Entering the Unknown: 7th Sea New World

It’s been a while since I’ve done any exploration of Théah in review form, and thanks to backing the 7th Sea 2nd Edition Kickstarter, I now have a new book to jump into.

The early peek of the New World book dropped just a few days before the Khitai Kickstarter went live (and cleared the 50k goal within a few hours), giving us something to read while we waited for the chance to throw money at the screen (or, in my case, consider how much to throw at the screen; I’m getting the PDFs at least).

So how is the New World portrayed? Is it the land of gold, mystery, monsters and savages that we are all lead to believe? Read and find out!

Writer’s Note: As previously stated, this is the early copy of the book. Some changes will be made before it goes final and goes to print.
That said, I’m not expecting much to change if the previous books taught us anything, so I’m giving you the full, honest, review.

==The Pitch==

The New World takes us to Terra’s Western and Southern Hemisphere to the land of Aztlan (what we in our world call South America). It is a land of “larger than life adventures and a place where literal gods walk the earth.” It is a land that was once a mighty empire, but after the Fall, the people split and the land changed (and is still ever-changing), leaving alliances and empires struggling to maintain their positions or the increase their standing.

==What You Get==

The New World has just shy of 200 pages in the early copy, weighing in just below the previous titles. This will probably change once the index and cover pages are added, but content wise is looking at least in the same ballpark as previous splatbooks.

For players and GMs alike, The New World brings in new resources in the guide of three new Nations (Nahuacan Allians, Tzak K’an, and the Kuraq Empire), rules for the creation of Aztlani characters, a new land for Théan characters to explore, and of course new rules including Sorcery, Advantages, Duelist Styles, and Ship Backgrounds.

Of the current 197 pages, 153 of them are dedicated to the setting, with the last 44 pages dedicated to placeholders for an index and actual mechanics.

Is there still more to come? If so, will it come peacefully?

==The Good==

I’m not going to lie: there’s not enough RPGs out there that cover South America in general, much less during the Renaissance/Age of Exploration. I mean, there’s at least one coming out called Dragons Conquer America (the Quickstart rules being a review for next week), and some pirate/Caribbean games at least mention South America, but it doesn’t get that much love. Seriously, I think the closest we get are these people being portrayed as “savages” in most Age of Exploration games, a temporary backdrop for adventures in WoD, and gimmicky areas for D&D (Maztica, anyone?) and RIFTS. I’m not expert on the tribes and cultures, but it seems that at least a few of the big ones are touched in The New World, and they are made into something more than “just savages.” Considering the detail put into this, it’s worth more than just a few points.

Some of the plot hooks (most of the setting info is a plot hook, though) are actually rather fun. Kreuzritter and Vagabundos working together. The Vendel League’s monopoly against the knowledge collected by Aztlan natives. Théan Inquisitors against Aztlani religion (and their living gods). Traders on both sides against various markets and demands (with some murder tossed in). All in all, there’s lots of fun ideas to chew on and bring to the table.

This is doubly true as some elements from other books are further expanded, namely “missing” characters and various plots that were hinted in previous books that were left hanging. There’s not enough of it in my opinion, but there’s some good stuff here if you are following the new canon.

While previous works made me feel like there was a bit of exploitation with regards to gender and sexuality topics (a topic that was slightly redeemed in The Crescent Empire), there’s one note within the Tzak K’an section that discusses non-binary genders and even gender fluidity. Granted, it’s only a paragraph, but considering that many native peoples throughout the world had beliefs like this, I find it an interesting addition.

We need more of this in our society with how people are acting on the subject.

For a player and GM looking at mechanical bits, this book has some new fun Advantages, including a “Parting Shot” advantage for both combat and social encounters (something I find to be rather fun), “Play Possum” to get out of bad things at the end of combat, and some other Advantages that play with the new rules included at the end of the book.

As other books, we have more Virtue/Hubris options, Story options, and three new Organizations/Secret Societies to be a part of.  We also have new Ship Origins, Backgrounds, and Adventures to expand the selection of ships or to add new flavor to a favorite ship. None of these are inherently broken and many are interesting, if a bit lacking (I would LOVE more details about the Were-Jaguars).

The two new Sorceries are also rather interesting, and have great flavor, honestly.

Wayak’ Kan, the sorcery of Tzak K’an, is a magic that uses a minor sacrifice (in this case, a single Wound) to summon a legendary item or spirit to assist the player for a Scene, and the powers granted by this item or spirit will require Hero Points each time (usually re-rolls, special attacks/defenses, and specialized effects like safe passage or summoning a swarm of bats).

As Kuraq has a type of Death Magic that plays a major part in the setting, we are given rules for it in the form of Wañuy Ñaqay. This sorcery consists of relying on dead ancestors and what would be considered Necromancy, including restoring the dead to life, destroying/stalling undead creatures, and even relying on memories of your ancestors.

Good flavor and not an unbalanced sorcery, in my opinion. I also need to emphasize the flavor part, as most games that portray Mayan/Aztec magic play on the ritual sacrifices, to the point that it’s overly focused (and even obsessed) with that element. I’m happy to see we have more than that going on here.

For the GMs out there, we get two new tools: a City-State Generator and Hazards.

The City-State Generator may not have much use outside of Aztlan without some modifications, but for those who want to have their new Aztlan location have some life, it’s worth looking at. I can easily see tweaking it for other locations, so it’s not a bad resource at all.

Hazards, on the other hand, are basically Consequences that have more “life” to them. It’s the storm that rolled in, the traps of a ruin, or even that abandoned manor in the woods. Basically, they are location-specific Consequences/Challenges that the party can either escape from and are no longer impacted by it (like getting out of a storm), or Braved (method to overcome and get through it).

Like Brute Squads, Hazards are given a Threat Rating, but unlike Brute Squads, using Raises to overcome (or Brave) the Hazard doesn’t reduce the rating; it just helps you get through. Additionally, like Brutes, there are special bonuses, called Elements, that can be given to a Hazard, which can allow it to deal more damage (like a powerful trap), noting it is under control of someone nearby (such as a monster controlling a storm), or even scaring people away (applying pressure).

Maybe we can use the rules for a ball game to the death…

This is a fun element that I know people were discussing/tinkering with when the game came out, and it’s nice to see official rules released.

==The Bad==

As with previous books, we’re getting a LOT of recycling. Right out of the gate, we are told that the Nahuacan Alliance has a child leader with two military leaders trying to gain control of the boy or take the position itself (Castille, anyone?), Tsak K’an is a coalition of city-states filled with scriveners and scholars that are preparing for war with each other and the outside (Eisen and parts of the Crescent Empire), and the Kuraq Empire is ruled by an Undead Empress that desires to kill all the other gods but faces resistance from some of her people (Eisen influences again).

Can we please stop beating the dead skull?

It doesn’t end there. The Fall sounds very much like the fall of the old Empires in other parts of the world (i.e. the world was great and unified and now nothing works as it should), and GMs are once again left hanging as to what actually happened here. Secret Societies are very much like Théan counterparts (Jaguar’s Heirs share much in common with Los Vagabundos and Die Kreuzritter, while Pochteca are a cross of the Vendel League and Mociutes Skara).

Even the gods that walk among mortals aren’t explained in too much detail; there’s enough for a plot hook, but I felt there just isn’t enough to work with for a full-on campaign involving them (unlike the Living Runes in the 1st Edition, which could be an entire campaign of itself with the information presented).

While the specific details and plot hooks get interesting (from finding sleeping gods to the archaeologists understanding Syrneth artifacts), I feel there’s just a touch of too much of Théan motifs going on here; rebellions, infighting, and a supernatural evil trying to rule the world. While I agree these things make great swashbuckling games and stories, it just cheapens this part of the world by taking the same themes and tropes and just dropping them into a different setting. It also doesn’t help that there’s not enough details to really make these tropes part of the setting.

If anything, it just feels lazy and slaps into the epic stories of this region.

I find your lack of originality disturbing.

There’s a few other random bits that could be inconsistencies (or just items not yet published in the 2nd Edition) such as the Star Map of Montaigne and the Catacombs of Vodacce. Both of these are in more detail in the 1st Edition, but the former doesn’t exist in the new edition, while the latter is only briefly mentioned. These sort of things do bring up the concern if there is an overall cohesive goal for the new setting, but it just adds to that feeling of recycling and not explaining anything.

Mechanically, I’m going to mention the same things as I’ve said about previous books: there’s some shark jumping and power creep, there’s repeated Advantages (without discounts), and there’re options here that really shouldn’t need a mechanical element/cost but here they are.

For example, there’s an Advantage called Two Bloods, which lets you buy Advantages (at discount when applicable) and Sorcery (only one; this puts the official kibosh on double dipping) from another Nation besides your “primary.” I feel that outside of the discount (which only applies to a select few Advantages/Nationalities), everything else is handled via story and shouldn’t need a cost element. Just my opinion, of course.

Want to have two Nationalities? That’s an Advantage…

There are a few other Advantages that are just reskins of former Advantages (Silent Takedown lets you take out a Brute Squad if they don’t know you’re there, for example), which I just shrug at at this point.

The biggest power creep is within the Duelist styles, as many of them give a Super <Move> (enhanced versions of Feint and Bash, for example) while also giving an additional benefit (Pressure, giving an ally an instant attack, etc). Most styles in the core book only give one of these things, so now we have an ongoing power creep that we saw in some of the later 1st Ed books (*cough*Sophia’sDaughters*cough*).

While I’m digging Hazards, I feel that some players may feel they are just a way to screw with them, as some of them are pretty brutal (massive damage increases, Pressure on the whole group, ways to raise power, etc). I know a few people that don’t like games by John Wick because they tend to have a “built-in f*ck the party mechanic” (not my quote), and Hazards ride that line for me.

==To Be Determined==

As this is an early draft, it is rife with typos and similar errors (a deity’s name is used in one paragraph, but a few pages later it doesn’t match up and a different name is there instead), as well as entire sections with brackets to denote what should be in there (names, details, etc). Depending on how these are handled, this could raise or lower a final scoring.

This draft is also rather lax in the artwork; we have some images here and there that are gorgeous, a few that are a bit lacking, and whole sections of empty space that you just know is going to have some artwork. I can’t put the art in either category at this time because of that

But huzzah diversity, and not all women are scantily clad like this one!

==The Verdict==

All said and done, and without any drastic changes for good or ill, I’d have to give The New World 3.5 buns, with a potential (and strong) argument for 4.

The book, even in it’s draft form, has a lot going for it: it’s a region that adds depth to the world of Terra that was unexplored in the 1st Edition of the game, it’s a region that is seldom explored in conventional tabletop games, it approaches the region in a non-stereotypical (i.e. “native savage”) way that pays respect to history, and it adds a number of tools for both players and GMs.

That said, it does suffer the same pitfalls that we’ve been seeing in 7th Sea 2nd Edition, namely recycled plot elements, a bit of power creep with Duelist styles, a further emphasis on mechanical additions that could/should be handled at the speed of plot, and introducing elements that were either not previously described or not giving enough information on these elements to be viable at a gaming table. I’m critical of all of these as it’s becoming formulaic for 7th Sea 2nd Edition materials, and I would have hoped that we’d see more now that it’s been over a year of materials getting out to backers.

If you’ve been enjoying 7th Sea so far, or if you want to have a game that focuses on South America, this book is a must-have (and therefore a 4 star book, at least).

If you’re feeling eh on the formulaic approach to 7th Sea stories so far and have been growing weary of the reskinned elements and power creep, then you may want to give it a pass. I’d still suggest getting the PDF due to the useful resources that could be reskinned for others games or for your mainstay 7th Sea game.

Honestly, if this was a stand-alone game and didn’t have the swashbuckling shoe-horned in, I would say it is a must-read and have given it that solid 4, but alas…

But at least the bird is cool!

The New World was sent out to backers as a draft copy on September 28th, and is expected to be available in October (I’d guess a November launch on the store).


==What’s Next?==

As always, I have plenty of irons in the fire, and I am doing my best to get things reviewed for you all as soon as possible.

That said, some items on the docket:

  • Dragons Conquer America has a Kickstarter going live on November 1st, and will be created by Burning Games. This game also covers South America, and the people behind it and the company are pretty cool individuals. The company is pretty small, but they have an interesting core mechanic that they’ve used to make a sci-fi game, and it’s looking rather intriguing. You should go and check them out.
    I’ll be giving a review of their Quickstart rules next week if you want to see some nitty gritty details while not wanting to read over 100 pages of information.
    And trust me, you won’t be needing piles of dice to run this game.
  • My wife is a huge fan of the Heart and Brain comics from Awkward Yeti, and nearly demanded that we back the Kickstarter for the game Heart and Brain: The Ultimate Battle of Wits. I’ve backed it, and once it is in hand, expect another review! It is live for the next two weeks, so if you want it, grab it now!
  • Speaking of Kickstarter, earlier this year, Toy Vault announced they were going to release a Princess Bride RPG. Yes, you read that right. It is now official that they will be doing a Kickstarter for it. Inconcievable? I think not! There’s a shortage of perfect games in the world; it’d be a shame if this falls short.
    The game will be written by Steffan O’Sullivan, the creator of Fudge, and this game will be using that very mechanic. I’ll be joining the ranks of those storming the castle and getting this funded. Will you?
  • As previously mentioned, I did back the Khitai Kickstarter, mostly to see this train of 7th Sea to it’s final destination. Due to other projects that have greatly impacted my funding, as well as some disenchantment with the franchise, I’m only backing it to get the PDFs at this time. That Kickstarter will run for another 32 days after this post goes live.

More games (and reviews!) are still on the horizon; I just need to find time to finish reading them! Stay tuned!


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