The 7th SEA Players' Guide contains all that you need to start enjoying this game. Starting with a dramatic cover by William O'Connor that sums up the swashbuckling style of the system, the first third of the book is devoted to explaining the setting and background with merely a brief 'quickstart' note on how to create basic characters and operate the 'roll-and-keep' mechanic.
There is considerable detail, complete with lush colour paintings by Terese Nielson and copious line art, on the nations and institutions of Theah, seafaring (including suffient nautical jargon for you to sound like an old sea dog), a handful of monsters and enough of both history and archaelogy for your players to get a good picture of the world in which they live.
So, what is this world? The setting is an alternate Europe-like continent with technology roughly equivalent to the game date of 1668. Medicine is a bit more advanced, communications and transportation are about the same, as is religion; while history lags behind. Warlike skills are based mainly about individual combat with swordplay of great importance - where you or I might try for a place at a good university, the youngster in this world would vie for admission to a Swordsman School.
Although the setting material herein is of necessity an overview, there is enough for at least the player - and probably even the GM - to be able to run the game satisfactorarily without acquiring other source books. Yes, they add greatly to the depth of the 'alternate reality' and a player might well want to read about the nation from which their character comes but there is suffient here to give you a good picture of the world your character inhabits.
Religion is important, and here we have a well-developed and 'believable' one... a series of Prophets have come over the ages, each revealing a bit more about the deity. The core belief is that a Creator God made the world as a puzzle for the people on it to unravel, but sent divinely-inspired Prophets to aid in the interpretation. Three have come so far (at least, that's the majority belief) and a Fourth Propher is awaited. The established Church is formal and organised, and can be regarded as similar in style (although the actual beliefs are of course different) to the Roman Catholic Church. About 100 years ago, a breakaway movement began in Eisen, called the Objectionists, their opinions are analogous to those of the real world Reformation. And there are some, chiefly in the chilly northern lands of Ussura, who hold that the First Prophet said all that was needed, and whose style of faith is reminiscent of that of the real world Orthodox churches.
Indeed, throughout the setting, it's easy to adopt a kind of shorthand, to see the references to real world nations and institutions. However, doing so loses a lot of the flavour of the game, so try to avoid equating 'Montaigne' with France or 'Ussura' with Russia... they are distinct enough to be genuinely different places. You'll see much more of this if you look at the nation sourcebooks.
Next comes a brief overview of the various 'secret societies' of Theah (which, like the nations, are covered in a series of sourcebooks). The Invisible College researches the science and knowledge that the Vaticine Church would prefer remaineed unknown. The Knightly Order of the Rose and Cross is a gentleman's society that goes around righting wrongs, handing down their own brand of justice and protecting those unable to protect themselves. The Rilasciare are opposed to anything that limits freedom, a view that brings them into conflict with both Church and State. The Explorer Society leads archaeological research across the continent, and Die Kreuzritter (Knights of the Cross) were primarily Eisen crusaders for the faith against the infidel and organisers of hospitals for the poor and needy - until they were declared heretics and wiped out in battle. Or were they? Rumours abound that they still exist...
After a few more notes about the world of ThÃ©ah, we reach the next section, "Hero." This provides all that you need to create well-rounded and fully-developed 7th Sea characters, beginning with a game of '20 Questions' to discover what his personality is like, and then working through the six steps of character creation. The whole thing is based around a point-build system. First, decide if he is to be a Sorcerer (it's expensive in points!), and next if he is a Swordsman (another expensive option, but again the skills from a formal education at a Swordsman School can come in handy). You then decide how many points to put into your Traits. These are your physical and mental characteristics, which are Brawn, Finesse, Wits, Resolve and Panache. Next come your Skills and Knacks, the various things you have learned to do so far. Finally Finishing Touches and Details round out the character, giving him advantages, backgrounds, 'Arcana' (various personality traits that can be beneficial or otherwise... or both), wounds, reputation and wealth.
Skills and Knacks are rather interesting. To start with, you pick Civil and Military Skills, which are a little like a profession, and give you access to Basic and Advanced Knacks (e.g. the Civil Skill 'Criminal' lets you learn things like Gambling, Stealth, Lockpicking or Cheating). Martial Skills are the ones which enable you to fight, but if you have chosen to attend a Swordsman School you get a specialised range of Knacks based on the specific School chosen. Anyone may choose other Martial Skills like Archer, Athlete or a more general Fencing that allows you to use a sword, just not in the style of one of the specialist schools. The system means that characters have a basis for the skills and abilities that they have, without being tied down to a 'class' per se.
The next section is entitled 'Drama' and is all about how to actually play this game. Things like how time progresses within the game (especially in combat) and the all-important die-rolling rules, the AEG 'Roll and Keep' game mechanic. Basically, this works using d10s. To determine the outcome of an action, you roll a number of d10s based on the appropriate Trait and Knack for the action in question, but keep only the highest n dice, where n equals the score you have in that Trait. If any dice roll 10, you reroll and add the result of the 2nd roll to the first (thus getting a value higher than 10, of course). You'll be attempting to beat, with the highest number you roll, a Target Number for the action that's set by the GM. You also get a number of Drama Dice, which you can use in various ways to improve your chances at any point... once used they're gone, but you'll get more if you impress the GM.
This section also deals with sorcery, detailing the various abilities to which a sorcerer from each different nation has access. There's a lot of detail here, really only of use once you have decided to play a sorcerer and need to know what you are able to do.
The final section is called 'Player' and is aimed primarily at someone new to role-playing, although there's plenty of use for experienced players too. Much is applicable to role-playing in general, not just 7th Sea.
This book is really all you need to play 7th Sea, although your game will be much richer if you are able to acquire the appropriate sourcebooks - particularly for the GM, although players may benefit from reading the background material on their homeland and any society they choose to join. Have fun, and swash your buckle!
You can read information and reviews about products from Alderac Entertainment Group and other publishers at http://www.rpg-resour-