The Return of the 7th Sea

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When I heard the rights to 7th Sea were sold back to John Wick earlier this month, I was both elated and filled with dread.

If you aren’t familiar with it, 7th Sea was an amazing swashbuckling fantasy adventure RPG and a card game released in the late 90s, riding the popularity (and utilizing a variant of the mechanic) of Legend of the Five Rings. Both of these games were brought into the realm of d20 as Swashbuckling Adventures and Oriental Adventures, respectively.

While Legend of the Five Rings continued on as a card game, eventually returned as a roleplaying game in a revised version of the original rules, and is now in the spotlight again with the license being recently sold to Fantasy Flight Games (not sure if just cards or RPG), little has been said about 7th Sea. In fact, after the card game ended in the early 2000s (2001-2003, give or take), it’s been slow going, with the newest rule supplement e-book being released in 2005. The website supporting 7th Sea hasn’t really aged well, either, loaded with dead links and using a rather dated format.

Now that John Wick has the rights again, fans of the original game and those of his more recent works (Houses of the Blooded in particular) are waiting with bated breath to see what will happen. So far, all we know is there is a new edition slated to be released sometime in 2016.

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Me, I’m on the fence.

I started playing 7th Sea in 2003, when a friend of mine in college invited me and a few of the other gamers to his apartment to try a game none of us had heard of, but once being told it was filled with pirates, magic, and epic swordfights, we were sold. After playing in and running multiple campaigns during my college career (and having four of my characters killed over two years, a feat to be sure), I knew this was a game I’d stick with. Even now, it’s become a fan favorite at conventions I attend, and I’ve been expanding my print collection now that I have a bit more money to spare than I did in college.

Having a new edition is, in my opinion, going to be a double edged sword.

==The Good==

For someone who loved the franchise, knowing that it will be coming back and picking up on the storyline that takes place beyond the Montaigne Revolution is reason enough to cheer. We don’t have a confirmation on this, but with AEGs announcement of releasing a few more e-books around Christmas, it leads one to believe that we’ll see a continuation of the story in the new edition.

Another fun perk was the backward compatibility support. After 7th Sea became Swashbuckling Adventures, every new splatbook included stats for both the d20 and the Roll & Keep d10 system. While the editing in the newer books was horrendous (typoes galore), it was nice to see the service to the long-standing fans. Hopefully, Wick knows the love the older fans have and will maintain this approach.

A new edition usually means new attention to the game. Even if the game flops, the new version will draw more people in and possibly get more discussion and user content on the older mechanic. I’m always up for this!

Depending on the approach, we may see a re-production of the old materials in a new format. As the original game line had the core rulebook, a number of Nation books, a collection of Secret Societies, a plethora of adventures, and a few setting books to cover big events, there was a LOT of reading to do before the d20 version hit the shelves, which added three more locations, another “secret” society, an entire book dedicated to the Sidhe, and a new book for the timeline and LARP rules (as well as other books to flesh out more of the setting, but nothing big for the timeline I can tell). If the new core book takes off, we might see revised versions of these old books with the new rules, or just updated books to represent the changes to the timeline.

Should the new version take off or do a good job with getting attention, there may be less demand for the old books, making them a bit more affordable. Some of these paperback books that are little more than 100 pages are selling for upwards of $150. Seeing a price drop here would be brilliant.

==The Bad==

My biggest concern: what mechanic will surface for the new edition? I don’t see a continuation of the d20 system (thankfully), but I doubt we’ll get a new Roll & Keep system. Wick created a mechanic for Houses of the Blooded that feels a bit cheap to me (dice pool of d6, wager extra dice you don’t need, and as long as you beat a 10, the wagers become extra details), and I don’t know if it’ll work cleanly with the theme and goals of 7th Sea (a game in which character death took a massive amount of work, bad luck, and/or a vindictive GM or party member). Also considering that Houses of the Blooded was made for more of a “Long Game” in which generations pass, I’m not sure how it would work with the more immediate dramatic events of 7th Sea (but for ship travel times, have at it!).

One of the disadvantages of a game being revitalized is the market for the books. If we’re lucky, the demand will be the same or possibly go down thanks to the new books. If the game tanks, however, but draws in enough attention for people to see the old version, there may be an increase in demand for a rather limited supply. This would make some of the expensive books even more expensive (or at least harder to find), making the life of those trying to replace or finally acquire copies much harder.

While many overlook this, the publisher of the book does matter. For example, Houses of the Blooded was published through Cubicle 7, a company known for big titles such as One Ring and Doctor Who: Adventures In Time and Space. This isn’t inherently bad, as it shows the company won’t be going away anytime soon. No, the problem is how they are produced.

My experiences with Cubicle 7 consists of the Victoriana RPG and Doctor Who. Victoriana took over a year beyond the initial dates (the books were available in English internationally but not in the USA), and had a number of printing errors (typos, double paragraphs, and an entire chapter was swapped). I pre-ordered the Matt Smith version of the Doctor Who RPG once pre-orders were opened, and my order actually had to be refunded after eight months because they couldn’t determine a new date. When it was finally available for order, it took nearly six months for me to get the set.

The books from them also tend to be prohibitively expensive. For example, Houses of the Blooded is a $45 ($39 on Amazon) 430 page paperback book with black and white artwork. FFG’s Star Wars RPG, on the other hand, is a $60 ($40~ish on Amazon depending on which core book you want) 440+ (depending on rulebook) hardcover book in full color. The prices also seldom go down; the Doctor Who roleplaying game still sells for about as much as it did when it came out, and the Matt Smith edition can net over double the list price.

That said, if Wick goes with Cubicle 7, I can see delayed printing and shipping, high cost books of mediocre quality, and a number of angry fans who were hoping to hop right in. These are issues that will be resolved after the book has been out for a year, but with a game like 7th Sea which had a history of producing quality splatbooks, this is going to be an issue.

==Final Thoughts==

Like many, I’m stoked to hear that we’ll be returning to Theah next year with the original creator at the helm. This may lead to some amazing adventures or, barring that, at least revitalize interest in the setting once again.

If you are interested in following the news, I’d suggest signing up for the mailing list.

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