29 October 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 12 - Nioku's Bow

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 35), Nioku's Bow is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 281). It is the iconic bow from 1E and easily one of the most notable from that edition. In no small part because of how strong the story is behind it and how it can drive events in a fairly dramatic way.

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.

Nioku's Bow
Spell Defense: 24
Legend Point Cost: Master

That Spell Defense is at the very top of the suggested range for the highest tier, Master. That is a serious difficulty to pry anything from this Thread Item. With those two pieces of information, we should be in for a very powerful Thread Item. Since it is of the Master tier, it is also clear that every Thread Rank is from a Legendary Deed, not because it was made that way.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 9

The standard Rank One benefit for a weapon: effectively fully forged. With a base Damage Step of 4 and Size 5, that works out to be 9. It is worth noting here that this is just under the maximum possible for a bow: an elven warbow will come in at Damage Step 10.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Range increment increased by 25% and +1 to Attack Tests with the bow.

Two standard effects at Rank Two. The indications from the onset are holding true. Though it is easy to give it a break because it wasn't ruthlessly optimized at Rank 1.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 10.

A standard effect, +1 Damage Step, though just one at this Thread Rank.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 11 and +1 to Spell Defense

Two standard effects, +1 Damage Step and +1 to a Defense Rating. Despite not following the guidelines to the letter, this is pretty appropriate for a Thread Item of this tier in my mind. You are paying a premium for each Thread Rank, after all.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Range increment increased by 25% and +1 to Spell Defense.

It is worth noting the Defense bonus is pretty ambiguous from that Rank. Typically, the new total will be listed, rather than requiring you to total up the bonuses as you go. Given the Thread Rank and tier of this weapon, it's safe to assume the intention on that is for a total of +2 to Spell Defense. Which means another two standard effects, which doesn't quite follow the guidelines (you aren't supposed to see that until Rank Seven), but seems perfectly fine to me.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 12

With just one standard effect, this is arguably not powerful enough for the Rank and certainly falls out of place compared to the previous Ranks. Typically the effects are more powerful as you advance in Thread Rank.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: +2 to Physical and Spell Defense.

Okay, things just got confusing. Does that mean another +2 to Spell Defense, bring it to +4, or +1 to Spell Defense, bringing it to +3, or now it is a total of +2 to Spell Defense, meaning that the previous +1 to Spell Defense that we added was a typo? Looking at the 1E version doesn't help a whole lot (sneak peak: it's a +3 to Spell Defense and +1 to Physical Defense). I can tell you that these bonuses will not be revisited, so it is pretty much a mystery as to what the intention here was.

Knowing that the Deed associated with this Thread Rank is pretty serious stuff, I would suggest treating this as (total) +2 to Physical Defense and +3 to Spell Defense - even if that is a little beyond the 1E version. The odds are decent that this weapon is going to be gone for a long time before the player reaches this Thread Rank, if they ever do.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: Damage Step 13

One standard effect. It went from three, down to one. At a tier where you should be getting at two by the guidelines that are regularly surpassed by weapons not nearly this expensive or intensive. Seriously, the requirements for Rank Seven are rough. This is underwhelming.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Damage Step 14 and +2 bonus to Willpower Tests to resist magical effects.

One standard effect and a pretty decent bonus, though by no means too powerful. I would gauge this at two standard effects. Which follows the guidelines perfectly, but feels like it is missing something.

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: Damage Step 15 and +3 to Attack Tests with the bow.

Back to three standard effects: +1 Damage Step and +2 to Attack Tests. It's solid, but not exciting.

How does it all stack up? Well, it is a bunch of bonuses, but there is nothing particularly interesting here. Especially not for the tier, costs and requirements. For how impressive it looks at the onset, there isn't anything mechanically special about this Thread Item. It's actually rather underwhelming. The sheer number of Thread Ranks is where most of the power comes from in the end, but none of them do anything exciting.

Bringing this into a game will not unbalance anything mechanically and it will certainly tell an interesting story and reveal some fun lore of the world. However, it could be very frustrating to whatever player ends up with it. Rank Seven is rough.

It's an okay template for a Thread Item in that it mostly follows the guidelines, but it doesn't do anything of note. Nearly every single effect is a standard effect; everything here could nearly be replicated by just using the guidelines.

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

Nioku's Bow (1E)
Spell Defense: 24
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

No differences so far.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 5.

This is a one Step bonus over where a long bow starts. Not terribly impressive, but 3E tended to have higher Damage Steps for Rank One due to the Forging rules.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Range increment increased by 50% and +1 Rank to Missile Weapons.

That is more impressive than the 3E version, with the equivalent of three standard effects. Note that this gives Ranks to the Talent, rather than bonuses to the roll. It's a subtle difference that is unlikely to have any real effect. It would likely have benefited from spacing these out a little - there are a couple of Ranks that look rather sparse higher up. This mostly mirrors the the 3E progression.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 7.

The equivalent of two standard effects, but it is still three Steps behind the more recent version. This continues to roughly follow the 3E progression.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 8 and +1 to Spell Defense

Two standard effects, +1 Damage Step and +1 to a Defense Rating. This is identical to the 3E Rank Four effect.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Range increment increased by 100% and +2 to Spell Defense.

The bonus to range here is significantly greater (an equivalent to 4 standard effects all by itself) than in 3E, though the intentions regarding the Spell Defense are much less murky. The progression is still roughly analogous.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 10

With two more Damage Steps, while it is giving the same kinds of bonuses, it is outpacing the 3E version. It is still behind overall, however.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: +1 to Physical Defense and +3 Spell Defense.

Again, roughly the same progress, just a little different. Also, what is supposed to happen at this Thread Rank is perfectly clear, unlike the muddle that 3E presents.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: Damage Step 12

The same story as in Rank Six.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Damage Step 14 and +2 bonus to Willpower Tests to resist magical effects.

Now this Rank is exactly the same and the two versions both have the same Damage Step.

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: Damage Step 15 and +3 Ranks to Missile Weapons.

Nearly identical to 3E, though with the different wording on how the bonus is given (as a bonus, or additional Ranks).

How do they stack up? They are very similar, though the 1E version is more powerful in range, at the very least. Given that Thread Items in 1E tended to have lower damage overall, 1E also outpaces it there. On the whole, the 1E version of this Thread Item was giving out at least two standard effects at every Rank. That is probably more appropriate for an item like this.

All of that being said, beyond the associated story, it still isn't very interesting and is pretty much a collection of bonuses. I generally like big Thread Items like this to do something unique (particularly with such an interesting backstory), while saving the sack of bonuses for ancillary items that will not be quite the focus of the action.