I’ve always been on the outskirts of 7th Sea. Before I even knew it was a campaign setting, I bought Swashbuckling Adventures and mined it for material in a 3.5e D&D campaign with lots of ships and pirates. Reading through there, it was clear that the authors had a whole world that they were working with and so I started poking into the original system (which uses a roll-and-keep mechanic) and discovered a fun, semi-familiar world to enjoy. I never ran a game with the first edition (or d20 edition) but the newer Second Wave edition I’m back into it again. I’ve played in a few short scenarios with the new edition but the release of The New World has me racing to find a more substantial connection.
When it first released, 7th Sea was firmly fixed on the continent of Théah which generously paralleled Europe around the 16th century. There are fencers, spice traders, an Inquisition, musketeers, and all the other stuff you’d expect from a pseudo-Renaissance world. There was also the distant land of Cathay reached through the Crescent Empire where exotic goods had been traded. You can easily see the inspirations for the nations of Théah but the setting is never so simple as a one-to-one connection, and in fact the familiar shapes of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany make it all the more surprising when there’s a dramatic left turn.
Since that beginning, all of these areas (including the Crescent Empire and Cathay) were detailed richly and secret societies, cinematic plots, and other awesomeness joined the fray. With the second edition, John Wick and his team wanted to push out from there a little to a new continent that was capturing the imaginations of the people of Théah. It started with the Pirate Nations sourcebook which details life in the Atabean Sea, fairly similar to the Caribbean Sea with a real Jack Sparrow feel. Pirate Nations, by the way, is an amazing book with 200+ pages of high seas adventure that never gets campy or tired.
That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about The New World which continues that journey west, past all of these islands, to the mainland known as Aztlan. There is a little in Priate Nations about Aztlan but it’s just there as another distant land with some connection to the native population of the various Atabean islands. In this new sourcebook, the three kingdoms of Aztlan are outlined in glorious and amazing quality.
The Aztlan Empire
The lands of Aztlan begin with “the Fall,” the civilization collapse that destroyed the ancient Aztlan Empire. The people of that empire had long enjoyed the favor of their powerful (if alien) gods, and not just in the sense of being prosperous and having lots of temples. They literally lived with their gods, as supernatural beings who ruled them as god-kings. These being created towering cities and a continent-spanning empire many centuries before the Théans across the ocean were even organizing into kingdoms.
Then it all came crashing down, often literally. In a turn of events inspired by the Classical Mayan Collapse, the Aztlani god-kings lost control of everything and their people fled into the jungles as the cities crumbled. Like the real-world collapse, no one really knows why this happened but the population of Aztlan were forced to rebuild from scratch. The did so by forging not one but three new kingdoms in the territories of the former empire: the aging Tzak K’an city-states, the aggressive Nahuacan Alliance, and the despotic Kuraq Empire ruled by necromancers. Pretty sweet, right?
I think the most interesting part of this whole area is the history with the Théan explorers. As in the real world, conquistadors entered the mainland to make contact with the local kingdoms and often came to blows with them. Unlike the real world, expeditions from the white nations mostly ended in disaster and the local kingdoms retained a lot of their power. It helps to have magic but the scenario here is complex and it paints a picture that’s believable if not air-tight.
The Aztlan nations maintain a watchful truce with the Théans, putting past “misunderstandings” (a.k.a. murder and pillaging) behind them as they partner for a better future for all. From a roleplaying perspective this is great as it paves the way for joing Aztlan-Théan parties while still leaving the door open for cross-cultural plots and fighting. Add in characters hailing from the pirate islands of the Atabean Sea and you’ve got an eclectic mix worthy of Faerûn.
From a socially-conscious standpoint, of course, this is the very definition of whitewashing history. The pseudo-Europeans of this world get all the swaggering bravado of conquerors without anyone having to depict the horrors that European conquest inflicted on the Americas in our world. There is a big effort here to put the Aztlani on equal footing intellectually and politically with the Théans and I appreciate the lack of a single “noble savage” in this book, so this is certainly done in an empowering way. The mere arrival of Europeans, however, caused plagues and social unraveling that the invaders then capitalized on and this certainly doesn’t happen with the Théans in Aztlan.
Like actual Central and South America when the Europeans arrived, Aztlan when the first Théan ships arrived is a patchwork of different cultures and peoples. They all have a heritage leading back to the fallen Aztlan Empire (which parallels classical Mayan civilization) but they interpret that heritage in different ways.
The oldest player around are the Tzak K’an city-states which formed in the wake of the empire’s Fall and have been puttering along ever since, warring and rebuilding through the centuries. The parallel here are the post-classical Mayan cities who worked to rebuild after the collapse of Mayan society around 900 CE. Like the post-classical Mayans, the people of Tzak K’an don’t have the scope of power of their predecessors or the network of resources, but they are by no means a desperate or insignificant group. The complex politics between the city-states and the ability to make your own makes this area an interesting one and full of places to make your own stories. The flip side of this, of course, is that campaigns might feature caricature versions of “jungle savages” from Indiana Jones which I wouldn’t want to play at all. But that’s up to the player groups.
Newer than the Tzak K’an city-states and the most powerful player in the New World is the Nahuacan Alliance. Centuries after the fall of the Aztlan Empire, four cities close to each other were each the powerful site of a god’s temple network and they warred with each other for control of the area. Spread through the four cardinal directions they vied for power until a great summit of the priesthoods, attended by the gods themselves, mended fences and brought them together into a four-way alliance, paralleling the triple alliance that led to the Aztec Empire. The Nahuacans are billed as warlike and powerful and it seems like they’re the main factor why the Théans’ conquests didn’t work out, but they are a nuanced culture that offers a lot to the setting and to campaigns.
The last is the nation that seems like it’s best set up to be the big bad in this setting: the Kuraq Empire. Ruled by an immortal Empress who has codified every aspect of society and freely rewrites history, this comes across as an Incan-inspired Karrnath. Starting into this part of the book, I actually started thinking “Alright, here we go. Here’s the savage dark kingdom.” In execution, though, there’s a lot less Temple of Doom than I expected. The societal revolution here is pretty interesting and the land it describes is anything but shallow. I think there needs to be a morally-questionable kingdom in every setting to give some pointed teeth to political stories, and this one fills that niche without being insulting. Good job.
New Character Options
Characters in The New World setting are made just like other 7th Sea characters, and in fact they use the same outline. This might seem a small thing but it actually reinforces the idea that Aztlani characters should engage on equal footing with Théan ones. This is important since the historical realities of Europeans colonizing the Americas in the real world had vast power differences that just don’t exist in this world. You pick an Aztlani nation just like a Théan one (or a pirate one or a Crescent Empire one) and you put together all of your various skills, advantages, and backgrounds. Everything is given a new spin but it’s the same process because they’re all humans.
At the same time, there are rules that make Aztlan into a little microcosm rather than suturing on Théan mechanics to this world. The Théan sorceries are absent and instead there is the universal Wayak’ Kan sorcery, the summoning of weapons or beings from elsewhere, that ultimately comes from the days of the Aztlan Empire. There is also the death magic of Wañuy Ñaqay available to those from Kuraq where it is jealously guarded. Likewise, there are “dueling styles” that parallel the mechanics used for Théan campaigns but they are uniquely Aztlani. There’s even a sidebar about how a particular style has been brought back to Théah which is a reversal of influence that I think is pretty neat.
As you might expect with a book inspired by European colonization of the Americas, this book and setting have some issues with presenting a comfortable world for campaigns. However, it never gets to the point of being bad, it just isn’t as elegant an adaptation as the pseudo-European and pirate settings. At the same time, if you read this and really focus on making the world breathe then there is much to offer in The New World.
If you are just entering 7th Sea, you obviously need to get the core rulebook before this one. Character creation is fully detailed in this book but mechanics aren’t so it’s possible to get this as your only 7th Sea book if your GM and fellow players already have the core book and can help you out. Still, I think it makes the most sense to branch out into Pirate Nations and then into this book to ease you into the area and the conflicts between Théah and Aztlan.
If you’re a veteran 7th Sea player or GM, though, this book is an imaginative expansion of the world. The distances involved prevent you from easily shifting between Théah and Aztlan (unless you want months-long-gaps in your story, which is not out of the question) but there is more than enough in Aztlan itself to run your campaign.