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Tuesday, 26th August, 2008, 08:46 PM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Isle of the Laughing Gallows - A gritty pirate isle for L4W
I’ve been meaning to write a number of elements for suggested incorporation in L4W earlier, but unfortunately don’t have a lot of time on my hands. This one I had to get off my chest, however.
While I realize that Bacarte – a very delightful conception - is intended to fulfill a good deal of the pirate niche, it didn’t strike me as quite so rowdy upon a closer look. My impression was that legitimate business is ever on the rise (and noted to outnumber illegal affairs), with the hobgoblin merchants taking pains to clean out the worst of the rabble, and supposedly savage races showing a remarkable level of tolerance for each other.
I’ve made a lengthy write-up on a more gritty and treacherous pirate isle that I hope can be used in addition to Bacarte, though possibly it could also just be incorporated in it (I’ll try to keep the presentation brief). It’s intended primarily as an adventure site where trouble easily finds you; a knife ready to slit your throat in darkened allies and all that.
Isle of the Laughing Gallows
Many wild rumors stir about this wicked island but a few things remain certain: It’s a haven for many exotic avians, it has deadly reefs that frequently retract and extend like the claws of a beast, and some of the most notorious pirates gather here at the infamous black markets.
Some say the island reefs are actual claws, belonging to an immense slumbering creature of the deeps, others that a mad crooked mage has bound the Gallows with a powerful ritual to raise the reefs at a whim, yet the popular tales say that the island is alive and has fits of great hunger – the fate of unfortunate souls that run ashore. Regardless of the truth, it would appear the more established resident pirate captains either has deduced some pattern or found a measure of control over the reefs – they rarely lose ships, neither does those who pay the fares for safe navigation charts.
The island is particularly elusive and usually drifts with swift currents throughout the Shifting Sea. Nobody knows whether the powers that be have a hand in this, but drunken locals tell exaggerated stories of a vengeful sea commander that sought to invade the Gallows and chased the island with his fleet for weeks in vain.
There is no well-known common method of tracking down the island, but a few, periodically changing systems are sold to those who have paid a hefty price and sworn the oath: to never betray the island’s secrets or face the punishment of piracy – the gallows. No magic curse is known to be involved but highly suspected; it seems that word of mouth simply spreads news of treachery and the offender is hunted down and hanged by pirates.
Beyond these jagged dangers lie Slydove Bay, a vast stretch with a shore full of ports, harbors, and the occasional watch tower. Outlying collections of abodes may seem separated, but most of the pirate forts seem to crisscross together in a collective fortress-city that is simply called “the Nest” by the residents. The Nest is the central trade center for the locals, filled with seedy bars, shady markets of plundered goods, run-down brothels and well-guarded warehouses.
The Bay holds scores of minorities of cultures, religions, and races, many of which are considered monstrous or savage by other islands (most inhabitants of the Gallows are considered scum by anyone’s standards). Unlike the civilized isles the norm here is tension rather than tolerance, and brawls and murder in the street are common sights. The established captains keep anarchy at bay near their respective domains, and traders on their turf must usually pay a measure to remain protected (or at least unmolested by “authorities”).
Strangely, the waters within the Bay are fairly calm, even when the Laughing Gallows move at speed to external observers. It takes its name from the abundant flocks of so-called slydoves – aggressive birds native to the Gallows that are used by crafty seafarers to more easily find their way to the pirate island sanctuary. The ever-present avians are also the source of much of the local lingo; wealthy traders are called “golden eggs”, while “nesting” is another way of saying that a pirate is laying low or holed up against his enemies.
Captain Bohem Grogmarrow (Male Human)
Captain Grogmarrow is a renowned pirate on the rise, a practical man and seasoned seafarer with a sharp wit despite strange antics - he is extremely paranoid and prone to spy on his crewmates up close while they sleep.
Grogmarrow is physically not an impressive sight and dresses neither dashing nor intimidating, but usually wanders with a silvered pocket watch in his hand and a pseudodragon sitting on his shoulder (often ranting to it about sorting out traitors in his midst). Despite appearances, the man is a masterful combatant and his knife-throwing skills are legendary – they say he’s skewered captains with a single dagger before his ship was close enough to board.
Captain “Artsman” Grimbrood (Male Orc)
Grimbrood may be one of the most bloodthirsty pirates these seas have known in recent memory. He fancies himself an artist and cuts his victims in monstrous ways that he finds aesthetic, then displays the “masterpieces” on bow, stern, and sides of his ship to horrific effect – woe be the poor bastard who sees the sails of the Red Mistress close in.
The captain is a bald warrior with a beard that could rival a dwarf’s and contrasting appearance: though he dresses in splendid clothes for an orc with a personal tailor stitching them after engagements, they are always heavily stained in blood and worse as Grimbrood fancies himself a walking piece of art.
Captain Koob Danderon (Male Halfling)
“Friendly Koob” may seem like but a rowdy prankster if not a redeemable scoundrel, but rest assured he is anything but. The double-crossing halfling may be one of the best sources of information in the Nest, but if you don’t pay well he’s just as likely to gut you halfways and leave you bleeding slowly to death in the streets.
His trusted men approach newcomers to the Isle to offer “friendly guidance” and point towards the captain’s services, but their real purpose is to keep Koob informed on recent developments among scum and sailors – and scavenge “easy pickings” when they set foot on the docks.
The Restless Deeps
Just beyond the retractable reefs near a passage towards Slydove Bay, lies a series of underwater caves called the Restless Deeps by the locals. It is home to a sizeable tribe of sahaugin, under command of their four-armed baroness Amauzzan. The sea devils are a menace to the common man but hunt with some restrain, having painfully experienced that there are powers in the Nest resourceful enough to retaliate with crippling consequences.
Amauzzan has adapted and over time managed to strike several loose bargains with a number of established pirate captains; the sahaugins now exchange information of activities in island waters or salvaged goods from the deeps (especially following naval battles), in exchange for well-crafted equipment, occasional choice slaves, or other goods.
Seasoned pirates have a saying that they would “rather face the gallows than the deeps underneath,” since sahaugins are known to swim fairly close to the ports of Slydove Bay at night. They pick off those who fall in the water due to drinking and brawling – and sometimes, just when they get too close to the shores.
Nortrim’s Singing Sails
Nortrim Seven-Fingers is the corrupt human owner of this extensive shipyard located on the outskirts of Slydove Bay that is manned and guarded by a fairly well-paid crew. Wealthy captains come here to repair, buy, sell, or modify ships, though the Singing Sails also feature a number of miscellaneous engineering services.
The most popular one is modification of captured ships beyond recognition – many a ship have returned to the ports of Daunton and Bacarte under new name and command, the previous owner none the wiser.
Nortrim also have a popular gambling den under the ship yard, and periodic tournaments result in the occasional ship changing hands.
Jagger Dagger Mountains
The central parts of the island rise into overgrown mountainside, and many of the more dangerous avians can be found here. Near the clouded tops can be found more than a few roc nests, and most sane wanderers give the fondly called “Beak Peak” a wide berth. Despite the dangers, ambitious treasure hunters come here once in a while; some of the giant birds are known to swoop down on unsuspecting ships, snatch an inviting or glittering piece of cargo from the deck and take off for their nests. An extraordinarily brave or foolish band of bugbears is camped out in a makeshift fort up high and sometimes mount expeditions to steal eggs or hunt for valuable cargo snatched from the ships of Slydove Bay.
Last edited by Dunamin; Monday, 8th September, 2008 at 06:50 PM.
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Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 02:15 AM #2
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
You're quite right about Bacarte's roll in the setting.
I think this would be an excellent addition to the Near Lands section.
Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 03:00 AM #3
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 09:30 AM #4
Defender (Lvl 8)
I like it too. I think it was always the intention that the setting be open to new isles, especially ones that aren't fixed in position relative to the others. The nit-picking mind wants to know, if the island is so elusive, how pirates can find it to hide out on. (Conversely, if the pirates can find it, why haven't the hobgoblin merchant mafia taken the time to rub out the competition?) But that can probably be handwaved, or explained away as a secret ritual, jealously guarded and only taught to close, trusted friends -- or, at great risk, to extremely high bidders.
As hinted above, I have it in my head that the hobgoblin merchants are only barely civilized; a mafia-like organization that collectively recognizes that law and order, or at least the appearance of law and order, is good for business. They agressively punish anyone that jeopardizes their business, e.g. by getting caught pirating, smuggling, murdering, or whatever. But they're certainly not above cutting a few corners -- and throats -- if they feel the need. They're just careful to keep it quiet.
I think it's quite possible for mafia-Bacarte to coexist with a more peaceful, civilized version of Bacarte, depending on exactly what corners the PCs are sniffing into and how the DM feels like playing it.
Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 04:56 PM #5
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 05:25 PM #6
I like the pirate feeling of it as well especially having just read about Scuttlecove in the Savage Tide adventure path and having picked up Five Fingers. One thing that I think we need for the Transitive Isles is to separate some of the monsterous humanoids. That goblinoids run the Merchants is great, but why throw in orcs, kobolds, and minotaurs. I think that orcs would be a great core for the Laughing Gallows. Perhaps resident tribes began pirating when a ship first wrecked on the island a few decades ago. Now some of the more infamous pirates are those first orc captains, though any race is welcome if they can stand on their own.
Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 11:27 PM #7
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Love the Claws, Dunamin!
I don't remember : have the gnolls found a home yet?
Binder Fred, teeth ripping adventure on the seven seas.
So it goes.
Active charactersMemorable games
Thursday, 28th August, 2008, 08:46 PM #8
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Thanks for the kind words and feedback! The initial post is now updated with a fuller write-up.
The Bacarte merchants might be powerful but I certainly hadn’t imagined they’d be omnipotent. Leading a fleet successfully to the Laughing Gallows, navigating enough ships safely through the treacherous reefs, invading the Slydove forts and wiping out opposition in the Nest is certainly something I had imagined would be a very challenging endeavor for the hobs – especially if they don’t intend for the expenditure of resources and men to compromise their hold and efforts in Bacarte.
Thursday, 28th August, 2008, 09:36 PM #9
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
EDIT: Forgot to mention kobolds. I'd toss them in with the orcs and gnolls on the Gallows. That give a trend of orcs, gnolls, and kobolds on the Gallows, and hobgoblins, bugbears, goblins, and minotaurs in Bacarte. A little more even that way.
Thursday, 28th August, 2008, 09:56 PM #10
Scout (Lvl 6)
Very nice ideas. I'd support it as well. And if you need another reason why it isn't easy for Bacarte to take it out, you can always make it located on the opposite side of the near isles and Daunton from Bacarte. Further away always makes projecting power more difficult an exercise.