Tag Archives: rpg

An Unholy Union?

What’s that you say?  You’re intrigued by the world of 7th Sea, but balk at the game system?  It’s too handwavy?  Too diceless?  Too narrative?  Too Wick?  Besides, your players’ eyes glaze over anytime someone mentions a game that doesn’t have “Dungeons and Dragons” on the cover.  Let’s just cut to the quick: you want to run a D&D game, but you want to use the 7th Sea setting. 

Sacrilege?!?  Heresy?!?  Maybe, but it could also be a lot of fun.  Hell, I’d play!  I’ve even devoted some brainpower to it.  I’ve long been considering a blog post on this topic but a post on reddit forced my hand.

Dungeons & Dragons: 7th Sea

Let me say this upfront: if you are looking to run a 7th Sea game using the 5e rules, this post is not going to be very helpful.  In fact, I think you are just setting yourself up for a lot of work without much of a payoff.  But if you want to run a Dungeons and Dragons game set in the world of 7th Sea, well there I can help you.  There is a difference.  And it’s easy.  So easy, in fact, you could be playing tomorrow night!

The trick is in finding a compromise between the 7th Sea setting (a vast pastiche of 17th century earth) and the implied setting of D&D.  If you are okay with that, then here is my very simple (but untested) recipe for doing so:

  • Ditch the 7th Sea national sorceries. Instead, use the D&D magic system. Each nation specializes in one or two schools of magic. (ie, Montaigne, Conjuration (which includes Teleportation); Vodacce, Divination; etc.). Likewise, certain magical classes fit those styles of magic better (Montaigne and Vodacce magic users are Sorcerers, since their magic is inherent to bloodlines. Avalon, Ussura, and the Commonwealth would all be Warlocks. Castille, Eisen, and Vestenmanavenjar would all be wizards.).  Here is the list I sketched out some time ago in my handy GM Notebook:

Nationality Class School
Avalon, et al. Warlock Enchantment, Illusion
Montaigne Sorcerer Conjuration
Castille Wizard (Alchemist) Transmutation
Eisen Wizard (Alchemist) Necromancy
Sarmatia Warlock Conjuration, Evocation
Ussura Warlock Abjuration
Vestenmennavenjar Wizard Evocation, Transmutation
Vodacce Sorcerer Divination
  • You’ll need to make a decision about the priest class. The priest class doesn’t really make sense in 7th Sea, but has an important role in D&D. You can ditch the class by moving some of its “turn undead” capabilities to the wizard’s necromancy school for Hexenwerk. But it would be easier (and less abrasive to players) to just keep it as is.
  • No non-human races.  If you are feeling ambitious, you can use the National Trait bonuses from the 7th Sea rules to create similar National Attribute bonuses, or you can just ignore that and just use the standard human racial template easily enough.
  • Use the Firearms and Explosives rules from the DMG (pg. 267-268).

  • Use the Hero Point option from the DMG (pg. 264).
  • You’ll want to disassociate armor worn from Armor Class. While there isn’t an option in the DMG, I believe there are house ruled variants available.  Some easy options would be to allow classes to add their Proficiency bonus to AC, and/or perhaps double to Dex bonus as it applies to AC.

  • If you have the 4th edition, you could do worse than adapt the Minion rules (for brute squads). This is a nice option to keep in your toolbox, but easily ignored.
  • Magical weapons and armor are Dracheneisen, Zahmeireen, or even Nacht, (if you want to bring those back into play). Potions are alchemy or hexenwerk (Castille, Eisen).  Anything that doesn’t fit these concepts should be reskinned as syrneth artifacts or something else entirely (fey or devai crafted items?  Gifts from the Jok, Bonsam, or a living god?).

  • A copy of Ghosts of Saltmarsh will be a must for the naval combat rules!  Alternatively, you can grab a copy of the playtest rules or your favorite variant of the DM’s Guild.

And there you have it. Your conversion work is done. You’ll probably need to fine tune a few things (add Backgrounds, Feats, maybe adapt some subclasses), but you can start playing tomorrow!  And if you do—or if you see something obvious that I missed—be sure to drop a message in the comments!

Quick update: Reading some of the initial responses over on the Explorers of Théah facebook group, I feel the need to clarify the objective here.  This is not a blueprint for running 7th Sea with 5e rules.  It isn’t about shoehorning all the conventions of 7th Sea into 5e mechanical terms — the duelist academies, the sorceries, etc.  What I’m proposing is that you can use the themes in 7th Sea to alter the trappings of your 5e game. It’s going to feel like playing D&D. It’s going to look like playing D&D. You WILL be playing D&D. But that dungeon you are about to explore is in Montaigne, and the Fate Witch in your party is a creepy, veiled divination sorceress from Vodacce.

Got it?

Or maybe you just need more rum!

Or maybe I do.

Curses, Disease, and Poison: Lasting Afflictions in 7th Sea

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Consequences in 7th Sea are relatively straightforward.  Either something happens to you RIGHT NOW, or you take wounds.  But what about more lasting afflictions?  How can we reflect those in play? With very few exceptions, the rules are silent on these.  There’s the VENOMOUS Monstrous Quality (Core rulebook, pg 198).  But that isn’t a very satisfying way to replicate the effects of the vast myriad of Vodacce poisons, some strange disease your Avalonian explorer picks up in the jungles of Aztlan or while delving into the ancient tomb of a Khemetic Pharoah.

After this question was posed on the Explorer’s of Théah Discord server (yes, there is one—and if you are a fan of 7th Sea, you need to be on it), I gave the prospect some thought.  What sort of conditions and penalties work for lasting afflictions?  How long should they last?  Here is what I came up with.

CURSES

A curse is a supernatural affliction.  How you end up on the receiving end of one is a matter for your game.  Beating one could be a Story to itself.

There are three Grades of Curses.

  • Minor Curses last 1 scene (ie. the evil eye, a jinx)
  • Major Curses last 1 episode
  • Epic Curses last 1 season (or require a 3-5 Step story to Remove) (ex. the gypsy curse in Stephen King’s Thinner, Lycanthrope, etc)

Curse Effects

Choose one effect from the following list that best reflects the condition the curse imparts on the victim.  Some effects are more suited to certain ranks than others, but that is left to your discretion as the GM.

  1. Lose your highest raise
  2. the curse prevents you from acting a certain way. Certain actions require 2 raises to perform. (Threat like Pressure.)
  3. Reputation (people tend to avoid you if they know you are “cursed”)
  4. Gain an extra Hubris
  5. Gain the Foul Weather Jack Advantage (player gets an extra story that must be resolved or bad thing happens) (3-point advantage, core rulebook pg 151)
  6. Player cannot activate her Virtue while under the effects of the curse.
  7. Player cannot spend/earn Hero Points while under the effects of the curse. (Not recommended for Epic curses!)
  8. The cursed hero acts normally, its his companions that suffer the curse effect.
  9. The hero is pursued by a sending/phantom thing. Roll d10 at the beginning of any scene, on a 1 the thing shows up to complicate matters.  (Alternative: the GM may spend a DP to have the sending appear on the scene.)
  10. Gain the Dark Gift Advantage (Nations of Théah, vol 2, pg 206) AND a second 5-step story to remove it)
  11. Gain a point of Corruption.

Once a hero is under the effects of a curse, future applications of the same curse have no affect.  The hero can be cursed again for a different effect, or can be RE-cursed once the effect has been voided (even through a Story—because villains suck!).

POISONS

Like curses, there are three grades of poisons.

  • Minor Poison effects last 1 scene
  • Major Poison effects last 1 episode
  • Epic Poisons last 1 season (or require a 3-5 Step story to remove) (ex. the poison from the movie, D.O.A.)

Poison Effects

Choose one effect from the following list that best reflects the condition the poison imparts on the victim.  Some effects are more suited to certain ranks than others, but that is left to your discretion as the GM.

  1. Lose your highest raise (just like the Venomous Monstrous Quality; this condition may cost a Danger Point).
  2. The victim is immediately rendered helpless!
  3. The poison’s antidote must be administered before the end of the scene or the victim becomes helpless until applied (plus X number of hours, usually 24).
  4. While the victim is poisoned, she suffers 2 wounds for every 1 she would normally take (and yes, that means she must still spend 1 raise to counter each wound).
  5. The hero suffers an immediate dramatic wound, plus X additional wounds (just like being hit by a firearm)
  6. The victim rolls 2 fewer dice (1 from trait and 1 from skill) for all Approaches while under effects of the poison.
  7. Villains roll +2 dice against the victim (exactly as though the hero had 2 Dramatic Wounds—and yes, this penalty stacks with that one).
  8. The victim must spend a HP to act (make approach, gather dice pool, etc) in the scene (just as if rendered helpless).
  9. Treat as a Hubris—the victim gains a Hero Point when his poisoned condition causes him trouble.
  10. The player receive a (3-5) step story that MUST be resolved or your hero dies (usually involves finding a special healer/antidote/etc.).  At the GM’s discretion, this may be resolved at the same time as the hero’s current storyline, but it must be resolved FIRST.  If the hero’s primary storyline is solved before the poison storyline, the hero dies.

Once a hero is under the effects of a poison, future applications of the same poison may no affect, depending on the condition.  The hero can be poisoned again for a different effect, or once the effect has been voided.

Disease

Disease works just like curses and poisons.  They grade effects are identical.  Pick the effect from either list that best suits the effect you want and go with it.

Once a hero is under the effects of a disease, future applications of the same disease have no affect.  The hero can be afflicted with multiple diseases, and voiding an effect is not the same as gaining an immunity (unless the GM says so—in which case, get it in writing!).

Curses, Poison, and Disease as a Consequence

All three of these conditions are can be presented as consequences.  There are a few slight differences between them.

  • Curses attached to an item (say, a stolen Khemetic relic) can only be avoided by ridding oneself of the item.  It must be destroyed, given away (and freely accepted, lest Corruption!), or returned to its original resting place.  As long as the item is in the Hero’s possession, he is subject to the curse.
  • Curses laid by an individual (the stereotypical “gypsy curse”) are generally applied with Pressure, and as such should require two Raises to avoid in an Action or Dramatic sequence.
  • Poison can be attached to Dramatic Wounds.  Drinking a vial of poison should have a consequence of 10+ wounds.  If the hero does not spend raises to avoid all resulting dramatic wounds (so 6+ Raises), the affliction is applied.
  • Avoiding drinking a poison may have social consequences, and villains will often apply Pressure to this effect.
  • Poisoned weapons might work like firearms.
  • Disease can either be a group consequence, with Pressure from the environment (so 2 raises per hero to avoid or everyone gets it).
  • Weaponized diseases (like D&D’s Mummy Rot) can be attached to wounds.  Epic Diseases should require at least a dramatic wound to administer.
  • Diseases can also be the result of Hazards (The New World, pg 199-200).  This is a good alternative with the Treacherous Element (instead of a Dramatic Wound).

Metroplex RPG Expo

Hey DFW friends! Mark your calendars for June 2! Whether you are an experienced tabletop role playing gamer or you’ve only watched an episode of Critical Role, this is a great chance to try your first role playing game, try a new system, or just meet other tabletop gamers in the DFW area. Bring the whole family for a day of fun!

This event is a demo day for ALL  types of role playing games and expressly designed to introduce first time players to a variety of role playing systems. Everyone is welcome and no role playing game experience necessary. Our goal is to provide RPGs that players have never played before in hopes of increasing all types of RPG gaming in our community.  So, if you’ve always wanted to try a game we offer, here’s your chance.  And rest assured, all the other players will be first timers as well.  Most games will have pre-generated characters to keep the flowing, will go over character sheets and game basics, and then get right to the heart of the adventure.

So, try out a new game! These are all great systems and there a ton of good games out there in addition to D&D.

Click here for everything about events, times, and registration.

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…

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