The world of Freebooter's Fate - how it all began
Imagine a cluster of lush tropical islands. A tiny part of a globe-spanning Empire. Sunny beaches, handsome men, beautiful women, colourful wildlife, fresh succulent fruit only ever an arm's reach away, as many coconuts as you could ever want to chop open and stick little umbrellas in and as much rum as your liver and self-respect will tolerate. Paradise. As if that weren't enough, these islands are the main stopover point between the colonies and the Old World, so there is a simply enormous amount of exotic goods and staple provisions going through the main harbour of Puerto Alto, the capital city on the principal island of Leonera, the Empire's stronghold in these parts. Enough of the profits from this trade filter through locally, so the town is dripping with gold and other riches. Life is almost obscenely good, at least for the upper crust of the Empire in these parts. They are protected by the strength of the Imperial Armada, undisputed queen of the seas around the main island of Leonera. Puerto Alto itself is safeguarded by a strong garrison, safely ensconced in a massive fort overlooking the entire harbour.
And now imagine that it has all gone wrong for the Empire on Leonera. An alternative, shorter route to the colonies was discovered a few years ago, slowing the flow of goods through Puerto Alto to a trickle. The new gobernador, who was so looking forward to a cushy job blending seamlessly into luxurious retirement, has turned out to be as useless in a crisis as a lace topsail. And the Empire is beset on all sides by enemies who have sensed its weakness, the once mighty Armada is desperately trying to maintain its hold on the islands. With varying success.
Pirates have taken over large parts of Puerto Alto and actually renamed it Longfall. Roughly half the city belongs to them now, split into quarters which are controlled by individual captains. And what a collection of rough, hairy, unwashed, windswept, brine-soaked, sun-baked, grog-swilling, tattoo-sporting, cutlass-wielding, loot-grabbing, yarn-spinning bunch of ne'er-do-wells they are. Says the Empire. Others see the pirates as heroes of the modern age, championing the freedom of the individual, gender equality, a true meritocracy and a refreshingly dynamic approach to commerce and wealth distribution. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
As if that weren't enough, the goblins are making their presence felt. Since their discovery by an otherwise ill-fated expedition, most of the ones the Empire knew about were kept as slaves. The situation on Leonera and civil unrest elsewhere in the Empire resulted in a few mass escapes. This, together with the goblins' incredible ability to learn and a high reproductive rate, led to the neighbouring islands being dotted with sizeable goblin communities. Their ranks are swelled by wild goblins who are lured out of the jungle by the promise of shiny stuff and stuff that blows up - the goblins' two favourite things. They are trying to carve out a niche for themselves and have become so strong that they can no longer be safely ignored as a trivial pest.
And then there is a recent slew of assassinations. An increasing number of people throughout Leonera are being assassinated. Daggers and poison seem to be the preferred method of whoever is committing these crimes. There are reports of masked individuals stalking through the streets at night. And the worst thing about these murders is that there is no apparent pattern to them. Anybody could be next, from the highest-ranking noble to the lowliest fishwife. There are rumours of a "Brotherhood" being behind it all. Though what exactly they want is a total mystery. To know about the brotherhood is to either be of the brotherhood or to end up dead. Rumour has it that this shadowy organisation has infiltrated the highest ranks of Leoneran society.
To make matters really interesting, all of these factions have no qualms whatsoever about fighting each other and are not exactly averse to a bit of in-fighting either. Of course, a situation like this offers rich employment opportunities for one kind of person. Undertakers and peg-leg carvers? Yes, fair enough, but also mercenaries. The situation on Leonera with its unstable balance of power and riches up for grabs has attracted a motley crew of swords-for-hire, desperado gunslingers, soldiers of fortune, general ruffians and blouse-wearing romantic poets with goatees. For the right price, these people are available at every street corner, ready to fight for whoever greases their palms with sufficient amounts of gold.
This is the world of Freebooter's Fate. Welcome to grog, glory and groupies, fame, fortune and floozies or, um, something shady that's alliterative. It's up to you to find out what fate has in store for you.
The world of Deep Jungle - feathered females in the jungle
As we all know, everything is in flux, and so time has not stood still for our heroes and heroines from the basic rulebook either. Things have most definitely been going on.
After a long struggle between the various crews, the pirates have finally managed to form an alliance for a decisive battle and kick the imperial troops out of Longfall, having weakened the garrison with a ruse beforehand. All of Longfall is in the pirates' hands now. Rum, glory, riches and partying! However, old rivalries start to shine through the cracks as soon as the hung-over morning-after dawns.
And the Armada is not nearly as thoroughly vanquished as some would have liked it to be. Instead of having been scattered in a wild panic, the imperial troops managed an orderly fighting withdrawal and have dug in somewhere in the jungle. They have also received unexpected reinforcements from back home. While the Empire on Leonera is currently still busy getting itself re-organised and back to its old fighting strength, it can't be much longer now until they are ready to counterattack.
Something has caught all of the established powers by surprise, though: the jungle has turned out to contain far more than just trees and critters. Wild women have been spotted. Scantily-clad warriors with feathers appear from the jungle like ghosts, grab men, ambush patrols and vanish as silently as they came. Some say they are interested in old temple ruins deep in the jungle, but nobody really knows for sure.
Internal rivalries appear to have prevented the Brotherhood from capitalising on the pirate coup and so they seem to have lost a lot of contacts and influence in the chaos of the pirates' grab for power. Or is that just a bluff? Does the shadowy fist of the Brotherhood still lurk behind the seat of power, unseen dagger drawn, ready to strike?
The success of the goblins has been much more palpable. They have swept across imperial settlements on other islands in the area so successfully that a major expedition had to be sent out to bring the anklebiters to heel. When that expedition had to be called back to Leonera to help combat the pirate thread, the goblins perceived a historic opportunity for themselves and are wildly determined to grab hold of it with all their might.
Time moves on and Longfall just cannot get a rest. Parts of it are haunted now on top of everything else. Properly mystical. With oogle-dee-boogle-dee incantations in public, soulless bodies roaming the streets and eccentrically-clad people with birdskulls in their al fresco hairdos. Blood is flowing frrely across altars and wavy daggers, cats are being swung around heads, the demand for candles has skyrocketed and loas are being invoked left right and centre as if it was going out of fashion. Loas, the inhabitants of the parallel world of spirits and ghosts. Most of them used to be alive at some point and they thirst after the feeling of having blood flow through and around them. So much so that they are prepared to render some services to those rare individuals who are able to communicate with them. Cute as kittens, so they are.
Of course, goings-on like that are perfectly harmless and not a danger to the general populace at all which is why the Empire has sent a troop of Cazadores to join in the general joyous re-emergence of mysticism. With fire and sword and if necessary with brute force. After only a few weeks of iron-fisted leadership, the Empire is back to being a major player on Leonera and no longer has to hide in the jungle.
The pirates found out that conquering cities is much more fun than administering them and have mostly lost interest. One of them, the architect of the original pirate alliance fell flat on his face when trying to use this vacuum and grab total power for himself with the aid of the Cult.
Now he is the lapdog of one of the Cult leaders and serve him right, too. Not for nothing is “stick to your planks, pirate” a common saying on Leonera.
The goblins were a lot more skilful, using a mix of pure cunning, strength of numbers, an extensive canoe construction programme, general busyness and a few strategic explosions. Where there used to be Longfalls’s canal-ridden, run-down south-easterly harbour quarter there is now – still Longfalls’s canal-ridden, run-down south-easterly harbour quarter, only its inhabitants are now calling it “Goblinopolis” and they are mostly goblins. It is also separated from the rest of the city by an easily defensible moat.
In the course of conquering this bit of Longfall, the goblins are supposed to have flushed the Brotherhood out of its last hiding places. But nobody really believes that. First of all, Longfall itself is one big hiding place and secondly, the Brotherhood wouldn’t be the mysterious, hidden organisation flourishing in shadows and darkness if everybody knew where its members were and could watch them at work. If you can no longer see the assassin, she’s probably right behind you.
Nobody really knows apart from them but the Amazons appear to have made strong headway with their mysterious plan. A large flotilla of new canoes is supposed to have been spotted off the coast. For the next step of the impenetrable machinations deep inside the jungle, some sort of bigwig from back home is rumoured to have arrived on Leonera. Given some of the Amazons’ hairdos, this might well literally be the case.
One of the big winners of the last few years is a small start-up enterprise which once began with selling rum of dodgy provenance door-to-door. It is now a global trade concern with its own fleet and counting houses on all continents. The East-Leoneran Trading Company (ELTC) came with general ledger and balance sheet and showed all those “steel and powder”-types how it was done. And then billed them for consultancy services. The fact that the company makes heavy use of its own force of mercenaries, which is only too happy to hire out in return for an appropriate fee, is kind of glossed over in the official company history.
There are nights when you’re glad to be at home. When there’s rain and wind and thunder and lightning and the border to the otherworld wears thin. When you’d much rather sit indoors and drink rum or eat cream cake. A night in which the general political situation can take a flying leap and not come back till morning.
But what if some people’s fate is decided in the encroaching darkness? What if true love is in danger? What if there is mystical history to be made? What if straw puppets walk and bats are jumping off roofs? Oh, and what if riches beckon? Yes, that’s when heroes come to the fore. Heroes and heroines who laugh in the face of natural and supernatural wrath and go out there. To fight the good fight. To combat evil. To have a jolly good scrap and make some quick doubloons out of it.
In the most mystical night of the year, la Noche de Brujas, bands of such heroes and heroines roam the island, collecting insects, dissecting zombified cephalopods, forgetting shovels, soothing the grave digger’s sleep and finally selling their patron a head in a bag. Or maybe a pumpkin.
Tales of Longfall II - Corporate Piracy
The ELTC: Not all that long ago, it was a “One man, one donkey, one barrel of dodgy rum”-operation. Today, it is a global trading company, pulling doubloons from people’s pockets all over the known world. But what drives such an organisation, what keeps it going? Well, quite simply the fact that there is significantly more gold pouring out of it and into the owners’ pockets at the bottom than they put in at the top.
All of a sudden, however, a new opportunity has appeared on the horizon. Persistent rumours that there is gold literally just lying around in the jungle are becoming ever more believable. This is not something the ELTC can ignore, of course. Dodgy backroom dealings with goods which will probably never exist, loans which effectively secure themselves via dozens of intermediate parties – these things may all be fine and dandy and put a twinkle in the eye of excitable youngsters who wear funny clothes with coloured braces. But to just pick up apparently ownerless gold and put it into the company’s coffers without any detours via pesky clients? The ELTC can no more resist such an opportunity than a pirate can walk by a “Free Rum” sign.
And so a bit of capital is being invested: a freshly hired crew of mercenaries is given the task of confirming the discovery of gold, securing it and directing it towards the ELTC’s vaults, which is to say the partners’ pockets. But this is Leonera and so there is no shortage of people who, having been informed through various shady sources, have all come up with pretty much the same idea. Only they have different pockets in mind…
To be continued ...