10 November 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 05 - Taildancer

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

Overview

Normally this is the part where the Discipline is discussed, generally in terms of how it is presented in the text, but with my own personal spin on things and how I think about it. For the Taildancer, this is going to be different. The reason is pretty simple, but somewhat nuanced: I do not care for how it is presented in the text. My feeling is that it tries too hard, particularly to contrast Taildancer with Swordmaster. My take is that the Taildancer is an expression of being a t'skrang, particularly one that defends their people and ways.

What this means is that Taildancers celebrate life and take joy in motion. The embrace their fears in hand with what they love. While not fool hardy, they do not exactly play it safe; they set about finding their limits. Doing any of this alone is pointless: a victory without an audience is hardly a victory at all. It is through sharing these life experiences with your family and friends that life happens. Life is a dance and a dancer should always have partners.


They are flamboyant and showoffs when it is called for, but will rarely try to upstage their dance partners. That behavior will only lead to resentment and soon no one will want to dance. That doesn't mean a Taildancer shouldn't take pride in their abilities, simply realize that the extent of their talent can be displayed without upstaging their friend, but by playing to them as well. That being said, when it is called for, all dances must come to an end and they can be quite ruthless. 

When making a Taildancer, it is important to consider what their style and flair are; how are they distinctive in their actions? Is there a particular type of dance and music they prefer? What about their dress stands out? Community, friends and family are important, as they are social creatures at heart and should never forget what is important to them - who have they left behind? How do they treat their enemies, even though they are brief dance partners?

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. There are a number of concepts important to Taildancers, but the dance and their dance partners are the most important. To appropriately honor their way of life, they must find rhythm in all things, but what does it mean if the Taildancer can no longer find the rhythm in their life? The dance is a ritual of sorts, but it important to honor those that take part - how does the Taildancer deal with a bitter enemy that they must dance with, or perhaps a previous dance partner that has turned on them? As well, the dance is not expedient, but about problems that call for very blunt answers? There is no glory in threatening those that cannot defend themselves. The social aspects of the Discipline call for harmony within the dance troupe, but tensions will arise. Similarly, any form of betrayal will cut deeply and must be dealt with. While ruthless action is perfectly acceptable, everyone must be given a fair chance.

Specialists

There are no traditional specialist Taildancers, instead there is a racial specialty for the k'stulaami and each Taildancer must select one of three schools: Ch'tard, Edo, or Skora.

K'stulaami Taildancers replace Swimming with Gliding as an Initiate Talent Option, and replace Surprise Strike with Down Strike as a Novice Talent Option. Mechanically, this is a significantly more powerful setup. Access to Great Leap at Novice means Gliding is very useful and Down Strike alleviates all of the damage issues the Discipline normally has.

For the three different schools, Ch'tard is the obvious choice. The ability to attach size 3 weapons for Tail Combat is almost always going to be useful. The other two are more specialized in their utility. Edo benefits Taildancers that do not often have a weapon attached to their tail, but provides no benefit when you do. If surprise attacks when you are not expecting trouble are common, then this deserves a good look. Skora provides a useful defensive option, doubling the effectiveness of the Tail Parry combat option. This is useful when using the Manevuer Talent, but the specialization pales compared to the general utility of +2 damage from Ch'tard.
Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Impress, Parry, Swimming, Taunt, Wound Balance

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Acrobatic Strike, Avoid Blow, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Unarmed Combat

Novice
Talent Options: Anticipate Blow, Detect Weapon, Great Leap, Sprint, Surprise Strike, Swift Kick, Throwing Weapons

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (7/6), Maneuver

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Tail Dance

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving (Tail Weaving)

Journeyman
Talent Options: Dead Fall, Distract, Gliding Stride, Graceful Exit, Life Check, Lion Heart, Second Weapon, Tiger Spring

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Engaging Dance

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Air Dance

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Momentum Attack

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Disarm

Taildancers play a great deal like Swordmasters (particularly the Bladesman Discipline). Examining the Talent lists will show very little variation between the two. Essentially, this means Taildancers have a lot of combat options at their disposal, but damage is going to be an issue. There are some basic, but strong, defensive Talents at 1st Circle: Acrobatic Strike and Avoid Blow. These are going to be some go to Talents with the latter filling in most strongly when you lose initiative.

Throughout their Circles they have access to a number of extra attacks (particularly in their Talent Options), despite lacking Second Attack, and the ability to use Tail Combat for these makes them even more attractive. This includes Tail Dance (to negate the penalties of Tail Combat), Air Dance and Momentum Attack.

The bag of tricks at their disposal includes Maneuver, Engaging Dance and Disarm (for Discipline Talents). Manevuer is discussed in detail in Anatomy of a Swordmaster, but in brief: will boost damage, which is ever going to be a thorn in the Taildancer's side. Engaging Dance allows for some powerful movement control, limiting the options available to a single opponent. In all, the emphasis of this Discipline is against a single opponent (with the exception of Acrobatic Strike) and controlling the tempo of that conflict.

However, the Taildancer will need a good initiative to pull off many of its tricks and they don't have access to anything that will boost it until Journeyman. This is going to be another problem they will face. The first problem is still damage; taking damage is going to be a tertiary problem cause mostly by the initiative dilemma. 

Taildancer's Initiate Talent Options are full of strong selections and hard choices will appear early for this Discipline:
  • Impress - The only social Talent available to Taildancers, and a particularly appropriate one. A good selection if appropriate to the concept.
  • Parry - Somewhat redundant with Avoid Blow as a Discipline Talent and this will require continual improvement to remain relevant. That being said, it is more useful in a one-on-one conflict and quite simply amazing when combined with a size 6 weapon.
  • Swimming - Unless this is core to a concept, I would suggest taking this as a skill. There are just that many good picks here.
  • Taunt - Possibly the most useful debuff available, particularly for use against a single opponent. Since social defense is the target, it does not need to be as aggressively advanced as most attack Talent Options.
  • Wound Balance - Even with minimal investment, this Talent is always good. Never a choice that will be regretted in the long run.
Not quite as amazing a selection as appears at Initiate, there are still some very good Talent Options at Novice:
  • Anticipate Blow - There is some upside and downside to this Talent. The downside is that it will need to be advanced regularly to remain useful, it can be somewhat redundant with Acrobatic Strike, and requires higher initiative than your opponent. The upside is that it is an excellent combination with Maneuver and is a strong option against a single opponent, providing bonuses to help in getting an armor-defeating hit.
  • Detect Weapon - Generally useful, but hopefully someone else in the Group will have this Talent. Unless, of course, this is important to concept.
  • Great Leap - Always one of my favorite Talents, it is just fun and provides a considerable amount of mobility which can otherwise be lacking.
  • Sprint - The cost of a Karma point makes this an expensive selection whenever it shows up. It is useful, but also not cheap.
  • Surprise Strike - Short of ambushing someone, this Talent isn't generally going to see much use, despite providing a much needed damage bonus.
  • Swift Kick - This falls into the must category since it can be used with a t'skrang's tail. Ch'tard Taildancers will find extra utility here. It will need to be improved at every Circle.
  • Throwing Weapons - I'm generally of mixed opinion on additional basic attack Talents. They require continual advancement to remain useful and rarely come up, but there will always be those moments where you wish you had them. Unless there is no one else in the group with ranged combat, I tend to give these a pass.
There are a number of must have Talents in the Journeyman tier:
  • Dead Fall - Perhaps when combined with Surprise Strike there may be a use, but I cannot see many Taildancers finding a lot of utility here.
  • Distract - If you are not the primary combatant, or are in a Group of heavy-hitters, then this is a solid choice. If you happen to be the big gun, give this a pass.
  • Gliding Stride - Similar to Great Leap, the mobility this provides can be very useful, not to mention fun. Also can allow a Taildancer access to those hard to reach places.
  • Graceful Exit - I just do not like this Talent for primary combatants and have never seen it used.
  • Life Check - Let's be honest, you want this. Everyone wants this. You will likely only get to regret not taking it once and after that you will be dead. This is going to help the bottom line with the Taildancer taking damage problem.
  • Lion Heart - This particular Talent always falls into the same category as Wound Balance, as the fulfill similar niches. It doesn't take much to go a long way with this Talent.
  • Second Weapon - Another attack? Sign up for this, particularly since it can also be used with your tail.
  • Tiger Spring - Along with Air Dance, this is salvation for Taildancers struggling with their initiative. This is pretty much a must for every Discipline that happens upon it and cares about ever going first. Which also happens to create a brutal initiative race as a side effect.
Equipment

Weapon selection for Taildancers is actually pretty simple. Are you strong enough for a two-handed sword? If so, you will want one of those. There is virtually no reason to not take one, particularly with the Ch'tard school and your tail being viable for Second Weapon. If not, you will want a flowing blade - or attach one to your tail (you did take the Ch'tard school, right?) if your GM will allow it. This makes Manevuer significantly more powerful: in addition to the bonus, your opponent is also Harried.

Armor is a bit trickier because of the importance of initiative coupled with the lack of initiative boosts until Journeyman. A two-handed weapon means a shield is out of the picture, but if you are using a flowing blade, investment in a buckler is a must - again, do not forget that your tail can be used for Second Weapon. For actual armor, I would suggest sticking to blood pebble or hide at the heaviest. Thread Items and Journeyman make these significantly more negotiable.