16 February 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 16 - Woodsman

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

Here is the Earthdawn Fourth Edition version of this discipline.

Overview

The adepts of this elf-only Discipline call the forest communities of their people home. Before the Scourge, they were often dispatched from Wyrm Wood to protect the elf homes of Barsaive when it was lush and verdant. Now, they are the guardians of the elves, both in form and culture.

While most Woodsmen don't leave their homes, seeing the best way to fulfill their duties as guardians by remaining in the forests, this is not true for all. Some see the best way to protect their legacy is by venturing into the world and spreading elf culture to those of their own race and others who may benefit from their wisdom, much learned from difficult mistakes of the past.

Followers of this Discipline are fearsome combatants, both patient and practical. They are also typically what many players are looking for in a fantasy archer (as opposed to the Archer or Scout Disciplines). They are heavily geared towards their themes of forest guardians, best suited for that terrain and engaging in combat on their own terms. With a remarkable durability, they can engage in a long-running battle of attrition against most foes, taking advantage of their Talents and ranged combat.

On the whole, a Woodsman tends to be slower to act, preferring to gather all applicable information before committing to any action. This does not make them passive, by any means; it is simply in their nature to be wary of what they may not see initially and wait for an opening. They will rarely have numbers on their side, so must compensate with strategy.

When playing a Woodsman, it is important to consider their home and their culture. Where did they come from? This is going to be a key element to them, along with why they left that home. Similarly, what are the cultural elements that they hold above others, and what do they want to spread to Barsaive? What is it that they protect now? Their relationship with their Group will likely be extremely protective as they fulfill that niche they have left behind. A mother bear with cubs has nothing on a Woodsman with her charges.

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 common issue to arise for a Woodsman is acting without considering all everything that is available. This may put them at odds with many adventuring Groups, but with Swordmasters in particular. In fact, any situation where they find themselves losing control will likely be an issue for these adepts - they like nothing more than to be in the driver's seat, even if they are not the leader. Even when patiently waiting, they are working towards something

Despite their devotion to their Group, they do not have the same need for harmony that a Air Sailor does. Still, they are protectors and defenders, and may form close bonds with Namegivers and communities they meet on the way. Their home and these other people and places can continue to be involved in a Woodsman's life and a great source of drama. What happens when a Woodsman is spread too thin to protect all of the things they care about?

Specialists

The only Woodsman specialist is the Assassin. They trade defense for offense on the whole: Surprise Strike is the Second Circle Discipline Talent and Mystic Aim is a Novice Talent Option, while Animal Bond becomes a Journeyman Talent Option. Also, Wilderness Survival is no longer available through Half-Magic, instead the Alchemy skill (only for poisons) is granted.

On the whole, these changes are very appropriate for the specialty - emphasizing patience and striking from surprise with every advantage you can muster (including Karma on damage and poison). That being said, this specialist isn't very good for the average adept. You are likely to miss Wood Skin more than you take advantage of Surprise Strike, and Wilderness Survival is going to be good often for any game a Woodsman is likely to appear in, while poisons may be iffy at best. The best upside for the average campaign will be earlier access to Mystic Aim and the occasional Surprise Strike murder.

Let me be honest, I don't think I have ever heard a player say, "What am I going to do with all of these hit points?!" On the other hand, I have heard grumbling that the troll Warrior makes surprise attacks this fantastic dream that will never happen. Just sayin'.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Climbing, Melee Weapons, Sense Danger, Throwing Weapons, Wilderness Survival

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Karma Ritual, Missile Weapons, Silent Walk,  Tracking

Novice
Talent Options: Animal Bond, Borrow Sense, Creature Analysis, Detect Trap, ParrySearch, Sprint

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Wound Balance

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Forest Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Detect Weapon, Dominate Beast, Empathic SenseEvidence Analysis, Frighten Animals, Maneuver, Mystic Aim, Spot Armor Flaw

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Anticipate Blow

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Stopping Aim

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

This is by far the toughest ranged combat Discipline available. They have a good Durability and Wood Skin to increase their basic survival, Anticipate Blow for a passive defense boost and Avoid Blow as an active defense. Additionally, Wound Balance and Lion Heart provide more passive defense bonuses that are always welcome. This is good defense by any standard and simply amazing for a missile character.

Their offense is a little underwhelming in comparison - it begins a Missile Weapons and ends at Anticipate Blow. There are some additional Talent Options that a solid picks (Mystic Aim and Spot Armor Flaw), but like most ranged characters, this may be a continual problem.

Luckily, they have some out of combat options to bring to the table, such as Tracking and Safe Path to enhance their ranger status. Silent Walk is largely considered a must with these type of characters (including the Archer and Scout) - honestly, any character that can get it. Stopping Aim also opens up some options to prevent combat, or at least delay it, which is always nice.

While their defense is excellent, that is rarely as sexy as a good offense. This is a state that can be challenging for many players who are interested in ranged characters. The advantage of a ranged character is in their defensive nature - they are harder to gain access to, which means they pay the price in offense. Their raw damage output is less impressive than their melee counterparts because there is less risk associated in delivering it. 

This is a setup that I like quite a bit (it also tends to give ranged characters more to do outside of combat), but as I said above, it may be disappointing and every player should be aware of that when they make their decisions.

Initiate Talent Options are something of a mixed bag for the Woodsman. There are a few that can generally be ignored out of hand. The upside is that decision making here isn't difficult:
  • Climbing - Useful and requires minimal investment, but I have always found this a little underpowered as a Talent Option. This is because there isn't much benefit to raising it significantly, which is when Talents really begin to pay off over skills. This is a solid skill, but as a Talent only great if there are no other Initiate Talent Options that look good.
  • Melee Weapons - With Missile Weapons as a Discipline Talent, there isn't much reason to look into additional combat Talents like this. It will also require continual investment.
  • Sense Danger - My favorite Initiate Talent Option because it will generally always be useful and doesn't necessarily require a great deal of investment to get a return. It is also in theme as a Talent for a perceptive defender role.
  • Throwing Weapons - This is redundant with Missile Weapons, and thrown weapons tend to be worse overall. It will also need to be improved every Circle to remain relevant. If you really want this, look into Archer.
  • Wilderness Survival - Entirely appropriate. So appropriate, in fact, that it is available through Half-Magic. While the Talent has some advantages over the Half-Magic, free is a very good price.
 There is a particular build for this Discipline that starts at Novice that involves animal companions (let's call it the "Ranger" as an homage to D&D). You will want to read the Beastmaster for an in-depth discussion regarding animal companions and some of the difficulties you may encounter. If that interests you, then there may be some difficult decisions at this tier. Otherwise, there are a few solid Talents to be had:
  • Animal Bond - This is the first part in the Ranger build. On the whole, this serves better for scouting than any combat purposes.
  • Borrow Sense - The second part of the Ranger build. This is when it starts to pay off for scouting, allowing you to gain some advantages without endangering your pets.
  • Creature Analysis - I have always liked this Talent for any Discipline that relies on gathering information, particularly those that can afford to be patient. Rangers may find this particularly appropriate, but all Woodsmen can get something out of this.
  • Detect Trap - If you do not have a Thief, you may want to consider this. Though if you are in a campaign where it is unlikely you will encounter traps, then this won't likely see much use.
  • Parry - With Avoid Blow as a Discipline Talent and Anticipate Blow coming up at Fifth Circle, there isn't much need for another defensive Talent. It requires using a melee weapon, you cannot spend Karma on it, and must continually be improved. Just walk away.
  • Search - This is a great Talent Option and one that every character that has access should consider taking it. For a Discipline like the Woodsman, this is a gimme.
  • Sprint - While elves don't have a great Karma pool, and there are plenty of good things for them to spend Karma on, if you have an open Novice option you may consider this Talent. There isn't much investment and elves are already pretty fast. It can allow you to put more distance between you and attackers, making it harder for them to approach while you continue to stick them with arrows.
The Journeyman Tier sees some more Talent Options to support the Ranger, as well as a couple of good picks for those who want a little more offensive power in combat.
  • Detect Weapon - Not amazing, but certainly a decent pick for this Discipline if you have the open Talent Option selection. This Talent fits with the overall theme of the Woodsman well - the perceptive guardian.
  • Dominate Beast - While this is another piece of the Ranger build, non-Rangers may find some use here. For the latter, the value of this Talent is directly proportional to how many open Talent Option selections you have and how many times in the past you actually would have used this Talent.
  • Empathic Sense - I always like this Talent when I see it for a variety of reasons. It gives characters something to contribute in social encounters, in a particularly thematic fashion for this Discipline, and encourages cohesion with the Group. If you have a player that gets abducted every now and again (or you are afraid they will), this is a must.
  • Frighten Animals - This costs Karma and how often it will be useful is dubious; I prefer Dominate Beast because it has more versatility and does not cost Karma. However, if you have scorcher (or cavalry in general) problems, you may very well want this Talent. The ability to remove a mounted opponent from their mount can be rather crippling for them.
  • Maneuver - This is another Talent Option which requires a melee weapon. While this may seem like a trend encouraging a secondary melee weapon build, there is a problem - none of the supplementary Talent Options for melee weapons are any good. There is really nothing good about this Talent for the Woodsman.
  • Mystic Aim - If you are finding problems with your offensive capabilities, you will likely want this Talent Option and want to keep it's Rank competitive. It sacrifices an action, but when combined with Spot Armor Flaw (right below), it allows you to regularly bypass armor. This is a thing.
  • Spot Armor Flaw - Yes, this costs Karma, but it is worth it. This will mitigate many of the offensive issues that Woodsman suffer from and, when combined with Mystic Aim, will help to guarantee that your Karma was not spent in vain. This Talent is just really good in general.
Equipment

Armor and weapons for these adepts is pretty simple. You need to go first to make Anticipate Blow work, which means light armor. With the very nice defense granted, light armor isn't much of a sacrifice. Since Mystic Armor is going to be the weak area, fernweave armor is a very good choice, in addition to considering crystal ringlet as you advance in Circle and can reduce the initiative penalty. With an espagra scale cloak, of course, but that should really go without saying. A buckler is a free point of armor (and mystic, if you can convince your GM that crystal bucklers work like that as well).

For a weapon it is as simple as elven warbow. It's the best missile weapon available and this is an elf-only Discipline.