This Sunday, at Go Play Leeds, I’m set to run 7th Sea 2nd Edition, John Wick’s game of fantasy swashbuckling set in the pseudo-European world of Theah. I’ve never run the game before, and I haven’t played it either. Normally I’d always say that the best prep for running a one-shot is to be a player in said game – it’s much easier to learn a system by doing than it is to read the rules. Not having had this luxury, I’ve had to find my own way with the game. I’m just about ready, and I thought I’d share my tips for prepping a game you haven’t played before:
Start with the Pregens
I started by creating my pregens, trying to use my own guidelines here but also ensuring a simple concept to bind them together. I’ve gone for a ship’s crew, seeing them as a roving band of ne’er-do-wells not restricted entirely to piratical interests but also unaffiliated to any nation. I had a few ideas about core archetypes – so I have a big bruiser, a quick duelist, and a socialite – and can hope they fit together.
Generating a party not only familiarises you with the resources on the character sheet (7th Sea 2nd Ed has a good skill economy), but it helps to have internalised them, so you’re not looking for the right skill or power at the right time. On my pregen sheets, I give brief rules for each advantage and/or power, and writing them down helps me learn the options my players have.
Know the Rules
Some folks would say to read the rulebook cover to cover, but I’m not sure how useful it actually is to prep from cover to cover. Generally I think you need to know what you need to know well rather than knowing everything well; depth is better than breadth of knowledge in this case. I’ve read (in this order) the resolution mechanics, the character generation chapter, skimmed the GM advice section, and then followed character generation, while skipping back to the backgrounds of the Nations of my characters to check that my concept fits. Much of the rest of the book I’ve skipped, and will absorb further down the line.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach for every game, but also that’s probably what I do for every new game. I try to make sure that I know really well the stuff I actually have to know. I’ve ignored, for instance, the ship combat rules for now – I’m going to run that like a normal Action Scene, and lots of the GM rule sections on stuff Villains can do between adventures.
Keep It Simple
My adventure plot is pretty straightforward, and is structured using the scene resolution mechanics presented in the book (note that I’m planning one of my short reviews of 7th Sea soon after I’ve run it, but in a nutshell, I’m convinced that this is a loosey-goosey narrative indie game disguised as a mid-90s trad game, and disguised really well) tightly. There’s a fight scene, a sandboxy high society party for them to investigate in, an infiltration and a final confrontation.
As always, my starting scene is heavily framed and launched (in fact, it begins with the PC’s ship being boarded and in the middle of a pitched battle) and the options spread out from there. There’s some collapsible elements to allow for how much time is left – I’m not sure how quickly the game will play out, and at least at Go Play I’ve got a good amount of time to play with – I can take anywhere between 3 and 5 hours and there’s no session following my players have to get out for. My structure was scribbled out on one page of an A4 notebook, and while it took a while to get down in between reading and thinking about the game, it was an important step before I started my prep proper.
Bash out a Draft
After this, I’ve actually written out in Word what I want to happen at each scene. By forcing myself to write this up – which I wouldn’t do for, say, 13th Age, or a game I’m more experienced with – I force myself to actually consider the structure and order in which I introduce and teach the game. So far my draft runs to just over 2000 words, which is probably my norm for a fully-formed con game draft for a new game; I’ll add a few notes to it as I get ready for the actual game and tidy it up, it’ll stay around that mark in terms of length.
I’m running the adventure on Sunday, and I’ll share my prep after that. I’ll be telling the players straight up that I’ve not run the system before, and that while I’ll be the main arbiter of the rules, feel free to pipe up if I miss something. We’ll muddle through, and I’m confident that the bits of the game that I’ve prepped will work. The bits I’m missing out – which include the Story system, which I’m going to replace with an alternative XP system – are all easily missed from a one-shot.
So, now I need to have another pass at my adventure and get the last bits of laminating done. After I’ve run it, I’ll share my prep on here, as well as the pregens I’ve created for it. How does your experience of prepping a new game differ from mine?