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Duelists: Problems and Solutions

Duelists: Problems and Solutions



I am not a professional mathematician nor do I possess a degree in mathematics. It’s certainly possible that I am wrong on some numbers and I openly admit to some oversimplifications in explanations. It is my sincere belief that even if I have made errors, these errors do not alter the core points of the argument.


Design Philosophy

It is not exactly news that Duelists are broken, but the current iteration is disruptively broken, by which I mean that they are so vastly superior to other character build that it detracts from the collective experience. John Wick has argued that game balance is an “illusion”; I will put that aside for a moment and state only that if it is an illusion, it is an extremely useful illusion in a highly collaborative game like 7th Sea. Players like to think the rules are fair and balanced; something is disruptively broken if it shatters that illusion.

A major premise of 7th Sea is that it is cinematic, specifically, it is an ensemble piece in which no one character carries the lead. If I am not badly mistaken about the intentions behind the games design, each character is supposed to have a moment to shine, to stand out from the rest of the group. Problems occur, however, when that shine becomes blinding and other players do not believe their actions have consequence on account of the shining player’s might.

Collaborative games fall apart if they devolve into all the other players watching while each one, in turn, has a stage to themselves. To use a metaphor, a good drummer understand how to play through the guitar solo, but she also believes she needs to keep playing and her drumming adds something to the moment. Obviously, each character build comes with the expectation of situational advantages when the character is doing what she was built to do; that expectation does not come, however, with an acceptance of irrelevance in all other situations.

Why Duelists Are Disruptively Broken

Combat is a staple of RPGs, just as it is a staple of the swashbuckling genre: every good swashbuckling movie has at least one fight, usually far more. A good GM balances this with other staples of the genre, but combat is a reality of most gaming sessions. I do not believe John Wick intended for combat to be all about the duelist: the evolution of Pressure as a mechanic through the Quickstarts indicates to me that Wick intended for even “social” characters to have effective options in battle.

Keeping in mind the inclusive, “no one should feel useless” design intent, let’s take a look at how a Duelist tracks with two other characters. The character I call the Sailor is a character that has slightly better than average combat statistics (total pool of 7 dice to hit someone). The character I’ll call the Bad Ass Pirate (BAP for short) who isn’t a duelist, but has maxed out on swordsmanship (a whopping 15 dice).

The Action Sequence

The following come from the 6/20/2016 version of the book, which is, I believe, the most recent:

“A Duelist can perform one, and only one, Maneuver on each of his Actions, i.e., a Duelist cannot spend two Raises to declare that he is Slashing and Parrying as a single Action. A Duelist can still spend multiple Raises to perform multiple Maneuvers within an Action Sequence as separate Actions.”

“A Duelist may perform a Maneuver twice in the same Round of an Action Sequence, but there must be an additional Maneuver (or nondueling Action) between the repeated Maneuvers.”

While a perfect mathematical model for the 7th Sea dice system does not yet exist, it has been shown that odds favor either [Pool/2] or [(Pool/2)-1] successes, with [Pool/2] the overwhelming favorite.

Part 1: Offense

For the first example, let’s take Duelist of moderate experience: a Finesse of 3 and a Weaponry of 4, the same stats as the Sailor.

Round 1: Sailor

The Sailor rolls 7 dice and nets 3 Raises. He spends 1 Raise to hit and 2 Raises for additional Wounds.  Having inflicted 3 Wounds, he is done for the round.  

Round 1: BAP

The BAP rolls 15 dice and nets 7 Raises. He spends 1 Raise to hit and 6 more for additional Wounds. Having inflicted 7 damage, he is done for the round.

Round 1: Duelist

The Duelist rolls 7 dice and nets 3 Raises. He spends them as follows:

On 3: 1 Raise to Slash, inflicting 4 Wounds

On 2: 1 Raise to Feint, inflicting 1 Wound

On 1: 1 Raise to Slash, inflicting 4 Wounds, with an additional 1 Wound from Feint.

Having inflicted 10 Wounds (and at least one Dramatic Wound), he is done for the round.

Part 2: Defense

For this example, let’s assume each of the characters are one on one against a Strong Villain with a combat tilt (Strength 7, Influence 3) and nothing to lose.

Round 1: Strong Villain

The Strong Villain rolls 10 dice for 5 Raises. He spends 1 Raise to hit and 4 for additional wounds. Having inflicted 5 Wounds, he is done for the round.

Round 1: Sailor

The Sailor rolls 7 dice and nets 3 Raises. He spends 3 Raises to avoid 3 Wounds. Having inflicted 0 Wounds and taken 2 Wounds, he is done for the round.

 Round 1: BAP

The BAP rolls 15 dice and nets 7 Raises and spends them as follows:

On 7: 1 Raise to hit and 1 to additional Wounds.

On 5: 5 Raises to negate 5 Wounds.

Having inflicted 2 Wounds and taken 0 Wounds, he is done for the round.

Round 1: The Duelist

The Duelist rolls 7 dice and nets 3 Raises. He spends them as follows:

On 7: 1 Raise to negate 1 Wound.

On 2: 1 Raise to Riposte*, negating 4 Wounds and inflicting 4 Wounds.

On 1: 1 Raise to Slash, inflicting 4 Wounds.

Having inflicted 8 Wounds and taken 0 Wounds, he is done for the round.

* Riposte

The text of Riposte reads in relevant part:

“You can only perform Riposte on your Action, and you must perform it on the Action immediately following the Maneuver that caused the Wounds you are preventing.”

Dueling was originally conceived as a “mini-game,” mechanically distinct from the Action Sequence. It is possible that “immediately following the Maneuver” intends to limit the use of Riposte (and Parry) to the negation of Slashes, Feints, Bashes, and Ripostes. It is equally likely that the phrasing is an artifact of previous version, as it would be odd to state that a Duelist can parry another Duelist, but not a drunk with a dagger.  See this post. This is one of several areas where the language needs tightening.

Part 3: Comparative Results

Offensively, the Duelist is worth between 3 and 4 Sailors, depending on how you measure. This is highly problematic because that can roughly translate to “the rest of the party combined.”  The problem becomes worse over a combat: by Round 3, the Sailor has done 9 Wounds as compared to the Duelists 30. The problem becomes destabilizing, however, over the course of a campaign. Every 2 Skill Ranks in Weaponry purchased by the Sailor are worth 1 additional wound per round. Every 2 Skill ranks purchased by the Duelist increase his damage like so: 1 additional Maneuver and +2 for each Maneuver. For our Finesse 3 Duelist:




Weaponry 4

Feint* (1), Slash (5), Lunge (4)


Weaponry 5

Slash (5), Feint (1), Slash (6), Lunge (5)**


Weaponry 6

Slash (6), Feint (1), Slash (7), Lunge (6)


Weaponry 7

Feint (1), Slash (8), Feint (1), Slash (8), Lunge (7)


Weaponry 8

Feint (1), Slash (9), Feint (1), Slash (9), Lunge (8)


Weaponry 9

Slash (9), Feint (1), Slash (10), Feint (1), Slash (10), Lunge (9)


Weaponry 10

Slash (10), Feint (1), Slash (11), Feint (1), Slash (11), Lunge (10)



Compare the two characters with Weaponry 10: the BAP and the Duelist. The BAP inflicts 7 Wounds to the Duelists 44, making the Duelist worth between 4 and 6 BAPs.


The text of Feint reads in relevant part:

“When you perform Feint, you deal one Wound—if your target is injured again this Round, he suffers one additional Wound.”

This language fails to answer two critical questions: whether the additional damage applies to all instances in which the target takes damage or just the next time the target is damaged and whether multiple Feints stack. The numbers above reflect the most conservative interpretation. With the most liberal interpretation, the Duelist’s damage output at Weaponry 10 becomes 48.



The text of Lunge reads in relevant part:

“When you perform Lunge, spend all of your Raises. You deal a number of Wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry plus the Raises you spend. These Wounds cannot be avoided or prevented.”

As written, there is absolutely zero incentive to use Lunge on any other action than the Duelist’s last in a Sequence: the effect is the same whether “all your Raises” amount to 1 or 5. The rule could be interpreted to mean “all your Raises for the Sequence,” in which case, there is nearly zero incentive to use it at all. 

But But But…

A common rejoinder to everything above is that the examples are unrealistic because there will be “other things going on in the scene.” I certainly hope there are, but the “other things” argument doesn’t change the issues above. The logic is as follows (adapted from a previous post):

We must assume those “other things” are distributed either equally across all participants in the scene, or unequally. If they are distributed equally, then the argument fails to hold water. If the Duelist has the advantage in a vacuum, she also has the advantage with all other things being equal. If the “other things” are distributed unequally, the distribution is either random or non-random. If the distribution is random, then on a long enough time line, any situations which act against the Duelist will average out with situations which act in her favor. Thus the average over time will be "unbalanced" with occasional instances of "balanced" and "exceptionally unbalanced" in roughly equal proportion.

If the “other things” are distributed unequally and in a non-random fashion, the mechanical problems cited above are corrected for. However, this requires the GM to constantly and relentlessly place higher burdens and obligations on the Duelist. The GM is now forced into an essentially antagonistic relationship with a character in order to maintain balance; constantly in search of ways to cancel out the mathematical advantages the Duelist has over the others.

Lastly, I would argue that a logically run party would make this problem even worse: in order to keep their primary damage dealer unburdened, everyone else in the party would attend to the “other things,” lowering their own damage outputs in the process. While this keeps the party occupied (and assuming they will tolerate it over multiple rounds), it requires the GM to come up with at least one “other thing” per character per round.  

Can This Be Solved With Science?

Probably. The trickiest part, however, will be determining what constitutes “solved.” It’s obvious that we want the Duelist to be better in combat than the Sailor; the relevant question is how much better.

The difference between the Duelist and the others is most disruptive over time: either over a combat or the course of a campaign. The most logical way to solve that is to tighten the gap between growth rates. The math isn’t particularly nasty: the Duelist’s damage output is best modeled by logistic regression, but we’re just going to do a linear regression for now for a nice apples to apples comparison.

Without going into a math lecture, the slope of a line charting a linear progression represents how fast something increases; some of you may recall “y=mx+b” from your school days. The higher the value for a progression’s slope, the faster the progression. The slope for the Sailors progression is 0.5; for the Duelist, it is 5.571, roughly 11 times larger than the Sailor.

While reasonable gamers can disagree about what an ideal ratio would be, I think it is fair to say one build advancing 11 times faster than another is a bit much.

Why John Wick Probably Hates All This

I do not believe John Wick hates math as a concept; I don’t think he had a traumatizing encounter with a rogue graphing calculator or anything like that. I think John dislikes an over-emphasis on math because of what it can do to gameplay. Every solution below adds a level of complexity to his very clean and quick system. “Deal a number of Wounds equal to your Ranks in Weaponry” just sounds better and plays faster than “deal a number of Wounds equal to 1 plus half your Ranks in Weaponry.”

We should not, however, confuse simple solutions with elegant ones: a balance should be struck between ease of play and outcomes. The solutions below are intended to strike this balance rather than aim for some mythical “perfect” outcome. I have rejected any solution that adds more than one operation or step to implement.

Basic Solutions

The Duelist outpaces the Sailor and every other non-Duelist in two ways: the damage per attack and the number of consequential attacks per round.

Damage Per Attack

In the current system, on average, an additional die in a pool is worth half a Raise. For a non-Duelist, this means an additional Rank in Weaponry is worth half a wound. For a Duelist, the value of an additional Rank in Weaponry is a full wound as well as roughly [(1+Weaponry+Weaponry/2)/3] to Wounds on account of additional attacks (the math is just ugly here because of sequencing). While the difference between [0.5] and [1+(W/2)] might not seem huge at first glance, as the value of W goes up, [1+((1+W+W/2)/3)] quickly leaves [0.5] in the dust.

A simple (if imperfect) solution is to simply change every instance of “equal to your Ranks in Weaponry” with “equal to half your Ranks in Weaponry.” This levels out one of the two advantages the Duelist has over everyone else (damage per attack) but leaves the main one (attacks per round) intact.

Mathematically, the result of this change takes the slope of the Duelists line to 2.82, a modest 5.64 times faster than the Sailor’s progression.

Attacks Per Round

One of the distinguishing features of the Duelist is that the number of individual actions taken actually has consequence. There is no difference between a Sailor spending 1 Raise to hit with 2 Raises to additional Wounds and 1 Raise to hit three times. As of Weaponry 2, the Duelist multiplies her damage output based on the number of maneuvers she can perform (this is not a strict “x Weaponry rating” because of the need to stagger attack maneuvers, but it does follow a recognizable line).

Under the current rule, both the number and damage of maneuvers increase as Weaponry increases. A maxed out Duelist does an average of 47 damage (52 if Feints stack) while all other maxed out characters peak at 7: this difference is so large as to meet any rational definition of “unbalanced”.

One method to close the gap is to limit the number of Maneuvers per Action Sequence. Rather than a hard, universal limit, I think the best way to do this is by tethering the number of Maneuvers to an Attribute (in my case, I like Panache, as it is often underrepresented in skill pairings).

This serves four functions: first, it imposes an additional cost on the Duelist, which dramatically closes the gap when measured in terms of change in damage output per Step spent (a maxed out Duelist now does between 12 and 24 Wounds per round). Second, it creates a natural limit on the number of Maneuvers per sequence (no more than 5). Third, it prevents a fully maximized Duelist, as a character cannot have a 5 in both Finesse and Panache. Fourth, it encourages the Duelist to do something other than attack with any “leftover” Raises; currently the economy skews a Raise’s value dramatically toward attacking.

Using this method produces a range of possible slopes. A Duelist with a Panache of 2 has a slope of 2.5 (topping out at 24 Wounds by Weaponry 10) while a Duelist with Panache 5 has a slope of 3.85 (topping out at 34 Wounds at Weaponry 10).


I’ll begin with two statements that I believe to be objectively true.

1. Forty four Wounds per Action Sequence is a lot: that’s 2 Mythic Villains and some mooks. Put another way, if the Villain is a Duelist, that’s 2 characters with room to spare.

2. That said, a Duelist should beat non-duelist with equal stats in a swordfight and regularly beat non-duelists with superior stats.

The key word in statement 2 is “regularly;” regardless of where we draw the line, I believe it is rational and natural to believe that, at some point, a grizzled veteran should be able to take out a green Duelist. Everyone loves those moments in film, when the scrappy hero manages to hold his own against the technically superior and infuriatingly smug villain (Malcom Reynolds vs The Operative comes to mind).

Right now, that simply can’t happen and the moment the players realize that, it is going to suck the wind out of any combat involving a Duelist. The tense showdown with the mastermind’s ruthless enforcer becomes a time to get drinks and chat while the party Duelist makes more attacks than the rest of the party has actions, or wonder where they will miraculously wake up after another total party wipe.

That’s not a game I want to run or play.

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“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

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture
Impressive, but we didn't need to know all that math to know that duelists are broken.
It's clear that if you want to be good against minions you need either to be a duelist or have imagination and some of the powers like Disarming Smile (which we still don't know how it works against brutes but whatever).
If you want to be good against villains you either need to have a lot of pistols (with the variant we explained in a separate thread) or be a duelist.
This has to be made clear to the players: it's a failing of the system that it allows seriously suboptimal builds, but which system doesn't (ok, 4th edition DnD ;)).
I observe the sheets of my players and guide them in their choices so that they don't fall behind - right now have only one duelist and one gunner but it's  clear that relatively soon the others will pick one of these choices as well.
For the moment the game doesn't feel very bad, because our duelist has not superb skills for outside combat and the team tries to solve encounters in a non violent way. We have a few sessions to fix the problem, before the players realise it's a problem :).
Sean Butler
Sean Butler's picture

I basically agree with you-- I suspect duelists are fundamentally unbalanced, with potential to have all the resulting negative effects on the game that you detail (caveat: haven't had a chance to run/play a 2e game yet).  I'd consider playing a non-duelist in 2e roughly equivalent to playing a bard in early editions of D&D-- you know your character is mechanically pretty useless, but you're in it more to ham it up as an interesting participant in a story, maybe even comic relief.  I wonder if this is an overcorrection to 1e, where our group seemed to think it was a questionable investment of a lot of points after seeing its relatively modest impact on combat.  That said, I'm not sure where you're getting Weaponry Rank 10 as being "maxed out"; I don't see anywhere in the book that indicates you can go above 5, and even if you could, it would take an obscene number of story steps to get there.  If you assume Weaponry is realistically capped at 5, at least for PCs, the problem isn't quite as stark (though still, IMO, a problem).  And maybe under that assumption, it's not bad enough to have the morale-sapping effects you fear, since a lot of people seem to be using these mechanics without serious issues.

Still, were I to GM, I'd simply disallow dueling maneuvers in fights with brute squads (if a duelist wants to be extra-effective vs. brute squads, he/she can take Riot Breaker and/or Reckless Takedown like everyone else).  Another possible simple fix would be to decouple damage from the Weaponry skill, since it's currently doing double duty as providing both raises (attacks) and damage, which gives it a parabolic curve instead of a linear slope.  An alternative would be to deal/prevent damage based on ranks of Duelist + 1 (i.e., you can buy Duelist multiple times for 5 steps each to increase damage and damage prevention).

Also, though I'd probably give the stock dueling system a chance for duels with villains, I have a feeling the mechanics won't feel much like a swashbuckling duel, so I have some ideas for overhauling them with house rules just in case.

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Wait. Weaponry 10? Aren't skills limited to 5 ranks? Sure you can have a dice pool of 10+, but I'm not sure where you are getting 11 points of damage from a slash.

It's a good breakdown, though I think you should add in a BAP with a duelist style as well for comparison.

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

I understood "weaponry 10" just as an example of how damage increases. I agree with what Doctor said and actually I found something else more terrifying because I didn't think of Lunge as a finisher(just kidding xd though it is problematic).


@BluSponge a BAP with a duelist style makes me shudder actually... A duelist with 7 raises? That's what they will actually become when they have put a few stories behind their backs. If you decide to cut damage by half (rounded down or up) with 7 raises and the duelist advantage(weaponry 5) then it's something like this:

Non-duelist 7 raises = 7 damage

Duelist (half damage rounded down) 7 raises = slash(2)+feint(1)+slash(3)+feint(1)+slash(3)+feint(1)+lunge(4)=15

Duelist (half damage rounded up)7 raises = slash(3)+feint(1)+slash(4)+feint(1)+slash(4)+feint(1)+lunge(5)=19

Duelist (normal damage)7 raises = slash(5)+feint(1)+slash(6)+feint(1)+slash(6)+feint(1)+lunge(7)=27

I needed the math to see how much of a difference did it make but it is actually scary...

Doctor's picture

On Weaponry 10

I carried the numbers out to Weaponry 10 for 2 reasons. First, unless I missed it, there is nothing that says Heroes cannot have a Skill above 5. The second and scarier reason is Villains most certianly can go way above 5:

"Whenever a Villain takes a Risk, he rolls up to a number of dice equal to his Villainy Rank." Pg 193

Villains can use Maneuvers, provided they’ve mastered a Dueling Style. When a Villain spends Raises to perform a Maneuver, she is considered to have Skill or Trait Ranks equal to half her Strength (see page 193)." 
Pg 235

An Epic Villain is, by default, rolling as though she were a Finesse 5, Weaponry 10 Duelist for Raises and Weaponry 5 for Damage. The Greatest Swordsman In the World(tm) rolls as though she had Weaponry 15 for Raises and Weaponry 10 for Damage.

“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

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

But... as the quote says: they're considered to have skill equal to half their strength. 10/2=5. Simple. It's very clear to me. Villains can have a maximum strength of 10, which equates to trait 5 + skill 5.

Even if the rules forgot to mention that a skill can go up to 5, it's very clear from the character sheet. It's not the first thing that Wick forgot to mention, but it's so obvious I cannot blame him.

Jose Javier Fer...
Jose Javier Fernandez's picture

pg. 137:

Skills: Each Background also gives you a set of Skills, which begin with 1 Rank. Skills are specific bonuses for specific tasks. Like Traits, Skills have Ranks that tell you how many dice they give you. A Skill’s Rank can only go as high as 5.

Doctor's picture

I found the text, thank you. This still does not address the fact that a Villian's functional skill rating can go as high as 10 (a villain with Str 20, Inf 0, for example). Simply saying "Hero skills can't go that high" does not even remotely address the root problem; in fact it only points out how desperately far behind the non-Duelist falls, as there is mechanically no hope of even coming close to the Duelist, no matter how many points they wish to devote to it.

“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

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

I'm pretty sure that Villains are limited to 5 in weaponry. Almost positive you are supposed to use 1/2 the strength score to come up with skill ranks for that sort of thing. I'll have to wait a bit to find the quote, though.

Also pretty darn sure players skills are limited to five ranks.

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Something else this is missing. Remember that in 2nd edition, anyone can pick up a duelist style at the end of a 5-step story. I seem to recall 1st Ed was much more hand wavy/restrictive when it came to such things. So a 5 step story gets the player access to everything.

Second, there are a lot of advantages that give the players tricks that can translate to extra damage.

Antti Kautiainen
Antti Kautiainen's picture

Honestly, the cost of getting swordmanshool or raising sorcery ranks was really bad in 1st Edition. I mean REALLY bad. Way too expensive.

In this edition, it is story you learn to fight. Think d'Artangia in Three Musketeers. It took him 5 step story to learn fight like a swordman :D

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

Yeah but... what if a player does not want to become a duelist? I remember some of my players from 1st ed didn't want to become duelists or become expert gunmen because they said it didn't feel like their character would do it. In this case they would end doing almost nothing compared to duelists, where in 1st ed they could still do a lot of things. Furthermore, those advantages that anyone can pick to do extra damage can also be learnt by duelists... which improves them even further :/

Joachim Deneuve...
Joachim Deneuve du Surlign's picture

Then the GM should be having dramatic, or possibly even action, scenes that do focus on that character's strengths.  If one or more of your players don't want to be combatants, then let them solve their own problems with whatever those 5 points of advantages and however many points of skills they have instead of combat.

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

That's not a solution. With that, whenever combat happens those who do not want to become experts combatants (it's not "combatant" or "not combatant"... there are different degrees) are gonna be bored throughout the entire action sequence and, if you focus on those character strengths, then the combatants are going to be the ones bored when that happens, unless the scenes are 2 minutes long max each.

A GM should not ignore something that is broken and pretend it doesn't happen while they focus elsewhere. If you do not see it broken then it's great but a lot of people think otherwise.

Focusing on character's strengths should happen regardless of this but the other character's should be able to provide some help too as this setting is more focused in cooperative roleplaying. They should be able to do things alone too though but the way duelists are right now, first: They do not need help. A new duelist player character can destroy three non-duelists player characters without sweating much. Second: Someone who is not a duelist is forced with capital letters to ask for help to beat a duelist, they do not stand a chance even against a poorly trained duelist.

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Ok Carlo, if that's not enough of a solution, you are welcome to remedy things through Advantages. The easiest remedy would be to create a 3-point "little knowledge is dangerous" advantage that lets a player use Slash and Parry.  Alternatively, a handful of other, similarly priced advantages that let a hero do +X damage once per round won't break the game in the least. That latter part is probably what I'd do.

Keep in mind that most of the bad guys the players will be facing are brute squads. In a fight with a couple of villains, there will doubtlessly be brute squad reinforcements, plus the duelists will want to use pressure to keep the bad guys focused on them.

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

Actually I don't think we have to create new things to tweak old ones. I believe we can work with what we were given. Yeah, it would be changing things but instead of adding new things to solve others, why not change the "others" in the first place? Not that your idea cannot be the solution we are searching for, but I'd rather tinker with the current system and when I give up then follow other routes.

I have a few ideas about damage and manoeuvres that I'm working on at the moment but they are not solid enough yet. You may like them though.

Yeah... it is players vs brute squads most of the time but a player may want a revenge against a villain or henchman and that player may also not be a duelist. I think it is only fair that they are also given the opportunity to fight one vs one.

And with this you reminded me of something:

When someone gets his 2 dramatic wound, his opponent gains 2 dice against him. Now... If a Villain is fighting 3 players and only one of them happens to have his 2 dramatic wound up, what happens? It won't be fair to give the Villain 2 dice because the other players are not injured. Same happens if a player is fighting 2 henchmen for instance.

I think that instead of giving 2 dice, 2 dice should be deducted from their pools with a minimum of throwing 1 die.

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

Eh. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Whatever solution works better for you. 

Yeah, I've been wondering about that 2 dice thing too. It just doesn't seem to fit, does it. But I'm sure plenty of folks will be able to clear that up now that GenCon has wrapped.

Wyrd GM
Wyrd GM's picture

"The easiest remedy would be to create a 3-point "little knowledge is dangerous" advantage that lets a player use Slash and Parry."

I think this is actually one of the most elegant solutions.

Creating new backgrounds, and creating new advantages are ways to introduce or correct anything you feel is inelegant within the current ruleset, I believe.

Doctor's picture

“Also pretty darn sure players skills are limited to five ranks.”

I was too, then I went digging. There isn’t anything that says that, anywhere, that I have found. I would absolutely love to be proven wrong, though if I am, it makes an issue I raise below even worse. Further, with a hard cap of 15 total Attribute points (which, when you do the math, is really, really tight), where are the Steps supposed to go as the campaign progresses?

"Villains can have a maximum strength of 10"

Where are you getting this? I have not seen anything that indicates a Villainy 15 bad guy couldn't be Strength 12, Influence 3, in fact there is an indication otherwise:

Some Villains have more Strength than Influence and vice versa. For example, Cardinal Richelieu has high Influence but low Strength. He isn’t any good in a fight, but he commands the most powerful nation in the world. On the other hand, his compatriot, Rochefort, has high Strength and low Influence.” – Pg 193

An Mythic level Villain, unless perfectly balanced between Influence and Strength, has a Strength higher than 10.

Also, remember that Villains have somewhat fuzzy stats in that they do not actually have Skills; for the purpose of rolling Raises, 15 dice is the equivalent of a Hero having Finesse 5, Weaponry 10 to make a pool of 15.

“Yes, this means a Villain can roll as many as 10 to 20 dice for a single Risk and spend those Raises however he likes without penalties for Improvising.” – Pg 193

For the purpose of Maneuvers, the Villains functional skill Rank is ½ Strength, which, as far as I can tell, is not limited to 10.

Capping Skills at 5

Here is why I don’t think skills can be capped at 5 with the Villainy system as is:

If a player tells me “I want to be the Greatest Swordsman in the World™,” I tell him “Okay, pick up the Duelist Advantage and max out your Finesse and Weaponry.” The player does that, and next session, challenges the Evil Swordsman (Epic Villain) to duel. Let’s assume, for this example, that I’ve capped the Evil Swordsman at Strength 10.

GM: Okay, let’s get started. Evil Swordsman rolls 15 dice to duel you. Seven Raises.

Player: Wait, I only get 10 dice and 5 Raises. How does that work?

GM: Villains roll their Villainy rating. Don’t worry, he only has Weaponry 5, just like you.

Player: Yes, but he gets two more Maneuvers than I do, that’s like… an extra “half my health bar”… I thought you said if I maxed out Finesse and Weaponry, I’d be the Greatest Swordsman in the World™. I did that, and he’s still better.

 GM: Um, yeah, I guess he is… because… he’s evil…

I would say that the player would be justifiably pissed, because he will never be the greatest swordsman in the world, the Villain can always be better. All other things being equal (and what duelist wants to win an unfair duel?), the Epic Villain will, on average, have two Maneuvers more than he will.


“Yeah but... what if a player does not want to become a duelist?”

Regardless of whether all the numbers go to 11 (to steal from Spinal Tap), even at Weaponry 4, a non-duelist has no hope of holding their own against a Duelist. This is a problem that needs a solution.

To suggest everyone should simply pick up Duelist is very, very much against the spirit of the game, if only because it robs the Duelist of having their own special thing. The guy who wants to make the Greatest Swordsman in the World™, or even have “Duelist” as his concept, suddenly finds himself totally indistinguishable from the guy who set out to become a pirate but had to pick up Duelist to avoid being turned into a puddle.  

It also reduces Duelist to “just a mechanic” rather than years of training and a major aspect of a character’s backstory. While this might sound overly dramatic, reducing a character concept to “just a mechanic” erodes or outright shatters some of the central illusions that make cinematic, narrative games fun. It turns a role into a roll and I think the designers would hate that; I know I do.

“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

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

Actually... I think the quickstart rules where onto something good back then...

Slash and Parry could be used by everyone and 1 raise = 1 damage. With this everyone is equal in terms of basic damage. The only difference between a duelist and a non-duelist would be the other manoeuvres they can perform.

It is true that then, damage should not come from weaponry directly but to allow players to spend raises up to their weaponry rank or trait ranks in order to use certain manoeuvres.

The way it was designed before, players could resist a lot of damage but inflict little. It is the other way around now (for duelists).


Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

You're right, indeed a Villain (or monster) could have theoretically up to 20 Strength.​

Let's take it an example: Villain with 10 Strength, (thus around 11-12 points of advantages). A (realistically built) Hero could reach Trait 4, legendary trait, weaponry 5, duelist and some other advantages and be a liittle bit more powerful than the villain (more raises, equal weaponry). He would have way less wounds available, but a combination of encourangement from other heroes (hero points to increase his pool) and a smart use of firearms could equalise that. The hero could say that with 1-2 advantages more he COULD become the greatest duelist in the world. 

A villain with Strength 12 and influence 8. I would think of Kheired Din or Reis here. Yes, no hero could take them alone, but that's not the point: they're about cooperation. They're not 'the greatest duelists in the world'. They're magically infused powerhouses, not based on skill. Now you COULD make a villain of Strength 12 and Influence 8 without magic influence. This would be a bit too much for 7thSea canon, but it would be possible. It would be because the GM decided indeed to make the greatest duelist in the world to be a villain (until characters defeat him together).

You could go to even higher values. Strength 15 maybe? It wouldn't make much sense for any human to reach Strength 15 without gaining the influence (s)he could grab with that Strength (imo at least 7). So it's either a Monster (it's ok if no hero can single handedly kill a Leviathan), or immortal beings like Maam, who break the maximum of 20 of influence + Strength, thus they're not in the scope of what the game expects you to fight.

I don't see any problem with that. In most RPGs the cap of the power of the adversaries is higher than the cap of the power of the PCs, exactly because they want the big adversaries to be fought in a cooperative manner.

Mark Threlfall
Mark Threlfall's picture

​Please forgive my first ever post to be responding to a long debate but I do have a solution for Strong Villains that is purely based on how Heroquest 2 asks GMs to think of Rising and Falling action from the perspective of "action movies". And yes I know this does not fix a lot of peoples issue with Duelists. But...for me I have no problem with Duelists. (I just adjust the fiction according to the PC in the spotlight)

Looking at Strong Villains you WANT the PCs to know they are strong but we already know the HEROES will  be victorious in their endeavours. So let us take a "STRONG" Villain. This could be someone like Rochefort in Three Musketeers or Captain Harrison Love in The Mask of Zorro. Neither character in either work is the Chief Villain behind the terrible scheme, they are there for other reasons. However both D'artagnan and "new" Zorro have a reason to hate the specific character.

Rochefort like every character is The Musketeers is handled very differently depending on who uses him. There are times he is always defeated, there are other times he comes over as dangerous when we first meet him. Captain Love is shown as dangerous, dishonourable and underhanded. If I were to use a character such as these the first time they appeared I would intend for them to "Embarass the Heroes" or at least one of them. I would make certain that they came in at full Strength and make the Heroes suffer. But they would not Kill the Hero. In a few versions of The Musketeers D'artagnan is seen as beneath Rocheforts interest, it is the fact that D'artagnan is not even worth fighting properly that angers our Hero. This is still based on Strength. It would be possible to use mechanics to show this if we really wanted to. Though this would be better just roleplayed out. That way the PC would likely attack said character and you could then just say...Ok I am rolling all 12 dice...explain how the PC has his ass handed to him, then leave him completely embarrased.

I can see a BUT coming. The other PCs are there, they will get involved. I hope they do not if this is seen as a matter of honour between two individuals. In my mind we really should keep to Fiction First here and one PC demanding recompense for a slighted honour is not going to retain it if he gets his friends to beat up on a guy. If they do....well that is where the brutes pile in. And as we have rullings not rules....I see it as up to me when to use a special ability or two. I want this first scene to have the PCs spitting at the Villain by the end of it. So...yes the Brutes pile in and the danger points are spent on First Strike.

I doubt I would need to do this for most groups I would choose to run 2nd Ed 7th Sea for. They would see what I am doing.

As for Captain Love....he just kills the PCs brother or something...when the PC is Helpless. Yes...he is so callous he makes you utterly helpless and then has you watch your brother shot down. He then gloats.

So...I have this Strength 12 Villain. I have just used ALL those dice....what now you ask?

I DO NOT HAVE TO USE THE WHOLE DICE POOL. IT EVEN SAYS SO IN THE RULES. It says you can use up to a villains Strength.  Yes the hint is to keep dice back so you can hide how dangerous a villain is, but for me it is permission to weaken the villain in order to keep the drama beats working. Therefore in a sequence in which the PCs have discovered a scheme the chief villain is about to enact (the kidnapping of the young Dauphin for example) the PCs are ready and drop in...but damn..Rochefort is there! He is strong. Not today he is not. I decided to rob him of 6 die because the PCs surprised him, so he is not ready for them. He is beaten back, and spends influence to escape.

It took me reading your posts to figure out this simple ruling. A Villains Strength is entirely dependent on where we seem to be in the drama.

Another example can be ripped off from the recent BBC show The Musketeers. There is a character in the final season who is presented as psychotic, in the "he hates the world and wants everyone to hurt" kind of way". Any how, he sometimes wins, is often wounded and never really seems to win one on one....but then in an opening sequence takes out most of The Musketeer Cadets, caputres a love interest and wounds an important secondary character. 

This is all set up and likely the villain burning influence points....why? Because at this point he knows he has lost the big picture, he is out of options and just wants the Heroes to feel PAIN. By the time he gets into his last combat...he is likely on a par with the PC he faces in a duel.

The scheme that the PCs go to resolve...is the kidnapped love interest. This is how the duel happens. And again...only one of those PCs fights that villain.

So...how do I make this work.

Firstly a large number of my Villains have been taken directly from my PCs backgrounds. However, most of them where what I call "Schemers" the Villains who operated behind the scenes and make plans. There is only one who would be an on point Villain. One is in fact a mystery villain...he will be presented as a friend to start with.

Secondly I have created a Villains handout. This is where I have informed my players of the "Active Villains" in my game. These are the folk they can know are not to be trusted. There is one PC in the group who has taken Trusting. Now that player knows the NPCs he can take a Hero Point from when it is obvious they are being led into a trap.

The Villains Handout also makes it plain who the "Strong Arm" Villains work for as each Estaban Verdugo gains a Rochefort. Though at least one of my Villains is fairly dangerous for both influence and strength.

My Players know the Villains Strength and Influence score. There is no reason to keep this a secret. I want them to know when to give a Villain all due respect. Heck I plan on having situations where the Villains are fighting each other and hope to have the PCs have to make a deal with "the devil they know".

They also know something else. Which Villain is seen as "their Villain". The one that has special meaning to their character. This also means the other Players know this too. It is my way of saying...This Villain belongs to Player A....if there is a scene in which someone faces this vilain, in debate, or combat...it should be Player A....



Cthulhu Netobvious
Cthulhu Netobvious's picture

Nice ideas @MarkThrelfall, I would suggest that the villain Grimaud in the Musketeers TV Series may be more of a supernatural uber-Strength villain. He just refuses to die no matter how many times he gets stabbed unlike the dead villain, Marquis de Feron who has uber-Influence but terribly poor strength (yes, we know that he was sick too, both in head and body). 

TAJ-07: Technopriest And Justicar Of 7thSea2e

Doctor's picture


That's not exactly an 'all caps' level revelation. As GM, I am the closest thing to God on Earth when it comes to how I run my game and I can totally do whatever I want, whether the rules say so or not. I am not sure that argument really speaks to the point, however. The points are:

While I can always nerf a villain, the mechanics create options for both GMs and players which are disruptively unbalanced. Sure, I can nerf the hell out of them, but then I am trampling the rightful expectations of the players.

It's the output of the player characters, relative to one another, that concerns me most, as 7th Sea is a game about ensamble storytelling. We've all been in games where one PC just so vastly overpowers the others that it's neither fun nor interesting. 

My last point is I didn't buy a game to fix it; neither did anyone else. As someone who's done it, I can say that designing a game is hard and frankly, designing the perfect game is impossible. However, I think that if you're going to put down AAA release money, you should get a AAA game that does not require the a major overhaul of a central mechanic in order to prevent the kind of outrageous outcomes Duelists produce.


“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

Mark Threlfall
Mark Threlfall's picture

"That is not exactly an 'all caps' revelation"

I appologise if it seemed I was saying something that was already widely understood. I had not seen it mentioned as an option so thought I would do so.

Plus I am not nerfing the villain when I am reducing its strength, ok I am, but I do believe there is an intent behind that rule which is hoping we see that strength reduction can be used to simulate rising and falling action.

This is why I do not believe I am fixing the game when I make this decision, I am taking the framework I was given and creating out of it a model that I know will work for my group. Which I really do believe is intended by the way the rules are explained. I do not really see a rulebook I see a framework that allows me to construct a working model for the players I know I am working with.

However, and I may be in the minority here, the "unbalanced" nature of the Duelist does not concern me. This is mostly due to the fact I have on average a 4hr session time every time I run one of my games. I have learned over time that I can make time for one "meaningful" combat situation (of course I can throw Brutes at people for the "set piece action sequence", but for me that is an entirely different matter).

Based on the group I am running for I know that they expect the Duelist to be owning combat. It even came up in the discussion. They also know that we have around 4hrs per session in my games and there will be a set number of actions sequences in that time frame, and a lot of straight up RP. Only one or two of those actions sequences will be combat related, and it is very likely only one of them will directly involve a villain. Therefore everyone understands our Duelist is going to own the Brute Squads. However we also know that the Duelist will not be allowed to directly face every villain. Because for some it is personal. And that implies meaningful. And no one likes to get in the way of another PCs important character defining action.

This is why it is important for me to use rising and falling action in order to present the villains strength. I want the PC who has a stake against their personal enemy to have the spotlight when it comes to a fight with them. I know the Duelist player will allow it, unless they are asked to take their place, though if I play it correctly this will not likely ever happen. And if they do...boom suddenly I am playing the Villain at its full strength (and my players understand I am doing this).

I do not see this as "fixing" the rules. I see it as using the framework I was given in a way that works for my group. I do this with every game I own. Right now we have been enjoying FFGs Star Wars game. It became apparent to me some time ago that the only rule I use from those books are the basic dice mechanic of success/adavantage/fail/disadvantage (Triumph and Despair). Those weird dice tell me all I need to know. I would estimate I ignore 60-70% of the rules. I do not use combat as written, or the space rules, or anything really. I just look at the dice result and make my ruling. And again I think this was intended. There is a huge bag of rules for people who like a more tactical game (and in a convention recently I used them all because the players at my table said "we are avid Pathfinder players, we love tactical combat and someone said you can get a good mix of narrative and tactics in this game") and they work well for those that like them. Yet all I have ever needed is the dice result, engaged players and a sense of fun.

I have never believed I was ripped off by FFG. And they are definately producing a AAA rated title (yet most Star Wars RPG fans dislike it). At no point was John Wick attempting to produce a AAA rated game. He was prodcuing a labour of love that somehow, that I still do not understand, boomed in a Kickstarter. It was never expected to be a "mainstream commercial game". It was going to have a small audience. I mean come on its 1st Edition was never mainstream. I doubt anyone expected 7th Sea 2nd Ed to have the interest it ended up having. Because of this I knew people where going to be massively disapointed.

I was even one of them. I have spent time having to get used to "front loading" the Risk. My players find it odd they know everything going in. They have become used to my Star Wars games, which means building the unfortunate problems after success/disadvantage result or the huge wins with a Triumph after the action has been taken. We have had to un-learn what we have learned. It took me a while to tell my players....

"This is a story of how you win against all the odds, know up front you have won as a group, this is how you win, you tell me I just give you the options".

So...I do what I always do. I look at the rules, I read what other people have said about their experiences. I try new ideas and see what happens. I dig and dig until I find a way.


Doctor's picture

“At no point was John Wick attempting to produce a AAA rated game.”

Shenanigans.  At $60 for a hardcover and $40 for supplements, those are AAA prices and I do not believe John Wick personally or JWP professionally would charge AAA money with no intention of delivering a AAA product.  John Wick, like anyone else, has his flaws, but laziness and dishonesty are not among them.

“It was never expected to be a "mainstream commercial game"

Even if I buy that the original intention was for a small, “cult classic” game, it is very, very clear that neither John nor JWP regard 7th Sea as anything other than a AAA title. As evidence: 7th Sea: The East, 7th Sea: The Movie, 7th Sea: The Board Game, 7th Sea: The Video Game, 7th Sea: The Lunchbox… The list goes on. If they didn’t start out believing they had a AAA product, they certainly did by the end.

I do think JWP was caught flat footed by the enormity of the success, and I do think, for a brief moment, they let that enormous success go right to their heads. That brief moment was when they decided it could be ready for Gen Con. It wasn’t ready; John admits he didn’t playtest it with large groups and, as the dice system remains impossible to efficiently model, the playtests are really the only way the system could be stress-tested.  What should have happened was he should have taken it to Gen Con with the QS and another adventure and advertised it as “open playtesting.” Once the bones have been rolled a couple thousand times, most of the flaws would come out.

Granted, I don’t think it’s too late. I think if they fixed Duelist and a few other issues and sent out an update saying “here’s a free PDF with fixed Dueling rules” we would all forgive them instantly. After all, when is the last time we bought a video game that didn’t have a release day patch?

“Because of this I knew people were going to be massively disappointed.”

This is why I worry. I love 7th Sea. I backed it early and heavily. I want this game and IP to succeed. However, I am irked with the immature system (by which I mean it needed more time in the lab, not that it is juvenile); JWP doesn’t want me and those like me irked. JWP needs us to be evangelists for the product. In politics, this is called “energizing the base,” which is critical for sustained success in an RPG.

If 7th Sea doesn’t go over well with the “mainstream commercial audience,” what happens to 7th Sea: The East, 7th Sea: The Movie, 7th Sea: The Board Game, 7th Sea: The Video Game, and 7th Sea: The Lunchbox?  

“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

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

This is why, I believe anyway, that by the time 7th Sea: the East rolls out in a few years, we are going to be looking at a more mature, battle tested system. That we may well be seeing 2 or more new mechanics, along the lines f action and dramatic scenes, that have grown out of two years of convention play, online community discourse, and nog ing play testing. Maybe a house rule that has become so ubiquitous in play that it makes no sense not to include it in the core.  All of which will end up in the next printing (a stealth revised edition) of the 7th sea core book.

I think the new core has a lot of potential, but you're right it still feels a little half-baked in places. I don't mean that in a bad way. OD&D in the LBB was very unrefined. VtM, Star Wars (WEG and WotC), and dozens of other games have seen similar refinements in the first few years of release. This only becomes a negative if JWP shows an unwillingness to embrace evolutions in the game, and I have no reason to believe that of any of those guys.

Also, here's an interesting nugget to chew on. Has there been another RPG in history that the people who bought the core rules were also gauranteed 10+ 200 page supplements? So even if th core book is "incomplete," JWP have 10 more supplements to give us a complete picture of the vision they began in the core book. Now, not everyone is going to like that, but that's amazing to think about in terms of scale.

Doctor's picture

“Has there been another RPG in history that the people who bought the core rules were also guaranteed 10+ 200 page supplements?”

Here is the issue with that: JWP already has the money from all of those people, which is nice, but to keep the ship afloat, they need new revenue. They need people to buy the core and buy the supplements if the project is going to sustain itself. If even the diehards are saying that the system is immature, how do you think it will look to the casual gamer?

“I think the new core has a lot of potential, but you're right it still feels a little half-baked in places.”

I guess what I find so irksome is that the issue with the Duelist is easy to spot if you give the mechanic even a modicum of thought. There are plenty of ways to fix it, too, if they hadn’t decided to rush things for Gen Con.

“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

Mark Threlfall
Mark Threlfall's picture

Ok I see your points. I will show you where I am coming from on the 7th Sea as a product front. I believe like many a Kickstarter it is a Victim of Crowdsourcing.

7th Sea was never a huge game. It was always a niche product. I still disagree that we are dealing with a AAA product. If JWP had produced a core rule book of any lesser quality (as in production values) that would have been everyones first complaint. I do not believe they had a choice than to prodcue a book at that cost. I look at all the RPGs I have bought over the last couple of years and they are all around that quality of production. I have become to expect nothing less from a Core Rule book and even small European Publishers like Jarningen (Symbaroum) produce Core Books at this level of quality and cost.

In fact if the book was going to have a small print run and end I would be very happy to pay for something that lasts.

However, I really do believe they thought they would only have enough money from the Kickstarter to produce this rule book and perhaps a nation source book, and that would have been the end of it. There is nothing in JWP as a company that shows they ever thought they could raise enough money to create an entire game line.

Then they hit jackpot. I actually felt sorry for them when it happened. I saw John Wicks joy and thought "you poor unfortuante...." as I knew it would ruin his original vision.

What I thought would happen was a year long wait before the game came out. I even told my friends "you know that plan we had to run a new 7th Sea, well they just Kickstarted a new Edition and as its JWP making it I think we should put in on hold until 2017 as that is likely when its going to be released".

I mean considering I am still waiting for three other RPGs I Kickstarted over a year ago, why would this have been any different?

The reason was reputation. There had been some big mistakes with Kickstarter over the years. I have written a few of my own investments off as I am sure I will never see them. However, JWP did not want to be in that crowd. I also believe they had an obligation to release something ASAP considering the money they had raised. I really do think there was a sense of pressure, I am certain the question "How can we justify not releasing a book before Gen Con when our fans have given us all this money?" I think John had forgotten that before his Kickstarter he was really a very small fish and I really did expect a company of his size to have to take time to get its act together. In some ways JWP proved they really were not ready for a project of this size.

Looking at 7th Sea like a AAA computer game is a good way of looking at it. The difference is rather than push the release schedule back and still produce an unfinished untested game they brought it forward and prodcued a game that was in John's head. He released his big idea. Perhaps John made a mistake thinking that his years of experience at game design meant that this one he had been playing around with would be ok. Of course the error he made for you was the quick fix he has made to Dueling to bring it in line with the Action system. However....I still believe there is more going on there. I stil believe it works if you go with the mindset that I believe the game as a whole wants us to go with. In fact I have a suspicion that the current Dueling rules may have always been an option. They may not have been a fix at all. The reason I think this is because they DO fit in with the rest of the system. The Dueling system in the QS was a subsystem that broke away from the main Risk system as presented for everything else. The other change is the Dramatic Situation rules, but them I do believe came from feed back as I always did wonder how we were menat to run the large ball in the QS without giving away what the PCs where trying to find out. I in fact ran it more in line with the way Dramatic Situations have turned out, but with far more GM hand waving than some would like.

I think the game would have had a much longer playtest if it had managed only to reach its expectations. If it had hit around £300k we would probably only have a Core Rulebook, a Nation Sourcebook and perhaps something else as an extra. Likely a Priates Book with a faux Caribean and more Ship rules than we currently have. I also think that the loudest complaint on here would be "where is my damn book it is Gen Con already!".

It would be interesting to specualte on what would have come out of that longer playtest. I know my players are waiting to see how it all turns out once we start up our campaign. Currently we have only run one shots, this is so we can get used to the rules. Our major problem is front loading the Risk. However, I believe this is because my 7th Sea group have been playing FFG Star Wars since the release of Edge of Empire and have become used to saying

"I leap across the gap in the decking as the explosion goes off behind me.....damn a success and three disadvantages...I fall and grab on to the decking it bends on my wait I think I am falling but hold on dangling by one hand (annd take a point of strain)".

They use the above as an example as that was a player taking control of their narrative result that made the rest of that scene breathaking. It was even for me and I was the GM. So far we have not been able to make 7th Sea flow the way FFG Star Wars does...but as I remind them. The above example happend in July and we have been running Star Wars for quite some time now, it has taken practice for us to get here. The come back I get though is simple. If I turned the above into Consequences it is now longer "breathtaking" as they get to choose which of a list of problems they want to take.

What has begun to work is working as I noted in my first post. The dice are only used for meaningful situations. I know everyone says to do this in just about every game ever written but we all know gamers like to roll dice. At least the ones I know do. However it works best for me and my group when the dice hit the table only when we absolutly must know if the direction we are going could take a turn. We also had a pre-campaign discussion and one of my players, Rae, made the point very quickly "we should have a defined roll and stick to it and support each other in our personal story arcs, not step on them". It was Rae that suggested she keep her Duelist out of other peoples revenge plots, she also asked me to make certain that most monsters in the game were immune to normal weapons and behaved in ways that her character would not understand. After all the Monster Hunter needs to shine at Monster Hunting. I decided somethng else but it stil means that Dracheneisen is now very much desired and has now become a huge pottential plot point in my game (yet another rule change in order to make my game work for my group....but I still believe that was always this games point).

If the Duelist system does not work for you, there is nothing I can ever do to help you "fix" your problem with it. By the looks of it you need a system that stops people from playing the Duelist characters because they will always "own" combat and therefore in your mind take the enjoyment away from everyone else. I come at the situation entirely differently. I know none of my players will ever want to play the game that way. There are at least two villains in my game who can only ultimately be defeated through argument and debate (and I do not need people to roll large bucket loads of dice to make them look good). Both have to be shown they are wrong in what they are doing (unless the PCs want to corrupt themselves by murdering them). They are of course both high Influence Villains...low in Strength but with enough dice to make a thrilling debate scene when it comes up. I also know that my Monster Hunter will have to face someone who is a known Duelist. Somone they have a personal vendetter against. Rae has already said she will not step in to help that character in the final fight scene, Lyn who is playing that Hunter said "I would never let you any way even it meant death was on the table".

The thing is the entire point of that fight I hope is Lyn's character will learn enough not to kill him, and not to even start a fight...but defeat him...by forgiving him.

I can say all this in the knowledge my players will never read this....they don't do Internet forums.

In conclusion. I admit I have had to find an approach to this system that works for the group. However, I look at the system as a framework that is saying "you will need to find an approach to this system that works for your group". I may be lucky in that I know my players would not want to spend a four hour session constnatly in combat, therefore I know that no one will feel as if they do not have something to contribute.

Doctor's picture

“they brought it forward and produced a game that was in John's head.”

I think you’re making this more than it is; I am not saying that John needed to compromise his vision or anything like that. I am inclined to cut John some slack for overshooting his audience with his core mechanic and I totally understand why the game is the way it is. The Duelist problem isn’t a creative issue, it’s a quality control issue. It literally took me a few hours (at most) to write my original post and most of that was spent typing, not thinking. It’s not exactly some mathematical secret that if you triple or quadruple the damage per attack and give them additional attacks, Duelists are going to outpace everyone pretty quickly.

“By the looks of it you need a system that stops people from playing the Duelist characters because they will always "own" combat and therefore in your mind take the enjoyment away from everyone else.”

Quite the contrary; I don’t want anyone to be prevented from playing a Duelist. Neither, however, do I want someone who desires a “combat character” to become frustrated by how inferior a non-Duelist build will be. Of course there are things I can do; I can alter every monster, I can come up with new Advantages, I can rework the system to require interpretive dance… but all of that seems rather extreme when compared to “JWP could have spent an extra day crunching numbers on Dueling.”

“I also think that the loudest complaint on here would be "where is my damn book it is Gen Con already!"”

Except he never promised it by Gen Con, he promised it by October.

My number one complaint about 7th Sea 2e is not that the core mechanics are too avante garde or that it isn’t “1.5” but rather that what this system needed, desperately, was time and playtesters; both of which JWP had. At the absolute least, they had three more months to fine tune it: you’d be amazed what you can fix in three days, much less three months. They also had 11,000 or so people who would have leapt at the chance to playtest the Dueling system as well as Gen Con for them to playtest it. And they could still fix it.

“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

Mark Threlfall
Mark Threlfall's picture

I say they brought "John's vision" forward because I really do believe that this is a labour of love that has become surprisingly commercial. I trully believe tihs. I also trully believe that John expected to sell this to a group of die hard 7th Sea fans that would buy into his new mechanic that would work for Heroic Swashbuckling Action Adventure (but of course I may be wrong).

I also think the Duelist is a smaller issue for me because I have had to evangelise the base Risk System as very few people I have run this game for seem to get what it is attempting to do. I keep being told "I do, it just does not feel right"...."Why?" and the answer always is "because I can never fail".

For some reason I know a lot of people, or have at least run for a lot of people that struggle with that base mechanic and the concept of "i fail".

Doctor's picture

"I say they brought "John's vision" forward because I really do believe that this is a labour of love that has become surprisingly commercial."

Okay, so you keep using the words “John’s vision” and “labour of love” as though you believe that John had incredibly strong feelings about the math. I may be completely wrong, but I have a tremendous amount of difficulty believing that John felt that this particular mechanic was critical to his “vision,” especially because Dueling changed dramatically between the original Quickstart and the rules we have today.

It is a false dichotomy to say that “John’s vision” of a collaborative game where everyone gets along and constantly makes the best decision for the group cannot include well-wrought rules. Such a game, run in a vacuum and flawlessly, barely requires rules at all, good or bad. We have rules for other reasons; we have rules for when the gloriously harmonized world of a good gaming group has a brief moment of discord. It’s the rules that help to restore the harmony, because although we all may not be able to agree on what is best, we can usually reach a consensus on what is fair.

I don’t think having a game designed for people that don’t need well-crafted rules absolves you from the responsibility to examine your rule set.

“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

Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

 "I didn't buy a game to fix it"

And that sum up really clear what I feel. 

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

I'm used to fixing things in systems. Usually it's because something doesn't fit my play style, and occasionally because it's broken by itself (or in combination with other things in my campaign).

I would be happy if the only wrong thing in the book was that you would be suboptimal if you had nor aim nor duelism.In almost all systems there are a couple of options the character has to take in order not to fall behind.

The pity here is that we need to fix a lot of things just because they're unclear ​or rushed. How do multiple readied firearms work, how pressure and similar abilities work on brutes, corruption (which is a trainwreck), sanderis (totally rushed)... We've provided feedback for all that before the printing. Add to that feedback on the text (there are sections which look ridiculous for a non-American, like comparing highlanders to american college football supporters or describing the Inish rainfall in inches per year).

All this required some rewriting of a some paragraphs, without any drastical change. This would lead to corrections in the paging/layout. Particularly for Sanderis it would be impossible without making the section longer. John Wick could delay the core book by 1-2 months and stick to the original deadline of October. But he wanted to have the book in GenCon and rushed it. Thus inexperienced players will suffer from the unclarity (we in this forum, have provided clarifications and workarounds for most things). It was a gambit: you lose some players because they find the system confusing, but you might win some popularity in the States if you win a GenCon award. I wouldn't take that gambit: conventions are not so important as they used to be.

Lord_Nabu's picture

TBH there were always problems in 7th Sea when looked upon with european eyes. 

Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

Thx Tec Goblin!

GenCon award... Ennies? Er... 7th Sea don't appear there http://www.ennie-awards.com/blog/congratulations-to-our-2016-award-winne...cool

Doctor's picture

I don't think it's eligible for awards this year, which makes the decision to rush all the more unfortunate. I think they just got caught up in the rush: one of the best and worst things about Kickstarter is that projects can quickly take on a momentum of their own. My guess is that they wanted to capitalize on the good press and buzz from the KS.

“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

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

Thanks for the information!

Mark Threlfall
Mark Threlfall's picture

There was something other about Grimaud. Though in 1st Ed I just believe he would have been given the "recurring" advantage. He just ran out of Danger Dice. And went for it.

Doctor's picture

"I don't see any problem with that. In most RPGs the cap of the power of the adversaries is higher than the cap of the power of the PCs, exactly because they want the big adversaries to be fought in a cooperative manner."

Except, of course, if you're a Duelist, and your whole schtick is fighting one on one against another deadly swordsman. While you could accurately retitle the Duelist Advantage to call it "Murder Machine," that is definitively not how the fluff makes it out to be and it's not  the iconic character players want. Think of how cheated we'd feel if, in the middle of the epic fight between Inigo Montoya and Count Rugen, Fezzik came in from a side door and punched Rugen to death. The worthy adversary for a Duelist is another Duelist, and the heroic way to fight that adversary is one one one.

“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

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I think there's a key difference between a one-on-one Duel that's part of your background (Inigo vs. Rugen) and just a fight against a Villain that's against the whole party.

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

In my examples, the villains which were 1) swordsmen (as in in a non magical way) and 2) totally outside the reach of a single hero's power

were outside the 7thSea canon.They were things at the borders of what the rules allow. So yes, the rules allow the GM to create a duelist who's more powerful than a hero. If this suits the GM's story, that's fine. It probably means there's no duelist in his/her team who has the goal of beating the 'greatest duelist in the world' - and if there is one, it's one who could accept a lesson (that being the most heroic is not the same as being the most powerful).

And you know something? In MOST of our parties there's no hero who will not accept any other outcome than being the greatest non-magical duelist in the world. We prefer that the greatest villain of our game is not a show of a duelist against the villain, but a really shared experience where all heroes strive together. So having the option to have creatures or villains stronger than each individual member of the party is fine and it served most RPGs well.

I see also you're worrying on whether duelist will lose its sense, if everybody gets it just to get tougher. First of all, if 2-3 of the 4 heroes are duelists, there's no problem. Probably we'll have 2-3 heroes with sorcery which is even less representative of the general population. But they're the heroes, they're not supposed to be representative.

For everybody else, they're not duelists unless the GM decides so. There's 0 guidance or rules about challenge ratings. If the GM decides to throw a Strength 10 villain instead of Strength 8 duelist at the party, there's nothing stopping him (even though we agree that both would be equally powerful). It's only at the absolute extremes of the system (where you reach the limitation of Inf+Str=20) that there's an incentive for the GM to make a villain a duelist (instead of just adding a couple more strength points), IF the GM really wants to throw the strongest possible thing at the party. So the amount of duelists in the game is totally controlled by the GM (and 7thSea's lore. An upper limit on the concentration of duelists could be taken from the rules in Waves of Blood about the guidance of converting 7thSea cards to characters, which said that 'swordsman+1' means duelist, thus every famous captain and ~3 members of their named crew were duelists. In a few cases one of the brute squads as well)

Doctor's picture

“I see also you're worrying on whether duelist will lose its sense, if everybody gets it just to get tougher. First of all, if 2-3 of the 4 heroes are duelists, there's no problem.”

Despite my fixation with math, I am not actually worried about the population percentage. My concern is simply this: is it possible to make a viable combat concept that isn’t a duelist?

That’s the real problem; while 1e was deeply, deeply flawed, but the high cost of advancing as a Duelist meant that if someone spent the equivalent amount of experience into other combat abilities, they kept pace (mostly, again, it’s not perfect).

We have the Il Duce concept (1 guy, 6 guns) who can hold serve for a little, but after the second round, the damage output drops to very ordinary levels, while the Duelist just keeps going. After that, there isn’t much with any hope for long. 

“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

Tec Goblin
Tec Goblin's picture

As I said before, the only other equally viable concept for a PC, firearms + advantages of the stlye 'spend a HP to get rid of a brute squad'. You'll be doing DWs on villains at least as fast as duelists, and you'll be fine with brutes as well.

But it's indeed sad that players are limited to these two options. (GMs are not, as I said they can usually add a few additional Strength to the villain or monster to compensate for the lack of duelism)

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

So is anyone opposed to the following Advantage:

Student of Dueling (2 Point Advantage)

You may choose a single Dueling Maneuver that is not a Style Bonus from a Dueling Academy. You must spend a Raise on your Action to use this Maneuver and may only use this Maneuver once per Round of an Action Sequence. If you purchase this Advantage again, you gain an additional Dueling Maneuver with the same restrictions. 

It seems this would help and not really require any other changes...


NeoTanuki's picture

May I ask a  few questions? (and they are not intended sarcastically or confrontationally; I'm genuinely curious to know this):

Are the issues with duelists discussed in this thread coming up in actual play, or is this coming solely from theoretical number-crunching? If actual play, could someone describe some examples of situations from their game sessions where a non-duelist player raised concerns they were being sidelined, please? If this is just based on number-crunching; I would be hesistant to make radical revisions to the combat system before getting actual player feedback, especially if it involves nerfing Dueling. 1e's tendency to underpower Dueling schools compared to players who took basic combat knacks was an ongoing frustration for me running 1e. 

If non-Duelists players are complaining of lack of ability or things to do in fight scenes, did any GMs try giving those players options such as the Reckless Takedown, Riot Breaker or Signature Weapon advantages, or Arcana that give characters combat benefits without requiring a Dueling School? Because it seems to me that these advantages would be helpful for non-Duelists who want to do more in a combat situation. However,  I haven't read anyone in this thread who has clearly stated "A player in my group had these advantages and they didn't help the situation at all." If there are options in the rules that could help address issues without a complete re-working of combat mechanics, it seems like it would be reasonable to consider those options first. If those options HAVE been tried, and aren't helping, I think it would be helpful as a GM to hear the reasons why. 

I'm also not clear from the conversation if the issue people are encountering is "non-duelist players are having a hard time being effective in combat," or "a single duelist player is being so powerful that other players are simply not getting a chance to fight during the Action scene."

I ask because it seems to me this would make a difference in the solutions needed. If a player came to me and said, "I want to be better at fighting; my current stats aren't reflecting that," then my first instinct as a GM is to go over the character sheet with the player and allow re-tweaking of advantages and stats to help the player get the kind of abilities they are looking for. On the other hand, if the problem is "Player A is killing all the stormtroopers before I can get into the fight!"* then my first reaction as a GM would be, "I'm clearly making my encounters too underpowered; I need to put more dueling-focused opponents in who will give the duelist a challenge and give other players more chances to fight reasonably matched foes like Brutes."

I found in my first game session or two that Brute Squads were taken down by Duelists a lot faster than I expected...but when I tried increasing the number of Brutes per squad slightly, and made sure to add a few low-level Villain/Henchman-type single combatants to give Duelists more of a challenge, this seemed to resolve the problem in my later games. My friend who is also GMing her own campaign has not reported any issues with combat either...however, all of our players in our early test games have run Duelist characters. I have just had a friend create a non-Duelist (her daughter is playing a Duelist bodyguard) for an upcoming session and I will definitely be curious to hear her feedback on combat once I run a game or two for her. 

*(Anyone remember "Big Trouble in Little China?" Jack Burton spends five minutes getting his weapons ready for a brawl. He jumps in, only to find out his buddy Wang Chi has taken out all the thugs. This discussion brought that scene to mind.) :)

Doctor's picture

“Are the issues with duelists discussed in this thread coming up in actual play, or is this coming solely from theoretical number-crunching?”

The issues being raised come from number crunching and playtesting combat because of the number crunching. I play-tested with more developed characters than I would have at the start of a campaign, as the problem is worse the more developed the characters become.  I wanted to figure out the best course from the beginning rather than having to step in and nerf someone later.

“If there are options in the rules that could help address issues without a complete re-working of combat mechanics, it seems like it would be reasonable to consider those options first.”

You’ll be pleased to find that neither of my solutions require a “complete reworking of combat mechanics,” in fact neither of them require any change to anyone but the Duelist, nor do they touch the core mechanics. In both cases, the solutions adjust the power ratio between the non-Duelist and the Duelist.

“I'm also not clear from the conversation if the issue people are encountering is "non-duelist players are having a hard time being effective in combat," or "a single duelist player is being so powerful that other players are simply not getting a chance to fight during the Action scene."”

Both of those issues, combined with a third, and I think more deleterious consequence, which is that players do not believe they can have a non-duelist character who is good in a fight. The Advantages you mentioned do not even approach leveling the playing field. The overall atmosphere of futility can be seen in a combat where everyone has roughly a pool of 8. Even if the Duelist is a gentleman (or lady) and volunteers to go last on a tie, you’re still looking at the following action order:

4: Player 1

4: Player 2

4: Duelist

3: Player 3

3: Duelist

2: Duelist

1: Duelist


The Duelist takes more actions than the entire party combined and each attack is as effective (if not more so) than theirs. That feels off and, when combined with the numbers, it really skews things. I have certainly had a player comment “well I can’t really play that concept because I want to be good at combat and that means I need to be a Duelist.” Mathematically, that’s pretty true; I am not going to lie and tell him “oh a Signature Item will fix that.” It won’t. Not even close.

The issue is that it’s so unbalanced just on paper that it deters good concepts. This might have something to do with why “all of our players in our early test games have run Duelist characters.” Maybe not, but I know I expect to see a lot more Duelists than characters with any other combat Advantage.

"Player A is killing all the stormtroopers before I can get into the fight!"

Funny you should mention Stormtroopers. One of the players who felt shoehorned into a Duelist commented “I feel like, to make balanced encounters, the Duelist gets to fight the Big Bad while the rest of us just shoot Stormtroopers.” Your suggestion on how to balance out an encounter leads exactly to that. A Villain which would challenge the Duelist would run roughshod over the rest of the party while the Duelist would destroy a villain intended to challenge the rest of the party. It creates this separate but allegedly equal division within the party which I believe is ultimately damaging to the dynamic. 

“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

NeoTanuki's picture

Interesting. Two things you brought up I'd like to discuss further:

1. I have certainly had a player comment “well I can’t really play that concept because I want to be good at combat and that means I need to be a Duelist.”

Can you share a bit more detail about this player's concept? This is something that's been mentioned a few times, and I admit I'm not clear what they meant by "I want to be good at combat but not a duelist."

If the player's concept is something like "I want to be a deadly knife-thrower" or "I want to be a deadly marksman with a bow" or, "I want to be a deadly bare-knuckle brawler who takes down foes with his fists," then I can see where they might get frustrated, because there aren't a lot of ways outside the Advantages previously discussed to increase damage per Raise spent on missile weapons or Brawling in combat.

But if the player is just saying "I want to be a hard-bitten soldier who's deadly with a broadsword, but NOT a Duelist" I'm still not clear why they are so resistant to take a Dueling school. It might be a matter of perception. I personally don't  see "Duelist" as a formal character profession, I see it as a term for "A melee fighter who is skilled far, far above the rank and file, regardless of their day job." An Eisen mercenary with Drexel, for example, doesn't have to hire out for single combats on behalf of foppish nobles...he can, but he could alternately avoid duels of honor altogether and just use his phenomenal skills on the field of battle in mass combat. So when people describe their concept as "want to be good at fighting but not a Duelist" I'm still confused how Dueling schools interfere with their concept. 

It might be because the game and fictional world does seemed geared toward skilled combatants being Duelists. But in the case of my players and my friend's players, this is seen as a plus rather than a minus. For example, when we were asking players what kind of concept they wanted: One player wants a Musketeer-type character who's a great fencer. He creates a Montaigne with Valroux. Another wants to be a secret El Vagabundo-type vigilante swordsman in Castille-so Castillan with Aldana. Still another wants to be an ex-Pirate bodyguard-I described the Dueling styles and she gleefully chose Eisenfaust. My player and my fellow GM's players seem to have a different view than yours-they feel that Dueling is perfectly reasonable and appropriate for any combat-oriented character, so if lack of benefits for a chosen weapon type isn't the issue, I'd really be interested to hear more about your player's concept and concerns. As I said, combat in the game certainly didn't seem to pose issues for duelists in our test run. Which brings me to the following...

2. "Your suggestion on how to balance out an encounter leads exactly to that. A Villain which would challenge the Duelist would run roughshod over the rest of the party while the Duelist would destroy a villain intended to challenge the rest of the party. It creates this separate but allegedly equal division within the party which I believe is ultimately damaging to the dynamic." 

I'd like to respectfully disagree here...I feel you're being a little too absolute in your statement here. I see what you're saying if a GM relies exclusively on Villains who are also Duelists, but other Advantages like Sorcery make a difference in dealing with a non-Duelist villain. For example:

 In the situation I described, my Eisen player was facing off with a Villain (not a Duelist) with Sanderis Storm sorcery accompanied by a Brute squad. Both sides were trying to obtain a mystical chain with the power to disrupt sorcery. The player, an Eisenfaust duelist, made short work of the Brute Squad, but I had a lot of Danger Points saved and had the Villain start throwing lightning bolts and other spells that stunned the player, cost him Raises and really put the player on the ropes. He wasn't able to defeat the Villain through his dueling skill; he had to change approach, lunge for the chain and wrap it around the Villain just as he was about to cast again. The Villain's next spell backfired horribly as a result of interacting with the mystic chain, injuring him badly and forcing him to use a Danger Point to escape.

Now, this was a solo adventure for my player, but this  Villain wasn't easily overcome despite not being a Duelist. This solution for beating this particular Villain would have been equally viable if a non-Duelist player had tried it. Had my player thought of some other solution to escape or beat the Villain, I'd have been open to it, but that's what he came up with. TLDR: In my game, a non-Duelist Villain faced a Duelist and not only put him on the ropes but forced the player to come up with an alternate way to win that didn't involve straight combat. And it would have worked for a non-Duelist player.

That said, as I mentioned, I haven't run a game yet with both Duelist and non-Duelists in the same group, so I'm still reserving my opinion on those type of player groups, but should have such a game in the works soon.

Doctor's picture

“If the player's concept is something like "I want to be a deadly knife-thrower" or "I want to be a deadly marksman with a bow" or, "I want to be a deadly bare-knuckle brawler who takes down foes with his fists," then I can see where they might get frustrated, because there aren't a lot of ways outside the Advantages previously discussed to increase damage per Raise spent on missile weapons or Brawling in combat.”

This is part of it. Essentially, unless you want to use a sword (or whip) you cannot be a badass. A pugilist or even a guy with a halberd will just never hold a candle to a Duelist.

“But if the player is just saying "I want to be a hard-bitten soldier who's deadly with a broadsword, but NOT a Duelist" I'm still not clear why they are so resistant to take a Dueling school.”

I really can’t respond to this as elegantly as the book itself:

“Any ruffian off the street can hack away with a sword. Such an individual might be known as the best sword in the slums, the sharpest soldier in the regiment or the most dangerous in a crew of pirates. A Duelist would take her apart without breaking a sweat.” – Pg 234

So, right there I count three combat concepts that are wiped out by the Duelist. Why bother being a self-taught peasant with a stolen sword and a natural gift, trying to prove yourself in a world of elitist and stodgy noble brats? There’s nothing fun about that concept at all…

“I personally don't  see "Duelist" as a formal character profession, I see it as a term for "A melee fighter who is skilled far, far above the rank and file, regardless of their day job."

We disagree here, though not all that dramatically. While I don’t consider it what they do, I very much consider it what they did. Specifically:

“A Duelist is an individual who has attended a Duelist Academy, studying under a Swordmaster to learn the secrets of his Style.” – Pg 234

Stripping away this fluff makes Duelist just a “Murder Machine” Advantage without the connections, obligations, and backstory which make it iconic. Suddenly, Duelist as a concept becomes untenable; if every pauper and pirate has a Dueling school, what is Inigo Montoya? What makes him special? Now we’ve deprived an iconic, if not the iconic, build in 7th Sea of any mystique it might have possessed. The years of study and dedication to mastering the sword is part of what makes a duelist a duelist. If you just pass it out, it’s now a statistical advantage and not a cool part of the characters story.

“Now, this was a solo adventure for my player”

Which means you actually didn’t have to worry about any of the points I raised regarding balancing a Duelist and the rest of the party. One player solving a problem by using something other than her sword is well and good, but it doesn’t really speak to the point about how to keep the rest of the party interested, engaged, and convinced they are relevant. My group has seven players, which is an entirely different ball game. 

“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

NeoTanuki's picture

Hmmm...To be frank, it seems to me unnecessarily self-limiting for your player to throw away their concept simply due to some flavor text in the book. If one of my players came to me and said, "I want to be an awesome swordsman, but from battlefield experience, not a noble's dueling academy!" my response would be, "OK..take the Soldier Background and another of your choice instead of the Duelist background. Use your 5 additional Advantage points to choose a fighting style that would make sense for a soldier. You're good!"

I'd do the same for the poor kid with natural talent: Orphan background plus a fighting school of choice to represent his ability as a natural prodigy. If it helps a player to better build the background they want, why let the fluff hold them back? If the rules said "Every player who wants to make a Duelist must take the Duelist background," I would see the issue. But what's stopping you as GM from saying, "If the throwaway description on page 234 is messing you up...let's just ignore it and create the backstory you want!" I mean, if a few lines of flavor text are messing your player up, what's easier, rebuilding the combat rules or ignoring the fluff and just coming up with a reasonable backstory that works for your player?

As a GM, you are free to change world details as you see fit; I can't imagine anyone faulting you for it. And if the player is trying to come up with a good story that justifies it, I don't see taking Duelist to reflect his unique story as being a munchkin or turning the advantage into a "murder machine." There's nothing keeping other players from building stereotypical academy students, but if your player wants to be different I don't see that harming the 'mystique' of dueling at all.

I understand though that running an unorthodox set of rules for a large group is a daunting task. Personally  I'd be hesitant to try more than 3-4 players myself until I have more games under my belt. Though I think our perception and preferences for the game differ, I certainly hope you find a solution that allows you and your players to enjoy the game.


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