7th Sea – System Mastery 67


No really, it’s genuine this time!  An actual review of the first edition of the famous swashbuckling RPG 7th Sea.  An interesting blend of very familiar mechanics, curious ideas for character creation, and not-Europe world building created by famous RPG advice dingus John Wick.  This game has a hell of a following.  The 2nd edition was recently the most well-funded RPG kickstarter to date!  But before we dig into the new, let’s take apart the old in today’s (real, actual) review of 7th Sea.

15 responses to “7th Sea – System Mastery 67

  1. You’ve brought that up quite a few times, how a ‘drawback’ to the tune of “You gain a nemesis!” should actually be treated as an advantage because it makes the game more about your character. I’m not sure I’m convinced of that. I can agree that it makes for a poor drawback because it’s really hard for a GM to consistently use it against the player in a way that would actually matter, be balanced against the awarded points, and not be just a replacement for some other adventure hook that he would’ve put in anyway, but I can’t imagine a situation where a player would actually pay points or give up some concrete gameplay benefit just to get an NPC that hates him. That’s a bizarre thing to do. That player would have to be a real hardcore narcissist to be that desperate for attention, and even if one was, he could accomplish much the same by just being a dick to all the NPCs in the game.

    I’m not sure what the ideal way to handle “background enemies” is. The concept is fine in itself, but they don’t usually amount to anything other than a potential story hook for the GM, which he might not even bother to use. Maybe roll for them randomly like in CP2020; they don’t really do anything, so it should cause no problem. Or maybe have a separate category of “flavor perks” that neither cost nor award character points. Or maybe just write it in your background on your own.

    • That’s generally the problem if it’s a disadvantage. Either the GM doesn’t use it and you get free points or he does and you get the spotlight in place of a normal adventure. It’s literally just flavor text that gives you points.

    • If you have someone trying to kill you, then sometimes they should kill you. Just like a drawback of being slow means that sometimes you don’t escape the burning building and die, and a drawback of colorblind means you can’t disarm the bomb and die.

      It doesn’t always have to be death, but it needs to be something bad *enough* to balance the points you gain. Maybe you get some extra points in Toughness, and that helps you survive the fact that someone is trying to kill you. And you still get the benefit from that Toughness when your enemy isn’t around, but when your enemy *is* there, you should be in substantially more danger than you would otherwise be, in spite of your Toughness.

      A good example of a Nemesis, who isn’t trying to kill you but still wants to beat you, is Flintheart Glomgold. He’s not going to shoot you, but he will buy the thing you want before you can get it and sell it to you for a ridiculous mark-up, or burn the bridge and leave you stranded in search of an alternate route.

      It’s only spotlight-buying if you have an antagonistic GM who is going to put obstacles in your way regardless, in which case your enemy just takes the place of some other problem that is definitely going to be there. That’s just being a bad GM, though. If your GM is being a fair arbiter, like they assume in a lot of old games, then taking that drawback means there will sometimes be an extra complication where otherwise it would have been smooth sailing.

      • Where it really breaks down is if you’re playing a hippie storytelling game where death is off the table, like FATE. But FATE wouldn’t give you points for taking an enemy, because they know that it’s just spotlight-buying. Instead, everyone gets to take the same number of flaws, and whether you choose for that to be an enemy or a missing arm, it’s going to generate the same amount of spotlight.

        Trouble happens when you try to play a traditional RPG as thought it were a hippie storytelling game, or vice versa.

      • “It’s only spotlight-buying if you have an antagonistic GM who is going to put obstacles in your way regardless, in which case your enemy just takes the place of some other problem that is definitely going to be there. That’s just being a bad GM, though.”

        I REALLY don’t think it’s fair to characterize what’s in most games a GM’s main responsibility (putting obstacles in the players’ way) as “being a bad GM”. Like, that’s literally why you’re at the table; they need somebody to handle the opposition.

      • The main responsibilities of the GM are to create the setting, play the NPCs, and resolve any sort of check when the outcome of an action is uncertain.

        A bad GM will decide that a challenge needs to be there in order to challenge the players, because they think it’s their job to put up a challenge for the players to overcome. You *will* encounter an enemy, it *will* be level-appropriate, and if you took a drawback that someone is trying to kill you then maybe that’s who the enemy will be. Congrats, those extra points turned you into the star of the encounter.

        A good GM will determine whether an obstacle actually *belongs* there, based on their knowledge of how the world works and the motivations and capabilities of the NPCs. There *might* be an enemy there. You *might* encounter them. They *might* be level-appropriate. If you have a drawback that someone is trying to kill you, then that substantially increases the chance that you will come across a strong enemy, where otherwise you might not. Congrats, you’re actually paying the price associated with your drawback.

    • The only good thing about a “Nemesis” or “Rival” perk/drawback for your character is that it tells your GM how you want some of your character’s story to play out. That trait should be taken after a conversation with the GM so both parties know what to do going forward. Of course I only realized how important this type of GM-Player communication was after playing in a game where I did not have it at all.

      The story is ridiculous. The DM of a game I was playing decided to create a “Nemesis” for every single player character who was way stronger than that character. This made sense for several other people since they were all kind of morally ambiguous fighter types, but my character was literally the nicest person on the planet who talked his way out of fighting and into long friendships. But the DM decided everyone had to have a “Nemesis”, so my character’s brother showed up to kill him. The DM’s exact words were, “You never said you DIDN’T have a brother”! What a tool.

  2. So much wrong with this game. First I agree Wick is an idiot, there is no denying that. The river thing is a primary example.

    Some clarifications.
    not-Sweden is a cross between the Vikings and the Hanseatic League. Vendel is the League of Accountants and Merchants. (Fantasy Belgium is part of not-Sweden). Vestenmanavnjar (Ves-ten-man-aven-yar) are the Viking old guard that think the Vendel are colossal tools and should give up merchanting and go back to terrorizing not-England.

    not-Russia has a not-Baba Yaga that terrifies the populace and they are all depressed. The not-Russian sorcerers creep the fuck out of everybody else, and pretty much the ruler terrorizes the shit out of his subjects.

    not-France is so corrupt in sorcery that the anti-magic not-Catholics have basically started a stealth Crusade against them. In response not-France is in a war with not-Spain.

    Syrneth is actually seven different races (including the Sidhe and Dragons) that didn’t necessarily get along or live at the same time. The Legion (Great Old One) aspect is tied into this about as much as Mi-Go to Cthulhu would be.

    The Midnight Archipelago is the not-Caribbean. The not-Barbary Coast (Crescent Empire) has pirates too.

      • Don’t think it was on our show. This is secondhand but I think the story is that Wick responded to some complaints about how this book posits a world that doesn’t really have a need for large-scale oceangoing piracy by telling people that river piracy was a huge deal in China during the Bronze Age in his famously pretty smug tone. Naturally since this book isn’t about Bronze Age China this was not taken especially well by whatever forum that happened on way back whenever it did happen. Or so the story goes.

  3. The more I think about it, the more I really like this approach to Nemeses (in the context of providing additional challenge, beyond what you would otherwise face).

    It would be like going to Chuck E Cheese’s, if the skee ball machine had an option to activate Hard Mode – the targets would all move around instead of staying stationary, but you get an extra 2-6 prize tickets to account for the added difficulty. Most of the time it would be a wash, since you would get a lower actual score, but the bonus tickets make up for that, and it makes the game more fun if you’re bored with the base game.

    I can imagine a system that extended that out to cover all sorts of disadvantages. Maybe you only have one arm, so you get +1 XP at the end of any session where that comes up; or you’re blind, so you get +3 XP from any session where that mattered. You end up defeating less monsters (or whatever the point of the game is), but because it was relatively more challenging for you, you gain just as much reward.

    • I have no problem with that, but there needs to be a model by which enemies you develop during game play can become nemeses. Otherwise there’s an arbitrary mechanical line between the day you started your campaign and your character’s life before it.

      • Yeah, it could work as a Game mechanic, but it’s kind of nonsense from a Narrative or Simulation standpoint. Flaws gained during gameplay really shouldn’t be treated any differently from those chosen during character gen.

        I’m going to chalk that up to this game being kind of old, so they just hadn’t figured that part out yet.

  4. Regarding speculations of John Wick’s tone and attitude:
    An article he posted about his early experience with the D&D “Tomb of Horrors” module made the rounds not so long ago, much to the throat clearing and indignation of many in the old school scene.

    I’m not saying Tomb of Horrors itself is any work of art, but Wick’s discussion in the article may shed a sliver of light on the forces which shaped his youthful attitudes toward game mastering:

  5. 2e uses a very different dice systems. Character creation seems less broken. But I’ve only skimmed the rules, so I can’t be sure.

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