17 September 2012

Earthdawn: Part 9 - Comparison 1E and 3E

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

One of the common questions I hear about Earthdawn is the differences between the various editions. They are all very similar and each could easily be seen as a refinement, or revision, of the previous edition. Due to licensing, the editions don't follow a linear path as they may suggested: 1E (FASA) begat 2E (Living Room Games) and Classic (Redbrick) as distinct editions. Fom Classic was born 3E (Redbrick), and from 3E comes Revised (FASA). This is going to focus on 1E and 3E, the two most popular editions. Classic has small changes from 1E, but is mostly cleaning up 1E - if you prefer 1E and can get the Classic compendiums, they're excellent tomes. When I get a print copy of Revised, the changes from 3E to Revised (sometimes referred to as 3ER) will be covered in similar detail. This will primarily focus on changes from the player's perspective - significantly less changed for the GM between editions: more and better guidelines on how to create your own creatures, Thread Items, etc., creatures and their powers have been updated, as well as how encounters are balanced and Legend Point awards.

The first major difference between the two is that 3E has the advantage of including material from the entire line in the supplements. Nearly all the additional material from source books (e.g. The Adept's Way, Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive and Horrors) are within the core books (Player's Guide, Gamemaster's Guide, Player's Companion, Gamemaster's Companion and Namegivers of Barsaive). That allows the information to be organized in a more useful fashion and presented as relevant. For those used bringing out a big stack of softcovers and trying to remember which of the magic books had which rules, this is extremely useful (also a feature of Classic). From here, things are going to get more technical. You have been warned.

The Step table has been changed to smooth the bell curve around some of the dice pools (Step 14 being the most notorious), and simplify the progression overall; d4s and d20s are no longer used. Namegiver races have changed in a few ways, mostly minor tweaks to attribute bonuses: Obsidimen are stronger, but not quite as tough; orks no longer have a penalty to dexterity and now have Gahad; t'skrang tails do less damage; and windlings are weaker, but tougher, and have the Astral Sight Talent instead of Astral Sensitive Sight. Movement by race has been standardized (no longer dexterity dependent) and Karma access simplified to go with the overall changes to Karma (see below).

Attribute costs and how they are purchased have changed slightly: everyone in 3E starts with a 10 and that can be modified from -2 to +8, instead of purchasing a value from 2 to 18. This means that you won't be seeing any extremely low values, nor are extremely high values quite as common. Every adept in 3E also starts with 8 skill ranks, in addition to the starting artisan, knowledge and language ranks. This gives starting characters considerably more versatility in the challenges that they can attempt, without really increasing their overall power. I've most commonly seen this used to offset early weaknesses (combat for magicians) or get access to abilities that their Discipline would not normally cover and don't necessarily need to keep improving to remain useful (e.g. social skills).

The core Disciplines number 15 (the "core 15") in 3E, as opposed to 13 in 1E: the Air Sailor and Scout have made their way into the 3E Player's Guide from the 1E Earthdawn Companion. The Disciplines in the Denizens of Barsaive books, as well as the Horror Stalker and Shaman, have been incorporated into Namegivers of Barsaive. Some of those Disciplines have been reworked a little, such as the Morphism Talent for the Journeyman Discipline. A new Discipline has also been created, the Messenger, and two Disciplines from the Earthdawn Journal have been included, Songsmith and Taildancer, creating what is known as the "expanded 15". Half-Magic is now included for every Discipline, and some uses have been expanded. For example, Nethermancers can now create Blood Charms with Half-Magic. Discipline tiers have been formalized by Circle: Initiate (1), Novice (2-4), Journeyman (5-8), Warden (9-12), Master (13-15). These tiers are used throughout the game, from Legend Point costs to Thread Item levels; though Initiate is treated as part of Novice outside of this section.

How Talents are selected is a significant change. First Circle in 3E includes five Discipline Talents (six for magicians) and a pool of Talent Options, instead of six Talents (7 for magicians) of which you must learn five (six for magicians) for 1E. At each new Circle in 3E there is a new Discipline Talent, while in 1E there are two Talents which you must select at least one. The Talent you choose in 1E does not necessarily have to be a Discipline Talent (a term that means how Karma can be used with the Talent), but they were common choices due to their increased versatility. In 3E you must learn and advance all of the Discipline Talents, while 1E requires you to advance the Talent you chose (or one of the two if that is the case).

Each tier in 3E has its own list of Talent Options (five options at Initiate and eight new options every tier thereafter), and one new Talent Option can be selected at every Circle from any of the pools that the adept has access for the appropriate Discipline. This means a Journeyman Bestmaster can still select Beastmaster Talent Options from the Initiate and Novice choices if they want as they advance in Beastmaster Circles.

These changes are in organizing things and clearly communicating the concept of the Discipline, though leads to less "interesting" builds. The Talent Options give more flexibility between adepts of the same Discipline, while maintaining a core curriculum. An argument can be made that every adept now has the same Talents in common, making them potentially more homogeneous. It is not unfair and it isn't necessarily a simple thing to completely undo since access to the relevant Talents may be spread across a few Circles. The old Talent selections by Discipline (updated to the 3E Talent list) can still be found within the Gamemaster's books, though it would be best if every character used either the 1E or 3E methods. When defense bonuses, Karma abilities, and other abilities are gained are also standardized across all of the Disciplines - though the Disciplines with better Durability ratings (e.g. Cavalryman and Warrior) have proportionally less extra abilities. Summoning Discipline abilities are now Talents.

Talents now include an action type: Standard, Simple, Free and Sustained. Standard take your turn, Simple do not take your turn, but can only be used on your turn (and the GM may set limits on how many you can use in a single turn), Free can be used whenever they apply, and Sustained take more than one turn to accomplish. It is slightly more explicit than 1E, but more-or-less the same. Many of the Talents have been tweaked, particularly problem children like Acrobatic Strike and Taunt, though there have also been new additions, like Parry. Redundant Talents, like Cat's Paw, have been removed. Here is an in-depth look at how core Talents have changed between editions.. Every Knack is now available to any adept with the associated Talent. Adepts that have the Talent as a Discipline Talent can acquire it earlier and cheaper than those that have it only as a Talent Option.

The skills section has been significantly expanded. All of the Talents that could be used as skills now have their own entry and text modified to match (skills are generally worse than Talents). Skills in 3E have been added, like Rhetoric, some removed, Acrobatics, while other skills have been made available as Talents, like Tactics. It embraces the move to make skills more a relevant part of the game than before, to make it more explicit the ways in which you can be more than just your Discipline(s). Acrobatics was troublesome as soon as any player read the description - you would quickly find yourself with Cirque du Soliel on your hands and it was getting a little Rifts for my taste.

Spells in 3E have been tweaked in a similar way to the Talents; changes and some additions have been made. Nethermacers, for example, now get their own version of Mind Dagger, and Bone Shatter is less... horribly abusive. Beyond the inclusion of all the material from the sourcebooks, spellcasting is pretty much the same. The uses of blood magic have also been brought front and center into the game, making Blood Oaths, Blood Peace and forming an adventuring Group fundamental parts of the game.

Karma and how it works is one of the biggest changes in 3E. Gone are the individual Karma die types, in 3E everyone has Step 4 (d6). Karma pool size is based on your rank in the Karma Ritual Talent and your racial Karma modifier. The races that get less advantageous attribute bonuses (like orks and windlings) have a better racial multiplier than races that get good bonuses (like obsidimen and trolls). So an ork and a troll with rank 4 each in Karma Ritual would have a pool of 20 and 12 Karma points respectively (to go with the ork's multiplier of x5 and the troll's of x3). When Karma is purchased, each point costs 10 Legend Points and you can buy no more than your rank in Karma Ritual. This simplifies things a great deal, but also decreases the usefulness of races with lower attributes - also one of the most house-ruled aspects of 3E (I know I did).

The limits on Thread Weaving are different (not necessarily better) in 3E. Only your highest rank in a Thread Weaving Talent is used to determine how many Threads you can have and what their rank can be. What this means is that taking multiple Disciplines will not allow you to Weave additional Threads by advancing that specific Thread Weaving Talent. On the plus side, the specific Thread Weaving Talents are used more often and some have Knacks associated with them. Because of the overall reduction in Threads, the Rule of Three is also no longer around since there isn't as much benefit to attaching a Thread to anything that will hold still long enough. This depends on the style of the game - I tend to like it because it means small bonuses from Thread Items can be included and matter, and it requires less bookkeeping. That may sound weird, but you just add up all of the bonuses without keeping track of what the largest three are. This is a particularly easy house rule to make and will not have any unforeseen consequences as long as it is changed as a package.

Spending Legend Points is a little easier to communicate with the tiers giving easy tags to denote costs; Novice costs start at 100 Legend Points for the first rank, while Warden costs start at 300 Legend Points for the first rank. Everything still proceeds through the Fibanocci Sequence from there. Advancing in Circle tends to be a little simpler as a whole since you know the Talents you need to improve, instead of figuring which you will be using. It is a little thing, but could always be a stumbling block for players over the years. How attributes are increased has been altered - in 3E they are improved through mundane training, by default, and limited to +3, instead of as a part of gaining a Circle and limited to +5. Another part of the system that I have house-ruled to allow increases in both ways, and meet somewhere in the middle with regard to the limit (making those important attributes listed for each Discipline actually mean something).

Equipment is mostly the same, (two-handed swords now do a little more damage) though significantly expanded. Crafting is supported throughout the book and the requirements and difficulty to make anything in the equipment section is explicitly given. Shields now have a Deflection Bonus to go with that new aspect of the game, though it is a small addition overall (it makes shields a little more useful overall, though with the inclusion of Parry has the unintended consequences of making really big weapons the best defensive items).

All of that being said, 3E is brimming with optional rules to include within the game, some bringing back aspects of 1E, others including more mechanical and tactical depth. Some I like and use, some I don't care for, others I'm still trying to figure out how I feel (like having a Legend Point cost for learning spells). That is a broad overview of the changes between 1E and 3E. If there are any specific questions, or I happened to miss something/get it wrong, leave a comment. When I get a print copy of Revised, you can expect to see something similar comparing it to 3E.