OSR: A General History of the Notorious Sea-Robber and Murderer Known as Handsome John

Here's a piratical rumour table (of sorts). It's a ramble overheard at a tavern or pieced together over the years. Is any of it true?

Handsome John?

It's a strange tale, laddie, a strange and twisted tale. Pass us a drink. Handsome John was a bosun in the Wexlish navy. He served in the wars and fought bravely but was terribly scarred by fire and shot.
       I heard he was born that way, and that the war just made him hard and cruel.
He turned mutineer and pirate. Killed his captain and officers, rallied the crew, and sailed under no flag. The navy caught him.
      Some say he was betrayed.
             I heard he tried to sack Portsham.
At his trial, he showed no remorse or fear. When sentence was passed he said only this. "My life is not yours to take."
     No no, I heard he said, "I will live longer than any of you. As long as free men sail the sea I cannot die."

            Liar. He said, "Why do you call me a criminal and condemn me to death? Because I killed butchers of men, because I chose to sail under my own orders instead of filling the pockets and dying at the command of fat lords and armchair admirals. Hang me then and be done with it! This world is full of wickedness."

They sentenced him to hang. As a mutineer and pirate, for three days and nights he hung from the scaffold. But when the hangman came to cut him down, Handsome John wasn't dead!

     He hanged the hangman from his own scaffold. Killed the admiral who sentenced him and anyone who gave evidence. 
He vanished from Wexland. Appeared in the Merebaha Islands with his ship the Petition. Sailed for ten years, a true monster on the waves. They say he'd take his prey at night, by the light of a crescent moon. Sail right up, fire a warning shot, and force a surrender before the crew could get to their guns. He'd hang the officers and crew from the 'arms. No survivors, unless he wished to take on fresh crew.
        You could see the ships for miles. The birds, you see, feasting on the hanging bodies.
               And if he run out of rope, he used the guts of the crew.

Ten years he sailed. He sacked Longport and burned New Imbria to the ground. And then he died. His crew dispersed, his ship left as a memorial or sunk, his treasure lost.
       He died at the hands of his own quartermaster. Poison.
              No, it was Captain Louxbury who caught him. They fought a duel on the deck of the Petition as she burned. Louxbury took Handsome John's head and held it up for the crew to see.
                    But he didn't die! The head kept mouthing curses and rolling its eyes. Captain Louxbury locked it in a chest. They say it's in a monastery now on some lonesome island, where ten monks pray night and day to keep Handsome John's words from reaching the Devil.
                           Some say he's not dead at all.

What did he look like?

Horrible. That's the only word for it. He was broad and tall, stronger than any man I've seen. He could tear a coco-nut in half without straining or pick up a cannonball as you or I might pick up a walnut.
       A huge beard, burnt in places, patchy in others where scars met on his jaw. And two tiny blue  eyes, the purest blue, like the sea itself in some tranquil lagoon.
                He wore the noose that hung him 'round his neck always.
                        And he carried a burning sword. That's what they say, at least. A sword of fire.

His crew?

The scum of the earth. Convicts, exiles, madmen.
       I heard his crew weren't living men at all, but hanged men too, hanged men the Devil raised up to follow his servant.
             To join, a sailor needed to commit a murder in cold blood, take a woman by force, trample on a holy book, drain a pint of brandy, and fight another man for a position in the crew. They fought with daggers; the one who survived kept both.
And once you joined his crew your soul belonged to Handsome John. Not to God, not to the Devil, but to he, and only he could send you to your rest. 

His ship?

The Petition. An old slaver ship, low and broad.
       I heard it was a frigate from the last war that'd carried prisoners of war. The captain made sure they never reached their prison. "Illness claimed them", he'd say, though the decks ran with blood. 
              No, it was a slaver. When Handsome John took her he burned the slaves alive and caulked the hull with their ashes.

His treasure?

They say he buried it on the Island of Tears, not marked on any chart or map. Only Handsome John could tell someone how to find it.
     No, that wasn't it. If you had a tattoo made from the black sand of the island, you could always return. 
              The treasure's at the bottom of the sea and the Petition with it. Or else it was carried back to Wexland in secret.


  1. Ah brilliant! I always wanted to run/play a pirate campaign, I even bought Freeport for Pathfinder a long time ago but it's just too complex ... OSR games would be just right though I think, and dangerous enough for the right feel too. Are you using GLOG?

    1. I am: https://coinsandscrolls.blogspot.com/2018/08/osr-glog-pirates-megapost.html

    2. Awesome, thank you. And thanks for the link (from there) to the Counter-colonial Heistcrawl!

  2. I LOVE the idea of introducing multiple versions and uncertainty to rumor tables. Brilliant!

  3. Was any of this happen to be inspired by my humble table that I posted a while back? https://sheepandsorcery.blogspot.com/2018/08/yarhg-tables-for-pirates-and-their-ships.html In any case, well done! I especially like the idea of his head living on and being kept in a monastery.

    1. Alas, most likely not. The first notes for this post: https://coinsandscrolls.blogspot.com/2018/08/osr-2-pirate-captain-triads.html started on July 20th. That's still a very good table though, and I do have it printed in the pirate folder.