Review of Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies.

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My hand will develop a repetitive stress injury if I have to continue to type Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies for the remainder of this review. To prevent that unfortunate situation, I will refer to the game as S7S.  This game was written by Chad Underkoffler and published by Atomic Sock Monkey Press (ASM) and Evil Hat Productions.  A joint production, similar to those really expensive movies that require two film companies to join together in order to afford so much awesomeness.  It comes in at a whopping 322 pages with a unique form factor that I have never seen before.  The dimensions are halfway between the size of a digest form and typical full size RPG. Personally, I would like a digest form or a full book, but it's a minor issue.

I got interested in the game after the preview of the system was released on ASM websitePDQ#. Looking different enough from the other PDQ games, I was intrigued. Some time later, it was announced there was going to be a limited edition hardback copy. I wanted to make sure I got it in hardback.  Granted, I was still a bit skeptical about the setting, but I had enjoyed the author's previous works in Zorcerer of Zo and Truth & Justice, so I took a leap of faith. I fired up my Pay-pal account and sent IPR some money and a few months later my copy arrived. It did come with the PDF for free, but I am not so keen on reading from the computer screen for long periods of time.

But before any reader freaks out about missing the hardback, the game is still available, but in paperback only.  The nice thing about the softcover is most of the errata found it's way into it; this might be some conciliation for you.  If it isn't, well, realize that your copy would be less heavy that mine; after a long gaming session, you might not want to strain yourself on a hardback.  And if that still doesn't satisfy you, well, tough.. life ain't fair.   The errata is available for download if you manage to find the hardcover. Most of the corrections appear to be small mistakes that I wouldn't have caught.

The book arrived on a Thursday and  I started reading.   I took the book with me everywhere so if I found a spare moment, I would read it.  As I said earlier, I still wasn't sold on the setting when I started, but when I was reading, I couldn't stop.  Mr. Underkoffler's writing style is fairly concise and easy to read, the book just flows. I managed to finish the book by 7am the following Monday.

Let's get into the meat of this review.  The book is broken down into eight chapters. The first four are setting information, the next two are character creation and the rules, followed by a Game-mastering section and concluding with one of Chad's signature treatise, this one on the swashbuckling genre.

Setting

The first chapter is The World of the 7 Skies which has a preview available for free here on the S7S official website.   It gives an overview of the world. The shape of the world of S7S is a giant snow globe that has many floating Cloud Islands in it. This was the part that made me concerned when I first heard about the game. Really?  A giant snow globe?  I thought this game would be too out there for me.  Well, I best continue.  The globe is made up of a number of layers. Each layer determines which direction the wind generally blows. The bottom layer is the Mysterious Blue, like a tar pit of sorts.  Things sometimes just rise out of it. Looking at it from the top of the globe it subdivides the world like a an old fashion apple cutter, each one of the pieces is a sky.  The core in the center is sun, effectively called the Sky of Fire.  Can you guess how many skies there are? These skies determine the seasons but also have other special traits to them.  For example, Sky of Thunder is full of summer storms making it difficult to traverse. FYI, Cloud Islands have a protective fog around them that prevents the majority of the sky's effects from destroying them, but the skyships that are used to go from one Cloud Island to another, do not.  Hence getting there is part of the fun. This chapter also has the basics of the major Cloud Islands which dot S7S.

The second chapter is Island Nations of the 7 Skies.  Each kingdom has a six to eight page write up detailing what it's like, how it's ruled and a brief history.  Each nation also has "What's Happening Now on .." section, this details some adventure hooks you are free to use for your game.  I really like how each nation is described, with enough information to give you an good sense of what it's about, but not enough that it overwhelms you.  That is something I am always concerned about.  Damn players get a hold of the book and start dictating world facts back to the GM from the book, like that is some way to win you brownie points with a GM.  Anyways, I digress, back to the review. One of my favorite nations is Sha Ka Ruq, as it is populated by savages who ride giant parrots.  The interesting thing is that their whole economic system is based on "Face".  Your wealth is tied to how awesome you are.  I know it sounds nuts, but the author makes it work in ways I never would have thought of.

Next up is The Mystical & The Faithful chapter.  It details the magic system and the faith of the world.  Since you cannot have sky ships without alchemy or some sort of magic, this chapter tells you how it all generally works.  It leaves enough up for the GM to put his own touches on it.

Chapter 4 is on Skyships, Trade & Warfare.  This explains the basics of skyships and various things that can and more than likely will happen on them. It also describes the basics of pirating and warfare.  If you ever dreamt you were the Dread Pirate Roberts, read this chapter as a guide.  Granted, you won't have a skyship, so some of the things about jumping from skyship to skyship may be problematic.  Not that I would try to stop you, if you thought you could do it.  That finishes up the setting chapters, which makes up 128 pages of the book.

System

The next two chapters is the system information.  This is a revision of the PDQ system and was released earlier in the year as linked above. If you are unfamiliar with PDQ, it is a rules light system and has been used for everything from the fairy tale genre with Zorcerer of Zo to zany mayhem thanks to Ninja Burger. A character is described by a series of qualities, called Fortes in S7S, that can range from an occupation (Pirate) to a motivation (Keep Flying).  These fortes are given a modifier, which is used when characters have an action that would fall under that forte penumbra.  The basic system uses 2d6 + modifiers for simple tasks. S7S adds a specific dueling system which changes the basic rolling scheme for important interactions between characters.  Now you roll three dice and can assign each dice to offense or defense as you see fit. Honestly, if you are looking for a light system that doesn't feel like one, this would be worth checking it out.  Remember there is a free version online, so you can try it before you buy it.

Chapter 7 is all about Gamemastering S7S. It has the basics such as assigning difficulties as well as how to create scenes and adventures that scream S7S at the top of their lungs. I always want to bring the awesome and this chapter tells me how to do that. This chapter also talks about setting the dials of the setting with your players before anyone makes a character, which I think more games should do.  Nice stuff.

Other Cool Stuff

Chapter 8 is special.  It is all about the Swashbuckling Genre.  Mr. Underkoffler has become somewhat legendary for talking about a genre's tropes, he did it for superheroes in Truth & Justice and again for fairy tales in Zorcerer of Zo.  He hasn't missed his mark yet when he dissects a genre and he pulled out the spleen of swashbuckling without so much as a winch.  If you like the swashbuckling genre at all, this book is worth it for this section alone.  If you never understood this whole swinging from the chandeliers thing, this section will make you an expert overnight. It  includes a Bibliography, Filmography and Ludography with it, so you can find more anything on the subject.

Conclusion

If you managed it this far, you know I throughly enjoyed this book, much to the chagrin of my wife who missed me the whole weekend while I read it. I bought this book with the full intent of using the system for my own pirate game, but fell in love with the setting.  It is a wonderful RPG that is full of ideas to pillage to make a game that will be memorable for your group.  If you don't want to take my word for it, it has been nominated for an Ennie for Best Setting and Product of the Year.

Playing Evil in an RPG.

Recently, I have been playing through Fallout 3 again. The first time I played through, I was a saint. I choose all the "good" paths trying to do the right thing whenever possible. This time, I am trying to play the game with an evil bent. This is hard for me. It makes me feel bad, I don't know why since it is a video game. It's the reason I played Saints Row 2 for all of a couple hours and got sick of it. I am going to try to blow up Megaton just because I want to see what happens, but I am going to have trouble with being evil.

The reason I bring this up, is that I don't have the problem when I GM. I don't allow evil campaigns, so as a GM I am forced to be the bad guy. I wonder at times if this is the case where I don't want evil to win. I know if I play Fallout 3 or Saints Row as an evil PC, I will win the game as an evil guy. If I am playing an RPG where I am putting obstacles in front of the PCs, then evil is not winning.

Anyone have any suggestions on why I might get the "willies" for lack of a better term when I play evil characters?

Judd's Challenge.

I know I may be late to the party, but I want to throw my hat into the ring for the challenge posted by one Judd Karlman.

Make Your Own New Crobuzon

City : Surhan

The city forced to move itself underground when a meteor was predicted by the prophets of hitting continent and send the world into a Great Darkness. The giant maze of caverns used to save as many people as they could.

Humanoids

Formian - These creatures were instrumental in helping move the city and it's occupants underground. The city's leaders kidnapped the hive queen in order to force their cooperation. She continues to lay eggs which are then enchanted to follow the orders of the Hive Caretakers. They are basically mindless slaves and do as the city needs them to do.

Succubi/Incubi - A small pack of them have made a deal with the leaders of the city to bring pleasure where there is mostly pain. They use their powers to help the masses forget that they live under a huge mountain. Every person of Surhan gets a token monthly to visit the pleasure caves. Young or old. Some question the sanity of this plan dealing with demons, but so far, no one has died.

Minotaur - These volunteered to be guides for the many citizens of Surhan, without which they would be lost. No one knows why they showed up, but the city wouldn't run without them.

Monstrous

Delvers - These creatures are the main city builders. Unfortunately due to their various tastes for different rocks, the city is not built in straight lines. They are kept under control by special talismans that the Builder's Guild wear.

Air Elementals - Bounded to various caverns to help supply oxygen as needed to the masses. They are also used to control the masses, if a riot breaks out, the Mages of the Unseen Hand can and will lower the oxygen level in order to keep peace. The citizens know this for what it is and their is a quiet rebellion brewing.

Hydras - City's food supply. They managed to capture four of these creatures to use their regenerative powers for an endless supply of food. On a child's sixteenth anniversary of their birth, they are given a hydra head as their birthday meal. The brain is considered a delicacy.

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After writing this up, I noticed that there was a common theme with some of the other people's ideas. Oh well. Enjoy.

Failure and RPGs

Another recent two episodes of Fear The Boot, talked about failure, RPGs and how it's effects are used in various RPGs from both the player and the GM perspective. Keep in mind that most of the people on FTB are traditional gamers, so their opinions are skewed based upon that; they talked a lot about death being the ultimate failure for the player; with railroading being the ultimate failure for the GM. Personally, I think the worst failure on both sides of the screen is when you are not having fun or are causing problems with other people's fun. I think that is by far and away the worst thing that can happen.

They got on a tangent on predetermined character death and how they didn't like it. They are a firm believers, for the most part, in the adage "Let the dice fall where they may." Now, two comments; if someone wants to kill off their character in a dramatic fashion and the GM sets up the scene so he/she can do that, why not? I have been gearing more towards story games where players can suggest scenes, so it would be well within their rights to set up a scene for the character dies. The second comment, is the "Leaf on the Wind" rule. It was mentioned on rpg.net thread about house rules. I stole it for my games. If someone wants to dramatically succeed on something without using whatever random element we use for that type of thing; they can. The only condition is that they must die by the end of the scene. My wife loved Firefly and when I told people at the table that rule, she cried, since she loved Wash so much.

As for railroading as a GM, I can understand part of that and for the most part agree that it isn't fun if no matter what your character does, they have no effect on the plot. The problem is that at times, it is hard not to railroad a little bit; but I try to limit it as much as I can. If you ever throw a dungeon into your game and the players have to go through the whole thing to get to the big bad, that is a touch of railroading.

Intimidated to run a game?

Recently, a GM that I had quit running Burning Wheel because he felt he wasn't doing it justice. I enjoyed the hell out of playing in his game, but he said he feels he is constantly under prepared to run the game. Interesting in that most of the players felt similar to I and enjoyed it; but if he wasn't enjoying and it was bothersome to get the game ready, then by all means he should stop running it. Then it so happened, I was cruisin' the wonderful forums of forum.rpg.net, when I came across a thread about Games that scare you?. The thread hit a cord with me, especially since the recent happenings with my Burning Wheel game. I want to go on the record saying there are and have been games which I felt a little daunted to run. Burning Wheel is one of the ones that scare a tad. I will run it sometime, simply because I am a firm believer in what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

One of the things that is interesting to me, is as a player I enjoy a crunchy game as much as a light one, but as a GM I like light ones better. Maybe it is due to my time constraints. It could even be do to my ADD. Be that as it may, I plan on running crunchy games from time to time. This will force me to get better at them and get over my intimidation.

For those that don't know, I lift weights. One lift that I don't like or at least didn't; is squats. It is lift primarily for legs, but tends to bring your whole body into the movement and so it is easy to get tired. Well, someone told me the benefits of the lift and I kept doing that lift until I liked it. Now, it is one of my favorite lifts, unless I am injured which is the case now.

I am not good enough to run that game. Bullshit. I am not going to do the game justice. Hogwash. If one doesn't try things that push themselves, they will not get better. I tend to be the best GM possible and to do that, I need to get better. I plan on doing some time with more complicated games. I suggest you do to.

Gaming for Me, History Part 3

Well, after I sold my 2nd edition stuff, I bought hard into Deadlands, now called Deadlands Classic, since Savage Worlds wasn't out yet. Played that for sometime, but I still missed fantasy RPGs. Well, as it so happened, during this time, I moved out of my Father's house and into some college friends place. They bought into 3E and showed me the book. I was like WOW. This is a really neat game. Especially since the OGL and White Wolf put out the first monster book before even a Monster Manual. I thought that was interesting. Well, that got me into 3E.

After some time, I got a job with IBM in Rochester MN, which would be a completely different gaming scene from Rapid City, SD. A lot smaller, even though it is close to the Twin Citites. I met some gamers in Rochester and went to my first GenCon. I got involved with www.mortality.net; especially helping set up interviews for Mortality Radio. That was before this neat podcasting craze.

Then I met my future wife. She was a gamer, she loved to play Dungeons and Dragons. I took her to GenCon., our first vacation with her and our room flooded. This was when GenCon was still in Milwaukee and there wasn't a lot of rooms available, we skipped home after our second day.

I met a guy who worked for Necromancer Games, Kevin Walker. He helped me get in with Necromancer Games for a bit and do some editing for them. But, that was when I was getting burned out with 3E.

So, I started looking at some games outside of that. But, then the World of Warcraft haze hit. I use haze because that was what that time was like. I even got my wife addicted to it as well. During that time, I did little role-playing but I started into some boardgames. I loved Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. It was also during that time I took a job in the Twin Cities and that opened up a large number of potential gaming venues for me. WoW was still my wife and I's life. Which, looking back, is sad.

My wife got pregnant. How did that happen? If I have to explain that, well, seriously get back to school. We both quit WoW at that point simply because we were unable to keep the addiction at bay. I got into a 3.5E game so that I could still have my fantasy fix, but not be as crazy as a raiding guild of WoW.

All the rules lawyering and down time led me to realize I really didn't like d20 in general. It wasn't only the game, it was the people that played it. I learned that I wanted something more. This led me to my first Indy game, Spirit of the Century and all it's awesome. It also got me through some troubling time as my daughter was born three months early and so I was at the NICU and needed something to read. Thanks Fred!

The rest is almost present. I have been in different groups and it has been an enjoyable ride. I joined the Twin Cities Eurogame Meetup for boardgames and the Minneapolis Roleplayers Meetup for RPGs. Met a ton of people and plan on meeting a ton more. Going to GenCon '09 as a vacation for me and my wife where I hope to meet more gamers and play some games I haven't before.

Trust and Gaming.

I listen to Fear the Boot. I have been backlogged on my podcasting so this is about an episode two back. Their episode was titled Mistrust at the Gaming Table.

During their recording of their episodes one of the guys tweets during it. I was on Twitter and I saw a call for what do you do if you don't trust someone at the gaming table. I piped up (read tweeted back)...

You shouldn't game with someone you don't trust.

I forgot about till I was listening to the cast while on my commute home and they brought up my tweet. Some agreed, some disagreed and some were indifferent, I recommend listening to the podcast.

I lost it when they said they had friends whom they would trust to watch their child, but didn't trust them at the gaming table. I laughed so loud the person in the car next to me probably thought I was having a coronary. They went on to talk about how they have a friend that has a full on desire to win every game put in front of him. My immediate thought was there are people out there that I trust to game with but would not trust to watch my daughter. They are not bad people, just unfamiliar with kids. I have yet to meet someone whom I would trust with my daughter's care but wouldn't game with. I know their rational behind it, it was just silly to me.

They brought up the point of the GM who creates a "Baron Van Badass" and one the players get a lucky hit and kill him. They believed that the GM should run with it and let him die. To counter that, I would recommend something that Chad Underkoffler's PDQ recommends, "Something Bad Happens" rule. If the GM has to due something like letting the big bad go so that his plot doesn't fall through, give the players something. The PDQ uses heroic points and if the GM invokes the "Something Bad Happens" rule, he gives each of the 2d6 of them. You could really do anything that recognized "the cool" the player brought to the table. Makes the sting a little less, while not necessarily derailing the story. The other option, is kill the bastard and have his 2nd take up the reigns as they suggested in the podcast.

I will not game with someone whom I don't trust. I stick by it, but there is varying degrees of it and frankly we all need to remember this is a game and the point is having fun. If you the group is cheating to the point that you are no longer having fun with it, you can always quit.

Gaming for Me, History Part 2

From that gaming group, I met some friends I know to this day. One of the friends introduced me to Star Wars RPG. I had never known about that game and I even questioned what the hell would you do? Luke destroyed the Death Star, didn't he? Little did I know at the time. I was at some point, kicked out of that group due to my age. It was really hard for them to relate when I am 15 and they are in the mid 20's and the GM was in his 50s. I bounced to a lot of groups during this time, playing whatever came my way, Champions, Chill and even the dreaded game of Rifts.

Then it hit, Magic The Gathering or some called it Magic The Addiction, a game so like role-playing and yet so different. Yeah, I know now it wasn't at all like role-playing but then, holy hell, I would argue with people. True role-playing fell to the wayside for this game. Granted we were all playing it wrong as the rule book in the alpha/beta release sucked. But hey, we were flipping cards and having a grand old time.

With the release of the second CCG by Wizards, Jyhad, I met Eric. My best friend to this day and the guy who during my first shot at DM-ing, decided to get drunk and make fun of me the whole time. The group I joined at the time was again older than I and they decided to play a joke on me. I worked on the adventure for two weeks to watch them destroy it in twenty minutes. To be far, I sucked as a GM so I don't hold it against them. I still hear from Eric, when he wants to get a rise out of me, "The cyclops and the portcullis". The unofficial title of my game. I was later asked to leave the group, similar reasons as before. The funny thing was after I left, a note went up at the local gaming store for another player, it was a half sheet of paper, with all the qualifications for the player. Some of the things I remember, must be over 18, must like cigar smoke and must not care if people drink at their games. There was also a number of years at gaming and such as well. I wanted to submit a resume.

I sold my MTG cards, including some rare pieces for money to go to prom. Interesting, what people priorities are at times. Even now, I think back and wish I would have picked up another job instead.

I continued to learn about GMing. I was collecting tons of Dungeons and Dragons books. All sorts of stuff, including all the Planescape, all Greyhawk and most of the Dark Sun stuff. I had all most of the main books and even had three copies of the PHB, in case people showed up who didn't have theirs. A six foot book shelf held that monstrosity. If you don't believe me, talk to Aaron over at www.nobleknightgames.com; he knew me then. He hadn't even become nobleknight yet, I heard it on AIM when he came up with the title. Then the news of 3rd Edition came out.. I decided to sell everything since it wouldn't be worth anything when that came out.. Dumb, another in a long list of stupid ideas I did.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Various Game Ideas

Yeah, I know.. everyone was captivated by my story of gaming history. But, I wanted to get some random game ideas I had out, just to see what people think. The first two are a much more full idea in my head, the other are just some quick shots that I would like to run some day.

  • "Rope-A-Dope" in the Sky

    • Zeppelin travel is the way of the future, at least that is what the brochure said, for the maiden voyage of the Atlantic. To add even more excitement to the voyage from New York to London, a boxing match with the reigning world champion taking on a mystery challenger from Russia.
    • System : Spirit of the Century, duh!
  • Super Hero Mafia

    • The year is 1930. You and your friends are related or has connections with the Giardino Family along with being blessed with being more than human. The head of the family has recently been killed and his son wants vengeance. Will you and your friends join him in his vendetta or go the hard path of redemption.
    • System: Truth & Justice or Mutant City Blues
  • Quick Shots

    • A race of creatures that while sentient, the other races cherish something ( I don't know what) that is created when they die of old age. It is extremely valuable to the another race or races. Do they trade their dead off? Do they go to war with races that raid to steal their dead? How do they value their dead? What are done with them? Just an idea.
    • A post apocalyptic game where the world is run by vampires and humans become cattle. The party plays a group that wants to change the status quo. Maybe some vampires that understand that the human race is become extinct and needs the ability to grow again? Not sure, just something rattling in there.

These are just some ideas. Feel free to steal 'em or comment on them, if you will.

Gaming for Me, History Part 1.

Well, before I start, I should probably talk about my gaming history a little bit. I have been gaming for over twenty years. Damn, saying that makes me feel really old.

I "cut my teeth" as they say on a Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition. I walked into the drama room at my Junior High and saw a bunch of kids rolling dice for their lunch hour. I stayed and watched becoming hooked as the story unfolded.

Altered Beast was my favorite game and I wanted to play a half-dragon. Little did I know I was ahead of my time with Dragonlance and 4th Edition both allowing that. The GM okayed it and I have a -6 AC to start the game and I had a breath weapon on level with a mature gold dragon. Did I mention that I was 12 at the time? We played for a bit for a couple of weeks and then I begged my mother to take me to the hobby shop to pick up my own books.

That is when I saw TMNT. I was like WHOA. It must be mine. I picked it up and started the process of making character upon character. It was cool, randomly rolling up what animal and then purchasing how human you were based on your BIO-E points, if I remember correctly. I liked the cheetah.

My parents were divorced and after a couple years, I moved back with my Dad. He lived next to an Air Force base, with airman that had a ton of free time and didn't mind gaming with a 14 year old. We would play from 7pm on Friday till midnight and then followed it up on Saturday, in which we would play noon to midnight. Damn, I miss those days. We played AD&D 2nd Edition and I was the youngest. Of course, I had to play an evil character and that didn't turn out so well for me.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog. I have finally found a home for it. After much searching and debating, I have gone with GM with ADD problem, since that is primarily what I am - a GM - and I have a very nice case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

The reason for this blog is my wife. She has watched me buy role-playing games and board-games with almost reckless abandon at times. I want to run this game or play this one. Well, as a typical adult I don't have all the time that I would like to play all this games or the various campaigns I have in my head. Therefore, I have started this blog to get some of those ideas out to people that might be interested in playing them.

This blog will have stuff about my role-playing game life. It is also going to cover other topics that I am interested in. Whether it is the latest board game or a cool movie, I will discuss whatever I find shiny. Hope you enjoy your stay.