[First Impressions] 7th Sea 2nd Edition Quickstart Adventure

Posted: May 1, 2016 by pointyman2000 in 7th Sea, Articles, First Impressions, Roleplaying Games
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Capture

Like many, many others, I jumped at the chance to bring 7th Sea back to life when John Wick announced that there would be a second edition in the works by backing the All PDF tier.

I’m a fan of the pseudo-European setting and I need very little motivation to play a game of swashbuckling in a historically inspired setting that will forgive my Asian mangling of their names. So to celebrate Tabletop Day, I rounded up my usual suspects and decided to take the 7th Sea 2nd Edition Quickstart rules out for a spin just to see what it was like.

It was an off day for most of my group, so I had only 2 players present to test the game with me. After familiarizing ourselves with the rules, we decided to jump right into it. Here are our first impressions with this iteration of the rules.

ROLLING DICE

The basic resolution system of 7th Sea is similar to the older Roll and Keep system used in the first edition, but with a twist. Players still put together a pool of 10-sided dice equal to their character’s relevant Trait and Skill and roll them, but instead of picking out a number of dice to represent your roll, the players now assemble sets of dice that add up to at least a 10. Each set is called a Raise.

For example, a player rolls 6d10 and the dice come up as 5,7,3,5,8,1. The player them puts together as many sets as possible to add up to a  total value of ten. In this case he can do 2 Raises: (5,5) and (7,3) Unfortunately, his last two dice, 8 and 1 don’t add up to a 10 and therefore do not contribute to the number of Raises in the roll.

Each Raise is then used as a currency of sorts to buy a desired result for a given roll.

There’s some feedback about players taking too long to assemble sets of 10 in attempts to try to maximize the results of the dice rolled but I didn’t experience any severe slowing down of play. If anything counting sets of 10 seemed faster than the traditional addition of Roll and Keep.

BASIC TASK RESOLUTION

In 7th Sea, the GM is required to be transparent with regards to the stakes of a given skill check, or as the game calls them, Risks. Risks are presented to the players with a full breakdown of the Consequences and Opportunities in a situation. Raises are then spent to “buy” a desired result.

To paraphrase an example in the book, a scene in which a character is in a burning room is then presented with the Consequences of the situation. It’s important to remember that any Risk requires at least one Raise to achieve the objective. The rest of the Raises are then spent to mitigate the Consequences.

So a burning room would then have the following costs:
1 Raise – Get out of the room
1 Raise – Avoid 1 Wound
1 Raise – Avoid 1 Wound
1 Raise – Grab an important map from the table

If the player in the roll example above only had 2 Raises, they would have to choose then how to spend those Raises. They could, for example, spend their Raises to grab the map and get out of the room, but suffer 2 Wounds. Alternately they can also choose to get out of the room and avoid 1 Wound, or any other permutation thereof.

While I do find the idea of choosing which objectives to gun for in a roll to be interesting, I found myself struggling to see how to implement this for a given scene. The Quickstart had some very heavy-handed railroading in the early scenes (which, to be fair, was necessary as you needed to learn the rules) but it left me with a slight bit of discomfort and confusion with regards to how to implement the rules in a different situtation.

SOCIALS

One of the early scenes of the Quickstart featured a social scene between an NPC femme fatal type called the Black Cat and the characters. The writeup for the adventure has a couple of notes in it like singling out a character to give a response as you hold up five fingers and start counting down. I understand that sometimes players will waffle and take time to think of a response but I felt that this trick (which was used more than once in the Quickstart) was like slapping someone with a quick time event from out of the blue.

I would definitely worry about players who aren’t quite as witty with regards to handling such a situation.

Furthermore, players who wanted to act in a Social Scene by initiating a Risk left me high and dry. I wish there were more examples on how a social Risk would be structured. In the end I opted to let them roll their Risk with the following spend:

1 Raise – Determine Black Cat’s Sincerity
1 Raise – Avoid Insulting Her
1 Raise – Avoid Insulting Her

It was something I cobbled together on the fly and until now I’m still trying to figure out if it was correct, or if this was one of those times when I should just have them roleplay it?

BRUTE SQUAD COMBAT

Later on, the game moves on to the basic combat example, where the players then shift a bit away from the Risk task resolution system. Faced with 1 Brute Squad each, the players had a bit of a struggle here, as they and I tried to figure out just how exactly to manage the system.

Here’s how the system works according to the Quickstart:

Step 1: Announce Intentions.

Everyone including the Brute Squads announce what they want to happen next. In addition, they also declare what they’re going to do to pursue said intention.

Okay, this one sounds simple enough, with Brute Squads usually going for “Capture the Heroes” and declare that they’ll “Knock X Hero unconscious” as how they play to do it.  Players also made their Intentions known but it was difficult for them to formulate the “how” portion as they had no tactical knowledge to work on at the start.

Step 2: Trait+Skill+Bonus

The GM then determines which Trait+Skill+Bonus combinations apply to each of the player’s actions. In addition, the GM also tells them the Consequences, if any, for their particular Risk.

Once those have been explained, everyone rolls their dice and starts counting Raises. According to the rules, the character with the most Raises goes first. They then describe their Hero’s Action and spends one or more Raises for this action.

After the first Action Resolves, the character with the most Raises takes the next action.

Step 3: Brute’s Turn

If the players have not taken out all the brutes, it is the brutes’ turn to deal out injuries. The Brutes deal a number of Wounds equal to their remaining Strength.

End of the Round
If there are any Brutes remaining, go back to step 1 and resolve accordingly.

ISSUES

The problem that we had here was one of Raise Allocation. In one example, the character had rolled 4 Raises. Being a player character, he had the benefit of being able to act ahead of the Brutes.

They devote 2 Raises to dealing damage, taking out 2 of the 8 Brutes, lowering the Brute Squad’s Strength to 6. They had hoped to hold 2 Raises in reserve to cancel / avoid any further damage from the Brutes…

Only to realize that it was not actually tactically sound to do so. In the context of fighting Brutes, it was far simpler to just spend all 4 Raises to take out 4 Brutes right away as there was no way you could respond when the Brutes attack you back. They simply deal damage to you equal to their remaining strength.

Rather than feel swashbuckly and fun… it sort of felt like an exercise in attrition. Unless the heroes were in big trouble to begin with, fighting Brute Squads truly felt like a speed bump. Sure players can go super creative on how they achieve their attacks but in the end the group felt like skipping past the Brute Squad mechanics and just take 4 Wounds each instead.

VILLAIN VS. HERO COMBAT

Due to a fork in one of the encounters, one of the Players opted to pursue a Villain while the other was handling the Brute Squads. Villains are more like Heroes in the sense that combat with them gives them a pool of dice to work with that they assemble Raises with to spend as they choose.

This however turned out to be rather confusing in practice.

One particular Round in the fight proved to be telling. In this round, the Villain’s intention was “Escape the Hero” and the Hero’s intention was, “Slay the villain”

At this point the next step would be to describe consequences, but at this point I was stumped. Was damage still a Consequence? But damage was determined by Raises spent, like when fighting Brute Squads. Ok then, what other consequences had to happen? I couldn’t think of anything, so we moved on.

The Hero rolls to attack (Finesse+Weapon) while the Villain rolls their (Finesse+Athletics), Hero gets 5 raises, Villain 3.

The Hero, going first, opts to spend all their Raises on damage. The Villain takes 5 Wounds, just shy of taking a Dramatic Wound. There was no mention of a Villain being able to spend Raises to mitigate damage as they normally would if the damage was from the Consequences of a Risk, so all 5 go through.

Given that they still have 3 Raises left, the Villain then takes 3 consecutive actions: Knock the Hero Prone, Shoot them with a Pistol, and then hightail it out of the room.

Technically while 2 of the actions in the set did not involve running, they flowed from the idea that the intention was to “Escape the Hero” by tripping him up, giving him a wound to worry about, and then finally physically putting distance between them.

The problem was that this was done using raises from a Finesse+Athletics roll, which made no sense.

The question then is, was that set of actions wrong? Should I have just said that they spend all 3 Raises running down the hallway?

Given that there was no way for someone to actually react to another’s action, it ended up with both combatants just achieving their respective objectives by throwing all their Raises at it.

I had hoped for some sort of give and take… where the Hero spends Raises to do X, and the villain spends to do Y to mitigate X. If the Hero still has Raises they can do something else, or if not the Villain can then try action Z.

Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. From my understanding the rules support a “What are you doing this round, roll for your Raises and spend them on that action alone.” Which reduces the Raises only to function as how much narrative weight your action has and whether or not someone can counteract your claim.

This lack of dynamism was very, very disappointing to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I understand that I’m looking at a Quickstart of a game that is still finding its sea legs. I can see more than a little bit of influence of modern storygaming into it, while trying to retain the bits and pieces of it’s heritage in the Roll and Keep system. There are a few bits of fun mechanics, Flair for one is simple but helps add to the feel of the game.

However, I wasn’t entirely too big a fan of the quick time event implementation of decision making, regardless of whether or not it was mean to “keep things moving.” I also couldn’t figure out the Action Scenes in my head just yet and we spent too much time trying to sort it out that we didn’t get to Episode 2 as listed in the adventure to test out the Dueling mechanics.

I also hope that the writing style in the book is a little less conversational than the one used in the Quickstart. While I appreciate seeing an author’s voice, the way that it’s written comes off as flippant and perhaps  a bit condescending.

Ultimately I don’t regret backing 7th Sea, the setting itself was worth it’s weight in gold, but I do wish that the mechanics were better explained. Maybe a few examples more with more complicated situations that can happen in a game? Furthermore, for socials, should we be using the Risks resolution system or just rely on pure roleplaying?

I’m hoping that as the game is still under development that the mechanics mature further and help transition players like me who don’t seem to “think in Wick” to get it.

As always I’m fully aware that I can be sorely mistaken in my understanding of the rules as I’ve read them. If you guys have a better idea of where I’ve made a mistake please, please call it out. I want to stick to the game’s native mechanics as much as possible and I don’t want to give up on it just yet.

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Comments
  1. […] was excited to dig in and see what they had been working on since the Quickstart, as I really felt disappointed with my experience of running […]

  2. MichealSD says:

    I agree, I was also quite disappointed with the QS.

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