Lost in the bilges
I have 25 writing days left to finish the first draft of my dissertation, so you won’t be hearing much from me in the next couple of months.
That said, when it’s done I plan to write a bit about it here, since it involves 17th and 18th century merchant and war ships. I’m planning on drawing up some deck plans (hexed or squared), maybe plans of shipyards, colonial repair facilities etc, all for enriching the Sea of O’sr, for which I also have an island or two. So if you’re not totally sick of pirates and saltboxes by the end of summer, there be tools a-comin. And one day I’ll get around to those medieval travel and trade figures, culled from Goitein’s study of the Cairo geniza documents.
In the meantime I’ll leave you with this completely unbaked thought: I see OSR bloggers who want to do away with the thief (anyone can steal!) and the cleric (it’s just a walking healing potion!). Don’t get ’em started on druids, monks, or god help me, bards. Why, they ask, shouldn’t the fighting man climb walls, hug trees, hit people with crucifices, sing and/or meditate? Or, for that matter, why not dex-based fighters – swashbucklers – which are like assassins but not.
I have a counter proposal.
Ditch the fighter. Or, rather, now everyone can fight like a fighter, in addition to that other thing they do. In plate mail, unless there’s a good mechanical reason not to. Because you’d be stupid to go into the mythic underworld with nothing but a hastily-doodled spell book and a butterknife to keep you warm.
Why? Because half the rules in the game are about propping up fighters. Every other class is defined in comparison/competition with the fighter. Ditch the fighter and those arbitrary armour restrictions and you can really start asking useful questions about the relative merits of all those specialist skills that kept invading the game. Ask yourself, how much do you miss the sub-Galdalfian berobed wizard with the embarrassing moon-and-stars print KKK hat, now that you can have him striking purple sparks with his broadsword, Elric-style? Sure, the cleric will need work, since he was a cut-rate fighter anyway. Bounce him up a level in powers from the get-go. Merge the ranger and druid. Whatever. Just try a game where everyone’s a fighter, given that you already play a game where everyone fights.
Back to ships: if you’re in London check out Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story; if you’re in Antwerp check out the new MAS center, which restores a maritime museum to the city that held Holland’s fortune before Amsterdam; if you’re in Amsterdam come see me talk about the lack of maritime radicalism in the Dutch East India Company, only don’t bother trying to get into the Amsterdam Maritime Museum because it’s been shut for the last several years… and don’t hold your breath for a reopening in September, neither. Instead, take the train over to otherwise-desolate Lelystad to see the replica 17th century East Indiaman Batavia they have there, and to crawl all over the half-built skeleton of the Zeven Provincieen.
Sorry, no Joesky. Just recommendations both for Tim Powers’ original On Stranger Tides and for George Macdonald Fraser’s The Pyrates, which is the funny campy Hollywoody book you wanted before Depp/Sparrow recast the hapless pirate in his own image, which still gives him a run for his money when he’s at his best, and which is gloriously free of Verbinskian bloat.
And consider, now you no longer have the fighter, the pirates in your game don’t have to choose between being fighters or thieves.