7th Sea

[Review] 7th Sea, 2nd Edition

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To call this a 2nd Edition feels like a bit of a misnomer. John Wick has taken the old 7th Sea, tossed the old Roll and Keep mechanics overboard, and rewrote much of the setting and history to create this new version of 7th Sea. As such, it feels more fitting to use a term more commonly applied to movies: a reboot.

A More Cinematic Experience

7th Sea’s new mechanics lend itself to a style of play where the player characters are Heroes with a capital “H”. Men and women with amazing skill and luck to live out larger-than-life adventures.

The new system is fairly straightforward. Upon declaring the character’s action for the turn, they roll a pool of d10’s determined by the sum of their Trait and Skill. Players then assemble sets of 10 from the results of the roll, with each set counting as a Raise. These are then used to “buy” narrative achievements such as successfully meeting a goal, taking advantage of an opportunity, or just avoiding harm.

On the GM’s part, their job is to present the players with Opportunities and Threats within the scene, each one building towards a cinematic encounter between the Heroes and the opposition, be it a horde of goons, a devious trap, or the villain of the story.

You’re not the World, but a Stage

GMs who cleave towards a more simulation-based philosophy of running a game will find themselves somewhat challenged by the chief conceit of 7th Sea second edition. The game is engineered so that your role is not that of a director rather than that of a referee.

Threats and Villains exist so that you can highlight the Heroes. And even the character creation ensures that the Heroes know exactly what they’re getting into, and how they’d like each tale to end.

This eliminates a lot of the creative input from the side of the GM, and those who are used to a more open, sandbox method might find themselves lost as to how to properly run the game.

Pretty as it gets

I will say that the artwork and layout for the book is gorgeous, with full colour illustrations and easily readable text. The lack of over-sexualised images is a major plus, and I found a few pieces that took into account the LGBT fans as well, something that I feel will be very much appreciated.

Conclusions

7th Sea Second Edition isn’t an old car with a new coat of paint. It’s a familiar shade of paint on a brand new car. If you’re looking for more of the old, then you might want to be prepared to be surprised.

However, if you’re looking for a game that delivers rope-swinging swashbuckler-y fun with the ability to take your own story by the reins, then this is the game for you. John Wick clearly knew what he wanted to do with the game, and didn’t waste time killing sacred cows to make it happen.


If you’re interested in getting a copy of 7th Sea, you can grab it in PDF from DriveThruRPG for only $24.99 or roughly Php 1,200

[7th Sea Backer Preview] Character Creation Example

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Hey everyone! Today we’re going to try building a character for 7th Sea 2nd Edition using the Backer Preview PDF.

As a fan of swashbuckling adventure, I figure I might as well run 7th Sea’s character creation through the paces. As such I’ll work on putting together in a step-by-step feature similar to the one I use in my Let’s Study articles.

CONCEPT:

Step 0 in 7th Sea is coming up with a concept. I’m not going to be terribly original here and I’ll go with a homage to El Capitan Alatriste, the protagonist of a series of novels by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (go read it!) It won’t be a strict adaptation of the character but it will definitely be influenced by it.

For the purposes of naming, let’s go with Esteban.

TRAITS:

Every hero in 7th Sea has 5 Traits. Each of these begin at 2, and you have 2 more points to spend to increase them.

For Esteban, I’m going for:

Brawn 2
Finesse 3
Resolve 3
Wits 2
Panache 2

NATION BONUS

As a soldier from Castille, my character gets an option of a +1 to Finesse or +1 to Wits. I’m going for Wits on this one, bringing his Traits to:

Brawn 2
Finesse 3
Resolve 3
Wits 3
Panache 2

I know I could have gone for Finesse to make him more combat capable but eh, I like witty heroes.

BACKGROUNDS

Next up, I get to pick 2 Backgrounds to define Esteban’s history. To that end I went ahead to pick Mercenary and Soldier.

These picks bestow Quirks, Advantages and skills which are detailed below:

Quirks

Soldier: Earn a Hero Point when you stick to the plan regardless of
the danger to yourself.

Mercenary: Earn a Hero Point when you choose to ply your trade for a
reason that’s worth more to you than money.

Advantages

Hard to Kill
Cast Iron Stomach
Riot Breaker
Able Drinker

Skills

Aim 1
Athletics 1
Brawl 1
Intimidate 2
Notice 2
Warfare 1
Weaponry 2

SKILLS

At this point I now get to spend 10 points on improving and adding to Esteban’s Skills. Each point buys one more rank in a skill, to a maximum of 3.

Hitting Rank 3 allows me to reroll any single die when taking a Risk using the Skill.

Spending my 10 points, I end up with

Aim 2
Athletics 2
Brawl 2
Convince 1
Empathy 1
Hide 1
Intimidate 3
Ride 1
Notice 3
Warfare 1
Weaponry 3

Not so bad, he’s definitely a well-rounded character from the looks of it.

ADVANTAGES

In addition to the Advantages gained from the Backgrounds, I have 5 points to spend on new Advantages.

I ended up spending all 5 points on the Duelist Academy Advantage.

Hard to Kill -You no longer become Helpless when you have four Dramatic Wounds. Instead, when you have four Dramatic Wounds any Villain who takes a Risk against you gains 3 Bonus Dice (rather than 2). You gain an additional tier of Wounds. When you have taken your fifth Dramatic Wound, you become Helpless.
Cast Iron Stomach – Spoiled or raw food never negatively affects you, and you still gain required sustenance from it.
Riot Breaker – When you take Wounds from a Brute Squad, subtract your Resolve from the Wounds. The remainder is how many Wounds you take, to a minimum of 1 Wound.
Able Drinker – Alcohol never affects you, no matter how much you drink.
Duelist Academy – Aldana Style

ARCANA

For Esteban’s Virtue and Hubris, I’m going for:

Virtue: Astute
Activate your Virtue after a Villain spends Raises for an Action. That Action fails. The Villain still loses the Raises she spent.

Hubris: Loyal
You receive a Hero Point when your Hero goes back for a fallen comrade or refuses to leave a wounded ally.

STORIES

At this point I need to craft a story for Esteban. Here’s what I’m working with right now:

Dangerous Rivalries

Esteban is trying to survive the relentless Mercenary trying to kill him to assume the mantle of the best Mercenary in Theah.

Ending:
Esteban stands victorious but troubled that the duel will only inspire another, more talented rival.

Reward:
3 Step Story resulting in gaining the Fencer Advantage

DETAILS

For the rest of the details Esteban begins with:

Reputation: Loyal
Languages: Old Thean, Castillian, Voddacce
Secret Society: None
Wealth: 0


Character creation was surprisingly quick, and easy enough to follow. There’s little in the way of flipping back and forth, and the Advantages and Background Quirks are all rather evocative.

The Stories mechanic is like a fork of the Chronicles of Darkness Aspirations, wherein you define your end-state, but not the next steps. 7th Sea puts a lot of narrative power in the hands of the player, which unburdens the GM a bit, but does take a bit of time to get used to.

Good work from the 7th Sea guys!

[7th Sea 2nd Edition] More thoughts on Improvising

Yesterday I posted my first impressions on the Kickstarter Backer Preview PDF, and how the Improvise rule bothered me. A friend of mine, Charles noted that I might be using a bad example for it that doesn’t do the rule justice.

Just to go over it again, Heroes must pay an additional 1 Raise when they improvise, which is defined as performing actions on their turn that are not covered by their declared Approach at the start of the Round.

Perhaps a better example would be that the Villain, upon winning the roll off to determine initiative, uses his Raises to re-position himself out of melee range and draw a pistol. This invalidates the Approach as declared by the Hero to run the Villain through with his sword, and thus the Hero suffers an Improvise surcharge on what action he takes on his Action to adapt to the new status quo.

While mechanically, I can see it working out that way, my bigger concern lies with the ambiguity as to the declaration of Approaches. The text says “Everybody” declares their Approach for the Round, to which I assume that the GM must also declare the Approaches of his Villains and Brute Squads. However, the question now becomes: Who declares first?

If the GM declares his Approaches first, then the Players can declare Approaches that directly engage the Villain to avoid the Improvisation penalty. Likewise, if the Players must declare Approaches first, then the Villain will simply react to their Approaches, avoiding the Improvisation penalty. Furthermore the Villain’s Approach might even invalidate the Hero’s Approaches to inflict the Improvise Penalty on them.

It’s a weird situation and one that I hope the final draft will clarify, otherwise it’ll be weighted too strongly to favor one side or another.

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

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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

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[Game Design] Alternate Basic Mechanics for 7th Sea, second edition Quickstart

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To follow up on the article I wrote about my first impressions of the 7th Sea Second Edition Quickstart, I’ve gotten it in my head to design a lite version of it, perhaps something that might address some concerns I’ve had.

What follows is literally something that I came up with in the shower. It’s not meant to replace the stuff from 7th Sea but address the stuff that bugged me when I played.

BASIC TASK RESOLUTION

I wanted to do the least amount of change to the character sheets in 7th Sea, so I decided to retain the fact that Traits and Skills operate off a scale of 1-5 dots.

However, instead of the whole roll a dice pool of Trait+Skill+Bonus and add up sets of 10, I figure we can actually tweak that to work a little faster.

Instead, roll a number of six-sided dice equal to your Trait score. Any dice that come up equal to or less than your Skill rating are considered a Raise. Rolling a 6 is always a failure.

If attempting a skill that you have no dots in, 1’s still count as a Raise, but rolling a 6 means you Botch.

COMBAT

In addition to declaring your Intent, you also declare an Approach. Approaches determine what you can spend Raises on for this round.

– Physical: Allows for Brawn and Finesse Actions
– Mental: Allows for Wits and Panache Actions

Player who rolls the most Raises goes first and applies Raises to their Actions. After resolving that, play moves on to the next character with the highest number of Raises.

REACTIONS

When targeted by a hostile action, a character may attempt to negate Raises spent to harm them by spending an equal number of Raises. This is a reflexive action, and must be justified within the context of the same Approach chosen at the start of the Round.

Again this isn’t meant to be a true replacement to the system as it is now, but a small exercise in figuring out how to patch it based on my understanding of the games goals.

Heck if there’s any interest in this at all maybe I can develop it as a lite take on it like Qwixalted did for Exalted 2nd Edition!

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

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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.

Shifting Gears, or Altering the Gravitas

After running a string of relatively high concept games which deal with heavier themes, I think it’s about time that I take a break from the super-serious stuff and come up for air.  One thing I’ve learned to avoid burnout is to switch gears now and then, taking a moment to break out of your established conventions to try something new.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean a comedy-type game for me, there are other genres with lighter, but no less entertaining stories to tell.  My first HERO campaign was like this, with young heroes dealing with everyday problems with school and life along with occasionally kicking super villain butt.

And so I’m considering my options.  I’ve got the rest of the L5R campaign to play through, and a continuation of my “Exalted for People Who Don’t Like Exalted” campaign after that but once both of those are over, I’d like to think that I have a clean slate by which to explore something new.

Of course changing the usual campaigns I run to something less than standard is always a gamble.  Pitches have to be done carefully on my end, as anything that doesn’t elicit a “Hell Yeah!” from the players will mean that there won’t be enough player driven momentum to keep the game running.  That said, there’s got to be a few games ideas from my old notes or work-addled brain that should be worth a shot:

  • Spycraft is a definite contender.  A small team of specialists on rogue missions for fun an profit is always a good idea, though I’ll hold off until Spycraft 3.0 comes out before I give it a spin.
  • D&D 4e is another option.  I had a good experience with D&D 4e, as long as expectations are appropriately calibrated, and the fights not drawn out to forever it might actually work.
  • A Supers Campaign is always a good thing in my books.  Whether it’s DC Adventures or HERO 6th is up in the air, but I should focus on something a lot lighter in tone.  Up to the DC Animated universe level of seriousness is good… but Batman: The Brave and the Bold might be too much.
  • Metabarons is an oldie but definitely a goodie.  Thanks to the fact that it’s actually D6 Space Opera, there’s a wealth of information I can skim from in other D6 products (Starwars D6 I’m looking at you.)  Just add a ton of sugar to my double power expresso and I should be able to run this no problem.
  • 7th Sea is a game that is just begging to be ran.  I’ve had the books for years now but I’ve only run them in convention one shots.  This error has to be corrected.
  • Deadlands is another good choice.  I enjoyed the Crew of Nine campaign I ran before, when I was learning the ropes of Savage Worlds.  It was a fun campaign with lots of laughs, so I’d mark that as a winner in my books.

All of these campaign options are fun, with systems that don’t necessarily get too complex (oh, except for maybe Spycraft and HERO, but their complexity is often a good thing)  but most importantly they can provide a good, fun time without having to go high concept.

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