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BluSponge
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Building a Better Action Sequence
action sequence

Mike Curry's comments on topic over on Reddit have been rolling around in my head for a bit.

Action Sequences =/= combat. "Combat" is a state that does not exist in 7th Sea. Combat is a thing that happens during an Action Sequence, probably while other stuff is going on. "Combat" has the same mechanical connotation as "Chase" or "Escape" or... I don't know, "Stealing." There is no such thing, mechanically speaking, as a "Combat Scene." There is only Action, which can involve combat. But if it does, it should involve other things too.

I mean, that's pretty obvious on its face. But three sessions and a handful of brute fights into the game and I'm starting to think there may be more to this, especially when it comes to the mechanics of 7th Sea. Let's face it, straight brute fights are boring, especially if you force your players into the countdown mode. Ugh!

So being the kind of person I am, I started pondering if there was a solid (but lose and flexible) framework to help create dynamic and engaging action sequences in 7th Sea.

Fool's errand. I know.

So what about you guys? Have you found any tricks to making Action Sequences really sing? Dials? Levers? What are the essential elements of a good Action Sequence?

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Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I admit our group has an Action Sequence maybe once every 2 sessions at most. What I have found has really helped keep them dynamic is separating the Heroes physically from one another. This could mean some are in one dealing with one issue, and others are in another room dealing with another issue.

This has a few benefits:

1) It limits the feeling of inadequacy that some Heroes may have who aren't combat focused, etc. 

2) It limits in my opinion the amount of 'cross assisting' for the sake of getting 3 Dice. In this way, Heroes can generally only assist others in their 'area' so Heroes aren't getting 6-7 raises but more along the lines of 4-5. This is more of a help to the GM who may not have enough things to spend Raises on

3) It adds tension if one group needs to do something so that another group can accomplish something

As an example, we did a Sea Battle against a Sea Monster 2 sessions ago.

Several of the Heroes were set up to 'distract' the monster with lanterns

Several of the Heroes were helping direct the crew to keep things from falling apart (I was using some Opportunities and Consequences that changed each round of the Action Sequence, such as "the main sail needs untangled" or "there's a hole in the side that needs patched"

One of the Heroes was in charge of getting the sword the group was looking for out of the thick hide of the sea monster

This division of 'tasks' really helped keep things feeling dynamic. Heroes would move between roles as the story dictated but it was 3 smaller 'areas' rather than everyone in the same area.

-----

The other thing that would help and I think you've made some good progress on this and I want to build on it, is to come up with a stock group of 'Action Sequences' with Opportunities an Consequences that someone can adapt and drop right into their game.

John

BluSponge
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Interesting.  Good use of opportunities, btw.

Antti Kautiainen
Antti Kautiainen's picture

7th sea is not your normal combat oriented "tactical roleplaying game". Start thinking new action scenes not put around of combat. Scenes in which consequences are totally differnt from wounds.
 

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I always like it when someone gives a good example of what they mean when they make statements about the game. Have any concrete things to share?

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

7th sea is not your normal combat oriented "tactical roleplaying game". Start thinking new action scenes not put around of combat. Scenes in which consequences are totally differnt from wounds.

Right, Antti.  That's sort of what I've started doing.  It's a bit of a shift for me and I've been hunting down references to give me a better idea of how to make these scenes better in play.  I've started working on a GM reference, but I have another project in the works that's been taking up my design time.

Sadly, I haven't found much in the way of "how to run narrative combat/action sequences" in RPG.  I did find this episode of Fear the Boot which offered a few tidbits of insight.  But beyond that I haven't found much.  Which is odd given the popularity of PbtA and FATE these days.

Luis Olmeda
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BluSponge, I think the dropbox link it´s broken.

BluSponge
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It's not broken. I took it down to finish it while I decide if it's going to end up on the ES or not.

Antti Kautiainen
Antti Kautiainen's picture

I think 7th Sea is doing good job in this. Honestly, the combat focus has annoyed me in RPG scene for ages. Combat has only one consequence and threat to Heroes - death. That is quite boring. I think the best way is how 7th Sea does it: Combat is just method of achiving something. The goal of scene should be something totally different. Combat is just obstacle, not goal.

And in credible combat situation, you should have a way to get rid of it without drawing your blade. Enemies and Villains should not be mindless fearless killling robots. Unfortunately too many rpg players wants to have combat they can defeat their enemies for fun, and they abhor any roleplaing or social problems.

Actually, FATE conflicts are quite a lot like 7th sea in theme. If you want some ideas to build from, I suggest check out 2d20 system of Modiphius used in Mutant Chronicles, and upcoming Star Trek and Infinity. They are somewhere in between FATE/7th sea system and traditional systems.

 

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Thanks for the tip, Antti.

I'm not terribly familiar with FATE beyond Aspects. How is "combat" in it similar to 7th Sea? Ditto 2d20, other than both using Danger Points for the GM to affect the scene?

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

My thought/take is that an Action Sequence should be thought of in the vein of "this is the major sequence of the action movie!"

While it shouldn't always be a combat sequence (though having combat as part of an Action Sequence isn't completely unacceptable), there should always be plenty of cool things for the Heroes to do beyond thrashing Brutes and dueling Villains.

I think for me, it's a matter of framing an Action Sequence in terms of "what are the Heroes trying to accomplish here?"  Not just simply in terms of therir Approach, but the end game of the scene, in that what are they looking to get out of engaging in this Action Sequence?

With the whole "changing your Approach" penalty, I'll admit that can make it a bit tricky as you don't necessarily want to penalize a player for playing along with a cool scene simply because they didn't pick the best skill for the scene when determining their Approach.

I'll admit that the first couple adventures I've written, I too fell into the trap of "Action Sequence = Combat Scene," but after a few decades of RPGs pretty much training players to think of "big action scene = major combat encounter," it's a difficult habit to shake.  In one adventure that I've written, the Action Sequence pretty much revolves around gettng away from a Monster that the Heroes have almost no chance of actually defeating in a straight-up fight, and pretty much using the environment to both escape the location but also to use the environment to ultimately defeat the Monster.  It's take a few tries to work the kinks out, but I think I've got it to a point where it's workable as something other than a straight-up slugfest.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog
http://jedimorningfire.blogspot.com/

Paulus
Paulus's picture

I ran an Action Sequence tonight that wasn't combat-focused, after several sessions of Action = Combat. It definitely worked better -- this was a ship chase where I presented the heroes with several problems, including the ship's surgeon doing brain surgery on an NPC.

One thing I've been thinking about those times when I want to run combat is to do things as Simple Risks, not as Action Sequences. If I need to do combat, then people roll a Simple Risk, and they assign raises to defense and offense as they choose. If they are a duelist, then they can use one of their Raises for a manuever. I think this would make duels and other combats run a little faster, when that's needed. 

I'm still struggling with two things, though:

1.) Action economy. I've talked about this in other posts, but there are a lot of Raises to go around with a party of four people. I routinely see 5-to-8 raises out of my scholar character, for instance. I need to have things to 'soak' the 15-20 Raises I expect to see in a round.

2.) Lack of uncertainty. I don't like that there's no uncertainty in whether or not something tense will happen -- no question of 'do I catch the rope in time' or 'do I shoot away the enemy's rudder before they cross the T.'  

In this adventure, I handled the uncertainty issue with a back of the napkin mechanic -- one of the Heroes needed to shoot the enemy's rudder with her cannon, so for every Raise she spent on her shot I had her one die. If any of them came up even, she shot the rudder away, but if they all came up odd, the rudder stayed put. That's a simple sort of 'wager' mechanic that I might try expanding on.

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Paulus,

Everything you are talking about is the genesis of this GM reference I'm (slowly) working on: helping to get my had out of the "fight to the death" mentality and shift it towards something else.  Last night, I ran a battle for my library group against an evil Unseelie unicorn (long story) that turned out pretty epic.  But aftewards I couldn't help think how much more epic it would have been if I had used some of my own advice.  So maybe this week I'll do another pass on the aid.

As to your points: action economy, I'm still working this one through.  I think we can probably set some benchmarks forframing an action sequence that can help out with that.  Something like: 1+ situational consequence, 1 environmental consequence (opportunity) per player each round, plus at least one opportunity.  That's a baseline.  You can sort of build those into your set piece (the scenery) for easy reference.

Lack of uncertainty: that's an interesting twist you've added.  I don't think 7th Sea is really a game about uncertainly in the sense of "will the players succeed" but rather "at what cost will they succeed."  What decisions will the players make along the way.  And that's probably harder than dealing with the action economy: to actually create TOUGH decision points in a scene.  Does the hero do right by the group, or does he zig left to fulfill his personal motivation?  We GMs need to be good at establishing the stakes in a scene and really threatening those.  And that's also what I'm trying to do with this reference.  For me.  Because I have a lot of work to do in this regard.  :D

Paulus
Paulus's picture

I agree that uncertainty isn't a high part of the system, but I think there is some value to "wagering." The system does that in some places already -- hero points have to be spent before you roll, for instance, so you are wagering on whether you will need those dice. Mostly I see some value to having some of that uncertainty occur mid round, too.

 

 

 

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

All

    These are good comments. However, maybe it's just a terminology confusion but in both examples (Running away from a monster and a ship chase), those in my mind are both 'combats'  as well as 'action sequences'. If there is an antagonist in the scene (villain, other ship, monster), it's still 'combat' in my mind. Sure, the players may be not doing attacks and damage, but it's still 'combat'. That said, I see that in 7th Sea those are "Action Sequences" and that's a broader term we use as well. 

    Has anyone done an Action Sequence that didn't have antagonists of some type? 

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

For anyone interested, here's the latest draft of my Action Sequence reference.  It's coming along.  Before anyone asks, I really thought about including some variation of the Consequences and Opportunities lists from the GM screen preview, but none of them really set well with me.  As it is, a lot of what has yet to go into the reference is borrowed from other sources.  Adding material from a yet to be published source seemed like a bridge too far.  Right now, I'm hoping that just eyeballing the Raise the Stakes column will give you plenty of ideas for consequences and opportunities.

The next version will include a fully updated and revised version of the "Alternative Action Scenarios" list.  So stay tuned.

Edit: BTW, feel free to make suggestions, corrections, or useful additions.

BluSponge
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And here is the semi-final version.  So comment away.

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

First, awesome document as always!

Second, I'm not sure of the organization of the Action Scene sections. Are the indented (lined) ones supposed to be subsets? Or is it just a way to visually separate one from the other? Alphabetizing this list would be good.

Third, you add a new term (I think?) called "Decision Points" in the "When the scene is over" but I don't see what you're using that to mean anywhere? Is it synonymous with "Raises"? Is it just when there isn't anything to do? How does that differ from achieving the objective or resolving the conflict?

Ben Woerner
Ben Woerner's picture

@BluSponge - That is a FANTASTIC Document. :D  You should put that up on the Explorer's Society for like a buck.

Also this line is gets to what, I think, the game is about and something I hear John talk about all the time, in different words/ways:

"I don't think 7th Sea is really a game about uncertainly in the sense of "will the players succeed" but rather "at what cost will they succeed.""

BluSponge
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Thanks guys!  Good to know this is on the right track.  While it's somewhat 7th Sea-specific, I'm really looking at this in a broader sense to help myself out in all my games.  As I said before, I left my library game thinking how much cooler the unicorn battle would have been if I'd followed half of the bullet points on my own reference.  :P

You should put that up on the Explorer's Society for like a buck.

It's tempting, but so much of this stuff is borrowed from other places.  All I've really done is condense and reformat things.  Whereever I publish it, I'm going to include a list of those references so that everyone gets credit for their insight.

Second, I'm not sure of the organization of the Action Scene sections. Are the indented (lined) ones supposed to be subsets? Or is it just a way to visually separate one from the other? Alphabetizing this list would be good.

Yes, the indented models I feel are variations or at least closely related to the initial one.  So Breakout is related to Escape.  I thought this would be helpful so once you settle on the core of what the scene is about its easy to add a twist.  From there, I sort of consolodated two different but related articles, cutting what didn't really work and keeping what did.  I don't imagine this is at all comprehensive, but I'm hoping its enough to draw inspiriation from in a pinch.  And yeah, I should probably alphabetize it in the end.

Third, you add a new term (I think?) called "Decision Points" in the "When the scene is over" but I don't see what you're using that to mean anywhere? Is it synonymous with "Raises"? Is it just when there isn't anything to do? How does that differ from achieving the objective or resolving the conflict?

Decision Points are a topic I pulled from this article.  Here's the relevant quote:

Decision points come in two general flavors. Either a player can choose which particular conflict to resolve OR the player can choose how to resolve a particular conflict. Choosing which conflict to resolve occurs when a player chooses which enemy to target or decides whether to try and get through the gate or scale the castle wall. Choosing how to resolve a particular conflict occurs when a player chooses what spell or attack to use on a particular enemy or whether to bribe the guard, fight the guard, or sneak past the guard. Complex encounters utilize both types, but some encounters focus more on one type than another. I like to call encounters that focus primarily on choosing which conflicts to resolve “Mazes” and encounters that focus on how to resolve a given conflict “Obstacle Courses.” Hopefully, it is obvious why.

So what it boils down to is pretty much anything beyond "I hit it with my sword...again" is a decision point.  The more you include, the more complex the encounter, but the more knobs and levers you've given the players to play with.  Its sort of both a narrative and mechanical feature.  Once people start running out of decision points, they've run out of creative ways to interact with the scene, and that's a good time to wrap it up before it gets stale.  In 7th Sea terms, once everyone is sitting around waiting for the duelist to finish off the opposition, that's a good time to wrap things up with a narrative flourish.  It could mean the group has run out of Hero Points, but more likely there just isn't anything else to throw raises at besides "I hit it with my sword...again."  That's the whole point of the models and the challenges listed, to give you (the GM) things to offer up for the heroes to throw raises at.

Anyway, yeah, I should find some space to include that definition.

NeoTanuki
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Interesting document! So, for example, if I wanted to map out the finale of the movie "The Mask of Zorro," in a 7th Sea game Action Sequence using your doc, would it look something like this?

MASK OF ZORRO: THE FINAL BATTLE

Goals: Defat Montero and Captain Love (The Villains)

Challenges:
1. Environment-the gold mine is full of moving machinery, swinging platforms and collapsing structures. Heroes must spend Raises to dodge environmental hazards at different points.
2. Brute Squads-there are multiple brute squads armed with rifles taking potshots at the heroes. Heroes must choose to deal with Brutes or focus on the two main Villains.

Deadlines:
3. Booby trap-the entire mine is set to explode in X amount of time, killing anyone remaining there. All Heroes must meet their goals and escape the mine at this time. 

Threats:
4. Innocents-hundreds of innocent mine workers are being held prisoner and must be freed before the mine explodes.

 

 

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

It's been a long time since I saw the Mask of Zorro.  But yes, you could map it out that way.  I'd suggest it might look more like this:

  • Objective: Defat Montero and Captain Love
  • Secondary Objectives: ???
  • Villains' Goals: ???
  • Set Piece: Gold mine; full of moving machinery, swinging platforms and collapsing structures (environmental hazards)
  • Deadline: Booby trap; the entire mine is set to explode in X amount of time (3 rounds?), killing anyone remaining there.

As you can see, this approach reveals a few holes in the scene.  The players are going to be laser focused on the villains so they can get out in 3 rounds.

But what if we add a secondary objective?  What are the heroes' current story steps?  Can we pull something from there as an Opportunity?  Even better, can we push them to decide between the two (a dilemma)?  What are the Villains' Goals?  Are they as invested in defeating the heroes, or are they trying to accomplish something else?  The heroes know the place is rigged to explode.  Can we use that to exlpoit a Hubris?  Maybe someone related to an important contact is there.  What if that person stands between the heroes and an Objective? Can we threaten the relationship with that contact?

If the villains aren't as eager to defeat the heroes, can we offer up a devil's bargain?  Maybe the players hate one more than the other?

So see, this isn't so much a tool for mapping out an encounter (though you can use it for that).  It's more of an idea generator.  I'm one round in and running low on brutes.  What can I add.  Wait, Ted has that love interest story.  What if we reveal that her brother is in thick with one of the villains?  What will he do knowing that his choice might jeopardize that story?  Or maybe the villain knows a dark secret about his love interest that he's willing to take to the grave?  Round two just got more interesting.  Then we'll just spend a Danger Point going into Round 3 and...

Does that make sense?

Also, what sort of model does this scene fit?  If it's just a straight up fight, that's boring.  What sort of spin can we add to make it more interesting?  This ties in with objectives.  There's no reason you can't flip it on its head, too.  The players may be trying to defeat the two villains, but the villains are really in a Snatch and Run scenario.  So all they have to do is grab the "flag" and run.  Now the heroes are left with a bunch of innocent miners and a looming deadline, plus a handful of loyal brute squads.  Do they chase after the villains?  Or save the miners?  Or do they split up giving the villains an advantage?

I can go on.  And that's sort of the point.  

As you can see, it isn't entirely about "moves" ala Apocalypse World, or Consequences for players to spend Raises on.  It's about what can I add to the scene to take it up a notch.  To Raise the Stakes and heighten the tension.  If the game is about choices, then its not just about giving the players more choices, but giving them meaningful, hard, even painful choices.

But, like I said, it's been a long time since I watched Mask of Zorro.  :)

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I think if you make "Rescue the miners" as the Secondary Objective it helps a lot.

I'd add mention of the Brute Squads either in primary objective or as part of Secondary 

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

Thanks! I think this is a neat "cheat sheet" to help a GM keep ideas percolating for important scenes.

"The Mask of Zorro" is probably my all-time favorite swashbuckling film, so a lot of times when trying to figure out ways to use 7th Sea 2e mechanics to make a game more fun, I ask myself, "How would I use the rules to emulate Scene X from 'The Mask of Zorro'?" :)

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

For me, it's always been "Cutthroat Island." That movie (regardless of personal opionions) seems to embody the 7th Sea mechanices perfectly...we would even watch it, calling out things like "Flesh Wound, Flesh Wounds....Oh! Dramatic Wound!" while watching it.

BluSponge
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And Matthew Modine looks a bit like A young John Wick.

BluSponge
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Crap, now I want to map out some movie action sequences using this.  Anyone with more time (and fewer children) want to tackle that?

BTW, the genesis for this whole thing started when I went looking through screen writing websites looking for "acrhetypal action sequences" to see how those could be applied to 7th Sea.  It was a long and twisting road to get here.

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

Hey, this is the kind of mental exercise I like! :D Here, I'll try another one, if you like: The palace finale from Disney's "The Three Musketeers."

THREE MUSKETEERS (Disney version)-PALACE BATTLE FINALE

Objective: Save the King and Queen from Cardinal Richelieu
Secondary Objectives: Prevent Richelieu from escaping the palace with the English treaty; Defeat Rochefort
Villain Goals: Richelieu-Assassinate or kidnap the King and Queen, or escape to England with the alliance treaty. Rochefort-Kill D'artagnan (and other  three Musketeer Heroes if possible)
Set Piece: The Palace. First obstacle is hired Assassin who will attempt to kill king. If prevented, Richelieu stages a coup with regiment of Cardinal's Guards (Brute Squads) fighting the Musketeer rescue force, then attempts to take royal couple hostage and use secret river tunnel escape route in map room. Rochefort is in the palace and will initiate duels with any Musketeer Heroes he encounters during the sequence.
Deadline: Richelieu will escape in X rounds with the King and Queen unless intercepted. 
Story Opportunities: D'artagnan-Defeat Rochefort and retrieve D'artagnan's stolen sword as conclusion to personal story. Aramis-Confront the Cardinal, his former teacher and mentor as conclusion to personal story.

BluSponge
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Oops! Gotta add Hot Potato to the models list. :D

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