If you remember, I made a post about the announcement of the new edition of 7th Sea late last year. Since then, a large number of details have been released, as well as a quick start. By the time this post goes live, the Kickstarter will be in full swing and hopefully chopping through stretch goals, and fans everywhere will probably be rejoicing. As of 8:40am today, the Kickstarter has cleared $300,000 and has broken the record for most funding a tabletop RPG has received in the first day (beating Fate Core, Mage 20th, and Exalted 3rd Edition).
Shocking, right? If you’re asking why this is such a big deal, then read on ahead!
As a warning, unlike some of my contemporaries, I do plan on going in-depth here. I’ll be talking about mechanical differences as well as thoughts about the game and the Kickstarter.
Ready? Then let’s start sailing!
==The Classic Edition==
The original version of 7th Sea was released in 1999, and both elegant as a rapier and as clumsy as a club. It used a pile of d10s in a Roll and Keep mechanic, and the goal was to roll as high as possible but only by keeping a select number of dice. You could also take “raises” to make your roll harder, but have excellent results from it (such as more damage, looking good while doing it, etc).
Character creation was a point-buy system with an optional “Destiny Spread” to gain extra perks (such as free skills, backgrounds, and Advantages).
When you build a character, you had to choose where they were from, which impacted your destiny spread and how much certain advantages or schools would cost (as well as determine magic options). Your location options were Montaigne (France), Avalon (England), Eisen (Germany), Castille (Spain), Usurra (Russia), Vendel/Vesten (Denmark/Norway), Vodacce (Italy), Cathay (China; East Asia), The Crescent Empire (the Middle East), and the Midnight Archipelago (Caribbean, I think). The magics were Porte (Montaigne; create portals), Sorte (Vodacce; control fate), Zerstorung (Eisen; Disintegration; dead bloodline), El Fuego Adentro (Castille; fire control; thought to be dead but not), Glamour (Avalon; invoke legends for power), Laerdom (Vesten; Rune Magic), and Pyryem (Ussura; shapeshifting). There are a few other magical types and sub-magics available, but the primary magics of the mainland are listed above.
Progression was horrendously slow though, often taking hundreds of XP to make any “real” progress with your characters abilities. For example, a mage drops about 1/2 of their starting points into being able to use magic, and only start off with a minor trick (Porte opens a fist-sized portal to bring things to them, while Pyryem can transform into one of a few set animals). It then takes around 150XP of JUST spending on the knacks to progress to the next level (being able to walk though a portal, turning just a part of you into the part of an animal), and then another 160 XP (or more) to master it (bring others into portals, gain the stats of an animal without transforming, etc).
This wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t other abilities with the magic (Laerdom has 20+ runes, Pyryem has dozens of animals, etc), and it wouldn’t suck so much if progression was faster (about 10XP per session if the GM is generous and you don’t spend your Drama Dice; 3-5XP is more of the average).
Combat’s biggest issue: it would take forever. Characters were notoriously hard to hurt, much less actually kill (you had to screw up pretty badly if you wanted to die. . .or the GM hated you). I think my shortest combat that wasn’t involving mooks took an hour. At Sangawa, a single combat of six highly experienced characters against three “Henchmen” (step up from mook, step down from Villain) took two hours. It’s not short, but it can be dramatic with the right narration!
When AEG decided to continue the storyline after the Montaigne Revolution (French Revolution; one of the last classic books) and “upgrade” the system to d20, they kept the original rules in all of the new books. You could see how the story was changing, and it wasn’t always good (it didn’t flow as well as before).
Even with all of the problems, I still loved it. You had a great setting with a fun metaplot, a sword school system that made every fighter different (one of my favourites, Tout Pres, allowed you to use ANYTHING to defend yourself), narrative elements that made your successes that much cooler, secret societies that help change the world (and that you can join!), and magic that looked amazing (but sadly didn’t work out as planned). I find myself going back to the game every few years, and as much as I love it, I really want a mechanic that fits.
==The New Edition and Comparisons==
We don’t have too much to go on at the moment as the book isn’t complete, but there have been a large number of rumblings, discussions, and reddit posts about the new edition, and now that we have a Quick Start Rules with adventure (early access was available if you were on the mailing list, and it is available if you back the Kickstarter with at least $1), we can see how the game is looking!
There are a few big changes in the setting that were teased a while ago and are teased again in the Quick Start. For starters, we get a new nation called The Sarmatian Commonwealth that represents Poland. A new nation is always a big deal, but it also seems that they are changing the politics a bit: Vesten/Vendel don’t seem to be at war any longer, Ussura seems to be under a more tyrannical Czar than before (previous one was tyrannical but effective and benevolent at times), Eisen is darker and scarier (and sounds a bit like Ravenloft), and it seems the Montaigne Revolution hasn’t happened yet as Montaigne is still ruled by an Emperor (the rumblings still seem to be there, though). There is also talk about making Castille more like Spain and less like Mexico (Zorro was a big influence), so we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.
Another big tease was the magic, at least for Ussura. Not only is Ussura getting a political facelift, but we’re looking at a change in magic. We don’t have any news regarding a replacement for Pyryem (this was teased in an early e-mail), so we will have to see what happens.
So far, timeline wise, it seems as though we are almost back to how the game first started, but we’re not quite in the Theah we all knew and loved. The Emperor still rules Montaigne , Eisen just started recovering from the War of the Cross, Castille has just been forced into a way with Montaigne, and the Vaticine Church is currently run by the Inquisition (there were storylines to resolve this before). In the end, it feels like a Battlestar Galactica-type reboot with familiar names but different faces.
The new version is also expanding the world by quite a bit, including the “New World.” One of the sneak peeks shows someone who is dressed like an Aztec, and there’s a new “free city” that is unbound to any nation and their laws. I’m not sure how all of these elements will mesh with the old setting, but this is looking interesting at the very least.
Mechanically we only have a small bit to go on, but there’s some potential here. While before skills were broken down into Skills and Knacks (buy the Skill, like Sailor, to access the Knacks, such as Balance, Climbing, Knotwork, and Rigging as Basic Knacks with Navigation, Piloting, and others as Advanced Knacks), now they are stand-alone skills. We see eighteen of them so far, and some of them (like Weapon) focuses on a specific type.
One of the good things they brought back: you are not pidgeonholed as to which stat you need to roll with it. One thing I’ve always loved about 7th Sea is how any stat can be used with any skill based on the circumstances. Need to dance to draw attention and/or look good? Panache + Dance. Need to dance a tango and not mess up? Finesse + Dance. Need to dance for the next four hours with suitors after riding all day to make it to the ball? Resolve + Dance. We thankfully have this (and the original stats) returning, which makes me a happy camper.
While we don’t have character creation rules yet, we do know that Advantages are making a return, and they have been cleaned up a bit to allow flat bonuses or specific narrative effects. For example, Linguist is back, but instead of giving you discounts to languages, you automatically speak all of the languages of Theah. There was also an FAQ on the Quick Start early release, and there was a fun little blurb on how to convert characters:
We also see a return of Hubris and Virtue, but instead of choosing only one, your character gets one of each. Before, you only got one (and either gained 10 points or lost 10 points at character creation), and they were ways to either gain Drama Dice to act a certain way, or to use a Drama Die to do something special and sometimes, extraordinary. Now, a Hubris is still a way to gain Hero Points (replacement of Drama Dice) when you act a certain way, but Virtues have easier to follow (and exceedingly useful!) benefits that you can still activate. A nice improvement, there!
Two systems that I don’t see information on are Wealth and Reputation. All of the characters have a Wealth rating, but we lack a proper explanation in the current sneak peek (I’m guessing it’s like the Resources in World of Darkness, a die roll when shopping, or bonus dice when negotiating). Reputation is also odd, as before you build up a Reputation score (went from -30 to +100 or more for PCs) and would gain bonus dice to help you on rolls based on your Reputation (i.e. The Dread Pirate Roberts and Zorro would have high reputation values, but on very different scales!). This newer version gives certain characters a Reputation (like Resourceful) with a rating (1 and 2 are what we see), yet there’s not a single note as to how they are to be used (I’m guessing bonus dice when rolling when your reputation is on the line or it can help you). I do wonder how it will pan out, but it seems as though we will have to wait and see.
The overall roll mechanic has been cleaned up, and it seems to borrow a little bit from Houses of the Blooded, but not in a bad way. As I said before, classic 7th Sea had you rolling a pile of d10s, keeping a set number, adding them together, and beating a large number. If you wanted to do anything special with the roll, you needed to call raises at the beginning before you roll. Raises were always done in sets of 5, so if you had a base of 25 but wanted two raises for something cool, your new number is 35. Good luck with that, as if you miss the 35, you fail altogether.
In the new game, you are told flat out what skill you need to roll to succeed, but also the Consequences for the roll. This time around, they call everything “Raises,” and avoiding certain Consequences or beating another person at a task will require the use of Raises.
Want to run through a building that is on fire? There’s a chance you’ll still get burned even if you succeed. Picking a lock? There’s a chance someone on the other side might hear you. You get by these with raises, but you don’t NEED to announce them as you did before, you just spend them.
You put together a dice pool of d10s equal to Stat+Skill and roll them all. You then need to combine them into groups of 10 (or over). In this case, if you were running through a room that was on fire (Finesse + Athletics), lets say your dice came up as 10, 8, 5, 6, and 2.The 10 would stand alone as a “set” for success, so you know you’re getting through the room. The 8 and the 2 makes a second set, so you aren’t going to burn yourself (or your burns are minimal in comparison). The 5 and 6 make a last set (even though it is an 11), and you can claim that a burning beam falls behind you to slow down the Inquisitors hot on your heels.
By putting the dice you roll into sets, you are kept from just adding everything together into some randomly high number. Not quite sure how I feel about the sets just yet, as having three 9s and a 3 makes 30, but you’d only have 2 Raises instead of 3, yet it does seem rather dramatic that your lowest die can literally make a difference (as a 9, 8, 2, 2 would yield the same results as four 9s). As Raises also deal additional damage to opponents, this can be a nice touch. I am digging how the math is much easier for players; I’ve had players at my table with college degrees that couldn’t total the numbers up in their head on a good day (don’t ask about a bad day), so a small number is helpful here.
Honestly, I’m really liking the narration and the effect of it here. Sure, the dice are looking pretty solid so far, but I’m really liking this next part: Flair. In the older version of 7th Sea, it was suggested to grant bonuses such as Drama Dice for doing awesome things. Now, you get a bonus die for adding an extra bit of flair to your action, such as hurling an insult (bread and butter for the old Valroux or Urostifter schools), saying something dramatic to the villain, or interacting with the environment (like riding a chandelier) when you take an action.
Additionally, to make all skills worthwhile, you get bonuses when you use a “unique” skill in a Scene. Say you’re fighting a Montaigne Admiral while your ships are intertwined. The first round leads to a string of attacks with your cutlass, so you gain a bonus as it hasn’t be done yet. If you use that weapon skill to defend or press another attack, it’s not going to give you a perk. If, instead, you used Athletics to swing across the mast to avoid an attack, and then use Ambush to attack due to the surprise, you’d be getting plenty of bonuses. Basically, be smart, be creative, be DRAMATIC.
While on the topic of combat, I would be remiss to ignore what little we have on Swordsman Schools. Before, you had to spend a sizable number of points (about 25% if you wanted a school from your nation), and outside of the four new knacks (Exploiting the weakness of your school and three combat abilities to attack and defend with, like Beat, Lunge, and Double Parry) and two necessary skills (normally weapons), you were given a simple ability (like using a weapon in your off hand). As you progressed, you gained extra abilities, like being able to disarm someone who missed you or breaking a weapon. Some were stronger than others, and most agree that there are some disgusting applications of school abilities when they can be combined.
Now, it looks a lot cleaner. The schools grant a few key abilities related to the school (not sure if they improve or not, or if the pregen character we have is massively skilled) as well as access to “dueling” maneuvers (more on that shortly).
Let’s take our pre-gen, Ennio, and see what he has. He has the Dueling Academy (Swordsman School) of Ambrogia. In the original game, Ambrogia was a school of dirty fighting that would fight with a fencing weapon (rapier) and a dagger in the off-hand (as written; they had to buy the skill for that, though). They were taught to fence left-handed (a royal pain if you’ve ever tried fighting a leftie with a sword), could “twist” a blade to open the wound for more damage, learned to put themselves in harms way to deal more damage to a foe, and learned how to exploit openings (i.e. don’t miss one, ever, unless you want lots of pain).
In the new version of Ambrogia, you use Panache instead of Finesse when fighting (Finesse is the normal “Elegant Weapon” skill), you gain a Hero Point when you Parry in a duel, and when fighting the faceless mooks known as a Brute Squad, you can deal damage to them when you defend. Not a bad deal, but as you can tell, not quite what we had before (again, that reboot). I’m curious if the backstory is going to change at all, and it makes me even more curious what sort of changes will be made to other schools (and, on that note, how many of the schools will be coming back of the 70+ schools).
On that note, it would be wrong to forget that we now have Dueling rules. In the original game, you started each round by stating what your fighting style (if any) was, as you could have multiple styles. Then you just simply went into a standard combat with your foe, rolling dice for initiative, rolling to hit and dealing damage, saving actions to parry, etc. Nothing really different, and it could take a while.
The new version breaks it down differently. You announce your style (as some styles give bonuses), and then make your roll. You and your opponent determine initiative and announce the number of raises you have. Each Raise allows you to perform one maneuver (or be spent to enhance a maneuver), and the duelists take turns exchanging blows during the turn. Maneuvers range from the basic attack and parry, to Advanced Maneuvers (only available if you took a school or had special training), such as Bash (Beat), Lunge, and my personal favourite: Riposte. This is rather important, as characters are not allowed to repeat the same move twice in a row: you can open the duel with a slash, but your next move will have to be something different.
This looks like a dramatic upgrade to me, so I’m curious to see how it does work. It seems that the basic slash is the strongest attack, though, so we’ll see if that changes later.
Combat seems to focus on Duels and Brute Squads. Duels are described above (and Action Scenes, like bar fights and negotiating treaties, seem to use similar rules), while dealing with Brute Squads is just a few rolls that are resolved like normal with the goal of weakening the brutes. Not sure how I feel on this just yet, but I guess I need to see it in action.
Damage is dealt with in a much different fashion than before. Before, whenever you hit a target, you rolled the weapon’s damage (plus any extras, like Brawn or Raises), keep damage based on the weapon, and apply it to the target’s Flesh Wound. The target then rolled Brawn (with any bonuses due to Advantages), and if they succeeded, they kept the Flesh Wounds (and must beat that number plus the additional value). If they failed, they take one or more Dramatic Wounds. A character takes a number of Dramatic Wounds equal to their Resolve before being crippled (dice penalties), and they can take up to twice their Resolve before passing out. A character with the “average” 2 Resolve can take 4 Dramatic Wounds; a character with Legendary Resolve must take 12. A fight between two large Ussurans with Pain Tolerance can go on for hours.
In the new game, everyone has a “Death Spiral.” Each part of the spiral gives you 5 plus your Resolve in Flesh Wounds before you take a wound. After 5, you are “Seeing Red,” and are close to taking a wound. You can willingly said wound when you are “Seeing Red,” and oddly enough it has benefits. When you take a wound, you actually gain additional dice to your pool, and eventually your 9s count as 10s. There is a point in which villains gain a perk (extra dice against your), but this is to keep things dramatic. I think it works out well!
Character Death is faster, but still workable. When a villain announces they are going to kill a target, the action isn’t done until the end of the round. At this time, any other player may spend a Hero Point and narrate how they are going to stop this: swinging over and tackling the guy, shooting him outright, quickly stepping over and parrying the blow, taunting him, etc. I like this approach, as it gives everyone a chance to help and ignore the typical “bleeding out” and automatic coup de grace garbage we see in other games that try to be dramatic.
The final thing we see in the new 7th Sea is a nod to one type of magic: Sorte. There is a single page dedicated to this sorcery, and even then, we only see one aspect of it: Blessings and Curses. The flavor text is pulled almost exactly from the original 7th Sea Player’s Guide, which is great to see because it was well written. The blessing mechanic almost works the same way: a roll is made, and a character is given Blessing/Curse dice. Unlike the original version (stayed until it rolled a 1 or a 10 depending on the type), these only last the Scene.
The rules here feel incomplete, as we do have a Fate Witch player character, but we don’t see the downside of Sorte (potential harm) nor do we see the the actual Sorte skill (an error; that was confirmed and was resolved with the newest file, but the skill isn’t explained very much). Hopefully we’ll see more magic, but so far, it seems as though the overall themes and flavour text are left untouched.
==A Few Concerns==
As much as I’m loving this, I do have a few concerns about it.
When you take a Risk, “narrative elements” are an option you have to spend your Raises. For example, in a contested roll of running through a burning room, you can simply say “I find a secret passage” or “I steal my opponent’s sword” if you know you are going to lose. This is an element pulled from Houses of the Blooded (almost exactly) that is pretty cool, but it can lead to a lot of frustration on behalf of everyone involved. Got a death trap for players that won’t actually kill them but look dramatic? They’ll say they found the switch to turn it off. Players think they’ll get through the pirate bar unscathed? Well, you just drew so much attention to them they’ll never want to return. There’s some good elements and some jerk elements, but these are hopefully being revised, especially since an old friend equates losing a contented roll as “Crabs in a Bucket.” Basically, if you’re going to fail, you’ll make someone’s life harder if they succeed.
There are a few other mechanical benefits we don’t know much about. As I mentioned before, Wealth and Reputation are on the character sheet, but we don’t have an explanation for them. I’d really like to have more details, but that will just have to wait.
Combat is both great and dicey. We’re seeing something a lot faster to use, but we only see combat defined as dealing with Brute Squads or having a Duel. Considering the number of times a character (or villain) is outnumbered 2-to-1 but still hold their own, I’m curious how this game can handle it.
There’s also the way villains are statted in this system. Instead of being statted in a way similar to heroes (five traits with skills), they are given a Strength rating which determines how many dice they roll…and how many wounds they take before they take a Dramatic Wound. This wouldn’t be so bad if it also didn’t note how many Dramatic Wounds the villain can take. Villains don’t seem to take wound penalties, either.
To cite the example in the Quickstart: the villain you can duel is Zyta, and she is classified as Strength 8. She rolls 8 dice (without Danger Points or Wounds to the hero; Wounded heroes bring her to 10 dice), takes 8 Flesh Wounds before she takes a Dramatic Wound, and takes 8 Dramatic Wounds before she is defeated (meaning 64 Flesh Wounds). Her suggested opponent, Ennio, rolls 9 dice (two of which can be re-rolled each round), which goes to 10 after he takes a wound, yet he can only take 4 Dramatic Wounds (standard for PCs). . .and he’ll get there after 28 Flesh Wounds (5 baseline, +2 for his Resolve ranks). The fight looks like it is is Zyta’s favor.
If all villains and duels are fought like this, it would mean that a one-on-one fight can take a while if the Hero is to win. Now, if it were to be changed that the villain were given stats, or even if they were given the standard number of Dramatic Wounds (give or take for dramatic necessity), we’d have faster and more reliable duels. As of this moment, not so much.
Some of my group is concerned about the changes in the setting. Yes, it’s a soft reboot, which means we all get to start fresh: my character that was killed defending a Vodacce Fate Witch that learned to read wouldn’t be dead because that may no longer be an issue. We have a new nation in the Sarmatian Commonwealth, and Vendel/Vesten are no longer two nations. Ussura is getting tweaked and no longer has Pyryem magic (one of the favorites at my old tables; people actually fought over who got the play the Pyryem). This leaves us all wary, but we’re still looking forward to the final product.
One of the major setting things we’re all viewing with an odd look is the new map. You can see a short view of it in the video, and if you back it you can see a small version of the map as well. It’s rather odd, because it changes things: Castille and Montaigne have been swapped, Sarmation Commonwealth covers the Eastern side leading to Ussura (and is closer to the Crescent Empire), and Vendel/Vesten is more like Norway/Denmark instead of the islands we had before.
As a personal note, I do have a few concerns with the Kickstarter. Some of the stretch goals (a Storium deck, releasing of a novel, etc) aren’t great if you really want materials for the game itself, and some of the add-ons you can purchase (a deck of tarot cards, ten 10-sided dice, and clay poker chips with “more to come”) are a bit overpriced for a Kickstarter add-on ($20 each; I can buy a pound of dice for that and have more than enough d10s for this game). The novels that are reached via stretch goals can be purchased as well. . .for $20 (softcover) or $40 (hardcover). Ouch.
The third Stretch Goal announced was the Pirate Nations book (in the original set, this was the first Nation Book), and that was at $100,000 (and was announced when they hit $97,000). The timing (and the later announcements) almost makes me feel like Wick wanted to see how much could be brought in before announcing later stretch goals to price it. If so, smart move, but still feels a bit like a cash grab.
No immediate word on how often we’ll see new books, but it looks like every $50k, which is a bit high in my book (then again, I’m used to the projects by Evil Hat, in which new books and book expansions are added but not at crazy intervals). By the end of this, if the production list is anything like before, we should see a player’s guide, GM guide, Nation books (all mainland Theah, including the new Sarmatian Commonwealth, are covered in a two-volume set), and books on secret societies (and there’s rumor of a new society in the mix). They did announce a GM screen at 125k, the first nation book at 150k, the second at 200k, and a hero and villain guide at 340k. Again, feels a bit steep, but as Wick just bought the rights back, that may be part of the high cost.
I’m hoping we don’t see another list of novels, though. I love the setting, but I’m backing a game; I’d rather see adventures (and get some useful stats from it) than just a story when I’m backing something like this. Just my opinion, of course.
As it stands, I think this is a worthwhile game to look into. The art is looking good, the themes of the game still seem to be intact, and we have quite a bit going for us this round compared to the last few rounds (i.e. the expanding d20 collection with faulty balance issues, the vanishing of the card game, and the sudden lack of support of all versions). If the Kickstarter goes as well as I’m expecting, we should see a large number of new books coming up, and if they meet the quality we are already seeing, I think we’ll be off to a good start.
In this case, 7th Sea just might return to my Top Three Go-To RPGs (currently Fate, Star Wars FFG, and Marvel Heroic), and that’s saying something.
==Where Can I Get It?==
Basic information and the mailing list for 7th Sea can be found here, and the Quickstart Rules were only available by being a part of that mailing list or by pitching in $1 to the Kickstarter (which is worth it if you are at least curious).
As an added bonus, there are a few tiers of the Kickstarter that give you the “entire”back catalog of the 1st Edition 7th Sea books, but trust me: the price of $60 (the lowest for a book and the original catalog) is amazing considering buying the original PDFs via DriveThruRPG will run you around $200-$300 (they claim retail price is $350). The list is missing a few adventures, but is otherwise pretty solid and well worth it if you want it.
If it says anything, I’m throwing $200 of my own money into this. I’m normally a bit of a penny-pincher when it comes to things I’m wary about, but this is a game that I wanted to back, and the rewards for that level are amazing. The Pirate tier nets you a leather bound hardcover book, every PDF of the second edition reached via stretch goals, the back catalog of the 1st edition PDFs, and a collection of “Pirate Booty.” That list began with a Sorte deck, ten 10-sided dice with the 7th Sea logo, and a dozen “Hero Point” tokens with the 7th Sea logo, but it has been growing with each stretch goal. As of this writing, the GM Screen, the map of Theah (24″ x 36″), the Deck of Villains (images and info on some villains), and the Deck of Heroes (images and info on some NPC heroes) have all made it into this pile. Buying each of them would cost around $140 (granted, a bit overpriced for some items), so if you wanted the whole lot (or at least 3 of them), you may want to consider upgrading to this tier.
The Kickstarter launched on Tuesday, February 9th, and reached funding in 7 minutes (and nearly broke $100k in an hour). You can back it and begin to reap the benefits of the Quick Start rules here. You only need to pitch in $1 to get the Quick Start Adventure/Rules/Characters. You will also want to review the FAQ for the Quick Start here.
Once I get the chance to play the Quick Start adventure and see more about what’s going on, I’ll be sure to make another post solely on the adventure and the rules we have seen in action. I’ve also backed at the Pirate level, because if the game is as good as it seems, I’ll want a good, leatherbound copy on my shelf, so expect a review of that come October.
Stay tuned for it and more! Some topics coming up are Fate/Stay Night’s Unlimited Blade Works, talking about playtesting (been on the docket but keeps getting pushed back), and possibly some game reviews if I can pick up something and play it soon. Until next Wednesday, stay safe!