About This Review
Pirate Borg, written by Limithron, published and distributed by Free League Publishing, joins a full deck of Mork Borg spinoffs. In this review we’ll focus on its presentation, gameplay, and determine a recommended rating.
Morg Borg’s success has spawned incredible remixes in Cy-Borg, Vast Grimm, Points of Light, and Duck Borg, just to name a few. But the sea-faring adaptation of Pirate Borg retains both the incredible visuals of the original and improves the core system in a way that is thematic and enjoyable.
Pirate Borg is 168 brightly rendered, A5-sized pages in a graphic style similar to the original Mork Borg. Kickstarter backers also received cards, a fold out map, an extra bestiary zine, and custom character sheet. The book is available in full-color glossy print and PDF.
Like Mork Borg, Pirate Borg begins with a crumbling, apocalyptic world richly rendered in a graphic-heavy zine style. The tone is thick with theming, dense with design, and light on details. Every word is chosen to be evocative of the theme, and to draw you deeper into the story of the grim adventure on which you are about to embark.
Visually, Pirate Borg leverages the familiar design style mixed with more traditional tabletop design as the book progresses. The first sixty pages lean heavily into the aesthetic of Mork Borg. As the book progresses into new territory, including new rules and features described below, the layout shifts to a more practical style. This contrast carries throughout the book; Pirate Borg splits its time with the post-apocalyptic world and the historical context in which its Dark Caribbean is grounded.
And the Dark Caribbean setting does not shy away from real-world analogies. The seas are full of monsters and wandering undead, whose ground up dust is the drug on which the smuggler’s trade thrives. This psychedelic, called Ash, takes the historical place of the sugar and rum trade that drove the trade of true 18th and 19th century privateers. Players may find themselves tracking inventories of it through a new market game, or consuming the toxin themselves for momentary banes and boons. And your players have motive not only to adventure, but to grind their enemies into Ash and beat their opponents to this undead economy.
There will be no shortage of competition. The British, Spanish, and French are all here to colonize and to compete. The historical context makes picking this up easy for players interested in the age of sail, and the adventure makes it exciting for those who would rather imagine themselves at the high seas than embroiled in old world rivalries. The context is tightly presented in careful brevity that leaves you to fill in the details in whatever way best suits your table. Like Mork Borg, the history of the Dark Caribbean can come to an apocalyptic end, but the descent into this apocalypse can tick down at a pace that leaves plenty of time for plunder.
Pirate Borg strikes a balance of “Mork Borg aesthetic, but more readable.” At 168 pages, it cannot lean as hard into the presentation as the original core. Instead, it starts with front matter that echoes Mork Borg, then neatens into a more traditional format as the book ventures into new territory. This means that the rules, scaffolded from a Mork Borg core into something a bit more substantial, are easier to find and navigate than the lore setting at the beginning of the book. You’ll find yourself flipping for tables still, but section headers and clear blocks of content do a lot of work in building a navigable map.
The system builds on Mork Borg with more traditional d20 ability rolls, which gives the 8 new character classes a broader spectrum of ways to distinguish themselves. This half of the book is where Pirate Borg takes an interesting turn in building a system that benefits long form play. The Dark Caribbean is somewhere my mates and I could set sail quite contentedly, building rivalries and growing our coffers under the expanding dangers rather than the impending doom of its forebears’ world. And the classes we use to explore them are more akin to traditional tabletop than those of the source material.
It also adds a 5th ability, Spirit, to the original four of Agility, Strength, Toughness, and Presence. Spirit is purely a spellcasting power; your connection to the supernatural so that presence can represent your connection to the corporeal. This makes spellcasting a more unique flavor, and gives classes room to flex more traditional ttrpg character archetypes.
Another exciting element is the Devil’s Luck, a new expendable resource that grants players boons from supernatural influences on the situation. This resource returns only after it has been used up, and the amount is set by the roll of a dice. The boons are great, but relying on them won’t last for long-term play.
Like Mork Borg, character creation can be ad hoc by using random tables to build out the pirate, or chosen from eight new classes. Brutes are tough fighters with rage powers. Rapscallions backstab, steal, cheat, and sneak their way across the seas before winding up in their watery graves. Buccaneers are sharpshooters and survivalists, while swashbucklers are brash fighters full of bravado and quick-witted attacks. The zealot brings cleric-like prayers and curses to the party, while the sorcerer’s enigmatic powers come from channeling spirits both natural and unnatural.
The final two classes slide further from the typical adventuring mold. The haunted soul is described as “a possessed, infected, cursed, troubled, or undead individual. Their ‘ailments’ include something terrible in the subconscious, a secret zombie hiding their literal stench of death, or playing the ghost inhabiting someone else’s body. The player then rolls again to determine which of the six classes they play. This weird twist may give GMs an interesting setup at the start of play, but also grants slain players an opportunity to come back to the table as something more –or less– than they were before. Finally, the Tall Tale optional class allows players to inhabit merfolk, mutants, or sentient animals before they choose from the core six. Play a mermaid or an actual bilge rat with one of the core classes stitched on!
The little bits of mechanical improvements lay the groundwork for a broader adventure than the original book. Whether you’re interested in developing an alchemical trade or singing shanties with your mates, the book has details for that. Shanties are party boons; join in song together and boost your odds or tweak a result. Discover ancient relics and arcane rituals to aid in your adventure. Exploration oriented pirates may find themselves managing ship economies, managingrations, or exploring uncharted islands, and all these things are detailed in ways that can be extended to your particular brand of play. Pirate Borg sticks close to the “optional” modules of Mork Borg, allowing you to pick and choose an a-la-cart play that suits your table. But by bringing everything the book has to offer a GM can weave a remarkably complex game. Mork Borg relied on random tables to flesh out its OSR-bones, and Pirate Borg expands on that to generate entire oceans to explore.
Ship-to-ship combat follows the same “scaled up” rules you’ve seen in similar d20 systems. Your crew manage stations that take actions that affect the outcome of each round, and the placement of weapons affect your attacks (broadsides) and how effectively you can deliver them. The book also includes several pages of pregens to populate the seas, and sailing rules that bring hex map exploration from mini-game to a full-on campaign structure. Derelicts and island dungeons can be generated on the fly for random exploration as your crew seeks Ash or tries to offload their ill-gotten goods.
The bestiary and enemy ships section is generous, and should provide game masters more than enough materials to weave a sea-borne tale. Compatibility with other Mork Borg products is straightforward too, giving the option to pull particularly horrific beasts onto your island of choice.
Overall, Pirate Borg is built with game masters in mind. The random tables, the ship details, and the broad lists of foes give you the ability to weave a tale ranging from old school OSR (with cultists, great old ones, and terrible necromancers) to raging against the forces of imperialism across the Yucatan. The Dark Caribbean hints at a vast ocean of possibilities.
The pre-written adventure provides over 30 pages of an open world tropical island. Black Coral Bay has a curse that both digs into the origins of the undead and gives players (and their rivals) a renewable source of Ash to explore and exploit. It’s a sandbox, not a train ride, and the supernatural hooks have plenty of nooks and crannies through which an experienced GM can weave their tale.
Overall, Pirate Borg adds a bit of crunch to the rules lite apocalypse of Mork Borg, but in doing so it grows a setting that truly feels campaign-ready. If you’re wishing for a longer stay in the apocalypse, the classes and features grant substance to the familiar system. It’s gorgeous and weird and impressively built, but in doing so it’s more Pirate-y than Borgy. At 168 pages, Pirate Borg provides a complete, well-rounded game that feels like Mork Borg while bringing a vast treasure of new options onboard.
Final rating: Nine cursed Pieces of Nine.
Product: Pirate Borg
Designer: Limithron, Inc
Graphic Design and Art: Limithron, Inc
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Release Date: 2023