"All history is made up. Good history is made up by good historians; bad history is made up by the others." -David Macaulay
"The longer life is, the more it will be old age." Ursula K. Le Guin
This is a semi-review, meaning I've read the rules completely, but have not yet, as of the time of writing the review, played the game.
After a wordy introduction, Seven Leagues is divided into three parts:
1. Once Upon a Time... - character creation, game mechanics, experience, and sample PCs (36 p.).
2. The Hut on Chicken Legs - background of the setting (Faerie and the world of fairy stories) including places, people, the "unlaws" of nature there, wandering mortals, and sample NPCs (48 p.).
3. Tales - three complete sample adventures (30 p.).
Part 1 is definitely the hardest reading, and where I have my reservations about the game. Fortunately, Parts 2 & 3 are very readable and even inspiring, allowing me to recommend the game.
Part 1: the Problem
In a nutshell: Logorrhea of the keyboard. Some people think I'm too wordy, but I can't hold a candle to the author of this book. In Part 1 he's garrulous beyond annoying. What's most odd about this is that this is the Rules section, where one wants clarity. Given the nebulous nature of Faerie, one would expect garrulity in Part 2 - but he's oddly lucid there.
And yet, in a way, it's actually fitting, because the game is really only playable by loquacious people. The very mechanics call for bonuses and penalties for narrative brilliance and failures. Still, one wants clear rules, if nothing else.
At any rate, after many more re-readings than it should have taken, I can summarize Part 1 for you:
A character is composed of seven components: Aspect, Virtues, Charms, Taboos, Fortune, Legend, and Name.
There is an emphasis on grammatical structure in character creation that I find puzzling. An Aspect must be exactly three words and start with an article (The, An, A) and contain at least one noun OR the second word is a preposition. Examples include: A Russian Witch and God of Dreams. You'll get narrative point bonuses for acting in situations where your Aspect comes into play, and penalties for acting out of Aspect character.
Virtues are much easier to understand: these are what most games call Attributes. There are only three, and they're a good choice: Head, Heart, and Hand - you can probably understand which one in a given situation to use without having to read the descriptions. Well, there are exceptions, of course ... You have 13 points to assign to the three Virtues, with a minimum of 1 point in each. Most "mundane" characters have a level 3 in a Virtue, so you can see player characters (called Protagonists) are well above average.
Charms are also pretty straightforward, except there are grammatical restrictions here, also: these are magical abilities your character possesses. You can pretty much make them anything you want, though the GM (called Narrator, of course), will veto or alter outrageous ones, so be modest. Examples of good and poor choices in Charms are given.
Taboos are negative Charms - Disadvantages, GURPS would call them - and you take them to increase the number of Charms you can have - or just for roleplaying fun. Some examples are given.
Fortune is either Luck or a Curse, and you start with neither. You earn them during adventures. They're like temporary Charms and Taboos.
Legend is simply your character story, but you'd better do a thorough job or the narrator will penalize you.
Name is just what you think, except there are also Secret Names, which can control you if an opponent learns what it is.
That may sound fairly straightforward, but it was hard to pick out of the verbiage.
Roll 13 is the basic mechanic. The game uses a d12, and you must roll 13 or higher to succeed. You get to add the relevant Virtue, of course, but more than that, you get Narrative Points as a bonus - or a penalty, if you're lousy at Narrative. In addition, there is a difficulty modifier, ranging from +4 for Easy tasks to -6 for nearly impossible.
Narrative Modifiers are the heart of the game, and here's where you decide if you want to play this game or not. Story is everything in this game. You never just roll the die. You describe, in great flowing prose or poetry, what your character is doing, and the GM gives you Narrative Modifiers based on your description, which can be negative if you're too curt, boring, trite, unimaginative, etc.
Conflict is divided into three parts: Overture, Crescendo and Finale - I guess it's modeled on opera. Each section has narrative points, with everyone involved contributing to how the scene unfolds. Everyone, back and forth and forth and back - an opera, indeed. A very theatrical type of roleplaying, not to everyone's taste. (Certainly not mine, at any rate.)
Defeat isn't good - you gain basically the equivalent of another Taboo or - heaven forbid! - loss of a Key word in your Legend! However, even if you're killed, death isn't permanent - this is a fairy tale world, as envisioned by the author.
There are guidelines for using Charms and Taboos, a discussion of how to inflict Disasters on the PCs, character development (which is actually quite nice, provided you like the Narrative Points aspect of the game), and finally some well done sample PC characters, including one I would actually enjoy playing (Raven the Trickster).
Whew! You may think that's long, but that took hours to extract and clarify, believe me.
All right, I've been harsh. I apologize to the author, because clearly this style of gaming simply isn't anything I'd enjoy, so it's not aimed at me. If you enjoy Narrative style gaming, however, you should probably explore this game. It may be just what you've been looking for all these years.
Part 2 is very well done. At one point I had the contract to write GURPS Faerie, so I did a lot of reading and research into it. I can see the author loves the setting as much as I do, and this Part of the book is the heart of the book as far as I'm concerned. Even if you don't want to use the game mechanics and character creation system described in Part 1, this book is still worth your while if you ever have PCs visiting Faerie occasionally. It's well written, much clearer than the rules, not excessively wordy at all, and contains a lot of meaty information. Buy it and read this chapter - you won't be disappointed.
Part 3, the sample adventures, are also clearly written. They include lots of suggestions on running the game as written, but you can also plunk them down into another game system without too much work.
I'll never play the system as written, but will definitely use the material in Parts 2 & 3, and consider I got my money's worth out of this book. Recommended, with the caveat that you may not get much out of Part 1. But then again, you may be the target audience - hopefully you'll know that by now from reading this semi-review.
[Note: this is part of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products.]
- Last edited Sun Jul 19, 2009 1:01 am (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:58 pm
explanation does not equal excuse
Nice to see-- and I'm glad you're covering some of the indie games. I've had that response to a number I've bought-- neat ideas but have to toss out the system. Good approach in your review here.
I appreciate that you found the game to your liking, and valuable, and I'm grateful for your review. But less than five pages for character creation, three on task resolution, and a mere six and a half on combat? With examples? That's loquacious? I'm puzzled; just how short should it be?