Mini-Review: 7th Sea

I was lured to 7th Sea by the Stories. Every PC in this swashbuckling epic gets to pre-define where adventure is taking them next, and where they’ll ultimately end up – an incredible power over the shared narrative, doubling-up as a character advancement system. It’s so unlike the traditional player/GM relationship, but also antithetical to the indie principle of “Play To See What Happens”… something new, provocative, exciting. Honestly I’m more enthusiastic to see how future designer iterate on this idea than I am by 7th Sea itself: a nucleus of a great idea that needed more percolation.

The structure of the rulebook is bizarre. It opens with a VERY long info-dump of nation-by-nation setting detail, before segueing into character creation with… ANOTHER nation-by-nation info dump. Following an increasing trend in roleplaying, character creation – along with rules options relevant only to specific character concepts – takes up nearly half the book. The actual RULES are introduced 150 pages in. They’re short, streamlined and easy to learn, all good stuff. But it’s unfortunate a rulebook so mechanically thin is selling for such extraordinary cost, especially one without pre-genned PCs, example antagonists or a starter adventure.

Characters don’t roll to see if actions succeed in 7th Sea; they roll to see HOW MANY actions succeed, alternating between characters to resolve effects. It reinforces character competence, adjusting the you-go-I-go turn structure into something more dynamic and genre-appropriate. The GM provides Opportunities and Complications in every scene which are resolved by spending actions, empowering players to choose where they succeed, ramping up drama. Sadly guidance is limited about what Opportunities and Complications should be, especially the mechanical impact. As with much of the game, GMs work that out on their own.

7th Sea is a cautionary tale for the Kickstarter age. I do actually like the game – it’s mechanically innovative, beautifully illustrated, and charmingly ridiculous. I just wish the record breaking Kickstarter money had gone into making the core book more polished, rather than funding a massive line of stretch goal supplements with even more setting fluff and character archetypes. There are serious power imbalances between the many character options, and the game is in dire need of an errata (see here all the rules clarifications hidden on Reddit). With the publisher’s turn of fortunes, we won’t see support like that soon. A hot mess then: difficult to read, difficult to run, somehow earning a recommendation.

(I never review a game I haven’t played or run.  Check out https://michaelduxbury.com/category/reviews/ for more RPG reviews.)

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