Skull & Shackles: Tales of the Fever Sea
When most people think of pirates, they think of the Shackles. Not only do the fiercest and most bloodthirsty pirates call the Shackles home, but the region’s prosperity relies on piracy. Those Shackles citizens who aren’t pirates themselves support the pirate trade with inns, shops, warehouses, and a variety of other services.
The pirates of the Shackles have tradition and experience on their side. The concentrated piracy of the area has allowed captains to maintain impressive ships and hardy crews, and would-be freebooters compete to crew the most well-known ships. The cooperation of the Free Captains allows information and plunder to move from port to port, creating a network of pirates who can ally in times of need. The pirates of the Shackles bear no love or trust for each other, but support each other when called on by a Free Captain or the Hurricane King.
When the perpetual hurricane called the Eye of Abendego appeared and devastated the region now known as the Sodden Lands, it took a great toll on sea trade in the region. In the wake of its destruction, most sailors fled the area. The only ones to remain were the bravest and, in many cases, those with the least to lose, who formed isolated pockets of brigands and buccaneers.
The pirates fought among themselves for a time. The strongest emerged as influential leaders, and eventually agreed to work together to consolidate piracy in the area. Captain Kerdak Bonefist, the terrifying captain of the Filthy Lucre, took the crowning position of Hurricane King by virtue of commanding the strongest fleet and holding Port Peril. Under his leadership, the captains with the largest fleets formed a pirate council and installed themselves as governors of various ports.
In 4674 ar, the Hurricane King and his pirate council began coordinating raids up and down the coast. With each passing year, the Free Captains have celebrated their successes with more and more daring raids, venturing farther than ever to extend their reach and avoid competition, while the plunder flows through the Shackles and out to neighbouring territories.
Kerdak Bonefist, the Hurricane King, captains the Filthy Lucre and governs Port Peril. Bonefist is fascinated by firearms, and the Filthy Lucre, a man-o’-war, is one of few ships in the Inner Sea region to boast Alkenstar cannons.
Arronax Endymion captains the frigate Tyrannous and governs Hell Harbor. Endymion formerly captained Tyrannous in the service of the Chelish navy, but a scandal forced him to abandon his position and flee to the Shackles. Endymion never speaks of the scandal’s details, and has murdered six people who claimed to know his secret. Hell Harbor is closed to ethnic Chelaxians, as Endymion fears any Chelaxian might be a spy.
Tessa Fairwind, governor of Quent, captains the sloop-of-war Luck of the Draw. She commands one of the largest fleets in the Shackles and is known for her greed. Despite Fairwind’s status, it’s never enough, and she craves fame, often leading her crew on reckless raids that seem doomed to fail, but always succeed. Most expect her to be the next to wear the Hurricane Crown, though whether her ascension will be by force or popular acclaim is anyone’s guess.
The Master of the Gales, governor of Drenchport and captain of the xebec Kraken, reveals little about his history or motivations. Everyone knows that the Master is a druid, originally from Sargava, and that his ship possesses an unusual defense: the captain’s giant squid companion, Stormthresher. Beyond that, the captain is a mystery.
Avimar Sorrinash captains the brig Blood Moon and governs Ollo. Most werewolves hide their affliction, but Sorrinash embraces his. A new sailor can only apply to crew his ship the day preceding a full moon. Sorrinash mauls the newcomer to within an inch of her life, then strings her up on the mast. The initiate either becomes a werewolf or dies.
A Tian pirate named Satekai arrived in the Shackles 4 months ago, captaining the ship Red Fortune. She has begun building a reputation as a cautious captain who develops simple but clever plans for attacking ships, some much larger than her own. Whether she has ambitions toward becoming a pirate lord remains to be seen.
Shackles pirates use whatever ships they can claim. Sloops and schooners, galleons and galleys, and more are all found in ports up and down the coast.
Midsize ships are most popular here. Shackles pirates look for a balance between small, light ships with low drag—capable of great manoeuvrability and speed along the oft-treacherous coastline and between islands—and larger, deep-water ships with a longer range and more cargo space to hold plunder. Too-small ships require pirates to leave some of their haul behind, while too-large ships struggle to catch merchants unaware and require enormous crews. Ship preference is a personal matter and is hotly debated among pirates, as there are several competing theories regarding how best to handle the high, rough seas near the Eye of Abendego.
Free Captain Satekai brought one of the first Tian ships to Jeopardy Bay. Red Fortune is a light, narrow ship boasting a red wooden sea-serpent figurehead. Since then, Red Fortune has inspired admiration and jealousy, and several pirate lords would pay handsomely for a Tian ship of their own.
Most ports in the Shackles are governed by pirate lords. A pirate with a particular allegiance prefers to visit her pirate lord’s port to sell and trade, and to repair her ships. However, weather and circumstances often force pirates to dock in unfamiliar ports, and most of the pirate lords are happy to let their port businesses conduct dealings with unaffiliated buccaneers, with varying levels of hospitality. Some pirates make a habit of trading in a variety of locations, while others prefer to conceal their treasure until they can return to their home port.
The Shackles are studded with hundreds of islands: major islands with established ports and harbors, unsettled jungle islands, rocky crags without a water source, and exposed reefs that almost disappear when the tide comes in. In addition to their home ports and favoured trading posts, all pirates have a few secret hiding spots among the unsettled anchorages. Some brave pirates favour going to ground in the dangerous Cannibal Isles, home to the legendary kuru warriors, while others let jagged reefs or hungry dinosaurs be their guardians. Some even stash their goods in the ancient cyclopean ruins of Ghol-Gan, hoping that restless spirits will keep all others away.
Pirates in the Shackles currently enjoy great prosperity and freedom. Most Free Captains seek only to maintain their positions, garner more loot, and expand their fleets, though the various pirate lords all have their own individual motivations. They often pay well for information on their most prominent minions or fellow pirate lords in order to protect themselves from attempted coups—or to plan their own.