Swashbuckling had certainly been tried before as an RPG. GDW had introduced the genre to the gaming industry with its legendary “En Garde!” in 1975 and a smattering of other titles including one by Fantasy Games Unlimited, Flashing Blades, followed over the years. The definitive work on the “real” era of Swashbuckling and Swordplay circa the 1600’s was probably GURPS Swashbucklers, with its stellar research and the venerable GURPS system to back it up.

All these systems were limited, though, to historical settings and time lines. Unless a GM wanted to heavily invest time and effort into creating an alternate history in order to fool players or at least keep them guessing as to events’ outcomes, this simply wasn’t feasible. Let us not forget, there was also the matter of keeping players feeling like they were more than small cogs in an already running machine. Such feelings can quickly lead to frustration, apathy, boredom and the end of the campaign.

There never was a fair answer to this, not until 1999 with the release of Alderac Entertainment Group’s 7th Sea. An interesting note to start this discussion is that 7th Sea RPG was published in tandem with a very popular card game. Both are now out of print after only about a 6-year run. Even more interestingly, finding an easy reference on Alderac’s home page to the fact that they’ve even heard of 7th Sea is nigh unto impossible.

7th Sea rejected previous models of Swashbuckling adventure RPG by modifying the setting. As can be seen from the wiki entry and as is known to just about anyone who played the game, 7th Sea was basically a 1600’s Bizarro Europe setting with analogs for most historical European powers and several auxillary powers of that era. It was fully stocked with a compliment of very in-depth heroes and villains that controlled the destiny of the known world, but who could all play a part in and be affected by a campaign with no significant loss to any GM-inspired storyline. Another fun fact about 7th Sea, the original supplements were supposed to cover the state of affairs and the condition of the world in only one year, 1668. It was thought that as they progressed, future supplements would be marked with later years.

One thing that impressed me about this game line was the incredible amount of high-quality support material, with each major nation and secret society having their own impressive sourcebook, each again with its own equally impressive cover art. This extensive support made it all the more puzzling when AEG decided to kill the line several years ago. Apparently, although the game had a rabid fan base, they didn’t exist in sufficient numbers to justify continuing production. A sad reality of such games, especially one so intimately tied with a card game, is when gamers move on, companies will these days cut bait rather than support a flagging line.

I recall the system being exceptionally easy to learn and the point system for character development fairly flexible. It was easy enough to play it very hard-nosed with slow character development or cinematic with rapid, but controlled leaps. Membership in Secret Societies and new fighting styles bore huge costs, for example, but the game lent itself readily to flamboyant storyline development and I as a GM certainly made use of that.

My group at the time had craved a shot at such a setting for a long time and quickly grew to love the often fast-pace of the game, mixed with an insanely rich storyline and a, as was noted on wiki, an almost Lovecraftian undertone to some elements of sorcery in the game. Looking back, I seem to have a knack for injecting or enhancing horror in many of the games I’ve run and this one was no different. Unnerving the players seemed to imprint on them almost as much if not more than making them laugh. Each one of their characters left a considerable impression on the other players to the point where years later we were all still sharing stories of their particular adventures or comedic moments. This remains the only campaign I wrote a follow-up piece of fiction to years after the campaign had completed; such was the continued interest in the characters by the players.

I had always wanted to play a game like this, but until 7th Sea the results always fell short. It was just as easy to play a round of Sid Meier’s “Pirates” and call it a day. 7th Sea, later called Swashbuckling Adventures, was one of those settings that produced such a detailed campaign setting that it was like waiting for the next installment in your favorite fiction series to come out. As a parting shot, its very last supplement, Rapier’s Edge (which if memory serves was marked with a later year), even contained a timeline treatment for what they had planned to happen over the next couple of years of game play. For a busy GM, the timeline was a godsend and for anyone else it was worth its weight in gold for ideas.

This game had it all for cinematic gamers, dedicated role players and even card gamers. With such wide appeal, I expected it to still be around and selling, but admittedly I don’t know as much about TCG’ers. I’ve heard they’re a more fickle lot and move on rather easily and if this is the case perhaps I have only them to blame for the loss of this line. 🙂 Because 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures was so intimately connected with its namesake TCG, it conceivably couldn’t survive on its own.

Thus it joins the sad and long list of games on the bookheap of RPG history, but during its tenure it burned brighter than almost any other. This is a game I would readily recommend for almost anyone to play and any collector to have in his or her collection. Any interest in that era makes ownership of this game a must.