01 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 24 - Windscout

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

Overview

Though they may protest to the contrary, the Windscout is fundamentally a Scout with a particular windling perspective on things. They seek less to be one with their surroundings because these Namegivers already view all things as connected. They strive to achieve new perspectives; to experience things from different angles. It is through that process, and by examining what they know and can observe, that they discover their surroundings.

Windscouts are inherently more connected with the natural world and overall less concerned with the ways of other Namegivers, which is a common trait shared by most windlings. Being so different from other Namegivers, they tend to congregate with other windlings rather than mingle freely with others, much like obsidimen. Arguments could be made that this is due more to their personalities (at times unwelcome), rather than simply being limited to their stature and ability to fly.

Nonetheless, this has given these adepts unique sensory abilities, particularly with their connection to the air in general. Their small size forces them to be more observant as a whole, maintaining vigilance while also being aggressive enough to ward off potential attackers. 

Within their own communities, they often work closely with Windmasters to ensure the defense of their home. Even though they are not generally inclined to stealth, it is often a necessity in fulfilling their duties as hunters and sentinels. They are a valuable layer of defense against would be invaders; sending out an early warning to their more combat ready brethren. While they may not be as fierce as a Windmaster, it would be unwise to underestimate these diminutive adepts.

When playing a Windscout, it is most important to determine their perspective on how they fit into the world. What is the part that they play and how are they connected to their surroundings? While this is likely to be shaped by the adept that initiated them into the ways of this Discipline, it should be unique to this adept. It is also likely that this perception will continue to evolve through their experiences and the other Windscouts that provide them with training. This evolution is entirely appropriate, given the general acceptance of change windlings, and this Discipline in particular, have. Additionally, examining the role the fulfill specifically within their Group will be valuable and guide this evolution.

Another element to consider is what drives this adept? Are they looking for anything in particular? What experiences are they trying to find? Even the most generic desire for adventure has degrees of subtlety below it, though they may not realize it at first. That direction and purpose will greatly help these potentially flighty adepts.

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 essence of the Windscout is about achieving balance between taking in all available information before making a decision and not losing track of their original goal in the process.

Any Windscout that acts without thinking first, going entirely on instinct, may face a crisis. This attitude is anathema to everything that they are. They are careful and measured, taking things in before committing. The flip side to that is getting distracted by all of the information they are gathering. They may be derailed from their objective, forgetting what the original intention was.

Their desire to analyze everything may put them at odds with their Group, who may see the need to act before an opportunity is lost, while the Windscout wants to ensure it is the best course of action first. This deliberate and measured approach will certainly frustrate any adepts (*ahem*Sky Raiders*ahem*) that would rather be kicking down doors. 

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, Navigation, Silent Walk, Sprint

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Evidence Analysis, Karma Ritual, Tracking, Wilderness Survival

Novice
Talent Options: Animal Bond, Anticipate Blow, Creature Analysis, Detect Trap, Lifesight, Speak Language, Throwing Weapons

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Scent Identifier

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Scent Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Direction Arrow, Disarm Trap, Mystic Aim, Sense Danger, Spot Armor Flaw, Surprise Strike, Wind Dance, Wound Balance

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Bird Song

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Endure Cold

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Sense Poison

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

The Discipline Talents granted to the Windscout are very similar to those possessed by the Scout. These adepts abilities are largely centered around gathering information as well, though they take advantage of the natural windling abilities as well. For example: Astral Sight and Climbing are both missing from the Windscout Discipline Talents - when you have Astral Sight and flight as racial abilities, it makes those somewhat moot.

What this functionally means is that while they are similar, there are some key ways in which they are different. This allows the Windscout to pick up some more unique Talents, such as Scent Identifier and Bird Song. To be fair, they also get Endure Cold and Sense Poison; two Talents that would kindly be considered niche, even if appropriate.

On the whole, the Windscout is more combat oriented than the Scout. They have Avoid Blow as a Discipline Talent, along with Mystic Aim, Spot Armor Flaw and Wound Balance as Talent Options. This may be because, quite frankly, most windlings need all of the help they can get in physical combat. (Windling spellcasters need no help.)

In the end, if you are a windling and looking at Scout, the Windscout is almost certainly a better choice for you. It is tailored to the unique advantages and disadvantages of windlings.
Unless you have another Discipline, you are going to want at least one of the Initiate Talent Options, and the odds are good you will want more than that:
  • Melee Weapons - One of the two (good) combat Talents, you will want one of these and you will want to improve it every Circle. See Equipment for a more in-depth discussion regarding this choice.
  • Missile Weapons - One of the two (good) combat Talents, you will want one of these and you will want to improve it every Circle. See Equipment for a more in-depth discussion regarding this choice.
  • Navigation - This is available through Half-Magic; pass.
  • Silent Walk - While somewhat explicitly against themes of this Discipline, this is still a very useful Talent for a small, flying observer. Some might even say an incredibly useful Talent. I may be one of those people.
  • Sprint - While it costs Karma, as a Windling that shouldn't be the same deterrent that it is to other Namegivers. There is some value in being able to escape quickly when your reconnaissance goes wrong, as long as you have room for this selection.
While there are definitely some good choices here, it is likely that there shouldn't be too much trouble getting all of the Novice Talent Options that you want without hard choices:
  • Animal Bond - It can be fun, but without the rest of the associated Talents, there isn't a lot of value to this Talent.
  • Anticipate Blow - This is a solid defensive Talent that also has offensive potential that plays nice with Avoid Blow. It does require a good initiative, but works with Missile Weapons. You will probably want to improve this with every Circle.
  • Creature Analysis - This Talent is thematic for this Discipline and generally useful for a Group (so long as not too many other characters have it).
  • Detect Trap - This is available through Half-Magic; pass.
  • Lifesight - A somewhat uncommon Talent that works well with the Windscout themes. It also allows for some sneaky x-ray style vision (without much of the Astral Sight baggage).
  • Speak Language - Always a good Talent with minimal investment required, however it should only be selected if there is really nothing else. The skill is just as good, though a little more expensive.
  • Throwing Weapons - The previous two Talents (Melee and Missile Weapons) are available earlier and, in general, better.
Journeyman is when there may be some difficult decisions on Talent Options:
  • Direction Arrow - There are a lot of reasons to like this Talent and it fits nicely with the overall themes of the Discipline. Finding things (such as members of your Group) is always a useful ability to have, even if there is already someone with this Talent - what happens if they need finding?
  • Disarm Trap - If no one else has this Talent and you have the space, it's not bad. You will probably know by now if you need it or not.
  • Mystic Aim - While it limits you to an attack every other round, it can be devastating in conjunction with Anticipate Blow and Spot Armor Flaw to guarantee that you do damage with a missile weapon. As a windling, it may be very important to get all the help you can with that. In general, I would say that you should take Anticipate Blow before this Talent; it allows attacks every round and increases defense, though requires a better initiative than your target, which may be an issue. If you have Melee Weapons, this is of no use. 
  • Sense Danger - This is a useful Talent to have, so long as at least some of your encounters involve other Namegivers (if they don't, give this a pass). It also fits with the Discipline nicely. If you have the open space, this is certainly worth consideration.
  • Spot Armor Flaw - Even though it costs Karma, this will greatly improve your offensive combat potential. It's an easy argument to make that the Karma cost is a good thing for a windling, since they have a lot and this Discipline doesn't always have a lot of great options to spend it on (except Avoid Blow).
  • Surprise Strike - This Talent is often difficult to pull off at all, let alone with the regularity to make the investment pay off.
  • Wind Dance - Unless there are a lot of windlings in your Group, or you have nothing better to take with a Talent Option, there is virtually no reason to take this Talent.
  • Wound Balance - Something that every character should get. There is every reason to take this Talent if you have the opportunity because the investment is minimal and falling over is terrible, particularly for windlings (also their low strength and toughness increases the likelihood of that happening). 
Equipment

Choosing equipment is something of a complicated decision process for the Windscout. It all starts with two questions: Melee Weapons or Missile Weapons and will you be taking Anticipate Blow?

The second question is the easiest to answer, so let's start there. If you are taking Anticipate Blow, then you are going to be concerned about initiative. This means carefully looking at your armor options and taking extra consideration into a shield (this will become more important in a moment). If you aren't taking Anticipate Blow, you can feel free to wear whatever armor you like and carry any shield (I always suggest a crystal raider).

There really is no right answer to that question - Anticipate Blow is a very powerful, but complicated Talent. If you are going to use it, then it can be an amazing boost to your combat capabilities. However, if you are likely to forget about it, or find it's application cumbersome, then don't burden yourself with it. I have players in both camps with regard to this Talent.

Back to the first question: which combat Talent are you going to pick? I'll go into more detail about what these two Talent Options entail and how they will grow down the road. This is a complex and subtle issue.

Melee Weapons is straight forward in application and allows the use of a shield, which means additional armor (physical and mystic). For windlings, I always suggest the use of a shield over a two-handed melee weapon because the benefit of the former heavily outweighs the benefit of the latter (up to +5, but at least +2, to both armors, versus +2 to damage). With Armor Smoothing, you can get a crystal raider shield with +4 Physical Armor, +5 Mystic Armor and a -1 Initiative Penalty, compared to +2 damage for a windling polearm over a windling sword.

There are a few downsides to Melee Weapons. The first is that you will be the regular target of attacks. This means Anticipate Blow and Wound Balance will be important Talent Options. Anticipate Blow requires a good initiative, which means looking hard at the armor and shield which just became important. Another is that your damage, as a windling in general, is going to be poor. However, Melee Weapons has a skill for windlings that can assist with that: Dive Attack. You are going to want that. Alternatively, your GM may allow you to use Down Strike, which is very similar.

In summary, Melee Weapons has good armor potential, but opens you up to more attacks. Balancing protection and initiative may be important. Damage is going to be low, but you have at least one way of improving that.

Missile Weapons is likely the simpler option in the long run. A bow will go +1 damage over a sword, but you won't have the extra armor of the shield. At the same time, you won't have to worry about initiative as much and will have the natural defense of flying over the battlefield dispensing indiscriminate violence from above. You will be able to take advantage of Anticipate Blow and Mystic Aim together (Melee Weapons cannot benefit from Mystic Aim). However, your damage is going to be lower because there are no skills that will directly raise your damage. This will make using the aforementioned Talents in conjunction with Spot Armor Flaw even more important.

In summary, Missile Weapons has defense based on relative inaccessibility in its favor and less of a balancing act. However, it has no options in increasing damage and must rely on accuracy boosting Talents to support Armor Defeating Hits.

As with the decision on Anticipate Blow, there is no right answer here. It is whatever will best fit your play style and your level of acceptable risk.