Monday, March 7, 2016

Black Sails Update




I see it's been awhile since I posted about this show and that's a shame. I recently caught up on season 2 and have been watching season 3 and it's a really good show. I talked about the pilot here and season 1 here (wow two years ago!) and I liked them quite a bit.

One note: the phrase "the Urca gold" will come up a lot. If it hasn't been meme's already it should be. I figured it was just the main plot for the first season but it has become far more - halfway through season 3 it is still a major plot element - who has it? where is it? how much of it? It's a great example of not ignoring consequences, specifically dropping millions of pounds in Spanish gold into a relatively poor island teeming with pirates and surround by rival empires. There is no reset button with this show and while that has become more common in recent years it's still refreshing to see it done so well.  


During season 2 one group manages to steal a Spanish Man of War. This is the rough equivalent of having your players in a Star Wars game "liberate" a Star Destroyer - they feel awesome but there are consequences there too. It takes a lot of men to crew it. It has sails with giant red Spanish crosses on them which stand out far more than the black flag at the tail of the ship. These things all come up during the show and matter. Again, it's not afraid to stir up the status quo. Things change regularly and permanently and not always in a good way but not always in a bad way either- this isn't Battlestar Galactica.



There is some good character development too. In season 2 we learn Captain Flint's background and how he came to be the man he is today. In season 3 we learn more about Captain Vane and Blackbeard! We also learn more about Rackham and Anne and a fair number of supporting characters too. There are complex motivations. Sure, there's greed, lust and revenge - those are probably a given with any show about pirates - but there are characters aiming higher as well. I also found it to be a really good example of the different kinds of "damage" a character can suffer. Sure, there's the physical stuff but there is also emotional damage - disappointment, betrayal, rage. Relationships take damage and friends become enemies ... or they just weaken and dissolve. There are a lot of "pairs" of characters and over the course of the story so far there are many peaks and valleys between each of them.



If possible, I advise anyone who's interested to check it out, preferably without spoilers. There are some really good twists and surprises along the way.

Gaming Notes

  • This show is a great example of how one could run a sustained realistic pirate campaign. Character arcs. Politics, both internal and external. Economics. Greed. All of these things are big factors in the show.
  • As I mentioned above there are consequences. The bigger the action undertaken the more likely someone else will notice and take an interest. Some just want to get by, others want to shake the world. 
  • There is a total lack of the supernatural here. There are no "Cure Light Wounds" or healing potions. A lot of people are running around with blades and guns and hostile attitudes. Yet somehow it still works. I tend to think of most non-supernatural settings as boring or limited when it comes to gaming but this show demonstrates how it could work.
  • Structurally it's interesting too -  set up an environment (the pirate town of Nassau in the Caribbean circa 1700), Add in player characters in major roles - not newly-arrived nobodies (though there sort of is one of those) but major players - the primary fence, the madam, various active pirate captains, the semi-retired pirate captain who controls the fort above the town, the first mates and quartermasters to those captains. Then turn the players loose! Let them set the agenda! Let them compete or cooperate and ally or betray each other without DM intervention other than the reactions of the other pirate crews and powers in town and the reactions of England and Spain if they attract that level of notice!

There's a limit on the examples I can give without spoiling a bunch of the show so I will refrain for now but there is a lot of value in watching it as an example of a great RPG campaign put on film. 

It's also just a really good show.

2 comments:

Barking Alien said...

I found this amusing...

"•There is a total lack of the supernatural here. There are no "Cure Light Wounds" or healing potions. A lot of people are running around with blades and guns and hostile attitudes. Yet somehow it still works. I tend to think of most non-supernatural settings as boring or limited when it comes to gaming but this show demonstrates how it could work."

While I to prefer to have a touch of the paranormal in my pirate fare, it's the line, "yet somehow it still works" that made me chuckle. Personally, while I like including the extraordinary in such tales, they were actually there historically you know.

That is to say, yes, of course it works. After all, that's how it actually was and that was interesting enough to make us want to learn about it today. ;)

Blacksteel said...

Come on now BA - I'm talking as drama, not as history. Historically the legendary Blackbeard's pirate career was roughly two years - two years! Charles Vane lasted a whole 5 years but at least half of that he was hiding, stranded, or on the run. The show is in its 3rd season with a somewhat stable cast and despite all the violence, disease, and lack of medicine (early 1700's Nassau was not known as a center of medical knowledge and there's no doctor character on the show) and despite the grim history it seems perfectly believable that all of these characters are doing fine health-wise. The writers and the crew are doing a good job there.

Also only about half of the characters are historical. Most of the rest are from Treasure Island and this series is a prequel to that book. This does spoil some of the suspense as clearly some of the characters are not going to die just yet but the journey is pretty interesting.