7th Sea: Sailing the Topographic Ocean

7th SeaReb Donaghue has an interesting post about the 7th sea RPG, for which he’s enthusiastically backing the Kickstarter for a new edition. But this one’s not about the things he liked about the game and why he’s backing it. It’s a list of things that were very, very wrong with it, which he hopes they fix in the new edition.

It reads like a litany of everything that was wrong with the RPG industry in the 1990s.

First, the utterly goofy setting, which he rightly describes as “Europe for dumb Americans”. There’s the obvious one about the heavy emphasis on pirates, despite the fact the setting has no Atlantic trade and no Mediterranean, which means there is no reason why pirates should exist. Each nation is an analogue of an actual European nation described in such a clich├ęd and stereotyped way that even European straight while males start complaining about “Cultural Appropriation”. Donaghue rightly points out that it’s a good thing there was no fantasy Africa in the game; its potential awfulness is best not imagined.

Then there was the curse of 90s games, the metaplot, an abomination that always made game designers look like frustrated novelists rather than designers of games to be played. In 7th Sea’s case essential information about the setting was dribbled out across multiple supplements, with the occasional Big Reveal that was almost guaranteed to fatally undermine some people’s campaigns. Why did anyone ever think that sort of nonsense was a good idea?

Much as I’ve been critical of The Forge, 7th Sea represents precisely the sort of thing it was a reaction against.

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9 Responses to 7th Sea: Sailing the Topographic Ocean

  1. Amadan says:

    Yeah, that was one of the mistakes we made with In Nomine, though SJG tried hard not to force the metaplot into canon in such a way that individual campaigns couldn’t ignore it.

    (The fact that our metaplot was often incoherent didn’t help.)

  2. Tim Hall says:

    It was the 90s. Every game had to have one! And of course a baroque dice mechanic invented by someone who didn’t understand probablities and was never properly playtested…

    I don’t remember a metaplot for IN, but then I never bought most of the supplements. Aside from your show-lived online game I really know the system from games Jo Ramsay and L’Ange have run at cons.

    What was the metaplot, and what was wrong with it (apart from it being there in the first place)?

  3. Amadan says:

    Actually, now that I remember, there wasn’t really a single metaplot thread running through all the supplements. Rather, there were big gray areas of “Canon Doubt and Uncertainty,” and a few other mysteries hinted at in the main book that were supposed to be uncovered, eventually, with a “canonical” answer (which individual GMs could ignore). There was also the five-book Fall of the Malakim series, which had huge plot holes right from the start. So I guess In Nomine didn’t suffer as badly as some lines did from metaplot. It definitely suffered from editorial inconsistency, though.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Didn’t it change line editor part-way though? That’s never a good thing for coherent vision.

  5. Amadan says:

    Yes – frankly, I think that’s what killed the line. The previous Line Editor was Moriah (if you remember him from CS). He dropped out of sight right as the first books were getting launched. I think it was over a year before anyone heard from him. No word, no emails, no phone calls, nothing. SJG took forever to get around to replacing him, so several books were released without any real editorial direction from the top. The new LE was competent but extremely fan-girly and took the line in a different direction that I do not think really matched the original vision.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    All coming back now. I remember Moriah, just dropping of the radar like he did was very unprofessional, even if it was a result of a clash with his “day job” that drove it.

    Who was it that took over? Memory fails me now.

  7. Amadan says:

    Yeah, ironically it was Moriah who recruited me as an In Nomine writer, solely based on the teaser I posted for an IN game I started on RPGAMES.

    I never could understand how he could drop out of sight like that without even the courtesy of sending someone an email.

    The new Line Editor (and technically still, as far as I know, though the line is basically dead) was Elizabeth McCoy. She was okay and we were mostly able to work together, but she and I definitely had some creative clashes, and she rubbed a lot of the other writers the wrong way too.

  8. I was buying very few games in the 90s so wasn’t aware it was a “thing”, but I first came across the “metaplot” in Traveller (original edition!) supplements.

    Traveller started out without any kind of setting — here are the rules, make up your own damn universe! But eventually every supplement and published scenario was linked into the coherent “Third Imperium” setting and given a consistent storyline to connect them all (culminating in the Fifth Frontier War, which was released as a rather good boxed wargame).

    And actually I thought it was a great way to do things. It gave me a rich background that probably sustained my game a lot longer than it would have run without it. There’s something satisfying (for a GM as well as, I hope, players) in knowing that there’s a big epic story that you’re getting glimpses of and maybe even affecting. It was kind of like being in a MMO game where you never met any other players but saw the carnage they left behind in the rooms you visited.

    I took the lessons of Traveller’s metaplot plot to every game I subsequently ran. The only difference being, I had the confidence and experience to create my own.

  9. Tim Hall says:

    Traveller has a comvoluted history, and it’s like those bands where the early albums were the best.

    I was never into Traveller in the classic early days; I remember MegaTraveller had the emperor assassinated and the Imperium plunged into civil war, and Traveller: The New Era completely nuked the entire setting with the post-apocalyptic Virus era. Which would have been an interesting game in it’s own right, but it wasn’t the classic Traveller everyone knew and loved.

    Then there was Marc Miller’s Traveller 4. The less said about that the better….

    Most of the setting material I have is from GURPS Traveller which retconned all that away.