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Head and Lungs
Balancing health and werewolves
7th Sea kickstarter: actual play. 
22nd-Feb-2016 02:03 pm
werepenguin
Three of us and an ST sat down to the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter quickstart. We are all currently involved as PCs in a 7th Sea larp at the moment so were already piqued by this project. This is an actual play review of the quickstart.

We chose our characters based on the essentials. I took Domenica Vespucci, the Fate Witch, as it's not something I am likely to have an opportunity for in larp (I don't think cross-dressing would work). To my left was her brother, the swordsman Ennio Vespucci. To my right, her afficanced Alexsy Grajan Nowak, heir to the Samartian throne.


The threads come crashing down. It's a new experience, interrupted all to quickly by the physical effects of one of my fiancé's nobles smashing into the throne room. I didn't even finish the wine. A glance is all it takes to know that fighting is not an option. My brother, always one for drama, brings down some tapestry to cover our escape. Alexsy tells me later it was made to celebrate the uniting of the country under a single king. For now, he dives across the room and out through the window to the balcony below. Me? I whip a rafter and sail out the window and down. The whip holds long enough for my brother to slide down moments later.

Poor Alexsy. He wants to save his father, but then we see the lights in his room and know that any move in that direction would lead only to further disaster. "Alexsy, Alexsy, Alexsy," I say, "You must run." And then my brother grabs me. Most undignified, but he does at least make a stylish retreat over the chandeliers. Alexsy merely rampages through the middle of the confused guards. I do like a determined man.

A short run futher and we are in, it seems, a study. Some books, some maps, a desk, a woman with a lamp. I don't hear what she says, but she clearly has aims on my fiancé and that I can't allow. I draw her attention and she starts to introduce herself. Estera Sabat I think she said; I will get the story from my fiancé later. She clearly wants to help and just needs the right incentive so I offer her a favour from my family. She's young, her favours won't mean much to my father but a lot to her. It's a good bargain and we have an understanding. And respect. And then my brother happens. He just studies her. As she notices, she turns a shade of pink. THEN he turns it on. She almost skips out of the room.

From here, Alexsy points, it's just out the window, across the courtyard, down the gardens and to the waiting ship. Just a few guards in the way. At least he seems sure of himself in his old play area. I refuse Alexsy's offer of help and immediately regret it. Getting down from here seems easy for the boys. Oh well, I'll just have to tidy the scratches immediately. Now I believe the plan was to sneak through the shrubberies...

Oh wait. Alexsy has seen the head guard. The trusted head guard ordering his troops to find seize us. And he chooses to... go to the statue of his father. He gives a mighty good speech, mind you. Enough join him to drive the guard back into the building and lock the door. Just a few guards left to deal with then. Alexsy fights well, but my brother has to do one better and dive into the middle of them all. For some reason the two left are quite happily to change allegiances for money. But they are twice turn-coats and not to be trusted - I will give them to my brother when it's quieter.


Oh weary time. We cannot return like this so we seek alliances. I go to my cousin Elena, who is married to one of the local nobles. We chat but as we get to asking for help we find that blood isn't as thick as it used to be. She has betrayed us to love. Alexsy seizes the moment and explains the facts of changeable politics to the man. We have an ally, sort-of, and confirmation of another. Alas, on the way to Alexsy's uncle we are ambushed in a tavern. Only Ennio's alertness saves our bacon, as he gives the innkeeper a chance to be a hero. As we slip away, we hope his grandchildren hear it from his own lips. Allies are slippling through our fingers so Ennio tries a merchant contact, but his fingers are in another's purse. I'm all for just seducing the wife, but Ennio is much more ingenious. We leave, with the wife indebted to the fatewitch who gave them a child and blessed him. They will work for me now.

For more allies we really need to return home where Ennio and I know people. A masked ball seems like a discreet way to do this, or would be if it were not for the stupid people. While Alexsy follows a lead, Ennio sweeps the floor and quite a few of the skirts (married or not). He gains lots of insight into the current state of Vodacce politics but can't resist making a spectacle. Surprisingly, it is the Sabat woman who challenges him via a drunken proxy. I can't resist the seeing what comes of these two and even offer to help her to even the odds (she doesn't accept; Theus, she is furious). She should have accepted - I've rarely seen his steel move so fast and she is pinned before she knows it. I am not exactly sure what she thinks of Ennio's impromtu rosebed, but she certainly seems impressed by his swordplay.

Alexsy explains his predicament to The Count Nicostrato, weighing heavily on how his marriage is in tatters. Promising he can act as toastmaster, he wins his support. For myself, I know that a deal with Baroness Rosa to embarrass my father will only help both of us so that's what I propose: she gets in on a political triumph and benevolent trade agreements, I get her men. It goes well - I get an additional lead and drop the damage of our arrangement on her.

There's always one loose end though. In this case Zyta, bodyguard and hired killer for Sabat. Ennio steps forward to duel her before her words can do any more damage. "Ennio, Ennio, Ennio," I say, "Fight well. Also, she will block high first." Alexsy brings his own threats to bear; I am not sure what he did but her will seemed shattered. The fight lasted a long time, but it was quickly clear that Zyta was no match for my brother on our home turf. She just needed to learn the lesson the hard way. She ended up pinned to the table by my brother's sword and butter knife. By Zyta.

Time to resume the work of gathering our army.


BEHIND THE SCENES

That was fun! We made full use of significant amounts of our character sheets (as is intended). It was a bit of an odd place to stop but it's in line with other tasters. The name repetition is when Domenica uses her Fate Witchery; the last roll made two raises, two extra dice for the whole duel which made a huge difference; but not as much as Alexsy's Willful virtue. Apart from the fact I couldn't pronouce it, Perspicacious didn't seem so useful as the other virtues but that is probably just timing. Ennio used his taking down the brutes in the garden (sure, he cut himself to shreds too but who's counting?).

THE GOOD

a) Being able to dictate more than your immediate actions is fun, and is nice to see it borrowed from John Wick's own Houses of the Blooded (and elsewhere, obviously). The first scene with Estera Sabat is a perfect demonstration as both Domenica and Ennio got an ally; Ennio put three additional raises, from what was just meant to be a body language check, into winning her over.

b) We really liked playing the consequences game. Ennio ignored consequences when he was dancing for Moar Drama; Domenica averted her own consequences but not Baroness Rosa's when negotiating, because she put her own needs first. (I intended, if other negotiations went well, to do something about that; but we never got to see that.) Alexsy was too straight for this kind of thing. It's why he needed a wife!

c) Flexible combat is cool. Ennio rolled Panache+Tempt vs Wits+Weapon(sword) and spent his ton of successes to cut a path of roses from the rosebeds, before planting one on Estera. He took the damage.

d) Simplification. I have only recently read 1st ed so I'm not expert, but those that did were clear that a lot of things were more straightforward (e.g. sorcery). This is a Good Thing.

e) Skill rerolls. There remains a definite field of trait+skill RPGs and they often find it difficult to answer why you would take one not the other. Little edges like giving higher skills little benefits make me happy.

THE BAD

The dual took 30 minutes we think. Ennio had lots of extra dice and could gain five Hero Points per round, Alexsy had stopped Zyta spending Danger Points (and the ST had a dozen to spend): it was clear from the beginning that she was outmatched. But the damage just didn't come very fast so there followed round after round. Luckily Ennio's player passed the dice round the players for each round (two rounds each) so we all got to play.

The delays were, I think, twofold:
a) Choosing the moves. It would speed up with practice, at which point the choice would be less confusing but the options would feel even less exciting. It might work better if moves were chosen blind and simultaneously (like the Rage card game) so it felt like something was at stake.
b) Constantly counting the dice.

THE UGLY
(This is the stuff where it's opinion is highly subjective.)

a) Hero or morally grey?
Our ST was uncompromising that 7th Sea should be about heroes; after all, that's what they are called. We should be heroic and he frowned at unheroic behaviour. Apart from our natural inclinations, we both followed where our character sheet led. Ennio explicitly states he prefers a lethal way of negotiating; Domenica has an ability called "Come Hither" at the end of which an antagonist is ... unavailable. We don't know what she did but we know what she was promising. Plus they were both from Vodacce family.
I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about 7th Sea (before the kickstarter), and in the end concluded that despite ripping off historical events it is actually wonderful to have this playground where you can change the world without worrying about implications. But as the LARP is showing, one man's hero is another man's villain; plus it would be boring if it was only about pure heroes. I just hope this juxtaposition can be addressed.

b) Dice
Opinions on the dice rolling varied between like, to ambivalent to dislike . I'll be honest, that last was me. At first it seems cool to group all your dice; but by the end it was just a drag. It might have a very interesting bell curve, but otherwise it feels like a gimic. Because of the way dice roll, you are generally going to pair up two dice with the occasional 10 and or some excess dice. It ends up mostly being (stat+skill)/2 +- 1

Here are three alternatives that would leave all the good stuff in:
1) Target number = 6
Any d10 that rolls 6 or more is a success. You still roll lots of dice and you average out the same number of successes. Downside: the range of successes is much broader; but then that might be a good thing.

2) FATE dice
Roll a fate dice + one for every multiple of 5 in your pool. (e.g. 10 dice = 3 fate dice) Add to your pool and halve the total (round down). Advantages: quickest option. Disadvantages: no glorious mountains of dice, involves fractions.

3) Borrow further from Houses of the Blooded
This is probably what I would do if I was house-ruling this. Using D6, divide your pool into raises (kept) and risks (rolled). You succeed at your task if your rolled dice add up to 10 or more, and can apply raises normally except for risks. For every five after that, you counter one risk.
I like this version because it barely touches the total number of raises made + consequences countered, but it does force you to choose between them. Choose your level of heroism here.
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