Category Archives: Swashbuckling

Saint’s Blood, a review

sbloodLast week, I finished Sebastien De Castell’s novel, Saint’s Blood, the third book of the Greatcoats.  Like the previous two, it was a fun (well, okay, mostly fun) rollicking adventure yarn full of wit, humor, and swashbuckling derring do.  As much as I enjoyed the previous two installments, I’ll give Saint’s Blood higher marks in that it keeps the main cast together.  Both Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow have bogged down when Falcio val Mond (our noble protagonist) has gone off on his own.  Really – for me anyway – it is the banter and interrelationships between Falcio, Kest, and Brasti that really make these books sing.  Take one of them out of the picture and the landscape darkens noticeably.

As fun as it was, there were a couple of issues for me.  Castell’s language has always been colorful, but in this installment things just seemed more…explicit.  It just felt a bit out of character.  And the repeated use of “arsehole” just felt a bit silly.  Likewise, rather than his usual pragmatism, Falcio seems far more pessimistic and defeatist in this adventure.  That might make sense given the natural of the adversary (sorry, no spoilers), but again it feels out of character and inorganic, as though Castell decided he needed to recast Falcio’s personality to fit the story rather than the other way around.  But while these detract slightly from the whole, it doesn’t diminish the story, the characters, or the finale.  And what a finale!  I cheered the finale of Knight’s Shadow – if you’ve read it, you know exactly the part I’m talking about – and Saint’s Blood closed with at least as much joy in this reader’s heart.

tthroneThe most bittersweet part of finishing Saint’s Blood is in knowing that the fourth installment, Tyrant’s Throne, is the final book of the Greatcoats.  It feels funny to say that – I am not a fan of endless series or of authors who ride one series into the dirt in their careers.  Yes, that applies to Terry Prachett and Jim Butcher, as much as I love their work, as it does Terry Goodkind, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan (the less said about those the better).  And yes, I know Butcher is working on a fantasy series too but c’mon.  24 Dresden novels?  Really?!  When he gets to #22, someone needs to send ole Jim a copy of Stephen King’s Misery just for laughs.

But yes, it is bittersweet to know the Greatcoats is coming to an end.  Not only because I’ll miss the adventures of Falcio, Kest, and Brasti (and Ethalia, Valiana, and Dariana), but because this is the first series of books that I’ve had this much fun reading in a long time.  The swashbuckling adventure genre isn’t awash with options these days.  So while I wait for the Dallas Public Library to get their hands on Tyrant’s Throne, I’m going to be looking for a new voice that brings me the same thrill.  Wish me luck.

A Parting Gift

An excerpt from the novel.  Don’t worry, it won’t spoil anything. Go ahead and read it:

Udriel is what we call in the business a sanguinist: a fencer whose primary strategy is to go for little cuts—wounds that sting and bleed and distract you, until you start to slow down without even realizing it.  Sanguinists take their time, pulling you apart bit by bit, until they can end the fight with a single, brilliant flourish—they usually go for an artery so that you end up bleeding out spectacularly all over the floor.  It can create quite a stunning tableau for the audience.

I hate sanguinists.

The moment I read this passage, I said to myself, “dammit, 7th Sea needs sanguinists!

Throughout the book, Falcio describes a number of duelist archetypes.  I’ve taken the liberty of compiling all of them into a single file so you can add them to your swashbuckling game of choice.  Flashing Blades, Honor+Intrigue, Witch Hunter, All For One, Savage World of Solomon Kane, it doesn’t matter.  All of these games need sanguinists.  And now they can.

High Seas Holidays

The votes are in, and my group of players have almost unanimously elected to go with a high seas adventure game with strong involvement of secret societies.  And with that, prep for our 7th Sea game can really begin in earnest.  Not that I haven’t been brainstorming and scribbling down ideas for awhile now, but this gives me a definite direction with which to steer the ship, so to speak.

With the holidays upon us, I am sneaking in whatever time I can manage to do a bit of prep for the forthcoming 7th Sea campaign.  It’s coming along nicely.  I feel I have quite a few resources collected that will make my work easier when we dive in around mid-January.  And since it’s the holidays, I want to share some of the fruits of my labor with you.

So first up, a 7th Sea Ship Name resource.  Along with a reformatted version of Finn’s Companion #3 (any of you old hands remember that one?), I’ve included a list of authentic ship names from the 17th Century British and Dutch navies, along with pirate vessels of ill repute.  So you can either grab a name from antiquity or mix and match something new for your players to grapple with.  This should be of help to anyone running a historical (or semi-historical) nautical game.  I’m going to add this resource on the Downloads page as well.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Mirror, Mirror: the Other Side of the Coin

So about the time my 7th Sea: First Play Impressions post went live, I was being called out for being too much of a 7th Sea fan boy.  That perhaps my enthusiasm for the setting and previous edition was coloring my impression of the new edition.  And I think to myself, well what’s wrong with that?!  If you’ve read anything I’ve posted around here about gaming, it’s no secret that 7th Sea was sort of a seminal game experience for me.  One that sort of set the standard for the play experience I want in any game I play going forward.  And if that colors my expectations and enthusiasm for the 2nd edition, so what of it?  I mean, isn’t that the flip side of calling OSR fans out as nothing more than nostalgic?

But ok.  I’ll play along.  Because it’s not as though 7th Sea 2nd edition is perfect.  It wasn’t dictated by God Almighty as the Final Word in gaming.  You can’t even really compare it to 1st edition beyond the setting, because the game system is almost entirely new with only a cosmetic veneer to tie the two together.  So if you’re on the fence about 7th Sea 2nd edition, wondering if you really want to drop the money on the PDF, or the hardcover, or the leather bound collector’s edition, and you were foolish enough to come here then pay attention!  I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about the new edition.

Dracheneisen vs Hexenwerk

I think Hexenwerk is a poor replacement for Eisen’s national sorcery.  As a replacement for Zerstorung?  Sure!  Great!  But Dracheneisen was so iconic; it defined the look and character of Eisen.  Hexenwerk, as flavorful as it is, is very specialized and isn’t going to fit into every game.  Also, the core book makes it pretty clear that this is it.  There isn’t any more development space for Hexenwerk.  It’s done.  Now I get it that Eisen is now a dark fairy tale land of ghosts, ghouls, and vampires lurking in castles on high.  But you can have that and still have big bad Germans charging around in fancy armor.  There have been rumblings from folks looking to expand the utility of Hexenwerk by making it apply to all monsters, not just undead.  There are also folks working to put dracheneisen back in its rightful place as Eisen’s national sorcery.  Personally, I’m down for both.  And the Die Krieuzritter?  Magical blades forged of light and shadow brought to bear against monsters in the dark works just fine for me.

Faux Diversity

Gender equality and diversity!  These are two things that help define Théah and separate it from 17th century Europe.  Applause.  No, that’s a great thing really, and perfectly fitting with the tone of pre-reboot Théah.  But is it really more diverse?  Not really.  Right now, with just the core book, it’s very difficult to create an “exotic” hero from Ifri, Cathay, or the Crescent Empire without reskinning, homebrewing, or buying another sourcebook.  Is that a mark against the writers?  No.  They can’t include EVERYTHING.  But if you think about it, 1-2 pages of content would have been all you needed to be truly inclusive in terms of Ethnic diversity.  A handful of backgrounds, a handful of thumbnails.  Hell, Iskandar is right there on the map.  This isn’t so much a black mark as a missed opportunity.


First let me say, I love Action Scenes and Dramatic Sequences (Kinda. More on that later.). By comparisons, Risks still feel a bit forced.  Like an oval peg in a round hole.  I think part of the story in RPGs comes from the unexpected occurring, something that 7th Sea downplays in favor of player’s choosing the consequences of their actions.  I’m not sure a three-tiered success system wouldn’t have fit along side Action and Dramatic scenes more seamlessly (both of them have essentially three tiers of success: Approach, Improvised, and Unskilled.  I’m sure the developers playtested this and chose to go another way because…they liked it more.  But to me, standard Risks FEEL much different than Action and Dramatic Sequences.  They don’t feel like extensions of one another.  And there are limits to what you can express with Risks that I don’t like.  Time will tell on this one.

Raises vs Successes

This one goes hand in hand with the previous point.  Raises, rolling your dice pool and counting 10s, don’t feel quite as intuitive as rolling and counting successes (WoD, Witch Hunter).  Others with better math skills than me have pointed out that rolling and counting 6s and above gives you the same peak probability while widening the curve, thus making your pool of Raises a bit less predictable in the long term.  The method the developers went with feels like change for the sake of change, to help give the game its own identity.  I suppose it does that, and predictability does have some benefits, but I’m not sure the game as a whole wouldn’t be more accessible and just as exciting if they’d taken a more tired and traditional method.

FYI for those who worry about the speed of counting groups of 10s, don’t worry about that.  That isn’t an issue with the way the game handles dice rolling.

Rulings vs Rules

I can’t help but get the feeling that the rules of 7th Sea are a little half-baked.  By that I mean, immature, unseasoned, and untested.  In my previous post I said:

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!

That cuts both ways.  I believe its a good start.  I think Action Sequences are there.  Dramatic Sequences are too open ended, like something they tried a few times and said, “Looks great!  Put em in!”  Risks?  Like I said: oval peg in a round hole.  Almost there, but not quite.  Over the next couple of months, as more and more people get their hands on the rules, beat them, bash them, and twist them like the mercurial things they are, I think we are going to see some maturity, some road weariness, beaten into the system.  We’re going to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Pay close attention to this.  And please, do not read this as a negative.  I think when 7th Sea: the East rolls off the presses in 2+ years, we are going to be looking at a more mature game.  And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we are 4-5 years away from a revised edition (most likely an expanded or revised second printing, but still).  In that time, I think GMs are going to take the tools given to them in the core book and spin off about 2 or 3 new variants that will become so ubiquitous in play that it would be ridiculous not to include them as part of the core rules.

This isn’t because the rules are bad.  They’re simply immature.  Kinda like the LBB edition of Dungeons and Dragons vs. BECMI/AD&D. I think 7th Sea 2nd edition is a natural extension of where John Wick has been going in terms of game design, but none of those games ever slammed headfirst into the hands of 11,000 people.  I suspect years of hard playtesting, convention play, house ruling and home brewing is going to create an interesting beast, but it’s still a couple of years out from real maturity.

I’m okay with that.  I think John Wick would be okay with that assessment.  But not everyone will be.

The Toolbox

Ok, to be fair 1st edition 7th Sea was no hallmark in this department.  Aside from a few false starts (“Random” Encounters in the GM Screen adventure, The Powder Keg in the Villain’s Kit), the game never offered much in the way of tools for adventure building.  Hooks, sure.  Metaplot, yup.  But nuts and bolts so you could create your own unique vision of Théah?  Nope.  Nada.  Almost zero.  Oh, there were plenty of subsystems and mini-games that made 7th Sea a nice sandbox, but that’s not the same thing.  The GM who wandered off the page was on his own.

2nd edition is following the same playbook thus far.  There aren’t many tools for GMs in the new game.  There is no sample starting point, no example NPCs, no example monsters, no idea generators, no random encounter tables, no tools for creating a town or city.  The information is most big picture stuff (“this is what swashbuckling adventure is…”) and not little stuff (“here’s a list of elements to ratchet up the swashbuckling flavor of your adventure.”).  Is this even a valid critique of modern RPGs?  I think so.  Maybe all those Savage Worlds Adventure Generators have spoiled me.

That may all be coming in the sourcebooks.  John Wick has said as much that this edition will not have a metaplot.  So its quite possible that we’ll see some GM tools that focus on and highlight the individual locations in the setting.  In that sense, Pirate Nations, the first sourcebook (due out in November 2016), will be very telling.  And if JWP doesn’t see the value in providing tools for us hands-on sandbox worldbuilder GM types, maybe the promised Explorer’s Society marketplace will give us a venue for such things.

In Conclusion

I don’t want anyone coming away from my previous comments about 7th Sea 2nd edition thinking its all sunshine, roses, and kittens.  If you look at these critiques and think, “meh,” then by all means polish up those d10s and start dreaming up consequences.  If these give you pause, then track down a game on Roll20 or at convention and give it a spin before you start throwing money at it.  Or toss the new rules and just graft the old R/K system back on top of the new setting.  There’s no shame in that.  Even the crew at JWP is on record as saying they want folks to use the old system if the new one doesn’t work for them.  You know your tastes more than I do.

I’ve said the game is outside of my comfort zone, and it is.  For all the reasons I’ve listed above.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to give it a try.  It also doesn’t mean I’m in it for the long haul (though that kickstarter sure did make that easier).  We had bucket loads of fun with the original edition, and I really hope this edition will deliver even more.  But the proof is in the pudding.  The first taste was nice, but that’s all it was.  Let’s see how things hold up over time.


Traitor’s Blade: A Book Review

It takes a lot for a book to make me laugh.  It’s probably the reason why I could never quite get into  Terry Prachett.  It’s not that I’m a humorless guy…at least, I don’t think I am.  I can appreciate satire as much as anyone.  It just doesn’t make me laugh.

Traitor’s Blade made me laugh.  A lot.  It was the first book I’ve read in a while now that I would characterize as a FUN read.  Traitor’s Blade is FUN.  It’s also gripping, tense, even a bit horrific, with careful drops and drabs of dark humor and grimdark fantasy.  Sebastien De Castell was really going for a Three Musketeers vibe when he wrote Traitor’s Blade and he succeeded…wildly.

I picked up Traitor’s Blade as a bit of a break from the cycle of pseudo-historical/fantasies I’ve been reading lately.  I needed to recharge the batteries and it showed up well recommended on Goodreads.

The book sets off as our hero, Falcio val Mond sits babysitting a pompous merchant prince along with his two companions, Kest and Brasti.  The three are Greatcoats, the famed company of the King’s magistrates, now disbanded and disgraced in the eyes of even the lowest serf.  When the king they served ran afoul of the Dukes, a sort of oligarchy nobility who constitute the real power in the lands of Tristia, the Greatcoats sworn to protect him and see that the King’s laws were enforced stepped aside and let the king be murdered by his own noble subjects.

Unlike Steven Brust’s Phoenix Guard, another novel that immerses itself in the style and flair of Dumas, Castell chooses to adopt a more contemporary, breezy writing style.

I will admit, early on I began to fear I had stumbled onto a Three Musketeers Meets The Black Company story early on, but the grimdark elements are refreshingly light in Traitor’s Blade.  Oh, the villains are ugly, vile things the reader will immediately hate – the shades of gray here are not reserved for the villains in true swashbuckling fashion.  But those horrific elements exist to uplift the heroes rather than drag them down into the muck (as in, say, FX’s Bastard Executioner series).

The interaction between the three principle characters is fantastic, with all of the drama and humor one expects from a tale of swashbuckling heroes.  Each has his own voice.  And while flawed, they aren’t crippled by their shortcomings.

The second act does get a bit lost in the weeds, as the novel takes a sudden turn as Falcio and a child he has sworn to protect dodge assassins and worse on the gritty streets of a city in the midst of its “Blood Week,” seven days when one’s only claim to title or property is what he or she can defend from their murderous neighbors.  Sort of a fantasy version of the Purge.  It works, and the act is tense and gripping, but it feels like a novella within the novel, giving it a bit of a disjointed structure that robs the whole of some satisfaction.  But only slightly.  It’s the equivalent of complaining about having to roll down your own windows in an old car.

Naturally, the conclusion of the novel sets the stage for the second book in the series.  But enough loose ends are tied up to make it satisfying in and of itself.  Trust me when I say that you’ll be reading the next book (or not, as the case may be) because you love the characters, not because you are waiting for some grand resolution to the troubles of Tristia.

So to sum up, fun, exciting, refreshing character-driven fantasy.  Five out of five stars.  Take a break from whatever else you are doing and read this book.  You’ll thank me later.

From Dumas With Love

Last week while my wife is away at a conference, I spent my evenings catching up on the BBC’s The Musketeers.  My wife isn’t really a fan so when we got sidetracked halfway through the season, I figured it would be awhile before I got back to it.

Watching episode 5, the Return, I thought this would make a fantastic adventure for Witch Hunter, something in the mold of Countrycide (Torchwood season 1), where the mundane becomes a real threat.  Here’s an official synopsis of the episode:

When Athos is kidnapped and taken back to his estate of Pinon, The Musketeers go in search of him and find themselves in the middle of a battle against a nobleman, the Baron Renard, who is shocked by Athos’ decision to reject his nobility and is determined to seize the land for himself. As The Musketeers train the people of Pinon in combat and defend them against multiple attacks, Athos is forced to confront his past when he encounters an old friend whose life was ruined by his actions years ago.

Witch Hunter lends itself to the set up perfectly.  The characters have often renounced their former lives to embraced their new role as monster hunter.  All you need is a player with the Noble background and you are good to go.  Or perhaps an NPC witch hunter, with the cadre dispatched to find him.

The scenario offers several complications that would make it challenging for any group:

  • The main villain is a landed noble, with all the protection and privileges that go along with that station.
  • The villain also possesses a considerable fighting force.  They may be minions, but 100 threat 2 minions are going to hurt.
  • The heroes are at a real disadvantage here.  If they pull rank as witch hunters, the villain can just call in the church and have them branded as heretics.
  • Abandoning the peasants to their fate would certainly be worth a point or two of damnation.
  • The social complications and logistics of training and commanding a ragtag force of peasant soldiers will likely test several skills the PCs have been neglecting.

This scenario plays straight at the swashbuckling or even the colonial aspects of Witch Hunter.  So lets consider a few twists we might apply to really enhance the Witch Hunter flavor of the scenario.

  • Play It Straight: We don’t really change anything here.  The Baron and his son are both normal men (lieutenants), though arrogant, privileged and terrible examples of humanity.  The role of Catherine could easily be assumed by a childhood friend, an old lover, or even a former mentor of one of the witch hunters (not necessarily the noble) who has an axe to grind.  The Baron could be driven by an old grudge or rivalry.  That the witch hunter has walked away from his family obligations matters not; the matter must be settled in blood!
  • The Demonic Instigator: After a tragic accident befell his son, the Baron beseeched dark forces for the young man’s life.  He revived, but was forever changed.  Now he forces his father’s hand, consumed with avarice and greed.  There is something about the Noble’s land he covets, and no reason will deter him from his prize. (Sort of a toned down version of the Solomon Kane movie.) Alternatively, the Baron or his son (or both) have fallen under the spell of a witch or warlock who seeks vengeance on the witch hunter(s).
  • Sanctuary: The NPC standing in for the role of Catherine has a dark secret.  The Noble’s family granted her refuge as a child.  Now dark forces have sought her out and recruited the Baron to their cause.  How will the witch hunters respond?  Will they surrender her to her fate?  Will they shelter and protect her?  Perhaps the nature of the secret is such they must deal with her (or not) themselves.
  • The Beast: Something has been preying on the villages of both manors.  The Baron believes these criminals have found refuge within the Noble’s lands, while the villager’s place the blame squarely on the Baron.  The beast hides amongst them, eager to shift the blame away from itself.
  • The Dark Secret: The Noble’s manor holds a dark secret that, if discovered, could ruin the witch hunter and his family.  Perhaps the Baron is aware of it and uses it as leverage against the cadre, or perhaps his fate is tied to the secret as well.  Perhaps the secret is so terrible, the Noble needs to keep it from his or her Order, perhaps even the rest of the cadre.  This could be tied to the character’s Catalyst, or a startling revelation made early in the scenario.
  • The New World Order: The action is moved to the New World, to a colony on the fringes of civilization.  Replace the Baron and his men with agents of a competing country (French, Spanish, British, or Dutch).  The villagers could be colonists or natives.  The witch hunters could have ties to the colony (base of operations) or answer the summons of an old ally, a contact, or another Witch Hunter.
  • The Invisible World: The meddling of a heretic scholar or occultist has inadvertently opened a sustained gateway to the Invisible World.  What emerges is not the lone entity the occultist sought, but a warlord and his demonic army, intent on cementing a foothold in God’s creation!  These could be fae (unseelie), or something even more horrific.  Either way, the numbers are too overwhelming for a small cadre of witch hunters, and by the time others might be brought to bare against them, these invaders could have slaughtered hundreds (not to mention called in support from a few Forbidden Societies, making the job even more difficult).  The cadre’s best chance for success here is to rally the locals against this threat, but the risk is high.  (The last two recent Mummy movies would be good inspiration for this…if you can stand to watch them.)

Holding Things Back

Over on the Kobold Press blog, they recently published an article, Steely Gaze and Lethal Blows, about injecting pulp-style combat into Pathfinder and DnD.  While an interesting concept, what really struck me was a quote from the old 1980’s Conan movie:

“In time, his victories could not easily be counted… he was taken to the east, a great prize, where the war masters would teach him the deepest secrets.”

One of the continuous themes I read about with old school games is how they push exploration and discovery in the milieu.  And while modern games don’t prohibit this, most kneecap it by front-loading all the rules and capabilities for the players’ eyes.  Pretty much every system that offers a scheme of advantages/disadvantages, or exception-based rules, does this.  If I create a character in one of these systems, I know everything my character will ever be capable of.  I know how to qualify for the highest ranking Feats, what a master of my fighting style is capable of,

Nothing is held back.  It’s all there in menu format for the players to pick and choose from, to plan out their characters’ fortune.  And the only hurdle in their way is a list of prerequisites or requirements.

Hooray for player empowerment!

But its entirely at the cost of discovery and mystery.  Boo for GM world building!

What if every character capability wasn’t available for you to examine from the start?  What if the Feats, Advantages, Edges, Talents, even Skills and Specializations available to your character at any given time were entirely dependent on where your character is in the campaign world?

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thought about Fighting Traditions in Witch Hunter, so let’s look through that lense.  In 1689/90, the city of Frankfurt hosted three swordsman guilds: The Brotherhood of St. Mark (Marxbruder), Federfetcher, and the Brotherhood of St. Luke (which was not a formally recognized guild and is described as a society of hooligans).  Now, lets say Marxbruder and Federfetcher both cover the same Fighting Tradition, but each offer a different assortment of fighting styles (talents) a member might choose to advance in.  Want to know what those are?  Join the guild!  They’ll be happy to tell you…then.

Oh, you want them to divulge their secrets before you sign on the dotted line?  Sorry, Charlie.

Bottomline: There should be benefits and rewards to exploring the game world.

But what if I make the wrong choice?  There’s a wrong choice?  How would you know?  Why would you know?

But what if I want a style the guild doesn’t offer?  Easy.  Either resign your membership and join another guild…and face the consequences of doing so.  Or leave town and seek out another guild, or better yet a master in the tradition, who can teach you this technique.

Where can I find this guy?  Ask around.  Follow leads.  Travel.  Talk.  Explore the world around you!

In one of the first continuous campaigns I played in, magic fluctuated on a geographic basis.  So when the party mage got himself killed, the rest of us traveled half way across the continent to have him raised.  Was it convenient?  No.  Was travel hand waved?  Hell no!  Was it fun and rewarding?  Hell yes!

We’ve been doing this with magic in our games forEVER.  The mage finds a cool tome in the library of Alexandria and now has the chance to learn a couple of new spells, some the player knows about and some that are completely new.  Why should talents, feats, edges, fighting styles, and even skills be any different?

So how can I implement this in my own game?  Well, for one thing, when that shiny new supplement rolls out on the treadmill, don’t allow it.  Oh, the players can read it all they want, but none of it is available to them.  No, carefully go through all the new abilities and make them available on a case-by-case basis.  A retired adventurer in the village of Hommlet can teach you an assortment of Knacks, or a Feat.

Wait?  Training?!  GROAN!!!  There’s no reason training in any game system needs to mirror the old AD&D training system.  That system was put in place to siphon off the vast treasure characters were amassing and assumed that players had multiple characters active in the game world at any given time (time keeping).  In a game like Witch Hunter, the orders would have access to masters and trainers, so gaining access is more a matter of geography than finances.  And time?  If the game assumes combing through a library looking for some odd detail on an obscure line of supernatural beastie, then why would we then assume it takes more than a week (downtime) to master a fighting style or Talent?

A week of downtime?  GROAN!!!  Ok, you need more incentive.  How about this, while training costs time and/or money, what if it also lowered SP costs?  Say – to pull a number out of the air – by 0.6.  This reduces the cost of a basic Talent in Witch Hunter to 30 SP, the cost of a skill specialization.  A Greater Talent would cost 45 SP, and a Heroic 60 (that’s a 30 point discount!).  Now before you think I’ve lost my mind, not all Talents would be available for this sort of treatment.  Maybe 2 or 3 in any particular location.  And the ones that are available don’t need to be advertised.  There’s no bulletin in the town square that reads, “looking for a good deal on Talents?” Think of them more like easter eggs embedded in the game world.

And what are the rest of the players suppose to do while my character is learning the finer aspects of Incredible Reflexes?  What else?  Find nasty evil stuff that’s going on around them to eliminate.  What?  You guys aren’t good enough to find a witch in all of Copenhagen?


Called Shots in Witch Hunter

Last Friday, as the cadre tried to get the better of a marauding wyvern that has turned the ruins of Worms into its nocturnal hunting grounds, the topic of called shots came up.  The melee fighters were purposefully staying out of the fight because of the perception that the flying creature was beyond range, even though it was tethered to a building and busy striking one of the party members with its tail.  To me, the GM, that made it’s tail fair game.  So, never missing an opportunity to steal from one of my favorite games, here’s a idea for incorporating called shots into WH.

Where 7th Sea uses Called Raises, WH has a similar mechanic called wagers: a player voluntarily drops dice from his or her dice pool to achieve a special effect.  As written, the game doesn’t make full use of this mechanic, but it gives us a perfect vehicle for this sort of thing.

Called Shot Wager
Arms, Chest, Legs, Tail (large) 1d wager
Feet, Hands, Tail (small) 2d wager
Face, Head 3d wager
Head (damaging) 4d wager

Head (damaging): In addition to the damage roll, a successful damaging head shot reduces all health tracks by 1 point.

Other than the damaging head shot, called shots are largely cosmetic and meant to be used for roleplaying opportunities.  They should not be added to Disarm or Pinning Shot effects (in the latter, the wager is already built in).  At the GM’s discretion, they can be used to circumvent armor.

Yes, the damaging headshot is prohibitive. You are essentially cutting your dice pool in half to achieve the effect. So hopefully the payoff makes it at least a tantalizing proposition for veteran witch hunters.

Building on Tradition

One of the projects I’ve been meaning to attend to is updating the Fighting Styles for La Verdadera Destreza from the Blessed and Damned (B&D) sourcebook.  One of the players in my home game has acquired the tradition, so there is purpose to this.  While the Rites and Relics book that’s just around the corner should take care of updating a lot of the Prayer rites from the previous edition of WH, official updates for the Fighting Traditions look to be a lot farther off.

As I’ve mentioned before, my first real introduction to swashbuckling roleplaying was 7th Sea, which I still love with the passion of 1,000 suns, warts and all.  So I’m hardly unbiased when I start delving into these things.  The task of updating a set of fighting styles really drives home one of the most frustrating aspects of WH Fighting Traditions: they are basically a tiered collection of Talents (think Feat Trees for you d20 fans) built around a theme.  This makes the devilishly tricky to balance against one another.  Compare this to 7th Sea’s Swordsman Styles, which granted three core special abilities at Apprentice, Journeyman and Master level, each very broad in application.  It also makes new Traditions much harder to design as there are fewer niches to fill.

Fighting styles not only have to be viewed in context with one another, but with the whole host of available Talents.  This makes duplication and redundancy a real issue.  There is also something very zen about the 3-2-1 structure of the core fighting traditions (3 Basic styles, 2 greater, 1 heroic).  Once B&D is accounted for, they are expanded to 7-5-3, and the lack of focus seems to muck things up.  I’m all for giving players more options, but options for the sake of having them often leads to trouble.  To my thinking, players are better served with fewer, focused choices rather than a vast menu of lukewarm choices, most of which no one will take anyway.

An interesting project would be to strip down the Fighting Traditions to fit more in the mold of 7th Sea’s swordsman styles.  This would make them easier to design, balance against one another, qualify for and master.  It might also encourage players to study multiple traditions, since instead of 500 SP to truly “master” a tradition, they might be looking at 300 SP.  That might also balance them – cost wise – against the Sorcerous Traditions.  If I had higher character or even player turnover in my game, I might consider doing just that.  But that seems like a lot of work for just one player (who, for the record, doesn’t have an issue with the RAW).

And this doesn’t even touch on the issues of actual conversion.  Exactly how many variations of Reason-as-bonus and Avoidance bonuses does a Fighting Tradition really need to support?

So what I’m settling on is a way to expand the options available without muddying the waters.  I like the idea of keeping to a tiered approach and think it can be expanded to 5-3-1 fairly easily.  That allows me to combine some effects at the lower tiers and ignore the ones at the utmost tier (which, in the case of La Verdadera Destreza, are pretty milquetoast).

One of the cardinal rules I’m working from is that these talents should be broadly applicable and useful as possible.  So, while it’s core, Circle of Blood will be getting an amendment to make it worthwhile against Minions (who make up 80% of the opponents in WH).  Given that the style requires a 3d wager (the steepest level of wager in the game), here are a couple of the options I’m considering:

Against minions, a swordsman employing this style may…

  • reroll any 1s.
  • reroll any results equal to or less than his weapon skill rank.
  • reroll all dice results of 3 or less.

The second roll stands, no further rerolls are permitted.

I’m feeling very partial to option 3, but I’m open to suggestions.

I’m a big fan of the simplified “powers” for villains (the Hellfire or Hexcraft power vs the Rite).  It would be very cool to create some quick abbreviated Fighting Tradition talents for baddies.  Going back to what I was saying before about 1 broad ability per rank, a villain could have a Master [Fighting Tradition] talent and that gives them a single broad ability built against the theme of the tradition.  It sure would keep that list of talents down and make the GM’s job easier.  THAT is a project worth undertaking, I think.