In the grand ballroom of Lighthouse Castle in the great kingdom of Gullsdeep, a party is beginning. This is no ordinary party – it is a party announcing the engagement of Crown Prince Charel to his betrothed, Temera. Temera is a beautiful and wealthy princess from the kingdom of Steelpeak, which has a surplus of royal children.
In attendance are all of the nobility of Gullsdeep, including the aging widowed queen and her impetuous second child, Princess Pearl. Also present are castle guards, the royal navy, influential merchants, foreign diplomats, and a not a few exquisitely dressed guests of questionable character.
Unbeknownst to most of these is the fact that this party is different in yet another way. This party will feature dancing, music, royal proclamations, social maneuvering – and the kidnapping of the princess by pirates.
Gossip at the party
- Charel was originally supposed to be engaged to first one, then another of Temera’s older sisters. The first was killed in a hunting accident and the second killed herself rather than wed him. Rumors say she was in love with someone else and couldn’t bear to marry another.
- Pearl is in a bit of a snit about the engagement; it’s well known that she thinks she’d make a better ruler than Charel, and not everyone disagrees. She is strong-willed and popular.
- There are those in Steelpeak who are against the engagement, fearing an alliance with Gullsdeep will provoke tensions with more dangerous nations.
- Pearl has been entertaining offers from many suitors – competition for her hand is fierce, but she has yet to show preference to any favourite
The princess was hoping for the throne herself. Her brother’s betrothal has now made that unlikely, so she absconded with some powerful magical artifacts from the royal treasury and faked her own kidnapping. She has an island base where she plans to consolidate her power.
She’s hoping that her brother will be tragically killed in an attempted rescue, or perhaps assassinated by pirates who believe the bereaved queen would be more willing to pay a higher ransom. After this she will heroically escape and return to the acclaim of her future subjects.
Failing this, the artifacts are a backup plan – a civil war is usually long and costly, but her brother isn’t fit to rule anyway. He will soon realize that when the seas fall into chaos and the coastline comes under constant attack.
The pirates have set fire to most of the vessels in the harbor. When the news comes out that the princess has been kidnapped, there is only one ship ready to sail immediately – a small ship of the royal navy that the pirates missed. Other ships are being readied, but between nautical preparations and beaurocracy it will be at least several hours before any of them is fit to sail.
Most of the ship’s crew are on shore leave, meaning the only people left are the first mate – too unpopular to go drinking with the men – and a few sailors who were either too hungover from yesterday to go carousing, or too poorly behaved to be given leave. The PCs will have to give them a lot of help – Nature checks to read the winds? Charisma checks to motivate the crew? Acrobatics checks to leap around the rigging? – if they want to catch up to the pirates in good time. Plus, a storm is brewing.
The pirates will fight once boarded. They’re a motley crew with mostly shortswords, cutlasses, and a few crossbowmen in the rigging. The princess is in what is normally considered the captain’s quarters. It is royally appointed. She has with her the pirate first mate and a royal guard in the livery of her personal guard. When confronted she will fight for a round or two, then grab the sack full of artifacts and activate one of them, which teleports her away.
Finding the princess’ stronghold is a challenge. The guard and first mate know where she’s headed and can be interrogated. If they are killed, some of the pirates know, but their information is incomplete and make the rest of the adventure harder. The stronghold is on an island about a day’s sail away, in a region known for reefs and rough weather.
If the PCs sail up in the pirate ship and either leave the navy ship behind, or are smart enough to rig it with a pirate flag, they will be able to sail into the harbor unchallenged. If not, a pirate wizard will project himself onto their deck as they approach and demand to know their purpose. There are a couple of pirate ships on patrol that will sail closer during this talk.
Combat with these ships will most likely go badly. The first mate, if he’s been left in charge, will call for a retreat, and the party will have to sail around to the opposite side of the island and trek through the jungle. The PCs can take this approach to start with, in which case the pirates will not be on alert. The jungle is of course filled with various dangerous kinds of nature.
When the PCs go ashore, the first mate and the other crew will stay behind to guard the ship(s). They will wait as long as they can – unlikely to be more than a full day – then sail for home with all speed if the party has not yet returned. Diplomacy might improve this.
There is a crude fishing village on the harbor, as well as the newly-built fort in which the princess lives. The village has an open market – mostly stalls selling fish and other sea creatures, but some shells and other jewelry, a carpenter and a salvage diver. There isn’t an inn, but the stall next to the salvage diver sells terrible moonshine beer and several of the locals are standing around talking. They’re happy with the trade goods the fortress has brought in, but worried about all the foreigners.
There are also the villagers’ homes – mostly shacks and shanties – and an encampment where those of the pirates who weren’t drawn from the villagers live. A couple of tidier tents signify the presence of a royal sailor or two among the pirates.
The fortes is guarded by pirates, with a smattering of royal sailors and castle guards. There are also a few non-pirate mercenaries. There are even a couple of guards with high-quality weapons who are dressed in styles native to Steelpeak, though they bear no insignia. There are also traps and guard dogs and assorted other fun things.
The fort has a main gate, a door from a garden into the kitchen, and a servants’ door that is adjacent to the heavily populated encampment. Guards patrol the walls and there is one tower with some sort of nasty-looking device – it’s a magic cannon powered by one of the stolen artifacts.
The princess knows the party will want to take her alive, and will use that to her advantage. She has some royal and some Steelpeak guards. Her main bodyguard is obviously a high-ranking Steelpeak military type – the patches are removed from his uniform, but the outlines stitched in gold thread remain.
The princess has some kind of magical effect on her, but it’s not clear what. She will try to sway the party to her cause with patriotism and bribery. Failing that she will fight – one of the artifacts is a gauntlet that gives her a necromantic melee attack.
If she is captured she will thank the party profusely for freeing her from Temera’s mind-control spell.
If you’re running out of time or patience for the adventure, this is a lie and the magic effect is one of the artifacts. The Steelpeak guards were sent by one of Temera’s brothers, who would rather marry Pearl and rule Gullsdeep than see that role go to his sister.
If you aren’t, then Temera cast the spell on the princess in the weeks leading up to the party, because that’s how things are done where she is from. Assassinating Pearl risks turning her into a martyr – making her a traitor is a much better win for the royal couple’s PR, plus Temera hoped to later retrieve the artifacts for her own use. Having them stolen by pirates is the best way of getting them “off the books” as it were.
This interpretation leads to another adventure that’s a bit more political intrigue than hack’n’slash. For added drama, Charel and the fleet arrive at about the same time as this revelation – and someone on the roof has the magic cannon ready to fire.
Also, a couple of the artifacts have gone missing while the princess was distracted dealing with the party. Apparently pirates aren’t to be trusted.
- Baron Ross is a wealthy, well-connected noble and a supporter of the princess. He’s hired an assassin to kill Charel. There’s a chance this assassin will try to come along with the party, as Charel will be heavily guarded until his sister is returned.
- Guardsman Deyin is the highest-ranking guard in the ballroom during the party. He’s more worried about guarding the remaining royals than getting the princess back, but he might be convinced to lend the PCs some guards or some weapons.
- Daron Lidac is a minor noble from a border region near Bluewood, an aggressive neighbor of Gullsdeep. He’s worried that an alliance with Steelpeak might tip the balance towards all-out war. Once he has a few drinks in him, he’ll share this opinion with anyone.