30 March 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 18 - Troubadour

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

Overview

The Troubadour is the soul and memory of the land. It is their duty and privilege to pass onto Namegivers their shared culture and heritage, to teach them of better times and give hope, to spread the legend of heroes both past and present, but above all to inspire them. It is only through that inspiration that the next generation of heroes can rise up and continue where the previous generation left off.

These adepts are performers and historians, travelers and sages. They must learn of the stories and wonders of our world, then pass them on to the Namegivers of the land. Through this, their own legend will be built. Given that they are not particularly versed in combat, it only makes sense that they would be surrounded by many other dangerous and talented individuals. This also has the side benefit of providing a a fantastic way to generate new stories to tell as they travel across Barsaive. Though tempting to cast their self as the hero, it is always best to downplay their own actions in favor of their companions. This maintains the integrity of the legend, as this Discipline is dedicated to truth and it always has a way of getting out there.

When making a Troubadour, there are a few things to consider and elements that can create more a more vibrant experience for everyone. Creating their mentor and detailing how that character shaped the Initiate is important to most Disciplines, but the Troubadour can have some inherent prejudices and rivalries, similar to a Swordmaster, that may make this relationship more important. Perhaps there are rivals out there seeking to discredit your mentor and their students.

Another element to consider is what drives you. Is it the love of the performance, the looks on the faces of the crowd? Perhaps it is the exploration, the travel, the excitement? Maybe learning new things, from songs, to legends, information about the flora and fauna of Barsaive, even the lands beyond? Could it be the desire to share all of that with the people, the act of which binds them together into the Barsaive that we know? 

Deciding on your favorite instruments and performance styles - maybe you are traditional and have a lute or harp and sing, maybe you play a drum or other percussion instrument and engage in rhythmic poetry, is there a form that you do not like? What are your favorite stories, songs, epic poems, etc? Detailing these elements, perhaps even writing some excerpts can create some depth to the world. Working with the GM could even incorporate some of these into the ongoing story. It is also appropriate for the Troubadour to record the Adventure Log every session, while this may seem like an onerous task, it shows your investment.

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 duty for any Troubadour is to share the knowledge they gain. You may see them as the original proponents of the slogan "information wants to be free". Violating that is a serious issue for these adepts. Along those lines, destroying, fabricating, altering knowledge is to the detriment of everyone. They are dedicated to the truth, and while they may fight a war of public image with rivals, it can be an issue if things go too far.

Their desire to learn new things (to them) could put them at odds with others in their Group. These priorities will often align with, or at least not necessarily detract from, the general goals of the companions. Sometimes, however, this compulsion may cause problems. When time is precious, when there are conflicting interests, or when those pursuits cause problems all on their own. Even their own prejudices as practitioners of their craft can cause issues as their rivalries catch up with them, or those who feel slighted by their "version" of events.

Specialists

There are three different Troubadour specialists available: Mapmaker, Romancer and Sage.

The Mapmaker has Navigation instead of Mimic Voice is a First Circle Discipline Talent. Read/Write Language is also a First Circle Discipline Talent and Impress becomes an Initiate Talent Option. As well, Research is a Second Circle Discipline Talent and Disguise Self a Journeyman Talent Option. They also lose the ability to perform for audiences with Half-Magic, but may instead use Half-Magic for Mapmaking Tests. This specialist changes many of the trappings of the Troubadour, seeming like an entirely different Discipline, but the core themes are still the same; they are still adepts that value knowledge and the spreading of that knowledge. They just favor the former over the later; their primary interest isn't just in knowing useful information, but in finding it. For campaigns that will have a great deal of exploration and not much in the way of urban adventuring, this can be an attractive alternative, particularly if there isn't an adept with those Talents in the Group (such as a Scout).

The Romancer has Flirting as a First Circle Discipline Talent and Winning Smile as a Second Circle Discipline Talent. Item History is an Initiate Talent Option, and Disguise Self and Seduction are Novice Talent Options. Haggle and Throwing Weapons are no longer Talent Options. This specialist takes the social and trickster aspects of this Discipline and dials them up. Access to two entirely new social Talents (Flirting and Seduction) and two new social Discipline Talents (Flirting and Winning Smile). The two Talent Options they lose (Haggle and Throwing Weapons) aren't any particular great loss. The biggest hit this specialist takes is moving Item History to Talent Options as it costs a Karma and is one of the most useful Talents in the game. It is similar to Disguise Self (with the Karma cost) and will likely be a useful Talent Option to help this specialist out considerably. Games with a considerable amount of subterfuge and urban adventuring will find a great deal to like about this specialist. In a more traditional adventuring situation, not much is gained here.

The Sage has Read/Write Language as a First Circle Discipline Talent, Research as a Second Circle Discipline Talent and Book Memory as the Third Circle Discipline Talent. Mimic Voice is an Initiate Talent Option, Disguise Self and Empathic Sense are Journeyman Talent Options. Sage specialists give up a great deal of their trickster nature in favor of pure knowledge Talents. Still social characters dedicated to spreading their knowledge, they may be  less directly interested in the world. If your game is likely to have a very low level of nonsense (e.g. tomfoolery and shenanigans), and/or urban adventures, then this may be a solid choice. That is not to deride them at all, the abilities the Sage specialist brings to the table a useful by any stretch of the imagination.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Emotion Song, Haggle, Melee Weapons, Read/Write Language, Speak Language

First Circle
Discipline Talents: First Impression, Impress, Item History, Karma Ritual, Mimic Voice

Novice
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Etiquette, Heartening Laugh, Lasting Impression, Taunt, Throwing Weapons, Winning Smile

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Disguise Self, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Empathic Sense

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Story Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Blade Juggle, Book Memory, Diplomacy, Engaging Banter, Graceful Exit, Performance, Research, Slough Blame

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Inspire Others

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Leadership

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

There are a few areas which the Troubadour brings to any Group, but they primarily fall into social interaction, leadership and support.

First Impression, Impress and Empathic Sense are all Discipline Talents that directly involve the social interaction mechanics, but Resist Taunt and Leadership also support this theme. Additional support for this is in their Discipline abilities and Talent Options. I won't go into a discussion about these mechanics here, the link should cover everything. On a trickster level, Mimic Voice and Disguise Self are very social in nature and useful, but do not strictly interact with the social mechanics. Nonetheless, having access to the other social Talents can make them significantly more useful.

Given their natural role as the face for a Group, it is also common for them to be the leader, or at least the core that keeps all of the adepts playing nice. The primary Discipline Talents for this role are Empathic Sense, Inspire Others, Leadership and Lion Heart (even though it only affects the Troubadour). The first two help with Group cohesion, while Leadership is valuable for rallying NPCs to your cause.

Their support role is somewhat minor, but still important for any Group that doesn't have a more prominent support Discipline, such as a Weaponsmith. Every Group will want a character with Item History, it is simply that important to the game as a whole. If you don't have a Discipline with it, then try to strong-arm the human into taking it. It's not just useful for gathering Key Knowledge, but also for any investigation legwork. Inspire Others is a buff for all friendly characters to all action tests. This is very good, and as a Discipline Talent you don't have to worry about the Karma cost.

Despite their strengths and what they bring to any Group, the Troubadour has some weaknesses. Most notably, they don't have much to do in combat; it simply is not their area to shine. In a campaign with that spends a considerable amount of time in civilization, interacting with other Namegivers, this won't be a big deal - the Troubadour will have plenty of other things to do and ways to contribute. In heavily political and social games, they will probably be the stars of the show, bringing various abilities to the table and able to tackle most any situation with intrigue.

For games that will be combat or exploration heavy, returning to cities only for supplies and downtime, this Discipline will likely be sorely lacking. They may still have things to do, but many of their Talents will go to waste, unused. This is a great Discipline for the right game, but make certain you are in the right game first.

The Troubadour suffers from a classic tragedy; far too many good Initiate Talent Options. Deciding early on exactly what kind of Troubadour you are (or aren't) will help when making some of these early decisions, particularly with regard to what your role will be within your Group.
  • Emotion Song - Having this as a Talent Option displays an interesting distance from the classic role of bard. This Talent has use for pushing the social agenda for any Group, particularly when looking to affect entire communities.
  • Haggle - With a good Charisma, the Troubadour is a natural for this Talent. However, they have enough other good Talent Options that this may not make the cut; particularly if there is another character with this Talent (you only need one).
  • Melee Weapons - The first combat Talent these adept's have access to. Unless you are waiting for Throwing Weapons at Second Circle, this is a solid choice for any character.
  • Read/Write Language - Most useful for Troubadours with sage interests, this rarely makes the cut. On the bright side, it is perfectly usable (if expensive and time consuming) as a skill.
  • Speak Language - As the face for any Group, this Talent is going to be valuable for any negotiations. With Talent Options at a premium, increasing the skill may be the most viable (if expensive) option.
A continuation from the tale of Initiate; there are more good Talent Options available at Novice than there are opportunities to select them:
  • Avoid Blow - Even though their combat Talents are few, I still don't care for this Talent Option. Particularly since there are so many other choices that will support their primary and secondary roles much better.
  • Etiquette - This is almost a must for any social character and should give the player more leeway to avoid a faux pas in a new social situation.
  • Heartening Laugh - While entirely appropriate, there is a Karma cost and this particular bonus isn't required very often. Odds are also good there will be a Swordmaster in your Group.
  • Lasting Impression - A fantastic social Talent. One of the best for social interactions and establishing relationships to your benefit in a campaign.
  • Taunt - Likely the most useful combat Talent these adept's have access to. It is in theme and the support nature always welcome to the more combat oriented adepts in the Group. This is a great Talent for any character, but particularly for a Troubadour.
  • Throwing Weapons - The other attacking Talent they have access to and it arrives somewhat late. Since this Discipline will rarely be in the thick of things, there is something to be said for taking a Talent that keeps you away from all of that mess. Your damage, however, will be lackluster, particularly at higher Circles (barring a Thread Item that creates or returns weapons).
  • Winning Smile - A good social Talent, but not quite as amazing as others; it is a little more limited in application, but the bonus is solid.
The Journeyman Talent Options have interesting choices for your character, which is what arguably makes them the most fun. Certainly, there are Talents that are more generally useful, but there are fewer winners and losers at this tier than those previous (which makes it more fun to me):
  • Blade Juggle - The classic Troubadour combat Talent. It increases Physical Defense and provides counter-attacks in close combat. This Talent is singularly responsible for a Troubadour once resembling a hedgehog and spending obscene amounts of money on forging weapons.
  • Book Memory - Any Troubadour that favors knowledge over performance (sage v. bard) may find this to be a very useful Talent to have. If you took Read/Write Language above, this is almost certainly you.
  • Diplomacy - Social interactions are the strongest suit for this Discipline and along with that is being a leader. This Talent plays those themes and brings the role of a power-broker (or peace maker, if that's your thing) to the forefront.
  • Engaging Banter - If your Group engages in capers, this may be something worth considering. Odds are reasonable that you will know if this Talent suits your game by the time you get here and it can be useful to have more than one character with this capability if it is particularly valuable for how you approach problems.
  • Graceful Exit - Again, I've never seen a character take this Talent and use it, though this would be one of the few Disciplines where I could reasonably see that happening. If combat simply is not your thing, then this will quite likely be your thing. That being said, you will want to continually improve this Talent so that it works when you need it to work.
  • Performance - This seems like a strange inclusion, particularly at Journeyman; that maybe this should be something Troubadours know how to do through Half-Magic. This is not unfair, but this Talent (and there is an equivalent skill, if you wanted to get in on it earlier) is a part of the social interaction sub-system. It is a pretty good part too, granting bonuses to a large group of people (though it does cost Karma). This is one of the most generally appropriate and useful Talents available.
  • Research - While this may seem most appropriate for a sage Troubadour, almost every Group will benefit from having access to this Talent. Most have to live with the skill, but even if there is a Wizard already, having two adepts is better than one. I quite like this Talent, though you will likely know how useful it is for you.
  • Slough Blame - Perfect for the Troubadour on the go - and by "on the go" I mean "on the run". If Engaging Banter was appealing to you, then you definitely will want to pick this up, even if it wasn't, this is still a amazing Talent to get out of jail free for just a few minutes. 
Races

While any Namegiver can follow the path of the Troubadour (and should), not all are created equal in this pursuit for mechanical purposes. Charisma and Perception are the key attributes for this Discipline, being both social and knowledgeable characters. This rapidly narrows down the list of races that are better suited for those requirements - elves, humans and windlings.

Dwarfs and orks both have penalties to Charisma, trolls have a penalty to Perception and obsidimen have penalties to both. While t'skrang have a bonus to Charisma, Troubadours have no way to capitalize on their tail combat racial ability.

While elves and windlings have bonuses to both Charisma and Perception, windlings are the real standout for this Discipline. They have the largest Charisma bonus in the game for default races (+2), a number of useful special abilities (Astral Sight, flight and improved physical defense), and the best Karma out there. The downsides? Poor strength, toughness and weapon damage. Given that these adepts are not combatants, these should hardly matter.

Humans fit into this in the same way that they always do: Versatility. They may not have a natural inclination for this Discipline, but they more than make up for it with the ability to fill in any gaps in the capabilities, expanding them into new areas, or adding more specialization.

Equipment

The only item here that has equipment restrictions associated with it is Blade Juggle, which simply requires using weapons no more than your one-handed size maximum. Beyond that, there is nothing to worry about. This means you can tank up with all of the armor you want, including a shield or a two-handed weapon. It is worth noting that Blade Juggle doesn't require any free hands to maintain, so you can freely attack while it is up, using a pole axe, or broad sword and shield; whatever suits you.