Monday, May 12, 2014

Roleplaying on the Razor's Edge

Some game masters like ninjas.  Some like robots.  I tend to prefer pirates and their landlubbing cousins bandits.  It is pretty easy to figure out that someone who is willing to kill you and take your stuff is probably the bad guy.  Let that sink in for a moment.

When a new, piratey RPG product comes out, I generally take note.  Many of the items either seem to be reworking familiar material or just jamming pirates into an otherwise standard fantasy adventure. Sometimes, the material rises above that level and I take notice.  Razor Coast is one such product.

 At Gencon last year, I spent a good chunk of the trip dithering over whether I would buy the Razor Coast book or not.  At $100 the price was steep!  I will admit that the product was packed with material.  It was also a huge book, 432 pages for the Swords and Wizardry version I bought (544 pages for the Pathfinder version of virtually the same material!) and full color throughout. It is equal parts source book, adventure source book, and game master guide.  Finally, on the last day with a matching donation from Eric, I went ahead and made the purchase.  In order to make it worthwhile, though, we will actually have to play the game.

It is interesting to compare this product with Freeport as they both nominally mine the same territory: a mashup of Pirates and Fantasy.  It is truly a credit to Razor Coast that it really has very little in common with Freeport.  Where the older product is set on a small island chain that is close enough to a home continent to prey on well established trade lanes on an existing continent, Razor Coast has a very different feel.  Port Shaw, the central location of the game is a colony port, far removed from the mainland.  To give it a buzzword tagline it feels like Fantasy Pirates of Polynesia.

To be sure, the colonizers fill some of the usual fantasy tropes, but the setting details feel very different.  The natives are of a Pacific tribal bent, hard pressed to reconcile their current oppressed status with their warrior past.  Meanwhile, there are threats and machinations from on land, under the sea, and even from within.  The local volcano god may very well be real, and if he is, he is pissed!  The local enemies are of an interesting stripe as well:  Alligator men in the swamps, Weresharks  ply the deep, and mutated cannibal pygmies await the unwary.  I cannot express how much I want to unleash mutant cannibal pygmies on my players!

Weresharks.  These aren't in your daddy's Monster Manual.

In his blog, Zak Sabbath posts a lot of things that I thoroughly agree with, a few things that I completely disagree with, and a disturbingly large number of things that I do not understand.  Recently in the post I like RPGs..., there was a LOT of the things I agree with.  One of the statements he made that I really agree with was this: "I almost even kinda like that published modules are almost uniformly an object lesson in how much worse published modules are than what you could invent at home." Fortunately, while there is much truth to this sentiment, a great deal of the adventure material for Razor Coast does not fit into that category.  While I would not wish to use everything as written, there are some plots and scenes within the material that I would want to use without wholesale changes.

My campaign idea for Razor Coast allows the players a lot of rope when creating characters.  A mix of natives, citizens of Port Shaw, and new arrivals would all fit for what I have in mind.  They will all begin the game in Port Shaw one personal business, but circumstances will cast them together and force some initial cooperation.  Afterward, the adventures will interweave the best elements of the "adventure path" from the original book, plot elements of my own device, and the usual ramifications of player actions into a singularly tasty seafood chowder.  With weresharks.  And mutant cannibal pygmies.

One more picture of a wereshark.  Because I do not have any
good pictures of mutant cannibal pygmies. And because...

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