Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pirates of Pelargir

Pelargir and Umbar dueled on the high seas, another theater in the millennia-long war against Sauron. Between those two mighty ports lay a lot of water and land that was disputed as the fortunes of one rival power or the other rose or fell. The seemingly endless battle between Gondor and Umbar would have allowed for opportunists to prey on both sides as merchants traveled into lands and waters that changed hands on a regular basis.
The maritime regions of, and between, Gondor and Umbar.

This is a solid little book of adventures for the Middle-earth Roleplaying game. My guess is that the adventures that comprise it were once used for tournament games. I say that for a few reasons. One, the adventures themselves are straightforward: guard a merchant vessel owned by a merchant from Pelargir as it travels South; track down the lair of pirates and bandits plaguing the region between Pelargir and Umbar; and root out the pirates in their base. Two, the adventures are not intricately linked, but it's obvious how one could lead to another. Such adventures usually are designed so that players can have a full experience even if they only play one or two of the adventures in a tournament series. That is, each has a self-contained "story," such as it is, that does not leave a gamer hanging if he or she doesn't play the next one. And three, there are characters ready-made for the players for each adventure. Pre-generated characters, or pre-gens as gamers usually call them, are often a sure sign of a tournament module. Due to the limited amount of time a tournament, usually being run at a game convention, has to play out each round, the process of creating a character from scratch has to be dispensed with. In addition, tournaments usually don't allow homemade characters, as home games vary too widely, and a character from one may be too powerful or too weak for a given tournament adventure, or in comparison to other characters. So I'm pretty confident in my guess as to the origins of this book.

There is a lot of emphasis on the characters in this book, more so than for most such books. There is a substantial amount of background material given each character the players may use, as well as for several non-player characters. This is unusual, especially the assumption that the players will not be using characters of their own creation. I suppose this is part of the "ready-to-run" nature of these adventures, as touted by Iron Crown Enterprises on the cover.
A few of the characters described in Pirates of Pelargir.
The assault on the pirates' base is the most substantial part of the adventure, as far as being detailed in this book. It's a classic "storming the castle" type of adventure. The game master, the person who sets up and describes the situation for the other players, would do well to read through this section closely. That's so they can act and react as the characters run by players invade this or that section of the fortress area, and have the bad guys react in a logical way, rather than standing around as the next room over, and its inhabitants, is trashed.
Part of the pirates' lair.
Pirates of Pelargir is a good, serviceable book. Like many MERP books, it can be easily adapted for another game. It's handsome, with yet another dynamic cover by Angus McBride, and interior character illustrations by the always-welcome Jim Holloway. The maps are well-done, but not the spectacular kind done by Peter Fenlon.

Oh, and Pirates of Pelargir is a bit of misnomer. Pelargir is not the home port for the pirates, and it is never really threatened. The title is a nice bit of alliteration, though, so I won't give it too hard a time on this.

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