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NeoTanuki
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First Impressions of the "Heroes and Villains" Sourcebook
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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:

WRITING:

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:

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]

CONCLUSION:

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!

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Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

I haven't read it all but I found that the new background "Docent" is incomplete. They do not tell you what skills and advantages you gain from it

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

I was puzzled by that also. Since the confusing Archery school is in the same section, I wonder if there might have been an editing/layout glitch?

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

Mike Curry responded to me on Reddit to clarify that the full writeups for Docent and the archery school will be appearing in an upcoming sourcebook. The info in "Heroes and Villains" is meant as a quick summary for GMs using characters with those advantages from the book in their campaigns. I've updated my original post with this information. 

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Then they should clarify with a statement like, "Details of this Dueling Style will be forthcoming in [Future Sourcebook]."

Carlo Lope
Carlo Lope's picture

I was taken aback for a moment when NeoTanuki said Michael Curry replied that but... after a few second I was like... yeah, I remember when I had to search for things in 1ed. I'd rather not have the information split between books but I agree... one line or two explaining where the info will be would be nice.

Cthulhu Netobvious
Cthulhu Netobvious's picture
Great review, NeoTanuki (sorry for the confusion). Very balanced and insightful. I am sharing this link. Thanks.

TAJ-07: Technopriest And Justicar Of 7thSea2e

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

Actually, it's me, NeoTanuki...but I use the same Lego avatar as Salamanca, so confusion is understandable. :)

Cthulhu Netobvious
Cthulhu Netobvious's picture
@NeoTanuki, sorry for the mixup. You can use the [share] button too to spread your good word to Reddit, Twitter, Facebook if you wish.

TAJ-07: Technopriest And Justicar Of 7thSea2e

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

No problem, it's an understandable mixup! :D

LibrariaNPC
LibrariaNPC's picture

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one griping about the art! So many of the characters just didn't feel "right" when it came to the art; a Leegstra duelist with a giant axe (fitting for 1e, not 2e), a Castillian (or was it Vodacce?) assassin with a shield fitting for an Eisen, a gambler that lost her middle fingers but has them in the art, a bow fighter with a scimitar, etc. 

If anything, I think the art really detracts from the quality of the book rather drastically, doubly so because the character artwork is going onto the cards.

 

Otherwise, I found the book (at least what I skimmed) to be pretty solid. Tons of NPC potential (even if you don't use them as written), lots of pregens for events (I'm looking at drumming up interest at a local game store but hit a block with the writeups), some hints as to how things in the setting are working this time (mirror ghosts are revamped, for example), and some fun rules.

I do agree that the bow school is poorly written (I'm guessing each of the manuevers works the same mechanically, but thematically different), and I felt that there were a number of things overlooked (Losejas, the near non-existent info on Numa, etc). Hopefully we'll get some solid details later, ne?

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

NeoTanuki
NeoTanuki's picture

Agreed! I am really looking forward to "Nations of Theah, Vol. 2" for more info on the Commonwealth.

I really wish the character art had been a bit better. Like you, I found it jarring when the awesome Vesten mystery champion is wearing what looks like a Crescent Empire outfit...with a bare midriff!

But still, I LOVED the cover and the chapter heading art. 

I haven't had a chance yet to delve into the expanded sections on Villain schemes yet, but I did like what I saw of the idea of Lesser Villains (with Strength but no Influence), and the suggestions on how to "promote" a Brute Squad leader to Lesser Villain and eventually Full Villain. :)

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Oh, you definitely aren't alone about the art. When they released the preview of the hero and villain decks a few weeks back, I was really shocked at how...it just wasn't very good. Low on detail, drab and monotone, and some of it just plain...

I'm still going over everything. I sent a couple of questions about the new Schemes material, though on the whole I like it. 

 

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

On the art style, I got the impression they were aiming for a style not unlike Renaissance paintings, in that they weren't crisply detailed but still had a sense of vibrancy of them.  Obviously, YMMV on how well they succeeded; personally I wasn't blown away by the art, but I'll confess to being very spoiled by the awesome work that FFG has done in regards to art with their Star Wars RPG books.

I've not done more than skim through the book, though I didn't notice a couple oddies, like the Montaigne Knight of R&C having the Castillian-only Deistro background (maybe the PC was meant to be Castillian and got swapped to be a Montaigne?)  The rules on Redeeming Villains are interseting, though maybe it was just odd that most of the Villains I stopped on in my skim thru were "nope, you pretty much can't redeem them!"

On the new mechanics, Flaweless Execution can be quite devastating if synched with the right Maneuver.  From how the Advantage reads, it sure sounds like you could use this with a style's bonus Manuever, so using it for things like Aldana's Ruse or Leegstra's Crash could be pretty nasty... provided you've got the Hero Points to spend; looks like Valiant Spirit just became a very handy Advantage for a Duelist to pick up.  Heck, even just using it with Slash makes for a potent combo, as you can easily set-up a Feint+Slash and not have to worry as much about your opponent doing something to break your string.  Or even just connecting it to Bash, so that you can drop a Hero Point to lessen the damage of an incoming attack.  One bit that may need a tad more clarification is when can the Hero Point be spent to trigger the designated Maneuver?  From how it reads, it could hypothetically be done on an opponent's turn, enabling you to use Bash just after they declar they are using a Lunge.  Also, could this be taken multiple times, so that the Hero can have a number of Maneuvers they can break out at the drop of a Hero Point?

Nice to see the "Duelist Lite" Advantage be officially codified.  Have a couple players in my current group that are eyeing such a thing for their Heroes.  Interesting that a Hero with Student of Combat can use it with anything covered by Weaponry.

Overall, I think this book is kinda "meh" for me, but then I've never been a huge fan of "Big Book of NPCs" style of supplements.  Although, maybe I might have found it more interesting if instead of a bunch of random nobodies it instead covered some of the big movers and shakers of the setting, much like the GM's Guide had done for 1st edition.

Edit: So did some re-reading and re-thinking on Flawless Execution.  From how it reads, the intent seems to be that you can only activate it when you'd be able to spend a Raise to perform the Manuever, which cuts out the "respond when it's not your turn" concern.  Also thinking the intent is that you can only take this Advantage once, or at the very least that's how I'd handle it.

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

Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

"Overall, I think this book is kinda "meh" for me, but then I've never been a huge fan of "Big Book of NPCs" style of supplements.  Although, maybe I might have found it more interesting if instead of a bunch of random nobodies it instead covered some of the big movers and shakers of the setting, much like the GM's Guide had done for 1st edition."

"Hit the nail 7th Sea version"

BluSponge
BluSponge's picture

Overall, I think this book is kinda "meh" for me, but then I've never been a huge fan of "Big Book of NPCs" style of supplements.  Although, maybe I might have found it more interesting if instead of a bunch of random nobodies it instead covered some of the big movers and shakers of the setting, much like the GM's Guide had done for 1st edition.

This pretty much mirrors my thoughts on it.  Working my way through the villains, I've found very few that I would want to include in my game.  There are maybe two or three among the mix.  So many of them do appear to exist in a vaccuum and almost none of them feel really grounded in the setting.  But hey, not every villain needs to be a Villanova.  I know a lot of folks around here don't share my tastes, but I wish we'd seen more in the way of idea generators and building blocks to help GMs create their own villains rather than 160 pages of fleshed out examples that will probably never get used.  But then, 7th Sea has never been much for the toolkit approach, so I can't really say I'm surprised by this absence.

TheFrenchDude C...
TheFrenchDude Cheese and wine's picture

Agreed. I'm not happy to get an NPC book. I don't need that. And i was really sad to not see Verdugo, Empereur, Montegue, Elaine, etc. in the book.

They got so much nice stuff from the 1st edition, it is impossible to understand why they do not use them for the second ?

I don't think "Heroes and Vilains" is the book we needed ...

“A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire”

Salamanca
Salamanca's picture
I am presuming most of these characters are from the "we will include your character" backer level which would explain a lack of Sarmatian sorcery.
Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

Given the various Heroes all look to have been built as starting-level player-characters, you may well be one to something.

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

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

So with the archery-based style, to those wondering how this would work in regards to using Duelist Maneuvers, I have but one name for you.

Legolas.

Watch what the elf does in the Peter Jackson films, often using naught more than his bow and arrow.  Parry could be cited as him side-stepping attacks to avoid the damage, Bash is him disrupting an Orc/Uruk brute squad so that their attacks are less coordinated, and Feint is him sniping one orc before quickly spinning around to snipe another one that thought the elf wasn't paying attention to him.  Slash is either a quick string of arrows or a single arrow to a vital spot, while Lunge is him putting all his focus into a single shot to ensure that it really counts.

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

Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

Re: "Flexless Execution"

Maybe I'm missing something, but I pretty much read this to be a simple "You can spend a Hero Point instead of a Raise to activate this maneuver once / round." To me, it still must be used when you could otherwise use a maneuver (on your turn based upon total Raises) and what it does in essence is either give you a free maneuver once / round (When you're out of Raises) or let you use a HP instead of a Raise sometime during the Round in order to save that Raise to do something else. I don't read it as letting you interrupt or use something more than you could normally use it.

So it gives flexibility but not more power.

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

"So it gives flexibility but not more power."

As I noted in the edit of my original post, that does indeed seem to be the case, which is fitting for a 2pt Advantage, many of which are "spend a Hero Point to accomplish some goal without spending Raises."

I could see some very interesting applications of this new Advantage, all dependent upon which Maneuver you purchase it for.  For Aldana, being able to set up your Ruse in advance without having to spend a Raise can be handy, as it'd prevent your intended target from doing anything to really counter (such as using Bash before you get to strike).  Or tie it to Iron Reply so that you can spend a Hero Point to seriously thwack the guy that just attacked you, and then spend your Raise to use Slash to really hammer in the damage before the foe gets a chance to do much about it.  Or just Lunge (or style bonus variants there of) as you wouldn't have to spend a Raise to activate the Maneuver, thus giving you a one point boost to damage since that's an additional unspent Raise you've got in your pocket.

Dependent upon how the GM handles Initiative in regards to number of Raises, this could make duels rather interesting, as the character with Flawless Execution could very well act twice on the same Raise count.

Of course, how powerful the Advantage really is will depend on how free with the Hero Points the GM is.  In a game where the GM is stingy with the Hero Points (doesn't buy unspent dice, doesn't trigger Hubris or Quirks), then it's going to be fairly limited.  But in a game where the Hero Points flow like wine, it'll be a lot more useful... which is itself counteracted by the notion that the GM should have plenty of Danger Points to play with if they're buying the Heroes' unspent dice on a regular basis.

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

LibrariaNPC
LibrariaNPC's picture

And, as always, anything the players can do, the GM can also do. With Hero and Danger points flowing, can you imagine the sort of dramatic exchanges between a Hero and a Villain?

 

I'm looking forward to the look on a player's face when they have this ability and think they are great, and the villainous swordsman they'd been hunting can do the same thing. . .

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

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