Friday, September 19, 2014

Surrender the Booty!

Shortly after Gen Con and my last post, I kind of hit a point of physical and mental fatigue.  Progress on most projects stopped.  In fact, just about the only thing I managed to accomplish in the last month is some work on Pirates of Tortuga, my new weekly campaign.  In the last few days, I have started to come out of that malaise with a desire to get back to things.  First the blog here, and then perhaps more ambitious projects.

As Friday, September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day, and since my current weekly game is also pirate based, it seems only natural to cover that topic.  I collected a number of pirate themed game materials over the years.  Some of them were excellent.  Below are five of the most useful I have found.  Since my current campaign is historically based, I am limiting myself to games set in our own past.  Green Ronin's Freeport, Frog God Games' Razor Coast, and of course my old favorite Alderac Entertainment Group's 7th Sea are all excellent games with pirate themes set elsewhere,  If you need a little more fantasy in your pirate games, I urge you to look to them.  For gaming on the Spanish Main, I present these gems:

GURPS Swashbucklers

This book went through three editions.  This is not
 the last, but it is by far the best cover.
For gamers who cut their teeth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, GURPS sourcebooks were the best place to go to get information about any genre,  Even if you did not like the GURPS system, their books were packed with setting details you could use.  GURPS authors did their research and the content was of superior quality even if their production values were somewhat austere.  One of the best of these sourcebooks was GURPS Swashbucklers by Steffan O'Sullivan.  As the name would suggest, it covers both pirate campaigns and continental European adventuring in the style of The Three Musketeers.  The main entries all contain solid coverage of the main themes of a swashbuckling campaign.  The real gems, as is the case in most of the best GURPS supplements, are the sidebars.  These small one or two paragraph treatments of the esoterica in the genre are where an enterprising GM can find details to make his game really sing.  Likewise, the details in the sidebars are just the right hooks to hang a character concept on.  I do not run many GURPS games any more, but my shelf of GURPS material still gets used in just about whatever game I am running and Swashbucklers shows exactly why.

Campaign Classics: Pirates

How dangerous can he be wearing
pantaloons like that?
Written in 1990 for a game system that nobody I know ever played (or at least talked about playing), Pirates a supplement for Rolemaster/Hero System still merits a mention nearly 25 years later.  This is largely for the same reason I mentioned GURPS Swashbicklers above: it is so full of useful campaign material that it doesn't matter whether you use the system or not.  Pirates is a far more focused sourcebook than its GURPS counterpart.  As a result, it delves deeper into the world of pirates.  The real strengths of the book are twofold.  First is the amount of information it gives about the various locations in the Caribbean.  Later pirate games do this, but no one does it quite as well.  Each entry about an island or town is just a paragraph or two (Except for major locations like Port Royal and Tortuga which are necessarily longer), yet gives a good feel for how to make that location different from the others.  The second strength is the maps. Using a combination of historical maps and more modern cartography, Pirates has the best and most comprehensive maps of any pirate genre role-playing supplement ever.

Skull & Bones

 Skull & Bones  is my favorite of the more modern pirate based games.  A d20 supplement, Skull & Bones adds elements of horror and supernatural to the Spanish Main.  This has some intriguing implications since the work introduces the concept that both voodoo traditions and Christian relics can have power in the Caribbean.  As a student of history, I tend to prefer historical campaigns that do not incorporate the mystical, but I do appreciate what the authors are trying to convey.  Where I find Skull & Bones most useful, however, is in its organization.  Gaming material has undergone a lot of changes since the first two entries were produced, and not always for the better.  One of the real leaps forward between the old school and more modern efforts is in the presentation of material.  Skull & Bones adds considerable new information to the genre, but it really shines at presenting the material in such a way that the game player can easily access it.  A thorough table of contents, index, and logical presentation of material may not seem like that big a deal, but every GM who has ever spent time at the table thumbing through a rule book looking for some obscure rule or table can attest to how useful these things can be.

The Pirate GM's Right Fist

Not as fancy as the other entries, but just as

If you want to run a pirate game, but you are cheap, then have I got a deal for you.  At a paltry $1.99, The Pirate GM's Righ Fist is just the ticket.  Black Shark Enterprises is a new, independent producer of (thusfar) exclusively generic pirate based gaming materials.  Right Fist was their first entry on DrivethruRPG.  Fourteen pages of tables and a short essay that are worth every penny.  Designed for the GM who is either running a game on the fly or just needs a little inspiration between sessions, the tables cover most of the things that GM could need fast.  Quick random encounters on land and at sea.  What is that merchant ship carrying?  Need a ship name fast?  Where is that ship headed?  Roll some dice and there is the info right at your fingertips.  In general, I am not a fan of the whole random table for a dollar part of the field.  The amount of thought that went into these tables, however, is enough to change that opinion.  Also, the number of interesting details about pirate life that Mark S. Cookman, the author squeezes into the two pages at the end of the supplement make this one of the most useful pirate supplements to be had at any price.  He has advertised a product for ship to ship combat to be released later this year.  I anxiously anticipate it.

 Buccaneers & Bokor, Issue One

Did I mention it is free?
If $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, how does free grab you?  Buccaneers & Bokor was a short lived emagazine in support of Skull & Bones.  They are all still available on DrivethruRPG cheaply.  Each of the issues was worthy of mention and has information useful to the pirate GM.  The first issue, however, has two things going for it that the others do not.  First, it is free.  It is hard to beat free.  Second, it contains a set of tables for random adventure generation that are hard to beat.  Gareth-Michael Skarka has created a system of table that he has adapted in various Adamant Entertainment products across genres.  At their base, they emulate a screenwriters pitch (and frankly Mad Libs) where the tables insert random elements into the following sentence: "The main characters must [DO] [SOMETHING]  at [LOCATION] but have to contend with [COMPLICATIONS] while being confronted by [OPPOSITION]." The sentences when filled in can usually make an interesting plot.  Even without using the sentence structure, looking over the table of random words can get ideas flowing.  It helps that some of his words are not always typical for the genre.  Used this way, they are a bit of a word association brainstorming exercise.  The rest of the issue is worthwhile as well, with a glossary of pirate lingo, a brief adventure, and a mythical pirate island all rounding out the offering.

These are some of the most useful items in my treasure chest.  Got any treasures I missed?