Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A bit of Nostalgia #6

AEG’s little masterpiece

I was going to cheat this week, because I was going to put two different RPGs into my Nostalgia post.  Now I did have good reason for this, because both games were heavily based on the same gaming system.  In the same way as White Wolf had a single core rule set, that they then hung a decent background and a few special powers off of (please note, I know they still have the single core rule set, but they seem to have forgotten the decent background part in the more modern games they have released), AEG created the Roll and Keep system and then hung two very good settings and a couple of special rules onto.  Through this they released Legend of the five Rings (l5R) and 7th Sea.

I’m still even now debating which one of these two I’m going to look at.  They are both fantastic and I was going to do both at the same time, but I think they deserve their own little section in the Nostalgia wings of BGG.  So, this blog is going to be about…. 7th Sea.

Why?  Why I hear (absolutely none of) you cry?

Well, because it’s probably the least well known of the two.  L5R has a massive following behind it, a really heavily detailed CCG, new version of the RPG that are constantly being released, and thus still quite a popular following.  7th Sea on the other hand is only just seeing a second edition come out, but someone else, and via Kickstarter, and I never really understood why.  The core mechanic is the same, the special rules are actually more fun and certainly more cinematic than L5R, and the setting is… well it’s a fantastical version of Europe, something people might actually know a bit about and  be able to join in with.  L5R, being oriental in nature, always suffered from the guy who knew a bit about the culture and so would dick around including references in the games that no one else would really know about (and yes, I was that guy).

So let’s go with the same outline as I have done before.  Background, System and then Playing experience.


Set on the World of Theah, 7th Sea is heavily influenced by 17th century Europe.  The topographical view of the game is pretty much the same as Europe, though most of the nations are slightly different is shape and the political nature of each state is also slightly different.  In addition the world still has a strong tie to magical arts, and there are a few other bits and pieces kicking around as well which make things every so blatantly different to the real world.  Now, it was entirely possible to play the game based on the idea that you were all just adventurers mixing with the local flavours of Theah, but I think it is fair to say that the real draw of 7th Sea was that every was just a little bit Errol Flynn in nature, and a lot of people went with the idea of being Mercanaries for hire, or even better, a small Pirating band.

The Nations you picked for your character also have a big effect.  From which magic you could take (if you were so inclined) to the languages you knew, and most importantly which Swordsmaster schools you could learn from.  The Sword schools really were a big part of the game, in fact most people didn’t really play with the magic too much, because the stuff you got to do as a swordsmaster was just so much fun.  Either way, a small breakdown of the nations is worthwhile.

Avalon – Basically the UK, but in this case rather than England having forced Ireland and Scotland into a British style, the three nations (Avalon, Innismore and the Highland Marches) are drawn together in treaty.  Queen Elaine rules the country and Fey are very prevalent, especially for those in Innismore.  Magic is called Glamour and is about disguise and trickery.  The main sword style involves a short sword and buckler (and is basically quite Saxony in style, with a lot of cheap dirty tricks rather than honourable duelling).  Avalon isn’t liked much because it just broke away from the Vaticine Church.

Castille – Spain, right in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition.  Castille is home of the Vaticine Church and is a highly vealot nation.  Mix into that a bit of Zoro, with El Vago a desperado fighting against the rule of the Church and the strangle hold of certain well off nobles who have paid said church a lot of money to own land etc.  Magic is outlawed here, but they have a sword school which uses a Rapier and a lot of dancing to keep people distracted.

Eisen – Germany, still somewhat in a bad shape after the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire.  In this case Eisen is basically a loose collection of five Noble estates, and the land itself is more or less mud and craters after the wars that occurred over a thirty year period when the country really did go to hell.  They do have a rather lucrative metal here though, and that is more or less what has kept the nation going.  They do have magic (if I recall correctly it’s somewhat elemental based), but the main thing they have is a sword school dedicated to the old idea of lots of armour, and a really big sword.  The school basically uses the idea of soaking up damage to get up close and personal, and using your gauntlets to bash people to the ground so you can stab them.

Montaigne – France, just slightly before the Revolution, so you have an Emperor and a rather over the top sense of self privilege.  Montaigne used to rule quite a lot of territory, but with a general degradation they have stopped being the same power house they used to be, and the peasants are starting to move towards revolting.  They have the power to rip holes in reality so that they can create portals (as a note, these casters use a dagger to literally cut a hole in reality, which bleeds as they do it).  The sword school is based on rapier and insults.  Once you have annoyed your opponent enough they make a mistake, you can then go in for the kill.

Ussura – Russia, around the time of the Boyers with the reformations of Catherine the Great on the horizon.  This very cold and wintery country is just on the edge of modernisation, but some people really don’t like it.  Especially those that have a serious case of wanting to keep to the spiritual ways of the people.  There is no sword school here, but there is a Magic type, with the ability to connect to spirit animals and shape shift into the various (and rather dangerous) animals of Ussura.

Vendal – Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, the time line for these is in the historical renaissance of their culture.  Basically this was a time period where the area rapidly swapped to a mercantile set of nations, but in the real world they didn’t forget their heritage.  Well in Theah it’s very difficult for them to forget because the Vestenmannavnjar (Vikings) still exist, and really aren’t impressed with their trading neighbours.  The Magic school and Sword school are both from the Viking side, with Rune magic (wards and protection spells) going hand in hand with a “sword” school about getting really angry if you get hit and taking that anger out on people’s faces… preferably with an Axe in fact.

Vodacce – A collective term used in the game in the place of the Merchant States of Italy.  Though this isn’t the pretty and nice Italy we think of now.  Instead each of the Merchant States works together mostly because they play a great game against each other in the background, and partly because the magic of the nation is only held by woman, and that magic is the ability to manipulate and change Fate.  The Sword school is equally devious, with practitioners learning how to fight with their off hand, so that firstly people are confused with things being the wrong way around (remember in this day and age everyone is Right hand dominant, even if they aren’t), and secondly so when you use the dagger in your right hand you can actually use it to attack rather than just defend.

Now, as I said most games work on the idea that you play a character from one of these nations, and to gather everyone together most games worked on the idea that you had then discarded your ties to your nation for one reason or another.  After this, the game then works through the basic mantra of coming up with weird and wacky things to do.

The system

So, as I said before this uses AEGs roll and keep system.  It sounds more complicated than it is.

Generally, like many games, you had stats and skills, which you have bought at character creation.  In combining the numbers of a stat and a skill you would work out how many 10 sided dice you could roll in an activity.  For instance, if you wanted to hit someone you add together your Finesse and Attack (sword school) skill.  However, after rolling you only get to “keep” a number of dice equal to your stat.  Once you have worked out which ones to keep (normally the highest, not always) you would add them together to give you a total.

This pretty much worked for every single type of check in the game.  Damage would involve adding your Brawn to an initial value for the weapon (a rapier might be a 1k1 weapon, a two handed sword might be a 1k3 weapon etc).  Health was worked out as being a threshold amount you could take from a damage hit before you took a wound, and being wounded a number of times would knock you out.  In a rather interesting way there was also a social “combat” side of the game where you could actually put someone down in a public social situation to the extent that you basically ended their public standing and they had to slink away under your insults.  It was, to be honest, quite rare for groups to play the social side of the game, certainly a lot less often than in L5R where the game practically dripped in the political game play.

I also said that both L5R and 7th Sea added something different to the basic rule set.  7th Sea, in my opinion, had the best addition of the two… Drama dice.

Every player had a number of Drama dice for their character.  In a specific situation a player could choose to add drama dice to a role, in essence increasing not only the amount you could roll, but also the amount you could keep.  Drama was the big thing though.  Choosing to use the dice when it truly really mattered was fine, and you might get the dice back if the GM was nice.  More importantly though, even the most mundane action could be made “dramatic” by the way you tried to do it.  Walking down stairs to stab a guy might be important, but it you instead decide to jump from the balcony, grab the chandler above the bar to swing over the head of the rabble, landing just in front of the bad guy, tip your hat and then run him through… well in that case the GM can give you “free” extra dice to roll and keep, just because it is such a cinematic thing to do.  Of course, if you keep doing it, keep over dramatizing what you do, then the GM can do the reverse, because your character is just being an idiot if they always try to overdo everything.  It was all about kicking the right time to do the big things.

Game Play

On this account I do not know much, I managed to play one game of 7th Sea (over the course of only a few sessions), but I really liked the game, and I have always been looking to run a game for people.  Most of my experience of the Roll and Keep system is from L5R, and what I can tell you from that side of things is that the system flows really nicely.

I’ve always wondered why L5R was more loved than 7th Sea and honestly I have only come up with a couple of reasons.  Firstly people see Oriental stories as being more fantastical than the 17th Century European setting.  Partly this is because I think people somewhat riled against a setting which is a little too close to home, something they know a little bit about.  The second things I think people didn’t like was the fact that if people mostly played pirates why isn’t the setting somewhere out in the Caribbean, “I mean, that’s where all the pirating stuff happened right”… well no, but I do see your point a little bit.  Europe is a big old expanse of land, and the game wants you to move towards doing the pirate side of things, so why set it over here where there is less… well, sea.

Never the less, this is a good game, and people could easily build the “Spanish Main” into their world and probably do quite well with it.  Personally that is what I would likely do and really get into the Errol Flynn daring and dashing cinematic pirate movie... though if anyone happens to make a character called Jack, and isn’t a monkey, I might have to just push them overboard immediately.

7th Sea was, by all accounts a good game.  I just wish I had had the chance to play it more.


  1. A point to add about 7th Sea. It was specifically impossible to die by accident or bad luck. It had to be deliberate enemy/other player action.

    1. Well you weren't meant to. I do think there were always realms for the GM to do it if it became apparent that the players were just trying to do stupid things... like jumping off cliffs.