Hello fellow swashbucklers! Last night, I downloaded the new "Heroes and Villains" online preview copy and spent a few hours looking through it. I haven't finished reading it in detail, but thought I'd share my initial impressions:
Each character is given a stat list, a one-page biography, and a list of three long-term goals for the character. Villains are also given a brief description of suggested Brute Squad abilities for their minions (if any) and a note called "Redemption" with hints for the GM on how the Villain may react if any Heroes make an effort to turn the Villain away from evil. A nice touch, though some Villains are specifically noted as unredeemable.
I found myself really enjoying the writeups of each Hero and Villain character in the book! Their stories are mostly very colorful and interesting, and there are some surprising ideas for a few. Some are fairly stereotypical characters, like the Montaigne Rose and Cross Knight who idealizes Chivalry, or the disreputable Avalon pirate who can't resist gambling. But there are some really offbeat ones, too, like the Vesten Hero who is the descendant of generations of champions who defend a remote village from pirates while wearing a disguise--a Viking version of "The Phantom!" Or another neat concept is the Ussuran Hero who is a feral orphan raised by a wolf pack-basically "The Jungle Book" moved to Ussura.
There are also some nifty campaign ideas worked into the character biographies. For example, one Hero is the Captain of a Castillan pirate-hunting ship whose crew are all ex-criminals or former evildoers who have volunteered to serve in order to have their records cleared or to redeem themselves for past misdeeds--which sounded like an awesome way to start off a disparate group of players together and give them a common goal!
The Heroes all appear to have beginner-level stats, and look like they would be serviceable if a player wanted to use one as a character instead of creating his or her own. The Villains, on the other hand range from relatively low levels (Villainy 9 or so) to scary power levels (Villainy 17!).
One other caveat about the Villains: Several of the Heroes in the book have mysterious plot hooks or goals that are deliberately kept vague to be worked into game stories. In several cases, these plot hooks are directly tied to a particular Villain's plot. For instance, one Villain's biography reveals several secrets of an amnesiac Hero introduced earlier in the book. Because of this, GMs who want to include these characters in their campaigns may want to ask their players to avoid reading the Villain biographies in order to preserve some plot twists and surprises. (To avoid spoilers, I've deliberately avoided posting too many details about Villain backstories, but I particularly liked the three evil pirate leaders described in the sourcebook, especially the Sarmatian pirate!)
The art in the book is very mixed. The art at the beginning of each chapter is simply gorgeous, with detailed fight scenes, dramatic illustrations of a group of Heroes kneeling and pledging their blades to a cause, or pictures of tavern encounters and gala theatre performances. Unfortunately, the actual illustrations of the characters aren't nearly as good. Most of them are OK, a few are sub-par, and one or two just look very crude and don't seem to match the description of the character in the writing very well. However, the gorgeous chapter art and cover saves the book overall on the visual front.
NEW RULES AND MECHANICS:
Fans who have expressed concerns about the disparity between Duelists and non-Duelists will be happy that a new intermediate combat advantage, "Student of Combat" was included in the book. It gives a character a limited selection of maneuvers and the option to upgrade to a full Duelist Academy later for extra points.
Full Duelists also get a new advantage that allows them to use a single maneuver in an action scene by spending a Hero Point instead of a Raise. Duelists can now also purchase a second style for less points.
There's a neat new advantage called "Savior" which allows you to spend Hero Points toward attempts to redeem a Villain. It's expensive and I'm not sure how well it will work in practice, but I like the concept because it ties into the 7th Sea theme that Heroes don't always solve everything with killing.
THINGS I DIDN"T LIKE:
Apart from the uneven quality of the art, there were only a few other things I didn't like in the book:
1. I think this book strongly demonstrates the need to revise the concept that there is only a single person in Theah who can use each Knight Errant/Glamour Mage's powerset. Because this book has 3-4 different Knight Errant heroes, and I can already imagine an upset player pointing at the book and complaining, "Wait a minute...I wanted to use this Knight's powers! So does that mean now that I can't?" Really, the idea that there are only twenty Knights Errant in all of Theah isn't really practical from a gaming standpoint--it really limits a GM's options when creating Heroes for players or as NPCs. The GM shouldn't have to choose between using an interesting NPC and denying a character a valid Hero option!
2. I was also disappointed that there were no examples of Curonian heroes or Losejas heroes.In fact, Sanderis sorcery and the dievas are portrayed as being so evil in this book, I'm starting to wonder if the designers intended Heroes to use Sanderis at all. I really think some information and advice for GMs about how Sanderis sorcery can be turned to Heroic goals needs to be included in future books. I was reluctant to give my player access to Sanderis already, and after reading this I'm more reluctant than ever.
3. Some of the characters shown in the preview card deck set seem to be missing from the book, including a Hero from Ifri and a Die Kreuzritter member (In fact, there are no Die Kreuzritter Heroes in the book). I recall there were cards for them previously but they didn't appear with write-ups here.
4. At first, I was really happy that an archery-themed Dueling school was included with the new rules. But there seem to be some editing problems and missing information in the text. There is no nationality or history given for the school, and the rules state that an archer may perform Dueling maneuvers using a bow. Wait, what? I was immediately confused how a ranged weapon can be used to Feint, or Bash, or Riposte? To make matters worse, the school's special archery maneuver is referred to as a "Thrust." It's very confusing, and came across to me as if a melee weapon school slated for a future book was hastily changed to serve as an archery school without being properly edited.
There's also no information if this school is sanctioned for duels, adding to the confusion. If so, how do you handle a Drexel vs. archer duel to first blood? I plan to submit a ticket about the confusing wording for this school to the design team; I really hope it was just unintentional typos rather than a poor design. This was the only major flaw I found in the book. [EDIT 11-17-16: Mike Curry clarified on Reddit that the archery school information is not complete...the full school will be appearing in an upcoming sourcebook. The information in "Heroes and Villains" is meant to be a quick get-you-by summary so that GMs have something to go on when using the NPC from the book with this school in their campaigns until the full school is published. - NeoTanuki]
Overall, I really like "Heroes and Villains" so far. The characters are fun to read even if you don't plan on using them for your campaign. There are some interesting hints of new places we are likely to see in future books, like Numa (which so far is shaping up to be an analog of Greece.) With the exception of the unfortunately messy Archery school, the new rules and advantages look like they will be fun for combat-oriented players. And though the art is mixed, overall the good images really offset the bad ones.
A nice follow-up to the core rules, and an encouraging first effort for sourcebooks to fill out the new world of Theah!