Last Friday, April 11 a great number of gamers, I hope I don’t miss any (in order of appearance), Alissa, Jake, Carter, Richard, Travis, Sam, Stacy, and Tracy arrived at Joshua’s house. We warmed up with a couple of rounds of Resistance. I inadvertently played the traitor strategy of “draw maximum attention to myself and distract the resistance from thinking about who the other traitor is”. This worked well, but possibly only because we weren’t playing exactly by the rules. (We thought team leaders couldn’t send themselves on missions.) After two rounds of play and plenty of appropriate beverages we were all in a perfect frame of mind for Pirates! Since neither Nat or Sebastian from the previous Pirates! game was present I recycled the plot from their game. Actually, plot and story are so unimportant, I don’t think it would have mattered if they were here. When people are drinking and playing role-playing games, silly over-the-top play is the norm. So that isn’t what makes Pirates! special. In my opinion the genius of the game is that it is designed to provide sustained enjoyment in such a state. When other RPG’s start to break down into silliness I feel they enter a fairly brief death spiral of hilarity. Perhaps its because another game might be designed to reward careful tactical thinking and great violence has to be done to the prepared material or the mechanics and system to tolerate the tomfoolery. But with Pirates, since the foolish response is generally the correct one, the game’s integrity is unharmed and it can carry on. We were up to eight players + gm, all very rowdy and talkative and it seemed that everyone was enjoying it right up until the end. I resorted to a pretty strict turn-taking order with each player allowed to act, and roll dice, get consequences once before moving on. People were allowed to invite others to join in on their turns ie. to avoid “drinking alone”. One thing that didn’t work well at all was PvP action. I waffled between disallowing it completely, to allowing attempts to be made thought guaranteed to fail. In retrospect I think it should vary between the tricks. “Kill” will always fail, “Tease” should probably be subject to the will of the target player; Maraud and Devastate might work as expected (I interpret devastate v. a single target to always be non-lethal), Maraud however will always trigger the “don’t steal from friends” taboo (read broadly as don’t steal from friends or even fr-enemies).
Trying to play a game about pirates without tripping over racist or sexist or colonial tropes is tricky. I’m sorry to say we were far from successful, however I was pleased with some stupid innovations. Whether the amount to sensitive or enlightened play, or not, is a question I’ll gracelessly duck. When the pirates arrived on the island with the volcano, they fell afoul of the locals. As soon as the word ‘cannibals’ escaped my lips I felt awkward so I attempted to patch it up by describing them as universally white, balding, middle-aged cannibals… a la Anthony Hopkins. The island of Siren’s was merely populated by alluring and seductive ‘members of gender of your preference’, this worked well and seemed to provide something for everyone.