OSR on the Spanish Main: A review of some OSR pirate RPGs

I’ve been running a number of one-shots of different OSR-based pirate RPGs in the last few months, many set in the Golden Age of Piracy – heavily influenced by pirate movies and books (mostly movies).

This isn’t a complete overview of every OSR Pirate-themed RPG out there. This is just a few thoughts on some of the ones I’ve been playing around with recently – some I’ve run, others I’ve just read. About half of them are Black Hack based.

The High Seas Hack

The two I’m familiar with are the High Seas Hack & the Pirate Hack. In short, I prefer the High Seas Hack

They’re both Black Hack based, so the basic differences are small.

The Pirate Hack has the classes Master Gunner (fighter), Rigger (Thief), Surgeon (Cleric with no spells, but can turn undead), Witch (basically a voodoo magic user). For whatever reason the Pirate Hack doesn’t seem to be available on DrivetThru by itself anymore, but can be found in this Black Hack bundle.

The High Seas Hack has Soldiers, Sailors, Tribesman, Scholars, Catholic Priests (clerics), and Voodoo Priests (Magic users)

I think I prefer the High Seas Hack for the following reasons:

  • The collection of classes is broader and a little more interesting.
  • Their voodoo magic system is a little more atmospheric in the HSH than in the PH. It’s got spells like Riches of the Earth and Endurance of Ayida Wedo. PH uses traditional D&D style spells.
  • In HSH, a voodoo priest can deliberately submit to possession by loa – voodoo spirits – in order to gain special abilities.
  • The HSH has much more elaborate ship combat rules, where the differences between ships, including crew quality make a real difference.

You also might want to look at Freebooters by Night Owl Workshop. It’s not Black Hack based, it’s based on 1970’s OD&D. I prefer the Black Hack rules, but Freebooters has a lot more interesting historical background material, and random generation tables for the Golden Age of Piracy.

Some other interesting OSR pirate-based links:

Yarr! The Rules Light Pirate RPG – Simple OSR d20 pirate game from BD Games

Enthusiastic Pirate Bois – A GLOG Based Wavecrawl

OSR Pirates: Ships, Sailing, and Naval Combat – David Baymiller’s interesting set of OSR naval rules.

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