Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sailing Off Into The 7th Sunset

I wrapped up my 7th Sea Campaign tonight. It was 7 sessions of play, mostly just fulfilling what was officially a 5-chapter story. There was a terrible monster on the loose, and the PCs eventually figured out it used to be a Montaigne noblewoman who'd blooded the wrong Syrneth artifact. When she tried to call it to her with Porte, she got her soul trapped inside it, and her body turned into a murderous Porte-wielding monster. The players returned the artifact to the Syrneth ruins where it had originally been found, and thereby put the monster to rest. One of the PCs sacrificed themself to seal the monster in, which wasn't my original planned solution but was suitably bad-ass enough to work and feel like an epic campaign-capper. Everyone had a blast, and it was nice to run a game to a logical and exciting crescendo in a relatively short number of sessions.

Now, we certainly could have continued from there with the surviving characters and 1 replacement. It was tempting to do so, but for one misgiving: I really don't like the 2nd Edition mechanics. I love the heck out of the 7th Sea setting, but I didn't really enjoy the new system. It wasn't awful, but it never quite gelled for me. The players enjoyed the game, because I gave them a compelling mystery and an intriguing cast of NPCs to interact with -- and because the PCs were themselves fun and colorful so I definitely can't  claim credit for everything good about the campaign.

For being such a light system, it took a surprising amount of work to make fights and chases fun. The Action Sequences worked well if I took a lot of time to prepare them with a bunch of Consequences (we're fighting on a boat in a storm) and Opportunities and Villain with a good special ability and a couple Brute squads to back him or it up. If the PCs unexpectedly picked a fight when I wasn't prepared for it the battles ended up being one-sided and lackluster. Maybe that's my failing as a GM, and maybe it's not as bad as I thought, as my players didn't have nearly as many complaints as I did. For a super-light system where your nastiest Villain only has 3 stats, one of which is literally the sum of the value of the other 2 stats, it took a surprising amount of prep to make Fights and Chases feel tense. None of my PCs were Duelists, so it's possible that fight scenes would have been more readily dynamic if we'd gone that route, but as I mentioned in previous posts I think the Duelist rules had some balance issues. In D&D if the players go off the map, you can pad out your run-time by throwing a handful of goblins (or something stronger at higher levels) at them. There's no 7th-Sea equivalent of the low-prep filler-fight.

The Dramatic Sequences had the same problem of being cool if I anticipated them and prepped all sorts of neat things happening during the Sequence for players to spend Raises on, and falling flat if the players chose to investigate somewhere or talk to someone I wasn't prepared for. I'm pretty good (I think) at improvising NPC dialog and I had a multi-layered mystery plotline so I made those improv scenes generally fun, but the lack of dynamic Consequences and Opportunities in most social or investigative scenes meant that the Players didn't necessarily get their "money's worth" for character points spent on non-combat skills. There was lot of GM-fiat involved. I probably could have done better in the planning department there. The age-old GM crutch of having the PC roll some dice and basing a decision on the roll is very complicated in 7th Sea. There's no equivalent to rolling a natural 20, and rolls where the PC gets no successes is almost unheard of. As GM, you have to build multiple Consequences and Opportunities into every die roll, or else just accept that the PC will automatically succeed. I did the later far more often than the former. Again, that might be my failing more than the rulebook's. I dunno.

We're almost certainly going to switch to a different campaign with a new setting and new rules when next we get together. If that weren't the case, or if I were to give 7th Sea 2nd Ed another go somewhere down the line, I can think of a tool I might create that would help make these Action and Dramatic Sequences easier to put together on the fly. Basically a deck (or a couple decks) of Consequences and Opportunities on notecards. This would provide some inspiration and help the GM spice up a Sequence or Risk. Having them on cards you could play to the table would also help the Players realize what options they had during each scene. I know we had a couple times where the PCs missed Opportunities and at least once suffered a Consequence because by the time we got to someone's third action in a scene they'd just forgot about a detail I'd described at the start of the round, and so they dumped all their Raises on a big hit. That was ok, I guess, but it was definitely a rough edge of the system that could be polished smooth with deck or two.

The other hard part for me as GM was balancing Story Chapters. I like giving my players a lot of freedom to chart their own course, so it made me reluctant to spell out the 5 steps to my story. I was crafting a mystery to investigate, so I didn't want to spoil it with detailed steps that revealed too much. A consequence of that was my steps were a little too vague and it took 7 sessions (by my count, one of the players disagreed it was this long and my notes don't include play dates to verify) to finish our 5 Chapter Story. None of the players managed to complete their personal Stories. Partly that was because they were very focused on the main mystery, but when I did go out of my way to introduce a new major NPC for one PC's Story, they bushwacked him in the very next scene and kinda short-circuited that Storyline. So, yes, I could have done better, but it was also at least a little on them. Over all this isn't insurmountable, as I think there's a learning curve to Story creation and we would have eventually found our footing (in writing them up as well as multitasking the pursuit of plot) if the campaign continued. It's just that given the other headaches and speed bumps in the system, we're choosing to move on before that learning curve has gotten past the initial spike.

Anyhow, it's not a horrible game, and I still love the setting. I just think I'd rather put my efforts into something different for now, and my players are willing to indulge that.

No comments: