So last weekend the stars aligned, the planets converged, dogs and cats made peace, and I found myself with a kid’s free/spouse free weekend. While marveling at this mythical unicorn that had walked into my life, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to test out the new 7th Sea game. So I contacted the folks who had been part of my old grad school group – they all live in Denton about 1 hour north of me – and nearly everyone was game and excited to try it out. In the end, we had four players, only one of whom was not part of that original group.
I put it to them what sort of adventure they wanted to see while brainstorming ideas on my end. I had a nearly finished concept when one of them said, “SHIP STUFF!” This was followed by a chorus of “pirates!” and “buried treasure!” So I scrapped what I’d been working on and started fresh. Its a hazard of the job.
After more brainstorming (over about 16 hours of driving – no one said unicorns come easy), I had what I figured was a serviceable outline for an adventure. I sat down and sketched it out over 4 pages, making sure to add in potential consequences, opportunities, anything I might need to fill in the gaps. No time to make characters, so I told everyone to bring a character sheet and some ideas.
After more driving, happy reunions, and a play of fresh brownies, we were ready to get started.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I didn’t come here to listen to you gab about your weekend or your college friends. Get to the…wait, brownies?
Psh, some college reunion. Well this got boring real quick. Ok, get to the point!
Ok, I need to say all that to stress that the circumstances of play may well color my review. This is the first face-to-face tabletop game I’ve run in over 3 years, with some people I haven’t seen in nearly that long or longer, with no guilt attached. I mean, we could have been playing RIFTS and it would have been…ok, I won’t go that far. But just keep that in mind if you need a grain of salt to go with this review.
Ok, so I can report back that if the point of the new 7th Sea is to let you create a character that brings the awesome, it succeeds. It took a bit of encouragement as the players gradually started testing out their freedoms, like deer stepping into a green meadow. But once they got rolling, things really picked up. It didn’t feel terribly different than most game sessions I’ve run, but there was a certain liberty to the player’s actions that felt refreshing.
Character creation took about an hour with four people on laptops, tablets and phones. We skipped the whole Story stage, and used random generation (d20 roll) for the heroes’ arcana which worked out marvelously – I highly recommend that and will probably do that in a regular game.
We opened up on an Action Scene, which was both good and bad. Good because it put the players immediately in the action. Bad because the drama of the scene suffered a bit from everyone scrambling around figuring out how the game worked. But that’s OK, it was a two round action sequence and right off the bat people started trying to go outside the box and learn how the game accommodated that. The thing that took the most getting used to: sequence of actions based on raises. Everyone wanted to spend all their raises on their actions at once. It took a bit of corralling to get everyone to settle down to the one action at a time business. I quickly developed something of a shorthand method of tracking spent raises and some tricks to handle some special abilities. I suggest every GM go out and get yourself a small white board and some fine point dry erase markers. It’s going to make play SO much easier to manage.
Where we fell into the groove of action scenes rather quickly, Risks felt less comfortable. And not because of having to come up with Consequences. That turned out to be the easy part. Spending a raise to accomplish their intent on top of averting consequences took a bit of policing. But one thing that popped up that I didn’t expect was how to judge the quality of success on an action that isn’t a Risk. In most games, you have 2 or three degrees of success for a roll. But with 7th Sea, if it isn’t a Risk, you don’t have to roll. So there isn’t that chance of doing something with a high degree of success. The players fell into the old habit of rolling and counting raises towards the task even though it wasn’t technically a Risk. This is something we are going to have to address in our games I feel.
Brute Squad Fights
These were just fun. I don’t have to roll a thing, just tell the players what they are dealing with and let them go. Again, a small white board would make tracking this stuff so easy. The duelist player commented on how potentially deep the duelist maneuvers could be, once you really start strategizing them. Players quickly took to spending Hero Points on each other, intervening to protect their companions from harm, and using their abilities to rack up Hero Points. It occurs to me that I’m going to have to work hard to soak up a lot of these Hero Points because the game makes it very easy to get them. I don’t think it really made the heroes more powerful, but when I see the player next to me sitting on six hero points, I start thinking of them as a big safety net.
Creating Opportunities for the other players was perhaps one of the biggest conceptual hurdles the players faced. They were good for assisting each other with Hero Points or spending Raises to soak wounds. But when it came to Opportunities, I really had to coax them along. The scene went something like this:
Me: “Ok Chris, you have one raise left. You can just leave it, OR you can create an Opportunity for someone else.”
Chris: “Can I do it for myself?”
Me: “No, only another player.”
Chris (to another player): “Keith, you’re looking for fresh food and water, right?”
Keith: “That’s right.”
Chris: “Ok, I spend my raise to help him find it.”
Me: “He’s already spent a raise to do that, so he’s found fresh fruit. And there is plenty of water.”
Me: “It doesn’t HAVE to be related to what he’s doing, you know. It could be something completely different. What do YOU want him to find?”
Chris (the wheels turn for a few seconds and suddenly): “Ok, Keith. You find a MAP…to TREASURE!”
Me: “Now we’re talking.”
I believe that was the only Opportunity created for the whole night. I suspect people are either going to GET the concept of Opportunities and go nuts, or are going to be slow to get there like these players were. I say they were slow, that’s probably not the best way to describe it. It’s just that creating elements inside the story that don’t serve the immediate needs of the Hero is a bit alien to them at this point.
So over a four hour game session, the players created characters and explored 2/3rds of an uncharted island in the Numanari Approach. It even ended on something of a cliffhanger. Not a bad night’s work. Everyone was very enthusiastic about the system and is ready to play again, so we’re going to have to play out the exciting conclusion before summer ends.
I really enjoyed it. Play was very simple with LOTS of encouragement for heroic roleplaying. The game really supports this well. It’s not about the rolls or how easy it is to succeed at something. Things felt fast and easy to manage, particularly combat. In fact, I’d put it up there with B/X D&D level of simplicity, with plenty of flexibility within that framework for players to do things other than say, “I attack!” (though there was some of that – this being the first game session and all). I think the longest fight may have lasted three rounds and 10 minutes of play. And yes, people did take a few dramatic wounds – combat isn’t a cakewalk (though it isn’t gritty by a long shot).
Expressing consequences didn’t eat up nearly as much time as I feared it might. Though granted, the players were working in a confined environment with plenty of incentive not to go wandering off (the red apes were just nasty enough that no one wanted to tangle with them if they didn’t have to). No one felt the dice rolling was superfluous, and by the end of the game it became the hunt for bonus dice that became a real feature. I held most of the Risks to 2-3 consequences and that seemed to eat up most of the raises outside of combat.
From a GM perspective, here are the tools you are going to need to run a bang-up game of 7th Sea:
- A small dry erase board for keeping track of (spent) raises during action and dramatic scenes is crucial and needs to be part of your toolbox.
- Multiple sets of colored beads for tracking hero points, danger points, wounds, and a vary of other resources.
- Some different colored d10s to represent certain bonus dice will be helpful.
Obviously I’m going to have to play it a lot more get a better view of the warts, but even at this stage the rules feel light and malleable enough that I can’t imagine anything being terribly broken. There was some table talk about exploiting the death spiral, but the key to managing that I believe lies in judicious management of scenes. Sometimes the scene shouldn’t end just because the action has ended.
Oh, and everyone still wants their dice to explode.
I think it’s safe to say the game succeeds at what it sets out to do. Now that it’s in the wild, I’m really eager to see how far people are going to push it!