Category Archives: 7S

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: Session 2

screenshot-2016-11-16-20-30-55We had our second session of 7th Sea this past weekend, and it continued to be fun. I’m still wrestling the manatee a little bit, but I think I’m getting it under control.

We tried an experimental rule, and it partly worked. During action sequences, rather than having me “buy” dice from them (Giving me Danger Points and them Hero Points) they had the option to spend unused dice as soft failures.  That is, they were treated as raises in terms of when the character could act, but the player was obliged to describe their character failing in some way (ideally an awesome or funny way).  When they did so, I got a DP and they got an HP.

It mostly worked. It meant more actions (including failures) which slowed things down a little, but it also introduced a little bit of interesting decision making regarding when to take a failure.  The main concern we had was that it’s technically abusable by allowing a player to opt to take a BUNCH of failures, but that is reasonably easily mitigated by demanding players optimize their success building. If it’s still a problem after that, then I’ll consider switching to allowing only a single incident. But with those considerations, I’ll probably keep it around.

We started with a little background material, as I asked each player what they do and where they stay while in port. We got some nice background details out of that (unsurprisingly including the names of a few drinking establishments), but the most interesting bit came out of The Swordsman attempting to go to church.  This was complicated the fact that he was a devout Castillean in the middle of very Objectionist Vendel.  So we went to the dice and he ended up with the options Castillean, Honest or Safe: Pick one.  He picked honest.

If he’d gone safe, I probably would have had him find the church where the local Vodacce mobsters go to church (which may not seem safe, but the mobsters take the church very seriously), so instead I improvised a bit and decided it was the improvised church of a group of Montaignians who had fled their country to what seemed the least bad option to them – the Vesten may be godless, but they don’t bother you so much about it. So they joined in that community’s church, and all seemed well, but at the end, an old man seemed to recognize The Swordsman, and said many things in Montaignian which neither he nor The Acrobat could understand before saying, in Old Thean, “We Remember” and pressing a coin into The Swordsman’s hand. (EDIT: The Acrobat’s player has reminded me she has the Linguist advantage and could understand JUST FINE, but heard Montaigne and wandered off, bored. My players are wonderful).

And here, I note, is why I love my players.  They are genre-sensitive enough that The Swordsman’s player knew perfectly well the coin was hooked into his Tragic Backstory, so he did not ask for any details about it.  We understood what it signified, and details would not be important until they were important.

Anyway, having looked over the character’s stories, it was pretty clear we had another sailing voyage ahead of us.   I dipped into the hooks from last session and laid out two things: Red had some cargo she wanted moved surreptitiously, and Lyonetta, the fate witch they’d smuggled into Vesten had encountered problems on the last leg of her journey (to Carleon) and needed help.  Red’s mission was to Kirkwall (which, as a table, we agreed the Scot’s pronounce as “Kurkle”) but that would also bring them close enough to Carleone for help Lyonetta.

Planning the journey proved fun – because we were using a light patina of travel rules, the players could look at the map and figure out a few possible routes, I could talk about what they knew about each one, and they could make an informed decision.  Realizing they lacked the loose cash for a very profitable trip to Kirkwall, they opted instead to load up on beer and stop over in “The Gut” (Gotkirschen, a wretched hive of scum and villainy atop a Syrneth ruin) because The Captain’s pirate ties meant he could come and go in relative safety.  The thinking was the beer would sell well in the Gut and goods of dubious origin could often be acquired there at good prices.

And it mostly went according to plan, until a group of raiders decided that stealing the beer from the docked ship would be easier, and violence ensued.

It was OK Violence. One medium villain and a bunch of brutes – I didn’t flesh the villain out to much, but I did decide he did 2 wounds when he hit (because the dude was huge) which was a bit handwavey on my part, but seriously, this guy did not need a full sheet, or even a name.  Also, the acrobat had some time to do damage before the fighting properly started, so there weren’t a huge number of Mooks either.

The most interesting thing about the fight is that it happened while The Professor was negotiating the sale of the beer, so I opted to take advantage of the raise structure to thread those scenes together, as if a TV camera was cutting between them.  Thus, when other folks rolled their attack skills, she rolled for her negotiation, and every time turn order came around to her, the haggling proceeded, with her counterpart making a slightly better offer.  As a result, the fight culminated with with villains fleeing and the Professor being offered two crates of Syrneth artifacts, and who says no to that?

They took the Artifacts, and spent the last of their pennies on a shipment of linen of dubious value, but had some “legitimate” cargo to take to Kirkwall.  And so they did, and that also went well, until the sea monster attacked.

It was a Kraken style thing, so they were mostly fighting tentacles.  The Professor had a lovely moment where she severed one and got covered in black ink.  The captain went below decks and removed the chains on the port side cannons, causing the whole ship to list to starboard far enough that the cannons were angled down towards the creature.  And then, of course, the Earth Shattering Kaboom.

Naturally, as it slipped beneath the waves, it had several crewmen in its tentacles, something that was an invitation to the Swordsman whose story’s 4th step was to sacrifice himself for the crew.  He cut one guy free, pinned another in place with a belaying pin, and jumped over the side after the last, emerging with him after a suitably dramatic pause, and pretty well loaded up with injuries.

So it was that a very badly wounded ship limped into Kirkwall. The secret sale of Red’s goods went seamlessly, but they had to take some precautions to not get ambushed selling off their Linen.  They could probably have sold the Syrneth artifacts here, but they would go for much more in Montaigne or Vodacce, so that would have to wait.  As the session ended, they had enough money to get the ship afloat, but not enough to repair her fully (or buy any new cargo, though they did pay the crew, because responsibilities) so next session we get to find out what goes wrong next.

It was a good session, though not as strong as the first.  I hadn’t planned on them going to The Gut, so it had a little bit less of a sense of place than I would have liked, but I did fair service to the character’s stories, so I’m happy with that.

7th Sea: Session 1

routeSo, first Full session of 7th Sea was Saturday night.  It went pretty well, though I’m still juggling some system mastery concern.  

The characters are:

  • The Captain: A large Avalonian man possessed of superhuman luck
  • The Swordsman: Once a bodyguard of the Hierophant, then a failed seeker of revenge, now he is a very dangerous drunk.
  • The Professor: A Vesten woman serving as axe-wielding accountant and quartermaster working on a theory of economics.
  • The Acrobat: A Vodacce fate witch who hid her talents in the circus, but has been forced to flee her home.

The plot was simple and classic – they were in port at Vesten, but near broke. They approached The Professor’s Patron (Guildmaster of Usury) for a loan to take advantage of a tip she had on wood prices in Rurik.  They met in a coffeehouse (of course) and the Guildmaster took the opportunity to play chess with The Captain (who lost well), and the Guildmaster made an offer: She would cut them a loan at no interest in return for them delivering unspecified cargo from Rurik back to Vendel.  They, of course, agreed, took the loan, bought two shipments of Wood and set sail.

They managed to avoid trouble on the trip over, though the winds were unfavorable – what should have been a 3 or 4 day trip took 6, but that was still in bounds.  They sould off their cargo, turning a very solid profit – between the tip and the Professor’s skills, they doubled their money.

Their contact for the Guildmaster’s delivery was a veiled lady, accompanied by an obvious duellist and half a ton of war dogs. They had a very civilized afternoon tea while she got a read on them (and to a lesser extent, they got a read on her)  before they took possession of a mysterious chest. The Acrobat saw to it that the transportation back to the ship was well-concealed, as no one noticed one more wagon of produce going through Rurik.  

All was going well, except the Acrobat had also been contacted by The Daughters of Sophia, who needed someone smuggled to Vendel. She met up with them, and arranged for the young lady to meet the crew at a bar near the docks.

Things went a little wrong there.  The Acrobat paid a drunk to make some ruckus when the lady arrived, but left the details unspecified (which pinged her Hubris).  When she arrived and lowered her hood, The Captain was utterly smitten (his Hubris), the Professor was distracted by a discussion of currency policy (not technically her Hubris, but close enough) and the drunk grabbed the lady and started dancing with her, forcing The Swordsman to step up to her defense.

Which meant no one was watching when a couple of guys knocked The Acrobat over the head, threw her in a sack and dragged her away.  When they realized she was missing, they rushed the lady back to the ship and prepared to go looking for her. Well, everyone except THe Captain.  He had to make sure she was ok. Possibly over wine.

Meanwhile, The Acrobat came too as she was tossed into a carriage. She used a hidden knife to cut free, but discovered she was under close scrutiny by two thugs and a Vodacce gentleman who was very clearly their boss. The boss seemed upset at the thugs for grabbing the wrong woman, but they protested that they had grabbed a small Vodacce woman.  Dripping with false remorse, he pressed The Acrobat for information about “his wife”, but seemed to accept her denials and released her back near the bar.

And so it was that she was returning to the ship as the search party came out, and when they met, the Vodacce gentleman and his band of thugs emerged from the shadows, intent to board the ship and reclaim the woman.  Naturally, this lead to violence.

The Swordsman and The Vodacce Gentleman flashed their swordsman pins and opted to fight as gentlemen while he ordered his thugs to deal with the rest of the rabble. They fought for a time, with both taking fairly severe wounds. Meanwhile, there was a reminder that while the professor may be an economist, she is a VIKING economist. One of the Brute squads was reduced to a pulpy mass in short order, and another terrified into retreating.  Meanwhile The Acrobat split her attention between the brutes and manipulating the strands of fate surrounding the fight.  The captain also emerged and pitched in with violence and luck.

Matters ended somewhat inconclusively, as the newly-cowardly (thanks to Sorte) Vodacce Gentleman retreated with the remainder of his men, and The Captain deemed that the number of the bodies suggested that a hasty retreat was in order.  There was some resistance from the crew to a late-night departure (leading to a conflict between a crewman and The Swordsman), but The Captain made it clear this was not subject to debate, and they made a night departure.

Yet despite that, when dawn rose, there was a ship on their tail.  Inconceivable!  Unless they had been trailing debris, which explained the absences in the stores The Professor had noted.   Rather than test a tail chase, the captain ordered the ship turn towards the dangerous and foggy shore, taking a highly risky route in hopes the pursuer would not follow.

This forced the betrayer (the same who had argued with The Swordmaster) to attempt to flee in a launch with the cargo. The Acrobat spotted him,  The swordsman pursued (and resolved the matter decisively), but was now in a launch that was not attached to the ship. Thankfully,  The professor lept with a rope and managed to secure the launch before they had gone to far.   The pursuer, meanwhile, was not as nimble as The Gates, and fell behind.  The rest of the trip to Vendel was uneventful, save for the interrogation and execution of the mutineer.

Upon returning to Vendel, they delivered their cargo and tried to sell the furs they’d bought in Rurik, but they did not get a very good price for them, and after paying back the loan, paying the crew and performing maintenance on the ship, they ended up having exactly broken even.

Notes:

  • We have 2 Sorcerers, 1 Duelist and one non-of-the-above. This is proving a really interesting spread to test out the length and breadth of the game.  
  • Notably, the sorcerer’s are much more Hero Point hungry than the non-sorcerers.  Curiously, Our Duelist probably generates the most Hero Points, but also needs them least, so he helps a lot.
  • That point when The Acrobat got kidnapped may have had all the earmarks of a GM force, because it did, but it’s a little more interesting than that because I had the player’s permission going into it. She had a two point story queued up, the stages were “Get captured” and “Free myself”, so I was responding to her invitation.  It made for a much nicer dynamic this way.
  • When she got away, I presented the risks as follows: There’s an opportunity to distract him and dive out the door of the moving carriage, but that will come with 2 wounds that you’d also need to mitigate. Alternately, 1 raise and he’s not sure if you’re lying.  2 raises and he seems to believe you. 3 raises and he *actually* believes you.  She got 2 raises.
  • I am going to need to generate a *lot* of reference sheets for this.  The core rules are super simple, but things like keeping track of what each sorcery does (because they all behave differently), the various dueling maneuvers, the Arcana (because we have a fate witch), plus the Hubris, Virtue, Story and Quirks of every character. Oh, and maps.  Flipping through the book for all this was SUPER awkward, so I’m going to need to figure out how to condense things into a tight match.
  • Holy *crap* the GM’s ability to spend a Danger Point to make raises cost 15 rather than 10? That is, SUPER nasty, and really needs to come with a warning label.  Outside of a scene, it’s a good way to convey “This is hard”, and I’m ok with that, but in a fight scene? Can really hurt.
  • Two duelists with similar weapon skills going at it involves a *lot* of negation.  It was not hard for them to fall into an alternating slash/bash cadence, which makes the fight very nickel and dime. It only sped up when I opted for the bad guy to risk a lunge (to which the appropriate response is also a lunge).
  • I frequently found myself thinking “I really want this to be a difficulty 3, and I’ll shape the response based on how close they get” but that’s on the way it should be done. I am working on ways to think about difficulty:
    • One approach is very much “Success, but…”.  1 Raise gets you success with one or more consequences, and successive raises mitigate those consequences. Using the same kind of thinking that helps come up with good moves can help here.
    • When the players are looking for information, my instinct is to say “One fact per raise”, and there are situations where that works ok (albeit as a little bit of a boring risk), but I’ve found it works fairly well if you use an elimination approach. That is, when The Acrobat was trying to spot the traitor, I said “Ok, there are 5 people who might look suspicious. Each raise will let you eliminate one”.  That felt a lot better.
  • I am not satisfied with how I offer opportunities yet, partly because they serve two sometimes conflicting rolls.  On one hand, they’re bonuses, things you can pick up with an awesome roll. On the other hand, they’re temptations – reasons you might mitigate your own success to grab a cookie. A lot of time, an Opportunity that is really good in one role may not fit for the other. Not sure if that’s a structural problem or just a drawback in how I think about them, but I definitely need to chew on this a little more.
    • The roll by The Acrobat in the carriage was a weird one because I explicitly offered a branching choice in that via Opportunities.  I’m not sure that’s strictly legal, but I’ll probably toy with it more.
    • I am tempted to prime the pump with opportunities. Figure out things that might appeal to players or take things in cool directions and just have them in my pocket, waiting for a chance to offer them as opportunities. It’s an area where light prep may save some headaches.
  • We used my house rules for trading and travel and they worked pretty well.  I made a very small tweak to allow for more chances to roll the dice, and I’ll probably add that in, but otherwise it held up very well.
  • I spent a fair amount of time before the game trying to figure out how fast ships traveled in Theah. The real answer is: it’s complicated – wind and currents and seasons and complicated cull-to-sail math all play into this.  At some point, I’m going to map the winds of Theah so I can get super nerdy, but in the meantime, I settled on a rule of thumb – 9 knots is a pretty good clip for a sailing ship, and it’s about 10mph, so it makes for easy math.  So the VERY simple navigation rules are:
    • Assume your ship will go 10mph under optimal conditions (and remember, it moves 24 hours a day, so ~240 miles).
    • Every Journey has 3-5 risks (maybe more), which might be things like:
      • Unkind Winds (-2mph, can be taken many time)
      • Rough Seas (ship takes 2 hits)
      • Spoilage/pilferage (lose a point of cargo)
      • Sickness (lose a point of crew)
      • Danger! (Catch the attention of pirates or similar)
      • Interdiction (Get stopped by a patrol boat. Lose a day, possibly other consequences)
      • Misdirection (End up off course by some amount)
    • Each raise on the Sailing risk can mitigate one of these
    • If you support the idea that different ships have different speeds, you can use these rules, just start from a different baseline than 10mph
  • The Captain has invested heavily in Mad Luck, and I think that’s going to be *terrifying*.
  • I need to figure out what to do with Lashes that are still in effect at the end of a session. The player can dump them relatively safely when all is done, and it seems untoward if the GM could just hold onto all those Danger Points between sessions, but seems cheap if they don’t.  But the alternative seems to take some to the tooth away from Sorte.  I think I need to read the chapter again, build my cheatsheet, then see if anything springs to mind.
  • My players are conspiring to try to convince me to buy more dice from them, which suggests I need to spend my Danger Points more liberally.  I can only remind them to be careful of what you wish for.
  • I am regretting the absence of a “wildcard” skill, and may end up adding one in my game.  For the unfamiliar, this is an idea stolen from Eden’s Cinematic Unisystem – the skill list included one skill that was just a blank line, with the expectation that if there was some skill that *really* mattered to a particular character but wasn’t really relevant to the game as a whole, it could just get added there.  “Merchant” might be a good example in 7th Sea – not really relevant for most games, but for a character like the professor, it’s pretty relevant.
  • I still need to come up with a name for this campaign.

New 7th Sea Campaign

sailingWe ran chargen for 7th Sea last night. I don’t have a name for the campaign yet, but we laid a fair amount of groundwork. This is going to be an interesting game, since my tastes usually run to the Musketeer end of things, but the players were explicitly interested in the seafaring route. And I cannot fault them – the rules make it VERY easy to start with a a ship (as it should be).

The characters are pretty fun: We have

  • An Avalonian captain, who has bought a fair amount of Luck sorcery and ties to the Brotherhood of the Coast
  • A Once-great now mostly drunk Castilian swordmaster who will eventually be on the path to redemption.
  • A Vodacce Circus performer, assassin and secret Fate witch
  • A Vesten Scholar/Accountant/Quartermaster who is developing early theories of the so-called science of “Economics”

We’d all talked a little bit before chargen, but we’d explicitly held off on decisions until we were all at the table, and we walked through the process together. A few observations and notes:

  • All in all it went very quickly, and the only real slowdown came in picking advantages, since they are slow to process. I’m not sure there’s a solution to that.
  • There was a certain amount of angst that not being a duelist would be a real problem in combat. I am hoping that’s not the case, but honestly, we’re all going to find out together. Of all things, it made me wish there were a few more flavors of badass available that didn’t just stack with the dueling schools.
  • When Hubris and Virtue came up, I gave the players a choice for each – choose, or generate it randomly. If generated randomly, they got either 2 points of skill or 1 point of advantages for each. Yes, it was a bribe. Most of the players took it, except the swordsman who felt it as worth picking The Wheel (Unfortunate) for hubris, and I cannot fault him because IT IS THE BEST HUBRIS IN THE GAME (It’s the “gain two HP when you choose to fail” one).
  • The players were glad to get a ship, but it was immediately apparent that while the ship rules were suitable for a game that happened to have a ship, they were a little sparse for a ship centric game (though we all love the achievements). I’ve written some house rules for that and I’ll be doing something with them.
  • Picking languages ended up being a fun dance, mostly for what it suggested about relationships between characters, but it made me glad that Linguist is only one point.

We actually got chargen itself done quickly enough that we had time for a brief tutorial scene. I had a moment of inspiration and realized I could kill to birds with one stone, and also illustrate how the story system worked. I asked everyone to find a skill they wanted one point in (in retrospect, I would have suggested a skill or a 1 point advantage) and have them write up the one-step story necessary to get it. I took those stories and used them to craft a fairly simple scene (a barfight, followed by quickly fleeing town) that incorporated them all, allowing them to try out the rules and see Stories in action. it worked pretty well, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone kicking off a game. A few thoughts from running the game:

  • It is going to be very tricky for me to get a sense of how to throttle opposition. I threw fairly weak opposition at the players (intentionally) but I hadn’t really gauged how weak. Going to be a while before I figure out how to strike that balance.
  • We had a weird situation where things were almost resolved when we ran out of raises. The next round ended up getting cut off short because otherwise it was an exercise in overkills.
  • I had intended to use these awesome pirate coins I’d brought to track raises, but honestly, the physical dice are more useful for that. I will instead use the coins for Hero and Danger points.
  • I ended up answering my own question of how I’d handle social combat (answer, just like anything else) as my players went heavy on the intimidation in the bar fight, and I was entirely happy to treat it as damage.
  • The rules for acting without a skill are REALLY harsh. Maybe a little too harsh. I’m ok taxing one raise, but taxing half the characters raises (on top of what is going to be a not-great roll) feels onerous.
  • The scene was not complicated enough for context-switching to raise its head, so I’m still waiting to see how that plays out.
  • Opportunities can be tricky to come up with on the fly. I kind of want to attach them to characters. Skullduggery had a fun mechanic where the player was primed with a number of one liners that the GM knew about, so the GM could set up the moments that would be perfect for delivery. I wonder if I could do something similar with these characters – come up with a handful of opportunities (in general terms) that match that particular character, so I can queue them up as moments of awesomeness.
  • I need to do a better job of communicating what can be done with raises. Cheat sheet incoming.

All in all, we had a good time. First session glitches aplenty, sure, but I think we’re all ready to start up the adventure next session, and I am going home with 4 stories that I can use to build that, which is a nice place to be.

Two Idle 7th Sea Thoughts

Shame

If you hate social combat, then keep moving.

7218_ridicule-01If you like social combat, then there is no reason it could not be trivially mapped to 7th Sea, where wounds are also “shame” and there is a shame spiral. Social “attacks” can inflict shame (and may even have duelist style maneuvers) and the equivalent of a serious wound is an “Embarrassment”.

Probably easiest to make the shame spiral a separate track from the death spiral, but I’d probably be inclined to mix them. 🙂

Action Heroes

This is less of a hack fro 7th Sea and more of a hack for people wanting to use 7th Sea elsewhere.

There is a particular category of films and fiction, largely within the action genre, where a character is ultra-badass at something, and merely badass at everything else (excepting possible things they may be actively bad at for dramatic or comedic reasons). 7th’s seas Raise pool can model this pretty simply with a tweak to the rules for changing skills. It works kind of like this:

  1. Generate your pool based on your ultra-badassness, whatever that is.
  2. So long as you act within your ultra badassness, all is as normal.
  3. If you take an action outside of your ultra-badassness, pay a tax of one raise. This is a one time charge. All subsequent merely badass actions are now accounted for,
  4. Optional Rule: If you take an action you stink at, pay a tax of 3 (or an additional 2, if you already paid the 1 for being merely badass).

What this does is map turn the usual problem of raise use drifting from the source roll into a feature when playing with heroes (superspies and action heroes) who are good at (almost) everything.

As an option, you can make the badass tax 2 raises, which reinforces niche protection, but also makes everyone a little less badass. Better to make the niches cooler through means like the duelists styles.

If you do chargen for this, then it is a simple as:

JOANNA ROCKFIST (10d)
Badass: Driver!
Useless: Stealth!

and voila, you’re done.

As a general rule, I would say that fighting is never allowed to be the ultra-badass thing. First, because too many people would take it. Second, because if the genre is all about super badass fighting – like martial arts – then everyone has it (and if you must, assume that everyone’s ultra-badass is “thing + fighting”. Third, because it’s kind of dull.