27 August 2012

Earthdawn: Part 1 - Introduction

This is the first part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Index of articles.

Earthdawn is likely my favorite game of all time. Over the course of many years I have playing with the thoughts ofwhy it always figured at the top of that list, warts and all. There is something about it that conjures all of the joy and freedom of my childhood, but still has grown up with me to reveal deeper elements. It has all of the mechanics and material to tell rich and vibrant stories, the world is one where you do something, and there are just so many things that it can do.

This is what I am getting at, the passion that I have for this game. When I first started this blog, a very good friend of mine told me to write about what I care about and everything will come from there. He's absolutely correct, of course. This series about Earthdawn has been put off for a while; half-written drafts and proposed outlines that went nowhere. I was afraid to do it a disservice, to not get the format right. It's not about any of that, it's about that I really love this game and I want to get other people to love it too.

That is where all of this is going. Until I have nothing left to say about Earthdawn, I'm going to be writing about it and hopefully you are willing to give it a read. If there is any particular topic or analysis that you would like to see, leave a comment and I will be more than happy to address it.


The line's travels have been more curious than most and have recently come full circle.Released in 1993 by FASA, the line was closed in 1999. The final release was Dragons, an e-book that I vividly remember printing out at the campus library after a chemistry final. That same year Living Room Games (LRG) acquired the license and released a second edition in 2001. In 2003 Redbrick acquired a license as well and released Earthdawn Classic, while cleaned up the rules and compiled many of the supplements into enormous POD tomes. In 2005 LRG stopped publishing Earthdawn and in 2009 Redbrick released the third edition of Earthdawn, now the sole holder of the license. On 26 Aug 2012, publishing has reverted to FASA in something like a merger between FASA and Redbrick. Currently Earthdawn is available in the third edition rules, along with Pathfinder and Savage Worlds editions.

Earthdawn is best described as a love letter to D&D. It crafts a world to support and give consistency to many of the classic D&D tropes (e.g. the ecology and appearance of bizarre monsters, the prevalence of dungeons and why treasure is at the bottom, the drive for adventure despite the inherent dangers, etc.). As well Earthdawn addresses many of the complaints that have been voiced over the years with regard to D&D (e.g. constantly upgraded magic items, the continual need for clerics, supremacy of wizards, etc.). The influence from many of these innovations can still be seen in game design today.

The setting, in brief, is post-post-apocalyptic; civilization effectively ended, but has since been rebuilt to an extent. Around 500 years prior to the assumed start all of the many people retreated into kaers, magical bomb shelters, to hide from what would otherwise be a mass extinction event called the Scourge. During this 400 year period the magical reality (astral space) and physical reality grew close enough for otherworldly entities known as Horrors to cross into our world. The Horrors feed off the pain and fear of sapient creatures and have a great interest in cracking into the kaers, to no small amount of success. The survivors emerged into a world that was very different from the tales they had been raised on. It was a twisted version, filled with monsters and Horrors.

Adepts are the heroes of the setting: individuals that can use magic through natural talent and force of will by aligning themselves with archetypes known as Disciplines. Because of who and what they are, it is their responsibility to explore this new world, protect the people trying to rebuild, banish the Horrors that remain, and find and rescue those that have not yet emerged from their kaers. The magic employed by all Adepts involves Weaving magical Threads to Patterns. Everything with a Name has a Pattern, and those that can give Names have a special place in the universe. They are collectively known as Namegivers and all of the player races belong to this group. Weaving Threads to an object with a Pattern requires knowledge of them, so many Adepts expend considerable effort to learn the history of the item in question so that it will gain power as they do.

These are a few of the elements of Earthdawn which will forever capture my imagination. I'm going to expand on these and many more. Please leave a comment if there is anything you would like to see, or if you are enjoying what you read. My hope is that others can be inspired like I was.