Tell Me A Story
7th Sea does away with the normal XP systems of other games. Instead if you want your character to grow you have to tell stories. In a sense the number of beats in a story are equivalent to XP, but the execution of it is different, and where it is different is where it is important, because it changes how the game works on an interesting level. Yeah, that's right, you're going to be taking on some of the GM's job.
What happens in 7th Sea is that you make a story for your character. You start by defining three things:
- The reward you get at the end of the story
- The end of the story
- The first step along the way to the end of the story
The reward is what you want to get mechanically. You want Weaponry 3? Your reward is weaponry 3, that simple. The end of the story is an open ended action point for the end of the story. It could be "
lies dead at my feet" or it could be "I get into a duel with ." Something that signifies the end of the story. Then, you do the first step. Why? So you can start the story.
The GM then plays with you through the story. You hit the first step, and then define the second. Then you do that and define the third. You do however many steps you need to do to get to the end of the story (determined by what you're getting out of it.)
This doesn't mean that the GM doesn't get to tell their own stories. The GM has stories - every GM has stories. The GM's job however is to weave his stories around the stories that the players are also telling. The GMs stories also have steps, goals, and rewards. You don't get to know the goal or the steps - that is the GMs job - but the steps work like free XP for you to spend as you see fit.
What This Does
In a sense this is great for both GMs and players. Why? Well, for the GM it means that some of the prep is already handled for them. The players have their stories - stories that they want to tell about their characters - and those stories always have the next thing that needs to happen defined. This means that a chunk of each session can be spent just going through those steps.
The players benefit because they get more control in the story of their character. If they want a prominent NPC to show back up, they can work out a story with the GM for that NPC to come back up. If they want to get bested in a duel by their sister, but then ultimately win in a rain soaked duel on the roof of a chapel? They can go for that too.
When you combine the two, you end up with a hopeful blend between individual player stories and the GM group storiy. In other words, you have the meta story controlled by the GM and the individual character arcs that is both the player and the GM working together.
The One Problem
I see one problem with this. Players writing and telling their own stories isn't something a lot of games do. GMs are used to running plots, throwing loops, and doing all sorts of things of that nature. This means the GM is going to need to take some time to adjust and they need to be aware of all the stories that are going on. You can't just leave a player out of a session with no growth in their story because doing that is effectively denying them XP. On the other hand, meta stories may sometimes devour an entire session, and so a balance needs to be made to keep everyone's story going while also giving time to the meta.
It makes the GM even more of a juggler, and some GMs - even terrific ones - may not be up for the task. Fortunately, it's not hard to twist things in the system so the GM has more leeway. So that's always good.
Going forward, one of my friends - an amazing GM in his own right - is going to be running a game of 7th Sea that I'll get to play in. I can't wait to see how it plays from the player side of the screen. Hopefully it'll tide me over until I can get on the GM's side of the screen.