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About Alliance
About Alliance

Pieces of Eight

by Nick Unger
© 1995 Alliance LARP, Inc.

Introduction (The Hook)

Shankar Vorg, Patrician of the Avalon Trading Company, has received a special commission from the Crown to deliver the finest Asitikir wine to Evendarr in time for the King and Queen's day festivities. Shankar wants to take no chances with this lucrative contract. After hearing reports of increased pirate activity on Lake Hollym, he has decided to hire marines to supplement the ship's crew. Since the Dragon's Flagon is the best place to find such personnel, he travels there, putting up posters along the way.

Upon arriving in the tavern, the savvy Shankar will no doubt recognize the PCs, realize their worth, and approach them with his offer. He will vary his sales pitch according to which PCs are involved: to nobles, he will emphasize the patriotic nature of the contract; to commoners, he will simply stress the profit margin. Each PC must sign a contract, enumerating the duties and profit shares of each crew member:

 

Ship's Articles

I. Mister Bartholomew Quogg is the Captain of the Merchant Brigantine Gryphon, owned by Shankar Vorg, Patrician of the Avalon Trading Company. The Captain, as the representative of the Company, has full authority over the Gryphon while the ship is at sea. All major decisions are his, including the destination, course, actions, and other activities of the ship. His word, in short, is Law while the Gryphon is at sea, and he possesses the power of Life and Death over her crew.

II. Mister Pieter Schwarzpherd is the First Mate of the Gryphon. The First Mate is second in command of the ship, and takes over when the Captain is away. It is the First Mate's responsibility to tend to the everyday running of the ship and make sure that the proper amount of training and drill is carried out.

III. Mister Eustice Smythe-Burroughs is the Pilot of the Gryphon. The Pilot is the commissioned officer in charge of navigation, and he is responsible for setting the proper course to Port Caroque. He is third in command.

IV. Mister Fletcher Hall is the Boatswain of the Gryphon. The Boatswain is the petty officer in charge of general repairs and maintenance of the ship. He is also in charge of the helm, binnacle, and signals. He is fourth in command.

V. Mister [Insert name of head of PC group] is the Master-at-Arms of the Gryphon. The Master-at-Arms is the petty officer in charge of the marines. He has the responsibility for maintaining discipline among them. He is fifth in command.

VI. Messrs. [Insert names of rest of PCs] are Marines of the Gryphon. Their responsibility is to defend the ship from boarding actions and the like. Marines are soldiers trained for battle, and they do not participate in the sailing of the vessel.

VII. Messrs. Benjamin "Cookie" Hand and Tashtego are Seamen of the Gryphon. These common seamen are in charge of handling the sails and other such tasks that make the ship work. Mr. Hand is also in charge of the ship's galley. Seamen are not responsible for defending the ship against attack.

VIII. The Captain and First Mate shall receive two shares of the profit, the Pilot and the Boatswain, one and one-half shares, the Master-at-Arms one and one quarter, and all other crewmen one share each. The cargo must be delivered in Port Caroque to Lord High Exchequer William Ockham at the scheduled time or payment shall be withheld. Any damages to the Gryphon incurred during the voyage shall be deducted from the shares in a ratio commensurate to the cost of repairs.

After the PCs have signed the contract (some haggling is to be expected, but Shankar will be fairly inflexible), Shankar will send them on their way to Dockside. There, Mister Hall the boatswain will greet the PCs and bring them on board the ship, where all is a flurry of activity as the crew prepares for setting sail. Hall will show the PCs around until the whistle signaling the arrival of the Captain is blown, at which point all hands assemble on deck, first to hear the Captain's address and then to launch the ship. The voyage of the Gryphon has commenced!

The Gryphon:

This worthy vessel is a brigantine, known as the workhorse of the seas. She has two square-rigged masts, though her main (aft) mast is also equipped with a gaff-rigged fore-and-aft sail to enable her to run with the wind more effectively. She tends to be beamier (wider) and to draw more (deeper) than sloops or schooners, and although this makes her slower under most conditions, it mean she can carry a lot more cargo.

Here are her stats which Hall can proudly recite to the PCs (of course, it will require quite a bit of suspension of disbelief):

Length: 80 ft.
Beam: 30 ft
Draft: 8 ft.
Freeboard: 8 ft.
Quarterdeck: 50% @ 4 ft.
Masts: 2
Rig: Square & Fore-and-aft Gaff
Tonnage: 200 t.
Combat Speed: 4 kts.
Cruising Speed: 6 kts.
Max. Speed: 8 kts.

 

The lay-out of the ship is as follows:

1) The hull is comprised of two decks: the main deck and the lower deck. On the stern of the main deck is located the "quarterdeck" where the helmsman directs the tiller, and the captain and his officers give orders. On the main deck proper are the various winches for working the rigging and anchor. Bulwarks (rails) surround the perimeter of the main deck, which should be covered with a complex network of ropes, pulleys, and belaying pins to represent the rigging of the ship. The two masts are supported by lines called "shrouds" and other lines called "stays", the former of which run diagonally from the sides of the hull while the latter run fore and aft. "Ratlines", which look like triangular rope ladders, run along the shrouds and serve as a means for the seamen to get aloft to work the sails. (Because of the site's low ceilings, PCs will have to do a ten count or the like to imitate climbing up the ratlines.) "Halyards" are the lines used to hoist the sails and "sheets" are used to trim them so they face the right direction in relation to the wind. The hull is comprised of two decks: the main deck and the lower deck. On the stern of the main deck is located the "quarterdeck" where the helmsman directs the tiller, and the captain and his officers give orders. On the main deck proper are the various winches for working the rigging and anchor. Bulwarks (rails) surround the perimeter of the main deck, which should be covered with a complex network of ropes, pulleys, and belayin

2) The lower deck, accessible by a set of stairs, is divided into several rooms. The captain's and officers' cabins are to the aft under the quarterdeck. The crew has no cabin space for themselves, but must be content with sleeping in hammocks strung along the ceiling. The "orlop" contains the lighter provisions like water casks and small arms, as well as doubling as the galley or kitchen. The cargo hold, kept under lock and key, contains the casks of wine. Finally, below the cargo hold and around the keel is the bilge, where all the water that comes over the rails, leaks through the planks, or falls as rain goes. The bilge is pumped out daily.

Cast of Characters

Captain Bartholomew Quogg should be played as a combination of Captain Ahab and Captain Queeg of Caine Mutiny fame. That is, he is obsessed with hunting down the "Kraken," that "ancient and foul beast" that haunts the depths of Lake Hollym, but for all his bluff and posturing, he's really a coward at heart. Before serving as captain of the Gryphon, Quogg was first mate of a ship called the Ocean Noise, which had a run-in with the Kraken. While the captain and crew bravely fought the beast, the craven Quogg stole the ship longboat and rowed away to safety, leaving his compatriots to die. Quogg is deeply ashamed of his cowardice, and wants nothing more than to kill the Kraken and restore his honor (though of course, in his version of the story, Quogg was the brave hero who drove the Kraken away; now, he claims, he just wants to "finish the job"). Quogg has taken to drink ever since that incident. Just recently, however, he purchased a magical trident from a shady wizard who claimed the weapon was "Kraken's bane." When sober and safe, Quogg is actually a competent captain, though he's prone to nervous tics like rolling ball bearings between his fingers. When drunk or in danger, he degenerates into a pathetic wreck.

First Mate Pieter Schwarzpherd occupies the Captain Bligh role in the module. That is, he's a unabashed sadist who delights in punishing the crew over the slightest infraction of the rules. He especially enjoys tormenting Tashtego, whose quiet dignity he resents. Since the weak captain defers to him in matters of discipline, Schwarzpherd is the true authority of the ship, and the crew despises him for it.

Pilot Eustice Smythe-Burroughs is a prissy, pompous officer who looks down at the rest of the crew as unlettered brutes. He has a clipped, English accent, wears a monocle, and should be played as stuck-up as possible. He thinks that navigation is the most important and most demanding job on the ship. Eustice is especially prone to flattery, and appealing to his vanity is a sure way to get him on your side.

Boatswain Flectcher Hall is the Flectcher Christian of the module. He's a well-intentioned, though somewhat ineffectual guy, who is torn between duty to his captain and sympathy for the seamen.

Seaman Benjamin "Cookie" Hand is the typical grizzled sea dog, who enjoys nothing more than spinning a yarn over a mug of grog. He's rude, garrulous, and somewhat of a scoundrel, since he's not averse to smuggling contraband on the ship to supplement his paltry seaman's wages. He's devoted to Tashtego, and should play an interesting foil to the silent, stoic barbarian.

Seaman Tashtego is a barbarian from the Alligator tribe, who insists on wearing his traditional barbarian garb. Everyone thinks he's a mute, since he doesn't communicate save for guttural grunts, but he just chooses not to speak. He has many superstitions and is always performing strange rites to deflect bad luck. As the embodiment of Rousseau's "noble savage," Tashtego bears adversity with dignity and in many ways represents the best character on the ship.

Encounter One (Mutiny on the Gryphon)

Part One (Setting the Scene): For the first twenty minutes or so, the PCs should simply roleplay with the crew. The Captain will set course toward the island of Frey, which will provoke some startled complaints from the crew, followed by grumbling about "the Captain's obsession." Here's how each NPC should interact with the PCs:

1) First, Quogg should invite the Master-at-Arms, PC nobles, and the ship officers to his cabin for a small repast in a half-hour's time. In the meantime, PCs can learn his version of the Kraken story. He will explain that the Kraken was last sighted near Frey, and that the crew has plenty of time to both deliver the cargo and to rid the lake of an ancient scourge. If the PCs are especially friendly, he will drop hints about acquiring some artifact that will ensure his victory over the Kraken, intimating that the item is hidden somewhere in his cabin.

2) Schwarzpherd will try to recruit the PCs on his side. He suspects that Hand and Tashtego are up to no good, for he notices that after each voyage, Hand earns an inordinate amount of money which he thinks is derived from selling contraband smuggled on board. He wants to catch Hand in the act, and he needs the PCs help. Of course, he's a hard fellow to like, since he's constantly browbeating the crew for being lazy and inefficient.

3) If the PCs flatter Symthe-Burroughs or appeal to him as people of "culture," he will show them the "demanding science" of navigation. He will explain that it is easy to locate one' latitude at sea by the observation of various heavenly bodies and their elevation above the horizon. Longitude, however, requires a time-piece accurate to within seconds a year to be measured with any accuracy, an invention which simply does not exist. Thus, one can only guess based on one's average speed over fixed amounts of time, a process called "dead reckoning." Yet, Smythe-Burroughs will drop hints that he has invented a new device which he dubs the Sextant of True Sight. This item is hidden in his cabin.

Sextant of True Sight: This invention provides infallible navigation on sea for whoever uses it.

4) Hall will play the straight man and give his honest opinions of each of the crew members. (The other NPCs have definite biases.) He will also proudly point out the sea-worthiness of the ship, boasting that it can weather any storm if properly handled. He gives some pointers: (1) A ship that lowers sail and rides out a storm will, as a general rule, take less damage than one that leaves all sails rigged and tries to run with it. (2) On rare occasions, a ship can be swamped, but a steady hand at the tiller should prevent this. (3) Of course, the bilge has to be manned around the clock or the ship might sink.

5) Hand and Tashtego will spend most of their time handling the rigging. They will gladly show the PCs how the ropes work. Tashtego will throw his bones as the ship gets underway, and disturbed by the results, will pantomime what the future portends. Hand, meanwhile, will worriedly watch the first mate, and if he trusts the PCs, he may confide in them that he is smuggling some contraband which he has temporarily stowed under his hammock. He will offer a cut of the profits if they help him hide it in a safer place.

Part Two (Mutiny): About twenty minutes into the module, Hand will ask Tashtego to transport his heavy chest of contraband to the new hiding place, one either devised with or without the PCs help. The ever-vigilant Schwarzpherd, however, will catch Tashtego in the act and sentence him, with the captain's approval, to twenty lashes followed by keel-hauling. Tashtego will not implicate Hand or anyone else in the crime, but will simply bear his suffering stoically, at the last moment utterly a curse in clear English upon Schwarzpherd. The punishment will kill him of course.

Afterwards, Hand will plan a mutiny against the officers. His plan is to poison their drinks when he serves them their scheduled repast. Then, he will seize the orlop, take the weapons, and finish off any who resisted the poison. Hall will reluctantly join the effort after observing the captain become increasingly eccentric as they approach the island of Frey. Besides, Hall reasons, the captain has violated the contract by going on this cockamamie mission in the first place.

The PCs are caught in the middle and forced to take sides. Once a fight ensues, the captain will break down in terror; Schwarzpherd and Eustice, however, will fight fiercely to the end. The NPCs should try their darnest to kill each other off, so that they can change into their pirate roles as soon as possible.

Part Three (Aftermath): If the mutineers win but Hall dies: Hand is set on revenge and he will gleefully execute all the officers, hoping they won't have a perfect resurrection. He will then contemplate the notion of stealing the ship and becoming a pirate, but in drunken celebratory debauch, he will topple over the rail and drown.

If the mutineers win but Hall survives: Hall is merciful and over Hand's objections, will set the captain and the surviving loyalists adrift in an open boat. He will then change course to Port Caroque, determined to honor his contract in spite of the mutiny.

If the loyal officers win: The punishment for mutiny is death. The captain or the surviving officer in command will summarily execute Hand and Hall.

Encounter Two (Pirates!)

After the dust has settled from the mutiny, the the helmsman will espy the Jolly Roger of the notorious pirate Captain Pierre Le Sanguine of Sutherland. If Quogg is still alive at this point, he will exhibit abject fear and order a surrender on the spot. Schwarzpherd or anyone else alive at his point will override his orders, declaring the captain to be unfit for command, and will attempt to outrun the pirate sloop.

At this point, the pirates will haul down the jolly roger, hoist the blood-red battle standard, and give chase. What the sailors do not know is that Le Sanguine's ship carries a powerful ballista loaded with grape shot. They will use this weapon to disable the rigging and incapacitate the helmsman so that the Gryphon cannot escape. This shot will take out the remaining Gryphon NPCs, all of whom are clustered around the quarterdeck like easy prey. (The NPCs should feign being hit by the ballista and then fall over the railing to their doom.)

The pirates' goal is now to board the Gryphon and overwhelm the PC's with their numbers and ferocity. After firing missile weapons to clear the deck, the pirates will maneuver alongside the ship, toss grappling hooks to secure themselves, and then scramble across.

Captain Pierre Le Sanguine: Le Sanguine is a patriotic Sutherlander who accepted a Letter of Marque from Baron Sudbyr to harry Evendarrian shipping, in part to retaliate against Evendarr's intrusion into Sutherland affairs. One word perfectly summarizes Le Sanguine's personality: flamboyance. His mannerisms are a parody of the most extreme French aristocratic behavior. Don't be fooled, however: in combat, Le Sanguine's rapier is one of the deadliest on the Evendarrian Main. He dresses as a Sutherland aristocrat ought to dress. Not an inch of his body is bare of lace, silk, or velvet; rings adorn his fingers; and an elaborate wig of curls cascades down his shoulders.

If the pirates win: Le Sanguine will conduct himself in a chivalrous manner. He will spare the PCs lives, even to the point of flirting with any females, and will simply load the precious cargo of wine onto his own ship and be on his way.

If the pirates lose: The pirate ship had a rough encounter with the Kraken and is so damaged that it will sink before the PCs can claim it as their prize.

Encounter Three (A Sirenic Interlude)

As the Gryphon sails toward Port Caroque, a thick fog will envelop the ship. From within can be heard the strains of beautiful, haunting music. A siren can dimly be seen combing her hair on a rock. She will attempt to charm the helmsman into steering the ship into the reef, which won't sink the vessel but will damage the hull severely (Enough to lose some of the bonus.) Even if the PCs manage to avoid her, she will mock them, saying that their theft has angered the Abyss and the Maelstrom and they should prepare to face the punishment. Hark, even as she speaks, the winds pick up.

Encounter Four (Battle of the Elements)

An unnatural storm rages around the ship. The marshal should keep track of the following actions:

1) The PCs should take down the sails, as Hall suggested. Otherwise, the marshal should inform the PCs that the wind utterly destroys the masts.

2) The PCs should have someone manning the tiller, or at least, try to tie it down. Otherwise, the marshal should tell them that the waves are swamping the boat.

3) The PCs should have someone manning the bilge. Otherwise, water will fill the hold.

If the PCs neglect these duties, the marshal can tell them that their ship is sinking. Remember, the PCs can relinquish the Trident to the elementals at any time, at which point the unnatural storm will immediately cease. Otherwise, the ship will sink with all hands on board.

Coming from the water rises the Water Elemental King, Neptune who demands the return of his magic trident. On the top deck, water elementals appear and attack the PCs. In the hold, water elementals materialize in the water casks, break out, and attack the PCs from that front. All of them make a bee line to the Trident of the Waves, an artifact which was stolen from them by Captain Quogg. If they manage to recover it or if the PCs toss it to Neptune, their attacks will cease and they will return to their elements with their prize. If on the other hand the PCs claim the artifact for their own, the storm will continue to rage until all the elementals are defeated.

Trident of the Waves: This potent artifact was created by Shalaah/Tsunam to enforce her/his rule over the lesser elementals. Once identified, the PC who holds it aloft and utters the command word will radiate a Repel spell against lesser water elementals, which is effective for as long as the PC brandishes the Trident.

Encounter Five (Denouncement)

The storm has blown the ship off course, leaving the PCs hopelessly lost. They can regain their bearings in the following two ways:

1) Using Eustice's Sextant of True Sight.

2) If any PC has Cratsman: Navigation, or some similar skill, the marshal can allow him to navigate successfully.

Otherwise, the PCs will muddle their way to Port Caroque, but will arrive late. The Exchequer will greet them on shore and grant them a bonus based on the following scale:

1) For delivering the cargo: 50%

2) On time: 25%

3) With the masts intact: 10%

4) With the hull intact: 15%

If the PCs sided with the mutineers and confess, the Exchequer will bring them in for a trial. Circumstances will probably allow them to be found not guilty. Also, Shankar is willing to purchase the Sextant and the Trident if the PCs so desire.