Last night I got together with a group of RPG buddies for some socially-distant roleplaying. Our mission was to create characters for the latest RPG we’d decided to sink our teeth in to, a game of swashbuckling adventure known as 7th Sea. Designed to create the experience of stories like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Three Musketeers, and The Princess Bride at the table, our GM chose 7th Sea to help us tell the story of a pirate crew whose bond is like that of a family. She envisions a group of heroes who swing from the rigging with cutlasses in their teeth, drinking late into the night while sharing tales, and who are willing to do anything to support their crewmates thanks to their familial bond.
Our set up is unique because this campaign will be using a rotating game master. The woman who is leading us on our 7th Sea journey has never run a tabletop campaign before, and has requested as part of the process that I share some of my knowledge and experience when it comes to preparing for and leading sessions. This means that while I need to be prepared to run the game and tell the story of our campaign, I also need to be ready to play a character as she becomes more experienced and feels ready to take the wheel (the ship’s wheel? Eh?) more and more often.
This all meant that I needed a character just as much as any of the other players, so as part of our character creation shenanigans I too designed a hero to play in the game. To help my character in the game to mirror the role I am taking on at the player level, I decided to design a high-ranking officer on the ship with a significant amount of sailing experience, someone who could guide and support the other characters just as I’ll be guiding and supporting the group in learning the game. Today, I’ll be sharing the process of creating my character as an opportunity to talk about the system of 7th Sea including its lore and mechanisms.
Step 0: Determine Concept
The game encourages you to start by thinking about a broad concept for your character, and even includes a series of 20 questions you can answer in order to help you solidify some background and personality details before you ever start working on mechanical pieces. I came at the game with the concept of being the “Big Brother” of this familial crew. Taking some inspiration from The Princess Bride’s Fessick, I wanted to play a gentle giant that others could look to for guidance thanks to his many years of experience on the ship. The questions helped me to flesh out that concept further. I found them to be a valuable exercise but I’m glad that I looked at them before the character creation session – if our group had all gone through them together, I could see it adding a lot of time to the process of making characters together. I’d recommend this as a personal activity before coming together with other players to decide character details.
Step 1: Traits
Traits are the main statistics of your character, and they define what the game calls your “approach” to solving problems. These traits are as follows:
- Brawn: approaching with physical strength
- Finesse: approaching with speed and precision
- Resolve: approaching with endurance and willpower
- Wits: approaching with intellect and quick-thinking
- Panache: approaching with charm and style
Each character begins with all of their traits set to 2 to start – this represents that each one is a cinematic hero with the necessary traits to skillfully take any approach they may need to. You also get to invest two additional points wherever you like in order to represent your character’s specializations. This decision is often best made in tandem with the next one, as they work together to determine your final trait score.
Step 2: Nation
Each character in 7th Sea has strong ties to the nation where they were born and raised. Living in that culture influenced them and taught them to prioritize certain approaches over others. The game has a richly developed setting called Théah full of different countries with histories and cultures that hit familiar notes but have their own unique touches to make them a bit different from the reality we know from the history of Europe in our world. It’s just familiar enough for ease of reference while also having elements of the fantastic added in which help to add creative inspiration to the process of designing your character.
As an example, let’s talk about the two nations I narrowed my decision down to. Eisen is the site of a terrible holy war which resulted from internal strife in the church (essentially this world’s version of the Protestant Reformation). After 30 years of religious war, the land of Eisen has been essentially cursed by all the bloodshed which took place on its soil. This created a society where monster hunters and masters of hexenwerk (essentially necromancy) rose up in order to defeat the dark forces which haunted the country. Then there’s Ussura, a frigid land that the other nations consider to be a bit backward due to lacking in technological advancement and having only a loosely united national identity. What Ussura does have is a magical land which actively defends its people, and in turn a people who know that land well and respect the ancient power that lives within it. The people of Ussura are known for their hospitality – after all, strangers wandering into town may very well die if they aren’t tended to before they continue their travels – and it was this sense of hospitality that I felt made sense for my character concept and which led me to ultimately choose Ussura as one of my two options.
Step 3: Backgrounds
Another piece influenced by the decision of nation is the set of backgrounds available to your character. Backgrounds are to 7th Sea what classes are in other roleplaying games – they push your character in a specific direction by defining a baseline of skills you are good at and providing some advantages which motivate you to play your character in a specific way. Each character gets two backgrounds and they can be chosen from a combination of general, nation-agnostic backgrounds as well as backgrounds which are specific to the country from which your character originates. Because of this, background was yet another factor that led into my decision of nation – I wanted to see what options were available to me as an Eisen character versus an Ussuran character in order to help me lock things in.
Each background gives you a single point in five of the game’s sixteen skills, as well as anywhere from one to three Advantages as well as a Quirk. A quirk is an action you are mechanically incentivized to make because it earns you a hero point, which is a currency you can spend to use your most game-breaking abilities. Advantages allow you to gain bonus dice for certain actions or perhaps increase your abilities in the form of fictional bonuses or immunities. In my case, I focused largely on skills to inspire which background I wanted. Since I envisioned an experienced sailor and a giant, choosing backgrounds which gave me points in things like sailing, notice, and brawling made sense to me. There was a generic sailor background I could use of course, as well as other generic backgrounds for things like being a naval officer or a quartermaster or a privateer or a ship captain. Ultimately, a specific Ussuran background helped me to finalize my decision and settled in the details I hadn’t quite finished from the previous two sections: my character would be a whaler, an experienced sea dog who once hunted the mightiest beasts of the sea.
Finally settling on the Ussuran so I could get the whaler background helped to finalize quite a few details for me. As an Ussuran, my trait bonus would go to either Resolve or Wits. I chose Resolve to portray my character as someone willful and enduring, and then put my two free points into the Brawn trait – he may be a gentle giant but my character would still be a physical powerhouse who would be quite a threat to anyone who messed with his beloved family. As a sailor and whaler in previous years, I’d start with two ranks in a lot of important skills for me like sailing, brawling, and weaponry. Those skill bonuses would put me halfway into completing the next part of character creation.
Step 4: Skills
Skills work together with traits to define your approach when making rolls in 7th Sea. Anytime you take a risk (the name of rolls in this system), you add a trait and a skill together in order to help determine the number of dice that you roll. This meant I would be looking for skills that I could conceivably pair with my highest traits of Brawn and Resolve, and I would also want to make sure to choose skills that represented what my character actually does. I am a min-maxer at heart, so naturally my goal was to find the skills I planned to use the most often and pump them up as high as I possibly could. The limit at character creation is 3 and thanks to my matching backgrounds, I already had 2 in four of my skills: sailing, notice, brawling, and weaponry. I bumped those up to the max real quick.
I don’t want to talk in detail about all sixteen skills, but I’ll share about the ones I did choose to help give you an idea of what characters in the game are capable of. My athletics already had one point, and this skill is useful for challenges like climbing or swinging. While I don’t necessarily see my giant swinging off of chandeliers, I would need a good athletics to do the classic Fessick scene climbing up a cliff face with three people on my back. I also started with a bonus point in Tempt, which is about offering other people what they want in order to get what you want from them. I didn’t envision that as being important so I decided to leave it alone. Instead, I put three of my four remaining points in Empathy, a skill for reading the emotions and intentions of other people – to give good advice on the ship and to understand the needs of the crew, empathy would be important. It is the “gentle” part of my gentle giant. With only one loose point left, I considered Convince (for persuading others to do what I want) and Scholarship (for some baseline knowledge on Ussuran myth and culture), but decided that I would ultimately change my vision of my character a little and bump up my tempt to 2. May as well lean into what the game was already giving me, right?
Step 5: Advantages
Advantages are another key piece of character creation heavily influenced by backgrounds. Most advantages are passive bonuses or abilities that allow your character to do something new, sometimes at the cost of a hero point. As a sailor and whaler I already had a number of advantages which represented the abilities I had developed over many years at sea: adapting to the movements of a boat on the ocean, drinking without falling into drunkenness, fighting with improvised weapons, the ability to see a great distance, and even having a wealthy patron. Each of these says a little something about my character, and I particularly love the combination of Sea Legs and Bar Fight to potentially give my character two additional bonus dice when bashing an enemy with a random object while fighting on a boat.
In addition to your background advantages you get 5 points to spend on other advantages. Advantages cost anywhere from 1 to 5 points depending on their potency. There was one advantage which I considered to be an absolute must for this character: large. A 1 point advantage, large established my character as being able to use his size to give him an advantage in any situation where it was applicable. This locked me out of five point advantages but for me, making sure I had large was too important to the character concept to let go of. Once I added that advantage, I needed to decide between picking up a number of small advantages or investing my remaining points in one big advantage.
The four point advantages I was drawn to both had to do with my character’s immense survivability. Riot Breaker would use my boosted Resolve to reduce the number of wounds I would take from attacks by brute squads (groups of thugs used to abstract the expendable minions of villains). Hard to Kill, on the other hand, would focus more on my ability to survive blows which would take other characters out of the fight, giving me a fifth slot for dramatic wounds (significant injuries which alter stats and eventually take you out of the game). I could only take one of those, though, to the exclusion of all else. I decided instead to lean into low-point advantages which contributed in more unique ways to the story and personality of my character. Cast Iron Stomach allows me to eat anything without concern, certainly helpful for a sailor at sea. Extended Family lets me spend a hero point to say “hey, I’ve got a cousin who lives out here, they can give us shelter for the night.” It plays into the Ussuran hospitality as well as the familial angle for my character while also being practically useful. Finally, I took Reckless Takedown to gain the ability to spend a hero point in order to totally take a brute squad off the table in exchange for a dramatic wound. It would allow me to quickly take control of a situation where we are surrounded by mooks, playing into the guidance and protection role that I am assuming both as a character and as a co-gamemaster.
Step 6: Arcana
Fate is a key concept in 7th Sea and it is one that is represented by the arcana you choose for your character. Each hero has a virtue and a hubris, and these qualities say something about the accomplishments for which your hero is destined. When your hubris comes up in play, you get a hero point; your virtue allows you to break the rules a bit and do something cool or gives you a passive bonus. I waffled between two virtues. One gave me two hero points every time I received hero points, which would allow me to use abilities like Extended Family and Reckless Takedown more often. The other would allow me to jump into danger for my allies, taking hits on their behalf without having to spend a raise (an action point received after successfully rolling a risk) or use a hero point. This second option played more into my protector angle so I decided to run with it. I leaned hard into that angle for the hubris, too – my character will run backwards into danger to protect a wounded ally, staying in a difficult situation for the sake of others when he has the opportunity to escape.
Step 7: Stories
This is, in my view, one of the most unique aspects of 7th Sea characters. Where most RPGs have an experience point system for character advancement, 7th Sea instead focuses on the stories that you tell about your character. You design your characters story in three parts: the ending, the reward, and the first step. The ending of your story is where you ultimately want it to end up. In my case, I’d like my character to get the opportunity to kill the leviathan which destroyed his original ship and crew. The reward is the bonus you’ll receive when finishing your story. In my case, I wanted to push my Brawl skill up to four dice, so I set Brawl 4 as my reward. The cost of the reward determines how complicated it is to finish the story. Raising a skill from 3 to 4 would mean that my story would have three steps to complete before I could actually accomplish the ending I desired.
Finally, you decide the first step of your story, the thing you need to do to get it moving and begin on the path towards your ending. In my case, I imagine that the leviathan which destroyed my character’s whaling ship was one of many such creatures which exist. He’d have to learn the true name of the specific leviathan which attacked him in order to effectively track it. With an ending and first step decided, I know what two of the four steps of my character’s journey for a higher Brawl skill will look like. This is an interesting approach to character advancement that emphasizes personal goals and storytelling over simply defeating bad guys or looting treasure (though I will do plenty of that also, I imagine).
Step 8: Details
The final part of the character creation process involves ironing out character details like name, history, personality, etc. Luckily the book has name recommendations by country to help you pick something that fits the setting. In my case I chose the name Kiril Sergeivich, which essentially means Kiril, the second son of Sergei. This section also asks for your reputation (a possible advantage that I did not earn or pay for), your starting wealth (mine would be 1 thanks to my patron), and whether or not your character is part of a secret society. There are multiple secret societies in the game and membership is mechanically free – taking advantage of your associations requires taking risks just like any other challenge in the game. The only secret society I was even mildly interested in for Kiril was the monster hunting guild, but since they were moreso based in Eisen and didn’t necessarily apply to leviathans, I decided to leave that idea behind.
That brings us to the end of character creation! It’s a process which is deeply interconnected from beginning to end. Each choice you make for your character will influence the next step in the process, and future steps may push you back to a previous choice to rethink it. Backgrounds influence your skills and advantages, with your choice of background depending on your nation, which also influences your traits – the way everything works together makes it so that you’ll likely want to look ahead and familiarize yourself with your options when making a character.
The character creation process tells you a lot about 7th Sea – a world of political machinations and secret societies with heroic characters heavily influenced by their nationality and their personal history. We know the importance of fate and what kinds of actions characters will take most often in the game. While a 7th Sea player may need some time to pick up the mechanics of the game after making a character, the process of determining who you wish to roleplay as will ultimately help you understand what the game is all about.