I can talk your ear off about game mechanics, spouting off what makes dice pools awesome and my love/hate relationship with THACO. I will also always bring up 7th Sea, as it is one of my favorite tabletop RPGs of all time. The thing is, when you’re talking about tabletop RPGs, especially new releases, your focus shifts more towards the rules and the mechanics, rather than what makes the game great; the character. Specifically, your character.
When it comes to character creation, I’m heavy on the spell-slinging. For me, wizards and clerics abound, and the farthest I’ve ever deviated from this is a paladin who spouted more dogma than even my most zealous priest. I’m the reliable support character, as I figure out what sort of spellcasting the party needs and build my character appropriately. Regardless of the system or the setting, I immediately flip to the sections on healing, lore, and mystical mayhem, and begin working on my character’s background. Over the years it’s become a tried and true methodology, producing some of my more memorable and absolutely fantastic characters.
But it’s also done me a disservice. In focusing on the very things I love, I’ve narrowed the scope in which I see the game as a whole. Back in those d20 days, it made sense. I was never going to be a fighter or a ranger, so why give more than a cursory glance at their class descriptions? Sure all those wonderful dice pool systems worked differently, but they always maintained options for being the group’s healer or sage. Well today that all changes as I set forth to delve deep into a game’s mechanics of character creation, focusing on one of gaming’s unsung and under utilized heroic archetypes. That’s right, I’m building barbarians in every single system I can get my hands on, and I’m starting with 7th Sea: Second Edition.
7th Sea: Second Edition isn’t a game about ordinary heroics. Anyone, including villains, can be heroic when the situation rises, and your character is anything but ordinary. They’re extraordinary. They’re a hero, and they accomplish seven feats of heroism every day before breakfast. Well, sometimes during breakfast, seeing as a ham shank makes an excellent improvised weapon.
Going in, you know you’re a bonafide hero. No, scratch that. You’re a bonafide HERO. Someone who is able to swing across a burning ballroom on a chandelier without breaking a sweat, or can fend off a horde of ruffians with one hand tied behind their back. You’re not some average do gooder hoping to someday save the world. You’re ready now, or at least you will be once you finish your HERO’s creation, from the initial concept to the last details.
Hero Creation: Concept
Hero Creation: Concept Revisited
Barbarian with ax?
Right. So as a GM, if someone came to me with a concept that just read barbarian, I’d give them back their character sheet and inform them I need more. For the purposes of our hero’s creation, 7th Sea has a series of twenty questions that help to flesh out who you are and why you’re such an awesome hero. You don’t need to have an extensive autobiography, and honestly you shouldn’t even try. Keeping parts of your past fluid allows for a greater roleplaying experience, and gives the GM room to give you more than a few surprises.
For our barbarian, I’ve come up with the following concept:
Oksana’s bucked tradition since the day she was born, declaring on her fourth birthday that she was in fact a girl, and not her father’s first born son. Their relationship was tough at first, but with her mother’s help, the rift between Oksana and her father lessened until his disappearance a few short years later. With her father presumed dead, Oksana and her family became displaced wanderers. As the oldest child, it fell on her to help her with providing for her siblings. Eventually her mother remarried, and Oksana’s new stepfather, while kind, had no extra room in his small home for his burly, rough and tumble stepdaughter. On her own, she set off to find herself in the world, hoping to one day find true love.
It’s relatively short compared to my usual concepts, but I wanted to keep my options open as I progress further in Oksana’s creation.
Hero Creation: Traits
There are five traits that make up every HERO; brawn, resolve, wits, finesse, and panache. At the start of Hero Creation, every trait begins at level two with a maximum level of five. You start out better than average in everything, and you’re only going to get better with two additional points. I want to focus on Oksana’s brawn, since it makes up her strength and physical power, and both of these things are very important to a barbarian. Same goes for her resolve, which signifies her willpower and endurance.
So starting out, Oksana’s traits are: Brawn 3; Finesse 2; Wits 2; Resolve 3; Panache 2.
While physically powerful, that finesse and panache will need to be raised if I hope to be able to hit and attack more in combat.
Hero Creation: Nation Bonus
Every hero comes from somewhere, and in 7th Sea, you’re heroes come from Theah. If it feels familiar, that’s because it is, as aspects of it resemble 17th Century Europe. There are four countries that could serve as Oksana’s home nation, but I feel that Ussura, a vast wilderness of ancient traditions and proud cultural beliefs fits her best. As a Ussuran, Oksana can either gain a point in her Wits or her Resolve, and seeing as she is a total badass, I’m putting that bonus in Resolve, bringing it up to 4.
Hero Creation: Backgrounds
Backgrounds are kind of amazing. Not only do they add to fleshing out where your HERO came from, but they add benefits to what you know, and more importantly, how you acquire Hero Points that let you do any number of amazing, heroic things. Since Oksana is from Ussura, she can choose from the list of backgrounds specific to characters from Ussura. As a barbarian, with that brawn and resolve focus, I want to make sure her backgrounds fit in with her combative nature.
Right there, top of the list of Ussuran national advantages is Cossack, which will give Oksana a background steeped with horsemanship and warfare. Cool. Awesome. Sold. It will also grant her the ability to gain a Hero Point anytime she leaves behind something important to travel light. That might prove interesting, and could add a great opportunity for tragic role play.
In looking at the second possible background, it’s difficult to break away from my usual tropes. Sure Oksana could be a priest or a scholar, even an archeologist, but I always play that and it doesn’t quite fit the build of badass barbarian. Keeping a combat nature in mind, I start looking over the more rough and tumble bits and spot Mercenary. Oksana as a sellsword? Sure thing, especially with her able to generate Hero Points whenever she plies her trade for a reason greater than money. That’s the thing about being a HERO, you want to generate those Hero Points like crazy, and do all of the nifty, cool things they allow. With my backgrounds now set, Oksana moves forward to the next part of character creation.
Hero Creation: Skills
Thanks to Oksana’s backgrounds, she’s already starting with a few skills right off the bat. Cossack gave her Brawl, Intimidate, Notice, Ride, and Weaponry, while Mercenary gave her Athletics, Brawl, Intimidate, Notice, and Weaponry. There’s some overlap between the skills, which in Hero Creation, can be a good thing. Instead of each of those skills remaining at one, skills that you get twice stack, leaving Oksana’s skills to start with as Athletics 1; Brawl 2; Intimidate 2; Notice 2, Ride 1; Weaponry 2. That’s not a bad way to start off as a barbarian, and considering she has ten more points to add to any skill she wants, there is potential for serious badassery here.
Here’s why skills matter. Throughout the game there will be challenges, requiring you to roll a dice pool of a Trait and a Skill. With every roll, you’re looking to add your dice into tens, so the more dice you roll, the more tens you should be able to make. Every one of those tens lets you take a risk, and being able to take a lot of risks will let you achieve more every round. Specializing can make your HERO dangerous in many situations, but 7th Sea: Second Edition also rewards players for approaching problems in unusual ways. Any Trait and Skill can be combined, as long as there is a story that goes with it, and if you’ve never used that combination before, you get a situational bonus dice for trying it.
At Hero Creation, no skill can be above level 3, so I’m boosting Oksana’s Brawl, Notice, and Weaponry up to that maximum, which unlocks the option of her being able to reroll one dice every time she uses that skill. I’m going to boost her Athletics to 3 as well, which leaves us with 5 points remaining. Now, for people who played the first edition for 7th Sea, they will remember the extensive lists of skills. For second edition, the list has been paired down to the important bits, helping to create more focused acts of heroism. I could take the five extra points to add skills and round Oksana out, but those are all skills that I tend to rely on in every game. Keeping in line with her concept, I pick up three levels of Warfare, one level of Aim, and one level of Hide. I’m not sure how a massive barbarian woman will be able to hide in the shadows, but I’m totally excited to find out.
Hero Creation: Advantages
Advantages are where this system really shines, and Oksana’s Backgrounds gained her a few. A fair number of Advantages are triggered by spending a Hero Point, which helps reinforce why picking the right background for your concept can really pay off. As a Cossack, she starts with Strength of Ten, which allows her to spend a Hero Point to apply her Brawn or Resolve to any feat of strength. Remember, her Resolve Trait is starting at 4, so she’s going to able to show off some real raw power. She also gained Reckless Takedown from being a Cossack, which lets her spend a Hero Point to immediately take down a squad of brutes, not matter how powerful they are, and taking a Dramatic Wound in the process. So worth it.
With Mercenary, she picked up the Advantages Hard to Kill and Cast Iron Stomach, allowing her to take more wounds, and be able to eat just about anything. With five points to spend, the options can seem overwhelming, but there are a few Advantages that you can only take at Hero Creation, and I know off hand that I definitely want Large. With Large, you gain a bonus dice to any risk that is easier do to your size. Seeing as I’ve built Oksana around being a gigantic powerhouse, having that Advantage solidifies how impressive she really is.
With four points remaining, and this being a game about swashbuckling adventures, I pick up Able Drinker, letting her consume great quantities of alcohol without consequence, Indomitable Will, which fortifies her Resolve against attempts to intimidate and seduce her, and then, because she is Ussuran, I pick up Extended Family. I really love this Advantage, as it lets you spend a Hero Point to reveal a distant cousin who lives nearby. Yes, no matter where Oksana goes, she’s going to have family.
Hero Creation: Arcana
There is a reason heroes are so powerful; they’ve all be touched by fate. To exemplify this, every HERO chooses a Virtue and a Hubris. Virtues grant another opportunity to spend a Hero Point, while a Hubris gives you a new way to gain them. For Oksana, her Virtue will be Victorious, which when activated the first time you wound a Villain in a fight, you give them an additional Dramatic Wound as well.
For her Hubris, I’m selecting Unfortunate for Oksana. In 7th Sea: Second Edition, you can choose to fail a roll in order to gain a Hero Point. I really love this concept, and I want to be able to take full advantage of it with my HERO. How Unfortunate plays into this is when you choose to fail at something important, instead of getting one Hero Point, you get two. I’ve mentioned before how much I love when a hero fails, or how sometimes your best just isn’t enough, and I revel at the opportunity to roleplay it.
Hero Creation: Stories
While every HERO in the game is a playing out the same story, each one of them has their own personal story to tell. Stories are how you gain experience in 7th Sea: Second Edition, and the longer and more dramatic the story is, the greater the reward. I know off hand that I want to raise Oksana’s Finesse to 3, which means she will need a 5 Step Story to raise the rank of one of her Traits. For every Story, you figure out how it begins and ends. For Oksana, her first story will be a tale of fraught with adventure and intrigue, as she searches for her missing father.
Every story’s ending should be flexible, and never unattainable. This is driving motivator for your HERO, you want them to accomplish this. To reach that ending, you’re going to need goals, and reaching each of these goals serves as a step towards your story’s progression. Whenever you create a story, you only need to figure out the first step, and for Oksana, the first step is to search the last known location of her father’s caravan for clues. It’s flexible, and attainable, and can be worked into any larger story that the GM has planned. Once that goal is completed, I’ll create another, and then another, until all the steps of the story have been completed and the story is resolved.
As a mechanic for generating experience and hero growth, I am absolute in love with this game.
The Last Details
There are a handful of things that still need to be fleshed out, like if Oksana wants to join a Secret Society, and what her starting Wealth and Languages are. It is the last bit of fleshing out you do before your HERO is released into the world, so it also gives you time to review your hero in full.
I’m in love with Oksana. I want ride through the countryside with my ax in hand, fighting evil as I look for my missing father. Is she a barbarian? In my mind she is, and a totally badass one at that. She is so far removed from the characters I usually play, the characters I love to play, but I’ve given her those sparks of life that interest me as a gamer.
I love 7th Sea. I’ve talked about it at length, I’ve run more campaigns in it than anything else, and I will always recount the exploits and horrors my players suffered through. When the Second Edition was announced, I was apprehensive. Change can be a scary thing, especially with something you love like crazy, but I trusted the designers to create something amazing. 7th Sea: Second Edition is amazing, and it’s beautiful too. Gaming has changed in the past twenty years, and this game shows it. I cannot emphasize how strongly I feel that everyone should pick this game up, and at $24.99 for the PDF, this game is a steal.