Pirates of the Hexes

Pirates of the Hexes was the name of a pirate themed hexcrawl I ran for the better part of a year. It’s not quite enough to be a full setting, but you could certainly run a fun game. The main thematic influence was the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, or at least the ones I saw.

The Setting

The hex map for our game

The World

The world is in a state of exploration. Nations have been stable and prosperous for generations. The old grow fat, and the young grow bored. This has sparked a surge in exploration and expeditions, as rich young adults set sail to claim their stake in the world. Most of the nations of The Prime have begun to realize that it isn’t quite so limitless as they once imagined.

Nations

United Anglia – The human Anglian Empire is world spanning and far reaching. This is mostly in part to the influence of the Western Exploration & Trade Company (W.E.T.C.), who acts as almost a defacto navy, and government in most of the colonies. Anglia is in charge, and owns the land, but the WE&TC sailors are the ones with boots on the ground at most colonies, and with Crown recognition as explorers, they claim territory and enforce laws at their discretion.  

Girona – The elven nation of Girona was a late start to the naval arms race, and is rapidly expanding to catch up. Thanks to the large elven families with various affiliations to the crown, some nobility of some sort is always given governance of any settlement and oversees its operations at their discretion. 

Other Nations – There are plenty of other nations and colonies and such. This game isn’t concerned with them, and they can be detailed later if you need. If a player wants an origin from some other nation, encourage them to design the culture.

Cities

Port Dayton (A) – Port Dayton was the home of the original landing at the discovery of the Bonaterra Islands. Everyone agrees the Darfallen city existed pre-WETC influence, and that they were welcomed with open arms. Disagreements are found in who built the fortifications, improved the infrastructure, and how exactly the Darfallen chieftain became an advisor of the governor. Its main function as a town, now-a-days, is to serve as a landing port for sailors from the other towns and expeditions to the interior, giving Anglia a weighty bargaining chip in disputes with Girona. As a secondary industry, the town engages in quite a large bit of logging, and ship building or repairs. The native Darfallen still farm, primarily Taro, Yams, Pineapples, and Sugar Cane.

New Turo (B) – New Turo, named after a major port on the mainland, is the first expansion city set up by the WETC after clear cutting large amounts of forest to make it safe. This city was established as part of WETC standard operating procedure for valuable island holds to enhance their claim. Future cities are planned every 50 miles around the perimeter until the island is encircled, and then, well it’s obvious who has the best claim to the island…  New Turo is almost exclusively human, with the exception of foreign sailors, and native laborers. 

Emla Banco (C) – Emla Banco is the first Gironian settlement of Bonaterra selected for its lush beaches and gentle waves. Established more as a retreat for its young Mayor, Quiyra Delimira, Emla Banco is often viewed as a bit of a joke when compared to the military precision of the other two colonies on the island. After all, how profitable can an island retreat that takes months to get to, on a hostile, unsettled island, be? For those who can make it, Emla Banco is a wonderful destination resort town, with 5 star chefs, hot baths, and gorgeous beaches.

Emla La-Mancha (D) – Emla La-Mancha is the newest Gironian settlement, founded after it was clear the main island was lost to United Anglia. Its Mayor, a much older elf with a direct succession line to the queen, was asked to step in and ensure that the entire island chain was not totally lost. As such, Emla La-Mancha is a specifically chosen to begin settlement on the second major island. From an industrial standpoint, the focus at present is on establishing the colony, and scouting other islands for additional strongholds. Once establishment is complete, in theory, it will be used in a similar manner as Port Dayton.

Playable Races

In addition to the traditional races of a fantasy game, the following are common on the Bonaterra Islands.

Darfallen

The Darfallen are a race of huge aquatic mammals, most easily recognized by their distinctive skin patterns. Originally, they tended towards small coastal communities which farmed the traditional crops of taro, yam, pineapple, and sugar cane. Most Darfallen are strict vegetarians, with the exception that they do not consider echinoderms animals, and are excellent swimmers and echinoderm hunters. After discovery, most Darfallen settlements have been abandoned. Now they tend to make their living near the newly built port towns working as guides, laborers, and farmers. 

  • Abilities: +2 Str, -2 Dex, +2 Wis
  • Size: Medium
  • Speed: 30ft land, 40ft swim. 
  • Cold Resistance 5
  • Skills: +8 racial bonus on swim, and can always take 10. 
  • Hold Breath: Can hold breath for 8 x Con score rounds. 
  • Natural Attack: Bite for 1d6+1.5 str.
  • Powerful Build
  • Echolocation: Blindsense 20ft if submerged in liquid. 
  • Languages: Darfallen, Common. Bonus Languages: Aquan, Kobold. 

Tenga

Tenga are a race of sentient avian humanoids, known for their bright feather patterns. Tenga tend to live in small flocks of 12-20, but intermingle with a wide network of any of the hundreds of flocks on the islands frequently. Often leaving and joining a new flock every few years. The flocks tend to live hunter gatherer lifestyles, and rarely remain in the same part of the jungle for more than a month at a time. Tenga are distant cousins of the more widespread Kenku. While they share similar physical traits, Tenga love to be seen and heard when compared to the stealthy Kenku.

  • Abilities: -2 Str, +2 Dex, +2 Cha
  • Size: Medium
  • Speed: 30ft land, 20ft fly 
  • Low Light Vision
  • At Will SLA: Minor Illusion
  • Great Ally: Whenever aiding another, or flanking, a Tenga grants a +4 bonus instead of the normal +2. 
  • Mimicry: A Tenga can perfectly mimic familiar sounds, voices, and accents. To duplicate a specific individual’s voice, a Tenga succeeds on a bluff check. 
  • +4 on Linguistics and Bluff checks.
  • Gain 2 languages per point invested in Linguistics.
  • Languages: Common, any 3. Bonus Languages: Auran, Gnome, Kobold. 

Olmaca

The Olmaca are a remote and isolationist people generally disinterested in those around them. They resemble a humanoid version of the islands native jaguar population. Olmaca tend to live solo lives in the jungle pairing only to mate, raise their young, and then separate at around the age of 12. This does not mean that the Olmaca are dispassionate, but rather they take pride in self reliance and don’t value company the way most societies do, preferring a live and let live approach. 

  • Humanoid
  • Abilities: +2 Dex, -2 Wis
  • Size: Medium
  • Speed: 30ft land
  • Low Light Vision, Scent
  • Natural Weapons: 2 claw attacks (1d4), a bite attack (1d6)
  • Skills: +4 Racial bonus to Acrobatics and Climb
  • Languages: Common. Bonus Languages: Darfallen, Kobold.

Less Playable Races

Kobold – According to WETC logs, the island is infested with them. Locals claim all the tunnels of the islands connect back to a central main cavern inhabited by one ancient kobold king. In practice, no one has been foolhardy enough to try and map them and find out. 

Sahuagin – The ocean floor appears to have a Sahuagin outpost somewhere below it. Periodically, they emerge for raids of the surface, dragging treasure down below, but more often than not, they simply sink ships and loot the wreckage for treasure.  

Ogres – The islands are dotted with small cannibalistic ogre tribes. Any of the known ones are eradicated in fairly short order, but new tribes are discovered on almost every expedition. 

Kadvu – The Kadvu are spoken of in hushed whispers. A band of half shark, half human warriors  and raiders. They were thought to be a myth predating the Anglian arrival, but the timing of their appearance is too coincidental to be unrelated. Mechanically, use were-sharks with the exception that they are always in hybrid form.

Plot Outline

As a hexcrawl, the plot was loose to begin with. Broadly speaking, you could use my outline of events as a framework for your own exploration. I’ll post the intent, and potentially what my group did instead.

Act 1. Getting a Ship: The party are assorted pirates hired to help crew a ship. The lead pirate needs some adventurers to go inland and get treasure for him. En route, he attempts to drug the party and knock them out (my players willingly and repeatedly ate the poison until they passed out. I’m not clear why). Once the party has handled this, they should discover that he was actually a slaver who captures and sells “hearty folk” for a mysterious witch. The party can be expected to handle him, steal the ship, and then be pirates on their own.

Act 2. The Witch: The witch is a necromancer who is building a literal skeleton crew and using it to become a pirate queen. She has various bounties out on “powerful folk” to keep the pirate competition down, and will occasionally offer to let really good ones join under her. If left alone, she continues targeting rival pirates so her ghost fleet is the most feared on the sea. Her tactics start with simply skeletal ship based raids, but as she sees particular targets are more powerful, she will escalate. First to a team of Tenga assassins she employs, and eventually to continual harassment via the nightmare spell.

Act 3. The Twist: As the PCs investigate the witch and work to end her, it should eventually come out that she has an alliance with the lead commander of the WETC. She will focus her pirate fleet on the Gironians and independent sailors, leaving the WETC shipments mostly alone. Increasing the demand for WETC protection from pirates and hurting their primary rival. In exchange, he is letting her be the queen of pirates and operate freely.

Act 4. Resolution: After the party deals with one of the two threats above (the witch or the navy) the other steps up their game and should move to fill the void left. If the WETC commander remains, he will crack down on all piracy, and enacts martial law. If the witch remains, there is no navy to stop her, and her goal is continual expansion of her empire. Her and her sublieutenants will build an undead fleet using the WETC ships and munitions, which is a major threat on the world level.

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