Location Guide: The Pirate Haven of Blackrock
This location guide clocks n at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So…another pirate town. Blackrock comes with a full-blown settlement statblock -situated at the island of Korte, Blackrock is now ruled by the pirate-queen Cassandra, a pirate haven spawned from necessity and since then, turned into a thriving village – complete with nice cartography, provided as a b/w-version with keys for the DM and in a full-color hand-out version sans keys for the players. It should be noted that the map is isometric, providing some nostalgia for guys like me. The city and its small, walled harbor is encircled by fortifications and thus looks somewhat cramped.
The numerous notable locations provide various hooks for players to pursue – from fortified alehouses to Cassandra’s ship to shops, there is quite a lot going on in the town. Fortune-seekers will definitely not lack for employment. and the general break-down of the location into different quarters helps navigate the pdf. There is something that sets the town apart from similar supplements, though – the hooks. The pdf provides, beyond the inspiration that may be drawn from the writing, extremely detailed hooks that go beyond what a hook usually does. The basic concept is presented along-side a skeletal outline of the things to happen – with complications and further adventuring possibilities, the supplement goes above and beyond in that regard. Oh, and the hooks are pretty versatile – from poisoned prostitutes to stolen light-house-powering stones to delivering something important to the bank and have it heisted away, the hooks are surprisingly neat and the level of detail they provide can be considered exemplary.
Beyond crime and punishment, an extensive table of food and prices and hooks for nearby ruins, the pdf provides quite a few nice details for the DM to develop. Aforementioned pirate queen, receives a full-blown, detailed NPC-write-up and beyond that, a total of no less 7 statblocks for more generic, nameless NPCs provides further fodder.
Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed minor glitches here and there. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games’ printer-friendly two-column standard in full color and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Cartography is nice as well, though the maps look a bit blurry in my version, as does the cover-artwork, The DM-map is abit too jumbled – the numbers with their white backgrounds obscure the drawing and make making out where the places are supposed to be slightly harder than it ought to be.
I feel like an utter prick. Darren W. Pearce and Gillian M. Pearce, supported by the statblocks by Carlos Ovalle and Mike Welham, have created a compelling, cool pirate town full of hooks and local color, a place that delivers what one expects. And still, I can’t find it in me to like this supplement. Perhaps it’s due to me having read too many Pirate-themed settlements – between a certain village backdrop, Port Shaw, Freeport, Skull & Shackles etc., I may simply be burned out on pirate towns. Perhaps I’m too jaded and need some unique angle to make me excited. I don’t know. This location guide, with its more than fair, low price-point, delivers all you could expect from such a book.
And after some contemplation, I realized something – I’ve been utterly, completely spoiled by Raging Swan Press’ settlement books. In direct comparison, this pdf has no nomenclature, marketplace, rumor-section, events, sights, sounds and smells – the place just lacks the extreme level of detail that helps DMs make a place come alive. A couple of years before, this pdf would have probably blown my mind, but using so many Village Backdrops or glorious towns like Wolverton has utterly spoiled me on a formal level. Make no mistake, Blackrock is a great place and it is NOT lacking in detail – but the little pieces of local color, the extreme attention to detail is just not there – much like many a Paizo-book, this is a potentially inspiring gazetteer full of nice information, yes. But it lacks this additional oomph that makes Raging Swan’s settlements come to life and has the unpleasant handicap of covering a topic that has been thoroughly covered by superb, bigger supplements in a level of detail, it can, by virtue of its length, not perfectly compete with. Blackrock is a great settlement and if you don’t have Razor Coast or Freeport, or if you need an additional pirate settlement – you probably won’t be disappointed.
That being said, I can’t explain properly why, but this pdf just didn’t click with me – there simply is no leitmotif beyond the pirate-angle that sets this one apart for me. I am aware that this probably is the 13th age/pirate-fan in me talking, but some cultural peculiarity, racial tension, uncommon architecture – anything weird to make this town more distinct and it would leave much more of an impression. Now as a private person, this supplement, in spite of its excellent bang-for-buck-ratio, left me cold. For me as a person, this is a 3 star file. As a reviewer, though, I have to abstract (or at least try it!) said jadedness – and it may very well be that you, dear reader, are not that jaded, that you’re looking for an inexpensive, nice pirate town – then this would be just what the doctor ordered. For you, this may even be a 4.5 star file. Hence, my final verdict will clock in between the two – at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars due to in dubio pro reo and me taking my own situation into account.