20 May 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 22 - Traveled Scholar

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

Overview

The Traveled Scholar is the unquestioned, absolute master of the primary source. For those not invested in the academics, that means they go out into the field and do the research. They go to the Servos Jungle, spend years with the jungle t'skrang, learn their ways, try not to get eaten in the process, and then return to write a paper about it. There is nowhere that these adepts will not go to learn something new.

That is the essence of the Discipline: going somewhere new to learn something. Often there are other things to learn on the way, but every destination should be a discovery that will result in a paper to publish. Indeed, the publishing treadmill of academia began back in the Fourth Age. Without published papers, a Traveled Scholar will never get the attention of those above them to receive training and the praise they so richly deserve.

The society of these adepts is something of a viper's nest as well (not unlike contemporary universities). There are not enough funds and spots as there are applicants, which creates a complicated social dance. Your papers must be significant, particularly if you do not publish very often, but if you publish too often, it may very well be taken as the academic equivalent of spam. Not only that, but interactions are often laced with treachery, as your peers are constantly looking for advantage. It is quite likely that the cannibalistic jungle t'skrang are the least of your problems.

When playing a Traveled Scholar, it would likely be best to decide on a focus of your studies. Other areas can branch from there, or simply be hobbies, but one particular area will help guide your stories and communicate to others where your interests lie. Similarly, who are your rivals? These are other Traveled Scholars that you are ostensibly friends with, but constantly working against, just as they are working against you. Part of the appeal for this Discipline is the rich world back in the academic institution.

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. There are a number of ways that a Traveled Scholar can run into trouble, and often drag their Group with them. The first is their drive to learn things; they cannot pass up the opportunity to learn something new (this doesn't mean a trade, this is academic, not practical knowledge). Since they are compelled to seek this out, it can be a source of conflict with the rest of the Group as priorities align differently.

Similar to that, these adepts cannot always simply rely on secondary sources of information. If it didn't come from a primary source (someone that was there), then they must go see for themselves. Generally, this should only apply strongly to the focus of their research, but anything peripherally related could be relevant to this as well. Even the primary source research of their rivals may require an independent verification. For the sake of objectivity, of course.

The final way they can run afoul of these violations is by withholding information. The knowledge was gathered to be shared with everyone. That doesn't mean appropriate compensation cannot be requested (appropriate being important to the concept), but that outright refusal to share a piece of research means that you don't trust your work to external scrutiny, or, even worse, are trying to keep it from the world.

Specialists

There is a special of this Discipline, the Spy; they are primarily interested in learning secrets. Though as the modern day rogue hacker, they are less interested in learning them for the gain of an individual or group, but because information wants to be free. These adepts have Search as a First Circle Discipline Talent; Bribery, Item History and Silent Walk as an Initiate Talent Options; and Conversation and Navigation being removed from the Talent Option list. Also, Disarm Trap becomes a Journeyman Talent Option, while Arcane Mutterings becomes a Warden Talent Option.

The end result is a somewhat more "adventure ready" adept, though not significantly so. These specialists are likely going to be popular as a secondary Discipline, the loss of Navigation isn't a notable one, Item History works just as well as a Talent Option, and the later tier changes make the trap associated Talents workable if they are important. Search as a Discipline Talent is good and access to Silent Walk is always a bonus.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Conversation, Etiquette, Evidence Analysis, Navigation, Search

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Item History, Karma Ritual, Read/Write Language, Research, Speak Language

Novice
Talent Options: Abate Curse, Astral Sight, Avoid Blow, Creature Analysis, Evaluate, Haggle, Lock Picking

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Book Recall

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Lore Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Conceal Object, Detect Trap, Direction Sense, Graceful Exit, Resist Taunt, Spirit Talk, Steel Thought

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Applied Sciences

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lip Reading

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: True Sight

The Traveled Scholar is a curious Discipline, having the dubious distinction of being the only Discipline without any access to a Talent that will let them attack. That is one of the reasons that they have significant difficulties as the primary Discipline for any adept. Others include their rather narrow focus: they gather knowledge.

Not only do they gather knowledge, there are two unique elements to this Discipline in that regard. The first is that knowledge skills are Novice tier Talents for Traveled Scholars. This is a significant advantage for anyone that likes to heavily invest in knowledge. While knowledge in very useful, having that as the sole focus is problematic. Unless a campaign features that prominently, these adepts will find quite a bit of time they need to fill. With reading a book, most likely. The specific Discipline Talents are Item History, Research, Book Memory and Book Recall. Read/Write Languages and Speak Languages are useful Talents for this theme, but valuable in any campaign that has considerable travel, exploration or even intrigue themes.

The second is Applied Sciences. This is the Discipline Talent where the Traveled Scholar gets to put all of their accumulate knowledge to use. If they have any specific piece of knowledge that is relevant to the task at hand, Applied Sciences can be used to grant a bonus to that task to the Traveled Scholar and (potentially) the rest of their Group. To get the best use of it, however, these adepts will need Talent Options in support. This can be pretty powerful, particularly for an adept that may struggle to contribute in other ways, but the need for significant supporting Talents can potentially limit its usefulness in all circumstances. By far the biggest drawback to this Talent is that it takes until Fifth Circle to get it - which is a long time to (quite literally) stand by idly.

True Sight is appropriate, but uninteresting for a Discipline that is already lacking in "things to do"; it's a passive bonus, that while good, doesn't ever scream "must have". Lip Reading is a useful in any game that features investigation and intrigue, situations where the Traveled Scholar has more ways to contribute already.

Safe Path is an odd Talent - with the lack of Elemental Tongues and the questionable value it brings in the first place. While it may be used constantly, and fun can be had from misunderstandings stemming from miscommunication with an elemental using sign language, it's functional usefulness pulls back the curtain a little bit: if it was used and bypassed all of the danger, was there really any danger in the first place? Essentially, it is a little piece of game fiat that allows you to jump directly to your destination if appropriate - but would there have been encounters if you had failed? It is entirely dependent on the campaign, but it does raise some interesting meta questions.

Essentially, this Discipline suffers terribly if it is a primary Discipline. There is a considerable amount of game that these adepts and their companions may have to endure till Journeyman. Even then, Applied Sciences is hardly a powerhouse, despite its value. As a secondary (or later) Discipline, Traveled Scholars begin to shine and can compliment a variety of Disciplines. A Wizard would find their ability to gather information greatly expanded, while a Warrior would have an entirely new area of the game to contribute to.

As mentioned above, Talent Options are incredibly important to this Discipline. The Initiate tier has a number of good selections, depending on the campaign style:
  • Conversation - Games that have a stronger social angle, particularly centered in more urban settings, will likely find this Talent valuable.
  • Etiquette - The counter-point to Conversation, this tends to fill a similar role, though centered in more exploration style games.
  • Evidence Analysis - This is probably the most thematic and useful Talent Option at this tier, potentially being useful through Applied Sciences later on.
  • Navigation - Available through Half-Magic, and already the weakest entry at the tier. Pass.
  • Search - Always a fantastic Talent to have at your disposal, coming in right behind Evidence Analysis. You may want to come back for this later.
The Novice Talent Options  are varied in use an application, allowing these adepts to explore new areas, or pick up something from Initiate that they had to skip initially.
  • Abate Curse - This can be a powerful Talent to have at your disposal (if you don't already have an adept with it in the Group). Be aware, if you take this, you will almost certainly have the "honor" of handling anything that might be dangerous.
  • Astral Sight - The ability to gather additional information to use with Applied Sciences makes this very valuable. Keep in mind that most of the value of this Talent comes from remembering that you have it in the first place.
  • Avoid Blow - Normally, I'm very down on this Talent when it isn't a Discipline Talent. Technically, I'm still down on it, but Traveled Scholars really don't have anything else to save their bacon. You might want this, but hopefully you have another Discipline that gives you a better way to protect yourself.
  • Creature Analysis - Similar to Astral Sight, but possibly even more helpful to your Group earlier on. It will also give you something to do in combat against creatures. If you don't really fight creatures, then there isn't much use to this.
  • Evaluate - Potentially useful, but there are likely better Talent Options to explore.
  • Haggle - Similar to Evaluate, however if you have one of these, you should get the other as well.
  • Lock Picking - For this Discipline, I tend to think of this less in the "breaking-and-entering" sense, and more in the "I've found something old and locked" sense. Not to say it cannot be applied to the former, just that you won't find any Talents here to support that.
Similar to the Novice Talent Options, the Journeyman Talent Options have even more avenues to expand your character into, though not all of them are likely to be useful to every character:
  • Arcane Mutterings - It can provide some non-combat penalties, but in a way that could never be considered subtle. The best use I've ever gotten out of this is when gathering information or in conjunction with someone else using intimidation. Be warned, it costs Karma.
  • Conceal Object - If you are a less than totally honest researcher, this may be your thing. Since it doesn't (by default) have any combat application, the question becomes: do you have any reason to sneak something small into or out of someplace?
  • Detect Trap - There is bound to be another adept better at this than you, particularly since there isn't the ability to actually disarm them yet. If traps are a problem, you need a Thief to deal with them. If they aren't a problem, don't remind your GM that they exist.
  • Direction Sense - For whatever reason, this is one of those Talents that always seems to get the strangest use. It isn't cheap (Karma and 2 Strain), but it can be vital, or a shortcut, to resolving some problems. Definitely consider this if you don't already have it.
  • Graceful Exit - Probably the only Discipline that would get use from this Talent. Though by this point you will have some ways to contribute, but discretion may be the better part of valor once you have given some bonuses with Applied Sciences.
  • Resist Taunt - It's Avoid Blow for social attacks, and I still don't like it when you cannot spend Karma on it.
  • Spirit Talk - You can talk to spirits, but lack the ability of the Nethermancer to actually find them in the first place. It doesn't work with Safe Path and cost Karma. I cannot see much reason to take this over a different Talent Option (probably from a previous tier), but by this point you would have a good idea if this Talent will have value in your game. If it will, maybe you should consider picking up the Nethermancer Discipline?
  • Steel Thought - Pretty much the same as Resist Taunt above.
Equipment

With (effectively) no natural defenses, it hardly matters what weapons you have. For armor? As much as possible. Unless you have another Discipline, initiative is something for people with actions to take.