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. ↩︎


5 thoughts on “7th Sea: From Kirkwall to Carleon

  1. LibrariaNPC

    I love reading up about your campaign as it progresses. Really curious how things will pan out, and I love seeing your thoughts on the rules as well (we seem to be on the same page quite often).

    When I was running, we did something similar with Glamour. I agreed that the Knights were interesting, but it does limit the magic a great deal and requires standards that not all characters will want to keep. It also created issues for me, as a GM, if I wanted to have a “villainous” Glamour practitioner; it would mean I’d need a Knight, and it just didn’t fit.

    To keep with the theme of the game (instead of just offering any two Traits, which was an idea for future games) was this: a player with Glamour carries the mantle of a Mythical Hero, and therefore the abilities of that Hero.

    In the case of my group, we had an Inis helmsman with Glamour that wanted a fitting hero, so he found a saint (Saint Brendan, from Ireland) that could work with a few twists. He thoroughly enjoyed it, so I plan on continuing that trend in the future.

    On the note of ships: I assume you were using something outside of the typical rules? Just curious how Hangar Queen came about here.

    I’m also really curious how you handled Runic Magic. A couple of us were on the forums talking about Laerdom and how it would translate a few months ago, and made some progress that we think could work. I can’t find the original thread, but I did copy the document to my Google Drive account, along with making a few of the changes from the discussion, as people stopped talking about it:

    On that note, I did start working on a Dishonored hack a few months ago. Didn’t finish it due to time constraints and lack of playtesting, but if you are interested, here’s what I have so far:

    On the note of combat, were you using the new “errata” from Mike Curry? It simply boils down to allowing the defender to take defensive actions (Parry, Riposte, special school defensive maneuvers, or ever 1 Raise for 1 Damage) “out of turn.” This way, a Hero who has fewer raises than the Villain (or vice-versa) can still defend themselves and not take a major beating early on (and doesn’t make early actions solely focused on multiple slashes ASAP).

    As for villains being more dangerous, have you looked at the Heroes and Villains book yet (not sure if you did the Kickstarter or not). There’s a new advantage (3pt) that allows a character to know Slash, Parry, and one more maneuver without being part of a school. There’s other notes for Villains, but it really boils down to what type of villain you need.
    I’m in the same boat as you, though: when I need a combat capable villain, they know how to use maneuvers or else they get blown away by their opponent.

    Have you considered taking actions such as applying Pressure to force the character to not use specific moves (like Valroux Press without the damage)? It was another way that I and some friends of mine have found to make Villains a little more toothy without all of them being expert swordsmen. Granted, the Villainy mechanic does give them the means to be tough without a school through sheer dice pool and additional wounds (Strength 10 meaning 40 wounds before becoming Helpless, for example), so it’s something to keep on the back burner.

    I haven’t found a good way to do mass combat yet. Whenever my group looked at combat like that, we usually just had the brutes of the crew operating in the background, acting as a “distraction” to the other Brute Squad. One way I looked at handling it was having the crew be reduced by 1 for every action it made against an opposing Brute Squad, but said Squad didn’t get an action. Other options were trying to come up with Mass Combat rules using the PC as the leader, but I haven’t had much luck there.

    Can you elaborate a bit more on Diceless Tempo? I’m just curious, because the use of a Raise is pretty vast thanks to creating Opportunities; it’s like spending a Fate Point and dictating that something is happening or is nearby.

    I don’t have a good suggestion for you for the villains and scale thing. Some of us brought back the “henchman” idea of weak villains (strength 3-5) to act as a step up from Brutes. The amped up pools can be useful for a quick approach, but villains with specific effects (especially those the players may want to reproduce) is the better approach, in my opinion.

    I’m glad to hear you’re still having a good time with the game (albeit a bit jealous as I can’t find a local group yet)! Looking forward to seeing what you do next!

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      The hangar queen (and the trade rules I’m using) are from something I wrote up for The Explorer’s Society that should come to light soon. The rune magic, on the other hand, was kind of pulled out of the air. 🙂

      I need to try Mike’s rules. So far, my big problem is that I think the ratio of dice to wounds is screwy for villains. 12 dice makes for a good, solid opponent, but if i actually make a strength 12 opponent, then that’s a huge bucket of health and a pile of advantages I don’t want to bother with. Practically, he’s going to outlive any brutes around him by so much as to guarantee that he fight will drag on (even more so if we don’t have Swordsman to inflict real harm). But, yeah, there’s got to be a more graceful way to handle these enemies.

      THe diceless tempo is sort of my name for the cadence of the most compelling way to run a diceless fight, which is to say that each enemy action resolves with the *promise* of a threat, rather than the actual action. That is, if the villain uses his action to chop off someone’s head, that’s dull, but if the villain uses his action to knock someone to the floor and raises his sword to cut off their head, then that’s engaging because it drives the subsequent actions on the player’s part. There is something to respond to. This is tricky with 7th Sea (especially with it’s no-nullification stance) since doing this explicitly makes villains less potent, so I’m trying to figure out how to make this work.

      1. LibrariaNPC

        I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of the Explorer’s Society in the near future, and I am also curious what sort of Rune Magic you ended up using. The link I offered was just something that was put together based off of the 1st Edition rules, but since the forum is pretty quiet unless you bring up something that angers the fans, it’s hard to get feedback.

        Mike’s rules do change the tempo of combat, that much is for certain. Try introducing them next time and see how they go; most of us on the forum have been enjoying it so far.

        Villains are a bit tough to work with this round, honestly. I don’t have an answer there, because I haven’t had the chance to use a big villain against a group due to the issues of getting a stable group.

        A for the tempo, I see the issue due to the no-nullification, but at the same time actions do work out pretty well narratively. The Heroes and Villains book gave a sample of how the narration of a duel pans out, but it was mostly from the GM (which doens’t always work). My approach has always been “What is your goal?” and let the player narrate it. If there’s a way to counter it, even slightly (like the Parry action), then it plays along the narration. Sometimes I do showcase what the villain’s goal is overall and let the party interrupt if/when able (especially with Murder), but that’s just my approach.

  2. Scholar-Gipsy

    I feel that I should comment on this post, and more broadly on your blog in general (treat this as a synecdoche, I guess), because I’ve been a fan of your writing for years, and yet never said anything.

    Like you, I have an affection for 7th Sea that goes back to June, 1999, when the first edition released and I promptly bought the first two hardback books. Like you, I am intrigued and mostly delighted by the new edition, which does away with a number of things that vexed me about the first (chiefly the fact, as you noted in an earlier post, that starting characters are never nearly awesome enough because of the ridiculous number of knacks you need to sink points into, and because of the costs of things like Dueling and Sorcery).

    I enjoyed your breakdown of the 2E rulebook a lot, but in many ways I’m digging the play-by-play even more, not just because I like such things in general when they are well-written, but because you do such a deft and engaging job of stepping back and forth between telling readers the story of your game as it unfolds and commenting on the experience of engaging with the players and the new rules in the process of creating that story collaboratively. I always feel like I learn something about good gaming from reading your work, but the learning never feels didactic or dry. I am a teacher by vocation, so I know how hard it is to pull off that balance.

    Anyway, please keep these posts coming; they’re terrific, and I want to thank you for taking the time to describe your gaming experiences so thoughtfully and so usefully to others.


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