[TSOY] Near's Pirate Isles: Pere-di-Fey

Started by shadowcourt, March 16, 2009, 07:08:09 PM

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I confess that I have a fondness for designing new nations in Near to meet the needs of my campaigns, and one that's been a staple for a number of Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System games we've played has been the pirate islands of Pere-di-Fey. I figured I'd post it here, for people to critique and lift from as they see fit. As always, comments and criticism are quite welcome.

I should preface this by saying that I have a soft spot for piracy and swashbuckling, and the nation of Pere-di-Fey is an outgrowth of this. My own personal map of Near places Ammeni and Zaru as a subcontinent on its own in the Eastern Ocean, meaning that there's a lot more sea-trade than there might otherwise be on your own visions of Near. Naturally, even if you don't opt for this choice, there are still opportunities to place Pere-di-Fey in a useful location in your world(s), particularly if shipping vessels which hug the coastline of Maldor and the other nations can travel faster than slow-moving overland caravans. I leave it for others to decide what works best for them.


Few names inspire equal dread in the Lords of Maldor and the Ammenite Houses as the tiny patchwork nation of Pere-di-Fey. The Feyans are a continual thorn in the side of Near's trading nations, a ragtag group of pirate fleets who somehow manage to raid better-armed slave ships and cogs, stealing Maldorite ore, Ammenite spices and grain ships, Khalean trade goods, and riches from Qek, and harassing Ammenite slavers. The most maddening aspect of the Feyans is their continued capacity to strike at trade routes and fade into the fog—repeated attempts by Ammenite and Maldorite patrols have found no islands where the colony of Pere-di-Fey was once located, another mystery of the post-Shadow age. Some terrified sailors claim that the Feyans are nothing but ghosts or legends, but the raids continue, and the rumors of Pere-di-Fey are difficult to lay to rest. Those who dwell within port communities in Maldor, Goren, Khale, and even Qek have first-hand evidence: Feyan pirates are quite real, and ready to make their mark upon Near forever.

Time Before Tide
The truth of Pere-di-Fey is a bizarre one, but one which has protected the fledgling pirate nation from destruction by other powers. Pere-di-Fey was once little more than a trading port used by Ammeni, used to restock ship provisions and let sailors blow off steam, a chain of islands in the Great Eastern Sea. Generally a raucous series of port towns, the fear of the discipline of the pre-Shadow Ammenite Houses were sufficient to keep their sailors in line, though licentiousness, rum, and poiture were frequent vices among the population.

Maritime Ammenites and Zaru slaves were not the only denizens of the Feyan islands, however. The bulk of the population were farmers who worked the rocky and sandy islands, and the division between Zaru field-hands and the minimal wealth of local plantation owners made the normally stark contrast between master and servant in Ammeni more blurry in Pere-di-Fey. Complicating this further were the elusive Kairakau, dusky-skinned island folk who lived a simple subsistence lifestyle, alternately trading with or raiding Ammenite farms. The Kairakau possessed an eerie ability to disappear from Ammenite scouting sloops, as if they sank into the islands themselves.

As the Skyfire loomed in the heavens above Near, many of the Ammenite naval detatchments were withdrawn to consolidate power in Ammeni, dealing with unrest among Zaru and the common folks. The Year of Shadow brought tsunamis and fierce winds to the Feyan islands, which had already been all but abandoned by authority figures from the Houses. Feyan settlers died in great numbers, despite the small size of the colonies, and as the skies grew dark, the islands themselves began to shake, seeming to shrug and break apart.

Surely the collected Feyan settlers would have perished were it not for the sudden emergence of the Kairakau. Their priests, the land-speakers, said that this was a time of great change, and that the islands on which they all lived would never be the same. Only by following the Kairakau to safety would the Feyan settlers survive. Left with no other choice but perishing in storm and darkness, the colonists boarded the canoes of the Kairakau and paddled with them... into the mouths of the islands themselves. Sand and trees shook away, and the islands rose, no mere inert land-masses but great sea creatures, monstrous and vast turtles and fish who had slept for centuries as their backs gathered earth and vegetation. The Kairakau believed the sleeping islands were their gods and brothers, and had learned to find shelter in safe spaces within their dormant bodies. As these leviathans swam to warmer waters, or dove to depths where the encroaching ice was no danger, the Feyans did their best to understand the bizarre philosophies and practices of the reclusive Kairakau; in some cases, the distrustful natives were often as much jailors as saviors, tight-lipped about the body-geography of the god-islands and only willing to provide for the basic needs of the Feyans. An uneasy peace existed, occasionally erupting into violence and dooming one or both sides, as well as their giant aquatic hosts.

Out of The Belly of the Whale
While other nations tenuously began to explore their transformed world in the post-Shadow era, the Feyans were thrust abruptly into a new world. Most of the leviathans resurfaced in new waters, and as the seas thawed the Feyans were the first to explore the new wild oceans of Near. The tensions of being forced into close quarters with the Kairakau eased as both groups explored the geography around them, foraging and finding materials to build new ships amid the new islands. They were the first to learn how the moon, a strange white sphere in the heavens, ruled the more powerful tides of Near's waters, and necessity forced them to make raids along the shorelines of Ammeni, Maldor, and Khale. Their great assets were the rough waters which other cultures had yet to fully master, and the lazy movement of their "island" homes. The leviathans seemed content to drift in a semi-dozed state, tired from the exertions of surviving the Year of Shadow. Even in places where all Feyan and Kairakau interaction ceased, the new Feyans had learned something of the strange practices of their erstwhile hosts: their symbionts.

The Kairakau who best understood the halatu, the "land-god-brethren", were those who practiced bonding rituals with the talalag, the "body-brothers". These creatures seemed to be crustaceans, insects, and other creatures, sometimes as small as a human fingernail, sometimes as large as a human's limb or chest. Somehow, they were living things who existed in a relationship with the halatu, akin to pilot fish and sharks, but much more complex. The Kairakau regarded the talalag as both children and brothers to the leviathans, and had learned that the talalag could bond with men as they bonded with the halatu, becoming part of an extended family of siblings and parents at once. The most curious, intuitive, and diplomatic of the Feyans had gained some knowledge of these practices, as well, and the practice of joining with "symbionts" (as the Feyans called them in their own tongue) grew. This proved particularly advantageous when it became clear that a bonded symbiont had an instinctive pull back towards the halatu, the living islands of Pere-di-Fey. Now navigators in symbiotic relationships could find the slow drifting island-leviathans, charting unfamiliar waters to make it back home. When Ammenite and Maldorite ships eventually became ambitious enough to pursue these pirates back to their home ports, they found only empty waters.

The New Age of Piracy
As the Feyan "islands" slowly re-discovered each other over the next few years, the communities which had formed of survivors inside the bodies of the leviathans realized they had great differences, but also much in common. Meetings upon the open seas grew more frequent, and eventually small leagues of raiding vessels formed, joined together to capitalize on their mutual strengths and defend against common foes. These pirate leagues became the backbone of the scattered Feyan "nation", which remained bound together by the maritime skill of their navigators (occasionally assisted by symbiotic links) and the occasional rejoining of the islands for reasons that were clear only to the leviathans themselves. If the Kairakau land-speakers knew more, they would not say, returning to their reclusive ways on many of their living land-masses.

While need for food and other resources increased the frequency of Feyan raids on other communities and foreign vessels, the greatest external social pressure pushing the scattered colonists into a unified status as a new nation was the contempt of Ammeni, who saw all-too-familiar colors among Feyan vessels and crews. Naval battles with Ammenite patrols and Maldorite privateers became increasingly frequent, forcing the pirate crews to band together into tighter leagues and cement stronger alliances. These leagues became the primary source of supplies for their land-bound families, and were soon looked to as the government of the islands. Families pushed their young and capable members to join the crew of a ship, knowing they would send provide wealth and prestige for the family; the most successful might even retire after a number of years to a comfortable position as one of the colony's Council members.

A Nation of Foreigners
Expatriate Ammenites humans and goblins were the first of these Feyan pirates, some of whom held Zaru survivors of the Skyfire cataclysm as personal servants and cabin-mates. After several on Ammenite slave vessels produced large groups of slaves with no market to sell them in, the Feyans adopted a practice of liberating Zaru, allowing them to either work the living islands' struggling farmlands or join their crews as full members. The process is far from truly democratic—some tyrannical captains still hold liberated Zaru in thrall, demanding they work off the price of their liberation in service, but these customs are viewed as impractical by many of the Feyan leagues, and too reminiscent of the Ammenites, whom current Feyan social custom view with extreme distaste as their most dire enemies.

The other new boon to struggling Pere-di-Fey was the emergence of the ratkin in the post-Shadow era. Discovered slinking around ports in Ammeni and Maldor, the Feyans first entered into smuggling relationships with the ratkin, and soon found themselves with ratkin crew members. Quick-breeding generations of ratkin ran rampant throughout the Feyan colonies, and the anger which their presence inspires in most Ammenites only endeared them to the Feyans further. There are said to be some leagues who have a vessel or two crewed entirely by ratkin acting with the single-minded intensity of their packs, though the idea that they'd be unwilling to replenish their numbers with human, goblin, or elven sailors seems unlikely.

Feyan practice has also encouraged the "impressment" of captured sailors, particularly in situations where an attacked ship is entirely stripped or taken as spoils. Captured sailors who are believed to have sufficient skill and independence to shrug off their former national ties and become Feyans in their own right are offered The Choice—"Join or die." Those who simply can't be trusted or refuse the opportunity are either marooned, killed, or left to drift, depending on the predilections of captain or crew.

As a result of these practices, there are Feyans of Khalean, Qek, and Gorenish origins, beyond the Zaru who have been liberated by Feyan raids. There are also Maldorites and Ammenites who have actively joined a Feyan crew, or been impressed into service. How well these foreigners are integrated into their crews and community varies from person to person. Some scholars from Maldor and surgeons from Ammeni spend their whole lives serving with a Feyan crew, longing to find a way to escape back home but fearing the bloody reprisal from their captain and boatswain. Others eventually come to accept their new lives, and even swear off any perceived ties to their former homelands.

Feyan culture has a dizzying array of social practices combed from all over Near. Ammenite and Zaru cuisine is common, while styles of dress range from the furs of the Gorenish to the simple loincloths and body painting of the Qek. Strong liquor from all nations is popular, and Ammenite drugs are particularly prized. Inventive swearing in a dozen languages is quite popular, and the common Feyan dialect contains words from tongues across the globe of Near, making it distinct to the ears of Pere-di-Fey's enemies, albeit occasionally hard for a foreigner to fully comprehend.

By far the most extravagant mixture of foreign cultures in Pere-di-Fey comes from the superstitions and spiritual practices of the Feyans. To outsiders, Feyans seem full of odd customs and folk practices. The sea is a cruel mistress, and Feyan sailors treasure any folk tradition which has spared the life of a sailor they've known or heard of. Cats are seen as lucky creatures, and are frequently kept aboard a ship. The number four is an ill omen, as is the color red, the tears of a widow, walking through a spider's web, or seeing a dog before a person upon waking. Only a fool sets sail under the new moon, or doesn't keep a spare coin in each boot for luck. A wise man pours a few drops out from his first cup for his friends he has not seen, breaks bread and never cuts it, never tells a joke about a dead man, and doesn't sleep with a knife under his pillow unless he wants to wake to violence. Fears about ghosts and evil spirits are common, and all manners of protective charms, amulets, and tokens are highly prized.

The most visible manifestation of these superstitions is the belief in a ship's mascot, a living person who will serve as figurehead and good luck charm for the crew. The mascot is always a virgin, either male or female, and serves as spiritual advisor for a crew. The wealthiest captains give presents and fine clothing to their mascots, tying them to the prow of the ship when leaving port or in a storm to scatter flower petals on the waves and sing songs. Should a ship become lost, the mascot is consulted as a source of impulsive fortune, and a word of warning or a bad dream related by a mascot gives even the canniest navigator pause. Most mascots will read fortunes and interpret dreams for other crew members, and a captain looks anxiously to any sign of illness or misfortune to their mascot. Sickness or death invariably spells doom for a crew, as much from the loss of morale among sailors as anything else. In desperate straits such as those, a captain might attack any nearby vessel, hoping to impress a replacement mascot into service, even if that young person is not of Feyan origin, and even if unwilling.

The mascot's purity is also paramount to the Feyan mindset, but that doesn't stop the temptations of this young beautiful creature aboard the ship preying on the minds of the sailors. Many sad songs and dramas are told among Feyans of crewmen who fell in love with their mascot, and the doom which was brought to the ship thereby. Despite all the warnings—or perhaps because of how they are constantly agonized over as the greatest of all tragic romances—these things happen.


(ran out of space in my first post to include this stuff, so I'm just attaching it as a reply...)

Life in the Pirate Isles
Over a tenth of the Feyan population serves actively on board a ship in some capacity, or has done so for several years in the past. A small contingent of these vessels do little more than patrol the waters around the leviathan-islands, but most don't relegate their time to such passive activities. In general, the drifting movements of the leviathans keep the Feyan colonies safe, giving corsairs an opportunity to actively go on raids for wealth and the resources the islands require. Sailors are required to sign Articles specific to the League they join, which operates as an extended crime family. Leagues can and do war with each other on occasion, but this is only common when personal sleights between captains become too serious to ignore (lovers' quarrels being the most common, but competitions over prestige and legacy are also popular) or when available resources become so scarce that hungry and envious eyes turn towards one's kinsmen. Those who sign the Articles train to sail a vessel, steal, and fight, as Pere-di-Fey conducts no real trade at sea other than piracy. A fortunate and successful sailor might find himself made first mate, boatswain, or captain of a vessel. From there, he is almost guaranteed an opportunity to retire in style and wealth, likely becoming a Councilor for his home island if he has ambitions towards politics.

The rest of Pere-di-Fey's population works either in fishing, farming, crafts (which run from carpentry to surgery), or hospitality. The last of these professions ranges from those who maintain inns and taverns (despite the fact that many Feyan pirates have a home on the islands to return to, places for carousing or for visitors are quite common) and boarding houses (for those newly impressed into service), to musicians, entertainers, and those willing to sell their companionship. Feyan law makes no restrictions on vices, but theft and violence are matters which are turned over to the port's Council. The Council seats are given almost exclusively to those who have held captaincy at some point in their lives, though most of these groups have at least a single Council seat which represents the land-living folk, ensuring that farmers and crafters have at least some voice. No active captain is permitted a Council seat; indeed, though the Leagues push and pull for more and more control over an individual port by trying to hold more Councilors who were former members, the one sacrosanct law of Pere-di-Fey is "port truce." Violence among Feyans is forbidden while on the islands of Pere-di-Fey itself, and so rival captains are expected to find a way to live peaceably or else take their matters out to sea to settle affairs. In situations where only bloodshed will end a feud, dueling platforms are floated out on long tethers into open water, and combatants are rowed out to settle matters on a shifting, rocking surface. The survivor, if any, swims back to shore, confident that the matter is resolved.

While the legends the old folks tell say that Pere-di-Fey was once richer in agricultural bounty before the Skyfire, the earth and plants which were shaken from the backs of the leviathan-islands have made the Feyans into hardscrabble farmers. Each year, plantations struggle to raise enough food to supply their communities, relying on raiding to supply the rest. Some islands are naturally richer than others, but even the worst of them do not have settlers dwelling solely on the stony shell-backs of the living islands. There are leviathans who are sandier than others, but none are without life, and all are long enough (the smallest being over three miles from nose to tail) that scrounging is possible. Beyond plants, the richest islands have birds and monkeys on them, as well as rodents, cats, wild dogs, and even boars. Some of these have been deliberate attempts on the parts of Feyan pirates to stock islands with plenty of game, which has met with varying results. Aquatic life is thankfully common around many of the leviathan islands, and fish, octopus, squid, and eels make up a prominent part of the Feyan diet.

Beyond these foreign species, there are the talalag themselves, found independently or in swarms in and on the bodies of the leviathans. Those Feyans who have successfully bonded in symbiotic relationships have some insight into these creatures, but their minds are alien in the extreme. It is not uncommon to see a Feyan with a creature like a starfish, lamprey, or crab bonded to their body somewhere, a gently pulsing symbiont which shares life fluids and strengths with its host, both benefiting from the exchange. However, some Feyan communities have been attacked repeatedly by angry swarms of skittering insect-like talalag, and attempts to pacify the creatures or discern their reasoning have proved futile. The Kairakau regard those movements as signs of the god-brethren displeasure, and abandon or avoid those leviathans. As to whether these rampages are a sign of leviathan anger, or merely illness, none can say for certain.

The greatest problem for resources on the backs of the leviathan islands are the lack of metals and minerals. No ore has ever been mined from the body of a leviathan, and the shells of many of them are so dense that they might as well be granite. Some Feyans have had moderate success quarying shell-stone, but the Kairakau view such actions with displeasure, and have sometimes attacked those communities. The richest islands have some wood, but the primary source of lumber comes from scavenges and raids of other, non-living islands which the leviathans pass by in their drifting, or from ships which are scuttled and pulled apart. It is not uncommon for a Feyan home to be composed of the remnants of two or three different ships. The Kairakau use bone carefully harvested from the leviathans as a primary element of their material culture, shaping anything from spears to war-shirts to canoes. Blood and dung are used as body paint, and skin and massive scales are frequent constituents of clothing.
No other culture on Near experiences the forced nomadic lifestyle of the Feyan islands; some peoples move, but their lands remain still. Among Pere-di-Fey, the islands themselves move unpredictably—often in a slow drift, but sometimes with surprising speed and intent. Many Feyans have tried to discern the habits and predilections of their homes, and speculation as to where a leviathan will head next is as frequent a conversation topic as discussing the weather in other countries. Among the Kairakau, the priestly land-speakers serve as symbiotic shamans, whose trances and mastery over the talalag are frequently seen as having special insight into the leviathans. Nonetheless, they seem reluctant to divulge the thoughts of their god-brothers to outsiders; many of the shamans are as slow-moving and taciturn as the islands themselves, though stories are told in Feyan ports of a Kairakau shaman whose accidental murder resulted in a leviathan diving beneath the waves in revenge (or was it mourning?), drowning the entire colony that dwelt on its back.


In Part 2, I'll get crunchy, including Cultural Abilities, Secrets, and Keys, particularly giving some note to the Symbiont Secrets, and my own take on how to handle Ship Secrets on Near, but I figured I'd start out fluffy, and go from there.

A Postscript, on Part 1
Pere-di-Fey in its current incarnation may not suit everyone's tastes. There's stuff going on in here, such as living islands and creepy symbionts, which might bend or break some people's tolerances, particularly around TSOY's old "No gods, no monsters, just people" inscription. For me, this is just the sort of thing that fits in an interesting place in that kind of "pumpkin fantasy" beautifully. I've always viewed that caveat as referring to the fact that we're getting rid of the notion of directionless, ambitionless "monsters" who exist solely to inhabit a dungeon and go "RAWR!" at the appropriate moment, and ditto for gods who are there to dictate plot and swoop down and tell people who to behave when things get ethically or emotionally complicated. I say boo to both of those, the same as Clinton did way back when. We do have things in TSOY which would be seen as "monsters" in another setting--goblins and ratkin spring to mind immediately, but consider zombie crocodiles and the like--but the difference comes from them having some emotional weight to them. In TSOY, these things don't lurk in a dungeon with no more plot relevance than to see themselves fulfilled by jumping out at adventurer types. The same is true of the leviathans and symbionts above. They interact with the plot in a more complex way, hopefully prompting harder questions than just "What gets around the gorgon's Damage Reduction again?" or "Should we use a healing spell to hurt that wight, or would it be better used to heal my players?"

Hopefully, the leviathans and symbionts are going to be real things with their own motivations, complicating the lives of the people they interact with, and having a soul and a poetry to them all their own, if treated right. Entering into symbiosis should ideally prompt questions about identity, the self, control, and what it means to be bonded to someone or something else. The leviathans are a reason to make islands move around and be a little more mysterious, but they could just as easily be "we don't know why these islands drift; we live in a magical world" scenarios. I just chose to make the organic nature of the place a factor that could be played with. Hopefully, that takes care of the "no monsters" aspect.

As to the "no gods", I should be clear that the leviathans are big fish-turtles (and symbiotic bugs that exist in a mutualistic relationship with life around them); just because the Kairakau worship them and call them gods doesn't mean they're any more god-like than the trees the Khaleans venerate or the sun which Maldorites keep worshiping. The fact that these are active big things which can theoretically be pushed around, or push other people around, hopefully becomes a fresh element to TSOY, not a mood-breaker.

But, everyone knows what will and work best for their own games. Caveat emptor.

As I said at the front, comments, suggestions, questions, criticisms, and the like are all quite welcome.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


I'm actually interested in crunch that bends TSoY's assumptions, as I still struggle with stuff like monsters etc. for Solar System.



QuoteI'm actually interested in crunch that bends TSoY's assumptions, as I still struggle with stuff like monsters etc. for Solar System.

Would you be willing to talk about the nature of this struggle, and the problems therein? Is it about how to make them more than cardboard cutouts in the system, or increase challenge? I may have faced some of the same problems, as may some of the other Storyguides and players around the forum.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


Yes, I would. Is it well-placed here, or do you want another thread for that?


Let's do a separate thread... I bet it's relevant to any number of genres, for instance, and I suspect we'll whirl away into all sorts of interesting digressions and innovations which are only marginally relevant to wacky Near pirate islands.

Harald, perhaps you could get us rolling, quoting this thread if you want to, just so I (and others) have a sense of what sort of questions and concerns you're thinking about?


-shadowcourt (aka Josh)

Eero Tuovinen

Josh: I'm reading, this is the third thread I'll need to comment in about your work. Good going. One of these days when I'm not feeling so tired I'll engage in some discussion in these threads, I promise.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T

I just wanted to say this very good stuff. I like how extensively you've covered all the bases: not only culture, religion, customs, but also the logistics of hierarchy, rulership, food production, etc...

It all seems very coherent and well thought-out. Kudos!


Well, lovely then. As people are excited, I'll start getting crunchy about things. As I might've said before, there are two major rules-sets which are beyond the ordinary Cultural Abilities and Secrets, so I'll start with the more obvious of the two, which is all about ships.

Sailing the Seas of Near
I've read some of the threads which have discussed how to do ships in TSOY/Solar System, particularly all the stuff that's here . While I liked elements of those, there's a lot of focus on science fiction elements there, including the whiz-bang of technology and different ship positions, and in the low-tech grunginess of Near, I don't know if it really applies.  I've been using my own stuff for some similar effects for awhile, so much so that I was pleasantly surprised to see how often people came to the same conclusions, though there have been some minor differences. I wonder if my own rules need some revision, though so I'm presenting them here for comments and analysis.

The premise behind this rules set is to be able to have rollicking sea adventures in the freebooter tradition, and possibly just as easily play privateers in the employ of a nation or even the naval forces for a government. As it's tailor made for Near, there's less of a focus on technology and much more on grumbly sailor types and how to marshal them into doing useful things. It's specially made with Pere-di-Fey in mind, but should work well with any nation that could put larger boats out there (anything the size of a large fishing vessel and beyond). It tries to provide quick access to a boat of some quality and a crew to staff it for just the price of a Secret or two (so you don't put all your Advances in this one basket) and yet allow people to customize and get as flavorful or deep into it as they want.

Vessel Pools
Vessels are almost treated as if they're their own entities, complete with a standard Harm Track and Pools. All vessels have two pools, Structure and Morale.

Structure is fairly self-evident; it's the physical design of the ship, often synonymous with its repair and upkeep. This is the kind of Harm a ship takes when its fired upon by an enemy vessel, wrecked by natural disasters (storms, rocks, etc.), or generally not maintained and kept seaworthy. A ship's Structure pool is refreshed through actions which repair and maintain the vessel, or improve upon it. In general, this is the sort of thing that happens when a ship is docked or taken to a shipyard, and it's rare to be able to refresh Structure while a ship is sailing.

Morale represents the well-being of a vessel's crew, and their general capability to get tasks done. Harm to morale can come in the form of death or injury to a crew (such as from disease or attacks) or in the form of general discontent (such as grumbling crew members and even mutiny). A ship that has a Morale Pool rated at 0 has no crew (essentially an empty hulk), and one that has a low rating has either a very small crew of dedicated individuals or a large one which is hard to motivate. A ship refreshes Morale by providing for the well-being of its crew, such as through shore leave, provisioning, hiring new members, giving your crew special privileges and loot, and any actions which improve the loyalty and faith of the group. Morale refreshes more easily happen in dock, the same with Structure, but there are plenty of possibilities for them while in transit, for a creative captain.

When ships take Harm, they typically recover through Pool expenditure, using Morale points to heal harm to the crew and complement, and Structure points to repair the vessel's functioning and form. Additionally, certain Ability checks can be made to recover Harm, just as First-Aid and Counsel are used. In some situations, these are detailed in various Abilities and Secrets, where appropriate. A few worth noting are here:

  • Any time a crew can beach a ship and work on it for a day, they can make a Crew ability check to heal Structure-based Harm equal to the Success Level of the check.
  • Any time a captain of a vessel, or its commanding officers, can spend a day recruiting new sailors to join the crew, they can make an appropriate Ability check to heal Morale-based Harm equal to the Success Level of the check. This might involve anything from Orate or Captain checks in a port town or tavern, or Intimidate checks if you have a captive audience, like a vessel you've captured and their crew who you're about to strand.

Of course, you can take a ship to Bloodied or Broken through either Harm track, or both. An attack designed to capture a ship might open with volleys of armaments, if both ships possess them, and then close to short-range weapons like bows and thrown items, and finally end in boarding actions. This could easily begin as Structure-based Harm and finish the crew with Morale-based Harm. A ship which is seized by dealing entirely Morale Harm is in pristine condition, and could very well be grounds for someone buying a new Secret of the Vessel and taking command himself. A ship which is destroyed via Structure-based Harm is sunk, and what happens to its crew is determined through follow-up contests or the stakes set in the conflict.

Basic Vessel Abilities
All ships, by default, have at least these basic abilities to function. Without them, they aren't functional vessels at all, but inert hulks or crews who have no ship to call their own.
Construction (Structure): This ability determines how hardy and seaworthy your vessel is, how it absorbs damage from a variety of sources. If a ship is forced to simply defend passively against harm, as opposed to maneuvering or running away, the Construction ability is used. This includes facing harm from a source which can't be outrun or avoided, like lightning or storm. It is also the ability used to deal Harm when you decide to ram another vessel.
Crew (Morale): This represents the abilities of the ship's crew to perform essential functions on the vessel, including most of its day-to-day repairs and handling as well as taking care of themselves and their needs. Many Secrets which improve the abilities of the crew, or allow them to do special things (such as board other vessels or fight effectively) draw on this Ability. At their minimum, Crew checks can be made once a day to repair Structure-based Harm to a vessel. Crew checks can also be made to defend a ship, but they do so at a penalty die under most circumstances, as your typical sailors are simply not automatically trained to fight.
Maneuver (Structure): Some ships sleek and hard to pin down, nimbly avoiding others and slipping through difficult areas. This ability represents the maneuverability of the vessel, and its capacity to turn to face foes, slip past them, and navigate under pressure. It serves as the Stealth ability for a vessel, and also serves for many feats which on the personal level would represent nimbleness.
Speed (Structure): Maneuver allows you to be nimble, but Speed allows you to be fast. Use this ability to outrun enemy vessels or beat the typical time for a journey you're about to make.

The Crew ability bears some special discussion, as it is used in chains with the other Abilities in an important way. Ship and crew are one, and a speedy vessel with an inept crew doesn't get the most out of its sails and design, nor does it turn as quickly as it could just from having a high Maneuver ability. As such, most Speed and Maneuver checks require the Crew ability to be chained into it, as if two people were working together; just like any cooperation, the lowest-rated Ability goes last. A ship with a Speed of 3 and a Crew of 1 rolls its Speed chained to its Crew, not the other way around; the relatively green crew can't get the maximum performance out of this ship. By the same token, a Crew rating of 4 can only coax so much dexterity of a big freighter with a Maneuver of 2, so it's first a Crew check, chained to a Maneuver check. If the abilities are even, then it's the player's choice which goes first. This does mean that Morale pool expenditure can show up in a lot of sailing work, and that's expected. Working your sailors to the bone is common practice. It keeps them tired at night, so they don't make trouble, and it's why you've got plenty of rum aboard and hopefully some good shipboard entertainment (both resulting in Morale refreshes).

Vessel Secrets
Secret of the Vessel
You have gained possession of a ship and a crew to staff it. This vessel has a rating of Competent in one of the basic Vessel Abilities and Mediocre in all the rest. Usually the ship and its crew do what you wish it do, but you may be required to make appropriate Ability checks (such as Orate or Captain) to convince the crew of tasks that fall outside their normal duties. The ship has default Morale and Structure Pools of 1, and a Harm Tracker equal to a normal character. The ship's Pools, Abilities, and Secrets can be raised with normal Advances.
(Note: For those rare souls out there still playing 1st edition TSOY, I recommend that this is a rating of 1 in 3 of the basic Vessel Abilities, and a rating of 2 in one of the player's choice.)

Secret of the Officer
You are an officer on board another player character's vessel, and can command its crew with an appropriate Ability check (which the captain, who has the Secret of the Vessel, can contest). Beyond this secondary command, you provide tangible benefits in the form of three Advances to the ship, which can be split between Pool points, Vessel Secrets, and Ability advances as you see fit. Prerequisite: You may not have the Secret of the Vessel and this Secret at the same time. Special: You can technically challenge a character for authority over a vessel, forcing them to yield the Secret of the Vessel to you, in which case you lose this Secret and gain the Secret of the Vessel in its place. The character who loses the contest gains either this Secret or another free Advance, as determined by that player and the Storyguide, and the appropriate circumstances.

The two above sit at the core of this system. For a single Secret, you can quickly become the captain of a marginal ship, and your friends can become the boatswain, first mate, quartermaster, navigator, or any other position which sounds fun to them and works in your game narrative and provide some bang-zoom benefits to your ship. The potential for rivalries between PC's is right there, and mutiny is always a fun option. Similarly, there are good incentives for playing a PC first mate to even a Storyguide captain, and being forced to seize command at some point.

Secret of Armament
Most ships who engage enemy vessels have no choice but to outrun them, outmaneuver them, or when desperate ram them. Your ship is fitted with long-range weapons appropriate for the standard of technology which designed your ship or of most sea-faring cultures around you, whichever is lower. In many situations, this means catapults and mangonels, but a particularly advanced culture might have cannons in some game settings. Your sailors can use their Crew ability to make long-range attacks against enemy vessels (though they take the normal penalty for this unless they have a Secret like the Secret of the Fighting Crew). Alternately, a PC or other named character can use their Aim ability to make these attacks, provided they have the appropriate training and crew members supporting them. Cost: 1 Morale per scene where Armament is used. Special: You can take the Secret of Imbuement to improve the harm done, as normal.

Secret of Bulk
Your vessel is larger than others of its kind, making it more durable and its crew larger, but not as maneuverable as some smaller craft. You can take this Secret multiple times. The first time you take it, you add an additional Broken Harm Level to your vessel, below your last Broken Harm Level. If you take this Secret an additional time, you add an additional Bloodied Harm Level below your lowest Bloodied Level (and move all your Broken Harm Levels down one rating). If you take this Secret a third time, you add an additional Bruised Harm Level, in the same fashion. Special: You cannot take this Secret more times than the numerical rating of your Construction Ability (i.e. a ship must have at least Constructon at Competent (1) just to take this Secret once. Additionally, your vessel takes penalty dice equal to the difference in total Harm levels you have on any Maneuver check against a vessel which has fewer total Harm Levels than you.

Secret of the Capable Crew
Your crew contains an unusual group, who are sometimes capable of producing helpful skills for all manner of situations. By spending 2 Morale, you can use the Crew ability in lieu of another Open Ability for a scene, in a situation where the crew can perform this appropriate task. It won't allow a group of shouting sailors to woo a princess on your behalf, for instance, but they might be able to create an Effect which helps you at Savoir-Faire, by sprucing up your clothing and teaching you some charming lines and dance moves. Cost: 2 Morale.

Secret of the Diverse Crew
This Secret expands the options of the Secret of the Capable Crew. When you use that Secret, you can now access Abilities other than Open Abilities, such as Species abilities and those specific abilities which are closed to everyone but members of a certain Culture. Prerequisite: Secret of the Capable Crew and justification in the narrative for the diversity of your crew members. It is impossible that a ship crewed entirely by ratkin could use the elven Past-Lives ability for instance, nor would a crew of entirely Ammenite naval troops know a Three-Corner Magic ability.

Secret of the Famous Vessel
Your ship has an impressive reputation. Perhaps it is known as a terror, or is the pride of its fleet. You can use it to make appropriate social Ability checks at a distance, even if you cannot yourself be seen; the sight of your ship and its colors or insignia is enough to cow foes or inspire allies. You can Intimidate opponents into surrendering or rally allied ships with an Orate check even if they cannot see or hear you, so long as they can see your ship. This can be used to produce Effects at range, as well, bolstering allies by your appearance over the horizon or striking dread into your foes.

Secret of the Fighting Crew
Your crew is ready and able to fight, capable of repelling attackers or even boarding another ship and seizing it. You can make Crew checks to represent their fighting, and take no penalty on such checks.

Secret of Loyal Crew
Your crew are faithful and ready to perform almost any act you ask of them. They have +2 imbued defense against attempts to shake their morale or coerce them into betraying you. During any mutiny amongst your crew, inspired either from within or without, you can take this +2 defensive bonus on to yourself for the purposes of resisting the mutineers in social combat.

Secret of Luxuries
Your ship has its share of creature comforts, designed to carry passengers in style and treat your crew right. This provides a tangible effect of allowing people you designate to refresh pools in situations where they otherwise couldn't, letting them take a warm bath, eat a sumptuous meal, or even be entertained by performers you carry on board. This eats up some of your ship's provisions and normal carrying capacity (requiring 1 Structure for a refresh scene in which anyone can participate) but it can provide for refreshes of Morale and other personal pools. Cost: 1 Structure.
Secret of Impressment
You can deal with dead or wounded crew by forming press-gangs in a port and abducting other people to serve as your crew. Naturally, such unwilling crew members are a drain on your resources (represented in the 1 Morale cost) but can allow you to overcome serious deficiencies in the amount of help you have on board. Spend 1 Morale and make a Crew check to heal any Morale-based Harm you have taken. This action can be taken once a day in addition to a normal check to heal Morale-based Harm, but it requires you to be in some place where you could abduct new crew members. Cost: 1 Morale.

Secret of Provisions
Your ship carries provisions and cargo for all sorts of situations, such as weaponry designed to arm your crew, gear for special situations such as hacking your way through a jungle island or trekking over frozen lands, or anything else justified by the game fiction. You can spend 1 Structure to call on these provisions, making a Construction check to either produce Effect Dice equal to the SL of your check, or else establish a special feature as an Effect, like a hidden hold for smuggling illicit goods (in which case anyone looking for the hidden cargo must beat the Construction check with an ability check of their own). Effect dice from this Secret can also be used to provide temporary weapon ratings in appropriate situations. Cost: 1 Structure.

Secret of Second-in-Command
You have someone you trust as part of your crew or command staff who follows your orders to the letter, and even better, anticipates how you'd behave in situations you haven't specified standing orders for. This means that even while you're away, you can trust that your ship is in good hands, giving you the freedom to go on shore leave or send your ship to perform special actions when you can't be there (it's handy for having your crew break you out of prison or some other ship's brig, as well). Effectively, even while you don't have the helm yourself, you can you can use appropriate abilities (both your own and the vessel's) to generate effects, utilize Secrets, and set stakes as if you were there.

Secret of Secondary Propulsion
Your vessel has some form of secondary propulsion that it can rely on; perhaps it is normally a sailing vessel, but can switch to oar power when it must. Alternately, it might even have some sort of supernatural or high technology form of propulsion. Activating this secondary form (or mobilizing the people necessary to make this secondary form work) costs 1 Morale for a scene. This allows you to escape situations where the work of opposing crews or outside stakes would deny you the ability to get where you need to go, such as dealing with a becalmed ship or when many of your crew have been captured. Cost: 1 Morale per scene.

Secret of the Shady Crew
Your crew has experience at matters of a criminal and pirate nature, and are no strangers to smuggling, rum-running, fencing stolen goods, and the like. You can always use your vessel's Crew ability in lieu of appropriate checks like Deceit, Theft, or Streetwise for them to lie to the authorities, hide or fence stolen goods, or know about other shady characters in ports and waterside towns.


That's the long and short of it. Comments, questions, etc. always welcome. Specifically, are there elements which anyone thinks are missing, or things which remain particularly unclear as to how you'd handle them in a situation?

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


I should add that I remain a little conflicted about the relationship of the Crew ability to things like Maneuver and Speed. That is to say, there are moments I really like how it's a limiting factor sometimes, and there are moments where it makes me anxious about how it would work in play, and whether it becomes frustrating for a PC sometimes. That said, if you've got an awesome ship and a mediocre crew, maybe it's time to invest the Advances necessary to bolster them a bit, or do it through the narrative, prompting the Storyguide to increase their Ability score accordingly, as they're still Storyguide Characters in many respects.

It all prompts me thinking that a Secret like the following might be appropriate:

Secret of Shipboard Discipline
Your crew are used to following your orders, and you know their foibles well, so that you can keep an eye on their deficiencies and put them working harder on tasks whey there show weaknesses. When you generate an effect pool through a Captain check (or other appropriate Ability), you can spend one of those effect dice to shift the direction of a Crew ability check chain so that it's more favorable. So, if you have a Crew rating of 1 and a Speed rating of 3, you can spend an effect die to have your chain go Crew to Speed, rather than always finishing with the lower rated of the two abilities. Effectively, this means you can also coax more speed out of a vessel by working your men harder. Cost: 1 pool point, appropriate to the effect generated. Additionally, the ship itself loses 1 Morale per day if this Secret is used on its crew, due to exhaustion and intense supervision.

...but perhaps it's only making a wonky rule wonkier. I'm not sure, and figure I should consult with my fellow gamers.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)

Eero Tuovinen

Ah, I'm stuck on the computer and finally have some time to consider these things. Sorry I took so long to get around to this, I've been working hard to get my ducks in a row concerning my eventual TSoY book.

I like the material here. You're right that it's a bit high fantasy, but I can swallow much of it. I like the symbionts, and the living islands are fine as well; nothing says that they have to start stomping around, after all. If you don't mind, I'll grab and run with this in my book-making process. They'll make a fine companion to my own island nation of Inselburg.

It seems to me that the Pere-di-Fey might need a bit more internal substance to their culture. Some conflict, perhaps. A powerful governor trying to impose order on them, for example? Something to make them a less monolithic force of pirates and more peopley with varied interests.

Mechanics-wise, we'll need something for the symbionts, if only to get this Secret:

Secret of the Living Island (specify)
The character has something of a connection to the island he lives on. So much so, in fact, that the island usually goes where the character wants it to, in the long term. Treat this as a scene framing thing more than a tactical Ability, the island-colossi are not very quick. Getting your island to park a stone's throw from the Zaru delta is more than possible, though. Cost: 3 Instinct

Your approach to ship mechanics is quite interesting! You all but convince me about giving ships Pools and a Harm track, which is something I've not been too fond of. Abilities might be too much for me, I like it that Abilities are always directly tied to individual characters; that's what makes the game heroic. A minor gripe, of course. And I have to confess that I do like the possibilities, such as the Secret of Capable Crew. I'll have to wrangle with this seriously at some point.

In truth I'll have to get back to rewriting Ammeni poison rules, but I'll surface again at some point to think more about the Pere-di-Fey and ships - Inselburg pretty much has to use the same basic ship mechanics, so I want to get it right at once.
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