Grodog recently asked for a brief description of my current campaign. After a few comments regarding its origin, this post provides a version of the campaign introduction that I shared with my potential players.
In that lovely ferment of our community’s discussions, I imagined, but never started, a campaign in the Hold of the Sea Princes. Having recently read about the Haitian Revolution and the miscegenation / creolization / mestizaje of various Caribbean and Latin America peoples, I planned to focus on the Hold’s enslaved peoples, particularly their revolt against the Scarlet Brotherhood in 589 CY per the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.
Flash forward to March 2020 when the pandemic began impacting the entire United States. I returned to the Canonfire! forums and briefly engaged with the GreyTalk Discord channel. About six months later, I started a D&D 5e campaign with three friends whom I’ve known since the early 1990s. Since then, we’ve been playing almost weekly (usually using Roll20) in an intrigue and social-interaction heavy campaign that initially used the Unearthed Arcana: Three-Pillar Experience alternate rules but now simply advances a level when we agree that the PCs’ significant accomplishments merit it.
Without further ado, here’s a version of the campaign introduction, revised for Canonfire!, that I presented to my (potential) players back in 2020.
Burn the Fields, Fly to the Mountains, intrigue and revolution amidst the tropical slave plantations of the Hold of the Sea Princes.
Will the player characters aid the enslaved peoples’ struggle for freedom? Will they try to counter the Scarlet Brotherhood’s threatened usurpation? And how will they relate to Utavo the Wise’s efforts to establish a new society in the former Grand Duchy of Berghof?
The campaign will begin about a month before midsummer of the 583rd Common Year, in the Hold of the Sea Princes, a tropical country in the southwest of the Flanaess, the easternmost part of Oerik, the central continent of Oerth, the world of Greyhawk.
Over the past hundred years, the Sea Princes have grown wealthy and indolent: after a nine-year war to wrest their independence from the venerable Kingdom of Keoland (CY 444–53), the Princes’ seafaring mercantilism and exploration of barely charted routes beyond the Densac Gulf relied increasingly on exploiting the labor of enslaved peoples on mainland plantations, assorted island holdings, and nascent colonies on the coast of the peninsular “Hook” of the Amedio Jungle.
Before this period of indolence, the latter-day ‘Princes had been fearless “free captains,” who formed a compact under the leadership of the captain of the Sea Prince, reputedly a Keoish nobleman who fled the kingdom after revolting against a gross injustice committed by its imperialist king, Tavish III. A decade before formally declaring their invasion of Keoland’s southern Duchy of Monmurg, the free captains harassed the kingdom’s shipping across Jeklea Bay and the western reaches of the Azure Sea. Striking from hidden anchorages and coves, they initially targeted merchantmen but soon skirmished with and won a series of victories against the Keoish royal navy—always with the Sea Prince in the vanguard.
With Tavish III focused on his ruinous wars to the north, the dukes of Monmurg and Gradsul, among others, were unable to check the pirates, for the king repeatedly refused their requests for aid. Also, after losing the Short War to the Kingdom of Furyondy and Archclericy of Veluna in CY 438, Keoland was occupied with defending its newly reduced northern border, and Tavish III had even less cause to divert the kingdom’s military to defend its southern duchies. Perhaps his repeatedly failures emboldened the pirates, for in CY 444, the self-styled “Sea Princes” declared themselves at war with the king and quickly won several important victories. In CY 445, they “liberated” the ancient city of Port Toli, and the next year, CY 446, the ducal city of Monmurg fell beneath the flag of the crowned caravel. Shortly thereafter, the Grand Duke of Berghof foreswore his allegiance to Tavish III and joined the ‘Princes, and within a handful of years, the Hold of the Sea Princes was entirely free of the king’s control, much to his indignation and wrath.
In CY 453, Tavish III finally tried to reclaim “the lost duchy,” but the Sea Princes had decimated the royal navy, so against his generals’ advice, the king seized on the precarious possibility of a land invasion through the trackless Hool Marshes. Early in the year, he led his army through the ‘Marshes to his doom at the ill-fated Siege of Westkeep, and with his death, the army retreated in disarray.
Over the following decade, the “Free Hold of the Sea Princes” consolidated control over its lands and reorganized its governance, and the ‘Princes naval dominance reduced Keoish sea trade to a trickle of heavily guarded coastal trading to the east. This changed dramatically in CY 464, however, when the Keoish navy, which had secretly rebuilt in Gryrax, the capital and port city of the Principality of Ulek, threatened a massive invasion of the Hold. In the desperate Battle of Jetsom Island, the Sea Prince-led flotilla devastated Keoland’s navy but at a terrible cost: the eponymous ship sank with all hands lost.
Chastened, the surviving ‘Princes changed course: by a narrow majority, the Council of Princes chose the Prince of Port Toli, rather than the heir of Monmurg, to lead the Hold, and he thereafter avoided antagonizing Keoland. Although piracy remained a secondary vocation for many, as a whole the ‘Princes focused on managing their plantations, pursuing mercantilism, and exploring, colonializing, and slave-raiding from the coast of the ‘Hook of the Amedio Jungle. Toli particularly encouraged the latter practice, resuscitating the city’s infamous practice of old from the centuries before its conquest by Keoland . . .
Over a hundred years later, in CY 573, the Prince of Monmurg, Jeon II, succeeded his father (who died in a terrible accident) and became the ruling Sea Prince. Almost immediately, he began advocating to abolish slavery throughout the Hold to the predictable consternation and vociferous opposition of the other princes, their vassals, and myriad small-hold planters. Nevertheless, Prince Jeon persevered. Although his advisors urged restraint, several members of his court, particularly Lady Æltesh, Emissary of the Kingdom of Shar, who had arrived in Monmurg half a year before the Prince succeeded his father, encouraged him.
In CY 577, the Prince finally formally proposed universal manumission to the Princes’ Council. Dismayed by the almost universal opposition, much of it loudly shouted, he withdrew his proposal in disgust. Nevertheless, Jeon persevered as to his own demesne. Having already manumitted his own slaves, he encouraged his liegemen to follow suit with offers of reparations, declared Monmurg a free city, and dared anyone who opposed his actions to settle the matter by duel. Well knowing his indomitable reputation, none took the challenge . . .
Thus, the campaign will begin a handful of years later, and early on, the PCs will participate, one way or another, in a slave revolt. Depending on their backgrounds, they might be rebellious slaves, sympathetic allies, complicit Seolders, or oblivious outsiders who are suddenly compelled to choose a side. Contingent on how the PCs gel, they might attempt to spread the revolution, lead or betray it, or flee the chaos entirely. Along the way, they will learn about the hidden powers—beyond the sea and beneath the soil—at play, determine how to intervene (or not), make their fortune, and find their fate.
Thanks Allan. I've been thinking about how to respond: inspired by Kirt's "It started in Saltmarsh," I've thought about starting a campaign journal, and eventually, I want to submit articles derived from my campaign to the Oerth Journal.
In this post, I list the main sources (by date of publication) on which I've based the campaign (not including CF! forum discussions) and then briefly discuss their importance. In my next post, I'll summarize the themes that featured in the campaign's first chapter.
• Gary Gygax, The World of Greyhawk Fantasy World Setting (1980).
• Harold Johnson & Jeff R. Leason, C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (1980).
• David J. Brown & Don Turnbull, U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1981).
• David J. Brown & Don Turnbull, U2 Danger at Dunwater (1982).
• David J. Brown & Don Turnbull, U3 The Final Enemy (1983).
• Gary Gygax, A Guide to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting (1983).
• Gary Gygax, Glossography to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting (1983).
• Dave J. Browne, Tom Kirby & Graeme Morris, UK 1 Beyond the Crystal Cave (1983).
• Graeme Morris, UK2 The Sentinel (1983).
• Graeme Morris, UK3 The Gauntlet (1984).
• James M. Ward, Greyhawk Adventures (1988).
• David Cook, Greyhawk Adventures Wars: Adventurer’s Book (1991).
• Carl Sargent, From the Ashes: Atlas of the Flanaess (1992).
• Roy Rowe, “Terror in the Tropics,” in WGR2 Treasures of Greyhawk (1992), at 41–50.
• Roy Rowe, “On the Town,” in WGR2 Treasures of Greyhawk (1992), at 51–59.
• Gary Holian, "Sorcerous Societies of the Flanaess," Oerth Journal #3 (Mar. 20, 1996), at 4–11.
• Anne Brown, Player’s Guide to Greyhawk (1998).
• Roger E. Moore, The Adventure Begins (1998).
• Sean K. Reynolds, The Scarlet Brotherhood (1999).
• SirXaris, "Agnosco Adventum," Canonfire! Chronicles #1 (Jul. 2013), at 61–77 .
• Mike Mearls & Kate Welch, Ghosts of Saltmarsh (2019)
• Michael Bridges, "Unconquered Hold of the Sea Princes," Oerth Journal #32 (Mar. 2020), at 28–36.
I've omitted a few of the early modules that I reviewed but which have yet to feature in the campaign (e.g., I2 Tomb of the Lizard King and I7 Baltron’s Beacon) and may have missed a few other sources, but as you can see, I started with the relevant AD&D 1e and 2e canon publications and was greatly influenced by Gary Holian and Sawise's works (along with Kirt Wackford's magisterial "Geopolitical History of Keoland"). Finally, when I returned to CF! in 2020 (in part due to the pandemic), I was thinking of using Ghosts of Saltmarsh to launch a long-imagined campaign in the Hold of the Sea Princes, and in dialogue with many of you, I reviewed numerous old modules, along with new contributions like SirXaris's "Agnosco Adventum." Finally, Mike "Mortellan" Bridges's "Unconquered Hold of the Sea Princes" Oerth Journal article catalyzed my ambition to run a campaign that would explore themes of coloniality, complicity, freedom, racism, rebellion, resistance, and slavery.
Stay tuned for a summary of the campaign's first "chapter."
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