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Tim Cuave
Tim Cuave's picture
Hero Stories, thoughts and pacing
stories

We have been debating this in our group. I have been playing 7th sea for about a year, but have been a GM in various other systems for over a decade. The rest of the group has been playing 7th sea pretty much since it's creation.

Our group consist of about 9 people, so 1 GM and 8 players. I wanted to run the new system because it will all be new to us, so there is no worrying about not having all the rules memorized.

One of the loved ideas from a few members of the group is that it "is all about the story" and they are really excited about the concept of hero stories. I personally think the mechanic is bad, and wanted to get an opinion from some other GM's.

First of all despite what some people may want to believe, this is not "all about the story" it is a table top RPG, and a component that cannot be ignored in any RPG is character advancement. If you just want to tell stories, why have a character sheet at all, just sit around telling stories. Giving the characters free reign to write the stories (steps etc.) that they use to advance their character, is game breaking. Many players will desire to pursue their own ambitions rather than go with queues GM's give. If I hint at they need to go west, but their hero story sends them east, they will want to go east

I realize that I can alter things a bit, but if I want the players to go to Ussara and a hero story says they need to take over a business in Avalon, issues will arise, especially with more bullish player types. Now take in my situation having 8 players, each with a hero story, and each hero story offering advancement only to that one character, that is alot of dedicated game time the group has to sit through. I also don't see where I should have to write in 8 different peoples hooks into the story I am crafting, and it doesn't seem right to have 8 different personal story advancements to conveiently be in the next town they always visit.

My idea is to take the idea of the hero story, and instead turn them in to episodes that center around a hero. They can share a goal with me, and while the stories goal will be about a player, the group gets advancement for participation. Player 1 kills the man that killed his father, but players 2-8 helped him get there. It can be something between episode stories.

What are other peoples thoughts on hero stories? Does it sound like a good idea to you? How are you going to prevent abuse, and in preventing it do you violate the core concept behind it? Does it present a obstacle to your story telling style?

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DaWaterRat
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Hero stories are, I believe, like those bits of background that you're supposed to use to tie the characters to your story. So I feel it's the GM's job to tie the Hero stories to the Season/Arc stories, that they can both be resolved together. Just like a good GM should in other systems take stuff from the PC's backgrounds and use it in setting up their campaign. I really see no difference here. What's key is communication between player and GM, so that if you want your story to involve Usurra, the players don't set up stories that require them to set up shop in Avalon, but rather ties it to something in Usurra. That said, I haven't had a chance to run more than a character creation session yet, and I also told my players they could wait a few sessions to come up with their Hero Stories, so that they could get a feel for the characters before setting those up. (Coming up with stories for the test/sample characters wound up being the most difficult for me, because I always find it helpful to play a character for a session or three before I settle on a backstory)
Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

Remember that the players don't get to write out the entire story, just the next step and the general goal they're trying to achieve.

I generally try to work with players to tie their stories together, as well as with ones of my own. For example, for one of my adventures, the two players were a Porte Sorcerer and Scholar and a Ship Captain and Monster Hunter. For their stories, the Sorcerer decided that he wanted to find some artifact that would lead to a Signature Item, while the Monster Hunter wanted to go all Captain Ahab and slay a notorious Leviathan in order to gain legendary Brawn.

 

Looking at the two they're not terribly similar, the Leviathan slaying requires the party to be sea-born, while the Sorcerer's goal would probably involve ruin plundering. But I came up with a way to tie the two together.

 

Essentially I made the first step to both of their goals to be getting in touch with the Explorer's society. The Explorer's society already has an obvious connection for the Scholar to help him find his artifact, but I decided to add in the detail that the Leviathan's hide was nigh impenetrable, but a passenger on an Explorer's Society ship was reportedly able to wound the beast and allow the ship to escape.

 

This means both the heroes have similar goals in trying to get an audience with the Explorer's Society, which tied in to my own adventure of having them go on a good-old fashioned treasure hunt (so they could recover an artifact that would impress the Society enough to get them an audience.)

 

Remember that as the GM, you have plenty of control over all the stories, but that doesn't mean you should discount your player's input. What your players decide for their stories will often be very indicitive of what they want out of the game, and as the GM you should listen to what they have to say.

If you see an opportunity to nudge people's stories closer together, go ahead and do so. After all coincidentally similar goals are what bind heroes together in Swashbuckling stories (Inigo Montoya certainly didn't know that the Six-Fingered Man he was searching for was the Lieutenant of Prince Humperdink when he signed in with the Vizzini and Fezzick, but it was certainly dramatically appropriate that that happened to be the case.)

If one player's story really doesn't fit in with the others (Most people's stories are centered around Ussura while this guy is trying to be Queen Elaine's champion.) then don't be afraid to suggest that things would work better if the heroes all had reason to stick together. And there's no harm in saying that the game is likely to center around a particular nation or start there. But don't just ignore what they want to do, they're playing the Main Characters in this campaign, and a story feels more satisfying when the characters have a purpose to what they're doing, rather than just getting carted through events they don't have a ton of reason to involve themselves with.

Tim Cuave
Tim Cuave's picture

No I get what you are all saying, my concern comes from using these bits of tying in character stories as a form of character advancement. So what happens to the player that posistions himself/herself to be able to accomplish more of their personal story, also, with larger groups the sheer amount of playtime that would be devoted to them would either have to detract from the main story, or be so spread out that it would not be engaging.

How many steps should occur in a game session and how many of those hero story steps, our group of 8 people if "everyon egets a turn" each week, a five step hero per character could take a year to tell. I just have concerns with it, especially with large groups.

Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

To be fair, apparently Wick and his Crew never really intended for the game to work with that many players (I honestly don't know how to function with that many players period, regardless of the game). So yes, there's definitely a problem of trying to balance eight characters stories together, but I honestly don't have an answer for you. Its the same sort of problem with trying to make a work of fiction with eight main characters where everyone's stories feel complete and not overshadowed by others. I mean consider a movie like the Avengers (which was praised for being able to balance its ensemble cast.) It only had six Avengers (seven if you include Fury, but he's mostly in a supporting role) and one of them spends half of the movie brainwashed (and Black Widow also isn't really the focus.) So even this superb ensemble movie was mainly focussed on the struggles of four of the characters. (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk) I honestly don't know how to deal with twice that number.

 

As for strategic story positioning, I'm not really sure what you mean. As the GM, you have a great deal of control of what comes up in the story, so unless one player has knowledge of what story you're planning to run, they're unlikely to make a story that's going to be incredibly easier to accomplish.

 

Way I see it. Have the players make their characters first, then have them try to relate them together through their stories, then build a story of your own that can incorporate an equal number of elements from these stories.

Tim Cuave
Tim Cuave's picture

I can agree with that. our situation comes from the host not being able to say "games full" so if someone want to come they are not turned away,but its a social experience to begin with.

Ultimately I think i am going to go with removing rewards from personal stories as a house rule, at least when I run, and instead doing episodic stories that would focus on one or two heroes based off of their input from time to time. I can weave build ups into these from other stories, but from a fair and balanced gameplay perspective where everyone gets some time in the sun but not to the detriment of 7 other people I can't think of a way to do it and still have fun creating the stories. 

My plan was to give them some guidelines on what the first main story would revolve around, have them make characters, we start playing, I keep track of character concepts and the goals they have, weave them in where appropriate but as stories everyone benefits from. I can see where a sandbox type GM can use that many hero stories to their advantage, but that is not my style.

oh and foul weather jack is banned.

Evan Sageser
Evan Sageser's picture

That's fair, I suppose. Though I really don't see the problem with Foul Weather Jack. Yes you have two stories and thus the potential for twice the XP. The thing is that it's almost entirely dependent on the GM providing the opportunities to advance those stories. I find it somehow doubtful that a player is able to advance both of their plotlines every session.

 

On a side note if any of my players ever do take Foul Weather Jack, I'd generally deny any stories that are too closely similar to avoid this sort of situation. If they want to go Count of Monte Cristo on multiple people for revenge they don't get a seperate story for each of them, it's simply one story in which removing each conspirator is likely a step.

Tim Cuave
Tim Cuave's picture

well for my situation my thoughts are if I am changing the hero story mechanic in said fashion, then foul weather jack would give them twice the center stage stories. With the difficulty already of given each of the 8 players enough time, I'm not dealing with someone wanting to hog the spotlight.

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Actually, as I've mentioned elsewhere, FWJ does NOT give a character twice the spotlight time. It just gives them a second concurrent storyline. Spotlight time and advancement is STILL limited by actual play time and # of participants. When you average it out, the hero still advances at the same rate as everyone else.

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Talk about timing. I wrote a blog post about this very thing.

https://braceofpistols.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/the-writers-room-7th-sea/

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
OK, keeping in mind that this is coming from ME, the guy who loves big groups, you will have your hands full keeping 8 occupied and challenged. You are literally going to need 26 raise expenditures per scene to push them. But the story rewards will not be a problem. The story rewards are XP that are targeted at a single benefit. Your GM story will also be giving new bonuses to the players. Their story doesn't start until you introduce it either so even if a player does get the whole team to chase his mission, once he is done, he will be along for the ride until you start his next story. All this does is make the player take a mandatory Background under first Ed rules. And if they go east instead of West, well that is their choice. They will fail to stop the villian's plot and he gains influence. If they keep doing so, keep building that influence. If he ends up with 40-50 dice, they will wish they had followed a tip or two along the way.
Tim Cuave
Tim Cuave's picture

After some frank discussion with the group alot of people hear my concerns. The consensus of the group is that they are okay with a hero story taking a year to conclude (this is with 1 5-6 hour game a week) which for pacing purposes means on average each player gets 1 step ever 8 game sessions, and someone gets a setp each session. This is an average for their hero stories, we are thinking a good pacing for rewards are 1 step every 2-3 hours.

I did not think about the issue of the high amount of raise expenditures. I think that can be easily dealt with, lots of group damage to be mitigated. I pretty much will never have a villian fight "solo" so 2 villians with brutes, in combat more baddies = more raises needed. In drama well, they will figure out the things to move the plot forward, and the rest is just a good excuse to get drunk.

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

After some frank discussion with the group alot of people hear my concerns. The consensus of the group is that they are okay with a hero story taking a year to conclude (this is with 1 5-6 hour game a week) which for pacing purposes means on average each player gets 1 step ever 8 game sessions, and someone gets a setp each session. This is an average for their hero stories, we are thinking a good pacing for rewards are 1 step every 2-3 hours.

Hmmm.  Yeah, I'm not sure what to say about this. It's your game after all. Far be it for me to tell you you are doing it wrong. It sounds to me like you have a plot line that you intent to explore regardless of what your players interests are. Maybe their interests are your story. I dunno. Or is it that you are just concerned with the rate of advancement. That's cool too. They've agreed to it at least. So that's that.

my feeling is that player stories are there to help you, the GM.  They tell you exactly what your players are interested in doing right now. No hook required, when done right, they can support the GM's overarching plot line, give the heroes a sense of connection, all manner of things.  If you want to sweep them under the rug, that's your call of course, but I think you are handicapping yourself by doing so, you might be better served dumping the whole mechanic and replacing it with a simple "XP per session".  Say 1 XP per session (maybe +1 for exceptional RP) and double the advancement costs (a 1-point advantage costs 2 XP). This would give you a more traditional framework to build on and no contradictory hero stories. A x2 or x3 advancement cost would slow down advancement nicely and you could speed it up or slow it down as you choose.  Would that work better for you?

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
Yeah, the combat isn't something I have nailed down yet. In the old system, I could tell you that a solid end of session fight for 8 new characters was 2 henchman, the villain and 4 six man brute squads. Now, I would think about 3 six man squads and a 10 die villain with plans to empty the danger pool. (And I am still not sure if that is strong or weak). Do not be afraid to up the raise cost to succeed in a dramatic sequence. You can make the main objective 2-3 raises in a big group if only one player needs to achieve it. Then the others can spend to run interference and grab the opportunities.
Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

If a Hero Story is taking a year to complete, does that mean that character/Hero isn't getting to advance anything for a year? That seems extreme

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Right, what Sal said. The GM story becomes the primary focus of the game. At least, that seems to be the goal in mind. That or slowing down advancement.

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
No, his story is advancing over the year of time. The player will still gain advancements from GM story plots. (And they might go faster if the players set small story goals).
Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

You know somehow I completely missed the section about rewards for GM Stories :(

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
I would never venture to tell someone it's a bad idea to run the story they want over the player's Background stories. 1- he may have a great idea. 2- his players may well not have great ideas. My last group was full of people that wanted to be entertained for a few hours a week and never thought about the game in between. One has been playing different iterations of the same character for 16 years and has never once wanted a baciground, solo plot or sidebar beyond some focus in theain storyline. He just doesn't want to dictate plotline. Not everybody gets players that are imersive, dedicated or involved. And if the GM stretches those stories, they can fall in more organically.
BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Nor do I. I don't want to presume anything. However, rather than putting a round peg into a square hole, I was suggesting a replacement that might work much better for his group. I personally see including player stories when there is no realistic chance of completing them a waste of my time as a player.

Doctor
Doctor's picture

I am not in the business of telling people to run their games, but here is what I plan to do with my group of seven players.

1) Reward players with linked and intertwined backgrounds and Goals. I haven’t figured out just how, I have considered treating the intertwining as a Step itself.

2) Explain to the players that I want their Steps to be as vague as possible: if the step includes interacting with a specific person or being in a location, they are likely going to have to wait. “Find the man who tried to steal my map,” however, is likely to be dealt with more quickly, as I can place him or information concerning his whereabouts pretty much anywhere along the way.

Yes, this will mean that those players more willing to go with the flow will advance more quickly than those who insist on pulling the group off track; I’m okay with that. In my mind, the GM story and a player’s story should be like a helix, twisting around one another.

The bottom line is that this game is extremely dependent on collaboration, more so than most others. I have never had a problem with my group when, prior to character creation, I give them a few requests/limitations on their characters: “Your character should not be tied to a particular location and should have a reason to trust or be trusted by the Prince of the Commonwealth.” As long as I keep these requests proscripting (do this) rather than prohibitive (don't do that), I find my players enjoy the added challenge.

“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.”
- H.L. Mencken

Mars University
Mars University's picture

I can't speak from experience with the Story mechanics, but I think that making one PC the focus on each Episode would work well for that large of a group, if everyone at the table is ok taking turns as the spotlight character. The Hero Story and the Episode Story would then be linked in some way (like A/B stories in a TV episode), and the Episode Stories should link together to complete the Series Story. That seems to make sense, and it should flow like a serialized program thats very character-focused. Mechanically, everyone gets some advancement each game, but the "star" of that game gets something special.

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