24 September 2012

Earthdawn: Part 11 - Putting a Group Together

This is the eleventh part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

A request was made to help some players that are new to Earthdawn (3E in this case) put together an effective Group along with some ideas on how to play to their strengths (especially in combat). The characters are an elf Air Sailor, elf Elementalist, windling Swordmaster and human Weaponsmith (likely going Horror Stalker). Looking at this line-up, I immediately note that it is not combat heavy, but leaning towards support roles and social interactions. They will likely have on the high side of defense ratings (nearly everyone gets bonuses to dexterity, perception and charisma), but not be up for a protracted fight (plenty of penalties to toughness to go around). With that in mind, let's start putting things together.

Whenever planning a character for a Group, the first thing to determine what role you will be fulfilling. This is going to influence your Talent Options and skills. When looking at Talent Options, it is important to see if multiple characters with a particular Talent is valuable. For example, Melee Combat versus Haggle: having more people to fight is always going to be useful, but having more than one character negotiating isn't going to have a great benefit. If a Talent Option falls into the latter scenario and another character has it as a Discipline Talent, don't take it - even if your associated attribute is better. It will not take long for the Discipline Talent to outpace natural ability and that Talent Option can be spent better elsewhere.

Another thing to keep in mind with Talent Options is "how useful will the Talent be if it doesn't keep pace with your Circle?" This is particularly applicable to combat Talents, like Throwing Weapons. Those Talents will require constant maintenance, much like a Discipline Talent, to remain relevant, while Talents like Etiquette or Fireblood are always useful - the former because not all social encounters will have aggressively scaled Social Defense, and the latter because there is no difficulty to roll against.

For skills, you need to know if the optional rule "Aligning Skills and Talents" is in effect (referred to as "the optional rule" from here on out). This will have a major impact on how you look at skills. If it is in use, then picking up a skill early can give an early boost in effectiveness in that area, then convert to the Talent when you take that. This will also save a few Legend Points, but nothing game changing. If it isn't in use, then skill ranks spent on something you will get as a Talent later on are wasted and it is better to look elsewhere.

Similar to Talent Options, select skills that are always going to be useful no matter how many ranks are in them. The effort required to improve a skill is considerably greater than a Talent; the costs are higher for less payoff. Unless there is unusual dedication, skills will always lag behind Talents - and that is as intended. This shows off the advantages that adepts have over non-adepts. It just means that the Avoid Blow skill you picked up at 1st Circle is going to look pretty sad when Journeyman rolls around.

Air Sailor
The Air Sailor is a well-rounded Discipline that can be built towards a few different goals. They are effective in combat, but will generally not be a primary combatant - their Durability is average, which limits their staying power with regard to Strain and taking damage in general. The Swordmaster is going to be more focused on combat and social aspects that the Air Sailor, but since they are also a windling, damage is going to be an issue and the Air Sailor may need to play a more significant role in that regard than normal.

Their Discipline Talents are all solid and show the flexible nature of the Discipline, as well as its team-oriented nature, which will become more pronounced as they gain Circles. This makes the Air Sailor a natural leader that can be built towards filling any perceived gaps in the Group. For this particular Group that will likely be in combat, assuming the typical exploration-style Earthdawn campaign.

Planning Talent Options and skills will involve looking for ways to increase that effectiveness overall and the Air Sailor has more than a few options in that regard, such as Air Dance and Great Leap when combined with Down Strike. Their Durability is average (6/5), which means they will not be up for a protracted engagement constantly spending Strain on Talents. If the optional rule is being used, there is also the opportunity to take a number of skills that can later be aligned as Talents (including one Discipline Talent). This can be taken advantage to get a jump start on their effectiveness.

The Elementalist's role will be support, and they have few peers in that regard. They do not have particularly strong combat damage options, lacking access to mystic damage that most magicians capitalize on in combat. What they do have are some interesting control and support spells, as well as eventual access to elemental summoning. Spells are their major contribution to any Group and they provide additional healing that will make every member of the Group grateful, and not other can provide.

Outside of combat, or any circumstance where time is not of the essence, they effectively have full access to their spells. However, 
Spell Matrices are their limiting factor in combat. Having two Matrices at 1st Circle is excellent, but picking up a third should be based on needs since as Circle increases, the Elementalist will get access to more and better Matrices. The other notable Talent for an Elementalist is Astral Sight; this is pretty much a must for any magician.

Selecting spells is the most important task for any magician. The Elementalist spell list is full of great buff, debuff, control, support, and utility spells, but also some that are not so good. Most of those are damage spells that seem powerful, but have strict requirements, such as Flame Strike which requires an open flame nearby. They will want one damage spell, Earth Darts at 1st Circle is probably the best up to 3rd Circle, but that is not their area of expertise.

The Swordmaster is a social character and will be the "face" of most adventuring Groups (barring a Songsmith or Troubadour). As a windling, this is even more true; they have the best charisma bonus in the game and are rather weak combatants. Social Talents, such as First Impression and Winning Smile, support this and should be selected when the opportunity arises.

Not only will they be the face, but also the combat specialist. Being a windling can make that difficult, so this Swordmaster will rely on assistance from their companions more than they may like to admit. Like all Swordmasters their strength is in one-on-one conflicts, but patience is where they will always be rewarded. Their Talent interactions are some of the more complicated, using Maneuver with Taunt to control the tempo of the conflict and set up their allies as well.

Finding ways to improve damage is going to be important and armor-defeating hits aren't something you can generally rely on all the time. Skills to improve damage and tactics with allies are going to be boon, and create a more lively experience as slogging it out isn't going to be a good option. Spend time thinking about how your Talents work and particularly work together. This Discipline takes considerable work to figure out, but can be a terror when it all comes together.

Another support Discipline and a major asset to any Group lucky enough to include one. Nearly every Weaponsmith I have ever seen tends to assume the role of quartermaster for the Group. This is natural considering they have the most Talents regarding resource management. Their ability to Forge Weapons will save money and grant early access to more-or-less permanent damage increases, and Haggle will save additional money. During downtime their abilities are always in demand and can turn a tidy profit while training and/or research is taking place.

Their ability to handle Thread Magic is also considerable and they will spend considerable time with all of the Thread Items the Group comes upon. Once they get access to Thread Weaving, they and the Elementalist will be able to being crafting Thread Items and can combine their considerable abilities in to great effect. Additionally they have strong defenses against magic. Many magicians (and Horrors) have had their day wrecked by a Weaponsmith on a hot streak.

While not a combat Discipline, they are capable of holding their own. Fireblood will help considerably with this and as a human, this Weaponsmith will be able to cherry pick Talents to fill whatever the needs are that develop over time. The Weaponsmith and Elementalist make a natural team in keeping any Group at the top of their game through their support abilities, but since they are both lacking in the direct arena, the direct route (or "Plan B" as it is known around my table) isn't often going to be the best course of action.