Pirates of the Levant: A Book Review

Pirates of the Levant is a novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and one of the many tales of Captain Alatriste.  I feel the need to preface this review by saying of the Captain Alatriste novels, I’ve only read the first one before and didn’t care for it.  Pirates of the Levant is the sixth book in the series, so it’s possible I missed some background context skipping from book 1 to 6, but I don’t feel it affected my ability to follow the story.

Like Captain Alatriste, Pirates of the Levant is told (largely) from the perspective of the Captain’s ward and protégé, Ínigo who, aside from the fact that he is older, seems little different than he was in book 1: naive, hot-headed, and eager for adventure.  Older now, there are several scenes where he and the Captain are at odds.  Ínigo doesn’t simply differ to the captain on every occassion, so I guess that counts for character development.

I won’t mince words, this novel felt like as much of a slog as Captain Alatriste before it.  There is a lot of love for these novels, but I don’t share it.  Pérez-Reverte certainly has a unique voice: the narrative often breaks for poetry, short jumps of perspective, and frequent glimpses of the future.  The characters are fairly 2 dimensional and end pretty much the way they start – there’s not much in the way of character development.  In fact, like Captain Alatriste, Pirates of the Levant feels like a string of vinettes with scarcely a narrative thread to connect anything.  You could have made this an anthology of short stories and it wouldn’t have lost a step.

But what really struck me was the ugliness of the world Pérez-Reverte portrays.  He doesn’t sugar coat the deep seated racism that exists between the Europeans/Christians and the Ottomans/Muslims.  I don’t attribute this to the author but as a sign of the times the book is set in.

If you like your swashbuckling adventure light and fluffy, this is not the book for you.  If you like your swashbuckling adventure fun and dashed with humor, this is not the book for you.  If you like your swashbuckling adventure full of viceral Robert E Howard-esque action, this is not the book for you.  Oh, there’s plenty of blood and guts – bucket loads, in fact – but it’s hard earned.  The novel makes you work for every moment of light, humor, or excitement.  And frankly, I really could care less about any of the primary characters, which blunts from the climax for me considerably.  I lay the blame at the lack of any narrative line through the book.  You could read the first 2 chapters and skip to the last 2 chapters and, other than a handful of characters (who are little more than set dressing), you don’t really miss a beat.

Now all this said, I can’t say the book is terrible or not worth reading.  As I said previously, Pérez-Reverte has a unique voice that, from a writer’s perspective, showcases some interesting tricks.  Likewise, it gives the reader a good sense of conflicts in the 17th century Mediterranean and Spain.  But unfortunately, nothing to change my opinion of the Captain Alatriste books.  Were I not running a seagoing 7th Sea game and looking for source material, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.  And I can’t imagine why I would read any of the other books in the series after this.  Two trips to the well is enough to convince me that these aren’t the books for me.

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Random Boxer Tables

When we started our 7th Sea game, one of the players created an Inish boxer.  His main story goal?  Become a fighter renowned throughout Théah and to box the O’Bannon!  The whole vibe of the character always reminded me of the South Park Russel Crowe spoof: Makin’ movies, singin’ songs, and FIGHTIN’ ROUND THE WORLD!

Unfortunately, life interviened and after only a few game sessions, this player had to take a indefinite sabbatical from the game.  Before he left, to prepare for a string of title boughts in various ports-o-call, I created a series of tables to randomly generate boxing opponents of various skill.  I think I finished them the day before he resigned the game.

Well I guess this work won’t be seeing much play in my game now, so I’m posting it here!

Random Boxer Tables

d10 In the Other Corner…
1 The Kid (Green Fighter)
2 The Ham/Palooka
3 The Up and Comer
4 The Seasoned Fighter
5 The (Current) Champ
6 The Has-Been
7 The Grizzled Veteran
8 The Exotic Foreigner
9 The Prodigal Son
0 The Augmented Fighter
d10 Style
1 Pressure Fighter
2 Swarmer
3 In-Fighter
4 Slugger
5 Boxer-Puncher
6 Switch Hitter
7 Out-Boxer
8 Unorthodox/Unconventional Form
9-0 Roll Twice; ignore this
result again.
d10 Descriptor and Trait
1-2 The Mountain (Brawn)
3-4 Quick and Nimble (Finesse)
5-6 Head in the Game (Wits)
7-8 Tenacious and Unshakable (Resolve)
9-0 The Showboat (Panache)
d10 Quirk
1 Best Defense
2 Southpaw
3 Achilles Heel
4 Drunk
5 Cocky
6 Grudge
7 Distracted
8 Dirty Fighter
9 Secret Enchantment
0 All Heart
d10     The Match
1 Organized Crime is involved.
2 Your opponent throws the Match
3 Your opponent is the crowd Favorite
4 Rough Crowd
5 Your opponent is Altruistic (Man of the People); has vowed to donate all winnings to a popular cause
6 Crooked Promoter
7 Your opponent dies at the End
8 Fat Purse (+1 wealth point to the winner)
9 A Fate Witch is secretly manipulating the fight
0 Showcase Match; your opponent is completely mismatched

Boxing Moves/Terms

  • Jab: Jab is a short straight punch
  • Cross: Cross is a straight punch delivered from the side
  • Uppercut: Uppercut is an upward punch that comes from underneath the opponent’s guard
  • Hook: Hook is a swinging blow with the elbow bent
  • Body Blow: Body blow is a punch to the body
  • Block: Blocking is the use of the shoulders, arms, or hands to prevent an opponent’s punch from landing cleanly
  • Bob and Weave: To bob and weave is to make quick bodily movements up and down and from side to side in order to dodge punches. In boxing bobbing moves the head laterally and beneath an incoming punch. As the opponent’s punch arrives, the fighter bends the legs quickly and simultaneously shifts the body either slightly right or left. Fighters generally begin the bob and weave to the left, as most opponents strike with their left hand, or jab hand first.
  • Stance: Stance is the position adopted by a boxer in readiness to land or receive punches
  • Clinch: To clinch is to hold one’s opponent in such a way that he cannot throw punches
  • Corkscrew: Corkscrew is a punch thrown with the elbow out and a twisting motion of the wrist
  • Counter: Counter is an attack made immediately after an opponent throws a punch
  • Feint: To feint means to fake a punch with the intention of disorientating one’s opponent
  • Guard: Guard is a defensive stance, with the gloves raised to protect the face
  • Haymaker: Haymaker is colloquial term for a wild swinging punch
  • Hold: Hold is a grip of the opponent that prevents him from throwing punches
  • Infighting: Infighting is engaging at very close quarters, so that it is impossible to throw full-length punches
  • Reach: Reach is the distance between the fingertips of the outstretched arms of a boxer; (cricket) the extent to which a batsman can play forward without moving his back foot
  • Rally: Rally is a sustained exchange of blows
  • Roundhouse: Roundhouse is a wild swinging punch
  • Sidewinder: Sidewinder is a blow struck from the side

John Wick on Running 7th Sea

The Spirit of the 7th Sea podcast gave us a not so surprising Halloween surprise: an interview with John Wick on running 7th Sea!

I say it wasn’t much of a surprise because Hannah Shaffer (JWP marketing director) had asked for questions for the interview weeks ago.  The surprise was that the interview was far more about style and less about form, so most of the mechanical questions never made it into the interview.  A wasted opportunity that, but I’m not going to complain since two of my questions made it into the interview.  And the answers were interesting.  I’m not going to give it all away here, but I would encourage other 7th Sea GMs (and players!) to give the interview a listen.  There is some good stuff in there that really needs to be distilled into the GM section of 7th Sea: Khitai or the inevitable 7th Sea revised edition.

If you are not a fan of the new edition, if the revised mechanics and setting make your teeth itch, if the mere mention of John Wick triggers you, pass this one by.  There is nothing in here that’s going to change your mind on any one of these points.  If you love the setting, but the mechanics read like Greek (sorry, Numenari) to you, there aren’t any revelations to be had.  He does discuss creating Consequences and Opportunities for a scene, but I’m not sure how helpful the answer really is as the context feels…weird.

In fact, if I have a complaint about the interview, its the perspective offered.  I get the impression that John Wick’s experience running 7th Sea is that of a series a highly episodic sessions and one-shot, not as a long-running serial that us old timers aspire to run.  Now part of that is probably the nature of the biz: when most of your play comes from demos and con-hopping, that’s what your experience is going to be.  Or if you are used to switching RPGs often or troupe-style GM play.  But for those of who dig in for long haul campaigns, there is something of a disconnect in the advice given.  (I hold all RPG developers to the unrealistic expectation that they, like Gary Gygax, run a weekly open table game for migrating groups of players for years to test out ideas and new rules – which the man did for both D&D and Lejendary Adventure.  So keep that in perspective.  And yes, I know almost none of them actually do that.)

My dream a big 7th Sea GM roundtable where everyone gets deep in the weeds Angry GM style on how to make the game sing like a siren is still unfulfilled.  So if you’re listening JWP, put that on your list for 2018.

Whisper on a Black Wind

Back in 2001 or 2002, I honestly can’t remember which, we were in the thick of our 7th Sea (1st edition) campaign.  It was October and I proposed a Halloween themed “one-shot” for the group.  Unfortunately, this “one-shot” took all of about 4 or 5 sessions to actually complete, something I’ve become a bit notorious for since then.

This year, over on the Facebook Explorer’s of Théah group, I proposed everyone submit a scenario for Halloween as a community project.  While this wasn’t the first of my old adventures that came to mind — that one involved a murderous redcap stalking the students of a Castillain university (“Remember the tooth!”) — I settled on this one because of the 2015 film, the Witch.

After having seen that movie, I think I would run this one completely differently than I did before.  In fact, I think this would have made a great adventure for Witch Hunter: the Invisible World, All for One: Regime Diabolique, or the Savage World of Solomon Kane with only a bit of tweaking.

So if you and your group are getting together to roll some dice for Halloween fun, I offer this short adventure scenario for your consideration: Whisper on a Black Wind.  See if you can make it the horrific one night affair it was intended to be.

Addendum

A quick shout out and thank you to Dyson Logos for his amazing work and making some of it available to use.  If anyone wants a copy of the unaltered version of the map used in the adventure, you can find it here.

Three Occult Books for 7th Sea

These three books were recently discovered on the shelves of Tomlin and Sons Booksellers in La Bucca (Sunrise Haven). The number of available copies varies, but they may well appear in other collections on the occult, especially in Western Théah.

Power in the Blood: A Woman’s Journey
Written by Blanche Levellé, born to a family of strong Porte sorcerers but found herself lacking any ability. She devoted most of her life to the search for a means to activate her latent potential, mostly through Alquimia.
Secret: While she never quite gets there, a lot of Levellé’s conclusions and research gets dangerously close to Blood Sorcery (Secret Societies: The Invisible College, 1st edition).
Additional Details: The first edition of this book was published in 1649 in Frieburg.  It has become scare after the War of the Cross and is prized by collectors in Montaigne. This book has been deemed heresy by the Inquisition.

Bloody Legecy: A Codex of Sorcerous Wounds
A pamphlet on Blessures, written by an esteemed Vaticine Witch Hunter, Brother Sergio. The text catalogs know Blessure sites in Théah, both Montaigne and elsewhere, and includes detailed descriptions and long-term observations. Despite its age, the pamphlet is still required reading among dedicated agents of the Inquisition and is held in high esteem as a scholarly text.
Secret: This was one of the texts that revealed the origins of the Inquisition and its original purpose to Inquisitor Octavio Mzabi.  He has been working on an updated edition, seeded with ciphers for Inquisition Aquila members.

Montanus
A translation of a lost late-Imperial document by Sister Hypathia of the Gnostic Order. It chronicles the Montanus family, who rose to power in the Numaneri senate and whose bloodline would eventually come to dominate Western Théah and the nation of Montaigne. It devotes a considerable amount of detail to Porté sorcery and suggests it was born of a pact between the Montanus family and diabolical otherworldly beings. Despite its pedigree, the text is considered antiquated and has largely been debunked by (mostly Montaignious) scholars.
Secret: Despite its reputed inaccuracies, the text does describe a few lost powers of Porté that could be rediscovered through study and practice.

Your Own…Personal…Dievas

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
— Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode

In 7th Sea, a dievas is an ethereal, fey or demonic-like being straight out of Lithuanian folklore.  Obscenely powerful, the only way they can make mischief in the world is through the complicit actions of a petitioner: a losejas.  They is the classic crossroads demon, happy to grant you your fondest desire, but always seeking to twist it to serve their own mercurial ends.

Dievai can come in many shapes and forms.  No doubt they might come completely imagined by a player or GM.  But sometimes its fun to add an unexpected twist to the mix.  For that purpose, I offer you a collection of random tables to help generate a dievas for a storyline.  Roll on as many as you like.  The first group determine how the dievas usually appears to its losejas.  The second, its usual personality in such meetings.  The third set of tables determine what sort of conditions the dievas appears under, and what phenomena (if any) herald its arrival.  Together, they should give you plenty of room to build upon.

APPEARANCE
d10 Sex
1-2 Androgynous
3-5 Male
6-8 Female
9-0 Shifting
d10 Apparent Age
1 Childlike
2-3 Younger
4-6 Indeterminable
7-8 Older
9 Elderly
0 Shifting
d10 Unusual Feature(s)
1 Eyes
2 Face
3 Hands
4 Hair
5 Ears
6 Clothing/Dress
7 Feet
8 Limbs (Arms, Legs)
9 Skin
0 Shadow
d10 PERSONALITY
1 Innocent/Childlike
2 Seductive
3 Direct
4 Wise/Approachable
5 Aloof/Coy
6 Friendly/Benevolent
7 Melancholy
8 Annoyed/Inconvenienced
9 Quiet
0 Majestic

 

VISTATION
d10 Conditions
1-2 When Called/Summoned
3-4 Constant Companion (Harvey)
5-6 Constant Presence (Distant)
7-8 Only when alone
9-0 Unreliable (On its terms)
d10 Signals Appearance
1 Soft music
2 The tinkling of bells/chimes
3 Particular Odor (Foul or Pleasant)
4 Thunderclap
5 Temperature Change (Chill, Heat)
6 A sudden flight of birds
7 Elongated shadows
8 Children’s laughter
9 Muted Sounds/Complete silence
0 Sudden change of location

Dragoman

So after some unfortunate shuffling of the deck chairs in our 7th Sea game, we brought in two new players.  One of them, a very serious and historically minded type comes to me and says, “I want to play this?  I don’t see it as a background though.”  “No problem,” I say.  “Let’s see what we can do.”

The background in question was the Dragoman, an envoy and diplomat in the Ottoman Court.  With the preview of the Crescent Empire book beginning to circulate through the kickstarter channels, I figure this is a timely addition.  Especially since that background isn’t included.  Probably because of the focus on language, one of many things this edition of 7th Sea shuffles into the background.

Actually, creating a new background wasn’t difficult at all.  We took two comparable backgrounds, the Courtier and the Consigliere (Vodacce), and smashed them together.  Then there was some jockeying about what Advantages (besides Linguist) to include.  In the end, we settled on 6 points of Advantages as there is precedence for this.  In the end, the hardest part was coming up with a Quirk!  So I turned to the Facebook fan group for that.  In the end, I think it turned out pretty well, and makes a great background for a Crescent agent adventuring in Théah.

Dragonman

Crescent Empire Background

You are a bridge between cultures; an interpreter, mediator, diplomat, and guide in foreign matters in the court of the Empress.

Quirk: Earn a Hero Point when you solve a problem using knowledge from a culture other than your own.

Advantages: Linguist, Friend at Court, Honest Misunderstanding

Skills: Convince, Empathy, Notice, Scholarship, Tempt