The Reave began with a Larassan expedition into the Beyond, a trade mission to Vassalor. The intention was to sell off slaves in Vassalor, acquire a fortune in luxury goods to sell to the aristocrats, and then sail home. But in the navigator’s ignorance of the Beyond, they ran into the bone-reef, a wide swath of ocean made dangerous by the presence of a seemingly endless number of bones. The bones of some long dead sea monsters, bones covered in spines, barbs, and all manner of protrusions capable of sinking a ship. Long story short, the expedition found themselves stranded amidst the bones. The officers forced the slave labor and the common sailors to build new ships from the serpent bones. The work cost many men their lives, skewered or gutted on the terrible bones. But they succeeded, creating the first spine ships, which they used to escape the reef. Once they were at sea, the crew and slaves united against the officers, cutting them open and casting them into the sea. They then took the spine-ship and sailed to Vassalor. There they refilled their numbers with other Larassan renegades, and began raiding. The Reave has existed for about a hundred years, their founding happening around the time the Larassan Empire began to fall into disrepair. The Reaverkin helped accelerate that process, cutting deeply into the empire’s treasury. They also explored and settled a series of islands that exist in the middle of the bone-reef, using paths that only they know and taking advantage of the durability of the spine-ships. Using the islands as an unreachable base of operations, the Reaverkin raid ships with impunity. For one hundred years, they have stolen, killed, and scraped by, against the odds managing to survive in the face of open hostility from Larassa, Heild, and from a number of factions from Vassalor. Everyone wants them to be wiped from the world, but they still survive.
The two most important ideas to keep in mind in regards to Reaverkin culture are the ideals of survival and loyalty. The Reaverkin are dedicated to living, whether it be another century, or another hour, they plan on and will do anything to keep going. There is almost nothing a Reaverkin will not do to keep himself alive, no dirty trick they will not pull out. Honor does not exist in the Reave as other nations have it. There are no rules in a fight other than the winner lives, the loser dies.
The only thing a Reaverkin will never, ever do to keep himself alive is betray those he cares about. Loyalty is even more valued than survival, at least on an individual basis. The Reaverkin as a whole must survive, and so loyal Reaverkin happily give their lives up to keep their people alive. Since most of the other nations in known world would love to wipe out the pirate-folk, the value of loyalty is often tested.
The twin ideals of survival and loyalty have led to a few traditions amongst the Reaverkin. First, is the oath. When a Reaverkin is old enough, he is given the choice of going on raids, or staying in the village to keep home alive while the spine-ships are gone. Whatever they choose, they must take an oath on their life that they will never betray the Reave, their village and crew, or themselves, in that order. This oath is made in blood, as the captain of the village cuts the young Reaverkin’s hand with his knife, and then cuts his own, and then they clasp hands and make the oath. The cut is always made to scar, usually with sand, tobacco, or similar rubbed into the wound to ensure it does. In recent years, serpent-bone has been used for similar effect, the bone bonding to the wound as a permanent adornment to one’s palm. Once the oath has been made, the child is now an adult, sworn to his crew and to the Reave.
Another important tradition in the Reave is the homecoming. Most of the time, life in the towns that dot the Reave is a tough, unforgiving one. There is no time for anything but the battle to survive. There is always work to be done; hunting, fishing, repairs to dwellings after the all to frequent storms, repairing ships, raising children, and trying to keep what livestock a village has alive long enough to breed. The only break in the endless, grinding labor is when a ship returns with loot and goods. Then the Reaverkin celebrate, throwing festivals that can last up to three days. Many have pointed that with resources being as thin as they are, that the festivals are a foolish waste. None dispute this. But the festivals also offer the survival obsessed Reaverkin something they rarely get; a chance to feel joy, to be glad to live, to survive. Weddings, funerals, and birthdays are celebrated when the ships return. Since they have few other opportunities for happiness and revelry, the Reaverkin try to squeeze as much as they can into the few days they get. The chance to escape for a little while is as much a requirement of survival as the work.
Beyond survival and loyalty, there are other values that, while less spoken of or emphasized, still hold a place in the Reaverkin heart. Freedom is one. The pirate-folk are aware that they are unique in the known world, a place where all are equal, where there are no lords or gods commanding obedience. Their leaders, the captains only enjoy power by the leave of the crew. More than any other people, the Reaverkin are able to decide their own destiny. They treasure this, and it is one of the reasons why they cling so hard to survival. For if the Reave is lost, where else will freedom take root? Where else will men and women be able to live as they choose?
The Reaverkin do not suffer the trade of slaves. Many of them are descended from slaves, and many immigrants to the Reave were slaves. Slave ships, usually Larassan or Vassalorian are favorite targets of the Reaverkin. Reaverkin captains are also common sights in the slave markets of Vassalor, buying as many as they can, freeing as many as they can. The Reaverkin are by their nature, thieves, murderers, and villains; but they do not own slaves.
By and large, the people of the Reave are a desperate, determined people. They know that the odds are against their long term survival; many realize that if they continue on as they are, someone will eventually manage to wipe them out. Eventually a navigator will be captured, and either prove to be a traitor or be prevented from suicide long enough for a wizard to pry the bone-reef’s secrets out of their mind. As a nation they are living on borrowed time, and they know it. Their songs and stories are as a result tragic ones. The value of a doomed cause and the plight of outsiders is something they know well, and teach. The Reaverkin know they are going to die eventually; it’s one of the reasons they are so obsessed with survival.
A final interesting quirk of Reaverkin culture is their attitude towards wind instruments. During their homecoming festivals, the Reaverkin show off what art they have: dancing, storytelling, and of course the carving of serpent-bone. And there is music, but never wind instruments. The Reaverkin enjoy percussion and strings, but they never listen to flutes, or pipes. Those who have known Reaverkin note that whenever they hear such instruments they flinch, as if the sound is somehow painful.
The Reave is essentially a tightly-knit confederation of settlements dotting the islands, each of which is ruled by a captain, who is elected from amongst the community’s sailors. Only those who go and risk their lives out on the seas are able to vote or hold office of any kind. The Captain enjoys wide power, and a sizable cut of the loot, but can also be replaced at any point by popular vote. Each crew, and therefore village has its own charter or constitution that outlines what the captain can or cannot do, voting procedures, etc. The specifics vary widely from village to village, crew to crew.
Second in rank to the captain is the Navigator, who acts as advisors to the Captain, while also acting as the voice of the crew. In the event that the captain is voted out, killed or otherwise removed from power during a raid, the navigator is the next in line. The navigator is also the most protected member of the crew, never participating in raids. The reason is simple; the navigator is the one who knows the routes through the bone reefs. Were he to be captured, the safety of the entire Reave would be at risk. While most Reaverkin would prefer to die to their knives than to be captured, the Navigator must never, ever be captured. If it becomes a possibility, his men will, tearfully execute the respected man. The fact that such an act condemns the crew to a blind run through the bone-reef does little to stay their hand. Loyalty is, as ever, everything to the pirate-folk.
There is a third position of importance in Reaverkin society, and that is the Reef-Marked. The Reef-Marked are the only true artisans amongst the pragmatic Reaverkin. They are the shapers and carvers of the serpent bone. The Reef-Marked get their name from the scars they inevitably collect during the course of their work, especially during the frequent expeditions into the perilous bone-reefs in search of just the right piece of serpent bone. The Reef-Marked also have a tendency to the most spiritually or mystically inclined Reaverkin, with a significant portion of the Reave’s Ancient Faith druids, the leaders of the Red-Waters cult being bone shapers. They’re a strange, often eccentric bunch, but the Reef-Markeds’ knowledge of serpent bone and the importance of their craft to the continued survival of the Reave makes them also a respected bunch.
As for when decisions must be made that affect the entire Reave, the captains gather and vote amongst themselves. The council meets in the original Reaverkin settlement of Mutineer’s Return, and the vote is a simple matter of majority rule. If there is a tied vote amongst the captains, then the decision is taken to the navigators. So far in Reave history, no decision has ever reached a stalemate for both the captains and navigators.
Despite the supposedly egalitarian nature of the captains, there are two who stand out as something close to first amongst equals. These captains are successful, wealthy, and powerful enough to have multiple ships under their flag. Because their towns have multiple ships supporting them, those towns are also larger, more prosperous. Life is still hard as it is anywhere in the Reave, but it’s a little less likely to kill, a little less likely to grind one down.
As with most things, the Reaverkin are pragmatic. While most nations would be interested in lofty notions of law and order, or economics, the pirate-folk are focused on very simple things, like food.
By and large, the Reaverkin have neither the patience nor the spare time needed to be religious. As a sailing people they are superstitious. Colors are believed to have significance; red is lucky, yellow is decidedly unlucky, and white is taboo (“That color is for the bones, y’see”). But when it comes to actual spiritual faith, most Reaverkin just do not care.
For those who do, the most popular form of faith is the Red-Water cult of the Ancient Faith, who worships the ocean, the bone-reefs, and serpent bone itself. The cult is led by its druids, most of whom are Reef-Marked. They are obsessed with the power of blood in relation to the ocean. They revere sharks, dining on their flesh as sacrament and dressing themselves in sharkskin when possible. They perform divinatory rituals wherein they cut their hands, bleed into bowls of sea water, and read the future in the cloudy swirls of red. The cult has a decent following with several captains and crews holding to the faith. They revere the serpent bone as the violent power of the sea made manifest, and often make holy “relics” out of the substance.
Specifically, the Red-Water cult worships the violent, but also regenerative force of the ocean. The Red-Water cultists are obsessed with the cyclical nature of life consuming life, how every living thing must inflict pain and death upon other life in order to survive. For the cult, the ocean is the source of all life, and the foundation, the beginning of all suffering. Whatever manner of beast produced serpent-bone is also a focus of spiritual fervor for the Red-Water, who believe the creatures must have been the ultimate predators, the pinnacle of life. By worshipping the ocean, and the bones the Red-Water hope to somehow become attuned to both the source of life, and its most destructively superior children.
Most other residents of the Reave let the Red-Water cult be, considering them to be strange, and maybe a little too reverent towards the sinister bone-reef, but generally harmless. Besides, most Reaverkin have more important things to do than try and tell other people what to fucking pray to.
Serpent bone is a substance unique to the Reave. To the eye and to most forms of examination it is bone, though to creatures of impossible size and dimension. The bones are covered in spines, spikes, burrs, sharpened ridges; a seemingly endless variety of possible wounding edges. Few work with serpent bone without suffering wounds from them, which strangely always scar for life.
Serpent bone is naturally hard, flexible, lightweight, and holds an edge like nothing else known. The bones vary in size immensely, with some being massive lengths that form the skeleton of spine-ships, to smaller fragments that are carved into the Reaverkins’ beloved knives. The substance floats, and along with its other traits makes spine-ships the single most dangerous naval vessels known to exist, being both faster, more maneuverable, and more durable than any other. The fact that being rammed by a spine-ship is often more than enough to sink a ship only adds to their lethal appeal. Between the Reaverkin’s natural naval talent (rivalled only by the Minotaur), and their spine-ships there is no naval force that can truly compete.
One of the many peculiar traits of serpent-bone is how it reacts to blood. Serpent bone adheres to blood when pressed against it, creating a seal that is intensely difficult to break. Because of this blood is an important ingredient to the building of spine-ships; one of many reasons the Reaverkin are so desperate to acquire livestock.
This trait has also become an integral aspect to Reaverkin medicine, with pieces of serpent bone often acting as emergency bandages, used to seal fatal or crippling wounds. Of course, once the bone has been applied, it quickly fuses to the flesh so that the only way to remove it is to cut it out. Few do this, and so it not uncommon to see Reaverkin whose skin is a patchwork of bone bonded to flesh. There are some Reaverkin who even do this on purpose, creating strategic wounds on their knuckles, elbows and knees and bonding spikey pieces of bone to them, or carving great rents into their chest or back and then creating permanent breastplates from chunks of serpent bone.
Some of pointed out, that given the bonding effect blood has on serpent bone, they should not be able to function as weapons. When thrust into a living body, the bone should immediately fuse with the blood. The fact that the bone does fuse under such circumstances is a mystery, one that no one has yet come up with a real answer for.
Most of the Reave consists of hamlets and small villages that act as support and home base for their affiliated crew. Very few settlements have any real numbers, just enough to keep things running while the crew are at sea. But there are two settlements that are larger and more prosperous, due to their connection to one of the more powerful captains of the Reave.