29 December 2012

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 10 - A Tear for Jaspree

This is the tenth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn.Introduction and Index.

Jaspree is the Passion of nature in Earthdawn, and has grown in importance since the ending of the Scourge. Many Namegivers have turned to Jaspree for help in reviving the corrupted landscape to what it once was, restoring farmlands and forests to support life. In turn, the Passion has aiding in restoring the land to what it once; Barsaive has steadily turned green and seen the bloom of life return in those years. The ideals of Jaspree are care of the land, growth, and love of the wilderness.

Most commonly referred to as "he", I also prefer to associate Jaspree in the form of a windling; in my game each of the Passions has a common Namegiver to be depicted as, when not in the form of the viewer or artist that is. When not a windling, he is invariably shown as half animal and the gender depends on the role - male most commonly for protector and female for nurturer. The common elements associated with Jaspree are farms, flowers, forests, seeds, trees - really, any indication of animals or plants growing and alive. Namegivers are not associated with Jaspree, that is the domain of Garlen.

While the text depicts Jaspree as valuing plants over animals, I prefer to have Jaspree involved in protecting the natural order over just plants. This generally means questors will lead solitary lives away from most other people, perhaps in small and dedicated communities, tending to a particular area and defending it violently from despoiling. They may be sought for advice regarding the land by those who respect their ways. More social questors will be actively involved in communities that owe their existence to the land and rely on the questor to help them ensure that balance is maintained between their needs and the land's needs. Others, generally adepts who have considerably more power, travel to enact Jaspree's will and spread his teachings. All questors prefer peaceful measures, but part of nature is violence and death, which they will not shy from if required.

Adventure Log – 10 A Tear for Jaspree

Recorded By: Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith


Date: 01 Doddul – 22 Doddul, 1506 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer(1)
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster(2)
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith(3)
Sogun the Messenger(4)
Ting the Swordmaster(5)

Ting teaches her students and Jak and Sogun advance in circle. We return to Bartertown. Sogun receives a gift of living armor. Fastoon(6) brings us up to speed on the local color. Bleys(7) has cornered the espagra market(8). He is a clever dwarf. Honeysuckle bought a comfortable hammock. We visit a tailor “Hardly Fitz”. He needs us to check up on a possible espagra supply. The town “Safeway” has a tanner, Urzon. We agree to take the job. A consortium is forming against Bleys. Tol the Warrior gives advice about the scorchers around Ardanyan. Nine days into the journey, we are attacked by a swarm of espagra. We find a clearing with a statue of Jaspree and a white espagra(9). The statue holds a copper bowl, the water gives life(10). We heal the creature’s wounds. Someone approaches. Dwarfs. They go for our espagra, but they are insufficient for the task. They appear to be craftsman – peasants, not bandits. Safeway is a small village in the process of being fortified. The locals are friendly. The tanner’s wife tells he is missing. The tannery is deserted, with signs of a struggle. The innkeeper is friendly and gregarious; Ting and Elmod pump him for information. We track Thom to his home. The apprentice is there. He tells a tale of kidnapping. The local weaponsmith may be involved. He leads us to a farmer, who points us to some woods. Honeysuckle and Sogun are approached by a pretty elf who claims to be trying to get to the bottom of the espagra issue. The white espagra seems to like him. We regroup, then strike off to the forest. We find some dwarfs in the midst of tenderizing(11) an espagra. One challenges us to a duel, and Ting answers. The contest is over in one blow. Beogard’s brother has a plan: to poison small animals, thus weakening the espagra. He kidnapped the tanner to preserve the hides. Beogard leads us to the camp. We speak with the thief, and come to an agreement. The trappers leave and the espagra are released. The tanner is freed, the deal is brokered and we return to Bartertown.(12)

(1) Known associate of Fastoon Julari Makanth Phunkot of Iopos. Trained under Mestoph, if that information is possibly correct.
(2) An uncommon Discipline, particularly in this part of Barsaive, the Windmaster is a community guardian, similar to a Warrior, for Windlings of Glenwood Deep.
(3) Known associate of Maester Bleys and Omasu.
(4) Part of the Ayodhya Liferock and Brother of Omasu by the way obsidimen measure such things.
(5) Known associate of Tarr. Trained under T’Skee “the Magnificent”, Swordmaster of V’Strimon. See cataloged: Adventuring Groups: Exploration: Fourfathers.
(6) Fastoon Julari Makanth Phunkot of Iopos. Nethermancer and representative of the Denairastas within Bartertown. Operates a storefront.
(7) Maester Bleys, origins unknown. Warrior and Weaponsmith, operates the largest Forge within Bartertown. Suspected associate of Tarr.
(8) During this time there was a shortage of espagra skins due to a fashion trend originating in Iopos.
(9) Incredibly rare. Espagra are primarily blue in color, though variations have been found depending on the environment. Of those, green is the most common from jungle areas. White would be from the high mountains and there is rumored to be red around Death's Sea.
(10) Entirely uncertain what this refers to, but bears investigation.
(11) Is this an ork euphemism; investigate.
(12) Received and Edited by Zamirica One-Knee.

*     *     *

This session followed on the heels of what was the low watermark for the campaign and turned things around considerably. The pacing was tight, always something going on, the fights were interesting, and the overall events revealed more about the world as a whole and some nuances. It was an excellent session and it introduced espagra, who are one of my favorite creatures in Earthdawn. During conflict with them, the players realized they may be in over their heads. The final confrontation was diffused through social interaction rather than combat, which was a different kind of victory than this particular group was accustomed.

Events in Bartertown have started to develop and the stage is being set for a conflict that will begin brewing and getting ugly. Much of that is long-term and those events will span a considerable amount of time. Some NPCs get more development and details on the character is shared, along with hints as to the roles they will play in things yet to come. In all, there was a considerable amount of foreshadowing regarding future troubles that our intrepid heroes will face.

The creature trophies that were made for this session were my most ambitious project: espagra scales. To start with, I got variety packs of sequins. Those were sorted by color, including the slightly off colors (which are important). There were four types of espagra that I wanted to make trophies for: blue, green, red and white. The blue espagra used blue and purple sequins; green used green and a turquoise off-color; red were red and gold; and white were white opalescent and silver. The second color was to give some additional depth and variation to the main color, make them look more like something you may find in "nature". The sequins were sewn to cross stitch fabric in an overlapping scale pattern. That was glued to a piece of soft leather then cut out when dried. This gives it a tanned animal skin look and feel and protects the sewing from overhandling (having met my players, this was important). I think the end result looks great, though my players have only gotten blue and green skins thus far. Hopefully, they will meet some red espagra sooner than later - for me, hopefully for me. 

23 December 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 10 - Outcast Warrior

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

Overview

The Outcast Warrior is a highland troll only Discipline and probably the most involved in terms of setting lore. Because of that, they are also loaded with flavor, adventure hooks, drama and reasons to be out there creating a Legend.
Honor is the most important concept for trolls (this is touched on in Sky Raider) and that is the very essence of this Discipline. An Outcast Warrior has chosen to have their horns removed and leave their moot, rather than fight to the death, over a point of honor. The details of these situations are far too complex for other Namegivers to grasp and the troll in question doesn't really like to talk about it. This is all good because you don't necessarily have to develop more than an outline of the scenario that catalyzed this outcome. Vague is better, let the other players guess at what the details are and how the Byzantine nature of troll honor dictated that this was the best outcome.

Other highland trolls are obligated to try and kill you on sight, so reconciliation with the your moot isn't in the cards and a lack of horns makes it very easy to spot Outcast Warriors. They tend to gather in groups and try to eke out a living as best as possible, or make their way with the rest of the world. This character is going to have tense relationships with pretty much everyone that they meet, in no small measure because of the questions that having no horns brings about, which of course runs into the prickly nature of troll honor and this can easily lead to a violent mess. Those Namegivers that manage these troubled waters and earn an Outcast Warrior's trust will have a friend for life.

Honor is by far and away the most important element in this Disciplines life, they chose what their moot sees as a shameful way, though what they see as the most honorable decision. The fact they chose not to fight to the death should never imply a cowardice on their part, but instead some deeply nuanced view of the honor required in the situation. What this means is that their views on honor may not be obvious in application and are a major area of development for the character.

There are other unique elements to this Discipline; initiation into it is a required part of the Ritual of Severance. The character can abandon their previous Discipline, or take the Outcast Warrior as an additional Discipline. In the latter case, they will need to decide if it will now be their primary Discipline, or their newest Discipline. This ritual may very well cause a character to become an adept, which implies a great deal of power involved.

For character development, details of their past are likely best left muddled in exposition. These are things that have explicitly been left behind. Creating aspects of their old moot can be important to establish things that the Outcast Warrior no longer does. For example, if the moot wore red as their primary color and decorated themselves with skulls, the Outcast Warrior will now shun the color red and all bones. It is an interesting exercise, a mirror of what is normally associated with a background - a list of things that are not done. From there, their development in game will be significantly more important as they learn their new life, especially their honor.

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. The most obvious aspect of this Discipline to examine is their honor. It required them to make a difficult decision in the past and will continue to do so in the future. This should always be on the table because of how central it is to the character. Their honor also places demands on the Outcast Warrior with regard to their Group, which may cause difficulties as they try to discern the most honorable way. This is not a character of easy answers.

More minor concerns would be conduct in battle - an Outcast Warrior, no matter how pragmatic, must always comport themselves honorably in battle. They hold themselves to the very highest standards here and will likely hold their companions to the same standards. Also, returning to their old ways, whether relying too much on previous Disciplines that represent their old life, or living in a way that evokes their previous existence. All of these show that the troll has not truly severed their ties.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Climbing, Parry, Wilderness Survival, Wood Skin

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Battle Shout, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Unarmed Combat

Novice
Talent Options: Anticipate Blow, Great Leap, Maneuver, Missile Weapons, Sprint, Throwing Weapons, Tiger Spring

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (9/7), Shield Charge

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Swift Kick

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Kava Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Cobra Strike, Disarm, Down Strike, Earth Skin, Endure Cold, Resist Taunt, Sense Danger, Temper Self

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Fireblood

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Life Check

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Steely Stare

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Attack

Outcast Warriors play somewhere between a Warrior and a Sky Raider, for better or worse. They are tough; Durability (9/7), Fireblood and Lifecheck all see to that. Battle Shout gives them a good debuff, Shield Charge and Swift Kick some options, though they are both limiting in their own way. Steely Stare is one of my favorite Talents for the grim fighter-type, even if it shows up rather late. It gives you something to do (and be good at) in non-combat situations and can potentially prevent things from escalating.

The limitations imposed by Shield Charge and Swift Kick are unfortunate as they work counter to each other and there aren't very good options to deal with that. For Shield Charge to work, you need a shield, which will most likely give you an initiative penalty. Swift Kick, however, requires you to go before your opponent. These together put some definite restrictions on your character to take advantage of them, and since you will be investing in them every Circle, it is probably worth it.

Their biggest problem, beyond the limitations previously mentioned, will be damage output compared to other frontline fighters. They don't have a damage adding Discipline Talent, nor do they have a significant bag of tricks, or a large number of attacks (e.g. Swordmaster and Taildancer). This means they will rely more on their Talent Options than most other combat Disciplines must.

In all, the Outcast Warrior is a solid combatant with more options of things to do in a fight than a Warrior, though they make some compromises that are best entering into with eyes open. Though, this Discipline is best left for players much more comfortable with the moving parts of the system.
There are is one good Initiate Talent Option for the Outcast Warrior, and something of a mixed bag beyond that:
  • Acrobatic Strike - Lacking a native physical defense increasing Talent, this is a good option. Since having a good initiative should already be a priority, that is not a particular issue. It will require continual improvement.
  • Climbing - A useful Talent only if you cannot find something else to take, otherwise it is better as a skill.
  • Parry - Redundant with Avoid Blow as a Discipline Talent. Between the inability to spend Karma and the requirement to use a shield (which eliminates the benefits from two-handed weapons), this Talent is best avoided.
  • Wilderness Survival - This is in the same category is Climbing above.
  • Wood Skin - Due to Fireblood as a Discipline Talent, I would give this Talent a pass. They draw from the same resource (Recovery Tests) and Karma on Fireblood is pretty awesome. The cost of a Karma and the constant investment to keep it on par with Fireblood are the final nails in the coffin.
The Novice Talent Options hold a couple of Talents that a very important in dealing with some of the issues Outcast Warriors face:
  • Anticipate Blow - The play style of the Outcast Warrior is more aggressive than this patient Talent requires and I would recommend Acrobatic Strike overall. There is very little point to having both Talents in your arsenal and they both require continual improvement.
  • Great Leap - This is a must and the first half in addressing the damage output problems that Outcast Warriors will face.
  • Maneuver - On the whole, I would say give this Talent a pass. The action cost with it can be daunting at times.
  • Missile Weapons - Great Leap will solve most of the problems that this deals with, though if you have the extra selections it is a possibility. It does require investment every Circle to remain useful, however.
  • Sprint - There is no requirement to continually improve this Talent for it to be useful, but it does cost Karma and that is often a resource that trolls have in limited supply.
  • Throwing Weapons - In the same situation as Missile Weapons.
  • Tiger Spring - This is a must and the primary tool in improving initiative.
There are some interesting choices available in the Journeyman Talent Options and some difficult decisions may have to be made:
  • Cobra Strike - Normally this isn't a great option, but it can be an excellent selection for an Outcast Warrior (mostly because they don't get Air Dance). It is good at any level and will help with initiative in the first round, as well as some good side benefits.
  • Disarm - An interesting pick that is useful for many situations, but not applicable to all (opponents really need weapons). If you aren't fighting a lot of opponents with weapons, this won't come up as much as you may like. It will need continual improvement.
  • Down Strike - This is a must and the second half in addressing the damage output problems that Outcast Warriors will face.
  • Earth Skin - I like this Talent a lot for pretty much every character. It will be very useful once magical effects start becoming more common. 
  • Endure Cold - If you don't know you need this Talent, you probably do not need this Talent.
  • Resist Taunt - I don't generally care for active defenses that you cannot spend Karma on.
  • Sense Danger - This is often an interesting Talent, though will usually come up just short when the time to make difficult decisions arrives. It looks good on paper, but it is difficult to predict how often it will be useful.
  • Temper Self - This is almost always a good selection, though there is the potential for a big downside if you fail the roll. To mitigate that, it is highy suggested to continue improving this talent.
Equipment

The limitations above seem to dictate some narrow options: one-handed weapon, shield and light armor. Between Shield Charge and Swift Kick, that is how things seem to fall out. Any improvements that can reduce initiative penalties (Smooth Armor) will be extremely valuable.

19 December 2012

Earthdawn: Part 21 - Creating a Character

This is the twenty-first part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

While this is listed as being a part of my Earthdawn series, and there is some Earthdawn specific topics, the majority of this advice should be applicable to any game in any setting.

Over the years, it is a fairly common thing to see players struggling with coming up with character backgrounds. Concepts and the mechanics are rarely difficult, as the concept is often directed by an archetype of some kind and the system will lead you through mechanical decisions. It is the open-ended background that is the greatest source of headaches and uncertainty because there is rarely any framework - which, I think most people would agree, is a good thing. That doesn't make it easy, particularly in settings that have a wealth of information which may seem impenetrable to the uninitiated. Earthdawn definitely falls into this category. Some games offer "lifepaths" that can be fun to roll on and get some ideas. My strong preference is for those that do not have mechanics associated with them, particularly if every other part of the character creation system is not random. It can get... messy.

This article will be my attempt at offering some advice regarding developing a character background. It will cover some general questions to consider, questions to ask the GM, and things to incorporate into a character to help ensure you will have plenty of investment in the game and things to do. What this will not cover are Discipline specific details and mechanics. Both of those are addressed in my ongoing "Anatomy of a Discipline" series. Communication is going to be an important and recurring theme.

Questions to Answer

What are the other players looking at? Earthdawn is a group-centric game and there is only so much need for Illusionists in any group (at least initially). It is going to be useful to make certain that everyone feels like they have a niche to develop in and they won't be overshadowed. Now would also be a great time to ensure that what you considering is what you will be getting by chatting with the GM. Collaborate with the other players on each of the following steps, get them interested in your character and get interested in their characters. Ideally, you will be together for a long time so it is never too early to get invested in each other's fun.

Where are you from? This can have a significant impact on your character's experiences and outlook. Culture and customs to incorporate in your character can come from here, as well as potential help with names and style. It is almost always a good idea to ask the GM for suggestions on this; there may be a particularly appropriate location for the plot, or that fits your background. Equally, if you want to be an iconoclast, this can give you an idea of where you will stand out and make waves. 

What do you value? This is about the concept that is most important to your character. The intangible (we'll treat money as something intangible for this) thing that is important to you. Perhaps honesty, justice, friendship, etc. On the whole, I would keep this list short and sweet (if one just will not due). Too many and they become meaningless platitudes. As well, I would stay away from specific goals or motivations - this is just to help communicate what you are about. If possible, write down some details of how that belief impacts you, what it means to you and how you show that. It can provide some growth to occasionally revisit that and see how your character has grown. It is unlikely you will remain the same character throughout your travels and you shouldn't - track how your character as changed and what person they have become. That is the stuff that I love.

What Passion do you favor? Most Namegivers will honor the various Passions at the appropriate time, but tend to have one the favor over the others. It might be obvious, such a Weaponsmith that favors Upandal, or slightly off, such as a Warrior that favors Jaspree. While not vital, this can provide a hook for the GM and give you some more character depth to play with. This can also help you to get invested more in the setting and create a particular aspect of the Passion you favor. For other games this can be any divine figure, or particular tenet for monotheistic settings.

What is your personal philosophy on your Discipline? This is going to be a big one and influence how you interact with the game on every level. Read the example provided in the relevant book, then reflect on how you interpret these things. Talk specifics out with the GM and other players - it is going to be important that any clashes in philosophy between the characters, or non-traditional views, are out in the open. Differences in opinion work best when they aren't encountered as landmines and they can give other people ideas, also create investment. This doesn't have to be set in stone, it is expected that your philosophy will evolve as you grow, but it still has to remain true to the core of what it is about. For other games, this would be about your profession.

Who initiated you into your Discipline? This person made an investment in you and should be important to your life. Details about who they are, what they saw in you, how is their philosophy different from yours, what things did they teach you (besides your Discipline) and what were their beliefs and values? These are all things that will help flesh that character out, also be certain to consider the things you do not know about them. This can give the GM room to work and also potentially some hooks. As always, this is good to talk over with your GM, maybe they have some specific ideas they were considering, or riff on yours. For other games, this would be about a mentor.

What is your motivation? This is something that gets you up every morning. It can be simple (e.g., money or adventure), or complicated (e.g.,finding whoever took my Adeline), but always make certain that this doesn't conflict with the game or what everyone else is doing.

What is distinctive about your appearance? I always try to pick one feature that defines my character and makes them notable in a crowd (perhaps they are even distinctly not notable). By limiting this to one, it keeps that feature at the forefront of everyone's imagination.

What habits do you have? These are just to build some character and give the other players and the GM some clear feel for what you are about. This will show everyone "I am in character" and let them know. They also serve to make characters feel more real and give everyone at the table something to share in - they know what you are going to do. Just don't make the habit(s) disruptive.

Things to List

Three aspects of your personality: These are cues to tell other players what to expect from you and give you a nice core to work from. I would suggest having two that are open and one hidden; e.g., everyone knows that you are honest and friendly, but you hide from everyone that you are also afraid. This will give you some more depth to your actions and help inform some of your decisions. Don't shy away from changing these if your character has grown out of that trait. Just make certain to be clear that you are changing it.

Three people that are important to you: This shouldn't include whoever initiated you, but could be friends, family, someone from home, someone you met along the way, old lovers, etc. Always include some information about these people and why they are important to you. It should be noted that these people exist for the GM to use, so if you want a sacrosanct relationship that is immutable, don't list them here.

Three enemies: This is a lot like the previous list, and should draw from the same pool, but they have it it for you, or you them, or both. Give some details about how this came to be and how aware each party is of the enmity. These people will obviously show up at the worst time.

Facts: These are things that are relevant to your background, and will likely include answers from many of the above questions, but that you do not want the GM using in the game. They are for you, and should not show up. To play fair, this means that you should not introduce them into play in a fashion that the GM will be responsible for them; i.e. if the love of your life is a fact, then they really shouldn't be playing a significant role in the campaign. To do otherwise isn't fair to anyone else at the table. The importance of having these is to clearly communicate and establish elements of your character that are not fair game. This can potentially save injured feelings down the road.

Three hooks: These are things that are relevant in your background, and may include answers to the above questions, but that you explicitly would like the GM to use in the game. If you keep it to three, you are sending a clear message about the aspects of your character that you would like to see put into play. You are explicitly giving up ownership of those and anything is fair game. If you don't like the idea of that, then don't list any hooks. A direct result of this will likely be less screen time, but that is the cost of maintaining complete control.

Three aspects: I would consider these entirely optional and they are just a way to include some elements that are important to your character that haven't come out in any other part. For example, "My father's sword, my destiny". This says something about you that may not have appeared anywhere else. Ideally, these will tie into hooks, but could just as easily be role-playing cues for everyone else to enjoy.

I don't really consider any of this mandatory, it is just trying to provide a map for players that are having difficulties fleshing out their character. Pick and choose what is important; use what you like, ignore what doesn't seem relevant. If there is something that I seem to have omitted, or that has worked for you, let me know! just don't be surprised if it ends up in the text. In the end, the importance of communication cannot be overstated. It isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination; I continually struggle with it. The goal is to have fun and any way that you can get everyone else to join in your fun is going to be a victory for you and them.

15 December 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 09 - Boatman

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

Overview

They ply the length of the Serpent River and its tributaries, as explorer, merchant, pirate, or all of that (we often call those "player characters"). If there is one thing that can be said about a Boatman, it is that they would like their life to be interesting. The river is everything to a Boatman and it holds all of the most important answers to their questions in it. When role-playing a Boatman, always consider the river in your actions - how would it behave and what would it do? One thing, it never goes backwards.

Considered to be more pragmatic than a Swordmaster (which is not a high bar by any measure), they are still adventurous and interested in danger, just not unnecessary risks. However, their definition of "unnecessary" may not be the same as other Namegivers may apply in the same situation. It could be completely necessary to take the shortcut through dangerous and pirate-infested waters to shave a day off of the trip so that you can beat your rival to the port and flood the market, thus crushing their profit margin and making a Name for yourself.

Which is ultimately what being a Boatman is about - spreading your Legend. They travel throughout Barsaive and have an opportunity to spread tales of their exploits to all of the major trading hubs throughout the province. Generally this leads to greater and more dangerous exploits as they seek to outdo themselves and other Boatmen (no need to outdo Swordsmaters, everyone knows they are just in it for the glory).

There is something to be said that the "honest" merchants of the Serpent and the pirates live in something of symbiosis. It would be more difficult for each part to find meaning without the other. Though neither would be inclined to ever admit this - perhaps a pirate would, just to start something that would end in awesome.

When making a Boatman character, consider where they come from and places they have traveled to; this Discipline is about seeing the world and experiencing new things. While every Discipline should have a driving motivation, it is more intrinsic to the Boatman than most: what is it that drives them, what are they working towards? An important, if long-term, extension to that is: what will their Legend be about? The influences of the crew(s) they have spent time with and any traditions they may still maintain will also be important aspects. It can also be a considerable amount of fun to introduce the trouble they have gotten into in the various ports along the Serpent and the rivals they may have gained along the way.

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. The most important thing to any Boatman is moving forward. That is the direction of the river and the only direction a Boatman will ever contemplate. They are not prone to introspection or dwelling on the past, which can often lead to repeating the same mistakes over and over. This is compounded by spur of the moment decisions and lack of planning. This can represent some significant dangers to any Group and what happens when the past catches up with the Boatman could be a source if great drama. Particularly with how this affects their companions.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Haggle, Speak Language, Throwing Weapons, Unarmed Combat

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Climbing, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Pilot Boat, Swimming

Novice
Talent Options: Evaluate, First Impression, Heartening Laugh, Maneuver, Missile Weapons, Swift Kick, Wound Balance

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Cast Net, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Read River

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [River Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Conceal Object, Engaging Banter, Great Leap, Lasting Impression, Mystic Aim, Surprise Strike, Tiger Spring

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Swing Attack

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Weapon

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Disarm

A Boatman is mechanically similar to an Air Sailor: most of their Talents are combat related, but they have mediocre Durability (6/5). While the are not as dedicated to the Group, some of their Talents can work well in a support capacity, enabling the heavier hitters, or creating opportunities for others. They can be successful social characters and excellent merchants for any group lacking a Weaponsmith.

Pilot Boat and Read River are mostly the equivalent to Air Sailing and Navigation, only Navigation is pretty much better (though navigating on a river in that sense isn't super useful since they only go so many directions; usually two). These, along with Climbing and Swimming, make up the uninteresting Talents (imho). The later two, Climbing and Swimming, are certainly useful, just not terribly notable.

In Journeyman, the Boatman sees Swing Attack, which is one of the most fun Talents I have come across. It will never be considered a powerful Talent, but it is completely in theme and opens up some fun actions, like swooping attacks, which can be very useful in staying alive against a very powerful, but slow, opponent. Lion Heart is simply useful starting at that Circle, but not so sexy. Second Weapon is going to be best used with a Boatman's tail weapon, rather than offhand weapon. Their offhand weapon will most likely be a net (see below) and they tend to have unimpressive damage. Disarm plays into the Boatman's minor theme of having interesting things to do in combat and Disarm, along with Cast Net, provide options for taking combat into a non-lethal direction. This can be potentially very useful (and frustrating for GMs that may then have to come up with answers before they are ready to).


Cast Net deserves its own special paragraph. This is, to a certain degree, the defining Talent of a Boatman - at least in the ways that player characters pan out. It requires a net in the offhand, and is pretty generous with what this constitutes (including a cloak, with penalties for an improvised net). It provides a parry that with an Excellent Result upgrades into entanglement.  From there potentially obnoxious options open up, mostly maintaining the entangle or getting a bonus on disarm attempts. The rules behind this are more complex than average, so be aware of that beforehand. This ability, combined with the other options available, make this Discipline more complicated than other options; given the average Durability and amount of Strain that can be spent, restraint may be a virtue.

Given their mercantile inclinations, there are more than a few good Initiate Talent Options to consider:
  • Avoid Blow - Not a favorite Talent Option in general; it takes a large investment and a lot of time to pay off and you will never be able to get the rolls out of it that you really need because no Karma can be spent. As well, Cast Net already serves this purpose for melee combat.
  • Haggle - If you want to engage in being a merchant, this is a must.
  • Speak Language - A solid choice for any Boatman that wants to be a social character.
  • Throwing Weapons - Never a favorite, given the investments required, and there are generally better options. However, there are some off-hand throwing nets
  • Unarmed Combat - An excellent choice for a t'skrang given tail combat. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
More good Talent Options for a Boatman at Novice as well:
  • Evaluate - The other Talent required for any Boatman that wants to be a merchant.
  • First Impression - A must for any social character.
  • Heartening Laugh - Given the prevalence of Swordmasters, I don't care much for this Talent. The costs are high (an action and Karma) and it doesn't come into play much.
  • Maneuver - All things considered, a rather inefficient way to improve damage and incompatible with Swing Attack.
  • Missile Weapons - It suffers from the same drawbacks as Throwing Weapons and cannot be used with an off-hand throwing net. Missile Weapons tend to be better than Throwing Weapons on the whole, but for a Boatman there are likely to be more opportunities to use the latter.
  • Swift Kick - This is an excellent selection for t'skrang in general, but it does require having a higher initiative than the target. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Wound Balance - A Talent that is never bad and the higher the Circle, the more important it is.
The problems of too many good Talent Options continue in Journeyman for the poor Boatman:
  • Acrobatic Strike - If you have a good initiative and go before your opponents regularly, this is a good defensive option. It will need continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Conceal Object - Despite having little synergy with the rest of this Discipline, this Talent plays up the smuggler theme and is fun. I cannot recommend it, but it always makes me smile. The exception is, of course, with Surprise Strike.
  • Engaging Banter - Useful for a smuggler, keeping nosy officials and the like occupied, otherwise this Talent is more often miss than hit.
  • Great Leap - Always one of my favorite Talents due to the mobility that it grants and the ability for a melee character to deal with flying targets much easier.
  • Lasting Impression - The other must have Talent for any social character.
  • Mystic Aim - If Throwing Weapons or Missile Weapons were selected, this is a good way to bolster them. Particularly if you are planning for things to go sideways and have a turn to prepare.
  • Surprise Strike  - This Talent is notoriously difficult to utilize on a regular basis, though can make a good combination with Mystic Aim and a ranged Talent. It is simply difficult to rely on in general and there is often a better choice due to the amount of investment to use it at all.
  • Tiger Spring - Great for anyone that going before their opponents is important. This goes well with Swift Kick and Acrobatic Strike.
Equipment

If high initiative is important, which it probably will be, then lighter armor will be recommended; likely nothing heavier than crystal ringlet once Mystic Armor becomes important. This Discipline tends to avoid shields, primarily due to the offhand net. Weapons are generally similarly constrained: a one-handed weapon, an offhand net, and a tail weapon. The natural choice in nets for an adventuring Boatman is going to be a barbed throwing net.

11 December 2012

Earthdawn: Part 20 - Social Interactions

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

The social portion is one of my favorite aspects in any game, and Earthdawn is no exception to this. Despite how I may enjoy it, that piece of the system isn't necessarily the easiest to grasp. The associated Talents are somewhat scattered and how they work together is poorly often poorly explained.

At the heart of the Interaction system is Charisma. Despite what is implied, there is really only one skill that is directly used for an Interaction Test (Intimidation, introduced in Kratas: City of Thieves). Beyond what you can convince your GM is a good idea, of course. The heart of the system is based around various Talents (and skills) that stack together to create bonuses and improve the attitude of the target for the actual Charisma roll. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it is hard to get reliable results without having Step 8 (2D6). Nearly all of the rolling is going to come back to a Charisma Test. Disciplines that have the ability to spend Karma on Charisma-only Tests will have a distinct advantage here, also mitigating the importance of Charisma Step 8.

For me, the attitude of the target is going to be a major factor of how things proceed, even to the point of removing the need for some rolling. There are seven attitudes, from awestruck to enemy, with neutral as the midpoint. By the rules as written, the only mechanical use for attitude is determining the Result Level required for a favor. However, that is likely one of the key uses of interaction: creating relationships that can be called on when needed (i.e. improving attitudes for favors), now or later, depending on what is required.

While this may seem like a cold way of looking at things, it is essentially correct. Frequent activities of any group include providing assistance to those in need. For those that do not explicitly purchase services, I always try to have the NPCs resurface later as someone that can provide some help in return, either on their own, or the characters seeking them out. It serves to make the world feel less like an unconnected series of episodes and give some weight to their actions, that they will come back for better or worse (my preference: both, it keeps players on their toes). For games that go on long enough, one of my favorite parts is to have the group go back to everyone they have helped throughout the course of the game and call on them for the climax. It serves to call back to all of those events throughout their career, given them a chance to see what real change they have wrought and relive those moments, then reward those choices. If a reward is warranted: though few groups will return back to the village they all but rubbed out looking for some favors.

Here is a list of all the Talents and skills that have an impact on attitude or Interaction rolls. After the very brief description will be a note regarding their status as a skill and if there are any changes, particularly to the time increments.
  • Artisan skills: Part of the Greeting Ritual, can improve attitude by one degree.
  • Conversation: Improves the attitude of multiple targets by one degree for hours equal to Conversation Rank. (Skill: minutes)
  • Diplomacy: Improves the attitude of target towards opponents by one degree for hours equal to Diplomacy Rank. (Skill: 10 minutes)
  • Emotion Song: Affects a large group of people and grants a bonus when working with the suggested emotion and causes a penalty when working against that emotion with a duration in days equal to Emotion Song Rank.
  • Empathic Sense: +1 to Interaction Tests per Success Level when taking advantage of the target's emotional state for minutes equal to Empathic Sense Rank.
  • Etiquette: Mitigates any potential issues stemming from differing customs, as well as potentially improving the attitude by one degree (Excellent Result). It lasts for a variable period, up to days equal to Etiquette Rank. (Skill: hours)
  • First Impression: Improves the attitude of the target by up to two degrees (Excellent Result) for one to two days. You quite literally only get once chance to make a First Impression. (Skill)
  • Hypnotize: Improves the attitude of the target with possible post-hypnotic suggestions for hours equal to Hypnotize Rank. (Skill: obvious)
  • Impress: Can add Impress Rank to Interaction Tests for minutes equal to Impress Rank. (Skill: limited by artisan skill)
  • Intimidation: Used in place of Charisma for Intimidation Interaction Tests and makes favors require at least one Result Level more. (Skill only)
  • Lasting Impression: Add Lasting Impression Rank to Interaction Tests against multiple targets for weeks equal to Lasting Impression Rank.
  • Performance: Can add bonus for each Result Level to Interaction Tests against multiple targets  for hours equal to Performance Rank. (Skill: 10 minutes)
  • Seduction: Improves the attitude of target by two degrees for one day and by one forever. (Skill)
  • Winning Smile: Can add Winning Smile Rank to Interaction Tests for hours equal to Winning Smile Rank.
By looking at what social abilities you have at your disposal, you can create something of a road map for an interaction once you have an idea of what you want out of it. If you are in an unfamiliar setting, Etiquette is always a good place to start. Assuming it doesn't go horribly wrong (e.g. prostate exams aren't actually a part of the troll formal greeting ritual - awkward). First Impression is a staple and the Greeting Ritual can improve attitude as well. It is quite beneficial for a social character to invest in their artisan skill, and it can also be used with Impress (and Performance) for additional bonuses. 

This could go on at great length, but the key pieces to take away are: within the system, social interactions are something of their own mini-game. If you want something (instead of just role-playing for fun), figure out what it is and what you can bring to get that. Try and get the target's attitude as favorable as possible, including an Interaction Test just to improve that, before going after what you actually want. This is usually referred to as "buttering them up". Grandmothers are particularly susceptible. Try to keep the Interaction Test for that till the end and use anything you have to improve Interaction Tests before it, Lasting Impression and Winning Smile, for example. When actually making an Interaction Test, look at how you are going about the role-play and see if you have a Talent or skill that will support that angle; do you have one that will support a different angle? Get the GM on board with this and try to get all of the bonuses you can. Unless you are a Journeyman Troubadour, you're likely to only get one shot at this. If it doesn't work, maybe Bribery is get it for you?

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).