The Pirate Nations
Reviewed by Nicholas HM Caldwell
The Pirate Nations, by John Wick and Kevin Wilson, and published by Alderac Entertainment Group, is a 128-page softback volume, and is the first Nations of Th eacute;ah supplement for the 7th Sea RPG. This supplement brings the pirates - heroic and villainous - center stage, and aids in creating player-character buccaneers. The Pirate Nations is divided into four sections, namely Ports of Call, Pirates, Drama, and Sailor Sourcebook, plus an appendix of ship designs and a two-part short story starring the Sea Dogs (see later).
The Ports of Call section details three pirate haunts - the isles within the Straits of Blood, an ex-prison island, and a cursed city. Each location is mapped and specific places of interest are described. In addition, enough of the residents of these safe havens are sketched in terms of their personalities to make each locale a real place rather than simply a name on a map. With the exception of the map of the Straits of Blood, the maps are fine. The Straits of Blood map has lots of numbers on it but, because the islands themselves are not numbered in the descriptions, a very careful inspection of the map is required to ascertain the identities of the smaller isles.
There are a number of locations, such as the obelisk in the swamp on the prison island of La Bucca, where mysterious goings-on are hinted at. The details are not revealed. Given the penchant for ongoing story-lines and secrets within secrets in 7th Sea, it is unclear whether the would-be gamemaster can exploit these without fear that some future 7th Sea campaign module might use them as essential story ingredients.
The Ports of Call section ends with some "Legends of the Seven Seas". This has the unfortunate introduction - "We won't tell you which ones are true, but we will tell you this: Each of them might be true". I don't know about you, but this gamemaster fairly bristled with irritation. As a gamemaster, I like to know what's really going on, or be given multiple possible truths. I want to be the person who decides what is fact and what is fiction. Players, not gamemasters, are expected to be ignorant of what's really going on.
Thankfully, the Pirate section restored my hopes in The Pirate Nations. This section is much more up-front in providing the low-down on the five most important pirate "nations" on Th eacute;ah. Each pirate band is described firstly in terms of its organization and secondly in terms of notable personages. Each band has its peculiar initiation ceremony, a charter governing the rights and obligations of pirates in their respective commonwealths, and identifying flags. Equally important, the leaders, key henchmen, and hangers-on of each group are described. All of these individuals receive a thorough write-up, including biography, motivations and complete game statistics (with one exception). Unusually, each named NPC has a black and white sketch portrait. This, more than anything else, adds verisimilitude to this host of Heroes, Villains, and Henchmen. The pirates range from the noble buccaneers of the Brotherhood of the Coast and the mercenary Sea Dogs of Avalon under Jeremiah Berek, to the evil of the Crescent Corsairs under the almost invulnerable Kheired-Din and the mysterious Captain Reis of the Crimson Rogers. Players will quickly realize who they would like to have as their friends and allies, and who will likely become their implacable foes.
The desire for keeping secrets rears its ugly head again with Captain Reis in that his Traits and Skills are not revealed. To quote from his description: "The truth about Reis will be made available... in time". I want it now! My suspicion is that he belongs to NOM, and as a consequence defeating him will be integral to some future campaign module. To be fair, Captain Reis is the only one who is not fully described.
(What's NOM? If you need to ask, then you're not cleared to know. Sorry. Buy and read the 7th Sea Game Master's Guide. It's a secret for gamemasters only ...)
The Drama section provides additional options for character creation and some extensions to the rules presented in the core rulebooks. The most important new option for Pirate characters is the Destiny Spread. This uses a Tarot deck to randomly generate part of the character and supplement the existing Arcana options of Virtues and Hubrises. Five cards are drawn from a subset of the Tarot deck, three representing the Past, Present, and Future of the character, one for the character's Strength (best quality), and one for the character's Weakness (greatest flaw). The player can pick either the Virtue or the Hubris. In return for surrendering the ability to choose a specific Arcana, the character receives the ambivalent results of the other three cards. The Past card will provide a glimpse into some events that molded the character, usually with some free knacks, background or other advantage as a benefit, and occasionally a significant disadvantage such as an enemy. The Present card embroils the character in some current problem that requires resolution sooner rather than later. The Future card indicates some events that will happen to the character at some later date. Destiny Spreads are promised for other nations in future Nations of Th eacute;ah sourcebooks, so everyone will eventually get access to such options. For now, the balancing factors inherent in the Destiny Spread will prevent every player-character from desiring a pirate character.
The remaining new character creation options give players much-needed opportunities to create pirates with as much swashbuckling style as their more landlocked compatriots. These include a new Swordsman School which captures the rough and tumble of shipboard melee, particularly with "Pirate Tricks" such as Dagger Ride (the ability to slide down a sail using a dagger as a brake). Also included is the Captain skill set for those would-be master mariners, and some loot in the form of a selection of Syrneth Artifacts, each with unusual but not unbalancing powers.
The Advanced Sailing and Advanced Naval Battles subsections extend the seafaring rules in the 7th Sea Game Masters' Guide. These provide new guidelines for situations not directly covered in the core rules, such as sailing through storms or reefs, boarding actions and adjustments for using chainshot and grapeshot in broadside actions. The new rules add some more realistic effects to 7th Sea without increasing the game's complexity.
The Sailor Sourcebook section discusses piracy campaigns from the perspective of both players and gamemasters. For the players, this includes an overview of possible routes to riches and fame (or perhaps merely infamy!). For the gamemaster, the emphasis is on ideas for campaigns and connected scenarios. All of the suggestions have sufficient twists to keep any group of player-characters challenged in every aspect of the story.
The Pirate Nations ends by completing the short story which introduced the book and with the appendix of the five flagships of the various pirates. The pictures of the ships provide both deck views and cutaway perspectives, which is most unusual and highly appreciated. I've seen far too many deck plans of fantasy and historical ships that reveal nothing of the lower decks.
My irritations with the Ports of Call section and the malevolent Captain Reis aside, The Pirate Nations is an extremely good sourcebook, with more than enough material for anyone wanting to run a swashbuckling campaign on the storm-tossed seven seas of Th eacute;ah. I will be very interested to see if future Nations of Th eacute;ah sourcebooks are as good or better than The Pirate Nations.
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