Friday, May 2, 2014

Explorers of the 7th Sea

I have run a LOT of 7th Sea since it debuted in 1999.  Multiple campaigns with different play groups.  And unlike Legend of the Five Rings, its sister game from Alderac Entertainment Group, I have even gotten to play in this one at conventions over the years.  In many ways, I think 7th Sea is a better roleplaying game than L5R despite their similarities.  Both were released as adjuncts to collector card games, but where the L5R CCG took off and completely overshadowed the RPG, arguably the reverse was true for 7th Sea.  Both the CCG and the RPG versions of 7th Sea are no longer supported, but the CCG is nearly forgotten while the RPG is remembered fondly by a enough members of the hobby to still be one of the top ten games (in terms of number of sessions run) at Gencon last year.  Most of those sessions sold out as well.

7th Sea is a game that simulates an alternate Europe (esque?) in the year 1688.  There are eight major nations (each covered extensively in its own splatbook as was the fashion in RPGs at the turn of the millennium), and several secret societies (each covered extensively in its own splatbook as was the fashion in RPGs at the turn of the millennium) each roughly corresponding to a real world analog.  The game was set firmly in the realm of the Swashbuckler, with both the Musketeer and Pirate flavors represented amply.  By setting the game in a real world analog instead of our own Europe, the game can use our real history without being tied down by it.  Game rules reward spectacular play and are generally very forgiving in the player death department.  The game mostly uses a single dice mechanic with exploding dice (THANKFULLY as was the fashion... you get the point).

All of these things make 7th Sea sound very derivative.  The magic of the whole game is that it was anything but.  The game contains a level of creativity and depth that many games today would do well to emulate.  The nations in the game evoke emotion among the players and this is amazingly well supported by the rules.  Castille is the Thean (Theah is the name of the world) equivalent of Spain.  Avalon is the Thean equivalent of England.  If I design a Castillian Swordsman, he will look and play very different from an Avalonian.  This is readily apparent in the art for the game.  Commissioned alongside the card art are some magnificent pieces for the RPG that show the differences between the various cultures.  Here are the covers for the Avalon and Casille books.  Note the different attitudes they invoke:


 One of the things that really enthuses me about the game is its depth.  I have run games set in Castille, Vodacce (Italy), Montaigne (France), and Eisen (Germany), and still have ideas for games in each of those lands AND other ideas for all the nations I haven't set games in.  I have run games that utilized several of the secret societies in one way or another and still haven't scratched the surface of what that source material brings to the table.  And that is where I want to take this game next.

One of the most intriguing societies did not get a splatbook to call its own.*  The Explorer's Society gets a few page write up in the supplemental material that comes with the Game Master's Screen, but no dedicated sourcebook.  This seems like an odd choice by the game makers too, since the Explorer's Society is such a major part of both the CCG and RPG.  Some of the major plot revelations revolve around things this Society uncovers, because Theah has a secret.

The men and women who walk the land are not the first civilization to call Theah home.  More importantly, the precursors were not human.  Remotely.  And perhaps the most important revelation of all is that they left behind artifacts.  Lots of powerful tools, many of them with indecipherable uses.  Some of them are powerful enough to unmake the world.  The Explorer's Society's stock and trade is locating and preserving these artifacts.

In the 7th Sea campaign I propose, the players would all be members of a Society chapter house.  The Explorers are a very eclectic bunch, so the PCs could be from virtually any background.  The society moves around a great deal to seek out their treasures, so even a character of a more (shall we say) piratical bent could be appropriate.  After the usual feeling out process, however, the players will find that a dastardly crime has occurred:  the chapter house has been violently looted.  Strangely, despite some of the obviously valuable objects they have collected and displayed, only some minor trinkets are taken.  Pursuit of the thieves, however, leads to a much deeper conspiracy.  One that spans the continent and threatens to unleash a catastrophe of world breaking proportions.  Will this small band of academics (and possibly pirates) withstand the challenge?

*This is not strictly true.  When the d20 craze hit, the makers of the game designed a parallel game to 7th Sea called Swashbuckling Adventures.  SA converted everything to the d20 system and created a game that was too NOT 7th Sea for 7th Sea players and too much 7th Sea for d20 players.  There is an Explorer's Society book for SA.  We don't like to talk about it much.


  1. I love 7th Sea.. Lets go back.. We could even be housekeeping staff.. I feel the same about Castle Falkenstein..It was a way more Awesome game than it got credit for, though.. Its books are rich and full. I propose a Live action based on Falkenstein as a tea event for Kirby, and my fellow presenter wanted to buy the books after i showed them to her, even though she has never gamed at all before.

  2. 7th Sea has always seemed to be the game that no one wanted to claim as their favorite, but almost everyone enjoyed playing. It is my hope in the coming days to generate that kind of excitement for any number of potential games. It is still always good to know, however, that we can run off a 7th Sea game with the potential to please most of the players at the table.

    I ran some Falkenstein back in the 90s, but it didn't seem to engage my players' imagination at the time. Still these are different times with many different players. Perhaps I should dust off the old R. Talsorian books. Maybe it will turn into an entry on this here blog! Stay tuned.