Hounds of the Sea

- Aye, lad. Just ye an' Me. Me knows 'ts seems like a bad place, but trust Me - Ol' Turtle Eye Jim's been tru' 's 'fore. Wass yer name again laddo?
- Jack the landlubber, Sir-rey!
- Aye, Jack... Ye been a great cabin boy, but now me needs ye a real scallywag. Take this musket an' wai' 're, while ol' Turtle-eye goes an' grabs some ammo
- Aye-aye, captain!
... right before the Spanish cannons started to roar Jack heard a sudden splash behind him. Like someone jumping into the water.

Aye! Here be the shipguide for the freeform role playing game of the greatest pirate adventure. Ever. In the adventure you and your friends (''tha' be players later on) take roles of legendary privateers, shrewd buccaneers and all other kinds of bloodthirsty scallywags. All who are tied together by the code and honour amongst pirates.

Both of which will be utterly betrayed multiple times as the players plot and mischief for and against each other.

One adventure takes about one or two hours, including all preparations and planning like shuffling the cards, creating characters or making up the premise. The game is playable with just the cards, but you might find the game easier to follow with some paper and pens for notes and counting the crosses in the Davy Jones Counter.

The game is all about having fun. Push your characters to complicated and fun situations. Curse like a scallywag. Cheat fate, Act like a legend, and if the inevitable cold grave calls you - go with a bang.

Game on!


Each player has a character he or she plays. These player characters are the main characters of the game, and thus they have some more meat to the bones than regular side cast used during the game.

A character must have(*:

  • A name
  • A Crew Position
  • Some descriptive features, and
  • The Davy Jones counter of 12 strikes against the pirate honour.
*)See the included character sheets. If you need example characters or PDF sheets for printing, please visit http://mekanismi.sange.fi/houndsofthesea

Good pirate names consist of a name and descriptive part. Like Gunpowder-Pete, The Scarlett Barnacles or Janett the Crook.

Crew position of a character is decided using the cards in players starting hand. Just see your highest card and consult the? following table.

Task on a shipHighest cardPosition
CaptainKing or queenBoss of the ship
First mateJackCaptain's deputy
BoatswainDeuceSails and rigs
CarpenterNineMaintenance of ship's hull
Gun masterSevenCannons and cannoneers
CookSixFood and rum
Cabin boyFive or lowerServing and helping

NB! Ace is valued one, so it is the lowest card on a deck

If two players share the same position, check both players second highest card – higher keeps the position while lower takes next position in the chart. If all three cards of two or more players match, its rare enough to have 2 or three captains for the ship.

After you have decided names and positions for each character, you should add some descriptive features to the character. Features do not really affect game-play, but they give more credibility and feeling to the character.

Some Examples of excellent features could be:

  • How does the character look like
  • Does the character have a tell or another kind of sticky habit.
  • How does the character act?

Features simply can not be too stereotypical. Parrots, Wooden legs etc. work just fine. Of course you might want to be more personal at times, so just go ahead.

Adventure Ahoy!

As Hounds of the Sea is not prepared beforehand – you need to figure out some details about the adventure in hand. Good starting point, a draft synopsis and one or two hints of possible endings will do the trick.

After creating the characters, an adventure is brainstormed together. Basic ideas of this sessions adventure may come from one player – or from all players. It does not matter, as long as everyone agrees on adventure’s basic points.

Before starting the adventure, write down a short synopsis, what the quest is about. And remember: do not fear the stereotypes – game will turn to its own piece, no matter how stereotypical you make the synopsis.

Ending clues are as important as the premise. If all players know how to drive the game towards an ending – it is radially easier to drive the game towards an eventful ending.

Sometimes figuring out an adventure out of thin air is pretty hard. On those situations you may use the cards and the aventur-o-matic to create the grand challenge of an adventure.

The aventur-o-matic

1) Draw three cards and put them face up on the table.
2) These three cards tell what the adventure is about.
4) Fun (and profit)

Some examples:

  • Hearts 4 (But I am a Decent Lady), Clubs A (Could such a plan possibly succeed?) and Captain of Clubs
    After quick brainstorming, players agree on a synopsis: "The scallywags have XXX plan! The mayor of Port Royal is in love with lady too Decent to look upon him. There has to be a way to turn the Lady to a proper pirate and have her notice the Mayor. Who in turn will no doubt (yeah right) pay our heroes for their XXX...
  • Spades 9 (Here be the monsters), Clubs 6 (Pirates, Spanish pirates!) and Diamonds 6 (We are going to steal a ship? That ship?)
    After quick brainstorming, players agree on a synopsis: "Spanish pirates have marooned our heroes ship. The heroes need to get it back. Bur how can that be done when the ship is guarded by a three headed monkey and an army of spanish pirates. On the other hand... the ship of the spaniards is currently almost unguarded...

Light, cameras, Action!

The game begins with a scene where all characters are present. From that moment on, events fold out as players describe how their characters act and react to the scene, situation and actions of other players.

The beginning scene is narrated by the first player left from the Captain (or preferably by the most experienced pirate in the table). The player draws a card form the deck, and frames a scene based on the text, suit and value of the card. After the scene ends, next player (to the left again) narrates the next scene or plot twist within the scene, and so on.

All the scenes start from a plot twist. The twists might be positive, helpful, funny or they might come in the shape of a challenge.

Jim draws a card (eight of clubs) and puts it to the table: ”Returning to the harbour is not as simple as we thought. Our nemesis, The Scarlett Captain Barnacles steps out of the shadows bellowing: ’Now this is what I call a timely…’”

As the card drawn above was higher than 5 – the plot twist must contain a challenge for the characters

Players respond to challenges by using cards from their hand. A player may play as many cards of same suit he likes, but sum of card values must be at least equal to the challenge cards value to beat the challenge. Players should draw cards from the deck to replace played cards immediately, after their response is resolved.

Jack responds by playing 5 and 7 of spades from his hand: “My character, The One Eyed Harris needed to see the alley… and was missing from the street. Now he enters the scene and puts a knife to the throat of Captain Barnacles from behind whispering’: ‘What a lucky strike, Mister B himself’”

When the initial challenge is resolved, the game can continue on its own weight – or the next player may simply draw the next plot twist from the deck. Its perfectly ok, if the plot just keeps twisting. In fact, the game is probably much more fun – if you keep drawing twists one after another.

The scene in the examples above, could continue with the following twist:

John draws a card (9 of Diamonds): “There we are, thinking this woud be the last day of dear old mister B. Yeah. Right. Like that’s going to happen. The beard old Harris is holding turns out to be a fake – as Barnacles manages to flee from our grasp, back to the dark alley…”

Twists and Challenges

In addition to the card text – each card has suit, and value. The nature of the twist is decided by the card suit and the difficulty of the challenge by card value.

Hearts : Hearts stand for social, political or romantic twists. Maybe an old friend returns to haunt our heroes. Perhaps the person our scallywags are hunting turns out to be a childhood lover of the captain.

Spades: Spades stand for (bad) luck, (ill) fate and (cursed) destiny. Rum All Out? Or maybe wind just fades away. Or the characters find mysterious map, leading to a forgotten treasure…

Clubs: Clubs stand for action, danger and struggle! Spanish marines surprise the heroes. A French man-o-war enters the lagoon. Whatever happens, clubs bring the smell of danger and gunpowder to a scene.

Diamonds: Diamonds stand for cunning plots, tricks and cheating. The map turns out to be a trap. The man hiring the ship turns out to be a woman.

And responses

Each challenge can be resolved with any colour. Threat of violence can be resolved with a sheer strike of luck… and so forth

(NB if the character is unable to resolve a challenge with the cards in hand – the situation might call for a betrayal)

Hearts: Charisma and Daring. The character resolves the challenge with his dashing charisma, inspiring words or bold actions.

Spades: Luck. Sheer luck.

Clubs: Action! Character resolves the challenge with force, action or gunpowder.

Diamonds: Cunning. Perhaps the challenge was part of the plan all along. Or maybe the character manages to escape the challenge by using his wits.

If a card value is higher than 5, the twist contains a challenge. The narrating player may choose freely which characters must pass the challenge. The challenge can be against a character, against any character or against all characters. If the challenge is against more than one character, all the characters in question must pass the challenge or fail. However a character may resolve a challenge on behalf of all the characters if his response exceeds the challenge rating by double or more.

Failing to resolve a challenge can, and will not kill the character outright. The failing character just gets two markings to his Davy Jones locker. And most probably ends up in a really tight situation.

When character fails to resolve a challenge, the player may discard all cards and draw three new ones.

Duels and other challenges between characters

If two or more characters are opposing each other, any of the players may turn the situation to a challenge by playing cards from his hand, like in a challenge. In such a situation, the character action becomes the challenge, and the played cards mark the challenge rating.

The challenge from another characters action, can kill a character, if the challenge winning player calls for it. The challenges between characters do not need to be deadly: A character might try to seduce another or steal his hat.


Jack plays two hearts (with combined value of 17) and says: “One Eyed Harris has been trying to get it on with Crocked Cathya for a long time. Tonight his charm finally works its magick in a seedy Tortuga tavern."
Lily responds with a betrayal of clubs (see below) and manages to reach total sum of 20: “Harris might think so, but as he tries to get his hand on Cathya (again), she knocks the old one eye unconscious”

The betrayal!

Pirates never betray each other, or the pirate code.


Well... at least if its not a matter of life and death ... Or if its not about Love ... Or if there is no gold in it ... Or… well you get the picture.

In Hounds of the Sea, betrayal becomes handy, when you want your character to resolve a challenge – but you just do not have the cards to make it through.

In game terms, betrayal is actually pretty straightforward:

  • A player calls for a betrayal, and asks for a suit.
  • All players place all the cards of asked suit from their hands to the table.
  • The betraying character’s response to a challenge is the total sum of all the cards placed to the table in the step above.
  • An x is added to the Davy Jones Locker.

In actual game-play – the situation has one little extra detail. The character has to actually do something, that can be considered a betrayal of the pirate code or the friendship between him and his friends.

Sometimes a challenge calls for more than one betrayal. In such a challenge any players whose characters have already betrayed the group do not place any cards to the table

...Oh. And before you start betraying anyone, you might want to check the rules about the locker.

The Davy Jones locker

And then there is the locker.

Even if the characters can not die directly from the challenges - there is a price for failure and betrayal. Sooner or later the cold arms of the grave will welcome all pirates of the sea.

There should be 12 empty slots in each character sheet. These slots are used to keep note of the characters failures and betrayals.

Each time the character fails a challenge, he gets two markings to the locker.

Each time the character betrays the others, he gets a marking to the locker.

And each time the character gets one or more markings - a card is drawn. If the card drawn is equal, or less than the total sum of markings on character sheet, the characters days are numbered and he is doomed.

If a character already has 12 markings on the sheet - he is immediately doomed, when he gets the 13th mark.

A doomed character might look pale or even ghostly. Hi might see omens of his death and he knows that the day is his last.

A doomed character will die in any of the next three scenes. Players should not feel too attached to a doomed character.

Each character deserves a magnificent ending. If a character becomes doomed, have him go with a bang!

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