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From the Deck of a Sandship: Of Ne’er-Do-Wells and the Roadrunner

From the Deck of a Sandship: Of Ne’er-Do-Wells and the Roadrunner

Across the deserts of the Southlands, caravans full of riches travel between glittering spires and wealthy trading houses. Behind distant dunes or in nearby alleyways, the poor, the desperate, the vengeful, and the greedy watch eagerly. Those ne’er-do-wells plot their chance at a form of freedom by emptying the purses of the wealthy.

Brigands and their Tactics

This dance of mongoose and viper has crossed the sands for ages. The raiders utilize a variety of tactics and methods suiting their skills and preferred environments. Here we present a few, so one may adopt them or plan to defend against them.

Method: Blitzers

Description. The simplest form of robbery is essentially a raid by a large number of thieves. These gangs (or perhaps even a horde of nomads native to an area) perform high speed en masse attacks on foot while mounted or even via sandskiff or airship.

Example. The gnoll brigands of the bouda warlord Dunehowler employ the blitz with their flotilla of sand skiffs.

Method: Chameleons

Description. This method involves finding a way to sneak gang members into the caravan and hijack wagons or sneak out merchandise. The thieves may take a variety of roles from signing on as caravan guards, buying passage, or even joining the journey as a fake wagon driver. Chameleons play a long con as they may have to travel a great distance with a caravan before they can make their escape. One member is usually a fence (or has contacts with such) to help move the merchandise.

Example. A new but deliberately unnamed organization in Mhalmet, led by a young but skilled assassin, continues to build a network of contacts, allowing them to insert themselves into the right caravan at the right time.

Method: Dustdevils

Description. Like Nightcrawlers, a gang utilizing this method attacks under the cover of nature, specifically a natural or even magically created sandstorm. As the caravan moves slowly or stops for the storm, they target trailing or isolated wagons.

Example. The thief, Semet the Short-Fingered of the Fractured Rise, keeps a desert priest in his gang to watch and divine the path of future sandstorms, so he knows when they will intersect with the Mhalmet Road.

Method: Nightcrawlers

Description. A group of thieves who engage in the typical “grab & go” operation but prefer the cover of night, under skies with no moon or clouds preferred, and stealth. When necessary, they engineer a distraction to draw off the caravan’s nightwatch. 

Example. The alleys of Mhalmet are home to the Black Cats of Bastet who, as far as anyone knows, only come out at night. These thieves often drop from rooftops to hijack the last wagon after disabling the immediately preceding transport.

Method: Snatchers

Description. This tactic is a refinement of the “blitz,” where the thieves study the caravan (via scouts) or gain intelligence by spell or spy. They then attack to capture a single wagon (via airship, hijacking the wagon, or the Roadrunner, see below).

Example. Nemet Al-Graghn, captain of the sandskiff the Roadrunner, favors the “snatch” and has had her craft specially modified for such a method.

The Roadrunner

Nemet Al-Graghn gave a lot of thought to desert raiding before she convinced her sister to commission for her the sandship the Roadrunner. She has taken aspects of “blitz” and “snatch” tactics (see above) and merged it with an element of surprise that has proven quite effective in her first half-dozen raids.

The Roadrunner is a 100-foot-long, lateen-rigged, schooner-style sandskiff. She carries a crew of 24 but can be sailed by six in a pinch. The Roadrunner features a raised forecastle with two harpoon launchers on swivel mounts. Cables from adjacent winches attach to the harpoons to aid in securing or slowing down the Roadrunner’s target. 

Below the forecastle, the hull features an integrated pair of doors that open upon command. The doors reveal a section of the bow capable of swallowing a large wagon or small sandskiff. Heavy iron bars at the back of the chamber prevent the target from crashing into the foremast and prevent escape for those captured.

On the center deck, between her three masts, the Roadrunner features several small mortar-like cannons, which discharge a variety of specialty bombs. One type creates a cloud of sleep-inducing gas and another spews a hail of cactus spines in all directions. The Roadrunner carries a small sandskiff used for scouting, hunting or errands (akin to an ocean-going vessel’s boat).

The Roadrunner also features a raised sterncastle, featuring the ship’s wheel and a pair of swivel-mounted cannons typically loaded with chain or nailshot to deter pursuit. Below the sterncastle are Nemet’s quarters, the upper mess, and a single guest cabin, often reserved for important hostages. The hull, from bow to stern, features the capture chamber, the cargo hold, and the crew quarters and mess.

In addition to the front doors, the Roadrunner has a second unique feature borrowed from the sea-going ships of Nemet’s sister. Upon command, the ship’s masts collapse neatly to the deck, and a magical hemispherical shell encloses the deck, forecastle, and sterncastle. This allows the Roadrunner to dive into the sands of the desert and travel unseen for a short period. A periscope at the wheel extends through the shell to see above the surface of the sand.

The Roadrunner

Ship Type: Sailing sandship

AC: 18

hp: 150

Save Modifier: +9

Maximum Speed: 75 ft.

Arms: Two forward-firing harpoon guns, two rear-firing cannons, and two 360-degree, centrally mounted mortars

Ram: Special, see engulf below

Squares: 20×4, 80 total

Crew: 20, minimum 6

Forward Facing: Ship’s bow

Driving Device: Sails and steering wheel

Driving Space: 4 squares about the steering wheel on the sterncastle

Decks: 1 main deck, small forecastle, and sterncastle


  • Engulf. The pilot of the Roadrunner attempts to swallow a target smaller than the side of the bow doors (approx. 15’ across by 8’ high).
  • Sandwurm. The Roadrunner collapses its sails and masts, and a canopy cocoons the deck, allowing the vessel to dive under the sands, moving at full speed for up to 5 minutes. The pilot steers by means of a periscope that rises above the wheel.


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