Billed as a collection of Heroes and Villains, this manages to be more - it gives added shape to the world of Théah, filling it with giant personalities and exploring new corners of potential within the setting, and backing them up with appropriate game mechanics.
Chapter 1: Introduction sets out its stall, talking about the role of Heroes and Villains within the game. The sample ones given here have been catagorised beyond just whether they are good or bad into five types each, based on their style, the way that they go about things. For style and panache are all-important in 7th Sea, a deliberately-cinematic game where how you do something is almost as important as what you are doing! Heroes and Villains, however, are distinguished by the choices they make, so what they choose to do is also of great importance. Faced with the same background, the same situation, you can rely on the Hero to do the right, the good, thing whilst the Villain will invariably take the wrong or evil path... but both do it in style.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that even the blackest of Villains has the potential to turn his life around, and so the concept of redemption is introduced and each of the Villains presented here are given - when possible - a path out of the dark place they are in presently... and there's a new advantage, Saviour, for those Heroes who seek to find that path and guide Villains down it. GMs are encouraged to use the Villains in their own plots; the Heroes can serve as exemplars to aid players in creating their own characters, and might show up as allies... or even be played if one appeals or time is too short to create your own.
Chapter 2: Heroes contains detailed notes on some forty Heroes, but begins with a discussion on how to play a Hero as well as one on how to run a game for Heroes. Useful advice for those on both sides of the GM's screen. The player advice, in particular, should give players a few things to think about and are applicable whatever you happen to be playing. The Heroes themselves are grouped as being Indomitable, Deft, Tacticians, Steadfast or Tricksters... but they are all good guys, who can be relied on to do the right thing when it comes to a pinch. Each Hero comes with a portrait and character sheet, on a single page so that PDF users can print it out if needed for a game, along with a second page that covers backstory, goals, and role-playing advice. They make for a fascinating read, showing the wide range of characters that can be played, and the vast potential that this setting has.
Chapter 3: Villains follows a similar pattern, although the preliminary essays are aimed mainly at the GM. The Villain sees the world in terms of how it can best serve his needs and, comments about possible redemption aside, there are no shades of grey here. Villains are bad, and that's that. The discussion looks at ways of weaving Villains into your stories, and incorporating what they want to do in such a way that there is a direct impact on the Heroes' lives. This gives them all the more reason to want to go after the Villains, after all. There are also comments about duels, with a lengthy example of how one such might play out. Then on to the Villains themselves, who are grouped as Beasts, Chameleons, Masterminds, Juggernauts and outright Deranged. Each category comes with some notes on how to use that particular type of Villain in your game. Each Villain has two pages dedicated to him, including a portrait, character sheet, and notes that not only give a backstory but look at the sort of schemes he might be hatching and how to weave them into a plot. An excellent resource that spawns ideas for adventures even as you read through them.
Finally, an Appendix contains new game mechanics and short-form Hero and Villain character sheets. There's also a comprehensive Index.
Of most use to GMs, this book is a handy resource especially if you are a bit short of time or seeking that killer idea (or at least, Villain) for your next adventure. If you run 7th Sea 2e, this book has a place on your shelf.
[4 of 5 Stars!]