7th Sea is a game that captured my imagination when I first played it. The idea of a game that revolved around piracy, intrigue, romance, and swashbuckling adventure was something that I loved. I wanted to play in games where I could swing from chandeliers and rescue my paramour, race to the side of my comrades in peril, and slide down the sail of an enemy ship to defeat the villainous captain. It was something my group played for awhile but then drifted back into Dungeons & Dragons.
The kickstarter for 7th Sea reignited these passions and I quickly backed at the level to get myself a print copy of the book. I was also able to interview Rob Justice, one of the designers behind this new version of 7th Sea, at Gen Con. After some time with the book, I thought I would give my thoughts on this new iteration of 7th Sea.
Let’s start with the book itself.
This is a prodigious tome at 303 pages all of which are glossy full color. The layout is done so that it presents the information without being cluttered or distracting. There are two things that stood out about the book. First, the cover piece is phenomenal. It is a dynamic piece that captures the adventure and flair that is the heart of 7th Sea. The piece also places the female character front and center. I Loved that they made this choice for the cover piece. Second, there are two page illustrations for the start of each chapter. These pieces are beautiful as well in addition they capture the tone and purpose of the chapter they precede.
Now to the meat of the book.
7th Sea leads off with some short fiction to give you an idea of how ideas that can be found within it’s pages. A Day’s work does this admirably.
It provides a nice framework with which to view the ideas that are going to be presented throughout the book. This was important for me as I tend to refer back to the fiction, when present, in a roleplaying book as proof of concept. I ask, “Can my players do what happened in that piece of fiction that I just read?” If the answer is yes, then I am happy. The answer for A Day’s work is also a yes.
The book has the standard introduction to the game. In 7th Sea, this consists of breaking down the game into what types of adventures can be found within. These are broken down into pairs; Swashbuckling & Sorcery, Piracy & Adventure, Diplomacy & Intrigue, Archaeology & Exploration, and Romance & Revenge. Each of these pairings give a brief description of how this pertains to the game. I appreciate that it calls out the tropes that you can expect to find supported within the game. It sets a new player or game master up with a solid idea of what types of games can be played and help them to plan accordingly. This section also provides a brief overview of the important parts of the game world. It creates a nice foundation for understanding the setting material that follows and sets up the reader to better understand the world of 7th Sea.
Before getting to character creation, the book takes the time to introduce the world of Theah. The first section of this deals with the Nations of Theah. It takes each nation in turn and talks about it’s makeup. It goes through and talks about, the politics of the land, the recent past, current situations, as well as delineating how daily life for the different stratas of each nation appears. Special attention is gent to how each nation is special and what this means both at home and on the geopolitical board. The nations are the bulk of this section. The rest is dedicated to the other powers that are found in Theah, the Church, Pirates, and Secret Societies with the lion’s share of the information being given over to the church as it’s influence is so pervasive. I liked descriptions of the different nations. I have a few quibbles which I will bring up later. In particular, I like the breaking down of Avalon into the separate nations that make up this Kingdom. Instead of a united front, it creates a nation with more depth that I want to explore. I also like the addition of the Sarmation Commonwealth. It brings a new flavor to the Theah. The commonwealth has a prussian feel that is refreshing to see in a roleplaying game. It is nice to see Poland and surrounding countries being given some exposure.
On to the important part, character creation and game mechanics!
Character creation is a simple affair. It starts like most games do, with a concept. To help you refine this concept, there is a list of 20 questions to help you better understand the character you are creating. One of the important questions that needs answered is what nation does your character come from. The answer provides a few advantages further along in the creation process. You then put points into the traits; Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache. Each starts at a 2 and you may assign two more points at this stage. You will then apply your nationality bonus which provides a further trait bonus. The next step is to choose two backgrounds. This provides the player with a set of skills, personality quirks and advantages. The backgrounds range from y
our standard pirate to more nation specific things such as a Knight Errant from Avalon. Once you have made your choices for backgrounds, you then have 10 points to spend on further skills. This is where you will be able to buy a skill up to the starting maximum of three. This is advantageous in that is allows you to reroll a single die on a risk involving that skill. This could make the difference in having enough raises or not. You will then have 5 points to spend on Advantages. There are many choices in this arena with some being designed specifically with each nation in mind. You will then choose your character’s arcana. This is one of the ways that your character will generate Hero points throughout the game. They are presented in a fashion to resemble the Sorte deck that Fate Witches use in game as part of their sorcery. It is for flavor only though as you pick what you characters Virtue and Hubris to better reflect the concept you chose at the beginning of the process. The process is rounded out with Stories and Details. Stories are how a character improves. The player decides what they are trying to improve in the next few sessions of the game. They then create a one to three step story that addresses the steps to achieve this story and receive their reward. Details is somewhat self-explanatory as it deals with wealth, Secret Society Membership, and what-not.
The creation process is not difficult. If you have a solid concept, the choices just flow into place. If you do not, the twenty questions are designed to help to get a better grasp of the character and make character creation simpler. By far, Stories are my favorite part of character creation. They give players a level of narrative control that I like. The book does not say to work collaboratively on the stories but I feel that this would be a great way to get players invested in the story as well as get the game master invest in the player’s ideas as well. For me, this would take the responsibility of story generation off of my shoulders as game master and share it proportionately with the group. A good thing in my opinion.
The mechanics of 7th Sea are easy to grasp. If there is nothing at stake with an action, you do not roll dice. If the opposite is true, then what takes place is a risk. This situation can either be an action sequence or a dynamic sequence. An action sequence is a set piece where time is of the essence and the consequences are immediate. A dynamic sequence is piece where the drama is drawn out over time and each action takes up a large stretch of time, such as a state party. Once the scene is set, the players decide the approach that they will be taking to address the risk. This indicates the skill and attribute which will be used to create a dice pool for the risk. The game master then sets the consequences for not overcoming the risk as well as an opportunity that can be seized by the players in the scene. The player then collects dice equal to the number of his skill plus trait and looks to create collections of dice equaling 10 which are called a raise. A raise is used to lower consequences as well as take advantage of an opportunity.
I love all of these mechanics. The idea of each scene being a risk is nice. It sets up the idea of only rolling when things are important in a nice fashion. I especially like how the dice mechanic works. The player takes dice to create raises. Any leftover dice can be offered to the game master for purchase. This makes it so that the player can choose to make no raises and offer all the dice up for the exchange of a hero point and a danger point. This places more power into the hands of the players both for the level of opposition that they face as well as their ability to respond in kind. This allows for skill iterations that make higher skills important. For instance, at a skill rating of 4, the player has the ability to create two raises with dice adding up to 15. A definite advantage. The ability generate hero points is also nice. They are used for many things such as activating arcana, advantages, and as an extra raise. Definitely something that needs to flow freely to keep the game moving.
I have mentioned in a prior post that I love the diversity that can be found in the book. It takes the time to mention that different ethnicities can be found all across Theah. This makes it simpler for players to have a broad range of characters. In addition, the designers also note that women are just as capable of being whatever they wish in Theah as their male counterparts. The art, though still not completely balanced, presents women in as active participants within the world which is a nice switch from what the standard has been in the table top roleplaying game arena. It is in the art that 7th Sea soars for us in the LGBT community. There are two pieces that show same sex couples in a romantic kiss. These pictures are well done and portray the romance of the situation in line with the 7th Sea setting. I can not say that have ever seen pictures like these in any other game.
To be able to see myself in the art for a game is an important thing.
There are a couple rough edges that stick out. First is the index. I am happy that the book has one. The issue though, is that it is rather sparse. With the book tipping the scales at over 300 pages, a more thorough index would be appreciated. Second, despite the powerful imagery presented via the art in the book, this diversity does not appear as much in the text. We have a picture of two musketeers having a kiss and two lady sailors doing the same. Nowhere in the text does it address how this is taken by their societies. I know that space is limited but a few lines here or there addressing this would be nice. The same could be said of the treatment of women. The text states that women hold the same positions as men in Theah. Further reading shows that in places like the Highland Marshes and Vodacce seem to have the same backwards views about women as their historical counterparts. I would have liked to seen these ideas as things to kicked over. The lack of a map is annoying . I love the map that is at the front of the book but it is not easy to reference. They put a lot of effort into this beautiful piece of cartography to then not give it to us in the book.
Overall, I love 7th Sea. The art is gorgeous and the mechanics are inspired. Everything comes together to create a game that captures the look and feel of swashbuckling adventure. I want to get into a campaign and watch how the story mechanic unfolds over time.
7th Sea is definitely worthy of four bear paws out of four. It should be on your gaming shelf.