Pirate World Review

So Pirate World I guess technically came out, surprising everybody because it's well over two years late and the last creator update was nearly a year ago: pretty much everyone had written it off as yet another unfulfilled role-playing game Kickstarter.

It might have been best if the creators had also forgotten about it and moved on, if not for the fact that comments preceding the project "fulfillment" update mentioned pursuing legal action, which lends credence to Melissa's theory that this was only finally shoved out as a legal evasive maneuver.

Of course some people are pretty stoked, but I'm not sure why given how bad it is.

I mean, it's not Inverse World bad (this has more/better quality art, actually strange races, correctly statted monsters, more than two magic items, and so on), but with the typos (that I've found merely by skimming some of the PDF), creative commons art, poor quality non-creative commons art, and overall poor design in general you have to wonder what the fuck took so long (especially since the last creator update back in September mentioned print copies).

The short of it is that this is a huge disappointment. It was not worth the wait, and certainly not worth the money I'd pledged. I wouldn't even recommend this as something to merely mine for ideas, and I frankly wish I'd asked for a refund when I had the chance (I kept forgetting about it, something I have a feeling Iain wished the other backers would have also done).

Ultimately, it is the Mighty No. 9 of tabletop roleplaying games.

With that out of the way, what follows are more of my criticisms, loosely organized, written as I unfortunately skim the book again:

The art is wildly inconsistent in style and quality. The cover and a few interior pieces are so amateur that it makes Apocalypse World's "art" look almost competent (and the cover is recycled for the swashbuckler). Much of the creative commons stuff looks fine, and there's some neat, full-color art (most of the races) which unfortunately contrasts in a bad way with the rest of the art.

Here are some examples:

Really, I just would have kept to the creative commons route. Would have saved money and kept everything looking more consistent.

The layout is at times sloppy, and often text will bleed over onto the next page. In some cases it's mid paragraph, but in the case of blackpowder beard (page 66) you get the name, but everything about it is on the next page. Other examples of this are faithful goblin breech loader (page 68), and red mercury dagger (page 70).

On that note, mundane and magical gear is presented to you, all mashed together with no indication as to which is which, in one barely formatted wall of text. It features stuff like a bottle of grog, which somehow is worth 4 rations, moonshine, which isn't worth any rations but you can pour into your eyes to somehow reveal a path to the nearest dire portent (why), and a bottle of rum that instantly heals you for d6 damage (but you are confused for an hour).

Damned shame nothing has prices.

There's a section for "pick-up-and-play-playbooks" near the front, which are basically half-page pregen characters:

Aaand I just realized that these are not even accurate: the actual brute starts with five moves, not three, and the effects of both armed & dangerous and leap do different things. (Also, why is the cestus messy?) Another inconsistency with the pregens and actual class is the avatar: the pregen mentions Favour, which is similar in effect to our cleric, while the full class has zilch to do with Favour. Also, false idols have both the thrown and ammo tags.

At any rate, this is especially pointless for Dungeon World characters, because everything you need to run a character already fits on one side of a sheet by default, including example names and looks. You're basically just making what few choices players need to make for them. It's a waste of space that only serves to pad out the book's still anemic page count.

Most backgrounds have check boxes for...some reason. Not all of them do (like cannibal, cultist, and hexmaster), none of the classes do, and what? Does Iain think that people are going to mark the boxes in the actual book? This isn't as bizarre as the use of asterisks instead of bullet points:

Well, most of the time anyway: gear doesn't have anything, and I noticed that the mercantile background (page 82-83) has bullet points. I find it odd that the way moves are formatted is changed, so that the different results are (usually, I think) start on their own lines (instead of being one big-ass paragraph).

Really though, it would have been nice to add bullet points or the star thing (✴) that Dungeon World typically uses to make it easier to read. As it stands it's only maybe marginally easier.

There's a blank page on page 89. I'd question this, but it seems standard fare in most indie products. Since Iain is using mostly creative commons art anyway, there's no reason he couldn't have plastered something here.

Playbooks use Drives instead of Alignments, which is an irrelevant alteration Jacob Randolph tried pushing despite the fact that a Drive differs from an Alignment in name only.

There are numerous problems with moves, both in formatting and effect.

For example, the brute's juggernaut move says "On a 10+ pick two, on a 7-9 pick one". The juggernaut's leap move is bleh: basically when you want to jump somewhere (no range given), you roll+STR. If you get a 10+ you get there, but if you get a 7-9 you don't and the GM tells you where (unless you're using the brute pregen, and then something else happens for some reason).

I mean, whoop-de-fuck. I'll just try jumping again? There could have been a choice. Like, you could take damage from the fall, damage/break/lose something during the leap, and maybe opt to not make it all the way if you don't wanna take damage or something. As it stands, whatever.

Other "meh" moves include security and atlas: the former lets you look for work (on a 10+ you find it, on a 7-9 you still find it, but dangers are vague for some reason), while the latter, wait for it, bumps up your load to 15+STR...which is 3 more than before! Did I mention it's a 6-10 move?

This is just looking at some of the brute, mind you. The psychopomp's reaper man and bonded soul have boxes with spaces too small to record information, the reefmonger only has 16 advanced moves (and it doesn't tell you which are 2-5 and 6-10), the swashbuckler is I guess a captain right from the start (but there's also a captain background), their flourish move always deals damage to themselves on a 7-9, their crazy leap and riposte moves are incredibly limited, the list goes on and on and fucking on.

The locations are somehow more lackluster than what you got in Inverse World. Basically, each "location" is a monster stat block with less stats:

There's an octopus covering most of one of the pages in the bestiary. Iain says that the text is duplicated on other pages, which begs the question: what was the fucking point? Is the octopus supposed to be covering a page? If so, how did an octopus get in the book? If he just wanted an octopus picture, why not put it on its own page? I mean, there is at least one blank page that could have actually used something like this!

Monster statblocks are a mashup of Dungeon World and FATE. Unlike Inverse World, the Dungeon World parts seem to at least be statted correctly, though I didn't notice any stress boxes for FATE. As with the rest of the book, stats bleed onto other pages, and The Sphere (page 139) just has I guess a move?

The rules changes to hirelings are yet another attempt to add needless complexity to the game, this time in the form of injury boxes. I mean, if you want to give hirelings stats, at least stick with what characters use (like hit points). Or go play a game like Dungeons & Dragons, where hirelings have the same shit as the characters.

The more I read the more problems I find, so I'll just end this by saying that I wasn't ever expecting this to come out, what we finally got feels like a waste of time and money (for both parties), and as I mentioned above I fully believe Iain only pushed out this unpolished mess in order to avoid legal action.

We've already made a pirate and swashbuckler class, and A Sundered World has ship rules, so if we ever want to run a pirate game we're more than set.

UPDATE 7/23/2016
Hi everyone coming in from the Kickstarter comments!

So, Iain says this:

I didn't insinuate anything. I was pointing out the confusing difference while plugging something we'd made, because why not? But hey, if you wanna go down that road here's how the Favour thing worked for the Avatar, waaaaaaaaay back in October 2014:

In December 2014, Invoke was changed:

And now, in the ass-end of July 2016, here's the "pick-up-and-playbook" Avatar:

The similarity between Minor Blessing and our cleric's Divine Favor is that you can spend 1 Favor to take +1 when doing something that's related to your deity's domain(s) in some way. The cleric can also spend 1 Favor to do other things, and you regain them through prayer (which might involve having to do/sacrifice something to top it off).

But, I am curious why did you remove the Favour mechanic (which was kind of interesting), and then put it back in just for the pregen, in a completely different fashion, even though the other class doesn't have it?

I should note that the "core"(?) Avatar only shares the Smite move with this version, and it's roll+WIS instead of spending Favour. Invoke is there, too, but it's similar enough to the December 2014 iteration. Oh yeah, I just now noticed that it says Alignment instead of Drives on page 26, and that on page 27 it says Basic Moves: levels 2-10 instead of Advanced Moves.

Goddamn this thing is a mess...

UPDATE 8/3/2016
Melissa pointed this out from the Pirate World Community:

I love the sad attempt at damage control.

"Multiple systems"? It's just FATE and Dungeon World, so unless you play both games part of the already small book is meaningless to you. A "lesser volume could have stretched those items into 20-30 pages"? Would a lesser volume put possible move results on their own lines in order to take up additional space? Given all the typos, formatting errors, and general poor design you're not really in a position to offer criticism. I also love how he tries to make the book seem impressive by stating the number of words: the book is just over 200 pages.

Something I've noticed is that these guys never actually address my criticisms, but instead resort to parroting shit like "he's a competitor" and "he's said mean things about a few other products".

So what? That doesn't invalidate my criticisms. If you don't agree, why not say what you disagree with and why? What part of my review seems dishonest? Where I point out all the typos? The formatting errors? The title of items on the bottom of one page, but everything about it on another page? The blank pages? The stupid fucking octopus plastered across a page? The differences between the actual classes and the pick-up-and-play versions? The poorly designed moves?

It's almost like you know I'm right, so are instead trying to get people to pity you. A labor of love? Is that why you didn't contact anyone for nearly a year? Genuine quality? Is that why it's just a fucking mess, and the 1.1 version we were supposed to get is nearly a week late? How could you be proud of this? Why would you be proud of this?

"I reckon a good example of the book is the items section."

Right, with such gems as the armored eyepatch, which is an eyepatch with a big spike that has the hand, messy, and awkward tags. This means that it is unwieldy and tough to use (even though you're just headbutting someone), and somehow is especially destructive. Instead of just telling you that it removes any debilities due to a single lost eye, it puts that in an italicized note after its description.

I should note that debilities are automatically recovered from after three days of rest, so that effect is at best temporarily useful, not that any of the debilities except maybe scarred would involve losing an eye. Also, is this a magic item or not? Nothing has prices, and they aren't separated.

Oh, what about the bag of spiders? It has 3 uses, you roll+CON to see if you gain any hold, which you can spend to spit a spider at someone. The spiders also have the messy tag. Somehow. The miss result is pre-defined: you have spiders in your mouth. Whee...

Moving on there's the damned scroll, which is a 5 use item that mortals can sign to forfeit their souls to the scroll. That's it: if the scroll is destroyed their soul is lost.

Davy Jones' Locker lets you gain an audience with Davy Jones if you die within sight of it, and you can open it for some reason. On a 10+ you keep your eyes shut, which makes me wonder why I can't just open it with my eyes shut in the first place. On a 7-9 you can either let another soul escape, or you peek in and take some damage as your face is melted. Davy Jones also gets mad enough to kick off a front.

The fancy hat lets you pick a title, and people will be compelled to refer to you by that title, but that's it. Unlike other items, there's no worn tag or weight mentioned. Only slightly less useful than the fitted jacket, which is basically "magic" leather armor that fits everyone but thieves perfectly.

The flintlock rifle says its dangerous, but doesn't have the dangerous tag.

I'm surprised that the drinking straw only has the 1-piercing tag: I expected to see messy on there for some reason...like the harpoon, which has thrown, near, forceful, messy, two-handed, and 3 piercing. I've never seen anyone throw a harpoon two-handed, but damn if that's not the best weapon ever. If only items had prices!

Leather pauldrons is described as armor that arachs use, but gives you 1 ammo. I guess this is supposed to be armor, but if so a pauldron is a piece of armor that protects the shoulders; I'd still wonder why it offers as much protection as an entire suit of leather armor/chainmail.

You have such a hard on for Rando that you're confusing me for him: he's the guy that lied about Melissa and me of copying him. But wait: you knew that already!

Melissa also pointed this out:

Like the guy over in the Kickstarter comments waiting for an answer as to why Iain was silent for so long, she's still waiting for answer!

If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Paladin is out, and we're holding the next Dungeon World class vote now!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).


  1. For what its worth, Melissa's theory is wrong. As with many kickstarter projects, the creator is not a professional and has to learn how to do things (and how long things take) as they go along- unsurprisingly it can take a lot longer and be a lot harder than they hoped.
    I know Iain and I know he's been working away at this for years despite various setbacks. Obviously I'm sorry to hear you're not a fan, but I can at least testify that there was no lack of effort on Iain's part.

  2. @LZephaniah: Everyone knows he isn't a professional, but that still doesn't excuse nine months of silence (especially after allegedly having print copies and other sporadic periods of prolonged silence).

    And I'M sorry, but the fact is that throughout April and May people were talking about taking legal action (and also calling him a thief, liar, and/or coward), and then suddenly, after such a long period of nothing we get this hastily cobbled-together, error-riddled, poorly-design mess?

    While SOME of the other backers are obviously willing to forgive Iain for finally throwing them something, not me. Maybe if it was good, but it's not.

    1. All I know is that any threats/nasty comments haven't had a bearing on the release.
      There HAVE been delays and setbacks, including circumstances which have forced Iain to work only intermittently on Pirate World for a while, but ultimately the release date was simply when Iain had it ready. He was able to return to it in June this year when an external circumstance was finally resolved.
      You're entitled to your opinion on the content, but your inference that it was "cobbled-together" to dodge legal threats is wrong. That's all.

    2. @LZephaniah: So it was nearly done for the past seven months, but he didn't tell anyone/provide the backers with a nearly done draft?

      I mean, judging by the "final product" it couldn't have been that much worse than it is now, and people could have pointed out the innumerable typos and formatting errors.

  3. Why doesn't this game just have a Dungeon Master?


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