29 January 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 14 - Archer

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

Overview

The Archer is a very straightforward adept. They are interested in results and the shortest distance between themselves and their results. This does not mean they don't understand the complexities of any given situation. Simply that they have little interest in expending more than is necessary to accomplish any given task - the task doesn't care how it is accomplished, simply that it is accomplished.

An important part of that process is the ability to see all of the aspects and elements involved in the goal. Only through that clear understanding, and clarity is absolutely vital, can the best route to success be chosen. There is little an Archer hates more than deliberately obfuscating a situation, that distinct lack of clarity means they cannot doggedly pursue their goals; they cannot see how to get where they wish to go. This can be a frustrating experience for these adepts who are so used to having a commanding view of any situation.

While they can often come off as brusque, many Archers may see the value in maintaining and establishing relationships to further their goals later on, to provide more options and better perspectives when addressing their target. Others may see fellow Namegivers as little better than tools to be used in the pursuit of their aims. They tend not to spend much time around others for reasons that should be obvious.

A particular area of trouble for many Archers is the path of the sniper. Their removal from a situation and clear sight lends them a certain detachment and this strong temptation to always take the most expedient action can lead to callousness. Why not simply eliminate the target before they can act? It is efficient and you already know how this situation will play out. It is that hubris which all Archers should fear - that they know best simply because they are Archers. Falling to the path of the sniper means the Archer may find it impossible to resist this course of action and will always kill a target when the have the opportunity.

When making an Archer, it may be important to consider how they treat their fellows, how they approach problems and differences of opinion. How has the path of the sniper affected them? As a martial Discipline, were they part of a company with traditions, and what did their instructor pass on to them? What of their weapon? This should be a significant topic, since it is a physical representation of their connection to their Discipline.

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 likely issue to arise for an Archer is by approaching anything aimlessly. This concept is antithetical to them, as is adding needless complexity to a situation. They prefer things to be simple and unambiguous. That may not go over well with everyone in their Group and can very well lead to some tension. How this affects the relationships is worth exploring. As well, how the Archer handles interactions with those outside of their Group could create tension with their companions.

Since accuracy is such a vital concept to the Archer, making mistakes, particularly those that hurt their friends, could be a significant issue. Perhaps they did not see something as clearly as they thought and missed something. This will certainly rock a Archer's confidence because they do not miss. If it was caused by their direct actions against the wishes of their friends, there will definitely be some room for soul searching and examinations of their Discipline.

Specialists

There are two Archer specialists: the Bowman and the Crossbowman. A Bowman emphasizes the scouting aspects of the Discipline, while Crossbowman emphasizes the social aspects. Despite the statements that these reflect their weapon of choice, I prefer to think of them as reflecting how they view their place in the world - as a part of nature (the bow shaped of wood), or a part of society (the crossbow crafted of wood and metal).

A Bowman will get Long Shot as a Third Circle Discipline Talent, while Anticipate Blow becomes a Novice Talent Option, and Steel Thought becomes a Fifth Circle Discipline Talent and Stopping Aim is now a Journeyman Talent Option. This is a good build for a couple of reasons. First, Long Shot is of negligible importance as a Discipline Talent (though most Archers seem to pick it up), but moving Anticipate Blow to Talent Options removes some of the pressure on behavior in combat as initiative requirements. This means you can load up more on heavy armor and not be concerned and the downside. Second, Steel Thought as a Discipline Talent is extremely good, much better than Stopping Aim as a Discipline Talent, because you are going to want to spend Karma on Steel Thought every time it you use it.

The Crossbowman has First Impression as a Second Circle Discipline Talent, while Direction Arrow is a Novice Talent Option. Additionally, Social Defense is improved where Physical Defense normally would be, and vice versa. This specialist is going to work in a Group that either has plenty of combat characters already, or really needs everyone to fill multiple roles. In general, I prefer First Impression to Direction Arrow simply because I know I will get a lot of mileage out of the former, while the latter is very situational, though incredibly useful when it does come up; granted it will cost Karma, but it shouldn't be coming up so often for that to be a real burden. While the Defense improvements may seem like a downgrade, it is very common for Archers to pick up (or even start as) Scouts, Thieves, or Woodsmen, all of which have a good Physical Defense and benefit from a good Social Defense, as opposed from another good Physical Defense which doesn't benefit them at all.

Strangely, I would suggest any Archer to strongly consider one of the two specialists when looking at this Discipline. There is little reason not to.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Climbing, Melee Weapons, Silent Walk, Tracking

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Karma Ritual, Missile Weapons, Mystic Aim, Throwing Weapons, True Shot

Novice
Talent Options: Detect Weapon, First Impression, Flame Arrow, Great Leap, Long Shot, Speak Language, Sprint

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Direction Arrow, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Anticipate Blow

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Arrow Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Call Missile, Conceal Object, Creature Analysis, Empathic Sense, Evidence Analysis, Heartening Laugh, Lip Reading, Steel Thought

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Stopping Aim

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Bank Shot

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Impressive Shot

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Shot

This may sound incredibly redundant, but Archers do ranged combat. That's pretty much their thing. They get both of the ranged combat Talents (Missile Weapons and Throwing Weapons) as Discipline Talents at First Circle, and I believe are the only Discipline to get Throwing Weapons as a Discipline Talent. There may be a reason for that because, in all honesty, I have never seen an Archer that treated Throwing Weapons as anything other than a burden. Certainly, there was talk of the knife-throwing character after I forced some people to watch Desperado, but it never happened. Plus, it says "archer" as the name.

Between Mystic Aim and True Shot, there aren't any Disciplines out there that have cornered the market on accuracy quite like the Archer. Anticipate Blow works for both defense and offense for a patient (and fast) Archer. What is normally a limitation, as it just effects one attacker, isn't as big a deal for Archers given that not as many attackers will even be able to engage them - also, more bonuses to hit (these are going to be important). The downside to Mystic Aim is that it takes a turn to activate, but that can mean the difference between a so-so hit and an armor-defeating hit.

That armor-defeating hit is going to be important because Archers often have damage issues. Their base damage is slightly better than a one-handed weapon, but they don't have access to damage boosting Talents like many other primary combatants (Swordmasters may know this agony well). Flame Arrow is their go to Talent for this, but it is a Talent Option that costs Karma and may not be a great choice for every adept.

This is by no means a crippling state of affairs, just one of which to be aware. Despite having average Durability, their defense is not bad. The aforementioned Anticipate Blow, along with tendencies toward high dexterity, perception and charisma, help this out. And, of course, engaging opponents from a range.

Beyond their combat abilities, they have a selection of other Talents that give them some interesting things to do. Direction Arrow lets you find people, which is going to come in useful at least once in any given campaign. Stopping Aim can at least delay, if not prevent, combat - another trick that will certainly be trotted out on occasion. Finally Impressive Shot aids in social interaction, which may be a little strange, but is definitely fun. In fact, Archers make fairly excellent social characters. They won't give a Troubadour a run for their money, but with the right Talent Options (and there are a few), they can definitely contribute in that arena. The other common area for Archers to delve into is scouting, which is a natural outgrowth of that whole ranger thing.

Talent Options for Archers are generally about deciding what other things you would like to do. There aren't many choices that directly support filling things with weapons from a distance. This may either be a good thing (being a one-trick pony can be monotonous), or a terribly unfortunate thing (maybe you really like that trick). The Initiate Talent Options are pretty indicative of this:
  • Avoid Blow - This is still something that I advise against as a Talent Option, not because it isn't good, but because the math doesn't tend to work out favorably when you cannot spend Karma. It also has a requirement to improve every Circle if you want it to remain relevant.
  • Climbing - Not a bad selection if there is nothing else that catches your interest, but this works almost as well as a skill.
  • Melee Weapon - The need to continually improve this Talent to remain useful, along with long-term investments in equipment to keep them useful, means there is little to recommend this Talent.
  • Silent Walk - Always a popular choice for any Discipline that can pick it up, the Archer gets some additional benefits in the form of setting up ambushes. It isn't uncommon for Archers to take up scouting duties and this certainly helps in that.
  • Tracking - Another popular Talent Option for Archers that also fulfill the scout role.
Among the Novice Talent Options are the best choices for those that want to pick up some more ranged combat Talents, beyond that there are a number of ways that an Archer can go:
  • Detect Weapons - A potentially useful Talent, but also one that may never come up (and in the realm of things that are easy to forget about). If preternatural awareness is an important part of your character, this may be a way to further emphasize that theme.
  • First Impression - I always like to see social Talents available to various Disciplines. Something as simple as this tends to open up additional opportunities for the character to get involved and they often require minimal investment to pay off.
  • Flame Arrow - Archers with high willpower and/or Karma will get a lot out of this; elves, humans, some orks (willpower is an issue there) and windlings. Every windling will want this Talent - it allows them to ignore the reduced damage due to their size and capitalize on their great Karma. If you take this, you will want to continually improve it.
  • Great Leap - This Talent is a good way to get out of trouble, while maintaining yourself as a threat. It also has value for any Archer also acting as scout to get into those hard to reach spaces. Minimal investment may be required.
  • Long Shot - It costs Karma and may not always work, but it can give you some final chances to murder a fleeing foe, or additional attacks before opponents have a chance to retaliate.
  • Speak Language - Archers that style themselves as explorers or more social characters may want to take this in support of those themes. If no one else has this Talent, that is another reason to consider it.
  • Sprint - This Talent does cost Karma, but Archers may have a little more use for it due to their relative frailty; it will allow them to putt additional distance between themselves and approaching attackers and may buy a turn or two of safety.
The Talent Options at Journeyman are somewhat a grab bag - there are a lot of interesting choices. There is a good chance any character is going to find something they like, and the two competing alternate builds (scout and social) both find more Talents for support here:
  • Call Missile - By this time, you will know if you need this Talent or not. If ammo during combat is a concern, you're going to want this. If you have never noticed, then just keep looking. On the whole, Archers that use thrown weapons extensively tend to favor this Talent.
  • Conceal Object - Archers that use bows will probably want to pass on this Talent - I cannot think of many circumstances where this will be regularly useful for them to invest in it. Archers that use thrown weapons, however, will likely want to consider this.
  • Creature Analysis - Information is always powerful and Archers that also do scouting will want to consider this. A good Talent for any Archer that can find room for it.
  • Empathic Sense - A personal favorite of mine that helps in social situations. Additionally, when combined with Direction Arrow it makes an effective way to determine if any of your Group have been abducted and then quickly find them. This is much more useful in some Groups than others.
  • Evidence Analysis - More fun Talents for an Archer that performs scouting duties, or wants to be involved in information gathering. This will almost certainly come up in every game.
  • Heartening Laugh - At the cost of Karma and an action, there is probably something better for an Archer to take (also, Swordsmasters get this as a Discipline Talent). If no one else has it and social attacks are becoming a problem, it may be a consideration.
  • Lip Reading - An interesting meeting for the scout and social type Archers. For political games, this may be very useful. Otherwise, it is hard to predict, though odds are good by now you will know if you want this Talent or not.
  • Steel Thought - Normally I advise against this Talent for the same reasons as Avoid Blow, but there are some particular instances for Archers where it may be useful. If you have a very good willpower due to Flame Arrow and not such a great perception, this Talent may be a good selection. The small swing between those two attributes could shift the math just enough to make this favorable.
Races

Elves are the natural go to race for Archers and with good reason: they have the best dexterity, good perception, willpower and charisma. Their low toughness isn't as much a hindrance compared to other combat characters since they won't see quite as much action. Being pretty much good at everything, humans are pretty much good as Archers. Their good Karma along with Versatility can potentially help out with some of the downside to being an Archer, though there is nothing in particular to recommend them to this Discipline. On the other hand, windlings have a lot of upside to being an Archer. Flight with a ranged weapon means retaliation is going to be minimal, along with increased physical defense. Their dexterity, perception and charisma are all good, and the flight and astral sight only bring more to the table for scouting. The biggest coup is their Karma. The quantity combined with increased die means Flame Arrow (which ignores all of their typical size penalties to damage) is going to be a staple.

Orks have some things going for them as Archers, having an effective bonus to damage and good Karma, but little else. Dwarfs aren't bad, but they don't really bring anything to the Discipline that another race doesn't do better. The same can be said for t'skrang, who will get little use (on the best of days) out of their tail combat. Obsidimen and trolls, on the other hand, have little to recommend them. Their size doesn't reap any benefits outside of throwing weapons, and their low Karma means they won't be able to take advantage of all the Archer has to offer to the same degree.

Equipment

The big decision here is going to be whether you want to focus on Missile Weapons or Throwing Weapons. The former is probably the more useful of the two: better damage and range. If you want a Missile Weapon, you will want an elven warbow (the medium crossbow loses on range). The premier throwing weapon is the hawk hatchet (the spear loses on range, but is significantly less expensive), with flight daggers working well for concealed weapons, and bolas and nets being useful for entangling.

As far as armor goes, Anticipate Blow requires you to go first, so something light is going to be a must - the Smooth Armor Knack will be your friend. As always, espagra scale cloaks are worth it. Both flavors of Archer will want a shield, though Missile Weapon are limited to bucklers (whether that includes a crystal buckler is up to GM interpretation at this point). If you are just into Throwing Weapons, you can use any shield with the caveat that initiative is still important.