It’s an incredibly busy day at Gen Con—the annual tabletop gaming convention held in Indianapolis—and the Pirate Borg table is full of books, dice, and, off to the side, a galleon figurine. The galleon is suitably manned by skeletons, half-dead pirates, and I think I spotted a shark or two shadowing the water.
Pirate Borg is a tabletop roleplaying game based on the Mörk Borg system by Stokholm Kartel. It was originally an indie Kickstarter before Free League—the large publisher and distributor backing Mörk Borg—gave Luke Stratton, the author-creator, a call. Free League was so impressed by what it saw during the Kickstarter it offered to help Stratton out.
io9 got a chance to sit down with Stratton and chat Pirate Borg, pirates, and what it’s like being at Gen Con as a seller amid what was reported to be the largest crowd the convention has ever seen. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Linda Codega, io9: How’s your con going? What’s going on with Pirate Borg?
Luke Stratton: It’s going very well! Pirate Borg is shipping on Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19, and going through Free League, who is providing worldwide distribution. But it’s been out for a year now, for about a year now. I was just on the Free League Showcase talking about it, and it’s like… I’m releasing a roleplaying book with my favorite roleplaying game company, like what am I doing up here? So the con is going great.
io9: It’s been an interesting journey for you guys—Pirate Borg didn’t start as a Free League game.
Stratton: No, we Kickstarted [the game]. Free League took notice—and that is, from my experience, unique. They went to Mörk Borg and asked them if it was good to take us on before they reached out to us, and they said yes. So I feel very honored to have been considered. And I think I’m like the only American they’re publishing, so it’s all pretty incredible.
io9: What’s it like working on this game as a solo creator? Do you go art first, then writing?
Stratton: It depends on the spread. I think it’s idea first, and then some writing and then some art. It all depends. Like the classes [which include Brute, Buccaneer, Zealot, and Sorcerer], I started with the writing. But I also do a lot of maps. I start with the map idea and that’ll turn into a larger adventure module. But sometimes it’ll be more like, I want to draw something cool, and then I’ll write for it, or… “Oh, I need this rule. What can I draw on this one?” So it goes both ways.
I draw and write everything in InDesign; it feels more natural. I’ll take words out to fit the page, I’ll draw more to give more space. My editor asked to see the original document and I just laughed because [the writing] was never there. Maybe some of the longer stuff is, but most is just… riffing. I’ll get a hook and just write. But it’s a very art-forward book.
io9: Do you have a favorite illustration?
Stratton: This spread on page 28 is one of my favorites, inspired by Dan Mumford. He has a specific bold palette, that was really fun. A lot of people like the ASH spread. We even did stickers. A lot of the monsters are “Darkest Dungeon” style, very Monkey Island, 1996-inspired.
io9: Have you always been into pirates?
Stratton: Yes! I think it started when I rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride when I was maybe five. I had Lego pirate sets growing up. I would always dress as a pirate for Halloween. And then in 2005 I won a Gen Con tournament playing Pirates of the Spanish Main—a punch-out whiz kid’s game. I was in a band for a while and we would do shows on Talk Like a Pirate Day. So this whole thing started as running a 5e pirate campaign. I was drawing ships for it. So I thought, “I can start a Patreon doing this.” And then it went to… instead of doing 5e, we said, “Let’s hack Mörk Borg.” So it’s definitely me expressed through a book.
io9: What is it like to play this game?
Stratton: I would say it’s quick to table. You can craft a character, but most people will roll them randomly, and we have a random generator online. But you can start with one hit point. It’s a little less squishy than Mörk Borg, but you’re likely to be fragile like a real person. And magic is dangerous and there are undead everywhere.
I like the idea that if you’re playing this game, you’re playing it as a player who might have multiple characters and you’re discovering the world as those characters. But there will be lots of laughing. The first spread in the first page is the carousing table. And, there’s a good likelihood that you all use that table a lot. That table can give you a ship, it can make you rich, or it can kill you.
I think it will break a lot of expectations of a role playing game if you’re used to more modern stuff, but it also has a humorous approach with grimdark vibes. Our GMs are notorious for having the loudest table in the room at all these cons, because people are always laughing and singing shanties at the table.
Pirate Borg will be available worldwide on September 19, Talk Like a Pirate Day. There will be a worldwide presale event where people will be able to play in store and there will be free swag at participating retailers.
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