Wednesday, August 17, 2016

7th Sea: Core Resolution vs. Dramatic Sequence

On Monday we talked about three of the big things involved in GMing 7th Sea. Today I want to talk to the 'how' you handle those things at the table. I don't mean what you say and do, but the mechanics in place that lets you place conflict before the PCs and see how they resolve it. Today we'll be talking about the Core Resolution Mechanic, Dramatic Sequences, and how they differ. Shall we?

Core Resolution
Stripped of all the fancy talk around it, at its heart the core resolution mechanic in 7th Sea has three steps.

  1. You define the scene for your player(s)
  2. The player determines their approach and makes their roll
  3. The player spends raises from their roll to modify the scene.
That's it. That is the entire game, and you could handle everything in the game that way. It might be a bit simple, but it could work. As the GM the two parts of this you want to be the most aware of are steps 1 and 3. Of the two, 1 is actually the most important to have down.

Define the Scene
When defining the scene you can be as complex or simple as you want. If you want the scene to be complex, start thinking in terms of things that are bad, or against the PC, and things that are good for them. The bad things are called Consequences, and the good things are called Opportunities. Normally you give the player the Opportunities and Consequences after they define their approach to the scenario, but they're still a part of defining the scene. 

Consider the following two settings

  • The boards give out and drop you into the heart of a burning building. You need to get out or you'll be burned alive. What do you do?
  • The boards give out and drop you into the heart of a burning building. You notice a ledger with the Count's crest on it sitting on a nearby desk. The guards that were chasing you kick in the door, intent on still catching you. What do you do?
Both of these scenes are equally valid. The first is a bit simpler, the PC has to escape the burning building. The second lays the groundwork for an opportunity, and also brings further consequences (the guard brute squad) into the picture.

Either way, we're ending with the player telling you how their character responds to this scenario.

Spending Raises
So now you have a set scene, your player has an approach, and has even made their roll. Now they get to spend their raises to modify the scene. Now, your player can choose to spend raises on the normal thing: succeeding or failing at the task at hand, avoiding consequences, or taking opportunities. However, they can also do other things with them as well.

For example, while in that burning building the player could ask to spend a raise to find a loaded pistol near a desk that they could use. As the GM you could either allow this - at which point the player spends the raise - or deny it (at which point the player keeps the raise.) The idea is to tell an exciting story, so you're better off working with your players then against them to make things the best and most exciting story they can be. 

Not every player is good about thinking up things on the spot, and experienced players aren't used to having the power to just define things within reason - or know what 'within reason' is. Because of this, it's good to have some consequences and opportunities for rolls already in place. It lets the player feel good when they can clean up all the side parts of the roll.

When Multiple Players Are Involved
What happens when multiple players are involved in a scene? Well, that tends to make the scene either an Action Sequence or a Dramatic Sequence. An Action Sequence is basically just a fancy word for using the core resolution mechanic with groups. It also, as the name implies, means there should be some action involved, but don't confuse "action" with "combat." While all combat is action, not all action is combat.

Order of resolution is done simply by most raises to least raises, but otherwise you handle it the exact same way. You define the scene, get the approaches from the players, define consequences/opportunities (technically part of the scene) and then let them spend raises to modify that scene. Easy peasy. So easy, it is simple to think you're doing something wrong.

Brute Squads As Consequences
In the above example I added a brute squad to a scene as consequences. I want to clarify that here. Brute Squads, if you remember, are basically glorified consequences. As such, they can be added to any scene/sequence to add a "combat" component that just neatly sits in the background to be dealt with or not as the players choose. If the players don't deal with it, they'll take wounds. If they do, they may miss out on other things. The choice of which to do and how that works is where the drama and the story come in. So really, if you need a sequence to be more tense and don't know what to add, take an addage from some writing advice. When in doubt: have someone kick the door in.

Dramatic Sequences
Dramatic Sequences in other systems are basically extended checks. Only, rather than making Stealth Checks until you have 7 successes, or a total roll of 80+, or however else your system does, when we do a Dramatic Sequence we only make one roll.

Some examples of Dramatic Sequences are: a Masquerade Party at a Montaigne Nobles House, breaking into a bank to rob the vault, a day of tense negotiations over trade routes with a shipping company, leading an excavation for a lost city.

See the big difference? Dramatic Sequences handle items that take place over a longer period of time. They're not meant to handle a fight between two people, or even an argument. They cover longer stretches of time. 

Along with the time difference, Dramatic Sequences also have other differences: they don't come pre-loaded with consequences and opportunities. Those are handled in a much more back and forth type approach.

As a fun aside, the origin for a Dramatic Sequence came about when Mike Currier wanted a way to handle the scene where a hero is pinned down in an elaborate garden and needed to get to a sniper taking aim at them. This is a more narow stretch of time, but it still works for the dramatic sequence due to the game of cat and mouse going on between hero and sniper. Out of respect for that, it's the example I want to use for how Dramatic Sequences work.

We start with our PC - Michelle - in a garden. She needs to get to the far side of the garden, without being seen, and scale a wall to get into her lover's room. Michelle's player has asked for a descriptionof the garden, and the GM has provided a simple map indicating where decorations and statues are. Looking over the map, Michelle chooses the first part of her route. She tells the GM she's going to cut down the middle to the large fountain. The GM considers the approach then tells Michelle's player she'll need to spend two raises or she'll be seen by a guard along the way.

Michelle spends the raises and makes it to the fountain. She holds up another raise and tells the GM she finds a letter from another suitor to her love left on the fountain. The GM agrees, and Michelle gets the letter. It seems she is not the only one with an interest. Now how to get the rest of the way?

Does that give a good idea? Dramatic Sequences are all about the player making a play, then the GM telling them what they have to spend to get around obstacles, or to accomplish their goal. The Player can also make opportunities, which the GM can deny or go with as they see fit. Either way though, we're using the Core Resolution Mechanic, we're just spreading out the consequences and raise spending on a more step by step basis.

If this Dramatic Sequence had 4 players trying to get through the house, we would once again go in number of most raises and handle it much the same way. If a player runs out of raises then they can't avoid the consequence that comes up, and you transition from there. How you transition depends on what happened. Maybe they can't avoid their mother at a party and get pulled into pointless conversation. Maybe they get spotted cracking a safe by guards and now we have an action sequence for escaping the house. That's up to you and your players.

Have fun, go nuts. The system is designed to tell epic stories of Swashbuckling Daring Do. Embrace that.

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