Thursday, July 22, 2010

Play experience - different rules for different feel, in one game

Last night we played my weekly 7th Sea game. It was a session where we really exercised the rules. It made me think about different subsystems.

One of my players wasn't able to participate last time. He was just about to engage with a pirate captain for a duel when we had to end the session, so we just had a cut scene, since he had been separated from the rest of the groups since then. That duel was done with the full combat rules. Initiative was rolled, action dice used to take actions and drama dice used to boost rolls. We tried both passive and active defences. A thorough exercise.

We also had another fight, with the other two players fighting pirate ruffians in a bar. The pirated was about to thrash the place, and our stalwart heroes stepped in when it turned out that the Ladies present was about to become hurt. In this fight we rolled rolled to hit, using the Brute Squad mook rules, before the antagonists were knocked out. Here we also used drama dice to boost our swashbuckling skills. There was swinging in chandeliers, tables overturned and women daintily replaced on chairs while parrying fencing attacks and spinning around.

Afterwards it felt like the first fight, while tense and exciting, was more of a slog than the latter one. I'm not sure I'm ready to say that the mook fighting was "better" or more interesting. They were different things. This clearly showed what can be done with having different rules for different things.

Having rules emphasize theme is something I mentioned in a post a few days ago. That is not a new idea, but I'm thinking that 7th Sea is the clearest example I've seen of including multiple themes in one rule book.

This is almost like playing different games. Sometimes you want to wade through opponents, and you might want to play Wushu. Some time you might want to do tactical combat with all the dials to tweak for optimum stance, attack, defence and resource utilization, and you might want to play Riddle of Steel. You play different games to satisfy different urges. The idea in 7th Sea seem to be that you can have different urges within the same game, and be bale to scratch all those itches by different methods. I'm not sure I've ever seen it purposefully designed that way before. It's an interesting idea to think about how to make that happen in other games by having some house rules that only take effect when you feel like it, not when a specific situation occur.


  1. I've seen systems that have different levels of abstraction for combat depending on the size of the encounter. Just off the top of my head I think Pendragon, Classic Traveller, Battletech (I know, not technically a RPG) would embody that.

    Is this what you are talking about or am I missing the point?

  2. Yeah, that would be more examples. Thanks!

  3. One thing might be worth noting though. In 7th Sea, you not only switch combat subsystem depending on the size of the encounter. The most important point is that you switch depending on what the story demand, or the feel you are after.

  4. That is a cool concept, but I would think you would need your players to buy into it as well or there would be hard feelings/arguements as to which combat system to use, when.

  5. Yeah, if it's not specified by the scenario, I guess you'd have to ask "Do you guys want to make this detailed?".

    In my 7th Sea game different NPCs have different importance, and thus merit different rules. I could see it being something open for discussion depending on the mood of the group, though.

  6. So you're saying that Rules Matter? That's very risqué of you... ;)

  7. Yeah, isn't it? ;)

    Actually, 7th Sea looks like a mess, but it just works.


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