I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks. I suppose I could blame it on the kids. Or Spring Break. Or family drama. Or even laundry. But, I’m sorry. No.
It was 7th Sea.
7th Sea was the kickstarter that ate my month.
It started out innocently enough. After AEG sold L5R off to FFG (acronyms!), lots of us old fans expected something might happen. It wasn’t like it was a high priority of mine – I haven’t actively played 7th Sea since maybe 2004. Not that I don’t love it! The books have been regularly referenced since then whether I was playing Savage Worlds, Lejendary Adventure, or Witch Hunter. So when the news broke that John Wick bought back the rights to the game, yeah that was cool news but nothing earth shattering. I may have flipped through the old GMG once after that for old time sake.
The the mailing list got started. Ok, I’m on board for that. Then the countdown to the kickstarter. Art looks nice. What’s that? A Quickstart adventure? Ok, I’ll give it a look.
Next thing I knew, it was March. The house needed cleaning. The kids needed a bath. The fridge was empty. My wife was giving me that look. And I was left to crawl out of the stupor that remained from a month long bing of kickstarter updates, commentary, stretch goals, and impossible, record-breaking pledge totals. It was one of those moments where your players called six raises on a TN 25 skill check and damn, if he didn’t deliver.
Yeah, I know. You’ve seen the news.
So now it’s time to throw open the curtains, shake out the cobwebs and dustbunnies, and come out of hermit mode.
Count Rugen: As you know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old. Really that’s all this is except that instead of sucking water, I’m sucking life. I’ve just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don’t know what that would do to you. So, let’s just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?
[Wesley cries and moans in pain]
Count Rugen: Interesting.
The good news is that since 7th Sea ate my kickstarter budget for the year, you aren’t going to have to suffer a lot of talk about Conan 2d20 or Kult. Well okay, maybe Kult – but only after I get a better look at the AW-inspired rules system. Assuming they preview it to non-backers.
So is 7th Sea 2nd edition going to be worth the loss of nearly a month to such a vapid endeavor as checking the constantly updating river rapids of kickstarter commentary. Jury is still out on that one. Don’t get me wrong, I like some of the concepts, and I REALLY want to give it the benefit of the doubt. I’m not a John Wick fanboy. As much as I love 7th Sea, that’s the only one of his games that I’ve played and enjoyed. My group tried L5R for a few months, and it just never stuck with me. Guess I’m just not a Seven Samurai guy. I’ve never played Houses of the Blooded or anything else in his post-AEG catalog. So I’m not hard wired to love it, probably not the way I immediately bought into Dangerous Journeys or Lejendary Adventure (the only thing that keeps me from being a Gygax fanboy is I’m not a huge D&D fan, regardless of what my bookshelf suggests).
A lot of what’s cooked into 7th Sea v2 is just outside my comfort zone. I’ve never played FATE, Dungeon World, Dogs in the Vineyard, or any of the host of contemporary “Narrativist” games (or Story Games). Sure, Savage Worlds and Witch Hunter have borrowed liberally from those types of games, but they remain firmly in the traditional “roll to succeed” mode. Yes, I’ve read Wick’s No Dice article. I get what he’s trying to do. And I think it’s really ballsy to stake those concepts to a million dollar franchise. Yes, you really do need to read that article to understand what 7th Sea v2 is trying to do. Will it succeed? The proof will be in the play.
One thing that troubles me is that the people who don’t like it are very explicit about the reasons why. The people who love it…not so much. Maybe that’s just the nature of the internet. “We played it and had a great time,” tells me absolutely nothing. I play Hoot Owl Hoot and Count Your Chickens with my kids and have a great time too. That doesn’t tell you anything about what the hell it is I like about those games, over even what they are (though seriously, if you have young kids, get them! Loads of fun and easy to grasp and play!). There is one “positive” review circulating around, and its very informative. It pretty much sums up what I’ve come to understand about the game:
It handles everything you have already been doing the same way you’ve been doing it for years. It just slaps fancy jargon on the simple to make it complicated.
Seriously, let’s break down the whole Intent/Consequences/Opportunities anatomy of a Risk business.
Statement of Intent: have we seriously done this since the halcyon days of D&D? Where you were supposed to go around the table, make clear what everyone is doing, and then lock them into those actions when the dice started rolling? No, of course not. “What do you do? I want to do X. Ok, roll this.” I blame Apocalypse World and its stupid Move jargon.
Consequences: Yes, this is the big WTF moment in the rules. “What? You only need one raise to succeed? Inconceivable!” But it’s not. When you think about it, the number of consequences is essentially your Difficulty now. One raise is, at best, a partial success. An easy task might be 1 consequence tops. Standard difficulty appears to be 2-4 consequences. Really dangerous stuff is 5+ consequences. The big stinker here is dice predictability. A player is almost assured to get 1 raise for every 2 dice rolled. Assuming dice pools still top out at 10 dice (a big assumption at this point), you (the GM) should always prepare to offer 1, 2, or 3 more consequences than the player can possibly pay off on average. This makes lucky rolls meaningful, and choices more interesting. But really, its the same thing just presented in a different way.
Opportunities: Yes, the QS suggests they are front loaded into the presentation of the scene. But that doesn’t have to be the case. For the GM, Opportunities are macguffins to tempt the player into taking more consequences than he otherwise would. You might even compare it to activating a Hubris (in 7th Sea v1) or a Sin (in Witch Hunter). You get this cool benefit that will help you in the scene, but it comes at a price. You don’t have to front load it. In fact, they may well be better to introduce when the player is either too sure of himself or when they can’t make up his mind.
“Ok, so you have 3 Raises, enough to race through the burning room without stumbling or taking a lick of fire damage. Did I mention the letter on the desk? No? Well…”
I expect, despite the amount of space devoted to it, Opportunities are going to be more for players to help other players.
Player A: “Ok, I spend a raise to disarm the villain’s henchman. Can I catch his sword in my off-hand?”
GM: “No, but if you spend a raise, Player B can grab it off the floor.”
Player A: “But then I’ll take an extra point of damage from the fight?”
Player B: “Do it!”
Player A: “Ok, I’ll spend the Raise…”
See most of use would already do that. I do it all the time. Except it usually comes in the form of spending a hero point, or a benny, or allowing Player B to make a difficult roll on the fly. 7th Sea v2 just now puts an economy to it: a raise.
Now, I suspect it will be the dice probabilities that will cause 7th Sea to sink or swim. Because if things are too predictable then the game loses that fantastic quality. I don’t like being killed by lame, but the real memories from the gaming table that last were when you made that incredible lucky roll. The sharp bell curve that results from 7th Sea v2’s mechanic really minimizes the chances of those sorts of moments. And if it feels that way at the table, that players are just going through the motions, it’ll have an impact.
But there is a big difference between what you see on the page and how it plays at the table. Just ask any Savage Worlds player with a d4 in a skill.