Actual Play – 7th Sea (11/3/2008)

System: 7th Sea

Spirit of the Century concluded and we have moved to 7th Sea. Two weeks ago we made characters and last night we started playing.

Here is our cast.

The funny guys:

Antonio de Montoya del Torres de Punto de yada yada yada: A Castilian swordsman who’s father was killed by a six fingered man, whom now he must avenge. Recently accuses of treason and pardoned by Montaigne, he travels with the group as per the agreement of his pardon.

Captain Enrique Blackhawk – Avalonian pirate ship captain in search of treasure and lost love. He has been well paid for his services.

Felix du’chat (Felix the cat) – Montaigne Porte sorcerer and musketeer. He stood beside Montague on his last stand and now works for his wife to protect him from forces which conspire against him.

The serious characters:

Eckert – An Eisen noble who’s motivations are unknown. Sent by his brother to aid Montaigne. Dressed in Drachensteel, he does not look the part to be sneaking away in the night.

Jean – A musketeer of great skill and strength. He protects Montaigne but more importantly, Thea. He is a Knight of the Rose and Cross and seeks to stamp out the forces of Legion.

Hibou De’Hiver: An Ussuran sorcerer, bound to the Gauis to spy on the Montaigne. He has learned to speak Montaigne with a native tongue and apprenticed himself to the great musketeer Jean in order to learn to Montaigne’s actions. His reports however, are only enough to keep his family safe. Grisha (his real name) is a reluctant spy at best.

Story

The adventure is a module, I believe just called Usurra, but it could be something else. The situation is that Montague has been sent by the Emperor to die in the frozen wastes to the east. Or characters have been tasked by Le’Emperer’s 9th daughter (and Montague’s wife) to find Montague, deliver him a letter and convince him to retreat. Luckily we have two musketeers who respect the general greatly, a Ussuran who doesn’t want war, an Eisen who does not like the idea of the nobility playing games with their troupes, a Castillian who is indebted to the princess and a pirate who will do anything for money. Off we go!

What rocked:

First of Jeremy (the GM) gave us a long time to introduce the characters. We started with the Castilian at the gallows being delivered his pardon at the last minute. The three Montaigne (greatly disappointed that he was not hung) decided that if he was pardoned, and had gone through all this for nothing, that he at least deserved some Montaigne hospitality. Which included walking him through horse shit and eventually buying him a drink. The entire party assembled this way, meeting each other at appropriate venues (the gallows, the bar, and the mysterious cottage). We all sunk into a familial groove of equal parts rivalry, childish insults and loyalty. Amongst another group this might have felt forced, but it worked very well for us.

The lead-ins were strong. All of our characters had very believable hooks into the story, which makes me happy. I hate doing something “just” because. In this case three of us had a built in rationale and the other three worked smoothly.

I got to use the acting skill to cover our exit. I had a roll of 5k3 (for the non roll and keep folk that means roll 5d10, take the best 3 dice and 10’s explode) and got a result of 47 (yep, two 10’s exploded). The world premier of an Eisen opera unexpectedly included six strange characters for all of five minutes.

We had some killer moves. Hibou snuck in the shadows and laid my naked blade at the neck of a captain directing his men against us. Enrique learned how to breathe fire all over two brutes. Jean unloaded his pistol between two others who were stunned by the muzzle flash, Felix swung from a rotting rope to just barely land to face the captain and square off with him. Antonio taught us how a true swordsman fights (disarming a musket from one musketeer right into two others). Eckert showed us the power of the Panzerfist! Right on the mark for 7th sea.

What could have been improved:

The game started late. Half the crew was out to dinner and didn’t make it back an hour after the game was supposed to start. Then of course there was the normal settling in period. Result: the game ran late and was rushed. This is bad for 6:30 AM wake ups. Next time, people should be on time.

The drama dice currency flowed slowly. We needed to prod a bit for drama dice. I don’t think Jeremy was being stingy, I think he had a lot on his mind between the 6 of us and all the NPCs. We’ve already talked about how to help this out in the future and we’ll probably be using a PTA fan mail style system with a bowl drama dice for us to award each other with.

The 7th Sea combat system is slow. Mostly this is because of the initiative system. I’m a firm believer in systems that say everyone gets one action and that action can be as elaborate as the genre and the mechanics support. In 7th that kind of action might be swing on a rotting rope and diving into a enemy captain, or it might be carving your initials into his butt. Using the multiple action system does two things. 1) slows down the game and 2) makes some players (not characters, players) more important than others. Simply put, the currency of an RPG is spotlight. The more you get to do, the cooler the game is. If you have a 4 Panache, and I have a 1, you get to be in the spotlight 4 times longer than I do. I don’t like this in 7th sea, I don’t like it in Shadowrun, and I don’t like it in Werewolf. There is no system where I find extra actions facilitate cool maneuvers in ways that a little narrative license couldn’t do better and faster (usually because it involves much less dice rolling). Suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed with my character (he was a horrible swordsman, just as I expected) but I did think combat ran too long. The solution to this. Easier foes (these guys were TN 20 to hit) or in this case (when we were supposed to run) a much clearer indication of the impending doom facing us if we stayed and fought.

Too many rolls. Many older systems wanted to you to roll all the time, for everything. Roll to hear a noise, roll to notice it is just rats, roll to hear the guards, roll to hear the 2nd set of guards. I think this is a symptom of older tactical miniature games (roll to disengage, roll to move, roll to engage, roll to flank, roll to hold position, ack!) that bled into so many RPGs. Luke Crane’s “let it ride” solution is a good one as is the “forget rolling, tell players what they need to know so the story will move and they will have fun.” I didn’t tell Jeremy about this because I didn’t think about it till later, but I will suggest using one of those two methods for the future.

The spawn of musketeers. At the end of the game, probably because I was tired and ready for it to be over, I got kind of annoyed when we had to roll through a chase mechanic… again. I think wining (or in our case, loosing) should be the end of the chase. Once we had to fight the guys who caught us, it should have been enough to say we fend them off and then escape. This could have really just been me being tired though. Hard to say.

The repartee system was disappointing at best. I used the Charm to woo a barmaid and ended up with a kiss on the OTHER musketeer’s cheek and a bar brawl because her hulking boyfriend was present. The next time I used it was to intimidate the Musketeer captain. It had precisely zero effect in game as the captain never took action against me. I don’t really know what to do with this. I’m was planning on this being a major part of my character’s tactics and I don’t see that actually working much until he is a proficient swordsman (where the intimidate will be useful against his foes).

What I REALLY wish happened?

I wish that in the chase, my character (the Ussuran spy) got separate from the group (he is the slowest) and was able to duck into an alcove and shape shift into a mouse and then scurry away. He would have met back up with the rest of the characters on the street. It would have made them suspicious of him, but only barely, maybe he just found another way out. Also, if his master (the secret Knight of the Rose and Cross) thought something was not right, he’s probably suspect the young Montaigne of Porte rather than anything else. That would have started some good dramatic tension. I’ll have to try and engineer this uneasy uncertainty in the next session.

I also wish that during the bar brawl, I gave up my two actions for an active defense to hip check my fellow musketeer and take his place when he was pummeled by the bar maid’s boyfriend. It would have made for some very humorous irony.