"The seas run red this night, and terror has a face. You are looking upon that face. Pretty, isn't it?"
-- Adia Ironheart of the Red Wake, a scarlet corsair
Many pirates sail the seas, but few reach the infamy of the scarlet corsair, so called from the trail of blood left in her wake. Where most other pirates are content to use intimidation to cow their opponents into submission, allowing them to plunder as they please, the scarlet corsair revels in combat and slaughter.
This isn't to say that all scarlet corsairs are violent killers, though most certainly are -- a few scarlet corsairs refuse to take on a target unless that target is capable of putting up a good fight. Whether patriotic privateer or self-serving buccaneer, the scarlet corsair relies on the reputation of her quick blade and terrible fighting skills to drive her prey before her.
Becoming a Scarlet Corsair
A life of piracy is the first and foremost necessity in becoming a scarlet corsair. Because this isn't an organization but rather a folk status gained through the pirate's victims retelling the stories of her attacks upon their vessels, word of mouth is essential. Most pirates seek some level of infamy: Those who acquire it for a combination of ferocious fighting and the ability to instill fear in all who face them are well on their way to becoming scarlet corsairs.
Fighters and rogues make good scarlet corsairs, since the combination of those classes provides both the flair and fighting prowess necessary to boost a simple pirate to the status of the scarlet corsair. Rangers too have adopted this prestige class, using intimidation and skilled swordsmanship to defeat their enemies. And a few assassins have taken to the seas in pursuit of their vocation of killing people for profit and have become scarlet corsairs.
Alignment: Any nonlawful.
Skills (4 + Int per level): Appraise, Balance, Bluff, Climb, Craft, Decipher Script, Diplomacy, Gather Information, Intimidate, Jump, Knowledge (geography), Knowledge (local), Perform, Profession (sailor), Survival, Swim, Tumble, Use Rope.
The following are class features of the scarlet corsair prestige class.
Improved Feint: Upon joining this prestige class you gain Improved Feint as a bonus feat, even if you do not have the normal prerequisites for that feat. You can feint in combat as a move action to render your foes flat-footed and thus make sneak attacks against them.
Sneak Attack: At 2nd level, you gain the ability to deal an extra 1d6 points of damage when you catch your foe off guard. This is exactly like the rogue ability of the same name (see Player's Handbook page 50). The extra damage dealt increases to 2d6 at 6th level and to 3d6 at 10th level. If you get a sneak attack bonus from another source (such as rogue levels), the bonuses on damage stack.
Corsair's Feint (Ex): As a scarlet corsair, you are a master of dirty fighting and trickery. You can make a feint as a free action rather than as a move action (see the Improved Feint feat, page 95 of the Player's Handbook). But once you've surprised your enemies with such a feint, it takes time before you're able to fool them again. At 3rd level, you must wait 2d4 rounds before using corsair's feint again. Waiting requires no specific actions on your part; you can fight normally during this time. Beginning at 7th level your reflexes improve and the time between corsair's feints drops to only 1d4 rounds.
Sailor's Step (Ex): At 4th level, you have learned to use the chaos of a ship at sea to your benefit, taking advantage of the swaying ship and swinging rigging to remain out of reach of your opponents. While aboard a ship and wearing nothing more than light armor you gain a +2 dodge bonus to your Armor Class. If you are caught flat-footed or otherwise denied your Dexterity bonus, you also lose this bonus. At 8th level, the dodge bonus from the sailor's step class feature increases to +4.
Scourge of the Seas (Ex): Starting at 5th level, you can instill fear into your enemies. When you use Intimidate to demoralize foes, the attempt affects all enemies within 30 feet who can see and hear you, and the effect lasts for a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1 round). This is a mind-affecting ability, and multiple uses of this ability don't stack.
Frightening Lunge (Ex): Your ability to run your enemies through is unnerving to those who cross swords with you. Beginning at 9th level, on a successful sneak attack, you can sacrifice 2d6 points of damage to render your foe shaken. A shaken character takes a -2 penalty on all attack rolls, saves, skill checks, and ability checks.
Table 3-6: The Scarlet Corsair
Hit Die: d8
Playing a Scarlet Corsair
You understand a truism of conflict: fear kills. You use fear like a weapon, cultivating terrible rumors about yourself. To you, it's just a game. All that matters is the reputation, and you are out to build a big, fierce one. The authorities might put a bounty on your head (the bigger the better!), but all those wanted posters promising huge rewards for your head only reinforce the idea that you're someone to be feared. Besides, as long as they keep posting rewards, it's just another admission that they can't actually catch you.
Adventuring scarlet corsairs are likely to be scoundrels who enjoy a good fight and have little regard for the law (save their own nation's, in the case of privateers). NPC scarlet corsairs might be terrible maritime butchers, putting helpless ships to the sword and taking what they wish, or rakes with a heart of gold who relish a good challenge -- and a mug o' rum.
Fight with your head as much as your sword. Intimidate your foe and demoralize them. Bluff and strike at their unprotected areas. Outwitting your opponents is just as important as defeating them. A clumsy victory does your reputation no good, nor does a clever victory that no one sees. Try to arrange for witnesses to your exploits. Many scarlet corsairs have what some perceive as an odd code of honor against killing the helpless (or at least all of them), but that springs from simple pragmatism: someone needs to remain alive to tell the story of how truly fearful the scarlet corsair was.
Don't hesitate to use your allies in such endeavors. A bard who can help pass on stories of your predations is just as useful as the fighter who helps you in the actual battles. In combat, flank your opponents in order to benefit from your sneak attack bonuses.
At the height of your reputation, take full advantage of the fear your name engenders. Intimidate opponents to limit their ability to fight you.
There is only one way to become a scarlet corsair -- sowing terror and making a reputation for yourself. Whether you are a pirate folk hero notorious for hitting fat merchant ships laden with cargo (only to distribute it later to feed poor dock folk) or a bloodthirsty scalawag without concern for anything but yourself and your treasury, making your name known is the only way to build your legend as a scarlet corsair.
The life of a scarlet corsair is an adventurous one, to be sure, filled with heists and daring acts of piracy. You don't choose helpless or small prey -- only the richest and best-armed ships attract your attention.
Once you have achieved levels in this class, keep your Bluff and Intimidate skills maxed out for they not only enhance your reputation but also provide two qualities that help keep you alive -- trickery and the ability to instill fear in those around you.
Scarlet corsairs are independent folk and not likely to assist others of their ilk. They usually consider one another rivals, though this can manifest in useful ways.
For instance, a scarlet corsair who hears about a plan to trap a rival might find a way to warn that rival -- after all, how can she best her rival if someone else does it first? Likewise, one scarlet corsair might alert another of a particularly choice target, so that they can compete to see who manages to pirate the ship first.
Scarlet Corsairs in the World
The scarlet corsair fills the role of the notorious pirate, a buccaneer of such terrible reputation that the mention of her name is enough to cause a reaction. When the DM needs a feared villain that only the PCs are brave enough to go after, a scarlet corsair is perfect for the role. Similarly, when the campaign calls for a good-hearted rake who glories in the stories people tell about him while pursuing a vendetta against some particular nation or group, the scarlet corsair will equally well fit the bill.
The reactions of most NPCs to the scarlet corsair are universally poor. Any law-abiding seafarer who's heard of the corsair begins with an attitude of hostile, which inspires zeal in the brave and fear in most others. Other pirate captains are simply unfriendly or indifferent, since the corsair is a capable rival, but potential crewmembers are usually friendly toward the corsair. A rare few folk are likely to idolize the scarlet corsair because of her reputation. These are often folk who either don't understand the way the world works and have romanticized the pirate and her activities or are of a proper temperament to become followers and cohorts.
Scarlet Corsair Lore
Characters with Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), or Gather Information can research scarlet corsairs to learn more about them.
DC 10: Some pirates, by dint of their incredible notoriety, are capable of striking fear into entire crews just by showing their flags or other insignias.
DC 15: These buccaneers, called scarlet corsairs in sailor's slang, don't hesitate to use fear and dirty tricks -- not just to take what they want but to cement their reputations as cutthroats and monsters.
DC 20: If you see the skull-and-manacles of Adia Ironheart, or the black hawk of the Raptor of the Southern Coast, you unfurl your sail, put your best and strongest men at the oars, and make for the horizon.
DC 30: Most scarlet corsairs have a kind of brotherly rivalry going on. They consider only other scarlet corsairs to be their true rivals and equals -- everyone else is just prey waiting to happen.
Scarlet Corsairs in the Game
Any particularly infamous pirate in the campaign could qualify as a scarlet corsair. This is not the nameless buccaneer whose exploits confuse and torment authorities as they try to figure out who is responsible -- there is never any doubt when a scarlet corsair hits a target.
This isn't to say that all scarlet corsairs are known immediately. Many of them use pseudonyms as part of their identities, as well as outrageous, readily apparent dress or other affectations, if for no other reason than it makes it easier to have a quiet drink in a pub between exploits.
An encounter with a scarlet corsair generally takes place at the time and place of the corsair's choosing. They have eyes and ears in most major ports to allow them to plan just such attacks.
EL 15: Adia Ironheart is the terror of the seas. A notorious pirate and slaver, she is utterly without honor -- even those who surrender to her are seized and sold into slavery.
Those who find the nearly destroyed hulks that she leaves in her wake know that she was responsible, for over the ship's railing swing the bodies of those who dared to oppose her, clapped in iron manacles and dangling above the water by chains strung through the railing.
The entry for the scarlet corsair, like all of the book's prestige classes, ends with a sample NPC armed and ready to keelhaul anyone who crosses her path. So, with no effort on a DM's part, Adia Ironheart can sail the seas of any campaign world you might play in. So, watch out for the skull and manacles, me buckos -- she's a CR 17 encounter all by herself.
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