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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 the oars.

Most of the time, the Mashallah is accompanied by the almost identical Catalopre.  Together, they put the screws on their prey.

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:
  • 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.
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.

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 Ghanija (Eschar).

Robert Wenner (

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