The (Actual) Play is the Thing

So today we are going to talk about 7th Sea Actual Plays, both video and podcast.  APs are suddenly big news, and no surprise why.  They let you get a taste of a new RPG without ever leaving the comfort of your home.  Critical Role alone is being credited with a surge in DnD’s popularity lately.  I can’t say I’ve watched more than a few minutes of it, but I can certainly understand the appeal and recognize the potential both as a gateway into the RPG hobby and as a teaching vehicle for fledgling GMs.

WARNING: This is going to be something of a rant.  If you just want some links, you can skip to the bottom and come back and read later.

The other day, after a friend and I had browsed Twitch’s catalog of Roll20 and DnD programming, I browsed youtube for new 7th Sea APs.  When I stumbled across Die Party: Dead Man’s Crest, I hoped I’d finally stumbled across something worth my time.  Alas, I discovered pretty quickly thereafter that that group had given up on 7th Sea in frustration and converted the whole storyline over to Savage Worlds.  More on that some other time, but suffice to say it left me feeling very irritated and frustrated.  Because despite quite a few 7th Sea APs out there, very few of them have given me much worth listening to.

When I ran my Teen Library program, I’d often get wallflowers who were hesitant to jump in and play.  I’d tell them that WATCHING people play a roleplaying game is probably among the most boring exercises I can imagine.  I’d always try to give them some role to play in the game, whether it was granting bennies or rolling for the monsters.  Now, part of that is because I wanted to motivate people to get some skin in the game, but I do truly believe that watching other people roleplay is damn tedious and dull.  Unless you have a stake in it (like watching people play an adventure you’ve written or playtest your game) its about as sleep inducing as NyQuil.  So personally, I really don’t get people who watch these things for recreation.  No biggie, I don’t get people who play MMOs solely to craft, either.  You be you!  But when I picked up 7th Sea, I did start seeking out APs.  This time I had a stake in it – the 7th Sea 2nd ed system is way outside my comfort zone as a GM, so I wanted to see what people were doing with it to wrap my brain around it.

But that’s the thing: I don’t give a rip about your story.  I don’t care about your witty banter or your Monty Python jokes.  I’m here for one thing: to see how your GM runs the game.  When I was a kid watching baseball with my dad, he would tell me to always watch the catcher, because he is the heart of the game.  (My dad was a catcher in the minor leagues and even auditioned for the majors before he settled on becoming a doctor, so you can understand his biases).  That’s sort of how I approach APs – it doesn’t matter what the players are doing, I’m here to watch/listen to the GM.  I’m here to learn and I’m taking notes.  It’s okay if you get it wrong – I’m still learning from you.

But more often than not, I come up against two big issues: either the show desperately needs an editor to cut the useless chatter and dead air (Happy Jacks AP, I’m looking at you here!) or the GM can’t really be bothered to learn the system and just phones it in, counting on the interplay between the players (and all those things I listed above that I just could care less about) to carry the show.

Man, listening to that Die Party episode epitomized the worst of all of these.  Not only was the GM guilty of some of the worst practices out there (the players begin marooned on a deserted, featureless island with an unreachable destination lingering in the background – tell me if you’ve heard that one before), but also other than recognizing aspects of the system, it didn’t even seem like they were using the game setting (at least, not that I could recognize).  So about 30 minutes into it, I turned it off in disgust and jumped to the episode where they announced the switch.

Yeah, not surprised about that.

In the least.

Maybe it was a bad turn.  I don’t know.  I’m not going to waste time sifting through the back catalog to find out.

AVAST YE!

So having bitched about a handful of APs that could just a haircut and a case of JOLT COLA, let’s talk about a couple of 7th Sea APs that deliver the goods from this GM’s perspective.  That is, they are not only enjoyable to listen to, but you actually learn something from them.

Essential NPCs (7th Sea Episodes) – this is a relatively new series (though not a new podcast), that is really delivers.  The GM, Addie Gia, proves she has chops and a good grasp of what makes the system work.  Each episode begins with GM reflections on the previous episode, which is just delicious gravy for someone like me.

Tabletop Potluck (7th Sea, episode 1) – a new AP podcast, interesting as much for the makeup of the cast (a majority of the players are women) as it is the gimmick.  Even inexperience with 7th Sea, they made a good faith effort to put it through its paces.

Tabletop Radio Hour (Flash, Bash, and Panache, Episode 1)  – honorable mention because they were the first to devote a long series of episodes to the game.  However, they are often guilty of just leaning on player interaction to carry the day and often use the game system as an occasional prop.  But there are some gems in the mix, so they get points for that.  Plus, very little dead air or prattling on.

HEAVE TO!

Geek and Sundry Starter Kit Season 2 on Geek and Sundry’s Project Alpha deserves special mention here.  Despite the fact that it’s locked behind a paywall, it’s 6 episodes of 7th Sea 2nd edition.  Run by John Wick.  If you check the time, this amounts to watching John Wick, the guy who wrote the damn game, run a 4 hour demo session.  Great production value, great editing (again, no dead air or useless witty banter – it moves, FAST!), and know what? John Wick is a damn fine GM.  But in this case, he plays fast and loose with the rules.  A lot!  So while this show is required viewing for 7th Sea GMs of any experience level and worth navigating the paywall (thirty day free trial, baby!), from this GM’s perspective, it’s more a master class in GMing than a master class in running 7th Sea.  Should you watch?  Hell yeah!  And you’ll learn a lot, too.  But at some point, you’re gonna start to wonder why villains cause a Dramatic Wound each time they spend a Raise.  Word to the wise.

WALK THE PLANK!

Because I’m a completist, and because I realize that not everyone has my sense of taste (for whatever that’s worth), here’s the part where I list a bunch of links to various 7th Sea APs that I’ve devoted time to listening or watching.

Play Better Podcast (7th Sea, Episode 1)

Tabletop Radio Hour (Glory and Fame, Episode 1)

Fumbling and Mumbling (7th Sea Quick Start, Episode 1)

The Drunk and the Ugly (The Ballad of the Fantoma Reine, Episode 1)

Talking Table Top (Interviews, not Actual Plays) These interviews were done around the time the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter was going on and reveal a lot about the aspects of the system, though not a lot of how those mechanics really work in play.

7th Sea: Let’s Play (Episode #0: Prologue/Story Building) This one has a pretty long run, 25 episodes though most range from 15-20 minutes in length.  I haven’t listened to enough of it to really speak for how good it is.

7th Sea – Swashbuckling RPG with GM David Crennen (Episode 1?Crennen did an interview with John Wick that was released prior to this AP.  Based on that, I was disappointed with the scope of this AP.

7th Sea: The Search for La Liberteria (Episode 1: Blind-Shot)

Epilogue: Witch Hunter: The Invisible World

Yeah, I wish I could supply a list of WH actual plays.  But unless you speak Polish, you’re SOL.  Sorry.  But hey, if you have one, let me know!  I’ll shout it from the rooftops.

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2 thoughts on “The (Actual) Play is the Thing

  1. Søren Hjorth

    *The Terrible Warriors* did a four-part episode on 7thSea2E, where they managed to do some pretty amazing things.
    https://www.terriblewarriors.com/7th-sea/

    They got both a decent system understanding, as well as a pretty good insight in the world itself.
    And the characters are amazing, ranging from an Eisen Actor/Prettyboy, a Castille would-be hero, a Montaignoise Sorcier Spy as well as a Castillan John Wick-expy named José Wick.

    Like

    Reply

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