you know – but it ended up leveling his entire house. There wasn’t much left of Bloody Bill at all.

The pirates jumped to their feet, waving weapons, in the sudden surprised silence, and announced that now they were in charge. What with the sudden, brutal loss of their none-too-popular leader, the locals weren’t inclined to argue much. Gabby announced that from now on, Port Coleman would be known as Fort Gabby. Again, nobody wanted to argue the point.

The pirates signaled the ship. In the immediate looting, while the ship was making its way around to the dock, there were several noteworthy finds. First, a large amount of rum. Second, Dirty found another fancy outfit of clothes and put them on, to everyone’s relief. Finally, Raphael poked his head through yet another door – to the horror of the other players, in light of his earlier door-peeking – and discovered Jacob. (GM: Using the alias of “Joshua”! Yeah, that’s it…)

Jacob was politely, but firmly, taken into custody and handed over to Captain Courvoisier when he came ashore. The captain was observed to go in to speak with Jacob, only to emerge some time later, obviously in a fury. With the quartermaster unavailable, Dirty felt that it was his responsibility to see to his captain’s wishes. He went to speak with the captain, taking a bottle of rum with him.

As they drank and talked, the captain admitted that Jacob wasn’t willing to give up the exact location of the hole in the sea. Dirty asked what that information would be worth, if someone could get it out of Jacob? The captain replied, the person who got that information would be promoted to quartermaster and be put in charge of the next ship they took. That sounded good to Dirty, so he poured a glass of rum and announced that he would use his mystic arts to change it into a potion to compel truth.

One critically failed roll, and the glass of rum exploded into flames! Dirty took the worst of it, since he was holding the glass at the time, and was rendered unconscious. Captain Courvoisier was badly singed, and thrown back so hard that his chair fell over backwards.

Captain Courvoisier threw open his door and kicked Dirty out – literally, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to do even more damage – cursing him and his heathen magic the whole way.

Gabby went to see if she could help improve the captain’s mood, learned about the offer he had made to Dirty, and decided to take it up herself. (Courvoisier specifically warned her to leave Jacob alive.) Grabbing the rum, she went to where Jacob was being held, where she engaged him in drinking and conversation. After a short while, she struck up a bit of a friendship. Eventually, she convinced him that all he had to do was give them the location, and he would be free to go, unharmed. He agreed. Requesting the local charts, he marked the location of the hole in the sea. Furthermore, he wrote down a profane chant that would cause the hole to open into Hell.

This was pleasing to the captain, and so Gabby was named quartermaster. Her first job was to restock the ship for the next leg of the adventure.

After about a week of recuperation, refitting, and restocking, the ship set sail for the hole in the sea. This trip was accomplished with no particular drama.

(GM Note: In hindsight, I really should have sic’ed the kraken on ’em. I think they were expecting it. I remember several remarks along the lines of “the kraken is lurking just off shore” and so forth, earlier in the session. But it was getting late, and I was eager to show ’em pictures of the Great Blue Hole, and I just plain forgot about the kraken. I guess it was out running an errand and they slipped past it. That’s ok, there will come a rematch.)

There was some upset once they realized that the hole in the sea is actually a hole in a reef, making it impossible to place the ship over it without ripping out its hull. They remembered from Van der Decken’s story that his entire ship went through the hole. In time, they remembered that there had been some mention of it happening during a storm. Clearly, they reasoned, the ship must have been carried over the reef on a wave! But how would they do the trick?

Remembering how a previous critical failure at ritual magic had summoned bad weather, Dirty set out to perform a ritual to summon a big wave. He figured, either it would work, and he would have the necessary wave, or it wouldn’t, and they would get a storm, which might do the trick anyway!

Pushing his magic (and his luck with rolling the dice) to its limits, Dirty did the trick! A single rogue wave appeared, washing the ship over the reef with inches to spare, leaving it smack in the middle of the hole.

Next, the profane chant. Being the most literate among the crew, Raphael got the job. With a crack of thunder, the ship dropped through the hole, and into… well, Hell, or so they say. The sky there was roiling red and black. The ship floated on something like an ocean, but they weren’t at all certain that it was a sea of water. More pressing, though, was the sudden, nearby appearance of a huge ship with tattered sails.

Though there wasn’t a breath of wind – “Is there air?” was one muttered comment – the crew saw the other ship’s rags of sails stir. Slowly, creakily, the other ship began to move… towards them. The pirates could see movement on the deck of the other ship, but couldn’t make out any details until one of them went aloft with a spyglass. Then, they saw that the ship was manned by rag-clad skeletons.

Nobody wanted to be out-maneuvered by a bunch of ghosts, so Dirty again set out to make the most that he could of his relatively-weak magic. He performed a ritual to “let our sails use the same wind they’re using”. After several excellent rolls, he succeeded. A slim, tiny breath of wind came up, just enough to set them moving.

As the two ship maneuvered at an aching, snail-like pace, Gabby went below to ready the cannons…

Next time: against the ghost ship!


Cool Point: Gabby, for taking out Bloody Bill in such a decisive manner.

Booby Point: Dirty, for the “truth serum” scene, where he had everything riding on a single roll of the dice, only to roll triple-six and explode. (“Gee, Gabby, I’m sorry your bosun blew up…”)

The moral of the story:  Even low-down dirty pirates need social skills.

Pirates! Session #4

The Crew:

  • Big Tuna, over-sized brawler
  • “Dirty”, dabbler in the Path of Matter
  • Gabby, guns, stealth, and trickery
  • “Mad” Mags, rescuer and voice of reason
  • Mo’, agile, impulsive, and acquisitive
  • Raphael, not so young as he used to be
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and voodoo priest

What Happened:

A few days of uneventful sailing went by. Half the PCs put points into Navigation. Dirty used secret magical rituals to tame the enchanted bullet, naming it “Guillermo”.

The next event of note was when some of the crew tossed Pedro, an NPC sailor, overboard. Even before this fact was reported to Papa Sean Geaux, there was a race to be the first to raid Pedro’s sea chest. When Mo’ arrived, he found Gabby sitting atop it, whistling innocently. Even as they agreed to split the loot, Dirty showed up to claim a share.

When they broke open the sea chest, they found a modest amount of money and some spare clothes. They found several twisted up tobacco leaves, which were later identified as Mayan “sicars“. More ominously, they found a little doll made from corn husks, among other things, bearing a striking resemblance to the quartermaster. They decided to keep this to themselves.

Throughout the day, Mags noticed that the reduced crew had become sullen, with lots of grumbling and slacking off in small groups. It seemed to her that there were quite a few dirty looks aimed at Mo’, but before she could work her way into the conversations to find out more, Papa cracked down on the slackers and put them to work to still their tongues.

That evening, after they dropped anchor and the crew started the heavy drinking, Gabby showed the effigy to Papa. He was concerned, especially when she started playing with it, making it dance about, threatening to do things to it, and so forth. Luckily, Gabby is in no way a skilled magician.

As they pondered, a sailor came up from below-decks, shouting “On this day, Raphael has become a man!” The word was that he had proven his valor in battle (in previous sessions), he had shown that he could hold his liquor, and now, he had… fulfilled the last requirement for adulthood, in the pirates’ eyes, with the help of one of the female members of the crew. (More importantly, he had spent the points to buy off his Social Stigma: Minor!) As he spoke, the sailor continued, several crew members were holding Raphael down and piercing his ear.

This, inevitably, prompted a fresh round of toasts, which led to further drinking.

During the evening, Dirty talked Papa into helping with restoring his “dapper me!” enchantment, the one that cleans up and restores his clothes every time he steps onto dry land. To aid the ritual, he smoked one of the sicars, gaining a modest bonus to his roll.

Later that night, after nearly everyone was asleep, Gabby arose to sneak around the ship. Unknown to anyone, she dumped handfuls of ash into the PCs’ boots. The next morning, this caused much uneasiness, and was generally taken as a sign of further magical attack.

Some days later, as they drew closer to their destination, they realized that they were being followed by some… thing under the water, something larger than their ship. This prompted much concern, obviously. Details were hard to make out, but it appeared to be something similar to a squid, but larger, and with more arms. It was immediately dubbed a kraken.

Gabby proposed that they engage the kraken with the cannons, but Captain Courvoisier wasn’t persuaded. He argued that, to bring the cannon to bear, they would need to turn to the side, which would greatly hamper their speed and ability to flee. If they engaged, it would be a do-or-die move: they would either be victorious, or dead, with little chance of escape. He proposed that they try to run, first. If they could make it to the shallow water near the shore, perhaps they could elude the beast.

Papa got to work organizing the crew for maximum speed. Meanwhile, Dirty turned to magic, starting a ritual to create a huge net, figuring to drop it in their wake to hamper the kraken. He asked for volunteers from among the crew to contribute energy to the ritual, but was informed that most of the sailors weren’t entirely comfortable with participating in his profane rituals; the worst kind of sinners they might be, but they’re Christian sinners, when it comes down to it. After a bit of bullying, a couple of the crew agreed that they probably would rather bend their faith than be eaten by a sea monster, and finally did help out.

Overcome with aggressiveness, Gabby and Raphael tried to talk the captain into letting them take the ship’s boat in an effort to lure the monster away. He didn’t care for this plan, either, pointing out that they only had the one boat, and he didn’t want to feed it to a kraken.

Finally, Gabby became too impatient with the discussion, and jumped overboard, planning to engage the kraken in its native element. From his post aloft, Mo’ saw this, but didn’t understand what was going on; he thought she had fallen overboard. In an effort to rescue her, he performed a perfect dive from the top of the mast into the ocean near her…

… and then rolled a natural 18 on his Swimming roll. “Glub!”

Gabby only made it a few strokes in the rough water before she, too, started to have troubles keeping her head above water. Big Tuna jumped in, using his cork-like floating powers to rescue them both. Mags threw them a line, and organized a team of sailors to pull all three aboard using the capstan. Meanwhile, Dirty completed his ritual, and the crew threw the net into the sea.

This misadventure was taken as just more evidence that taking the boat was a good idea. Raphael and Gabby brought up the the plan again, but Courvoisier had had enough. He ordered Mags to restrain them, tying them to a mast if need be, before one of them decided to do something else crazy.

This initiated a scuffle, as Mags went to wrestle them down. Gabby drew her rapier. Thinking he would put an end to the fight before it got out of hand, Dirty drew a flintlock and fired a shot into the deck at the feet of the combatants.

That was his intention, anyway. What happened was, he rolled an 18, and accidentally shot Raphael, breaking his right arm and leaving it crippled for, as it turned out, the next two months.

Raphael, it may be noted, is not left-handed.

Almost forgotten by everyone but Pap in all the drama, the kraken encountered the net and was, in fact, somewhat hampered. The crew bent themselves to the task of making speed, and was able to get to the coastal shallows without being overtaken. Papa used his magic to heal Raphael a bit, but he wasn’t able to correct the broken arm.

Later that day, the ship came within sight of the Moskito Coast. They approached a harbor with a small town. Courvoisier studied the shore through his spyglass, then swore. When the others looked they spotted two things. First, a skeleton dressed in pirate finery, tied to a post so that it would be submerged at high tide. Clearly, a warning. Second, a sign announcing the town to be named Port Coleman.

Courvoisier explained that the Coleman from the name was Bloody Bill Coleman, an old acquaintance. If they tried to sail into the harbor, they would be blown apart by land-based cannon, he was certain. Sadly, they needed to enter the harbor, as there is a village beyond it, where he hopes to find Jacob, the other person to escape Hell in Van der Decken’s story, who they need as a guide.

Gabby enthusiastically volunteered to take a small force ashore to put down ol’ Bloody Bill in the most fearsome way possible, and take the port for the pirates. For once, Courvoisier liked one of Gabby’s plans. He announced that he was seeking volunteers for the mission, then immediately thanked several of the PCs for volunteering.

Next time: the invasion!


Cool Point: Dirty, for being so good a shot that he can’t miss, even when he wants to.

Booby Point: Mo’, for heroically drowning during his rescue attempt.

The moral of the story:  Sometimes the dice will tell you things about the world that you never knew.  (Courvoisier kinda prefers to run, don’t he? I didn’t intend this to be a part of his character. If anything, I intended him to be indecisive. What I’ve been trying to do is, I’ll try the players to suggest courses of action, and then I’ll see how the reaction rolls go. The dice keep saying, Courvoisier doesn’t like risky plans, he’d rather run to make a profit on another day.)

 

Pirates! Session #3

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, better bosun than captain
  • Gabby, better gunner than pilot
  • Mo’, better thief than sailor
  • Raphael, better interrogator of spirits than fearsome pirate

Players absent, and thus receiving no screen time:

  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and head bokor
  • “Mad” Mags, ropes and swift justice

What Happened:

Picking up where we left off, the beaches of Port Royal were under attack by a force of reanimated drowned sailors. The air was full of screams and smoke, as the attackers chased townsfolk and put several dockside buildings to the torch. Boats at anchor were also under attack, with zombies climbing aboard. Their battle cry: “Give us Van der Decken!”

Our “heroes” had rendezvoused on the quarterdeck of their single-masted sloop, La Fille Joile, where Captain Courvoisier was shouting orders at the diminished crew. Several crew members were patrolling the rail with pikes, pushing back any approaching dead men. Furthermore, the harbor mouth was threatened by a two-masted Spanish frigate. Courvoisier asked for ideas.

Dirty suggested that they leave the harbor as quickly as possible, to get out of the area of zombie infestation, and if the Spanish ship tried to stop them, they should flee, making a race of it. It was pointed out that all things being equal, the Spanish ship was likely to have a bit of a speed advantage over the sloop.

Gabby liked the overall plan of leaving town, but instead of running, wanted to engage the frigate with cannon. She was confident that they would prevail in such a contest. It was pointed out that given the size of the other ship, it likely carried more cannon, and would put up quite a fight.

Mo’ offered a variation: rather than a blast-’em-to-splinters battle with cannon, what if they played to their own strengths, boarded the frigate, and took the battle to hand-to-hand? Courvoisier tossed Mo’ his spyglass and sent him aloft to get a look at the other ship. (Later, it was noted that he never asked for it back, so now Mo’ has a high-quality spyglass!) Close examination showed the warship to be well-manned, unlike their own ship, with a large compliment of soldiers with muskets.

Raphael said he didn’t care how did it, he would be happy with any plan that killed Spaniards. They destroyed his family, he said, and now they needed to pay.

Courvoisier invoked his mantra (“Is there money in it?”) and announced his plan. They would head for open water, hoping for the best. If the Spanish ship tried to stop them, they would fight back: he instructed Gabby to go below and get the cannons ready to fire on the other ship’s masts.

As our heroes’ ship came around to make a run for the ocean, almost all eyes were aimed ahead, at the Spanish ship. From his post aloft, though, Mo’ was keeping an eye out in all directions. He saw that they weren’t the only ones leaving town. Several other ships and small boats were heading in the same direction; some appeared to be other Brethren of the Coast, but at least one rich man’s yacht was in the impromptu fleet. With a shout, Mo’ drew the others’ attention to this fact. Quickly, the pirates modified their course, allowing several of the other ships to draw ahead, allowing them to be the first to engage.

The Spanish ship moved to block the harbor, and was the first to fire, sending a warning shot over the bow of the lead boat. The Port Royal ships responded with ragged cannon fire. Courvoisier gave the order to fire, and Gabby went to work, pounding at the frigate’s masts with the ship’s 12-pound guns. Visibility declined rapidly as black powder smoke filled the air across the entire harbor mouth.

On the deck of La Fille Joile, one the the men handling the sails took a bullet and fell. A rope went slithering away, loose, and a sail started flapping, dumping wind, which brought the entire ship up short. Most of the crew slipped and fell at the unexpected change in speed. Atop the mast, Mo’ just took a firmer grip and rode it out without complaint.

Gabby ordered the cannons reloaded with chain shot, and fired another volley. With loud splintering and screams from the men aloft, one of the frigate’s masts came down, falling across the deck and dragging in the water to one side. Obviously, this severely affected the frigate’s handling. It slewed off-course and slowed considerably.

Meanwhile, Raphael had gone tumbling across the deck after the loose rope. He caught it, got a good grip, and leaned into it with all his might. Between his quick action on the deck and Mo’s efforts aloft, they managed to get the sails under control. Seconds later, with the rest of the crew back on their feet and at their stations, they were again able to get up to speed.

At that point, it became a limping chase. Courvoisier gave orders, and they executed a classic pirate maneuver to shake off pursuit. They took the ship across a nearby reef, where the water was deep enough for their small sloop, but not for the deeper draft of the Spanish frigate. Shortly, the pirates considered themselves free of pursuit.

At which point, Courvoisier slumped sideways and fell to the deck, unconscious.

The kids, Gabby and Raphael, rolled the captain onto his back, revealing the spreading red stain on his shirt. At some point during the recent action, he had caught a bullet. Dirty knelt next to the captain and began muttering prayers. Mo’ turned and went straight to the captain’s quarters, where he started looking around for valuables to pocket.

Over the course of several minutes, Dirty’s prayers grew in volume and vehemence. His eyes rolled back in his head. He foamed at the mouth. Blood began trickling from his nose. As he shouted at the spirits, the bullet popped out of Courvoisier’s wound and fell to the deck! (Later, Raphael would look for the bullet, but couldn’t find it.)

Meanwhile, Mo’ had found the captain’s locked sea chest. Using a handy rock paperweight, he beat the lock until it broke. This attracted Raphael’s attention, since he had moved away from the nausea-inducing blood and heathen goings-on back on the quarterdeck, putting him close to the hatch to the captain’s quarters. While initially aghast at Mo’s blatant thievery, he was soon convinced to join in.

Inside the chest, they found half a dozen doubloons, which they split, and a leather pouch, wrapped three times with a red cord and tied in an elaborate knot. Raphael pointed it out, saying he knew what it was: it was the magically-taken tongue of the captive they still had in the hold! The two dithered about what to do with this piece of loot. This already-murky decision was further complicated when they realized that, when it comes to these kind of occult dealings, one would be wise to be wary of untying elaborate, possibly-mystical knots.

Back above-decks, Mr Doolittle, the ship’s surgeon, had finally arrived. He had the crew pick up Courvoisier and carry him below, to the surgeon’s area, for further treatment. Finally having a moment of peace, the crew looked around and took stock. The quartermaster was located, dog-drunk and uselessly unconscious in his galley. With the captain and the quartermaster disabled, by chain of command, this left… the bosun… in charge.

Dirty was at least as surprised as everyone else.

Motivated partly by “If I were to be a thieving crew member, where would I be right now?” and partly by “I bet the captain has some really fine liquor stashed away”, Dirty went to the captain’s quarters, where he discovered the ongoing mutiny. After some scolding, he decided to throw in with the other two once he was shown a bottle of brandy.

Having seen that Dirty had some knowledge of the supernatural, they showed him the suspicious knot. He declared that it was just a knot, then urged Raphael to untie it. The boy was doubtful, and asked for Dirty to untie it, instead, if it was as safe as all that. The two engaged in a battle of wits to see who would do the deed, which quickly evolved into a battle of intimidation. Raph’ tried his trademark intimidating glare, but was finally unnerved when Dirty bared his not-so-much-teeth-as-rotten-stumps at him.

Meanwhile, having been left unsupervised, Gabby was engaging in her favorite hobby: practical joking. She crept stealthily around the ship, first stealing some makeup from Mags’ chest, then using it to give the unconscious captain a makeover. After that, she noticed that nobody was paying that much attention to the ship’s wheel, and decided to go play with it…

In the captain’s quarters, Raphael opened the bag to reveal a moist human tongue. To his horror, it began to move and speak! He dropped it on the charts atop the captain’s desk, where, under questioning, it told its tale.

“I am Willem Van der Decken,” it announced, “and I sailed under Captain Hendrick Jacobszoon Lucifer.” It told of how Lucifer’s fleet of three ships took a Spanish treasure ship and looting a tremendous amount of treasure, including indigo, fine furs, jars of frankincense, and a variety of unique items, particularly including an old book with a sinister aura about it. The fleet split up after the battle, with Van der Decken’s ship heading for the Moskito Coast. As they neared land, there were omens and portents, strange atmospheric disturbances, and an outbreak of St Elmo’s fire. The ship, the tongue said, fell into the ocean and came out in Hell. Among other bits of disjointed rambling, the tongue mentioned “terrible beasts”.

This, the tongue continued, was too much for Van der Decken. Assisted by his buddy, a Moskito Indian named Jacob, he took the ship’s boat and fled, leaving the ship and its crew to its fate. Jacob and Van der Decken rowed like mad, back the way they came, with Jacob muttering prayers to his gods the entire way. Just as Van der Decken thought they were lost, they “fell back through the ocean” and returned to the mortal world. With some difficulty, they made it to shore, where they split up. Jacob went to return to his people, while Van der Decken struck off on his own to seek rescue. Sadly, he was picked up by the Spanish, who took him prisoner and questioned him under torture.

Dirty had just poured a generous portion of brandy over the tongue, it having complained of being dry from all this talking, when the ship suddenly changed direction. The hanging lantern swung over and everyone had to change their footing to remain upright. Raphael quickly wrapped up the tongue and slipped it into his pocket, as the three moved outside to see what was going on.

What they found was a scuffle taking place around the ship’s wheel. It wasn’t immediately apparent what was going on. Really, Gabby had tied the wheel to an incorrect course, as a prank, but unbeknownst to her, had aimed the ship on a course that would see them broken on the shore. Several crew members had rushed to make corrections, but Gabby was hiding and striking from stealth to spoil their efforts, pitting one against the other to incite a brawl. Meanwhile, the ship drifted ever-closer to ruin.

Firing a shot into the air, Dirty put a stop to the horseplay. Things were put right and the ship made safe again. Everyone ignored Gabby’s suggestion that they go check on the captain.

Once again, Dirty expressed his amazement at being left in charge. He drank more brandy. There was some discussion as to next steps, and a quick inventory. The ship was fully stocked, particularly with rum, thanks to the quartermaster’s earlier efforts. Several of our heroes called for a return to Port Royal, either to rescue the place from the walking dead or to press the attack against the Spanish frigate. At this point, they realized that none among them was competent to conn the ship, much less navigate.

Our heroes landed on a new and more complicated plan. The first step was to take the ship’s boat out and capture a smaller Spanish vessel. They took a swivel gun to mount on the boat, loaded up a crew of volunteers, set up a small sail, and set out. (While none among them could handle the command of a full-sized ship, there are several experienced boaters among our heroes.)

This cruise was marked by disagreement and derision. Raphael maintained that they were wasting their time, and should simply sail the boat back to Port Royal to attack the frigate… from the ship’s boat… with a single swivel gun and raw enthusiasm, apparently. This plan was shot down as impractical and the product of too much reading. Several plans of attack were suggested and rejected, including at least one that appeared to involve using small boats to take larger boats and thus trade up until they, themselves, had a warship as big as the frigate.

Finally, towards the end of the day, just as they were about to turn around and return to the ship, they stumbled onto a small fishing boat. They hoisted their stolen Spanish flag. The fishing boat responding in kind, and one of its crew came out to hail them. In Spanish, of course.

It was then that the crew realized that only one among them spoke Spanish: Mo’, not generally considered to be much of an actor. He did surprisingly well at allaying their concerns, until Raphael’s calls to attack became somewhat audible. Spooked, the Spanish crewman vanished from the rail. The fishing boat’s sails shifted, and they began to quietly sail away. Armed as they were, our heroes didn’t have many options to stop them. So, dejected, they returned to the ship.

Arriving after dark, they found a party in full swing. A barrel of rum was open on the deck, every lantern on the ship was lit and hung up, the musicians were playing, and there was vigorous dancing. Surprised, the heroes came aboard, finding themselves face to freshly-scrubbed face with Captain Courvoisier, leaning heavily on a crutch. He was less than pleased with the outcome of Dirty’s time in command, but didn’t seem to have an specific evidence of wrongdoing. He ordered Dirty to stay up all night making sure the ship was clear of evil spirits.

During the night, while everyone else slept, Dirty walked the deck, burning herbs and muttering spells. (He may not know anything about talking with spirits, but he knows how to put on a good show.) On the quarterdeck, he noticed a flicker of movement. Quick as a striking snake, he drew a flintlock and fired. Only then did he look closer to see what he had shot. He expected a rat, but what he found was far stranger:  it was an over-sized bullet, apparently the one he had extracted from the captain, but now dented and vibrating, seemingly full of unholy life, but now wounded!

The sound of the firing flintlock drew attention from the sleeping crew, and so shortly before dawn, our heroes joined the captain in his quarters. The bullet buzzed inside an inverted tin cup on the desk with a couple of books set atop it. Dirty confirmed that it was a charmed bullet, similar to those that he himself used on occasion.

The captain decided to let our heroes in on his plans, somewhat, since by now they had all heard the story told by Van der Decken’s loose tongue. “You who have sailed with me for some time know that I am a student of history. I believe,” he said, “that Túpac faked his death.”

He explained how Túpac Amaru, the last emperor of the Incas, came to die at the hands of the Spanish Empire in 1572. After three weeks of siege at the city of Vilcabamba, Túpac’s people fled. A hand-picked group of Spanish soldiers pursued Túpac hundreds of miles down-river, then fifty miles cross-country, only catching him because his wife was in labor and they stopped for a short rest. History records that Túpac was brought back by the Spanish, given a show trial, and executed.

Courvoisier said that he believed history was wrong. He believed that Túpac was able to evade the Spanish so effectively because he had access to powerful movement magic – the Path of Crossroads, though he didn’t call it by that name. Furthermore, he believed that this magic was contained within a book, Túpac’s Codex, which was…

“The book from Van der Decken’s story!” our heroes exclaimed.

Courvoisier agreed. He explained that his plan was simple. They would follow in the footsteps of Van der Decken’s story, track down his former ship, and take from it all of its loot. As a first step, this would make them all fabulously wealthy. As a second step, however, it would put the Codex in their hands.

“Imagine,” the captain said, “being able to sail a ship through the oceans of Hell and return to the world in another place, unobserved. A ship that could make that kind of voyage would be unstoppable.”

Our heroes agreed that this sounded like a worthy plan, which any hearty pirate would cheerfully embark upon, and drank to the captain’s health and their collective future enrichment.


Cool Point: Earned by Dirty, for being so manifestly unfit for command – “I built this character to specifically never be in charge!” Whenever the group started coming up with ideas, his Disadvantages forced him to favor the most violent and foolhardy. The more suicidal the idea, the more he endorsed it. Worse, he has sufficient Charisma that the crew mostly went along with anything he ordered.

The moral of the story:  It’s good to have a backup navigator/pilot/doctor/whatever for when the primary isn’t available.

 

Pirates! Session #2

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, the dapper bosun.
  • “Big Tuna” Heketoro, plus-sized warrior.
  • “Mad” Mags, rope expert and capable swimmer.
  • Mo’, able seaman with a can-do attitude.
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, quartermaster and man of reason.
  • Raphael, cabin boy.

What Happened:

Captain Courvoisier emerged from his quarters after several hours. He took Papa aside to ask a technical question. Would it be possible, he asked, for Papa to use his profane magical gifts to silence a man for a time? In effect, to take a man’s tongue?

Papa allowed as how such a thing might be done, but he would need a few things: five chickens, one red rock, and one blue rock. Oh, and a bottle of rum. Intrigued, the captain gave orders to collect these things. Those of the crew not required for sailing took part in a mad scavenger hunt. The rum was no problem, of course, and there were enough live chickens on board, but locating two specific rocks proved challenging. Raphael found one, stuck in the heel of his boot, while Dirty was able to coerce the crew into locating the other. Papa performed his ritual, and presented the captain with a pouch of powder.

Captain Courvoisier took the pouch and returned to his quarters. Several minutes later, he emerged. Several of the PCs observed him tucking a wriggling bag into a pocket. Raphael spoke up, questioning what the captain had, there? The captain responded with a glare, making out as if he hadn’t heard the question. “What’s a cabin boy doing lounging around on deck?” he shouted, and ordered the boy aloft. “Make sure he doesn’t kill himself,” he ordered Mo’, an expert in the rigging.

Raphael demonstrated that he’s not only no sailor, he’s no climber, either. He was nimble enough to keep from falling, but had trouble making any progress. Finally, Papa called him over and performed a quick ritual to give him a bit of help. With this assistance, the boy was able to make it to the crow’s nest alive.

Again taking the quartermaster aside, Captain Courvoisier announced his intention to embark upon a voyage to the Miskito Coast. The captain didn’t give any details, but did agree that it would be prudent to keep some spare room in the hold in case of taking on cargo. The two calculated that it would take perhaps ten days to get there, plus another ten days back, with an allowance for ten days there, meaning they would need to take on provisions. Therefore, they would make for Port Royal.

(The voyage to the Miskito Coast was to remain privileged information, but Big Tuna overheard the conversation from his place of hiding from labor, in Papa’s galley.)

The crew was much in favor of some time in port, and so everyone turned with a will towards making good speed. The weather was fine, and everything was going smoothly. Then, Dirty decided that he would do a little ritual to help things along, to make the ropes work a little more cooperatively.

Sadly, he botched it. The boat’s lines came to violent life, bucking and heaving as if they resented being tied down. Mo’ and Raphael were barely able to keep their perch. Mags was not so lucky. She was thrown free and pitched into the ocean. Being able to swim, she quickly came back to the surface and began looking for a way to climb aboard. Big Tuna grabbed a loose rope, quickly wrestled it into cooperation, and jumped in the water after here. Mags didn’t wait to be rescued. She planted a boot squarely in the big man’s face, using him as a foothold to get started climbing up the rope. After some spluttering, he followed.

Papa didn’t know who had caused the havoc or why, but he knew the effects of bad magic when he saw it. He cautiously moved to correct the problem, reaching out with a spell of communication, trying to make contact with the angry spirits in a bid to soothe them. This did not work out at all. The spirits were offending by the ritual. The weather had been clear, but now swirling storm clouds began to form. The wind began to pick up.

Raphael had had enough of all this. He slid down the mast to the deck and went to the quarterdeck, where the captain was standing. Most of the other PCs converged there, as well.

Dirty announced his theory that the spirits would only be placated with blood. He suggested that they should choose a random member of the crew to act as a sacrifice. Papa objected strongly to this course of action.

As they argued, a crew member called out, pointing towards a sail on the horizon. Big Tuna pulled out his spyglass for a closer examination. He observed two masts, and sails decorated by huge red crosses. A Spanish warship!

At this news, the argument expanded. Some of the PCs wanted to attack, while others wanted to flee while flight was still possible. The balance of the discussion shifted, as different crew members changed their minds.

Finally, two decisive actions ended the arguments.

First, Mo’ dropped out of the rigging, brained a passing seaman with his boarding ax, and hacked off the man’s head while everyone nearby was still stunned. Holding up the bloody head, he shouted to the skies, saying that if any spirits wanted a sacrifice, they were welcome to this one. He then handed the head off to Papa.

Second, the captain weighed in on the fight-or-run question, pointing out that there wouldn’t likely be much profit in a battle. The crew agreed, better to run off to find richer targets.

Sadly, it looked like the Spanish ship was somewhat faster than La Fille Joile. The PCs cooked up a scheme to slow them down.

Papa used his magic to call a friendly swordfish to the surface. The crew dug up an extra-large grenade, which Dirty enchanted to enable to float. Papa also drew a seagull on the side of the bomb, so it wouldn’t look suspicious. Mags tied up a rope harness so the fish could drag the bomb along behind it. The plan was to have the fish carry the bomb to the Spanish ship, with a long fuse burning, and then leave it behind, attached to the ship’s hull.

Everything with the plan went perfectly, up to the point where it went horribly and completely wrong. (GM Note: This would be, I think, the third triple-six of the night. The dice were not kind.) Once armed, the swordfish took off, swimming powerfully… in a big arc that brought it around, full circle, to aim at the PC’s boat! Big Tuna threw a harpoon at the swordfish, but it dodged out of the way. Just as it was closing in on the boat, Dirty leaned out over the water and fatally shot it.

Having had enough of magic for a while, the PCs depended on mundane discipline and sharp shiphandling for their escape. It took the rest of the day, until long after dark, but they finally lost the Spanish ship.

As soon as they were out of obvious danger, the drinking started. Captain Courvoisier called Raphael over and ordered him to go collect food and rum. Especially rum. And as long as he was about it, he should take a meal to the prisoner, too.

Raphael followed orders, but then got caught up in choosing a bottle to stash for himself. Eventually, the captain got tired of waiting, and sent Mags below to hurry him up. When she found the boy lingering over the spirits, she put a boot to his behind and told him to hurry up. Heated words were exchanged. Mags smacked him, once, when his words became too heated. Intimidation rolls were made, going both ways. In the end, Raphael ran away, shouting “You’re not my mom!” behind him.

After finishing his delivery to the quarterdeck, Raphael took some food to the now-mute prisoner, in the captain’s quarters. While there, he snooped around a bit, examining the captain’s small library and some charts that were out. He tried to figure out what the charts might mean, but lack of navigational skills made this impossible.

In time, they came to Port Royal. Most of the crew was eager to get ashore, sweeping aside the suggestion that shore leave should be cancelled.

Papa went to purchase provisions for the upcoming voyage. While he was there, he heard a voice in the distance that sounded like the captain’s, telling him to buy more rum. Seeing sense in this, Papa did as he was ordered.

When Dirty stepped onto the beach, his signature enchantment activated, leaving him cleaned and starched. He went into town to visit a gunsmith, hoping to improve his armory. Along the way, he noticed a beautiful, obviously-wealthy young woman waiting outside. He paused to flirt, exchanging a series of meaningful glances and lifted eyebrows. Just as he was about to open his mouth (and speak, and ruin it all, no doubt), he felt a tap at his shoulder. He turned to meet an older, obviously-wealth gentleman, clearly irritated, holding a pair of gloves in his hand.

Well, Dirty knew how to play that game – he had always wanted to be in a real, live duel, like the fancy folk have in Paris! He backhanded the gentleman, not bothering to remove his hand from his glove.

After recovering, the gentleman said that he agreed to Dirty’s challenge. They would meet at dawn, on the beach, and fight to the death with rapiers. (This was where the player remembered that the challenged, not the challenger, gets choice of weapons.) With that, he gathered up his companion and left.

Word spread, and the next morning, there was a bit of a crowd on the beach. Dirty was there, passed out on the sand, snoring, when the unnamed gentleman found him. The gentleman nudged Dirty with his boot, then turned to take a step back, moving to draw his rapier.

Meanwhile, Dirty opened one eye, pulled his primed pistol from where he had held it under his arm, and shot the man in the vitals, from behind. The gentleman fell, dead.

While the PCs gathered around to shake Dirty’s hand (and pick the dead man’s pockets), there came a commotion from up the beach. As the pirates turned to see what was the matter, they saw several apparently-drowned sailors standing up from the water and striding up on the beach, cutlasses drawn.

The PCs’ response was mixed. Some went on the offensive, while others weren’t so eager to engage. Mo’ threw a bystander in front of himself as a human shield, then took a look around to get an idea of the wider situation. He saw that there were actually dozens of the drowned sailors coming ashore, all up and down the beach. He could also see that several ships in the harbor seemed to be having troubles, as well. There were screams of fear and sounds of ragged gunfire.

Even as they put down the nearby sailors, the pirates began a retreat. Mo’ wanted to head inland, seeing that the uncanny creatures were coming from the ocean, while the others moved towards the nearby longboat. When someone on La Fille Joile started firing the cannons to give them cover (“Yay, Gabby!” the players shout) he changed his mind and joined the group. They got the NPC crew members rowing, with Papa providing inspirational music on the balafon.

Everyone made it back to the boat, where the captain gave orders to take the boat out of the harbor, away from the menace of the sailors. As the crew turned their eyes towards the harbor’s mouth…

… they saw, in the distance, sails bearing a red cross….


Cool Point: Earned by Dirty, for his unconventional dueling style.

The moral of the story, according to the players:  “Magic never solves anything!”

 

Pirates! Session #1

The Crew:

  • “Dirty”, ambitious gunslinger and apprentice magician. Bosun.
  • Gabby, thirteen-year-old fencing prodigy. Cabin girl and master gunner.
  • “Big Tuna” Heketoro, towering Polynesian harpooner. Boarder.
  • “Mad” Mags, fencer with fire in her eyes. Boarder and rope-maker.
  • “Papa” Sean Geaux, Haitian voodoo bokor. Quartermaster.
  • Raphael, thirteen-year-old French aristocrat with a classical education. New to the ship.

What Happened:

One morning, during a middling-successful voyage, a sail was sighted. Captain Courvoisier asked the crew if they felt like taking a prize. The crew responded with a hearty affirmative, and so they approached the other ship. As they came to hailing distance, they hoisted the black flag. Surprisingly, the other ship tried to run for it.

(One of the players asked what was going on, that there were two armed thirteen-year-olds among the crew, so we had a flashback. When Captain Courvoisier was asked the same question, he just smiled and put a finger along his nose. “Don’t y’all worry,” Papa told the crew, “Cap’n’s got a plan.”)

Over the course of the day, they harried the other ship, firing the cannons when opportunity presented, and taking potshots with hand-held weapons at other times. It was noted that the other ship didn’t appear to be flying any nation’s colors, which was noted as an oddity. There were attempts at intimidation. Papa Sean Geaux played his balafon (made from human skulls) and shook his shrunken head at them. Finally, Gabby got a good shot off, disabling the sails of one of the other ship’s two masts. This slowed them enough to bring the chase to an end. Courvoisier brought the two ships together with bows almost touching, to avoid possible cannon fire, and ordered the boarders forward.

The PCs rushed forward. Gabby and Tuna led the way across the bowsprits, with Mad Mags close behind. (Tuna got his nickname from a mistranslated partial hearing of his real name, among other things. Mags get her epithet from her remarkably crazy eyes during combat, among several other things.) As they stepped onto the forecastle, they encountered… nobody. Tuna spotted one sailor cowering at the tiller, but everyone else seemed to be in hiding.

Meanwhile, Dirty and Raphael aimed to swing across on lines in the rigging. (Dirty got his name ironically. He uses conditional ritual magic so that the moment he steps off a ship back on land, his clothes are restored to perfect, pristine cleanliness.) Dirty made it over handily, landing perched on the other ship’s yard with a pistol in his hand. This gave him an overview of the deck, where he saw a good-sized and well-armed crew, all lying in ambush. Several were pressed up against the forecastle. Others hid behind the masts, the ship’s boat, and other cover. Some were dressed as Spanish soldiers, which was noted as another oddity.  “Avast!” he shouted, before the vanguard on the deck walked right into the trap.

Raphael aimed lower, for the deck, but couldn’t quite manage the landing. He got one toe just barely on the other ship, then slipped and fell into the water. Everyone expected him to drown then and there, but just as he went under, a passing dolphin gave him a nudge, and his flailing hand landed on a trailing line. (GM Note: Crit failed the Acrobatics roll for the swing, landed in the water with no points in Swimming, and then rolled a critical success to stay afloat.) He spent a few seconds climbing back aboard.

Meanwhile, Papa unleashed a prepared spell meant to point out the other crew’s strongest warrior. He threw a handful of fine flour in the air, where it streamed off to mark its target. The cloud flew past the boarders on deck, then took a right-angle turn to drop straight down as soon as it passed over the edge of the forecastle. With a laugh, Tuna leaned over and delivered a titanic blow with a boarding ax, taking the unfortunate man directly in the skull.

In the rigging, a sailor jumped down with a shout to land on the yard between Dirty and the mast. Dirty immediately flipped his pistol and cracked the man on the skull. Staggered, he fell off the yard to the deck below, where things were getting chaotic. The hidden crew members came out to attack. Some fired wheellocks at the boarders, while others advanced with cutlasses.

Despite being outnumbered three-to-one, Gabby and Mags tore through their opponents. Tuna took a bullet to the calf, but it was only a flesh wound, barely enough to make him irritable. It wasn’t enough to stop him from rampaging across the deck, throwing sailors into each other and slamming the ship’s boat back to pin one man to the mast.

Seeing the battle turning so decisively against them, the enemy crew began shouting to each other in Spanish. (GM Note: At this point, it was realized that none of the PCs speak Spanish.) One soldier crossed himself, then stepped towards a stack of powder barrels. He took aim, clearly planning to blow the ship up.

Raphael had climbed aboard by this time, so he ran along the top of the railing towards the suicidal soldier. While Mags finished off the wounded, Gabby broke away to join the rush. Dirty tried to swing down to the deck, but missed his mark, falling painfully to the ship’s orlop deck. The fencers cut down the soldier, but another stepped up, also trying for the powder. Dirty stood up and threw his empty pistol at the second soldier, breaking his arm. With this, all organized resistance came to an end.

Accordingly, the crew set out looting. Noting that the crew had something that they would rather die than hand over, the pirates were in good spirits. They did make off with quite a haul of food and other sundries, but no cargo was apparent. Raphael found a shelf of fine books in the captain’s quarters.

Below, Dirty heard someone’s cries for help. Following the sound, he found a locked hatch, a new installation, leading down into the hold. He considered using magic to open the lock, but in the end, just blasted it with a flintlock. (Everybody on deck jumped.) In the hold, ankle-deep in water, he found an emaciated, raggedly-dressed man, bound hand and foot in irons. He asked if he were being rescued. When asked what he had to offer to make him worth a rescue, he whispered that he knew the location of “Lucifer’s treasure”.

Doing his duty, Dirty took this intelligence to Papa, who passed it along to the Captain. Tuna broke the man’s chains, and he was brought before Captain Courvoisier. The two retired to the captain’s quarters to discuss matters.


 

Cool Point: To Papa, for revealing the enemy crew’s strongest warrior and various other nice bits.

Boobie Point: To Raphael, who has Perfect Balance, but doesn’t have points in Swimming, and yet somehow managed to fall off the boat into the water as his very first action, ever. Word is, he’s thinking of investing the point in Swimming. 😉

 

1657

Spain had maintained a colony on the island of Jamaica since the early 1500’s. In 1655, English soldiers took the island from a small number of Spanish troops. After several attempts by the Spanish to re-take the island, the governor and wealthy landowners concluded that they needed more protection than the Royal Navy was prepared to offer. In 1657, Governor Edward D’Oyley offered the buccaneers access to Port Royal and letters of marque against Spanish shipping, in exchange for their protection.

Oliver Cromwell rules England as “Lord Protector”. Philip IV of Spain has reigned over the Spanish Empire for nearly 40 years. On paper, the ruler of France is  Louis XIV, but since he’s still in his early teens, the real power is in the hands of his mother, Anne of Austria, with considerable input from Cardinal Mazarin. Mazarin’s mentor was Cardinal Richelieu. (Yes, the same Cardinal Richelieu who was played by Tim Curry, who has not only played Long John Silver, but Captain James T. Hook, as well. Yes, the same one that had the problems with some Musketeers.) France and England are allied in a war against Spain. The Tokugawa shogunate is in charge of Japan, which is a closed country, allowing very limited relations with other countries.

Coffee first arrives in France in 1657, carried by a traveler returning from a visit to Constantinople, but won’t be generally available there until a couple of years later. Thanks to the East India Company, it has already become available in England. London has had a coffeehouse for a couple of years. The tables are turned, though, when it comes to chocolate. Hot chocolate had been a popular drink in Europe for some time, but in 1657, a Frenchman opened the first chocolate house in London.

The first pendulum clock is patented in 1657 by Christiaan Huygens, who also publishes the first book on probability theory. This means that the 3d6 bell curve that lies at the heart of GURPS is cutting-edge science.

While there are methods of determining one’s longitude, in 1657, none of them are effective for use on a ship at sea. Though the sextant lies decades in the future, navigators have equipment to determine latitude. The crew of a ship on a long voyage would know their location north or south of the equator, while having only a relatively vague notion of where they were, east to west.

The Salem witch trials are still 35 years in the future. Shakespeare has been dead for over 40 years, Miyamoto Musashi for 12. Fifteen years ago, Abel Janszoon Tasman’s expedition brought the first European contact to the Māori. (It didn’t go well.)  The Great Plague of London hasn’t yet occurred; neither has the Great Fire.

Isaac Newton is a teenager living on his parent’s farm, with no training in mathematics. It’s still a few years until the Royal Society will be established. Science is only starting to question the idea that fleas just spring into existence from dust, and maggots from raw meat. It’ll be another six years before cells are discovered.

New York is still New Amsterdam, for a few more years. Harvard University has been established for nearly twenty years, and is training Puritan ministers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

 

Cast and Crew

We’re coming up on the first session of the “Pirates!” campaign, and character sheets are trickling in. First drafts, anyway.

There are relatively few solid names. Remember, any PC who cannot provide a name when asked will be given a name by the other players. Needless to say, this is a fate worse than death.

So, who are our protagonists for this go-’round? In no particular order…

“Gabby the Cabin Girl, the Prequel”

Spiritually, this character is Gabby from the Dungeon Fantasy game, but younger and in a boat and born in a world that isn’t flipped east-to-west. I’m not 100% sure what the character’s name will be in play. There was some talk of the possibility of masquerading as a young man and going by the name of “Sammy”. We’ll see how that works out in time.

She’s more-or-less the same manic, greedy fencing machine that we came to know and love in the dungeon. Despite being described as 13 years old, she doesn’t have a Social Stigma, so she’s considered an adult and a full member of the crew. This is likely because she’s the most dangerous member of the crew with a blade, being a student of the Italian School of fencing, with an effective Rapier skill level in excess of 20. She’s also highly proficient with the ship’s cannon.

Finally, she’s a full-on Trickster. Keep in mind, that Disadvantage means that she needs to play dangerous tricks on targets who could pose a real threat. Simply defeating enemies isn’t enough. I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out. The high-DX pirate outwitting her foes is plenty genre-appropriate, after all…

“Gabby’s Special Friend, Polynesian Boarder #1”

To be named later, from what I understand. He’s the scary brute to back up Gabby’s agility and precision. He’s big in every way, being over seven feet tall and Very Fat besides. He’s also loud, boisterous, and covered from head to toe in tattoos.

Aside from his abilities in the spheres of combat and intimidation, he’s notable for his ability as a swimmer and diver. Upon discussion, most of the players agreed with the historical pirates: learning to swim isn’t worth it, since it just means trading a quick death by drowning for a slow death by shark attack. If you fall off the boat, it’s not like the Coast Guard is going to come looking to rescue you, right? This guy goes the other way entirely, with Swimming at 18.

“Frenchy”

Another fencer. This one’s a young Frenchman, trained in the Transitional French School of fencing. He’s new to the crew. His family has run into some serious money troubles, so he has vowed to raise a fortune to ransom them. He’s sure-footed and well-educated, but has little practical knowledge of the seafaring life.

While he’s a year older than Gabby, he took Social Stigma (Minor), meaning that the crew sees him as a kid. He’ll need to work to gain their respect.

He also has quite a few unspent points. I expect that he’ll end up spending them shortly, as he learns the ropes.

Mad Maggie

Mad Maggie is a Dutch pirate who has a real problem with bullies. She has an Intolerance, an Obsession, and a Higher Purpose, all tied around thumping those who prey upon the weak.

She’s a fencer, like the two kids, but unlike them, she chose the saber over the rapier. Rather than investing points in a full-blown style, she concentrated on the core Saber skill.

When she’s not putting captives to the sword, Mad Maggie is a highly trained rope-maker.

“The gunfighter”

Born in Dahomey, he was sold into slavery at a young age, only to be rescued when French pirates took the ship he was on. He joined the crew and made a life for himself. He’s a lucky, charismatic scoundrel with a natural talent with guns. In his youth, he learned a little magic, mainly concerning the Path of Matter.

His personal life is… complicated. He aspires to being a wealthy, respected French gentleman with a beautiful, well-born wife. He is hampered in the pursuit of his goals by his birth, his occupation, his poor French, his alcoholism, and his missing teeth. His attempts at improving his station in life have a tendency to get him in hot water.

“Papa” Sean Geaux

A voodoo priest from Hispaniola — specifically the western part that’s dominated by French buccaneers and tobacco farmers, the part that will become Saint-Domingue and eventually, Haiti. He’s skilled in the Paths of Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Sean Geaux has troubles with money. He owes a debt to Captain Courvoisier. He’s also trouble by the voices of ghosts.

Another pirate, to be named later…

There’s one other PC, whose player won’t be able to make it to the first session. Last I heard, he was going to be up in the rigging. Further details remain to be seen.

 

Rituals For Pirates: “Keep Your Powder Dry”

Keep Your Powder Dry
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Matter
Inherent Modifiers: Bestows a Bonus, to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions
Greater Effects: 0 (×1)
When cast upon a TL 4 firearm weighing no more than 10 pounds, this spell acts to offset the Malf. penalties for wet conditions under “Water and Firearms” (GURPS Low-Tech, pg 90), for one day. The given bonus is enough to keep a pirate’s frizzen-equipped flintlock dry in a hurricane. It can’t stand up to full immersion, though!
Typical Casting: Lesser Control Matter (5) + Bestows a Bonus, +3 to offset Malf. penalties for wet conditions (4) + Duration, 1 day (7) + Subject Weight, 10 lbs (0). 16 energy (16 × 1).

Not Every Pirate Can Sing A Shanty

There are some Skills that deserve an honorable mention in the life of a buccaneer, which I overlooked the other day.

Pirates were famous for their music. Sea shanties* would coordinate the labor of groups of sailors. They would play musical instruments when attempting to intimidate their targets. I would expect Singing and Musical Instrument to be well-represented among the Skills of the crew. Either one might be useful as a complimentary skill for Seamanship or Intimidation.

Considering the important role that music plays in most ritual magic, I could see both Singing and Musical Instrument to be helpful to a bokor. I don’t think I would go so far as a complimentary skill roll, but appropriate music might count towards “traditional trappings”, which can substantially reduce the amount of energy required by a ritual.

One of the players asked about Heraldry. My first thought was, if a pirate can tell an English flag from a Spanish one, how much more detail does he need?

Turns out, the real world was more complicated than that.

Still, I don’t recall Jack Sparrow wasting too much brow-sweat on the difference between the flags of Genoa and Naples. When it comes to broad questions of “Is that ship with us, or against us?” or “What language should we use to yell at them?”, I doubt I’ll require anything more than a Perception check to get a good look at a flag. If you want to be sure to be able to tell Prussia from Royal Prussia, or to know why any ship flying the flag of Saxony is suspicious, go ahead and put a point into Heraldry.

That’s for the flags of nations, mind you. Pirate captains had their own flags, as well. One might also identify those with Streetwise, Area Knowledge (Caribbean), or any of several flavors of Current Affairs.

There’s another way 17th-century sailors could identify friend or foe at a distance. Ever hear someone say “I like the cut of your jib” or the like? A jib is a kind of sail, a triangular one ahead of the foremast. Different countries favored different ways of rigging them. The “cut” was the same as in “the cut of one’s clothes”, referring to the way the sail was shaped. The shape of a sail would be visible from much further than the details of a flag, so a knowledgeable sailor could tell a ship’s nationality from the shape of its jib. A roll against any of the “sailor” skills — Boating, Seamanship, or Shiphandling — will reveal the nationality of the crew, even if a ship is trying to conceal its allegiance.

 


* Yeah, I see the bit where Wikipedia says there have been work songs since who-knows, but the true “sea shanty” didn’t really come into its own until the early 1800’s. I’m hanging my hat on the bit where it says you might find traces of them as early as the mid-1500’s. When history adds color to the game, it’s allowed to come indoors. When it starts tracking too much realism around, out it goes!

A Pirate’s Life For Me

A question came up concerning the upcoming Pirates campaign:  Will it be like the Space Cowboys game, where there were certain jobs on the crew that had to be filled or else everybody dies stranded in the cold vacuum or, even worse, goes broke… or like the Dungeon Fantasy game, where there’s a defined mission but how you accomplish it is up to you… or the apocalypse game, where part of the fun was throwing together a bike mechanic, a clown, a bookbinder, and an elderly gardener, and throwing them to the wolves? Will the players need to coordinate to make sure everybody has a job, and all the work gets done? Or can they take a more free-wheeling approach?

The answer is, a little bit of both. Let me explain…

Pirate society — at least, the GURPSified, romanticized pirate society I’m aiming for — is going to be made up of a few broad classes of characters. There will be a few cabin boys, powder monkeys, and addlepated mascots, coming in around 25-30 points, or even less. Nobody will listen to them, and they’ll be largely disposable. Next, there’s the bulk of the crew, the able seamen, the ones who do all the climbing and lifting that goes on in the background. They’ll be somewhere around 75 points, give or take. When it comes time for group decision-making, they’ll be doing the voting, but they’re unlikely to come up with any plans on their own. They need leadership. Finally, there’s the exceptional characters, 100+ points, who make up the skilled crew and the folks who stand out from the crowd. The leadership, in other words. This is where you’ll find the PCs. Whatever their apparent rank, they’re 150 point characters, so they’re certain to shine brightly.

Any ship worth using for piracy in the 1660’s is going to have several dozen crew. GURPS Low-Tech Companion 2: Weapons and Warriors suggests a sloop of war as a common ship among pirates, carrying a crew of 70. With a crowd that size, there’s no need to have a PC covering every noteworthy position. The less-exciting jobs can be left to NPCs. (As an added bonus, there should be plenty of semi-nameless NPCs hanging around to be promoted to full PC status, in case of sudden, unexpected PC loss!)

Since the NPCs will be handling the boring work, I expect the PCs will gravitate towards the exciting jobs. When it comes to piracy during the Age of Sail, that means boarding, above all else. The whole draw of a pirate game is the possibility of swinging ship-to-ship with a cutlass clutched between your teeth and a flintlock in both hands, clinging to a ratline with your peg-leg and sheer wickedness. Who’s going to pass that up to play the ship’s accountant? Therefore, I expect certain skilled jobs to be restricted to NPCs, for those who wouldn’t be taking part in any villainous derring–do, like the ship’s surgeon. Those guys are probably half-captive anyway.

Specific jobs on a pirate crew are somewhat fluid. If you’ve got the skills, you’re in the running for the gig. For whatever reason, it’s a cliche that anybody who knows their way around a kitchen can gain a position of respect among a pirate crew, by taking over cooking duties from whatever hapless slob got stuck with the job last. The crew could even vote in a new captain. PCs need to be defined by what they can do, not their title. In particular, no PC can drop points into Rank and claim the captaincy. There’s no “captain” template, there’s just the person in charge when the cannons start firing.

So. Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

At the beginning of the first session, the PCs will be among the crew of one Captain Courvoisier, an older buccaneer who has been heard to fondly mention his looming retirement. Anybody who wants a particular job on Courvoisier’s crew needs to take the appropriate skills. If two people want the same job, and there’s no other way to settle it, we’ll handle it the pirate way, and open with a duel… 😉

I doubt anybody will want the position of carpenter, or sail maker, or surgeon. It’s unlikely that the position of master gunner would be interesting, but with all the cannon and explosions and so forth, it might be. Finally, on a properly run ship of the Royal Navy, there would be a dedicated navigator. A pirate ship might, or might just have a person or two with points in Navigation (Sea), handling those duties in addition to their own.

Then there’s the leadership team. The captain is in charge overall, so long as he keeps the support and confidence of the crew. The captain needs the skills of a boarder, being expected to lead from the front. The quartermaster is in charge of stores and loot, and is supposed to represent the crew to the captain. The bosun is in charge of the ship itself and its maintenance. (The bosun’s the one who’ll tell folks to swab the deck. The quartermaster’s who’ll flog the sailor who tells the bosun where to go.) The bosun needs more core seamanship skills than the others, but what all three need is social skills. A charismatic captain doesn’t need to know the stern from a hole in the ground, but an unpopular captain won’t stay in charge for long.

Speaking of social skills, Long John Silver went from ship’s cook to pirate captain. Plenty of PC-grade characters start off in the galley.

Most of the pirates on a ship will be just plain sailors, with a sprinkling of cabin boys. (And cabin girls, I hear, in the case of one PC.) They’ll need solid seamanship skills to play the role. Given the point totals, I would expect any PC starting at this level to be quickly promoted to a position of responsibility.

There’s one other position that’ll be filled on the campaign’s pirate ships, even though it’s not a traditional navy post. Many ships will carry a bokor, a sorcerer skilled in the ways of voodoo. Like the captain, a ship’s bokor might not have any great skills as a seaman. Instead, the bokor’s job is to handle the spirits. Specifics vary from sorcerer to sorcerer. One might whistle up the wind, while another might scry for rich, easy targets. Aside from helping, in whatever way, with the taking of prizes, a bokor is expected to be the ship’s expert in all things uncanny.

 

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