Takahashi Rumi

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi - The moon on Musashi Plain (Musashino no tsuki) - from the series 'One hundred aspects of the moon (T... - Google Art Project
The Moon on Musashi Plain, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
Takahashi Rumi is the daughter of the Daimyo of the White Fox Clan. Her older brother Rikimaru was always slated to be their father’s heir, so Rumi’s fate was unclear. Married to secure a political alliance, or acting as an advisor for her brother? She was never certain, but she always trusted her father. He expected a great deal of her, and always told her that his aspirations for her were more than anyone suspected.

In her youth, Rumi was an exceptional student and obedient daughter. She studied hard, and always did as she was told. Her tutors praised her attentiveness to their lessons and her overall intellect no matter what the subject. Like most girls of noble birth in Fuso she studied etiquette, calligraphy, poetry and music, but her father also insisted on her instruction in the fields of mathematics, philosophy, and history.

She studied cooking (although her social status would almost certainly ensure that she would never be required to prepare her own meals), military history (despite the fact that such topics were often considered too gruesome for a girl of her station), and architecture (she would certainly never be called upon to design the layout for a castle).

She studied kendo, alchemy, archery, horse riding, and gymnastics. While always studious, she didn’t excel in everything (she is the first to admit that her equestrian skills leave much to be desired).

Then, on her 17th birthday, her father presented her with a curious gift. Once all other gifts had been presented, he met with her privately and gave her a box containing a wooden mask, carved to resemble a fox’s head and painted pitch black.

Then he spoke of her calling.

All of Rumi’s life, all of her schooling and education, had been to prepare her for this purpose. Her father had always planned for her to take up this mantle, and now it was time for her to understand what would be asked of her.

To devote her life to serve the clan, the family, the Emperor. To keep all of them safe from their enemies, no matter who they were, what allies they had, or what their plan of attack was. This was why she studied architecture—in order to understand how a castle is designed, so that she could find where she needed to be. Cooking taught her what could be eaten safely and what was poisonous, and military history educated her on the ways a general views a battlefield so that she could predict their decisions.

All of Rumi’s life, all of her schooling and education, had been to prepare her for this purpose.

Publicly, she would serve her family in the capital as a diplomat and ambassador, safeguarding their political and economic interests. Privately, she would spy, steal, blackmail, listen—and if needed, she would kill. All for Fuso. All for the Emperor. All for the White Fox.

Takahashi Rumi is now the Black Fox. Along with the assassins appointed by the other clans (one from each Clan—always and only one from each Clan), she meets with the Emperor to do what must be done in order to keep Fuso working. Now, however, she suspects that one of the others has been replaced with an imposter. She wants to uncover the infiltrator, but she doesn’t know who she can trust—after all, the most likely culprit is one of the other clans or perhaps the Emperor himself.

7th Sea: Khitai is coming to Kickstarter October 3rd. To celebrate the first major expansion of 7th Sea’s world, we’re sharing stories and thoughts straight from the developers. We’ll be discussing people, places, magic, game systems, and what the designers themselves are most excited about! Stay tuned.

Heroic Stories in Khitai

7th Sea: Khitai – The Duel

Khitai presents opportunities for heroic stories very different than the ones we see in western culture. The typical western hero is a renegade, rebelling against the corrupt tyranny of society. In the west, we distrust authority, often casting such figures and structures as villains. Think of Darth Vader and the Emperor in Star Wars, the Alliance in Firefly, or even Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. These people and entities exist as villains in the west because we, as a people, feel distrust of authority is virtuous. A citizen’s duty is to guard and monitor people and structures of authority.

However, the Eastern Hero we’ll find in Khitai has a different attitude toward those same people and structures. In Khitai, a Hero’s duty is to protect those people and structures. Think of the role of the yojimbo: a bodyguard who puts the life of his charge above his own. This is because Khitai views human institutions as representations of natural order. All the world has order: the turn of the seasons, the movement of stars, the cycle of life and death. Everything has an order, and that includes the lives and destinies of human beings. The purpose of authority is to maintain the health and welfare of its people. When all things are in balance, people and institutions work toward this goal, but when they are not in balance, people and institutions begin thinking about themselves above the welfare of others. This kind of selfish pride is often considered the worst kind of villainy in Khitai. A human who thinks she is above the natural order, thus throwing off the cosmic balance, bringing suffering and despair to others, just to nurture her own pride.

“Everything has an order, and that includes the lives and destinies of human beings.”

So, let’s return to Star Wars for a moment. For while it may appear to be the story of a Western Hero rebelling against authority, Luke Skywalker is actually an Eastern Hero trying to restore balance to a galaxy that has been thrown out of balance. The Empire could be using its power to bring peace and plenty to its people, but instead, serves the selfish needs of a very few. The Rebellion seeks a political solution to the problem, but Skywalker knows the solution is actually metaphysical. The soul of the galaxy is at stake, and the only way to save it is to redeem it. And that means redeeming the soul of his father, Anakin Skywalker: a hero who failed his own test, just as Luke is in real danger of failing his own. In the end, by casting down his weapon, Luke is willing to give his life to prove to his father that he does have light still in his soul. And his sacrifice—his unwillingness to fight the Emperor—Luke redeems his father, transforming him from Darth Vader to Anakin Skywalker again.

Han Solo, on the other hand, is the Western Hero. He’s a smuggler and a thief, dodging authority whenever he can. He doesn’t trust the Empire because it is authoritarian—as opposed to Luke who fights against it because it’s villainous. Han gets involved because he wants the money promised him, but he stays involved because of his friendship with Luke and because he’s fallen in love with Leia. And while those motivations are selfish, the outcome—the overthrow of the Empire—is still a just cause in his eyes. Solo is selfish, but he’s only selfish up to a point. He probably wouldn’t smuggle slaves, for example. He wouldn’t use his profession to protect the Empire or help it flourish. He’s still a hero, even if some of his motivations are less than heroic.

Han Solo represents the things we admire about the Western Hero.

In the end, Solo represents everything we admire about the Western Hero while Luke represents everything we admire about the Eastern Hero. Han values freedom. He’s highly independent and provincial and informal. Luke values virtue, and wants to save the galaxy from something he views as morally foul. Han wants to dismantle the Empire because he believes that freedom itself is a virtue. Luke wants to dismantle the empire because he believes it doesn’t serve its people in the appropriate way.

Granted, Luke’s journey begins as a revenge quest. The Empire killed his family—both his father and his aunt and uncle—but he eventually overcomes that hate and his own personal motivations. He realizes vengeance will not solve the problem. Solo, on the other hand, maintains his personal motivations and helps overcome the Empire because his personal motivations give him the strength and courage he needs to be a hero.

And so we have the Théan Hero empowered by freedom and the Eastern Hero empowered by balance. In the end, both Heroes want the same thing: peace and harmony for all. But they get there on two separate paths. This isn’t to say that they can’t sit together at the same gaming table and fight against villainy. Just as Luke and Han fight together, so can your Théah and Khitai Heroes fight together. But they get to bicker and argue all the way, just as Han and Luke do.

The friends who fight together, stay together.

7th Sea: Khitai is coming to Kickstarter October 3rd. To celebrate the first major expansion of 7th Sea’s world, we’re sharing stories and thoughts straight from the developers. We’ll be discussing people, places, magic, game systems, and what the designers themselves are most excited about! Stay tuned.

Vote for 7th Sea at the ENnies

Summer is con season, but that also means it’s awards season. We got nominated for an Origins Award, won a Golden Geek, and now, it’s time for the ENnies.

Usually, I don’t get excited about awards, because I’ve won my share, but this year is a little different. People like Mike Curry, Rob Justice and Mark Richardson are up for the first time and it would be really cool to let them take the stage. That’s my plan, anyway.

So, yeah. I’d like to see the people who worked so hard to bring 7th Sea: Second Edition to life get some recognition for that. And you can help. Go to the ENnies website and vote. If you think we deserve an award, give us a thumbs up. That way, the folks who brought you 7th Sea 2e will get that recognition they deserve.

Thanks and see you at GenCon!

-John


For quick reference, here are the nomination categories. Thank you for your vote!

Click here to vote.

 

 

 

Free RPG Day 2017: Official 7th Sea PDF Adventures

We’re celebrating Free RPG Day early at John Wick Presents!

Today, we’re proud to announce the launch of the 7th Sea: Second Edition official adventures line, available on DriveThruRPG!

The Caliberi Letters (written by John Wick)

The War of the Cross nearly destroyed Théah. In the end, nearly eight million people died. But what many do not know is the secret reason behind the War…

The Caliberi Letters is the first part in a series of adventures called The Grand Design, which reveals this secret truth to your Heroes. What begins at a wake for a friend—Magda Müller—turns into a desperate chase to expose the Villains who burned Théah to the ground for their own personal gain.

You can play this adventure with Heroes from any Nation, although a Hero with Hexenwerk can provide an advantage when it comes to dealing the dead. The Caliberi Letters will be free to download until Thursday 6/22 in honor of Free RPG Day. Click here to download.

The Castle (written by Rob Justice and Leonard Balsera)

In northern Eisen sits the long forgotten Duster Castle, deep within the Angenehme Wald. The castle was once the proud home of the Baderbaasch scions, but their lands went into steep, terrible decline in the later years of the War of the Cross…

The Castle is a supernatural horror adventure set in war-torn Eisen; it’s an adventure for adult audiences that comes with the following content warnings: cannibalism, loss of agency, child endangerment and risk of death. The Castle will be available to download for $1.99 until Thursday 6/22. Click here to download.

Thanks for joining us to celebrate the launch of the 7th Sea Adventures line!

The War of the Cross: A Letter From John

Hi everybody!

It’s hard to believe that the Kickstarter launch for The War of the Cross is just one week away. We’re going to be publishing updates every day this week to talk more about the game and to share our excitement. Today, I’m here to tell you a little bit about the history of The War of the Cross board game. It all starts twenty years ago. Actually, twenty-two, but who’s counting?

Back in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in the AEG offices, Dave Williams and I (and others) were working on the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game. We were all first time game designers, flying without radar, fresh out of college and thought we knew everything. Dave and I began bonding over games, and as we talked, we found out we two mutual favorites: Avalon Hill’s Dune and Diplomacy.

Dune Board Game print-and-play recreation, Image from Board Game Geek

We used to talk about a board game that combined the best aspects of both games. Not a lot of math, intuitive rules, lots of diplomacy and secrets. But L5R dominated our time back then. Dave and I both went on to win Origins Awards—for Best Collectible Card Game and Best Roleplaying Game—and a lot of that had to do with the chemistry we had. Dave was in charge of mechanics and I was in charge of story, but I was always in Dave’s office making suggestions and he was always in my office making them, too. It was kind of like a guitarist and lead singer playing off each other’s strengths. That chemistry, I think, is one of the many reasons L5R really felt like capturing lightning in a bottle.

Many years later, when the 7th Sea Kickstarter exploded, Mark Diaz Truman and I talked about making a board game stretch goal. And as soon as we did, I thought of Dave and the game we always wanted to make together. So, we gave him a call.

Dave jumped at the opportunity, but insisted we bring Luke Peterschmidt on as well. I’ve known Luke almost as long as I’ve known Dave. He’s been doing board game Kickstarters for a while and had the kind of experience neither of us had: actual production. That’s so important. So many landmines you have no idea are out there waiting for you, and Luke knew them all.

Dave and Luke drew up a board and started proposing rules. Mark and I threw feedback at them and things started moving fast. Big changes, little changes. But the goal was always the same: simple game, intuitive rules, no dice, lots of diplomacy, and secrets. We stuck to those goals and one day, I received a working prototype in the mail.

Meanwhile, Thomas Deeny and Mark Richardson—layout and cartography, respectively—started making a board. Thomas has experience in board game layout, so his insight came in useful as well. And, of course, Mark’s attention to detail added even more awesome.

Side-by-side of early version of map and final map

And now, as I write this, we have a game that I think achieves all the goals young Dave Williams and John Wick wanted those twenty years ago.

And let me tell you, honestly, no BS plug here: I love playing this game. I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I got the materials in the mail. I’ve been playing it with folks new to strategy games, folks who play a lot of strategy games and a whole ton of grognards (a term I not only use as a compliment, but considering my age and time in the industry, now wear with pride). A local game designer here in Phoenix—a man with some merit—told me, “I like this game more than Diplomacy.” That made my heart two times too big for my chest.

The game also accomplishes another goal of mine: it broadens the world of 7th Sea. The 30-year long incident known as “The War of the Cross” has always been a kind of mystery. Everybody knows about it, but not everybody knows what happened. Now, with this game, we can tell the story of a three decade long war that nearly tore Théah apart. And there are secrets—oh, yes my friends, there are secrets—waiting for you to uncover in the game. The origins of the war go deeper than politics. And why did the war go on for so long? There’s a reason. It’s ugly and awful. And you’re going to be mad.

Let me say that again: you’re going to be damn angry. And when the Heroes of Théah discovered it…

Well, let’s just say you’ll be finding that all out in The War of the Cross.

See you there!

-John Wick


The War of the Cross launches June 20th on Kickstarter. We’ll be counting down with daily updates and sneak peeks of the board game on the 7th Sea mailing list. Sign up to receive those updates here:

Awards Suck…Until You Win One

That picture is me holding the “Golden Geek” award for Best RPG from Boardgamegeek.com. See that look on my face? It’s a look of suspicion. As in, “I don’t trust you.”

I have mixed feelings about awards. And as award season begins this year, I find myself thinking a lot about them. I mean, I could write an essay about awards after awards season, but that seems…you know…disingenuous. Best to do it before all the nominations start so I can sabotage my company’s efforts up front rather than seeming to bitch about them afterward.

I’ve won a pretty good number of them. RPGA Player’s Choice Award for Best RPG, Origins Award for Best RPG (twice), I was on the design team for Best CCG (again, twice)…I’ve won my fair share of them. And winning an award is fun. It’s recognition from fans and peers that you’ve done a great job.

7th Sea Second Edition was the result of a lot of work from a lot of different people. Mark Diaz Truman, Marissa Kelly, Mike Curry, Rob Justice, Jess Heinig, Thomas Deeny, Mark Richardson, Brendan Conway, Sally Richardson, Amanda Valentine, Shen Fei, Giorgio Baroni, Manuel Castañon Gurerero, El Tio Drake, Young Yi Lee, Digeo Rodriguez, Beth Sobel, Meagant Trott…and that’s just to name a few. That’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work to make 7th Sea a great game. And they all deserve recognition for their work.

But is it “the best” game?

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of “best.” In fact, it unsettles me. I don’t know how you evaluate any work of art over another. Is 7th Sea better than Masks (the runner up)? I don’t know. Or Wrath of the Autarch? I don’t know. I own both of them and I don’t know which measuring stick anyone uses to evaluate one RPG over another one.

Instead of definitive terms such as “better” and “best,” I like to use more subjective terms such as “favorite.” Pendragon is one of my favorite RPGs. I don’t know if it’s the best RPG, but I do know it’s one of my favorites. Over the Edge kicked me in the teeth with its design and presentation and I know other game designers have cited it as an RPG that influenced them as well. But is it “the best?” Very soon, Pinnacle will be launching a Kickstarter for the new edition of Torg. I love that game and can name at least ten other designers who do as well. But is it “the best?” I have no idea because I don’t know what criteria to use. And I’m pretty sure every person has their own way of evaluating games. Kind of like measuring apples and oranges but worse because everyone has their own definitions of apple and orange and what makes those things better than the other.

I’m also suspicious of awards because they make the whole creative process into a competition. I’ve already played in the Camarilla and I’ve seen what happens when you add PVP to the creative process, so no, thank you. I prefer helping and working with my fellow creators, not compete against them.

Awards also get into your head. Make you feel like you’re better than you are. Go back to the early days of the Legend of the Five Rings forums and look for my name. Yeah, you’ll see how quick awards can go to a normally humble guy from Minnesota’s head. It happened so fast, I don’t even remember when the transformation took place.

I remember winning the Best RPG Origins Award for Legend of the Five Rings. I was so damn proud, but at the same time, I also felt awful for the folks who didn’t win that award. I wanted to apologize. I loved their games. At the same time, I remembered that my mom—who threw away all my RPGs when Oprah said they were “Satanic”—was waiting by the phone to hear if we had won. I broke up on stage in front of a bunch of people. I was proud of what we accomplished, but at the same time, I was thinking of everyone else who was nominated and how they deserved the right to stand on the stage with me. They had produced games I loved. They deserved the same spotlight as me.

So, as awards season approaches, I view it with both hope and suspicion. Hope because a lot of the folks who worked on 7th Sea haven’t won awards yet and they deserve to have a moment standing on stage, feeling that joy and elation. And suspicion because…well, all that I’ve already said. To all the winners this year, I offer you my congratulations. And to all the “losers,” I offer you my congratulations as well. Maybe I’ll make my own awards and hand them out at the big cons this year.

Yeah…I’ll have to talk to Hannah about that…

7th Sea Pirate Nations Has Sailed Into Port

Sail, me hearties, and treasure what good luck you find.

We’re thrilled to announce the PDF release of Pirate Nations, the second sourcebook in the 7th Sea: Second Edition line.

Pirate Nations is packed full of new source material for 7th Sea: Second Edition including new Backgrounds, Advantages, Stories, Sorceries, and five new Pirate Nations:

  • Numa, the land where legends were born and never left
  • La Bucca, the once-prison island turned headquarters for international intrigue
  • The Atabean Islands, where the ghosts of Rahuri ancestors sail alongside native peoples
  • Aragosta, home of the Brotherhood of the Coast and a pirate paradise
  • Jaragua, self-liberated slave colony and home of a new Sorcery called Kap Sevi

Pirate Nations also includes new setting materials for 7th Sea featuring the Devil Jonah, the dreaded Reis and Theah’s first multinational, the Atabean Trading Company. There be adventure aplenty in these lands, more than any one crew can hope to see in a lifetime.

Click here to buy the Pirate Nations PDF on DriveThruRPG.

Looking for the core rulebook? You can pick up a hardcover here, or find the PDF on DriveThru.

Spirit of the 7th Sea: Equestrianism with Jaym Gates

Jaym Gates with horse, Romeo.
Rescued at 6 months old, Romeo was too angry to be handled safely. He now comes to a whistle and ‘helps’ with fence work.

Equestrianism is a major feature in many 7th Sea games—from the dreaded hussar cavalry to the nomadic Khazari horse tribes. This month, we interviewed editor, writer, and lifelong equestrian enthusiast Jaym Gates about horses in 7th Sea.

Jaym had wonderful insights to share about horses throughout history, realistic horseback travel, and the powerful bond between horses and humans that has “shaped humanity in a way no other creature can claim.”

Q: Thanks for taking the time to share your equestrian expertise with us, Jaym! Can you tell me about your own history with horses? What drew you to equestrianism and how long have you been riding?

Jaym: Man, there’s no real ‘entry’ point for me. There was never a point where horses weren’t part of my life. My family has been involved with horses for centuries, literally—my ancestors were knights and jousting fanatics in England in the Medieval era. The first picture of me on horseback was when I was a few weeks old and my mom was holding me. I understand horses more than humans.

Q: Humans have domesticated horses to support our work in a variety of ways, from racing and long-distance riding to plowing and war horses. Can you talk about the different types of horses bred for different types of work and what those horses look like?

Jaym: So, first off is breaking out the main categories: you’ve got donkeys, mules, ponies, and horses, in order of hardiness. Donkeys aren’t pretty, and most are small (‘mammoth donkeys’ are the exception, but they’re still smaller than a lot of horses), but they don’t need much food, they’re incredibly smart, and they can do a hell of a lot. Mules are the next rung up. They can be lovely animals, but tend not to be very fast, and it requires a lot of intelligence from the human to make them respect you, but mules are smart, strong, and powerful.

Then you have ponies, which are not just a height classification, but a type. Ponies are built in a more sturdy shape, with shorter legs, heavier bodies, and more durability. They take less food, can work longer, and survive more. They jump extremely well for their size, are very sure-footed, and are typically highly intelligent. The horses I grew up with were half Welsh Pony, half Arab mares, and the matriarch of our little herd could open any gate or rope that a human could, and taught her daughter the same.

Ponies cover a pretty broad range though, from the stumpy little Shetland to the massive Cobs—which are basically draft ponies—to the slim little riding ponies that are as expensive as any horse.

Piebald Cob stallion grazing in the English Midlands. Via Wikimedia.
Piebald Cob stallion grazing in the English Midlands. Via Wikimedia.

Horses can be divided into roughly three categories: riding horses, carriage/cart horses, and draft horses. Draft horses are your big Budweiser Clydesdales, bred to help break inhospitable land to human use, haul huge loads of materials, and yet be gentle enough to take care of the kids. Draft horses are still used in a lot of Europe and the Americas for farm and logging work, and can often access places closed to vehicles.

Riding horses are the ones most of us are familiar with, and they cover hundreds of breeds. Some of the best-known are the Greyhound-like Thoroughbred, and the small, fiery Arabian. Other popular breeds include the Andalusian, which is a Spanish breed used for dressage and cattlework, and Quarter Horses/Paints/Appaloosas, which are also cattle horses.

When you combine the bloodlines of a riding horse and a draft horse, you get the intermediate carriage-type horse, which is usually called a Warmblood (riding horses are ‘hot’, drafts are ‘cold). They tend to be a little stockier than a riding horse, but much lighter than draft horses. They were made to be strong, but also often to be attractive enough to pull an expensive coach, so some of them are quite flashy. This is also the type that is often used in equestrian sports. These range from Hollywood’s favorite black Friesian to the athletic Oldenburgs and Trakehners. Most Warmbloods that are bred as independent breeds come from Europe, many of them from the areas around Germany and England, which had strong breeding programs for cavalry horses.

Publicity shot for
Publicity shot for “The Son of the Sheik,” 1926 film, illustrating Jadaan, a famous Arabian stallion. Via Wikimedia.

Q: The domestication of horses dates back long before the timeline of 7th Sea, which is set around the late 17th century. When (roughly) did humans first begin domesticating and riding horses? Are there any major landmarks in the history of equestrianism, like the invention of new techniques or technologies, that might enter into a 7th Sea game?

Jaym: Domestication of horses was waaay back before the Assyrians and Egyptians, before we really have good records. Horses were similar to cattle for a long time in that they were food that could be domesticated and moved. At some point, someone figured out they could move a whole lot more and started riding them.

Around the 17th century, you started seeing some real interest in getting the most out of a horse. The Spanish in particular were leading the way in taking the horse’s ability as a weapon and codifying it into an art form called ‘dressage’. Middle Eastern and Moorish bloodlines were moving north, and the Thoroughbred began its journey around this time, based on Arabian blood. So you could absolutely have noblemen who’re bringing expensive trainers in to teach them this new ‘dressage’ sport, or schemes around priceless breeding stock being imported from foreign lands. Look up the Godolphin Arabian if you want a good idea of some of the intrigue there!

Additionally, wealthy Englishwomen in particular were beginning to develop a fascination with the Middle Eastern horse, and many of them made incredible trips into the Middle East to find and bring back the amazing horses there. For a time when women were barely allowed outside, some of these adventures were pretty incredible. Look up Lady Anne Blunt if you want a good idea of the things they were getting up to.

Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin dress, and her favorite riding mare, Kasida, c. 1900.
Lady Anne Blunt, in Bedouin dress, and her favorite riding mare, Kasida, c. 1900.

Q: In a 7th Sea game you might encounter the Khazari, a large nomadic horse tribe from the northermost part of Ussura. As you can see in the maps below, the nation of Ussura is already pretty far north. Would you see many differences between warm and cold climate horses? How about differences in body shape or stature between more formally domesticated riding horses and horses ridden by nomadic tribes?

Jaym: One of the really fun facts of history is that the Mongolians conquered a vast amount of the known world on tiny horses that were little more than scrubby ponies. They certainly wouldn’t win any beauty awards—short-legged, pot-bellied, hammer-headed, scraggy-maned—but these little guys were exceptionally tough and able to survive on very little food.

Mongolian archer on horseback, c 1895.
Mongolian archer on horseback, c 1895.

However, you get a little farther north (the area that would correspond to the Khazari), and you start getting into an ecological niche that produced a really fascinating group of unique horses, known as “The Heavenly Horse” in China and Russia. The Akhal Teke is the best known of these, but the horses of the Eurasian steppes were pretty much alike—tall, thin, long-legged, with sparse manes and thin coats, roman noses, and an almost miraculous ability to survive and thrive on next to nothing, while having incredible endurance, intelligence, and loyalty. Additionally, their coats have a unique property that gives them a metallic sheen.

Akhal Teke stallion, with its signature sheen.
Akhal Teke stallion, with its signature metallic sheen.

Similar to the Bedouin Arabians (and related to them), these horses were raised in such close proximity to humans that they were more giant dogs than horses. Stories abounded of their care of wounded riders, their ability to find their way home from great distances, and their prowess in war. The stallions were tethered near tents and blanketed in heavy felt blankets, while the mares and young horses foraged. Before war, the horses were put on sparse diets to prepare them for the minimal food and water of a long-distance raid. During the journey, they were fed solely on cakes of mutton fat, butter, and dried fruit.

Have you seen the movie Hidalgo? The closest real race to that is a 2600 mile endurance race through the steppes. Akhal-Tekes are the only horses who run it.

Steppe tribes needed their horses to be almost uncannily smart, loyal, and capable, and stories abound of the wonder Europeans felt when they met the Eastern breeds. Most European breeds owe their background to the Arabian and Barb horse, but those same bloodlines went north and east and became the horses that Chinese emperors would pay astronomical sums for.

Image of modern Chinese cavalry, who carry swords on horseback in addition to guns.
Image of modern Chinese cavalry, who carry swords on horseback in addition to guns.

Q: In 7th Sea, your character might choose a background that gives them special abilities when they’re using equestrian skills. One example of this is a cavalry background, which gives you a Hero Point when you apply your riding skills to an uncommon situation. There’s also a special Vodacce background, Ride, that lets you engage in high-speed carriage chases and ride through forests at a gallop.

What would happen if someone without any equestrian knowledge just tried to hop on a horse and gallop away? What should a person be aware of before even trying to mount a horse?

Jaym: To be fair, it’s easy enough to learn to ride very quickly…if you have a very well-mannered, careful horse. There’s a reason so many trail-riding and horseback adventure groups exist. But if you want to do anything more intense, it’s going to be a challenge.

First off, the muscles used. There’s nothing else that really hits the same muscles. Horses are often used as therapy for people who can’t walk because it stimulates muscles deep in your core and back. It requires strength in your joints, hands, wrists, elbows, and arms.

Secondly, balance. Horses ‘roll’ a little when they walk, so even the walk takes a few minutes to master. The trot, the animal’s favorite gait, is hell on earth if you don’t know how to ride it (think of trying to ride two pogo sticks). The canter and gallop are easier, but what may not look very fast on the ground feels awfully fast when you’re on 1000+ pounds of muscle.

It takes courage to approach an unknown animal and open a dialog, and a willingness to learn a new language.

Thirdly, and most importantly, mental. Horses are huge, intelligent, and they have their own way of processing the world. You can beat most of them into submission, but many of them will eventually snap, and some will kill you up front for trying that. It takes courage to approach an unknown animal and open a dialog, and a willingness to learn a new language.

Q: In fantasy movies I’m always struck by the presence of horses on a long journey. Some films address the needs of the horses, and others make it seem like horses can just ride on endlessly with no water, food, or breaks. If a Hero’s going to undertake a long journey on horseback, what special care should they be considering? What should they be bringing along for their horse and how can they make horse travel feel more realistic?

Jaym: As mentioned above, it depends. A normal horse is going to need time to graze, rest, and drink water. Neglecting any of those options leads to a horrible thing called ‘foundering’, which basically means their feet give out and they can’t walk, and to potentials for colic and other illnesses.

If you’re riding at a walk, a horse can go most of the day with just a break at night and a couple of breaks during the day for water and a snack—a handful of oats, a few minutes of grazing, whatever. This can be interspersed with trotting or short periods of galloping, but the faster and longer you go, the more breaks you need, and the more work is required at those breaks. A lathered horse can’t be taken immediately to water, they have to be cooled down (walked, usually) until their respiratory system recovers, and then they need lukewarm water until they are no longer sweating—and only a little water. Too much or too cold and you’ll kill the horse. It’s a fine balance…

However, it’s not unheard of for horses to do 30 miles in a day, with good care. The horse needs to be fit, and the breaks need to be thoughtful, but it’s possible. Exceptional horses can do quite a lot more. The Bedouin Arabians are a good example. A prime horse was put through a rigorous test: run 50 miles without rest, swim at least one river (if you could find one), and come back with enough of an appetite to not only eat a full bag of oats but to not get sick from eating. Tellingly, a horse like that literally could not be sold, blood feuds lasting generations were started, and wars were fought over the theft of such a horse. Fortunes were made from the foals of these horses, or from their prowess in war or on the race track. Their loss to old age or injury was cause for as much grief as the loss of a family member. They could be gifted, but only to the most worthy of people. So the chances of any but the highest-level character owning such a horse is unlikely.

A lathered horse can’t be taken immediately to water, they have to be cooled down (walked, usually) until their respiratory system recovers…

Q: Finally, as a person who hasn’t spent much time around horses, I’d like to know how much horses bond with their owners. Do horses tend to express loyalty to one person, or to a small group of people? What are some of the emotional aspects of horse ownership that might come into play in a 7th Sea game?

Jaym: It really depends on the horse. I’ve owned horses who loved everyone, whether you had a treat or not, and horses who bonded exclusively to one person. The typical horse will bond strongly to its herd, which includes the humans it sees most and the horses it lives with. Horses are extremely social animals, they need interaction, and humans work just fine for that.

I have two horses I’ve raised from the time they were a few months old, and one horse rescued after his racing days were over. They all follow me like overgrown dogs, getting into everything and bickering with each other for attention. They call when they see me after I’ve been gone, and very clearly consider me a herd member. I have another one who, until recently, just didn’t like humans. He had no reason to, they’d never been kind to him. Recently, he’s realized that he’s safe for life, and he’s blossomed. He’s not particularly bonded to a human, but he’s friendly with all of us. The racehorse and the younger ones, by contrast, are very particular about which humans may touch them.

The typical horse will bond strongly to its herd, which includes the humans it sees most and the horses it lives with.

Emotionally, it’s amazing, and awful, and ridiculously hard to describe. Think about it: this 1000+ pound animal, who can live up to (and sometimes more than) 40 years, an animal capable of amazing feats, but this creature regards you as part of its family. It trusts you to help keep it safe, it watches your back, it has a deep emotional bond with you, and it will remember you for years of separation. It’s like a weird cross between a kid, a dog, and a friend.

That sort of emotional bond takes a toll, though. When I was 15, I had to put down the horse who’d raised me from the time I was a baby. Seriously, there are pictures of me, just a few weeks old, being held on her back. She was my best friend, confidant, nanny, and trainer. She had no problem telling me what I was doing wrong and making my life hard, but she also would go to great lengths to ensure my safety. I still miss her, and I still remember every awful time I’ve lost a horse.

I also worked for a while with an equine therapy program. We had kids who had never walked before getting up on these massive animals, and even a normally skittish, belligerent horse would steady down and walk so delicately, so carefully, paying attention to every shift and uncertainty. We had teenagers who gained the confidence to walk simply from a few rides, non-verbal kids who couldn’t stop talking to the horses, and kids who experienced freedom and power for the first time in their lives. We had one kid from inner-city Baltimore who’d had pretty much the worst hand life could give him. He didn’t see the point of horses, and he threw the brush into the pony’s face. A few minutes and one (admittedly slightly overwrought) description from me of what the horse thought of that, and he had his arms around that pony’s neck, his face buried in its mane, and the pony loved on him in return. Horses have a sixth sense for the scared, wounded, and weak.

Think about it: this 1000+ pound animal, who can live up to (and sometimes more than) 40 years, an animal capable of amazing feats, but this creature regards you as part of its family.

And sure, you can just look at it as a beast of burden, but why would you? You’re missing out on a relationship that has shaped humanity in a way no other creature can claim. If you want to experience some wonderful storytelling from someone who knew and loved horses, check out the work of Will James, who wrote about cowponies and the people they knew.

Thanks again for your time, Jaym! If you have any social media links you’d like to add, please share them below. 🙂

Jaym: Thanks! You can find me on Twitter as @JaymGates, or via my (infrequently-updated) website, jaymgates.com.