After writing a commentary on 7th Sea Second Edition’s setting differences, I thought it only fair to write about the mechanical differences as well. These changes are rather drastic, and some players and GMs alike may not like them.
Curious how drastic these changes are? Well, pull up a seat and I’ll get started!
In both editions of the game, you are given five stats: Brawn (physical might), Finesse (agility), Wits (intelligence and thinking on your feet), Panache (style and charisma), and Resolve (physical endurance). The stats are rated from 1-5 (stats can go as high as 7 in the first edition; second edition caps at 5). Stats are the baseline of your dice pool.
Characters also have a number of skills (in the first edition, skills were broken down into knacks, but many still just called them skills), which will also add dice to your dice pool. Both games have a cap at 5 (but the first edition had an increased cap of 6 with certain criteria being met).
I’ll go into how rolls are made later on, but for now, I’ll say that both games exclusively use the d10 (ten-sided die).
Both games also have Advantages (ways to differentiate your character’s other innate abilities, like keen eyesight, or items they own, like magical swords) and Reputation (what your character is known for), which also function similarly.
From there, things get interesting. I’ll try to keep it condensed, but it is a challenge when trying to sum up the mechanics of two rulebooks weighing in at over 500 pages between the two.
When creating a character, it’s usually suggested to go through the “Twenty Questions” to determine various details. In both versions of the game, it’s nice to have a general outline that includes, at minimum, country of origin, any organizations they belong to, and what the character should be capable of (swordsmen should be trained, sorcery is hereditary, etc).
One of the biggest hurdles one faces in the first edition is the character creation. You are handed 100 “Hero Points,” which are spent to purchase everything you need for your character. Obviously, this is a point-buy system, but there’s plenty to buy with how many books were released.
The first big step is deciding what Nation your character is from. Each of these locations gives a bonus +1 to a single trait (such as +1 Brawn if you are from Eisen), leaving all of your traits at 1 except for that bonus point. Your Nation also determines quite a bit, as each Nation has it’s own magic (or at least what it takes to be a noble), swordsman schools, languages, and special advantages (whether it be the Sidhe Weapons of Avalon or the ingrained Poison Immunity of Vodacce).
If you have access to the Nation book that is the home of your character, you have access to what is called a Destiny Spread, as well as more things to buy with said Hero Points. A Destiny Spread uses either a standard deck of tarot cards (at least a portion of it, anyway) or the normal d10s to determine your characters Past, Present, and Future, as well as their Strength and Weakness. The first three results usually add something to your character, ranging from a background to extra items or skills, while the last two results are directly tied to the characters Arcana (which I’ll get into).
If you go with a Destiny Spread, you get some free points (and possibly discounts) on the rest of the things you buy. The biggest choice most players face at character creation is the selection of either a Swordsman School or Sorcery.
Swordsman Schools give two skill sets, some form of advantage, and the abilities granted by the school (various techniques). Purchasing a swordsman school costs 25 of your starting points if that school is from your country, or 35 if it is not from your country. Each school comes with four “knacks”, which are various techniques trained at the school, such as performing a Double-Parry or a Lunge. Raising these costs 3 Hero Points at character creation, to a maximum rank of 3. Not too bad, but it can get steep.
Sorcery, on the other hand, comes in three flavors with associated costs: Half-Blooded, Full-Blooded, or Twice-Blooded. The biggest difference between each of these levels is the upfront cost and the end-capabilities. A Half-Blooded sorcerer only spends 20 of their 100 Hero Points, but can only learn the most basic of abilities regarding their magic (often the first minor trick). Full-Blooded, on the other hand, costs 40 Hero Points, but they can reach Master rank eventually (and gain all of the various powers thereof, such as teleporting or gaining the strength of a drachen without the form). Twice-Blooded also costs 40 points, but only grants the Half-Blooded benefit of two different magics.
The magic choices are broken down by country, but I’ll get into that later. There are also other magic-like abilities you can also select, like Shamanism or various advantages, but you need access to quite a few resources to have all of them (and this post isn’t about all of these options).
The next important choice is determining if you want a Hubris or a Virtue, as you can only have one. A Hubris gives you 10 Hero Points back (the only way to truly get points back in the official rules), but it is your character’s Fatal Flaw. These range from things like Star-Crossed or Greedy, and will influence how your character acts at specific times. If you took a Destiny Spread, this was selected for you as your Weakness, but if you did not take a Destiny Spread, you may choose one. Most players tend to go with the Hubris due to sheer point values.
A Virtue, on the other hand, actually will cost you 10 points, but it gives you some rather powerful advantages, such as not suffering unskilled penalties or even having a Fear Rating. If you took a Destiny Spread, this was selected for you as your Strength, but if you did not take a Destiny Spread, you may choose one. Most players tend to sidestep this due to the point costs (as you are already halfway gone if you took full-blooded sorcery with a Virtue).
After the big details above are squared away, you get into the nitty-gritty: what your character can do. Traits cost 8 Hero Points per dot, with a max of 3 (4 if your Nation raises it for you), and it is suggested to have at LEAST a 2 in everything (your lowest trait denotes your Drama Dice; important “save yourself” resources) with a 3 in your “important” traits (Finesse, Wits, and Panache for most swordsmen, for example).
Hero Points are also spent on Backgrounds and Advantages. Backgrounds are things you buy now, and any time they are brought up in game (like your Nemesis shows up to make your life hell), you gain extra XP dependent upon how many Hero Points you spent on it.
Advantages are rather nebulous. They range from capabilities your character has to social standing and possessions. Nobility, wealth, magical artifacts, memberships into secret societies, and even the ability to speak a language are all advantages. Your nation does determine some advantages, as some are specific to that nation (like the legendary Puzzle Swords of Montaigne) or your nation gives you a bonus (Vodacce are exposed to many poisons, so they get Poison Immunity for cheap).
Finally, you get into Skills, of which there are fifty-seven (57; you are reading that correctly) after all of the books were published; there were twenty-seven (27!) in the player’s guide. Skills are overall sets of Knacks, which add dice to your pool, and each Skill has anywhere from 1-4 “basic” Knacks, as well as a number of “Advanced” Knacks. For example, Sailor as a skill has the basic knacks Balance, Climbing, Knotwork, and Rigging. Your character gets all of the basic knacks at Rank 1 (unless told otherwise), and if you pick up another skill with the same knacks (Athlete and Sailor both have the Climbing knack, for example), the knack is raised to Rank 2 instead. Each Skill costs 2 Hero Points, and raising a basic knack costs 1 Hero Point per rank, to a maximum of 3 at character creation.
Skills also have what are called Advanced Knacks. These are more potent abilities that are harder to learn and take effort, such as Navigation, Swimming, and Piloting from the Sailor skill. At character creation, each Advanced Knack costs 3 Hero Points.
After you are done spending your points, you are able to buy gear (if needed) and start your adventure! It’s quite the process here, and often takes quite a bit of time to complete.
Things are quite streamlined in the second edition; I’m sure it’ll slow down a little bit once all of the books are released, but for now, it is quite painless. First, all characters start with two points in each of the five traits instead of one, and are given two more points to add as they see fit. Once again, characters are given a bonus point to a trait based on their nationality, but this time, you are given a choice between two traits. For example, being from Eisen will grant you either +1 Brawn or +1 Resolve (both are rather fitting for people from Eisen).
Next, you choose two Backgrounds, which are exactly what they sound like: things your character was in the past. Some of these are things that your character was trained to do, like being a criminal, duelist, or courtier, while others are what the character was born as/became due to family, such as a Sorte Strega or an Orphan. Each Background gives five skills at Rank 1 (or, if you already have the skill due to another Background, +1 rank) and five points worth of Advantages.
Advantages are a bit different this time. They are rated between 1-5 points, and have variable effects. Sorcery, for example, is a 2 point advantage, while studying at a Duelist Academy (formerly swordsman school) is worth 5 points. If a background should ever repeat an advantage (such as Archaeologist and Sailor both giving “Eagle Eyes”), you are able to pick a different advantage worth the same number of points (in this case, 2 points).
Each background also includes a Quirk. Quirks are little ways to help your character act, but they also grant you bonuses in-game when you act in accordance with them (some are goals, some are flaws; it’s pretty useful stuff).
Once your backgrounds are selected, you are given 10 points to distribute among skills (max level of 3; a nice throwback to the original) and 5 points to spend on Advantages (great if you want to know basics of magic for your Soldier-turned-Duelist, or if you want to have some form of a special knack for seduction for your Courtesan).
Now that the numbers are done, the character selects on Virtue and one Hubris. The Virtue is kind of like a special power, like resisting seduction or having great luck, while the Hubris is a fatal flaw, such as falling in love with the wrong person at the worst possible time. You get one of each to help round out your character.
The final step is to select “Stories,” but these are more tied to character progression (see below).
Things like Equipment are handled a bit by hand-waiving, as your character is assumed to have the money necessary to live as well as the tools necessary for whatever job it is they do (with the exception of massive things like ships).
As you can see, it’s more streamlined, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better (a number of fans are seriously flipping out over this). We are getting more backgrounds and the like in later books, so maybe that will help us flesh the game out a bit more and give more flexibility.
Whenever you need to make a roll, you gather a number of d10 equal to your Trait and your Skill. Certain advantages or circumstances will add more dice to your pool, such as having great eyesight when looking for something or having a magical sword when you are fighting. Obviously, the more dice your roll, the better you are!
After the dice hit the table, the edition you are using will determine how things pan out.
The first edition used what we call a “Roll and Keep” system. Once you put together your dice pool (i.e. how many you are rolling), you need to denote how many you are keeping. For most basic rolls, you have a dice pool equal to your stat+skill, and you keep a number of dice equal to your trait. Any 10s you roll “explode”, allowing you to roll an addition d10 and add it to that first 10; the only times this does not occur are for unskilled checks and if you are Crippled (suffered major wounds).
The GM sets a Target Number (TN) that you must roll. TNs are normally in increments of 5 with a few exceptions (some abilities add +2, for example). A TN of 5 is something simple, while a TN of 50 is almost unheard of.
Before your dice hit the table, you may “Call Raises.” Each raise increased the TN by 5, but if you succeed at this increased number, you gain additional bonuses, such as doing things in less time, doing things better, or hitting harder, to name a few.
Each character is also equipped with a number of “Drama Dice” equal to their lowest trait. Drama dice are often hoarded as they are additional XP, but they also add an additional KEPT die to your pool. Additionally, this additional die explodes no matter how injured or unskilled you are; it is for Drama, after all! Outside of rolls, drama dice are used to activate special abilities ranging from your Virtue to magical abilities. You gain them by doing awesome things or the GM activating your Hubris, so always do awesome things.
Say you are trying to leap across an alley, and it’s a matter of power due to the distance involved. The GM states that you are rolling Brawn and Leaping with a TN of 15; your character sheet shoes that you have a Brawn of 3 and Leaping of 2. This means you are rolling five dice (3+2), and keeping three (equal to Brawn); this is normally depicted as 5k3 if it were written out. As long as the three dice you keep are over 15, you succeed. If you fail, you can spend a Drama Die to roll and keep another die to the total, which might be the deciding factor for you.
Combat works in much the same way. Panache is rolled for Initiative, but they are not added together; instead you start at the lowest number (in this case, a 1) and count up. You get an action for each die, so if you have a Panache of 4 and you rolled a 2, 5, 7, 8, you would have four actions this round, one on each of these numbers.
When a fight breaks out, you’ll want to hit something, obviously. Hitting a target works the same way as making a normal roll (Trait+Knack, keep Trait), but your TN is variable based on the target’s defensive ability. You multiply the defensive knack by 5 to get a TN, so if you were parrying with a rapier, and your Parry knack was a 4, your passive TN is a 20. Defensive knacks are based on the circumstances at hand: parrying is, obviously, Parry, while being on a ship at sea invokes Balance, and climbing a rope forces you to use Climbing as your defense.
If you have been hit and have the actions available, you can take an Active Defense, which allows you to make a roll to defend yourself. Your TN is whatever the attacker rolled, and there is no reason to take raises for it. Granted, sometimes a roll can be massive (largest one at my table to date was a 73), but it’s all a matter of luck.
Each weapon has it’s own damage value, written in the same roll and keep method above. For example, a heavy weapon like a broadsword is a 3k2 weapon, while a firearm would be 4k3. Melee weapons add Brawn to the unkept dice, but you ALWAYS keep the weapon value in damage. Any raises made for the attack also adds to unkept dice, and the only way to add more kept dice is to bring your unkept value over 10 (e.g. having Brawn 5 with a Heavy Weapon would be 8k2 damage; 3 raises brings you to 11k2, but as you cannot go above 10, it becomes 10k3).
Once someone is hit, you then have to worry about the two types of damage: Flesh Wounds and Dramatic Wounds. Flesh Wounds are just that: bumps, scrapes, scratches, and minor cuts that don’t get in your way. Dramatic Wounds, on the other hand, are the major blows that hurt, such as having a knife driven into your stomach as you chase your nemesis down.
After making the damage roll, the victim must make a Wound Check by rolling their Brawn. As long as they meet or beat the number, they translate the wounds into Flesh Wounds, but if they fail, they take a Dramatic Wound. Additionally, if they fail spectacularly, they’ll take multiple wounds in one go (with firearms, every 5 is another Dramatic, but with anything else it is every 10). To make matters worse, your Flesh Wounds don’t go away until your take a Dramatic Wound or until you have the chance to heal (end of combat or the First Aid knack), meaning every little scratch is adding up. Dramatic Wounds can only be removed by the Surgery knack (and a rather difficult roll, at that) or by time (months of it, at that).
Once you take a number of Dramatic Wounds equal to your Resolve trait, you are Crippled. Crippled characters are still in the fight, but in bad shape; they can no longer explode their dice. This may not seem like much, but trust me: when your opponent’s TN is a 30, those exploding 10s are mighty nice to have. Once you take a number of wounds equal to double your Resolve, you are Knocked Out and cannot take any further actions.
Normally, once you are knocked out, you are just waiting for the fight to end and for someone to heal you; no bleeding out rolls or anything! Sadly, if you are knocked out, the next hit will KILL you…and there’s no resurrection in this game. The only way to take an action after being Knocked Out is to spend a Drama Die to get back on your feet, but again, the next hit will be your death.
In a fight, easy money is always on the swordsman when pitted against a non-swordsman. The one who was trained not only has a few techniques like lunge (more damage) or stop-thrust (rolled defensively; if a dramatic is caused, the original attacker loses their action), but they also gain special techniques depending on mastery level, such as breaking weapons, getting a free disarm, or even becoming so focused they get additional Drama Dice every turn. Sure, they are rolling the same and dealing the same damage, but the swordsmen always have an edge. At the early ranks, it’s pretty close, but at higher ranks, it can really make the difference.
It’s a bit complex, but it does make sense once you get used to it. As you can see, there are many steps, and it can take a while to get the hang of it. Sadly, combat can take HOURS with the above setup, even with swordsmen at their peak levels of ability (sometimes, it’s ESPECIALLY when they are at their best), but there is the added bonus that death is not a common occurrence.
There was enough of a stink about the above that Wick and his team made the second edition much easier in this regard. In fact, second edition was marketed with the idea of faster-paced gameplay in mind. So how is that handled?
First, the dice pool is put together just like before: you take a number of dice equal to your Trait and a number of dice equal to your Skill. Now, unlike the first edition, YOU get to decide what you are rolling. Yes, you heard that correctly: YOU decide. Are you at a party and trying to impress people? Well, how do you want to do that? You can eavesdrop to learn facts that you can use elsewhere, carouse, dance, or any other number of things. If you can narrate how that skill works, you can roll it, but all of your actions for that round (or in some cases, an entire scene) must be in accordance with that (e.g. Dancing won’t let you shoot at someone, for example) or else you take a penalty.
After you roll the dice, you keep ALL of them. That’s right, EVERY DIE matters this time. 10s don’t explode, though (at least not at the beginning; there’s an ability for that), but in this version you don’t need explosions to ensure a success.
Now, instead of adding them all up, you set them up into “raises” of 10 or more (and a certain ability allows you to gain two raises when you roll a 15). Once you finish, you announce the number of raises you have left, and inform the GM how many dice you have left over; any leftover dice can net your character Hero Points.
There are ways to improve your dice pool before rolling, of course. Hero Points are one way; not only do they power abilities and give you some narrative control over things, but they can give you an additional die to your pool or, if you can narrate it, you can spend a Hero Point to give an ally THREE additional dice. Not bad if I may say so! Some advantages and other abilities grant additional dice, but they are variable. Another method is in narration; the GM should award a die for good narration with a skill’s use, even if it’s something as simple as telling the villain “You can take my sword from my cold, dead fingers.” Additionally, in a scene, if a skill is used for the first time, you gain an additional die.
Depending on your skill rating, you might have additional options open to you. Having a high skill grants more than extra dice, but special effects as well. Skills are handled on a scale of 1-5; at 3 ranks, you can re-roll one die, 4 ranks lets you earn 2 Raises when you make a set with 15 (instead of one raise for a 10), and at 5 ranks you get the benefit of exploding 10s.
Once you determine your raises, you spend them. Raises can be spent to take action (one raise successfully completes an action), negate Consequences (running through a burning room can cause damage that raises can stop), or take advantage of Opportunities (like picking up the noblewoman’s child from the street before he is run over by a carriage). Normally you know of these things before you spend them, but you can make some of them happen (like creating an Opportunity for an ally).
It’s pretty simple, and this simple approach sticks around as we go into combat.
Initiative is handled by “Who has the most raises?” Raises are then spent on actions, including attacks and defense; the more raises spent, the more damage you deal or defend against. After someone takes an action and spends one or more raises, you determine who has the most again and repeat the process.
Swordsmen trained at a Duelist Academy have a few tricks up their sleeve in combat, whether by special abilities (such as additional damage) or by special maneuvers (such as the Riposte). One limit, though: you cannot repeat the same move twice in a row. For example, in a duel you can’t slash twice in a row, but you can slash, riposte, slash again, and then lunge if you have enough Raises to do so.
Normally, one Raise is one point of damage, but there are special circumstances with fencing maneuvers (various additions) and firearms (automatic Dramatic Wound) that add additional damage.
Now that we’re talking about Damage, we talk about the Death Spiral. Every character has one on their sheet, and without any special advantages, they can take four Dramatic Wounds before becoming Helpless, and every 4 wounds is a Dramatic Wound. Therefore, if you don’t defend for some reason, every 5 raises will deal a Dramatic Wound (normally, anyway).
Of course, Dramatic Wounds aren’t the end of the world. In fact, they often keep you focused! Your first wound actually gives you an additional die to all of your rolls, but your second adds two dice to all of your opponent’s rolls. The third wound allows your dice to explode, so every 10 automatically gets another d10 rolled to your pool. Once you take that fourth wound, you are “Helpless,” and taken out of the fight.
Should you become Helpless, a Villain may spend all their remaining raises and a Danger Point (GM version of Hero Point) to murder the helpless victim. A player may spend a Hero Point and all of their raises to intervene, though, so murder isn’t too common or easy.
When a fight breaks out and melee weapons are involved, always put your money on the swordsman. First edition had a gap between a swordsman and a guy with a sword, but it was small; at character creation, a nobleman with a heavy weapon can dispatch an equally skilled swordsman with about the same difficulty; it really boils down to luck. Even at higher mastery levels, a Master Swordsman had to rely on a bit of luck and have decent abilities to allow them to defeat their opponents (and it didn’t always work out for them).
In this version, there’s no contest; a swordsman’s basic attacks deal damage equal to Weaponry at the cost of one raise (no more can be spent), so a character with Weaponry 3 is dealing a minimum of 3 damage a raise, and it would take a non-swordsman 3 raises to do the same thing. Therefore, a swordsman can deal 9 wounds compared to a non-swordsman’s 3. That’s. . .pretty brutal, and worth noting, as it makes combat MUCH faster, especially since Raises are not only used for damage, but they are also initiative/actions, therefore a swordsperson gets more bang for their buck, so to speak.
Honestly, that’s the long and short of it. There’s some nitty gritty details on the GM’s side of the screen and a few other minor rules (like Pressure, changing your Approach mid-round, etc), but the core mechanic tends to remain true throughout.
Every country in 7th Sea has their own form of magic, each with its own rules as to how it is used and what effects it has. There’s more than thematic differences between a Porte sorcerer’s ability to open portals and a Sorte Strega pulling on the strands of fate.
As I mentioned in the character creation portion, a character must start the game as either a Half-Blooded or Full-Blooded Sorcerer (Twice-Blooded just gives two Half-Blooded forms of magic). The real difference, besides the massive point dump, is the level of mastery allowed.
See, magic is broken down into three levels of Mastery. The first rank, Apprentice, covers the basics and gives you a few tricks depending on the magic involved. Adept expands your abilities by giving you an even bigger trick; it is at this point most of the various forms of sorcery become useful. Master rank is the final step, and this is the full potential of the magic.
I won’t spoil the setting information (because there are major secrets behind almost all of the magic), but I will speak of each magic from each mainland country in Theah and what the basic abilities are.
Avalon has the magic of Glamour. As I mentioned in last week’s post, Glamour is based off of legends, living (in the case of Berek and the Sidhe legends) or dead. Each Legend is associated with a Knack, and a Glamour mage can only have one legend for each Knack, meaning they must choose wisely. Each level of that legend gave specific powers. For example, some abilities ranged from a minor bonus to a set task, shapeshifting, and even setting rules of your house (including “I cannot die”).
Castille no longer has magic because the Church wiped out their sorcerers. There are a few holdouts, though, that still have the power of El Fuego Adentro. The few practitioners of this sorcery are able to control fire and are immune to it’s effects. As one masters this magic, they are able to do more with fire, such as controlling it from further away and even creating “living creatures” of flames (as long as the fire already exists, anyway).
Eisen, like Castille, no longer as their own sorcerers. The Von Drachen bloodline, the only known practitioners of Zerstorung, were wiped out years ago during a coup. Zerstorung was rather fearsome, as it allowed a practitioner to disintegrate anything. Lower levels were just wood and paper that was touched, while masters were said to be able to disintegrate people by looking at them.
Montaigne has one of the most well known magics: Porte. A Porte sorcerer is often denoted by blood red hands (which explains why nobles in Montaigne often wear gloves), but their ability is what makes them really stand out. Porte allows the sorcerer to open doorways to another world and then walk through them to their destinations, which are usually items marked by blood. Any item that is marked can be detected, summoned from any distance, passed off to a blood relative, or teleported to. It’s rather spectacular, especially considering you can bring people with you once you master it, but you must be an Adept to walk through the portal yourself.
Ussura’s magic is granted by Matushka, the spirit of the land of Ussura. She selects who should receive the power (but it is hereditary as well if I remember correctly), and she also selects the Gaius, the ruler and one who has the ability to remove the gift of Pyryem. At the lowest level, Pyryem allows one to speak to animals and transform into them. Yeah, you read that correctly: TURN INTO AN ANIMAL. Higher levels allow the sorcerer to transform individual body parts (arms of a bear, vocal cords of a lion, eyes of an owl), and eventually just gain the boon without transforming at all (speed of a hinde, strength of a drachen). I have yet to run a game of classic 7th Sea that didn’t have SOMEONE eyeing up Pyryem due to their flat out power you get out of the gate.
Vesten sorcerers have been granted to power of Laerdom, or rune magic. There are over 20 individual runes, each with their own individual powers. At first, the practitioner can only make a temporary rune (written, drawn in sand, scratched in glass) and invoke a lesser power. As their power increases, they can engrave it into something more permanent (like a weapon or a belt buckle) to grant further powers when activated, and when they reach master rank, they can “become” a rune and unlock the full potential of that rune (and trust me, those powers are pretty epic).
Vodacce’s magic is Sorte, which is basically fate magic. Unlike other Nations, the magic of Vodacce only travels along the females of the bloodline, and many Vodacce traditions (such as noblewomen being unable to read and write) are based on this. Sorte, when used, allows a practitioner to grant minor blessings or curses, as well as the ability to “see” the strands that connect individuals (i.e. connections of business, emotion, violence, etc). At Adept rank, a Strega can being to modify the strands by making them stronger or by making them weaker. The final Master powers allow them to cut strands, create new strands, and even change someone’s very being by changing their Arcana.
Now, on paper, the magics above seem pretty powerful. Mechanically, not so much. In fact, some hardcore players would even call the magics useless. Not only are you dropping half of your points for it (as most magic is useless if you don’t take Full-Blooded; Half-Blooded only gives you the basic abilities, after all), but you need quite a bit of experience to truly master it (5 knacks at rank 5; swordsmen only need 4 knacks at rank 5 to be a master). Some of the magics have multiple knacks beyond the required five, which made it challenging to truly “master” the magic in all of it’s forms. For example, Sorte has four suits, the Black strand, and Arcana at the very least. Laerdom has 24 individual runes, each being it’s own knack. Porte has Blood, Pull, Pocket, Sense, Walk, and Catch, and there may have been one (but it may have been a house rule) to restrict Porte use in an area. Pyryem has a page-long list of animals you can choose from (as long as you can find one to offer you it’s “skin”), as well as the Talk and Man (turning back to human) knacks.
The added kicker: nearly every magic outside of Sorte, Porte, Laerdom, and El Fuego Adentro requires the use of a Drama Die for their use (and some effects DO require a Drama Dice), and the expenditure does often occur whether or not the ability was successful and, in some cases, regardless of how powerful the effect. Sure, a Pyryem sorcerer could speak to animals without a Drama Die expenditure, but if they wanted to transform into a bear, they had to spend a Drama Die (and with a TN in the ballpark of 30, it’s a tough roll that you WANT those Drama Dice for). It doesn’t seem like a high cost, but considering you only get a number of Drama Dice equal to your lowest stat and your GM awards them based on “awesome” things (which doesn’t always happen), you’re really stuck on how often you can do this.
There’s quite a bit I said about first edition, and that’s partly because of how much information is out there (all of the magics were expanding in their respective Nation books, after all). I won’t repeat much of the information in this area, but some of it is worthwhile to note.
As I mentioned previously, to become a sorcerer, you only need to take a 2-point Sorcery advantage or purchase the Sorcery background that is specific to your nation (or, if the GM is generous, the sorcery you want that is tied to your story). That’s it.
Each time you purchase the Sorcery advantage, you unlock more abilities in some way. These abilities are based solely upon the type of sorcery you have taken. I should also note that just about every Sorcery requires the use of a Hero Point, but as they are much easier to get than Drama Dice, you shouldn’t be running low on them.
Avalon has Glamour once again, but it’s not quite the same Glamour we knew of before. This time, it’s called Knights of Avalon, and it involves the characters carrying the mantle of a knight from King Elilodd’s court. You select a single knight, and each one is known for two of their Traits and grant you special powers based on those traits. Each time you purchase the Sorcery advantage, you may either gain a new power or increase a rank of a power, with higher ranks giving more bonuses (such as longer durations or more dice). There’s also another restriction on Glamour: there’s a “code” you must follow, and violation of that code puts your mantle in jeopardy, which removes your ability to perform these powers. (I’m not a fan, but it is interesting).
Castille does not have any form of magic at all, and instead they are able to purchase Alchemy (a 4 point Advantage). While not a sorcery per se, it is still worth mentioning. Alchemy allows the character to create a concoction that has a specific effect, such as improving stats to being a super-slick oil that will keep people from climbing up a wall. The effects are similar to what we get in a later book from first edition, but the ingredients are not as tough to acquire, so that’s a plus.
Eisen does not get anything like their original magic. Instead, we get Hexenwerk. As most of the effects and process would require a trigger warning, I will sum up simply: a Hexe uses parts of corpses, monsters, and various elements that can be easily found (rotten pumpkins, household wine, blessed water) to create things to deal with other undead. Some of the items allow you to see ghosts, speak with a corpse, or even command the undead. It’s a rather dark power, but still interesting. Each Sorcery advantage gives additional recipes.
Montaigne didn’t see a major change, as they still have Porte, but this time it is much easier. All Porte sorcerers are automatically able to sense an item they’ve marked, pull an item to themselves that they have marked, and can automatically walk to “major” blooded object. The big differences, mechanically, are how portals are opened and how the objects work. Originally, anything could be blooded, but now there are Minor and Major marks (and you get addition marks for each time you buy the Sorcery Advantage). Minor marks are things you can hold in your hand, and can be summoned to you, but you cannot walk to them. Major marks are large objects or even locations that you are able to “walk” to. Portals, this time, require the sorcerer to cut themselves in order to open a portal, or else face a new mechanic called “Corruption.” Otherwise, it’s about the same.
The Sarmatian Commonwealth, being a new nation, gets a new magic. Sanderis is basically a pact with a devil-like entity that grants power in the form of favors. Each time you purchase the Sorcery advantage, you gain a new “deal,” of which there are seven. Each deal allows you to acquire certain “favors”…at a cost. Some of the costs are simple, like having a drink in the spirit’s name or ensuring someone is sleeping someplace warm, while others are complex and can involve murder. It’s a pretty interesting magic, honestly, and I’m curious to see it in action.
Ussura has undergone a number of changes, and their magic is one of them. Pyryem has been replaced by “Mother’s Touch”, which combines a “Lesson” (power) with a “Restriction.” Each time you purchase Sorcery you gain addition Lessons and Restrictions. If you act counter to your Restrictions, you actually lose your powers until you make up for it (requirements based on the restriction, ranging from helping someone who wronged you to not doing something you love for a month). The powers, on the other hand, are variable, ranging from the classic transformation and animal speaking to mending broken objects and automatically purifying an area (including dirt and poisons). There’s some potent power here, but all magic comes at a price.
Vesten also saw a change in their magic. While the text based on the setting still makes nods to Laerdom (like Vesten ships firing lightning from their masts), Laerdom was replaced by Seidr (an actual word for Nordic Shamanism). Seidr isn’t an actual sorcery this time, but it’s own 4-point advantage. Seidr allows the character to cast runes to ask a yes/no question (and get an answer from the GM) about the future, to know someone’s true name (and see through their attempts to disguise it), and to be able to give a rousing speech about someone to change their Reputation. It’s not much, but it is interesting.
Vodacce also did not see many changes. Sorte returns again with similar effects; strega can see strands and tweak them, but not to the same degree. Each purchase of the Sorcery advantage allows the strega to unlock another ability, and the basic abilities are Blessing, Curse, Arcana (temporary change the Arcana of a character), and Pull (literally pulling the strings of fate that are tied to the character to trip them up). We don’t have anything about imbuing items with fate magic or creating new strands (yet), but we are seeing enough returning effects to hold us over.
And that about sums up the magic of second edition! No mastery levels, just a matter of how much you want to improve them or how many powers you want access to.
==The Power Of Reputation==
One thing that always made 7th Sea interesting was the imporance of Reputation. Thanks to The Princess Bride, we all know that no one is going to surrender to Wesley, but everyone will surrender to the Dread Pirate Roberts. It’s all in the name and the reputation, and both games had their own approaches to this rather important element.
In the first edition, a character had a Reputation score that ran from -50 (yes, that’s negative fifty) to astronomical positive numbers (I think 150 was the highest NPC). Every ten points, positive or negative, gave a “Social Die” each game that could be used in any pool involving the characters reputation. Therefore, if you had -30 or +30, you had three social dice per game.
Doing great deeds and ensuring that people knew of them would net you positive reputation, but performing dastardly deeds that people witness reduces your reputation. You technically could not have both positive and negative (but some NPCs did due to their dirty secrets), as horrible deeds will erode at your positive image (and vice versa).
Once you reached a low enough Reputation (-30 through -50, depending on the character), you lost your character and they become a villainous NPC.
Reputation is awarded specifically by an Advantage, but the GM can award is as well (and there are ways to modify it). When you have a reputation, it must be described (“Bloodthirsty” is a good example). Any time you can use your Reputation to your advantage, and your opposition knows of that reputation, you may roll those dice into your pool.
Rather simple, ne?
Every gamer knows that once you roll a character, there’s going to be changes. Some of the changes are due to the needs of the story (like losing an arm or becoming a noble), but what most players love is how the character gets tougher or better at what they do. 7th Sea is no different, but the two editions have drastically different approaches as to how it is handled.
Like most games of the time, you were awarded experience points. Unlike some of the most popular games of the time, there were no specific levels: you spent XP to acquire new abilities or improve the abilities you have.
At the end of each game, you gained XP (10XP/game was pretty high), with another XP for each Drama Die you did not spend. Everything had specific costs: Traits were 5x new rank, knacks were 2x new rank, new skills were 10 points, and Advantages/Languages were 2-3x the Hero Point cost (at the very least, if it were possible at all).
Considering that a number-crunched mage needs 124 experience points to reach Master rank (without points going ANYWHERE else) and a swordsman that didn’t buy any additional ranks at character creation needs 112 experience points to become a Master (not including their attack and defense skills with their respective weapons). With a generous GM, you’re looking at over a dozen games to make progress.
I should note that all traits and knacks have a cap of 5. . .unless they don’t. Some schools or societies allow ways to reach a knack rank of 6, and with a combination of schools and the Legendary Trait advantage, you can have one trait reach rank 7 (but good luck paying for that: rank 5 is 25 XP, rank 6 is 30 XP, and rank 7 is 35 XP).
With the second edition, we see a removal of the experience points of the previous edition. In fact, the progression moves at the speed of plot…literally. Added bonus: it’s up to the players to really push for it.
Every character should have one or more “Stories” when they are created. On one hand, they are things that are important to the character, such as “Revenge against the Six-Fingered Man” or “Rescue my beloved from the Countess.” Each story should also have a reward in the form of an upgrade, whether it is a trait, advantage, skill, or another reward.
To earn the reward, the story must have an appropriate number of “steps.” Each upgrade has a cost; skills are equal to the new rank, traits are five, Arcana/Hubris changes are four, Quirk changes or removals are three, removing Corruption is five, and advantages are based on their cost. For example, for an advantage that costs five points, the story must have five steps.
For example, say you want to learn the Aldana style of fighting. This is going to be a five step story called “Learning the Aldana Style.” The first step would be to travel to the academy in Castille. The second step would be to meet the master. The third step would be to prove that you are worthy of the blade by defeating some of the Montaigne “ruffians” that have overrun the town. The fourth step would be to rescue the master from the prison that he was placed in for speaking out against the occupation. The fifth and final step is to recover the master’s ancestral sword from the Montaigne General that took it from him.
Stories allow characters to not only progress, but to direct where they think the plot should go. The GM is also encouraged to create stories of their own and grant rewards based on the number of steps involved (think of it as the normal XP for a campaign).
This version of the game has slightly different caps. Skills still have a solid cap of 5 (unless they release something otherwise, but I doubt that), as well as traits. Unlike the first edition, you can’t just dump everything into traits: you can only have 15 points in traits (enough for all five traits to be at Rank 3), but you are able to take a story to swap them (such as changing a pair of traits from 3/3 to 4/2). There is also the restriction that no trait can go below Rank 2; I guess this is to ensure everyone remains heroic.
==So What Should I Play?==
In all honesty, it is entirely up to you and your gaming table. There’s still a rather strong fanbase for 7th Sea (as is obvious by the Kickstarter results), and there is a number of die-hards that support the new game due to the revitalized interest but will still stick with the old rules. As someone who doesn’t acknowledge Dungeons and Dragons beyond Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, I can’t really say I blame them; when you spend years working with one set of rules, do you really want to scrap it all and start over?
Some players and GMs I know love the way Roll and Keep systems work, while I know a few that have actually made songs about why Roll and Keep is an inferior game mechanic.
Until I get the chance to get my group together and try it, the jury is still out as to where I stand. I love how streamlined the new edition is, especially with character progression, but I’m a bit wary with combat being too deadly. I love how flexible the old system is, but everything gets bogged down and slow (combat can take HOURS, and character progression is horrendous).
Personally, I think they both have their own merits. First edition has a plethora of resources created by fans as well as a mountain of official resources spanning two different game mechanics (Roll and Keep and the d20 system). Second edition is shiny and new, and contains a number of fixes that prove that Wick was listening to his fans (such as the creation of the Sarmation Commonwealth to represent Poland, and cleaning up magic to be playable), but will it stand against the test of time and a nostalgic fanbase? Only time will tell!
If you want to jump into the madness of Theah without waiting, the PDFs for the first edition are readily available at DriveThruRPG at a decent price; you’ll only really need the Player’s Guide and the Game Master’s Guide to get started (and the latter is only really needed for extra setting info, GM tips, and monsters). The Swashbuckling Adventure PDFs are also available there if you are more inclined to the d20 system.
Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the second edition is officially released. Wick is attempting to have everything done in time for GenCon, so we might see the books released a bit earlier than the original October estimate (or at least see PDFs available if he goes that route), but otherwise, you’ll be waiting a bit.
==When Are You Giving a Review?==
I’ve given away quite a bit of information between this week and last week on the game, but I do still plan to write a proper review. As I mentioned last week, I would prefer to have a copy of the book in hand and would love to see the finished product. This pdf I have is an early release, after all, and it has a number of typos (which would make the score PLUMMET in a printed copy). I also don’t get to see the print or binding quality of the book, which is a big deal for someone who is always taking books out on trips to run these games (the joys of being a traveling GM, both at homes and conventions).
Once I get my hands on my special edition leather-bound copy and a “table copy” of a standard edition, as well as run it a few times (I have a group on the horizon), I’ll give you a review of everything. Until then, trust me when I say there’s plenty of great things going on in Theah, that the game is well worth getting, and if you want more information, just ask me directly!