Publisher: Living Imagination
Review Dated: 22nd, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 13
Average Score: 6.50
It’s a pirate’s life for me! Hmm. Especially if the ratio of hot chick pirates to run of the mill thug pirates is the same in real life as it is in Living Imagination’s Pirates! The front cover sports one of the most skimpy pirate costumes ever. It’s not a case of “arr!” but “phour!”
If you asked around in search of the best d20 naval supplement then I think you’ll find a large percentage of people you ask will recommend Broadsides! This is handy. As the exclamation mark suggests, both books are by the same company. This allows Pirates! to plug nicely into a well established set of nautical mechanics. Do you need Broadsides! to use pirates? Nope. Not at all. If you’re here for the pirate prestige classes or don’t need publisher produced rules for sailing then you’re set. Similarly, if you don’t have Spellbound then there is only a sliver of Pirates! that will need massaging.
Let’s mosey on back to skimpy pirate costumes and the chances of the ratio of sexy pirate captains matching the illustrations in the book. I even used the phrase ‘real life’. The truth is, of course, that what we might imagine a pirate’s life to be is probably rather more glamorous than it is. Real life pirates, historic pirates, are one thing but most people flicking through Pirates! will want fantasy pirates with different races and magic too. This is dealt with in the introduction. Pirates! manages to get the mix of real facts and fun fantasy entirely right. There’s just enough in the introduction to give your pirate RP a touch of reality and there’s no risk of a dry history lesson. Food’s a problem out on the waves. It rots. It gets infested with maggots. The book has a tip, leave a fresh fish on top of the hardtack biscuits, it’ll attract the maggots and when the fish is covered in the creepy crawlies you can toss it over board and replace it with a new one. Fishy biscuits are better than maggot biscuits. The difference between a pirate and privateer – one has an allegiance and backing, the other doesn’t – is explained as is the Code of Conduct.
Pirates! has enjoyed a lucky timetable clash with Hollywood. Code of Conduct? They’re more like guidelines really. Arr!
Let’s just say your tolerance for game meal and campaign setting is exceptionally low. Just when you might be beginning to flag (forgive the pun) the book slaps down a page of feats. Storm Affinity lets you predict the weather up to 24 hours in advance. Aggressive Pilot means you’re exceptionally good at using your ship as a weapon.
The bulk of Pirates! (pages 13 through 69 of the 112-paged book) is given over to Pirate Profiles. Once again Pirates! gets the blend of game meal and crunch as well as fact and fantasy exactly right. The chapter is a mix of sample pirates; some historical figures like Captain Kidd, some entirely fantasy, and prestige classes. The Profiles are presented to match the prestige classes. Captain Kidd, for example, would best be described with the Gentleman Pirate prestige class and so that’s the very prestige class he’s presented alongside. We’ve Gentleman Pirate, Pirate, Slaver, The Sea’s Chosen, Eldritch Captain – who burns spells for magical ship effects like increased speed, Brethren, I’kurosgch Salteaters – scary orc pirates, Jali – think witch doctor, Sail Rider, Salvager, Lookout, Marauder, Reckless Boarder, Island Protector and Smuggler. That’s a decent sized list, a quantity you might only expect in a specialised, less flavoured, prestige class book. Even with only that token attempt to describe the classes I think it’s pretty easy to see that there’s a wide range there. Classes like the Lookout and Slaver are ideal for a game with a more gritty feel, whereas Sail Riders, Salteaters and Eldritch Captains are just the thing for high fantasy on the high seas.
Still inside the Pirate Profile section you’ll find a few new magic rituals. Rituals are one of the features in the Twin Crowns campaign setting offered by Living Imagination. More than one of Living Imagination’s books describe how these ritual rules work and so I think the authors are perfectly justified to link their books together like this. It supports the campaign world and adds value to cumulative purchases without really taking anything away for those of us not at that point.
If there was any doubt about Pirates! good timing or even whether the authors had their fingers on the fantasy pulse the Pirates Profile section finishes with rules for ghost ships and templates for Undead Captains and crewmen.
I think one of the attractions of a pirate game would be designing and running a ship that was better than the naval authorities, one able to catch merchants and fend off other pirates. Chapter Four gives us all the rules we need to design a ship ourselves – and, huzzah, it’s all perfectly compatible with the sailing rules we’re liking to be using (from Broadsides!). Okay. The system is a little county at times – but that’s unavoidable.
The following chapter dishes out a dose of equipment and magic. Whether it’s the cape of the swashbuckler, manacles of the slaver, or the wetsuit of the frog, most GMs are likely to find something to inspire a scene, scenario or campaign.
Kronor’s Folly is a short setting-cum-scenario that’s complete with maps. Pirate Adventures is a collection of slightly shorter scenarios and adventure ideas. The book concludes with a “character sheet” blank for a ship log.
Pirates! really is rather good. You can use it to add to whatever you’re currently doing for nautical adventures or you can use the book to inject a healthy dose of pirate action into a landlubber game. Arr!