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.
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.
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.
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.