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Review: Pirate Borg RPG – Surreal, Dark, and Incredibly Fun

Review: Pirate Borg RPG – Surreal, Dark, and Incredibly Fun
Key Takeaways
1. Pirate Borg is just delightful in the darkest way possible and a great entry point for new TTRPG players and those new to MÖRK BORG games.
2. The naval ship combat system is detailed and far better than anything in the Spelljammer 5e box set.
3. The Dark Caribbean setting has enough fantasy in there that even those who aren’t into the pirate theme can enjoy it.

Have you ever wanted to play a TTRPG that was like Pirates of the Caribbean, but grimdark and people snort crushed-up zombies as drugs to get high? Then Pirate Borg from Free League Publishing is going to be the game of your dreams. Like other Borg games, Pirate Borg is a brutal, unforgiving, minimal OSR TTRPG, but even still, it might be the most forgiving of the games using this system that I’ve played. It’s not that it is easy to live or that it’s not a challenge, but Pirate Borg gives players a lot more freedom to roam and is a little less punishing than other games based on the MÖRK BORG ruleset.

Free League Publishing provided me with a review copy of Pirate Borg.

What’s a Borg Game?

The original game using this system is called MÖRK BORG, and it’s still arguably the darkest, most brutal RPG that uses the system. MÖRK BORG is like if Dark Souls was made into an even darker arthouse project with a splash of death metal thrown in. One of my all-time favorite games, CY_BORG, uses the system and is a cyberpunk, post-capitalist dystopian delight. In that same vein, Pirate Borg is a grim, surreal tropical vacation in hell.

Pirate Borg Cover

So even though I’m not a huge fan of pirates in general, my bestie Austin really wanted to play Pirate Borg for his birthday, so we set out and it was a pirate’s life for us. Or maybe, a pirate’s un-life? Undeath? Whatever. We played Pirate Borg for weeks, and it was a fantastic experience, though as I said earlier, it wasn’t quite as unforgiving as the other Borg games I’ve played.

The Art Is Spot-On For The Setting

The first thing you’ll notice about any game that uses the MÖRK BORG engine is the art. There’s no way that it’s not. From the cover art alone, you can tell what kind of game it’s going to be. And the inside spreads are just as amazingly well-crafted. One of my favorite things about Pirate Borg and other games like it is how much it takes advantage of the two-page spread format. Almost every page is just one-half of the one opposite it.

Pirate Borg Art Spread Example

The setting of Pirate Borg is The Dark Caribbean. It’s like the actual Caribbean in the days of Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet, but with zombies that people grind into dust and snort as drugs. So not that different from real-life, really.

On top of the undead menace coming for you at all times, there are other pirates, eldritch horrors, cultists, demons, necromancers, and some other fun fantasy tropes that make it more than “just another pirate game” for me. It keeps me interested, and I actually like the world because of the cool stuff they’ve done with taking an actual place and twisting it until it’s grotesquery really shows.

Playing Pirate Borg Is So Much Fun

The gameplay is incredibly solid, as is to be expected. The MORK BORG engine is tried and true, and Pirate Borg doesn’t mess with a good thing. It’s still the same d20-based system where the PCs make both attack and defense rolls, weapons can one-shot characters, and abilities are randomized at character creation.

Our group was pretty well-balanced, which was a good thing for them. We only had 1 character death surprisingly, and it was because he got turned into a chicken, contracted a disease, and promptly exploded while his friend carried him to safety. It was one of the funniest series of events I’ve ever seen in a TTRPG, and I’ve been playing these games for over 20 years.

Unlike some Borg games, Pirate Borg comes with a solid adventure that can be led into multiple places. CY_BORG, for instance, has a single job that players can run and then ways to randomize other ones. Pirate Borg has a full island with a hub town and maps for multiple dungeons, random tables for events, and a story you can expand to a much longer campaign if you want.

Naval Ship Combat in Pirate Borg

The only part we didn’t get to try out was the ship combat, but reading through it, there is a lot of nuance and detail in the naval battles. There are solid rules for encounters and maneuvers, crew actions, upgrades, wind effects, different kinds of ships, and more. It makes the ship-based combat in titles like the 5e Spelljammer box set look even worse than they are. And that’s saying something.

Final Thoughts

I had to go into Pirate Borg with an open mind because of my own biases against the content type. I’m glad that I gave it a shot, and I think you will be, too. Even if you don’t like pirates or care about that kind of setting, there’s enough good stuff in here to make even folks who are tried-and-true high fantasy fans stay interested. Plus, you can get turned into a chicken with the plague that explodes in your friend’s arms. Pirate Borg is just delightful in the darkest way possible and a great entry point for new TTRPG and new MÖRK BORG system games.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Snorts of Zombie Powder

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This post originally appeared on Geek to Geek Media.

Upcoming Projects

Currently, I am working on producing supplemental content for the Dragonbane RPG from Free League Publishing. You can see my player kin (races), schools of magic, and professions (classes) on DriveThruRPG.

Also, Project 2023b is the working title of a cyberpunk-fantasy TTRPG. It uses the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) system with some features from Forged in the Dark and a splash of Dungeon World.

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