01 November 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 13 - Mask of Oltion

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 32), Mask of Oltion is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 280). Easily one of the most amusing reads and is very idiosyncratic. Good for laughs, but it's curiosity may outstay its welcome at some tables.

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.

Mask of Oltion
Spell Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

Everything sits at roughly where it should based on the tier. The Spell Defense is right in the middle and the number of Thread Ranks (five) is just under the maximum. So far, little drama. Oh, besides the requirements to ever actually use the Mask of Oltion. It's like the Fight Club of Thread Items.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 to Recovery Tests

A standard effect, though a little curious for an item that is mostly aimed at spellcasters, particularly Illusionists.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 to Charisma-based Tests to impersonate someone.

This effect is pretty narrow in application - but something that an Illusionist would delight in, having that particular set of abilities to take advantage of it. The narrow range of application make this pretty appropriate for the Thread Rank.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +3 Ranks to Astral Sight.

So this is three standard effects. It's not exactly a game altering bonus by any stretch, and not likely one that an adept who already has it will get incredibly excited over. That being said, it is certainly useful, particularly for a spellcaster that may not have Astral Sight... like an Illusionist.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +1 to Spell and Social Defense

This is quite good for a Rank Four effect on a Journeyman tier Thread Item. Two standard effects and any bonus to defense is a good one. 

Thread Rank Five
Effect: For 5 Strain, make a Spellcasting Test (default to Perception) against the target's Spell Defense (up to 60 yards away). If successful, deal WIL+30 physical damage.

It is supposed to be the punchline on a Thread Item that is something of a joke. It is one helluva punchline. Even though it is 5 Strain (which is a lot), I have seen Warriors burn through that in a round to accomplish significantly less. The range is huge and the damage madness. Utter lunacy.

How does it all stack up? It doesn't take long for this Thread Item to start bending the curve. That is, right up until it just snaps it in half and tosses it aside while cackling. It doesn't take long before the bonuses get over par, then the final effect. What else is there to say? It certainly isn't subtle.

This particular Thread Item is better enjoyed as a funny read and the amusement knowing that it exists, rather than introducing it into a game. Between the strange requirements and the final effect, there is a lot that can go wrong. While not all groups will have trouble, in some it may not take long for the requirements to lead to recriminations and hurt feelings. (Note: the requirements are about how you have to refer to the Thread Item - they're very specific and part of the joke.) Along with that Rank Five effect, there is a lot here that can go wrong.

It's not a particularly good template for a Thread Item. While I may be alone, I don't really consider the Rank Five effect to be appropriate for anything less than Rank 7 on a Warden or Master tier item. Even then, that is a lot. It is really going to narrow a character down to that effect pretty quickly. Even at 5 Strain - that Rank One effect is going to help with the Strain a little. The other effects tend to be a little two much for their rank, though the first two are pretty good and not actually listed as examples.

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

Mask of Oltion (1E)
Spell Defense: 13
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

Same Spell Defense, tier and number of Thread Ranks (five).

Thread Rank One
Effect: +2 to Recovery Tests.

Right out of the gate, this is twice as good. This is also a solid effect at +1, but +2 at Rank One?

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +3 to Charisma-based Tests to impersonate someone.

Again, the benefit is one more than you see in the 3E version.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Grants Astral Sight, with a +2 to Perception Tests to use it.

Unfortunately, this effect can be interpreted two ways. One, that you gain Astral Sight with a bonus if you don't have it (the windling ability is specifically referenced), but nothing if you already have it, or two, that you gain a bonus to Astral Sight. Given how in every other instance of granting ranks to a Talent, that is specifically called out, this is exceptionally vague. The 3E version cleans that up considerably, but also grants an additional rank inexplicably.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +1 to Spell and Social Defense

The same and still very good.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: For 5 Strain, make a Spellcasting Test (default to Perception) against the target's Spell Defense (up to 60 yards away). If successful, deal WIL+30 physical damage.

The only difference between 1E and 3E on this one is that 1E calls out Willforce for the Damage Step, while 3E leaves it a little unclear if it can be used. Still ridiculously powerful.

How do they stack up? They are very similar, though the 1E version is a little more powerful at Ranks one and two. Two may not be a big deal, but Rank One can make a difference. The 3E version clearly attempted to make it in-line with the guidelines. For a little while at least. Then Rank Three happened and apparently the decision was "screw it". Unfortunately, both versions have some ambiguity in how the effects can be interpreted, though it shouldn't be too much trouble for a GM to make a call on either of them.