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A Pirate's Life For Me

"Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate."
- Jack Sparrow

I spent yesterday evening browsing TV Tropes and Idioms since there was nothing on TV, and I wasn't able to go and see Iron Man 3 yet.  For some reason, I simply read through the Pirates of the Caribbean page, and while doing so, had my entire imagination fire up again.  I don't think I've ever given those movies enough credit for how they have impacted my thoughts on D&D games, but last night, I realized they have always been a strong focal point for me.

No matter what people say about the plot, movie length, or anything else, the Pirates movies are about one thing: characters.  I never found scenes boring, or dull, or making me wonder how long the movie would go, simply because the characters were so engaging.  How does this translate to D&D?  Quite simply, the characters in your game.  I have the privilege of DMing for a solid group of roleplayers, a few of which bring out the best in the others.  In doing so, the game becomes even more real, and the players get involved even more.  I've created adventures with plot ties to the characters, simply because these get more response than "slay the dragon" or "rescue the princess".  These points are generally made by numerous DM's and writers in other places, but it's something that needs to be said often and repeated numerous times.

The movies have also provided great inspiration in the fact that some of my best players choose to play pirate characters.  I've written about Captain Nizumo Misoka and Vivianne Shearwater a few times, so I will spare my readers the details of them.  But I will say that even if you have one player who jumps into roleplaying and characterization, run with that player for an adventure or two and watch them pull others into the game.  I've also decided that I need to make my own pirate-type character, just so I can interact with those two players when somebody else decides to DM.  I've always been more of a Will Turner fan myself though.  I'm not the silver and gold kind of pirate.

The Pirates movies always had fantastic locations for battles and skirmishes, something that can be lacking in D&D games.  I say this because for a while, I ran boring encounters.  The players would fight goblins because they needed to fight something (or so I thought).  I didn't make it fantastic, and I didn't make it exciting.  It didn't advance the plot.  Needless to say, I soon learned from my mistakes.  Perhaps the scene that I always have loved from Pirates was when they fight on the giant waterwheel (I once impressed a girl by re-enacting that scene at a Cross Country practice.  We dated for a little while after that).

Sometimes, a fantastic journey is enough to bring players into the adventure and make them want to continue playing.  Pirate and sea adventures are awesome for this.  Think about it: every ship is unique and has a name!  This alone gives players an attachment to them.  Think about Jack Sparrow and his beloved Black Pearl.  The name of the ship is even in the first movie's title!  Before I had seen the film, I thought the movie was literally about some treasured pearl.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that this was a ship (though not just any ship)!

When ships become involved, at some point, ship to ship combat becomes necessary.  The climax of the third movie, in which the heroes fight their opponents on a giant maelstrom, is exactly the kind of encounters DM's need to throw at their players.  I tried finding some pictures of D&D games with ship battles, and couldn't really find any.  For myself, the best thing I have is sahuagin attacking a docked ship!  That's not even the same!

The monsters and villains in Pirates make for great adventures as well.  In the first movie, we have undead.  In my mind, skeletons are always the best kind of pirate themed undead to use.  I'm not really sure why, but in my youth, I always remember the skeleton either pointing the way to the treasure, or being somewhere in the captain's lair.  The second movie also gave us the kraken, pretty much the traditional beast of the sea that everybody fears, not to mention the mutated, corrupted crew of Davy Jones.  They add the fantasy to fantastic when it comes to Pirate adventures.  I'm really excited about the new Pathfinder miniatures set, Skull and Shackles, as it has so many awesome sea adventure miniatures.  You can find the preview gallery here.  Major props to Sly Flourish, who has an awesome Talon of Umberlee set up!

I also think that the main theme, "He's a Pirate", completely defines the pirate genre.  My next pirate themed adventure will have to make use of the song during the final encounter.  I think my players would appreciate it too.

I encourage you to think about your favorite movies and how they could inspire you for better D&D games.  I also have a compilation of sea and ship ideas on my Pinterest board here.

Thanks for all your encouragement as I continue to climb my mountain.  Be sure to leave your comments below, and follow me on Twitter @artificeralf 

I hope that this blog inspires others


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