Tag Archives: swashbuckling

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).
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Episode Recap: Good Knight

Our Heroes are…

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

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

Tonight’s Spotlight Hero is…

Milaria Beaufort

Part One: Shadow of Avalon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two: The More You Know

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

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

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

She remembers her dream perfectly.  Every detail.

* * *

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milaria agrees to meet again and the two part ways.

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

Part Three: The Witch of La Bucca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milaria takes the knife and looks to Sebastian.

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t do it!” he shouts!

To be continued…

Samhain is for Witch Hunters

Tonight All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, and compared to last year there has been a complete dearth of Witch Hunter material.  Especially compared with last year!  There are a lot of excuses I could throw out there, chef among them being that my group really hasn’t played since August!  But most of it comes down to just being a bit tapped out this year.  I’ve had to focus on a lot of other things, which hasn’t meant much time scratching notes in the old notebook.

But I’m not going to let a Halloween go by without something for fellow fans of the Witch Hunter rpg.  This has been a strange year for us.  No official releases, very little ink spilled about the direction of the game.  The property has changed hands, and while there have been some promises, for the most part it’s been quiet as the grave.

j-_sprenger_and_h-_institutoris_malleus_maleficarum-_wellcome_l0000980Those of you who visit this site regularly know that since my group started play four years ago, we’ve incorporated a lot of “fixes” in our game.  Most of them I’ve posted here in various blog posts spread out over three years.  But if you are one of the two or three people who wish you could get all of our House Rules in one document, well today is your lucky day.  Now you can download the Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) for Witch Hunter: The Invisible World 2nd edition.  This is a compendium of all the house rules and tweaks we use in our game.  I’m adding a link to the Downloads page as well.  I’m understandably biased, but I feel these changes have really fine tuned the Witch Hunter experience for our group.  And until we get an official errata document, this may be the closest thing you are going to find for the game.  I claim no official position here, and obviously none of this is sanctioned by the Witch Hunter: Revelations campaign.  But I really hope this is useful for those of you who have been following this site for your home games.

(Yes, this is a not-so-clever play on the real Malleus Maleficarum, an actual 17th century account of witch hunting and the Invisible World.  Beyond the title, there is no relation between the two documents.)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Re-examining All For One: Regime Diabolique

Summer is almost over.  My wife is back to work at a new library.  The kids go back to school in a week.  Time for another big shake up of my schedule, hopefully in a good way.  It may make blogging a bit easier.  We’ll see.

So awhile back, if you recall, I posted my thoughts on running a B/X D&D and just how easy it felt.  It still feels easy, fresh, and fun.  Enough so that Witch Hunter feels a bit clunky by comparison.  So as an exercise, I starting playing around with home-brewing a system that would give me the same easy breezy feeling but include all the stuff I want and need for heroic swashbuckling fantasy.  And that’s what I stumbled right back over All For One: Regime Diabolique, by Wiggy of Triple Ace Games.

prod_35164For those of you unfamiliar with the game, All for One (AFO, hereafter) is a roleplaying game set in early 17th Century France, where the players assume the roles of the King’s Musketeers, protecting King and Country from the threats foreign, domestic, and…supernatural!  Demons, vampires, werewolves, and all manner of other things that go bump in the night lurk in the dark shadows of Paris, and in the catacombs below.  Now if that doesn’t sound like a dead ringer candidate for game of the year for this GM, I don’t know what does?

I used AFO a few years back as the basis for another campaign for my library program.  At that time, I was pretty wrapped up in the Savage Worlds system and the Savage World of Solomon Kane, so the Ubiquity system went in the hopper and was hastily converted to SW mechanics.  This was, of course, before Triple Ace Games (TAG) did me the courtesy of releasing a SW adaption on their own.  Boy, would that have saved me some work.  That campaign has long since wrapped, but I’ve kept AFO on my Witch Hunter resource bookshelf for ideas and inspiration.  So it isn’t like I found my dog-earred copy in the garage.

Now maybe you haven’t heard, but as much as I like the new 7th Sea game, it has some aspects that present a bit of a barrier to me as a go-to game.  But what started out as an exercise in stripping a game for parts became sort of a startling rediscovery of the Ubiquity system.  Understand, I never disliked Ubiquity as a game system, it was just a non-starter for me.  The whole even/odds thing felt gimmicky, and most folks compare its play with Savage Worlds.

Flash forward a few years and I have a sudden epiphany that Ubiquity could be the bad ass d10 dice pool game 7th Sea is never going to be for me.  Even better, it’s a rosetta stone.  You can easily map that parts of 7th Sea 2nd edition you like to it, due to the Hero Point/Style Point economies both games share, and still maintain a more traditional conflict resolution mechanic.  Oh sure, it’s not a perfect fit, but it’s pretty damn close.  It seems like a pretty hard game to break, too.  And the tone and style of the game flirts with covering the same territory as witch hunter (supernatural monster hunting) while at the same time opening itself to a more sandbox approach.  In fact, its a perfect fit for those who want to run a game akin to D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles.

After four years of playing Witch Hunter, I’ve got the system ALMOST where it needs to be.  So I’m not about to pitch the whole thing and jump ship to Ubiquity, but DAMN if it isn’t tempting.  A lot of the lore of Witch Hunter could easily be mapped to AFO, as could the setting material for Savage World of Solomon Kane.  Personally, I like that Witch Hunter is a more global game.  Where if you want to throw together an adventure in India, or Egypt, or the Far East, you are good to go.  But there are parts of the system that just feel like dead weight compared to what Ubiquity offers.

I would make a few changes off the top, however.  These ideas may not sit well, or may seem superfluous, to hard-core Ubiquity fans.  But if I play it, they are going in.

  • d10 dice pools. Successes on a 6+ (instead of standard evens/odds)
  • Exploding dice!  Rolling a 10 on any die lets you reroll.
  • Rule of 10. dice pools are capped at 10. For every two dice extra, the player gets a free success.
  • Static Defense.  At the very least for NPCs, do away with defense rolls and just reduce attacks by the Average defense.
  • Brute squads/Minion Bands! Gotta have rules for mobs of bad guys.  Someone has probably done this for Ubiquity already, but I’m thinking Threat Ratings 1-5, roll 2 dice per Rank.  Defense is equal to Rank.  Defense Rolls against brute squads don’t suffer the usual -2 for multiple opponents (they are brutes!).
  • Cinematic Health: On paper, the game looks a bit more gritty than I’d like for a pulp game.  But having not played before, I’m hesitant to change that.
  • GM Procedural Rolls.  I’m gonna have a whole blog post on these, as I’m coming to realize they are the secret sauce that makes O/B/X D&D click.  Any GM roll against a player skill is done with 1d10.  A roll equal to or less than the average rating succeeds.  Yes, sorry, the high-low thing.  But these are only for the GM, so…

And that’s more or less it.  Ok, I might add some special stunts for Fencing Schools, but I suspect those are already out and in the wild.

So if you’ve been following along with this blog and thinking, yeah, swashbuckling monster hunters sounds fun!  Or if your one of the many people who cracked the new 7th Sea game and said, “what the…um…” then DEFINITELY do yourself a favor and check out this gem.  The game line is well supported and mostly complete, so no supplement train to worry about (feature or negative, your choice).  Plus, the guys at TAG are fantastic folks who threw a lot of support to me when I was using their stuff for my library program.

 

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.

Risks

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.

 

7th Sea 2nd edition: First Play Experience

185462So last weekend the stars aligned, the planets converged, dogs and cats made peace, and I found myself with a kid’s free/spouse free weekend.  While marveling at this mythical unicorn that had walked into my life, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to test out the new 7th Sea game.  So I contacted the folks who had been part of my old grad school group – they all live in Denton about 1 hour north of me – and nearly everyone was game and excited to try it out.  In the end, we had four players, only one of whom was not part of that original group.

I put it to them what sort of adventure they wanted to see while brainstorming ideas on my end.  I had a nearly finished concept when one of them said, “SHIP STUFF!”  This was followed by a chorus of “pirates!” and “buried treasure!”  So I scrapped what I’d been working on and started fresh.  Its a hazard of the job.

After more brainstorming (over about 16 hours of driving – no one said unicorns come easy), I had what I figured was a serviceable outline for an adventure.  I sat down and sketched it out over 4 pages, making sure to add in potential consequences, opportunities, anything I might need to fill in the gaps.  No time to make characters, so I told everyone to bring a character sheet and some ideas.

After more driving, happy reunions, and a play of fresh brownies, we were ready to get started.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I didn’t come here to listen to you gab about your weekend or your college friends.  Get to the…wait, brownies?

Yes.

“Special” brownies?

No.

Psh, some college reunion.  Well this got boring real quick.  Ok, get to the point!

Ok, I need to say all that to stress that the circumstances of play may well color my review.  This is the first face-to-face tabletop game I’ve run in over 3 years, with some people I haven’t seen in nearly that long or longer, with no guilt attached.  I mean, we could have been playing RIFTS and it would have been…ok, I won’t go that far.  But just keep that in mind if you need a grain of salt to go with this review.

Ok, so I can report back that if the point of the new 7th Sea is to let you create a character that brings the awesome, it succeeds.  It took a bit of encouragement as the players gradually started testing out their freedoms, like deer stepping into a green meadow.  But once they got rolling, things really picked up.  It didn’t feel terribly different than most game sessions I’ve run, but there was a certain liberty to the player’s actions that felt refreshing.

Character Creation

Character creation took about an hour with four people on laptops, tablets and phones.  We skipped the whole Story stage, and used random generation (d20 roll) for the heroes’ arcana which worked out marvelously – I highly recommend that and will probably do that in a regular game.

Action Scenes

We opened up on an Action Scene, which was both good and bad.  Good because it put the players immediately in the action.  Bad because the drama of the scene suffered a bit from everyone scrambling around figuring out how the game worked.  But that’s OK, it was a two round action sequence and right off the bat people started trying to go outside the box and learn how the game accommodated that.  The thing that took the most getting used to: sequence of actions based on raises.  Everyone wanted to spend all their raises on their actions at once.  It took a bit of corralling to get everyone to settle down to the one action at a time business.  I quickly developed something of a shorthand method of tracking spent raises and some tricks to handle some special abilities.  I suggest every GM go out and get yourself a small white board and some fine point dry erase markers.  It’s going to make play SO much easier to manage.

Risks

Where we fell into the groove of action scenes rather quickly, Risks felt less comfortable.  And not because of having to come up with Consequences.  That turned out to be the easy part.  Spending a raise to accomplish their intent on top of averting consequences took a bit of policing.  But one thing that popped up that I didn’t expect was how to judge the quality of success on an action that isn’t a Risk.  In most games, you have 2 or three degrees of success for a roll.  But with 7th Sea, if it isn’t a Risk, you don’t have to roll.  So there isn’t that chance of doing something with a high degree of success.  The players fell into the old habit of rolling and counting raises towards the task even though it wasn’t technically a Risk.  This is something we are going to have to address in our games I feel.

Brute Squad Fights

These were just fun.  I don’t have to roll a thing, just tell the players what they are dealing with and let them go.  Again, a small white board would make tracking this stuff so easy.  The duelist player commented on how potentially deep the duelist maneuvers could be, once you really start strategizing them.  Players quickly took to spending Hero Points on each other, intervening to protect their companions from harm, and using their abilities to rack up Hero Points.  It occurs to me that I’m going to have to work hard to soak up a lot of these Hero Points because the game makes it very easy to get them.  I don’t think it really made the heroes more powerful, but when I see the player next to me sitting on six hero points, I start thinking of them as a big safety net.

Opportunities

Creating Opportunities for the other players was perhaps one of the biggest conceptual hurdles the players faced.  They were good for assisting each other with Hero Points or spending Raises to soak wounds.  But when it came to Opportunities, I really had to coax them along.  The scene went something like this:

Me: “Ok Chris, you have one raise left.  You can just leave it, OR you can create an Opportunity for someone else.”

Chris: “Can I do it for myself?”

Me: “No, only another player.”

Chris (to another player): “Keith, you’re looking for fresh food and water, right?”

Keith: “That’s right.”

Chris: “Ok, I spend my raise to help him find it.”

Me: “He’s already spent a raise to do that, so he’s found fresh fruit.  And there is plenty of water.”

Chris: “Hrm.”

Me: “It doesn’t HAVE to be related to what he’s doing, you know.  It could be something completely different.  What do YOU want him to find?”

Chris (the wheels turn for a few seconds and suddenly): “Ok, Keith.  You find a MAP…to TREASURE!”

Me: “Now we’re talking.”

I believe that was the only Opportunity created for the whole night.  I suspect people are either going to GET the concept of Opportunities and go nuts, or are going to be slow to get there like these players were.  I say they were slow, that’s probably not the best way to describe it.  It’s just that creating elements inside the story that don’t serve the immediate needs of the Hero is a bit alien to them at this point.

In Conclusion

So over a four hour game session, the players created characters and explored 2/3rds of an uncharted island in the Numanari Approach.  It even ended on something of a cliffhanger. Not a bad night’s work.  Everyone was very enthusiastic about the system and is ready to play again, so we’re going to have to play out the exciting conclusion before summer ends.

I really enjoyed it.  Play was very simple with LOTS of encouragement for heroic roleplaying.  The game really supports this well.  It’s not about the rolls or how easy it is to succeed at something.  Things felt fast and easy to manage, particularly combat.  In fact, I’d put it up there with B/X D&D level of simplicity, with plenty of flexibility within that framework for players to do things other than say, “I attack!” (though there was some of that – this being the first game session and all).  I think the longest fight may have lasted three rounds and 10 minutes of play.  And yes, people did take a few dramatic wounds – combat isn’t a cakewalk (though it isn’t gritty by a long shot).

Expressing consequences didn’t eat up nearly as much time as I feared it might.  Though granted, the players were working in a confined environment with plenty of incentive not to go wandering off (the red apes were just nasty enough that no one wanted to tangle with them if they didn’t have to).  No one felt the dice rolling was superfluous, and by the end of the game it became the hunt for bonus dice that became a real feature.  I held most of the Risks to 2-3 consequences and that seemed to eat up most of the raises outside of combat.

From a GM perspective, here are the tools you are going to need to run a bang-up game of 7th Sea:

  • A small dry erase board for keeping track of (spent) raises during action and dramatic scenes is crucial and needs to be part of your toolbox.
  • Multiple sets of colored beads for tracking hero points, danger points, wounds, and a vary of other resources.
  • Some different colored d10s to represent certain bonus dice will be helpful.

Obviously I’m going to have to play it a lot more get a better view of the warts, but even at this stage the rules feel light and malleable enough that I can’t imagine anything being terribly broken.  There was some table talk about exploiting the death spiral, but the key to managing that I believe lies in judicious management of scenes.  Sometimes the scene shouldn’t end just because the action has ended.

Oh, and everyone still wants their dice to explode.

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!

Maiden Voyage

18546217 years after it was originally launched, 11 years after being dry docked, the 7th Sea 2nd edition core rulebook sailed into the harbor at DriveThruRPG this morning.  Re-imagined, re-engineered, and recommissioned, it now begins the hard work of plying the waves of tabletop gamers’ imaginations, dreams, and cruel prejudices.

I’ve made no bones of the fact that the original 7th Sea game sealed my love of the swashbuckling fantasy (sub)genre and set the bar for pretty much everything that has come since.  Sure the game had its warts — what RPG doesn’t — but those issues never really took away from the fun.  The new edition definitely takes things to new frontiers, some of them way outside my comfort zone and others that I wish had had at my disposal for years.  I can’t wait to try it out.

If you haven’t already, check out the Downloads page of this blog for some new 7th Sea goodness.  There you’ll find:

  • A character sheet (duh!)
  • A character sheet for your ship
  • A ship’s manifest (for keeping track of all those pesky crew members so you can get attached to them.)
  • The Swashbuckler’s Arsenal (a list of common weapons for the period and some optional rules for equipment picks at character creation.)

I’m going to be talking more about the new edition later this week.  In the meantime, go get it and start marinating on it.  It’s going to give us a lot to talk about.