Author Archives: Rob Donoghue

Catching up on 7th Sea

So, the next game is tonight, so I really need to get the last summary posted!

Apologies to any comments I’ve missed recently – something managed to get past the spam filters, so I’ve been cleaning the stables by hand, and that meant a lot of stuff got stuck in limbo until that got sorted out.

Anyway: the session

Summary of Session

It had been a while since the last session, so I admit I had to check my old posts. Ok, so we came back from a long hiatus with our heroes headed south to Vendel. The roads and posts were fine until they reached the barricade, but things got sketchy after that.
One night, Basillio noticed something odd about one of the posts they were going to stop at, and they stopped to send Zeta to investigate. It looked like it had been taken by bandits (Eisen mercenaries, by the look of them). Easily circumvented, but Zeta also heard the sound of prisoners, which demanded action.

Action followed. They rode in through the gate and ambushed the ambushers – roughly a dozen brutes – and made short work of them with the help of their coachman’s grenades. The Doctor chose to enter the building herself and deal with the brutes inside, and the results were messy and deadly, mostly for them. Prisoners were rescued, including an Eisen nun (and member of the shawl) who hit The Captain in the face with a chair before realizing this was a rescue.

A slow trip to Vendel followed, with the remaining Eisen following as prisoners. One of them, the leader, told his captors that Commander Heinrich of the Steel Hawks was his uncle and would willingly pay any ransom. These men were not Steel Hawks though, and Basillio surmised that they were some of the Eisen mercenaries who had come to Vendel expecting opportunity who were now making opportunity for themselves while politics remained at an impasse. No authorities along the way were willing to take them off the Heroes’ hands, but at the Vendel gates, the guard was more than happy to do so.

The next step was to deliver the silver and their report to Red, who was surprised by a series of things, including the money making it, the presence of slaves in the mines, and the possibility that the Thane was not a radical atavist. She arranged for the Captain’s help to have the actual chests delivered rather dramatically to the floor of the guild (with the difference made up out of her pocket, in a quiet sort of gamble). When we say “To the floor of the guild” it’s quite literal – upending two chests down onto the floor.

Chaos followed. The floor was shut down and a day of closed door meetings followed, once of which was watched very closely by The Swordsman. When the head of the Miner’s guild emerged, he was challenged to a duel (for his secret slaving), which was to follow the next morning.

At dawn, a crowd had gathered – not so much to see The Swordsman as to see The Hammer, the highest priced duelist in Vendel who was fighting on behalf of the guildmaster. The Hammer was a serious looking woman who wielded two hammers (think sledgehammers) and who played the crowd masterfully while remaining very professional with her opponent.

The duel that followed was fairly intense and closely matched. I talk more about it below in the mechanical part of things, but both parties were hurting when the Hammer knocked Basillio’s sword out of his hand and Basillio yielded. However, this was only the second most exciting thing to happen as a scream came from within the guildmaster’s pavilion – someone had taken advantage of the distraction of the fight to assassinate him.

Oh, and yes, The Acrobat was in the pavilion when this happened.

So chaos has increased, and our heroes manage to slip away in the chaos, partly because guard response was surprisingly non-present. A lucky break, until word reaches them that the Steel Hawks have surrounded the Guard HQ (and jail) and matters are about to get violent.

 EDIT: Crap, I totally forgot the endgame

Ok, so the city is totally going to hell. Fighting in the streets, whole nine yards.  Nearest force of men able to deal with this is the new High King, but the way there is problematic.  But if a ship can get out of harbor before it’s locked down, then head inland form one of the coastal cities, he might be reached in time.  But who could do such a thing?

Oh, you know who.

Getting out of the harbor was tight, but ended up being a dramatic use of the Doctor’s Time rune – she borrowed some future time (so the bad guys had a round to close in), but the shop then got double action for its escape.  Super fun. Probably an utter misuse of the power, but I am 100% ok with that!

GM-ish notes

I tried something new with the coachman in the fight, something I’m calling NPC triggers. The idea is that if you have NPCs in the fight, you can spend a raise to have them act, and that action will generally reap some manner of reward. In this case, when the coachman threw a grenade, the player got to roll some dice (6, which was too many in retrospect) and every hit on that roll took out a brute. Effectively it increased the effectiveness of the single raise in return for constraining what it could be used for. It was a good start, and it’s lead to me writing up a small system for handling named brutes which I’ll probably release to the Explorer’s Society when I have a minute.

The duel was interesting – this was the first time we’d really had a chance to throw two 5 dot duelists at each other, and I was very curious how it was going to go. The end result was mixed.

First off, the players had fun as audience. I was really worried about that, because this was really a focus on one character, but I suspect the novelty kept it engaging. Also, Sorte and Glamour sorcery ended up handing The Swordsman a giant bonus in the fight, which had an interesting effect., and also helped with investment.

The actual die rolling was a pair of huge piles. I spent a stack of Villain Points to bring The Hammer’s 10 die pool up to a 16 to be able to challenge Basillio. It revealed that counting 15s is definitely a bit more cumbersome than 10s. I like the mechanical effect, but it slows things down in play, so I need to bear that in mind.

Basillio started with a small advantage (something like 11 vs the Hammer’s 10) and things proceeded pretty well from there. The actual back-and-forth, move-countermove was great. Very fun, very dynamic, kept things going.


I screwed the pooch in terms of player expectations.

When the Hammer disarmed Basillio, my thinking was that it would cost him a little tempo (since he could just spend a raise to recover the blade) but the player felt strongly that he was skating on thin ice, and that losing tempo would turn things against him very strongly, so he conceded. I was surprised, because thought the impact wouldn’t be that pronounced, but I also knew that The Hammer’s die pool was depending on my villain point spend to stay competitive, a fact the player did not have.

Running the numbers later, I think we were both right. In subsequent rounds, Basillio’ die advantage would have made a substantial difference BUT the way NPC wounds are handled would have meant that it would take so long to drop her that he could have gotten nickel and dimed to death in the interim.

So, all in all, I’m kind of filing this away as one more reason I need to retune the way NPCs are handled. The villain rules are well tuned for one villain vs a group of heroes, but that is not always going to be the arrangement.

Getting Exploring

Ok, so John Wick has launched the 7th Sea Explorer’s Society today. This is rather like the DM’s guild in that it provides a walled garden of 7th Sea content where profits are split between the creator and JWP. My own piece – on ships – is part of the initial launch, but I expect a lot more to follow.

So with that in mind, let’s walk through how you would go about submitting something! I’ll use my old post on Dracheneisen and turn it into a product!

Now, the first thing I want to do in this situation is understand the rules, so I go to the Content Guidelines page to see what’s what.

The high level summary is:

Your work can use any rules and setting materials from the following 2nd Edition books published by John Wick Presents:

  • 7th Sea Core Rulebook
  • Heroes & Villains
  • Pirate Nations

With a few caveats. Must be 2nd edition. No touching 5 sails (wise of them to call that out). No objectionable content. You can use/update 1e content if it falls under the ”usable materials” qualifiers. And as with DM’s guild, you can use other people’s material and vice versa. And it must be 7th Sea – no cyberpunk system hacks.

All seems normal enough to me, but as with DM’s guild when it started, I am not clear about the rules regarding art. Not a real problem for me since I won’t be creating any new art, but art re-use is a thorny issue and I hope it gets clarified.

Ok, so looks like there’s no reason for me to start. The next thing I do is grab all the assets that JWP has provided, including Word and Indesign templates as well as some art. Normally I’d take some time to putter through the art and see if it inspired anything, but for the moment, I know what I’m making, so I’m going to jump to the word template (Fred is the indesign guy) and take a look at it.

Immediate problem – it uses a font I don’t have: Cabin. Thankfully, a trivial google search finds me the files, and a glance at the readme gets me to the source . I tip the guy a few bucks and move on. Open it up, it looks good, except…nope. Still need fonts. For ref, the fonts are:

Edit: you can also get all the fonts via google fonts, if that’s your bag, H/T to @PK_Sullivan 

I had PT Serif already, but having installed the others, I close Word again.

Pure taste thing: these are fine fonts, but I don’t love them. Were I being a little more commercially minded, then I would be creating my own template from this starting point to guarantee that my products have a consistent look and feel. That is, however, a task for another day – today we’re doing a vanilla install, so to speak.

So I go grab the blog post from here . Should be easy enough – just need to create some advantage and background entries. I hit a little bit of a snag there: the template doc has generic styles and stat blocks, but I’m not sure how to present these things. So I go to the book and find what looks like the best match.

That goes poorly. It’s a reminder that the book is 2 column and the table handling is quite different. Ok, so despite my desire to go pure vanilla, I hack at it a little, and the result is about a page and a half of content. That means I really need to find a column worth of art. Time to check the resources!

Aaaand, crap. Ok, now we have a problem. The heroes are all these nicely isolated images that I suspect I can easily drop onto the background images provided for a variety of effects. However, none of them are particularly Eisen-Punchy. So I check the villains. Nope. No dice. So I do what every desperate person in need of filler does: I put in a rectangular chunk of landscape.

Then back to the title – just tossing an Eisen shield there and *bam*, good to go!

I’ve done DM’s Guild work before, so I I expect to be mostly set up, so I just follow the instructions here to upload.   The magic link is :”Enter New Community Created Title”, which is not super intuitive, but it’s all pretty straightforward from there.

I do need to generate a cover image.  Once again, if I were doing tis commercially, I’d make a custom image for this purpose, but since I’m being vanilla, I just take a shot of the cover page.  I also have to set a price, which I set as Pay What You Want, because of course I do.

Once I finish entering the information (including allowing previewing of the whole thing) I go to the next section to upload the file itself.  At this point, I’m glad I’ve done this before, because the interface would be a little daunting otherwise.  Previous experience also reminds me to set the file public, lest this all be for naught, and I save changes, and VOILA!.

Well, semi-voila.  It takes a few minutes on the backend, but very shortly, we now have my book!  Time to sit back and let the pennies roll in!

Anyway, I share all this mostly to illustrate that making your own content for the Explorer’s Society is REALLY, REALLY easy. You can make something way better than my little product if you decide it’s what you want to do, and I really wish you would!

Warp Noodling

Real life events have meant we’re skipping 7th Sea for March, which is a bummer, but also means the blog has been quiet. So, sorry for that.  

I have been chewing a little bit on the greatly underused OGL WARP system, the mechanics behind Over the Edge.  It’s a a very light system – roughly akin to a fractionally more crunchy Risus – and it will forever have a place in my heart as the game the completely blew open the doors of my mind regarding how an RPG character could be expressed. At the time that I read it, I’d been playing Rolemaster, and delighting in my 17 page character sheets (including spell lists).  I’d seen other systems that just used a smaller set of numbers (As small as the Amber DRPGs 4 stats) but structurally things were still built on this stat-centric idea. 

OTE dispensed of that in favor of descriptors. A character could be a Burly(3d) Smuggler (4d) Art Snob (3d)  with a Terrible Sense of Humor and that would cover it (less details like name and color).  Not only did that tidily fit on an index card, it tidily and meaningfully fit in the mind. The mechanical expression was closer to the character description than I had ever seen.

So, yeah. Blew my mind. It’s influence is still pretty obvious.  There were a lot of other amazing things about Over the Edge too, but this is the one that left the deepest mark. 

I mention all this because a while back, the underlying system was released under OGL by Atlas (because they’re awesome). I did up an ok PDF version of it that I’m sure I still have somewhere and which I consistently think I should get back to. But I’ve never actually done anything with it. 

That might change.  I have some ideas niggling in my mind that might lead to some hacking in the near future.  So I figured I’d give at least a little heads up.

7s: Make Vesten Great Again

Stone city pressed up against a mountain (It's Markath form Skyrim, for the nerds)We started out the session by taking a moment to review everyone’s stories and talk about how well or poorly they’d worked out. The best assessment of their utility was which ones could be easily remembered vs. which ones had to be looked up. After some discussion, we desired to loosen up the Story structure a little bit. Rather than asking players to outline the whole story, they could fill in a little bit less – the ending and maybe the beginning – and we’d proceed from that.

It makes advancement a bit fuzzier1, but we immediately got grippier stories as the players focused on what they wanted to have happen rather than counting out the right number of steps to fulfill their mechanical obligations. They absolutely retain the right to introduce as many steps into the story as they like, but removing the obligation to do so is absolutely liberating.

I’m going to chew on his approach a little bit more and see if there’s a way to introduce it into the economy of the game. It’s easy to integrate play-wise. It’s effectively player generated milestones with a lot of explicit authority (which rocks) but I feel like it might also hold the key to addressing the spotlight issue, which could arguably be measured by who gets more story beats over time. However, that’s some future thought.

The session itself was almost entirely talky. A little bit of die rolling, but a lot of it was handled dicelessly with skills as permissions2. The trip from Kirkwall to Vendel was uneventful (a fact helped along by the warship that accompanied them most of the way) but Vendel itself was another matter. Things were tense. The docks were stuffed with Eisen ships and the taverns full of Eisen mercenaries. Everyone knew a Thane had declared himself in Kirk, but no one knew what it meant yet, but uncertainty was through the roof.

Doctor Valdis’s Patron, Red, was not at her usual coffee house, but was instead attending a meeting of the League, which the heroes got to observe some of, including some politics among the chairs, and the various voices urging caution versus immediate action. Two key points were revealed – this Thane had the support of an unknown number of Jarls (especially in the North and central parts of the nation) and that specifically he held the mint and most of the productive mines of Vesten3.

During a pause, they spoke with Red, who was surprised to hear about the princesses engagement to the MacDuff, but quickly looked to try to find a way to leverage that information. Discussion of the politics of the situation followed. Red was worried about the mint, but rather more worried about the potential destabilization the host of mercenaries represented4 and the overall lack of information about the situation.

She also asked the heroes to go speak to the new Thane, since they had an existing connection to him. She was worried things were already bad because a thousand mercenaries had been sent north as soon as the new came in, and the situation may have already gone pear shape. The heroes agreed and were provided papers and a fast carriage.

The trip north was fast at first, while the posts were in good shape, but slowed down as they discovered the passing mercenaries had depleted the horse supply. They did encounter a retreating group of mercenaries who Basilio and Zeta recognize as young men from the group of Montaignian expatriates whose church they attend. By their reports, they had joined up with the hastily assembled force, but quickly found it not ot their liking, especially with the Eisen toughs, and they had been walking back for a while. They also warned of Trolls, but no one took that very seriously.

A bit further on they found signs of a battle, but very few graves. Further still was a checkpoint on the road, manned by Vesten in traditional garb. Surprisingly, they did not hassle the heroes, save to ask a few fairly normal questions. Not far past the checkpoint, the heros saw a prison camp which (presumably) held the defeated mercenaries. From that point north, the Posts were in fine order, though the people manning them were a little confused. The new Thane had apparently declared it would be business as usual.

They found their way to Kirk, which we all agreed looked like something out of Skyrim. Of note, there was now a smoking ruin where the Objectionist Cathedral’s construction site had previously stood, but otherwise all was well. Once again, inspection at the gates was businesslike, but the invocation of the Thane’s daughter’s name was sufficient to hurry them along. Meeting the Thane (Karl, played in the movie by Karl Urban, better groomed than the average vested and armed like an Eisen), they delivered letter from hisdaughter and received an invitation to dinner.

Dinner lead to conversation, much of which was a roundabout (and polite) argument between Doctor Valdis (speaking for capitalism) and the Thane (Speaking for the necessity of government), and the Thane ended up getting some support, most concretely because he too was concerned about the mercenaries on Vesten soil, and from his perspective, Vesten had been able to indulge the league because all her neighbors had been paralyzed by internal problems, but that was not a long term strategy. Vesten had to have a leader (and a military), and it had to have it’s wealth spread out further than just Vendel.

A few things came of this and followed:

  • As part of the discussion, the Thane revealed that the mines had been using slave labor (since liberated). The heroes were, of course, taken aback, and when Basilio discovered the Mining Chair (who had all been a loud voice for attacking the Thane) was actually a Castillean, he decided that Steps Must Be Taken.
  • Captain Quinn had heard that Sir Mandrake had been to Kirk, and the Thane acknowledged that the man was a friend, but had not seen him in some time. His wife, covered up a reaction, but later on she came to Quinn and told him a bit more, including that last she knew, he had headed to Vendel, and she gave him a token that had been Important to Mandrake.
  • Valdis consulted with Shuri, the Thane’s sage, about her axe. Shuri was more intereted in her, and opted to take her out for a test of strength, wits and resolve on the icy slopes of the mountain overnight. When they found her the next morning, she had three mortal wounds worth of exposure but had also learned one of the Galdr Runes (Time)
  • Zeta identified and stymied a would-be assassin, accidentally killing him with his now poisoned knife. It also revealed the assassin’s partner, the same shadow-wielding figure they had faced in Kirkwall. He made it clear he intended to collect the price on Zeta’s head, and she made id clear how welcome he was to try such a suicidal thing.  In the Aftermath, the Thane seemed to recognize the magic in use and asked her if she intended to kill this man. As she said yes, he gave her a black gem which, which grasped, turned into a knife of shadows (hell yeah, 1e callback) . He also gave her a token that any Die Kreutzritter would recognize.

The heroes agreed to take the delivery from the mint (less a meticulously documented amount for back wages for the liberated slaves) down to Vendel as a show of good faith on the Thane’s part, and as the carriage was being loaded, we wrapped for the night.

  1. And I’m ok with that. If there is one thing there is no lack of in this game, it’s advancement. ↩︎
  2. That is, if you have a high skill, that is taken into account in how things are described and in what the GM simply says “Yes” too. It’s a technique that every game and GM use to differing extents, but where the knobs are set matter a lot. Specifically, it’s very useful for keeping information flowing smoothly. ↩︎
  3. A plot hook lifted from Nations of Theah vol. 1, but with 90% fewer slavery apologists. ↩︎
  4. Remember, Vesten has no standing army or navy to speak of, and Mercenaries – especially ones ho haven’t gotten paid – have a historical habit of calling dibs on whatever’s on hand. This point becomes relevant later in discussion with the Thane. ↩︎

7s: Story Considerations

Typed words on a page: Once upon a time .I have been using stories a little bit wrong in 7th Sea. Not, like, technically wrong, but I think I’ve been emphasizing them incorrectly. I’ve been treating them as an advancement mechanism that shapes story rather than a story shaping tool that provides advancement.

That may seem distinction without a difference, so let me step back a little bit. For the unfamiliar, the story mechanic works roughly as follows: The player comes up with a story idea for something they’d like to play – say, they’d love to rescue a handsome prince from kidnappers – then figures out how that should go in very rough strokes. For example, they might want a story where:

  • The hero dances and flirts with a prince at a high society party
  • The party is interrupted by kidnappers! Chaos ensues and the prince is kidnapped!
  • The Hero pursues the kidnappers and rescues the prince after a desperate chase!

The GM will handle the details, but it’s expected that this story will happen in game, and when it completes, the player gains advancement equal to the number of steps in the story (3, in this case).

Now, here’s the kicker – as part of coming up with the story, the player is also expected to have an idea for what they intend to advance – the reward. And because these are RPGs, that datapoint has assumed some amount of prominence, so that it is easiest to think of stories in terms of their reward. That is, I need 2 points to buy my sorcery, so I need to create a two point story to reflect that.

It is hard to fault that logic, but it also produces somewhat lopsided stories because it skews them very superficially towards an end. Sometimes’s that’s fine – our Doctor’s pursuit of the Wealth advantage has been a straightforward story of setting up foreign investments, no problem. But I feel like our Fate Witch and Captain have gotten short shrift, at least in part because Sorcery stories are always 2-steppers (which gets a bit repetitive, since it is expected to be bought multiple times).

This is the problem I want to address – I want players to be more free to aggressively frame stories that are interesting to them, without needing to stress about sizing them just right. And I don’t think that requires any specific change, just a little bit more mindfulness and flexibility on my part. I need to get the stories first, then work out how we want to handle rewards.

Curiously, this is the least problem for the character with the clearest advancement path. Our swordsman’s advancement priorities are pretty straightforward: 4th dot of Weaponry, 5th dot of weaponry, then other stuff. He’s hit those goals, so advancement is mostly filler for him now – he can get more badass, but the pressure is off. I suspect it will be a while before he’s completely out of things to buy, but it has planted a bug in my ear to maybe start thinking go other rewards for stories (specifically, setting-shaping ones).

I also am trying to figure out how to handle on other story-based complication: mobility. Because we have a ship-based game, players often find their stories paused because the next step is someplace else. For example, our Doctor is working on a 3 step story where she found investors and set up an office in Kirkwall, but has needed to get back to Vendel to set up another office to finish out the story. They’re finally going there, but she’s been (perhaps unfairly) jammed up for a couple sessions, solely because the events in play have kept the players elsewhere.

And, yes, this is partly on my head – juggling all my player’s stories is my responsibility, but at the same time I do not want to overly constrain their options – after all, part of the point of having a ship-based game is the freedom it allows.

One last thought: This maybe sounds a little complain-y, but this is all out of love. Stories is a FANTASTIC mechanic, and my interest in tuning it is a reflection go how much it excites and engages me.

7th Sea: Pirate Nations

So, the preview for 7th Sea’s Pirate Nations book dropped a little while back, and I’ve actually written a ton about it that I’m not going to use because I don’t actually know what’s going to change between preview and release. Probably not a huge amount, but I want to be careful.

So instead I’m going to zoom out and talk a little bit about what’s in the book, and about why I’m pretty excited about it.

First off, thematically, this is two books. There’s no clear bright line in the text, but it’s pretty clear upon reading. The first, shorter book is supplemental to the setting of Theah, adding two location that are fairly proximate to Theah, Numa and La Bucca.

Numa, an analog for Greece is a collection of islands to the south-southwestish of Vodacce, that have been conquered many times but are currently free and working out what that means. It’s got all the element you need for game of Greek heroes, and if you squint your eyes a little, you can see Byzantium and Alexandria, so that’s cool. Still, this entry feels out of place in the Pirates book, and it’s a little hard for me to really speak to because it doesn’t scratch any particular itch for me, but I’m not sure it should get dinged for that (though there is some slightly creepy philosophy that I’m ok dinging it for).

In contrast, La Bucca‘s role in a pirate book absolutely makes sense. A former prison island for political prisoners across Theah, the prisoners seized the island mumblemumble years ago and now it’s a free port and erstwhile democracy. I had been a little leery about this one because in 1e, this island had been loaded up beyond usability with secret kings and the roots of idealized democracy. That has been mostly shed, and instead you get a really nice city that is well designed to be the home port for a pirate game. In fact, the city is fun enough that with a little elbow grease, you could make it the center point of play, Babylon 5 style, and that’s never a bad thing.

La Bucca is also somewhat transitional to the rest of the book, which covers the nations of the Atabean Sea, an analog for the Caribbean, also known as the Sea of Monsters. It’s a fun write up, full of color, but also with some cleverness as related to the many, many sea monsters. They are, in fact, the heart of commerce in the Atabean, with the hunting of monsters and the selling of parts providing motive for trade (and also, critically, providing expertise which helps even their footing with the Theans). There is absolutely trade with Theah out of the islands, but it’s constrained in ways that have kept the Nations of Theah from throwing their weight around too much, which is mostly good, but it has allowed for the rise of the Atabean Trade Company, which we’ll get to in a bit.

We also get to zoom in on three parts of the Atabean sea, the first of which is Aragosta, a sort of analog of Tortuga. It is also the most explicitly Pirates of the Caribbean inspired chapter of the book, and you can practically see the movie posters in the background. This is not a criticism. 🙂

I’ve got mixed feelings about this section. Part of it is really good – where La Bucca is a free port with rough edges, Aragosta is a full bore wretched hive of scum and villainy. It’s the birthplace of the brotherhood of the coast, has fun piratical color, dark supernatural bargains and all the other notes that might appeal. That’s the good. The less good is that this is the section of the book that indulges most strongly in telling it’s story rather than enabling me tell my story. A full 2 pages are dedicated to the tale of the guy who founded the bar where the city grew. More pages are dedicated to the secret fate of the pirate who signed the original Brotherhood of the Coast charter mumblemumble years ago and the curse than haunts them. None of it is bad, but it’s all someone else’s story.

The other nation, Jaragua, is an analogue of Haiti, and it deftly avoids becoming the car crash that I fear every time Haiti and RPG appear in the same sentence. Rather than steeping the whole thing in voodoo mysticism, the emphasis is on the impact of slavery and the aftermath of the recent revolution against it. It’s heavier fare than standard swashbuckling material, but it’s handled well enough that it feels like a different emphasis more than a total mismatch.

Aragosta and Jaragua have also both provided layups for the crown jewel of the book, the Atabean Trading Company. The basic idea is that because treaties keep the nations of Theah from operating too strongly in the Atabean, a villainous trade company has stepped into the gap and has killed, coerced, bribed or otherwise villained their way to the top. Functionally, they like an evil East India company (which is bad enough) with a Randian philosophy and a multi-level marketing scheme, which is to say they are amazing villains.

As a villain organization, they have very clear goals (making money) and equally clear villainy (Slavery, piracy, murder) to support those goals. That is to say, they don’t consider themselves villains – it’s just business, after all – which is exactly why they hang together so well. The ways in which they can be used in a game are so numerous and compelling that the biggest problem is coming up with a reason not to make them the centerpiece of your game. This is a delightful and ambitious write up, and it alone is worth the price of entry.1

After the setting comes a character creation chapter, and it’s a little odd. It has all the information you need for new characters (new nationalities and backgrounds in particular) but also some information repeated from the corebook, which is odd. There are plenty of new advantages, with a few stand outs:

  • There’s now a Letter of Marque advantage, which is thankfully only a point.
  • Speed Load lets you reload a firearm in one raise rather than the usual 5. It costs a hero point, so that’s technically a check on it, but this makes me SUPER nervous (gun tricks are what killed 1e for me)
  • Atabean Traveler is more interesting for it’s mechanic than it’s specifics, since it’s “Spend a Hero point to be able to ask a question about your environment” and I’m not sure that should need an advantage.
  • The Ocean’s Favorite is basically “Would you like to be an awesome ship captain?” to which the answer is, of course, “yes”
  • The Devil’s Due gets you a weird artifact as a result of your deal with the devil (or at least, Devil Jonah, one of those Pirates of the Caribbean type figures).
  • Seeker of Soryana let’s Atabean natives visit the Isle of the Dead and recruit ghost allies. It’s interesting in that it’s like Skalds as a not-quite-sorcery
  • Whisper to Mother is interesting mechanically because it’s a specific Porte trick that does not require Porte but does have very specific setting ties.
  • My Word is My Bond is so fun that one of my players immediately started gunning for it. Make an oath, spend X hero points, and for the duration of the scene, gain X raises on every risk, so long as you’re working to fulfill your work.
  • La Palabra made me laugh, since it’s an idea I first encountered in science fiction. If you have this advantage, you can secretly communicate to others who have it by embedding your messages in normal-seeming conversation.

There are also some new Arcana, which is great, but it going to give me even more Sorte headaches. There are also a ton of sample stories, which is a pretty useful reference.

There is also some new Sorcery, which fascinates me, since this may be the biggest deviation from the 1e model.

Charter Magic is an oddball since you don’t really buy ranks in it – it’s a blood ritual that a group engages in, signing the charter and spending a hero points. For every signatory (hero or villain), put a die on the charter – players can pick those up and ad them to any roll, with the pool refreshing at the beginning of the session. But if you break the charter, you’re cursed, which sucks.

This is a fun option with a heavy dose of metagame (and shades of some other John Wick designs), and I only wish there had been a sample charter or two here, but there are some later in the book.

Kap Sevi Is the inevitable voodoo, whose practitioners channel the “Lwa”. It’s explicitly tied to Ifiri (Africa analogue) via the slaves brought to Jaragua, and is explicitly a variation on those traditions as they were pushed though the brutality and horror of slavery.

Structurally, each rank of sorcery you buy lets know choose one Lwa you can channel, as well as 1 big power and 2 little powers (with power availability tied to which Lwa you know). In an interesting bit of color, the Lwa is summoned into the Sorcery and powered by offering of the self. Mechanically that means big powers are tied to the character’s virtue and little powers are tied to a quirk. While the power is in use, the Virtue or quirk are unavailable for use. I admit I’m not sure what that would look and feel like in play, but I’m curious to find out.

The other big limiter is that when summonng a Lwa, it remains in the Sorcerer until sunrise, so those are the only powers the sorcerer has access to for the duration, and you can only maintain one big and 2 little powers at a time.

The Lwa are, of course, named. There are 5 in the book and no reason there couldn’t be more. One one hand, this is great, because it means the magic is personified, which is always more fun to play. On the other hand, I admit, I’m a little bit unsure how I’m supposed to run this sort of magic. There are trappings that the sorcerer is supposed to engage with to appease the Lwa, but I don’t know what that means. Should it be a conversation with me as the GM taking the part of the Lwa, or am I just supposed to stand back and let it be an role playing opportunity for the character?

The powers themselves are interesting, varied, and in some cases very potent. Curiously, there are a lot of information-related powers, which I’m good with. Those tend to be very gameable, since taking them tells the GM what rocks to hide things under. Curiously, there is no actual ability to animate the dead, though there are numerous references to it happening.

Mystirios is Numan magic, so while cool, it seems out of place in the book. There’s a curious detail that the powers come from the human spirit and are merely inspired/revealed by the gods. This struck me because it very much seems to resonate with the 1e ideas behind the Knights of the Rose and Cross, so I’m curious if that thread will come up again.

Mechanically, you buy a rank in Sorcery and learn a particular god’s secret which has a big power that costs a HP to trigger and a little power that’s free after you’ve used the big power in the scene. It’s a weird mechanic, and it makes more sense for some gods than others. It’s a kind of fun idea though, since it has a built-in cadence.

One nice sidebar – there’s one villain-only Mystirio and it’s OH LORD NASTY. It makes me want to write up more villainous sorcery options.

Mohwoo is a weird one, because it has zero ties to the setting. I don’t know if that’s because it’s a teaser for something else in the world or if it’s just a crazy one off.

Anyway, terminology aside, and as we’re probably familiar with now, there are big powers and little powers. When you get a tattoo, you get a lot big and little power associated with that symbol, plus the little power from a different tattoo. When you buy a new rank (and get a new tattoo), you pick up two more powers, either major or minor, constrained by the symbols you bear.

So, for example, the Fish symbol’s minor power is “no need to breathe for the rest of the scene” and the major power is “Use the activation instead of spending a raise when swimming or in water”2

One fun addition to this is that there’s a set of things that the GM can spend danger on when a Mohwoo is activated, and I love this. None of them are super nasty, but they’re colorful and fun and make the magic feel a little less predictable and rote. As with villainous sorcery, I kind of want to write up more of these for other types of sorcery.

A bunch of other mechanics are thrown in under Swords, Ships and Secrets. It explains how foreign duelists interact with the Duelist’s guild, and introduces 3 new styles – a machete style, a capoeira equivalent, and Spartan fighting3.

We have more ship origins and abilities. At first glance they all seem more potent than the core set, but I’ll probably need to really look at those side by side. New ship backgrounds are fine, but the new adventures (Cheevos!) are probably the most welcome addition.

There are 2 new secret societies. La Cosca are the Robin Hood Mafia, and La Riroco are abolitionist monster hunters. Obviously, both are awesome.

There’s also a bit of space committed to the Pirate’s code and charters, which is made more useful for its direct tie into Charter magic. There are also two pages on how to talk like a pirate (arr).

There’s a chapter dedicated to sea monsters, and while it’s mostly color (because monster statblocks are pleasantly small) there are also a few new Monstrous Qualities, which are absolutely delightful.

Finally, there’s a chapter on running a nautical campaign, with some important advance about avoiding busy-work rolls for handling travel, tools for fleshing out your ship’s roster, discussion of crews vs. navies and some general play hooks.

It’s all good stuff. Though there’s an interesting little aside about “And Then” vs. “Because” which is either some excellent advice on how to tie rolls to player choices or a subtle tutorial on how to execute a GM’s force, I’m not sure which – there are two examples and they offer somewhat different lessons.

In case it’s not obvious, I really like this book, but it’s not flawless. A few sour notes and oddities:

  • There is some noble savage stuff in the Atabean Sea section that totally set my teeth on edge. If there’s one thing I hope does not make it out to the preview, it’s that.
  • Time is a bit wibbly-wobbly throughout, because a lot of the setting seems to be defined by things that happened 2-5 decades ago, but which still involve the same people as they did back then. I could see that making for interesting generational play if it was intentional, but it just feels careless.
  • Have to reiterate how out of place Numa feels in the book.
  • If you go by the text, the natives of the Atabean sea haven’t given up too much to the Theans, but the map (which was not in the preview, but popped up later) seems to tell a very different story.
  • Inside the ATC, there exists a heroic group, the Seahorses, who deliver mail and are not themselves villainous. It’s a super-gameable hook, but it feels odd to have it within the villainous organization. I suspect the correct way to use it is as a way to start heroes out and allow them to discover the evil of the ATC from within – that would probably be fun.
  • I fully expect the maps to be awesome, and I understand why they’re not in the preview, but a few things don’t really seem to hang together in their absence

Bottom line? It’s a fun book and a welcome addition to the line. I can’t wait for its actual release

  1. There is an instinct here to compare them to the other major villain group in the game so far, the NWO. That’s not entirely fair because the ATC is, as written, vastly more compelling than the NWO and it’s generic evil. However, it’s important to remember that they serve very different purposes. The ATC has a full and detailed writeup because it is supposed to be a specific thing. The vagueness of the NWO specifically means that individual GMs can make it into the thing they need for their game. ↩︎
  2. This mechanic – using an activation in lieu of a raise to act – shows up enough throughout the book that it feels like a new bit of the standard kit. ↩︎
  3. Spartan fighting includes an archery option, and I strongly dislike it. Not only is it hard for me to align with the ides of the Duelist’s guild as presented (and I LIKE the DG very much), it also feels like opening a door that is going to lead to a knife throwing school, and then a gun school, and that is a door I do not want to walk through.That said, I absolutely love it as a spearfighting style. That makes it distinctive and archaic in a way that feels like a much better fit.


7S: A Small Danger Hack

Danger!Ok, this is a very small hack for 7th Sea that introduces an additional use for the Danger Pool, with some (hopefully) interesting consequences.

The addendum is this – Danger may be spent to:

  • Introduce a consequence into an action or dramatic sequence. This can be done when villains would act (even if there are no villains in the scene) and takes effect the next time villains would act.

Pretty simple. The timing is the most complicated part, but that’s harder to explain than it is to implement because it’s specific to how action order works. To unpack it a little, when the GM starts with “Ok, 5 raises?” then normally any villain with 5 raises would act, then players would. This spend happens during the slice when that villain action would normally occur, whether or not there is actually a villain acting.

Ok, so that’s all well and good, but why do I want to add such a rule? Two reasons, one simple, one a little more involved.

The simple one is this: I end every session with a stack of points in the danger pool, and that is not desirable. I want more things to spend them on.

This is a result of the fact that the uses of the danger pool end up fairly limited for me in practice. Murder doesn’t come up often. Increasing the total needed for a raise is such a jerk move that I use it very rarely. Activating special abilities is fine, but the kicker is that adding dice – which seems like it should be the go-to move – is less useful than you might think. Consider when you roll dice as the GM. It’s more or less limited to action/dramatic sequences, and specifically it’s at the beginning of the sequence. So it might come in handy to beef up a pool or offset a bad roll, but once the scene actually begins, that’s it. Introducing a spend “in flight” gives me more opportunities to spend danger (and by extension, puts more pressure on me to help my players generate Hero Points, since that’s my most efficient way to get Danger). I think if I can increase the flow of currency, it’s going to feel a lot more fun to spend it.

And that leads into the second reason, and that is that this allows for more dynamic action.

To unpack that a little, it’s worth looking at how action sequences actually play, with and without villains. If you have villains, then villain actions provide a certain amount of push and dynamism in the action, but only some, because the villain is usually greatly outnumbered. If you have only brutes, then there’s no real dynamism, since the scene only reacts to the characters if there are brutes still standing at the end.1

This is complicated further by the lack of henchman rules2. Villains are kind of a big deal, and including a villain in every fight is actually quite complicating if you do it by the book. So how do you get the tempo advantages of a villain without actually having a villain in play? With danger.

So, spending to make things happen during the fight has some obvious benefits, but there is also a subtle benefit to the pacing. See, when a villain spends a raise to act, that action happens. There is no threat or buildup – they simply do it, and that can lead to some rough situations, as illustrated by the villain in the example stealing the MacGuffin by sheer narrative brute force.

So, in contrast, one of the key cadence elements of diceless play (which sequences effectively are) is threat -> response. The opposition does something which will have consequences if it carries through, which drives players to take action to counter, redirect or mitigate (though not nullify – nullify is the “I Dodge”, it’s dull). By introducing consequences in flight, the GM is now armed with threats, and players can respond or ignore as suits them, but in either case it introduces a little back and forth.

(Now, I have to admit there’s a third reason. I have some awesome tokens that I use for Danger & Hero points, and one of my favorite things to do as a GM is to toss one into the middle of the table and declare something horrible. It’s just fun. So any excuse to do that is a win.)

Anyway, this is going to be used in my next session. Will report on how it goes.

  1. Unless special abilities are triggered, but those have limitations, and have a weird sort of absolutism to them as written. Especially kidnapper and thief if the point of the conflict is to prevent a kidnapping or theft. ↩︎
  2. Henchmen were a construct in First Edition 7th Sea, who were better than brutes, but less good than villains. They’re actually very easy to implement in the new 7th Sea – just give an NPC a die pool and let her roll without the other villain trappings – but it feels like an intentional absence, so I tread carefully around it. ↩︎

7th Sea: the Court of Kirkwall

We started with a flashback to the previous session to throw in a little extra color for the night when Zeta watched the Ladies’ townhouse before departure. She spotted Marcella sneaking out, tailed her, got made, and had a very civil exchange (both of them masked, of course) that gave a little bit more of a sense of the NPC (and tied her into Zeta in advance of the game to come).

The first half of the session revolved around the arrival of Princess Bera at the court of Kirkwall and the assorted problems that came with that, especially since The Macduff remained conspicuously absent. The group was kept close at hand by simple virtue of the fact that Bera and Marcella trusted that they weren’t enemies (a certainty that could not be extended to the rest of the court). This lead to a few things:

  • Captain Quinn was a loud voice in favor of the new Princess and got in at least one scuffle over the topic. How much of his motivation was genuine support for Bera and how much was “Screw you, Macduff” is an exercise left up to the viewer. He also got drawn into a poorly thought out romance (his usual kind) with Marcella.
  • Doctor Valdis was the only one in the group with any real sense of why a Princess of Vesten didn’t make much sense, which lead to some axe-throwing-and-discussion with the Princess that revealed that this marriage is part of her father making a bid for the seat of the High Thane. Valdis also had some business discussions with Edwin MacBride, which revealed MacBride’s interest in closer trade ties with Vendel.
  • Basillio was offered the position as head of Bera’s guard. He deferred, so instead Bera and Marcella asked him to help them find some trustworthy (or at least reliably-bought) men to serve as her guard so she did not have to rely on Highlanders.
  • Basillio and Zeta went recruiting, and found an old comrade-in-arms (and student) of Basillio’s named Paolo (explicitly sourced in Basillio’s current story), and recruited him for the job. The interview consisted of a fight with Bera, which went well enough to get him the job.
  • Arrangements were made for an obnoxious MacBride cousin to be available to earn a beating from the princess, which played out as planned.

The second half of the session was mostly fight and aftermath. At a party, attendees started passing out due to drugged Wine, and a large number of men (who it turned out were working for the embarrassed MacBride cousin) attempted to kidnap the princess, and the only ones in a position to fight were the PCs (who disdain this Avalonian swill, excepting Captain Quinn, who had Glamour magic to keep him going) and Paolo. This all seemed bad enough, but then a dart hit the entertainer’s dancing bear, and marksmen started getting into position on the wall.

Basillio and his companion went back to back in front of the (semi-conscious) princess and held off the incoming brutes while Zeta and Valdis wealth with the Marksman and Captain Quinn placed himself in the path of the rampaging bear. Things seemed to be almost under control when Paolo’s shadow reached up an started strangling him, and Basillio’s shadow stepped out of the ground and assumed a duelists pose.

While Basillio fended off the shadow and the remaining brutes, new brutes arrived, and were intercepted by Valdis in a most violent fashion. Zeta took off over a wall to try to find Marcella and Quinn faced down the bear. Things were not looking great for the Princess until two things happened.

First: Quinn beat the bear. Not through strength, but by sheet dogger stubbornness (and taking 18 hits in one go, and shrugging it off). Having established dominance, he rode upon the bears’ back and into the mob of brutes descending on Basillio to devastating effect.

Second, Zeta found Marcella – unconscious – but upon approaching her was attached by a figure who literally stepped out of the shadows, struck, and stepped back into them. As she readied herself for him to strike again, he instead spread the shadows to darken the entire room, and moved to strike. However, Zeta spun a web from the threads of fate, allowing her to sense where her attacker was and catch him by surprise. He was previously hurt, but something else pulled him back into the shadows, dispelling the darkness and also dispelling the magical shadows back at the party. Valdis finished off her reinforcements with aplomb, and all seemed well enough again.

Obviously, some chaos followed, and the offending MacBride was dealt with by his own clan in a fairly gruesome fashion. But there was no time to rest – in the absence of a way to hurry the MacDuff home, it was necessary to reach out to Vesten and make the correct political noises. And, of course, what ship would be better suited to delivering gifts and news than The Gates?

Ok, GM time

  • We didn’t touch the dice for the first half of the session. This is not meant as a broad statement about RP, but rather is kind of indicative of the fact that 7th Sea feels like a diceless system with dice to me, and I’m starting to embrace that for all its complexities and apparent contradictions.
  • But partly because of that, I pressed hard on this fight. All in all there were ten 5-strength brute squads, plus the adversary using shadow magic.
  • We also have fully adopted the “Duelist school damage bonuses don’t apply against brutes” rules, which continue to work well. Without those rules, Basillio and Paolo (who got 12 raises in the first round) would probably have obliterated most of them in a single round.
  • Basillio’s Melee is now a 5, and the jump from 4 to 5 is nowhere near as scary as the jump from 3 to 4 was.
  • It is really proving night and day to see Glamour next to Sorte. Glamour is fun, exciting and sees constant use. Sorte is flavorful, but hard to engage usefully. I am absolutely going to be writing some hacks for it.
  • I leaned very heavily on the enemy’s magic during this fight, mostly because I had a surplus of danger points and a hankering to use them. When he did a magical effect, I paid a point, since that seemed fair, but it was a little ad hoc.
  • We had just gotten the Pirate Nations preview, and I’d given the players some free XP, so we looked over the mechanical bits with some enthusiasm (I also have OPINIONS about the book as a whole, but that’s another post). The Ocean’s Favorite was perfect for Captain Quinn (lots of bonuses for being an awesome ship captain) and Basillio is pursuing My Word is My Bond because it’s colorful (Swear to do something, spend some HP, for the rest of the scene, so long as you are upholding the oath, add the # of HP as raises to every risk you take).
  • Also, we collectively erased Archery Dueling and the Speed Load Advantage from our universe.

All in all, it was a fun session, and pushing the fight hard paid out very well, and I think there’s room to push harder. I’m still not satisfied with how to handle villains at a tactical level, and I need to think about that more, but I now feel a bit more comfortable leaning on brute squads, so I’ll probably start exploiting them more.

That said, I really need to re-read the rules about brute squads taking risks, because I’m definitely not clear when they roll dice and when they do not.

7th Sea: The Wines of Crieux

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.


  1. 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. ↩︎
  2. 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. ↩︎
  3. 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. ↩︎
  4. Have I mentioned that I love my players? ↩︎
  5. 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. ↩︎
  6. 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). ↩︎


7th Sea: From Kirkwall to Carleon

whalingPlay started in Kirkwall (aka “Kurkle”) with the players having a few points of wealth from their dealings, but a ship whose damage would take twice as much money to fix. So, before things got started, we took a moment to flash back on Captain Quinn.

Quinn is a Glamour practitioner, and we hadn’t really talked through what that means in the game. For the unfamiliar, there are a limited number of Glamour users, each one corresponding to a legendary knight. I am always a big fan of magic that is limited to a number of named practitioners because it suggests fun social dynamics and knowing people by name, so we’re going to lean on that a little bit.

But we also had a bit of a snag. Glamour powers are tied to 2 stats, and which two stats they are depend upon the historical knight the character has picked. Now, Quinn had specifically wanted some of the Resolve tricks, so his range of choices was fairly limited, and he picked Theofric, the Beloved. The problem is that it’s a choice the player absolutely did not give a crap about – it didn’t resonate with his character at all, so much so that he didn’t even remember which knight he was tied to. So we discussed at a little before play and we switched his knight to The Sailor, which made much more sense, but I let him keep his resolve powers, because the thematic match seemed much more important than the mechanics (especially since he’s still limited to 2 stats). I admit, from this point, I’m going to treat the Glamour stat pairs as suggestions more than rules, and I think it will be a lot more satisfying overall.

That also let us talk a little bit about when the Graal revealed itself to Quinn – at a point when he died – and that he answered the call and bent knee to Elaine, and is for all intents and purposes a secret spy for her. This also marked his transition from Pirate to Smuggler, since the knight’s code makes pillage a little difficult.

Now, for me, the key takeaway here is that Quinn is an Elaine loyalist, which I needed to know before entangling the characters in any politics in the Highland Marches1. I actually have something up my sleeve on that front, but I had no good way to pull it in gracefully. So instead, we went with whaling.

Whaling in 7th Sea has been on my mind as I’ve been playing Dishonored, so between Quinn’s contacts at the castle and the Professor Valdis’s Invisible College contacts2 they found their way to a Vodacce professor of Biology and his Marcher partner, Angus MacBride, who had built an immense whaling ship, but as it was highly experimental, they needed as captain and some crew for her maiden voyage. In return for this, MacBride would repair their ship, and (after some haggling) actually improve it (removing it’s “Hangar Queen” drawback).

While waiting to depart, Professor Valdis discovered that she had a bit of a following at the local university, and after late night drinking and fund raising (with some magical help) she ended up setting up a futures market in cod, which raised some eyebrows, but will probably pay off, as it was a step in her buying the Wealthy advantage.

The whaling voyage itself was more colorful than anything else. There were some interesting NPCs among the crew (the Irish whaling master and the Eisen engineer) and a few challenges to keep the ship (which steers like a pregnant elephant) in shape, but mostly it was a lot of middle of nowhere in the ocean. They did eventually find a Leviathan, and between depth charges and strangely hi-tech harpoon cannons managed to kill the beast and winch it up.

That, of course, is where things went wrong. That night a fog rolled in while the whalers were mostly passed out drunk, and a Viking longship pulled up alongside and attacked.

Short version: The good guys won.

Longer version: I’m still working on balancing combat. I explicitly amped up the challenge on this one because things have been a bit too easy so far. I went for two brute squads of strength 8 each, and two villains with 12 dice each. I worried a little bit about the villains, but our Swordsman got his weaponry up to 4 dots last session, so he’s now building raises with 15s, so I figured he could handle it. One of the villains was a swordsman, the other had runic magic, which I sketched out loosely. She had a potent fear effect and the ability to chuck around lightning. The fear effect would have been a real problem, but our Swordsman’s virtue cancels it out, so he had a nice dramatic moment as fear paralyzed the crew, but he called out a rally, and lead the counterattack.

First round of combat started rough. The enemy swordsman had 2 more raises than the next hero, so he pretty solidly waled on our swordsman with some free shots, but after that, things shifted directions quickly. Our Acrobat provided enough distraction to the swordsman out allow our Swordsman to regain the upper hand. Professor Valids’s reckless takedown obliterated one of the brute squads, and between her and Captain Quinn, the brutes were pretty well wiped out. Second round went much less well for the bad guys – our Swordsman’s dice turned, and he managed to finish off the opponent with a Ruse and a Lunge, allowing everyone else to dogpile the runecaster, culminating in her being impaled by a harpoon (which also kind of sank the longboat).

It was an ok fight, but I’m still wrestling with the challenges of the system, some of which crystallized a bit more:

  • I really want to try a fight sometime with no duelists, because it really feels like the system would flow a little bit more smoothly in group scenes. When you have one duelist in the group, he’s operating at a different cadence than everyone else, and that keeps things from feeling as fluid as they might.
  • I have been feeling obliged to use dueling rules for villains to keep them dangerous, but I think that’s been a bad idea. Partly, it’s keeping me from using their raises more creatively, but partly it’s just a pain in the ass. I’ll use them when he villain is an actual honest to god member of the guild, in an actual duel, but I need to come up with some shorthand rules for making villains dangerous with less fiddliness.
  • We have had several fights now where the crew has been part of the fight, and Captain Quinn really wants to be leading and directing them in battle, which falls flat if I use straight brute rules for them. I’ve made some on-the-fly calls to support it, but I need something a little more toothy.
  • Stakes on that fight were a little flat. That was on me, but it’s a reminder of how much I like have discrete elements in play (a la Fate or Cortex Plus) on the table in front of me, to threaten and engage.
  • That actually speaks to something I need to do with the system at large – the amount that a villain can do with a raise is huge and potentially somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps more problematic, it’s also complete. I need to more consciously take the diceless tempo of Threaten-Act-Threaten-Act. That makes for much more satisfying exchanges.
  • I end up really cheating on the villain rules for the sake of play, and I think that may be part of the problem.  Named villains capable of taking on a group of heros have more abilities than I can casually track, but at the same time, I really need a handle on opposition that holds up better than a brute squad.  I’ve been using lower strength villains with amped up die pools in lie of advantages (because I am not going to do the math) but it’s a total duck tape solution.

The trip back to dock was slow, but mostly uneventful, save for the Leviathan following the ship deep beneath he waves, which could not possibly be a harbinger of things to come.

Back in Kirkwall, Quinn picked up some letters from MacDuff’s cousin, to deliver to him in Carleon. Professor Valdis had to subdue an angry Marcher who was trying to find where all the fish were, and also made off with a vial of leviathan oil, since it turns out to have some very peculiar attributes (notably that it generates electric current when burnt). Angus McBride also had a proposition for them, in that he had a passenger he needed pick up in Montaigne and returned to Kirkwall, so they bought a load of felt (for hats, in Montaigne) and set off to Carleon, with Montaigne their next destination.

In Carleon, Quinn stopped by the palace to deliver the courier pouch to MacDuff. This took an interesting turn when, after some time in a waiting room, MacDuff himself showed up and handed Quinn a box, explaining that he needs to give it to Elaine, and report that he got it from the viking pirates he fought. Quinn was rather caught off guard, but agreed because you don’t say no the the MacDuff. However, he enlisted his companions to investigate the box, and discovered it to contain some coin, but also a ring and brooch containing the heraldry of one Ser Mandrake, a man that Quinn knew as another Glamour Knight in the service of Elaine.

He ended up going along with MacDuff’s plan, and during his audience with Elaine (which MacDuff was also attending) he went along with MacDuff’s plan, though he has no idea what the goal was. Because politics. Elaine returned the coins to him, but kept the brooch and ring, looking concerned.

And that’s about where we wrapped. It was a good session, but I really feel like I failed to bring enough spotlight for our Acrobat. She had a little bit of Daughters of Sophia action, but I don’t quite have the same level of purchase with her that I do with the other characters. However, she has the potential of having far reaching enemies, so I think I may need to lean on that for the future.

I’m also slightly disappointed that I had printed up a GM cheatsheet for the game but forgot to bring it. We’ll have to see how that plays out next time.

  1. My least favorite thing about the Marches is the lack of a good adjectives and terms. Describing things as “Marchish” and people as “Marchers” sounds awful, enough so that I will sometimes just say “Scottish” or “Scots” and we roll with it. The best match I’ve been able to find is “Highlands” and “Highlanders” but it’s does not exactly flow off the tongue. ↩︎
  2. As an aside, I am really growing to like the Secret Society rules. They are a lot more robust than they seem at first glance, and provide wonderful motivations an opportunities for actions. I begin to suspect that the true secret heart of the game is Stories and Secret Societies, and I’m very much OK with that. ↩︎