Riding the Sands: 7th Sea and the Crescent Empire

While the meat of the action of 7th Sea has traditionally taken place in mainland Théah and the open seas, the second edition offered the promise of fleshing out the rest of Terra (Earth), beginning with the Crescent Empire.

In the first edition, we only saw information for the Crescent Empire in one book before the game went to d20 rules, and from which point we saw the land of the Sidhe, Cathay, and the Midnight Archipelago, so knowing that the rest of the world will now be mapped out properly instead of just vaguely is something both interesting and appealing.

In any case, the first step outside of Théah, not including the “Pirate Nations” (which really are just outside the mainland when you think about it), is the Crescent Empire, the 7th Sea parallel to Western Asia.

==The Pitch==

The book offers insight to a mysterious part of the world known as The Crescent Empire, so named because of a desert known as “The 8th Sea” having the shape of a crescent moon.

Within the book, we are to see a story of a dethroned sultan plotting to reclaim his throne with aid of his otherworldly-possessed lover, a place where Jinn are awakening and craving their old powers, five major locations/Nations within the empire, Poetry Duels (what?!), and new rules, including Mass Combat.

==What You Get==

The book weighs in at 208 pages, not including the map of the Empire at the back of the book. This puts it in the same range as the previous Nations of Théah books (207 and 208 for volumes 1 and 2, respectively).

The chapter breakdown is rather simple, with introductions and fiction offered early in the book, setting information for each new Nation, then all the mechanics tucked away into the last 50~ish pages.

The book delivers on it’s promise, as we see Mass Combat rules, rules for Poetic Duels (seriously!), and new materials to expand the world and player-options.

Dueling via Poetry? I’m intrigued…

==The Good==

As is the norm for most of the books, the artwork is lovely, with a number of the two-page bits of art being especially beautiful. There are a few duds with odd faces and a number with a more “grainy” feel to them (not sure if the grain is on purpose to represent the sand), but for the most part the art is solid and does add to the flavor of the setting.

Speaking of which, the setting info is a major draw for this book. It’s relatively easy to follow, well researched, and without major bias. It keeps the themes of 7th Sea’s swashbuckling and brings in that Eastern flair that makes it pop. While you can’t run this out of the box, you can run a Crescent game with this and the core rulebook and have a rich game to play.

They even have coffee. How is this a bad thing?

On a small, but personal, note: for once, we actually have a nuanced LGBTQ+ character. In previous books, we are given a throwaway note about a member of this community playing a role in Théah (like Elaine and her lovers, the husband of the former Czar, the fact that Count Verdugo has a “secret husband,” etc). These notes literally are mentioned but mean nothing; they don’t drive the plot forward, there’s not details about it, and the relationships are basically not important outside of being able to say “We have LGBTQ+ characters!”

This time we are given a character with some substance, a major role in the setting, reasoning for being a villain, and a psuedo-stat sheet. In fact, said character’s relationships are WHY he does what he does, so bringing up the relationship becomes a vital part of the story, and no, it’s not because of being LGBTQ+. I’m just shocked it took this long, but I am glad to see it, even if said character is a Villain.

From a layout perspective, I’m happy to say they’ve done another type of cleaning. In Pirate Nations, we had some wonky layout and bad pacing of things within the book, making it difficult to find rules and information. In both Nations of Théah books which came later, we had magic and duelist styles within the notes of their respective nation with an appendix of sorts to cover the “general” stuff (backgrounds, advantages, etc), meaning you were flipping back and forth in the book if you were comparing two things.

And as always, each Chapter gets some lovely two-page art inserts.

This time, plot details are broken down into chapters, with a chapter dedicated to the current state and history of the Empire, a chapter for each Nation within the Empire, and all of the rules (including character creation) being squirreled away in a single chapter. I find this layout to be superior to previous books, and it makes it feel more like the core rulebook as everything has a place and it moves well.

I’m also a bit of a fan about how detailed the information is regarding the setting. It’s one of the biggest draws I’ve had with 7th Sea is their combination of historic accuracy/information within the setting, and they’ve clearly not only done their homework, but did a stellar job with making the information for such a culturally rich area easily digestible for someone who is not that well-versed.

Some of the new magic is also interesting. As expected, many of the magics are tied to the religions of the area, and to gain the powers a character must be from these areas or complete a set task (i.e. a background) to acquire them. This is a cleaner description than previous sorceries (as they were generally “open” for anyone to acquire due to mostly being bloodline sorceries), and many of these new options are fitting. To sum up, you have one magic for miracles of various powers (involving the creation of “Wonders” and following a religious/philisophical Path for great power), one that allows creation of powerful items/tattoos but require abiding by a codified set of rules within a poem, one that grants the wings (and powers) of an angel, one magic that basically turns you into a type of genie (your soul is bound to an object, and the possessor controls you), and one sorcery that grants you control of and powers involving light and darkness.

I can see some potential combination of sorceries here, but it’s pretty awesome!

One of the major highlights of this book would have to be the newly created rules for Poetry Duels and Mass Combat.

Mass Combat is clean and efficient, and much easier to track than the mass combat rules of the first edition. Generals command armies to perform actions not unlike duelist actions, while other heroes can be assigned to units in battle to increase the chances of success by adding additional dice to the pool. While the rules are rather simple in the end, it is nice to see this permutation of the core mechanic in action while having some additional and fitting elements tossed in.

Poetry Duels, on the other hand, are created as an opposed task, and I have to say I rather like it. Duels are handled by three verses, each one representing one roll, and a skill cannot be repeated over the course of the duel. Players are also promoted to throw their own verse out there (fitting to the theme agreed upon for the duel, of course) and offered a bonus die instead.

The mechanics for the duel are a rather simple “Most Successes Wins”, with points and other bonuses awarded for each round. Unlike normal combat, a flat-out failure loses the duel.

Overall, Poetry Duels represent a form of Social Combat while still using the core mechanic and sticking with the narrative-first option for losing. There are a few differences in this, namely the introduction of “styles” a character can study (2 points each) to gain bonuses much as a swordsman would. There is also a note in the fluff that openly states that other Nations have similar duels (like the Vesten Skalds), which shows how it all ties together with the rest of the world. Excellent.

Finally, we are presented with four new dueling styles. We have a light-weapon school that makes targets bleed out (something new!), a blunt-weapon style that functions as an offensive or defensive super-Feint (not too new, but still fun), a heavy weapon style that reduces incoming damage from all targets that saw you (basically an expanded Bash; not horribly impressed), and a new bow school that mechanically works as a combination of Sabat and Agoge…as long as you are on a horse, anyway. These new styles do bring some worthwhile things to the table, but a few don’t bring in enough for my taste. Overall, it’s enough to fall into the “Good” category.

==The Bad==

One of my first issues is an editing gripe, but I don’t have much room to talk because I didn’t submit a ticket about it. One of the errors should have been easy to catch: there’s a sidebar with text that appears twice in the book, and one of those sidebars has empty space as though something else was supposed to go there. There’s also a few other minor tidbits here and there (like the Knack icon not being used, font color selection seems too odd, etc), but most of these won’t bother the casual observer.

Was getting this done in time a devil’s bargain?

Another issue I have is with the meta. Once again, we have potential Civil War on our hands with a dethroned sultan and his followers wishing to regain power from the newly elevated sultana. In fact, it’s not a matter of if, but when, as the book readily states “Conflict is inevitable, but the question of who will strike the first blow and where it will fall has yet to be determined.” This whole plotline and theme is used too much in 7th Sea so far, and the Crescent Empire currently has too many parallels with Avalon: new female ruler takes the throne, is loved by many (even in secret), overturns unfair laws, re-instated magic practice while becoming the head of local religion, and is hated by supporters of the former ruler who wishes to overthrow her.

How…original…

Granted, it’s a bit more complicated than that (the rise to power makes sense as it was due to an illegitimate claim and an assassination attempt), but with that general gist being the meat of why the Empire is how it is, especially with other forms of rebellion and infighting (like Numa), it feels uninspired. This uninspired feel is doubly visible with some of the portrayals of certain characters, societies, and ideas throughout the meta.

Another issue relating to the meta is the timeline. There’s some fiddly bits with dates and timelines that don’t make sense (yet again). For example, the core rulebook basically shows that the Vaticine faith is accepted in Théah at a specific date, but the First Prophet (that basically started the faith) isn’t born for another 100 years. Like Pirate Nations, the timeline just seems wonky and nearly impossible to track, and because of this wonkiness, makes it less interesting or credible in my eyes.

On a different note, I’m feeling kinda eh on the emphasis of religion within the text. At least two of the new sorceries carry heavy in-game religious connotations (and technically, religious requirements), and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I tend to keep the topic of religion light at my tables (i.e. two topics we leave at the door: religion and politics), and even playing a holy man in Deadlands tends to fall more to Shepherd Book than anything else.

 While this can be sidestepped with some interpretation, it may be a concern for some players while also being frustrating for other players/GMs that the Vaticines don’t have anything similar.

==The Verdict==

I’ve been warring over myself about what the final verdict would be for The Crescent Empire. It’s an interesting read (albeit tough; I’m bad at names in general and there are a lot of multi-part names thrown around), but it’s falling on the same problem as other books: recycle what you can.

That said, even though I am arguing with myself about the final score, I have to give The Crescent Empire 3.5 buns with a solid argument for 4 if I weren’t being so picky.

As much as I want to love it and give it that 4 due to how much cleaner this book is, some of the frustrating bits just kill it too much for me. I also know that some elements of this part of the book won’t be easily used at the gaming table due to the religious connotations of some of the abilities, while the inconsistencies and recycled parts of the meta drop the core.

All in all, I have to say that The Crescent Empire is probably the best 7th Sea book published after the core rulebook. It gives you everything you need for the game and setting of this part of the world while tying into the themes into the rest of the world.

7th Sea: The Crescent Empire was sent to backers this month, so orders for the book should be showing up at John Wick Presents in the next month or so, while the PDF should be available at DriveThruRPG sometime after GenCon.

 

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3 comments

  1. Are there any Barbary States analogue? I know technically they’re in Africa(or in this case Ifri) but they’re more or less part of the “arab” culture/folklore.

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    • I’m not 100% certain on that, as I am not well versed enough in the region’s to be able to to point out that analogy. Judging by the looks of things, I’d have to say “No,” but I could be wrong.

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      • I feared this would happen when they apparently took of the Mediterranean. A shame really because piracy in a f!Mediterranean would have an interesting atmosphere and some really cool archetypes

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