11 June 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 26 - Nethermancer Part 2, Talents

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

Overview

This Discipline is almost universally feared and reviled. Nethermancers would claim this is unfair treatment by the ignorant masses, and that those who truly know them would not have such base emotions when exposed to seekers to truth if they were more learned in their ways. It may very well be exactly like that. When pressed about who can accurately render an accurate view of these adepts, Nethermancers are likely to reluctantly admit that only other Nethermancers can truly judge them, as they are their only true peers. Those that are familiar with Nethermancers may be just as likely to regard them with fear and revulsion - it is just one bred not out of the unknown, but after knowing them.

While this may seem like an unfavorable view of these adepts, they are outsiders, powerful and intelligent, that look down with scorn at others. They dabble in magics beyond the understanding of others, including other magicians (though the magicians are likely to say it isn't beyond their understanding, just beyond their desire). Theirs is the magic of astral realms, blood, spirits, and of Horrors.

Their studies consume their lives. Adepts that simply value knowledge and lore are likely to become a Wizard. Nethermancers draw a particular breed. They may already be pariahs within their community, but above all else - they are searching for something, something that requires power. That is what draws Namegivers to this Discipline and its forbidden lore. They may not truly understand the nature of what they are searching for, but that search is almost undeniable.

What else could drive these adepts to the lengths that they go to? While they may claim their Talents and spells are unrelated to Horrors, this is hardly the truth. Many of the powerful spells at their disposal are adapted Horror powers. That they may use them to battle the very things they were stolen from is beside the point to many Namegivers and adepts - when you use the powers of your enemies, you are doomed to become them.

Given the moral relativism these adepts are prone to - the ends justify the means - combined with their general demeanor and belief structure, it is of little surprise that they engender such reactions.

This is not to say that all Nethermancers are like this, but there is no doubt that they walk treacherous paths in search of knowledge and power. That they use that to fight Horrors for the rest of Namegivers is also not in question - it is simply to what ends will they go to in that fight? Where will the line be drawn? Will there come a point when the medicine is worse than the disease?

These are important things to consider when playing this Discipline. Knowing that you are unlikely to be welcomed anywhere, always shunned and avoided where ever you go, is an aspect of your character. With that knowledge, what is it that drove you to this path? What is it that you are searching for? How do you view your fellow Namegivers, adepts and your companions? What lengths will you go to achieve your goals? These questions should help you to gain a better understanding of who your character is in relation to this powerful and troubled Discipline.

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 few ways to run afoul of this Discipline, and many of them are sources of conflict with the rest of their Group. The most notable is the confidence that Nethermancers go about their business (some would say arrogance). This self-assurance is where they derive a great deal of their power. It is also a hubris that has caused the downfall of more than one Nethermancer. They cannot have any doubt to their actions, no guilt, no second thoughts. The sources of conflict that this can generate should be patently obvious.

Related to their confidence, Nethermancers can never show or give in to fear. They are the masters of their emotions and traffic in powers that other Namegivers cannot fathom. Theirs is not to be afraid, but for others to be afraid of them. This is an important aspect of the nature of their Discipline. If they cannot master something like an emotion, how can they hope to master the powers of a Horror that feeds on such things?

To a lesser degree, they eschew any mourning for the dead. They view death as a transition, a change, not as an end. While some may find solace in that, it is rarely comforting to those coping with their loss (it being an iconoclastic viewpoint in Barsaive), particularly among windlings.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Read/Write Language, Silent Walk, Speak Language, Spell Matrix

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Astral Sight, Karma Ritual, Read/Write Magic, Spellcasting, Spell Matrix, Thread Weaving [Nethermancy]

Novice
Talent Options: Animal Possession, Blood Share, Creature Analysis, Dominate Beast, Frighten Animals, Spell Matrix (2)

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (4/3), Frighten

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Spirit Talk

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Spirit Hold

Journeyman
Talent Options: Abate Curse, Elemental Tongues, Enhanced Matrix (2), Item History, Lion Heart, Steel Thought, Willforce

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Summon [Ally Spirit]

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lifesight

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Spirit Dodge

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Orbiting Spy

It really doesn't come as much of a surprise that beyond the spellcasting requirements, most of the Nethermancer Talents focus on spirits in some way. The primary Discipline Talent line (including Spirit Talk and Spirit Hold) culminates with Summon [Ally Spirit], which is an incredibly versatile Talent. Though it can also be somewhat tricky at times and benefits significantly from collaboration with the GM.

Their other Discipline Talents are either defensive in nature (Frighten and Spirit Dodge) or involved in gathering information (Astral Sight, Lifesight and Orbiting Spy). The practical outcome of this is that Nethermancer's have a solid set of Talents and along with their spells, are generally more combat capable than most other spellcasters. It also means their ability to gather information, particularly in conjunction with their spells, is amazing. What a Nethermancer/Scout could find is actually a little frightening.

All of that said, like all spellcasters, most of their dedication is to getting the most out of their spells. It can be very easy to forget about the Talents you have at your disposal when you are looking at your spell list. Particularly with how many of those Talents are directly involved in casting spells. Frighten is a powerful Talent in and of itself and Spirit Dodge makes a powerful layered defense with Shield Mist (it's a spell, you will probably want it).

I would like to write about how there are some good Initiate Talent Options; which isn't to say that there aren't, it's just that the actual pick here is almost guaranteed. Since things open up at Novice, I will carry through with the effort and give a rundown:
  • Arcane Mutterings - Let's be honest, the Nethermancer doesn't lack for ways to cause people to leave them alone. This one costs Karma to use and Legend Points to advance along with some other limitations. You will get something better.
  • Read/Write Language - If you have a slot open with nothing else that looks good, this is a perfectly fine choice. Otherwise, the skill works well.
  • Silent Walk - Probably the best choice of the non-Spell Matrix Talent Options simply because it opens up additional ways to be involved in the game.
  • Speak Language - See Read/Write Language above.
  • Spell Matrix - This one. You are going to want this one here. You might be okay with just two for a long time, but you are going to need at least two Matrices and it's a long time to Fifth Circle.
Novice tier is when all spellcasters have the most latitude with their Talent Options. Not much, just some:
  • Animal Possession - You will get access to spells that are similar (slightly more limited), but cost less and cannot accidentally kill you. Get those instead.
  • Blood Share - An interesting Talent that plays with the blood magic themes of the Discipline. If healing is a difficulty in your Group, this can be a good way to maximize the use of Recovery Tests.
  • Creature Analysis - Get this Talent. To make the most of your spells, you will need to know the Physical and Mystic Armor values of your opponents.
  • Dominate Beast - Not bad, but you will get a cheaper, more limited version of this as a spell. There are probably going to be better Talent Options available.
  • Frighten Animals - Similar to Frighten, only it uses Charisma instead of Willpower, can affect more than one target, only works on animals, and will cost Karma. You can likely give this a pass.
  • Spell Matrix (2) - While you may not want both of these, you will probably want one. Each of these gives you another option, and that is powerful.
Fifth Circle, when you first get to Journeyman, is going to have the most agonizing choice you may ever have to make - especially when looking at Talent Options. Which do you get first, Enhanced Matrix or Willforce?
  • Abate Curse - Generally speaking, this Talent is fun and thematic to these adepts. Their Dispel Nethermancy Magic spell is somewhat limited, so there is still use for this.
  • Elemental Tongues - There is a strong emphasis in dealing with spirits for Nethermancers, but the don't have a lot to do with Elementals in general. I would rank this higher than the Language Talents available at Initiate, but in the same vein of: take this if you have nothing else interesting.
  • Enhanced Matrix (2) - Odds are reasonable you will want both of these. After all, you want to cast Shield Mist and Astral Spear without Weaving Threads first, right?
  • Item History - If no one else in the Group has this Talent, someone needs to have it. That may be you - hopefully it won't, because Eighth Circle is a long time to wait.
  • Lion Heart - This particular Talent is virtually always useful, requiring minimal investment and always being active. It also adds to the image of the unflappable Nethermancer. Depending on your GM, Willforce may make this Talent unnecessary.
  • Steel Thought - There are so many good Talent Options available and the fact this isn't a Discipline Talent (along with your already very good Spell Defense), there is probably something better to take instead.
  • Willforce - Take this. It supercharges your spells and is arguably the most powerful Talent in the game for its sheer versatility (barring Versatility, of course). The biggest dilemma is do you get Willforce or Enhanced Matrix first? Willforce pretty much always wins.
Spells

The Nethermancer spell list is significantly more combat oriented than most other spellcasters. They have a variety of offensive damage spells at First Circle, many fear-based control abilities, along with lockdown spells. Their miscellaneous spells generally deal with nightflyers (bats, krilworms, owls, etc) and build off of that, or are heavily spirit influenced. They don't have much in the way of support spells and given spellcasters overall weakness in combat at the lower Circles, it can take patience and a degree of system mastery to really get the most out of their spells in a combat situation.

Races

Elves, humans and windlings tend to bring the most (mechanically) to a Nethermancer (as well as my house-ruled dwarfs). Elves have a bonus to Perception and Willpower, by far and away the two most important attributes. Humans have Versatility; they can be good at anything. Windlings get a bonus to Perception, increased physical defense, flight, and their penalties to strength and size are pretty much meaningless. Though the Discipline's philosophy tends to work exactly counter to their worldview.

What the other Namegivers have to offer isn't of much use to a Nethermancer. Dwarfs get a bonus to Strength. Orks get the same, but also a penalty to Willpower. The benefits that both obsidimen and trolls get (increased size, Strength) are of little use to a Nethermancer, and each get a penalty to Perception. T'skrang don't have any penalties, but their bonuses aren't extremely helpful and a Nethermancer has no real need for Tail Combat.

While these can be effective Nethermancers (these differences start to become less meaningful as you advance in Circle), it is important to be well informed about your decision. This pretty much goes for everything.


Equipment

Equipment for spellcasters is of minimal concern compared to all other Disciplines. On the plus side, there are no restrictions on what armor you can wear - an espagra scale cloak on top of other armor is always in style.