A Pirates Life For Me – A Review of Pirate Borg

Pirate Borg

Author: Luke Stratton
Publisher: Limithron LLC.
Page Count: 168
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – Not yet available
Print – Not yet available

The Dark Caribbean is a place of mystery and danger. Where one can easily be cut down in their prime in the pursuit of the pirates’ life. Sailing the ocean blue in this pirate-themed adaptation of Mörk Borg takes on an entirely new meaning. The Dark Caribbean is a rough-and-tumble place where pirates hailing from all the major nations of Europe hope to strike it rich through plundering, ransoming, and the drug trade. The Dark Caribbean is also home to dangers big and small, on land and in the water, but for those men and women brave enough to choose the pirates’ life, riches can be had. Hoist the Jolly Roger, man the guns, we’re going pirating!

Powered by Mörk Borg, Pirate Borg is uniquely different in its theme and narrative direction. Gamers familiar with Mörk Borg will find it easy to read and understand, having a similar art-punk style. Those unfamiliar will have no trouble comprehending the rules. Mechanically it functions the same as Mörk Borg. Instead of D&D style attribute values ranging from 3-18, you only record its associated modifier of –3 through +3. Tasks are rolled on a d20, adding or subtracting the applicable ability’s value to your roll and trying to beat a Difficulty Rating (DR). The difficulty for a routine task is a DR12, and some situations will increase or decrease the DR. In Combat, the GM does not roll to hit or defend. Instead, players make defense rolls when attacked; the more fearsome the opponent, the more difficult it will be to successfully defend against their attacks. Unlike Mörk Borg, while available to a limited degree, armor is useless against black powder weapons and cannon shot. Armor still has a specific damage reduction; these come in the form of –d2, –d4, or –d6, with its effectiveness being reduced every time you roll a fumble (a natural 1) on your defense roll.

You can’t have a pirate game without naval travel and ship-to-ship combat. One of the most significant mechanical deviations of Pirate Borg is the use of ships. While at sea, ships are considered a character unto themselves, having their own stats and abilities. The act of sailing is straightforward. Ships travel the Dark Caribean map up to their speed value in 50 miles hexes per day, directed by the ship’s captain. When encountering other ships, the game’s worldview changes from a narrative (macro level) to a tactical (micro level). Ships interact by sailing around and near each other in this zoomed-in view. Ship-to-ship combat is not the only option but one of the most important; it was built into the design from the beginning with the idea of using 1/600-scale miniatures at the table. During these narrowly focussed scenes, each ship follows the turn sequence, during which the ship’s captain moves or turns the ship. All ships can perform two actions from a list of several. The ship on which the characters sail is aboard is afforded more actions, one per character. Actions include, but are not limited to, changing the sail configuration to firing broadsides or launching a boarding party. Once another ship is boarded, the worldview changes again, zooming in to close combat. While very tightly written, the book’s naval section includes many options and modifiers for nearly every situation. Various random tables are also provided for additional event and encounter possibilities. The stats for seventeen ships and a fort have been given, along with a wonderful piece of black line art.

Another exciting and Pirate Borg-specific element is Devil’s Luck, for which every character has some amount of it. This expendable resource allows players to do any number of things that reflect the Devil’s influence on a situation. Essentially, these points are “bennies” in other games. There is a finite number of things they can be spent on, from dealing max damage to rerolling a die roll and more. Once consumed, they are gone until the character rests at least six hours, and only if the Devil’s Luck has been fully depleted. When regaining Devil’s Luck, the player rolls their assigned die, so this resource is, at best, variable once the game starts.

Like Mörk Borg, the game is designed to be played over a series of story arcs or six chapters, ultimately leading to the “End of Days.” Its implementation here is similar to that of Mörk Borg, but instead of dooms, it is presented as an unfolding history of the Dark Caribbean that is intended to be used as backdrops that can be used to directly influence the game or just used to color the narrative.

Character creation is ad hoc, using random tables to build out the pirate. However, there are plenty of choices for the player to make during this expedient process. One important decision players can make if they don’t want to leave it to fate is choosing their class. Available classes include:

  • Brute – A tough melee combatant prone to fits of rage.
  • Rapscallion – A sneaky, cutthroat scallywag good at backstabbing, breaking & entering, stealing, cheating, and escaping. Found in taverns, shadows, and shallow graves.
  • Buccaneer – A skilled tracker and survivalist. Expert sharpshooters, especially with muskets & rifles.
  • Swashbuckler – A brash Fighter with Bravado & Swagger.
  • Zealot – A clergy member, cultist, shaman, or believer.
  • Sorcerer – An eldritch occultist, frail and enigmatic; conduits for meddlesome natural spirits and devious necromantic entities.
  • Haunted Soul – A possessed, infected, cursed, troubled, or undead individual.
  • Tall Tale – An optional class; that creates human/animal hybrid beings

As noted above, there are so many tables to flesh out your pirate. The tables are designed and laid so that they can be quickly worked through. Character creation should take about 15 minutes, with the hardest decision being what class to play unless that is left up to the dice.

Much of the book’s remaining pages are dedicated to tools for the Gamemaster. These include an incredibly robust bestiary that ranges from the mundane but deadly to the creatures better left to the ocean’s depths like the Kraken, leviathan, and even Davie Jones. There are plenty of two-legged terrestrial threats as well. Stats are given for every mundane and fantastical person, being, and creature. Also, part of this suite of tools is quite a number of generators for creating treasure maps, ship cargo, derelict ships, uncharted islands, and more.

Finally, Pirate Borg provides what can be called both an adventure and setting to get players to the table quicker. “The Curse at Skeleton Point” is self-professed as “not a typical introductory adventure. It’s a location guide, an NPC dossier, a sandbox, a dungeon crawl, and much more. It’s a loaded cannon, and your players are the linstock.” After reading “The Curse at Skeleton Point,” I am impressed at the level of detail that is provided while at the same time equally impressed with the amount of white space for me to take the narrative in pretty much any direction I choose. There are compelling backstories to the locations, the people, and the history of the Island. Opportunities abound for new pirates to cut their teeth alongside seasoned veterans or to blaze their own path. Depending on what type of story is being told, there is great advice for those choosing to use it as a launchpad for a campaign, a short arc, or even a one-shot.

Game Play Experience

I played a one-shot at the most recent “Weekend With Good Friend” online event and found the gameplay experience wonderful. This should not be surprising for someone who loves pirate-themed games done right, and this game has been done right. Having familiarity with Mörk Borg, I already knew the game’s basic mechanics. Following a concise rules explanation, the new players at the table quickly comprehended the rules, and off we went.

Our dread crew is hired by a captain to aid him in recovering reportedly buried treasure on a remote island in the Dark Caribbean. Eager for silvers to pay off our bar tabs, we agreed to the job, and off we sailed. Our trip from the port had us only encountering one ship at sea. Due to our deft abilities, we maneuvered and outpaced it, never coming into contact with the ship, which we suspected was after the same treasure cache. Once at the island, it proved a little more challenging as we had to negotiate various overland hazards to find the cache’s underground entrance. Delving underground was quite hazardous to our health, but in the end, we were successful, albeit banged and bruised up.

The gameplay got intense quite often, as I would expect, given the nature of our scenario. The abilities we employed and the things we attempted to do worked with the game’s stats. Everything felt very organic to the theme. The Devil’s Luck was a fun resource to use but had to be managed; I can see it being something players may try to horde, “just in case.”

Presentation

At the time of this review, Pirate Borg is only available in PDF to Kickstarter backers and pre-orders, with physical books being delivered to Kickstarter backers projected to begin in January 2023. The book has the art-punk style of its parent; however, it is by no means as garish or painful to the eyes, using a much more subdued color palette. The book’s overall artistic style drips with a pirate theme, with some headers a little challenging to read. I found the addition of “clear text” headers in the top margin of each page very helpful from time to time. All important information is readily readable.

The PDF comes in both single and spread formats. Each is bookmarked for easy navigation and has three externally attached character sheets for quick access.

Final Thoughts

I have been a huge fan of Mörk Borg since the beginning, but having now read and played Pirate Borg, for me, it surpasses Mörk Borg. I find the game thematically and aesthetically more appealing, but then again, I love pirates. On a mechanical level, If you can play one, you can play the other. However, if you are put off by the garish art-punk aesthetic or the gloom and doom of Mörk Borg’s theme, you owe it to yourself to check out Pirate BorgPirate Borg has a lot going for it, and while it won’t be for everyone, I suspect it will appeal to a rather broad audience.

I will put it out here and now: Pirate Borg is my favorite game of 2022!

~ Modoc

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