19 October 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 09 - Venna's Armor

This is the ninth Anatomy of a Thread Item in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 44), Venna's Armor was a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 283). The only actual suit of armor (though the Silvered Shield and War Helm of Landis both give Physical Armor, if you want to be really technical about it) when it first came out, that makes this the iconic armor for the setting. Also, really, really powerful. Exactly how powerful - continue reading.

There will be an analysis of how the 3E Thread Item stacks up to the proposed guidelines (pg. 46 of the Gamemaster's Companion) and what it looked like in its original release.

Venna's Armor
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Warden

The Spell Defense sits right in the middle of the suggested range for Warden tier Thread Items. Since it is at that tier, it's fair to assume that there should be some solid effects starting at the Rank Five to Seven range. With 10 Thread Ranks, it is safe to say that this a Legendary Item and is going to get pretty powerful. By which I mean, potentially game-deforming powerful.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 14

This is the standard Rank One benefit for armor: effectively fully forged. With a base Physical Armor of 9, plate goes to 14 with a -4 Initiative Penalty.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Initiative Penalty -2

A standard effect available to armor at all Ranks, reducing the Initiative Penalty by 1. Wait, I mean by 2. That's awfully early to be bringing out a (hypothetically) Rank Seven effect. I mean, we just got here, where is the chase? There was already a huge pile of Physical Armor up there, now a great reduction in the penalties of wearing it? At least there won't be a lot of Mystic Armor so this has some weakness, right?

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Mystic Armor 3

Keep in mind, this started with 0 Mystic Armor. That is a huge jump - beyond what you are supposed to see even at Rank Seven. There are possibly some good reasons for this (see the analysis of the 1E version), but still - this isn't a fluff thing that is improved just for fun, but is unlikely to see any real impact on the game.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Mystic Armor 5; for 2 Permanent Damage, the Result Level to inflict Armor-Defeating Hits on the wearer is increased by one level.

Here things go from "That's an amazing bonus!" to "This character will never, ever fear anything ever again". Mystic Armor just got a +2 bonus, which is still huge, but a little sad when compared to that +3 bonus at Rank Three. Then you get beyond the first sentence. 

Anyone who has played Earthdawn is well aware of the "paper armor" issues that exist because of Armor-Defeating Hits. Every character that relies on armor for protection utterly fears them, and with good reason: your armor just became meaningless. Being able to require an additional success level just reduced the odds of that happening by roughly an order of magnitude. Yes, that is worth 2 Permanent Damage and probably a capstone ability to some awesome protective device.

But wait, it's Rank Four here and there was already a +2 to Mystic Armor...

Thread Rank Five
Effect: For 2 Permanent Damage, store Karma equal to the Thread Rank.

To be fair, this isn't as amazing as the three previous Thread Ranks. However, it is better than the Bands of Fortune (which cost Strain to do this) and that is pretty much their thing. Without a doubt, this is a solid ability that will see a lot of use since Karma is now free. In all, this is good for the Thread Rank, but not unexpected.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Physical Armor 15 and Mystic Armor 6.

Finding the Rank Seven effect (two standard effects) here seems absolutely tame. Again, this is a lot of armor without a lot of investment thus far. 

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: No Initiative Penalty

Another Rank Seven effect, but this Thread Item now has no drawbacks at all with great Physical Armor, very good Mystic Armor, nigh invulnerability to Armor-Defeating Hits and a Karma battery.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: Spend an additional Karma on Tests

This effect can be found on the Bands of Fortune as well (it is Rank Two there), but again, all they can do. That being said, this really is a natural progression from Rank Five. Still, very, very good.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Physical Armor 16, Mystic Armor 8, +1 to Physical and Spell Defense

Glad to see that Rank Nine has a total of five (!) standard effects. +1 Physical Armor, +2 Mystic Armor, and +1 to each of the most commonly used Defenses. This is pretty obscene. 

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: Spend all stored Karma on a single Test at a cost of 1 Strain per Karma.

To be honest, the Strain cost here is almost laughable. That effect is very, very good and I would gladly pay 10 Strain to use it. By the time you get it, 10 Strain might be a couple of rounds. It's not likely to be used terribly often, but when it gets brought out (if at the right time), it can change the course of an encounter, or just end it decisively considerably earlier than was intended. As to when is the right time? Well, in combat right after you score an Armor-Defeating Hit is a great time to dump 10 Karma into your damage. 

There could be arguments about whether or not you have to be able to spend Karma on the Test normally (the RAW isn't necessarily going to be a lot of help here). I'm of the opinion that you should have to be able to spend Karma on it in the first place, just because it's already powerful enough.

How does it all stack up? Given the running commentary, there should be little surprise that this Thread Item is crazy, over-the-top powerful. There isn't a whole lot more to say on that. It regularly gets amazing effects. The absolute weakest would be described as "very good" anywhere else - even a defining effect. From beginning to end, this is incredibly powerful.

Be incredibly careful if you introduce this Thread Item into your game. It has the strong potential to begin deforming the game around whatever character ends up with it. That isn't to say it will absolutely do this, just that whoever is lucky enough to land this is going to have a leg up on pretty much everything out there.

Do not use this as a template for your own Thread Items. Unless you want a game that is over-the-top, in which case this is entirely appropriate.

How does the 3E version compare to the 1E version? Let's find out:

Venna's Armor (1E)
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

Everything is the same so far, though 1E didn't have explicit tiers, it did have a cost structure that was exactly the same, though spelled out at every Thread Rank.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 9, Mystic Armor 3, Initiative Penalty -3

While 1E doesn't have a suggested menu of effects, this is very good with a +3 Mystic Armor and Initiative Penalty reduction of 1. It also sheds light on what the early Mystic Armor increase was attempting to emulate.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Initiative Penalty -2

At this Thread Rank, the two versions have parity with the Initiative Penalty. Which means the 3E version was more aggressive with reducing it and still has a significantly higher Physical Armor.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Initiative Penalty -1

Another good, but not notable bonus. While 1E has pulled ahead in Initiative, 3E just caught up with the Mystic Armor. Also, a lot more Physical Armor.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Mystic Armor 5; for 2 Permanent Damage, the Result Level to inflict Armor-Defeating Hits on the wearer is increased by one level.

Exactly the same Rank Four between the editions.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: For 2 Permanent Damage, store Karma equal to the Thread Rank.

This remains unchanged as well.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Physical Armor 10 and Mystic Armor 6.

Very similar, though the 1E version still has 5 less Physical Armor than the 3E version.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Physical Armor 11, no Initiative Penalty

The effects on this are pretty much the same: each Rank got two benefits. This one ends up a wash.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: Spend an additional Karma on Tests

The same effect for both.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Physical Armor 12, Mystic Armor 9, +1 to Physical and Spell Defense

Whoa! That is another +1 to Physical Armor, along with +3 to Mystic Armor and increases to the Defenses. Similar to the 3E version, though it is sporting six, rather than five, effects.

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: Spend all stored Karma on a single Test at a cost of 1 Strain per Karma.

Another example of the same effect. However, in 1E Karma wasn't free and your access depended on your race.

How do they stack up? Honestly, they are pretty similar and both are very powerful. In the end, the 3E version is just a little more insane since it edges out with 4 more Physical Armor and 1 less Mystic Armor. Incredibly powerful in both editions.