7th Sea Text Review, Part 3

Yesterday I tackled the big system chapters of 7th Sea Second Edition. Today I’m going to dive into the chapters that cover specifics of dueling, sorcery, sailing, and secret societies. 

Chapter 5: Sorcery

Much like the original 7th Sea, Heroes can take the Sorcery Advantage to gain a special ability based on their nationality. Several sorceries have carried forward: Porte (Montaign), Knights of Avalon (Glamour Isles), and Sorte (Vodacce); but there are new sorceries: Hexenwerk (Eisen), Matushka’s Kosnut’sya (Ussura), and Sanderis (Sarmatia). Notably absent as a sorcery is Laerdom from Vendel. In keeping with the general shift of 2nd Edition, Sorcery has been greatly simplified and streamlined.

Hexenwerk is the newest and darkest of the Sorceries. It’s a little mad science in the vein of Frankenstein and a little necromancy and plenty of body horror. More than anything, this is the weirdest bit in the game to me. It doesn’t feel like it fits the tone of the rest of the book but maybe I just don’t read horror into 7th Sea where others do. Functionally, Hexenwerk operates much like Glamours for the Knights of Avalon – every time you take the Sorcery Advantage you get 1 Major and 2 Minor benefits, here called Unguents. The Unguents have a variety of powerful effects – from invisibility to poison to seeing ghosts – but are made from the body parts of the dead.

A Knight of Avalon is the embodiment of a Hero from Avalon’s past – effectively a Knight of the Round Table from Arthurian legend. When you take this Sorcery you are bound by the Knight’s Gesa – a code of conduct much like chivalry. Breaking that gesa costs you your Glamours and you must atone. There are twenty knights you may choose to embody and each is associated with a major and minor Trait (Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache). Each Trait has 2 major and 2 minor Glamours and there is a seventh Trait called Lukc that has 3 major and minor Glamours that are available to all Knights. When a Hero from the Glamour Isles takes this Sorcery, they gain 1 major Glamour and 2 minor Glamours from the Traits their Knight embodies. The powers of Glamours all require a Hero Point to activate and they have a wide variety of effects. Sure Strike causes your attacks for one round to deal additional Wounds equal to your Ranks in the Glamour (up to 5) while Mend Ship repairs 5 hits per Rank when you touch a ship. This is the most complicated Sorcery, with the most options.

Matushka’s Kosnut’sya (Mother’s Touch) is the updated form of Pyeryem, with enough differences that it can be called a new thing. A Hero learns a Lesson from Matuska when they take this Sorcery. The Lesson includes 2 Gifts and a Restriction. The Fifts let you affect the natural world: illuminating the area, commanding animals, healing an ally with a touch, transforming into a beast, etc. The Restrictions outline Ussuran virtues: honesty, forgiveness, kindness, etc. Changing into a beast form grants you 2 Bonus Dice when you take a Risk that your form is suited to, which is left up to you and the GM to determine.

Porte remains much the same, if possibly bloodier. There are only two functions of Porte: Pull and Walk. Pull allows you to summon an object marked with your own blood to you. Walk lets you traverse space by passing through the bloody confines beneath the skin of the world. Using Porte requires you to inflict a dramatic wound upon your Hero.

The final new Sorcery is Sanderis, a Sarmatian Sorcery for making pacts with the devil (dievas). Major Favors are Biblical-level powers such as causing immediate eclipses, summoning a winter storm in the midst of summer, or a disastrous flood. Minor favors are smaller, more subtle bargains. The dievas you bargain with is of some elemental form – elemental including shadow, fire, cold, and knowledge, among others. When the Hero makes a bargain, the GM takes the role of the dievas to instruct you to do something in return. These are seemingly innocuous acts, though major bargains always result in Corruption.

Of course Sorte is back and remains much the same. A Fate Witch can take Lashes to manipulate the strands of Fate. It’s a delicate balancing act between having enough Lashes for her magic to be potent and too many and the cost is prohibitive. The effects are again split into major and minor Weaves and you get 2 minor and a major weave when you take the Sorcery Advantage.

I’d like to point out that Castille and Vesten don’t get Sorcery but they do have Advantages available only to them. Castillians can take Alchemist, which lets them create alchemical concoctions that explode, enhance a Trait for a round, coat things in oil, or turn metal to gold for a scene (plus whatever you and your GM can cook up). Seidr for the Vesten lets you manipulate a character’s Reputation, cast runes to ask the GM yes or no questions about the future that must be answered honestly, or see through one mortal human’s disguises for a scene.

Chapter 6: Dueling

The dueling chapter is surprisingly short. Just 6 pages. But it opens up a huge amount of depth for fights. The thing to understand here is the pacing of Action Sequences. The initiative beats are the number of Raises people have, and as people spend Raises the beats move down. This means it’s likely that everyone will have 2 Raises to spend at the same time. There will be a back-and-forth between duelists.

Taking the Duelist Academy Advantage opens up all the standard dueling maneuvers and gives you one Dueling Style. You can take the Duelist Academy Advantage multiple times to unlock more styles.

When using dueling maneuvers, you cannot perform the same maneuver twice in a row. There has to be another maneuver or another action in between. We get to call foul if all you do is Slash or Riposte. I love this. It means each time you act you’re changing it up, doing something different.

The maneuvers are:

  • Slash: deal a number of Wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry.
  • Parry: prevent a number of wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry. This can only be activated on your turn immediately after you take the Wounds.
  • Feint: deal one Wound, if your target is injured again this Round, he takes an additional Wound.
  • Lunge: spend all your Raises, deal a number of Wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry plus Raises you spent.
  • Bash: deal one Wound, the next time your opponent deals Wounds this Round, she deals one less Wound for each Rank you have in Weaponry.
  • Riposte: prevent a number of Wounds equal to your Rank in Weaponry, and deal a number of Wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry. Same restrictions as Parry and it can only be done once per Round.

These are pretty great and I love the dance-like flow of it. This is the sub-system players are most likely to have analysis paralysis with, I think. Make sure to keep the pace breakneck. The only thing I find a little weird is how Parry and Riposte are retroactive in canceling Wounds. What happens if my Villain slashes a Hero for that fourth Dramatic Wound but the Hero has Riposte available? I’d say since it’s simultaneous, the Hero gets to do that (it’s also being a fan of the Heroes, which isn’t explicitly stated in 7th Sea but fits the ethos of the game).

The various style bonuses enhance, replace, or add a maneuver to your available choices. For instance, Leegstra’s Crash is a special maneuver that can be performed only once per Round. Its text is exactly the same as Slash but it isn’t named Slash; it effectively lets you Slash three times in a row. That’s one hell of an aggressive fighting style. There are 11 styles in the book.

Chapter 7: Sailing

It probably says something about my proclivities when I don’t think of ships and sailing when discussing a game called 7th Sea. (My point of reference is much more Three Musketeers than Captain Blood).

This chapter lays out the romance and danger of life at sea, including various duty stations and superstitions, though the bulk of the text is given to creating your own ship for a campaign at sea. Much like Heroes have a nationality, Ships have an origin that provides a unique benefit. Ships also have Backgrounds, one for each Hero in your crew that took the Married to the Sea Advantage.

Instead of Stories, Ships have Adventures. The nearest analogy I can come up with is Achievements in Mass Effect. When you complete the requirements for an Adventure, you unlock it and gain its benefit going forward. These are basically plot hooks for a sea-based campaign.

There are also rules for running the non-Hero crew (basically a Brute squad led by the Heroes) and ship battles. It’s all very tight and economical, a good extension of the core rules for Heroes.

Chapter 8: Secret Societies

This chapter opens with a description of what secret societies are in 7th Sea and then launches into the Favor rules. Basically, as you deal with your secret society (and you can only ever be a part of one at a time) you gain and trade in Favor. You gain Favor by doing good service for the society, often by bringing them information but sometimes by aiding a fellow member in a mission. Favor can be spent to buy information (1 Favor), secrets (5 favor), or the aid of a society agent as a helper for a mission (3 Favor). It’s all very neat and tidy. This section ends with a nice couple of paragraphs encouraging players and GMs to work together when figuring out additional ways to spend Favor.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to summaries of the various societies:

  • The Brotherhood of the Coast is a classic pirate’s society, very democratic and obsessed with personal freedom.
  • Die Kreuzritter are monster hunters based in Eisen who work from the shadows. They have a lock on Dracheneisen, an indestructible metal with powerful mystical abilities. The only way to get a Dracheneisen item and not be hunted by Die Kreuzritter is to join them and go on a 10 step Story to acquire one out of some haunted hellhole. This is opposed to the original game where Eisen characters had access to Dracheneisen but no Sorcery.
  • The Explorer’s Society is a famous group of action archaeologists. They are opposed by the Vaticine Church, who have declared exploring Syrneth ruins to be heresy.
  • The Invisible College seeks knowledge of the world, even though the Inquisition wants them to stop. As opposed to the Explorer’s Society, the Invisible College is strictly underground.
  • Knights of the Rose & Cross is the other famous society, a group of high society types who protect the weak and innocent. Think if Zorro franchised and didn’t have a secret identity.
  • Los Vagabundos are the secretive, underground version of Knights of the Rose & Cross. Their goal is righting injustice. El Vagabundo is a creation of the society, a mask donned by the members of Los Vagabundos. There are five masks that only the most trusted agents are entrusted to wear. Donning a mask for a mission costs 10 Favor but it increases all your Skill and Trait Ranks by 1, and removes your Quirks, Hubris, and Virtue. When you wear the mask of El Vagabundo, you are El Vagabundo.
  • Mociutes Skara, or Grandmother’s Shawl, is a society of pacifists dedicated to stopping war. They will sabotage supplies and blackmail generals to prevent a battle.
  • Rilasciare are the free thinkers dedicated to changing society by ridding people of the two tyrannies of religion and monarchy.
  • Sophia’s Daughters are a society of feminists working to smuggle fate witches out of Vodacce and support female authority throughout Theah.

These are all good fodder for a game. The only ones I’d be particularly interested in having a PC join are Die Kreuzritter, Los Vagabundos, and Sophia’s Daughters. That’s just personal preference, though.

There is one more society that closes out the chapter: Novus Ordo Mundi. It’s basically SPECTRE or The Sinister Six for 7th Sea, a collection of villains trying to create a new world according to their rules with no regard for the morality of their own actions. They’re described as setting material but Heroes cannot join the Ordo; it is anathema to being a Hero.

Recap

These sub-system chapters are all well written. None deviate from the core mechanics in unexpected ways, while dueling and sorcery open up new and exciting options. I like much of how sailing works and secret societies have always been a major part of 7th Sea lore.

I personally don’t like the deeper horror inflections of Hexenwerk, it feels out of place to me in a game that’s largely otherwise about heroic fiction. I’m torn on Sanderis. The deal with the devil is a classic trope but I’m not sure about giving Heroes more paths to corruption.

The thing I’ve noticed most, going through the book, is that your Hero’s stuff is almost entirely unimportant. There isn’t even a list of common items in the world. It’s left up to you and the game master what your Hero carries and what is reasonable. All weapons deal the same amount of damage – spend 1 Raise to deal 1 Wound. (The exception being firearms, which deal 1 Wound and 1 Dramatic Wound.)

In the final accounting, I think I would revise my character Myth Shepard to be a duelist instead of a bard. Opening up the dueling maneuvers is just too sweet not to.

About PK

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

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