7th Sea: Expanding NPCs

Two weeks ago, the preview copies of the Heroes and Villains decks went out to backers of the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter.  It gave us our first real look at how the JWP is planning to handle NPCs in the game.  I’ll save my thoughts on the decks themselves until their final release.  But lets talk about NPCs.

Under the 7th Sea core rules, there are really only one class of NPCs: Villains.  Villains have two stats: Strength and Influence, which combine to form their Villainy Rank.  The Hero deck proposes that NPC heroes have only one stat: Strength.  Ok, fair enough.  But for me that seems awfully limited in scope.  After all, different NPCs serve different roles to the players.  I think it makes sense to expand things a bit without going crazy.

Here’s what I’m proposing — for my games, anyway:

There are Five CLASSES of NPCs.  Each class defines the role of the character to the Heroes (the PCs).  It isn’t about what role the NPC serves in the world, but how they relate to the player characters that matters.  Each has a different array of stats depending on the needs of the NPC Class.  But ultimately, there are only three stats:

  • Strength: The character’s personal ability, intellect, charm, skill with a sword, ability to use magic, etc.
  • Influence: The character’s money, resources, minions, political power, allies, etc.
  • Favor: the faith the character has in you and the resources you can draw from. (Yup, just like secret societies).

The Classes of NPCs are as follows:

Just as explained in the Core rules, Villains have a Strength and Influence score that forms their Villainy Rank.

Patrons are influential NPCs who can provide the heroes with means, wealth, and additional influence.  Patrons have two traits: Influence and Favor.

Allies are other noteworthy NPCs the heroes can call upon for aid or assistance from time to time.  Allies have two traits: Strength and Favor.

Extras are NPCs that have a neutral relationship with the Heroes.  In most instances, there is no need to give these characters any statistical detail.  But when you do, they have only one trait: Strength.

Brutes aren’t proper NPCs.  They are generally underlings, goons, faceless mercenaries, and other threats that they wield against the heroes.  Brutes have one trait: Strength, determined by the number of individuals in the Squad.

I expect you can already figure out how this works.

Patrons are measured in their influence, because unless they are villains the players shouldn’t expect to come to blows against them.  How much and how often a Patron will exert this Influence on behalf of the heroes is measured by their Favor trait, which is handled just as one would with a Secret Society.  Favor is a resource.  Doing things for the Patron builds it up.  Calling in favors depletes it.  Simple as that.

Allies work almost the same way.  Except rather than bringing their Influence to bear for the Heroes, they exert their strength.  How often they willingly do this is measure by Favor.  Abuse an ally too much, and they won’t be so inclined to help you out in the future.

Now, I’m sure this all seems pretty elementary, so why bother?  Because this information is worthwhile when it comes to the players and how they interact with the world.  Not all Patrons are created equal.  Earning the patronage of a cardinal of the Vaticine church should have more potential ramifications than that of the Duchess of Charsouse.  But what point does Strength serve either character?  Likewise, its helpful to know how much Captain Berek of the Sea Dogs is in debt to the heroes, favor-wise, and how much muscle he can lend on your behalf.  But beyond a few key contacts, no one expects Captain Berek to have wide reaching influence.  (Actually, Berek is a bad example.  He could potentially be an Ally OR a Patron.)

This also suggests that Patrons could have schemes.  And why not?  This gives one more story hook for GMs to dress up for the players.

Consider the following guidelines when it comes to Patrons and Favor (modeled after Secret Societies, of course):

Earning Favor

  • Selling Information that is of interest a Patron is worth 2 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Aiding or acting as an agent of the Patron in a scheme that comes to fruition is worth 4 Favor. Acting as part of an unsuccessful scheme that does not fail do to your involvement is worth 2 Favor.
  • Selling a Secret that is of interest to the Patron is worth 6 Favor. Information of this type is a closely guarded secret, such as the secret bastard son of the Count or the identity of an Inquisition assassin.

Spending Favor

  • You can call upon your Patron to spend Wealth on your behalf, at a cost of 1 Favor for each point of Wealth spent. The Patron can spend up to half of his or her Influence in Wealth in this manner. Patrons will not spend beyond that unless there are special circumstances.
  • Buying Information that the Patron possesses costs 1 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Requesting an Agent of your Patron to save you from danger or help you accomplish a mission costs 3 Favor. Agents dispatched in this capacity are typically Strength 4.
  • Patrons will not typically dispense in Secrets unless the information is relevant to an assignment the Heroes are undertaking for that Patron.
  • Betraying the trust and confidence of a Patron has a cost in favor as well.  Typically the cost in Favor will be either 2 (minor breech), 4 (moderate breech), or 6 (major breech).  On minor breech of trust, the Patron may be willing to extend a second chance to the hero, depending on their relationship.  A moderate and major trust will usually result in refusal of any further involvement by the Patron.  Furthermore, if the loss in Favor results in reducing the Hero’s standing favor to 0 or less, the Patron may become an Adversary, actively working against the hero.  This could jeopardize the heroes’ relationship with other Patrons as well.

Of course, you can expand on this list.  Just as each Secret Society has two or more unique was to earn and spend favor, so should Patrons.  The Courtly Intrigue rules in the old Montaigne book would be a great place to draw inspiration.

And none of this additional definition adds weight to the game.  It simply uses the things that were already there.  So if you feel NPCs in 7th Sea are a bit on the threadbare side, try this out and see if it suits your needs better.

Halloween Dark: Post Play Report


Monday night I turned the kids in my library program lose on my Halloween Dark scenario, Joyland.  As I suspected, the game was light on actual terror and BIG on MAYHEM.  Maybe a bit too much mayhem.  It’s clear to me that while the general concept is fun as hell and works (for the most part), a few things need some reigning in and tweaking.

Here’s my list of things that need some work:

  • Card play got unwieldy, especially with eight players.  Some of the kids would just play cards to cycle through the deck as quickly as possible.  It’s clear to me the game needs a better refresh mechanic than “play a card, draw a card.”
  • Players had trouble identifying when it was appropriate to play certain cards.  Free wheeling as it is, a lot of the T/T cards are pretty specific when they should be played.  It would be helpful to add either an icon or something that identified when a card could/should be played.
  • Combat was a mess.  This part really needs some tightening up.  Monsters need to be much more threatening, and the choice of fight or flight needs to be much more definite.  Especially since combat is entirely player facing.  The *W kludge did not work as well as I had hoped.  So yeah, combat and escape need an overhaul.
  • No one investigated anything.  They were too busy throwing monsters and handicaps at each other.  Which is fun, but it feels like the game is lacking one of the core tent poles of Scooby Dog horror.  To remedy this, I’m thinking of adding some Investigation-specific cards.  I may also make play a bit more regimented.  Maybe add an “Investigation” round.
  • Panic and doing something Rash need some fine tuning.  There was some confusion about this.  I think I’m going to change the Panic from six to five ranks, mirroring Exhaustion.  With the last two ranks as “Panicked” with a similar effect (lose one die).  Once you are Panicked, you can “do something rash” to relieve the effect.  But instead of the roll under/over, I think I’ll just simplify it to Roll a die, relieve 1 rank on a 5, 2 ranks on a 6.
  • Listen up, educators!  Kids need to learn what a metaphor is BEFORE they get to college.

But other than that, the game worked VERY well.  It was insane at times.  Definitely good one-shot material.

Halloween’s a Great Time for Clowning…

The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.


RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!  Clown hysteria has gripped the United States.  Creepy clowns seem to be showing up in every state, every city.  Did we just leapfrog over the zombie apocalypse?  Has Trump v Clinton driven people to the extreme?  I can’t tell you that.  Funny thing, the same thing happened back in the 50’s, in a little town in Missouri called Carthage…


Joyland is a short, one-night scenario for Halloween Dark. Set in the early 1950s, a rash of disappearances coincided with numerous mysterious clown sightings.  Despite local law enforcement denials, many felt the two were connected.  The characters have come together to investigate an abandoned carnival park that seems to be at the center of the clown sightings.  But what they find is far more horrific than they can possibly imagine — if they survive Joyland, that is.

The scenario includes a complete location key of the fairgrounds, a map, as well as bonus trick or treat cards to tie into the killer clown theme.  Like the game itself, it’s a witches brew.  See something that doesn’t make sense?  That’s because you need to make up your own effect.  Why are they characters involved in the adventure?  All of the Pre-Gens have a reason, but you can just as easily come up with something on the fly.  How do you kill the big bad in the final encounter?  Let them figure something out.  You should be asking yourself how your players survived all those clowns!

Halloween Dark


My own modest spin on Graham Walmsley’s brilliant Cthulhu Dark is now available in the downloads section.  It’s called Halloween Dark, and if you are looking for serious horror roleplaying, look elsewhere.

Halloween Dark was born in 2014 out of the need for a very simple rpg to run Halloween-themed one-shot games for my Library Teen Roleplaying program.  Cthulhu Dark fit the bill, then I grafted on the idea of cards from a brainchild my co-GM was fostering.  It made for a fast, frantic, and hilarious 2:30 hour game session.

Flash forward two years and I’ve reworked some of the more problematic parts and finalized the cards (in the original game, the cards were spontaneously scribbled down on index cards).  It’s a witches brew of a game.  It may not make sense all of the time, but it is fun.

So if you’ve got your crew coming this October and want to throw something a bit…different at them, Halloween Dark is your game.  Check it out.  Let me know what I need to fix in time for next Halloween.

Coming Up for Air

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post.  No, this blog is not fading away into the ether.  I’m simply adapting to the new school schedule.  Who would have thought that moving small people from point A to point B on time would be such a colossal time suck?!

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a few random odds and ends that I’m not willing to share yet.  I’ll even admit, some of them may just be wastes of time that may go absolutely no where.  I’ve been known to chase a few windmills in my day.

For my Teen Roleplaying Program at the Lewisville Public Library, I’m starting to gear up for our annual Halloween event.  Once again, I’m going to be using my hacked variant of Cthulhu Dark to run a one shot scenario of terror and laughs.  Last time I did this we had a lot of fun, but the hack needed some refinement.  This time, I’m hoping to post the results.  I’m hoping others will find the game as entertaining as we do.  So stay tuned for that.

On the Witch Hunter front, it’s been a while since we actually played.  Illness, birthdays, and other mishaps have hopefully given way and we will be back in full swing this week.  That may jump start a bit more game specific activity around here.

One last thing, if you look in the Downloads section, I’ve added a link to a Google Doc file of Martin Coulter’s excellent Opportunities and Consequences file for 7th Sea 2nd edition. This file was originally posted to the Explorers of Théah Facebook group and was meant as a community project.  So grab it for your own uses, but feel free to add to it.  Just be sure to add your name as a contributor.

Heroism and Damnation

This is the second of two articles dealing with new house rules I am introducing into my Witch Hunter game.  The first can be found here.

As of October, my group will have been playing Witch Hunter: the Invisible World for four consecutive years, with the same cast of characters.  It’s been a great ride and there is still more story to tell (theirs’ and mine), assuming my players are on for the ride.

I say that to give some weight to this: while on the whole I think WH 2nd edition is superior to the previous edition, there is quite a bit of dead weight and cruft.  Some of these are artifacts from the previous edition, some were brought over from Arcanis without much thought or integration.  (Seriously, has anyone read the Creature Size rules lately?)  These are rules and elements that don’t really hold it back so much as add drag to what could otherwise be a lean, mean ruleset.  Take the following use for Hero Points:

 One Hero Point may be expended to gain the use of any one Talent the character qualifies for but does not currently have. This talent only applies for one action.

Now on paper, that sounds great!  And I’m sure plenty of groups and players have used that benefit extensively.  Mine…have not.  And if it’s not being used, then its just a drag.  Besides, talk about choice paralysis!  Do you really want your players reading through all the Talent descriptions and requirements in the thick of play?  I don’t.  So why not trim that rough edge and reshape it into something more useful?  Which is exactly what I’m doing.

Consider instead…

Uses For Hero Points (Revised)

Hero Points can be expended for the following effects: (Changes are in green.)

  1. Add one bonus success to any roll. The Hero Point may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Additional Hero Points will need to be spent to gain a bonus success on any other actions.  (We’ve been using this tweak for months and it really has a huge affect on gameplay.  Heroes feel a lot more heroic and it offers some protection against the whiff factor.)
  2. One Hero Point may be expended to negate damage suffered from a single exchange (damage roll) up to the character’s True Faith score.
  3. One Hero Point may be expended to resist the triggering of a character’s Sin.
  4. When a character is injured, she begins to suffer penalties to her action rolls. One Hero Point may be expended to ignore all injury penalties for one round.
  5. If a character fails her roll to remain conscious, a Hero Point may be expended to remain conscious.
  6. If a Witch Hunter is killed, one Hero Point may be expended to avoid death. The character is instead unconscious and at the threshold of death. Remember, barring an exception from the GM, only one Hero Point may be spend per instance, so another Hero Point could not then be spent to remain active.
  7. One Hero Point may be spent to gain an additional Quick Action in a round.  Unlike normal conditions, this quick action may repeat a previously performed action (ie. an attack, parry, dodge, etc.)
  8. One Hero Point may be spent to increase any one Defense by 1 until your next turn (or approximation thereof).
  9. You may spend a Hero Point to grant another hero a +3d bonus to any single action.  This represents you helping the receiving hero in some way, even if its only moral support.  A hero may only receive help from one other hero for any single action. (Hat Tip: 7th Sea 2nd edition)

1, 7, and 8 pretty much cover, in the broadest terms, almost every available Talent.  Not all of them, but enough to make me happy.

With that out of the way, and after my last article on the Damnation Pool, I felt like I should turn to Damnation.  For me, damnation just never felt tempting enough.  There’s no real reason not to buy it off unless you just regularly find yourself in desperate situations with no Hero Points (which may not be uncommon if the con events I’ve played in are any indication).  Gaining Damnation shouldn’t be the goal of any witch hunter character.  But I want that slippery slope to be a bit more slippery.  These changes are meant to go hand in hand with the incorporation of the Damnation Pool.

Using Damnation (Revised)

  1. A damnation point may be spent to gain a 2 bonus successes to any roll. Damnation may be expended after the dice for the action are rolled. This is the most common manner of expending a Hero Point. Unlike Hero Points, you may expend as many Damnation dice as you wish on a single action.  Each additional point spent on an action only grants 1 additional success.  (Example: Spending 3 damnation on a single action would grant you 4 bonuses successes to your roll.)
  2. A Damnation Point may be expended to negate ALL damage inflicted from a single exchange (damage roll)!
  3.  As a character becomes injured, he begins to suffer dice penalties to his action rolls. A Damnation Point may be expended to ignore injury penalties for one scene (typically one combat, or the remainder thereof).

Uses 4 and 5 remain unchanged.

If Adventure Has a Name…

In the remote mountains of Croatia, an archaeologist makes a strange discovery:  a subterranean Catholic chapel, hidden for centuries, holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. In the same cavern system, elaborate primitive paintings tell the story of an immense battle between tribes of Neanderthals and monstrous shadowy figures. Who is this mysterious enemy depicted in these ancient drawings and what do the paintings mean?

Before any answers could be made, the investigative team is attacked, while at the same time, a bloody assault is made upon a primate research center outside of Atlanta. How are these events connected? Who is behind these attacks?  The search for the truth will take Commander Gray Pierce of Sigma Force 50,000 years into the past. As he and Sigma trace the evolution of human intelligence to its true source, they will be plunged into a cataclysmic battle for the future of humanity that stretches across the globe . . . and beyond.

With the fate of our future at stake, Sigma embarks on its most harrowing odyssey ever—a breathtaking quest that will take them from ancient tunnels in Ecuador that span the breadth of South America to a millennia-old necropolis holding the bones of our ancestors. Along the way, revelations involving the lost continent of Atlantis will reveal true mysteries tied to mankind’s first steps on the moon. In the end, Gray Pierce and his team will face to their greatest threat: an ancient evil, resurrected by modern genetic science, strong enough to bring about the end of man’s dominance on this planet.

23434061That’s the back cover blurb for James Rollins’ novel, The Bone Labyrinth. Part of his “Sigma Force” series, which sounds like a mix of Vince Flynn and Dan Brown. And DAMN if it doesn’t sound like the set up for a kick ass Witch Hunter campaign!

I haven’t read any of Rollins’ latest stuff.  But Amazonia and Excavation were great fun if you like pulp tales in the vein of Doc Savage or Indiana Jones.  Which is probably why Rollins got the nod to write the novelization for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  It’s light, breezy stuff befitting of the genre.  Rollins isn’t at the top of my recommended reading list, but his stuff is consistent and fun and well worth a look if you are into pulp adventure.  I haven’t read any of his Sigma Force novels, but they have been on my radar.  Because, as with the Bone Labyrinth, the descriptions just scream Witch Hunter (or Rippers, for my fellow Savage World aficionados) adventures, though set against a modern backdrop.

4294057-lI’m going to take the plunge though.  The Bone Labyrinth is sitting ready, just waiting for me to finish Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind.  Once I’m done, I’ll report back.  If its as good a fit as I think it will be, I may even do a bit of adventure outlining here.

But what about you?  Any other James Rollins fans out there?  What Sigma Force books should I be looking at if I like The Bone Labyrinth?