08 December 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 08 - Horror Stalker

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

Overview

While every adept serves to fight against the Horrors, it is this Discipline that takes this struggle to a new level. The Horror Stalker takes the fight to the Horrors in truly disturbing ways which they all know will end up with them dead. This fanaticism is their strength and their downfall as there is no dissuading them from their goals.

In the past I have allowed adepts to start with this Discipline, but unless there is a compelling argument for it I from heavily on Horror Stalker as a first Discipline. There are a few reasons for this stance, one is that it is unlikely for an adept to Initiate into something that requires such a monomaniacal nature against that which they have no real exposure. Furthermore, what kind of instructor would initiate someone into this Discipline? It is frighteningly dangerous for experienced adepts, let alone those still very green. From a mechanical standpoint, the focus of this Discipline is very narrow. Two Talents up through Novice have no practical application outside of fighting Horrors (which isn't something a Novice adept should be actively looking for quite yet), and the Talent Options have the feeling more of filling gaps in existing Talents than providing support for just a Horror Stalker. That all being said, a strong concept and compelling argument shouldn't be ignored. Just go into the proposition with eyes open.

With that in mind, this is going to be written from the perspective that the Horror Stalker already has another Discipline and this is an additional Discipline for them. I'm of the opinion that any Discipline can find their way to Horror Stalker. For some it isn't as natural of a fit, a Swordmaster, for example, but having the walls torn down, figuratively, and being forced into a situation of accepting grim realities should be an opportunity for every character if that is what they choose.

Horror Stalkers aren't particularly popular. They go out of their way to receive Horror Marks and actively seek the Horror through it. Combined with their fanaticism, they don't have a lot of friends or company. Though, given the nature of their chosen occupation, a Group is going to be invaluable to this adept, more so than any other. Despite the inherent suspicion directed their way, or even outright hostility, the Horror Stalker must still continue with their chosen and grim duty. Without the support of trusted friends, this is surely a path to madness and death (at best), or becoming more like that which they hunt at worst.

When looking at a Horror Stalker, the biggest question is going to be what drove them to taking up this Discipline? It is certainly possible to spontaneously initiate, if already of the right mindset, at the site of a Horror-inflicted atrocity, preferably with a connection to the adept. Not all Horror Stalkers have the same motivation for doing what they do, whether it be vengeance or to protect others and prevent as much harm as possible. I find the former situation to be a common reason to take up the mantle, but the latter to be what drives Horror Stalkers in the long term. No matter how many Horrors fall, it will not fix whatever happened in the past. This can lead to growing into the role of protector rather than executioner and represent some excellent character growth. Along with the relationships with any mentors, these will be the central pieces to a Horror Stalker.

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. Another reason that Horror Stalker isn't great for an initial Discipline is there isn't much in the way of conflict to be offered up through Discipline Violations. Essentially, failing to act against a Horror, succumbing to their influence, or any other failure in their duty would result in that. The problem is I cannot imagine a player that would follow this path and then fail in any of those ways. Perhaps posing the difficult questions of striking against a Horror now, when it is weak, or saving a trusted comrade. Most of the conflict and growth will be from the ways in with their two (or more) Disciplines interact and establish priorities. How does this extreme tunnel vision affect the rest of their life and the balance therein? What starts to fall apart as they are compelled on the hunt? What breaks and what gives? These questions become significantly more interesting when there is another competing philosophy to play them against.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Climbing, Silent Walk, Tracking, Unarmed Combat

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Astral Sight, Call of Harrow, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Steel Thought

Novice
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Heartening Laugh, Maneuver, Parry, Shield Charge, Sprint, Throwing Weapons

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Abate Curse, Durability (8/6)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Bear Mark

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Horror Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Direction Sense, Research, Resist Taunt, Second Weapon, Steely Stare, Temper Self, Tiger Spring, Wound Balance

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Bane Strike

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Life Check

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Attack

Everything about this Discipline is focused around fighting Horrors. From the very specific Call of Harrow, Bear Mark and Bane Strike, to actually surviving the onslaught with Steel Thought, Lion Heart and Life Check. Melee Weapons and a Durability (8/6) show that this is clearly a combat Discipline, but Astral Sight and Abate Curse give them some other options in dealing with magical elements of the game. Combined with Direction Sense and Research as Talent Options, a Horror Stalker can develop into an interesting mystic warrior as a hobby to go with the Horror stalking. In all, Horror Stalkers are tough in nearly every situation. Not quite Warrior tough, but they will hold up against the mystic side of combat significantly better.

Given my view that this Discipline is best as an additional Discipline, that is how I am going to approach the Talent Options. The Initiate Talent Options for Horror Stalkers are pretty good in all, nothing amazing, but there will likely be something worth minimal investment.
  • Acrobatic Strike - If you have good initiative and don't have a defensive Discipline Talent yet (e.g. Anticipate Blow, Avoid Blow, or Parry), this is a solid selection. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Climbing - Generally I prefer this as a skill, but it can be a reasonable investment for just a few ranks if nothing else in this list is compelling. Unless you are a windling, there are reasonable odds it will get some use.
  • Silent Walk - Similar to climbing above, except I would put it at a higher priority; anything you can do to get an advantage over a Horror is in your benefit.
  • Tracking - Again, similar to climbing, though if someone else in the Group has this as a Talent it may warrant a pass. There is only so much need for a tracker.
  • Unarmed Combat - Honestly, I do not like this Talent for Horror Stalkers. If you are engaging a Horror unarmed and don't have Unarmed Combat as a Discipline Talent, the odds are very good that you are doing it wrong. There may be a scenario where wrestling a Horror to the ground is going to work out, but none of them come to mind.
On the whole, I don't care much for the Novice Talent Options. It is mostly a list of things that work best as Discipline Talents.
  • Avoid Blow - If you are fighting a Horror, you will want this as a Discipline Talent so you can throw Karma at it. It will require continual improvement and the Action Step needs to be higher than your Physical Defense to work out. As a Talent Option, I would give this a pass.
  • Heartening Laugh - This is one of the few scenarios where this particular Talent may be worth taking. Horrors can be a grab bag of terrible effects that go after different defenses, and fear is pretty common. There is a Karma cost, but when fighting a Horror you cannot afford to be too stingy. Though running out is a reasonable fear. If there happens to be a Swordmaster in the Group, this shouldn't be necessary.
  • Maneuver - I find this Talent to be too dicey against a Horror and for a damage boost when that is something you should have no problems getting against a Horror. Keeping the pressure off is also asking for trouble. On the whole, I would give this a pass.
  • Parry - Overall a better pick than Avoid Blow, considering there is a bonus to help out against attacks. It will require continual improvement and in general I would pass, but if you need an active defense, this is your best bet. Avoid Blow is more versatile (working against ranged attacks), but Horror ranged attacks tend to be spell based rather than physical. Also, the Good Result requirement means Avoid Blow is not likely to work out in your favor anyway.
  • Shield Charge - If you use a shield, this is worth looking into. It can potentially serve to grant the entire Group a bonus against a Horror if timed correctly (perhaps even two effective rounds of bonuses). Continual improvement of this Talent is going to be important.
  • Sprint - While it costs Karma, there is something to be said for being able to run very quickly towards or away from a Horror.
  • Throwing Weapons - When fighting a Horror, I don't know if anyone will have the luxury of playing with alternate weapons. It is pretty much about bringing your A-game. The investment in this Talent compared to the payoff is going to be absolutely minimal.
There are some good Talent Options at Journeyman and some interesting selections as well, particularly for those adepts entering into the Discipline through non-combat Disciplines (such as a spellcaster or Troubadour).
  • Direction Sense - This Talent is useful in some of the most random situations, and leads to a somewhat creepy habit of carrying around things that belonged to your friends (and enemies, but especially frenemies). It can also potentially be useful when attempting to track down the location of a Horror. For the latter use, continually improving this Talent is recommended.
  • Research - Even if others have it, this is still a good Talent if there is a spare Talent Option.
  • Resist Taunt - Heartening Laugh is, on the whole, a better solution. This Talent suffers from the same drawbacks as Avoid Blow. It needs to be improved every Circle to be useful and since it is not a Discipline Talent, it can be difficult to rely on when you need it. This is because the attack has already hit, which means that you will already need to beat your own Social Defense, let alone the Test Result. It's important that you can rely on your defenses to make the investment worth it.
  • Second Weapon - If you don't already have this Talent, it is probably best to steer clear. Either a two-handed weapon or a shield will be more useful against a Horror. Nonetheless, if selected it will require continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Steely Stare - This is a Talent that I like to recommend in general. It generates an effect that a lot of characters want in a variety of situations. Depending on how your GM rules, this could be invaluable against a Horror.
  • Temper Self - If you don't have this Talent, you will want this Talent. Increase it to minimize your chances of failure and maximize the benefit. Which means keep improving it at each Circle. This Talent is excellent in general and for this Discipline, it's a must.
  • Tiger Spring - Going before your opponent is always good. Doing it when your opponent is a Horror is important if you want to stay alive. If you don't already have this Talent, now is a good chance to fix that.
  • Wound Balance - This is pretty late in the game to be picking up this Talent (it's going to be expensive), but being a Horror Stalker is dangerous business and you will be taking Wounds. This is going to help mitigate the dangers of taking those Wounds, well - one danger: falling down.
Races

There isn't any race that is particularly suited for this Discipline, or particularly bad at it. Every attribute is likely to be relevant and this is going to be more about what you have done to stack the deck in your favor over just your attributes. Some races are less likely to be possessed of the monomaniacal nature this Discipline demands, t'skrang and windlings in particular, but pretty much any adept can find themselves walking down this path if the circumstances are right.

Equipment

Your armor selection, as usual, should reflect your fighting style and play to your strengths. If you need a high initiative, then wear light armor. If you don't, get the biggest armor you can. An important element is to pay attention to your mystic armor. There will likely be attacks targeting both physical and mystic armor and the latter is somewhat harder to come by. A forged espagra scale cloak is a good way to get some extra armor.

My preference for Horror Stalkers is a one-handed weapon and a shield (assuming that you aren't a ranged combatant). Crystal raider shields are my favorite for that purpose; I don't think the costs associated with a body shield are worth it, in general. For those adepts that speed is vital and they aren't a non-t'skrang Swordmaster, get a two-handed weapon (unless you are a windling, in which case the two-handed weapon isn't worth it). Most Disciplines don't get that much out of Second Weapon in general and against significant opposition like a Horror, ensuring that bigger hits land is going to be better overall than the odd extra hit. Off-hand weapons generally cannot have Karma spent on them, which means the hit less, and do less damage over all (they are less likely to be Threaded).