03 November 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 04 - The Sky Raider

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

Overview

Considered to be little more than chaos incarnate by outsiders, Sky Raiders represent the quintessential stereotype of highland trolls by... pretty much everyone (possibly including highland trolls). While certainly fearsome combatants, they are more nuanced than they appear on the outside. To be perfectly fair, most encounters with Sky Raiders don't leave many chances to really get to know them and break down the walls - they tend to be short, brutal and bloody. As long as their opponents put up a good fight, the Sky Raiders will have no hard feelings regardless of the outcome; the same cannot generally be said for the victims of the attack (unless they are also Sky Raiders).

The core of this Discipline is the concept of personal responsibility. Sky Raiders believe that they are responsible for every decision they make in their lives, that there is no true luck or fate, and the outcomes of these decisions must be owned. This presents very strong sense of self and personality to accompany it. As well, it follows that Sky Raiders are highly individualistic, since they are personally responsible for everything that they are it only makes sense they will be largely concerned with themselves and what they like and want first and foremost. This is not to say they have no need for companions, in fact they consider their boon companions as family and take the consideration of who they will travel with very seriously (their friends actions reflect on their decision to be friends with them, after all).

All of these elements come down to their sense of honor in all things. All a Sky Raider has is their honor - it is the ultimate expression of their personal responsibility and shows what elements they value and what they do not. While their sense of honor may mature as the Sky Raider does, it is inviolate. When their word is given, it will be kept at all cost - and because of this it is not given lightly. To even question a Sky Raider's word is an insult of the highest degree. Given their preference for direct and physical confrontation, things are about to get real. Their honor also extends to their companions, as their actions reflect on the Sky Raider and the Sky Raider's reflect on them. Since Sky Raider's tend to take a mildly patronizing view of non-Sky Raiders, they don't tend to be overly (or at all) concerned with how their actions reflect on their companions.

The sense of enlightened self-interest that pervades the Discipline does have some limits. Those that struggle with all of their might against everything the world has thrown at them, or continue to fight against a clearly superior foe no matter the cost - they will earn the respect of a Sky Raider. It is not unheard of for the Sky Raider to throw their lot in with those who are deserving and in need. Again, "deserving" means that they are not meekly accepting anything, but actively defiant with everything that they are. This is not an easy bar to reach.

When making a Sky Raider, your race is going to be important. The default assumption is that every Sky Raider is a troll, so if you aren't one - how did you end up as a Sky Raider? There is going to be a story there. All Sky Raiders will have tales of their glory, as well as their family (family being companions, friends, crew, their instructors, etc). Who do you consider to be your family and what are your customs with them? Above all of these, how do you define your honor? This is not going to be a nebulous concept, but some very clear lines on what is expected and what is acceptable.

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. Honor is what is important to a Sky Raider and it should be relatively easy to address so long as there is a clear picture regarding what they consider honorable. Hard choices between what is expedient and what is honorable; what prices must be paid to keep their word?

Another direction to take: how do the Sky Raider's actions affect everyone else? Given they tend to be at least somewhat cavalier with the concerns and desires of others, what fallout does this attitude generate? Their relentless pursuit of individuality and honor will undoubtedly have casualties. Explore these and their unintended consequences.

Specialists

The only Sky Raider specialist is the Assassin, which is strange for such a forthright Discipline. A Sky Raider in Name only now, they replace Air Sailing as a Discipline Talent with Steel Thought, Navigation as an Initiate Talent Option with Wound Balance, and Wind Catcher and Wound Balance as Novice Talent Options with Bribery and Resist Taunt. Their previous Half-Magic is entirely replaced with the ability to make Interaction (Insight) tests. Furthermore, their 13th Circle ability is replaced as well.

What this leaves the Assassin Sky Raider with is a more combat ready set of Talents, also nothing to do with the sky. They now play the role of an urban tough, a thug to set upon an enemy when you want to make a statement. There is no subtlety in how these assassinations take place - the direct nature of the Discipline prevents any subterfuge. Crude, but effective, they will never renege on a deal and see it through to the end even if it means their death. Truly, there is little more terrifying than when this specialist comes knocking.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Climbing, Navigation, Parry, Throwing Weapons, Unarmed Combat

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Air Sailing, Battle Shout, Fireblood, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons

Novice
Talent Options: Air Speaking, Detect Weapon, Missile Weapons, Swift Kick, Wilderness Survival, Wind Catcher, Wound Balance

Second Circle
Discipline Talent: Durability (8/7), Great Leap

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Shield Charge

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving (Sky Weaving)

Journeyman
Talent Options: Blood Share, Cold Purify, Lasting Impression, Leadership, Lion Heart, Surprise Strike, Tactics, Tiger Spring

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Battle Bellow

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Steely Stare

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Momentum Attack

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Down Strike

There is little subtlety in the Sky Raider's approach to combat. Fireblood as a Discipline Talent means that Recovery Tests will be extremely useful, so long as they are used during combat. Despite this, they have more than a few options (though very direct) to deploy. Shield Charge is a powerful Talent for use within a Group, allowing the Sky Raider to knock a foe down and have their allies take advantage of the fallen enemy. It does take an action, so is of limited use in a one-on-one conflict unless the Sky Raider has reasonable control of the initiative order (e.g. delaying to go after their opponent, then going before them in the next round).

Battle Shout is a very powerful single target debuff, though with extremely limited duration (one round) and diminishing returns over time. This goes well with the Sky Raider's general style of keeping on the pressure on - lacking the patience so many other Disciplines are rewarded for. Battle Bellow is similar: though less powerful, but multi-target with a longer duration, or can be used as a social defense buff for allies. That versatility can be useful depending on the situation, and both can be employed during the same fight. Steely Stare is one of my favorite Talents for very combat oriented Disciplines as it adds the important element of preventing conflict from their options. This also means the Sky Raider has a surprising three Discipline Talents that use charisma through Journeyman.

Additional attacks are a major weakness of the Sky Raider; Momentum Attack, not a true additional attack, is their only option in this regard. Additional damage is attained through the combination of Great Leap followed by Down Strike. As an aside, both of these are available as skills and can be an excellent combination for any character wishing for more damage in melee combat without access to the appropriate Talents (Swordmaster, we're looking at you).

The Initiate Talent Options are somewhat mixed without a clear superior selection:
  • Climbing - This is a part of their Half-Magic when aboard an airship, but it isn't unreasonable to want to climb all the time. If there is something else you are considering, think about taking this as a skill since it is unlikely you will want it a truly obscene levels.
  • Navigation - Same situation as climbing, above.
  • Parry - Given the lack of defense Sky Raiders have available, this should be a strong contender. The inability to spend Karma on it (since it is not a Discipline Talent) is a downside, but a big shield or troll-sized weapon will help. This will require continual improvement.
  • Throwing Weapons - This Talent requires constant maintenance to remain useful, and with access to Great Leap there are not many situations where a foe is truly out of reach.
  • Unarmed Combat - Another Talent that requires constant maintenance to remain useful, but there are times when a burly fighter that can wrestle someone (or something) to the ground is useful.
Novice Talent Options hold a number of good choices and may require revisiting at higher tiers:
  • Air Speaking - Subtle communication, which is often useful. There are other options I prefer, however.
  • Detect Weapon - There is bound to be another character better at this and more interested in it.
  • Missile Weapons - A better choice than Throwing Weapons if opponents at range are an issue. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Swift Kick - The only Talent Option that grants another attack. Though it requires higher initiative (which may be hard to get regularly) and continual improvement. The rare t'skrang Sky Raider should take this, all others should still consider it.
  • Wilderness Survival - If no one else in the Group has this Talent, it is worth considering.
  • Wind Catcher - The iconic Sky Raider Talent. Useful and impressive, nothing quite tops being able to drop from any height directly on top of your foe. Bellowing is encouraged.
  • Wound Balance - This is always a strong choice for any combatant, with minimal investment required and no costs.
Some of the Journeyman Talent Options are for very specific characters which tend to appear more as NPCs than PCs:
  • Blood Share - The Karma cost for this Talent may be expensive, but this Talent allows the Sky Raider to take advantage of their ability to heal during a fight by taking on the damage of their allies afterwards.
  • Cold Purify - If poison is a serious concern, this is extremely useful. Otherwise, not so much.
  • Lasting Impression - A good social Talent to go along with what should be a decent charisma. Always good to leave someone with the right impression for a long time.
  • Leadership - For particular Sky Raiders (leaders) this is a good choice, but not appropriate if leading NPCs does not fall into the concept.
  • Lion Heart - A passive Talent that helps resist fear, this is always useful.
  • Surprise Strike - With access to Great Leap and Down Strike, it is hard to think of a situation where this would be useful.
  • Tactics - This falls into the same category as Leadership.
  • Tiger Spring - A great selection for any character interested in combat, and the Sky Raider is no different. This potentially allows for the Initiative control discussed with Shield Charge.
Races

As discussed above, trolls are the default race for a Sky Raider. This is to the extent that explanations must be given why a Sky Raider is not a troll. There are some good reasons for this: trolls are freaking bad ass. They use larger weapons, which means more damage and increased benefit from Parry, are strong, tough, and fast. While there is no race that is out and out bad as a Sky Raider (windlings will have a very tough road until they get to 8th Circle), obsidimen are a strange fit with their strong connection to being on the ground and that not much rigging will support 800 lbs of rock man.

Equipment

The default assumption is that every Sky Raider will be using a shield and with Shield Charge as a Discipline Talent, it is a fair assumption. Combine that with the largest one-handed weapon you can find and you are set. Armor and shield selections will still be important. Unless you have Swift Kick, there is little need to go first in combat, so acquiring heavy armor and a good shield will be important. Crystal raider shields are the best for obsidimen, trolls and windlings, while other races with Parry may want to consider a body shield for the additional deflection. Starting characters will probably want a footman's shield Armor will be whatever you can afford in combination with whatever initiative penalty is acceptable. Hide is good initial selection, moving up to crystal ringlet and crystal plate as access and funds allow.