10 October 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 01 - The Warrior

This is the first Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This is the first entry in a new feature for my ongoing series about Earthdawn. The "Anatomy of..." will take a deeper look at a specific element within the setting with discussion regarding the mechanics in particular. The "Anatomy of a Discipline" features will take a look at one Discipline: elements to consider, how to handle them, available specialties, how they work in a Group, and Talent considerations. Discussions on mechanics will be limited through Journeyman (up to 8th Circle).

Overview

Warriors are more than just a synonym for fighters in Earthdawn. They represent and internalize the very essence of what it means to go to war. This is how they view and present themselves. Towards that end, they almost always organize in groups, whether elite national soldiers, mercenary companies, or monastic orders. They are conservative and traditionalist in their outlook, taking their duties and obligations of protection very seriously. This means that they also tend to have tunnel vision with how they view their obligations - their group that they have sworn to is their primary, and at times only, concern.

This makes them pragmatic with the execution of their duties. Warriors view open conflict as the last resort, but they exist to make war, which is their paradox and troubling thoughts for many professional soldiers. They strive to carry themselves honorably at all times, for through that can war be more bearable for those involved. Above all, loyalty is the most valued trait that any Warrior can offer - only through absolute trust in their brothers can Warriors emerge victorious. It is unwise to betray a Warrior, not only because you will be relentlessly hunted, but because they always have friends.

The order that trained the Warrior is a great place to start for backstory and plot hooks. Establishing any traditions they may have can go a long way towards creating depth for a character. As well, what continuing obligations does the Warrior have towards this organization that Initiated them? These are bonds that every Warrior must take seriously and should be developed throughout play.

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. For a Warrior these come about in a few different ways. Acting out for personal reasons, rather than for the group; disrupting the harmony of the group; reneging on a promise or deal; failing to hunt down a traitor; executing an unarmed enemy; or being paralyzed by indecision. These are all excellent elements to introduce into any story focusing on the Warrior, ideally with the goal of reaffirming their adherence to their Discipline. These are also opportunities to show another side of the Warrior, that every Discipline has aspects which are frightening to behold. That may not be for everyone, my stories will often feature darker edges to them.

Specialists

As an extremely traditional Discipline, there are no specialist Warriors. Various orders may favor particular Talent Options over others (perhaps requiring everyone within their order to take them), but that is the extent of it. This situation works because the Warrior must be a generalist to a certain degree - they cannot be certain what situations they will find themselves in and must be prepared. That and their Talent selection is very good.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Air Dance, Climbing, Maneuver, Parry

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Unarmed Combat, Wood Skin

Novice
Talent Options: Detect Weapon, Durability (9/7), Fireblood, Heartening Laugh, Missile Weapons, Swift Kick, Throwing Weapons, Tiger Spring

Second Circle:
Discipline Talent: Anticipate Blow

Third Circle:
Discipline Talent: Wound Balance

Fourth Circle:
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [War Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Cobra Strike, Disarm, Leadership, Lion Heart, Second Weapon, Shield Charge, Steely Stare, Tactics

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Temper Self

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Life Check

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Crushing Blow

Eighth Circle:
Discipline Talent: Second Attack

The Warrior only has one skill set to bring to a Group: violence. That being said, they are very, very good at it. Most of their Talents focus around straight forward and useful applications, with few tricks. Avoid Blow, Wood Skin, Wound Balance, Temper Self, and Life Check all represent some of the stronger defensive Talents that will almost certainly be relevant throughout the adept's career. Crushing Blow is the most powerful of the damage boosting Talents, having no requirements, and Second Attack is, well, an additional attack.

Anticipate Blow is a defensive Talent (boosting physical defense), but not direct in application like the rest of the Warrior's Talents. It uses perception and targets spell defense, which is somewhat unusual, but useful against more physically oriented opponents (and won't be necessary against opponents weak against physical offense). It rewards patience, but requires the Warrior to have a higher initiative than the target(s). That last part informs a great deal about how I approach putting a Warrior together.

With the knowledge that a key Talent for Warriors relies on going first, a scheme for Talent Option selections is forming. Warriors have access to every Talent that boosts initiative, Air Dance, Cobra Strike and Tiger Spring. Air Dance and Cobra Strike are mutually exclusive, but Tiger Spring can be applied to either of them. Considering the two options, Air Dance can provide an additional attack, while Cobra Strike prevents active defenses. I tend to consider Air Dance as the better of the two because it is always good to have another attack, while shutting down defenses isn't always relevant, and it takes up the generally less valuable Initiate Talent Option, while Cobra Strike is a more expensive Journeyman Talent Option (also available much later).

With that all set, there is only one Talent Option left for Novice. My thoughts on the options:
  • Acrobatic Strike - Somewhat redundant with Anticipate Blow and you have to continually improve this Talent for it to remain relevant.
  • Climbing - I like this better as a skill.
  • Maneuver - This can play interestingly with Anticipate Blow and create some large benefits for the truly patient. That being said, it must be continually improved to remain competitive.
  • Parry - Redundant with Avoid Blow and will require constant improvement to remain useful.
  • Detect Weapon - Not a bad selection if no one else in the Group intends to select it. It has the added benefit of being useful without constant improvement.
  • Fireblood - If you absolutely must remain unkillable and is good no matter how many ranks are in it. Though it could be seen as redundant with Life Check later on and draws from the same resource pool as Life Check and Wood Skin (Recovery Tests).
  • Heartening Laugh - If there is no Swordmaster (or other adept with this Talent) and the relevant effects are becoming a problem, this should be considered (it does cost Karma). Warriors tend to have low charisma and this should be continually improved to be useful against scaling social defense (though less aggressively than physical and spell).
  • Missile Weapons - If there are no other adepts with this Talent, it can be useful. It will require constant investment to remain useful.
  • Swift Kick - An additional attack against an opponent with lower initiative. It can be powerful (t'skrang in particular), but requires the same maintenance to remain relevant and the damage tends to be low. Due to the low damage, this is best use with the Attack to Knockdown combat option (unless you are a t'skrang).
  • Throwing Weapions - Much the same as Missile Weapons, but Throwing Weapons tend to be less useful on the whole.
Journeyman is fairly open as far as Talent Options are concerned. Not everything offered will appeal to every character, which is good as these Talents are more expensive to improve and the number of things (such as Thread Items) to spend Legend Points on will be ever increasing. Here are my thoughts on the Talent Options:
  • Cobra Strike - As discussed above (at great length), this is a good Talent, but only important if you are having issues with active defenses. The ability to combine this with Tiger Spring means getting initiative should not be an issue.
  • Disarm - This Talent requires constant maintenance, but can turn the tide against other adepts. It is rather useless against non-adepts, however.
  • Leadership - This Talent may be crucial for some concepts, but irrelevant to others. It does not require continual improvement to be useful, but can also be taken as a skill.
  • Lion Heart - My favorite generically useful Talent from this list. As Horrors are encountered more frequently, this will see more use. It is also good no matter how many ranks are taken.
  • Second Weapon - Extra attacks are always good, but not every Warrior is a two-weapon fighter. This is a must for every t'skrang Warrior, though does require keeping pace with your Circle.
  • Shield Charge - Similar to Second Weapon, this Talent is a solid choice if you have a shield. This requires continual improvement.
  • Steely Stare - One of the few non-combat Talents available to Warriors, this allows them to defuse situations before they get rough, or at least thin out the opposition somewhat. Social defense tends to improve less aggressively than physical or spell, so improving this Talent does not need to be a constant activity.
  • Tactics - A strange Talent to find at Journeyman. This is offered for free as Half-Magic, though may not improve to the levels appropriate for a given concept (it maxes out through Half-Magic at 8, while a Talent can go to 15). 
Nearly any race can be an effective Warrior, though there is special mention for t'skrang and windlings. T'skrang, more so than any other Namegiver, get a lot out of the Warrior Discipline. The Unarmed Combat Discipline Talent is used with their Tail Combat racial ability, as can Swift Kick and Second Weapon. Combined with Air Dance and a two-handed weapon, and things get messy. Windling Warriors are rare - their size makes dealing damage difficult. Towards this, they have their own Discipline, the Windmaster, which is effectively the windling Warrior. It capitalizes on all of the strengths windlings possess and mitigates some of their weaknesses (possessing a damage adding Discipline Talent at first Circle).

Equipment selection is of particular importance for a Warrior due to their initiative requirements. The availability of initiative improving Talents means that they can easily reduce the effect of initiative penalties from armor and shields, but also mean they can reap greater rewards from Air Dance by using two-handed weapons for improved damage and better initiative (also lower Legend Point investment for multiple Thread Items). They often have high strength requirements (15), which may be a trade-off.