Bornholm – A Wretched Hive of Villainy

Bornholm is situated east of what used to be Denmark, south of what used to be Sweden and north of the Pomeranian coast. An excellent strategic location for a group of pirates to set up.

One thing worth realizing is that piracy on a larger scale, with actual large sailing vessels and large crews is not the rule but the exception. Most pirates are small outfits consisting of fishermen who prey on shipping in the shallow waters near the coast and use small boats to board trading vessels, often under the cover of darkness or fog. Those kinds of outfits tend to keep a low profile since any organized government in the Baltic region can wipe them out effortlessly if they’re discovered. Most of them only raid once or twice per year, tops.

The Bornholm situation is different, due to Bornholm being the last holdout of the post-destruction warlord-type society. Once the organized nations had managed to bring an end to large-scale banditry, they had few places left in the region to go. Bornholm had been left abandoned after the nuclear exchange and it was pretty close for most, so that’s where a significant bandit population appeared. Piracy was a natural choice for those, and it’s still going strong.

Currently, there’s two major outfits on the island: the Victual Brothers and the Störtebeker Brotherhood. The Victual Brothers are both pirates and mercenaries who hire themselves out for anyone who can pay for their services. They run three larger ships: the Kasimir, the Leopold and the Speckhugger. The Brothers are led by a triumvirate of Elder Captains, who used to captain ships previously themselves, but now serve as leaders and organizers for the Brothers. Elder Captains are elected by the captains whenever an Elder Captain dies or abdicates or is found unworthy of the position. Ship crews elect their captains on land, but captains have absolute authority at sea. Failure to follow the Victual Code is punished by flogging or execution.

The Störtebekers are more like a loose organization that anyone can join. There’s no actual authority but there does exist a Captains Moot that is occasionally called to deal with larger issues and contracts that require more than one ship, even if the Störtebekers aren’t actually mercenaries. Sizewise, the Störtebekers have almost twice the manpower and ships compared to the Victual Brothers, but good luck trying to get crews to work together. This is one reason why the Störtebekers tend to lose confrontations against the Victuals.

One thing both agree on is that their situation on Bornholm is threatened by the strong Hanöan navy and the sometimes aggressive fleets of Gotland. The two pirate fellowships have joined to set up a proper defense on Bornholm, consisting of rotating shoreside patrols and a bunch of heavy artillery, clandestinely bought from Novgorodian traders.

Bornholm in it’s current state might best be described as a Baltic version of what Tortuga used to be. There’s a fort overlooking the harbour, an amazing amount of bars, inns and taverns for pirates to spend their money in, a huge amount of warehouses filled with loot that traders and smugglers buy from the on-island merchants. Apart from the Victual Brothers, pirates usually don’t bother with actually selling the stolen cargos abroad. There’s the Bornholm Code which regulates violence and disturbing public order in a very draconic way: fistfights are ok, duels are ok, killing someone outside a duel or drawing a weapon is punished by hanging. The Shore Patrol, a small mercenary police force paid for by the Störtebekers is much feared. Trials are never used: either the Shore Patrol beats up or kills the offender, if there’s doubt about who is the victim and who is the criminal, they usually beat both up and dump them in a ditch.

The non-pirate inhabitants of Bornholm are mainly small-time farmers and retired pirates themselves. The Bornholm Code says they’re never to be messed with: if there’s a fight between one of them and a pirate crew member, the Shore Patrol always takes the side of the inhabitants. This is done to keep the peace.

Bornholm has one of the finest shipyards in the region, even if it only has a limited capacity for work. Prices are high but Master Aarbog who runs the shipyard is worth every penny.

In general, at the moment Bornholm is safe from attack due to the skill of the pirates and the heavy artillery in the forts. However, it remains to be seen if it can survive with civilization encroaching from every direction, and the largest question might be if it will fall by strength or by treason. The Secret Chamber of Peimar is very much interested in infilitrating the pirate groups to use them for their own ends.

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