Skulls and Shackles
Besmara (bes-MAR-uh) is the goddess of pirates and sea monsters. She is brash, lusty, confrontational, and greedy, but follows a code of honor and is loyal to her crew and allies as long as it serves her interests. She cares little for senseless murder or other unprofitable acts, but is willing to take risks to attain great prizes. Even the most irreligious pirate captain throws a share of treasure overboard now and then as tribute for the Pirate Queen. Mayors of port cities and captains of merchant vessels curse her name, for her followers are a direct threat to legitimate trade. She has little power or interest in the mortal world beyond the sea and its immediate reach.
These three phrases are the core of the goddess’s code, and any person familiar with her faith should recognize them and understand what they mean.
End Your Quarrels on Shore: Whatever disagreements one sailor has with another, onboard a ship is not the place to settle them, for everyone’s survival depends on the crew working together. If one member of the crew has a disagreement with another, the place to settle it is on shore—whether this is a port or just a sandy beach.
Thirty Stripes Lacking One: The traditional punishment for a serious infraction on the ship is thirty lashes on the bare back. The captain or boatswain, however, may choose to reserve the last (30th) lash as an act of mercy if the target is repentant or unconscious. Still, the captain always has the option to make that last strike at any time—a threat to ensure better behavior from the target. Usually this “lash debt” is canceled once the ship makes port, and always if the
target leaves the crew.
Truce Ends at the Horizon: While pirates recognize the need for parley, any truce is only valid until the opposing ship is past the horizon. This gives the weaker captain a head start should he fear the other captain’s intentions. Breaking this part of the code is seen as not only unsportsmanlike, but a threat to all pirates.
The Pirate Queen’s holy text is Besmara’s Code, just a few pages detailing treatment of crew, treasure, and captives. Most priests who can read make copies in their own hand; those who cannot read memorize the text’s key points and ignore what doesn’t concern them.
Besmara’s followers are greedy folk. While some take to the seas in search of adventure or the joy of exploration, most people with that mindset gravitate to more benign deities, leaving those who lust for gold above all things as the predominant members of her f lock. Such followers covet the belongings of others—whether actual riches, property, titles, fame, or lovers. If someone has something they want, they think it’s fair to take it. Most are chaotic and love their personal freedoms, avoiding tyrants who prey on the weak not because they disagree with this philosophy, but because they don’t like someone else telling them what to do.
Her followers hate staying in place from day to day, and are usually content with a few days in town to carouse before returning to a ship and heading out again. The Pirate Queen’s followers have many superstitions about good luck (cats, figureheads with open eyes, pouring alcohol on a deck), bad luck (whistling on deck), and evil spirits (wearing gold jewelry wards them off ) in addition to other pirate traditions and beliefs.
It is common practice for pirates to throw a treasure chest or two overboard before a risky battle as tribute to the goddess, though this is never a guarantee of her favor. Isolated caches of this tribute litter the sea floor, left alone by aquatic races (who understand to whom it
belongs) and usually guarded by strange creatures of the deep sea sent by the goddess or her agents.
There are no formalized rituals common to all churches, but services are generally upbeat, with singing, bootstomping, dancing, and the lighting of incense or matches (particularly slow-burning matches and fuses). Burials are one of the few somber occasions, marked by a short prayer and either burial at sea (weighted down with a chain, cannonball, or a heavy but inexpensive treasure) or burning a rowboat or raft bearing the corpse. Most priests consider it undignified to abandon fallen allies to be eaten by a sea monster unless doing so would save other crew members from an early death (such as giving sharks dead bodies to eat so living crew members can safely escape a sinking wreck).
Most priests are practical folk rather than zealots, using their magic to gain strength on the water. This is not to say that a typical priest’s belief isn’t sincere, but there is a marked difference between the crazed devotion of a Lamashtan cleric or noble serenity of an Iomedaean paladin and the utilitarian faith of a Besmaran priest. As long as the goddess is respected and gets her fair share of tribute, she is content with little more than lip service, and her priests know this. By using her magic to gain wealth, power, and fame, they serve her interests and demonstrate her greatness.