Sunday, May 22, 2016

Review: Supporting Cast: Age of Sail Pirate Crew

So, this is apparently a riff off of a line from 3e, Supporting Cast is a series that helps with the creation of large amounts of NPCs in short order when you want more than "Name plus three quirks," the goto to winging a nominal fellow, but don't want to pull your hair out thinking about Savoir-Faires and reputations are typical for a man of a particular standing.
The name tells you that this book specifically talks about pirates, and more specifically, TL4 European pirates. I think the book is helpful, and a good resource if you intend to run a pirate campaign and, like me, you don't actually know anything about pirates.


Table of Contents
Although, the "main event" of the book is stats for pirate npcs and templates for creating pirate characters, there is a lot of good stuff going on here. You might call it Swashbucklers Lite because it recaps and updates a lot of the *most important* details from the pirate section of Swashbucklers, but in a streamlined manner more akin to answering the question "what?" than "why?"
The book is 27 pages long, subtracting the title, table of contents, introduction, glossary, and index, we have 21 pages. The first 5 page chapter covers some interesting fundamentals about what makes a pirate adventure or campaign different from maybe other similar rogue or bandit adventure. The second ten page chapter gives a few stats on some pirate npcs with reasonable background stories, and templates with suitable amounts of guidance for making characters unique with notes on some of the more specialized jobs to keep in mind. The final 6 page chapter is about designing adventures, but is also something of a bit of a catch-all for other things that I feel might have deserved another chapter if they didn't amount to 2 pages of unrelated content.
The book, on the surface looks to be mostly content, but it actually has a large amount of guidance, almost in equal measure. There are some rules, but not a lot. Finally, in terms of flavor and background, it doesn't go into the tremendous depth that you find in Swashbucklers but it goes to some effort to flesh out the personalities of the star members of the crew of Adventurer's Revenge, a crew geared for a realistic to slightly cinematic TL4 Earth.
The book reads easily and I had no trouble reading through it and getting bored or confused. Organization is also good, with a bonus glossary for nautical terms and pirate lingo. Art seems better than usual, but still feels like it wasn't particularly made with the content in mind. There is also an ongoing look at the development of Will Deakin, a character that slowly becomes acclimated to pirate life with an anecdote at the start of each chapter. This book doesn't need much more to supplement and understand it, but could probably benefit greatly by being paired with Low-Tech.
Let's now take a closer look at each chapter.

A Pirate's Life for Me

This chapter is about getting you into the mood for pirates, and explains realistic daily life for pirates, from mundane to dangerous. It details specific positions on the ship, the kind of rules pirates lived by, the typical flow of an encounter, the equipment and supplies that are needed, and the areas pirates typically operated inside.
The chapter is mostly about the realities of the pirate's life, and is almost system agnostic, but very good advice for GM's that don't know what a pirate is liable to do from day to day or how to handle a ship boarding. It also gives decent character building advice with a generic look at realistic skills and inclinations a pirate might have. Altogether an enjoyable and brisk chapter. For more of the same, Swashbucklers is a good read.

The Crew of Adventurer's Revenge

This chapter is all about stats, characters, and build advice.
We start off with stats for a typical pirate ship and weapons for that ship (the big guns) with guidance on the typical amount usually kept on a ship.
We get a typical crew roster with enough people to man said ship which includes an index of where to find their stats. This abstract is among one of the more useful things in the chapter because it gives a sense of scale as to how many people are on the ship and what everyone does. Along with the templates, we get a talent, wildcard, and a perk, but I feel like I've seen all of these New Traits in other sources. Each fully statted NPC has a few paragraphs of background information to give you a better idea of the character's personality in operation, making them feel like more than a sum of numbers.
An interesting, very important aside, Careening feels a little out of place, but the chapter does a good job otherwise of presenting the information in a sensible and entertaining way.

Adventurers Ahoy!

This chapter is advice on how to use the content from the rest of the book in the context of an adventure or campaign, with ideas to have the crew work as an enemy or as an ally to the pcs, and different adventures and scenarios they would typically find themselves in. It has advice for dressing up the pirates as different types of seaman, for example as "privateers" or "smugglers" instead, and advice on appropriate abilities to add onto pirates, like advantages, disadvantages, or skills if interested in maybe running a higher point total campaign or wondering how players can spend points earned in a game. It gives some light detail about popular alternate locations for piracy, and changing up the piracy theme by remixing it with a different time. It finishes up with a few typical highly generic adventure seeds and asks good questions so that you can think of variations on a theme and make a seemingly tired adventure feel new with a different coat of paint.
The chapter is unfortunately too short in my opinion, but I enjoyed the aside on character building advice. Nothing is wrong with the content, just that it feels like there was more ground for it to cover, but maybe it couldn't fit in the page count they were shooting for?

Other Thoughts and Closing

I remark that this book is similar to Swashbucklers, but I do not mean that this book is a surrogate for it. If you asked me the question, "I can only afford one for my pirate GURPS campaign and it is a 4th edition game," I'd say get this one, in any other circumstance, I'd recommend Swashbucklers instead or in addition. The books brevity is a double edged sword, it makes it easier to get right to the information that matters to a GM or player, but sometimes it feels like it is a little more shallow than it should be. In any case, I find the book immediately useful for the lists of NPCs it includes, and for the lists of recommended pirate skills, and I think this book is a good buy for anyone specifically running a pirate campaign.

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