Well sure this is a few weeks late, but welcome to my life, nigh impossible to schedule in the short term. So if you were looking to wait for this review as to whether to back the Kickstarter for 7th Sea, well, too bad. Of course there's now a pre-order button, so I guess all is not lost.
While the system has its rough spots that I will hope to get worked out in time, I enjoyed the mechanics of the system and it maintain the same feel of what the original edition tried to reach for, and frequently failed to do.
In the original system, it promised swashbuckling, over-the-top action in a dog's breakfast of faux-European countries. And while we got that, the Roll and Keep system, combined by the penalties of diversification of skills, as well as the heavy character point buy-in necessary for either playing with the main two systems (sword schools or sorcery), may entry level character rather ... challenging to get that feel that I, at least always wanted.
This edition seems to have stepped away from that - it ["steals"/is informed by/adapts] a lot of the meta-RPG stuff that has happened in the last 10 years - moving towards a more narrative feel in what is able to be accomplished by a character. Characters feel competent right out of the box, and while there may be some penalties for success, the potential for success is more likely.
The mechanics are fairly simple. Roll a bunch of d10s, group them so they add up to 10, each one is a success or raise, that may be spent for succeeding, buying an opportunity, or preventing a consequence. You can spend hero points to get more dice or activate certain advantages, as well as gain them for either voluntarily failing, or the GM taking advantage of your poor rolling.
While the system has its faults - over 10 dice and it starts being complicated and slows down dice arrangement, I like it in that it allows me to see a non-binary set of results potentially - opportunities allow me to say "yes, and", consequences allow me "yes, but" as my favorite two results (I suppose the player could also choose "I don't succeed, but I get these other opportunities" as well.
The warts were when trying to maximize the number of success with large dice pools. Dice pool games, in my experience, really shine at about the 6-8 dice range, too much more and you've got problems tracking all the dice in your hands. Too few and the results get really swingy.
However, the opportunities and consequences are what will really make the system sing in my opinion. Otherwise, there's no benefit to just not rolling versus a target number and getting a yes/no answer. I suppose I could do the same in a TN system, where I set a fairly low TN, and every 5/10 above is another success. But even then you get problems trying to add up many dice. I don't know if there is a good solution. Perhaps it'll be harder to get above 6-7 dice in a pool, or there will be other suggested speed bumps in the system.
Subsystems - Combat & Dueling
I figure I should call this out specifically. The quickstart game ran through all of the various systems in a fairly straightforward manner. The mass combat versus Brutes (i.e., mooks, unnamed NPCs) went fairly well. Large groups of mooks still have the ability to be a threat; however, we were discussing something like 30 Brutes against 3 players, and the players barely took any wounds. I almost want to think about some sort of Elite Brute so I could have only twice the number of NPCs as I do PCs and have it still be a good challenge versus needing a 10x the number of PCs.
The dueling system sufferings from the decker problem of role playing games. When we had our duel everything came to a hard stop. No one else could participate, no one else could really role play, and everything had to wait for the duelist to finish their duel. And the dueling rules were obtuse, not very intuitive, and frustrating to use. Now some of that is our newness to the system. Some of that is the fact that the quickstart rules really didn't explain dueling well, something I expect to be rectified.
However, as far as the duel itself goes - I don't see there a way around it being a dead stop. That's okay, we just need them to be quick, perhaps no more than 4-6 exchanges and move on. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen due to how the game presents Villains (named antagonists to the PCs). Any decent challenge to the PCs is going to be an ugly grind because of how they simplified the system.
Villains are rated from a rating from 1-Infinite, based on a number of two factors - their own personal ability and their influence. So you could have a badass with no influence being rated at a 8 (7/1), and a weak but influential manipulator also being an 8 (1/7). Both of these guys are the same danger in a duel, and also the same difficult to defeat - they both roll 8 dice in all challenges, and they can both take 8 hits before taking a dramatic wound and can take 8 dramatic wounds before being defeated.
And it is really this last part that is the killer - the difference between a Level 6 villain and a Level 8 Villain is minimal damage/success output change (6 dice versus 8 dice), but a difference between taking 36 hits versus 64 hits. Early 4th Edition D&D had this problem as well, where Solos would be able to take large amounts of damage, but not dish out a lot, turning fights into grind fests; however, it was fixed later as fights where you had 3-5 rounds, so large amounts of damage and more moderate HPs were found to be more fun.
I'm not sure how to modify. As one of my players noted, the system is designed well for a single bad guy and some Brutes taking on the PC group as a whole. However, when it is 1 on 1 in a duel, the warts definitely show. Hopefully the full version of the rules will take this into account, and I won't have to come up with something on my own.
Other Notable Subsystems - Villains and Intrigue
I wanted to note that there is a subsystem for "downtime" villain actions which can drive plot in and of itself. Villains will risk their intrigue to accomplish goals, which if the players react, they can reduce the villain's influence, and if they don't the Villain will get more powerful. The quickstart system doesn't play with that; however, so I'll just leave that here.