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Guy Reisman
Guy Reisman's picture
Reactive Rolls
core rules, risks, mechanics

Going over the rules once more in preparation for a game it suddenly dawned on me that 7th Sea 2nd edition doesn't actually have any rules for "reactive" or "passive" rolls (what, I suppose, other RPGs might refer to as "saving throws"). This is obviously fully intentional and I fully understand the reasoning behind it - there's no need to explain that to me. However, thinking back to swashbuckling literature it's hard to deny that sometimes there is value to knowing whether or not a hero is affected by poison, or is succesfully snuck upon, etc. The book dedicates a nice text box to telling you that there's no "Dodge" skill because dodging maintains the status quo, but that cheapens a lot of dramatic situations.

While it's true that some of those cases might fall into narrative practices we explicitly want to avoid (e.g. if the poison would outright kill the hero, and failing that one "saving throw" would abruptly stop the plot), it's obviously not always the case. Sometimes, there's plenty of drama that could be gotten from either succeeding or failing at such a "reactive" roll, and in fact, a solution like "the GM should decide what happens based on whatever serves their plot better" seems more contrary to the spirit of 7th Sea than the alternative, since it takes away so much player agency (doubly so if all heroes are potentially affected, in which case, for example, players who built a particularly perceptive hero may feel cheated if everyone just notices or doesn't notice an ambush by GM fiat). Furthermore, many such situation involve danger the hero isn't even aware of and making it into a proper "Risk" mechanics wise can both slow down the game right when it doesn't need to and spoil some of the player's fun. Sometimes, all you want to know is whether the hero does or doesn't fall unconscious after being served a cup of poisoned tea, because it's the difference between them continuing the conversation with the evil courtier or waking up in the dungeon and having to make an escape (both, you might notice, are dramatic and fun situations and both fully in the spirit of the game). You don't want to determine this by fiat because the player would feel cheated, but you can't turn it into a Risk either because a Risk demands the hero be active (what exactly is your "Approach" when you're trying to resist falling asleep? Resolve+Tempt, to represent years of hard drinking toughening up your liver? You got to admit that's a little bit forced)

Again, just to clarify: I don't need an explanation of why the 7th Sea mechanics are built the way they are or the philosophy behind the design or why I should or shouldn't want my heroes to always be active. Trust me, I read Vincent Baker and Luke Crane's essays too. I'm looking for a simple, quick method to randomize these kinds of rare occasions so that when they do come up, there's no need to jump through descriptive hoops in order to arrange for a narrative which can justify "picking an approach" in a situation that doesn't make sense just so the mechanics can function. Honestly, I'm tempted to roll a 1d10+trait against a made up number behind the GMs screen or something.

P.S. now that I think about it, it is a bit weird for a game like this to not have any poison rules at all. It's a staple of intrigue and espionage type stories, it's practically half the Vodacce's whole shtick, and plenty of advantages and sorcery abilities refer to it one or the other...

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

But it does have poison rules. It's under Monsterous Qualities: Poisonous.

So are you looking for a random method to determine IF something bad happens to the hero, or if the hero can resist it?

Normally I would say most of the circumstances you are talking about should be part of a sequence. So resisting is as simple as spending a Raise. The Risk mechanic is a poor, poor, POOR mechanism when it comes to these sorts of things. Off the top of my head, I can think of three ways to handle this sort of thing in play that would be meaningful and add to the tension of the session:

The player rolls a d10 and tries to roll less than a designated Trait.

GM spends a DP for an effect. The player can spend a HP to counter or accept the effect to receive a HP (like the GM activating a hubris).

The GM describes the effect. The player can accept for a HP or spends a hero point. The GM gets to add this to his/her Danger Point pool. 

Guy Reisman
Guy Reisman's picture

Either would be good, I suppose. It was just a musing. It's strange for the mechanic to not be able to handle such a thing.

As for poison - think you could direct me towards it? The closest I've found is the Monstrous Quality "Venomous", which reduces a Hero's Raises by 1 if a Monster hits... Not really the kind of mechanic we're looking for if want to handle, say, a secret society agent slipping something into your drink.

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

Well, you could argue the mechanic does handle it, just in an untraditional way.  Remember, Risks are framed in the sense of "these are the consequences for your course of action".  So with that in mind, let's go with your example that the villain is sharing poisoned tea with the hero.  You tell the player the tea is poisoned.  What are you going to do?  If the hero drinks it, the consequences could be:

  • You suffer X dramatic wounds (you could treat poison like a firearm – you take a dramatic wound PLUS X wounds)
  • You are rendered unconscious
  • You are rendered confused/disoriented
  • You suffer an X die penalty for the rest of the scene/episode

And that's assuming it does any harm at all.  It could simply be "if you don't acquire an antidote by the end of the episode/story, you'll die."  The thing is, you want to tell the player that BEFORE he drinks the tea, as it might affect his choice. 

Or, if the player doesn't drink the poisoned tea, what are the consequences of that?  The game really wants us to focus on what the player's choices are and spiral consequences off of that.

Of course, with Sequences, this becomes a lot easier.

And yes, Venomous is it.  That effect is pretty nasty if you couple it with Danger Point effects.  And I don't see any reason that ability couldn't stack (1 raise on the first hit, 2 on the second, 3 on the third, etc.)

Catalina Arciniega
Catalina Arciniega's picture

I don't know about other players but we never just go, we tell our GM how we go (duelist goes first, then goes the noble, then the ussuran with Matuska's gift, then the pirate and the eissen Monster hunter) and we also tell what we do (we are on guard un case we encounter an ambush, we are looking for game or medicinal plants, we enjoy the scenery...). We narrate what our characters do, the GM can ignore it and say we just make our journey without any incidents or he makes us roll beforehand so that we can use our raises to react to whatever happens (with the cost of changing approach).

Anyway, being ambushed isn't necessarily a death sentence, just say the brutes make some damage to the heroes because they were surprise-attacked and then let them roll for the skirmish, it will add some urgency to the scenery.

Regarding poison, how was the hero poisoned? Did he drink/eat something he suspected was poisoned (a king's/nobleman's wine in order to prove it was poisoned), did he get stinged by a scorpion or bitten by a snake? Did someone slip something into his tea? Was it a trap they triggered when they oppened a chest or walked inside a dungeon?

In the first scenario they should face the consequences, they knew it was poisoned and the died a heroic death protecting someone (they could have had someone else poison try it first).

If It was an animal, there's no way the whole party became poisoned, so the rest of the heroes will have to look for a way to save their friend. Make it a dramatic scene with timed consequences, on 5 raises he gets one dramatic wound per round until he dies, with opportunities such as performing first aid to delay the consequences, snatching the creature so that the doctor who treats him can do it better...

If they triggered a trap, they're already in it, if it was while opening a chest you probably already told them about the trap when they rolled for the action and they chose to ignore it and if it was while entering a room make the poison a timed consequence they have to avoid.

If the heroes are drinking tea just wait untill someone says they take a sip, then pass that player a note saying he's been poisoned and to act accordingly. The rest of the group will have to find someone to treat him like in the scorpion sting.

If just one hero drinks poisoned tea while chatting with a Villain, it likely happened in the middle of a dramatic sequence and he'll have some spare raises to use (changing his approach). If it wasn't already a dramatic scene/sequence, describe how fragrant the tea is and how relaxed to the point of numbness he feels after talking a sip, he'll request a roll. Nothing makes players more suspicious than their GM carefully describing something very trivial. What would the hero do? Would he to make a run for it? Would he try to battle the Villain and his cronies? Would he fake the poison acting before it actually does and try to resist it as much as possible to know where they're taking him and leave some clues for his friends? They all have opportunities (try to remember the faces around, call for the city guard, look for a doctor, leave a clue for your friends...) and consequences (on 2 raises you become Helpless and faint on 0). The next dramatic scene could begin with one of the heroes waking up chained up in front of the Villain (and try to make him spill his plans or scape his grasp) and the rest of the group figuring out what happened to their friend and his location.

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