Sunday, August 28, 2016

7th Sea Second Edition - Story Options

I was inspired by +Rob Donoghue 's excellent hacks for incorporating Dracheneisen back into 7th Sea as a noble trait and using the Sorte Deck to develop 13th Age Icon-like relationships with the big names of the setting. (Rob also did a thorough review post on the game that echo most of my feelings as I read the book.)

7th Sea has always been a game of hacks, tweaks and house rules for me. Now that I'm a game designer, that hasn't changed. I offer a trio of hacks for the player stories after the jump.

There are a lot of interesting things going on in the game but one of the things that really caught my attention are Stories. Rather than racking up XP points that are then spent on character improvement, each player works out a serial plot that ends with the change to the character sheet mirroring the change in the story. Want to get better at sailing? You'll need to find a treasure map, sail to the uncharted island and find the treasure there. The player and the GM set-up the beginning and the end of the story and play to find the middle.

I'm a big fan of GM/player collusion. My original game of 7th Sea is one of the shining examples of how scheming with a player can make for an unforgettable moment. (Ask me about it at a convention sometime.) I'm excited that more and more games are encouraging this authorial discussion with players and incorporating that discussion into the game directly. It's why I am a big fan of Powered by the Apocalypse games where you ask questions as the players make characters.

Part of the fun of playing these games is the discovery of plot. Sometimes, that's putting players in a room full of NPCs as a party, watching everyone bounce off each other, and grabbing hold of the plot threads that emerge. Other times, it's setting up a plot with a player only to have the goals change during play, or, in the case of my Requiem game, minutes before the player is executed for her treachery. (Yeah, you can ask me about that story, too.) Playing to explore the middle is fun, but I can see some players and GMs who might chafe against already controlling where the story is going. So, I decided to write up a couple of options that I'm considering using in my own games.

Option 1: Tug-Of-War

Rather than decide together the beginning and the end of the story, the player chooses one...and then the GM chooses the other. So if the player defines the beginning of her story, the GM defines the end. If the player has an end goal in mind, the GM decides what he needs to do to start on the path. Can the parties negotiate? Sure, but each side has a firm grasp on one end of the story to begin. 

This isn't that far off from the way the rules are already, but formalizing the process a bit seems like it might be helpful for groups coming into this game from a more traditional XP experience. It also keeps player stories from being discusses like who's bringing dinner for the game on Friday. It was inspired by Fiasco and how each turn, the player chooses the setup or the resolution to their scene. The other half is left up to the table hivemind which could also work here, too.

Option 2: Story Forks

One of the big inspirations for the Story mechanics in this game seem to be the Milestones from the late, lamented Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. Characters in that game would choose sets of Milestones that functioned as b-plots during games. Every time the character takes an action that played to a Milestone, they got a little XP. Finally, the time would come for the milestone to resolve and the player had to decide which way they wanted to go. Does Wolverine step up as leader of the X-Men or walk away from the team? Does Spider-Man reveal his secret identity to the world or lose MJ by not giving up being a hero? It's an ingenious way to tell stories that feel like the comics. Given the close relationship between the comic books of today and the pulp swashbucklers of yesterday, something similar would be a great fit for this game.

When a player and GM choose a story, they chose two endings. They also choose two unique story rewards, one for each ending. If the player is searching for her long lost love, they could end up together, or the lover could end up with the player's rival from their Duelist Academy. If the player ends up with their love, their Panache increases as her heart fills with joy from finally being reunited with the Contessa. If the Contessa chooses the rival, the player's Resolve increases instead, because she must harden her heart...and possibly dig in her heels to win the lady back. 

Option 3: The Story Off-Ramp

Story forks offer the same level of reward for the end of the story. This option allows players to set up stories that offer two options, but one comes earlier than the other for a smaller reward. This gives players a choice to make during their story rather than the end. Do they take the easier reward or gut it out to the end? Does the player still want the option at the tail end of the story?

Let's go back to our Duelist and the Contessa. She'll still end up with an extra dot of Panache and the Contessa's hand if she stays in the chase for five sessions. But what if there's another, wealthy suitor that also wants the Duelist as a wife? He'll make her very Rich, but the time for the Duelist to decide by the third session if she wants to marry for love (and complete the story after five sessions for the Panache) or money (and take the Rich Advantage after three sessions).

Let me know if you use these hacks in your games!

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