Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

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Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 5:55 pm

Ok, I got a pair of messages this week asking for tips on running games. So I figured it best to toss a thread up and see what I can do to give some advice and let some other GMs chime in with more tips.

I will start by posting a little guide I wrote a couple years ago for a few GMs and then we can expand from there. Due to length, I will be breaking the guide up into topics. It is certainly not the only way to run the game, probably not even the best way, but it's how I like to do things when I am thinking clearly and ahead of myself.

If there are aspects I'm not covering, feel free to ask. I really prefer to share than keep GM secrets when it comes to technique.
I don't mind growing old... but I hate growing up.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:04 pm

Thematic Style

7th Sea is first, foremost, and at it’s best as a CINEMATIC game. The most important rule to remember when you run this game is that it is never intended to reflect the physical reality of our world. Many GMs get hung up on the mechanics of this game not being realistic, screw those people. In this game, impossible feats are what we do before lunch. You should think of your actions in the game as stunts in an action film. Your NPCs should also be attempting amazing feats (and succeeding less often than your heroes) in battle and your descriptions should highlight those stunts.

The first rule is to always think about what is taking place and turn it up a notch higher. If the villain is going to leap to the chandelier and swing out the window, add a back flip. If the players try and blow a hole in a wall, have the explosion knock down the entire wall. Bigger is always better. Never send 6 brutes when you can send 12.

As a cinematic, this also means the heroes ALWAYS win. Your players need to succeed in this game at the end of the session. Before that session ends, however, you are obligated to knock them around at every opportunity.

You also need to add flair everywhere you can in your descriptions in this game. The more you describe, the more the players will get involved and return the favor. Every fight should be a movie scene with you describing how the villain made his attack. Never attack when you can stab, never stab when you can dodge around their blade and thrust, never thrust when you can whirl around and slash at their cheek. The more you put into these descriptions, the greater your player’s enjoyment.


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So what does all that mean? It means adventure is first and foremost in this game. You don't care that the good guys win, you know they are going to win. Instead you care about HOW the good guys win. Build the challenges so they feel they have overcome a great obstacle (and make sure they think you intend to beat them) so that they have a great story to tell years later. The biggest secret in 7th Sea is that the GM is actually on their side, making sure the bad guy triumphs right up to the very end of the fight, then loses to the hero.

As a bonus to the descriptive flairs, the method is contagious when you get the players used to it. They will start giving back cool descriptions of their actions as they become immersed in the story and the activity around them. At first you may need to nudge them in the right direction with Drama Dice awards and bonuses to action rolls that are well described.

Enthusiasm is a drug and you are a pusher. When you are excited about what is happening, they will become excited as well. This is your best weapon for player involvement.
I don't mind growing old... but I hate growing up.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:16 pm

Never say die (or dice)

The dice are not your friend in this system. Sure, you need them to remain “arbitrary and fair” during the fights but outside of combat, the dice are never, ever going to be a benefit to you as a GM. You players use them to avoid the role-play aspects of the role-playing game. Instead of attempting the speech to convince the crowd to follow them, they ask you if they may make an Oratory check. This is not entertaining for anybody. Encourage your players by rewarding actual attempts over checks. Either toss them drama dice for the attempt or just let it outright succeed because they actually role-played things out.


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I will touch on this subject again because it is that important. The dice never benefit a GM. The dice prevent your villain from getting away, they keep the heroes from discovering the vital clue they need, and they lead to all sorts of problems when the player rolls poorly.

Nobody wants to sit at the table for 4 hours making repeated climb checks to get up a mountain. Pick a perilous moment and make them roll one check IF you need to do so (and have a contingency in mind for when the dice go bad) then get on with your story. This is a cinematic game and it should run almost without dice. In recent years, it has been trendy to shoot down the systems that ran mechanics similar to this system because they make things awkward in terms of rolling dice. (and the next guy on a forum that badmouths this game vs. the flavor of the month generic system or fate, is getting hunted down) I contend these people were doing it wrong. Dice exist in the game for when the player cannot complete the task via description and roleplaying.

So when do you use the dice? Fights because the players want "fair" fights. Checks for stuff the hero would know but the player does not. (how to forge steel or write a sonnet) Whenever the player has reached a point where they don't know how to continue their actions at the table. (to get a push in the right direction or resolve the activity) And as always because the player asks to do so. (but keep in mind punishing those that rely on dice to avoid more active roleplaying)
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:32 pm

The Platinum Rule of 7th Sea

John Wick wrote himself two golden rules for this game. 1) The most important part of this game is to have fun playing it. 2) If the rules get in the way of rule 1, get rid of the rules.

These are very important to remember and very accurate. I however have found one rule that allows you to follow these rules and handle every possible action the players ever come up with. The following is the Roger Bechtel rule adapted from his Live Action Paranoia game.

“When the player asks you if he can do something, stop and think about what will happen if he succeeds and what could happen if he fails. Then allow whichever part of that action is most entertaining to happen.”

Sometimes the player comes up with a really cool idea that will do amazing things if he succeeds, sometimes his failure can lead to even better story events. Most of the time, you can allow him to succeed and then stick him with a worse problem because of that success. Let me work you up an example.

Maybe a player gets an idea to summon some Musketeers to arrest the criminal they are trying to get a map from. The player figures summoning the Musketeers will get the guy out of the way without having to reveal the party to the villain. If it fails, the Musketeers don’t drop in and the players have to go back to the drawing board. If it does work, the players have the map and the villain is still unaware of them. It’s a pretty good idea and the failure brings nothing entertaining to the table. So we reward the player with success the Musketeers arrive and drag off the villain for questioning. The players are free to break into the empty house and get the map. NOW IS THE TIME TO STICK THE PLAYER. Turns out the Musketeers confiscated the map. Now the heroes have to break into Musketeer headquarters.

You reward the player with success, and still make his life harder.

Sometimes the options are more obvious. The players want to set a small charge in the sewers to create an escape route from the town square during a rescue. Is it more entertaining if they succeed and have a tunnel chase, fail and have a street chase or do you go over the top and blow a 100-foot crater in the middle of town? The proper answer is whichever option seems most entertaining to you.

This game is about having adventure and fun and stories to tell years later. That crater happens to be one of my actual adventures. Those who were playing with me still refer to it as “El porto mal grande” and I am grateful the GM thought to go that far over the top. We had a ton of fun that night. Your only real job at the table is to make your session fun for yourself and your players. So think about every action and what will be the most memorable result.


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This is the most important advice I have ever given anyone in terms of roleplaying. It is the only rule any GM ever needs.

I generally try to break things down into at least two options but more is better.

If the player thinks about success or failure, you need to think about how much of each. Best case, worst case, some modest results, the really close call and something totally out of left field. I apply the one I like the best that reflects the die roll made.

Let's use an example from a game I ran long, long ago. the sword fight in Ussura with the Musketeer that has been hounding you all the way through the GM screen adventure.
Our hero wants to use tagging to slide his sword up the guy's coat sleeve. So what are our options?
-He does this. - a modest result.
-He misses. - a modest failure
-He slices the fine sleeve open resulting in a series of angry insults from his opponent. - pretty good close call result.
-He misses and the NPC demonstrates the proper action on him. - pretty good failure result.
-He tangles his sword in his own tabard, sheathing the blade in his own coat. - a great failure result
-He instead snags another character's dress, ripping that off and either tangling himself or tossing it onto his opponent's head. - big left field result nobody expected.
-He slides the sword in and manages to get his off hand down the other sleeve, leaving the men chest to chest in the same coat, dancing around the battle. - That was the best case success and a story that still gets told 10 years later.

So look for moments to turn into stories and find the fun result. Twist your successes and failures into the stuff worthy of the film your session is creating in the player's heads.
I don't mind growing old... but I hate growing up.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:41 pm

Traits and Their Uses

The mechanic of 7th Sea makes better use of a character’s traits than any system I have ever encountered. If the GM is doing the job right, the player has no opportunity to pad one trait at the expense of a “bail out” trait. I’m going to take a little time to discuss how each trait can be used and then look at some ways to incorporate them with knacks that most GMs may overlook.

Brawn- Brawn is not just the physical strength of the character but represents any physicality check you need to make. Strength, endurance, taking a beating, and fitness related activity is all brawn.
Finesse- Call it dexterity if you prefer. Finesse covers coordination, agility and anything physical that isn’t about muscle power and toughness. The obvious use is in attacks and daring stunts like walking a tightrope. I also have used it for assembling puzzles, and preparing a special dessert for a certain Vodacce Prince.
Wits- Everybody uses wits as the default intelligence skill, they are not wrong but it can fill in for a few other things as well. I have had players use wits to cut off a villain’s escape route, anticipate ambushes, and haggle for the lives of their crew. This Trait is not just what you know but also about being able to think on your feet.
Resolve- Resolve is NOT endurance. Everybody tends to think that but it really is a trait that should have been called willpower. Resolve is about being able to keep going when everybody else has quit. Long Distance running eventually becomes a resolve check, so does digging through disgusting garbage for a lost item. It helps me to think of it as the stubborn trait. (I use this trait the least often as a GM and should be tested more on it as a player)
Panache- The nebulous “style” trait that nobody really understands. This is my favorite trait. It is often misunderstood as “speed” due to its use in initiative but that is not accurate. Panache is about taking advantage of your opportunities and being smooth about it. This is the trait of the charmer, the seducer and the con man. Odds are if your player is behaving like James bond, he needs to be making a Panache check.

Integrating the Knacks with Traits

There is nothing in this game more boring than a GM that does not make full use of the Traits when assigning a skill check. There is not a knack in this game that cannot be used with at least 3 Traits and if you discount the “Attack” and “Parry” knacks you can find a time to use any of the 5 Traits to make your check. I’m going to take a few of the Knacks and use them as examples below but I enthusiastically encourage you to keep an open mind in your own games and look for the opportunity to press your players with unique skill checks at every possibility. After you start creating these options in your game, your players will get themselves involved and offer their own suggestions (normally to their best advantage) and you should really think about alternate traits to test them with in that situation. If a player asks for a Research + Wits consider if it could be appropriate to instead ask for a Research + Resolve to represent the time it takes to find the info they seek. So lets take a look at some possibilities.


Knack and Trait Combos
The following are example of ways to use your traits with various knacks to make the game more interesting. They are not set in stone nor are they the only times you should use a specific trait.
Perception checks-Perception checks are always Wits+ Keen Senses… BORING!
Brawn- Brawn + Keen Senses works for times when players are noticing environmental changes like temperature (chills from Mirror ghosts) or sloping tunnels.
Finesse- I might use finesse to notice a Swordsman’s fencing style or to spot a sniper while hiding behind a crate. Tripwire traps should be a finesse perception check.
Resolve- My favorite use for this would be for the character to realize he had been poisoned or was being gassed.
Panache- I save these for when the character needs to notice something that relates to their personal rival or the item in question belongs to them or a loved one. (A shred of a scarf belonging to the character’s sister or the villain who killed his father)
Knotwork- this is a pretty straightforward skill… or is it?
Brawn- You want to tie a knot that will hold in a storm on a tossing ship deck.
Finesse- You want to tie a knot that will hold your captive securely.
Wits- You need to tie a knot that will look complicated but unravel if you pull the right strand. (peace tied weapons)
Resolve- You have been tied up and need to wriggle your way free.
Panache- You need to unlace Juliette’s corset while you dance past her at the grand ball.
Fashion- Brawn and resolve for fashion? You betcha.
Brawn- Disgraced by the action of your captain, you have opted to either rip off his or your own tabard and toss it down in disgust.
Finesse- Getting yourself or someone else out of a particular garment without ruining it. Commonly this follows a successful Seduction check.
Wits- Knowing how to put together a lovely ensemble for the Coronation ceremony.
Resolve- You collar is too tight, there are pins left in a delicate spot and you are front and center at the coronation ceremony. Make the check to avoid disrupting things.
Panache- On them, it’s rags. On you, it’s called shabby chic. Make the check to make whatever it is look good.
Swimming- Let’s try a physical skill.
Brawn- Your standard swim check to get from here to there.
Finesse- During a dive, you need to swim through the portal on a sunken ship.
Wits- Your treasure map calls for you to swim out 346 yards from this rock.
Resolve- Just how long CAN you hold your breath during that dive?
Panache- synchronized swimming.
Seduction- This is my favorite social skill. I have been called on to make all of these.
Brawn- Ladies love a guy with Muscles, flex a bit and woo Fauner Posen.
Finesse- Ever danced up to a Montaigne Princess and literally swept her off her feet?
Wits- Queen Elaine has a soft spot for Montaigne poetry, who knew.
Resolve- 3 days chained to the inquisitor’s wall being beaten, all I confessed was my love for her.
Panache- “Valentina, my name is Rodrigo and I think your husband does not appreciate you enough.”

Again, we are back at using the dice and making them work for you. It's a long post full of examples. The point is, get creative with your dice and the players will follow suit. Maybe you were thinking one way when you wrote the adventure but let the players try to define their ideas in this way too. Encourage creative uses but watch and I mean WATCH for the players attempting to default everything to their pet knack.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:51 pm

Skill Checks and Target Numbers (why you should never say “no”)

The 7th Sea system offers you as the GM the ability to never need to say “no that won’t work”. The primary reason behind this is the cinematic style of the game where the impossible can and should happen. The second is that you as the GM can designate the Target Number of any check and augment that with enough penalties to keep the players from doing anything too ridiculous.

Let’s start with Target Numbers. The rule system incorporates a chart of TNs that range from 5 to around 40 and gives you a rough idea of how difficult these things are. There are a couple of things that are key to this list. The high end is set at a level that is actually fairly possible for any moderately experienced character to succeed at in the knacks and traits that they focus on. This is intentional. The players should be able to hit a TN 35 or 40 if they are rolling 8 k4 or something in that range. (With Drama dice to add, it really isn’t a matter of failure but level of success) It is not the job of the GM to put the TN so high that the player refuses to try or cannot expect any result but failure.

So what is the GM supposed to be doing? You are to set the accurate TN for the task at hand. Once that is set but before the dice are rolled, you are to add incentive to inspire the player to push for raises. Let’s say the player wants to leap off a balcony and grab a chandelier and swing across the room. The player is hoping for TN 15 but you tell him leaping out and dropping in the middle of the room would be TN 15 but crossing the room is TN 20 if he drops his sword and grabs with both hands. If he wants to keep his sword and one hand the jump, he will need 2 raises more making it TN 30. You have essentially doubled the TN without raising it. The player can opt to go low or bump things up a bit.

So if most players can hit these high TNs, why do we bother with low-end checks? Those exist to make life interesting for the player that didn’t buy a knack. The no dice explode rule and a raise penalty means they are making a minimum TN 10 check and sometimes the dice just don’t get there.

When is it worth the time to make a skill check? Anytime there is direct conflict between players and other characters. Combat always needs checks. Outside of that, it’s needed when you and the player are not sure how to best further the game. If the result of the check does not effect anything vital, it is often better to just let it happen and keep moving. In a combat, I often skip a swinging check for a player simply moving to a different spot in the room. It doesn’t matter who he’s fighting or where as long as he spends the action to swing.

Should you reveal the TN to the player? This is a style choice. Some GMs tell the player the TN and others don’t. I reveal it in situations where it’s obvious and conceal it when I feel it’s appropriate. Revealing the TN tends to speed play a little and hiding them tends to lead to more caution. How you deal with TNs does alter how you need to handle Drama Dice.


Now is the time for me to clarify that comment a couple of posts earlier about "Fair" fights. As the GM, there is no law that says you MUST use the highest numbers you rolled. This also applies to players but they seem to want to succeed at every attempt so you can predict their actions.

Sometimes, it is in the heroes best interest for the GM to pick sub-optimal results and miss. Perhaps you overdid it when you built the henchmen and the heroes are getting mauled, maybe you didn't plan for one of the heroes blowing up the dock full of their friends and handing out enough damage to cripple everyone. Sometimes the villain just wants to lull the hero into a sense of self confidence and loses the battle of wits in the first encounter. You can do this two ways:
1- roll the dice, look at them like you are doing math and make up the result you need.
2- roll the dice, take the worst results and toss the high numbers.

option two means you can look the player in the eye and not worry about lying about your result.

No as to the meat of this post, It's about using your TNs to again encourage the players into describing and contributing to your collective story. You can also reverse the logic and assign a stupidly high TN to their really reckless action then offer some reduced TN less reckless options to make it easier on them. (this is a subtle way of asking "are you sure you want to try that?" right before they commit some suicidal action like setting off a powder keg they are sitting on)
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:55 pm

Drama Dice and their application

Players love their drama dice. They love them so much it tears at their souls to decide if they should be spent or hoarded for XP. The players never seem to catch on to the truth with Drama dice. If you save them, you will end up with higher stats and not need them but if you spend them you don’t need higher stats. It doesn’t matter what they do with them, it matters what YOU as the GM do with them.

Drama dice need to flow like tidewater. It ebbs back and forth between you and the players. Drama dice not only enhance the chances of success but they end up raising the action level of the game. Never be afraid to hand your players more dice to work with.

Handing out Drama is vital to increasing your player’s participation. Rewarding players for creative ideas, interesting descriptions and attempts to actually role-play situations instead of defaulting to dice rolls leads to more interaction. Players get greedy for Drama Dice and will up their play level to get them once you start handing them out. The more input the players provide, the easier your job becomes.

Now, many GMs think the more Drama they hand out, the more their players will spend. This is not entirely accurate. Players spend Drama when they start seeing YOU spend Drama. Players don’t want to see your Drama hoard piling up throughout the game waiting to kill them in the final encounter. If you spend as you go, they will as well. Your real aim is to maintain a balance at just above their starting Drama Dice total. This however is not a hard and fast number. If they are burning dice and not really putting effort into their roles, they deserve to end up a little short on dice.

Many GMs have issues about if or when they should suggest the use of Drama Dice to effect rolls. This again is a personal style issue. Some GMs require the decision to use Drama be made before the dice are rolled. I personally disagree with this system, as it tends to leave players feeling they wasted Drama on exceptionally good or bad rolls. A great GM I know never reveals his TNs and asks a player “Do you want to spend Drama” before revealing if the player has reached the TN or not. This works a little better as the player knows what his result is and can weigh how close they feel to the TN. Most GMs that hide the TN will tell the player they are short and ask if they care to spend. In that case the player just has to decide IF they feel close enough to bother.

You also need to decide IF the player can commit one die at a time or must decide how many dice to commit right away. Both work fine as long as you commit yourself to one option and stand by it.

In use of Drama outside of adjusting dice results, I recommend not getting involved as long as the players realize they have the option to use the dice to activate their Virtue or the villain’s Wile. You do however need to use your dice to do these things. No game session should end without you having activated or at least attempted to activate a Hubris. You should avoid bidding wars to do so, however. If the player says “no” and spends a die, let the matter drop.


The best carrot in the game. You will go far if you just remember to hand them out for stuff that makes anybody at the table perk up and pay a little more attention. That is the real cue to issue them. when a player does something that gets another player's attention, they probably earned one.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 6:58 pm

Your Voice at the Table

You are the world and you need to remember this at all times. The players can do little without your input. Your objective as a quality GM is to give them not a description but a world.

The first step is to never, ever read anything to your players. Read your description to yourself then interpret it to your players. You need to be able to make eye contact and embellish things with your hands and expression to keep your players involved. You need to be looking at them so you are not talking at the table and muting yourself making things hard to hear. And you need to interpret instead of read so you slow down your description speed so the players have time to comprehend what is said. Besides all of that, listening to a GM read a description is damn boring. They may as well just hand it around the table and let us read it ourselves. (And that is never good for a game)

There is no such thing as a GM’s “INSIDE VOICE”

This is twice as true in a convention setting. You are seated at a large table with a group of people (many of whom are talking to each other) and that table is often in a large room with bad acoustics full of other tables full of folks who are also talking. It creates a background noise that you don’t notice but does effect your hearing. If a player cannot hear the GM, they will not pay attention, they will not immerse themselves in the game, and they will not be interested in gaming with you in the future.

You need to speak up at all times. It is better to be too loud than too quiet. If you are blessed with a voice that has good resonance, this is less of a problem but most of us need to speak up. I played 9 scheduled games at the 2009 Origins convention and had 1 GM speak loud enough for his players to enjoy the game. That means there was 8 events where the GM did not manage to keep my focus at my own table because I wasn’t able to hear everything clearly and my mind wandered.

LOUDER IS ALWAYS BETTER. If you cannot get louder, GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR AND MOVE AROUND THE TABLE. In large games I make it a practice to circle the table and talk to the players over their shoulders. This keeps the players focused on me since they tend to follow motion and lets me whisper in their ears if I need to do so. It lets me get closer to handle matters that only involve a few players and makes me aware of who I am neglecting. Neglected players vanish into the corner and don’t have fun. You need to drag them into the scene and get them involved.

If the scene calls for a whisper voice, at least lean into the table or move around and shorten the space between you and the players to be certain they hear you the first time. Repeating information bogs down the game and dispels the scene for players. You want them listening close hearing once and responding quickly.


Your voice and body as a tool

Your voice conveys more than information. Not just the tone of your speech but your mannerisms and expressions. Your voice needs to also transmit excitement, fear, danger and emotion from the scene to your players. Essentially, you are voice acting as the world in hopes that the players will respond in kind. Describe using your senses. Demonstrate with your hands; use accents if you are able to do so.

Give your NPCs personality quirks and act those out as you role-play that character. Actually wring your hands instead of telling the player the NPC does so. If the NPC is nervous about being found, glance around nervously when you role-play encounters with the party. Pull yourself up proudly and stick out your chest when you play the brave guard captain. The players will not pick up on these sorts of actions by mere description. More importantly, if situations change later in the adventure for the NPC, the players will quickly notice the change if the proud Captain is suddenly huddled down and looking around nervously.

If you are dealing with a few particular NPCs that return on a regular basis, take the time to flesh out their behavior like you would a PC. Give them full role-play personality so your players will better interact with them.

Now, you can sit quietly in your chair for the entire session and things will stay a bit sedate. There is nothing wrong with doing that in most games. But 7th Sea practically begs you to take it to the next level. Jump out of your chair as you describe explosions. Leap up and swing your arm above the table to mimic the attack of a sword from time to time. Make explosion sounds and mime the burst with your hands when the players detonate a keg of gunpowder. (Better still, reel back in your chair with arms flailing as the villain is blown back by the blast)

The more excitement you show in your own AND the players actions, the more involved they will get. A great game of 7th Sea will build on this repoire between you and your players to a fever pitch. People should be excited, on the edge of their seats if not abandoning them to stand during the finale of your game. Laugh with them, show your “frustration” as they foil your villain’s scheme, banter with them during the big duels, talk a little trash and take some trash talk when they are beating your NPCs down. Every game is a synergy between the GM and players but few feed on the energy created like 7th Sea does. This game needs that energy to flourish. Think like a swashbuckler and act larger than life.

The other aspect of you voice is in the “romance” level of the game. You know your own comfort level in this so stay within that level. You also need to watch your players for their comfort levels in this and keep it within their comfort zone. If a player seems uneasy in what you are doing, dial it back a step. You want them to enjoy the game and understand that “IN GAME” means not in reality.



You are the world, if you want your players IN the world rather than viewing it, you need to convey that. You are not a presenter, you are a portal.
I don't mind growing old... but I hate growing up.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 7:01 pm

The Big Do’s and Don’ts

Most of these are obvious or you probably already know but I offer them for completeness.

DO treat every player that joins your table with respect. They gave you the courtesy of selecting your game; return that by treating them politely.

DO NOT let a player tell you how to run your game. Feel free to consider the advice, feel free to ask the table if they know a specific ruling but do not bow to pressure to do things their way.

DO NOT worry about being outclassed by your players. 7th Sea players are notoriously good about supporting GMs regardless of their skill level. They want you to improve and will want to work with you rather than against you.

DO encourage and support actual role-playing. If it’s with Drama Dice or responding in character, you want as much actual role-play at the table as you can.

DO take the time to draw in the new players at your table and get them involved. A good, experienced player will take it on themselves to help you do this without being asked.

DO NOT panic when things go completely off the page and your plot is in ruins. Take a 10-minute restroom break, get yourself a drink of water and think about where you can go. The players really don’t care if they complete YOUR adventure as planned as long as the session is fun. Sometimes you can follow the player’s lead and run with it and have a great session.


DO NOT EVER think you need to run every fight until the whole side is wiped out. Most fights except the finale fight should never run more than 3-4 turns of actions. Most 7th Sea characters will be taking between 2-5 actions per round and that is a ton of dice to be rolled and it gets a little dull after 4 turns. Players do get bored with long fights. Let the remaining brutes and henchmen flee or surrender and move the game along.

DO take the time in your game prep beforehand to make a cheat sheet of all the charts you may need in the game. I personally find a need for the brute damage table, the explosion table, the weapon damage table, a skill/knack list, and a cheat sheet for villain used swordsman schools. The GM screen handles part of this for you but it never has everything you really want for your game.


Ok, that's what I got for right now. other GMs, feel free to comment or add in thoughts, (and avoid huge quotes) options and opposition to any of this. For those who want clarification or have other questions, please, please, please post. This thread is for you to help you do what we love to do. And for the folks just getting started, if you want to run a new campaign but want some published material to work with, (at least to get started) Look at the Hammer and Tongs session in Freiburg. the adventures that were done for the GM club in the old newsletters also are handy for a starter session or two. Now go be heroic.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Lady Grace » Fri Apr 05, 2013 7:33 pm

salamanca wrote:Ok, I got a pair of messages this week asking for tips on running games.


SHOOT THE HOSTAGE! :twisted:
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:22 pm

Let them shoot the hostage. then guilt them over having done it by letting the poor sap live and whine about "why would you do that to me?" then let the reputation spread they shoot innocent people.

You may also let them shoot the plot device before receiving the plot. Just make sure they have nothing interesting to do for the rest of the night and start hearing about these other heroes that did get the message and the riches from completing the adventure.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Lady Grace » Fri Apr 05, 2013 10:43 pm

How do you recommend handling selfish players (without beating them bloody) in 7th Sea? Those who talk over the rest of the group, wanting the spotlight only on them and bulldozing over less confident players?
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Black Jack Rackham » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:09 am

So much to respond to, so many great things said. Dave, if there's ever a "GM'ing 101" you should not only write the book on it, you should also teach the class.

First let me state unequivocally, there is nothing NOTHING in Dave's discussion that isn't pure GOLD.

Things I'd add (in reverse order of the posts since that's the way they show up on the Reply feed)

Do's and Don'ts
DO give up some control of the plot. One of the greatest 7th Sea sessions I ever ran was an all-fate-witch adventure in which one of the players, seeing that we were WAY over time, gave one of the most creative shortcuts I've ever seen. When he initially said he had an idea I was afraid he was going to take us even further off script (and was worried about how to get it back) so much so that I almost shut him down before he could speak. But I realized up to this point all the players had been laughing and enjoying themselves despite their lack of progress. So I decided to just roll with whatever was coming, in effect giving up control of the plot. Not only did he get us back on track, but he also did it in a way that everyone thought was logical and humerous.

DO NOT be afraid of silence. Many GMs feel the need to jump in when players get even the slightest bit stuck. But not spoonfeeding them the answers and making them work for it only increases their enjoyment. Over time you'll learn the signs of losing them (yawns, looking away from the table, fiddling with stuff, etc.) which indicate that it is time to jump in.

DO NOT be afraid to limit PC character options. If you have an idea about the kind of plot you want to run and there are certain character ideas that simply won't work, don't let the players wheedle or cajole you into allowing them. Look at HoA as an example. I wanted HEROES so I took out the secret societies most likely to engage in non-heroic activities (Rilasciare, Sophia's Daughters, DK). And I also took away the option of Crescent (because dealing with herecy will already be hard enough) and Cathayan (because I simply HATE everything about their handling in 7th Sea) characters.

That being said, DO be willing to listen to players who come up with creative, or role-playing reasons to bend those same limitations. In a very early 7th Sea game, I'd also ruled out Crescents* (because I didn't want the players to travel there, and because I didn't want to introduce their strange knowledge into the game). However, one of my players came up with a Crescent character who had been horribly tortured (and specifically had his tongue cut out) so he had the knowledge but was unable to share it in any way. And better, he spent the time playing by simply pointing or making gutteral sounds (which the players, over time, learned to understand).

*in this game I didn't outlaw Cathayans because the Cathay book hadn't been released

Your Voice at the Table

yes, Yes, YES! You can never have too much energy. Players at the PA at GenCon last year can testify to that. I roleplayed a crazy man coming to Ken's character's book signing who ran around the table, yelled and cursed out the other players (who took the place of the other people waiting at the book signing) and I can say without fear of contradiction, the only thing players were disappointed at when we got finished was that I hadn't gone on for longer.

At the same time, let me reiterate that silence is not your enemy. Once they have the information, and they're mulling it over, let them stew. They'll let you know (by their behavior) that they need a push. Its one of the things I commend Shadowrun for. GMs provide the information about the job PCs are to do and then simply sit back. Their players telegraph their actions. Certainly the description of the job will influence them as to what they must do, but success can vary quite a bit. And they tell you extactly what they plan on doing so you can plan accordingly.

Drama Dice and Their Application

Dave didn't hit upon this, but it seems a natural extension of what I was reading so I'll point it out. One of the things that you ABSOLUTELY must do in 7th Sea (as opposed to most other games) is establish a bond of trust between you and the players. Players used to "Killer Dungeon" GMs write down EVERYTHING they carry on their character sheets, carefully consider ALL actions before performing them, expect the GM to kill them for the minorest of mistakes (often using the dumbass excuse of, "it's not me, it's the roll of the dice..."), and never, EVER take chances.

They do this because they are afraid their carefully crafted character will die (often capriciously).

NONE of that can (or ever should) happen in 7th Sea. You don't need to list all your equipment. You don't have time to carefully consider all actions. The GM will NEVER kill you (even if the dice say differently). And you should always, ALWAYS take chances!

Retraining such players is difficult but Drama Dice can help with that. When your other players engage in the behaviors you're looking for and are rewarded, these players see it and eventually get the hint. When they do it and are rewarded they get the hint. When they come up with a creative solution that (for some reason) interferes with your main plot, the application of a Drama Die can show them they did the right thing even if it didn't work.

Drama Dice are, in effect, your way of subtly saying, "I'm on your side, I want you to win."

Skill Checks and Target Numbers

I'm not really a numbers kind of guy, my adventures don't usually have very many TNs outside of combat because, as Dave said, the dice rolling is really interfering with the story we're telling.

As for whether or not to reveal TNs, you know before I read this it never occurred to me there was even a choice. I don't do it, not because I am trying to get the players to be more cautious, but mainly so I have an easy fudge if I need it. That, by the way, is also the reason my adventures don't have TNs. If I say that all players must roll TN 15 before the adventure can continue, and someone doesn't roll that, then we're stuck, and as Dave said, I just killed everyone's enjoyment. But if I say, have everyone roll and the highest roll wins. Well then players got to roll some dice it looked like there was the possibility of failure, and we continue the story.

One tangent to the "Fair Fights" discussion and for that we again go back to the inestimable Mr. Wick. It's several paragraphs, so I'll just point you to it. Game Master's Guide p. 244, "The Die Hard Effect" It neatly sums up my belief about 7th Sea in a nutshell. You don't have to fight fair, the players expect you not to. They want to feel like they've been dragged through the mud filled with broken glass and poison, and... they want to win.

The part he doesn't say (but implies) is for this to work, you have to have players who trust you. They have to know that what happens to them is by design and that they won't die at the roll of a die. They have to understand that this story won't happen without them and that their input is imperative!

Traits and Their Uses

ABSOLUTELY!!! In every single one of the HoA adventures you will find at least one (often several dozen) attempts to pare some unorthodox Traits and Skills. I do it partly to make sure players don't become complacent with their hero's abilities (Oh I have a X Finesse, I should be fine for whatever the GM throws at me), and partly to let the other GMs know, creativity in this game is a thing to be encouraged. Now obviously, if I can get the player to roleplay the situation, that's the best outcome, but if they can creatively describe how using Brawn + Cartography will help him earn a Knighthood by seducing this farmer's daughter, that's almost as good...

The Platinum Rule of 7th Sea

Dave has mentioned Roger's Rule to me many times. It meshes quite well with Mr. Wick's thinking and meshes very well with the overriding rule of 7th Sea

Have FUN or Go Home.

Never Say Die (or Dice)

Though I get what Dave is trying to say, and for the most part I agree with him, I think in an ideal world we would be able to have 7th Sea games without dice rolls. However, this isn't an ideal world. But I would go a step farther and say that while there are some players who are married to dice rolls to resolve things, dice rolls have contained within them the element of failure. Barring the "TNs designed so mid level players can reach them" (Which is the first time I've ever heard that as a reason and it makes perfect sense, Thanks Dave), I think dice rolls can help GMs give players the belief that they might fail (by letting them fail the unimportant things).

Thematic Style

salamanca wrote:7th Sea is first, foremost, and at it’s best as a CINEMATIC game. The most important rule to remember when you run this game is that it is never intended to reflect the physical reality of our world. Many GMs get hung up on the mechanics of this game not being realistic, screw those people. In this game, impossible feats are what we do before lunch. You should think of your actions in the game as stunts in an action film. Your NPCs should also be attempting amazing feats (and succeeding less often than your heroes) in battle and your descriptions should highlight those stunts.

The first rule is to always think about what is taking place and turn it up a notch higher. If the villain is going to leap to the chandelier and swing out the window, add a back flip. If the players try and blow a hole in a wall, have the explosion knock down the entire wall. Bigger is always better. Never send 6 brutes when you can send 12.

As a cinematic, this also means the heroes ALWAYS win. Your players need to succeed in this game at the end of the session. Before that session ends, however, you are obligated to knock them around at every opportunity.

You also need to add flair everywhere you can in your descriptions in this game. The more you describe, the more the players will get involved and return the favor. Every fight should be a movie scene with you describing how the villain made his attack. Never attack when you can stab, never stab when you can dodge around their blade and thrust, never thrust when you can whirl around and slash at their cheek. The more you put into these descriptions, the greater your player’s enjoyment.

-----------------------
So what does all that mean? It means adventure is first and foremost in this game. You don't care that the good guys win, you know they are going to win. Instead you care about HOW the good guys win. Build the challenges so they feel they have overcome a great obstacle (and make sure they think you intend to beat them) so that they have a great story to tell years later. The biggest secret in 7th Sea is that the GM is actually on their side, making sure the bad guy triumphs right up to the very end of the fight, then loses to the hero.

As a bonus to the descriptive flairs, the method is contagious when you get the players used to it. They will start giving back cool descriptions of their actions as they become immersed in the story and the activity around them. At first you may need to nudge them in the right direction with Drama Dice awards and bonuses to action rolls that are well described.

Enthusiasm is a drug and you are a pusher. When you are excited about what is happening, they will become excited as well. This is your best weapon for player involvement.


I quoted this because, First, I haven't quoted you yet Dave, and Second, because this is perfect. I don't want to change a thing...
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Sat Apr 06, 2013 5:56 pm

Credit where it's due... That fate witch plot twist was mine.... Now back to topic, handling verbose and pushy players. It differs by location of the game. At home, you need to talk to them away from the table. Point out they are taking time meant for others and to tone it back. The best method requires supporting them, appearing to take their side a bit and promising to make sure they will also be getting their moments. Then repeat the suggestions before the next session. In a convention or one off event, you can't have that discussion for next time and the participant likely paid some cash to play so you have to get subtle. Ask the quiet players for their actions first and resolve them first. Avoid initiatives where you can and fudge the order to put the pushy player later in the phase (or earlier if it clears brutes out). Sidetrack them with silly and pointless tasks. Where possible, let them make their big, bold actions and let nothing come of it or just enforce the laws of physics and break the branch they are leaping towards. Generally, those players never notice they are being laughed at so use them as entertainment for yourself.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Black Jack Rackham » Sun Apr 07, 2013 12:30 am

salamanca wrote:Credit where it's due... That fate witch plot twist was mine...

No denying credit. It certainly was, and I tip my hat to you Mr. Reeves. It was truly a moment to behold.

salamanca wrote: Now back to topic, handling verbose and pushy players.

I've been thinking about this since I first read it earlier today and it occurs to me that while your original post mentions just general GMing, I wonder if there isn't some way to make this answer more specific to 7th Sea.

Now my first assumption is that this player is not simply an out and out jerk. Those are the kind who kill a game and should be booted. I think instead, this is a player who hogs the limelight and generally makes it less fun for everyone outside of themselves.

Well, I think we'd all agree that 7th Sea is a game that is (or hopefully should be) less GM centralized. So it behooves the other players at the table to get involved with a problem player. Now I don't mean gang up on them, because that's just gonna lead to hurt feelings all around (when really, you're trying to keep this player). Instead what I propose is a more solution focused approach. "We're trying to find a way for all of us to get some face time..." "I don't feel as engaged because there's so little for my character to do..." ("I" statements, not "You" statements, short, concise and on point).

I realize this requires a table full of mature individuals, and I'm hoping that's what you've got. Anyway it's late and my brainey thinkey thingie isn't working at optimum effeciency...
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:25 pm

If you want a slightly more 7th sea approach to dealing with it, you must alter the GM style to really embrace the word "cinematic". Let the glory hound have his moment, then verbally announce it's time to shift the camera angle to give the next player their dramatic moment. I do not recommend doing this without need. It tends to kill party interaction and makes the game into a series of turn taking. If you do use this, actually shift in your chair and give the problem player a good look at your shoulder while turned to look right at the current player. You can also use the less than precise movement rules to acknowledge their desire to interrupt and tell them you will tell them when they reach the activity and are allowed to actually act. Just keep pushing that moment back if they continue to interrupt. And another trick is to just tell them, they had the lead in the last scene and you are giving another player first crack at this because (insert random skill, background, nation or advantage). And sometimes, you need to let the trouble guy go ahead and be a problem until somebody speaks up in character and calls them on behaving like a thug instead of a hero.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Black Jack Rackham » Sat Jun 08, 2013 11:29 am

I am making a new vow. I will read this whole thread before every convention.
smafdi wrote:STOP BEING SO DARN POPULAR GUYZ SRSLY I NEEDZ MEH GAMEZ TIHS YAER!!!

kenderleech wrote:If the cows were not meant to be ridden, why would they be so close to the chase scenes?
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Sat Jun 08, 2013 12:27 pm

Have to remember to sneak some stuff in and take advantage of that.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby smafdi » Thu Jul 25, 2013 1:24 pm

So I've finally run my first session. GF had the cousins over for the night and suggested they make 7th sea characters, and i get roped into running their first session. I stole the friburg campaign and just kinda ran with it. Thought it would be harder to do that it really was. I tend to have trouble coming up with ideas and such, but last night no real problems. For those of you who've played the friburg adventure we spent 2 hr and only got to the part where they got the manor and had the first run in with the local goon squad. Either way everyone seemed to have alot of fun, and the 2 first-timers want to play again so that's a huge ego boost. I really have to say it's thanks to a thread like this and having such great games run by both mark and dave that make me want to jump out of the players chair and into the evil one.... err i mean gm's chair.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Thu Jul 25, 2013 3:49 pm

That's right,young Skywalker, embrace the dark side. Now remember, all those soft points can easily fill a 2-4 hour session if you want them to do so. And most of the hard points can take 2 hours. Which reminds me, I owe you some old adventures from my collection of other gm's stuff.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby svensven » Tue Jul 30, 2013 3:50 pm

Quoth Mark:

(On revealing target numbers to players)

I don't do it, not because I am trying to get the players to be more cautious, but mainly so I have an easy fudge if I need it. That, by the way, is also the reason my adventures don't have TNs. If I say that all players must roll TN 15 before the adventure can continue, and someone doesn't roll that, then we're stuck, and as Dave said, I just killed everyone's enjoyment.


I didn't interpret Dave that way at all. Rather, if you have a pivotal roll, just have an equally fun and dramatic thread you can pick up for success AND for failure.

I use rolls a lot, for everything from combat to detecting if there is sauerkraut or cheese in the Pirogi being made by the innkeeper. But I always have a plan for both sides of the coin.

I think the overarching mental model that must be overcome for people who have GMed many other systems before picking up 7th Sea as a world and setting is - The players ALWAYS win. You can have dark and gritty, as my plots tend to be. You can have convoluted story with a myriad of red herrings, as my plots are wont to do. You can set a world where only the most astute ROLEPLAYERS will catch all the subtleties. You can have real loss and real suffering, but in the end, there is cinema, there is triumph, and most importantly there are the RICHEST of colors. The deepest blacks contrast the most brilliant whites.

Dave's primer is quoth for truth.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby salamanca » Tue Jul 30, 2013 10:54 pm

Thank you for the compliment. Now the TN issue... It's a strange position in most RPGs but moreso in convention events where eventually, somebody else will be running the event. If you put a number on something, eventually some group will fail the check. If there is a workaround in place, that failure does not matter. If there is not, someday that session with a less experienced GM will spend 3 hours in a hotel room failing to find the only clue that leads to the rest of the adventure and you will have a table full of players quit your campaign. (it was not us, but I have witnessed this exact event). I fluctuate on the checks depending on pacing. The more time I have and the bigger the risk of the action, the better chance I keep that number to myself. If the game or combat is running long or the action has a fairly obvious result, I am probably going to reveal the number to speed things up. Revealing tends to do a couple things for you. 1- it stops the player (in theory) from rerolling exploding dice. 2- it stops the fussing over being close enough to add a Drama die. 3- it let's them get their roll done early so they have a result faster on their turn.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Sister Sonya » Wed Jul 31, 2013 7:11 am

salamanca wrote: If you put a number on something, eventually some group will fail the check. If there is a workaround in place, that failure does not matter. If there is not, someday that session with a less experienced GM will spend 3 hours in a hotel room failing to find the only clue that leads to the rest of the adventure and you will have a table full of players quit your campaign.

This happened in the semi-final at the AD&D Open at GenCon 20-25 years ago (which used to be the premier RPG Event of the year.) The thief did not find the message in the secret compartment, and we did nothing for the next 3 1/2 hours.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Black Jack Rackham » Sun May 21, 2017 11:21 pm

Four years ago I promised that I would read this before every con. I think I fell down on the job a bit, but it caught my eye again this year, and I read it with fresh eyes. Lot of stuff I see that I can improve on.

The "DON'T read the text" caught my eye. AND I have a new DON'T

DON'T play favorites - I mention this one because I am guilty of this. First I should say, this isn't in reference to the old GM's Girlfriend trope. I don't mean letting certain players re-roll or auto-succeed, or giving out uber-treasure, or even letting a favored player use a GMPC. Nope, this one sneaks up on you.

You find a player with that certain something. Maybe they have a lot of energy, or they're someone willing to take the plot thread and run with it, or they're always helping other players. But whatever it is, they do something that makes the GM like them almost instantly. They're someone the GM can play off of for either humor, or great ideas, or heck just good roleplaying.

And the GM does exactly that, uses them as the go-to at almost every occasion. To the detriment of other players. Maybe the other players aren't as fast to jump in or maybe they're very quiet, but over time, they get shut out because the GM is having so much fun with the favorite.
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Re: Sal's guide to GMing 7th Sea

Postby Nutmeg_25 » Mon Jul 17, 2017 9:18 am

Don't panic, it's a living campaign and thus things can change, even if it only happened once. (Looking at you on that one Ken.) I'm still sort of getting my feet GMing, or at least it feels that way.
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