23 April 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 20 - Messenger

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

Overview

Messengers aren't just magical postmen, they are more like a freakishly determined Pony Express with magical powers built around delivering vital information in a land fraught with peril from beyond our world. There may be no Discipline with the same level of commitment and determination. When these adepts set their mind to a task, they can become like a force of nature in accomplishing it.

Through their tasks they also see the world. Often traveling to far corners and back - if the task was simple or cheap, there are plenty of non-adepts willing to deliver a message for coin. Those that are dangerous, private, or absolutely must be delivered that require these adept's special touch. While they would never travel the world just to see it, that isn't an objective or goal, it is certainly a perk. And few adepts are better suited for wandering the land.

Far from being a loner, Messengers prefer to travel with company. Perhaps it is the temporary company of a caravan, or the constant company of a Group. Additional Namegivers mean greater safety as well as a chance to share stories, tales of other places, information on destinations, etc. Messengers know all too well that knowledge is power.

The messages they deliver are important, often world-changing, and they realize this importance and handle each accordingly. Some messages cannot be committed to writing, and must be memorized. Others are objects. They are equipped to handle all of these and as they raise in Circle, the messages and their destinations become more important and more dangerous. These are the couriers that carry information countless spies (Bothans?) died for, taking it out from the heart of enemy territory without getting caught.

When creating a Messenger, it may be important to consider what teachings your instructor passed along. What were their philosophies and how they approached things? These should form the foundation for how this adept goes about their duties, but this Discipline is not steeped in tradition like others. A vital question to consider is why your Messenger has chosen this path, what drives them? The answer to this may evolve over time, perhaps it should, as they discover new facets of who they are and the importance of what they do.

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 significant violation that any Messenger can have is regarding their message. Losing it, failing to deliver it, betraying it; those all represent a significant crisis for the adept and reflection if they do indeed possess the determination and perseverance for this demanding Discipline.

To a much lesser extend, when "on task" Messengers are not known for their adaptability. While they can consider different routes to their ultimate goal, once a path is decided upon they are hesitant to change mid-course - it was decided on for a reason, after all. Even if not related to delivering a message, the thought of altering their destination is a difficult one to comprehend. They are goal oriented in the extreme and that laser-like focus is at times their greatest asset and their greatest weakness. It is also this area that will most likely bring friction within the Group as a whole, as the Messenger is determined to complete the task, regardless of the developing situation around them.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Book Memory, Climbing, Melee Weapons, Read/Write Language, Wilderness Survival

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Direction Sense, Karma Ritual, Navigation, Speak Language

Novice
Talent Options: Book Recall, Detect Weapon, Haggle, Search, Sense Danger, Silent Walk, Throwing Weapons

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Conceal Object, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Sprint

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Message Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Air Speaking, Anticipate Blow, Detect Trap, Disguise Self, Gliding Stride, Mimic Voice, Trick Riding, Wound Balance

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Temper Self

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Steel Thought

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

Mechanically, the Messenger is a professional traveler with an emphasis on defense. They actually have one of the most versatile collections of defensive Talents available. With Avoid Blow, Resist Taunt and Steel Thought, they have an active defense for Physical, Spell and Social Defenses as a Discipline Talent. Temper Self raises all of the other defensive traits: Death and Unconsciousness Ratings and Wound Threshold.

With Direction Sense, Navigation, Safe Path and Speak Language they can go pretty much anywhere. Conceal Object will ensure that their delivery arrives at its destination as well. This is all nicely in theme for this Discipline and works well. All of their Talents are good, particularly Sprint as a Discipline Talent; which makes it free and the only Discipline to get that, which is in addition to being the only Discipline with all of the active defenses.

The broad range of Talents means they will likely be able to contribute to a variety of situations and always welcome in any Group that does a lot of traveling (which is most Groups). As well, this diversity supports the narrow focus of delivering messages, or realistically being a courier in dangerous situations as they gain Circles.

There are still weaknesses to this Discipline. The most glaring is their lack of social Talents. It is the major area which they will have to supplement in some way to contribute. A more subtle weakness is that there are not many active Talents on their Discipline list. With all of the defensive Talents and those geared towards traveling and/or transporting their package, there isn't really any room left for doing things directly. 

It may seem like a minor issue, but if this is your only (or primary) Discipline, it can build into something more problematic over time. Most Disciplines are built around the concept of doing, while what the Messenger "does" is less front and center, it is a journey composed of scenes. The scenes are what truly make the journey and that is, ironically, where these adepts have the most trouble contributing.

This can still be a great Discipline with built in flavor and plot hooks, just one that should be entered into knowing the potential pitfalls.
Messengers get one of the more interesting collections of Talent Options at their disposal. What is the "best" choice is going to depend on what kind of campaign you are playing in, for the most part. Initiate starts the process off with some difficult decisions:
  • Book Memory - In a game where intrigue features prominently, or you are playing the role of a trusted courier, this could be of amazing use. In a more traditional exploration-style game, probably less useful.
  • Climbing - Whereas this is likely more useful in an exploration campaign, though may still have some use for a game with intrigue. You never know when climbing may be a vital part of delivering your message.
  • Melee Weapons - Let's face it, no matter what type of game you are in, you are almost certainly going to want this. The only exception is if this is a second (or later) Discipline.
  • Read/Write Language - This is handy for nearly any game, but with dwindling selections, often does not make the cut. The reason is simple: there is a skill and it's nearly as good.
  • Wilderness Survival - Given that this is available as a part of Half-Magic, I would give it a pass.
The Talent Options at Novice can build on, or expand the previous selections. However, there are too many fun choices:
  • Book Recall - If you took Book Memory, you are going to want this. Otherwise, it is easy to pass up.
  • Detect Weapon - In a game laden with intrigue and conspiracies, this could be a winner. In a more traditional setting, it isn't likely to come up enough to be worth it.
  • Haggle - There is almost certainly something better here.
  • Search - Like this! This all-purpose Talent is pretty awesome, though you will really want to improve this every Circle; it is the counter to Silent Walk.
  • Sense Danger - Similar to Detect Weapon, though more generally useful. That being said, the information it yields may not further the plot in a game with heavy intrigue the same way. Overall, a better choice.
  • Silent Walk - The measure to go along with the counter-measure. This falls into the same category as Melee Weapons: you will almost certainly want this.
  • Throwing Weapons - You took Melee Weapons already, right? Okay, good. I know, the image of a messenger throwing knives as they run, trying to evade pursuit and deliver their message is awesome. Unfortunately, the mechanics just don't support it very well.
Journeyman really sees more of the same: good Talent Options. There are likely to be some difficult decisions here:
  • Air Speaking - This is a strange Talent in general, and I haven't yet found a great use for it. Which means I generally give it a pass.
  • Anticipate Blow - The only static defense boosting Talent Messengers get, this may be a decent Talent Option. If you generally win initiative, it also has a offensive bonus. It will need to be improved every Circle to remain useful and you will need to have a good initiative to be able to use it at all.
  • Detect Trap - Without the ability to disarm them and with how late this shows up, I would give it a pass.
  • Disguise Self - This particular Talent goes very well with the overall theme of the Messenger, but particularly well for an intrigue-based campaign. In the latter case, it is almost a must-have.
  • Gliding Stride - Useful and quite a bit of fun, this is a great Talent to use when making an escape. Or getting into a hard to reach location.
  • Mimic Voice - Not quite as useful as Disguise Self, but makes an excellent companion to it. If you don't have Disguise Self (and don't intend on taking it), this can be ignored.
  • Trick Riding - If you spend a lot of time mounted, this may be worth it. Otherwise, not so much.
  • Wound Balance - While expensive at this tier, I always suggest this Talent when I see it. The investment can be minimal and it will almost certainly come up.
Races

Given the variety of competencies the Messenger has, there isn't any particular Namegiver that is a stand out for this Discipline. Only t'skrang are notable in that they won't have any specific method to take advantage of their tail combat special ability.

Equipment

If you have Anticipate Blow, you will want to keep a good initiative. Otherwise, there is no reason to not load up on weapons and armor to your heart's content.