Pirates Campaign: Oar Slaves
A fantasy RPG campaign for Rolemaster and Midgard set in a pirates scenario.
Copyright Robert Wenner ©2001
Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion
This scenario is a good starting point for a campaign wherein the player
characters do not yet know each other. By sharing a bad situation,
the PC's may come to trust in and rely upon each other. After the
PC's have managed their escape from the pirate ship to which they were
chained, they will have to find a way to get back home.
In the Beginning...
All player characters find themselves as slaves rowing the pirates' ship.
How they came here has to be arranged by the GM for each PC and his background
individually. Maybe they were captured on a sea journey, sold as
slaves by their very poor parents, or the pirates may have sailed upstream
and plundered the PC's village. Anyway, when starting out, the PC's
have no equipment, they are in bad physical shape from hunger and exhaustion,
and there is no chance for escape. Each slave is shackled to his
oar (chain radius 50 cm [19.5"]). The pirates mistreat their prisoners,
especially the captain, Moralon, who whips the slaves often just because
of a bad mood. Any "crimes" such as talking are punished with draconic
measures, such as ripping out the tongue.
Moralon is about age 40, has black hair, and seems to come from the
Coast States. He has spent many years traveling the seas and decided
quickly to make his fortune in piracy. He is well known for his ill
tempers and has had some rich people keel-hauled just because he lost his
patience. The crew obeys his commands, but some sailors would like
to see their captain dead. Moralon's ship, called Mashallah,
is a quick fighter from Eschar with some style combinations from the Coast
States. It is powered by sails as well as by oars. The crew
is formed by a navigator and 8 sailors. Up to 30 people can operate
Most of the time, the Mashallah is accompanied by the almost
identical Catalopre. Together, they put the screws on their
Lights, Camera, Action...!
The chance for freedom comes with a heavy thunderstorm. The Mashallah,
being not yet repaired from the latest attack, takes water in the rolling
sea. When the ship starts sinking, Moralon and some crew members
escape in a small boat and try to reach the Catalopre. (In
the Pirates Campaign, Moralon will succeed in this no matter what the PC's
do to try to stop him.) Below the deck, the water breaking through
creates a panic. With their last resources, the prisoners manage
to kill a crew member carrying the key, and some get rid of their shackles.
When the PC's reach the deck, they and some NPC's see Moralon depart.
Following him without a boat would be suicide, so cursing him is all the
PC's can do for the moment. (For the Pirate Campaign they should
not do more, as then Moralon will forget their faces quickly. If
they, for example, send a Fireball after him, he might recognize
them later on Kharadat, which would be a fatal disadvantage for the PC's.)
Before the ship sinks completely, the PC's may collect some tools or find
a thick piece of wood to float upon.
Barring major stupidity or ill fortune, the PC's and the following NPC's
will survive the shipwreck:
Zaolon: This young man is the son of a rich merchant from Ghanija
(Eschar); he had been captured by the pirates. As he had refused
to tell them his name, he was ordered to row. Moralon planned to
hold him for ransom.
Maloghet and Tonma are former servants and guards of Zaolon and will still
follow him in loyalty.
Stoan, Davin, and Mialin are three sailors from the Coast States.
Stoan has grown depressed from his time as an oar slave and from the visions
of his friends' deaths. He is very silent and when he talks he paints
a black picture of horrors for the near future.
Lefkaka, a Healer, has been captured on a trip to Elhaddar. He values
money very highly and will demand money for every cure he offers or every
medical treatment. He will cooperate with the other shipwrecked persons,
as he also wants to get home.
Flotsam and Jetsam
The Mashallah really sinks in the storm, and the surviving slaves
have to cling to floating masts or planks. After an endless period
of time (one night and almost one day), the currents carry the shipwrecked
to the shore of a small tropical island.
The island is covered by thick tropical vegetation and inhabited by
different kinds of rodents, monkeys, and birds of every color. Fruit
is plentiful and tastyŚif they know what to eat.
On the other side of the island lies a village of some 200 native people.
As the island is far away from common trade routes, they rarely ever see
other people. Iron is not known; all weapons and tools are made from
wood, bone, coral, or stone. The people live by fishing and collecting
the fruits from the jungle. Their religious and mundane leader is
an old Shaman.
The village consists of 30 round huts made from wood and palm fronds.
Mats serve as doors to keep insects out of the huts. The area in
the middle of the village is the main meeting place; a big fire is kept
burning for cooking food in the community and to exchange news. It
is the most important place for day-to-day village life. In the night,
the fire keeps animals out of the village (there are no really dangerous
animals on the island, but monkeys and birds might steal food). Some
canoes rest at the sea side of the village. Small throwing spears
like harpoons are used for fishing. Some young men may dive to the
sea floor to collect shellfish or other food (e.g., seaweed).
The other weapons the villagers carry are clubs (often fire-hardened
and studded with rocks or teeth), darts (some with a muscle poison), slings,
and throwing spears.
On the highest spot of the island grows a spectacularly old and very
large tree. It is sacred to the natives and the Shaman climbs the
tree to meditate while sitting in its branches. Dishonoring the tree
will forever turn the natives into foes. The tree's fruits are not
forbidden; in fact they are eaten to purify the soul.
Making Contact with the Natives
When exploring the island, the PC's will sooner or later meet the natives
(or even their village). More likely, the natives will find the shipwreck
victims when hunting or collecting fruit. The only other people that
have ever come to this island were slavers, so the natives will react in
a somewhat unfriendly way. After the PC's have been seen, the Shaman
will be told of the strangers. He takes care of the following:
Once the Shaman has taken some prisoners or after tribe members are captured
by the strangers, the Shaman will meet with the strangers. If possible,
he will not reveal the way to the village. Speaking with hands and
feet, he will try to tell the PC's to release prisoners and leave the island.
Aggressive PC's will be given a time limit to leave. After this limit,
the PC camp may be attacked. He doesn't care about captured strangers
at all, but will not release them as he fears the other strangers.
The strangers will always be watched.
If the opportunity arises, one or two of the strangers will be captured
alive. The Shaman plans to exchange the captured PC's for tribe members
should some of them get caught. If no tribe members are caught, he
may threaten to kill the strangers. Anyway, a small group of strangers
is far less dangerous than a big one.
If the strangers are hostile, they will be ambushed now and then.
This tactic will be used to weaken the group and to wear upon their nerves.
Strangers approaching the village will be attacked.
If nothing works as designed, the Shaman may have to reconsider the
strangers. Gifts, especially (iron) weapons, are always welcome.
If the players can explain that they are shipwrecked (and not slavers),
the natives will help them. They will lend tools and show which fruits
are edible, for instance, how to break coconuts.
To allow easier peacemaking, the GM may let the PC's find a hurt native
hunter to help. Lefkaka may heal him and thus gain the natives' friendship.
To remove all doubts of the strangers' plans, the Shaman will order
them to eat a piece of fruit from the holy tree. The fruit's magic
is assumed to release hearts from all evil thoughts. Hesitation leads
to distrust, but in the end the only important thing is whether or not
the PC's eat the fruit.
Stoan's behavior will prove negative with respect to contact with the
natives. He is convinced that the natives are horrible man-eaters,
and may do some silly things in his mad fear, like attacking prisoners
or saved natives.
Leaving the Island
The PC's first goal is to leave the island and to somehow get back home.
By watching the stars, the sailors can determine the course to set and
the approximate time the journey will take (7 to 8 days, if they meet no
ship on their way). A skiff might be built from some trees, but without
tools this will be very troublesome. The natives' boats are not suitable
for the high seas (well, maybe they are for them, but not for the PC's).
Flotsam and jetsam may also be used for the skiff. Ropes can be made
from vines (again easier with help from the natives).
The second problem is food and water. Rain falls often upon the
island, but who wants to trust in rain on the sea? Hollow fruits
(coconuts) may serve as canteens; fresh fruit may help quench thirst.
Anyway, something to catch rainwater should also be available. Maybe
Lefkaka can cast an appropriate spell to ensure the water supply.
Another problem is the climate. No food will be edible for more
than one or two days due to the heat. The players should get some
fishing equipment. To protect themselves from the burning sun, the
skiff should have something to offer shade. Wet cloths (from sea
water) may cool heads that are too hot. The best time to leave the
island is at sunset, so in the first hours there will be no problem with
the hot weather and the stars may guide the way.
Another good idea is a thin but high mast with some cloth attached to
it to be seen by other ships.
Ending the Journey
After a somewhat long and troublesome journey, the PC's meet a merchant
ship. The captain will take the dirty, shipwrecked adventurers to