First portion of a three part series detailing Keoish efforts to gain intelligence on the vast unexplored frontier right on its doorstep - the Azure Sea. This is a location of great peril, mystery, treasure and high adventure and it represents a setting that can challenge the strongest and bravest of Oerth.
Report from the Azure Sea - Part I
Fellow Agents of the Lion Throne, I, Admiral William
Stoutheart, have compiled a report that has taken me over two years and
countless battles to complete. I do not
part with the intelligence contained herein lightly. The area of the world we call the Azure Sea
represents a great frontier right upon our borders, and yet we know precious
little about it - even less about what lies beneath its surface. The Azure Sea is a dynamic area, with natural
and artificial wonders, fantastic treasures, and incredible danger. What I intend to do is pass on what
information we have gained and use this time to petition our masters to direct
more attention and assets to securing Keoland's influence across (and
underneath) this mighty body of water.
Major Powers: The current state of affairs in the Azure Sea
is of great uncertainty and flux.
Following the devastation of the so called Greyhawk Wars, the
geopolitical realities of the Azure Sea had profoundly shifted (Note 1). The Nyrondese navy is bottled up protecting
its shores from marauding Ahlissians.
Pirates from the Pomarj aid the Scarlet Brotherhood in blocking off the
Sea of Gearnat from the rest of the Azure.
The Hold of the Sea Princes was effectively destroyed through a program
of mass assassinations. The Iron League
was likewise blunted, with only the great city of Irongate and our beloved
Keoland standing against the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Prior to the wars, the great sea powers of the Azure were
the aforementioned Sea Princes and the Iron League (Note 2), along with
Keoland-Ulek, Nyrond, the Great Kingdom, and the Scarlet Brotherhood (who refer
to themselves as the nation of Shar).
The Brotherhood made spectacular gains during the Greyhawk Wars, even
taking some of our southern lands and threatening Gradsul. Our naval forces were up to the task of
repulsing this assault, but the Brotherhood established domination across the
sea by blockading the major ports and straits of the Azure.
The Scarlet Brotherhood, through their embassy at the City of Greyhawk,
is attempting to enforce their blockade of key ports by using legalistic
loopholes and fine print in the Pact of Greyhawk. Through their navy, the Brotherhood enforces
its will through brute force. But
Keoland is leading the free nations bordering the Azure in challenging the
blockades and opening up the trade routes to Irongate and other ports once
again. Merchant ships from the Domain of
Greyhawk and even the rare Sea Prince survivor have also managed to slip
through Brotherhood patrols (Note 3).
After the Pact of Greyhawk, Keoland kept up a small but
strong naval fleet and has been using it to escort merchantmen out over the
Azure once again. All manner of independent
privateers, corsairs, merchants, adventurers, and contractors have tried their
hands in plying the Azure and facing down the blockade. Enough apparently succeed to give hope to the
desperate. This is a wild, free-wheeling
situation that the powers-that-be and individual adventurers alike exploit.
cities: Across the Azure, there are scattered communities, city-states, and
merchant strongholds that can support a small naval force (Note 4). Some small pirate nations exert independence
and can dominate a small area around their strongholds. The grand merchant fleets have largely been
stuck in port since the end of the wars, but a few individual ships still run
the blockade and ply the seas.
Various freebooter groups have varied responses to the
Scarlet Brotherhood blockade, ranging from defiance, servitude, to anything in
between. Some of the more infamous
groups include: the Slavelords, a fleet
of yellow sailed ships that conduct raids for human captives from the Nyr Dyv
to the shores of the Azure; the Crimson Fleet, a relatively new force which
operates mostly in the far south - not aligned with the Brotherhood in spite of
its name; the Sharks of Hell, a devilish possessed sea captain leads a fleet of
equally cursed crew (Note 5).
Finally, nonhumans such as the Pomarji goblinoids, or the
occasional elf ship from the Lendores will go about their business in the Azure
as well. The Purple Squid hobgoblins in
particular have established a strong reputation as whalers and mercenaries
throughout the Azure. Of course, this
analysis of the powers of the Azure is incomplete. I leave the discussion of the principle
powers of the nonhuman, subsurface Azure to another report.
Trade and Economics: Trade across the Azure before the
Greyhawk Wars was vibrant between the aforementioned nation-states. Generally,
the direction of trade from Keoland was to either send trade goods to the
civilized ports of the east, or else brave the wild southern lands to recover
exotic spices, lumber, metals, and the like.
For Keoland, the most profitable trading items were the renowned luxury
goods our kingdom produces. Keoish brandy,
silk, tamal leaves, and semi-precious stones were the items that found many
eager markets in the lands of the east, especially in the more cosmopolitan of
trading cites like Hardby, Rel Astra, Irongate, and Nessermouth (Note 6). More mundane cargo such as wine, foodstuffs
and worked jewelry-trinkets were also commonly shipped to foreign ports. The demand for these goods still exist, with
the staples now having more profitable potential than the luxuries
generally. Provided the merchants in
question can get by the blockades, trade can be a very profitable endeavor. The most difficult challenge today is
obtaining the goods from the Amedio and Hepmonaland, as the Brotherhood has a
much tighter grip over those areas now.
Nyrond's merchant fleet is virtually non-existent, aside
from some independents working out of Nessermouth. Ahlissa has made the Relmor Bay its lake, and
is cautiously sending some ships out into the wider Azure (officially to trade,
but these ships are more likely to be engaged in piracy, smuggling, and
slaving). Irongate sheltered some
merchants who escaped capture by the Brotherhood during the Wars, and they
provide a vital lifeline to keeping their people fed through hazardous trips to
our ports. The Principality of Ulek
works largely with us in their trade, improving our relations.
Greyhawk sponsors a merchant fleet that embarks out of
Hardby, and has been making good headway into establishing sea trade. Currently, the Scarlet Brotherhood has been
making a big show of wanting to open trade with Greyhawk, suggesting that they
are loosening up their blockade. But it
is more likely that they are attempting to leverage a little in the short term
to secure a more favorable position later.
Time will tell whether these machinations will bear fruit.
The Blockade: Before the outbreak of the Greyhawk Wars,
the largest and most powerful fleet was that of the Sea Princes. It is not an accident that the Brotherhood
targeted their leadership and forced capitulation early in the war. I theorize that the primary target in this
action was not the land of the Sea Princes, but the fleet. Analyzing the tactics of the Brotherhood, it
seems out of place to have them suddenly reveal themselves to the world in the
open as they did in the Wars. I believe
that it was more a matter of they had no other options. With the possibility of a "Golden League"
finally becoming reality, the Brotherhood needed to nullify those nations and
then make a bid to control the seaways (Note 7). At that moment, the Brotherhood had manpower
to spare, but the time and resources it would have taken to build enough ships
to man would have taken decades. With
the capitulation of the Sea Princes, now the men in red had the vessels to
crew. Many ships were indeed surrendered,
barring a few independent captains that fled to the Pirate Isles or to other
ports. Suddenly, what was once an
obscure and isolated nation had the largest sailing fleet on the Azure.
The Scarlet Brotherhood thus now maintains a stranglehold on
all human trade that goes on the waters of the Azure. However, this blockade is not as effective as
one would assume. It is my intelligence
that this state of affairs is largely a bluff on the Brotherhood's part (Note 8). No single nation can effectively lay claim
the an area as large and diverse as the Azure Sea. What is true is that the Brotherhood, after
the seizure of the Sea Princes, now had the largest navy in terms of vessels. With the increase in ships, however, the corresponding
crews were not as experienced as the fleets of other nations. In truth, the Brotherhood relies on pressed
crews and the dregs of their captured territories far too much to have each
vessel be competently manned.
Therefore, the Brotherhood really only keeps a sharp patrol
on a few key areas, and lets their reputation keep most of the more risk averse
merchants in port. Their series of forts
along the Amedio coasts and patrols centered around the Olman Isles are
examples of this tactic. The Pact of
Greyhawk allows for entry into free ports, but the Brotherhood lurks just over
the horizon in order to conduct "customs inspections" that usually
result in the disappearance of the merchant's cargo (and often the entire crew
and ship as well!).
The High Admiral of the Scarlet Brotherhood fleet is unusual
in that it is not one of the powerful monks, it is a warrior lord. Brother-Admiral Najari is a crafty, skillful
shipmaster who prides himself on being able to sail the breadth of the Azure to
trouble spots at a moment's notice. He
has a network of informants that runs through every major port city and brings
him critical intelligence at a frightening pace. Najari has three subordinate wizards that
each runs a small band of ships and assists in capturing blockade runners. Each wizard is a high level threat unto
themselves and between these four major ship fleets, the Brotherhood maintains
their control over most of the shipping in the Azure (Note 9).
Blockade Runners: As described in the paragraphs above, it
is evident that the major human powers of the Azure are now down to Keoland and
Shar, with Greyhawk, Irongate, and Ahlissa each having differing levels of
success in influencing the main conflict.
This conflict is mostly in the legal arena, being argued at length at
the diplomatic suites in the City of Greyhawk.
However, the cold fact that the Brotherhood still maintains its blockade
in the Azure is nothing less than an insult to the goodly aligned kingdoms of
Legally, Shar maintains that it is simply trying to enforce
maritime law on the Azure and operate as a customs police. They cite the many known pirate groups as
evidence of the need for such measures therefore the Brotherhood actively hunts
down any pirates they encounter. Pirates
are considered to be hostis humani
generis and thus any considerations from the Pact of Greyhawk would not
apply to them (Note 10). The Brotherhood
also bullies their way onto merchant ships to make sure that there are no
smuggled goods or pirates among the crews.
This effectively blocks the entire sea and according to the letter of
the Pact, all legal.
The nations of Relmor Bay and the Sea of Gearnat are largely
bottled up from going out into the Azure.
The Ahlissian navy is commanded by Fleet Admiral Llarnen and may have
some sort of agreement with Brother-Admiral Najari, as the old Great Kingdom
ships seem to be able to make it to port relatively unhindered. Likewise, the Pirate Lord Targas of Blue
seems able to ply the seas at will (Brotherhood customs enforcement seems to be
blind to his piratical activities).
In response to the blockade, there are numerous brave or
foolhardy ship captains that make their living as blockade runners now. Gone are the days where a large fleet of
merchant vessels plies the Azure, those fleets are too slow and easy to catch
by the Brotherhood. Now, free trade is
done mostly through fast individual ships.
Often the goods are high-risk exotic goods that fetch the best
prices. But in places like war starved
Nyrond, a ship full of dried fruit receives great appreciation. Ships from Greyhawk in particular have
successfully run past the blockade and made it into friendly ports.
Some of the more prominent blockade runners include:
The Nyrondese Captain Conall of the ship Polestar. This man exemplifies the political divisions
in Nyrond. He is loyal to his king and
country, but owes a great debt to the harbor master of Nessermouth. After the Greyhawk Wars, Nessermouth has (all
but openly) seceded from the rest of Nyrond.
Due to his debt of honor, Conall still brings his goods to Nessermouth
and silently curses the fact that much needed materials are kept from the
people who really need them. In his
desperation to assist his king and his people, he may attempt to smuggle
certain items to the Nyrondese fleet on the open sea.
Captain Drace of Irongate has several ships that each seem
to be enchanted to the hilt with illusion causing magic, weather controlling
spells, and fog shrouding effects. He
has established a vital lifeline into Irongate, keeping critical supplies going
in and confounding the Brotherhood attempts to seize him. He has famously landed in Gyrax with a load
of valuable ores right under the nose of an off shore Brotherhood fleet and is
currently working on a return voyage through the teeth of the enemy.
Merchant Lord Sythos Quimn has managed to keep his fleet
together amidst all the blockade actions.
His flagship The Golden Shrike
has made numerous trips from Hepmonaland loaded with exotic herbs, jewelry,
spices, and artwork that commands the highest prices (Note 11).
Our own Keoland has the dubious fortune of being the home of
the outrageous Captain Xander Yandovol (probably not his real name). Dressed in naval uniforms gaudy even by Aerdy
standards, he claims to be a Keoish naval attaché. At best he can be described as an independent
contractor as he gallivants about from port to port only one step ahead of the
Brotherhood, local law enforcement, and lovelorn barmaids.
This man laughs in equal measure at danger, furious husbands, and
tailor's bills! But he has one great
talent, he can command the loyalty of the toughest crews and get them to face
the longest odds in search of the next adventure. And usually, those adventures loosely align
with Keoish naval policy (all unofficially of course).
In the next part of this missive, I will describe some of
those mysterious locations and phenomenon of the Azure, and in the third part
the major undersea beings. This report
continues as more information becomes avail to me. For the time being, your humble servant,
Admiral Stoutheart, Keoish Navy
1. The time frame of
this report is shortly following the Greyhawk Wars, CY 585. The details can be modified to fit any
campaign style and era.
2. The Iron League
was composed of Irongate, Idee, Sundee, Onwall, and the Lordship of the Isles
by the year 576. The beginnings of the
League go all the way back to the Turmoil Between Crowns in CY 447. At its height, South Province allied with the
Iron League, as did Almor and Nyrond and potentially Dullstrand (see page 10 of
A Guide to the World of Greyhawk). There was an attempt to create a larger
alliance, a "Golden League" to counter the growing evil in
Rauxes. The Overking eventually reigned
in his wayward provinces and Nyrond and Almor maintained a treaty with the Iron
League but did not become formal members.
Therefore, the Golden League died on the vine but the idea was attempted
again in the modern era.
3. The Pact of
Greyhawk has endless fine print going over how the Scarlet Brotherhood could
maintain a naval blockade across the Azure.
Technically, a blockade is an act of war, but the Brotherhood
successfully pushed to have their actions be classified as mere "customs
enforcement" and to provide "universal protection of trade ships from
sea monsters and pirates". While
the Brotherhood has to be circumspect about their intentions while negotiating
in Greyhawk, their fleet exercises no such subtlety on the high seas.
4. The independent
city of Sasserine is one such example.
Long isolated from the greater powers of the Azure, Sasserine is an
oasis from the repressive Scarlet Brotherhood that covers the majority of the
Amedio lands. Having only been recently
freed from being under the thumb of the Sea Princes, Sasserine is seeking to
assert itself as a trade partner to the wider Flanaess and to strike at the
Brotherhood's fleet. Sasserine's
existence is still not widely known to most of the powers of the Azure, due to
the past aggressive efforts of the Sea Princes to dominate the resources
5. See "Hell on
Oerth" on Canonfire for details on the Sharks of Hell; the Slavelords in
the adventure Slavers and the A
Series of modules; the Crimson Fleet is detailed in the "Savage Tide"
adventure path in Dungeon Magazine
6. See several
articles on Canonfire for details regarding trade and various trade goods on
the Azure. "Fashion in the Flanaess
- Textiles" by gvdammerung for information on Keoish silk. "Keoish Brandy" by OldManReaver for
the brandy. "A Wine Dark Sea"
by gvdammerung discusses the trade on the Azure generally. See also Dragon
Magazine Issue 271 and the 1998 Annual for tamal leaves and other examples
of trade goods. A thread in the
Canonfire forums section also discusses the trade goods of the nations: http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=9004&highlight=trade
7. Nyrond was being
courted by the Iron League to reform the "Golden League" that would
serve as a good aligned counter weight to the Great Kingdom of Aerdy. The elf ambassador Fioranna Aielestriel was
key to the discussions that went into formally allying Nyrond and Almor with
the Iron League. (See her entry in the City
of Greyhawk Folks, Feuds, and Factions book. That source has her as the Nyrondese
ambassador to Greyhawk, but her focus is promoting the Golden League.) With the assassination of the leadership of
the Lordship of the Isles and invasions of Idee and Onwall, the Scarlet
Brotherhood broke up the League thereby destroying their closest and
potentially most powerful enemy.
8. See the Canonfire
article "Keoish Intelligence Report on the City of Greyhawk" for
details on the legal aspects of the Brotherhood enforcing its claims. This report may be exaggerating the
effectiveness of the Keoish blockade runners, but a sizeable number of ships
have made it to friendly ports soon after the ending of the Greyhawk Wars by a
variety of means. An example of this is
in Dungeon Magazine Issue 141,
detailing how to sneak past the blockade near the Olman Islands.
Brother-Admiral's subordinates consists of a pyromanical invoker who lives for
burning ships down, a master summoner who has several massive sea serpents
under his control, and the distinctive villain known as Acidburn.
Acidburn is a wizard that specializes in water elemental
magic and takes particular delight in transmuting liquids to acids and
dissolving things with them. Acidburn
wears distinctive yellow and green clothing and was responsible for gaining an
alliance with the black dragons of the Pelisso Swamp for the Brotherhood. In exchange for helping block off the Tilva
Strait, the great black dragon Quagmire and her brood gain valuable tribute
from the Brotherhood. Acidburn is the
one in charge of maintaining that tribute and serves as a diplomat to
Quagmire. Weakening this alliance would
do much to weaken the overall effectiveness of the blockade - stopping the flow
of tribute Acidburn brings to the dragons may be the best way to accomplish
10. Pirates are the
"enemy of mankind" and thus outside the normal laws of admiralty and
criminal justice. Therefore any nation
can hunt down, try, and execute those who practice piracy. The Scarlet Brotherhood has a notoriously
loose definition of a pirate, of course.
11. This merchant is
not what he seems, he is a pureblood yuan ti that serves as the intermediary between
the ancient yuan ti cities in Hepmonaland and the colonies in Scuttlecove and
H'thiss Kaa. He smuggles all sorts of
illicit materials and magic items to these enclaves of snake men. He is also an information broker between each
of these groups, in addition to his legitimate trade to other ports on the
Azure. He is clever enough not to have any
obvious affinity for snake like things on his person or ships. SOURCES: "Freelancers
of the Waves" and "Naval Cultures of the Flanaess" series of articles
on Canonfire by Crag, "Fashion in the Flanaess" series of articles on
Canonfire by gvdammerung, "Pirate-Types in the Flanaess" and "A
Wine Dark Sea" by gvdammerung
"Keoish Intelligence Reports" on Canonfire
The "Savage Tide" Adventure Path in Dungeon and Dragon Magazines, especially Dungeon
Magazine Issue 146 has Scuttlecove information; 139 for Sasserine; Dragon Magazine Issue 349 has more
information on Sasserine and the Crimson Fleet
Forum topic on Canonfire "Naval Strengths of the Realms
of Greyhawk", located here http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=6352&highlight=