Game: B-
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7th Sea

First Edition


Publisher Description

7th Sea is a tabletop roleplaying game of swashbuckling and intrigue, exploration and adventure, taking place on the continent of Théah, a land of magic and mystery..

Players take on the roles of heroes thrown into global conspiracies and sinister plots, exploring ancient ruins of races long vanished, and protecting Kings and Queens from murderous villains.

It is a world of sharp blades and sharp wits, where a cutting retort can be just as deadly as a sword’s point!

An Older Game, But Still the Definitive Pirate RPG [ edit ]

After the incredible success of their Asian-inspired fantasy RPG, Legend of the Five Rings, the creative folks at AEG Studios (most notably designer John Wick) turned their attentions westward, to Europe.  But instead of making another medieval fantasy RPG, their new game was inspired by 17th century Europe ... although it still kept the magic/fantasy element.

In other words, 7th Sea can best be described as a "swashbuckling and sorcery" game, and that (of course) makes it perfect for adventures involving pirates.  If you're looking for a setting like that of Pirates of the Caribbean, Seventh Sea is about as close as you'll come.  But at the same time, while it is set in a fictional world, each country in that world has a clear real world counterpart, which means that you can easily adapt real world historical piracy stories to to the world 7th Sea. 

7th Sea, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

Just as with it's sister game (Legend of the Five Rings), before creating their character  mechanically, players in 7th Sea are strongly encouraged to play the "game of 20 questions".  These questions force the player to decide their character's country, motivation, fears, loyalties, family, religion, and so on, so that they have a true character in mind before they ever start filling out their "character sheet".

Once they start that sheet, the first field they'll fill in is their country, which is also their race.  There are analogues of all the major 17th century European countries, so your character can be from France (Montaigne), Russia (Ussura), Germany (Eisen), and so on.  Each country offers different in-game bonuses, so for instance the Eisen (German) characters get a bonus to Strength, while characters from Montaigne (French) instead get a bonus to Panache.

Next, the player gets 100 "hero points" which they can spend on traits, sorcery or sword fighting schools, advantages, skills/knacks, backgrounds and virtues.  They can also gain a hubris (which are negative) in exchange for 10 extra points.

Although 7th Sea doesn't have "classes",  a few expensive point options almost amount to the same thing.  To become a sorcerer the player must spend 20/40 points (depending on whether you are half- or full-blooded), and to learn a sword fighting "school" they'll have to spend 25 points (35 if it's from another country).  Both sorcery and sword fighting schools vary heavily by country.

After those major choices the player can spend points on traits, which are similar to attributes in other RPGs.  Each trait starts at two and costs 8 points to raise (max 3, unless the character has a country bonus).  Next the player can buy advantages for their character, making them noble, dangerously beautiful, or even an ordained priest.

After that the player can buy "skills" for 2 points, which are really more like professional skill sets.  Examples include Courtier, Sailor or Spy, as well as martial skills such as Fencing or Firearms.  Each skill is subdivided further into "knacks", providing a single rank in each.  For example, a doctor gains the Diagnosis, First Aid, and Quack knacks at 1 each.  Players can spend more points to raise knacks, or buy "advanced" knacks (eg. Surgery).

Finally, the character can buy Backgrounds and Arcana.  Backgrounds vary in cost, and range from having Amnesia, to Romance, to Debt.  Each Background is negative, but it provides the player bonus XP whenever it affects the game.  Arcana are unique marks of fate on the character, which can either be a beneficial Virtue (costing 10 points) or a negative Hubris (giving 10 points).

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

7th Sea is a d10-based system, and most rolls involve rolling a number of d10s equal to the appropriate trait plus the appropriate knack.  The player then keeps a number of dice equal to the trait (but not the knack), and totals the result.

If a die rolls a 10 it "explodes", and the player keeps the 10 but then re-rolls the die and adds that result ... and if any further 10s are rolled, they too explode.  If the final total exceeds the target number set by the GM (with 15 being average difficulty), the action succeeds.

If the player thinks the target number is too low, they can voluntary add five to the target number, which is called taking a "raise".  Raises allow the character to succeed with some extra benefit or flourish.  For example, if an archer wanted to shoot a man it wouldn't require any raises, but if they wanted to shoot him in a specific body spot, that would require one or more raises (depending on where exactly),

On top of all this both the players and the GM each get "drama dice", with players typically getting two, and the DM three plus one per player.  These dice have several uses, but their primary one is that they can be spent to add a single kept die to a rolle, and this die can even be added after the rest of the dice have been rolled.

Combat [ edit ]

Combat in 7th Sea is organized into rounds, which are further divided into ten phases.  When a round starts players roll a die for each point of Panache they have.  The GM then counts from 1 to 10, and if a player rolled that phase's number they get to act on that phase (multiple times if multiple dice rolled the same number).  This means that a swashbuckler with a higher Panache score actually gets to act more in combat.

A character can move in combat by using their action, and rather than having a movement score a single movement action let's them reach anywhere in the current map level, or else let's them change map level (eg. running down stairs).  The goal is to encourage dramatic scenes and swashbuckling bravery, and not on square-by-square tactical combat.

Attacking also requires an action, and is accomplished by making a Finesse + Weapon Skill check, which needs to beat five plus five times the defender's Defense knack.  If the attack would hit, and still has an action remaining, they can give it up to make a Wits + Defense roll, and if it beats the attack roll they successfully defend.

Whenever a character takes damage (the amount varies by weapon) they take a number of flesh wounds equal to that damage.  They also have to make a Brawn check which beats their total damage so far.  If it fails they also take a Dramatic Wound, which clears their flesh wounds but have other ill effects: too many wounds and the character's dice no longer explode, or eventually they pass out.

While there are a few more details beyond this, overall 7th Sea's combat rules are fairly straightforward, and mainly focus just on the basics (as you can see from this combat summary).  The overall goal is to allow for dramatic swashbuckling scenes, and features like raises and the drama dice help encourage this.

An Award Winning Swashbuckling Game [ edit ]

7th Sea gives you both a set of set of straightforward swashbuckling rules (which are essentially just an improved version of the already well-developed rules used in Legend of the Five Rings), coupled with a fun fantasy 17th century world.  Although each country in that world will be clearly recognizable to the group, at the same time they also each contain many unique elements, making for a truly unique (although again, recognizable) world for the group to explore.

If you're still not sold on 7th Sea, perhaps it might help to know that when the game came out it won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game of 1999.  Or perhaps more relevantly, despite being an older game, 7th Sea's rank on RPG Geek currently sits at an incredibly high 69 ... out of all RPGs (beating out even Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition!)

In short, if you're looking for a fantasy 17th century setting to run your pirate or otherwise swashbuckling-style campaign in, 7th Sea is very likely the game for you.

An (Unpopular) Second Edition [ edit ]

In 2015 John Wick acquired the rights to 7th Sea from his former company (AEG), and in 2016 he successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to make a second edition of the game a reality.  However, Wick's design sensibilities had changed dramatically in the time in-between (in large part due to his experience making another game, Blood and Honor, in-between). As a result, the second edition was very different from the previous one.

Essentially the old edition of 7th Sea was a game similar to Dungeons and Dragons, Savage Worlds, and many other games with a standard level of rules.  The game's second edition is instead much closer to games like Fate, Fudge, or Cortex Prime, as it takes a much lighter/simpler approach to the rules, opting instead to focus more heavily on story-telling.

Suffice it to say, this new edition was unpopular with many fans of the original, and in 2018 Wick laid off all his staff.  However, the new edition did have its fans, and they were enough to convince another company (Chaosium, makers of the Call of Cthulhu RPG) to bring it back, and you can now buy the second edition from them.

Which Version? [ edit ]

We recommend the game's first edition to most fans, for three main reasons.

First, it has a wealth of products published for it, whereas the second edition has less than ten (and because it's so different, it's difficult to adapt first edition products to it).  Second, the first edition is just more popular: at the time of writing the first edition ranks 69th on RPG Geek, while the second sits down at 156th.

Finally, because of Wick's deal, Chaosium also offers all of the first edition books for sale, which means they're just as easy to buy as second edition.

However, if you are a big fan of John Wick (and more so of his work on Blood and Honor than on Legend of the Five Rings), or if you prefer rules-light, story-heavy RPGs like Fate or Core, you may actually want to check out this newer version of the game.