New Group, New Games

It’s been a while since I’ve had a regular game group. A few weeks ago I decided to fix that. After reaching out to game design friends, we now have a group for playing RPGs and playtesting new designs. Since we’re all busy adults, the plan is to play on Monday evenings from 7-10. This is going to require us being very focused and intent on the game, not the social aspect. I set that expectation in the early stages so hopefully it will just take. Click after the jump for a recap of our first session.

7th Sea at the Table

I’ve been excited about the new 7th Sea ever since the Kickstarter. With a new game group, I brought the quick start adventure to the table. Well… kind of. After doing a massive three part review of the text last week, I realized the system used in the quick start were very, very different from the final product.

So I did what any reasonable GM would do. I updated them. (And I’m stupid proud of how good they look; I have zero talent for layout.) Saturday afternoon was spent converting the Heroes from the quick start rules to backer preview rules. Things went pretty quickly, mostly because character creation is straightforward. In a few cases backgrounds from the quick start didn’t make it to the final game. Ennio is the only Hero whose Traits I rearranged. The Ambrogia dueling benefit lets him use Wits when wielding a rapier and dagger; in the quick start he has Panache 5 and all other Traits at 2. In my version, Ennio has Wits 4 and Resolve 3 (I also updated his wound spiral to reflect his Hard to Kill Advantage and higher Resolve; he’s now VERY hard to kill).

In play I realized I may have made things a little unbalanced. Azucena is a very action-oriented character with Legendary Trait (Finesse) and, when combined with the Fencing Advantage, was rolling a LOT of dice to stab people. Her player came up with 7 Raises in one Round. This isn’t bad but it does mean that challenging Azucena during the action scene we played wasn’t really on the table.

Updating the Sorte rules for Domenica added a layer of mechanical complexity to the things she can do. This seemed like a good call because her player really latched onto those things in the opening action scene.

Session Recap

Even though I have five others lined up for this RPG group, only three could make it to the first session. (The other two have summer Monday commitments that will be wrapped by August.) The players chose Alexsy, Azucena, and Domenica. This changed how I ran the adventure because neither the duelist nor the ship’s captain were present. Those storylines just got set to the side.

The scenes we played were straight from the adventure: one action and one dramatic, with some freeform storytelling between. As the GM I engaged players in their action descriptions until they’d earned their flair (a bonus die) for the roll. It doesn’t take much but adding just a little drama to description reinforces the swashbuckling nature of the game. Watching Alexsy’s eyes light up when he realized that being a burly, hulking, brawler of a fighter earned him bonus dice was one of my favorite moments of the night.

As I mentioned above, Domenica’s player latched onto the Sorte rules something fierce. In the first Risk she used Pull to bowl over a soldier on a balcony to cause a distraction and sow confusion. Later she used Pull to haul the traitorous captain of the guard back into the fray and hold him with a knife at his throat to keep the Brute squads at bay. This was really cool in play. She really enjoyed the flexibility of spending Raises to do a thing.

The scene ended with the Brute squads on the ground and the traitorous captain being mystically fascinated by Domenica, allowing the Heroes to escape.

We took a short break and then launched into the second scene, a dramatic sequence at a fancy masquerade ball. As an interstitial piece of storytelling each player narrated some complication or danger they faced in their journey from Sarmatia to Vodacce. The player to the right described how they got out of it. An assassin looking to kill the deposed prince got on board but was stopped because Domenica made friends with the Black Cat from the first act. Pirates attacked but Azucena swam to their ship and threw it off course in such a way that they were sitting ducks. A group of opportunistic ruffians looked to rob the Heroes in port but Alexsy’s military contacts had assigned a guard detail that dispatched them.

Now in Vodacce, the Heroes have a chance to raise an army if they can convince the movers and shakers at a masquerade ball to back their play. Something 7th Sea avoids is tedious setup rolls. There’s no Risk you make to make an entrance at the ball – that just happens. For everyone. Or not, if they want to slide in unnoticed. It’s up to the players because, when it comes down to it, making an entrance is about flair and drama. Those are things 7th Sea wants to encourage so you just do it.

There was some retconning throughout this scene as all the pieces fell into place but I would rather have that happen at a brisk pace than spend an hour of game time setting things up in detail.

Arriving first was Domenica, in a stunning black gown covered in sequins and a raven mask/veil combo. Her outfit screamed “Fate Witch” and she played up the sympathy she’s garnered for the tragedy that befell her on her engagement day. Our other Heroes, Alexsy and Azucena, arrived sometime later in costume drama garb. Alexsy donned the persona of a tragic figure from Vodacce folklore – a wronged noble who sought vengeance. He went so far as to give his name as that character when announced at the hall. Azucena was at his side, dressed in full morality play garb as Justice – her mask looked like a blindfold, she carried scales, and wore her sword.

The three of them worked the room in different ways. Domenica was the center of attention, pulling sympathetic nobles to her. Alexsy worked the mystery angle and was playing to character. Azucena faded into the background to eavesdrop on conversations. Once we had their approaches figured out, everyone generated Raises. We talked and roleplayed through how they spent their Raises. Basically I made it so recruiting a noble would take two Raises – one to open conversation and begin roleplay, a second to seal the deal once you feel you’ve got the leverage – with the option to spend a third to gain some insight or intelligence that will lead you to that leverage. This worked really well! Mechanics and roleplay fed into each other so that we were always moving forward. It also created some tension because Azucena and Domenica both got three Raises but Alexsy only got two – they had to skip the info gathering on one of the nobles they approached.

In the end they were able to garner the support of three nobles in attendance. Azucena’s character took the lead on the symbolism of their costumes. Alexsy’s player hasn’t had a regular game group in 15 years and was shy about roleplaying again but did a brilliant job. Domenica’s player really latched onto the mechanics of the game and seemed really excited by the empowerment of spending Raises to change the scene.

Next Week

The plan for next week is to run Night’s Black Agents. We’ve set up a Slack for the group so we can coordinate things without overwhelming email. The goal is to handle character creation there before we get together next week. That will be a two-shot before we have to take a brief hiatus but when we reconvene in late July the plan is to fire up Masks.

I’m loving having a regular game group again.

About PK

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