OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Session 1

On a warm night in April a warehouse burned down in King's Bay. The arsonists - for it was surely arson - were rounded up and placed in a cell in the Governor's Fortress, to await a swift trial and probable execution.

The suspects (in order of suspicion):

Nyali Utugelu, a Chultan shopkeeper whose small and dubiously legal business on the island of Splinterpoint had been blown into the sea by a hurricane. She'd come to Rat Leg Island and King's Bay to seek her fortune. Dispirited and angry at the local prosperous merchants, she'd turned to drinking and raving in disreputable taverns. She'd been seen near the site of the fire. While being taken into custody, she'd broken the nose of a guard and bit the ear off another.

Gunter von Steenberger, a dockworker originally from the Ranstead League. Gifted with enormous strength but little ambition, Gunter had drifted from port to port. Always able to find work, he chafed under orders and frequently lost his temper. He'd been seen laughing and jeering near the site of the fire, drunk as a lord, and holding a lit torch.

Imran Goldmaker, a sometime merchant, sometime pirate from the Golden Isles, had lost both his ship and his fortune months ago. His ventures on Rat Leg Island hadn't turned a profit; his grasp of Wexlish left a great deal to be desired. He'd sold the warehouse manager "high-grade timber" which, the manager claimed, turned out to be soaked in flammable oils and full of rot and voids. It was possible he'd set the fire to cover his tracks.

Beatrix, a Tarraconese carpenter and engineer, or so she claimed. She had tried to purchase lumber on credit from the warehouse for a building project and was, according to the warehouse's manager, less than pleased when she was rejected. Small, shortsighted, and nervous, Beatrix was an unlikely suspect, but it was possible she'd set the fire.
Geoffroy Thoorens
Wexlish justice was unlikely to be kind. As the four suspects sat in the same cell, waiting for dawn, a prisoner in an adjacent cell tried to get their attention.

"Oy! What are you in for?," a reedy voice said in Tarraconese.
"Burning down a warehouse." Nyali replied. After a pause, she said, "Allegedly."
"Right. Well, I'm in for piracy."
"That's nice."
"They'll hang me tomorrow."
Nyali nodded. "Sounds about right. Governor Whitefriar does like to hang people."

There was another long pause as the prisoner, clearly flummoxed by the Chultan's stoic answers, tried to think of something else to say.

"Me name is Cameron Jones. I sailed with Handsome John," the unseen figure said. "You know of Handsome John?"
Nyali didn't, but Imran and Gunter both did. Handsome John was a legendary pirate. He'd died three times. His face was so horrible it'd kill old men and babies just to look at him. They said he'd taken a slaver ship and tossed one slave over the side every watch, just to watch the sharks feed.

They also said he was rich.

"I know where he buried his haul," the figure said, "from his last trip to the Golden Isles. It'd a foul shame if I took that knowledge to my grave." By now, Beatrix, Imran, and Nyali were all close to the bars, listening for every word. "Seeing as how I'm fettered, would you inclined to escape this place before your trial and - let's be honest - most likely execution, it would be in our mutual interests if I was to escape with you."

"How exactly are we supposed to break out of here?" Beatrix complained. "There are guards and the warden has the keys. Assuming we escape, what then?"
"We hit a few taverns, find a small crew of trusted souls, steal a small but nimble ship, put to sea, and sail for the Isla de Caracol before dawn," Cameron Jones answered smoothly.

Beatrix translated the plan into Wexlish for Gunter's benefit. The giant dockworker grunted in assent. Using all her wiles, Beatrix managed to lure the lone Wexlish guard close to the bars on his next patrol. Gunter grabbed for the guard's chest and missed. Nyali and Imran grabbed the guard's legs and pulled, painfully slamming his most tender area against the bars. A few quick strikes from Gunter's slab-like fists reduced the guard to a blubbering mess.

While Nyali fashioned a lock-shattering explosive from the guard's pistol charges, Gunter, in apparent boredom, simply bent back the bars to the cell. The other three prisoners watched in awe as the iron flaked and creaked. The gap was just large enough for Nyali, Imran, and Beatrix to squeeze through. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Gunter remained trapped.

After a few misadventures, a bit of stealth, and surprising strong-arm tactic from the mild-mannered Beatrix, the party retrieved the warden's keys, several uniforms, a small stack of pistols, a few swords, and small purse of gold, and a mostly full bottle of brandy. They rescued Gunter and freed Cameron Jones, who turned out to be an old Tarraconese sailor with a scraggly beard and rags, and escaped the prison.
Murat Gül

The town of King's Bay was quiet. A few taverns were still open, but their customers were either asleep, stupefied with drink, or engaged in other business. The five escaped prisoners found a quiet corner in the Bishop's Arms, bought drinks, and began discussing their plan.

Languages: Wexlish, Tarraconese, Chultan,

"We need to steal a ship," Cameron Jones whispered. "Now, there be some small cutter in the harbour, mostly used by merchants. I say we creep down, see how well they are guarded, and sail out with the tide. When the sun rises, it'll bring an east wind with it, and we'll be out of the harbour before the Cimmeria can fire on us."
"What's the Cimmeria?" Nyali asked.
Cameron Jones gestured out the window. "The naval frigate in the bay, defending the harbour. Twenty-four guns, a full compliment of Marines. Not something we want to fight."
"Could we steal it?" Nyali said, peering out the window at the distant lights of the frigate.
"N...no! Are you mad!?" the old pirate hissed. "Even at anchor there are probably eighty men aboard, watchful for mutineers and pirates sneaking aboard."
"What did he say?" Gunter asked.
"He says we can't steal the frigate because there are too many men aboard it," Beatrix hastily translated.
The square-jawed dockworker thought about this for a few moments. "What if we could get the crew off the ship?"
"Set the town on fire. Send an order to the ship; all men ashore," Gunter said carefully, marshaling his thoughts. "Row out and take her."
"Gunter has a plan to take the Cimmeria," Beatrix informed the group. "Can anyone forge orders from the governor?"
"What? Maybe. Why?" Nyali asked, leaning back and frowning.
"If we set the town on fire and order the sailors off the Cimmeria, we can board and take her."
"Fucking fuckbiscuits," Nyali cursed in Chutan, impressed at her comrade's daring.

"You're all mad," Cameron Jones said, wide-eyed and worried. "Even if we take her we couldn't sail her. She's a frigate! Sixth rate! Crew of, oh, two hundred at least!"
"But she could be sailed with a skeleton crew," Imran said. "I have done it. Not an easy voyage, not a wise one, but it could be done."
"Right. How many to sail her?" Nyali pressed.
Cameron Jones stared at his four rescuers for a moment, then replied. "Ten. If we had ten good, experienced sailors, and if the weather held, and if we encountered no other ship on the journey, we might be able to do it."

"Then we're settled. You recruit the sailors. I'll forge orders with Beatrix's help. I'll set the fires on the west end of town. Imran will set the fires in the east. Gunter will find us three longboats." As everyone stared blankly, Nyali continued. "When the fires begin, Beatrix will row out to the Cimmeria and deliver the forged orders. Gunter, Cameron Jones, and anyone else we can recruit will take the second longboat once the Marines have disembarked and board the Cimmeria. Imran and I will be along as soon as we can."
"That's... a mad bastard of a plan," Cameron Jones said appreciatively. "You done this sort of thing before?"
"No," Nyali replied. "Well, except for the arson." She paused. "Allegedly."
Claude-Joseph Vernet
An hour later, disguised as a male guard from the prison, Beatrix nervously waited at the docks, flicking her eyes from one edge of King's Bay to the other, watching for the first flames to rise over the rooftops. She didn't have to wait long. With more enthusiasm than skill, and more fear than enthusiasm, she rowed frantically to the Cimmeria.

Behind her, King's Bay was in flames. Nyali had wisely stuck to the back streets, tossing torches into stables, woodpiles, and kitchens. Imran had taken a more direct approach. He'd broken windows, tipped over stoves, smashed lanterns, and generally attracted a lot of attention in the form of a small mob. Luckily, after a short chase, he'd run into Nyali, who managed to frighten the mob away with her blunderbuss.

Meanwhile, aboard the Cimmeria, Beatrix was bluffing for her life. The officer of the watch had accepted and read her forged letter. As sailors milled about and longboats were lowered into the water, Beatrix stood and sweated as the officer, lips pressed together, inspected the letter a second, then a third time. Just as he seemed to find a fault, Beatrix interrupted with a gift of brandy. Imran had topped up the stolen bottle with an infusion he swore would put the officers to sleep. Now trapped in the officer's mess serving small glasses of foul-smelling brandy, Beatrix could only hope her comrades arrived before her luck ran out.

On shore, Gunter had watched boat after boat of sailors stream into the burning city. Cameron Jones had managed to find four people crazy enough to join in the ventures. Gunter could only hope that some of the Wexlish sailors decided to join the crew. Together, the boarding party rowed out to the Cimmeria, approaching by a long route to avoid suspicion. Gunter climbed up the side and leapt onto the deck, two pistols at the ready. He immediately discharged both into the back of a first lieutenant and roared, "We're taking the ship, lads! Anyone disagree?" The four sailors on deck looked at the glowering dockhand, looked over their shoulders at Cameron Jones and the rest of the scruffy pirates climbing up the side, and surrendered.

Hearing a crash from the quarter galley, Gunter sprinted towards the stern of the ship. He kicked open the door and found Beatrix locked in a life-or-death struggle with the ship's sailing master. Gunter quickly dispatched the officer, helped the apologetic Beatrix to her feet, put a cloth on her bleeding scalp wound, and wandered back onto the deck.

A few minutes later, Imran and Nyali arrived in the last longboat. They assisted in raising the anchor, with Gunter doing, by anyone's estimate, the work of five men. When the ship was aweigh, Gunter suggested clearing the lower decks.

"As your Captain," Cameron Jones said, waiting for a challenger and finding none, "I'll lead. Pistols at the ready." The newly appointed Captain, Imran, and Gunter went below and found the ship eerily deserted. They'd expected at least a few sailors belowdecks, but they found nothing until they reached the lower hold. They heard a faint click. Cameron Jones held up a hand and paused.

"Bunker!" he shouted, as musket shots raked through the deck. A shot caught Gunter in the leg and swept him prone, bleeding and swearing. Imran was unharmed; he later found a perfect Imran-shaped outline in the far wall. The Golden Isle sailor dove for cover while Gunter crawled behind a table. Their newly elected captain, Cameron Jones, lay unconcious on the floor. They weren't sure if he was dead but, as another volley of shots swept the deck, they weren't about to find out.

Nyali sprinted belowdecks at the sound of gunfire. She reached Imran and hid behind an overturned table. "Is this table thick enough to shield us?" she asked.
"I hope so," the merchant replied. "Want to push up and see if we can return fire?"
"Let's go," Nyali whispered, and the pair shouldered the table into place. They could hear the bunker's occupants readying another volley. From a safe spot, Gunter was hollering for their surrender.

"Heave!" Nyali shouted, and the two pirate pushed the table up the deck. Another volley of musket fire smashed into them, sending splinters into the air. The table held. "Heave!" Nyali shouted again. The bunker's occupants hastily reloaded. Someone inside made a mistake. When they readied a second volley, someone's musket misfired and detonated. The bunker was filled shrapnel and smoke.

Brandishing her blunderbuss, Nyali ran up to the bunker, poked the ungainly weapon inside, and fired blind. More screams filled the air.

While Nyali dragged two badly wounded Wexlish sailors from the bunker, Imran checked on Gunter's wound. "Just a graze, thank God," the merchant said, peeling back the blood-soaked rags.
"Can't fucking understand you," Gunter complained.
Imran rolled his eyes, pointed at Gunter's leg, and nodded while smiling like a caricature.

Next, the crew checked on their new Captain. A musket ball had caught him just under the heart. He was probably dead before he hit the deck and he'd taken the location of Handsome John's treasure - if he ever knew it - with him. The thought was sobering.

With King's Bay burning behind them, and in a disgraceful and slovenly way, the Cimmeria slipped out of the bay with the tide.
Red line indicates the projected route of the Cimmeria.

Playtest Notes

The GLOG pirate hack I threw together works fairly well.
  • Nyali is an Artillerist. Decent stats, save for an Int and Wis of 7.
  • Gunter is a Brawler with 18 (!) strength. That's off 3d6 unmodified. Sure, his Int is 7 too, but when any melee attack deals +3 damage you don't need to be smart.
  • Imran is a Duelist. Very average stats.
  • Beatrix is a Smooth Talker. Her player wanted to run a Weather Witch, but she's got the worst stats I've ever seen someone roll. Her highest stat is an 11 in Int and Charisma. She's got a Strength and Con of 5, a Dex of 8, and an Int of 9. She's also got 1 HP. Everyone agrees; either Beatrix is going to die next session or she'll outlive everyone else.
I didn't expect the players to go for the frigate or to come up with a competent plan to steal it. 2 members of the group are old hands at this kind of bullshit and have been in many of my games before. I expect great things from them.

In case anyone things their adventures was little far-fetched, I'll be posting excerpts from "Captain Kidd and the War Against the Pirates" soon enough.


  1. Unrelated to the session report... How do you draw the map?

    1. Dreadfully embarrassing, but Powerpoint.

  2. Intriguing start!

    I am really looking forward to seeing how ship combat will work, esp with the limited crew.

    1. It'll be tough. Eyeballing it, the ship has 9/50 Crew HP. They're at a -4 penalty to all Shooting, Manoeuvres, and Special Actions. They might be able to fire one broadside, but they won't be able to reload. They're also at +10 on the Sailing Events Table (+5 for not having anyone with the Navigation skill, +5 for a skeleton crew). If they put out to sea for a long voyage, the best possible result is "Deep Trouble". On a d10 roll of 6+, it's "Apocalyptic".

      Hopefully they can either recruit a crew or sell the ship and contents.

    2. I'm curious both from a story perspective, but also "is this fun to play" perspective. Ship combat can sometimes leave some of the players with little meaningful to do :/