Surrender your ships, resistance is futile.
Pirate Borg has now been released as a spin-off of the fantasy role-playing game Mörk Borg, which shifts the setting from classic OSR fantasy to a pirate background. The setting for Pirate Borg is called The Dark Caribbean, a gritty interpretation of a pirate-controlled Caribbean. As expected, this is not so much a historical simulation of real piracy. Instead, you quickly notice that the world comprises set pieces like Monkey Island, Sid Meier's Pirates, Pirates of the Caribbean series, and other fictional elements.
The Dark Caribbean is a dangerous place since, besides the colonial powers of England, France, and Spain together with the Inquisition, undead, monsters from the deep sea and bizarre cults also make the Caribbean a frightening place. An undead epidemic threatens the islands of this gloomy version of the Caribbean, so zombies, skeletons, drowned sailors, and the like are omnipresent.
The player characters take on the role of a pirate crew, and the individual crew members are quickly and easily created by a few dice rolls as they are for Mörk Borg. Here again, the usual five attributes are rolled out on a scale of 3 to 18 and then confer an appropriate modifier. In the game, only the modifier counts. Players can play a classless character or choose one of the six primary classes and, for more variety, two additional classes.
Among the primary classes are the Brute, a tough fighter, and the Rapscallion, whose abilities are defined by game cards during character creation and who fulfills a rogue's role. On the other hand, the Buccaneer is particularly good with flintlock weapons, while the Swashbuckler stands out for his sword-fighting style. But there are also “magical” classes, such as the Zealot, who performs magic with his prayers, and the Sorcerer, who appears as a voodoo-practicing mage. Two additional classes can be used to modify the existing classes. As a Haunted Soul, the character has a supernatural background, e.g., as a ghost or vampire. With the Tall Tale class addition, merfolk, mutants, and intelligent animals come into play.
Character creation is quick. The stats are determined by dice rolls, and then the traits from the character class are added. In addition, further dice rolls provide clothing and, very importantly, a hat. There is additional starting equipment, and then you can start adventuring. Of course, the book offers tables for weapons and equipment but also provides character disadvantages, physical characteristics, background aspects, and the like – as usual for the OSR approach – in detailed tables.
Furthermore, characters can be equipped with ancient relics, and arcane rituals and sea shanties provide them with opportunities for further advantages. Here, the arcane rituals are an interpretation of magic, while the sea shanties play a role during sea battles. In fact, a good portion of the rules take up the topic of sea battles. Here, maneuver rules for ships and boats are presented, as well as rules for wind, random tables for encounters, and especially game statistics for a whole arsenal of vessels, from small cobbled-together rafts to heavy ships of the line. In addition, there are some ghost ships and other horrors of the sea.
The monsters that Pirate Bork has to offer are also varied and bizarre. You will find everything from bilge rats and three-headed monkeys to giant kraken, zombies, sea turtles, and even strange plants. More detail is given to the monster groups of skeletons, zombies, and ghosts, which can often be enemy pirate crews. However, human opponents, such as the colonial powers and evil necromancers, can also appear.
If you want to start playing immediately, you can use dice and appropriate tables for just about everything. Encounters with ships at sea and their cargo, scenarios for abandoned ships, treasure maps, unknown islands, and even small missions are summarized through random tables. If more is needed, The Curse of Skeleton Point is less an adventure than a small sandbox scenario of an island with several things to explore, offering ideas for several game nights. From the disappeared governor's daughter to hidden temples in the jungle, witches, and an old fortress inhabited by the undead, the island has a lot to offer.
Pirate Borg also stays true to the principles of Mörk Borg. The rules are simple, quick to learn, and reminiscent of typical OSR rules. The setting comes across as gritty and dirty, and when in doubt, the approach to the game is to simply roll some dice on the countless random tables. Like the other Borg games, Pirate Borg has an extreme layout where large-scale drawings, extreme colors, and wild typography meet (and clash). My impression here, though, is that the style captures the setting much better. The presentation is still very extreme, but it spreads more atmosphere and fits better with the style of the game.
As with the other Borg games, Pirate Borg will divide opinions. If you are looking for a detailed, mechanistically complex, and demanding role-playing game that has a lot of background to offer, this is not your game. However, if you want to play a pirate role-playing game in which you can set sail in a few minutes and experience extremely wild adventures, in my opinion, you will find the best variant of the previous Borg games here. Indeed, the setting with giant kraken, mermaids, undead and depraved pirates is coherent with the rules system. It is also very helpful that, besides the PDF of the rule book itself, a reduced form is provided as a handout for players, in which the important rules for the players can be found.