Tuesday, September 20, 2016

7th Sea Second Edition - The Session

As mentioned, I ran a session of 7th Sea for Charm City Gameday. As part of the review of the game, I wanted to do a post-mortem. Also, because it's been a while since I ran a con game.

Short version: It went really, surprisingly well. The group was engaged and attentive. The scenario I made up clicked. The system mostly worked as intended.

I'll start with the blurb version of the scenario: You have all gathered to celebrate a wedding. But the dastardly Comte Gerard has stolen the bride to be his own! You have vowed to the groom that you will ride to her rescue. Can you find Gerard, defeat his frightening Sarmatian mercenaries with equally frightening magic, and bring the bride safely home?

Apparently people were eager to give 7th Sea a test run. Mine was the first session to fill up. I ended up with 6 players. Two were familiar with 1st edition, two had gone in on the Kickstarter but hadn't done more than flip through the book, and one was brand new to gaming in general! I will say that 6 players is too much for a story game. I just couldn't swing the spotlight around fast enough to keep everyone involved.

We kicked off with a setting spiel and a rules spiel. My only real prop (other than printouts of a rules primer and character sheets) was namecards for each character. They would sit in front of the player, so everyone could see their character name. The back had some basic stats for the character that allowed the players to pick their characters. We also discovered about halfway through that using some large token like poker chips to indicate how many unspent Raises you currently had would be very useful.

We ran through a very quick Risk, just to test the system before doing anything that might have actual consequences. Don Paolo, a Bad Guy (TM), was running for his ship. The corrupt city watch had been summoned to stop the Heroes from catching Paolo. The city watch were Strength 4 Brute Squads with a special ability to spend a Danger Point to summon a new Squad. We learned a few interesting things here. First, a Rank 5 Villain is weak. I just didn't have enough Raises to do, well, anything. A Villain rolls a number of dice equal to his Rank, so a Rank 5 Villain is actually rolling fewer dice than the average Hero. Given the weight of numbers, the Heroes just had too many actions to be stopped. As expected, one duelist erased a Brute Squad from the map with a single maneuver. But what really surprised me was that the cat burglar, played by the total newbie, used her action to steal the whistles from the Brute Squads. This meant they could not summon more squads. A brilliant move!

Then we got into the actual session. The first Risk was, literally, riding to the rescue. Throwing the rules to the wind, I created a Risk with no Consequences, but three levels of Opportunity. The characters would roll Resolve + Ride. One Raise would get them to the estate where Gerard was hiding in the nick of time. A second Raise would get them there with time to spare, so they could be a little more sneaky/clever. A third Raise would have them arriving at night, granting the cover of darkness and fewer random people wandering about. A fourth Raise would have them miraculously arriving the same day, before security was fully engaged. Of course, not all the characters were skilled in Ride. So I also used this as an excellent opportunity to review the various rules for helping other characters. Because the party would stick together, meaning the timing would be determined by their worst result. It worked perfectly!

But I discovered an interesting effect. The most common way for characters to generate Hero Points is to trade in dice that cannot be used to make sets for Raises. When they do so, the GM gets an equal number of Danger Points. With six players eager to build up a store of Hero Points, I suddenly had a huge pile of Danger Points!

The next Scene was a Risk to enter the estate. There were three options that I could think of to get in. One, sneak across the lawn, which would require three Raises worth of movement. (Oh, yeah, if anyone can point me to actual movement rules, I'd love it. I defaulted to essentially using Fate zones, which is a mechanic I love, and worked really well here.) Two, bluff the guards into believing you have an invitation. This only required two Raises, but created an opportunity for the social people to use Raises to get others in as attendants/escorts. Three, kill the guards. I ran the math several times, and it would have been very possible for a group of six, particularly with two duelists, to wipe out four Strength 4 Brute Squads in a single round. If they did so, there would be no one left to raise the alarm. The group chose to split, with half of them sneaking in and half of them going the bluff route. It worked out really well. My only issue here was that by this point I was keeping track of so many details that I'm afraid I shorted the guy running the bluff of his roleplay opportunity. I just said, "great, you succeed, moving on!" Bad GM. But, as noted above, 6 players was too many for me.

I expected the group to go to where the wedding guests were and use a few social skills. Instead, they grabbed a servant and squeezed the location of the captured bride out of him. Fair enough. They went up to the room where the bride was kept. They surprised the Villain in the room with her. But the Henchman surprised them in turn! Now, the intent here was that the Henchman and his brutes were supposed to keep the party busy while the Villain slipped away. Due to a slight timing glitch on my part, that didn't happen, and the party split, half facing the Henchman and half stopping the Villain. This turned into a real blessing. Rather than overwhelming the party, it allowed all six to engage in a meaningful way.

So, I decided to do some more rules jiggery for the Sarmatian mercenaries. They were lovers of Syrneth artifacts (basically, weird magic items). Each one had a special weapon or armor. The main guy had a magic bullet that he could make fly about at will. (Yes, like Yondu, as was pointed out.) Mechanically, this meant he had a firearm that never needed reloading. Would this be too powerful? Because firearms are seriously deadly. His crew had their own doodads, but I deliberately chose to not give those stats. Why? Because they boiled down to "does more damage" or "prevents some damage". Which means that the obvious solution was just to increase their stats as brutes. So I made each guy his own Strength 3 brute squad. (In retrospect, I should have made them Strength 6 if I wanted them to face off against six players and have a chance to do anything. None of them dealt a point of damage, and only one had an opportunity to even act.)

The magic bullet turned out to be awesome!! It made him a seriously scary badass. One action to throw it through your shoulder, another action to pull it back through your belly. Excellent special effects, and it did a Dramatic Wound every time, so people were scared. But I was also able to deliberately shift from one opponent to another, so no one was accidentally taken out of the fight. It worked exactly as intended. Making the magically augmented brutes into their own squads also seemed to work pretty well. Given that they went down like two dollar, um, bowling pins, I'm not sure if there would be weirdness later on with having a one-person squad. I really don't think so, though.

We all learned an important lesson facing the Villain, though. Villain duelists are damned scary. See, Villains roll dice equal to their Rank. They are then considered to have any required Trait or Skill at half their Rank for anything that might need that actual number. Like, say, duelist maneuvers. He pulled an Aldana Ruse. Then a Slash. This meant he did Wounds equal to his Weaponry (7) plus his Panache (7). A comparable Hero duelist would probably be doing 6-7 total with that maneuver. I almost took out the Valroux duelist right there. Villain duelists also pretty much always have Raises to spare to Parry and Riposte, but because the Villain goes first, the Hero is put on the defensive out of the gate. The Aldana Villain just trashed the Valroux Hero.

But. And this is an important but.

The Valroux Hero was able to get in some really good hits himself. Riposte is surprisingly effective, especially because that damage can't itself be parried. And, even after being rendered Helpless, he spent a Hero Point to Lunge as the Villain ran past, skewering him for an additional Dramatic Wound. When the Villain then met the Boucher duelist in the next room, things were a bit less scary. (Of course, I kept the "things aren't so scary" cards close to the vest, to maintain the tension.)

And this scene demonstrated that you can maintain tension in 7th Sea. (You'll have to wait for my next installment to see why I thought it wasn't possible.) Top of the round, roll dice. I took goo gobs of dice. I spent Danger Points for Bonus Dice. I ended up with something like 12 Raises. I started laying in to the Boucher duelist. I got her down to 1 Wound away from Helpless. What she didn't know was that I was 2 Wounds from Helpless. I attacked. She Riposted. It was just enough to save her life, and just enough to end his. Flawless victory! It was honestly surprising how close it was.

I ran into another issue in this room, though. The losejas had used his power to make the room dark. But what exactly does that do? If this was Fate, it's a completely standard temporary aspect, and it would get invoked for effect when relevant. Here, though, I wasn't at all sure how to make it work mechanically. Shut down all the action as people fumble around? Require an extra Raise for any action? Both of those felt like they would just suck all the energy out of the scene. So I opted for no significant mechanical effect, but several narrative effects (mostly, no one knew what was going on with anyone else outside immediate melee range). The sorcerer was clearly disappointed that his magic had so little impact, though.

Speaking of the sorcerer, he was both awesome and difficult. First, my blurb clearly did not communicate a lot of the subtler aspects of sanderis. Which, hey, con game blurb, it's going to happen. But it meant that there were a number of moments that my desire to preserve the nature of the sorcery warred with my GM instincts to let the awesome flow. I went with the awesome more often than not, and it paid off. We discovered a number of weird bits with sorcery, though, that I probably need to go re-read the book. The big one was: If your Approach is "I use sorcery to light my enemies on fire", what Trait + Skill are you rolling? None of the sorceries reference skills at all.

We both had fun with the fact that I had named his dievas of darkness and fire Calcifer, though. He thought it was awesome, and I was gratified that he picked up on a relatively obscure reference immediately.

Finally, I want to call out one other awesome sequence of actions, most especially because they came from the guy with almost zero RPG experience. He was playing the cat burglar (a character for which I had invented backgrounds and advantages that were completely new, though no one noticed that). A cat burglar always has the fundamental flaw that they really aren't team players. And that cropped up here and there. But he used it well. When they were trying to find Iolanda in the house, he specifically said "I want to also be memorizing the layout and looking for escape routes." Which was awesome. I house ruled on the fly right there that he could "bank" Raises spent on casing the house to spend on escaping later. This paid off in spades. While everyone else was engaged in battle, he scooped up the unconscious bride, slipped out the window, and high-tailed it for the woods. With those banked Raises, he went from roof to woods in a single Action, leaving the guards completely unaware that anyone had even left. It was a perfect use of the character.

At the end of day, I did have a lot of fun. I still love swashbuckling, and I still love Theah. But, honestly, I felt like the system let me down. I spent more time working around the rules or trying to stretch house rules across them than I did leveraging them for positive results. And, nothing about the system felt like swashbuckling. It was just another story game system, that relied entirely on the GM and the setting to give it any life.

1 comment:

  1. Marshall, thanks for your write-up. As the newbie to gaming that you mentioned, I really appreciated your explanation of the rules and setting. I thought I would be so overwhelmed with having to figure out gameplay mechanics and story/character aspects, but you and the group were able to both fill me in and give me the chance to explore and get comfortable with role-playing elements.

    I ended up having a great time and am looking forward to my next 7th Sea session!