7th Sea Preview Part One: Deploy the Swoon!
Game by John Wick Presents
The In-Fighters were making characters for Dungeon World when the news pinged up on my phone. There was imminently going to be a Kickstarter for the new edition of the 7th Sea role-playing game. All play stopped while the half of the group obsessed with 7th Sea (Jacob, Josh and myself) regaled the poor other half (Lee, Ash, Vinnie) with tales of derring do from the fictional world of Theah.
7th Sea’s previous edition was around fifteen years or so ago. It was about as crunchy as I’m willing to get these days, a traditional RPG designed by game writer and action movie character John Wick. He’s a Discordian and a man who’s created several large and small RPGs in the years since leaving 7th Sea in the hands of Alderac Entertainment Group. He bought back the rights last year and with around a fortnight to go, it’s already the number one backed RPG Kickstarter. That’s something big.
7th Sea takes place in an alternate Europe and seeks to replicate stories like Three Musketeers, Princess Bride, Zorro and so on. The nations all have different styles of rulership, swordsman schools, magicians and mysteries. This was an RPG series back when splatbooks were at their height. Splat in this instance being faction, race, class-based books. In 7th Sea there were nation and secret society-based books to help drive up knowledge and rules based around aspects of Theah. People would get invested in their favourite countries (Vodacce, the alternate Italy, is my favourite if only because I learnt a fencing style which has its’ own alt-version in the book). The world was interesting enough as it is, but then the magic was fascinating. There were suits of armour forged from metal which apparently was actually the bones of a dragon. Montaigne (French) magicians could use their blood to tear open reality and teleport objects through… those portals scream though and you want to close your eyes if you go through them. The Vodacce have fate witches who can manipulate the strands of the future, the Castillians (Spanish) DO NOT HAVE MAGIC. No. Nope. Do not ask questions about Castille magicians. And there’s a faction which on the TVTropes page of 7th Sea is entirely blocked out as spoilers. So there’s a lot of world-building, a lot of intrigue and more setting than you could fit an adventurer’s career in. And now it’s back in what the author claims is a, “Battlestar Galactica” style reboot. The nations are mostly the same but there’s the Samartian Commonwealth (Poland) and with so many stretch goals hit the new edition promises to go to The New World as well as a lot of the rest of the world. Goals have included high-quality maps, sites to set adventures in as separate releases, an NPC book & deck of cards… even a soundtrack.
Jacob and I have both already got campaign ideas for a game we’ll co-run for the group, switching who will run the game for each chapter in the storyline. I don’t know if the In-Fighters all know this, but they should probably be afraid.
A quickstart game has been released as a ‘trailer’ for 7th Sea. This is a phenomenon a lot of role-playing games do to give people a taste-test of what to expect from a game. Given recent events in my own life, Jacob took the reins and ran the game. Here’s my account of the first half but first a few caveats: The system is a work in progress and there has been an overhauled version of the conflict-resolution released a day or two after we played this. When we do part two, it’ll be with those updates. Even then, the rules are not going to be the final version. I feel that tone is the main thing here, so while I’ll detail the rules, it’s the sense of what this game is and the kind of stories which you’ll experience which will be the main take-away from the report. This is all from me as a player, so I’m not entirely sure what went on behind the scenes of this adventure.
“Niech Żyje Książę!”
(”Long Live the Prince!”)
Prince Alexsy Gracjan Nowak (played by Vinnie) is a giant of a man both physically and politically. Where the Samartian Commonwealth is a politically-landlocked democracy of nobles, Prince Alexsy plans on using his powers to make all people of the Commonwealth a noble, thus creating the first proper democracy in Theah. A brilliant, insane plan which of course has detractors. I played his fiancee, Domenica Vespucci. She was a Vodacce fate witch known for her resourcefulness and cunning. Domenica brought her brother, Ennio (played by Ash), along. Ennio’s a brash duellist, good for a show of force. His counterpart is the “bodyguard”, Azucena Esquivel (played by Josh) who totally isn’t an assassin, doesn’t have abilities to steal from people or poison people. Nope. Finally, there’s Captain Roberto Gallo (played by Lee) who is a legit businessman and not a pirate.
This ‘trailer’ began with a cutscene showing the situation above, culminating with us all fleeing the coup against Prince Aleksy, stuck in his palace which has been put to the torch. We were in a burning bedroom, aware that there’s a servant’s passage nearby which will lead to a study we could escape from.
The prince ripped up some sheets to make masks to prevent smoke inhalation and we ran through the burning hallway. With this sort of situation, we all decided what actions we were doing and the skills to use. Domenica wasn’t good at running, so I decided to let my brother carry me and I’d use my fortune telling powers to get flashes of where he should avoid.
The system goes as follows:
You grab an amount of d10’s equal to your trait and skill, also plus one if it’s the first time you’ve used a skill each scene (to encourage not just spamming the same skill) plus another one if you’re describing it. Roll those bones and group your dice in sets which make up the number 10. Each one is a raise. You use these to do what you want and to accomplish different things.
The intent here was, “get across the hallway” so we had to use one set of ten each to do that. We were then offered a menu of different risks: taking a wound and being on fire. So each set of ten we rolled could take up one of those risks each. Even better, we could choose which ones, so, “I negate being on fire,” was a common phrase. All apart from Prince Aleksy who chose to keep the fire and not the wound. My character didn’t do any of that though, she was rolling Wits + Sorte to predict the movements of the fire. You can also spend raises to help other people out, or to add special effects.
Something I love with this system is the amount of agency it puts on players to choose failure or harm on their own terms. If picking a lock you might choose to trip the lock or to be poisoned. It’s like the lovely 7-9 compromises in Powered by the Apocalypse games. In the newly-updated rules there are also opportunities which you might want to throw in as well like snatching up a stray weapon or something. But anyway, we ran.
The study was larger and had more options of what to do, but it was also on fire. This palace really had a flame problem and we needed to get out soon. Azucena jumped up on the prince and rode him around, patting out the fire. Az was small and the prince was giant, which helped with this scheme. This was the first rule where Jacob asked if Josh or Vinnie had rolled a one. Vinnie had, so Jacob asked, “Do you want a Hero Point?”
“Yes,” Vinnie answered and Jacob handed him a token (fittingly we used Style Point tokens from John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded). He also took a token for himself without saying why. We all looked at what had just happened.
Ash said, “It’s not like the little Cthulhus, but it’s just as scary.”
Yep. I’d ready up on these. If players roll any ones, the GM can offer them a Hero Point in return for cashing in a ton of Danger Points. These can be used for horrible things. At the moment we weren’t sure what they did, but were fearful.
A woman in black grappled her way into the room and revealed herself to be Estera Sabat, a woman who the prince had been rebuffing the advances of. She was looking a bit more Catwoman-ish and going by the name, The Black Cat. Apparently her dad was leading the coup and she wanted to join us despite having that air of, “I will inevitably betray you.” Domenica was looking at the grappling cat burglar and at her own set of dubious skills… the prince definitely had a type. He said two words to her, “Bugger off.” She swung back out of the burning palace, leaving us there but now with a rope to get out with. There were forces outside attacking the palace, so Roberto signalled his men at the docks to fire cannons as a distraction. Roberto used the grappling hook to climb down while Aleksy raced him with parkour-ish skills. The two had a contested roll and were able to use some of their raises to outbid one another in getting what they want. Aleksy managed to win and boot Roberto in the junk, but took a lot of damage as he didn’t spend any raises getting rid of that. Again, that choice of success or ‘winning’ versus dealing with the risks at hand. It’s cool and feels like a distillation of a lot of the John Wick game ideas in things like Legend of the Five Rings (with raises) and Houses of the Blooded (with added elements to your success and a wager-like mechanic.
I was scouring my character sheet trying to work out what to use. Domenica’s a noble and one with suspicious amounts of resources, mainly diplomatic ones. She did have one skill which might fit… Weapon (Whip). She grabbed the rope hanging from the hook and lashed it to a wall on the ground floor, then rode it down. Ennio flipped out of the room and Azucena rode the rope down, lightly scoring it so pursuers would break it. We were outside, but with brute squads confronting us. Brute squads are an aspect of 7th Sea from the old days, a group of people who are like those minions in a film who get cut down in massive numbers. You declare how you’re getting rid of them and each raise will remove an additional member of the squad. In this case, Domenica used her Tempt skill to buy the service of three of the mooks. She was a Fate Witch after all and could see the winning side. As far as they knew, she could. Ennio managed to dart around, slicing five of them apart in one action. It’s pretty impressive seeing what a proper swordsman can do with a brute squad. No one tell Ennio though, his ego is inflated enough.
The leader of the brute squads, Filipe Kumiega, fled so that we would have to deal with his minions. Azucena, being brash, ran after him alone. Characters have a pair of backgrounds (oddly labelled quirks in the rules themselves) which earn you a Hero Point for fulfilling. Josh was playing Azucena and would have run off alone after Filipe anyway, but this time it matched, “Assassin: You target the person in charge, ignoring as many of the ‘pawns’ as possible”, so he got a Hero Point. Then he saw the brute squad of assassins in the burning hall. Oh dear. Azucena lunged in and grabbed Filipe as a human shield from the assassins who had pistols trained on her.
Back outside, Roberto convinced a few of the remaining brutes to join his pirate crew and the prince took control of the unit Domenica had so she could run into the hall after Filipe. I rolled the worst roll of the evening, not getting a single raise in my attempt at sneaking in, so Domenica ended up pretty much announcing her entrance to the assassins, who stabbed her. I decided to do whatever I could to solve this and announced, “Deploy the tactical swoon!” Domenica pretended to be a helpless noble who had stumbled into the wrong place. She had an ability called, “Come Hither,” which takes her and an NPC to another room, which she then leaves alone. Rather than attempt rolling against the mob to convince them all, I decided one of the assassins was going to drop Domenica off in a side room where she could be safe from the fracas. She then left alone, trying to make sure the damage to her dress looked fashionable enough to be seen in public. Filipe and Azucena scuffled which led to Jacob and Josh debating what to do. Both wanted Filipe to get away and become a returning villain, so Azucena stole his dagger and cut one of his ears off. He fled further into the palace and out of the scene. The remaining assassins were finished off by Azucena who threw their bodies out of a window for a soft landing. Roberto saw this and Lee was given five seconds to decide how his character would react. Lee suffers horrendous analysis paralysis and blustered out that he’d shoot. Azucena took a bullet, a general victory was declared over the scene and ran to Roberto’s boat.
Things moved to ‘dramatic time’ once we were at sea. Jacob asked each of us a question about what we were going to do and then the next person would answer why it went well or why it failed.
Aleksy mentioned that he knew a friend of his father’s who might help them seek shelter. He was under house arrest, though. The prince bellowed at Roberto’s pirate contacts to help out but they were bribed into working for the other wise. Ennio decided his much better plan was to just assassinate Marcen Sabat, who led the coup. That… didn’t go well. The bribed pirates sold out the information and Marcen was waiting for him. He fled and pretended to be a servant. The next plan was to assassinate Marcen on the road but he got word of that and led a band of mercenaries to the ambush point. Fortunately Ennio was hidden amongst the mercenaries and turned the tide of the battle back to us.
We decided to head to Vodacce, where the prince would be safe thanks to the Vespucci family and their many resources. It was late, so the session drew to an end.
The system is gorgeous and fits the thematic ideas of being awesome swashbucklers. A lot feels like John Wick’s advice made manifest, such as the use of a “Danger” pool. I won’t tell you what it does, I like the idea of keeping you all fearful of it. Hero points are nice in that they add a dice to your pool or three to a friend’s. Villains are suitably dangerous and brutes suitably squishy (upholding the one ninja/many ninja rule. In a fight there’s not so much initiative like so many systems but everyone announces what they’ll do, roll and whoever has the most raises at any time goes first so you can help each other out or change your plan depending on what people do. I know at least one player took a couple of rolls to click with the way risks are presented and I was initially concerned that there might be a lot of hang time as the GM came up with problems for each roll. Still, once we started playing it was fine. I can’t wait to see more of the system as we get closer to the release.
The In-Fighters will return to Theah for part two of the adventure very soon, featuring the updated rules (fortunately they’re not too different from this, in case you’re cursing yourself for reading redundant information).
The demo rules are free to backers of the Kickstarter and there will be a ‘basic’ edition for players when the game is released.