May 2, 2015

Hunting on the High Seas

Raiding karakoa by Wylz Gutierrez

Maritime adventure is a core component of Hari Ragat, and the tropical island setting offers a lot of interesting adventure opportunities. A lot of these have to do with sea raiding and other piratey activities. Some cast the heroes as the defenders, some as the attackers righting some wrong, and getting some fame and profit on the side. Here are some ideas for your tropical Vikings:

Pack Hunting
Vijadesans sometimes go raiding in single vessels, but more commonly they operate in fleets of half a dozen or more craft. The largest craft belongs to, or is commanded by, the highest-ranked warrior on the expedition, and serves as both flagship and mothership to the smaller craft, carrying extra supplies and water for them, and in case of a fight at sea, serving as the fleet's heavy hitter. Fleets may disperse for small-scale operations such as kidnapping and attacking small merchant craft, or operate as one unit against settlements or large enemy vessels or convoys.

Vijadesan rulers often sally out with their followers and sometimes with the addition of mercenaries to raid their declared enemies. Corsairs are distinguished from outright pirates by their 'correct' behavior: they only attack enemy settlements and shipping, they allow all their captives the right to ransom themselves free, and they keep any captives that could not do so, instead of selling them in foreign lands.

Certain chiefs are considered outlaws for breaking the Vijadesan conventions of warfare, and these are the true pirates. They attack anyone, without provocation and often engage in slave trading. Very wealthy captives may be ransomed, but a beautiful woman or boy may be retained even if they can offer ransom because the pirates hope to make more from their sale on the slave blocks in foreign lands.

Seasonal Raids
Whether pirate or corsair, Vijadesan sea raiders strike according to the season. When the northeast monsoon blows, they hunt west and south of their home ports, and when the winds turn, they may hunt to the north and east. Occasionally a bold or crafty raider will chance raiding on a contrary wind for surprise or a faster getaway, but this is risky specially in storm season. Entire raiding fleets have been lost and the fates of kingdoms and dynasties changed when a raiding fleet got caught in a bad storm.

Dawn Landings
Pirates and corsairs will usually attack settlements in the dark before dawn. Advance parties may land in small boats farther up or down the coast, hoping to eliminate any sentinels, who are usually conspicuous atop their watchtowers. At a prearranged time or signal, the rest of the raiders will descend, beaching their vessels en masse to pour into the hopefully unaware town.

Land Approaches
Sometimes raiders will land well away from their target settlement, specially if they have local help, and march through hills and jungle to come at the target from the landward side. A land approach may offer concealment all the way to the very edge of the settlement, and works specially well if the raiders have allies on the same island who will provide guides or even join in the attack.

Kidnapping on the Tidal Flats
Pirates will often take captives however they can, and one favorite tactic is to sail close to shore in smaller boats at low tide, when the fisherfolk come out comb the tidal flats for shellfish. The raiders will disguise themselves as fishermen, often positioning their craft between the sun and the beach to make it harder to identify them. When they spot an unwary victim, they rapidly row in, grapple their victims into their boats, then row away. 

Hunting at Sea
Raiding settlements is almost always more profitable than nabbing vessels at sea -- there is more loot, and if the raiders have enough force, a more certain target. On the other hand, shore raids require a lot of fighters to be successful, and if the tables are turned on the raiders they could lose everything. Attacking enemy ships is thus a secondary activity to shore raids, generally practiced by smaller outlaw bands, or against a known, specific target.

For example, a raider may lie in wait for a specific merchantman they know will have to pass a certain route, or for a bridal ship carrying some wealthy noble bride and her husband with her dowry and gifts, or for a groom's ship on the way to a wedding to take the bridal gifts on board.

Narrows and Shallows
The favorite hunting grounds for raiders are the narrows between close-lying islands, and shallow waters near rocky outcrops or mangrove swamps that give easy concealment to their vessels. An entire fleet can hide in a mangrove swamp, specially before the full light of morning, shooting out when prey is sighted like a pack of wolves bursting out of a cave lair.

There are places in the islands known for their narrow or shallow waters and a prevalence of light, fitful winds where an enemy vessel might be slowed or becalmed, and thus be vulnerable to attack. Raiders will frequent these during the seasons when calms are likely to occur.

Games of Deception
Raiders may employ many schemes to get their prey by surprise. Sometimes they will pose as traders. Sometimes an advance party will land pretending to be traders, perhaps even offering loot from a recent raid as their 'goods,' and ask to guest with the local chief; in the middle of the night they will murder the chief, fire his house, and with that as a signal, bring the other raiders down on the confused community.

Sometimes raiders in traders' guise will approach other vessels offering things for sale, or inviting the other vessel to land and trade. If the victim follows the raiders' wishes, they will quickly have armed men drawing weapons on board, or be surrounded and cut off from escape while on shore.

Sometimes pirates pretend to be their own victims, hailing a passing vessel for help from the hulk of their last victim, while the rest of their fleet lies in hiding. When the target comes in to offer aid, the disguised pirates attack and raise the signal for the rest of their fleet to converge on the prey.

Wrecking and Wreck Diving
Outlaws and some greedier chiefs will often try to plunder any vessels that run aground on their domains. Sometimes the wreckers will take only the goods, as 'payment' for rescuing the crew and passengers, and sometimes they will also try to capture these for ransom or the slave blocks, or simply kill them all because the dead tell no tales.

Many vessels also sink in Janggalan waters during storms, and the Vijadesans consider it fair for anyone to help themselves to these -- if they can! Large vessels from Wu Long and other wealthy foreign lands are carefully watched when a storm is brewing or expected, so that its course can be tracked. If it sinks, locals will have a pretty good idea where to start looking, and will send out their most skilled divers as soon as the weather calms.

There are also famous wrecks that have never been found, and certain wrecks considered sacred for some reason by the locals, who prevent all others from trying to salvage from them.

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