My first brush with 7th Sea was to see all the 1st edition books on the shelves of one of the local game stores when I was getting back into roleplaying after my brief, early adulthood hiatus from the hobby. It looked interesting, but at the time, I was still locked into the mindset that if it didn’t use a d20, I wasn’t going to get into the game. I didn’t get in on the 7th Sea 2nd Edition Kickstarter when it was hitting all those records, either — though again, the setting really called out to me. At the time, I was finishing up a degree, and couldn’t afford to get too distracted by Kickstarters, no matter how shiny.
For anyone not familiar with the game, 7th Sea portrays a world that is very similar to Earth in the 1600s, with pirates and swashbuckling, musketeers and duelists. But Terra also has sorceries, monsters, and faeries, and an ancient supernatural species that predated humans, although it’s not quite as “high fantasy” as, for example, a D&D campaign world.
While the original edition of 7th Sea focused squarely on an analog of Europe, one of the design principles of the new edition was to reach out to other continents and to detail places like the Crescent Empire, the New World, and the Lands of Fire and Gold with as much detail as Theah had received.
Additionally, cultures that were similar to those that had been devastated by colonization in our world in 7th Sea would be given as much weight in the setting as all of the European analogs. While those cultures would have some clashes with colonizers and narrative tension arising from those clashes, those cultures wouldn’t be presented as having been dominated or devastated by those clashes.
The product I’m looking at now is Lands of Gold and Fire, which presents analogs to African cultures for the 7th Sea setting, specifically detailing the continent of Ifri and five current nations on that continent.
Side Note: While I can recognize certain cultural touchstones presented in the book (the Egyptian influences are easy enough for me to spot, and there is even a sidebar mentioning the Barbary Pirates in one section), I am nowhere near as well versed in African history and folklore as I would like to be. While I started doing some additional research as part of this review process, I’m going to avoid making any specific real-world observations because I am no expert, and wouldn’t want to make any assumptions from the rudimentary research I have done. I will say that the research is ongoing, and is something I want to continue as I look at potentially using this material in my home game.
Was This Book from the Mad Library or the Half-Sunk Library?
The review for this book is based on the PDF version of the supplement. The product is 208 pages long, and has end pages that have a glorious full-color map of Ifri at the end of the PDF. The book has the standard formatting of the other 7th Sea books, with attractive font, sidebars, and formatting. Special material is called out in formatted sidebars to make it easy to notice.
The artwork in this book is amazing. There are vibrant colors, gorgeous landscapes, and clear illustrations of the different clothing, weapons, and architecture of the various nations presented in the book.
If I have any complaint about the appearance of the book, it’s the opening fiction. Most of the 7th Sea books open with a few pages of establishing fiction, but it’s usually in the same font as the rest of the book. In this case, it was presented as pages from a journal, and while they look nice enough, I found the font was a little harder to read than the rest of the book.
Introduction and An Overview of Ifri
The opening section of the book introduces readers to the nations in the book, the themes of adventures in Ifri, and contains a glossary of the most commonly used terms in the region. The next section gives a few more details on those themes, as well as diving into elements that will be common to most of the nations detailed in the book.
In general, most faiths coexist in Ifri, with a few unifying themes that help to explain why seemingly disparate beliefs are practiced side by side. In addition to some commonly held ideas about faith, much of Ifri has been beset by the Bonsam, a force of pure evil that many Theans equate with Legion (the Devil), and the Jok, and ancient society of powerful beings that passed on knowledge of the supernatural and influenced the history of the region.
Another recurring element is the villainy of the Atabean Trading Company, an evil organization that, among other things, is the primary force for slavery in the setting. This section also includes a sidebar that clearly states that the practice of slavery is unambiguously the province of villains. It is not the only conflict in the setting, or even the dominant one, but at the same time, it is an important recurring theme.
The section on geography details the larger continental details that help define and separate the various lands that are detailed, as well as giving a brief description of how some of those features are tied the stories of creation.
The section on the Bestiary of Ifri details some supernatural creatures that are found across the continent. If you are familiar with other 7th Sea books, a section like this sometimes suggests the strength or monstrous traits of creatures, but in this case, there is only a description of the creatures and how they affect the setting.
The Abonsam are the lesser demonic servants of the Bonsam, and vary in form and power based on the type of corruption they are associated with. The Black Ship is a ghost ship made from the bodies of the damned and captained by a woman with no face. The Dan Ida Hwedo is a giant snake associated with fertility, and has a very impressive illustration that appears later in the volume (page 197). The Kishi and Scorpion Belly are supernatural predators that are horrific amalgams of humans and animals that prey on humans in different ways and for different reasons, but both are nightmare fuel.
The Manden Kurufaba
The Manden Kurufaba is the first nation to be detailed in the book. Manden is the richest nation in Ifri, and is made up of a council of smaller nations that came together as one. The nation is characterized by layers and layers of bureaucracy, as well as a love of the culture of the Crescent Empire. The ancient Ori are worshiped alongside the practice of Al-din from the Crescent Empire, and it’s not uncommon for ancestors or Ori to sometimes inhabit the bodies of the people here. Because the Ori sometimes carry on relationships while in the body of a mortal being, some of the heroes of Manden can claim to be demi-gods.
One of my favorite aspects of this nation is the International Kurufaba. The ruler of Manden feels that he can bring peace to the entire world if he can establish the International Kurufaba, where representatives of various nations can come together as one. Because of Manden’s wealth and importance in Ifri, there are diplomats and representatives not only from Ifri, but also from Theah, Jaragua in the Atabean Sea, and the Crescent Empire. Having a place for court intrigue and diplomatic maneuvering is great in a swashbuckling game like 7th Sea, and the International Kurufaba is an excellent way to make connections between other regions in the game world. The presented delegates have some juicy secrets, goals, and quirks to play with in a campaign.
Manden also has one of my favorite adventure locations in the entire book (and possibly in the entire setting)—The Mad Library of al-Ghaba. The bookwraiths maintain some hilariously on point rules for the library, and getting cursed means partaking in a multi-part story whose length is determined by how long it takes your character to return their books.
This section presents the template that the other sections detailing the rest of the regions follow. After the nation and its culture are discussed, there is a section detailing locations, relations with other regions or organizations, and it then presents two example heroes and two example villains. Example heroes don’t have stats, just a description of what their concerns and drives are. Villains have a strength and influence listed, but they don’t have more granular details like advantages assigned to them. After each location and in each hero and villain’s section, there are example adventure hooks that tie into the entry.
The Kingdom of Mbey
Mbey is a kingdom where the ATC has invested heavily. The king, in order to restore the balance of power with the evil trade organization, set loose some ancient evils which proceeded to replace various members of his advisory council, and gave him his own villainous witch to advise him.
Manden opened the book with a nation that was largely about trade and diplomacy, with some supernatural craziness on the edges. Mbey wears its supernatural influences right out in the open, with fields of black stone that serve as the prisons of demons, and a perpetually burning jungle covered in green flame that is one line of defense for the king.
Bellete is the foothold of the ATC in the nation, from which they essentially antagonize all Mbey’s neighbors and attempt to solidify their hold on the nation. The ATC also has unfortunate leverage on the king in the form of his missing sons.
In addition to everything else going on, Mbey has a place that is part location and part monster, in the form of the Village That Walks, a moving settlement that may be filled with the restless dead.
The culture of Mbey is addressed, including a section on gender roles and how they are expressed in the nation. While there are some stations that are expected to be filled by a specific gender, Mbey society also allows for a formal declaration of a person’s gender to change, allowing that person to assume new roles.
Mbey’s entry follows the same pattern for location, heroes, and villains, all with the adjunct adventure hooks following them. It stands out to me that the king, despite letting loose an ancient evil, is presented as one of the heroes of the setting, having made a bad decision at a time when he had few options. I particularly like the hero Jaineba, who is a refugee leader that has had to inherit their own responsibilities in addition to their brothers, and as such, has refused to accept only one assigned gender. The character is a great example of how to incorporate a gender fluid character into a setting.
The Kingdom of Maghreb
Maghreb is a nation founded by a warrior goddess, and protected by a sisterhood of women warriors that travel the countryside making things right. The country is oceanic coastline on one side, and desert on the other, and has the most impressive ships in Ifri. Montaigne (the French analog from the main setting) has attempted to make inroads into Maghreb, and the queen has moved her court to an oasis near the Heart of the Desert, a volcano that is also a holy site where many of the exalted dead have been interred in ages past.
In contrast to the ancient supernatural elements present in Mbey or Khemet later in the book, Maghreb’s ancient mysteries are more . . . mysterious. For example, Maghreb’s Half-Sunk Library is a structure filled with ancient texts and containing prophesies about the current queen, but nobody even really has a theory where the library came from.
There is a tension in how the nation is presented. The supernatural things that appear aren’t part of the nation’s past. The vague images of the queen don’t give her a clear idea of what she should be doing. Montaigne and Vodacce both have their eyes on the nation, and there is a Montaigne Duke that is certain that it’s his destiny to marry the queen.
I love the idea of the Women of Cyrene wandering the countryside with their singing swords, but of all the nations presented in the book, I have less of an idea of what I would do with this nation in a campaign. It is a great source as the origin of the corsairs of Maghreb or the lion pelted warrior women.
The Kingdom of Aksum
Aksum is a nation that widely practices an orthodox version of the faith shared by the Church of the Prophets, but they have their own take on exactly what happened, and what holy texts are accurate. Despite this deviation from accepted practice, they are generally on good terms with the Vaticine Church. Aksum has less influence from the old gods than other nations in Ifri, with only one of the older deities still getting much attention outside of the Hibridi Church. It is also a place where mathematics is used to understand the supernatural, where demons strike up bargains with children, and where they are really worried about hostilities flaring up with Manden.
I went back and reread the Manden section again after realizing how major the war between the nations appears to be in the Aksum section. In the Manden section, the war is presented as something that could flare up in something goes wrong. In the Aksum section, the war is presented as something that will flare up again if something doesn’t go right. While I initially wondered at the difference in how the conflict was portrayed, it makes sense given that the conflict is being exacerbated by an outside agent, and because Aksum has a different view of the conflict than Manden.
Aksum is a nation of mountains, lakes, and plateaus. Everything would be fine, except that demons try to get children to exchange favors for power, their most powerful wizard has become the nation’s biggest villain, and there is a tomb that may house a troupe of undead assassins.
The Chamber of Wonders is one of the locations presented in Aksum, a secret location that the current ruler of the empire knows, that contains a map of all of the plinths erected by adherents of the older faiths, which can be used to track the ebb and flow of energies in the nation. One of my favorite details comes from the section on art in Aksum, where it is noted that often clues to the plans of local villains or supernatural elements can be found in the local artwork.
The Kingdom of Khemet
If the section on Aksum presented the war between Aksum and Manden in a different light than the Manden section, the section on Khemet presents the Jok in a different light than the other chapters. The Jok are presented elsewhere as beings that helped humans deal with and master the supernatural. In Khemet, they dispelled a supernatural darkness in ages long past, served as the nation’s gods, and founded the families that would become the rulers of the nation.
Khemet is starting to fall under the same curse as it did in ancient days. The days grow more dim, and shorter, except for the current residence of the royal family. The queen’s son should be old enough to take the throne, but she hasn’t relinquished it to him. Additionally, she has begun to force the destitute into indefinite service to the kingdom, and has even started to purchase foreign slaves from the ATC, lying about where they came from to her people.
Unlike other nations presented in the book, the religious tension isn’t between the people of Ifri and outsiders that don’t understand their ability to allow multiple faiths to be practiced side by side. Instead, there is rising tension between the Dinists and those that worship the Ennead in the nation, caused in part by the general unrest in the nation over the ongoing curse. While there may be religious tensions in the nation, when describing family dynamics in this chapter it is noted that in Khemet lineage is important, but same-sex marriage is perfectly valid, and those married form the equal head of the family.
The Ennead is detailed in their own section in this chapter. Anyone that read the section on Numa in Pirate Nations will probably recognize how the gods are presented in a manner that is similar, but doesn’t exactly match the culture being emulated.
Adventuring in Ifri
This chapter details the specific rules to portray the setting elements introduced in the book. This includes new backgrounds, advantages, sorcery, rules for Vile Dice, and dueling styles. I noticed that a few of the backgrounds refer to advantages in Nations of Theah Volume 1 and 2, as well as The Crescent Empire. I checked the two most recent releases, The Crescent Empire, and The New World, and both contain backgrounds that refer to advantages in other, non-core books, although Lands of Gold and Fire contains three such backgrounds instead of one each in the previous volumes.
While a few of the advantages are tied to nations of Ifri, most are generally applicable and are going to be widely useful to players of 7th Sea even if they aren’t making an Ifri hero. The sorceries offered include one that draws on a heroes own life force while creating sympathetic items to influence the world with magical power; a power that allows a character to play with Corruption and convert it to a somewhat dangerous resource called Blight that can be used for various effects; a sorcery that allows for bargaining with demonic forces in exchange for favors; and a “sorcery” that uses the sorcerous rules to track the varied powers of weapons and items made from a unique metal found in Mbey.
Melber, the sorcery that revolves around trading favors with demons, is intentionally similar to Sanderis from the core rulebook. The main difference is that the demonic forces in the Sarmatian Commonwealth strike up bargains with desperate adults, while the Abonsam of Aksum intentionally start trading favor with children, to corrupt them early.
The concept of Vile Dice really fascinates me, but I’m not sure they will get much play at the table. I love the idea of tempting players with additional dice by accepting the help of the Abonsam, but the problem is that it interacts with the punishingly unforgiving Corruption mechanics from the core rules. Even accepting a little corruption is inviting a 10% chance that you flat out lose your character.
The new dueling styles seem to be in line, mechanically, with other styles that we have seen, but the best part of this section is the lead up to it, which details how dueling differs from the way it works in Theah, and the common practices associated with various types of duels.
The Light of the Heavens. . . this is a solid, entertaining, useful game product that is filled with heroes and villains that are people of color, and presents heroes that don’t conform to traditional gender roles or sexual orientations. We need more of this kind of game product . . .
The book presents five great places to adventure that all feel distinct, and with as many plot hooks and adventure sites as any of the core nations. There are some amazingly evocative locations, like the Mad Library, the Stones of Bonsam, or The Burning Jungle. There are tragic heroes that need help, villains that have a good story thread, and lots of things for a swashbuckling hero to do. There are also so many ways to tie Ifri into a larger 7th Sea campaign.
The Spreading Night
Other 7th Sea supplemental products have introduced optional rules that could be used across the board for other campaigns, such as the new monster traits and mass combat rules in The Crescent Empire, or the amazing Hazard rules in The New World. The Vile Dice are hindered by being tied to the Corruption rules that are already unforgiving enough that I’m not sure I want to add more ways to engage them. Mechanically, you lose a few options if you only use this and the core rulebook, but not many.
Descriptively, the ATC and the Crescent Empire are important enough to this book that without Pirate Nations or The Crescent Empire, some of the references might be a bit harder to follow.
Finally, and this may just be me, but I would have much rather had some kind of mathematics based sorcery for Aksum. The backstory of children being threatened by demonic corruption is strong, but it almost feels like it could have been modeled by more directly referencing Sanderis.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
This is going to be a strong purchase if you are a fan of 7th Sea in general, but I think the book is really a solid buy as setting material even outside of the game. It’s a gaming product that gives a strong voice to distinct, African inspired nations. Much of the book is presented free of mechanics, meaning that if you want to use Ifri in some other game system, you shouldn’t feel that a majority of your purchase is lost to pages that won’t be applicable to another game.
More importantly, this is a solid, entertaining, useful game product that is filled with heroes and villains that are people of color, and presents heroes that don’t conform to traditional gender roles or sexual orientations. We need more of this kind of game product, and I can already picture the heroes from my first 7th Sea campaign setting sail for Ifri.
Let me know what you think the best historical analogs in various games settings have been, as well as settings that you have always wanted to see for your favorite games. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!