7th Sea 2nd edition is a new version of a tabletop role-playing game of pirates and magic from 1999. When the game’s Kickstarter went live in February, it funded in seven minutes, and became the first day, most funded, tabletop role-playing game in the history of Kickstarter, bringing in $240,000 in 24 hours. As of press time, the project has made $540,246, but you can gaze on the current awesomeness of the Kickstarter here.
But what is 7th Sea, and why are thousands of nerds like you throwing their hard-earned doubloons at it?
7th Sea is set in a world called Theah that is much like 17th century Earth. Pirates, privateers, merchants, and explorers rove the high seas, seeking to fill their pockets with gold, fill in blank edges of the map, or perhaps both. Back home, bomb-throwing revolutionaries keep their powder dry and their blades sharp as they await the day they will overthrow the monarchy. In occupied nations, mask-wearing resistance fighters rise to throw back the foreign occupier with a wit as sharp as their swords. Magic-users literally rip apart the walls of reality with their spells, and in 7th Sea, it turns out the walls of reality are made of meat, and they bleed. It is everything fun and interesting about early modern European history and swashbuckling adventure fiction baked into a fantasy campaign.
Image Credit: Terese Nielsen/deviantart
The game’s creator, John Wick, who has nothing to do with the Keanu Reeves vehicle that trammelled on his good name, said of the creation of the game, “I’ve always been a fan of swashbuckling adventure literature. Three Musketeers, Captain Blood, The Princess Bride. I wanted to play a game where I could be Inigo Montoya or D’Artagnan. The scene where Inigo kills Count Rugen’s four guards without breaking eye contact with Count Rugen? I never played an RPG that allowed me to be that awesome. I said, ‘I want a game where I start off awesome instead of a schlub who has to work to become awesome after five years of playing.'”
The game was well-received upon its release, and even won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game in 1999. A slew of adventures, settings, and splatbooks followed, but by 2005, the game was discontinued.
We live in a world where Talk Like a Pirate Day is a thing, and pirate memes reproduce like cockroaches in the dark corners of the internet. But it was not always so. There was a time when (Gasp!) pirates weren’t cool.
7th Sea was, many say, a game out of time. 7th Sea writer Rob Wieland said the game “was around for a few years and there were a lot of people who worked very hard to keep it alive during that time. The line died right as Johnny Depp was reviving the genre in film.”
The 2003 release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl had the whole world ready to embrace the satisfying combination of pirates and magic, but 7th Sea‘s parent company, AEG, failed to capitalize on it. 7th Sea had sailed off the map, and but for a few fan produced PDFs, was never heard from again.
Until the Kickstarter that is.
But though the game had long thought dead, gamers had fond memories of it. 7th Sea presented a number of features making it stand out from the crowd.
First, there was the swash and buckle of the setting. One of the difficulties of role-playing in a historical setting is it makes both the players and the gamemaster feel obligated to be faithful to history. Furthermore, nothing kills the mood at the table quicker than a player with a little too much fidelity to historical accuracy (“Actually! The blunderbuss wasn’t in common usage until the 17th century!”).
By setting 7th Sea not on Earth, but in Theah, the game frees players from the problem. of accuracy. Yes, there are analogs of Spain, France, England, Italy, et al, but no one feels bound to follow the War of Spanish Succession religiously as a game timeline. Furthermore, it allows the movement of ideas, concepts and characters in the game in such a way to maximize fun.
To put this all in grad student lingo, the use of an alternate Earth creates an aesthetic distance which allows players and gamemasters to stop worrying about accuracy and keep the focus on fun.
7th Sea player Michelle Matusin said, “The blend of history with fantasy [produces] a world so recognizable, and yet filled with the impossible- It’s the moment when you spin around too fast and suddenly stop; the world keeps spinning and you are giddy with the sensation.”
Image Credit: Terese Nielsen/deviantart
So why does the game need a second edition, and why is it coming out now? Creator John Wick said, “[I]t’s the game I get asked about the most. More than Legend of the Five Rings, even. People love 7th Sea and I thought it would be fun to bring it back with modern RPG design, printing and all the rest.
“During the making of the first edition, we made a lot of mistakes. We wanted characters to start off awesome, but we failed, and we failed big time. The biggest, and I think the most important change, is that when you make your character, you really are on the par with swashbuckling heroes of literature and film. You really don’t need a lot of experience points because you already start awesome. And the other big change is how we handled villains. They’re awesome, too.”
The supernova success of the Kickstarter appears to be a combination of pent-up demand and a well-executed marketing strategy. Rob Wieland said, “The game has a huge cult following.” John Wick agrees, saying, “The fans have wanted this game for more than a decade. We gave them a seven-day countdown, showed off little bits here and there, then decided to give them everything they wanted.”
He also credits the members of the 7th Sea team for putting together a fantastic Kickstarter. “We had Mark Diaz Truman build a great campaign. Our art director, Marissa Kelly, found a fantastic artist named Shin Fei who knocked the art out of the park. The design [team], me, Rob Justice and Mike Curry, put together a Quickstart [Which is available for Kickstarter backers. -Editor] that showed off the best and most fun parts of the system.”
Wick summarized by saying, “It’s really a perfect storm.”
Are you an old salt who has plied the seas before? Tell us of your adventures below! New to the game? Why are you excited to play it?
All images courtesy John Wick Presents.