Trade Routes of the Shackles?

Skull & Shackles

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I am currently reading through a number of Adventure Paths, and have recently started on Skull & Shackles (still reading through the appendices of the Wormwood Mutiny). And this had let me to contemplate the overall political-economical context of the Shackles.

I get that they - and the entire Skull & Shackles campaign - are intended to emulate the "Golden Age of Piracy" of the Carribean (plus assorted fiction about the same). But the piracy of the Carribean was fueled by the following:

- The Spanish extracted massive amounts of gold and silver from South America, especially the Potosí region (which is a really fascinating location in its own right which deserves an RPG treatment).

- Several other European colonial powers tried to get in on the action and not only supported efforts to sabotage the Spanish, but also each other.

So if the Shackles are equally rife with opportunities for piracy, then there must be some truly spectacular trade routes which makes the risk of passing through the Shackles worthwhile. This despite the fact that the ports of the Shackles are not only friendly to pirates, but actively ruled by them.

Yet the largest trade opportunities south of the Shackles seem to be with Sargava - which apparently bribes the Free Captains of the Shackles for protection from Cheliax. Which presumably also includes a sub-clause to leave some of their trading partners alone from time (pretty please?) since Sargava needs that trade to survive.

So, what other trade could be going on through the region that justifies the risk? Mind you, my goal here is not just to nit-pick the setting but to provide some added consistency and flavour for the stuff they plunder - "Spanish Silver" meant something in the Age of Piracy, and I'd like to have similar iconic types of plunder for a Skull & Shackles campaign. Furthermore, if there are merchant ships from particular nations or companies that brave these waters again and again, then saying so will make the raids against them more interesting.

Basically the Shackles are a pirate refuge, but the real piracy is happening north of the Eye, where they invade chelish trading routes or ships on their way to Magnimar.
As the Eye in the north is hard to cross and Sargava in the south is an ally its pretty hard to do anything against them.

Come to think of it, the wiki also reminds me that Southern Garund also has a number of significant nations - however, their exact positioning is relatively vague (although "Distant Shores" tells us that Holomog is on the eastern side of the continent - and this fan-made map could be used until we know their "canon" positions). I suppose that if the nations of Southwestern Garund want to trade with the Inner Sea region, their trade ships either have to pass near the Shackles or take the much longer Eastern route.

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This is one of the weak points of Golarion IMO. In a fantasy sense it's super cool to have a whole pirate nation, but when you actually think about the why and the how, it makes next to no sense. If it were a patchwork of colonies from the major powers, or even just Cheliax, interspersed with pirate holds it would be more realistic. But hey, in the world with dragons and magic we're worrying about realism in trade routes.

The way in which I compensated for this was by introducing "ocean markets" where non-hostile undersea creatures would trade scavenged materials with surface dwellers at incredibly deep discounts (low overhead when you strip shipwrecks). The trade off was having to head through pirate waters.

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Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I am not an expert in sailing, but my understanding is that on earth the winds near the equator go up, rather than across. This phenomenon makes it very slow sailing through the equator. Something like this would probably happen on golarion. On earth these are called the doldrums.

The shackles, near as I can tell, are a bit north of golarion's equator. My plan is that the eye of abendo creates frequent choppy cross winds. Although this might make sailing more demanding it prevents the doldrums from forming. Thus this region is the easiest place to go over the equator anywhere on golarion. Hence a lot of intercontinental sailing is attracted to this region. Routes that might appear faster going up eastern gerund might actually be slower because of the doldrums, hence some ships risk the pirates and go up the west side of golarion forbspeed.

I like this idea because it is passably realistic and ties to the hurricaine...the regions iconic feature.

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

I've been thinking about this a lot in prep for my own campaign.

Lintekarka hits on a big part of it. Not much piracy happens in the Shackles. Instead, the pirate raid north of the Eye, and use the Eye itself to cloak their approach and guard their retreat. As part of the initiation into the Free Captains, the Master of Gales teaches them the secrets of the winds and waves, so they can sail deeper into the Eye than other ships.

There are also trade routes within the Shackles. You can't have cities that large without a way to move goods around. Each Pirate Lord is master of their own fleet, ostensibly made up of other pirate ships, but as a practical matter, many of them are simple merchant vessels paying a protection fee to one Pirate Lord or another for the right to fly under their flag. How safe this actually makes you depends on the shifting politics of the Pirate Lords. There are some pirates who refuse affiliation with any of the lords, raid ships as they see fit, and operate independent harbors far from the influence of Port Peril. I've made Firegrass Island one of these harbors in my campaign, and made all the hostile pirates they encounter in book 2 independent pirates operating from here.

Saragavan trade ships can usually pass freely through the region, thanks to the Saragavan Deal, but there's a schism among the Free Captains over the slavery issue, and some Pirate Lords argue that the Deal shouldn't cover slave ships. Some, like Jolly Raffles, openly attack slavers, and dare the other pirate lords to do something about it.

While politics prevent Saragava and Cheliax from officially trading with each other, Cheliax's imperial ambitions require vast amounts of slave labor, and Saragava is desperate for markets for its slaves, since it relies on the slave trade to break up local communities and make it harder for them to resist their colonial control. The Rampore Islands, under the control of the rakshasa Bedu Hanji, has become the middle man in the Saragava-Cheliax slave trade.

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