7th Sea is a tabletop role-playing game and related CCG created by AEG after Legend of the Five Rings became a success. The game's central setting is Théah, an alternate version of Europe during the 17th century, bordered by the Crescent Empire, an analogue of the Ottoman Empire, and Khitai, an analogue of Asia. Théah is composed of several theme park versions of various major European countries and cultures. The countries vie with each other for political and economic dominance, while pirates sail the seas in search of adventure and treasure. The world is based very much upon the varied tropes common to swashbuckling and pirate stories.
The RPG is very notable for its No Historical Figures Were Harmed versions of quite a number of NPCs described in the sourcebooks. People with only a cursory knowledge of European history can name at least two or three of the major NPCs' real-life counterparts. Those who have more background in history can find many more, as well as note the places where Wolfrond von Hazel was a Syrneth Spy.
In 2015, John Wick Presents, run by John Wick, part of the original development team for 7th Sea, bought the publishing rights from AEG. They announced plans for a second edition that would reboot the game, changing up the system and setting, making some changes to the established countries, and expanding the 7th Sea world, now named Terra - Aztlan (Central/South America), Wabanahkik (North America), and Ifri (Africa) were added to the world map, and the Sarmatian Commonwealth (the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth) was added to the map of Théah.
A Kickstarter to fund the second edition line ran in February/March 2016, which smashed through its initial $30,000 goal for the corebook and The New World sourcebook (for Aztlan) in seven minutes, went on to fund ten additional sourcebooks and a considerable amount of other stuff (novels, maps, etc.), and ultimately became the first tabletop RPG Kickstarter to reach a million dollars, with a final total of $1.31 million.
A planned second 7th Sea line, 7th Sea: The East, was announced during the Kickstarter, focusing on Cathay and other Asian-analogue countries, with its own independent corebook. Beta-test rules were given out for free at GenCon 2017. The Kickstarter for this locale ran in October/November 2017. The Quickstart guide has been publicly released online.
The RPG's first edition features a system similar to Legend of the Five Rings in mechanics, but distinct in that the PCs are almost explicitly given a mild form of Contractual Immortality. PCs can only be killed off if the GM is specifically setting up such a possibility through the plot's villain, or if the characters fall victim to the chunky salsa rule. Players are encouraged to come up with utterly outrageous plans of action and are given rewards both for implementing these ideas and for impressive role playing using the Rule of Cool as a guide. The RPG setting enjoys being quite over the top when encouraging ideas for characters and stories.
The RPG's various splats are the country of origin a character hails from. In addition, a character can join one of a number of secret societies whose origins, goals, and knowledge are made available in additional RPG supplement books.
Like Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea was adapted for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition under the name Swashbuckling Adventures.
The CCG had the players choosing a faction which represented a pirate crew or a country's naval power, pitting two ships against one another in combat. Players would attempt to hire crew, chase down their opponent's ship, and then attack with ether cannon or boarding based attacks.
Like Legend of the Five Rings, the metaplot was supposed to be steered by players' choices in the CCG tournaments and in RPG supplements distributed through the quarterly newsletter sent to game masters who had paid a registration fee to AEG.
The first edition's main story arc only spans about a year and a half of time, unlike its cousin, Legend of the Five Rings, which has gone through several lifetimes' worth of game plot. The major storyline elements were quite varied, with every country and major faction of the world having a part in the story.
The CCG and then the RPG were discontinued with little fanfare, though the CCG had a final expansion set published online free for download and printing while the RPG managed to get a final supplement which included a timeline for the major plot arcs which were never resolved in the metaplot.
Due to the success of the Kickstarter and the subsequent expansion of the game's universe beyond Theah's shores, the game's splats are no longer based on individual nations, but entire regions. Eastern and Western Theah, Aztlan, The Pirate Nations, Ifri, and others all introduce new Hero and Villain options while providing Fantasy interpretations of historical cultures. The meta narrative has become Lighter and Softer while not shying away from serious topics. Women and LGBT persons are now commonplace- the Fantasy version of the Barbary States is ruled by a Transgender woman. Darker and Edgier topics are still present as well- there is a lucrative Slave Trade moving Ifrian war refugees to the Atabean Sea, and women in Vodacce continue to be kept in cultural bondage. The Syrneth are mentioned in almost every book, but not nearly as much detail is given about them as in First Edition. Cathay exists but is a mispronunciation by Theans- it is pronounced Khitai and is not one nation, but an entire continent analogous to Asia.
The game no longer uses a modified D&D rule set, instead utilizing a unique d10 based system that eschews the traditional "I deal 8 damage to the enemy with my pistol" for a more narrative style, "I fire my pistol, blow up the powder magazine and create a very loud distraction." Likewise, the players write the metaplot along with the GM- they level up by writing the story beats for the next chapter of their character's story and provide the information to the GM ahead of time, working together to craft the narrative.
Rather than a Collectible Card Game, JWP has tried to launch a board game that tells the tale of the War of the Cross. A mixture of Diplomacy and Risk, as of August 2018 the Kickstarter has been canceled twice after nearly hitting its initial goal.
The rest of the game world of 7th Sea provides examples of:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Captain Reis' unmistakable crescent shaped scythe. It cuts through Dracheneisen, along with every other material. There's exactly one magical weapon in the entire setting that can parry it.
- Action Girl: Plenty, though the Sea Dogs' first mate "Bloody" Bonnie McGee is one of the most prominent.
- Anachronism Stew: Like most Medieval European Fantasy, except the era is instead from roughly the Renaissance to roughly the Age of Revolution, along with a heavy dose of No Celebrities Were Harmed. - the "French" Revolution is brewing under "Louis XIV" while "Napoleon" is bogged in the Retreat from "Russia". "Vikings" raid the "Dutch East India Company".
- Ancestral Weapon: Most Dracheneisen weapons are inherited.
- Armor Is Useless: Justified, as bullets and rapiers have brought an end to the era of the armored knight. Unless it's made of dracheneisen, armor does nothing. (And in a society based heavily on seafaring, it'd be literal deadweight much of the time...) Quoting the book itself (which doesn't give armor stats), "If you want armor, play an Eisen noble. Everyone else simply goes without."
- Back-to-Back Badasses: An encouraged fighting tactic, the Eisen have the word rucken to describe a pair who do this all the time.
- BFS: Zweihanders, Eisen swords as tall as the wielder. Also Highland claymores.
- Black Box: The game prefers any syrneth artifact introduced by the GM to behave like this, fully taking advantage of Clarke's Third Law.
- Black-and-White Morality: The 2nd Edition Sourcebook continually reminds GMs and players that the story is about HEROES. There is even a mechanical penalty for not adhering to some basic tenets of goodness.
- Blade Brake: The 'Ride the Sail' trick from the Rogers swordsman school.
- Blade on a Stick: The boar spear is a popular Eisen weapon, and even has its own swordsman school.
- Born Lucky:
- Jeremiah Berek, his luck is so legendary in Avalon that Glamour mages can choose to call upon his luck directly.
- Subverted with his nemesis, the General. A brilliant tactical mind — so much so that he's successfully adapted land strategy to naval battles — he's nonetheless a German surrounded by Frenchmen, fighting an Englishman.
- Chastity Dagger: The bodice dagger is a popular weapon among Vodacce courtesans; many of whom are students of a swordsman school that specializes in the use of knives.
- City of Adventure: Many in 2e: Frieburg, Vaticine City, Boisal, Quamontaine, Iskandar and Djen.
- Combat by Champion: The swordsman's guild allows this sort of combat to be done by just paying your champion.
- Continuity Reboot: Second edition. Most notable are the changes in geography (in addition to the new continents, first and second edition maps of Théah look very different), and the removal of aliens from the setting (the Syrneth are still part of Terra's history, but no aliens).
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The major faiths of Theah are the Yacchidi, the Orthodox, the al-Din, the Vaticine, and the Objectionists.
- The Yachidi are a Jewish analogue introduced in Second Edition's Crescent Empire book. Their people were enslaved by the old Numanari Empire and were freed in a revolt led by Moesh ben Amram. Most can be found in Sarmion, with a small but growing community being set up in eastern Eisen.
- The Orthodox are the followers of the First Prophet, Yesu. Born a Yachidi hermaphrodite, Yesu's mother registered him as male to the Numanari rulers so he would not be forced to bear children. The Orthodox are vegetarian pacifists who follow Yesu's creed of "to understand the Creator, seek to understand His Creation." They revere all trees as sacred. Almost all of the Orthodox are in Ashur, with an offshoot being the dominant faith of Ussura.
- The religion of al-Din follows the Second Prophet and is an Islamic analogue. If Vaticines identify as scientists, the al-Din identify as artists. They seek to help the Creator perfect His Creation. Since art is by definition imperfect, they know this is an impossible task that will never be completed- but they do it anyway. The primary tenets of the faith are kindness to others, remembrance, and perseverance through adversity. They discourage (but do not ban) revealing one's face in public, substance addiction, and practicing sorcery.
- The Vaticine church follows the Third Prophet's teachings favoring science over sorcery. Vaticines reckon themselves scientists, trying to understand the will of Theus by understanding his creation, though lacking the Orthodox veneration of nature and trees. The church is based in Vaticine City off the coast of Castille, and is usually led by a Hierophant. Men and women may act as priests. The Yachidi, al-Din, and Orthodox peoples do not believe the Third Prophet was a legitimate Prophet due to his violent conquests of Theah and persecution of sorcerers.
- Objectionists are an expy of The Protestant Reformation in the setting. They viewed the Vaticine as growing too corrupt, worldly, and power hungry. With the Inquisition's rise, they might not have been too wrong...
- Dark Chick: Dalia after turning undead and joining the Black Freighter. (Granted she was already pretty villainous as a Corsair...)
- Darkest Africa: Ifri is a downplayed and justified version, in that it is more High Fantasy than Theah; while nobody from there is a savage, noble or otherwise, the supernatural is way, way more blatant; gods regularly interact with the people, and not believing in Bonsam is suicidally stupid. Unfortunately, nobody told the Atabean Trading Company, assuming they would even care; it's entirely possible Bonsam's forces will invade Theah simply because it was able to corrupt the ATC. Also subverted, in that all its issues are the very foreign ATC's fault and Mbay hitting its Godzilla Threshold.
- Death Seeker: Joern Keitelson, first mate of the Crimson Rogers. He set out to kill the Vendel after his village was raided by them. He ran into the Rogers and killed so many of Reis' crew, Reis was impressed and gave him the position. Joern doesn't care about anything but fighting until he dies.
- Discredited Meme: Mentioned in the rulebook. The rules explicitly allow the GM to punish anyone who makes Monty Python references.
- Drunken Master:
- The Finnegan school of pugilism teaches a form of boxing that's rather unique. A master will get better at fighting while they get more and more inebriated. Unsurprisingly, it was invented in Inismore.
- It also presents about the most hilarious Game-Breaker ever in a printed RPG, all but guaranteed to give a good laugh (and possibly a Drama Die to whoever brings this up in smart fashion): One wording of Finnegan's ability was "reverse inebration penalties". Inebration penalties are, like, -2, -4, incapacitated. So a dead drunk Finnegan is literally omnipotent!
- Duel to the Death: Very possible if the offense is grave enough.
- Dummied Out: One of the Destiny Spreads in First Edition grants the character a 1 Point Druidic Secrets Advantage...but no such Advantage made it to the printed book.
- Expy: Many, but it's notable that Captain Hook's is played straight and is probably the single most powerful character in the game.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: All of the nations, and some minor cultures, are the counterpart of a nation or a culture that truly existed. Think of it as a slightly more advanced 17th Century Europe mixed with One Piece.
- Fatal Flaw: Characters may take a special disadvantage called a hubris which the GM can exploit specifically so they can make the wrong decision. In addition, each swordsman school has a weakness that is explained in its description can be exploited via the school's aptly named "Exploit Weakness" knack.
- One Eisen Swordsman school is dedicated to fighting monsters. It contains only Exploit Weakness knacks, each devoted to exploiting a different monster's Fatal Flaw.
- Fictional Earth: Théah is essentially a fictionalized version of Earth in the 17th century. Even its name is a Significant Anagram.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Several NPCs have encountered Syrneth artifacts or had other supernatural encounters that left them... changed. Gerald Hohne of the Crimson Rogers and Hamish of the Corsairs are good examples.
- Gameplay and Story Integration: In first edition, out of a pool of 100 points, buying a swordsman school from a character's native country costs 25. Buying a foreign school costs 35. There is no functional difference between using a domestic or foreign school, aside from the point difference. As a result, most PCs and NPCs use swordsman schools from their home countries, instead of munchkin-ing the most powerful schools with the nationalities that grant the best Traits and Advantage discounts.
- Ghost Pirate: The Black Freighter is a ship full of these.
- Glove Slap: Sword dueling is quite common, and is usually legal in most countries.
- The GM Is a Cheating Bastard: The GM's guide explicitly gives two rules. Rule #1: There are no rules. Rule #2 Cheat anyway.
- Grappling-Hook Pistol: A very common item of equipment for any adventurer.
- Great Offscreen War: Two huge wars happened in the past and left an important mark on Théah.
- For the entire continent and even above, there is the War of the Cross between the Objectionists and the Vaticine Church, fantasy counterpart of the Thirty Years War. It happened roughly two decades prior the events of the game, and shaped the continent's history, with consequences still visible after twenty years. The war ravaged Eisen, leaving the nation devastated and crawling with supernatural horrors awakened by the blood shed and spells used. It forced a lot of Thean nations, especially Montaigne and Castille to burn a lot of their resources. It pushed Ferdinand Medellin to mount an expedition for the New World to avoid being conscripted, leading to his ill-fated attempt to take control of the Nahuacan Alliance. It allowed the Atabean Trading Company to build its own army by recruiting disbanded soldiers and mercenaries after the war's end. And so forth.
- For stories set in Montaigne or in Castille, there is Montaigne's invasion of Castille that bled both countries' finances dry, decimated their youths and ravaged the Castille. The growing discontent among the commoners of Montaigne and Castille's sorry state are direct consequences of this short but disastrous war.
- Heroic Sacrifice: All of Philip Gosse's crew.
- Hook Hand: There's an artifact called the Scarlet Hook of Madness.
- Implacable Man: PCs may choose the "Man of Will" advantage, which makes them immune to fear, mind altering effects of any sort, and they can't be socially bullied in any way. Needless to say, it's a VERY expensive advantage to buy at character creation.
- Implausible Fencing Powers: Most swordsman schools get pretty ridiculous as to what they can do.
- For example, making a broadsword hit someone like a gunshot wound.
- Istanbul (Not Constantinople): It's really pretty blatant about this.
- Lady of War: Fauner Posen of Eisen. Do NOT mess with her.
- Legacy Character:
- El Vago is only the most obvious one, but the captain of the Black Freighter is invariably some madman who sold his soul to Legion to captain the ship.
- Captain Reis is a subversion and aversion at the same time. A character picks up his clothes and weapon, and becomes a Fake Shemp to Reis' crew, only to suffer blackouts after extended impersonations, with strong implications that Reis is pulling a Grand Theft Me.
- Lighter and Softer: Both the First and the Second Editions are this compared to the real history and the books that inspired them.
- Even in the First Edition, it's made clear that, unlike in real life and the swashbuckling novels that inspired the setting, duels are rarely to the death, heroes generally don't employ lethal means, and the Vaticine Church's strong rationalist influence has led to advances in sanitation and agriculture that make the average person's life much safer and more comfortable.
- The Second Edition's setting is this compared to both real history and the First Edition.
- Compared to the real history, the game's developers made a conscious decision to make their fantasy version of the 17th century free of many of the prejudices and forms of oppression which dominated the world back in the day, both in order to include the largest amount of Hero concepts possible and because they didn't want their idealistic, swashbuckling vision marred by such ugliness. The Vaticine Church (barring the villainous Inquisition) actively promotes scientific research and a good chunk of the world's religions are shown to be very tolerant towards other faiths. Places where men and women are not seen as equal, LGBT persons are not openly accepted, or members of racial or religious minorities are despised are the exception, not the rule. Even some of the worst villains out there are shown to be surprisingly progressist when it comes to some topics: intolerant fanatical Cardinal Esteban Verdugo is Straight Gay, L'Empereur Léon Alexandre would gladly allow one of his daughters to inherit the throne if only one of them showed affinity to Porté magic... While slavery and genocide do exist, they are always committed by capital V Villains and are usually stopped sooner rather than later by capital H Heroes.
- Compared to the First Edition, the 2E setting is also considerably lighter on seemingly omnipotent villains, unstoppable monsters and cosmic horror elements.
- The Longitude Problem: Montaigne solved this a long time ago, thanks to Porte allowing them to have access to clocks without having to bring one onboard. As such, their charts are significantly better than the rest of the world's.
- Lord British Postulate:
- Captain Reis, the pirate depicted in red on the page image above, is intended for use as a plot device by the DM to either make the PCs run away, or die. In melee, he is essentially unstoppable, since his weapon ignores any kind of armor and slices through even Dracheneisen with trivial ease (meaning you can't parry either). However, if you manage to shoot him in the head and burn all your drama dice for extra damage (whether via an ability, or via extra Raises that become damage), he will go down, since you can't block bullets and he doesn't wear armor.
- Make Them Rot: Zerstoerung, the lost sorcery of Eisen, consisted mainly of these powers.
- Malaproper: Now that The East has been launched, the eastern continent's name is actually pronounced Khitai. Theans just can't seem to pronounce it correctly.
- Money Sink: Taking the "Married to the Sea" Advantage in Second Edition gives the players a ship and 10 Brutes they can use at will. It also eats half of the group's wealth, rounded up, every session to pay their crew. If the crew can't be paid, they will mutiny and you lose the ship. There are also no rules for generating wealth through trade or how much cargo a ship can carry, though it's mentioned throughout the main book. A Killer Game Master or a single misspent bribe can doom the whole crew.
- Mooks: Called brute squads. They come in packs of 6. A typical PC can take down a standard set in about 2 or 3 rounds. And an experienced swordsman can take out 2 or 3 brute squads in one round.
- Noble Savage: Completely averted; every non-Theah character is explicitly part of a larger, quite civilized, culture, thank you very much.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Only this time it's with historical figures.
- With a touch of Legend and Mythology as well. The setting's Queen Elizabeth is also their King Arthur.
- A good number of illustrations also resemble modern-day actors (example: The king of Castille kind of resembles a young Leonardo diCaprio).
- Pirate: Everyone and their mom is either a pirate or involved with piracy somehow.
- Pirate Girl: "Bloody" Bonnie McGee, amongst others. In fact, a growing criticism of the Second Edition is that so many iconic pirates from the setting have been recast as women (including Allende, Captain Reis and the new Queen of the Brotherhood of the Coast) that one begins to wonder whether they aren't more common on the seas of Theah than pirate men.
- The Plague: The white plague, which is analogous to the real world's black plague. It was a magical disease released by Sophia's Daughters to make sure that sorcery didn't wind up spreading too wide.
- Point Build System: A completely free-form one; players aren't told where the points need to be assigned at all.
- Redemption Quest: The Story system to allow Heroes to remove Corruption points.
- Redemption Rejection: Heroes are encouraged to look for ways to stop Villains other than imprisonment or death. However, of the sample Villains in the 2E Heroes and Villains sourcebook, some are too far gone to be redeemed.
- Retired Badass: Phillip Gosse, gentleman pirate, who claimed his own island after plundering so much treasure. He decided to have one last adventure.
- Rich Idiot With No Day Job: A common way for noble heroes to go out and do things which may lose them face at court. Phineas Flynn, the highwayman of Avalon, fits this well too.
- Slave Galley: The Corsairs love to use slave labor.
- Soul Jar: Kheired-Din of the Corsairs found a cross that acts as a soul jar. He'll always regenerate, even if his body is completely destroyed, unless the cross is destroyed first.
- In first edition, there's one for every major nation, and one for every major secret society. They're of variable quality, but still provide useful background information.
- The initial set-up for second edition is that there are two sourcebooks for the major nations of Théah, one sourcebook each for Aztlan, Wabanahkik, Ifri, the Atabean Sea, and the Crescent Empire, and one detailing all of the major secret societies.
- Spin-Off: The card game.
- Second Edition has seen the dev team launch several Kickstarters for a mobile game and a board game, to varying degrees of success.
- Swashbuckler: Too many to count, NPC and PC alike.
- Sweet Polly Oliver:
- Tom Toblin of the Sea Dogs is really Nicole Cowbey. She signed on board to find the murderer of her father and her husband, and disguised herself so she wouldn't be recognized.
- This trope is decidedly not invoked in Second Edition now. Between dozens of major warriors, politicians, and pirates being introduced, and other legacy characters like Captain Reis and Bonaventura being re-imagined, Theah seems to have become much more gender neutral... except for Vodacce. Though there is one major exception: Rocio Sandoval, the twin sister of Amadeo Sandoval, who often disguises herself to look like her brother. Though even in that case it's played with, as her main goal when she disguises herself as a man isn't to hide her gender, but to hide the fact that the late king of Castille gave birth to twins, which means that the brother and the sister can switch turns pretending being the only heir while the other can act in the shadows to break the Inquisition's influence on the country.
- Team Pet:
- Several ships have pets on board, but most notable is Captain, the mascot of the Sea Dogs of Avalon. Jeremiah Berek claims that he is the true captain of his ship and anyone surrendering to them must surrender to the dog.
- Popular Fanon had this with Senor Ladron and Allende — the monkey and captain, respectively, of the Brotherhood of the Coast. The captain's face wasn't well-known in the backstory, despite him being the exiled king of Castille, so the fans suggested the two were confused by mistake.
- The equivalent for the Black Freighter was their masthead, the mummified remains of the ship's first captain. Late in the story, he broke free and regained control of the ship.
- The Undead: The Black Freighter, a ship of the undead that sails once per generation to torment the living.
- Volleying Insults:
- Some swordsmen, especially Montaigne ones, are experts at this.
- The Vendel as well, who have a swordsman school whose Master level ability is to gain an extra action each turn—which can only be used to taunt enemies.
- Walking Wasteland: The (theoretically extinct) Zerstorung sorcery school.
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men: It describes any sea based adventure perfectly.
- Wretched Hive: The city of Freiburg in Eisen, unsurprising, as there's no real government there.
- Yandere: The ill fated courtesan turned Fate Witch, Lucrezia. Once she encountered Gioseppe, her entire world revolved around him... and once he rejected her things got really, really messy. But her story doesn't finish with merely the classical conclusion. Lucrezia wants him back alive, and it seems she's found a way to do it, even if it means violating Creation and destroying an entire world in the process.
- You Fight Like a Cow: Players can use taunts to make themselves more difficult to hit, and intimidation to make it easier to strike enemies. The players are encouraged to come up with witty banter themselves, but if they don't feel up to the task, they can roll their panache skill instead.
- No Banter, No Barter, No Quarter.