Let It Go

I do a lot of game design seminars and I always meet “The Guy.” He always says the same thing, too. He raises his hand and says, “I’ve been designing a roleplaying game for twenty years now…”

I stop him. Right there. I know exactly where this is going and I need to stop it before it gets any further. I say, “In twenty years, I’ve designed almost thirty roleplaying games. You need to crap or get off the pot, pal.”

That’s usually when The Guy gets up and walks out. And in twenty years, he’ll still be designing the same game. He’ll never be finished.

That’s because he’s unwilling to do the hardest part of design or writing or painting or anything else: letting it go.

I told Mike Curry and Rob Justice this. “Every day, you wake up and know how to make your game better. Every day. Even the day after you sent it to the printer. Even the day after it shows up in bookstores. Even a year after that. Every day.”

The hardest part is letting it go.

I’m elbow deep in the second draft of Born Under the Black Flag, the second 7th Sea novel. The first one was damn hard. This one was easier. Not a lot easier, but I did a few things I did not do with the first novel. First, I made an outline. Black Flag jumps back and forth through the life of Thomas St. Claire, a pirate in the world of Théah, and I wanted to know where the past and present were going to be. I outlined the chapters on index cards and put them down on the floor with numbers. Then, I picked them up in the order I wanted the novel, giving them letters. I shuffled them around a bit, scratched out some numbers and letters, and when I was finished, I started writing.

I finished just as my deadline hit. I mean, on the same day. Daughter of Fate—the first novel—got pushed back 30 days because I wasn’t finished with it. But St. Claire had a goal, a simple goal, and he was able to reach it because he was willing to spill blood to do it.

First draft done, I sent it off to Amanda Valentine and take a year end vacation, not thinking about the novel for a while so I could approach it with new eyes. Also, I spent some time doing research and reading Patrick O’Brien.

I knew a novel about pirates would need some O’Brien in it. There was already a little—maybe 1 O’Brien’s worth—but I wanted more. Not a lot more, but enough to satisfy myself and the other fans of his work.

O’Brien was the author of the Master and Commander novels—among others—and his storytelling made my heart ache. I couldn’t capture the same authenticity he did—I simply did not have the level of knowledge he had—but I wanted to make sure the nautical elements felt authentic enough.

I told Amanda that when I sent it off to her and she said she would help me out. She had a couple of friends who were O’Brien fans, so when I finished the second draft, she would hand it over to them for feedback.

Last night, I was going through her edits, making changes both big and small, when it came time to introduce the first ship in the book. And this is where I needed to raise the O’Brien Factor. I spent an hour and a half writing a single paragraph. One hundred and thirty words. I wanted them to be the right words. To make St. Claire’s inspection of the ship feel authentic.

Ninety minutes on those words. It was some of the hardest writing I’ve ever done. But I went to bed happy. This morning, I sent them to Ben Woerner who gave me feedback and added a little bit about hammocks. And then, I read it back to myself—out loud. And I was happy. Damn happy.

The Galente was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar. A merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. The ship was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. Despite its size, she could handle shallower waters than most and the aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. A sure sign of vanity. The masthead caps were wide and she had little room for cannons. All of it was for crew and cargo. Her rigging was designed to minimize the first of them. She was tall and proud, few guns. And she was fast. Damn fast. Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

After I was done, I sent the words to Jessica. She’s my Jane Austen fan. I sent them along with the request, “Please tell me if you get lost in the jargon.” I wanted to make sure there was just enough she could understand what was going on. She sent me this reply:

This is the sort of paragraph I skip when reading. If a fluyt is a real ship, then I don’t want someone spelling it out for me in text. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Talk about the significance that whoever’s POV would be considering.

Things like “A sure sign of vanity” are hints of a good direction.  I want to hear the captain (or whoever) size her up, like a sailor would. I know no one knows what a fluyt is anymore, but ignore that. hide the information in the captain’s evaluation of his dreams and plans for her.

A merchant ship means he can hide his nature. That should be emphasized rather than comparing it to other nations.

A sure sign of vanity, but he could afford that. or maybe it would extend to his men, proud to have such a vessel. They will work harder.

I don’t know. But make it personal. Make it real. This is a text book description. Jargon smargon. It’s missing the people and the reasons.

Needless to say, I was heartbroken. I loved those words. I worked hard on those words. Dammit. DAMMIT.

Okay, okay. Take a breath. You know why you’re upset. You know why.

She’s right.

So, after stomping around the room for a little while, I set myself back behind the keyboard and began editing. Looking at Jessica’s feedback and using it. And what I got, after another hour of work, was something better. Not just better, something that Ben Woerner said “gave me chills” after reading it.

Yeah. It was better.

I wasn’t The Guy. I wasn’t going to walk out of the room when someone challenged me. I was going to listen and think.

And let it go.

St. Claire walked along the Galente, his eyes and mind taking in all the details. She was a fluyt out of Vestenmennavenjar: a merchant ship smaller than those from Montaigne or Castille, clearly influenced by recent Avalon designs. She was round like a pear when viewed from the fore or aft and the forefoot had greater rake. That meant he could sail her in shallower waters, hiding behind islands from larger ships. He could sail her up rivers, giving him access to ports and escape routes larger fighting ships could not manage.

The aftcastle was tall, giving plenty of room to the officers and the captain. St. Claire snickered. A sure sign of vanity on the part of the captain. Made the officers’ cabins easy targets for other ships. That would have to go.

She had little room for cannons. Only six per side. Instead of cannon decks, the Galente had room for cargo. She was a merchant ship, after all. Claire didn’t need many more guns, what he needed was speed, and the Galente had plenty of that. Her rigging was designed for minimal crew and outracing pirates. She was fast. Damn fast.

He knew what he had to do. Lose some cargo space with double hammocks and she could carry plenty of fighting men along with a small working crew. Add chase guns to the fore and aft, keeping sharp shooters in the rigging. Hiding in shallow waters at night, waiting for larger ships to go by, sailing right up to their hulls, moving so fast, the enemy’s cannons would fire too long, splashing cannons behind them. Then, unleash the marines. If he got that close, most ATC ships would surrender without ever firing a shot.

Just a few carpenters and the right directions, and she’d be a fighting ship in a month.

7th Sea Around the World and Sourcebook Previews

7th Sea Logo - 1000x388

Hello, and happy November! We’ve got a host of exciting announcements, including the launch of two international crowdfunding campaigns, new art previews, and a growing JWP team. Read on!

7th Sea Around the World

This week, the Brazilian publisher of 7th Sea launched their crowdfunding campaign. The campaign runs until January, 18 2017, and after just one day it looks like they’re well on their way to meeting their goal!

The crowdfunding campaign for the Spanish edition of 7th Sea is running concurrently on Nosolorol. That campaign ends the 17th of December. We couldn’t be happier to see 7th Sea traveling around the world.


Welcoming Leonard Balsera

In November, RPG industry vet Leonard Balsera joined us as Creative Director for John Wick Presents. You might know Lenny from his great work with Evil Hat Productions or Steve Jackson Games! We interviewed Lenny here about his early RPG inspirations and 7th Sea.

If you see Lenny hanging around at a game convention, be sure to give him a warm welcome!

Leonard Balsera
Leonard Balsera

New from the Website

In case you missed it, a few new posts and updates from the JWP website:

We’ve also added quick access 7th Sea links to the top menu of the site, which should make it easier to find things like the 7th Sea production schedule, downloadable wallpaper, and links to our print-on-demand store.

Heroes & Villains and New World

If you’re a 7th Sea Kickstarter backer, you may have seen last week’s update about the upcoming sourcebooks.

Heroes & Villains is headed to the printer shortly and we’ve already received art previews for The New World. Here’s the Empress of Kuraq, one of the new Nations featured prominently in the book:


We’ll have more updates coming your way soon. The adventure’s only just beginning!

Interview with Creative Director Leonard Balsera

Leonard BalseraLeonard Balsera is the Creative Director at John Wick Presents. He is best known for his design and development work on Evil Hat Productions’ various Fate system games, such as the award-winning Dresden Files RPG, but has worked across the breadth of the industry, with credits from Pelgrane Press, Fantasy Flight Games, Green Ronin, Margaret Weis Productions, Onyx Path Publishing, Steve Jackson Games, and many others. When he isn’t eating, breathing, and sleeping hobby games, he spoils his cats rotten, reads voraciously, performs on stage occasionally, and plays a lot of video games. He lives at the intersection of memory and dream, but his physical body resides in Austin, Texas.

Q: Lenny, we’re so thrilled to have you on board as Creative Director of John Wick Presents. You’re no stranger to the RPG industry! Your design credits include, among other things, work with Evil Hat Productions on the Dresden Files RPG and Fate Core, and licensing administration for Steve Jackson Games. What initially drew you to RPGs? At what point did you decide this glamorous industry was right for you?

Lenny: I would say the industry chose me, more than the other way around. My venture into professional work started at Evil Hat Productions—the short version of the story is that Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue found me in Fate’s fan community and brought me on to work on Spirit of the Century when their ambitions turned toward starting a publishing company.

While on the convention circuit promoting that game, I had a conversation with Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, which led to my first freelance industry gig. And it basically happened that, year after year, I’d go to conventions and talk to people and end up with more jobs, or get references via the Internet. At some point, I looked back on that momentum in retrospect and said, “Huh, I guess I work in the hobby games industry now.”

Q: What were some of your earliest roleplaying inspirations—either games, systems, or designers? What are some of your big RPG inspirations now?

Lenny: Too numerous to mention. My particular brand of obsessiveness in the hobby is absorbing new systems, and I’ve been doing that since I started playing D&D as a kid. I feel like there’s a neat piece of design tech in just about every RPG, and it’s my job to find them all. Consequently, I’ve read more games than I’ve run or played.

A selection of favorite standouts, though, are Over the Edge, the Star Wars RPG from West End, Cyberpunk 2020, Feng Shui, HKAT, the James Bond RPG, every version of the Star Trek RPG, everything in the original World of Darkness, Primetime Adventures, Fiasco, basically everything Vincent Baker makes, Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now, Epidiah Ravichol’s Swords Without Master… my tastes and preferences are all over the place.

And of course, 7th Sea.

Q: You’ve already jumped right into your work with JWP. Pretty soon you’ll be sleeping and dreaming 7th Sea! What are some of the things you’re most excited about in 7th Sea: Second Edition? (It’s pirates, right? It’s got to be pirates.)

Lenny: So, my enthusiasm for the original 7th Sea has a lot to do with it being one of the first RPGs I ever played where there was no “paying to suck” in character creation. D&D popularized the “zero to hero” thing, and a lot of RPGs in the 80s and 90s adopted that as a default assumption. 7th Sea was very much “hero from the word ‘go’,” and I fell in love with that dynamic. The second edition takes that even further, and I’m extremely happy about that.

I also really like a lot of the work that’s gone into the rebooted setting, so much so that it’s hard to pick a favorite element. Worldbuilding has always been one of 7th Sea’s core strengths, and it was awesome to see how that played out in the new edition. I’m also thrilled that we’ll get to see more of the world and go beyond the borders of Theah in upcoming books.

But pirates are cool too.

Q: A project as big as 7th Sea involves so many people at work on so many different moving pieces. There’s advertising, mechanics development, writing and editing, herding cats, managing production timelines. As Creative Director, can you talk a little bit about what your work will entail?

Lenny: My main job is to facilitate getting books out the door. That involves a lot of different tasks: keeping track of the schedule, making sure our developers and writers have what they need to do their jobs, brainstorming with creative staff to help them arrive at a clear vision for the work they’re doing, resolving logistical obstacles, shepherding a particular book through its various milestones and eventually to print, and making sure that the content we’re producing meets our standards of quality and is compatible with John’s vision for the world.

Q: Okay, saving the most important question for last! If you could travel to any one of the Théan nations, where would you visit and why? I hear tickets to Eisen are cheap this time of year.

Lenny: Castille. I want to join Los Vagabundos.


Thanks Lenny! We’re all so glad you’re here and I look forward to working with you!

7th Sea 2nd Edition Quickstart FAQ

Here are the biggest questions. We’ll be adding/updating/editing them as we go. If you have a question we didn’t address, just add it as a comment!

Who goes first in Contested Risks?

Whoever has the most Raises spends the first Raise. By the way, we are re-designing contested risks in a big way. You should see something soon.

What if a player/GM uses a rule to be a jerk?

Sorry, I can’t fix that, and honestly, that’s the GM’s job. She maintains the order at the table. To quote our friend Jesse Heinig, “Best you can do is encourage desired behaviors and discourage unwanted ones.”

What does the “Reroll” tag at the bottom of the Skills list mean?

It means that, if you have at least two Ranks in a Skill, you can reroll one die every time you make a Risk using that Skill. If you had at least four Rank in a Skill, you could reroll two dice every time you made a Risk, but in the Quickstart, nobody has four Ranks yet.

Do the Heroes get 2 bonus dice against a Villain when the Villain has two Dramatic Wounds?

Nope. Villains just keep on tickin’ until you knock ‘em down.

When you reach your third Dramatic Wound, is it just nines that count as tens, or do you now only require a total of nine to make a Raise?

Your 9’s count as 10’s on the dice. To make Raises, you still need to make a total of 10.

Can Keen Senses be used for eavesdropping?


Can another Hero aid a dueling Hero by spending a Hero Point (such as shouting encouragement or yelling advice, or insulting their opponent)?


When performing a Duel Maneuver, does it cost 1 Raise for the Maneuver itself?

No. If you spend 3 Raises to slash, your opponent takes 3 Wounds. There is no “start up cost.”

It seems to me that the hero point system is designed so a player never uses their own hero points, but need to coordinate with the rest of the group and share them. Is that correct?

I wouldn’t say “never uses their own,” but a single Hero Point from your friends is worth more than a single Hero Point from yourself. It’s important to remember that you can only receive a single Hero Point from another Hero to help you in a Risk. You can use as many of your own as you want.

There are some other factors at play, however. The person giving you the Hero Point does need to play into the Risk in some way, even if it is only emotional or inspirational. They also have to have a Hero Point to give you, or one that they are willing to give; you can only receive Hero Points from other players to get bonus dice, not to activate effects. So if I really need to use my Second Story Work here in a second, I can’t afford to give you my Hero Point so that you can get dice.

Will there be a guide to convert characters from original 7th Sea to the new system?

Probably. If you want to play an experienced character from 1st Edition to 2nd Edition, use John’s Unofficial Conversion Rules:

  1. Make the character you want to play.
  2. If you have any questions, see Rule 1.

I have a question you haven’t answered. Can you answer it?

Yes! Send us the question and we’ll do our best to answer it quickly and concisely.