After all of the talking I’ve done about 7th Sea so far, you’d probably think I was done talking about it.
As you can probably guess by this post, the answer is “No, I’m not done.” Since I backed the project at the Pirate level, I’ll be getting the first wave of “pirate’s booty” in the near future (dice, tokens, GM screen, and three decks of cards slated for January), as well as all of the PDFs for the game as they come out.
I’ve had access to the Heroes and Villains sourcebook on PDF since early~ish November, and I’ve been holding off on a review until after the final PDF has been sent out (and while I patiently wait for a physical copy to grace my shelf).
Curious about the first expansion to this new edition of 7th Sea? So am I!
Heroes and Villains offers ready-to-go player characters, ready-to-go NPCs of a villainous nature, and a rules to help both players and GMs get into the game.
==What You Get==
This book does have a few rules (albeit some incomplete rulings due to publication schedules), tips for getting into the game as a hero or for playing the villain, and general mechanical tibits that expand what we have in the core rulebook.
The meat of the book rests within the characters created, as there are 40 PCs that are fully generated with backstories and stats (using normal character creation rules and new rules included in this book), broken down into five categories that revolve around one of the five Traits (stats). Additionally, 40 NPCs are offered, each equipped with schemes and plots, as well as a new type of faceless mook to make things interesting.
Right out of the gate, anyone who wants to have pregenerated characters will want this book. As someone who runs convention games or games for random people at the last minute, it’s nice to not have to scramble to make characters. While I’m not a huge fan of pregenerated characters (people have a harder time getting into them for some reason), it is a nice tool when you’re running low on inspiration (or time).
Some of the new rules are also useful, especially considering discussions on the 7th Sea 2e Forum. For the past few months, people have been arguing about learning second duelist styles and the cost/benefit of it, debating on ways to scale down the Duelist advantage (learning tricks without a school, for example), new schools and the associated abilities of said new schools, new faceless mook types (the Inquisitors), and even alternative ways to handle “dealing” with villains outside of killing them (which the game mechanics are against thanks to the Corruption mechanic).
Now, we have a new ability to help redeem villains, rules for actually redeeming villains, a note on a new fighting style (with a bow, no less), and new methods of making non-Duelists competent fighters thanks to a new advantage. All of these new rules are in an easy-to-use Appendix, with all of these rules being on one page so you aren’t ripping through the book looking for the one character with that one advantage.
My favorite part of the book, honestly, is the introduction of Villain progression. In the core rulebook, there were just a few options to make your villains grow by spending Influence (gained by gambling it to complete story-driven tasks like robbing a bank or fulfilling an assassination) to get more mooks or learning more information, but now they are given the ability to gain in power with new advantages or even literally increasing their power. It’s always nice to know that you can have a recurring villain that has a mechanical way to gain power instead of whatever the GM wishes, especially since gaining power involves more antics for the players to deal with.
Basically, the major appeal for GMs revolves around having readily available NPCs and ways to improve villains, while the major appeal for players focuses on sample characters and the new rules to improve their options.
The biggest gripe I have with this book is the artwork. The first rulebook we were given was filled with top-notch artwork that was consistent in both style and general design.
At the beginning of each chapter, we are presented with the stellar artwork we were used to seeing before; a one to two-page spread of highly detailed characters and backgrounds, often in some form of action (swearing allegiance, dueling on a ship, etc). At the beginning of each section (the header for the type of hero/villain, like Trickster and Mastermind), we are presented with a smaller bit of art fitting to that character type, again with some top-notch artwork.
Once we get to the characters, though, it fell flat in my opinion. If anything, it feels they were going for the lowest bidder, or were trying to fulfill some form of criteria (the Dread Pirate level turns backers’ characters into NPCs, and some of these requests may have been fulfilled here and have been odd requests). It may also be an issue of the sheer volume of art as well, as we are given details and art for 80 different characters.
Some of the character artwork looks interesting and is pretty well done, but others simply feel inferior. Outside of the quality issue, there’s a big problem that I am known to point out: following the “rules.”
For example, there’s a character that is a hero of her tribe/village in Vesten (think vikings). The weapon style she uses focuses on two “heavy” weapons, like axes or larger swords. She possess relatively high Brawn (strength) and Resolve (constitution/willpower), with tons of points in physical abilities (Athletics and Weaponry). Then we get her artwork.
Yes, she’s dressed like a belly dancer and not suited at all for the harsh winters you’d see in Vesten, and her swords don’t really scream “heavy” to me (they seem like a Type X sword from Oakeshott’s typography, meaning about 2-3lbs at most if it’s steel and not iron; bigger swords that are “heavy” weapons in this game are in the 3-5lb range). It’s just. . .lame.
Other inconsistencies include details on the character (like a character that is missing fingers having all of them in the artwork), clothing, equipment (character with a stick when combat style is a zweihander; another had a large two-handed axe for a two-weapon style), and some characters just don’t seem to “fit” with their country of origin or the description of the character. Just feels sloppy, to me.
This fault is important to note, as the artwork from this book will be making its way to the Heroes Deck and the Villains Deck, meaning there’s some sub-par artwork making appearances on multiple products. Rather sad, honestly.
The next problem rests with the goal of the book: being a collection of heroes and villains. This is partly personal preference, partly a stab at the quality.
On the hero side, we’re seeing some lackluster characters. There are five character types and eight of each type, but out of all of them, we get one Porte mage, one Sorte strega, FOUR Glamour users, two with Mother’s Touch, nine duelists (one with two schools) with another character knowing Duelist Maneuvers (the artist, pictured above), and slews of magic left untouched (including Hexenwerk and Sanderis). We don’t even see an Alchemist, but we see two characters with Seidr. It falls a bit short; I would have loved to see one pregen for each type of magic, honestly, and possibly one of each Duelist Academy.
I should also note that, by the core rules, there are only 20 practitioners of Glamour, as each must carry the mantle of one of Elilodd’s (Arthur’s) Knights. Therefore, if you consider each of these characters canon, that means there are only 16 available Knights for your players. Easy enough to ignore, but a bothersome note from the core rulebook that I (and many others) have been making changes to.
Additionally, a number of the heroes feel like they are repeated. Some of the plots start to mesh together too much, and even the character’s strengths are almost identical. I can’t quite pinpoint if this is a limit in the game mechanic or if it’s the limits of what they did with writing, but it severely detracts from this book for me, and also makes picking a few of the characters as a group for a test game challenging.
On the villain side, it’s hard not to compare it to the first edition. In materials from the first edition, a book like this would give plots (often world-spanning), goals, backgrounds, and stats for major players of the metaplot, like the various rulers, members of secret organizations, or even well-known pirates. Going into this, I expected to see some of the NPCs mentioned in the core rulebook, but alas, that was not the case.
Instead, we are given 40 villains of various talents and abilities, broken down into five categories much like the Heroes were, with category names that show their villainous natures (like Deranged or Juggernaut)
Some of the villains here are interesting, with backgrounds that would make some great foils for players, but most are designed, story-wise, to be more than simple throwaways, but are mechanically so weak that it may be hard to keep them as statted for the story at hand. It boils down to being a rogue’s gallery, honestly, filled with characters that are only important if you make them such instead of fleshing out the setting a bit more. I just hope we see more about the major players in the world in the Nations of Theah book.
Perhaps this is a step for the new Theah; John Wick included a short letter saying that the core rulebook was more of a “guide” than a rulebook, which would leave more control of the plot in the hands of the players and the GM, but to be honest, I loved most of the metaplot of the first edition, and would adore seeing what new plots will unfold in this new edition. This book did neither, and was an odd first splatbook to release.
On that note: this wasn’t supposed to be the first book released. Originally, we were supposed to see the Pirate Nations book, but something happened in the planning and this was moved up to take it’s place. A part of me feels cheated, as some of the rules mentioned in this book are incomplete, and were supposed to be nods to the Pirate Nations book, but instead we get incomplete rules and odd partial details about a number of things instead of references to a book in print. This knocks the book’s value down a few pegs in my view, as I honestly would rather see the book that explains the rules and the setting before getting a splatbook like this.
I’m giving 7th Sea: Heroes and Villains 3 buns. That’s not to say it’s horrible, but for someone like me, it’s a 3 bun book (general masses that aren’t as jaded as I am and new players/GMs of 7th Sea, it’s probably be a 4 bun book for you).
Overall, I’m personally not horribly impressed with the book. There are a few new rules (which are great and answer a number of discussions from the forums), and some good tips for players and GMs alike, but I feel there’s very little to the book otherwise; I might be using about 10 pages of the book on a semi-regular basis, and the rest is iffy. Sure, having a number of NPCs on hand is always useful, but the NPCs we are given are of no real consequence to the overall metaplot of 7th Sea and just feel like they were thrown in to get things rolling. Perhaps later publications will redeem this book by referring to it, perhaps even using some of thee villains in later stories, but alas, we’ll just have to wait.
If you are new to gaming and need a quick PC or NPC, the book is solid and probably would be closer to the 4 Bun rating, but for someone like me who can barely handle running modules without getting bored with the limited script, it gets a mediocre 3.
For a completionist, the book is worth getting. For someone who needs ideas for a game, this is absolutely worth getting. For someone who is “meh” on the idea of pregenerated random villains that don’t progress the metaplot, it’s just not that great.
7th Sea: Heroes and Villains had the final draft sent to the backers of the Kickstarter as of December 6th, and the production schedule has it listed as “At Print”, which means we should be seeing the ability to order this as a PDF or as a physical copy in the near future. I will try to add sale links upon their release.