Skull and Shackles Players Guide
The shipping lanes of Golarion’s seas and oceans are filled with fat merchant vessels laden with trade goods both mundane and exotic, as well as the pirates and freebooters who prey on them. Under the banner of their Hurricane King, these buccaneers sally forth from that archipelago of lawless pirate ports and anchorages known as the Shackles, plundering the shipping of countless countries and trade consortiums, then vanishing back into the maze of islands and reefs they call home. The nations of the Inner Sea would like nothing more than to end the pirate menace once and for all, but the eternal hurricane known as the Eye of Abendego has thus far shielded the Free Captains of the Shackles from the threat of retaliation.
In the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path, the PCs take on the role of pirates, but they must make a name for themselves in piracy, plunder, and disrepute to truly become infamous Free Captains of the Shackles. The most important thing to keep in mind when creating your character is that piracy plays a significant role in this Adventure Path—your character should want to become a pirate, or at least not be opposed to the idea. This does not mean that characters must be evil. The merry swashbuckler with a good heart is a well-known trope of pirate fiction, after all.
This guide offers some tips about the types of characters that will be best suited for adventuring in the Shackles, as well as campaign traits to flesh out those characters’ backgrounds. Finally, it provides rules for ship-to-ship combat (including sample ships) that will play a major role in the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path as the PCs captain their own ship in search of plunder and infamy!
Character Classes: All character classes can be a good fit for this adventure. Characters with some connection to the sea will do particularly well. Characters should either want to be pirates or at least be open to the idea of becoming pirates.
Cleric Domains: Most domains should be playable in Skull & Shackles. The Tempest domain, Trickery Domain, and War domain might do particularly well. From the Unearthed Arcana publication, the Protection and Forge domain are also good. All pirates of all moralities pay homage to Korthrala, God of the Sea, and Chemalka, Lady of the Storms, although the latter is largely indifferent to mortal worship and prayers.
Favored Enemies and Terrains: Good favored enemy choices for rangers in the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path include aberration, humanoid (giant), monstrous humanoid, and in particular, humanoid (human). For the Natural Explorer class feature, ocean or coast make good terrains.
Skull & Shackles Campaign Traits
Character traits are features that help customize a PC’s background and tie her to the themes and events of a particular adventure. Each character should begin play with a trait that may be selected from the Skull & Shackles campaign traits below.
Campaign traits are tailored to a specific Adventure Path and give your character a built-in reason to begin the first adventure in a new campaign. Campaign traits assume a lot more about your character’s backstory than do normal traits, and they are meant to help serve as inspiration for a player working to create a detailed and interesting history for her character. You have a certain amount of leeway in adjusting a campaign trait’s expected backstory once you’ve selected the trait that’s right for you; just be sure to get your GM’s approval before you run with a modified history.
All of the following traits revolve around characters that have a reason to be in Port Peril—the unruly capital of the Shackles—and the circumstances that brought them to the notorious dockside tavern known as The Vulgar Fish, where they ran afoul of a press gang from the pirate ship Wormwood. You can take a look at these traits to get a general, spoiler-free idea of the types of foes and challenges your character might encounter over the course of the Adventure Path. Knowing that there are going to be elements of piracy, sailing ships, ancient cyclops ruins, and both jungle and underwater adventuring should help you build a character that fits more organically into the campaign you’re about to join.
Ancient Explorer: You are a student of the ancient history of Litania, and you’ve come to the Shackles to explore the crumbling and vine-choked ruins of the cyclops empire of Ghol-Gan, which have lain abandoned among the isles of the Shackles for thousands of years. You gain a +1 bonus on Intelligence (history). In addition, you gain Cyclops or Ettin as a bonus language.
You went to a tavern called The Vulgar Fish in Port Peril last night to meet a contact who supposedly had an old map of lost cyclops ruins to sell, but the drink was stronger than you had expected and you passed out before making the deal.
Barroom Talespinner: You grew up listening to tales of adventure and piracy on the high seas and the sea chanteys of old salts in dockside dives. You learned all about what it’s like to be a pirate by talking with the sailors on shore leave, and learned how to tell a tale (or perform some other pirate entertainment) yourself. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Charisma (Diplomacy) checks and Charisma (Perform) checks. In addition, once per week you can make an Intelligence check to see if you know a popular legendary pirate tale, the telling of which grants you advantage on checks made to influence NPCs on the Wormwood.
You went to a tavern called The Vulgar Fish in Port Peril to earn a few coins with your tales of the sea. The patrons seemed pleased with your performance and bought you a few drinks. You had just remembered a tale of an unfortunate sailor who found himself press-ganged on a pirate ship after his drink was drugged when suddenly everything went black.
Korthrala's Blessing: You were born aboard a ship at sea or down by the docks in a port city on an auspicious day. Old salts and sea dogs nod knowingly and say that Korthrala has marked you for a greater destiny. You don’t know anything about that, but you’ve always felt more at home on the sea than on land, and your keen eyes can easily pick out a sail on the distant horizon. You gain a +1 trait bonus on Perception checks.
You came to a tavern in Port Peril called The Vulgar Fish in search of your fate. You’re not sure how many drinks you had, but they quickly went to your head and you passed out on the table before you found your destiny—unless it lay in the bottom of a bottle. Then again, maybe you found your destiny after all…
Dockside Brawler: You grew up on the dangerous docks of one of the Shackles’ numerous ports or anchorages, and quickly learned that fists often make a better point than fancy words, especially when used the right way. You’ve always preferred action to talk, anyway. You gain a +1 bonus on damage rolls with a dagger.
While drinking at a tavern called The Vulgar Fish in Port Peril last night, you got into a brawl with some of the other patrons. You handled yourself well, but a group of rough-looking characters ganged up on you and overwhelmed you, knocking you unconscious. Fortunately, you were able to conceal your dagger when you were press-ganged, and you begin the campaign with it, regardless of your starting circumstances.
Ship’s Surgeon: On a ship, the only man more sought after than the grog master is the ship's surgeon. You learned your trade the usual way, but the wanderlust came over you and you took to the sea. Being a ship's surgeon paid your way more often than not, and you were frequently a welcome addition to any ship's crew.
You were between ships in Port Peril, and after stopping for a drink at a tavern called The Vulgar Fish, you happened upon a damsel in distress in the alleyway outside. Thinking you could help, you didn’t notice the thugs hiding nearby, and they caught you unawares. You’ve been on enough ships to know a press gang by the blow of the sap on the back of your neck—you just hope whatever ship you end up on needs a surgeon. Although the majority of your equipment was taken away when you were press- ganged, they scoundrels left you a fully stocked healer’s kit, and you begin the campaign with it, regardless of your starting circumstances.
Touched by the Sea: You’ve always felt the call of the sea and your blood surges with the ebb and f low of the tides. Perhaps one of your parents was a sailor or pirate, or maybe one of your ancestors had a bit of aquatic elf or undine blood in them. Whatever the reason, you’re as comfortable in the water as you are on land. You gain a +1 bonus on Strength (Athletics) checks made to swim.
You came to Port Peril in search of your destiny, and after a few drinks at a tavern called The Vulgar Fish, you went down to the docks to take in a view of the sea. The last thing you remember is a blow to the back of your head and the waves rushing up to meet you.