Thursday, September 22, 2016

7th Sea Second Edition - My Opinions

So, despite my attempts to remain neutral, it is clear that the new edition of my favorite game has been a disappointment to me. It is true. And today, I shall go into some of the reasons why. Fair warning, this is not intended to be an unbiased review. Much of what follows is one hundred percent about my own tastes, preferences, prejudices, and, yes, biases.

I'll start by saying that the system is not bad, per se. But it is strongly not to my taste. So I'm going to run through the strikes against the game that I see.

So let's start with the major strike right out of the gate. I don't like John Wick. I've looked at his other games, and don't like them. I've read his blog and frequently disagree with him. I couldn't make it through Play Dirty because it was anathema to my play style. I find that Wick constantly assumes that other players, and particularly other GMs, are gifted storytellers who are fully comfortable with grabbing the spotlight. And I find that that is a tiny minority of the actual players around any given table.

The second strike is simply that it's a story game, and a particularly loose one at that. It doesn't support tactics. It doesn't support complex effects. The dice simply tell you who gets to write the next paragraph of the novel, and give some rough parameters of the maximum good and minimum bad that must be included. Even the Story/Scheme mechanics are simply giving you tools to outline your novel. You can also read a related thread on the topic on Reddit called The Tyranny of the Perfectly Expected. It's pretty good.

An even more damning strike is that it's a story game that doesn't support unique characters. The granularity of the system is so low that it's hard to distinguish Locke Lamora from a guy who had a couple extra ranks lying around and put them in Deceit. Also, most modern story games like Risus, PDQ, or Fate allow players to create specific, unique traits (aspects, keys, etc.) for characters. They allow you to custom-craft the hooks that the GM will use to weave you into the action. 7th Sea's hooks, instead, are the Arcana and Backgrounds that you pick from a list. It was surprisingly disappointing and frustrating to create characters.

I'll wrap this up with a fourth strike, which is that the system fails to be swashbuckling. There are three main aspects of a great swashbuckling system that are missed. The first is high risk, high reward. There's not a lot of risk in the system. There's only a trade-off of costs for benefits. When you scamper across rain-slick rooftops, you just do it. The only flash and flair comes from the description. It sucks a huge amount of the raw excitement of an over-the-top genre like swashbuckling right out of the air. The second is witty repartee. Theoretically, the system has social skills. But they are stunted stubs of a system. Pressure is a cool mechanic, but it would have been a really usable mechanic if it had been built out to the same complexity as Wounds. And, seriously, there aren't even skills for taunting people. I have to use Intimidate to insult? Ridiculous. The third is fencing. Yes, the system supports fencing. And, yes, the Swordsman Schools are nicely balanced and very frightening. But they fail the one critical test: recreating the duel between Inigo Montoya and The Man in Black. Recognizing each other's techniques means, literally, nothing. And those techniques don't really account for the rocky terrain. Also, the "I'm not left-handed" reveals are, at best, Flair to get a Bonus Die. If your fencing system can't capture the nuances of that duel, it is not, in my not-so-humble opinion, a swashbuckling system. (Note that 1st edition, with its Exploit Weakness knack, did capture it.)

None of these are fatal flaws, objectively speaking. But they are each flaws that, especially in aggregate, make me disinclined to use the system. I think that, instead, I need to try again to find my Spirit of the 7th Sea conversion notes to Fate.

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