Once again, it’s time for another 7th Sea 2nd Edition review! This time, I’ve decided to give you a review of the early draft of Nations of Théah: Volume 1. While there are a number of errors that need to be rectified in the final draft (I think I had more than half a dozen tickets in the first two chapters), there’s some interesting things in this book…as well as a number of headaches that make me fear for the franchise and begin to lose faith in the line.
So what’d we get? Let’s take a look!
Nations of Théah: Volume 1 is the first book to expand on the story and background of mainland Théah. As you may guess with the “Volume 1” at the end of the title, the entire mainland is not covered, but rather the western portion is: Avalon, Castille, Montaigne, and Vestenmennavenjar (hereafter listed as “Vesten”).
==What You Get==
In this 200+ page book, we are brought up to speed with regards to the history and current events of Avalon, Castille, Montaigne, and Vesten. We are given expansions to the Sorceries of each of these Nations, new swordsman styles, Advantages, Backgrounds, and enough GM material to keep a game going.
Like Pirate Nations and the Core Rulebook, the artwork is solid. There are some parts of the book that are still unaccounted for (and have sketches as placeholders), but the artwork continues on the trend. I’m loving that and the ideas that such artwork would give.
We are also given new swordsman styles in this book. Like Pirate Nations, each style is “home” within a certain Nation (with a Background that gives that style at a discount; yes, I still have a problem with that). On a plus side, each style does feel more balanced than what we had in Pirate Nations, and there’s room for expansion to be sure.
The four styles are Skatha’s Cleasa in Avalon (any weapon, free-movement style with a leap attack maneuver), Siqueira in Castille (a club/staff style that Pressures your target to attack you but you get a free counterattack), DeVore from Montaigne (a fencing style that allows you to negate all damage to you or an ally), and Hallbjorn from Vesten (sword and shield style with a more powerful Feint maneuver). While there were some typo and omission concerns with this draft, I’m quite happy with the styles.
With this in mind, there was another fun thing introduced in this book: new Advantages. Many of the new Advantages have prerequisites, and they are rather fun. While some are variants of others (Into the Fray and Whirlwind of Steel are variants of Reckless Takedown), there’s one that really jumped out to me: Adaptive Duelist, an Advantage that allow a character to change styles in the middle of a round as long as they are using a weapon that matches each style. Not quite the Grandmaster level I miss from 1st Edition, but there’s a step to help create it.
There’s also expansion regarding the Sorceries from each country. Glamour is expanded with some new abilities which involve further embodying one of the Knights, Alchemy is elaborated on to appear more like an actual Sorcery with new effects (instead of the 4 point Alquimista advantage from the core book), and the Vesten now have a new rune magic in the form of Galdr (a name reminiscent of the shamanistic magic of Scandinavian countries).
My favorite change would have to be with Porte. While I love Glamour and Laerdom from 1st Edition, Porte was always a magic I wanted to play with but never had a chance to do so properly. The new changes give alternate powers and potential tweaks to the sorcery (some of which I stated on forum posts in January and possibly earlier), like losing the ability to open portals but being able to teleport to areas within eyesight (like Blink from Dishonored), or changing the nature of Marks from objects marked with blood to things that meet specific criteria (like artifacts that are contested), and there’s a whole explanation regarding why sorcerers keep their eyes closed within it (and what happens if you open your eyes). These aren’t for everyone, but there’s some fun to be explored here.
Some of the new setting info is great, but my favorite part, hands down, consist of the plot hooks in the “Legends” section of each chapter (including monsters, rumors, and legitimate legends), and there’s some much-needed information about the culture of each land. While some details are still lacking (in-depth info on the rulers, their goals, etc), it’s a step in the right direction. My favorite, by far, would be the aforementioned Legends section. While the “official” word is what is listed, some of these ideas as so much cooler with the supernatural bend to them (and it’s easy to tweak them as you see fit).
My biggest gripe with the book is within the writing. Stylistically it’s not horrible, but we do have various sentences begin with “But”, a number of oddly short sentences instead of compound sentences, numerous odd comma placements, informal tone, and more. This is mostly nitpicky bits as a former English/Writing Major, but as a reviewer with that background, it’s an issue.
Another writing issue revolves around omission. For example, we are given Skatha’s Cleasa, but unlike the other three styles, we are not given a weapon for it. I thankfully got an answer from a dev on this (any weapon, period), but it was odd to omit it. There’s also hints that there should be more cleasa (tricks or techniques) out there, even within Skatha’s, but there’s not input or rulings on that.
Other omissions include the references to Lawrence Lugh but not giving any actual details about him (outside of him being the queen’s lover), the Rossini style (halberd and short sword; sounds like Agoge) is mentioned in the Castille chapter but is not expanded on, and brujas are also mentioned in the Castille chapter but no explanation regarding what type of “magic” they use is present.
The book also omits a timeline, which is necessary at this point. I have a hard time telling how long ago the War of the Cross ended, especially since Count Verdugo was a Cardinal during that time (and he’s now in his 70s). I’d like to know when the Civil War in Avalon officially ended and when the war between Castille and Montaigne ended, but we don’t get that. It’s something from 1st Edition that I sorely miss.
From a layout perspective, I don’t know if I really liked the idea of putting the magic and duelist styles within each Nation’s chapter. It’s fitting for the Nation, of course, but I feel it makes it harder to find the information you want when you need it. I think Pirate Nations had the better approach with that, as all of the rules information were sequestered away from the setting info (and therefore easier to find).
There’s another issue with writing, and it’s along the line of contradictions within the setting. For example, there’s commentary that in Sidhe-controlled lands in Avalon, the number of those capable of using magic being born has increased, yet the only magic of Avalon is Glamour…of which there are only twelve Knights. When I asked a dev about this, I was told “magic” is just a catch-all here, but could not get confirmation about what it entails.
I was also pointing out the new Favor rules with the Sidhe with regards to this; mechanically, you can cash in Favor to gain access to Glamour temporarily, and more Favor can be spent to increase the power or the time. This gives Glamour to someone without Sorcery and who isn’t a Knight. With this in mind, couldn’t one assume that it’s possible to make a bargain with a Sidhe and gain it permanently? Still fitting in the system, and wouldn’t be TOO hard to flesh out (would require some tweaks to Glamour), but the dev I spoke with wouldn’t touch the topic. So now we have the contradiction of gaining Glamour without the mantle of a Knight and the blessing of the Graal; joyous wonder of joys (and now I want to officially re-write Glamour).
Finally, I’m starting to feel like the metaplot is becoming a bad Young Adult novel. Within the first half of the book, we learn that Queen Elaine has two lovers (her knight, Lawrence Lugh, and Colleen MacLeod, an ambassador from the Marches), making her a polyamorous bisexual, and that Count Verdugo, the leader of the Inquisition, and therefore (arguably) the Church and Castille, has a husband in secret, making him a homosexual (odd for the in-game version of the Catholic Church). Both Avalon and Castille are on the verge of a Civil War, with Castille having a pair of twins taking turns as King and one of whom is now taken by the Inquisition to be a puppet while the other is elsewhere. Montaigne is also a powder keg (fitting for the French Revolution), which means that THREE of four countries in this book are about to have Civil Wars (and let’s not talk about what other books have in store).
It’s just…sloppy writing and playing up on tropes that sell in novels. I’m not digging that as there are better ways to do things with these ideas.
While I also love the new Sorceries, I don’t find them well fleshed, written, or planned out. For example, Galdr looks cool in theory, but using the name “Futhark” for the runes and only having twelve characters (and they are more like pictographs instead of letters by the description) is a bit odd. The magic also has odd wording, like “inflict the rune’s drawback on the Hero,” but only a few of the runes have a penalty to go with the bonus. I found that rather lackluster, as the description of the magic revolves around balance. The magic itself is also a two-for-one, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that; it’s literally two simultaneous effects at once.
The new Glamour has been losing a number of points in my book. In the core book, it directly states that you are only carrying the mantle of a Knight and that you are not that Knight, yet the only way to truly unlock your potential with Glamour is to change everything about you character to become more like that Knight until you match them. That’s. . .not really that great. You’re basically taking your character and forcing them into another character just to gain power; rather sad for a Nation that strives to make their own stories and legends.
Alchemy looks great in theory, but is useless to the swashbuckler that travels (unless they somehow have a traveling laboratory on a ship…but since things can explode, this is unlikely). The abilities offered are more like samples, which thankfully leaves things open, but that’s the only real perk; the creation limitations of these concoctions is a real pain here. The mastery of Alchemy is also odd, as the character takes a 5 step Story to do so, but the effects of unlocking that ability are essentially up to the GM and the options are vague (and samples given often involve losing what you’ve gained). I’m less than impressed by all this.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the world between explained in Porte: I love knowing that there’s another world to explore, but the description is too much like a bad cross of the Umbra from the World of Darkness and the NeverNever from The Dresden Files: many parts of the realm are like our own but have places that haven’t stood for hundreds of years still intact, and it’s shaped by the dreams of mortals. I like the idea of having such a place, but it has too many problems such as the fast increase of Corruption (on average, 2 per session) with the instant character loss at 10 Corruption, as well as the rather vague notions of being trapped and how to escape (which often includes more Corruption).
The more I read, the more I wanted to just start rewriting things, and that’s never a good say.
Nations of Theah Volume 1 is netting 3 buns from me, and I’m feeling generous there. For someone that isn’t jaded, this would be a 4 bun book.
I mention being jaded about the series, and I plan on touching on that in a future review (because that’s a full-blown rant waiting to happen). But for now, I can say this: Nations of Théah Volume 1 follows the trend of the previous books with excellent art (at least from what I’ve seen), new player additions, and works to expand the metaplot.
While I am not confident with the direction of said metaplot, I am still happy to see that we have a continuation of the series. I just hope that it improves.
Nations of Théah: Volume 1 was available to backers in mid-February with edits due before late February. It is expected to see the final PDF release available on DriveThruRPG some time this month.