Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash
Extracted from Inner Sea World Guide:
Although scholars argue to this day about possible connections between Aroden’s death a century ago and the powerful storms that pummel the Inner Sea region, none can deny the impact these storms have had on the region’s inhabitants. The greatest of these storms was the Eye of Abendego, which formed just north of the Shackles. This gigantic, permanent hurricane forever changed the shipping lanes in the region. Most nations abandoned the hope of continuing trade with Sargava, and the buccaneers of the Shackles soon fell to infighting over quickly dwindling resources. Rather than succumb to complete dissolution however, the pirate lords eventually banded together to form a single, unified pirate fleet. In the spring of 4674 AR, the Free Captains of the Shackles, under the banner of their newly elected Hurricane King, began to ravage merchant shipping far to the north, near the Arch of Aroden.
The pirate lords of the Shackles sail from an assortment of outlaw ports, hiding their illicit activities behind the cover of the ravenous Eye of Abendego. Forgotten ruins of the ancient civilization of Ghol-Gan dot the island chain and treacherous coastline, their crumbling stone walls carved with horrible depictions of cannibalism and blood sacrifice. So disturbing are these images that when Chelish explorers discovered these ruins 600 years ago, they marked the region as cursed and haunted on their maps and continued south to found the colony of Sargava.
Before long, raiders began to prey upon the lucrative trade between Sargava and Cheliax, using the countless natural harbors among these islands to hide from Chelish warships. These pirate havens soon grew into small communities that eventually even accepted legitimate merchants and businesses.
Over the past 30 years, the corsairs of the Shackles have enjoyed unprecedented success. All of the Free Captains are skilled at skirting the dangerous fringes of the Eye of Abendego, giving them an easy escape route from less experienced pilots. Foreign powers continue to launch attempts to suppress the pirates of the Shackles, but few meet with any success. The Shackles themselves have endured two major invasions—once by Cheliax and once by Rahadoum—but in both cases the invaders met with disaster, losing most of their fleets to the merciless winds and treacherous currents of the Eye.
The Shackles today consist of a motley collection of bandit and slave ports, where freebooters find safe harbor and trade their ill-gotten plunder with unscrupulous merchants. Their populace is mostly runaway criminals, escaped slaves, and buyers seeking proscribed goods such as drugs, poisons, and other disreputable wares. A powerful Free Captain rules each port, divvying the loot from recent raids and dispensing pirate justice as needed.
The overlord of the Shackles is the Hurricane King Kerdak Bonefist, captain of the man-o’-war Filthy Lucre, flagship of the Shackles fleet and one of the few ships in the Inner Sea region to be fully outfitted with Alkenstar cannons. Captain Bonefist’s obsession with firearms extends to his personal weaponry—he carries a magic pistol and claims to have shot dead no fewer than a hundred scoundrels, lawmen, and landlubbers since he procured the valuable weapon. He heads a council of pirate lords, each of whom commands his or her own fleet of ships and rules one of the Shackles’s numerous islands, ports, or anchorages. While Bonefist is king by virtue of his possession of Port Peril and command of the strongest fleet in the Shackles, in reality he reigns at the sufferance of the council’s most powerful lords. Tessa Fairwind, Mistress of Quent and captain of the sloop-of-war Luck of the Draw, is a popular figure throughout the Shackles. Rumor has it that Lady Tessa is next in line for the Hurricane Crown, either by acclaim or by force. The mysterious druid-captain known as the Master of the Gales rules Drenchport and commands the xebec Kraken, accompanied by his giant squid companion. Avimar Sorrinash, cruel captain of the brig Blood Moon, is lord of Ollo. When the Blood Moon returns fresh from a successful foray on the high seas, Sorrinash and his werewolf crew often roam Shark Island in orgiastic hunts of celebratory destruction. The disgraced Chelish admiral Arronax Endymion is of lesser importance, but still a force to be reckoned with on the council. He leads a squadron of Chelish mutineers called the Devils’ Own from his flagship, the former imperial frigate Tyrannous.
Most Free Captains command only a single ship or small flotilla, and are beholden to one of the more powerful pirate lords who control the various ports and islands of the Shackles. These lesser captains have the opportunity to increase their station by entering the Free Captain’s Regatta, a grueling annual race among the most treacherous sandbars and reefs at the fringes of the Eye of Abendego. Entrants must be captains of their own ships and pay a purse fee of 500 gold pieces. The course changes every year, and many who enter the contest never return to port, but the rewards ensure a large number of competitors every year—the winner receives the total purse from all entrants, and is awarded a seat on the Pirate Council, as well as lordship of a small island or anchorage. In recent years, the Regatta has not resulted in any changes in the Pirate Council’s membership, as the Master of the Gales has won the last 5 years in a row.
The majority of those who dwell in the Shackles are human, although half-orcs and half-elves are more common than elsewhere. Tengus dwell in large numbers in the region, with many of the cities having sizable tengu districts known as rookeries—having a tengu “mascot” on board is thought by many pirates to bring good luck, due to a popular local superstition that tengus “soak up” bad luck. In the wilder regions of the isles, goblins inhabit many of the scattered ruins of the Shackles, as do the race of savage cannibalistic degenerates called kuru, humans believed to be possessed by the spirits of the ruins’ original inhabitants. Lizardfolk raiders also make occasional sorties from the swamps of the Sodden Lands to the north. The waters of the Shackles are home to sharks, enormous cephalopods, and scattered communities of locathahs. Sahuagin villages are present near the western isles, particularly around Ollo, while water nagas dwell on the mainland’s southern coast. Farther west, feared dragon turtles prey upon ships making the dangerous passage around the Eye of Abendego.
The Shackles have only one true ally—the former Chelish colony of Sargava. In exchange for defending the colony from Cheliax, the Free Captains receive regular tribute of trade goods, including slaves, from the baron of Sargava. Elsewhere, the marauders of the Shackles are feared and hated, particularly by Cheliax and Rahadoum, who bear the brunt of the Free Captains’ depredations, as do the wealth-laden ships of the Aspis Consortium out of Bloodcove.
Cannibal Isles: Beyond Shark Island, the westernmost islets of the Shackles are uninhabited by any freebooter or pirate lord. Known as the Cannibal Isles, this scattering of tiny atolls contains numerous ruins of Ghol-Gan, now populated by degenerate kuru cannibals. By day, the islands seem peaceful enough, but at night, torchlit processions f licker through the jungle trees, and a horrible, guttural chanting can be heard rising into the night sky. Ignorant captains who drop anchor in the atolls’ peaceful lagoons find their ships overwhelmed during the night, their crews carried off to some unknown and terrible fate. A legless old beggar in Quent named Strong-Arm Hix claims to be the last survivor of the crew of the Spindrift Reaver, which landed on the Cannibal Isles 50 years ago. According to Hix, the kuru took the crew to a flooded temple in an isolated lagoon, where his shipmates were eaten alive as sacrifices to a god the kuru called “The Blood Queen.” Hix himself managed to escape in one of the kuru’s dugout canoes, but not before the cannibals took both of his legs.
Drenchport: The dour city of Drenchport huddles on Tempest Cay. Its storm-lashed buildings are built of waterlogged driftwood and f lotsam from wrecked ships. An infamous tavern called the Drowned Dwarf stands at Drenchport’s edge and is known as much for its remarkably high murder rate as for its cheap but strangely delicious black kelp beer.
Hell Harbor: Numerous imps roost on the rooftops of this port, giving the anchorage its name. Hell Harbor is famous as the home of the Shackles’ sole opera house, the Three- Horned Hall, which hosts numerous productions of High Chelish Opera in the original Azlanti. Arronax Endymion, lord of Hell Harbor, is well known as an aficionado of traditional Chelish opera (rather than the “new” opera currently popular in Cheliax), and those seeking to curry favor with him are often found filling the seats. Ironically, ethnic Chelaxians are not welcome in Hell Harbor, as Arronax fears retribution from his homeland. The disgraced admiral has even recently introduced a program to exterminate the imps in the skies above Hell Harbor, lest any of the infernal pests be spying on behalf of Cheliax.
Neruma: This trading enclave on the shores of the Terwa River is one of the few mainland settlements in the Shackles. Neruma deals in the shipment of artifacts and slaves from the Mwangi Expanse and the Sodden Lands, providing an extra source of income for the Pirate Council. Unknowingly built on traditional lizardfolk breeding grounds, Neruma has come under repeated attack recently from lizardfolk raiders from the north intent on reclaiming their lost territory.
Ollo: The people of the wretched port of Ollo are sullen and fearful, for the sahuagin that live just off Shark Island regularly raid the town for food and plunder with the permission of the community’s unscrupulous lord.
Port Peril: The Shackles’s largest port, Port Peril is located on the mainland overlooking Jeopardy Bay. Fort Hazard, the fortress retreat of the Hurricane King, dominates the walled city and its deepwater harbor from the bluffs above the city. The twisting streets of Port Peril are lined with taverns, brothels, gambling halls, and other vice dens. Its teeming market squares do a brisk trade in all manner of stolen goods and contraband, such as Tian silks, Qadiran spices, Nidalese poisons, and Mwangi relics. Untold riches from years of plunder and tribute are said to be hidden away in the sea caves beneath the city.
Quent: The lively city of Quent is perhaps the most open port of the Pirate Isles, and the sacred prostitutes of Calistria at the House of Stolen Kisses are known as the best information brokers in the Shackles for those seeking gossip, blackmail, or revenge.
Slipcove: This small port is home to the largest population of half lings in the Shackles, thanks to the work of Jolis Raff les, lord of Bag Island and captain of the former Chelish slave galley Chains of Freedom, crewed entirely by freed half ling slaves. A former galley slave himself, Raff les preys only on Chelish slave ships, rescuing their living cargoes and offering them new lives in the free ports of the Shackles. For all the nobility of his cause, however, rumors abound that Raff les makes a tidy profit reselling those slaves who don’t wish to join his crew or settle on his island.
Temple of the Ravenous Moon: High in the peaks of the Terwa Uplands stands an ancient ziggurat of bone-white stone, marbled with veins of blood red. The disturbing carvings on the ziggurat’s walls give the edifice its name, with graphic depictions of mass blood sacrifices atop the temple beneath a swollen moon with a horribly grinning, fang-filled maw. Even the savage kuru tribes give the temple a wide berth, leading to no end of speculation about what might lie within. The Hurricane King has sent two expeditions to explore the ruined ziggurat and recover any secrets that might be left inside, but none have returned. Whatever their fate, rumor has it that the Pathfinder Society lodge in Nantambu is readying its own mission to survey the temple.
Raptor Island: West of Shark Island lies notorious Raptor Island, a jungle-covered uninhabited land ruled by ravenous packs of deinonychuses. Normally overwhelmed in size by other dinosaurs, on Raptor Island, the deinonychuses are the largest predator. Pirate lords are fond of stranding malcontents upon the shores of Raptor Island—a fate most crews consider to be as harrowing as keelhauling. Rumors of surviving bands of exiles on the isle do little to lessen these fears.
The Slithering Coast: The southern coast of the mainland Shackles is known as the Slithering Coast for the large populations of venomous sea snakes and territorial water nagas that lair in the many rocky inlets along the coastline. While the sea snakes are rarely a danger to humanoids, enterprising alchemists and assassins regularly venture to the Slithering Coast to harvest the snakes’ venom. The water nagas, on the other hand, pose a much greater danger, as they are unafraid to attack and kill anyone trespassing near their lairs. The nagas are storehouses of local information, however, and a few Free Captains are known to cultivate friendly relationships with these reclusive beings in the hope of gleaning useful knowledge that might set them above their peers.