7th Sea
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Basic Information

7th Sea is an RPG by John Wick1 that is often thought of as "a game about pirates", despite actually covering a heck of a lot more.

It's set on a world called Theah, which is sort of a greatest hits of history. A friend of mine once described it as "7th Sea is an RPG set in the hundred year period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Industrial Revolution." If you're scratching your head because your recollection of history is that a lot more than a hundred years took place between those two eras… well, that's exactly the point. Most of the game is set in a time roughly akin to Golden Age of Piracy and/or the The Restoration, but everything interesting in history is shoe-horned in so that any historical event you want to explore either has a direct analog happening right now, or else just happened a generation ago so you can live in a world still reeling from it's immediate aftermath. Valid character choices would include a pirate or musketeer as you might expect, but you could also totally play a viking or arthurian-style knight. Major named NPCs include analogs for Napoleon, the Spanish Inquisition, Merlin, Louis XVI, and Zorro to name a few. It kinda sounds like a mess, but in practice it's actually a really successful at giving you comfortable tropes and handles for grasping the setting in a hurry. It's pretty great.

In addition to all these historical riffs, the game also features magic and supernatural elements. Each of the major nations of Theah (each of which has a real-world analog) has it's own unique brand of sorcery, a lineage that traces back to the Senators of a fallen Roman-esque empire. These magics are very flavorful, often creepy, and relatively narrow.

  1. The "French" magic is a bloody teleportation power that tears gory holes in reality and leaves the sorceror literally red-handed.
  2. The "Italian" (or more specifically "Venetian") magic involves tarot suits and manipulating the woven threads of fate.
  3. The "English" magic is glamour gifted by the sidhe.
  4. The "Scandinavian" magic is rune-based and is usually carved into items.
  5. The "Russian" magic is a form of shapeshifting
  6. The "German" magic is rare and dark and macabre, but the specifics vary by edition.
  7. The "Spanish" magic is either pyromancy or alchemy depending on edition.

I listed them in that order based on how common or accepted each sorcery is. The Emperor of "France" has openly declared himself a sorcerer, so magic is in vogue in his court. At the bottom of the list, the Inquisition has all but burned out the "Spanish" bloodline and the few remaining practitioners work their art in secrecy.

But that's not all! There are also Adventurer Archaeologist's a plenty in Theah, and a wee touch of Cthulhu-lite. Supernatural monsters are rare and usually unique, but they definitely exist. There are no playable non-humans, but long ago a series of alien races collectively called the Syrneth dominated the continent and then mysteriously vanished before the advent of man. Their ruins dot the countryside, including the sewers beneath the capital of "France".

Edition Differences

The first edition was a traditional RPG with a d10-based dice pool skill system instead of classes. First Edition focused almost exclusively on Theah's equivalent of Europe, and really only incorporated European History into the timeline. The rest of the world was there, but mostly off-camera or hidden behind a literal firewall. The French Revolution was always brewing on the horizon, and was the focus of one of the last books published for this edition.

In the GMs books for the 1st Edition, there was a bit of a surprising twist where it's made very clear that all Sorcery exists because the Senators of the ancient Empire struck a bargain with some otherworldly entities that may be remnants of the Syrneth or may be what destroyed the Syrneth. The upshot of this is that all Magic is evil at least in origin, but most PC sorcerers don't know it. I'm of the opinion that: a) this is really cool, and b) you probably should have guessed that something was a little fishy when your standard teleportation power makes the universe bleed. Some people, on the other hand, didn't like learning late in the campaign that they've been slowly contributing to the destruction of the in-game world by just using the powers they bought innocently at character creation. For that reason the second edition eliminated this dark origin from most of the magics and made it an express and known component in the few cases where it wasn't removed, so there were no more nasty post-creation surprises.

The second edition has more of a story game mechanic that gives players more narrative power. The setting has been expanded to include several other continents that roughly correspond to all the non-European continents of the real world., and the timeline has a much broader World History reach. The corebook adds a new country that is a stand-in for much of Eastern Europe and has a "strike a bargain with the devil at a crossroads" kind of magic. A variety of sourcebooks focus on each of the other continents in turn, with new cultures and sorcerous lineages. This edition was launched via Kickstarter, so it brought a lot of sourcebook material to market in a few short years.

Between those two editions, there was a d20 system line called Swashbuckling Adventures in the same setting as the 1st Edition. Some of the books in that line had stats for both d20 and d10 versions.



Game and Story Use

  • 7th Sea is an amazing work of world-building, and a clever model for "filing the serial numbers off" of history.
    • You can drop a player into the thick of the setting, and have them up and running in the setting's in-universe history and politics in just a few minutes. That's a thing of beauty.
  • There's a lesson about transparency and managing player expectations to be learned from the part in the black-bar spoiler tags above. Sometimes surprises are awesome, and sometimes they ruin your favorite character.
  • That magic system is also a lovely work of art. Each of the national magics has its own unique identity and mechanical niche, and you could have an entire party of sorcerors without any overlap. They're all flavorful and evocative, and there's just a touch of creepiness or otherworldliness to make them feel truly magical and alien.
  • The Nation-specific sourcebooks from the first edition had a fun alternate character creation system where you drew Tarot cards and the tableau of cards determined your backstory and a number of random bonuses. It's was fun and thematic, especially if your party included a "Venetian" fate witch who could see (or even interact with) the layout that defined each Hero's life story. As far as random PC generators go, it was one of the most engaging I've ever played with.
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