Setting Sail with 7th Sea: Pirate Nations

After much excitement and impatiently waiting, we backers were given access to the first true splatbook and setting resource for 7th Sea Second Edition: the Pirate Nations book.

I was considering waiting until the final draft went live to get some more artwork into this post, but with some of my concerns of the book being waved along, I thought I’d offer the full list of my thoughts and reactions to the book in blog form to give you all a sample of what is to come.

Curious what Pirate Nations will have in store for you? Well, wait no more!


Writer’s Note: The copy I had access to was an early draft before final editing. Some of the commentary made here may not be in the final draft.
I submitted what typo tickets I could in the allotted timeline (a week to read and submit, and I had a flu-like bug) and made a Reddit account just to take part in conversations, so I hope some of the concerns I have here will be addressed in this book’s final printing or in future publications.

==A Bit of History==

With the first edition of 7th Sea, Pirate Nations was the first Nation book and one of the first sourcebooks released for the game. While the core book hinted at piracy, not many details were given, and the ship rules felt lacking.

The whole point behind a Pirate Nations book is to grant insight into how pirates live and function within the setting, as well as showcase some of the locations that are beyond the horizon and across the waves.

Therefore, it is rather fitting that the second edition follow the same tradition of having the first setting information book being Pirate Nations.

==The Pitch==

The pitch to Pirate Nations is simple: this is a book that explains the life of the pirates of Théah, including the various places they can call home, islands they have taken over, ports that are not of the mainland Théah yet important to various countries, and of course a group of villains that Pirates are naturally against.

From a player standpoint, we are given some new things to play with. The new “Nations” in the form of Numa (Greece), Aragosta (a pirate island), Rahuri (sea-faring monster hunters), Jaragua (Canary Islands?), and La Bucca (prison island turned pirate-run island) give more cultural (and player) options. In addition to these new locations, we are given a number of new advantages, including three new Duelist styles and a number of new sorceries and other magical effects.

So how well does it stand up with regards to what it offers? Hopefully better looking than this ship!

==The Good==

As expected after the core rulebook, we have some great art in this book, and it is a great step away from the problems we had with Heroes and Villains. The art is consistent and solid, and really gets the vibe you would expect from a book like this. It pulls a great deal of inspiration from various films and art depicting pirates, probably one of the biggest being Pirates of the Carribean (seriously, some of the art would be at home in that franchise).

One thing I always loved about the first edition was the metaplot, and so far, second edition is trying to fill those shoes. Instead of just being handed a list of NPCs to ally with or kill and a few little islands, we are given entire nations and cultures with their own stories, magic (with stories), organizations, and of course a few named individuals and organizations to ally with or kill.

This is also the first book that backers of the Dread Pirate level get to see their original characters appear. I’m glad to see JWP following up on their backer promises here, and it does add a nice touch.

By far, my favorite introduction has to be Numa. It’s just that blend of Greece, Sparta, and Byzantine Empire with dashes of history and culture from all of the Mediterranean that just stands out. Not sure if it’s my new favorite country (yet; Eisen, Avalon, and Vesten vie for that role depending on the story I want to tell), but it’s got a ton of potential I want to play with.

Over half of this book has been dedicated to setting. Of the over 200 pages of book, almost 150 are dedicated to just the setting, with each new “Nation” getting it’s own psuedo-chapter, as well as a good sized section about the Atabean Trading Company. That’s saying something, right there. It is hard to talk about what’s in here without spoiling everything, but I will say there’s plenty to work with.

As with any book, the new additions to mechanics are of importance, and the book does not skimp with new Advantages, Sorcery, Duelist styles, and of course, Backgrounds to help flesh out the characters. All of these additions add something new to the game, and the Sorceries greatly expand what is available to the setting, especially with regards to the general feel of the setting (i.e. not solely Euro-centric).

We also get more diversity in this book, at least with the art so far.
We also get more diversity in this book, at least with the art so far.

The GM section of the book is rife with useful information, even for an old hand like myself. There’s a section of pirate lingo, details on different types of crews and charters (and with charters being a new magic, this is interesting), monsters, a “And Then vs Because” section to help with moving things ahead seamlessly and dramatically, and a small (albeit useful) section called “Navigating a Nautical Campaign.” As someone who gets bored with a dragging-on nautical game, there’s some useful stuff to work with here.

In short, there’s new options for players and GMs, new way to show progress, plenty of plot to play with, and a plethora of inspirational material available. A good first splatbook to be sure!

==The Bad==

My first gripe is that we didn’t get this book first. THIS should have been the first book out of the gate, even if it delayed the rest of the line, as it offers rules, setting, and other useful and important details that were hinted at in Heroes and Villains. It’s not a big mark against the book, just something I want to mention.

My face when the book was delayed.
My face when the book was delayed.

From a storytelling standpoint, I’m not sure how much I like having information on two different pirate-run islands in the same book with a sizeable chunk of text for each. Yes, one is a prison turned pirate city with a “king,” while the other is by charter. It’s an interesting split between the two approaches, but having them both here and completely ignoring the city of Five Sails (a free/pirate city that rests on the border of five nations) is a bit odd. I have an idea where they are going with this (probably putting it in one of the two Nations of Théah books), but that doesn’t mean I have to been keen on it. It’s nitpicky to be sure, but it almost feels unimaginative.

In a similar vein, the concept of time is really odd here; it’s hard to really pin down the timeline as to how long certain places have been founded, resided in, or even ruled. I don’t necessarily want a fully mapped out historical event timeline, but having a better feeling of the continuity would be really helpful here.

From a writing perspective, the work relies on too many ellipses (…). FAR too many of them, in my opinion. In fact, when I tried to help by submitting a ticket for this type of typo, there were dozens of errors (there were multiple instances of two periods instead of one or three, and some had four periods) as well as correct ellipses. Use of this literary technique is always interesting, but overuse detracts from general reading and pacing. I am hoping that the errors are remedied and that the number of ellipses is reduced in the final product.

But at least we get the Atabean Trading Company.
But at least we get the Atabean Trading Company…

With regards to rules: we do not get any additional rules for sea battles, monster fights, nautical travel, or anything else like that. For a book that introduces people of the sea, there is a severe lack of rules for being on the sea. We also lacked a few rules that I would have loved to see re-purposed from the first edition, such as inebriation, weather effects on travel, or even crazy stunts on a ship (including an entire combat style based on pirate tricks). I just feel as though there was a missed opportunity here.

While I am happy with some of the new additions, I’m wary about others.

One of the new additions a new knack called Speed Load, allows a character to reload a firearm in one round at the cost of a Hero Point instead of the usual five rounds. It is interesting, but I’m worried it may be a bit overkill (as firearms deal a Dramatic Wound). I’m also worried that this may be a headache in the future as it could set the stage for gunplay and gun-based Duelist styles, which was one of the most broken aspects of the first edition (a “swordsman school” that focused on pistols and dealt massive amounts of damage).

It does surely make militia-type characters and musketeers interesting.
It does surely make militia-type characters and musketeers interesting.

The biggest part of the book I am wary of are in the new character options, namely the new Duelist styles and the new Sorceries.

==The Wary: Duelist Styles==

In this book, we are given three new Duelist styles. In the core rulebook, it costs 5 points to take the Duelist Academy Advantage to learn a style (or take the Duelist background), but in Pirate Nations, there are backgrounds for each of the new styles that grant these styles at a discount. Even when I voiced my concerns on Reddit, I was given a reply from a writer stating “We are actively attempting to prevent power creep in the game”, followed by assurances from Michael Curry (one of the devs) that this was intentional and the discounts apply only on these Backgrounds as you don’t get to “choose” which style you take (unlike Duelist which lets you choose).

Mechanically, this is bothersome for a number of reasons.

Primarily, it sets the precedent for discounted Duelist Academy advantages with set backgrounds, which does skew the balance a bit. Normally, Duelist as a background only grants the Duelist Academy Advantage, and that’s it. Now, characters from these set Nations (and only these Nations) that choose these backgrounds gain an additional Advantage, which means there’s the possibility of seeing one for each nation and fighting style (if we’re being fair, that is). The end result isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the long run, but it does create issues now.

Not as pressing as this guy’s, but still pressing.

One of those issues is balance, and possibly a retcon issue for active players. Players who already have a focused swordsman from a specific nation were not able to gain such a benefit, as the Duelist background only gives Duelist Academy. Basically, any new characters that join in or are created from these nations that wish to study these styles will gain a perk while players that are not from these nations lose out. This also influences newly added player characters, as they will be given a head start.

This head start comes about due to how these new backgrounds tamper with the numbers by giving players of these nations that choose these backgrounds an additional 2 point advantage; not only does this skew the advantages in their favor (especially with the limited number of advantages so far), but it also skews the math for freeform character creation (a pet project of mine for troublesome character designs).

There’s a potential power creep here, and that concerns me. As previously mentioned, these backgrounds give an additional 2 point Advantage, which skews the advantage point-wise to the characters from these Nations that select these backgrounds. While it doesn’t sound like much, note that Duelist Academy is normally a 5 point Advantage, and the Advantages are set on a scale of 1-5; it’s a free boost for taking an assigned style that’s set “at home.” A brand new group of starting players will show that the point edge has literally be handed to these three backgrounds, and those perks can be quite useful.

Additionally, if a character already has Duelist Academy, any additional styles they study are only three points instead of five. With this discounted approach from the background, there’s no reason why a character from these nations that wishes to be good at combat to purchase Student of Combat (as their background technically gives it for three points), and they also have a head start of learning other styles. While we do not have major benefits for multiple styles (yet), it does set the stage for potential breaks in the future.

It just feels sloppy to introduce it in such a manner. Just my opinion, of course, but it leads to potential issues in the long run.

Which brings me to the three styles themselves and the issue of “balance.” The three styles that are introduced in this book are: Lakedaimon Agoge, Bugu Takobi, and Jogo de Dentro.

Bugu Takobi gives you a move that prevents wounds like a Parry, and deal +1 wound on your next attack. It’s like a Parry meets Feint, and has some potential. I rather like it.

Jogo de Dentro sounds very much like Capoeira (unpredictable dancing-like style) with improvised blades (glass, razors, etc). This style gives a technique that basically replicates Bash (1 wound, reduce damage equal to Weaponry), but against two targets. The school also gives you a bonus die when using one of four different skills if you can describe how it helps you with the task. If anything, this style may be the best of the three in this book, and grants a benefit that may be better than others in set circumstances.

The final style, Lakedaimon Agoge, I had high hopes for, but they were dashed on the rocks like an imperfect Spartan child. The style covers three weapons, of which you choose one (unless you buy a 2 point advantage for an additional weapon): Spear, Sword, or Bow. Each one of these gives you a small bonus (using Aim instead of Weaponry for the bow, bonus to Athletics for the spear, and +1 to Initiative in your first action when using the sword). The only good thing to the school (besides offering the Bow as a solid weapon) is the modified Lunge (no longer making it a last-ditch action in combat). I want to like this style, I really do, but I feel as though it’s underpowered compared to everything else we have so far.

These styles do make me wish for a Grand Master option again (2 style bonuses at the same time), but I don’t think we’ll be seeing anything close to that.

Judging by his smug look, he probably found a way to do it!
Judging by his smug look, he probably found a way to do it!

From a different mechanical standpoint, I’m not quite sure how I feel about some advantages; some feel overpriced (such as a 4 point advantage that allows you to speak a sentence/ask a question and get a reply from someone related to you at the cost of a Hero Point per exchange), and others bring up questions of scaling (“magical” items that cost 4 points and requires you to give up a part of your body when compared to the Signature Item advantage that costs 3 points and has protections so you don’t lose them). We also see more of the 4 point “magical” advantages, which I’m usually wary about due to their rather potent capabilities that don’t seem properly scaled across the board.

==The Ambivalent: Sorcery==

My biggest point of ambivalence rests with the Sorceries. I like some parts of them, but others I feel are just odd (or oddly placed).

Kap Sèvi functions very much like voodoo is portrayed in other games: the character invokes one of these beings, and gains temporary powers in exchange for being unable to access their Virtues or Quirks. Mechanically, it looks sound, but it just seems odd that we get a Voodoo/Santeria-like power in a Pirate book and not in the Ifri book (which is where the magic originates from according to the setting).

We also get Mohwoo, which is basically magical tattoos that move and grant special powers, but it takes away any other magical ability you may have access to. The tattoos are from Cathay (China), granted by a woman named Wenshen (which is Chinese for tattoo) or one of her trainees, and some of the powers temporarily duplicate other abilities (Major Anchor temporarily mimics Porte’s tracking, for example). Interesting abilities, just iffy on the portrayal.
(And for those who have followed Wick’s career and previous games with AEG, it is a bit reminiscent of the Tattooed Monks from L5R’s Dragon Clan)

Mystirios is from Numa and allows characters to tap into legends of the old gods to awaken their potential as heroes. These powers range from lingering effects on the low end to more powerful one-off effects at the end. I want to like it, but a part of it smacks up against the idea of Glamour (unlocking your own power via myth vs carrying the mantle of a legend). I’m not quite certain on the balance side, as these powers range from healing after every action to multiple ways to negate the penalties from Pressure. Some can be a bit powerful (like dealing damage to anything that harms an ally) while others are rather limited (prolonging consequences). There’s some good, but some that were kind meh. I absolutely love how there’s a Villain-only power in this sorcery, which inspires me (and other GMs) to create more Villain-only options in the future. Precedent is set, so why not? This is probably one of the cooler aspects of this book, and I plan on taking advantage of it.

I'll be feeling like her when I get to use the current one and make some new ones.
I’ll be feeling like her when I get to use the current one and make some new ones.

Finally, we have Charter magic. This is basically the magic of contracts, so to speak; you gain bonuses (“free” dice in a shared pool) as long as you are abiding by the contract you’ve signed, and take penalties when you are going against it. I find it interesting considering the setting, superstition, and importance of a ship’s charter, but mechanically I’m not sure how well it’ll hold water. It is nice that it doesn’t have a mechanical cost, but it seems there’s very little reason for groups to not sign a charter (and there’s TECHNICALLY nothing against the group using this for their own crew, whether or a ship or otherwise).

==The Verdict==

In the end, I’m giving Pirate Nations 3.5 Buns.

Rating 3.5 Stars

Like the Core Rulebook, we have some solid artwork (so far; I’m expecting more good art in the future), clear rules, and some tidbits of fiction tossed in when needed. We also see an expansion to the metaplot, something that is very much needed after the core rulebook’s release and the lack of a GM guide to fill in the gaps.

Overall, it’s a great first setting book with new locales, new characters, and plenty of tips for new and old fans of the setting. It does have a bit of potential power creep and raises a number of questions regarding how certain things are scaled (which does bother me quite a bit), but not enough to ignore the plethora of setting information. Even with the faults regarding balance concerns and wonky timeline, I’d say it’s a must-have book for anyone running 7th Sea Second Edition.

7th Sea: Pirate Nations is available as a PDF to the backers of the Kickstarter at the Scholar level ($40) or higher, and will be available for purchase via DriveThruRPG.


==Final Thoughts==

While I am enjoying a number of elements of 7th Sea Second Edition, the two recent books (and some elements of the first book) are starting to give me a few concerns. Some elements of the books, and therefore the overall game, are feeling sloppy; it feels as though ideas that should have been core mechanics are being bolted on as quickly as possible, and that some elements of the game were not as well tested as they could have been, whether it is in the discussion of how Brutes are impacted by Pressure, how to handle the game after five players, or even guidelines regarding the balance of the game.

I am still a fan of exploring the various parts of Théah, and am really curious where the new game will take us, but I am hoping that the future books are better tested, better edited, and overall just better instead of that odd feeling of being pushed out as fast as possible. One can always hope…

And hopefully the wait won't be in vain!
And hopefully the wait won’t be in vain!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s