Actual Play – 7th Sea (11/17/2008)

System: 7th Sea

Ah, 7th Sea, how good you almost are. The game is great; it’s full of secret societies, swashbucklers and sorcerers. Repartee, cunning skill and flashy showmanship are the name of the game… almost.

We played last night and had a great time. The entire crew was there, which was nice considering all the games of late that have been missing people. It’s natural as the holidays get closer and the flu season hits, but it’s still cool when everyone shows up.

The adventure continued from our last game, our heroes trying to find Montague and warn him of those who would betray him.

What Rocked

Hibou had a wonderful experience (for me at least) of courting a beautiful Jenny, only to take her to bed and rather than fornicate, write a love letter to his far away love, which is his encoded letters back to the Gaius, telling him of Montaigne’s affairs. Hibou nearly wept at the betrayal he was committing, both to his friends and the country that has been his home for over a year. Later he had a heartfelt talk with Enrique about the nature of love and how his heart belonged in only one woman’s bosom but instead of he was unfaithful to two. This was a pretty thinly veiled exposition of his suffering as a spy, but I definitely appreciated the other players for going along with it.

We had some crazy over the top stunts. A giant log suspended from the air by ropes was shot down and clobbered quartermasters. Kegs of gun powder were lit and tossed a sea serpent. The pirate blue up a barn with a mixture of gunpowder, rum and his cigar. One of the musketeers taunted a mythical beast… and lived. Good stuff, as to be expected from our crowd.

I got to talk to horses and ask them for a smooth ride. Woot for Pyeryem Speech and animal affinity. There wasn’t much game effect, but again, I was happy because I was able to reveal, in some small way my character’s inner dilemma.

The GM rolled with punches pretty well. In a fight that was supposed to involve a whole bunch of musketeers clobbering us that the heroes really didn’t want to be a part of, we pulled some punches to let us get away rather than drag out an unnecessary fight.

Combat went a little bit faster. We called off the action numbers this time and prevented some of the bog downs. The one thing I don’t like is that the system rewards inactivity. It is usually far better a move to hold you actions and wait for your opportunity. What this ends up with is combats that are all condensed into the 8,9 and 10 count, which doesn’t make much sense realistically (wait, wait, wait, go, go, go) or cinematically where the action should be constantly moving. If I were to house rule this I’d say you can’t hold more than one action. Or alternately, if you want to hold an action you can do so only by rolling one less panache die and then you can take your action any time you want, but it has to be a defensive/reactive action, not an attack.

The “Fan Mail” system for drama dice worked out better, we had a good flow of dice, which made me happy. I see the one fault of being the token guy to award dice… I didn’t get any. But I think that is maybe because I didn’t do anything that cool. Who knows.

What could have been improved.

Wacky to say but it might have been better if we had less fun. We got so loud it woke up my wife and she wasn’t very happy.

Combat, in general, is still slow. Besides calling off the numbers though, I don’t know how to speed it up without major house ruling.

Fan Mail was disputed a bit, but I think we came to a consensus by the end of the night.

The story. It’s a cool one. We meet lots of cool people, we go to lots of cool places, but my, oh my, is it scripted. We spent like an hour of game time trying to find a boat because the only way to get out of the damn city was to ride on this ONE guy’s boat. I know he’s integral to the story. I know he had to be on the boat. But Theus all-mighty, couldn’t he have just BEEN on the same boat we ended up on. The contrived manner that we had to go through got me frustrated and I think others might have felt the same way. I understand modules need to get you from point A to B, but I want the players to choose how to get there. I blame this mostly on the module, but I also think in the future I’d recommend the GM recognize when we’re clearing getting off the rails and try to find a way to include the critical plot elements along side whatever path the players take. In this case, I think we could have found a captain who would have taken us, and Colsen could have just been on board as well.

Fighting a god. No really, that is what we did. We fought this sea serpent with no stats. It was as disguised as a combat when it was really just a deadly puzzle trap. You need to insert X amount of Y into Z to succeed. All the while Z is trying to bite your head off. In this case it was 3 Powder Kegs blowing up on the Sea Serpent to make him find easier prey. The idea of it is cool, but the feeling of being ineffectual is not. I shoot it, I blast it with a cannon (didn’t end up happening), I stab it, I cut my way out from the inside (also didn’t happen but it was considered) – Nothing. I light a powder keg and blow it up… Okay, now it is annoyed. Basically, I think this comes down to the writers of the module trying to use combat mechanics for something that isn’t a combat encounter. Again, cool idea. Poor execution in the module. As for the GMs roll in this, I was at first dismayed when he told us that it didn’t have stats, but realized after the game that if he didn’t we could have kept trying to ineffectually hurt it and gotten even more frustrated, so I think me made the right call.

No room to improve here, just bitching.

System. You want to climb, do you have the climb skill? No, okay you fail. You want to ride? Same. You want to do any array of swashbuckler moves? Yeah, get in line. You don’t get to be cool as a starting character, you need to work up to that. I like roll and keep and I like different fighters using different moves… I really don’t like nine million skills you can’t possibly have all of and then being penalized for not having them. This is where 7th sea failed. It’s not a problem with the GM or the module, it was an oversight in development. You give the players 100 points to make a character and then you keep adding skills they need. Result is the character needs to do more with less, so they either end up doing some muchkin move to keep up or they just suck at things they should be good at. Ah well, we love the sea, even though a bitch she may be.

12 thoughts on “Actual Play – 7th Sea (11/17/2008)”

  1. Good summary. I got a bit discouraged during the hunt for the boat. I tried to buy our way on board only to be told it was impossible. I tried to appeal to nationalism with a cool speech and a dramatic flair only too be told the only guy vaguely interested was too drunk. After that one I went into tag along mode until we were brought tot eh guy we needed to see. Situations like that drive me batty as they take me out of the driver seat and make me an observer until some predetermined point is reached. I agree that it is partly the problem of the module and partly of the GM. The module was pretty convoluted in terms of getting to the right guy and it would have been just as easy to have Colsun be the first ship we bumped into as oppose to having to go to “The Place” and then to his townhouse. The railroad disengaged em from the story for most of the rest of the session.

    Re: Fan Mai: D’oh! Our bad. I’ll remember to pay more attention to what you’re doing and make sure you get nods for cool shite.

    Re: bitching: Actually there is room for improvement. One of the House rules we came up with back when we were running a more established campaign was that everyone could take the athlete skill for free (as that seems to be where the cool skills lived). This could be improved by giving everyone an extra 10HP at the beginning specifically aimed at acquiring and improving one skill tree in which advanced knacks are treated as basic. This would be enough to give anyone a dot in most athletic knacks. Social characters could apply this to Courtier instead. It’s a thought.

    1. Thanks.

      Yeah, I looked over a couple times and could tell the boat thing was irritating you as well.

      As to the bonus points, that seems like a band aid for a busted system, but still a pretty good band aid. Having 10 “free” hero points just for swashbuckler or social knacks seems pretty cool. My other thought on this, after reading yours is just condensing skills. Balance, Climbing and Footwork? How bout just one skill there? Or does that simplify things too much? Anyone else thing this is worth pursuing as a house rule?

        1. The 7th Sea hand book assembled over at the Crystal Keep has the compilation of all the skills and knacks. If we were of that mind, we could review that for purposes of consolidation. I’d want to know the group was behind the idea before we spent the time to pair down the list.

  2. Like you, I enjoy roll and keep. However, as I play, I’m reminded that l5r 3rd is a much, much better thought out method of using the basic mechanic. SO much better. Not the best system in the world, or anything, but really good at what it does.

    The guy in the ship didn’t bug me, mainly because I was trying to do a little of the R+C thing of not having sex while being an R+C, and making up a background about getting drunk when with Jennies, not find the guy.

    Damn, that sea serpent fight. That frustrated the hell out of me. Not the GMs fault, at all, but the module just has a lot of scripting. Like the musketeers showing up just in time to be annoying and not in time to actually fight us. Or showing up at the edge of our visit right as we get into town, but then never seeing them IN town. Just scripting stuff, not the GMs fault.

    1. Yeah… the musketeers really were the cattle prod weren’t they. I mean, they didn’t really do anything except try to add tension and urgency. I think a round or two fighting one or two of them only to find out that 30 more were outside would have been good (line in Forbidden Kingdom where Jackie keeps beating up the soldiers but sooner or later there are just too many of them).

      I’ve only played a tiny bit of 3rd Edition L5R and don’t remember it much. How does it improve on the basic mechanic? Anything we can borrow from?

      1. The main difference is the way schools work. It’s almost an amalgamation of D+D leveling concepts with roll and keep.

        As your Insight rank, basically total spent xp, goes up, you eventually become ready to train up to the next rank in your school, be it swordsman or sorcery. However, you have the option of taking ‘Paths’ instead, which move you from one school to another, and are awesome storywise. So you and Woodbury wouldn’t be boned hardcore from what you’re trying to do. There are Courtier, Shugenja(magic), and Bushi(Swordsman) schools, each with their own tricks, and there are ways to make paths between them, or you could just make friends with a instructor from the other school and pick it up for a rank or two.

        The main part is just skills. There are nowhere near as many skills, and they aren’t grouped into skill sets. If you want to do something regarding athletics, you use athletics. There might be a different one for dodge, but I’m not sure. Point being, your skills are spent on things you use all the time, not once or twice.

        Raises are more functional too. You can raise to do neat shit, or you can raise to do more damage. Almost every school gives you bonus free raises to do certain things.

        Damage is handled better too. The more damage you can dish out the quicker, the less capable your opponents are. This is similar to 1st edition, but more so in 3rd. It meant that people didn’t hold actions as much, especially swordsman. The best way for my bushi to protect your shugenja, for instance, would be to beat the crap out of the approaching bad guy so that they would get fewer dice (1st) or much higher TNs(3rd) when trying to hurt us.

        I could go on and on, but those are the main parts.

        1. Some specifics:

          There are 56 skills. This seems like a lot, but this includes every weapon skill, and a number of Rokugani specific skills(like Tea Ceremony, which serves a really useful in game purpose, but wouldn’t be used outside of Rokugan). Counting just 2 weapon skills(since every player needs 1, with maybe a second thrown in for flavor), there are 37 remaining skills.

          These skills all have very specific uses, but are broad enough to allow for flexibility and usefulness in a variety of situations. Some overlap around the edges, but there are very few that have total overlap, or even major overlap.

          Regarding damage(nitpick, but I like it a lot): In 7th sea, raises that aren’t for effect become unkept dice(I think). In l5r 3rd, the 1st raise adds +1k0, the second adds +0k1 and so, back and forth. In l5r 1, you had to raise a number until you had beyond 10 unkept dice before you could get any additional kept dice.

          Raises can disarm, get additional attacks, or hit certain places.

          *shrug* I think it’s just more streamlined, honestly.

          I had another thought, but I can’t remember it.

        2. Ah yes, the other thought I had:

          I like the ‘mastery bonuses’ from third. Basically, as you advance along your skill, it offers you an additional neat thing.

  3. one thought I’ve had…playing much L5R

    Allow the use of drama dice like void to give you a rank in the skill you want to use.

    It would allow a limited way to at least _try_ the cool moves.

    1. Yeah, that might have the relatively desirable effect of allowing the players to bring the awesome, but have to spend so resource to do, so the theatrics don’t become gratuitous. The only problem is that usually, bringing the awesome IS the way players end up getting drama dice. As a coincidence it is fine but I think the system wouldn’t work well if the method to gain drama dice is the same action you have to spend them to try.

      Worth thinking on more.

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