Skull & Shackles
Besmara stirs up strife and conflict where she can, the better to plunder all sides. Her following may be small, but she exerts her power unreservedly on the waters. The Pirate Queen is vicious, temperamental, and greedy. She teaches her followers to sow chaos and harvest gold from the bellies of captured ships. Beyond that, Besmara has little interest in the affairs of mortals, even those who live on or beneath the waves, and instead focuses on sailing the chaotic sea of the Maelstrom on the Outer Planes, raiding ports in Axis, Heaven, Hell, and beyond. When she chooses to appear on the Material Plane, she does so in the form of a raven-haired pirate captain aboard her ship, Seawraith. Besmara is chaotic neutral, and her portfolio is piracy, sea monsters, and strife. Her domains are Chaos, Trickery, War, Water, and Weather, and her favored weapon is the rapier.
If you pay respects to Besmara, you’re probably a pirate, privateer, or other seafaring scoundrel, though you might also be an honest sailor just hoping to make it home in one piece. You might go days, months, or years without a prayer or thought to Besmara, even if you follow her devotedly. Yet when trouble strikes and you’ve got your back to the mast, prayers to the Pirate Queen come bubbling from your lips. Like Besmara, you’re slow to take sides and quick to abandon them, and care little for laws and justice (though revenge is always an idea you can get behind). In a conflict, what matters is not who is right, but rather who has the best loot. The ocean waves don’t consider the allegiance of a ship before capsizing it in a storm, and neither do you think overmuch about the ships you plunder. You like to speak up and give your opinion, particularly when it comes to selecting targets or planning attacks. You do poorly on ships where your input is not encouraged, and quickly leave to find a more appealing position.
As a follower of Besmara, you likely spend most of your time on the water. You might be a bard, rogue, or cavalier captaining a pirate ship, or perhaps a barbarian plunderer. If you’re a fighter, you probably crew aboard a pirate ship and focus on speed in combat. You could even be a druid or ranger with an affinity for water, weather, or sea creatures. Wizards, sorcerers, and witches are welcome in her faith, especially if they have powerful spells to target enemy ships at long range, control the weather, or help a ship escape from pursuers. Alchemists frequently serve as munitions experts and field surgeons. Monks are too centered to worship Besmara properly, and paladins look askance at the Pirate Queen’s chaotic doctrine. If you’re a cleric of Besmara or an oracle, you might serve aboard a pirate ship as the ship’s medic, religious officer, or even captain. Your responsibilities include healing your crew, using your spells to assist in battle, encouraging your crew to engage in piracy, and officiating over burials at sea.
You want gold, and covet the wealth of others. You love the water and feel at home on a ship. Piracy is exciting and fun, and you’d sooner cut your own throat than take a humdrum job on land. When you meet others who appreciate piracy and the wildness of the open water, you eagerly team up and use your abilities to help them—provided they’re willing to help you in return. You hate sitting in one place day after day and prefer to keep your time in port to a minimum. You enjoy traveling to new waters and uncharted islands almost as much as piracy itself, and leap at opportunities to explore.
The symbol of Besmara is the Jolly Roger, a white skull and crossbones on a black flag, and any ship flying the symbol is bound to have at least a few followers of Besmara aboard. You may choose skull-themed accessories, such as a silver skull pendant or a skull-and-crossbones tattoo. You treat other faithful of Besmara as potential comrades, but view everyone with a certain level of suspicion—after all, it’s possible you’ll attack or be attacked by them in the future, if you haven’t already. You trust your sworn shipmates more than anyone else, but even then, you make it a point of pride to be no one’s fool. You’re quick to share a drink, a tumble in the brothel, or any of life’s other simple pleasures, but always keep your sword within reach.
Even clerics of Besmara treat their worship as a casual affair. Besmara doesn’t expect grand temples and fancy rituals, as you’re too busy plundering ships. You may concoct individualized private rituals for yourself, however. Many faithful of Besmara hold superstitions that grow into full religious beliefs. Common maxims include the following: It’s lucky to bring a cat on board (likely because of the problem of ship rats); a figurehead with open eyes guides a ship safely; wearing gold jewelry wards off evil spirits; whistling aboard a ship brings bad luck; and pouring alcohol on a deck brings good luck. It’s also well known that Besmara appreciates the occasional sacrifice of valuable goods dumped into the sea (it’s believed she reclaims them from the ocean floor), and hiding treasure in a remote location can also be viewed as a sacrifice—though you have a way of recovering these latter “donations” before too long. You speak little about your faith, unless in dire straits. Your worship is real, but not a large part of your life.
Your own faith is casual enough that other beliefs don’t bother you. If a faith’s doctrines oppose Besmara’s, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter their faithful in a peaceful setting anyway. Believers in faiths that have no issue with Besmara’s teachings are more likely to be pirates and cutthroats themselves, and that suits you fine. You neither target ships specifically because of the faiths of those aboard, nor spare enemies because of their beliefs—not even other faithful of Besmara.
Besmara doesn’t take much interest in the lives of her followers. Her only concern is that you create chaos through piracy. She has no affection for the creatures of the sea, and you have no prohibition against killing sea monsters or aquatic creatures. She cares nothing for what happens on land, and has no objection to murder, even that of other pirates, though she looks down on weak captains who can’t adequately control their crews. You are encouraged to seize any opportunities for plunder, and bring all your skill to bear when in combat. Running from a stronger opponent is sometimes necessary, however—prudence and cowardice are entirely different, and there’s no shame in the former. If you enter into piracy tentatively or halfheartedly, Besmara takes no overt action against you, but the weak and timid can expect no leniency from her when death comes calling.
The following religion traits may only be taken by worshipers of Besmara.
Cheat Death (Besmara): Even Besmara’s most faithful worshipers usually call upon her only in times of greatest need. Sometimes Besmara intervenes on behalf of her faithful; other times, she turns her face away as they sink beneath the waves. Once per day, when you would be reduced to 0 or fewer hit points as a result of a failed ability check, skill check, or saving throw on your part, you may invoke this ability in order to reroll the failed check. You must take the result of the second roll, even if it is worse than the original.
Expert Boarder (Besmara): Besmara rewards those who board other vessels and take what they want. While fighting on the deck of a ship, you gain a +1 bonus on all attacks made with one-handed weapons.
Besmara’s congregation is scattered and disorganized, and the temples that do exist rarely resemble one another. In one port, Besmara’s clergy might be a group of sailors’ widows who make human sacrifices to the Pirate Queen. In another, Besmara’s temple might be a shipwrecked hull in which a retired captain trades his blessings for gold. Far more common, however, are small shrines or sigils maintained by individual pirates or crews, usually carried aboard a ship in an out-of-theway corner. There is no hierarchy for your faith. Priests of the Pirate Queen craft their own titles and recognize no authority other than Besmara herself. Members of Besmara’s clergy are not automatically friendly to one another, and are as likely to try to kill each other for coin as they are to share a drink. Every temple to Besmara, whatever form it takes, always flies a Jolly Roger from a prominent position. Temples provide pirates with healing, nautical charts, shelter, tips on hideouts, and a place to fence stolen goods—all for a price, of course. In otherwise lawful cities, temples to Besmara may display the Jolly Roger on the inside of the building and keep their activities quiet, requiring the faithful to locate them through word of mouth.