Category Archives: 7th Sea

Dungeoncrawls in 7th Sea

This started out as a response to Matt Wandcow’s post on the 7th Sea Reddit where he was gracious enough to convey his experience with running a “dungeon adventure” in 7th Sea 2nd edition.  The most I wrote, the more I realized that this really belonged on the blog.  So hang on tight!  It’s going to be a bumpy, slightly disjointed ride.  I’m sure someone is going to disagree with me.  I may disagree with me in a couple of months.  But as of right now, this very moment, here are my (barely coherent) thoughts on how to run a satisfying dungeon adventure with the 7th Sea game system.

Let’s be clear—all of this is just theory.  I haven’t run a 7th Sea styled dungeon crawl, though I have outlined one.  So treat this like everything else you read on the internet: with extreme skepticism!  Be prepared to discard or modify things that don’t work.  And when you do, don’t hesitate to post about it in the comments section.

First, let’s make sure we define what a “dungeon” is.  A “dungeon” is a closed (or self-contained) adventure environment with limited entrance/exit points. 

Traditional D&D-style dungeons do not work well in 7th Sea.  7th Sea really shines as a “scene-driven” game, where the players jump from scene to scene as opposed to moving methodically through a pre-planned labyrinth.  In fact, much as was stated in that oft-derided passage from the Vatican City sourcebook, a 7th Sea dungeon may work better WITHOUT a map.  (::gasp::shock:: swoon::) 

Instead, a 7th Sea dungeon is built on the follow two foundations: zones and set pieces.

  • A zone is an area of a dungeon tied together by a theme of some sort.  In old school dungeon design terms, a zone is kind of like a dungeon “level”.  The theme could be a monster, a feature, or a hazard.  The haunted mines could be a zone, as could the lava vents, or the eldritch machines.  Likewise, the kobold warrens or the troll lair could also be a zone.
  • A set piece is a big ticket feature, room, encounter, risk, or challenge in the zone.  The Throne Room of Asmodeus could be a set piece. 

Set Pieces exist within zones, but not all zones need to have a set piece.  A zone without a set piece is a good candidate for a Dramatic Sequence or a Hazard, as it is likely meant as an obstacle that must be passed through to get from one Zone to another.

Note: if you have been using Fate-style zones in play already, the use of zones here may lead to confusion.  In that case, simply substitute a similar word (sector, region, node, etc) and run with it. 

The 5 Room Dungeon

A good resource for set pieces is to have a look at the 5-Room Dungeon model.  The five room dungeon is made up of combinations of the same five components:

  1. entrance (guardian)
  2. puzzle/roleplaying challenge
  3. trick or setback
  4. climax
  5. reward/revelation

Each of these components make ideal set piece models.  In fact, each zone could be considered a single 5-Room Dungeon, with each “room” being a standout scene that can occur within.  This shouldn’t be taken as a hard and fast rule, there are always exceptions.  But if you are desperate for a model to hang these concepts on, you can do a lot worse.

It it helps, it might be worth thinking in terms of the Encounters outlined in Green Ronin’s AGE books — there are three types of encounters: combat, roleplaying, and exploration (or combinations of the three).

Exploration

One of Matt’s initial concerns was which skills interact with dungeon exploration.  This is faulty thinking in my opinion.  The real question is not “how do the players use skills to navigate the dungeon,” but “how do the players use skills to circumvent the Risks they encounter while navigating the dungeon.”  After all, O/A/BXD&D had only a handful of inferred skills (open doors, find secret door, etc.) for exploring dungeons.  The characters were assumed to have a certain level of competency for such things, as are 7th Sea heroes.

Players get to decide how they want to apply their skills and traits (their Approach), so the GM really doesn’t have to concern himself with such things.

In D&D and similar FRPGs, the players would carefully explore the twisting labyrinth between set piece encounters.  In 7th Sea, I would suggest letting the players give shape to this connective tissue.  This is where Hazards come in.

Hazards

Hazards share a lot in common with Dungeon World’s dungeon moves, so let’s treat them that way.  A zone can be a Hazard and thus work to thwart the heroes.  It can spend raises to activate elements or to pressure the group to go astray.  If Dark Things lurk in the zone, you should set a clock to forecast their arrival.  And when they arrive, it should trigger a set piece encounter.  In many cases, it should be the players’ goal to reach the set piece before time runs out—if they don’t, the set piece becomes considerably more challenging.  This gives them an incentive to keep moving.

All of this could be handled as an action sequence (a running fight against those lurking things, or running a gauntlet of traps), a dramatic sequence (a countdown before something terrible happens), or even a chase sequence (if time is of paramount essence).  The Dramatic Sequence is probably most accurately replicates that “old school dungeon” feel, but each method has its advantages. 

The Mountains of Madness

This HP Lovecraft story involves the protagonists making their way through a vast, primordial “dungeon” beneath the frozen surface of Antarctica.  The ruins of Moria in Fellowship of the Ring also feels like this.  It’s really just a big travel montage when you break it down.  Nothing really happens beyond bucket loads of descriptive text thrown at the reader. This will probably be less satisfying for the players, but may feel appropriate to set the tone for particularly alien environments.  If you want to replicate this “mountains of madness” fee, there are three ways to do it:

  • establish the scene, then ask each of the players to describe one strange sight or occurrence.  This gives the players some agency and keeps the scene from becoming one massive scene of boxed text.
  • establish the scene and just let the players wander.  Embrace your inner boxed text writer.  Own it.  Throw in an occasional Risk to keep things interesting for the players.
  • Establish the scene and set a clock (at least 1 for each player—4 or 5 steps should do).  Let the players wander around.  Each time they ask a question or establish a detail, tick one step off the clock.  When the clock runs out, it triggers a set piece. 

Use this approach sparingly.  If you are using a dungeon with multiple zones, for instance, you might just use this method on the entrance zone.

Traps

As gamers, many of us have become conditioned to think of traps in terms of D&D.  A concealed pit trap here, a poisoned dart trap there, a falling portcullis, you get the idea.  In D&D, these isolated traps are meant to slowly drain the party’s resources (HP, spells, hirelings, equipment).  These sorts of traps do not work in 7th Sea.  So don’t even bother with it.

Traps in 7th Sea should come in three forms: obstacles (risks), grand death traps (hazards as villains), and complications (the room is on fire!).

  • Obstacles: obstacles are simply a risk that must be circumvented or navigated to get from one location to the next.  These should be treated as a simple Group Risk.  They should cause enough wounds to give them teeth (2-5 per hero) and a few related consequences and opportunities to keep the choices interesting.
  • Grand Death Traps: unleash your inner James Bond villain here.  A death trap should always be a hazard, but the encounter should be played out as an action sequence.  Think the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The Death Trap is triggered when the idol is stolen, followed by an action sequence where Indy has to run a gauntlet of smaller traps to avoid being crushed by a giant boulder.  Death traps are intricate, multi-part devices that fill entire rooms, halls, even zones.  A death trap is ALWAYS a set piece.
  • Complications: These traps work in tandem with another adversary in an action sequence.  A good example of this is the conveyor belt seen in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, where the heroes are fighting flying adversaries while dealing with the pitfalls of traveling on a moving conveyor belt.  While these traps can be treated as hazards, they can also simply be a collection of consequences (or group consequences).

Disarming Traps

Another fallacy that has come from modern incarnations of D&D is that all traps may be disarmed somehow.  This is simply wrong.  In fact, there is evidence that in the earliest form of the D&D game, the only traps that were meant to be disarmed were treasure traps (there is a poison needle in the lock).  Other traps (pits, snares, etc.) could be avoided but not disarmed.  In 7th Sea, disarming a trap should ALWAYS be a group opportunity, and available only where it makes sense or if you are feeling particularly generous.  As the GM, you have the option of saying “no, but…”

But Aren’t Traps Hazards?

The answer is no. 7th Sea actually distinguishes between Hazards (The New World) and Traps (Vaticine City).  Of course, both of them work almost the same way.  But you can choose between them in terms of what is a better fit for the scene.  Traps make for better Obstacles and simple Risks while Hazards make better Death Traps.  Either one can be used to generate Complications in a scene.  It really depends on how much flexibility you want as a GM.

Monsters

Another complaint of Matt’s is that Théah is a 99% human world, which makes it difficult to set up a Keep on the Borderlands-style dungeon adventure.  I would argue this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Granted, D&D is full of tiered monsters designed to challenge PCs from level 1-14/20/36/??, which 7th Sea doesn’t need.  But monsters (and we’re talking weird Clarke Aston Smith-style monsters) have always been part of the setting.  And not just weird folklore monsters (faeries, djinn, oni) but weird science fantasy ones too (Thalusi, et al.).  Here’s the thing, don’t follow the eco-diversity model of D&D when making your weird dungeons.  Get weird, subvert tropes, add color and surprises.

In 7th Sea, the Caves of Chaos could potentially be found pretty much anywhere in Théah.  The themes of the region simply add color.  In Avalon, you have to deal with the politics of the sidhe, who might not take kindly to you wiping out an enclave of the unseelie host.  In Eisen, this ravaging horde takes on a more horrific quality.  In the Commonwealth, the cult of chaos could be a cabal of rogue Losejai and the monsters a sort of weird, sub-demonic host.  Truth is, almost every region of europe has its own folklore about goblins, kobolds, and dangerous fey.  A half hour of research online should net you plenty of redressing possibilities.

A word of warning: 7th Sea isn’t meant to be D&D.  So if you start littering the countryside with dungeon crawls, don’t come complaining to me when your game goes off the rails. 

Treasure

Monetary treasure can be helpful in 7th Sea, but it’s not a focus of play.  So the purpose of your dungeon adventure shouldn’t hinge on it (unless your heroes are all pirates!).  So here again, we need to unlearn what we have learned from generations of D&D play and go back to the pulps that inspired it.  In the pulps, these sorts of adventures usually culminate in a single, massive horde, or the search for a particular treasure (the crown jewels, or a chest of cursed aztec gold).  So think big.  Tie the players stories into these treasures.  Send them on recovery missions for patrons and secret societies, not as rogue freebooters who are out for themselves (unless, again, they are pirates!).

Here’s a thought: borrow a page from Barbarians of Lemuria.  In that RPG, treasure is simply a means to earn experience.  After an adventure, the players take turns explaining how they spent their share of the treasure, and that nets them experience for advancing their characters.  You could easily do the same thing with 7th Sea.  If treasure hunting IS the point of the adventure, require each player to describe how she spends her share as the final step in their Story.  OR offer up a handful of strange, exotic treasures as keystones for new, short stories (1-2 Steps only unless a player has something bigger in mind for a reward).  Earthdawn is another good source of inspiration here: where each treasure has new powers that need to be studied and explored to be unlocked

Stories Hooks

The real magic to running a successful dungeon in 7th Sea are stories.  Tie the factions, villains, and treasures into the players’ character stories.  Give them a reason to be there, to find someone or something, to prevent an event, or stop a villain for completing a scheme.  Don’t just drop a bunch of goblins in the middle of the forest and expect greatness.  Stories (and Story Steps) are the real currency of the real when it comes to 7th Sea, so give your players a reason to invest in the adventure.

For good examples of tying your dungeon environment into your players stories, look to the Vaticine City sourcebook.  The lists on page 3-5 are pure gold and easily repurposed to this effort.

In Closing

So there you have it, my recipe for running successful “dungeon” adventures with the 7th Sea rules.  Perfect for syrneth dig sites, Montaigne catacombs, extensive Sarmatian cave systems, and lost cities in Aztlan.  Be flexible, and be prepared to experiment and improvise—not everything I’ve recommended is going to work, and some of it is going to require fine tuning.  As of this writing, there are very few published models of what can be considered dungeon crawls in the 7th Sea sense.  Until we get a few of those, its really hard to say what works and what doesn’t.  But don’t let that stand in your way!

And be sure to report in the comments what works and what doesn’t.  I’m eager to hear about it.

Resources and Inspiration

6 Methods for Making Dungeons More Interesting (Roleplaying Tips)

The Nine Forms of the Five Room Dungeon (Gnome Stew)

How Making Up A Dungeon On The Fly Is As Simple As Counting To 5 (Nerds on Earth)

Crawling without Hexes (Hill Cantons)

Pointcrawl Series Index (Hill Cantons)

Encounters vs Scenes (What’s He On About Now?)

Dungeons in FATE: Scenes and Scenarios (RPG Stuff)

Node-based Dungeon Design (The Alexandrian)

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Episode Recap: Good Knight

Our Heroes are…

  • Edward Kenway, Son of Avalon and Captain of the Jackdaw
  • Carmena Elena de Ibarra de la Luz, disgraced Castillian Naval officer and bosun of the Jackdaw
  • Milaria Beaufort, Knight Arrant of Avalon and loyal servant of Queen Elaine
  • Sebastian Valmont, wayward Montaignese aristocrat and porté mage
  • Modestas Radvilas Kelrus (Mohai), Sarmatian Expatriate and former Dragoman to the court of the Empress of the Crescent Moon.

(Captain Kenway, Carmena, and Mohai are absent tonight)

Tonight’s Spotlight Hero is…

Milaria Beaufort

Part One: Shadow of Avalon

The Three Queens tavern in La Bucca is named for the three queens of the Glamour Isles: Elaine, Titania, and Mab.  For many wayward Avalonians, it is a glimmer of home in this forsaken place.  The tavern is known for its briny stews, spicy sausages, and its barrels of ale imported from the Glamour Isles (but mostly Inishmore).  A crowd of jovial displace Avalonians can usually be found here, singing merrily along to the traditional songs of their homeland played lovingly by Candice and Richard, two minstrels who never found their way off the island.

This is why Milaria Beaufort, Knight Errant of Avalon and Queen Elaine’s Champion, has grown to love this place so much since she came to the Pirate Republic.

But tonight is different.  Tonight, most of the local patrons have fled as a gang of raucous, carousing Maghrebis have settled in.  They are no fans of the music or the musicians, but the spirits and stew seem to be to their liking.

Milaria and Sebastian Valmont sit in their cups, doing their best to ignore the obnoxious carrying on of these foreign pirates when a young, wide-eyed man in official looking dress stumbles through the front door.  He quickly surveys the room and, spying Milaria, clumsily smiles and hastens to her table.

As the young man approaches, Milaria’s eye wanders to a table set in the back corner of the bar.  A table that is always reserved for an honored guest who never comes.  But tonight, a man sits there.  Tall, broad-shouldered, with shaggy gray hair and an unkept beard.  His piercing blue eyes do not shy away when Milaria’s meet them.

The young envoy is clueless of this exchange.  He tells Milaria that Ambassador Zorita wishes to meet with her about her…problem.  Tomorrow morning, in the embassy gardens, after morning prayers.

Milaria listens, but watches the old man.  She says she will meet with the ambassador and gives the young man leave of the place.

One of the Maghrebi turns and sizes up Sebastian, then turns and makes a rude remark about the Montaignese man’s breeding and his mother to his companions.  He thinks Sebastian could not possibly understand but he is wrong.  Immediately, Sebastian’s blood runs hot.  He stands and returns the insult.  Immediately, half the pirates are on their feet, including a massive man with a large cutlass and a whip at his side.

Milaria quickly looks back to the table, but the old man is gone.

Steel is drawn.  Milaria moves to protect Candice and Richard and tells them to go fetch the proprietress! Sebastian takes to his work with glee and satisfaction.  The pirates fall before him, all but the big man with the whip.  Skilled in the Mantovani style of Vodacce, the big pirate makes the fight interesting.

As Milaria confronts her share of the pirates, the old shaggy man reappears.  He clubs two pirates heads together, gives her a wink, and is gone.

When Myrna Byrne, all 100 pounds of her, bursts furiously through the kitchen doors brandishing her cudgel, the battle is already won.  The big pirate, now sporting a wicked “SV” slashed across his chest, is carried away by his companions.  Sebastian has claimed his whip, a nice one of Vodacce make, as his own.  One last straggler stops at the door to tell the heroes in broken Avalonian: “Your Queen will soon know the taste of Maghrebi steel!  A thousand ship will be launched against her!”

His soliloquy is cut short by a sharp crack of the whip by Sebastian.

“If that lot is any indication,” Myrna chuckles, “I’ll sleep like a babe.  I’ll take one Jeremiah Berek for every hundred of those devils!”

Milaria scans the tavern for the old man, but he is nowhere to be seen.

“What man?  What are you talking about,” Sebastian says.  “That table has been empty all night.  Are you sure you’re okay?”  Indeed, no one seems to remember seeing a man matching Milaria’s description.  Tonight, or ever.

“That table,” Myrna says, “is reserved for the O’Bannon, should he ever wander to these shores to grace us with his presence.  Only he may sit there.”

“Remind me. What does the O’Bannon look like?” Milaria says.

Part Two: The More You Know

Milaria is walking through a dense tropical forest.  It is night.  Stars peek out from breaks in the canopy above.  In the distance, a voice is chanting.  Derwyddon, certainly, but his words are too distant to be known.

A thin trail winds through the foliage, leading to…a small clearing.  At the far side of it is a massive tree, about which is set a small, ramshackle cottage.  Firelight glimmers from within.  Milaria knows something terrible lives there.  And yet, she approaches the door.  Something moves within.  She touches the door and it swings open, revealing the stern face of Godric, the Pious.

Milaria sits upright in her bed.  She is soaked with sweat.  Outside the window, the first lights of dawn are spreading out across the harbor.

She remembers her dream perfectly.  Every detail.

* * *

The surgeon of the Jackdaw, a big Ussuran man named Deiman Ruikov, introduces Sebastian to two of the luminaries of La Bucca: Wynne Lynch, a Natural Philosopher, and Doctor Carlos Matez, a Castillain Boticario.  Sebastian hopes these two men can shed some light on the bottle of Falisci wine that was connected to the massacre aboard the Jackdaw some weeks back.

Unfortunately, the two men can agree on nothing, leaving Sebastian to wonder if some unorthodox form of sorcery has been employed.  To that, Josette, Lynch’s young assistant, suggests the duelist seek out Nazaret, a Castillian witch who lives in the Jenny’s Jungle near the old Syrneth ruins.  “She knows many things that are unnatural,” Josette confides.  “Bring her a gift.  Something pretty.”

* * *

Milaria is waiting in the gardens of the Castillian Embassy when the chapel bells begin to chime.  The congregation emerges ahead of the Ambassador.  Zorita smiles when he spies Milaria.  He introduces her to his chaplain Narciso Saravia.

“Tell me senorita,” Saravia says to Milaria, “are you among the faithful?”

“I serve Avalon and her church faithfully, if that is what you mean,” Milaria answers.

“Alas, but then our faith only ever reveals part of the whole.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Actually,” she responds, “I think faith can reveal the full measure of anyone.”

Zorita indicates it is time for the chaplain to leave, that he would speak with Milaria in private.  Saravia smiles and nods, then says to the Knight Errant, “remember, Theus loves all of us, even his lost sheep.”  Then he turns and walks back towards the chapel.

Sure they are alone, the Ambassador turns excitedly to Milaria.  “I have news,” he says. “Does the name, Baca Salazar, have any meaning to you?”  Milaria recognizes this as the name of a Castillian spy she met in Horchillo, before she and the heroes discovered that they were being played by agents of the Montaigne to perpetuate hostilities between that country and Castille.

Zorita tells her that trusted confidants from Castille have confirmed that Senior Salazar, an agent of the Atabean Trading Company, has been hosting meetings between Castillian dignitaries and certain, less reputable captains of the Maghreb.  While the details are still somewhat vague, the Ambassador tells Milaria that he has arranged a dinner meeting with an old friend who he believes can shed more light on this arrangement.  He asks her to meet him again, in the gardens, on the morrow after morning prayers.

“I hope this begins to make up for the trouble that befell you and your companions in Horchillo,” Zorita says.  “I have not forgiven myself for the part I played in putting your lives at risk.  Please tell Carmena that I hope to make things right by this.”

“Are you sure this place is safe to talk,” she asks him.

“I do not know,” he replies, “but certainly we can see anyone who might seek to listen in, don’t you think?”

Milaria agrees to meet again and the two part ways.

In the darkened shadow of the open chapel, Saravia watchs the two of them.  His eyes narrow, his mouth tight.  Knowing what must be done, he slowly closes the door.

Part Three: The Witch of La Bucca

Sebastian decides to pay a visit to Nazaret, the witch Josette told him about.  He has purchased a fine, silver mirror, tastefully encrusted with precious gems, as a gift for her services.  Together, he and Milaria set off from Sunset Haven into the Jenny’s Jungle to find her abode.

Despite a few mishaps along the way, the pair find their way through the thick jungle thanks in no small part to recollections from Milaria’s dream.  And there it was, a ramshackled, disjointed cottage at the base of a massive tree in a clearing.  The sun is low against the jungle canopy and a light flickers in the window of the cottage.  Milaria is about to touch the door when it swings open, revealing a tall, lean woman with black hair.  She smiles warmly, revealing half her face slack from palsy.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she says.  “Come in.”

Sebastian gives her the mirror and she tucks it away.  He beings produces a sample of the wine and the bottle as well, upon request.  Nazaret sticks a finger in the mouth of the bottle and sample a taste of the residue therein and spits it out on the floor.  She knows.  She knows about the demon hidden away within the vessel.  She knows its taste for blood and memory.  But these are not the things she wants to talk about.  She wants to talk about Milaria.  About the knight’s mantle she wears.  About the power residing within her — sorcerous power as old as legend.  Pure.  Intoxicating.

When Milaria expresses her desire to protect Avalon, she sees her opportunity.

“I can give you everything you need to protect your homeland from these foreign invaders,” she tells the Knight Errant.  She can.  But there is a price.  An unspoken price.  A price Milaria seems yet willing to pay.  Nazaret produces a small knife from her robes.

The sound of trees scratching at the walls of the cottage seems to punctuate the moment.

“A price must be paid willingly,” she says.  Foolish child.

Milaria takes the knife and looks to Sebastian.

“Where I am from,” he says, “blood must be paid.” Yes, blood.  And so much more, fools!

Milaria takes the blade of the knife and presses it tight to the flesh of her arm.

“I will do anything to protect Avalon,” she says, reassuring herself.

The witch’s eyes grow wide  She is so close.

The door to the cottage explodes open suddenly and a shaggy, lean, gray haired man bursts into the room.

“Don’t do it!” he shouts!

To be continued…

Expertimentation

failure

This last session of 7th Sea was marked by two experiments I wanted to try out.  I had no idea how well either of them would work.  Turns out neither of them worked out nearly as well as I’d hoped, but both provided a learning opportunity for me.  Post-game/post-morning shower reflections revealed a lot (as they are want to do).  So rather than share the usual episode recap with you this week, I thought I’d share the results of these experiments instead.

Run Riot!

The opening scene involved the Heroes at the heart of a massive riot in La Bucca.  But how do you create that sort of epic narrative in a way that doesn’t turn into just a big melee encounter?

I ran a few of the ideas past one of my co-conspirators, Kevin Krupp, how provided some excellent feedback – only some of which I could really grasp.  You see, Kevin is very well versed in narrative RPGs.  So when I told him what I was trying to do, he immediately took it to 11 where I was really only comfortable taking it to..seven, maybe.  In the end, it was only kinda successful.

Here’s how it played out:

The scene opened in the Yellow Fin Tavern with Captain Kenway sitting in Allende’s office.  Among the stacks of papers, scrolls, and charts on her desk was a local broadsheet, the Albatross, with a headline about grift and corruption in the Scale (one of the city’s government chapters).

I asked Chris, Kenway’s player, who was in the office with him.  Naturally, he named both of the two other players at the table.  Good.  We don’t have to split the party.

Behind the closed office door, they hear a door slam.  Heavy footsteps, followed by shouting in another room.  Two women.  The voices grow louder as they approach the office door.  Allende throws open the door, her fury evident even with her mask.  She throws a fresh copy of the Albatross at Captain Ed and demands, “Can you explain this?” The headline reads: Presidential reelection festivities spark riot!.

The scene then jumps back hours earlier, to mid morning, with Kenway and the other Heroes among a small crowd in front of the Betting Barnacle.  The new owner, an old rival of Kenway’s named Matthew Hague, is preparing a pre-election victory party for Allende and rechristening the place the Fancy Lad (much to the chagrin of its old patrons who no longer feel welcome).  Hague sees Kenway in the crowd and makes some mocking overtures to his “friend,” which immediately puts the Captain in a bad light among the other old patrons.  Couple that with a gang of bravos from a local duelist academy sizing up Carmena and Sebastian (both duelists) and a bunch of Allende supporters who know Kenway to be supporting the other team, and you have a powder keg primed and lit.

The scene snaps back to Allende’s office.

“So what happened then?” she asks.

So here’s where things get experimental.  I had each of the players state and roll an Approach for what they would be doing in the riot.  Beyond that, I gave them carte blanche with the only instruction being: make things awesome.  In my mind, my goal was to reach the heights of the riot scene in Police Academy.  We never quite hit that mark.

I had each of them go one at a time and allowed them to spend all their raises, which in hindsight was a mistake.  Each player did better than the one before, but the whole thing lacked any real cohesive skeleton.  At the end of each turn, I asked them to “stage a challenge” for the next Hero, but that never really happened.  And so, despite feeling cool and different, it didn’t quite reach the heights I was hoping it would.

Reflection

In hindsight, I should have treated the Riot as a Hazard (see 7th Sea: The New World sourcebook), along with a threat rating and raises to spend.  Then play it out more as a traditional action sequence.

Instead of asking each player to “stage a challenge” for the next Hero at the end of their turn, I believe I should have led with that, asking each to “stage a challenge” right off the bat with the reward being a Hero Point.  The challenged player could have turned down the challenge, at the risk of adding a Danger Point to the pool.

Meanwhile, the Hazard would have been able to push its own agenda with its own raises, allowing me a more participatory roll in the melee.  This would have allowed me to help create a more cohesive structure for the Heroes stunts, making the whole thing hang together better.

Schemes

Schemes, schemes, villainous schemes!  So simple and yet, when you start overthinking them they can cause problems.

At the beginning of the game session, I laid out three “schemes” that the players could discover and disrupt this game session.  I used the Captain Wheel method outlined by Rob Donoghue on his Walking Mind blog.  So the players could see the number of steps involved, but not the nature of the scheme.

And that, dear readers, is where I failed.

The biggest problem is I set up a “Door 1, Door 2, or Door 3” scenario where none of the choices had any real weight.  They were simply these detached curiosities the players could pick up and examine before putting them back down.  So while the schemes themselves were the active operations of villains the group knows about, there was no real urgency in the choice or any real tension even once the scheme was revealed.

In our chase, Kenway’s player choice to examine scheme #3 (or the Embassy Row Riots as I was calling it behind the scene).  I set it up as a Dramatic Sequence, but since he was acting alone, it played out more like a Risk (which it should have just been dammit!).  A gang of thugs discussing plans to stage a riot on Embassy Row within a few days – paid under the table by the Magnus Skaar for President campaign – led to a quick scene where Kenway appealed to their better angels.  Decent, but not great.  And that still left 2 schemes on the table untouched and untended.

Reflections

Again, I feel the problem here is that none of these choices were ever properly grounded or created any real sense of urgency.  It occurs to me in hindsight that I may well have approached them entirely backwards.

The next time I do this, I’m going to instead lead with single detail: either the target or the tool.  This sort of follows the philosophy that Robin Law’s espouses in Gumshoe RPG: the first clue is free.  The first clue in this case is THE HOOK.  Who cares about the number of steps at this stage anyway.

So in the case of the Embassy Row Riots, a card reading Embassy Row (the target), Embassy Row Riots (target+tool), or simply Riots (tool) should have been presented.  At least that creates a sense of curiosity and urgency that “Scheme 3” decidedly does not.  Once the players have investigated the scheme and decided to do something about it, THEN reveal the clock to them.

As for whether it is a Risk or a Dramatic Sequence, that’s a numbers game.  For one player, a Risk seems to be the way to go.  It keeps the pacing fast and lets you play things out without worrying about structure.  If the investigation involves 3 or more players though, the scene will probably benefit from structure (kinda like the riots earlier) and so a Dramatic Sequence should be used.

And there you have it!

I hope you’ll forgive this article of naval gazing, experimentation, and failing forward.  I polled my players afterwards, and they all enjoyed the session.  So maybe it was just me who felt it was lacking.  But I try to learn from these things and put those new ideas into practice and make the next game closer to that special experience every GM chases.

Have you failed at some grand experiment as a GM only to realize on reflection why things didn’t work and what you should have done differently?  If so, please share your experience in the comments so we can all learn from your mistakes.

Warts and All

Back at the turn of the century, I took a gig as part of the Living Greyhawk triad for the Texas/Oklahoma region (the notorious Bandit Kingdoms).  I learned a LOT about adventure writing during those two years.  But the most important lesson I learned was this: when you finish your draft, sit in an watch a different GM run your adventure for a new group.  This will reveal every unintentional red herring, weak spot, and broken element of your adventure.  It really is by far the best bang for your buck in the editing process.  You’ll be amazed at how much of your adventure is in your head and not on the page.

I remember sitting down and watching a new group tackle my first published adventure, The Bleeding Moon, which I’m still proud to say enjoys some notoriety in old Living Greyhawk circles (with its baby mimic and hasted-spider climbed-stone skinned zombies!).  I probably came away with 4-5 pages of handwritten notes after that session, including what happens if a player wants to learn necromancy from the villain at the end.  It was a humbling and eye-opening experience, and the final product was infinitely better for it.

Bloody Misadventures

Bloody Misadventures: Dramatic Battles on the High Seas

Of course, its easy to find playtesters when you are writing for a big organization like the RPGA. Flash forward 17 years to last year when I was putting the finishing touches on Bloody Misadventures: Dramatic Battles on the High Seas, a sea battles supplement for 7th Sea I published through the Explorer’s Society.  The playtest of the first draft with my group was an abysmal failure, with the whole thing falling apart inside of the first action.  The second playtest went better, but revealed a flaw in my thinking as the players were all to eager to pool Raises to unleash monstrous amounts of hits on enemy ships.  Meanwhile, I was seeding drafts with a handful of folks, trusting them to play out scenarios with their groups.  Each time I’d get little snippets of feedback, bringing the project closer and closer to completion.

In the time it took to write Bloody Misadventures, I finished three other products for the Explorer’s Society!  That’s how much fiddling I took with it.  An idea would hit me and into the book it would go, sometimes only to be ripped out and shredded days later.  In the end, I took Nancy Pelosi’s advice: I had to release it to find out what was in it.  So the project that started in April of 2017 was released from its cage in the lab in November!  Initial Sales were good and have remained consistent.

So last month, Tabletop Radio Hour did a review of Bloody Misadventures on one of their shows.  The Cast were positively intrigued and promised to feature a sea battle soon on their Actual Play podcast.  About two weeks later they delivered.  I was heading home on a road trip through the Texas Hill Country when the episode dropped and I listened.  Boy, did I listen!

I listened to every pause.  Every rules reference.  Every indecision.  Every shrug.  Every misstep.

Yeah see, its amazing what you find out when you listen to someone else run something you wrote.  You’ll be amazed what’s in your head and not on the page.

Oh don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t bad.  Most of it played out really well!  Everyone seemed to have a good time (I’ve no doubt they’ll reveal all in a follow up review).  But there was way to much head scratching for my tastes.

So when I got back to the home office, I wasted no time doing additional edits to clarify the text where it needed it.  Because I didn’t want to waste this opportunity.  Because Bloody Misadventures was a lot of work to write and deserves to be the best set of rules for what it does that it can be.  Because I don’t want play to suffer for my contributions.  Because, as a 7th Sea GM, I still want to know what Cross the T! does in play, and hope other seekers to find the answer in something I wrote.

But the moral here remains: before you turn your baby loose, before you add that “-final” tag to the file name, before you send that master file on to Lulu or Drivethru or your publisher, hand over the keys to someone else to take it for a drive around the block while you ride in the backseat.  You won’t regret it!

Three Things I’ve Learned from a Year of Playing 7th Sea (and how they can make your game better too!)

This article began as something of a retrospective on our first year of playing 7th Sea.  I’ve made no bones about the fact that, when we started, the game was way out of my comfort zone.  It forced me to re-examine a lot of my GM techniques and stare down a few things that had become bad habits.  But I feel its made me a stronger GM along the way, and the lessons I’ve learned aren’t merely applicable to 7th Sea, or even more Narrative RPGs.

So let’s talk about them, shall we?

Action sequences are obstacles to keep the heroes from reaching an Objective (in time).

I put this into the category of “Third Edition DnD Ruined Me as a GM“.  For a long time, a lot of us have been conditioned to think about Encounters and Action Scenes in terms of THE FIGHT.  But that’s really faulty thinking.  If you look at action scenes, chases, and combat encounters in movies or books, more often than not the fights that occur are an obstacle, a complication preventing the heroes from achieving their goal.

That’s right.  Action scenes are an obstacle. If you look way back, OD&D had this figured out when it talked about the ENCOUNTER.  Combat was just one potential result of an Encounter.  But the Encounter has long since given way to extensive and crunchy COMBAT sections in the rulebook.  And so we GMs started framing out encounters in terms of Combat.  Can the PCs win?  Will it result in a TPK?  How big a challenge does this represent.  This mode of thinking permeates a lot of online discussion for RPGs when it comes to encounter design, including 7th Sea.  How do I make Brutes a threat in 7th Sea?  How do I balance encounters in Savage Worlds?  But what if we’re missing the point?  Maybe we should be asking, how does this encounter keep the players from getting what they want?  How can we establish stakes in the conflict to make multiple solutions viable?

But what about the “climactic battle”?  That’s a staple of the genre, right?  Well, this cuts both ways.  Usually, in the climactic battle, its the Heroes who are standing in the way of the Villain’s Goal.  The script is flipped.  But that too makes for a better more engaging scene.  Sometimes the villain shouldn’t engage the heroes head on.  Sometimes there is a better way of circumnavigating the obstacle they pose.  What do the player do when that happens?  Does the villain have Plan B?

So the next time you are planning out an encounter for your game, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do the characters want in this scene?  Is it the treasure?  Is it to rescue the hostages?  Is it to stop the evil ritual?  If your answer is only to fight the goblins and earn XP, stop and start again.
  • How do the adversaries keep the characters from getting what they want?  Are reinforcements on their way? Do some of them branch off to kill the hostages?  Do they complete the ritual? If your answer is they fight to the last man, stop and start again. Is there a time limit? A deadline? How long can the characters afford to duke it out with the villains before consequences (and not just resource drain) start setting in.
  • What happens if the Heroes fail?  Do hostages die?  Is a demon lord unleashed?  If your answer is they die or run away, stop and start again.  And really, they don’t get the treasure is a pretty low bar.  You might want to consider making the prize something more interesting and dynamic in the context of the encounter/scene.
  • What do the adversaries want in this scene?  Do they fear the wrath of the Goblin King?  Are they stalling for time while another faction executes an even bolder, more dangerous plot?  Is it to complete the ritual to bring their dark god into this world?  If your answer is to fight the heroes or to protect the treasure, stop and start again.  It’s GOT to be more complicated than that.  Or maybe it isn’t?  Consider questions 2 and 3 in the context of the adversaries.

Dramatic Sequences work best with a Deadline and a THREAT.

I touched on this in a previous blog post.  Basically, in 7th Sea, if the only thing the players have to spend raises towards is accomplishing their goal, your scene isn’t going to be very dramatic or engaging.  But introduce an adversary whose efforts (and raises) they have to counter at the expense of their own resources, and suddenly its a whole new ballgame!  Introduce a deadline and suddenly the stakes become even higher.  Dramatic Sequences should be about mounting tension.  There are two ways to accomplish this.  The first is through DM fiat, constantly moving the goal post.  “Oops, sorry!  The secret message is not in this room where you were sure it would be.  Try again.”  That may be a big kick for you, but it’s probably going to get old really quick for your players.  But having for force actively working against the players?  A villain or a lackey who also has a goal in the scene (preferably something better than stop the heroes from discovering my sinister plan) makes the whole thing more engaging and puts the players’ agenda at risk without making you, the GM, the bad guy. (And they say players can’t fail in 7th Sea. Pish!)

This is easy enough to do in 7th Sea, but what about other game systems? One of the more recent developments I’ve seen in the last decade is an effort to bring more parity between combat and other activities in RPGs: both social and dramatic: Extended Rolls in Ubiquity, Dramatic Tasks in Savage World, Skill Challenges in DnD 4e, etc.  But one area where these fall flat (to me) is that they often pit the player against himself, or rather the dice.  Generally, they work like this: you have to roll X successes before Y failures, or score X successes in Y rolls.  That’s really manufactured drama.  Because now the character’s success doesn’t hinge on a good plan or a smart course of action (challenging the player) but instead the dice and any bonuses the character brings into play (challenging the character).  Is there a real difference between this and just asking for a single dice roll?  Not really.

I’ve been wrestling with this a bit because I really like 7th Sea’s Dramatic Sequence model.  I want to find a way to model it in other games I play, without necessarily trying to shoe horn in 7th Sea’s Roll and Move mechanic.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  Give it a shot the next time you roll out an extended test.  Before the players get started, make a roll for the villain.  The result gives them a number of “Interrupts” (for lack of a better word) – usually only 1 or 2, maybe 3 depending on the game system.  Put this many tokens out on the table for the players to see.  Now proceed with the extended test.  During the test, the villain can spend these Interrupts to make things happen in the scene.  It might increase the difficulty of subsequent rolls, introduce a new threat (like being discovered, having equipment damaged, etc.), or something else to threaten the player’s goal.  The player can make an additional roll (or spend a Hero Point/Style Point/Bennie) to counter it, but it counts against their time and/or rolls.  This forces the player to make a decision on how to adapt to the changing scene, which puts the challenge back on the player, creating a more engaging moment.

Try it, and leave us a comment on how it worked out.

Player agency, even limited, makes the game more exciting for the GM.

This is probably going to get me in trouble with the OSR crowd, so let me start with a story.

Years ago, while I was running the Savage World of Solomon Kane, I had this great concept of the PCs exploring the Himalayas and discovering a passage to Tibet.  The problem was, I wanted to be engaged in the exploration with them.  I didn’t want to make it a simple hexcrawl, or even a travelogue.  I wanted all of us to be surprised, to make discoveries, but I struggled on how to do that.  I looked at dozens of options.  (Un)fortunately, the campaign went on hold before the players really got to that point.

But the problem remains.  How can I, the GM, share in the surprise and discovery in the game.  Or, as Vince Baker puts it in Apocalypse World, how do I play to find out what happens?

Increased player agency has provided that for me.  In several instances now, in my 7th Sea game, my players have flipped the script on me: turning a patron into a villain and back again, creating villains where there weren’t before, embellishing details and filling in the blank parts of the canvas.  Not only has this forced me to improve as an improvisational GM, but in a few instances the results have honestly surprised me!  And that is exciting.

And it isn’t just me.  It has surprised my players, too.  Some have taken to it like a fish to water.  Others poke at it with a stick, suspecting a trap.  But in every case I’ve inquired, my players have responded positively and enthusiastically.

Now let me stress I am not suggesting you open up your game, Fiasco-style, to a table full of co-GMs.  That would be detrimental to a lot of games and genres (horror, for instance).  Nor am I suggesting you go full on FATE or Dungeon World, scraping world building for a handful of preliminary questions.  The fact is, player agency can be as controlled as you like.  The easiest, most conservative approach is to allow a player to spend a Hero/Style/Bennie Point to “establish an unestablished fact about the scene.”  So if you state up front that the room is 10×10 feet, a player can’t spend a bennie to change that to 30×30 feet.  But they could spend one to establish that there is a slick puddle of filth in the room that they can use to trip up the monster they are fighting.  You can make this subject to GM veto, or attach a cost (ie. you have to spend a GM Bennie to counter the player’s bennie) if you want to be generous.

In terms of control, one of the tools I’ve introduced in my game (and will probably carry on to others) is what I’m calling an Investigative Sequence.  (Totally not my idea, I got it from watching John Wick on the last season of Starter Kit – I just put a nice picket fence around it is all.)  This would pretty much apply to a Notice, Investigation, or Research roll.  The gist is the player can use her successes to either ask me a question about the subject or state a fact about it (and don’t think for a moment that I don’t know the answers – I’m just giving the player a chance to give me better, more interesting ones).  By establishing this as its own thing (like a “Dramatic Task” or “Extended Test”), I’m also putting an artificial limit to the player’s agency.  During an Investigative Sequence, they have “permission” to mess with the plot, but not outside of it.

Now some of you may dismiss this as some Johnny-Come-Lately G/N/S BS.  Fair enough!  I probably would have said the same thing a year ago.  And for the record, I’m not a big fan of Dungeon World’s collaborative world building approach.  I enjoy world building.  I like well constructed campaign settings.  I have no interest in reconciling my vision of the World of Greyhawk with those of 6 other people (certainly not without firm editorial control).  I’m not interested in recycling some big analysis of Say Yes or Roll the Dice.  But I can attest that opening my GMing approach to increased player agency has added to my enjoyment of the overall experience and, as such, other GMs – especially grognards like myself who have been doing this one way for years – might find the same.

That’s a Wrap!

So there you have it: three things that I’ve discovered over the course of the year that I think has made me a better GM and my game more fun, for myself and my players.  Some of these things may be old hat to you – I’m sure I haven’t stumbled across anything some GMs haven’t been doing for ages.  But hey, if anything I’ve posed above sounds cool and exciting to you too, great!  Test some of these approaches out on your group and see how they respond.  Share your experience in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Episode Recap: Distant Early Warning

Our Heroes are…

  • Edward Kenway, Son of Avalon and Captain of the Jackdaw
  • Carmena Elena de Ibarra de la Luz, disgraced Castillian Naval officer and bosun of the Jackdaw
  • Milaria Beaufort, Knight Arrant of Avalon and loyal servant of Queen Elaine
  • Sebastian Valmont, wayward Montaignese aristocrat and porté mage
  • Modestas Radvilas Kelrus (Mohai), Sarmatian Expatriate and former Dragoman to the court of the Empress of the Crescent Moon.

(Mohai and Milaria are absent tonight)

Tonight’s Spotlight Hero is…

Sebastian Valmont

Tonight’s Rum is…

Diplomatico Añejo

Last Season on 7th Sea…

  • Fabiano Villanova’s aid delivered a 200 year old bottle of Falsci wine along with a proposition for Captain Ed to hunt down his missing wife, Fiora.
  • Carmena discovered an error in the cipher used to incriminate Ambassador Zorita.  It appears his secretary is the Montaignoise spy!
  • …who also happens to be a Porté mage capable of eavesdropping on a conversation through a pinhole portal.
  • As night settles on the Jackdaw, the bottle of Falisci wine mysteriously uncorks itself.

Our Episode Begins…

Captain Kenway and the rest of the heroes stand aboard the deck of the Jackdaw.  All about them are the sad, bloodless remains of men and women – the skeleton crew the Captain left aboard on watch.  Inside the great cabin, the bottle of wine still sits on its shelf.  It is half empty.  A sniff of it is enough to tell anyone that the wine has turned.

The scene cuts to black.

One Week Later…

It is a hot, rainy day in La Bucca.  The sun is just beginning to peek through the parting gray crowds.  The Sunrise Haven Marina is crowded with dignitaries, including many from the Sarmatian Embassy awaiting the return of the Ambassador to the Commonwealth aboard a grand galleon.  Our heroes are finishing their business here and preparing to return to the south side of the island when a cry of alarm goes up!

A new ship, flying Montaigne colors, is plowing into the crowded marina at high speed.  It is flying half its sails, the rest are clearly ragged and tore.  There is no sign of crew on deck or in the rigging.  She is clearly on a collision coarse with the Sarmatian galley, and concern grows amongst the Embassy personnel that its powder stores might be vulnerable.

In a feat of heroism rarely witnessed, Carmena, Captain Ed and Sebastian, make their way to the Montaignoise carrack, racing across yard arms and swinging from the rigging to reach it before it rams into the side of the Sarmatian Ambassador’s galleon.  As they hurry across the bridge of moving ships, Carmena looks back and catches a meeting between a raven haired member of the Sarmatian party calmly discussing something with one of Magnus Skaar’s officers, despite the chaos surrounding them.

The heroes reach the Montaigne ship in the nick of time, and Carmena cuts the belt holding the wheel steady.  The ship groans violently as she turns the wheel, the two great ships shearing against one another’s sides.  The heroes drop anchor and, using the ship momentum, turn her about before cutting lose the remaining sails.  The anchor chain grows taut and the ship slows to a halt.

A few smaller ships approach but Captain Ed waves them off until the heroes have a chance to investigate.  Some sailors spread idle talk that it is a plague ship, bringing the White Plague to the shores of La Bucca.

The deck of the ship is littered with carnage.  Blood stains, dried gore, and wreckage litter it.  There are no signs of any crew.  Sebastian recognizes the ship, the Wandering Sun, as an exploratory vessel that sailed from Montaigne three years ago and was never heard from again.  Carmena goes to investigate the hold while Captain Ed and Sebastian seek out the grand cabin.

In the gloom of the hold, Carmena finds a lantern that still has oil.  She moves quietly about, the planks groaning underfoot.  Ahead of her, towards the bow of the ship, she hears a soft thump and a gasp, oddly muffled.  The lantern light reveals the seams of a hidden hatch.  She knocks on it and hears a cry of alarm.

“You are safe,” she tells the man hiding in the compartment.

“Is it secure?!?!”  There is desperation and madness in his voice.

Carmena eventually coaxes the man out.  He is Montaignoise, filthy and dressed in rags.  His hands are stained dark with blood.  Inside the hatch, Carmena sees strange symbols scrawled in blood.  Without touching him, she gently ushers the man up on deck.

Meanwhile, in the great cabin, Sebastian and Captain Ed survey more wreckage.  The navigation table is overturned and many of the scattered charts torn, ruined, and stained or smeared with blood.  Sebastian looks up at a large bloodstain on the ceiling.  A bit of maggoty bread and food remains as well.

Captain Ed finds a ledger once kept by the ship’s navigator.  In its last entries, it refers to a place called Montanus’ Mirror.  It briefly describes a ruined city, but ends abruptly after an entry about a party going ashore.  When the two men hear Carmena calling for them, Sebastian grabs an (mostly) intact chart and the two head out on deck.

The survivor continues to babble on about something trapped below.  He insists everyone needs to get off the ship and burn it to the waterline.  He believes he is in Castille.  When told that he is in La Bucca, he is confused.  “The prison island?” he asks.  “But.  But.  We sailed East!  I set the heading myself.”  He believes it is Autumn of 1665.  Carmena finds of bit of rum in an intact bottle and tries to settle the man’s nerves.  Sebastian, having heard about the symbols in the hatch, goes below to investigate.

Begin a good son of a noble family, and an accomplished Porté mage, Sebastian knows the signs of the art when he sees it.  The man’s hands are a dead giveaway.  He has heard rumors of mages so skilled in the art that they can seal places off from portals, but Sebastian has never met anyone capable of doing it.  But all indications are that is the purpose of the marks on the hatch.

As he returns to rejoin his friends, the planks give way beneath his feet, dumping him into the bilge below.  The heroes hear the crack and his cry and rush to help.  The survivor grows increasingly agitated.  Somewhere, in the bowels of the ship, Sebastian hears a muffled thumping.  As he climbs the rope lowered down to him, the mad thumping is joined by the sounds of scratching and muffled, beastial screeches.

“What is down there?!” he asks the survivor.

“I trapped it, see?  In a box.  Hehe.  It killed everyone.  There were so many.  Hehe.  But I trapped it.  We must leave now.  Burn the ship.”

Believing caution is the better part of valor, the Heroes put the Wandering Star to the torch and have a smaller craft come along side to take them and the survivor back to port.  As the ship quickens, the survivor begins to giggle and pick at the sunburned flesh on his face.  Sebastian is certain whatever he encountered broke his mind.

The heroes look over the charts Sebastian took from the ship.  They reveal a legendary chain of volcanic islands, Legion’s Teeth, somewhere between Théah and the New World.  Despite the smears of blood, they can make out coordinates.  And beyond those islands, a hastily marked island, simply labeled “M”.

There are many legends about the island known as Montanus’ Mirror, but almost all agree on one point: that it is the birthplace of Porté magic.

“Captain,” Sebastian says, “I am in need of your services.”

So ends this episode of 7th Sea.  The credits roll to ominous music.

GM Retrospective

If I have a complaint about this episode, it is the amount of narration that I’m providing vs what the players are offering.  I need to get better at asking, “what does that look like.”  It’s easy to excuse — we are all traditional gamers here, and parts of 7th Sea still don’t come naturally to us.  Not that it diminishes the game, but I think the players can provide more color than I do sometimes.

In many ways, this session felt like a more traditional game session.  I offered a lot Opportunities here though it occurs to me that if I did more of the above I might not have had to spell out as many.  The ledger, the chart, and the hatch – all of these were opportunities.  The group finished the Dramatic Sequence aboard the Wandering Star with a pair of raises to spare, but they were ready to leave and had what they needed.  I could probably have coaxed something more out of them, but the hour was drawing late.

So far, so good as far as the Hero Spotlight goes.  Next game session, Captain Ed gets the spotlight.  This should move the action across the waters to Castille where Captain Ed hopes to confront a nemesis head on, though I suspect it will not go quite as planned.

Two more things I’m trying:

  • At the end of each session, I ask each of the players what their favorite part was.  This is giving me a better picture of what I’m doing right and what the standout moments are.  Tonight’s are the creepy atmosphere and the “ghost ship”.  Plus, Captain Ed is excited to be getting back to some real piracy stuff – I guess the politics of La Bucca are growing stale.
  • I also ask each player if there is a scene they would like to see in the next session.  I don’t ask for a lot of specifics, unless they offer them!  This gives me a couple of points to build my session prep around.  Sebastian’s player is hoping for more information on the bottle, and Captain Ed has a very story specific scene in mind.

What will happen?  Tune in in two weeks for another Episode Recap

 

Episode Recap: The Hidden Lie

Since 7th Sea hasn’t required nearly the amount of fixing and houseruling Witch Hunter did, I’m going to try something new on the blog this year: posting actual plays of our game sessions.  I hope you enjoy the adventures of the crew of the Jackdaw.  What follows is an account of the Premier Episode for our “second season”.

Our Heroes are…

  • Edward Kenway, Son of Avalon and Captain of the Jackdaw
  • Carmena Elena de Ibarra de la Luz, disgraced Castillian Naval officer and bosun of the Jackdaw
  • Milaria Beaufort, Knight Arrant of Avalon and loyal servant of Queen Elaine
  • Sebastian Valmont, wayward Montaignese aristocrat and porté mage
  • Modestas Radvilas Kelrus (Mohai), Sarmatian Expatriate and former Dragoman to the court of the Empress of the Crescent Moon.

Tonight’s Rum is…

Diplomatico Añejo

Last Season on 7th Sea…

  • At the behest of the Caligari family in Vodacce, Captain Ed and Carmena smuggle a syrneth artifact out of a temple of Salacio in Numa; a mysterious conch shell that has mysterious effects on sea life.
  • Carmena meets with Roche in the church gardens and learns that the Inquisition may have played a roll in the death of her mentor, Maestro Zavala.
  • Captain Ed and Carmena rescue Miaria and Mohai from the hordes of a Maghrebi prince.
  • The crew of the Jackdaw is recruited by Ambassador Zorita and the Castillian military to smuggle arms to rebels fighting to free Altimira.
  • Our heroes discovered evidence that Ambassador Zorita, Castille’s representative on La Bucca, had been conspiring with Montaigne spies to disrupt relations between the pirate isle and the crown of Castille.  This revelation nearly cost them their ship and their lives!  Now they are racing back to La Bucca on a fair wind to confront the Ambassador.

Our Episode Begins…

The Jackdaw races across the Widows Sea pursued by a pair of “Black Spot” ships.  Captain Ed and Milaria survey them through the glass and find them to be in disrepair and sailing under inexperienced crew.  As the Jackdaw turns to fight, a new ship enters the fray — the Black Dragon, sailing Captain Magnus Skaar!  The Jackdaw captures one of the black spot ships while Skaar sends the other straight to the Devil Jonah!

Coming aboard the Jackdaw, Captain Skaar congratulates Kenway on his prize.  Having given aid twice now, he once again asks for reassurances of Kenway’s support in the upcoming elections on La Bucca.  Kenway suggests Skaar take the captive ship into port in a show of strength.  Besides, Kenway is more interested in what the captain of that ship, now cooling his heels in the Jackdaw’s brig, has to say about the black spot ships.

The Heroes return to port in La Bucca amidst the fanfare for Captain Skaar.  But waiting for them is a foreboding black carriage, no doubt sent by Fabiano Villanova to inquire about his missing wife.  Sure enough, Giorgio Catazara, a short, portly Vodacce man with a page boy haircut and a fine waxed mustache is quickly brought before the captain.  From his satchel, he presents the captain with a gift: a 200-year old bottle of red Falisci wine, meticulously stored.  Catazara does his best to ferret out what Kenway knows about Fabiano’s missing wife, Fiora, but is completely bedeviled by Milaria, Sebastian, and Mohai’s verbal gymnastics.  He eventually offers Captain Kenway the task of finding Fiora, with the wine a well-intended gift, and leaves frustrated in his efforts.

Fiora is, of course, safe with Sophia’s Daughters in San Teodoro.  Captain Ed and Carmena saw to that task themselves.

But all is not lost, for Catazara has let slip one of Fabiano’s most closely guarded secrets: he is NOT a Villanova.  That is Fiora’s family name.  Now the heroes have an inkling of just how much the Vodacce man stands to lose from his wife’s disappearance.

As the heroes make preparations to confront the Ambassador, Carmena realizes a mistake in the cypher Mohai used to crack the code of the secret correspondances taken from Castille.  The Ambassador is not the villain they seek, but rather his secretary, Juan Carlos!  Leveraging the Ambassador’s affections for Carmena, the team send a message for the Ambassador to meet her, alone, at the Yellow Fin.

When the Ambassador arrives, Carmena ushers him into a private room where Captain Ed and Milaria are waiting.  The quickly fill the Ambassador in on the details of the conspiracy against Castille.  Ambassador Zorita tempers his anger at this betrayal and promises to make good with the heroes and the Castillian military.  But as the group discusses what is to be done, Miliaria notices a small spot of blood on the Ambassador’s breast pocket.  Brought to attention, the ambassador withdraws his pocket watch to find it bloodied.

Milaria brings the watch to Sebastian, who is outside the Yellow Fin watching for spies.  A quick examination by the porté mage confirms that the item is marked, and most likely being used to eavesdrop on the meeting!

The heroes and the ambassador race back to the Castillian embassy to find Juan Carlos gone, along with a handful of important papers from the Zorita’s office.

The scene cuts away to Mohai departing the Jackdaw at nightfall, leaving it under a skeleton crew but doubled watch (in case of trouble).  The camera cuts to the interior of the great cabin and finds focus on the bottle of Falisci wine still resting on a shelf.  The bottle trembles slightly as the cork works its way out, falling to the floor below.

SO BEGINS SEASON 2 OF 7TH SEA!  THE MUSIC SWELLS AS THE CREDITS ROLL!

Suddenly, all goes quiet!

The scene opens on a man bound to a chair under a single brilliant light.  It is Petros, the proprietor of the Red Glory Gymnasium in Naucriparos.  He has beaten blooded, and his face is badly swollen.  He spits a wad of blood defiantly as two new figures step into view: an older man accompanied by a tall, broad shouldered woman in traditional Numaneri armor.
The older man asks one last time for Petros’ cooperation in finding the thieves who stole a national treasure from the temple of Salacio.  Petros gives him no such satisfaction, and the man gives a nod at his companion to continue her work.  There is a loud crack as the butt of her spear strikes Petros across the face and the screen goes black!
End of Episode!

Game Master Reflections

While this episode was planned as a single session, pacing and attendance issues stretched it out into three sessions long.  One of these played out as a flashback, where Captain Ed and Carmena delivered the Fate Witch, Fiora Villanova into the hands of Sophia’s Daughters.

This was also my first real experimentation with cut scenes and stingers where the players were viewers rather than participants.  I kept them short and sweet and left a lot of the details for the players to discover later (just as the audience of a TV show would).  It was surprisingly effective, though I think I will keep them to a minimum so they don’t lose their effectiveness.  Of the two, it was the stinger I was most worried about.  But Captain Ed’s player caught on right away.

So now the Heroes have two countdown clocks they are watching: the La Bucca elections (between Allende, Baron Maison, and the villainous Captain Skaar) and the Numenari hunters.  I plan on advancing these with Danger Points each episode until they are resolved.

Season Goals

On a final note, I’ve outlined a set of goals I’m going to try and live by for each episode of this season.  We’ll see how long I can keep them up.  For anyone interested, here they are:
  • Kick off each episode with an Action Sequence!
  • Introduce a new NPC (or kill an established NPC).
  • Spotlight a different Hero
    • that Hero’s story is front and center this session
    • the Spotlighted player gets to choose the next session’s Spotlight Hero