Reviews

Pirate Borg review — swashbuckling in the Dark Caribbean

When I called Mork Borg a landmark in RPG production and distribution, I had no idea how far it was going to go. Content for the game has proliferated, seeing new implementations in Death in Space, Cy-Borg, and now Pirate Borg. I found Death in Space a worthy if imperfect implementation of the system, but Pirate Borg takes things a step forward. While it retains Mork Borg’s lush but readable presentation and grim sense of humor, its subtle changes to the system are welcome. I remarked that Mork Borg needed some extra meat in the form of supplements to feel complete, but Pirate Borg is a more well-rounded package, offering everything you need for exploration and adventure in a single 168 page book.

Set in the Dark Caribbean, the game is beset with shades of Deadlands. The seas burst forth with monsters and the dead begin to rise. Ash, a new magical substance made of ground up undead, functions as a source of magic and intoxication. Ash smuggling fuels a new boom on the seas, but locating it and returning alive is a fraught prospect. There’s a simple chart for the state of the market that, on its own, will add a lot to your games. With a fluctuating price, your players will have to choose how much to sell and when, weighing it against more immediate needs. Ash can also be consumed for random effects; some are good, some neutral, and a few terrible, but in an emergency you may have to roll the dice. You see how much leverage you can get out of just the basic concept for this game and a few tables? Your game has a motivation to destroy undead for ash, a complicating factor in the state of the market, and a competing interest in the potential usefulness of Ash as a substance. On its own, Ash and the hex map create room for great emergent play.

Even worse than the undead are the European forces of the British navy, Spanish Inquisition, and other colonizers hunting for privateers. That’s not to mention the rumors of things lurking in the jungles, and cities of eldritch beings rising from the deep. This setting might not have quite the breadth of Mork Borg’s black metal apocalypse, but the almost-grounding in reality makes for an easier onramp to engaging with the setting.

The book looks wonderful, but the presentation sometimes suffers in terms of placement and amount of text. If there’s anything here that I think doesn’t work, it’s adhering to the structure of Mork Borg a little too directly. This adaptation has its own countdown to the apocalypse which, while evocative, isn’t as necessary for the setting at play. It’s perfect as a couple random tables, but apocalypse doesn’t seem to fit as well here. It bears saying that this all looks great. Some areas are a little rougher and less stylized than Mork Borg, but the rules are just as easy to learn and reference, and most of the art is just as useful to communicate tone.

The system is similar but not totally identical to that of Mork Borg, with player-rolled d20 checks modified by abilities, looking for a target number of 12 under most circumstances. The classes are Brute (warrior), Rapscallion (uses a deck of cards to produce effects with their abilities, these are awesome but the mechanic is a little underused), Buccaneer (all-around survivalist), Swashbuckler (swashbuckler), Zealot (essentially cleric), Sorcerer, Haunted Soul (undead), or a Tall Tale (monster or sentient animal). They’re weird, they’re awesome, and any one of them has enough going on under the hood to inform your character and story. One of my few criticisms of Mork Borg was that level advancement lacked some tactility, but Pirate Borg went a long way towards fixing the issue. Every class ability can be taken multiple times for new effects of power levels, exploding the possibilities of character advancement without the need of complex feat trees. Magical abilities also allow you to modify them for more difficulty but extra effects.

In fact, “Mork Borg” but more fleshed out is a good overall way to think about this game. There are more tables in all directions, more character options, more support for adventures, and a little more complexity in the mechanics. While Mork Borg was a simple start with room to expand as you chose optional rules, Pirate Borg is much more of a complete book. That said, the extra content does make the book harder to navigate than its briefer counterpart. For instance, which of the tables of random rumors is the one you’re looking for? There are rules which are nice inclusions, but nonetheless border on being superfluous, such as sea shanties your crew can sing once per day for mechanical benefits, or an alchemy system that will send you across the seas looking for ingredients.

Of course, the game includes a system for ship to ship combat, which works about the same as any ship combat system you’ve ever seen: ships are essentially big characters. Combat allows for each crewmember to take actions to affect the round, and the geometry of ships is an important factor because of the placement of onboard weapons. That’s not to mention the rules for (deep breath here) ship economy and survival (with penalties for low morale or food), optional rules for wind during combat or exploration, enough ships to get you running, treasure maps, and lots of enemies from multiple different factions, islands, and adventures.

The character sheets have most character creation rules built into them, and in typical fashion the indexes are useful and the summaries comprehensive. Speaking both as a jaded player and time-limited games reviewer, I can’t speak highly enough of how easy Pirate Borg gets you into the game. With a two page spread and zero page flips, you have your character. A little more tables gets you a ship, motivation, and adventure. This game is built for zero-prep games and emergent play, finding whatever adventure comes your way on the seas of the Caribbean.

Senior Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

John Farrell is an attorney working to create affordable housing, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/ or follow him on Bluesky @johnofhearts

95

Excellent

Pirate Borg

Review Guidelines

Pirate Borg has substance, style, and avast(!) array of content to entertain you. While it is compatible with other Morg Borg material, the completeness and complexity of this book is more than you need to remain entertained for deep, explorative adventures.

John Farrell

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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