Skull & Shackles
To maintain the obedience and effectiveness of their crews, most captains enforce strict schedules and shipboard laws upon their vessels, all maintained by the swift dispensation of brutal punishments. The following presents (in order of severity) the game effects of a variety of typical nautical punishments, which the PCs have the potential to face or inflict during their piratical careers. Most of these sentences are meted out just before the evening meal, at an event typically referred to as the bloody hour. Victims are tied to the whipping post on the main deck and their backs stripped for punishment—with penalties doubled for those who resist. Although the victim is bound, the punishers simply lash their victims, and are not allowed a full-round action to make a coup-de-grace. A roll of 1 on such an attack is treated as a non-damaging fumble that still counts as a strike, much to the amusement of the crew.
Rope Bash: Little more than an admonishment—and occasionally used as a sign of endearment—a rope bash is a single attack with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope that delivers 1 point of nonlethal damage.
The Lash: This is an attack using a whip. Damage dealt by the lash during bloody hour is typically nonlethal.
Cat-o’-Nine-Tails: This is an attack using a cat-o’-ninetails, also referred to simply as a cat—a Medium version of which deals 1d4 points of slashing damage on a successful hit.
Confined in the Sweatbox: A cramped metal box left on deck and exposed to the sun, a sweatbox is terribly confining and replicates unbearably hot conditions. Each hour a character spends in the box, she must succeed at a DC 15 Fortitude saving throw or take 1d4 points of nonlethal damage. The DC of this save increases by + 1 for each consecutive hour the character spends in the box. Any creature with fire resistance is immune to the effects of the sweatbox. Victims typically spend 8, 12 or even 24 hours locked up in the sweatbox.
Keelhauling: The most frightful of pirate punishments is keelhauling, as it generally ends in death—often by decapitation. Being keelhauled involves being tied to a rope looped over a ship’s keel and dragged down one side of a ship, underwater across the barnacle encrusted hull, and up the other side. Keelhauling takes several rounds and can be done either fast or slow. If done fast, the barnacles cut deep and flense the victim, dealing 1d6 points of damage per round. If done slow, shallower cuts are incurred, dealing 1d3 damage per round, but the risk of drowning increases. In either case, the victim can make a DC 20 Reflex save each round to take half damage. How long keelhauling takes typically depends on the vessel, with a keelhauling on a ship like the Wormwood taking 6 rounds if done fast and 12 rounds if done slow.