10 May 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 21 - Songsmith

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

Overview

The Songsmith exists somewhere between a Troubadour and Weaponsmith, and could easily be considered the elf re-interpretation of a Weaponsmith. They are a Discipline of creation, like the Weaponsmith, though their creations are works of art without exception. They may have a practical function as well, but it may simply be a vehicle for the beauty of the creation (and the practicality of the item may very likely suffer as a result). In contrast, a Weaponsmith will always craft something practical, which may also be beautiful. These adepts also form the center of the communities that they live in, fostering the elf love of beauty in all things and passing down elf culture from one generation to the next.

One of the key differences between Songsmiths and Weaponsmiths is travel. While the latter prefer to be sedentary in their Forge, many Songsmiths travel the world. This where their similarities with Troubadours begin. Their travels allow them to spread beauty to the communities they visit, carrying news and stories, helping to maintain elf culture. They not only visit other elves, but all Namegivers, wishing to see what everyone has to offer and expose them to their art and culture as well.

There can be a sinister angle to those travels. Some Songsmiths (knowingly or unwittingly) serve as spies, gathering intelligence from all Namegivers. Among elves they are without reproach, holding at least the same respect as a Weaponsmith, and among other Namegivers they are innocuous. Everything about them puts others at ease and in a good mood, more than willing to talk (perhaps more than they really should). This is particularly true of Songsmiths in the service of Blood Wood.

Most Songsmiths do not start in that Discipline, but find their way there through their travels. Any adept that exalts beauty in their actions, seeking perfection for its own sake, may find the path of the Songsmith appealing. For such adepts, the important questions are similar to any additional Discipline: how does this Discipline fit into their overall philosophy? What has drawn them here and what do they hope to find? What is their art?

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 two most important aspects of this Discipline to a Songsmith are beauty (art) and their culture. Any betrayal of those is unacceptable. These adepts could never consider letting harm come to something beautiful - particularly if it has a special cultural meaning. This doesn't just apply to elven crafts - it could just as easily be a lovingly carved totem for a band of ork nomads that serves as their link to their ancestors. As the stewards of elf culture, they are obligated to protect that and any articles of that history. 

To a lesser extent, they are perfectionists in all of their actions. There are no half-measures in being a Songsmith. They cannot leave a project unfinished, nor can it be hurried or cast aside. Anything else would be disrespectful to their Discipline - which is a bad thing.

All of these elements can bring out conflict with the rest of the Group. The zealous defense of beauty could get everyone into trouble they wanted to stay away from. Their need to protect their culture and find new items from it can drive them and their companions to dangerous lengths, perhaps away from what their "real" goals are perceived as. Even their desire for perfection can put their friends in danger as they refuse to leave a project, or must find exotic materials to complete it. While all of these are portrayed as "problems", they are really "opportunities" for tension and grand adventure.

Specialists

While there are no canon specialists for this Discipline, in my current game I have one that feels less like a special elf Weaponsmith Discipline and more like a steward of elven culture - the Emissary (see House Rules). To be fair, they are actually the default version of this Discipline, while the canon version below is the Craftsman specialist.

The Emissary has Speak Language instead of Evaluate as a First Circle Discipline Talent; Evaluate becomes an Initiate Talent Option. Etiquette is a Second Circle Discipline Talent, while Haggle becomes a Novice Talent Option. Diplomacy is an Eighth Circle Discipline Talent, while True Sight becomes a Journeyman Talent Option. This specialist has a much stronger emphasis on social interaction and less on selling art (also, their Half-Magic already covers Evaluate for art). On the whole, this also opens up some of their Talent Option selections to support a spymaster type character. That is a role that appeals to me with regard to the position Wyrm Wood held prior to the Scourge.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Item History, Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, Speak Language

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Emotion Song, Evaluate, First Impression, Karma Ritual, Performance

Novice
Talent Options: Disguise Self, Emapthic Sense, Etiquette, Forge Weapon, Mimic Voice, Navigation, Read/Write Language

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Engaging Banter

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Art Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Conceal Object, Detect Weapon, Diplomacy, Enduring Art, Graceful Exit, Inspire Others, Lasting Impression, Lip Reading

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Bedazzle

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Steel Thought

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: True Sight

One of the most unique aspects of this Discipline is that they can purchase and improve artisan skills as Novice Talents. This means the reduced cost, maximum ranks and training times of a Talent instead of a skill.

The Songsmith has an interesting collection of Discipline Talents. On the whole, they are a Discipline oriented towards social interaction (Emotion Song, First Impression, Performance, and Bedazzle), though they have some similar merchant inclinations as the Weaponsmith (Evaluate and Haggle). At Journeyman, they gain some of the more uncommon defenses with Resist Taunt, Steel Though and True Sight.

Overall, this Discipline is poorly equipped to deal with combat. Even Talent Options offer the absolute minimal selections. The defensive Discipline Talents they receive are helpful, but unfortunately the Songsmith doesn't have anything else to back them up with. That being said, there is a Talent Knack for Art Weaving that is impressive. Just don't tell Garlen about it, apparently. 

In a traditional adventuring campaign, these adepts may struggle for relevance among their more versatile (and combat ready) companions. In a kaer-crawling game, they may not find any way to meaningfully contribute. It is a socially oriented game where artisan skills are common, they will be a key member of the Group. This is a Discipline where it is vital to know the direction of a game before you jump in.

My recommendations for this Discipline are for use as an additional Discipline. They can build on pretty much any character's capabilities in some fashion. Adding an entirely new dimension to an Elementalist or Woodsman, or building on the social capabilities of a Swordmaster or Troubadour. There is quite a bit to like here, but it can also be a pitfall if you aren't certain about what you are getting into.

Initiate definitely has some good Talent Options, and it is unlikely you will be able to take everything that you want. This is a theme that will repeat itself throughout the tiers for this Discipline. For now, I would suggest taking Talents that you know will be useful and won't regret later:
  • Avoid Blow - Like all of the other instances, I just do not like active defense Talents when the aren't a Discipline Talent. I see them fail often enough when Karma is spent on them.
  • Item History - If no one in the Group has this Talent, it is a virtual certainty someone will need to take this. There is a Karma cost associated with it, but it is negligible given the daily free Karma and the timescale this operates on (a week).
  • Melee Weapons - You are going to want a combat Talent of some kind. This is a solid choice, and the more offensive selection. It will need to be improved at every Circle to remain competitive.
  • Missile Weapons - The other option, and a good one. A high Dexterity will be important to use a war bow. This is the more defensive selection. It will need to be improved at every Circle to remain competitive.
  • Speak Language - Odds of you being the social character of the Group are reasonably high and this Talent will help. However, the skill is a solid investment as well, so consider this only if you have an open Talent Option choice. If you do, then this is a great pick.
More excellent Talent Options to be had at Novice. Again, there are more Talents you are likely to want than you will be able to select. It is important to know what your role in the Group will be, and what kind of campaign you are playing in to plan accordingly:
  • Disguise Self - While a fun Talent, there may not be enough selections to really take advantage of it. In a game that emphasizes espionage, or capers, this is a great selection for a social character.
  • Empathic Sense - For the role this Discipline plays, this is a great Talent. It aids in social interaction, as well as a general awareness of the Group.You never know when that last part will come in handy.
  • Etiquette - Another excellent choice for these adepts. It adds to the social Talents at your disposal, and the more you have, the better off you will be in that department.
  • Forge Weapon - This is an interesting Talent Option because of simply how rare it is. Normally the exclusive purview of a Weaponsmith, if your Group doesn't have one of those, this may be worth investing in. Keep in mind, that at a certain point it won't be as useful once everyone has switched to Thread Items, unless you are also a magician and interested in crafting your own Thread Items.
  • Mimic Voice - If you took Disguise Self, consider this Talent as well. You will get the most mileage from it in a game where Disguise Self is a valuable asset. Otherwise, it can be safely passed on.
  • Navigation - In an exploration campaign where no one else has this Talent, it may be useful. Otherwise, there are reasonable odds you can find something more useful.
  • Read/Write Language - Similar to Speak Language, though to a lesser extent in general. However, Read/Write is a little less common.
There are more solid Talent Options at Journeyman than there are openings for Talents. This is a place of hard choices, where you need to think about the role this adept has played and what you would like to build into are important:
  • Conceal Object - If you have Disguise Self, this is a natural addition to that suite of Talents. In a high drama game where you have access, this can still be useful even without Disguise Self. Who would suspect the Songsmith? 
  • Detect Weapons - There isn't a lot of use for this Talent compared to all of the others at this tier. It's best to just move along, in all honesty - you will find something better.
  • Diplomacy - Another social Talent that will build on the others. I would consider this a must have.
  • Enduring Art - This is a neat Talent to give some somewhat unique benefits to your Group (it's in the Player's Companion). I would suggest taking it, simply because it is that fun. Who doesn't like magical tattoos?
  • Graceful Exit - Given how lackluster a Songsmith is in combat, this may be a viable choice. Still, I have never seen a PC use it - it is effectively investing in running away.
  • Inspire Others - As far as I am concerned, the Karma requirement on this is a good thing as a Talent Option. The higher the result, the better off everyone in your Group is. Oh, yeah - you want this Talent. It is amazing, particularly given the limitations of this Discipline in combat. It also works in other situations as well.
  • Lasting Impression - This may be the best social Talent out there. You will want this.
  • Lip Reading - Given the role that I typically have Songsmith's play, emissary, this is a natural choice. In a dungeon-crawling campaign, it is unlikely to find a great deal of use. That same critique would apply to this Discipline as a whole, however.
Equipment

Given that there is absolutely nothing that requires initiative here, you will want to stack up on all the armor you can wear and still act. There is absolutely no reason to not do this, and the odds are reasonable you will want all the protection you can get. For weapons, it depends if you chose Melee Weapons or Missile Weapons. If the former, a one-handed weapon and a shield will likely work out (having the Strength to make a two-handed weapon worth it is unlikely). If the latter, an elven war bow is the go to missile weapon. Just make certain you have the required Dexterity, which shouldn't be a problem for an elf.