Tall ships! Distant shores! Pirates! It’s almost a rule, now, that some corner of your fantasy map needs to be dedicated to these elements, mostly because these elements are super duper fun.
For the Speaking Lands, that corner of the map is Kelompok, an archipelago of islands full of strange creatures, foreign cultures, and fierce resistance to outside invaders. It’s a portion of that map that I’m pretty sure you can lose entire campaigns in.
So let’s go exploring!
This chain of islands stretches across the eastern edge of Mergather Gulf. Despite its reputation as a lawless region full of pirates and savages, it hosts a number of permanent settlements, a loose confederation of tribal leaders, and a number of small mercantile states. The politics of the Kelompok are, however, unquestioningly more lenient in regards to piracy, primarily because so many of the Kelompok’s leaders are pirates, themselves.
For much of recorded history, the islands were considered little more than a backwater by the rest of Ipieros—or in the case of Loratha, a convenient place to dump dissidents. This changed when the archipelago was mapped by Endelbraid the Younger along with an exhaustive survey of the islands’ flora and fauna. The resulting treatise, Gazette of the Kelompok, was reproduced and distributed widely, spreading as far as Mazzantlindong, where demand was so high that copies were mass produced via wizardry.
The literary sensation popularized the islands as a fantastic and exotic locale full of strange creatures. Endelbraid’s actual thesis, that the islands hosted a curious blending of both northern and southern species, was often missed by northerners amazed at the depicted southern species and southerners avidly reading about northern species.
Entrepreneurs began staging expeditions to the Kelompok with plans ranging from trading with the natives to simply making landfall and making off with whatever wasn’t nailed down. At the time, each island was ruled separately, mostly by hereditary tribal leaders. A complex system of gifts, debts, and tribute maintained bonds of friendship, mutual respect, and non-interference.
As westerners began marauding through the islands, this network of relationships was galvanized into an alliance by a local kobold queen, the Drakesister. Patrols were established to sight incoming ships and rally defenders to prevent landings. The easternmost islands sent warriors to the hardest-hit western islands.
Instead of backing off, the trading expeditions doubled down, hiring mercenaries to defend their landfalls and carving out haven ports on the smallest islands. Once dug in, the “traders” were incredibly hard to extract. Drakesister wrote to Endelbraid the Younger, whose visits she remembered from her youth, and asked how to build ships that could stop the expedition frigates.
Since the question was well outside Endelbraid’s expertise, he sent a delegate in his stead: Sam Welkin, a young wizard who had grown up in the dockyards of Caer Larionad. Welkin did more than teach the islanders how to build their own frigates: he eagerly sought out how they built their own ships, and helped them synthesize the two methods to create the signature Kelompok corvette. These fast ships were easy to build out of local materials and rode high enough that they could easily deliver boarding parties onto expedition frigates. Corvettes and the plans to produce them were distributed throughout the Kelompok, and almost overnight the islanders had a navy.
The corvettes and their crews were incredibly good at intercepting and boarding marauders, quickly making the practice unprofitable. However, the islander ships were also incredibly good at intercepting and boarding trading ships, including trading ships that weren’t even travelling into the Kelompok. As fewer and fewer marauders dared cross Mergather, the corvettes and their crews slid precipitously from defenders to pirates. Abandoned haven ports were quickly occupied by corvette crews: some seized in the name of their home islands, others creating their own little pirate kingdoms.
Piracy in the Mergather was a free-for-all for more than a century before powerful factions formed and waged war with each other for control. The victor of that conflict was the Hurra, a renegade fleet originlly formed to oppose the Ivory Queendom. Today this syndicate takes a cut of every prize taken in the Mergather. The Hurra outright control a number of ports in Kelompok, and either pay off or intimidate the other petty island states. Some of the Hurra’s most successful pirates have muscled or married their way into leadership positions throughout the archipelago, embedding them in the power structure.
There are a few holdout islands who disdain piracy, open their ports to Xansillispe pirate-hunters, and strive to “civilize” the islands they call home. Absolutely no one misses the fact that these states and settlements enjoy lucrative and powerful alliances with ports on the western shores of Mergather, the same ports that once sent marauders into the Kelompok. With the Hurra no longer laying low to avoid the attention of the Dread Tyrant, many of these holdouts worry that their homes have suddenly become the most lucrative prizes in Mergather.
As always, my anticolonial biases are on full display, but I like to think that you can build a high-seas-and-pirates setting (or corner thereof) that doesn’t rely on exoticism and noble savages. How’d I do?
Looking forward, next week we’ve got four options to pick from, and—just for a change of pace—they’re all places. I’m really looking forward to seeing what you want to check out next!
Many thanks for your continued support.