A few months back I talked about my mixed feelings about 7th Sea. I like a lot of it: setting, concepts, story seeds. But the system doesn’t click with how I run. Every time we move to resolution, I fight the mechanics. But now I’ve I looked at two “7th Sea-adjacent” rpgs—both focused on sea-faring and pirates. They adapt two of my favorite core systems: Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark. I have some impressions, but these aren’t reviews. Instead it’s my takeaway from reading both rules, and playing out a little in one of them. I’m excited about both of them for different reasons.
Tides of Gold is a Forged in the Dark game where you take the role of pirates, privateers, or pirate hunters. As with Scum & Villainy, instead of “Crew” you have a ship with its own playbook. You can customize this—for example choosing to have a heavier war galley or a lighter sloop. The early access version on DTRPG and itch.io has five character playbooks, but the designer, Cass Reyfield, has more they’re testing.
Tides of Gold builds on FitD, but with a significant twist in resolution. It replaces FitD’s d6 pool system with Powered by the Apocalypse’s 2d6 resolution. Your character has 12 abilities and four dots to spread among them. They begin with a default +0 in any ability. Modifiers can affect some actions. The general default results of PbtA are in play: a full success on 10+, success with a cost or reduction of effect on a 7-9, and a failure with consequences on a 6-.
However other resolution aspects of the FitD system remain. For example, players may still resist consequences by taking stress. Characters have Anchors which work like vices, but they create “chains” for the character, making them more reluctant to adventure or go to sea. The structure of your Engagement roll is close.
If you know both systems, you’ll quickly see how they fit together. You can understand the minor tweaks easily (different types of harm, critical successes). Our group came away split on the system. Some liked the move to PbtA resolution, as it felt easier to run and manage. Others felt eliminating of Position and Effect from the mechanics gave them fewer things to work with.
Tides of Gold offers a compelling world—it’s loosely defined, but rich enough to play from. The setting has four continents surrounding a great sea. These continents each have one or more distinct empires. Each has a flavor rather than being a full historical analogue (Greek-ish, African, etc). The play documents include a map, basic gazetteer, and bestiary. Your characters' ability and item choices give insight into the setting. But the greater weight of the background comes from the text.
In this world, a group of fantastical invaders armed with Renaissance-era technology came to conquer the Iron Age civilizations surrounding this sea. Eventually the local nations won out, driving back these outsiders and adapting some of their technology (ship designs, cannons, etc). Artifacts from the sophisticated invaders still remain—those relics feel more like clockpunk elements rather than full magic.
We didn’t get to some of the more interesting aspects like ship to ship combat, downtime, or trade in play. Downtime happens when a ship goes into a port. If you’re at sea when you do downtime, you start to bank up problems that hit when you go to shore. There’s an Odyssey Phase used when your ship travels great distances to get to a new port or target. That has elements which remind me of The One Ring’s journey rules. The Trade Phase includes mechanics for tracking goods cost and scarcity in different ports. You can even manipulate the markets. That’s a cool mini-game worth borrowing for other rpgs.
I really like Tides of Gold—I only got a little taste of the play but I dug it. The early access version available on DTRPG and itch.io has more than enough to play from. You get the main rules (240 pages), as well as guides to the world and monsters.
(Note: Magpie sent me a free copy of the pdf)
The other game I’d hoped to play, but couldn’t to get to the table this weekend. But a couple of us read through it and gabbed about it for a while. So this is a set of impressions and not a review. But I wanted to give you a preview because Magpie will have printed versions at Gen Con this week.
Rapscallion is their latest ashcan release: a series of small games that act as a preview and beta for a possible larger version in the future. Magpie has put out several of these: Velvet Glove, Crossroads Carnival, and my personal favorite Pasión de las Pasiones.
Designed by Whistler (who also did the cover and interior art), Rapscallion is a PbtA game of fantastical pirates. It’s not historical, suggesting a world even more magical and wild than 7th Sea. The ashcan is 60 pages long and even with six playbooks included in the back, it feels like a dense and fully playable game. The game’s text has a distinct voice that adds to the feel. I say that as someone who usually dislikes in-character rules presentation.
Rapscallion has a lot of the expected PbtA approaches, but adds several sharp ideas. I’ll point out just a few.
- I like the different “Kits” for characters. Many PbtA games have abstracted equipment—except for maybe some notes for armor and weapons. Or they’ve taken Forged in the Dark’s tact of load-out and picking items on the fly. Here your playbook has a choice of three kits—bundles of odd stuff that say a lot about who your character is.
- Rank represents your depth of connection to someone or something. It can be with people, your ship, and (I think) organizations. You have Bond equal to rank with them. To aid someone, you spend that Bond to give them a +1 or a -1 to a move. That’s interesting for a couple of reasons. It takes out the Aid/Support move we find in many PbtA games. It means you can’t help someone mechanically unless you’ve already established a connection.
- Your characters have a damage track (running from 5 to 10 harm across the playbooks). But they also have a unique set of “weaknesses.” These cause a debility with an ongoing effect. Each has a tag or two for how you clear them. For example, some characters have Exhausted as one of their six weaknesses. You can cure it with extended rest, but while in effect you roll Blood with disadvantage. Some weaknesses connect with another new mechanic called Compels. There’s only a little overlap between playbook weaknesses. It reminds me a little of unique conditions from Dresden Files Accelerated.
Like the best PbtA games, Rapscallion submerges its setting into its moves. There’s really only two pages of explicit set up. It tells you this is a pirate game, hinting at a Pirates of the Caribbean feel. But it suggests more high fantasy elements like demons and strange magics. Rapscallions’ setting is also a “world of constant alchemy.” In this case people’s behavior, intent, and possessions can reshape their form and appearance. The casual brute’s fingernails and gums might turn bloody red. The cold-hearted merchant might have an icy touch and frozen grin.
And the playbooks offer up many more ideas I want to explore. For example, we have a playbook called the Chronicler. There’s power in words and books—with alchemy inexorably tied to signs and symbols. But the Chronicler can also be a djinni who escaped from one of these books. Likewise, the Captain playbook can have the blood of a Leviathan running through their veins. The Navigator can be a ghost. I love all of the choices—fantastical and mundane—for what they suggest about the world—and how they leave full definitions in your hands.
While I really like what I’m seeing in Rapscallion (I’m not even getting into the solid and tight GM section), I came away with a few things I’m less sure about. If you’re looking for detailed material on ships, maritime combat, or life at sea, Rapscallion doesn’t have that. Instead you get a couple of basic moves and mechanics. It makes sense—for a short playable intro, you have to focus on the characters. It does mean the GM will have to spin together new rules for when players dig into that.
I also want to see the game’s Luck mechanic in action. Each session characters gain Luck equal to their Spitfire stat (min 0). They can gain additional Luck through good character moments and certain playbook moves. Luck powers several basic and playbook moves. Sometimes it’s a currency you have to pay. But you can spend Luck for specific benefits, like taking an auto 10+ on the Twist Fate basic move or gaining +1 Forward on a roll you’re about to make. Then you have the Navigator’s special ability. They can bless a crewmate or themselves for a set of three basic moves. When they roll any of those moves, the target gains additional dice equal to Luck spent.
I’ve been less and less happy with rolling with advantage in PbtA so that may be why this stuck out in our group’s conversation about the rules. On the other hand what’s really going on here is a question of a resource economy in the game. Historically I’m terrible at assessing that—sometimes because my approach to running differs from the game’s assumption. Sometimes because I can’t see the whole of the gears moving.
Both of these games are definitely worth a buy if you like the genre and/or if you’re a fan of the base system. Each offers new and novel takes on the mechanics. Despite being early preview editions, you could easily run multiple sessions of both Tides of Gold and Rapscallion.
For the full backlog of Age of Ravens posts on Blogger see here.