Friday, 2 December 2022

The Sea Barons Primer

“What is the universe
but a lot of waves
And a craving desire
is a wave…”
― Jack Kerouac, Scattered Poems

“I looked upon the sea, it was to be my grave”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Basking in Sun
A casual observer to the Asperdi's ragged coasts might wonder, why in gods’ name would anyone want to live here?
Lashed by winds that never cease, these high cliffs and rocky shores are beat upon by an endless parade of rolling waves and spray that thunder and roar as though besieged by the wrath of those sea monsters the charts and maps invariably declare dwell east of here. Here be dragons, they say.
These Asperdis, they've gazed out on this, that long lonely frightening expanse of sea since before time reckoned. Since before the Aerdi came. Before the Suel. Indeed, even before those first Flan stitched their seagoing rafts together and ventured out into that unknown the elves had always warned them against. Here they landed, and here they stayed, perched above the cliffs, never knowing, but always wondering how vast that rolling sea stretched. Wondering if it might reach out into eternity. Where monsters really do dwell.
The Asperdi Isles are a hard, if plentiful, land. It's pleasant, even bucolic, once you scale the walls, and mount the grassy hills of the interior, where the sun basks the heights, and the crests and troughs undulate with grain and pastoral fields aplenty. Indeed, the coasts are not all rocky, not all beaten upon by the sea. Where the iguanas give way to gentle coves and inlets, tall palms are weighed down with bananas and figs, with galda and plantains. Wild goats clamber over cliffs, and gulls wheel in numbers beyond belief. The seas here are as rich as any. It's no wonder those that crossed the Bay of Gates have clung as tenaciously to these islands as they have. And it's no wonder why they have each in turn fought as fiercely as they did against those who'd weighed anchor in their sheltered bays.
One would be mistaken in believing these lush lands to be paradise, though. They may look it, but its coastal cities are a dangerous place, where the "sharks" are as voracious above as those beneath the sea.
Dangers Below

There are as many raiders and pirates ashore as asea, both foreign and domestic; slavers plying their trade – don't judge 'em, everyone has a right to earn an honest living, don't you know –; and spies from every port the old salts can recall spying. And o'er the horizon? There are whispers of nagas and sea serpents beneath the waves. Talk of kraken and sahuagin and ancient civilisations that lurk in the dark depths, that rise up when the moons are new, tentacles wavin', tridents thirsty for blood, towers twinklin' in the pitch, depending on which you're alluding to. They beach ships, they do; and drag them down to the bottom of Dahsy Johs' Locker when they dive back down, the lot of them. Or so the old sharks say.
One might think it safer to sea, where all a shark has to worry over is keeping the coasts and trade routes safe from those pirates to the north and south, as we always have. Not that those lubbers inland give credit where its due. But that's always been the way, hasn't it?
Have I put the fear in you?
All I can tell you is to keep your mouth shut while you're here. You never know which side a listener is on. Or what he's listening for. Keep an ear tuned for a creak of a plank when you bunk down, whether in tavern or inn or still on your ship. And keep a hand on your dagger just in case there's someone skulking in the shadows, or some foul fishy thing has come out of the brine, drippin', slaverin', lickin' its lips. Do them things down there have lips? Or just teeth? Thoughts like that can keep you up at night, can't they?

Those who wish to campaign where the oerth is awash with swashbuckling swords and international intrigue will be well-suited by placing their game in the isles of the Sea Barons. Danger is everywhere, and no end to the possibility of adventure:
The Barons are caught between the south Province – the United Kingdom of Ahlissa, as it came to be known – and the North – the self-described Great Kingdom of Northern Aerdy – each demanding loyalty; between the Twin Cities and Ratik, each professing good will; and betwixt wars waged upon the Flanaess and the machinations of the Scarlet Brotherhood. Barbarians raid the coasts from their icy north; and those swaggering pirates of the Lordship of the Isles are lurking to the south, poised to pounce from the narrows to the south. It's a good thing, then, that the Sea Barons don't trust any of them, because they are literally caught between a rock and the mysteries of the deep blue sea.

Inspiration can be found in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Nautical adventure might be inspired by the “Master and Commander” series, by Patrick O’Brian; as well as “Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped,” by Robert Lewis Stevenson; and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” and the film “Apocalypse Now” evokes tropical possibilities.
Further inspiration can be found in the “Golden Age of Piracy”: “A General History of Pyrates,” by Daniel Defoe; “Pirates: A complete History From 1300 BC to the Present day,” by Angus Konstrum; and “Pirates: A New History, from Vikings to Somali Raiders,” by Peter Lehr.
Might I also recommend: “Borderland Smuggling” Patriots, Loyalists, and Illicit Trade in the Northeast, 1783-1820,” by Joshua M. Smith.

Country specific resources:
The most pertinent include:
Dragon #204 – The Twin Cities: A Strange Alliance
Dragon #206 – The Sea Barons
(Both of these are excerpts from Ivid the Undying by Carl Sargent, available here.)

Further details can be found in:
The Greyhawk Folio, The Greyhawk setting boxed set, Greyhawk Adventures, Greyhawk Wars, From the Ashes Boxed Set, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, and Dragon magazine #52,55,57,63,67
Dragon #116 – High Seas

To some extent you can adapt information on the Lendore Isles to the Sea Baron's Asperdi Isles.
L1 – The Secret of Bone Hill
L2 – The Assassin's Knot

Adventures in this country include:
Greyhawk Adventures, Diver Down
Dragon #78 – Citadel by the Sea, Generic
Dungeon #3 – A Desperate Rescue, Generic
Dungeon #4 – Escape from the Tower of Midnight, Generic (Thieves)
Dungeon #6 – After the Storm, Generic
Dungeon #8 – For a Lady’s Honor, and Flowers of Flame, Generic (Thieves)
Dungeon #9 – The Ghostship Gambit, Generic
Dungeon #10 – They Also Serve, Generic (Thieves)
Dungeon #11 – Kingdom in the Swamp, and The Deadly Sea, and Wards of Witching Ways, Generic
Dungeon #12 – Light of Lost Souls, and Intrigue in the Deeps, Generic
Dungeon #66 The Sunken Shadow
Dungeon #14 – Stranded on the Baron’s Island, Generic
Dungeon #15 – The Wreck of the Shining Star, Generic
Dungeon #16 – Vesicant, Generic
Dungeon #34 – The Lady Rose, Generic
Dungeon #39 – Last of the Iron House, Generic
Dungeon #49 – The Dark Place, Generic
Dungeon #50 – The Vaka’s Curse, Generic
Dungeon #62 – Rat Trap, Generic (Thieves)
Dungeon #66 – The Sunken Shadow, Generic
Dungeon #74 – The Scourge of Scalabar, Generic
Dungeon #97 – Blind Man’s Bluff, Generic
Dungeon #107 – Dead Man’s Quest, Generic
Dungeon #116 – Death in Lashmire, Generic
Dungeon #125 – Seekers of the Forge, Generic
Dungeon #136 – Company of Thieves, Generic (Thieves)
Dungeon #156 – The Last Breath, Generic
Dungeon #107 – Dead Man’s Quest, Generic

- Sea adventures
- Serving abord naval, merchant, and privateer vessels
- Fending off pirates and raiders
- Reclaiming Leastile
- Scarlet Brotherhood agents, perfidious North and South Provinces!
- The Sinking Isles
- Sahuagin, Sea Elves, and Tritons
- Delving into the undeoerth beneath Tar Hill
- The Cauldron of Night
- Ancient ruins of Serpent Isle
- Expeditions into the eastern sea

Adventures in nearby areas include:
World of Greyhawk Gazetteer (Gold Box), Jungle of Lost Ships
World of Greyhawk Gazetteer (Gold Box) Werewolves of the Menowood
The Stolen Seal, World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, Ratik
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga
Forge of Fury, Bone March
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, Hepmonaland
I12 Egg of the Phoenix, Dullstrand (noted on Canonfire! It’s a bit of a stretch, but it you flip the map…)
S1 Tomb of Horrors, The Vast Swamp
Return to the Tomb of Horrors, The Vast Swamp
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill, Spindrift Isles
L2 The Assassins Knot, Spindrift Isles
L4 Devilspawn, Spindrift Isles (available on Dragonsfoot)
L5 The Kroton Adventures, Spindrift Isles (available on Dragonsfoot)
Dungeon #4 – Kingdom of the Swamp, Generic
Dungeon #37, The Mud Sorcerer's Tomb, Bone March
Dungeon #71 – Priestly Secrets, Spindrift Isles
Dungeon #84, Armistice, Griff Mountains
Dungeon #87, The Sharm’s Dark Song
Dungeon #87 – Glacier Seas
Dungeon #89 – Wedding Bells, South Province/Ahlissa
Dungeon #91 – Kambranex’s Mechinations, South Province/Ahlissa
Dungeon #95, The Witch of Serpent's Bridge, Schnai
Dungeon #121/Ghosts of Saltmarsh – The Styes, South Province/Ahlissa
Dungeon #123 – The Salvage Operation, Tivenot Peninsula
Dungeon #148, In the Shadows of Spinecastle, Bone March
Although later retconned into the Yeomanry, B1 Into the Unknown (in the monochrome edition) was originally suggested as located in Ratik. That would make north Ratik an ideal location for B1 Keep on the Borderlands, as well.

The Scarlet Brotherhood
Thunder in the Earth, Hepmonaland
Fire of the Worlds Heart, Hepmonaland
Death on Black Wings, Hepmonaland
Sky of Mourning, Hepmonaland
Pray to a Different God, Hepmonaland
Shaman, Hepmonaland

CH2 The Tears that Forever Stain, casl Entertainment, 2021, Hepmonaland
FB1 While on the Road to Cavrik's Cove, casl Entertainment, 2021, Ratik
LF1 The 9, from casl Entertainment, 2021, Medegia

- Oeridian Ruins and the Betching Vortex of Leuk-O (see: Kambranex’s Mechinations)
- Spy on the Lordship of the Isles/Scarlet Brotherhood
- Trade expeditions to Ratik, Sunndi, North Province, South Province
- Sea adventures upon the Solnor and the Aerdy Seas.
- Adventuring in the Lendore/Spindrift Isles.

The Great Kingdom (Kingdom of Aerdy): chaotic evil, lawful evil
Oeridian, [Aerdian], Common, Suloise
[Dragon #52 – 20]

Sea Barons: So [Dragon #55 – 18]
The Sea Barons CN [Dragon #52 – 18]
Sea Barons: chaotic evil, chaotic neutral; [Aerdian], Oeridian [Dragon #52 – 19]
Most of these geographically isolated areas were settled centuries ago by Suloise peoples fleeing the Oeridians; the Sea Barons have Oeridian and Flan influence as well. [TAB – 12]

576 CY
His Noble Prominence Sencho Foy, the Lord High Admiral of Asperdi; Commander of the Sea Barons (Fighter, 13th level)
Capital: Asperdi (pop. 7,100)
Population: 40,000+ [Folio – 15]
Population: 55,000 [WoGA – 33]
Demi-humans: Few
Humanoids: Few
Resources: None outstanding
[WoGA – 33/WoGA –17]

584 CY
Ruler: His Noble Prominence Basmajian Arras, Lord High Admiral of Asperdi, Commander of the Sea Barons
Capital: Asperdi
[FtAA – 36]

591 CY
Basmajian Arras
Proper Name: Dominion of the Sea Barons
Ruler: His Noble Prominence Basmajian Arras, Lord High Admiral of Asperdi, Commander of the Sea Barons (LE male human Ftr13)
Government: Independent feudal monarchy with hereditary leadership; a different noble family governs each island, but all owe fealty to Asperdi
Capital: Asperdi
Major Towns: Asperdi (pop. 8,100), Oakenheart (pop. 5,000)
Provinces: Three islands under government control, two islands not controlled
Resources: Seafaring technology and knowledge, shipbuilding supplies
Population: 154,000—Human 79% (So) [Sof, as per all text references], Halfling 9%, Elf 5%, Dwarf 3%, Gnome 2%, Half-elf 1%, Half-orc 1%
Languages: Common
Alignments: CN*, CE, NE, N
Religions: Procan, Xerbo, Osprem, Norebo, Syrul, Kurell, Nerull, Ralishaz, Celestian
[LGG – 98,99]

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

One must always give credit where credit is due. This Primer is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is exhaustive.
Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.
It has been expanded from the original postcard found in Canonfire’s “Touring the Flanaess” index, written by Sean “Ket Onwall” W. and some passages from that scholarly work reside with this piece.

The Art:
Sea Barons map, by Dave Sutherland, from Dragon #206, 1994
Dungeon #66 cover art, by Stephen Daniele, 1998
Bullywugs, by Erol Otus, from I6 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, 1981
The 9 cover art, by Daniel Govar, from LF1 The 9, casl Entertainment, 2021
Sea Barons Heraldry, from the World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983

2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1981
1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2023 Greyhawk Adventures, 1989
1064 From the Ashes Boxed Set, 1992
9577 The Adventure Begins, 1998
9578 Player’s Guide to Greyhawk, 1998
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine
OJ Oerth Journal, appearing on Greyhawk Online
Living Greyhawk Journal
Greychrondex, Steven B. Wilson
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
Anna B. Meyer’s Greyhawk Map


  1. I always feel the Sea Barons are underserved, but damn there is alot going on nearby...

    1. I think there's just as much going on there as these is on the mainland. The tale of the Sea Barons, to my mind, is threefold:
      1. their duplicitous relationship with the Great Kingdom (probably the most important of the three),
      2. their wrestle with the Lordship of the Isles for mastery of the waterways (the most visual of the three), and
      3. their likely eternal clash with the Rhizians (the most visceral).
      The way I see it, although ruled by an Aerdian Celestial House, they are anything but Aerdian, and that might be why their relationship with the mainland is so perfidious. The aristocracy might be of mainly Aerdian decent, but the people are Flan and Suel, maybe slightly more Flan, just as the Duxchaners are Suel and Flan. Might we call them both Solnese, despite their slight ethnic differences?

  2. My current PC in Rich’s Buccaneers campaign is an Asperdi Islander of Atiir blood, Feggener the Quick. :). -Ashur

  3. Very cool. I've looked at using the region between the Gull Cliffs and the Lone Heath of a campaign area, right across from the Sea Barons