The Calm Before the Con…

By John Neary on


My name is John and I’ve been a fan of GeeklyInc for a very long time. I’d like to share my experience with you all of taking the next step in running games. My first real convention game that I ran was a Numenera game at Acadecon 2015. After picking up the pace in my home games, I then branched out to run an official Monte Cook Games session during GenCon 2016. Something clicked after that GenCon game that changed me. I was gathering up my materials and tucking the chairs back in when I noticed just how happy I was with myself that I did it. I knew right then that I wanted to do this more…a lot more, in fact. The next week upon returning home I started cracking open RPG books, trying to absorb as many systems as I could. I even signed up to join the Asset Team for Monte Cook Games so I could start running supported demos around where I live. The other crazy thing I did? I submitted to run THREE games at AcadeCon 2016 this year. Three games of three separate systems including: Numenera, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and 7th Sea Second Edition. I want to talk specifically about 7th Sea, though, because the process of learning this system challenged my understanding of how an RPG should be run and how it should be played.

When I received my copy of 7th Sea Second Edition and started reading it, I was a little overwhelmed with what the system was asking. I was trying to fit it into the box of the d20 success or failure resolution mechanic that I was used to. When your character attempts something that the GM determines requires a roll (referred to in game as a “risk”), you roll a number of d10’s equal to your points in a given trait plus ranks in a given skill. You put together sets of 10 and those sets are counted and referred to as “raises”. These raises are then spent within a given “scene” to fuel the actions taken in an action or dramatic sequence, depending on what is going on in the story. Where my understanding broke down was where the success versus failure came into play. The game appears to assume that unless you CHOOSE to fail (which actually rewards you in a way); you succeed at what you want to do. The raises you generate can be spent to change the scene in different ways depending on what is presented by the GM, in the form of “consequences” and “opportunities”. Where the decision lies is in what to spend your raises on. Do I want to spend my raises to escape the bad guys, or do I want to avoid a few of them, grab the sacred statue and take some wounds in the process? Either way I’m advancing forward in an interesting and exciting way. It’s up the player to determine in what way that happens.

Not only do the rules lend themselves to an exciting adventure for players, the setting of 7th Sea Second Edition has its own wonderful place in the game. 7th Sea is set in a fictional analog of 17th Century Europe called Théah. There are certain historical similarities with the nation states and certain political and cultural story beats, but it’s described in the book as being a “distant cousin” of Europe….but with SORCERY!! That really helped make learning about the setting easier and familiar; especially with a third of the 300 pages being dedicated to the setting.

So I stare at these words that appear to be saying to me… “Hey, John. You know how you’ve always seen RPGs as sort of a GM versus players to the death type situation? Yeah forget that, brah. From now on, when you run games, you and the players will be telling an awesome story together because that’s fun as hell and super easy with these rules! Oh, and character death should be epic and meaningful and part of the player’s story, not a by-product of luck”. When I’m preparing to run all these games for Acadecon, I’m no longer looking at these rulebooks in terms of technicalities and mechanics, such as how to structure encounters or making sure the players are using the rules correctly. While that is important, I’m preparing for these games by coming up with interesting situations to put the players in that are exciting, and perhaps a little stressful. I’ve decided to take what I love about role playing and try to bring that out in the players at the table. The gut wrenching decision-making that has in game consequences; where neither option seems best, yet a course must be chosen.

A con game should be exciting and surprising, providing an environment for a player to take the reigns a little bit and drive the story their own way that makes them excited to play. Getting to react as the GM to this new information and craft an interesting adventure from that, is really what I’m taking away from 7th Sea Second Edition. It’s made me realize what I want out of a gaming experience, both as a player and most importantly to me personally, as a GM. I’ve also realized that I might have some things to say and hopefully discuss about playing and running games in this way. The message of my article series on being a new GM, at least initially here, is that I was someone who believed I couldn’t, or shouldn’t be trying to pursue a more active role in the RPG community as a whole for whatever reasons I was force feeding myself. If any of my experiences can help more of us come into the hobby then I’m all in and on board to help! Now, GO PLAY GAMES!!

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