Monday, September 5, 2016

[7th Sea] Lessons from GMing My First Session

On Friday I ran my first session of 7th Sea from the GM's side of the table. I felt I was fairly prepared, having been doing little but thinking about GMing 7th Sea since it came out, and participating in various discussions. Still, as anyone who has learned to drive can tell you: there's a big difference in knowing the theory, and the practical application. Today I want to talk about that, and some of the differences I noticed in the system.

Rolls Matter A LOT More
Rolls in 7th Sea matter a lot more. The system has no time for casual "can I even do this" checks if there are no serious consequences or opportunities also inherent in the check. This means you don't get hiccups of players having to roll to see if they can pick a lock when there are no consequences to the attempt other than success or failure.

I knew this was coming, but it is also huge because if a building containing secrets is empty or otherwise free of consequences there is almost no point in mentioning the villains locked it because any PC with theft will just open the lock as if it weren't. This also impacts other checks that are almost too casual in other games. Over all, it makes the game run smoother, but it is something that feels weird as a GM because you're used to having these snags where mechanics take over - albeit briefly - to determine something, and that just isn't the case.

It also means that you have to be more on your game when rolls do happen. The interaction has to be more interesting, or have the potential to be more interesting, which in turn encourages you to set up your encounters to be more fun.

Consequences Provide So Much Opportunity For Fun
Going into the session I knew what my expectations were. A PC would face a risk, I would ask for their approach, give them a list of consequences and opportunities, they would roll and then determine which consequences or opportunities were triggered. I figured on the easy things for consequences: a guard recognizes you, he swallows the key you're trying to get, you get hit by the poison needle, etc.

However, in play after the first couple risks I found myself expanding on things a little bit. In one case, a PC was trying to get information from an NPC in a tavern by getting said NPC drunk and being a little flirty and a little stern. I told them to make a risk and gave them two consequences: a bar brawl would erupt behind them as people got mad they weren't getting free drinks, and an unwanted suitor would join the PC at the table and interfere with the interrogation.

When the dice hit the table the player had enough raises to get some information and not get entangled in the bar brawl starting behind her, but not to avoid the suitor. A quick coin-flip on my part to determine the gender, and a new NPC was born. An NPC that will likely be making additional appearances due to being well received.

The NPC didn't change much in how things played out, but it did change who got certain information and let a player discover more about their character. Good times.

Murder Provides Freedom
In 7th Sea heroes do not die casually. The only way for a Hero to die, is for a Villain to murder them. This is a very deliberate action that involves three major steps.

  1. The Hero must be rendered Helpless by receiving 4 dramatic wounds
  2. The Villain must spend a point from the DOOM pool for the specific purpose of murdering a hero
  3. The Villain must cash in all remaining raises for the round to murder a hero.
Even with those three things another hero can prevent the murder by spending their raises (doesn't even have to be the same amount) with the declaration of preventing it.

So PC death is rare in 7th Sea. This encourages the GM to come up with other costs of failure, and for the players to be daring and bold, but I also found it incredibly freeing. How so? Well, over the course of the game the PCs got into a fight with a villain. I wanted the villain to escape - but the villain didn't have the Influence to spend to simply escape for free. However, I DID have a boatload of points in the doom pool. So I dumped the doom pool into the villain's next dice pool and did as much damage as I could to the hero directly engaged with him.

The PC was rendered helpless, the next closest PC rushed to help him (knowing I'd saved one point from the doom pool specifically for murder) and the villain escaped.

This isn't something I intend to do often, but for a first meeting with the villain I felt it appropriate and I can appreciate it in other ways too. I can burn buildings down, blow up ships, and put my PCs in nefarious traps without fear of them accidentally dying. This also means their successes, and survival, aren't always as outstanding but I'm confident in my ability to make losing feel like losing regardless of if anyone dies. After all, a hero is defined as much by their failures as they are by their villains, and there is always the opportunity for death with a villain around.

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