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Let's Review: PirateBORG

"PirateBorg is a game about grog-swilling pirates, undead galleons, arcane treasures found in ancient temples and high sea adventure. It’s not a game about slavery, sexual violence, genocide, or any of the other abhorrent real parts of our history. Please treat these topics with the respect they deserve, or leave them out of the game altogether and go hunt some skeletons."

A full moon lights the sky of this pair of islands. The island on the left features shadowed palm trees. The island on the right features skeletons hung on stakes with a large stone castle. The castle has a ship stabbed through one of its towers.
Skeleton Point Key Art

Pirate games have been done before with video games like Sea of Thieves and TTRPGs such as 7th Sea, but none that I'm aware of have taken the horrors of the deep dark ocean and the struggles of living a pirate's life into consideration. PirateBorg really makes traveling as a pirate dangerous yet rewarding, and pull from its Darkest Dungeon and Call of Cthulhu roots. We received a PDF review copy thanks to Free League, so I took a look at this dark seas TTRPG to see if its worth its salt and how I think it will play compared to other MorkBorg modules.


Artwork

As with every MorkBorg supplement I've seen, PirateBorg continues the trend of dark, gothic art that reminds me of every heavy metal band's album art. There is heavy inspiration from Darkest Dungeon and Shadows over Innsmouth, leading to fantastic pieces of spooky yet clearly defined specters or skeletons. My favorite piece has to be the Haunted Soul's key art (shown below) as it gives the feelings of Darkest Dungeon's stress mechanics becoming too much for our ill-fated pirate.

The page spread of the Haunted Soul class in PirateBorg's book. Features a skeleton pirate holding its temples as a cloud of red smoke fills the page featuring a skull with tentacles spreading from it. Paper snippets throughout the spread feature the class's abilities and subtypes.
Optional Class: Haunted Soul from PirateBorg

Most if not ALL of the art is connected to a core ability or table found on the page, from a creature's stat block to just an inspirational piece showcasing the physical trademarks of your player character's pirate. You could spend an entire session's worth of time admiring the book rather than playing the game itself.


Layout

The book is laid out fairly well, accommodating all the necessary components to run the game. I love that the majority of the randomizer tables are available at the tail ends (front and back) of the book along with a map of the Dark Caribbean and a copy of the character sheet. Like most TTRPGs, the book follows a general logic of player facing information in the front half with GM rules, inspiration, and tables in the later half of the book. One struggle I've had is reading certain fonts of MorkBorg books given the "metal" nature of the material, but everything is fairly easy to read and digest without turning my head 90 degrees or resorting to copy pasting the game text into a notepad.


I do have to give the smallest negative for the PDF on two fronts, and its very nitpicky I'll admit. The "Dark" in Dark Caribbean sometimes being too dark to read is small but noticeable on the pages. Looking at other MorkBorg books, I'm guessing it'll have a shine or outlining of some kind on the printed version. Additionally some parts of the book rely on having the two page spread open rather than a single page, sometimes orphaning elements of a class or stat block to a separate page. The worst offender of this is the Buccaneer class having half of its starting stats on a separate page above the art rather than with the HP and Devil's Luck on the primary page like the rest of the classes. Like I said before, these are very minor details but if I'm talking layout these are pet peeves of mine in my own design.


Uniqueness

One note I was sure to include in this review is how it compares to other MorkBorg titles. I've had my hands on MorkBorg and the cyberpunk module Cy_Borg recently and I love the direction PirateBorg is taking us. Each player class has a unique style of play that makes them interesting without adding clunky mechanics to a very streamlined system. The introduction of magic through relics and rituals along with "Ash," a consumable product of undead remains that provides physiological & psychedelic effects, provides flavor and inspiration for ancient secrets hidden away in the Dark Caribbean. I can't wait to let my players get their hands on this when we wrap our adventures in Cy_Borg!


Character Creation

Right after the initial lore of the Dark Caribbean we are thrust into the Create a Player Character section. The book is pretty straight forward on creating a character as it tells you everything you need to do or what tables to roll on up front. Containers for items, what gear you start with, and then ability scores and class abilities. If I was applying scoring I'd give this section a solid 10/10!

The Character Creation Spread from the PirateBorg TTRPG. Art features a selection of Pirate character options.
Create a Player Character in PirateBorg

GM Tools

PirateBorg is full of systems to help the GM facilitate a game, from random tables to spice up NPCs to several monsters, maps, and other assets to pull inspiration from for their custom pillaging and plunders. The game provides a noticeable section to plot hook tables such as abandoned ships, treasure maps, and more. While PirateBorg itself doesn't provide a specific "how to run a game" section, the provided lore at the beginning of the book, all the tools, and the module Curse of Skeleton Point give a solid foundation for starting a table.


The Curse of Skeleton Point adventure module provided at the end of the book is a great starting point or place of inspiration for GMs when building their stories. Each part of the adventure seems to highlight a specific portion of PirateBorg's ruleset, from designing a full adventure, towns and their various dungeons, and NPCs. I especially want to give Skeleton Point a try as it features a cross-sectioned dungeon map and uses more of a point crawl exploration system, which is something I haven't seen as often in games.


A rotund zombie with a powdered wig across from a long haired pirate with skeleton like features.
Enemies of PirateBorg

Safety & Accessibility

As always here at Huntsmen's Hydra we want to bring attention to the tools and accessibility options games bring to the table. PirateBorg as mentioned in their own excerpt chose to remove "slavery, sexual violence, genocide, or any other abhorrent real parts of our history" from the game, and did so with great care. Sensitivity Consultant Bridgett Jeffries and the PirateBorg team did a fantastic job in my opinion of detailing a fleshed out world of pirates, plunder, and high sea adventure without resorting to the less tasteful topics of historical piracy.


For Accessibility I can only speak to the PDF as we work to expand our tools when reviewing TTRPGs and other games. The text itself can be highlighted and copied without issue, so I lean to assume a screen reader wouldn't have much struggle with the various fonts used by Luke Stratton when laying out the rulebook. Most text and art have contrasting colors to allow for readability and seems colorblind aware, focusing on separating red-green or blue-yellow combinations.


In Conclusion

I think this is an excellent addition to the MorkBorg universe of games. The Dark Caribbean is something worth exploring and fearing until your landlubber players get their sea legs. Even then you don't lose out on MorkBorg's grimdark horror style as enemies only get more and more eldritch. Be sure to check out PirateBorg for yourself at DriveThruRPG or their website found here. Thanks again to Free League for the review copy and hope to see you all on the high seas in the future!

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