Mark S. Cookman
20 Things to Find on a River Pirate's Ship
Today's subject matter is river pirates. River pirates are usually much different than their seaborne bretheren. The main reason for this is the difference in terrain. Seaborne pirates primarily live on their ship, but river pirate ships are rarely big enough for the crew to live on. Usually these vessels are little more than a barge or a large, flat-bottom canoe. River pirates routinely live more like bandits, hiding away in secret camps or inside concealed caves near the river. Sometimes ocean pirates display their banner and then allow their victim to surrender. Most often in these cases, assuming the surrendering crew tried no tricks, the victims were set free because it would be days or perhaps weeks before they could report the pirates and before the authorities could get back there, the pirates would be long gone from the area. This does not work when attacking someone in a wild area close by to a town. River pirates often must live a secret life or don a disguise because they ply their trade so close to civilization. River pirate attacks are most often violent leaving all of the victims dead so that the raiders can keep working the same stretch of river for weeks at a time without fear of being identified. The most common technique for the river pirates is to lure a small group of people on a boat into an ambush by pretending to be injured pilgrims or river merchants with a stranded boat. River pirates are often allied with local rulers or merchant consortiums who want to have a trade monopoly in an area.
Without further ado, here are 20 Things to Find on a River Pirate's Ship. Happy Gaming!
Drag nets for catching fresh fish and for looking like fishermen instead of ne'r-do-wells.
Fish barrels with false tops. The top third holds fish and the bottom two-thirds holds various illegal treasures.
A small herd of seven cattle held in a small pen. Close examination reveals the cattle in the pen have 3 different branding marks.
A collection of 6 pots and pans, along with other kitchen sundry items, that seem oddly out of place wrapped in a wool blanket and hidden in a woodpile.
A stack of several wanted posters for pirates, bandits, and thieves which have been used for knife thowing practice. Many of the posters are duplicates.
Barrels full of wine, ale, and beer marked with tax stamps from 2 different foreign kingdoms.
Small burlap bags concealing illegal contraband (magic, counterfeit coins, forbidden items, etc.) hidden inside haybales, tacked to the inside of barrel lids, and concealed among logs.
Two small flat bottom boats about 20 feet long, both painted white with floral trim. One is named Pretty Polly and the other, Pretty Sally. They seem decidedly out of place here.
A twelve inch tall by eight inch wide by three inch thick book entitled The Plays of Gangold proves to be a concealed safe for documents. It hides secrets the pirates didn't want you to find, perhaps a map of their base or a list of their illegal trade partners.
Disguised cages in the hold and numerous shackles sized to fit smaller demi-humans like halflings and gnomes. In the captain's cabin is a ledger detailing the buying and selling.
A map to a cache of supplies and a small flatboat hidden upstream just inside a river-front cave concealed by a half-fallen tree. A side note warns to watch for jumping spiders.
Numerous costumes so that the pirates might hide their identities (or lure in prey) by pretending to be farmers, merchant riverboatmen, clergy, tribals or wounded soldiers.
Hidden below deck are several bolts of sturdy cotton cloth suitable for workman's clothes, most are a dove grey, but perhaps a third of the bolts are a plain black. Strangely, none of these bolts bear the marks of any of the textile guilds.
A five inch long lock of pale blond hair tied by a pretty red satin ribbon with golden trim along with a well-scribed, but simplistic, ransom note for someone's child daughter. The note threatens to make the child a were-rat if the ransom is not paid within 7 days.
A series of maps showing numerous branches of the river and a set of notes detailing what has been found in that area. One of the areas far upriver is marked as being the location of a ruined ancient temple, but the notes indicate that it has not yet been explored.
A fancy scroll created by a talented calligrapher and scribe sealed with the emblem of a local noble. If read, the scroll expains that those in possession of it should be held for the noble's agents to come deal with rather than be sentenced by a local magistrate.
Nearly 100 well-made spears and polearms, enough for a small army, hidden within stacks of lumber in the hold. The weapons are shiny and new; they have never been tested in battle.
Two, highly-polished silver round shields, three feet in diameter, hidden under a large coil of rope lying on the deck. Neither shield shows any signs of battle damage.
A large, iron-bound chest lashed to the main mast is locked with a rusty iron padlock. This chest is clearly the pirates weapon locker; inside is a large and strange collection of weapons including blowguns with darts, as well as tribal arrows and spears.
Numerous animal, human, and demi-human bones, tribal masks, various trophies from different monsters (horns, scales, teeth, etc.) and a wild collection of nicknacks from all over the globe decorate the ship to make it appear more exotic and frightening.