To Sail the 7th Sea

7thSea_logo2There’s a game I’ve never played and yet I’ve enjoyed anyway. It’s called 7th Sea, and it’s a near-Earth (not an alternate history, but with deliberately obvious parallels) setting that, at its debut, was extremely innovative. Unlike much more ubiquitous roleplaying games, you don’t start off as someone who barely knows how to hold a sword; the game assumes you’re already a hero, and have already made a name for yourself. It’s a setting where from the moment you start, you are assumed to be affecting the fate of empires.

7th Sea was very popular, but the publisher didn’t develop it much. Now, the game and setting creator has obtained the rights to the game, and has set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund 7th Sea‘s second edition, with an initial goal of $30,000.

It was funded in seven minutes. It’s now raised over $800,000.


Yes, really. I told you this was popular, didn’t I? One has to wonder how the original publisher feels about it now. I can just imagine someone at the company saying “Thank goodness we still retain the rights to publish our own 7th Sea first edition stuff.”

Of course, odds of that mattering are slim at this point, because the fans are pouring in to support this one. Last week, it became the largest Kickstarter ever in the tabletop RPG category (the previous record being $684,755), and it still has two weeks left as I write these words. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t get over a million dollars in pledges.

And yes, some of those dollars are my own. I want this setting, even if I never actually play the game. I’m tempted to run a 7th Sea game using my own Fate Core hack. I’m even more tempted to see what I could draw on for ideas, as this setting was already an inspiration for my design. Yet even more than that, I want to read it for the sake of reading it. I enjoy a well-crafted campaign setting even when it doesn’t have great rules (hello, TSR-era Forgotten Realms), and even when I don’t actually play it.

7th sea map

7th Sea is set (primarily; the second edition is bringing in other continents for the first time) in Théah, a near-Earth analogue of Europe. It has nations like Avalon (British Isles), Montaigne (France), Castille (Spain plus Italy), and more. There is a religion based in Vaticine City (based on the Catholic Church), and there are the Objectionists who reject such authority (based on Protestantism), and followers of the One Prophet in the Crescent Empire (Islam).

And yet, none of them are exact analogues by any stretch of the imagination. The similarities are artfully balanced; they’re close enough to allow for the nuances of our real history to play into the game, while sufficiently different to make things new, exciting, and unpredictable.

And, while I obviously enjoy the Fate System the most, the 7th Sea Second Edition rules are easy to pick up and allow for some pretty fun thematic events, as well as the need for careful choices and accepting consequences in order to succeed.

You can read all about the project at the Kickstarter campaign page, but I’d like to summarize the stuff that’s been funded by this project. (For those who don’t know, Kickstarter campaigns have a minimum funding goal, and then additional, or “stretch,” goals beyond that if enough total money has been raised to fund a production run.)

There are several pledge tiers, based on how many books you want, whether you want them as PDFs or as dead trees, and whether you want extra goodies. I’m not going to detail all of them, but here are the ones I think will be of greatest interest to the general audience:

  • $20: The 7th Sea Core Rulebook as a PDF via DriveThruRPG. It’s not stated, but the fact that this is an option implies it’s a “pre-order discount” over what the normal PDF price will be.
  • $40: All PDFs, including First Edition 7th Sea books.
  • $60: All PDFs, plus a hardcover 7th Sea Core Rulebook.
  • $200: All PDFs, plus a limited-edition leatherbound 7th Sea Core Rulebook, plus any stretch goals labeled as “Pirate’s Booty.” This, in my opinion, is the minimum tier fans of the original game will want to pledge for.(And again, there are many more tiers.)

Here are the goodies that have been unlocked so far:

  • Free Basic Rules. You do not have to pledge for this. If you’re reading this and thinking “Well, it sounds cool, but I don’t have the money for this kind of expense,” or “Crud, I only find out about this cool stuff after the Kickstarter is closed?” then you can still plan on getting the free rules to try things out for yourself without spending a dime.
  • 7th Sea Core Rulebook.
  • The Nations of Théah, Volume 1: a sourcebook detailing NPCs, locations, plots, and more in Avalon, Castille, Montaigne, and Eisen.
  • The Nations of Théah, Volume 1: a sourcebook detailing NPCs, locations, plots, and more in Ussura, Vestenmennavenjar, Vodacce and the Sarmatian Commonwealth. (And if you’re experienced with the First Edition and you’re wondering about that last nation, it’s new.)
  • The Crescent Empire: a sourcebook detailing lands inspired by Islamic and Egyptian nations.
  • Lands of Gold and Fire: a sourcebook detailing Ifri, a new continent based on Africa.
  • The New World: a sourcebook detailing lands inspired by Central and South America.
  • The Pirate Nations: another sourcebook, detailing island kingdoms and pirate bands.
  • Cities of Faith and Cities of Wonder: two sourcebooks giving close looks at cities all over the setting. (Note: Cities of Wonder, at the time of this article’s publication, was not yet unlocked; but with two weeks to go, a small matter of twenty thousand dollars is unlikely to be an obstacle.)
  • Maps of Théah, the Crescent Empire, Ifri, and the New World, either as PDFs or print versions suitable for framing. They’re also included as Pirate Booty.
  • A three-paneled GM screen in full color. Included as a PDF with the $40 pledge tier, and available as a hardbacked add-on or included as Pirate’s Booty.
  • The Deck of Heroes and the Deck of Villains: card sets for NPCs that can be used at a moment’s notice. (This sounds great for the GM who needs to improvise because the players decided to throw a curveball.) Both decks are included as a PDF, a separate add-on, or as Pirate’s Booty. There’s also a separate sourcebook, Heroes and Villains, which gives more information on all of these characters.
  • A special Storium expansion, joining the details of the campaign setting with an online storytelling game where every player is an author rather than an actor.
  • 7th Sea novels by John Wick, creator of the setting. Now, I’m always suspicious of game tie-in novels, because it takes rare talent to meld the fun of a game’s setting with the very different storytelling style; but these are included as PDFs in the appropriate tiers, so they make an intriguing bonus. And while I might be suspicious, I’ve read some excellent gaming novels in my time. (I’m actually tempted to offer my services as an editor, but I’ve got a pretty full docket anyway.)
  • Songs from the 7th Sea: a collection of tavern songs, sea shanties, and ambient sounds for use in your games, or perhaps just at a pirate party. It’s included as a download for everyone who pledges $40 or more.

If you’re wondering what else they might come up with in the time remaining, the answer is “not much.” Rather than be swept up in the excitement and keep adding promises, John Wick and his team have decided on a hard deadline: whatever they do as a result of this Kickstarter must be out in the world by the end of 2017. Nearly two years sounds like a long time, but take it from someone who knows the publishing world: they’re going to be busy beavers to get all that done.

And all the PDFs will be in the hands (well, on the screens) of their backers long before publication. Backers will have a chance to test, review, and suggest changes before anything gets “locked” by printing.

It’s hard not to get excited by this campaign. 7th Sea is an amazing setting. If you want a swashbuckling adventure with Renaissance and Age of Sail elements, there is literally no better setting out there. Even if you’re not looking to use the rules (hey, I’m not either), you’ll be able to mine the details for your own campaigns with just a little imagination.

See you on the high seas!

About Matthew Bowman

Matthew Bowman is a traditionally-minded Catholic convert and freelance science fiction and fantasy editor, which means that he's in high demand in a small population. Fortunately, he loves talking about stories. And Catholicism. And history. And philosophy. And lots of other stuff.
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16 Responses to To Sail the 7th Sea

  1. Ross Windsor says:

    I hadn’t even heard of this game, but I’m intrigued! Oh, I wouldn’t likely use the game’s mechanics – I already know D&D (4th and partially 5th), Fate, and I’m working on a system of my own – but, like you said, this could be an inspirational goldmine! Plus, the artwork looks very good; I’m a sucker for good artwork.


  2. Ran the first edition of this game many times. Helps that most of my players are Catholic/Orthodox history buffs and readers of classic literature so they’re very genre savvy.

    It is a swashbuckling game so most of the adventures I ran actually did not involve naval combat but instead a lot of political intrigue.

    Notes about the setting for Catholics: the religion in this game is not Catholicism but only shares the Faith’s iconographical style and similar hierarchy. Theological it’s actually closer to modern Judaism. However, it does have a sacramental nature that enforces heroic characters (who are religious) to revere relics and the sacramental authority of the clergy. It is very easy to still tell the story of noble heroes rescuing a relic from bandits working for an evil revolutionary.


    • Yeah, it plays very fast and loose with the exact details, yet has enough to ground people in those details. It’s a very well-crafted setting, and yet there’s room for recasting everything if you want it to go in another direction.

      That happens a lot in games, not just mine; but one of the best examples is from a Forgotten Realms game I ran a few years ago, taking place in the 2e era but not using 2e rules. I mentioned that one of the nations (I’m blanking on the name; I’d have to go check the old sourcebooks) had, just recently, undergone a revolt against the noble class, and I used the French Revolution as a shortcut to explain it. My players decided that this country was France, and so I ran with it. Anyone from that country had a French accent, and its nobles were found in Waterdeep trying to get support to retake their lands, or at least get their families out.

      Another Realms example is with Mulhorand. It’s pretty much a copy of Ancient Egypt, but only because of one thing Ed Greenwood (creator of the setting) put in the setting notes. He hadn’t detailed the region much, but one of the things he wrote down was that the climate was like Egypt. The next thing he knew, TSR had filled in that space with Ancient Egypt. (Greenwood’s fudge factor was that the Mulhorandi were descended from actual Egyptian slaves taken thousands of years before. In his original setting, the reason why they were the Forgotten Realms was because they used to be connected with Earth.)


  3. Couple notes:
    AEG doesn’t retain the rights to 1st Edition. JWP owns all of 7th Sea and are licensing some rights back to AEG.
    Castille is Spain. Vodacce is Italy.


    • For the rights, I was working off of information I got in the Kickstarter from comments.

      For Spain versus Italy, it’s more complicated than either of us has listed. That’s because the history they’re drawing on is complicated. Spain used to control almost half of Italy, for example.


      • Oh, I didn’t introduce myself… Hi, I’m Rob Justice. Assistant Developer on 7th Sea: Second Edition. 😀


        • That works too. So I shall assume you know the source history at least as well as I do, and probably know the setting information just a little better. *indicates a space two feet apart with hands*


      • While you’re absolutely right that the history of Spain and Italy (and most of Europe) is pretty damned intertwined during the 16th-17th centuries we’re trying to capture the essence of the romantic cultures of various nations within 7th Sea. We draw Italian souces to Vodacce and Spanish sources to Castille. Where there is historic overlap we err on the touchy-feel-y side of “That seems a little more Italian so it goes to Vodacce”

        As for the rights, there isn’t been very clear communication on the exact terms between JWP and AEG but I can assure you that JWP owns all the rights to 7th Sea. Including the 1st Edition books. As can be seen in the ability of the Kickstarter offering the 1e PDFs and all the DriveThruRPG 1e PDFs now being under JWP.


        • So what about the Church, then? I kept assuming that it was roughly equivalent to Spain taking over Rome but not northern Italy; but from what you’re saying it seems more like a harder division. I used to live in Rome, and I can’t think of a single “Spanish” element unless you count the Spanish Steps.


        • As for the exact division of rights, I gathered it was that JWP has ownership, but AEG has reprint rights plus some way to do some new material; but without knowing the details, I didn’t do more than mention the bare minimum necessary to say that AEG isn’t forbidden from participating further.

          (For my own introduction, I’m a freelance fiction editor who’s also done some work on gaming materials. I’ve seen, and worked on, buybacks and rights-transferred franchises, including new editions and cleaning up what a previous publisher did wrong. I picked the most likely arrangement based on what I knew of the situation here and ran with it. Obviously, I’m an outsider who doesn’t have all the facts you do.)


        • Apparently, I can’t reply directly to your comment… Odd.

          The Vaticine Church is a bit different inspirationally. Instead of drawing on an Eurpoean Nation we draw mostly on, perhaps not surprisingly, the Vatican. It’s not wholly Vodacce and it’s not wholly Castille. In fact, one of the big changes we made geographically was to move Vaticine City from the heart of Castille to it’s own island in the Vaticine Gulf between Vodacce and Castille. This allows the physical location to change national hands while remaining it’s own sovereign style.


        • When I set up the site, I limited the number of nested tiers for replies. If I did any more with this template, the comments would be so skinny and long that they’d be annoying to read.

          Anyway… Okay, that makes sense. I was checking up the island thing to my faulty memory and the fact that I never actually owned any of the first edition books. I was still assuming that it was still in the middle of Castille. I know the Church isn’t the Vatican any more than Avalon is Britain, but that’s a large part of why I was assuming that Castille was both Spanish and Italian.


        • RE: Rights. At some point we’re just splitting hairs that most people don’t really give a hoot about. But, for clarity, AEG isn’t forbidden from participating further but they can’t reprint 1e books either. Their licensing is in regards to some board and card game rights, not RPG rights.

          Plus, don’t hold your breath for 1e reprints. The original print files were lost to time. While we have PDFs none of them are print quality. JWP would LOVE to reprint the old 1e stuff but it’s not not feasible right now.


        • Yeah, I probably just get interested in the rights issue because of my day job. 🙂


        • Well… To be fair the 1e Castille was an odd duck. We’re trying to make it feel a little more like 17th Century Spain and less like 17th Century California\Italy\Rome\Whoknows 😀


        • Then I feel better about my mistake. 🙂

          When you guys do that writer call, I might have to toss in my own coin as an editor experienced with worldbuilding, gaming, line-editing, and a history degree focusing on comparing and contrasting European culture with the rest of the world, primarily through literature. (Yes, I focused on literature while a history student.) Right now, my docket is full, but I suspect you wouldn’t be needing help in that regard for a few months anyway.


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