This makes a problem for me when it comes to gaming because I do love a rollicking sea adventure, but I tend to find the RPG sea adventures less than satisfying. They require an entirely different mindset and in a game without firearms the pirate settings feel a bit lacking to me personally.
Now you can have firearms in fantasy RPGs. Dungeons and Dragons has had various types of black powder weapons since the early days, but invariably those weapons are nowhere near as deadly as your basic crossbow. And they take longer to reload. Why would you mess about with a flintlock pistol that only does 1d4 damage and takes 10 rounds to reload when you can hit for 1d8 plus strength bonus 15 times in the same space of time with a longsword?
The historical sourcebook, A Mighty Fortress did attempt to address this problem by giving guns armor piercing capabilities and open-ended damage rolls, which helped a bit. You were still consistently doing more damage with a longbow, but it was an effort.
Another factor with nautical adventures is the conspicuous lack of armor. Unless you want to give everyone magical bracers or waistcoat +5 to give them armor equivalent to mail, you are going to have players getting hit more often. Thus you either have to play a game that uses a system that provides some sort of active defense not based solely on armor worn, or you have to modify your rules to provide defense bonuses. With this comes complications.
Most fantasy RPG, you know, D&D, is based around the wearing of armor and carrying of weapons that most people should not have access to. Armor is uncomfortable. It is hot in the Summer and cold in the Winter. If you fall overboard wearing even medium armor you are probably going to drown.
So as much as I like the nautical/pirate/island style of adventure I tend to avoid those games.
It has me thinking...
What should a good nautical/island/pirate RPG game have?
1. Magic? Yes, I think so. It is fantasy and isn't a little voodoo part of the charm?
2. Weresharks? Hell yes.
3. Firearms/Canons? A must. Time to move the tech level up on the fantasy game.
4. A "pirate" class? Nope, not at all. Piracy is something you do, it is not a class. Anyone committing robbery on the high seas is a pirate. Any of the character classes, with the exception of, say, Paladin, can be a pirate. A paladin will just have to be a privateer.
5. Swashing of ye olde buckler? Verily. Swashbuckling is a style of play, really. One that rewards bravado and style as much as tactics and good decisions. Very important.
6. Bulletproof Nudity? Um, no.
7. Kraken/Giant Cephalopods? Well of course. What the Hell kind of nautical game would it be without some giant molluscan menace? Even Jule Verne knew that and he was French.
8. Parrots? Absolutely.
9. Monkeys? If you like.
10. Monkies? Well Davy Jones, certainly...
11. Tikis? See parrots, singing.
12. Ships? De rigueur actually...and herein lies the problem.
Nautical games, unless everyone is a sea elf and fully capable of breathing underwater indefinitely, require ships at some point. Once players board a ship they are stuck on a railroad adventure of sorts. There can only be one captain, even in a pirate crew where everything is decided democratically, the PCs are going to have to go along with the ship. I'm sure it can be done fairly and equitably. It can, however, lead to trouble. If the captain is an NPC the players may enjoy dealing with their own little world within the ship, but essentially a ship means the players cannot just wander off whenever they want to do. And there's always scurvy to consider.
Actually...what am I saying? Now that I think about it this shit is brilliant, innit?
As long as you don't have a bloated, overly complicated rules set (I'm looking at you Pathfinder) you can have barrels o' fun playing a pirate/nautical/island game. Singing parrots! Tiki Golems! Atlantean Cavalry on seahorses! A VORPAL CUTLASS!
Who needs plate armor and spellbooks when you have a flintlock and a bottle of highly flammable alcohol handy?
And throw in some undead pirates too. I don't care if it derivative, dammit I likes 'em.