Tag Archives: Tabletop 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.

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Roll the Bones

First, some music!

Sometimes you just wanna throw some dice.

That’s not a thing 7th Sea really excels at.  That’s a feature, not a bug.  Risks are supposed to be big deals.  When it comes to routine actions, even those other RPGs might call for more challenging tests, GMs are encouraged to let the players succeed and move on with the game.  As I’ve said here and elsewhere, if you can’t think of at least two Consequences to a course of action, it’s not a Risk.

But sometimes. Sometimes you just wanna throw some dice.

Some 7th Sea GMs do this.  But the game isn’t really built for it.  The dice mechanic has a very steep curve.  This has been well documented here, here, and here.  So if you are just pulling numbers out of the air for task difficulty, odds are you are just wasting your time.

Sometimes you just wanna throw some dice.

I include myself in this.  Sometimes, I just want to call for a roll for a binary chance.  It’s late, time is of the essence, and I just too damn tired don’t want to conjure up a bunch of consequences.  But I don’t want to just let the players succeed either.  I need something.  And my players?  They just wanna throw some dice.

(Ok, I’ll stop with that now.)

A while back I started playing around with mixing the mechanics from Modiphius’ 2d20 system and 7th Sea.  While I’ve long advocated the Ubiquity RPG (via All for One Regime Diabolique) as a rosetta stone between 1st and 2nd edition 7th Sea, I also believe that the new 2d20 Lite, used in John Carter of Mars, is a nearly perfect vehicle for folks who find 7th Sea 2nd edition TOO hand-wavy.  In fact, I’m convinced that you can run the games interchangeably just by dropping skills and changing a few names in 2d20 Lite.  But I digress.  This experiment has led me to what I think is a nearly perfect way to call for binary dice tests in 7th Sea.  You wanna throw some dice?  Lemme tell ya how.

So statistically, 7th Sea almost guarantees 1 Raise for every 3 dice rolled.  I believe I’ve seen the figure 0.75 Raises per 2 dice.  Not quite Ubiquities 50/50 split, but pretty darn close.  So let’s assume that’s correct. Let’s use the figures in one of the links above:

on 6 dice I saw the following results:

71% of the results were 3 successes

14% of the results were 4 successes

12.5% of the results were 2 successes

1% of the results were 5 successes

1% of the results were 1 success

.5% of the results were 0 successes

The reroll of one die improved a roll about 9% of the time.

Going by those figures, here is what I propose:

To make a binary (yes/no) roll in 7th Sea, roll your dice pool against a Target Number equal to HALF of your pool.  So if you are rolling 6 dice, your TN would be 3 Raises.  4 dice? 2 Raises.  Got it?  This is a ROUTINE test (71% +/- chance of success, 80% with a reroll—skill rank 3+).

Want to make it more difficult?  Increase the TN by 1 (14% +/- chance of success, 25% with a reroll).  This is a CHALLENGING test. (This is what MOST of your tests are going to be.)

More?  Increase the TN by 2 (1% +/- chance of success, 10% with a reroll).  This is a DAUNTING test.  Not quite a Hail Mary, but close.

You can twist this to a non-binary result very easily too.  Assume a TN of half your dice pool for base (partial) success.  By every Raise you miss the target by, you suffer one Consequence.  Likewise, for every Raise you score beyond the target, you can create an Opportunity for an ally in the scene.

And the best part?  It works with the Danger Point mechanic.

Need a table for that?  Here you go.

Task Difficulty Raises Req.
Routine +0
Challenging +1
Daunting +2
Impossible +3

Now, remember, this is a crutch.  It’s a little clunky, but it’ll get you there.  I wouldn’t ditch the core Risk mechanic for this.  But there are certain scenarios where I can see this being a useful tool to keep in your toolbox.  I think it can also be useful for players and GMs new to 7th Sea who are coming from more traditional backgrounds (like myself) — though we are perhaps the most susceptible to over exploiting this crutch.

Please do not complain the game is broken when you use this trick as your main mechanic and your game falls apart.  This is a crutch, remember?  When was the last time anyone ran a marathon with a crutch?  Never.  Right.

But hey.  You know what?  Sometimes…

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…

Expertimentation

failure

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

Run Riot!

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

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

Here’s how it played out:

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

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

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

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

The scene snaps back to Allende’s office.

“So what happened then?” she asks.

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

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

Reflection

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

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

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

Schemes

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

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

And that, dear readers, is where I failed.

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

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

Reflections

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

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

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

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

And there you have it!

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

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

Warts and All

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

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

Bloody Misadventures

Bloody Misadventures: Dramatic Battles on the High Seas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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