19 July 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 27 - Elementalist 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

The Elementalist can be viewed as something of an anomaly within the spellcasting Disciplines. Their interest is not in abstract concepts or ephemeral constructs, but in very discrete things. They work with the building blocks of the world and that is reflected in how they approach everything.

Whenever one of these adepts encounters a problem (really, anything), they break it down into the base components - Elementalists like to see what they are dealing with. Everything stems from the five elements and revealing that composition will reveal the true nature of anything. While some enigmas may resist such specific categorization, it is an approach that can be applied to anything these magicians encounter; to solve a mystery, you establish the fundamentals and from there the truth will be revealed.

This tendency causes Elementalists to be known as very honest and forthright. To be less polite: rude and tactless. They do not necessarily have time or a care for pleasantries and formalities, they would much rather get to the heart of any issue than carefully step around it. Such a pragmatic nature can be efficient, but also potentially result in enemies and troubles for their friends who must smooth over any problems caused by these spellcasters.

At the center of this Discipline is the concept of balance. All of the elements must exist in balance, or things begin to go wrong. Take a rain storm, for example. The over abundance of water causes the surrounding area to be flooded until such a time that balance between the elements can be restored. A more extreme example is Death's Sea - fire and earth with no water or wood in sight. It is a truly inhospitable place with an apt Name.

Orichalcum is the ultimate expression of this philosophy and the physical representation of the power and importance it has. For this reason, it is not uncommon to find an Elementalist engaging in truly strange behavior that only they can understand. Bargaining with and nurturing the elements in an area to support that balance. Other adepts are unlikely to understand, but that is the weary burden these adepts must bear as the only ones to truly understand the underpinnings of the world.

Despite the importance of balance, it is not uncommon for an Elementalist to have an affinity to a particular element, often along racial lines. Elves favor wood, as obsidimen favor earth, orks favor fire, t'skrang water and windlings air. These are not requirements, simply tendencies based on cultural preferences. So long as no element is neglected, balance can still be maintained - it is not an absolute, but a shifting balance so long as the scales do not tip too far in one direction.

When creating an Elementalist, consider what their favored element(s) may be. This will shape their outlook to a certain extent and how they interact with the world, particularly their interactions with elementals. How you interact with elementals is often personal, though traditions and rituals may be passed down from master to student. What teachings were passed down during your initiation? How were you shaped and how do you differ from the Elementalist that initiated you? 

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 greatest danger facing an Elementalist is that of elemental imbalance, both externally and internally. Allowing it to transpire in the world around them without an effort to maintain the balance can present a problem, though it should always be within reason. The aforementioned rain storm will likely correct on its own as the other elementals work to maintain that balance, and Death's Sea is not something that can be simply corrected. Where the action lies is in discovering that the effects of the rain storm remain and intervention is required. These efforts may distract from the Group's other goals, depending on the scope of work required.

Internal imbalance is more insidious. It comes from neglecting an element, or less frequently heavily favoring a particular element. All of the elements must be represented despite preferences - it isn't just about you, it is about the world. This isn't just about casting spells, but in dealing with an aiding elementals as well. It is all a delicate balancing act which other Disciplines can never fully comprehend.

Specialists

Technically, there are specialists for each element. I say technically since they are so very terrible that I don't actually use them in my game and would recommend any player considering that option to stay away. Stay very far away. You get a +2 bonus to everything that involves that particular element (including Talents), but a -2 penalty to everything that involves every other element. This is not a good trade, particularly given that one of the biggest mechanical strengths that a spellcaster brings to any Group is their flexibility. Let's just pretend that this section doesn't exist.

Talents

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

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Air Speaking, Karma Ritual, Read/Write Magic, Spellcasting, Spell Matrix, Thread Weaving [Elementalism]

Novice
Talent Options: Astral Sight, Item History, Parry, Spell Matrix (2), Tracking, Wind Catcher

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Elemental Tongues

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Elemental Hold

Journeyman
Talent Options: Detect Trap, Enhanced Matrix (2), Item History, Gliding Stride, Spot Armor Flaw, Steel Thought, Willforce, Wood Skin

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Summon [Elemental Spirits]

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Cold Purify

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Earth Skin

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Temperature

It really doesn't come as much of a surprise that beyond the spellcasting requirements, most of the Elementalist Talents focus on elementals in some way. The primary Discipline Talent line (including Elemental Tongues and Elemental Hold) culminates with Summon [Elemental Spirits], 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 (Fire Heal and Earth Skin) or, not to put too fine a point on it, a little terrible (Air Speaking) or somewhat strange (Cold Purify) and almost poorly thought out (Temperature).

Fire Heal is a dicey, if powerful, Talent that makes Elementalists one of the most durable spellcasters (particularly if combined with Wood Skin) and Earth Skin is simply very, very good. Fire Heal is going to help pay for Earth Skin and Wood Skin.

Cold Purify appears pretty late in the game and is useful in the right circumstance. Outside of that (someone getting poisoned), it's useless. The requirements seem exacting (access to ice, snow, or cold water), but luckily the Journeyman ability makes it so you only need water. The Talent is pretty brutal, requiring a Wound - if you ingested the poison, this is going to hurt.

It doesn't take long for Temperature to turn into a strange game with arguments about radiative heat transfer, or what happens to people at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. I am often seriously tempted to excise it just to remove those problems (probably replacing it with Wood Skin).

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.

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 - Given the situational limitations and Karma cost associated with this Talent, give it a pass. Talent Options are going to be tight as it is, this one just makes difficult decisions easier.
  • Haggle - In all seriousness, you have better Talent Options to take.
  • 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.
  • 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:
  • Astral Sight - This should be your very first selection. It is an absolute must for any spellcaster. The exception is if you are a windling.
  • Item HistoryIf no one else in the Group has this Talent, someone needs to have it. That may be you. Even if someone else does have Item History, it doesn't hurt to have another character using it as well. It's pretty unfortunate to lose a week of work due to a poor roll, but those are the breaks.
  • Parry - I'm still not a fan of active defense Talent Options and while this provides a bonus, it requires the use of a hand. Which may be required for casting some spells.
  • 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.
  • Tracking - An interesting choice that may be worth considering if no one has taken it and you have an open Talent Option.
  • Wind Catcher - This Talent is just fun. You will probably end up doing some stupid things with it, but they will be fun stupid things. If you have an open selection, this would be my first pick (barring your Group lacking a crucial Talent like Item History). If you're a windling, it probably isn't going to be worth taking.
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?
  • Detect Trap - This is another Talent that you can safely pass on. There has got to be someone better suited for the task of messing with traps than the spellcaster/healer. This includes the Sky Raider and Warrior who do not have access to this Talent.
  • Enhanced Matrix (2) - Odds are reasonable you will want both of these. After all, you want to cast Winds of Deflection without Weaving a Thread, right? I bet you thought I was going to say [Element] Spear or some other damaging spell. Honestly, you have better things to cast and Ice Mace and Chain is still better; also has no Threads.
  • Gliding Stride - I'm going to come right out and say this is one of the actual choices you have at this tier. This is the fun, but maybe impractical choice. If you are a windling, this is.. sub-par.
  • Spot Armor Flaw - Here is a weird thing, this Talent is actually very good for a Spellcaster. If you have found yourself casting a lot of damage spells, which may become more common with an Enhanced Matrix, this is a good addition to your Talents. You will want to improve it regularly and the Karma cost is a little steep, but you may not be casting damage spells every round. 
  • 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.
  • Wood Skin - One of the other useful Talents from this tier. Though it costs Karma, with a sufficient Rank it will practically last all day and improve your poor Unconciousness and Death Ratings. This is the most utilitarian of your Talent Options and worth seriously considering.
Spells

The Elementalist spell list is good for a number of things, and none of them are dealing damage. They have rare access to healing magic, good defensive spells, battlefield control and buffs for allies, some excellent utility spells for outside of combat, but their combat spells that just deal damage are not good. Just keep that in mind - if you are playing an Elementalist, try to find spells for combat that do something other than just deal damage (luckily there is a Third Circle spell with no Threads that does exactly that - Ice Mace and Chain).

As above, once you can get beyond that (which may be conceptually difficult as it is more than a slight paradigm shift from other popular fantasy games), they have a lot to offer. There are not that many spells you cannot find some use for. If you are into community building and involving yourself in the world, this is a Discipline that can really empower that type of gaming through Purify Earth, Plant Feast and Nutritious Earth. 

Races

Elves, humans and windlings tend to bring the most (mechanically) to an Elementalist (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, Astral Sight and their penalties to strength and size are pretty much meaningless. What I'm saying here is that windlings are amazing Elementalists.

What the other Namegivers have to offer isn't of much use to an Elementalist. 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 an Elementalist, and each get a penalty to Perception. T'skrang don't have any penalties, but their bonuses aren't extremely helpful and an Elementalist has no real need for Tail Combat.

While these can be effective Elementalists (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.