To those who know me (Frank // Mottokrosh), it is no secret that I am currently obsessed with Pirate Borg. Naturally I am a fan of rules-light but flavorful systems (hello, devil's luck), but there is just something about the Dark Caribbean setting, and perhaps a whole lot about Luke Stratton, a.k.a. Limithron's art and graphic design that has wholly grabbed me.
Too many adventures? Never!
Besides my regular, virtual games—one of which includes Pirate Borg—I also have a more adhoc, in-person game running here in Berlin. It started as a mini-campaign, with the excellent Buried in the Bahamas, thinking I'd get a few good sessions out of it. But from there things escalated. My one party of semi-regular players exploded into three parties, and Buried in the Bahamas went widely off-script. Which, to be fair, I love.
Continuing that storyline with the "A" group, I set out to write two further adventures, both flashbacks, as groups "B" and "C" all had at least one character from the canonical party. This is an overview of the first adventure, and a brief play report of it, and, who knows, perhaps you want to use it for your own one-shot.
That One Time in Deadman's Key
The characters are part of the crew of the Tarantula, run by the cruel Captain Bloodwhip (before the events of Buried in the Bahamas), laying in anchor near the coast of an island with a ruined, overgrown village, ostensibly hiding considerable loot. But it's rumored to be haunted, so Captain Bloodwhip sends the player characters off with a rowboat first, to check it out, and bring back phat treasure. Or else.
As the party pulls the dinghy onto the beach and perhaps begins hiding it in the underbrush (under the watchful eyes of a flock of seagulls), their vision becomes groggy, their movements and speech slurred, and before long they all lose consciousness (hang on to that eyeroll for a moment, please).
When they finally come to, it is dusk, and they are tied individually to posts that were once load-bearing corner pieces of a large shack, now overgrown and ruined. Their weapons and bulky items lie in a heap nearby, behind a small ruined wall. At their feet (also tied), rests a small wooden bowl each, and in one case also a wicked, curved knife.
Between them is a cultist with piercing yellow eyes in purple, velvet robes, putting what appear to be the finishing touches to a complex magical circle, carved into the stone and earth, grooves filled with colorful salts. His color pots are nearby and include several rare pigments, like deep purple and vivid blue. A myriad of pages bursting with esoteric scribbles lie chaotically nearby. The cultist's pack with further supplies, and some random treasure (including at least one ancient relic and one arcane ritual) rests in a corner.
The male-presenting cultist mutters something about the blood moon drawing ever nearer, and that the ritual must be ready in time.
Tell characters with some SPIRIT that they recognize the spell that caused them to pass out it. It is known as "Deus ex Plotina". Sometimes also as "Please buy into the premise for this one-shot", or "I'm only doing this because it's a one-shot, I would never remove agency or railroad like this in a campaign, I promise!".
Obed Bloodletter (no relation to Captain Bloodwhip, unless you want there to be) has spent most of their life collecting the information that led them to this moment, this ritual. At its climax (ushered in by tracing the final symbols with the blood of several victims under the blood moon), a small island rises from the sea off the coast. It contains one of several ancient temples to THE DEITY (a cthonic entity worshipped by the earliest humans) that were built in ages past. Entering it will grant Obed the wisdom of the elder ones, the true and unfiltered truth at the core of the universe.
Obed is focused, to the point of obsession, so close to their goal. Their life-long dedication to the unknowable DEITY has not left them untouched: Instead of turning around, they flip their long hair over their face, revealing a differently gendered version in the other direction (with the same yellow eyes). It is unclear what happens with the joints in their body when they suddenly change direction like this.
Aside from a second knife (the one used to carve the grooves of the magic circle) they don't carry anything around with them—their stuff being in their pack nearby—but they're all too happy to engage the characters, give grandiloquent exposition, or occasionally wander off to ponder something, retrieve something, or generally leave them alone for a moment. Or to gag a mouthy character.
As an eldritch sage, Obed knows a spell or two, such as a lightning blast to scorch nosy birds or admonish rebellious characters.
Development & Events
If the characters do nothing, Obed will eventually slit their throats, collect some of their blood, mix it with some paints, finish the circle at the right time, and summon forth the island. They will then either swim to it, or use a conveniently stashed rowboat, and disappear inside. What happens next is up to you, but of course we don't want it to come to this during the one-shot.
Instead, here are just some ideas for how the characters might want to deal with the situation.
- Convincing Obed to let them go. This will realistically only work if the characters can produce replacement victims in the short time until the blood moon. But since Obed is not picky about who the victims are, you never know.
- Survive the bloodletting. Obed only needs about a pint of blood from each victim, they're just not bothered about stopping the bleeding afterwards. But they could be convinced to do so, should the topic come up.
- Break or wriggle out of the ropes. This should be extremely hard, but not impossible (DR 18 maybe). Each character is tied with 3 coils, one around the hands, one around the body, and one around the legs and feet. And woe to a character if Obed notices.
- Cutting the ropes. While Obed devested the characters of obvious weapons and items, perhaps one of them had a hidden blade? Or perhaps they somehow manage to grab the knife at the feet of one of them, or the one Obed is holding or has tucked in their belt. But as above, if Obed notices he will punish the character (tie them up differently or harder, give them an itch, set some rats on them, ...).
- Use the surroundings. The post they're tied to is old and part of ruins. Perhaps the ropes can be rubbed against them (and set alight by the friction! :D). Or perhaps the post itself could be pulled out or knocked over. Perhaps the wildlife could be attracted and cause a distraction. Perhaps nearby zombies could be aggro'ed and slash across the ropes (with the hope of doing more damage to the rope than the character).
And if the situation doesn't progress by itself, consider the following intrusions:
- The "Grog Barrel" zombie. Suddenly heard by one of the characters, as it's swaying, burping, or gently releasing gas behind them, somewhat obliviously. Ready to bilge-vomit.
- The itch. Somewhere tough to reach. Mind you, most everywhere is tough to reach when you're tied to a post.
- The cockatoo or toucan. Perhaps initially attracted by a character's plight. Perhaps even helpful at first. But easy to anger. Beware of the toucan nemesis—it's watching you, while it sharpens its beak on a branch, or mimics the "I'm watching you" sign with its wing.
- The undead horde. The village ruins have earned their "haunted" moniker. Not by ghosts, though, but by zombies. It's got to be pretty terrifying to suddenly hear the roar of a group of 7 bilge rats and a couple of deck ghouls storming in, as you're completely tied up.
Aftermath, or: Just when you think it's finally over
However hilariously the ritual situation has been dealt with, and some looting has finally taken place, it's time to return to the Tarantula. But upon returning to the stashed dinghy, the party find it upturned, and commandeered by a flock of feisty scavenging seagulls, trigger happy (beak happy?) and reluctant to give it up. Handle with caution. Perhaps the new toucan nemesis has put them up to this, and watching proceedings from afar, with a "this isn't over" look, should the characters triumph over them.
Finally back on the Tarantula? Captain Bloodwhip demands each character to present the best loot they're retrieved. Whomever Bloodwhip deems the least impressive will be punished...
How it Went at the Table
My players didn't initially appear too shocked, nor too eager to engage with the cultist. In fact, when they heard them mutter about the ritual they generously offered to help. Unfortunately for them, it was largely their blood the cultist was interested in.
The cast of characters included Beddy "Elizabeth" the Hen, a jaded swashbuckler who'd been the bridesmaid too many times, so she struts around in a bridal gown and sword accessory; Norfolcke "Face" Jr, a very pretty boy but oh so stupid, Willa "The Queen" Wraith, an extremely wizened buccan cook who talks to her dice, and Pertwee "Allhair" Bangers, a, hm, preternaturally lucky devil with crazy hair.
Things got heated early on when Beddy the Hen decided to try and spit into one of Obed's color pots, and rolled extremely well (a trend that would continue until, alas, the final act). "Do you have any idea how hard that color is to come by?!", they exclaimed before stuffing a gag into Beddy's mouth, retrieving the sole replacement pot from their pack, and cautiously placing it a supposedly safe distance away.
Norfolcke "The Face" Jr, a man of unchallenged intellect, convinced that the blood moon is produced by the gods spilling their wine, developed an inch on their leg. A fact that would come up later, under circumstances I don't quite recall, except for Norfolcke being in a position to ask a favor of Obed, and, naturally, instead of asking for release, asking for, well, a release another sort. "What?! Well, where on the leg. You know, whatever, there. <scratch, scratch>"
Willa Wraith had hidden her cheater's dice in her, self-proclaimed, saggy boobs, and tried to wriggle them upwards to her mouth, for results we sadly would never know due her player's bad rolls. Even talking to them and cajoling them didn't help.
Many more shenanigans ensued. Of particular note:
- At some point Beddy managed to free her hands and lose her gag. She lured Obed close enough to steal their knife, and be lippy enough to get gagged a second time (Gag 2: Muffled Harder).
- Willa attracted a kakadu and got it to fly over to the party's pile of items. Further, precise instructions as to what to do with what sadly failed, and eventually attractor and attractee fell out.
- Norfolcke got bilge-vomitted on after attracting the attention of a nearby loitering "Grog Barrel" zombie. It didn't cure his itch.
- Despite his best efforts, Pertwee utterly failed to break the ropes that bound him.
In the end it all kicked off when Beddy stabbed an unsuspecting Obed in their mouth with the stolen knife when they were close. The ensuing back and forth between stabby Beddy, enraged and lightning throwing Obed, the rest of the characters desperately trying to free themselves (and partly succeeding), was both chaotic and tense. At one point Willa, who had managed to free both her hands and her body, tried to release her feet by letting herself fall to the ground. Alas the rolls would have none of it, and the poor veteran instead almost broke her legs, resulting in some exquisitely hilarious roleplaying by her player Anna.
Willa, whose hit points were meager to begin with needed all the help she could get, and thankfully she received it in the form of Pertwee and Norfolcke, and her own buccan jerky to keep her alive. Meanwhile Beddy eventually put an end to Obed and their eldritch machinations.
The Great Escape
Now, before embarking on the return journey, our intrepid Beddy was very tempted by this supposed wisdom of the ages. So much so that she spilled some of her own blood to complete the ritual. Nothing happened though, as it required the blood of all of them, but they didn't manage to decipher that from the random pages that lay strewn about.
Thusly confronted, well, casually ignored by that anti-climax they decided to loot Obed and the immediate surroundings and return back to the ship. By their rowboat, of course, they encountered the scavenging seagulls.
Willa opened with a round from her musket, blowing one of the seven seagulls ("Jeff") from this to another reality. While this was valiant and brave, it came with dangerous consequences as three of the remaining six immediately charged her and her already extremely modest hit point pool.
What ensued was a riotous comedy of errors and bad rolls, climaxing in one of the birds digging around the chest of a now very dead Beddy the Hen, carelessly tossing organs left and right, while the boys desparately tried to fend off the nasty critters from Willa. Just when they thought all was finally over, the last of the gulls slowly poked its head out of Beddy's chest, eyeing up Willa with murderous intent.
The final shot was from the point of view of the Tarantula, where a crew member saw a waif-like pirate run across the beach chased by a bird.
Presenting the Loot
While the characters might have forgotten about needing to impress their captain with fancy loot, the latter certainly hadn't. And while Bloodletter wasn't impressed with the corpse of Beddy, he did appreciate the piercing yellow gem-like eyes of Obed (there were 4!). And since neither Norfolcke nor Pertwee had anything of note to present, he decreed that they should walk the plank. And that's where we finished the session.
While it started a little carefully, as expected, as players and their characters tested the reality of their situation, it soon descended into riproaring fun, with plenty of tension and absurdity. Just how I like it. I loved the session, and while it's the sort of adventure that requires plenty of improvisation and pacing from the GM, I thought it was worthwhile to share it. Let me know what you think!
This blog post is an independent production by Mottokrosh Machinations. It is not affiliated with Limithron LLC. It is published under the PIRATE BORG Third Party License. PIRATE BORG is ©2022 Limithron LLC.