Backers of 7th Sea’s Second Edition Kickstarter were sent the early release of Nations of Théah: Volume 2 at the end of April, but I am a bit behind schedule with reading it due to Blackstone Raids, CharCon Bonus Round, and taking care of things around the house (so no, I couldn’t submit any errors to the survey before they sent this to the printer).
Now that I’m slowly getting back on track, I’m here to present you with some insight as to what will be offered in Nations of Théah: Volume 2!
As previously mentioned (and like my review of Nations of Théah: Volume 1), this is the early release of the document, so it is missing art, is rife with errors, and may have rules that will change. Not everything will be the same, but at the same time, not much will change in the final draft if the previous books are to be taken as examples. Take this review with this fact in mind.
Nations of Théah: Volume 2 is to complete what Volume 1 began: flesh out the rest of the Nations within the continent of Théah with politics, story hooks, legends, and for players, more options in the form of duelist styles, magic options, and Advantages. The Nations covered in this book are Eisen, Ussura, Vodacce, and most importantly, the long awaited Sarmatian Commonwealth.
From a player standpoint, the book expands on the options available to players. Like Volume 1, we are given a new duelist style for each Nation (many are rather fitting, like Eisen’s style focusing on blades/broken swords, the Sarmatian style best used from horseback, the fisticuffs style of Ussura, and and environment-using style of Vodacce), more notes of magic for each Nation, and of course, new Advantages/backgrounds. As a player and GM, all of this is rather useful.
Speaking of, we FINALLY have an explanation of Sanderis, including how the deivas are perceived by and interact with the sorcerer, the breakdown of the society that orders the group, and the nature of the Seventh Deal. I won’t go into too many details of the Seventh Deal as it’s a major plot point (and one of the biggest saving graces of this book), but it’s nice to have it explained instead of just being alluded to.
One nice perk of this book that I know I, as well as others, were waiting for: the Sarmatian Commonwealth. We are given more information about this new Nation, from the political workings to how to properly pronounce the names/words we are presented with. If you want to play a proper Sarmatian hero, then you should absolutely be looking at this book.
Speaking of the Commonwealth, the opening fiction of the book is based on the Commonwealth, and I found it to be one of the more intriguing bits of fiction writing so far. There’s no swashbuckling or sword swinging, but rather a proper bit of campfire storytelling, legend spinning, and foreshadowing of what you’ll see later, as well as setting the tone for the Nation. Top notch work there!
I’ll be blunt: this book has more problems than good things, with the biggest problem is the metaplot. I’ve gone on a swearing tirade about the level of garbage within the writing of the current metaplot, to the point my wife has stated she would question my sanity if she were not a fellow writer, editor, and former English major.
First nail with the metaplot: there’s a lack of information. For example, when the Kickstarter launched, we were given a quickstart packet which explained the situation that was occurring in the Commonwealth, namely the coup that was taking place against the current king due to his passing of Golden Liberty. The packet was vague in how things end (there could be an army at the Prince’s back as he reclaims the throne), but there’s zero explanation as to how things ended. We are just handed the country as-is, the coup briefly mentioned (with rumblings of a new coup), and no further details outside of a single noble losing his title (and it being passed to his daughter, who appeared in the adventure). This is rather sad, as it means that the adventure had no real conclusion and there is nothing new going on there.
This lack of information often shows up as inconsistencies or general lack of information for the characters. For example, Niklas Trage runs the “Free City” of Freiburg, of which there are barely any laws and many flock there for business while Trage simply watches and drinks. For a character who has seen horrors, war, is dealing with ennui, wants to be as hands-off as possible with running his region, and won’t undertake the effort to clear a part of the woods for caravans, he will suddenly decide meet the witch of a different forest to make a deal for caravans passing through. Seems rather odd and out of character.
This continues on with some of the other characters and ideas. For example, Von Wirsche is believed to be a vampire, but nothing in the text will confirm or deny it. Throughout the Ussura chapter, we are given various notes about Matushka, yet no solid reasons as to why she has not stepped into the argument over who should be the new czar (nor are we given her actual goals). We are not given any information of substance on the majority of the Merchant Princes of Vodacce; in fact, we are given information on one prince, while the others are given barely a sentence.
We also get this for other parts of the book, such as no further detail on Dracheneisen, what sort of “items” Matushka gives to those she tests, what is the real deal with General Winter, and more. This trend continues throughout the material; plenty of hooks are there, but there’s no substance to it.
Once again, I feel that characters were rather flat as a whole, and doubly so with the Commonwealth (this may be due to the Nation being new and the lack of prior resources to pull from). The relationships of these characters, as a whole, feel like an afterthought, and those of non-traditional relationships are still feeling exploitative. For example, there’s an Ussuran woman who had a “string of lovers” before finally ending with a woman named Ekaterina; their relationship is basically summed up as “there were feelings, stopped her husband, then living together.” One of the Eisenfursten was rumored to have a male lover who, upon dying, caused said Eisenfursten to go into a delusional state; this speculation is a single sentence (added in after commenting about the rest of said Eisenfursten’s losses). There’s also a note that the now-dead Czar was a homosexual (and his entire story, relationship and all, sums up to two sentences), and there’s a theory that a disgraced Vodacce man may have lost his husband. The most in-depth non-hetero relationship we have portrayed is a courtesan who takes partners from both genders and supports any of those under her to do the same.
The final note for the writing: it’s just…trash. It continues to smack of a poorly written YA novel. Allow me to elaborate.
The beginning of the book explains “The State of Things,” which boils down to each of the four Nations within this book being on a state of Civil War. It gets worse from there.
Eisen is ruled by Eisenfursten that are sizing each other up to see who will take over the Nation, but there is the illegitimate daughter of the former Imperator (emperor) that has built up an army of soldiers and who was visited by the ancient witch of the land in a dream, claiming she will be the new ruler of Eisen.
The Sarmatian Commonwealth has “new nobles” in the form of peasants elevated to nobility with Golden Liberty, and the old nobles that do not wish to give up their power. There is a potential coup brewing, and even the nobles are planning yet another attempt to claim the throne before the current king passes.
Ussura currently has two rulers: the wife and disowned son of the previous Czar. Normally, Matushka gives her blessing to the ruler and everyone follows them (think of Divine Right), but she has not stepped in to settle this. The ruling families are debating how to handle this without Matushka’s input, and a civil war is on the horizon.
Vodacce is, simply put, a bit of a mess. The State of Things at the beginning state that the common people chomp at the bit due to serving under the princes and want change, that the rules governing commoner and noble are ready to break, and the Princes may have an upcoming war sooner rather than later (doubly so with the notes on Prince Mondavi). In the end, we see more stirrings from Secret Societies undermining princes and the people shaking things up here and there, but nothing really jumps out as being revolutionary…yet.
Overall, just REALLY bad and sloppy writing, with a feel that it’s more of a loose sandbox than an actual setting with a metaplot, and it’s killing my love of the game, doubly so since what I loved so much from the 1st Edition was the metaplot.
Next on the list: I felt the Sorcery options in this particular volume to be rather lacking. To break it down: Hexenwerk (Eisen) is basically tweaked ever-so-slightly to allows monster parts instead of undead parts, a few minor new options added to work with this reskinned option, and a warning of “overeating” that makes little sense in the overall text. Sanderis (Sarmatian Commonwealth) doesn’t gain anything new, but rather the rather important (and I believe necessary) information that should have been in the book in the first place. Dar Matushki (Ussura) is given a minor tweak to give alternative ways to gain power, while Tura’s Touch is added in; this works mechanically almost identically to Dar Matushki, but with some minor flavor changes (due to Tura being Matushka’s “husband” that works against her). Sorte (Vodacce) gains an “Untrained” option which reduces the cost but adds a randomness to the effects. Overall, outside of Sanderis, I’m not horribly impressed by what is offered here.
Finally, there’s a pair of pet peeves in the tail end of the book in the Advantages section. First, there’s a new advantage for 5 points that allows players to gain a Monstrous Quality…but every time it is used, it gives a point of Corruption, and if you hit 10 Corruption, you immediately become a Monster; not a Villain that can be redeemed, but a Monster to be slain. Basically, if you buy this prohibitively expensive ability, you are eventually removing your character from play; it’s not very balanced nor very fun, in my opinion.
Then there’s a new advantage called “Penny Pincher”…and outside of the name and flavor text, it’s an exact copy of an advantage that was posted in a thread of fan-created 1 point advantages that I started in September 2016. It makes me wonder if the crew JWP really is lurking on unofficial forums for ideas and just taking what they want, especially after some of the stuff I saw in Volume 1.
==The Still To Be Determined==
The one variable that is still mostly unknown is artwork. Most of the artwork in the book is not available, and we are presented with blue splotches throughout the book where art should be.
So far, I’m on the fence. Some of the landscapes are beautifully rendered, while other bits of the art feel a little lackluster and blurry. I’m hoping that the rest of the art will blow this out of the water like we’ve seen with the other books.
One thing I am hoping that will be good: maps. One of my favorite parts of the old Nations of Théah books was the breakdown of each Nation into various maps. If Volume 1 is any indication, we’ll have functional, but not highly detailed, maps.
At this time, without any drastic changes to the product, I’d have to give Nations of Théah: Volume 2 a paltry 2.5 buns.
While there are some interesting things in the book, namely the insight of the Sarmatian Commonwealth, the poor quality of writing the metaplot, inconsistencies within said metaplot (and lack of connection to previous plot threads), and the general plummeting quality of the materials, I am having difficulty rating the book any higher.
While there may be some changes in the final product (again, my copy was an early release), I do not believe there will be a big enough set of changes to bring the product from the tailspin we are seeing.
Personally, I’m finding the publication choice to be part of the problem; John Wick Presents and company are purposely omitting information and leaving us hanging, leaving an incomplete feeling within the books. I think we’d have a better product line if we had complete nation books as we had in the previous editions, or even more information available regarding the setting and metaplot. Right now, it’s weak, and the writing seems to rely more on tropes, baiting, and exploitation than actual good ideas.
We’re also seeing more of a sandbox than an actual setting; we’re given the bare bones and expected to fill in the gaps. This is even more disconcerting with the Explorer’s Society being implemented; a way for fans to write their own materials and be published via DriveThruRPG, which could really skew how players view things (as well as shooting forum discussions in the foot, as people would rather sell their work instead of sharing it).
Nations of Théah Volume 2 has an estimated PDF release of mid-June (according to the most recent update) with a print copy available to order not long afterward. If you are a completionist, have been enjoying the metaplot (unlike me), and want a few new rules and duelist schools for 7th Sea 2nd Edition, then you should pick it up. Otherwise, give it a pass, as there isn’t enough meat in the book to warrant the price tag, and the most worthwhile part of the book is the section on the Sarmatian Commonwealth.
==Still To Come?==
The May update went live yesterday, but I am curious if the schedule can be upheld. As part of the update, we were given word regarding the Pirate’s Booty (dice, Sorte/tarot cards, hero point tokens, and Hero/Villain decks) and GM Screen, so instead of waiting and taking advantage of doing a bulk order with free shipping, I went ahead and ordered mine (estimated ETA of mid-June) so I can offer you all a review and to see if this was worth the wait (and the cost, of course).
The production schedule was also updated. Backers were given access to the novel “Born Under A Black Flag” to offer input on errors before it goes to the printer, with surveys due next weekend (a deadline I MIGHT be able to meet with the holiday coming up). We were also informed that The Crescent Empire should be in our hands in June, The New World should be sent out in July, and the others are still in the air based on how things go (and considering the changes with The New World, it’s hard to tell).
As always, whenever something arrives, I will be reading it and giving feedback here as soon as possible. I just hope that it gets better after this.
Other than 7th Sea, I still have quite the list of other materials on my docket, including my recent backing of Cortex Prime, my anticipated arrival of a copy of the special edition of “Blades in the Dark“, a comparison of real and fake Figma figures, movie reviews, and so much more. Stay tuned for more review shenanigans!