At the beginning of my current campaign, I polled my players and asked them what they would like out of the upcoming adventure. One of my players said that he wanted to “go on a pirate adventure, with a treasure map and stuff!”
So, I present The Pirate Isles. A mini-setting (or whole setting, if you want) where you can place high seas adventures for your players. I have a write up for each of the landmarks on my map, along with lore.
I plan on spending the next 2-3 months in The Pirate Isles with my players, as they pursue a lost artifact called “The Rainbow Hilt of Rolan”. When our adventure there concludes, I will likely do a write-up of that adventure, and post that in a separate document. This is intended as a concept for the setting, not the adventure that will actually take place (Though I have jotted down a few ideas).
My husband (who is one of my players) casually remarked that the map of The Pirate Isles just flat-out looked like something that had been intentionally drawn on a map; it didn’t look like a natural archipelago at all. I (hastily) made the excuse that “The Pirate Gods drew it, whaddya want?”
Like J.K. Rowling, I need to learn to watch what I say, because what I say is canon. So, now I’m stuck with that…
The Origin of The Pirate Isles
In the Age of Gods, the half-elven Fey Prince Corsair became angry at his exclusion from the numbers of The Seldarine. He swore a terrible oath of vengeance against the Elves, and departed for a place in the South Seas. With a magic quill, Corsair drew upon a magic map, and brought the Pirate Isles out of the sea. He blessed these isles with many strange tides, and harrowing reefs so that his own people could live to harry the ships of the Elves. Thus, the Pirate Isles came in to being.
Throughout this document, I will reference “Corsair’s Law”. Corsair’s Law is a plot device that I use to justify particulars of pirate culture. It’s basically the pirate code from Pirates of the Caribbean, and more like guidelines anyways. Don’t be overly concerned with it, if it gets in the way of what you want to do. Invite your players to do their own work of keeping track of Corsair’s Law… Since Corsair himself is a Fey Prince (kind of), it’s OK if Corsair’s Law ends up contradicting itself.
Chief ‘god’ of The Pirate Isles. He appears as a half-elf with blue-green hair and silver eyes. He is a son of Orpheus Latonides, and can be thought of as a god of tricks and thievery. He is eternally furious that The Seldarine (under Corellon Larethian) would not admit him among their ranks, despite his obvious power as a divine being. Corsair is vehemently against the idea of racism, or discrimination based upon a person’s parentage. Although his power is near-absolute within his isles, he is a very weak god outside The Pirate Isles. He has a particular dislike for The Seldarine, especially Corellon and Prince Sashelas. Prince Nuada and Orpheus Latonides are on better terms with Corsair than the rest of The Seldarine. Following his belief that children should not be held accountable for their ancestors’ actions, Corsair does not carry his distaste for The Seldarine down upon any one elf (though he IS particularly delighted when Elven temples are raided). Corsair is an easygoing god who does not hold it against his devout if they grant offerings to other deities (except The Seldarine). Corsair has no temples, for he regards the whole of The Pirate Isles as his temple; his worship is conducted when Corsair’s Laws are followed.
A son of Sedna and The Void God. He appears as a dread, tentacled beast above the waist, and a fish below the waist. He carries a twisted, black trident that he uses to stir his seas in to a frenzy. He is a terrible god of chaos that can only be temporarily placated, and not settled in to a lasting calm. Though he is Sedna’s son, there is no love lost between them. Dagon actively works to undermine his mother’s efforts, and wishes to see his own vile progeny overwhelm the world of land. His non-monstrous “worshippers” are largely the superstitious seafarers who prefer to cover all their bases, and offer Dagon a token tribute before their voyage. Dagon’s priests and true faithful are often quite terrible to behold.
Dragon god of the Sea. Leviathan is a son of Bahamut and Tiamat, and most certainly takes after his mother more than his father. Leviathan appears as a gargantuan serpent of the depths, and often demands tribute in the form of whole galleons loaded with gold and trinkets. It is exceedingly unwise to resist Leviathan’s demands, when he appears. Leviathan has several temples in the harbor towns of The Pirate Isles. His priests are often “sea-dragonborn” with large frill-like gills on their backs and necks. Leviathan is not above calling sudden waterspouts or storms upon ships that have forgotten to offer him tribute after a successful raid. Like all dragons, Leviathan hates Talos. The feeling is quite mutual.
A Fey Prince, and member of The Seldarine. He is the son of Corellon Larethian and a primal spirit of the sea. He appears as a blue eladrin with black eyes, webbed extremities, and gills along his torso. He is the chief Elven god of the sea, and a rival of Corsair. Truth be told, it is a one-sided rivalry; Sashelas cares very little for the affairs of those who ride upon his waves. His primary concern is with the mysteries and monsters of The Deep. Sashelas is an aloof and contemplative god who occasionally assists those who are lost at sea. His primary duty among The Seldarine is to find the souls of Elves who died at sea, and commit them along the path to Arvandor. Sashelas’ sacred beasts are the dolphin and the albatross. He visits terrible curses upon those who would harm either.
A crazed goddess of witchcraft and the dark depths. She appears as a sea hag, with fingers that end in ragged stumps. Sedna shares a domain with Prince Sashelas, and is occasionally allied with him. Sedna was once a beautiful goddess of druids who walked along the land. Her father, the wild god Malar, desired a pact with the Dark Lords of the Depths, and promised Sedna’s to the the Void of the Sea. When Sedna clung to his canoe to save herself from the depths, Malar bit off her fingers. In the dark depths, Sedna became the unwilling Bride of the Void, and learned many dark rituals that cannot be spoken in the light of day. Using these dark rituals, Sedna betrayed her husband, and sealed his monstrous body within his palace, behind a barrier of blood magic. She usurped her husband’s position as God of the depths, and demanded the devotion of the Tritons. To this day, Sedna maintains the blood-barrier through dread sacrifice. Though she is ‘benevolent’ towards the races of land, she is intensely jealous of them. Her devotees are often hexblade warlocks, who use their weapons to make blood sacrifices. Sedna is also a Goddess of death who accepts the corruption and filth of corpses, and purges the souls of the damned so that they are fit to stand before The Raven Queen.
A god of storm giants that has been co-opted by the dwarves. Talos is a storm-bringer who delights in combating Leviathan, wherever he is. Particularly nasty hurricanes are said to occur when Talos and Leviathan are arguing over ownership of a particularly rich treasure hoard. Talos likes treasures that required skill and craftsmanship to make; fine jewelry and good weapons are equally acceptable to him. Talos is eternally hateful of dragons, because Bahamut stole his Crown of the North Wind during the Age of Titans.
Father of Dagon and husband of Sedna. The Void God is a primal force of darkness and evil that has been sealed away within a drowned palace. He rails against his seal for all eternity, biding his time until Sedna’s magic fails, and he can wreak his vengeance upon her beloved land. The Void God has no defined form, though it is often represented as a winged mass of writhing tentacles. He is not strictly a god, and may in fact be a Titan, though no one knows for sure. If The Void God has any devotees, they are extremely secretive of their allegiance, and almost certainly not of sound mind.
The Flags of The Pirate Isles
Every pirate ship sails under the protection of a raiding company, or “Flag”. Some Flags rise and fall quickly, as they are held up by a temporary cult of personality around a particularly clever captain. Other Flags are carefully maintained and cultivated raiding ‘families’ that have lasted for generations. Each Flag has a captain, or admiral, (depending upon the current size of the Flag) that commands all other ships under that Flag. Per Corsair’s law, each Flag is a sovereign unto itself, and not subject to the rule of other Flags. Also By Corsair’s Law, fighting must not occur between Flags while within the sacred waters of The Sea of Treasures, so rivalrous Flags must often use methods of subterfuge to undermine each other.
A white, skeletal hand with severed fingers upon a black field. A brutal cult of religious fanatics that are slavishly loyal to the goddess Sedna. They regularly practice the blood rites that are demanded by Sedna. They are not well-liked by the other Flags, but they DO seem to be able to keep the crazed goddess at peace. The Fingerless are almost all exclusively Tritons, but that is more a function of the religious nature of their organization than any actual discriminatory practice. Their leader is a Triton priest of Sedna named Bishop Circe. Despite their name, most of The Fingerless do retain their digits.
A pair of golden wings upon a black field. The Glasyan Raiders are recently established Flag led by a fierce cambion named Captain Ishte. Though they certainly do not pass up an opportunistic raid, The Glasyan Raiders are somewhat infamous for their apparent ability to pull off any heist, no matter how improbable.
A simple crown incorporated into an existing flag’s design. The Pirate King is the captain, male, female or otherwise, who holds the most impressive hoard of treasure. Corsair sets a powerful blessing upon whomever can show the greatest display of wealth. Because of the power of this blessing, The Pirate ‘King’ is the de-facto political leader of the Pirate Isles. Naturally, the various Flags are constantly jockeying for the position of Pirate King. (What Corsair’s blessing entails is totally up to the DM. For me, the Pirate King’s blessing involves an unsinkable ship, and a vaguely defined “command over the Sea of Treasures”). At current, there is no Pirate King.
A red dragon skull upon a black field. Leviathan’s Own have been operating in The Isles for almost as long as The Isles have existed. Their flag is so associated with The Pirate Isles that it is what most non-pirates imagine when they hear the words “pirate flag”. Very few outside of the Flag’s leadership know that they are ruled and directed by an ancient red dragon, Ereshkizan, that lives beneath the Boiling Atoll. The choicest items pillaged by Leviathan’s Own are thrown to the depths of the Boiling Atoll on moonless nights.
Two skeletal hands drawn together in an embrace upon a black field. The Shortbred are a vicious band of gnomes and halflings that raid in small, fast ships that are (usually) able to outsail any of the larger vessels of the Elven navy. Though separation along racial lines is strictly forbidden by Corsair’s law, the Shortbred skirt this by citing a real practical need for their discrimination. They prefer short, small crew members so that their light raiding vessels can carry a deceptively large number of fighters. The Shortbred are co-ruled by Captain Adam Jimblerock and Captain Vanessa Canary; a rock gnome and halfling, respectively.
A red cutlass upon a yellow field. Yi’s Navy are the immediate rivals to Leviathan’s Own, and likely the only Flag that could openly challenge them if it came down to war. Yi’s Navy are a highly bureaucratic organization that answer to a hereditary Admiral. The current Admiral, Yi XII, is a bold half-elf who is eager to prove his mettle to the other Flags. Thus, Yi’s Navy is currently acting a little more aggressively than might under a more seasoned admiral.
This is the name of the interior sea located between Corsair’s Bay, Sashelas’ Purse, The Quarries and Cedar March. It is so-called because of the sheer number of treasure-laden ships that have sunk here. Generally, the sway of various gods (besides Corsair) will depend heavily upon whomever is currently in the neighborhood. To hedge their bets, many sailors pay tribute to all the gods of the storm and sea, in order to avoid angering any of them.
Fogholme is the northern-most island of the Pirate Isles. In the old days, it was called Kingsport, and it was the traditional residence of the reigning pirate king. However, during the reign of King Rodger, who captained the Dreadnaut, it became a place of sacrilege, terror and torture. Fearing the anger of the deep gods, a bloody coup was staged against King Rodger. His corruption was supposedly so vile that not even Sedna would accept the filth of his corpse. The Dead Pirate King wanders the shores of Fogholme, daring any to land upon his shores and test the mettle of their courage. Though it is an accursed place, Fogholme DOES serve as a convenient deterrent to any Elven navies that attempt to come in from the north. The shores of Fogholme are littered with the ghastly, un-rotting corpses of King Rodger’s crew. They have been refused proper burial by Sedna, and now wander Fogholme aimlessly. Ships that stray too close to the shores of Fogholme are consumed by the fog, and overrun by King Rodger’s dead crew.
Adventures to be had in Fogholme
The Island of Tack is, by far, the largest island in the Sea of Treasures. This is a lush island with a varied interior where several plantation-towns are maintained in order to grow the food and livestock needed to outfit the larger raiding expeditions. The western side of the island is a sheer cliff face, which makes invasion from the North and West a near-impossibility. These are the so-called “blessed cliffs”, as they are a gift from Corsair to ensure the safety of the Tack-Folk. By Corsair’s law, pirate raids are not permitted upon the “civilian”-run Tack-Towns. Life in the tack-towns is oddly peaceful and idyllic, compared to elsewhere in The Isles. The two major harbors on the Isle of Tack are Freeport and Haven.
Although the Island of Tack is ostensibly “outside” the bickering of the different Flags, there IS a complex bidding and license system that is maintained in order to decide which Flags obtain the right of first purchase of the goods that come out of the tack towns. Corruption and sneakery within the licensing office is one of the large political drivers of The Pirate Isles.
Adventures to be had in the Tack-Towns
Located on the northern side of Corsair’s Bay, the city of Haven is a pirates-only city of debauchery and excess. It is the primary city of The Pirate Isles, and the headquarters for most of the pirate Flags. The licensing office, where bids for the right to purchase Tack goods are received, is located in Haven. The (new) palace of The Pirate King is also located in Haven, though it is currently vacant. The Flag registration office is also located in Haven, though it is difficult to reach Haven alive, unless one sails under a registered and protected Flag. A temple to any and every god of luck, thievery, the sea or all of the above can probably be found here.
Adventures to be had in Haven
This is an area between the Cay of Ink, Sashelas’ Purse and Freeport where non-flagged merchant ships are allowed to conduct trade. To sail outside the Merchant’s triangle, and in to the interior of the Sea of Treasures, one must fly one of the registered Flags of Haven.
One of the three cities within The Merchant’s Triangle. Freeport is a wild and chaotic harbor where the spoils of raids are sold without oversight or interference from the, admittedly loose, government of The Isles. Nowhere, short of Sigil, can such a vast array of good, artifacts and treasure be found for sale. Freeport is also primarily where the goods of the Tack-Towns are sold to flagged ships that have paid for auction licenses.
Somewhat more underhanded and dangerous than Freeport. Sashelas’ purse is a place where ‘hot’ items stolen from estates in the Captain’s Quarters can be found. There are a number of map purveyors and Sea Elven diving guilds who are willing to be hired for retrieving sunken loot from the Sea of Treasures.
Cay of Ink
A beach of multicolored sands inhabited by the Crabs of Every Color. Textiles from the all over the world are brought here to be dyed with the rich oils and pigments that the natives extract from the crabs. A number of famed artisans reside here weaving, sewing and dying clothes of impeccable craftsmanship. The Cay of Ink is a hotly contested area for several of the larger Flags, because of the obvious wealth to be gained by controlling the artisan guilds here.
Adventures to be had in the Merchant’s Triangle
This is an estate island where retired captains hang up their tricorn hats and enjoy the fruits of their labor upon the seas. There is a thriving nightlife of balls and parties as the retired captains relive their old rivalries through wining and dining. Per Corsair’s Law, violence is not permitted against a retired captain in his own home. However, this does not stop old grudges from boiling over while two old rivals are at the home of a third party. Nor does it stop thieves who might be after a particular artifact owned by a formerly famous captain.
Adventures to be had in Captain’s Quarters
Sedna’s Waygate is a permanent maelstrom located to the southeast of Captain’s Quarters. Legend has it that this is the place where Sedna’s father cast her into the sea. Faithful of Sedna often come here during her feast-days to offer tribute to her. Rather conveniently, Sedna’s waygate prevents anyone from entering the interior of The Pirate Isles from the south-west.
The island of Nandi-Parbat used to be the headquarters of The Ironhides; one of oldest, most ferocious Flags of The Isles. Now, it is divided in to two larger factions, that are further subdivided in further subfactions. Respecting Corsair’s Law concerning the sovereignty of Flags, the other powerful Flags have stood by and watched the various tribes of Nandi-Parbat slaughter each other. (In reality though, they have enjoyed watching a powerful rival destroy itself). At this point, nothing short of Corsair himself could heal the wounds caused by forty years of bloodshed and factionalism. The Ironhide tribes, though they submit to the deityship of Corsair, worship their own local ancestral deities, and deities of their island’s volcanoes. It should be noted that the main faction, on Nandi, are Lizardfolk. The people of Parbat should be sea-elves.
Adventures to be had in Nandi or Parbat
This island is surrounded on all sides by incredibly high mountains. Very few expeditions to the interior of the Ring of Thorns have ever been made. It is rumored that Corsair’s Palace lies at the center of this island. It is also rumored that a great treasure lies buried at the center of the island, or that there is a city of gold. Use this island how you will.
The Boiling Atoll is a large atoll whose waters are at a constant boil. There are a few small communities of dragonborn that make their living along the shores, fishing within Kingbreaker reef. However, these dragonborn are secretly priests/servants of Ereshkizan; an ancient, red dragon who lives beneath the atoll. On nights of the new moon, the leadership of Leviathan’s Own gather upon the shores of the atoll to meet with their master, and submit the choicest of their treasures. Ereshkizan himself does not seek to become Pirate King, though he does admire the usefulness of Corsair’s Blessing, and wishes his servants to seek it.
Dagon’s Isle is a frightful place of walking abominations. Only the truly mad or desperate seek the weird temples and dread treasures of Dagon’s Isle. The sole “community” on Dagon’s Isle is the so-called “Fishville”, a ramshackle and insular community of Kuo-Toa who offer supplies of strange fish and odd wares to those who dare make their way to Dagon’s Isle.
Adventures to be had on Dagon’s Isle
Hag’s rock is an inhospitable spit of land where a circle of sea-hags make their home. They are all priestesses of Sedna, and will offer their services as oracles for a dreadful fee. A finger or two, a live sacrifice, or even a “debt” to Sedna… If you allow a player to sacrifice finger(s) to Sedna here, they should be unable to restore their finger(s) without the use of a Wish spell.
Kingbreaker Reef is so-called because of an infamous destruction of the Elven navy that occurred here during the reign of the first Pirate King. It is said that Corsair caused the reef to spontaneously appear, in order to destroy a large navy that had been sent out against his blessed Pirate King. Today, the reef can (allegedly) only be navigated by pirates operating under The King’s Flag. No map can be made of it, for the shape of the sand bars and the very formations of the reef, are extremely subject to change.
Chain Town is where slaves are sold and traded among pirates. It is also a jail, where mutineers and those who blatantly disregard Corsair’s Law, are left after their are found guilty. If a slave is eventually deemed unfit for sale, they are put to work in The Quarries; a series of mines and quarries where raw ores and stone are mined for sale in the Tack-Towns. For security reasons, no large ships are allowed to dock at Chain Town; slaves must be transported to and fro via small dinghies.
Adventures to be had in Chain Town
Cedar March is a heavily forested island where the timbers for ships are often harvested. A circle of druids oversees the harvest of trees from Cedar March, and zealously guards the trees against over harvest. A guard town (Westwatch) is maintained on the Eastern side of the island to guard against incursions of the Elven navy (it is called “westwatch”, because of the two guard towns, it is the westernmost). If, as a DM, you’re feeling like you need a break from the high seas adventure, you might contrive a traditional “adventure in the woods” here on Cedar March. The druids of Cedar March are led by a silver dragon, Trissakka, who is fairly genial and welcoming to outsiders. She generally enjoys stories. Though she is a staunch enemy of Ereshkizan, she does not know where he hides (and he does not know she lives deep within the forest of Cedar March). Trissaka is the one who built the land-bridge between Wright’s Isle and Cedar March.
Adventures to be had in Cedar March
Wright’s Isle is where the artisans of The Pirate Isles ply their trade. Smiths, carpenters, masons and potters all ply their trades here, and produce items for sale in Freeport or Haven. There are a number of dwarven, elven and gnomish communities here who jealously compete with each other for the patronage of the more powerful (and wealthy) captains. Boats-Birth is a town of shipwrights, where custom ships may be commissioned by the exceptionally wealthy.