27 May 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 23 - Winddancer

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

Overview

The Winddancer is similar to a Troubadour, and often mistaken for them, but their position in windling society is most similar to that of a Songsmith in elf society. They are the keepers of tradition, the memories of the past, arbiters of the community, and the voice of their society. Their role is somewhere between Troubadour and Weaponsmith in a very uniquely windling expression.

One aspect of that expression is they believe less in the written word than in oral tradition. History is still alive as long as there is someone to speak of it, and thus these adepts believe that it should be spoken, danced, lived. What this means in practical terms is that the historical accuracy of the tale is less important that tailoring it to the audience and ensuring that the spirit of the tale lives on. There may be some amount of friction between them and Traveled Scholars.

Not only do they maintain their oral history, ensure the traditions are followed, proper ceremonies followed and that society to continues to function; they also go see the world. They are driven to travel, bringing their culture and stories to the world, while learning the same from everyone that they meet. Winddancers embrace new things, new people, new places, learning new things, etc. Despite having the task of maintaining traditions, they do not feel anything against eschewing the old for something new. The world changes and it is best to change with it than be lost when the inevitable happens.

In many ways, these adepts are the exemplars of what it is to be a windling. They strive to live every moment of their life to the fullest, to have no regrets, and to leave things better than when they arrived.

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 two primary facets of this Discipline: preserving the windling culture and learning new things. Failing in either of these can be a source of existential trouble for these adepts.

Either of these can present different opportunities for self-assessment and conflict. Perhaps the Winddancer's viewpoint isn't welcome; Weaponsmith's are rarely fond of outsiders treading in their traditional role. A continual desire to learn new things can lead to asking the wrong questions, dragging the Group into a conflict. It can also mean choosing between spending time to learn of a new culture, or pursuing other goals.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Air Speaking, Avoid Blow, Impress, Melee Weapons, Speak Language

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Conversation, Etiquette, Karma Ritual, Taunt, Wind Dance

Novice
Talent Options: Distract, Emotion Song, Empathic Sense, Engaging Banter, Haggle, Heartening Laugh, Mimic Voice

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Bird Song

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Dance Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Dead Fall, Enduring Art, Fast Hand, Inspire Others, Item History, Lasting Impression, Lip Reading

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Graceful Exit

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Leadership

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Hypnotize

The primary emphasis of this Discipline is social, with Charisma-based Talents making up the bulk of their Discipline Talents. Specifically, Conversation, Etiquette, Diplomacy and Hypnotize are social interaction Talents, while Taunt, Wind Dance, Bird Song (only windling Disciplines get this Talent), Resist Taunt and Leadership all support or benefit from this emphasis in some way. Really, the Winddancer shares a lot of thematic common ground with the Troubadour, though very little mechanical ground.

Looking at their available Talents (including Talent Options), they are missing First Impression entirely, which is a somewhat strange omission given the full range of other social Talents they have at their disposal. Beyond First Impression, they don't have Performance and Seduction; that is excellent access to social Talents. Which is goes into how strange and unfortunate it is that First Impression is missing, but it is also generally the most social Talent in other Disciplines.

Clearly, the primary strength of a Winddancer is the social interaction they bring to the table. Their biggest weakness is... everything else. Outside of being social, they don't have much to offer. As well, they have some Discipline Talents that may be thematic, but are of questionable use over the course of a career as a professional adventurer. The specific Talents are Wind Dance, Graceful Exit and Leadership. From a PC perspective, I'm not generally a fan of these Talents, and I will address each of them with why that is.

Wind Dance can be found in three windling-specific Disciplines (also as an optional Talent replacement for any occurrence of Climbing). It fills a niche that I'm not certain needs to exist - allowing a windling to communicate via their flight pattern. While anyone can learn to read this, non-windlings get a penalty. There is nothing here that is truly useful in a Group, unless that Group has an obscene number of windlings (and all have access to this Talent, or picked up the skill). As a Talent Option, it's flavorful and appropriate, the kind of thing that I would expect a Winddancer to have. As a Discipline Talent? It is a speed bump.

Graceful Exit perpetually falls into the category of Talents that I have never heard of anyone actually using. I've seen players take it, but never actually use it. Maybe others have had different experiences, but the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Earthdawn (which often makes it great) actively discourages the use of this Talent. While I always advise against it (and alliteration), it's fine as a Talent Option. As a Discipline Talent, that's pretty rough.

Leadership is a similar story to the previous two. I actually like this Talent quite a bit, it can bring some excellent moments into a game - if the player wants to bring those moments. Not all players want to be a leader, and that's fine. It will almost certainly create less power struggles, which may or may not be a good thing, ymmv. While it can be thematic to this Discipline, I don't think that it is automatically the case (something similar can be said for the Troubadour for that matter). This is another Discipline Talent that would have benefited from being a Talent Option, in my opinion.

All of that being said, the social aspects of this Discipline present a big upside. If you like the look of the Winddancer in the first place, odds are reasonable that the aforementioned issues won't be much of a deterrence. Where what this Discipline has to offer comes into its own is as a secondary Discipline. A windling that wants to explore their culture more and engage in social activities will find a lot to like here.

This is a particularly strong choice if your campaign involves a great deal of social play. If your game is primarily combat, or kaer-crawling (such as a Parlainth centered game), there won't be much of use here. Part of what makes this a significantly better secondary Discipline than primary is the understanding if what the Winddancer brings to the Group will be useful.

If you can open up the space, there are at least two good Talent Options to be had at Initiate (assuming you don't already have them):

  • Air Speaking - I still don't quite get the use of this Talent, since it has a somewhat limited range, but you cannot limit the recipient(s) in any way.
  • Avoid Blow - Hopefully you have another Discipline with defensive Talents on offer, because this is their only one. I'm still not a fan when this isn't a Discipline Talent.
  • Impress - This is a good addition to the arsenal of any social character, and entirely in-theme for these adepts.
  • Melee Weapons - The only combat Talent available. If you don't have one, get this.
  • Speak Language - Always useful, even with minimal investment. It is, however, easily replicated with the skill. If you have a open Talent Option, pick it up; as the (likely) primary social character, speaking the language is always useful.
Depending on the nature of your character, there may be more good Novice Talent Options than you have room for:
  • Distract - If you aren't one of the primary combatants, this can be a very useful Talent for your Group. It gives a significant advantage to you allies and your ability to fly can help keep you out of harm's way.
  • Emotion Song - Entirely thematic for this Discipline and boosts your social capabilities. 
  • Empathic Sense - The more people in a Group that have this, the less likely someone will get into trouble without someone knowing about it. It also has the side benefit of providing social bonuses.
  • Engaging Banter - If your Group engages in schemes where someone needs to be occupied why they are taken advantage of, this is a good choice. Otherwise, not so much.
  • Haggle - Without Evaluate to go along with it, this Talent is of somewhat dubious value. You will certainly be good at it, but it may or may not be fun.
  • Heartening Laugh - This costs Karma, but provides a boost to the rest of the Group. The boost tends not to be that useful across the board. If anyone in the Group already has this (such as most Swordmasters), I would give it a pass.
  • Mimic Voice - If you have taken Engaging Banter, this is on the list. Even if you haven't, it will still take your storytelling (and pranks) to the next level. It is thematic, but may not necessarily be useful.
The Journeyman Talent Options tend to be more specific in application, but there are a few must haves:
  • Arcane Mutterings - This isn't a subtle Talent, nor can it be used in combat. It does give penalties that can be used in conjunction with someone else's action (or even your intimidate). 
  • Dead Fall - While there may be some value to playing dead, there probably isn't much when you also have Graceful Exit as a Discipline Talent.
  • Enduring Art - I like this Talent. I like it a lot. There is something that is just primal fun about giving your friends magical tattoos. (Look for it in the Player's Companion.)
  • Fast Hand - This costs Karma, but if you engage in subterfuge it is going to be a great selection. It is very situational - great in some (even necessary), useless in others.
  • Inspire Others - Get this Talent. It is a buff for your entire Group. 
  • Item History - Even if others have this Talent, it almost never hurts to have too many adepts with Item History. That is, if you have space for it. If you already have two adepts with this, then you can easily pass.
  • Lasting Impression - Probably the single best social interaction Talent available. You are going to want this.
  • Lip Reading - If you have Engaging Banter, Mimic Voice, or Fast Hand, this will likely be on your list as well.
Equipment

Given that there are no real combat Talents here, there are no real requirements either. However, the specific nature of windlings does lend to a certain combination of equipment. Given that the only combat Talent is Melee Weapons (which is also a solid category), that is where we will start. I always suggest one-handed weapons for windlings when initiative isn't an issue (and often even when it is). The reason is pretty straight-forward: A two-handed weapon gives +2 to damage, which is less than a two-handed weapon for other Namegivers (+6 to damage). The armor provided by a shield, however, remains unchanged. Assuming that the damage and protection are roughly balanced for Namegivers at size 3 and 4, that means protection is significantly better for a windling at size 1. For armor, take whatever you can still afford to wear with your initiative.