The swashbuckling world of 7th Sea has captured imaginations for nearly two decades. It’s set in the world of Théah, a world which contains nations and peoples very similar to our own world but also very different. While there are French-like people in Montaigne, that country is most assuredly not France. Magic and the supernatural abound in this reimagining of our world, and in Lands of Gold and Fire this is taken to an African setting.
The first edition of 7th Sea focused on Théah, the Europe analog in this setting, with a little nod to the exotic with the Arabian-ish Crescent Empire. Since the game has come under the direction of John Wick Presents it’s been expanded all over the place to flesh out more of the globe and provide new settings for 7th Sea campaigns. Pirate Nations detailed settings inspired by the Mediterranean and the Caribbean while The New World (which I reviewed earlier this year) pushed the horizon a little farther west to the lands of Aztlan which is a stand-in for Central and South America. Lands of Gold and Fire moves to a new part of the world, an African-inspired nation called Ifri that is a mix of the familiar as well as surprises with a healthy dose of magic and otherworldliness thrown in.
Nations of Ifri
While I enjoyed the playing with familiar themes in other expansion sourcebooks like The New World or Pirate Nations, in Lands of Gold and Fire I’m finally seeing some of the cleverness in the original setting. The five major regions (“nations” is a little strong for this continent) are reminiscent of African cultures but they are by no means carbon copies.
Even the most obvious ones are cleverly different. Khemet is clearly supposed to be this world’s Egypt complete with pyramids, a mighty river, an Ennead, and heka magic. However, interesting twists make it different. The gods of the land are the same as those elsewhere in Ifri (the Jok, discussed below) who blessed Khemet in the ancient past and left nine of their number (the Ennead) behind to rule. The pyramids were built to them, not to pharaohs, and they left after a war with some other semi-divine force (which created a Gilgamesh-like flood). Now Khemet came under the influence of the Crescent Empire’s Church of the Second Prophet (reminiscent of the Middle Age caliphate that ruled Egypt) but now it’s been led to some strange and dark pact by Queen Twosret (who nicely channels Cleopatra) and her demonic heir who have brought literal darkness to Khemet.
Maghreb is obviously supposed to draw from the Maghreb, though it has interesting new elements as well. Thematically it resembles Berber culture, complete with some of the social strata seen under the caliphate, but it also draws from Bedouin culture, from the rich Ghana Empire, and from ancient Carthage. This last connection is actually my favorite: though split into many different clan groups, Maghreb is ruled by a Blue Queen who seems to me like a mix of Dido and Zenobia in a way that is amazing.
Slightly more unique is the Manden Kurufaba, a wealthy kingdom channeling the Mali Empire of the Middle Ages. Rather than that monarchy, however, this Ifritian region is a coalition of four kingdoms each with strengths but also weaknesses that their neighbors shore up. It’s a land of schemes and politics as much as Montaigne or Castille in Théah with riches to amaze any foreigners. It’s Timbuktu, the Yoruba, and Wakanda all in one and it’s a pretty solid setting.
The Kingdom of Mbey is a totally new creation, with just a little bit of “Dark Continent” twisting. The foundation is great: a powerful and far-reaching empire with five vassal regions with cultures reminiscent of the African Great Lakes peoples, brought low by scheming foreign traders. They are a horse-focused culture with a military history who stood for centuries against rival states until the Atabean Trading Company (the heartless stand-in for the East India Company first introduced in Pirate Nations) launched a plan of attack that turned the empire in on itself. Broken and barely held together, Mbey is being manipulated by the Company and its ruler has turned to demonic pacts to maintain some semblance of power. A little too stereotypical in its constituent elements, Mbey does hang together well and I’d gladly set a whole campaign in this interesting region.
The last kingdom, and also the kingdom with the least direct analogs, is Aksum. The largest influence, though, is Ethiopia and Coptic Christianity. In Aksum, there is a Church of the Prophet in Aksum which is fairly different from any of those found in Théah or the Crescent Empire, tempered as it is by a legacy of help from the Ifritian gods. In the distant past they worshipped many gods, including some who gifted them with advanced learning, but they converted to the teachings of the Second Prophet some centuries ago and now they are asserting their culture firmly. There are secret police, divine formulae, secret apochrypha, ancient evils, and a whole lot more in this mountainous region.
One of the most compelling parts of the setting, and one of the edgiest, is the Bonsam. This big bad evil is a supernatural force of darkness imprisoned a millennium ago by pseudo-orisha called the Jok. It’s even said that Bonsam is another term for the Devil. The idea that this Africa-analog has evil at its heart just waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting white-skinned world… It’s a little rough.
Still, there are waiting evils in many roleplaying settings so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt here. The full story makes things a little better, since this ancient evil was kept back by supernatural beings that bound the continent together with a shared community of worship. The Jok didn’t just beat the Bonsam, they gave artifacts to the rulers of the five regions described above. This sharing of tradition, focus on the wisdom of ancestors, and sacred sites as cultural touchstones are all positive and shared hallmarks of the cultures this book draws inspiration from.
Sorceries and Secret Societies
The secret societies of Ifri are as diverse as the regions in it. There are griot societies, demon-hunters, and spiritualists that traverse boundaries and offer plenty of interactions for Ifritian and foreign characters alike. There are also uniquely Ifritian sorceries to be found, including elemental Heka from Khemet, the sacred Melbur from Aksum that blasts demons, and the black curses of the Red Touch. Lastly, there is a light and strong metal called Zahmeireen to kit out your Ifritian characters in something truly amazing. Imagine the splash a warrior from Mbey would make striding into a Vodacce court carrying what’s effectively an adamantium sword…
Like I said, I’ve eagerly looked at each of the expansions to the world of Théah that John Wicks has given us. This time, though, I really feel like everything came together wonderfully. This is a fantastic setting that offers new things to 7th Sea, draws inspiration from the real world in clever ways, and provides a setting that I would gladly campaign in even if Théah were never to enter the picture. Great book and a definite buy for 7th Sea fans.