7th Sea Text Review, Part 1

A Day’s Work

The second edition of 7th Sea opens with what has become traditional for certain RPGs: a short story set in the fictional world of the game. Written by Jennifer Mahr, “A Day’s Work” has everything you want in a 7th Sea adventure: adventure, comedy, romance, a thrilling chase, bar room brawl, duel in the dark, and equal opportunity swashbuckling. It’s eight pages long and sets the tone nicely. Something I appreciate here is that it is a complete story, not the first part of a story that is broken up and scattered throughout the book.

Chapter 1: Welcome to 7th Sea

The first chapter eschews game mechanics in favor of establishing the world. In six pages you are given the high level view of Theah, from the swashbuckling, sorcery, and piracy to the secret societies and nations at play. It covers most of the major story themes in couplets with a few paragraphs each (Swashbuckling and Sorcery, Piracy and Adventure, Diplomacy and Intrigue, Archaeology and Exploration, & Romance and Revenge).

I like the brevity here. Everything is laid out up front in just a few pages. Nothing else in the book is really a surprise if you’ve read this chapter. There’s a sidebar on rulings vs. rules that encourages you to play the game such that it works for you. There’s definitely a holdover of the Golden Rule from the original 7th Sea.

Chapter 2: Theah

The second chapter kicks off with a discussion on diversity in the setting – feel free to play a character of any color, with non-pseudo-European history. “…but exceptions are everywhere. Most importantly, the Theans do not see them as exceptions.” It’s an idealized look at race relations but it sends a clear message: take your racist garbage elsewhere. Sexual identity, gender, and other aspects of diversity are not mentioned explicitly, though the art is inclusive in later chapters.

The bulk of this chapter is dedicated to summaries of the nations of Theah – Avalon, Castille, Eisen, the Highland Marches, Inismore, Montaigne, the Sarmatian Commonwealth, Ussura, Vestenmennavenjar, and Vodacce. Each gets five pages or so covering the history, current affairs, culture, naming conventions, clothing, religion, etc. Most interesting is a page that covers the current relations with other nations as written from the perspective of that nation’s leader.

There’s a page given to the Seven Seas, including the mystical 7th Sea that is the game’s namesake. Rounding out the chapter are explanations of the royal courts, Duelist’s Guild, honor, the church, pirates, and various secret societies. It’s all painted in broad strokes. The world of 7th Sea is meant to be open for players to explore. There are vast swaths of the world that are simply hinted at. Go play. Make it yours.

Putting all of this information in front of Hero creation speaks to the emphasis of the creators. They’ve created a special world and they want you to play in it. To do that, you need to know the world. It also goes back to that Golden Rule of 7th Sea: have fun, play in the world, don’t let the rules get in the way.

Chapter 3: Making a Hero

I’d like to point out the title here. It’s not making a character. This chapter is Making a Hero. Heroic player characters are important to 7th Sea. This is not a game of morally grey or bankrupt scoundrels. You play capital-H Heroes, those who protect the week and topple the wicked. Heroes don’t kill or cause undue suffering. You are the best of the Thean peoples and are larger than life.

This chapter offers a brief redux of each nation, this time highlighting the typical beliefs, outlooks, and attitudes of the citizens. Again, we see that the setting information is loaded up ahead of mechanics.

For an in-depth walk through on Hero creation, check out my previous post where I detailed my first Hero for 7th Sea 2nd Edition. The thing to note in this chapter is that 7th Sea has borrowed from a lot of other games, often those from the story games subset, to really push the idea of heroic stories.

Fans of the original 7th Sea may be disheartened to find that the 100 character point build is gone. Instead, you are given a few choices to make at each of the 8 steps of Hero creation. I would argue that these changes make Heroes more dramatic, competent, and interesting than ever. Those are good things for swashbuckling adventure.

The most interesting part of Hero creation is the use of Stories as a character progression metric. It lets you, the player, tell the GM “this is how I’m going to level up” including what you’re going to earn when you complete that story. So not only is XP gone but the players directly influence the plot of the game through this system. It establishes cooperative storytelling as a baseline of game play.

The Story system also takes a huge load of prep off the GM’s shoulders. Now the GM has a story thread for every Hero in every session. This mashes together the best bits of Marvel Heroic Milestones and Fate Core Milestones. It’s frickin’ sweet. Later we’ll see how this gets turned into GM prep and pacing when the lens is turned on session creation. I’m absolutely stealing this for my own designs.

Recap

Those are the first three chapters of 7th Sea 2nd Edition. I’ll come back tomorrow with a review of the core rules and GM chapter.

There’s a lot to enjoy there and I don’t see any real missteps by the team so far. The setting has been smoothed out and a lot of the rough edges removed. It’s a darker, scarier Theah than the first edition but also one that wears its heroism more openly on its sleeve.

The writers have done a good job of outlining why each nation can be a great place for your Hero but maybe also not the best. No nation is painted with rose colored glasses as a utopia but neither is any nation cast as the villain.

Creating your Hero is a straightforward, step-by-step process that creates compelling results. Your choices at each step are limited, which will make creation snappy once the character sheet is released. The most complicated thing you can do is take Sorcery – and probably the most complicated Sorcery is Glamour. Even there you pick one Knight and then three glamours for every rank of Sorcery you’ve taken. It’s not that much.

These three chapters take up more than half the pages of the book – 165 of 299. The remaining chapters are either details (Sorcery, Dueling, Sailing, Secret Societies), or the core mechanics (Action & Drama, Game Master). There’s lots more to cover, especially in the core mechanics. Till next time, heroes!

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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