Origins Reactions #3: 7th Sea and Hollow Earth
7th Sea is a swashbuckling adventure game, which uses an "x keep y" die-rolling mechanic. For example, in combat, you might roll 6 10-sided dice and keep the highest three. If any of the dice are tens, you keep them and roll another die. (My top roll, a 6k3, was 71, which was so far above what I needed that the GM let me know I didn't actually need to keep rolling more dice.) You compare the total to a difficulty level set by the GM. It's a nice mechanic, but the formula makes base attributes more important than skill, which seemed backwards. (I'd think a character with 2 wits (attribute) and 3 social (skill) should be better at gathering information that a 3 wits/1 social character, but 4k3 beats 5k2 almost every time.)
The problem I had with this session was, oddly enough, knowing too much about the setting. The scenario was based on the Scarlet Pimpernel, and I was the only one present, including the GM, who had read any of the books. So I was expecting a lot of stealth, disguises, and trickery, and the GM was expecting us to charge in and fight the bad guys. I would have enjoyed the session a lot more if I'd realized I should be playing "flamboyant and unsubtle", not "clever and sneaky". The mechanics look like they'd work well in a more traditional swashbuckler setting.
Hollow Earth Expeditions is a 1930's pulp setting with larger-than-life heroes. Turned out the GM and most of the players were the same as the 7th Sea group. It uses the Ubiquity system, which involves rolling a bunch of dice and counting up the "successes" (even numbers). We actually used sets of eight-sided dice which were numbered either 00001111, 00111122, or 01112223, to simulate rolling either 1, 2, or 3 dice. You also get style points for good role-playing or doing cool stuff, which you can redeem either to improve a roll or (more likely) to modify the narrative somehow. For example, my character had a first aid kit and medical training: after an enemy hypnotized my ape-boy ally into falling asleep, I tossed the GM a style chip and declared that my kit contained a hypodermic with a powerful stimulant, and used my action to revive the ape-boy. (I then declared he'd had the equivalent of about 50 cups of coffee, which sent a shock of horror around the table, as the character had started out hyper.) I got one style chip for making a callback to the previous session; the system gives a fair amount of narrative control to the players, and rewards a loose, fun play style. Like 7th Sea, the scenario was basically constructed around a few set combat pieces, and our groups were basically total crap at planning, which kind of broke the illusion that we were larger-than-life heroes. Both sessions were a lot of fun at the time, largely because the group would ad-lib stuff along the way and the GM rolled with it, but I didn't feel like the session as a whole added up to a satisfying story. I would play with this group again, I just feel that the constraints of a single-session pre-planned scenario detract from the whole experience. It would be interesting to try a more open-ended campaign sometime.