I originally planned for this session to go in a very different direction. When we last left the group, about to depart Carleon for Crieux, they had a mysterious passenger to pick up at the behest of a March proto-industrialist, but no context for why that was so.
When I’d originally conceived this, the plan was that they were picking up an analog of Mary, Queen of Scots. Elaine is tired of the MacDuff’s overtures and wants him married off, so arrangements have been made. There were lots of politics surrounding this that would have driven play, but I realized in planning that it would also move the center of gravity of the game more than I’d like. It would also draw in Montaigne (which no one is tied to) and it really draws the game towards Avalon at the cost of Vendel.
I’d also considered throwing a wrench in things to get them off the ship for a while. Get it impounded, or maybe use the Syrneth artifacts that Vadis is looking to sell to draw them inland for a session or three.
But after chewing on all that, I threw it all out the window, remembering that 7th Sea is a game about the heroes, and that I needed to focus on immediacy.
So with that, I started the session by cracking open the politics. The last dinner before the left Carleon was by invitation of Sir Math, one of the Knights of Avalon, and for our purposes, played by Brian Blessed. He’s not a super political guy, but he knew that Quinn was about to step in something, so he warned him that he was picking up a bride for MacDuff, and that there had been a lot of problems with previous attempts. They also discussed the possibility that Sir Mandrake(guy whose effects Quinn had brought to Elaine last session) had died as part of all this, but Math expressed some skepticism at the idea that Mandrake was actually dead.
Math’s wife also revealed herself to Zeta as a fellow Daughter of Sophia, and had in fact provided shelter for Lyonetta, the young fate witch they’d been transporting. For the rest, it was mostly a night of carousing and a general good time before they set sail.
The trip to Crieux was uneventful – it’s a short jaunt, and one of most highly trafficked routes on the 7 Seas, since it’s the main route for goods to flow between Avalon and Montaigne.
Once they landed, they sketched out their plan: Take care of basic logistics like selling their wares (including Valdis’s artifacts) and buying new stock, then see about picking up the passengers.
Valdis reached out the the local Invisible College hangout (they’re not very subtle in Crieux), and after a bit of a nerd-off, picked up a fanboy and an introduction to a member of Explorer’s Society. He, in turn, looked over the artifacts and declared them to be about half a weapon and very valuable, and he was more than happy to make an offer then and there. The main problem was that actually pulling together the money would make more time than was available, so he proposed a lesser amount, and something to sweeten the pot. Valdis expressed interest, and when they re-met, he had the money and a Vesten Axe with Capital-r-Runes on it. Valdis was amicable to this arrangement.
The others went wine shopping, which ended up being a ton of fun. The plan was to buy cheap plonk to sell back in Avalon, because the Avalonian’s don’t know any better. Unfortunately, it turns out the entire wine industry in the city is predicated on the fact, and it was a matter of which terrible wine to buy.
Zeta was very theatrical in her response to samples, which earned her applause from a Vodacce seller, who – while speaking in Vodacce – was very frank with her about the quality of his wares, but also about how well suited they were to the crudeness of the Avalonian palette. Much banter followed, greatly helped along by our Avalonian sea captain happily embracing the stereotype. The seller also revealed that while this wine was atrocious(fn), and selling it off here was just a by-product of the real business, because while this was horrid wine, it made exquisite brandy, and he offered samples which confirmed this assertion. He offered a few bottles along with their purchase, and a deal was made.
With all that arranged, they met with their soon-to-be guests, who turned out to be the red haired Lady Marcella and her Vesten Bodyguard, a tall woman named Bera, who was unimpressed with our heroes. Arrangements were made for the ladies to come to the ship in the morning, and all was well, though Zeta camped out overnight on the opposite roof to observe.
The next morning is, of course, when it all went horribly wrong.
While Zeta was watching the lady’s house, Basillio was overseeing the men and Valdis was off getting her axe, the wine arrived to be received by Captain Quinn, who did not notice that the promised brandy did not accompany it because he was more interested in the delicious wine. He was also there to receive the ladies, and if the ship had not just had major repairs and renovations, it would have been a perfect moment for “you’re braver than I thought”, but we had to pass on that.
Zeta arrived soon after and -upset about the lack of Brandy – inspected the wine barrels to discover that half of them had been emptied and filled with gunpowder and very slow-burning fuses. They were disarmed, but Zeta & Basillio were so indignant that they insisted on dealing with this rat of a wine merchant in the hour they had before departure1.
Rushing off to the wine warehouse, they actually found the vendor quite injured, warning them of an attack and apologetic about the whole thing. A figure on a nearby roof took off running shortly after they arrived and Zeta pursued while Basillio stayed to “tend to the shopkeeper’s wounds”, which also meant getting the brandy2.
Zeta’s quarry “incidentally” tore down a flag as he passed it, and Zeta immediately recognized this as signaling the rest of his crew to switch to plan B. From her perch, she saw movement towards the harbor, and took off in that direction, getting to the ship narrowly ahead of a gathering mob heading their way. She warned everyone, but also realized this was probably a distraction, and she looked around until she spotted the small rowboat, heading out to be in the path of where a ship leaving in a hurry would probably run into it. Pointing the bodyguard (and her long rifle)3 at it resulted in a satisfying explosion.
Meanwhile, Basillio returned and found himself at the back of an angry mob, but the clever application of one of his advantages (to convince against violence) allowed for an old man carrying a box to pass through the crowd, unharmed (Scuse’, Scuse’). Which meant he was on hand when the mob attacked.
They rushed the ship as it was casting off. There were ten 5 man groups, and the sailing check managed to reduce it by one per raise, so some excellent captaining reduced it to 4 before the fight began. But the Brutes were just an (effective) distraction, as one last assassin was climbing up the back of the ship, and Zeta swung down to stop him.
I had decided I was going to try an all-brute fight scene sometime, though I had also decided I could only do it if something else was going wrong, since I feared beating up brute squads is quick and dull all by itself. And that proved largely correct, with two qualifiers. First, we experimented with saying that duelist maneuvers don’t apply to Brute Squads, and that went smashingly. Basillio was still monstrously effective (particularly because he has 4 dots in Melee now, so he gets a lot of raises), but no longer out of step with the rest of the group, so that totally worked. We also had a nice moment when Quinn had one brute left and Basillio had one raise left so the last brute got finished off with a dramatic throw of the sword. It also let Valdis discover her axe crackled with electricity and…well…she perhaps had a bit too much fun.
Zeta’s fight was a little bit more interesting since it was a genuine back and forth with no real damage – he tries to enter the captains cabin, she yanks him out, he takes a swipe at the rope she’s hanging by, she grabs onto him, he takes a deep breath and lets go of the ship, she twists in mid air so the hit the water with her on top. In their struggle in the water, his mask comes off, and it is of course Giuseppe, one of the orphans she trained alongside. As we move into the next phase, Bera is up on deck lining up a shot and I’m about to go to the dice when Zeta’s player hands me a hero point to trigger her ability to escape bonds. Sounds legit to me – she slips free, Bera takes her shot, Zeta grabs a thrown rope as the ship pulls away, leaving behind, some blood, but no body, and Basillio declares that’s the last we’ve seen of him4!
A circuitous route and some canny sailing through a storm got The Gates to Kirkwall without engagement, but at this point the group was wary. They came to a stop outside the city and sent Valdis in on a launch rather than attract further attention. Valdis, in turn, found MacBride, who took her to the Regent (Ilsa MacDuff, the king’s cousin), who arranged for a warship and honor guard to sail out to The Gates (Valdis was prominently on deck to avoid the “run like hell” reaction). The ship pulled alongside, the honor guard gathered, and as the ladies came up on deck, there was one more assassination attempt from the rigging of the March5 ship, but Zeta shot first, throwing off the assassin’s aim. The assassin fled to the water (where he had some manner of fast moving boat) and there was much furor.
But eventually it settled down. The regent finally announced herself formally, and as the ladies step up, Marcella steps aside and Bera announced herself as Bera Learsdottir, princess of Vestenmannavenjar. And that’s where we wrap.
(And just to answer, no Vestenmannavenjar doesn’t have a King, at least not officially The throne of the High Jarl has been empty for about two centuries and is little more than a curiosity in a civilized city like Vendel, so the appearance of a princess is interesting in several ways.)
All in all the session went well. Obviously, it was a spotlight episode for Zeta, because I’d felt she’d gotten the short end of that particular stick to date. I’d had a few rules hacks I’d hoped to try out, but they didn’t come up, so I’ll keep them in a back pocket for now.
The main challenge continues to be coming up with mechanical challenges I find satisfactory. There’s no “right” number for consequences and opportunities that I can tell yet, and practically speaking damage consequences are something of a sop against this, but they are not always applicable (At least until I write my reputation as health equivalent intrigue hack). Now, sometimes the mechanics line up just right, and the consequences and opportunities feel absolutely natural, but sometimes they’re a bit more of a force. It’s lead me to realize that I want better cues for this from the character sheet, so I’m going to take some steps in that direction.
With all that said, a few conclusions:
- Saying Duelist skills don’t work against brutes worked great. There are some edge cases (like signature weapon damage) I need to adjudicate, but all in all? Great.
- I am officially much more liberal in my interpretation of “Choosing to fail”. Specifically, I am going to offer opportunities to fail before the dice even get picked up, with the usual reward. Yes, that is a bit like compels. The one complication is the Arcana which grants 2 points for choosing to fail – I need to decide to either limit that bonus to dice situations or just be EXTRA mean,
- I had a very interesting discussion with Basillio’s player over languages. He hadn’t taken linguist because he wanted language to be a source of complications, but it’s binary nature has stymied that. We’re going to try something, and he’s effectively going to get a “Zero Point Advantage”. The Zero Point version of linguist works like regular linguist, except you’re not very good at the languages outside of your wits, and the GM may freely create consequences and opportunities based on that gap6. And yes, this has me thinking about other zero point advantages.
- Once the Sorte Deck is in my hands, I will absolutely be flipping the top card during rolls and trying to come up with a risk or opportunity based on the card.
- I want to try making the improvisation rules a little more liberal, only chargin the tax if the stat changes, not just the skill. That is, if you start with brawn plus weapon, and you want to spend a raise to knock over a statue (Brawn + Athletics) you would normally need to spend 2 raises to do it, but under the new model it would only be 1 because you’re still within the bounds of might thews. This is a rule I wanted to try this time, but it didn’t come up.
- I leaned a little bit more on the villain rules this time. I’m still a little sketchy on the use of villains in a scene, but the plot level rules for villains remains a delight.
- They were actually considering coming back after this journey, but I absolutely bribed Hero Points for immediate action, since it made for much more trouble. ↩︎
- The players were, I think, expecting the shopkeeper to reveal himself as an assassin, which made his scene with Basillio delightful, since he’d ask for utterly innocuous things and they’d be laden with threat. I’d actually considered this twist, but it struck me as a bit too much of a Xantaos Gambit (and GM Force) to have made the guy they bought from JUST HAPPEN to be the bad guy. ↩︎
- Momentary GM slip up there – I had forgotten we had no sharpshooters in the group, so we had to fall back on an NPC’s coolness, which I don’t like doing. I was hoping they’d like Bera, though, so it worked out, since it felt natural rather than stompy. ↩︎
- Have I mentioned that I love my players? ↩︎
- For lack of a better adjective, I’m trying out “March” in the same way one might say “Scotch”, since “Marshish” is terrible and “Marshian” hurts to even think. ↩︎
- In many other systems I’d offer the player a cookie (a Hero Point) for this happening but note that I explicitly did not do so. There is a genuine advantage to the advantage, it’s just….complicated. Should I make more zero point advantages, I would apply similar thinking – make it something worth taking on its own merits. (I also find it a nice nod back to 1e 7th Sea’s drawback-you-pay-for). ↩︎