Originally I had a plan to talk about some blacksmithing projects and situations I’ve been running into, but that changed on Friday. While waiting in line at the local DMV (I swear, there’s no way to go there without waiting in line), I got an e-mail that boiled down to “You’re getting an early draft of the 7th Sea Second Edition pdf this weekend.”
Of course, as soon as I saw that, I began stalking my e-mail at every free moment, waiting for that link. That afternoon, it finally arrived, and I began the slow process of reading and comparing.
Now, I’m not doing a proper review of the game just yet. For starters, I haven’t finished reading it yet (mostly due to a blacksmithing project that I plan on writing about here once it is complete due to the degree of geekery involved), and no book deserves a review without being completed (unless it’s total rubbish). I also don’t think it’s fair to review a tabletop roleplaying book without having the book in hand, as details such as binding quality, page gloss, artwork, and layout (this early edition still has many typos and is missing artwork), as each of these would impact the final score.
Instead, what I’m going to do is tell you a bit about how the setting has changed over the years. John Wick made it quite clear that we were going to see some changes to our beloved Theah, including political changes and the introduction of a new country, but I wasn’t certain the degree of these changes just by reading the Quickstart Rules I was looking over back in February. Now that I have a book to work with, I think I can shed some light on these changes for anyone who is just joining this motley crew of fans or an old fan that can’t be bothered to break out their old books for this.
==The Basic Setting==
Both versions of 7th Sea are set in the year 1668, in a world that would be a distant cousin of our own. Instead of picking up the timeline where it left off (1669 and later), John Wick and his crew decided to set back the clock and give us a soft reboot, which makes my life easier as I only need my core rulebooks instead of the growing shelf of the classics here.
In many ways, the setting is the same Theah that we’ve all grown to love. There’s swashbuckling, deeds of derring-do, magic (specific to each county), monsters, people to save, princesses (and princes!) to woo, and plenty of adventure on the high seas.
The biggest changes come from and reside within the nations themselves, so it may be best to break it down that way.
The United Kingdom of Avalon (setting version of the United Kingdom) is relatively untouched from what we are used to. In both editions, Queen Elaine (center of the above image) has united the three kingdoms of Avalon (Avalon, Inismore, and the Highland Marches), and is currently supported by the O’Bannon (King of Inismore, left on the above image) and High King MacDuff (High King of the Highland Marches, left on the above image). Elaine rules due to recently being granted the Graal (Grail) by the Sidhe, which has returned Glamour back to the land and marks her as the true ruler. As long as Elaine remains true to the country, she will possess the Graal, and the land shall be blessed by the magic of Glamour.
Again, in both versions, Elaine granted knighthood to anyone who would join her navy, hired mercenaries for her army, has her own cadre of knights, and pushed the Vaticine (real-world Catholic) church from her land by claiming she is the highest spiritual authority in Avalon.
Avalon is very reminiscient of the story of King Arthur. Elaine has her knights that serve her, she was chosen to be ruler and possesses a magical item that denotes her role as ruler, and she is assisted by the strange wizard Derwyddon (whom I believe is still an advisor in the new version; he’s the lead druid, but we don’t see the political role yet).
The Second Edition did not add or change much to the above, but it elaborated on quite a few player options.
In the first edition, players and GMs had to wait until the Avalon nation book was released before knowing how to make Inish (Irish) or Highland (Scottish) characters as their own character types (at first, it was only “Avalon Heroes”). In the new corebook, we are given both of these islands as additional nations, giving that feel that these truly are stand-alone nations that have only recently allied with Avalon proper. A nice touch, honestly.
We see a few very minor extras, such as the note of mercenaries from Numa being introduced to Elaine’s knight’s ranks (not quite sure where Numa is on the world map as it hasn’t been released yet) and more details on the added tensions between the kingdoms (as well as more insight into the other two kings). There’s quite a bit of roleplaying potential just within this book alone.
There is one character that I have yet to find a clue of, and that is Sir Lawrence Lugh. In the first edition, Lugh was a Lancelot-type character: powerful, faithful, yet is instrumental to the ruler’s downfall. There’s no sign of him (yet), and I am curious if we will see him. Then again, there aren’t many notes about the Sidhe from what I can tell, so that may be why.
One of the biggest changes is actually the approach to Glamour. In the original version, Glamour was based off of legends and, with the Sidhe Book of Nightmares, currently living Sidhe. Such legends were those who have done great deeds in life before dying (and one, Jeremiah Berek, was still alive and known for his luck), and you tap into their legend for their power. In the second edition, Glamour is revolving around Elilodd’s Knights (King Arthur); you choose a knight that you carry the mantle of (not a reincarnation), and gain abilities based on that knight. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it just yet (as the easiest way to get it is to take the Knight Errant background), but it does have some potential to be slightly more in tune with the original inspiration and storyline.
Castille (Spain) has undergone a number of changes, but they are not horribly drastic as they were made to make it feel more like it’s real-world parallel. If anything, many of the changes in Castille are rather welcome, in my opinion.
In the original game, Castille was recently invaded by Montaigne and stalled the attack due to poor ideas on the Montaigne side and brilliant tactics (and passionate fighting) on the Castillian side. The kingdom is ruled by Good King Sandoval, a 14 year old that was elevated to the throne after the death of his father and the disappearance/death of his older brother, and his two advisors: Count Verdugo, the head of the Inquisition, and Don Aldana, the head of the Aldana family and secretly El Vago (imagine Zorro meshed with V from V for Vendetta).
Castille is the current heart of the church, and has the finest universities in Theah due to that. While the Inquisition is beginning to put a stopper on the sciences, there are still a number of top quality educators in the country, and a “proper Castillian education” is usually one of the ways to denote who is a proper noble. Unlike most other countries, Castille does not have a form of magic to denote nobility (or even within the country); this is mostly due to the Inquisition.
In the second edition, the changes are relatively minor, but important. The problem with the way Castille was portrayed in the first edition was simple: it felt more like Mexico than Spain. You had the dons running the ranchos and El Vago (technically translates to “The Bum”) has a distinct Zorro flare to him. Now, the names have been cleaned up (El Vago is now El Vagabundo, the ranchos are now finca, the dons are replaced by Grandes de Castille, etc) and the culture now feels more Spanish.
Otherwise, the history and current political climate is the same: King Sandoval is sequestered by Count Verdugo and other politicians who are attempting to control him. Simple as that.
Like the core rulebook from first edition, we hear nothing about a magic of Castille; originally it was wiped out, but in the second edition it simply states that Castille is not ruled by sorcerous blood. El Fuego Adentro wasn’t introduced until the Castille book was released, so if Castille has an ancient, lost magic again, we won’t be seeing it for a while (or at least until the two-part Nations books come out, estimated in March/April 2017).
I will always have a soft spot for Eisen. My first character in 7th Sea was an Eisen mercenary that was cut down by a Montaigne Porte Mage in a back alley. When I started running the game and reading every book in the line, I began to see just how much history and how many organizations were based in Eisen, and really got a feel for just how desperate and determined characters could be.
Like most of the information to date, Eisen’s changes are mostly cosmetic. In both editions, Eisen has been ravaged by the War of the Cross (real world equivalent: The Thirty Years’ War), and lost land to both Castille and Montaigne in the process. Her people are not ruled by anyone with sorcerous blood, but by nobles granted the titles and land by the former Imperator before his death. Now that the war is over, the land is barren due to the incessant bloodshed and marching soldiers, Eisen’s people are worn and many are in a state of walking catatonia, and darker things lurk in the woods.
Many changes in editions are, once again, minor and mostly cosmetic. In the first edition, nobility was marked by possession of dracheneisen (dragon iron), a putty-like material that, once treated, was as light as cork but strong enough to deflect bullets. In the second edition, nobility is simply granted as a title, and dracheneisen is a rare material that glows when in the presence of monsters.
Speaking of monsters, the creatures of Eisen have gotten a bit of a facelift. Many of the classic monsters return (kobolds, sirens, the Schattenmann), but the horror in Eisen has been dialed up a bit. In the new edition, Eisen’s monsters seem to have been awakened by the years of bloodshed and murder, and there are many areas of Eisen that you simply do not leave your house after nightfall.
The provinces of Eisen and their rulers have remained mostly untouched, and many still have the goal of uniting all of Eisen under their banner. Seiger is still bloodthirsty and burned his land so Castille would not want take it. Heilgrund is studying dark elements of the occult and collecting these objects to gain power. Fischler is lost now that his sister is married in Ussura and he’s not used to being in charge. Trague rules over the city of Freiburg in a very hands-off manner and watches everything as a philosophy project. Hainzl may not comprehend much in reality but he finds ways to supports the arts, especially theatre. Posen is still a military power and she has the highest potential to conquer Eisen to unite it by force.
The final province, Wische, has the biggest change. In the original, Wische’s ruler went into a catatonic state after his wife and three sons died, marking him as a waisen, a barely living person that does not respond to the world around him. The only reason why Wische still functioned was due to a quick-thinking advisor that secretly loved the man.
Now, Wische is one of, if not the, most productive area of Eisen. It has quickly recovered from the events of the War of the Cross, and Roswitha von Wische is still running things smoothly after the death of her husband and three sons. Oddly enough, Wische was devastated by the war and Roswitha nearly gave up on life and her region, but recently everything has turned around, even though everyone locks their doors at night and refused to speak much due to the pale Countess that lives in a castle shrouded in darkness on top of the hill.
Edit: We got a second printing, and “Wische” was changed to “Wirsche.” Not entirely sure what the goal is there, but it’s worth noting.
Unlike the first edition, Eisen has a form of magic in the second edition called Hexenwork. Granted, the Eisen of the first edition had a magical bloodline that was killed off long before the game setting, but you had to wait for a secret society book for that. This time, we get it right in the core rulebook, and like the rest of Eisen, it’s dark, as it focuses on using corpses as components to fight the horrors of the undead. Dark stuff, but interesting!
Montaigne (France) has undergone the fewest changes, in my opinion. Montainge is still the “center of the world,” ruled by l’Empreur as he lives in luxury and puts his country into two wars (Castille and Ussura) while his people live in poverty. Montaigne sets the standards in fashion, is just shy of being excommunicated from the church, and proudly flaunts the magic of Porte among the nobility. Montaigne is a powder keg ready to explode as peasants are oppressed and no longer given the support of the church while nobility live a life of excess.
Outside of a few mechanical differences in magic (with the same effects, at that), the only real differences can technically be omission (who is married to whom and the like) and emphasizing different cities more than before. That’s. . .about it, honestly. Montaigne is Montaigne.
–The Pirate Nations–
Like Montaigne, there are few things to say about the Pirate Nations. In the original, the Pirate Nations are just bands of pirates that have a psuedo-government in certain areas (like the Straits of Blood or La Boca), and the book just explains various locations fitting for pirates and some of the big names, like the Vesten Raiders or the Brotherhood of the Coast.
In the second edition, the Brotherhood of the Coast returns, but as a “secret society” a player can join. The Brotherhood seems to be a loose collection of pirate captains working together for their various goals (mostly profit) and banding together for protection. There is a book about the Pirate Nations scheduled to come out this November, so we will get more details then. Until that time, pirates are more a theme than anything.
–The Sarmation Commonwealth–
Probably one of the biggest changes to 7th Sea is the introduction of a new country: The Sarmation Commonwealth (Poland). We didn’t see anything like it in the original, so everything we know is right from the book.
To sum up: this is a land of equals, where the peasants have the same rights as nobles, and everyone has the same voice when it comes to voting on anything that impacts the lives of those in the Commonwealth (one voice, one vote). The king is aging, and the king’s son has done the necessary work to become king (the text is a bit fuzzy on that), as the title is not hereditary.
The Sarmation Commonwealth is a land of bold ideas melding with tradition, which makes it a rather interesting place.
Like most countries, there is a magic in the Commonwealth called Sanderis. Unlike Sorte and Porte, it is not a hereditary magic, but it is caused by making a deal with a literal devil for power. (The more I think of it, the new 7th Sea is really big on making deals with powerful beings).
I don’t want to spoil too much about the country and what it offers, but there’s much of the Sarmation Commonwealth that was unheard of in the original edition, and there’s much to be enjoyed here.
Of all the nations, I think Ussura (Russia) ranks up there for the biggest changes. . .outside of Vendel/Vesten, of course.
In both versions, Ussura is considered to be a backwards country, still living in a life that is hundreds of years behind. Ussura’s people do not embrace new technologies, they follow a church that is dedicated to the First Prophet (the rest of the Vaticine faith followed the teachings of the Third Prophet), and there’s the belief that the land is alive. Matushka is the embodiment of the land, and she is an ancient being that grants her chosen people power.
In the original version, the ruler of Ussura was Ilya Sladivgorod Nikolovich, a man who was selected to be Gias (ruler) of Ussura by Matushka at the age of 9 and proved to be “terrible” by the age of 16 (he was abused by the council that ruled until he was of legal age). His son married Ketheryna Fischler Dimitritova, an Eisen noblewoman who slowly acquired his ear over time and offers sound advice in ruling the country.
In the second edition, the politics have shifted. The czar has passed away recently due to mysterious circumstances, but a new czar has yet to be named (yes, they went to Czar in the second edition, and they are NOT magically selected). Ilya returns to this version as the former czar’s eldest, disowned son, who is attempting to gain control of the country. Ketheryna Fischler Dimitritova also returns as an “Eisen princess” that married the old czar but was unable to provide a new heir to him before he passed. She now claims she should be czarina, which is leading to a political dispute.
Another big change is actually with Matushka herself. Not only are there other deities running around the landscape of Ussura, but Matushka’s gift has changed. In the original version, her gift was Pyryem, which allowed mages to not only speak with animals, but to transform into them (whether entirely or just in part, like having a bear’s arms), and eventually simply gain the powers of those animals. There was a rule introduced that if you remain in the animal form too long, you slowly become more like that animal.
In the second edition, Matushka picks up a few more tricks. Instead of the power being hereditary or given as she sees fit, Matushka gives “lessons” to those she deems are deserving or those that simply need a lesson. The details on the lesson are character based (i.e. there’s a sentence or two on it and it’s up to you), but the end result is now rather expanded. Matushka’s gifts do still include transforming into animals, but now includes having said animals do your bidding, seeing through the eyes of animals, lighting a room, or even regrowing limbs (among other powers). Another big change is also in the downsides of the power, as Matushka’s lesson also has limitations in the form of restrictions, which now impact your character’s life.
There’s some interesting stuff in the new version of Ussura; it’s just familiar enough to be workable for anyone who’s worked with the first edition, but there’s some major differences that will make things interesting in the end.
Of all the countries, Vendel/Vesten (Norway/Denmark/Scandanavian Viking-like countries) probably has the most drastic changes.
In the original, the Vesten were vikings, going out to pillage, plunder, and make names for themselves while honoring the old gods and ancestors. The craftsmen who remained behind realized they were top-notch craftspeople with the fastest ships on the sea, and decided to market these resources and the local resources (hot springs, for example) by shortening their names and getting into business. This created a schism in the country, having the Vendel merchants and craftsmen on one side and the Vesten warriors on the other. There was an ongoing civil war between the two, as the Vesten believed that the Vendel’s changing of names was killing the memory of the ancestors and gods, while the Vendel wanted to be independent and change the world via mercantilism, even if it meant using the sorcery of Laerdom (rune magic) to do so.
In second edition, some of this is true. The Jarls (warriors) were different than the Carls (craftspeople), but they at least coexisted. One group of carls created an alliance with a jarl king as a means of acquiring protection, while the jarls were happy with the additional methods of running the country. As the relationship grew and flourished, the concept of shortening names or taking a “merchant name” became common practice, and now the Vesten are a force to be reckoned with thanks to the might of the jarls and the wits of the carls working side by side.
I’ll admit, it is nice to see the end of the civil war, and being able to play a merchant-based Vendel while still respecting the old methods of doing things.
Another major difference is the magic of Vesten. In the first edition, we had Laerdom, which was a collection of runes. Each rune had an individual power theme, whether it was changing the weather, calling down lightning, or even silencing an entire room, with various levels based on the skill of the sorcerer.
With second edition, Laerdom has been replaced with Seidr (which, amusingly enough, is a Norse word for shamanistic sorcery). I’m not sure if we’re going to get the same lightning bolts or anything (because, supposedly, the Vesten are still making mast heads that fire lightning bolts), but Seidr does grant a few specific abilities, namely the ability of knowing someone’s true name, having some hidden knowledge of the future (Yes/No answers), or temporarily improving someone’s reputation by offering a stirring speech. I’d still like to see some of the rune effects back again (like altering weather, modifying a harvest, and again, the aforementioned lightning bolts), but for now this is still rather interesting.
Another odd point: Seidr is not a sorcery, but it’s own ability when it comes to the mechanics. I’ll go into those details when I talk about the mechanical differences, but it is rather interesting to look at.
Like Montaigne, very little has changed in Vodacce (Italy). Vodacce is still ruled by a group of Merchant Princes of variable numbers (currently seven) that have individual islands (and other land) under their control. The men of the country take park in The Great Game as a means to acquire more power in the most underhanded ways, as taking things by force is often a sign that you have failed at the Game.
The seven princes (and their respective provinces) are Lucani, Villanova, Bernoulli, Mondavi, Vestini, Falisci, and Caligari. Each has a patriarch going through their own methods of gaining power, whether it be marriages, siring heirs, acquiring blackmail, searching for ancient relics to gain immortality, or even just simply amassing wealth. While the men play their game, the noble women are blessed with the power of Sorte, allowing them to see and influence the strands of fate that bind everyone together.
The only real differences in the setting are minor at best. There’s a new “cousin” in the form of Stanislaw II, the “new king” of the Sarmatian Commonwealth, and this may have minor influences in how Vodacce functions. All of the princes seem to be identical to their first edition counterparts with the same goals; I think Caligari may be in slightly better health, but that’s not saying much.
The power of Sorte seems to be similar in both editions, but perhaps a bit cleaner in the second. Originally, a Strega could only see a strand, then she can modify a strand, and eventually create/destroy strands. Now, it seems the strega is limited to modifying the strands, but there’s a physical degree to which they can be modified, such as physically pulling a strand to trip someone or pull them toward you. Rather interesting ways to view it, and I am curious if we’ll see some expansion here.
In the first edition, there were a plethora of secret societies that would control the events of the world from behind the scenes. The biggest of them were the Knights of the Rose and Cross, Die Kreuzritter (think Knights Templar), Rilasciare (“free thinkers” and rabble-rousers), Los Vagos (see Castille, above), The Explorer’s Society (not so secret group of archaeologists), Sophia’s Daughters (marketed as a group to give women the same rights as men; turned into a deus ex “we know the future” group in the original game), and the Invisible College (secret scholars publishing without the Church’s influence). The Rye Grin started during the Montaigne Revolution to save people from the Guillotine later in the timeline, while Novus Ordum Mundi was an organization of villains that ran things from behind the scenes.
There were other groups, of course, such as various crafter’s guilds, fashion clubs, and event a secret order of blacksmiths in Eisen, but they weren’t “normal” secret societies.
In the second edition, nearly every one of the above is making a comeback, with the exception of the Rye Grin (due to not existing yet, as the Revolution hasn’t occurred). Currently, the organizations are pretty cut and dry (a few paragraphs for each), and only Die Kreuzritter has really changed in design (from Knights Templar saving the world via assassination and killing extradimensional beasties to a group of knights turned monster hunters), Los Vagos having a name change to Los Vagabundos (better than “the bums”), as well as the Brotherhood of the Coast being a technical secret society (as advertising piracy isn’t wise).
We also get a new organization in the Sarmation Commonwealth called Mociutes Skara, a group of people offering disaster relief and attempting to stop wars. Interesting stuff there!
Of course, we’ll probably be seeing many more organizations in later books (every continent has them, after all), and many of these will probably be expanded with more information. I’m really looking forward to it, but for now, most of our basic information still stands.
All in all, there’s a number of big changes that we’re seeing to Theah, and none of them are too drastic to make it unregonizeable. Sure, there are a number of changes that seem a bit odd, but there’s plenty here to recognize and work with. And to think, we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the world! The new edition is bringing us the Americas and Africa in additional sourcebooks, as well as bringing back other portions of the world like Cathay (China) and the Crescent Empire (Middle East), and we haven’t even gotten started on the mechanics of anything!
I have a number of irons in the fire, so my upcoming posts might cover a number of topics. As I continue to read and work with the new 7th Sea (got a group that voiced interest), I’ll probably do at least one more post comparing the two games (at least mechanically). I’ve spent the weekend working on a blacksmithing project that, once finished, will be rather geeky and hopefully look as good as I am hoping (it’s off to a good start), which should make a rather fun project post. June is also the month that has Free RPG Day, and as someone with a tight budget, I plan on sharing and talking about a number of free RPGs that my fellow tabletop fans can pull from.
Until then, stay tuned for next week when my next post respawns! If you’re curious about the post, I’m sure Tim will talk about it on the next “What’s on the menu.”