GMing 7th Sea 2nd Edition is interesting. It's interesting because the approach to scenarios is different. A lot of the normal stand bys for games are gone. Your players are actively telling their own stories and those need to be incorporated, you can't just drop a fight into a session to stretch it out, and in general you handle a lot less dice and have a lot more power to fiat than in other games. It's those last 2 that threw me for a loop, and seems to be causing confusion in other places I've looked.
Near as I can tell, as the GM - Rules As Written - you roll in very few scenarios. Those scenarios? When a Villain is directly opposing a Hero or Heroes in an action sequence. When an NPC Hero is opposing a PC Hero in an Action Sequence. Finally, when an NPC Hero is involved in a dramatic sequence. That's about it. Villains don't get directly involved in dramatic sequences because that level of opposition tends to be too fast. So how do other "counter" moves happen? GM Fiat.
Fiat is a common thing in games, but we tend to hide we're doing it with dice rolls. In 7th Sea the dice rolls are gone, and for a good reason: Failing because a scenario went nuts will not kill a Hero. In fact, the only way for a Hero to die is for them first to be rendered Helpless (4 dramatic wounds), a point from the doom pool to be spent, and a Villain to dump all their remaining raises into the specific action of murdering the Hero. That's it. And that is incredibly freeing. So don't worry about making things crazy for your Heroes. Worst case scenario the game just goes down a side avenue.
So if you don't roll dice as a GM then how do you handle Brute Squads when they're fighting the PCs? Well, simply put, you don't aside from placing the Brute Squad. For the most part a Brute Squad is just a very large group of consequences, and those consequences are wounds. At the end of a round in an Action Sequence each Brute Squad deals a number of wounds to one PC equal to the strength of the Brute Squad. That's it. No rolling. Little decision making. When everyone is done spending their raises, the Brute Squads just do damage and you go on. Pretty boring huh?
It's true, and it's one of the reasons you can't just drop a Fight Scene into 7th Sea. In fact, if you look through the book you won't find a section for "combat mechanics" like most games. All you'll find is "Action Sequences" and while Action Sequences can include combat, they should be so much more.
Consider Zorro. You put Zorro up agianst 4 or 5 soldiers and it's not even a contest. He's going to beat them. That's why when Zorro is in a fight there is always more going on. He is chasing them on horseback, trying to escape a castle, trying to get to a Villain, otherwise engaged with the villain, or trying to escape a fire. This is what an Action Sequence should be. If you just drop some brute squads in front of your players and say "have at" all you get is PCs rolling dice and dropping raises on dropping the brute squads. It isn't very rewarding, isn't very involved, and it isn't meant to be. However, do the same thing while riding on galloping horses through a forest and over ravines and watch the sequence come to life. That is how you handle Brute Squads. They're not a threat in and of themself. They're a spice to add danger and action to something that would already be exhilerating.
But you want to roll dice, and you want to have a fight with the PCs. Well, that is where Villains come into the picture. Villains are the bad guys, and a good villain will cut through a PC as fast as a PC will cut through a Brute Squad, and I mean that. Villains are necessary if you want something as vanilla as "just a fight sequence" to be entertaining, but put them into an Action Sequence like we described above and watch things go into over drive.
But wait, I hear you say, this sounds like Villains should be interacting with the PCs regularly, but the big villain shouldn't be faced until the end.
Right you are. Your big villain, the main Villain should be saved. However, the very term "Main Villain" means that we have "Supporting Villains." Those are who you want to use. Heck, the rule book for Villain plots even has rules for hiring a sub-villain to do a job, and those villains should be used.
You want to have a Brute Squad ambush a group of PCs and stop them from getting word to the Cardinal about the plot? Have the Brute Squad (or Squads) led by a low to moderate strength villain and watch what happens. Those Brute Squads are going to be a lot harder to justify spending raises weakening with a real villain there dishing out wounds, applying pressure, and making active progress towards big goals.
In a real way Villains are the meat of the meal of a game of 7th Sea. they shouldn't be the biggest, most prominent thing on the plate. They're definitely not a spice. But they're why we ordered this plate in the first place and they're core to the experience.
Use villains well, and 7th Sea will sing. Use them sparingly, or unwell, and 7th Sea may not seem as capable as it otherwise may be.
Think of your sub-villains like Saturday Morning Cartoons. Sure, Skeletor doesn't fight He-Man all the time, but he has his henchmen that regularly go out and do, right? Do that. Give your Villain hench-men. Give the hench-men Brute Squads. It makes it better.
The fun thing is though, the rules give ways for villains to become stronger as they go along. Who doesn't want to watch the lowly Strength 4 villain from session one become a strength 30 power player as the game progresses?
I hope this helped some. I want to talk more about 7th Sea, some general tips for handling things (core resolution, keeping things moving, and Dramatic Sequences) and I might on Wednesday. For this though, these were areas I personally had the most confusion and figured I'd share the answers I found.
To sum up:
- The GM pretty much only rolls when a Villain or Hero is directly involved with the PCs somehow
- Brute Squads are a spice to enrich an action sequence, not the reason to have one (unless you just want it quick)
- Villains elevate the scenes and add real threat, use sub-villains liberally and let the PCs get to know them.