[7th Sea 2nd Edition] Preview Backer Draft First Impressions Review (LONG)

Posted: June 1, 2016 by pointyman2000 in 7th Sea, Articles, First Impressions, Reviews, Roleplaying Games
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Last week Kickstarter backers of the new 7th Sea 2nd Edition received a link to a Preview Draft of the corebook. I 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 it.

Ready? Let’s go

ART AND LAYOUT

7th Sea is a very pretty book. The art quality is consistent and there has been a solid attempt to adhere to a look and feel that I really appreciated.

Of particular note are the landscape images of each of the Nations in the game, which are reminiscent of the colored pages of the original 7th Sea Player’s Handbook.

Characters are also portrayed with an attention towards the unique fashions of each of the Nations as well.

The layout is a readable two-column format, with sidebars highlighted in vivid red backgrounds to draw your attention to them. The pages have a background image, but this is a muted color that doesn’t interfere with readability.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

7th Sea has changed quite a bit since the first edition. In addition to adding the Sarmatian Commonwealth to the nations of Theah, there’s also mentions of other lands from beyond the continent, inspired from the Middle East, Africa, South America, North America.

Not all of these countries are covered in the corebook, but the fact that Theah is sitting in the middle of a time of great discoveries over the oceans will certainly justify ships and pirates better than the original edition’s setting did.

Each of the Nations gets a full writeup, with notes on culture, names, fashion, currency, customs, culture, religion government and a quick in-character opinion of the other nations from a prominent member of the nation. This section is pretty full of plot hooks, with interesting conflicts within and among the Nations, plenty of stuff to hang a character around.

The chapter continues with a discussion of the Vaticine Church, Pirate society and the Secret Societies that secretly influence the world. There’s also mention of the Syrne, a mysterious ancient civilization of nonhumans from long ago whose artifacts are prized finds in the age of 7th Sea.

HEROES OF THE 7TH SEA

Character creation in 7th Sea 2nd edition is pretty straightforward, with an easy-to-follow point buy and template picking method.

Character Traits are Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits and Panache. These all begin at 2 points each, with the player assigning 2 more points among them.

After this, they get to assign their Nation bonus. Upon picking a nation for the Hero, the player then adds an additional point to one of two Traits specified by their Nationality.

Backgrounds become the next step, and are used to determine a character’s Quirks, Advantages and Skills. Characters get to pick 2 backgrounds from a list, and get all the listed Advantages and Skills. Backgrounds are pre-packaged templates that range from Basic ones that can be acquired by anyone, to Nation specific backgrounds.

Once Backgrounds have been selected, the player then spends 10 more points to add to existing skills or add new skills to the character. Each point buys one more rank in a skill, with a cap of 3 Ranks in character creation. The 16 skills available are: Aim, Athletics, Brawl, Convince, Empathy, Hide, Intimidate, Notice, Perform, Ride, Scholarship, Sailing, Tempt, Theft, Warfare and Weaponry.

Advantages are next. These are essentially the equivalent of Merits in most other systems. Backgrounds already provide some Advantages, but the player also spends 5 more points to buy additional Advantages to round out their character.

Each Hero in 7th Sea is also subject to the fickle hand of Fate. Players now choose from the Arcana of the Sorte deck to determine their characters Virtue and Hubris.

At this point most of the character is complete. 7th Sea then introduces the concept of Stories. The Story mechanic allows players to set into motion the story arcs that their Heroes are on. To craft a story the Player begins with the concept, one example the game has gives “Revenge: I’m gonna make ’em pay for what they did to me.” as a Story concept.

The next part of the Story that needs to be crafted is the ending. Endings are written in third person, like, “Hector lays dead at Leannan’s feet.”

The second part of the ending is the reward. Rewards are new Advantages, an increase in Trait or Skill or a change in a Quirk. “This is a three Step Story that will earn Leannan Rank 3 Ambush.”

Once the goal is set then it’s time to determine the Next Step. This is also a sentence, written to declare the next thing the Hero intends to do, “Question Degarmo.” works in this example.

Now if you’re like me, you’re already wondering how to determine the number of Steps to get a particular reward. 7th Sea provides a list of the possible rewards, and the number of Steps necessary to attain them.

The last portion of character creation involves filling out the character’s Reputation, Secret Societies (if any), Wealth and Wounds.

ACTION AND DRAMA

Here we go. I’ve been through majority of this in my previous article, and for the most part, the game remains the same.

After reading the rules more carefully, I have come to a conclusion: the basic Risk Mechanic and Combat are very, very different.

I’ll try my best to explain what I mean. Risks as presented in the book are very straightforward. The GM presents a situation, the player determines their approach, which the GM in turn interprets as a Trait + Skill combination that is then rolled. Raises are made and spent to achieve objectives and avoid complications.

Action Sequences on the other hand, uses similar mechanics with assumptions that need to be made clear.

In an Action Sequence, everyone announces their Approach for the round. I’m assuming that this also includes the GM. The GM also interprets which Trait + Skill to use for their Risk rolls.

The GM then proceeds to explain Consequences and Opportunities there are (if any) for the chosen approaches.

All players roll at the same time and count their Raises. (again, I’m assuming that this also means the that the GM makes rolls for the villains as well.) The player with the highest number of Raises gets the first Action, followed by whomever has the next highest after this action resolves, and so forth.

Raises are spent to achieve objectives, overcome complications and take advantage of opportunities. Players may spend multiple raises to “buy” something, as long as all these Raises go towards the same “purchase.”

sometimes when a Hero and a Villain will want the same thing, or have Actions that run counter to one another then they must outspend the other on their Action.

IMPROVISATION

Here’s a single rule however that I feel is a little out of place. In the event that a character takes an Action that is not related to his Approach, then the character is considered to be Improvising and has to pay 1 additional Raise as a cost to perform that action.

So in a theoretical Scenario, let’s have an Action Sequence where a Hero and a Villain are squaring off. The GM declares that the Villain’s Approach is to run away, while player determines that the Hero’s Approach is to run the villain through with his sword.

However due to some unlucky rolling, the Villain gets 5 Raises, and the Hero, only 4.

At this point, the GM determines that the villain turns tail and runs away, spending all 5 Raises on it.

The player, left with no way to fulfill his initial Approach of attacking the villain with his sword, is further burdened by a 1 Raise penalty from Improvising his next action, which is to run after the fiend, and hope that in the next Round, he’ll be able to roll more Raises somehow.

I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of the design of the rules, but it does come off as very odd. Can anyone shed some light on how this was meant to work?

PRESSURE

Another new rule is Pressure, which is where Heroes and Villains use Skills to coerce, lure, seduce or influence another character’s actions. When applying Pressure, the character forces a target to take a particular course of action or Spend an additional Raise when doing something else.

The character applying Pressure spends 1 Raise and chooses a specific action for their target. The next time the target of Pressure attempts to do anything other than the directed Action, they must spend an additional Raise.

While I sort of see where they plan to take this rule, I can also see it as inherently abusable. For example, if all the Heroes of a three-person team were to gang up Pressure on a single villain with the same command, “Attack me!” then then would the Villain then incur a 2 Raise penalty to attack one of them? I’m not sure yet.

GAME MASTER RULES

The book continues with the rules for Brute Squads and Villains. Combat with Brute Squads is not the same as an Action Sequence, and their own set of procedures is presented here.

Villains on the other hand are much more complicated. Villains are not built with full character sheets. They have Arcana and Advantages, but their Traits are Influence and Strength. Adding those together form their Villainy Rank.

Strength is the villain’s personal ability and aptitude and is used to determine how many Advantages the Villain has.

Influence is the Villain’s resources, whether in terms of personnel, or wealth.

When making a Risk, the Villain rolls a number of dice up to their Villainy Rank. This means that they can roll anywhere from 10 to 20 dice!

To stop a Villain, Heroes are then required to deconstruct them, undermining their Strength and Influence. By undertaking smaller missions to destroy the infrastructure of the Villain’s network, it’s possible to reduce the Villain’s Rank and make them into something that you can deal with.

Strength on the other hand, is inherent and cannot be taken away from the Villain. The only way to deal with a Villain’s Strength is to face them directly.

Schemes are another subsystem wherein a Villain gambles their Influence on schemes and get double the amount back if they are successful. This is a rather neat sort of adventure generator for the GM as Villains are suddenly actively engaged in making trouble, even as the heroes are looking to stop them.

SORCERY

The corebook also introduces six schools of Sorcery, the powers wielded by the nobles of Theah. These include Hexenwerk, Knights of Avalon, Matushka’s Kosnut’sya, Porte, Sanderis and Sorte.

Each of these have their own means of casting and executing the powers, and each form of magic is flavorful and interesting. There’s also a neat little sidebar saying that magic is by it’s very nature imbalanced.

DUELING

Like in Legend of the Five Rings, Dueling is a highly emphasized activity in the 7th Sea game. The book goes over the various Styles and Maneuvers available to Duelists as well as the various effects these have in the Duel.

Thankfully unlike in Legend of the Five rings, there doesn’t seem to be a different set of mechanics for it. Instead, the Maneuvers are executed inside a standard Action Sequence.

SAILING

As expected from a game called 7th Sea, the book goes into the details of Ships in Theah and how to build them, mechanics wise. There’s some good stuff here, with descriptions of the various ship classes as well as neat little flairs that make a ship more memorable by their history, giving them a particular advantage or quirk.

Naval combat is also covered, with Approaches defined instead by where the character is working on the ship, as opposed to an individual skill.

SECRET SOCIETIES

In this edition of 7th Sea, Secret Societies are useful in being able to pull on them for Favors. There’s a mechanic where your Heroes can undertake missions to earn Favor, which is then spend to have the Society do something for you in turn. Each society has a sphere of influence and field of activities where they can help. It’s an easy mechanic and one that I actually like.

GAME MASTER

The final chapter is a discussion of the various ways to prepare and run this new edition of 7th Sea. I’ll have to sit down and go over it to see if there are new gems to discover here, but mostly it’s solid advice to keep the game fun and enjoyable for everyone by not pissing in their Cheerios.

SUMMARY

When I first read the 7th Sea preview, I was concerned that the Risks system was still around. It was only after I was able to break the game down into multiple subsystems that stand alone that it began to make sense.

Dramatic Sequences are require a different form of resolution from Action sequences. While the terms and the Raises are similar, the way they’re Spent and what for is important.

I understand that it’s an early draft, but I think it’ll take a bit more editing passes to make things clearer.

Can I run it? Maybe. My experience with the quickstart is still a little fresh in my mind and has made me a little leery. Maybe if they find a way to clarify Improvise and Pressure I might be able to give it a fair shake.

Overall I still don’t regret investing in the Kickstarter, if anything I’m slowly learning to play the system one step at a time.

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Comments
  1. I have not had a chance to do more that skim the introduction, but, as you say, it certainly is a pretty book.

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