22 November 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 18 - Purifier

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 37), Purifier is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 280). Above all others, (imho) this is the quintessential weapon from 1E. It plays with expectations by appearing as an old, rusted sword, but is truly one of the most powerful weapons against Horrors ever.

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.

Purifier
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Master

It sits near the middle of the Spell Defense range for Legendary items, which is probably low given the tier. With only six Thread Ranks, this is actually pretty spartan for what it is. The trick here is that technically Thread Items that are specifically crafted can only be up to Warden tier, while only true Legendary Items can be at Master tier. There can be a little forgiveness for a lot of this since you have to dispel an Eleventh Circle spell (!) just to start weaving threads.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 8 and anyone can wield it.

A standard Rank One effect (Damage Step 5 + Size 3) along with a variable benefit. For most adepts it isn't noteworthy; if you don't have a Strength of at least 10, why are you attaching Threads to a broadsword at around Warden? However, for a windling, that is amazing, as a two-handed weapon comes in at Damage Step 6 at this rank. A particularly generous GM may even allow it to be used one-handed...

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +3 bonus to Damage Tests against Horrors and Horror constructs.

Given the specific target, it is perfectly fair for this to be better than a straight +1 to Damage Tests, particularly given the tier of the Thread Item.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 9.

Standard effect for the rank. Solid, but not much else to say here.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +6 bonus to Damage Tests against Horrors and Horror constructs.

The same thing as seen at Rank Two. This is starting to pile up some big bonuses to damage against Horrors and their ilk, though it isn't close to done yet.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Detect those corrupted by a Horror.

This may be as close as you are ever going to get to a game changer on a Thread Item. It's nearly impossible to put a value on this kind of effect. After your players get a hold of this, the way events unfold is going to change in a fundamental way. Also, to answer the question I posed up at Rank One - because of this effect. The detection ability runs off of the Spellcasting talent. Even then, if you are going to be swinging Purifier around, at least try to have a not terrible Strength.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +9 bonus to Damage Tests against Horrors and Horror constructs. For 4 Permanent Damage, the wielder may gain an additional +19 bonus to Damage Tests against Horrors and Horror Constructs. If at least 1 Damage Point is scored, the attack inflicts a minimum of 10 Wounds.

For the most part, this is just a continuation of all the other even Thread Ranks. However, for the conflict that probably marks the end of a significant story arc, that is a hell of a thing. The damage is certainly impressive, but by that time it may not be fight ending. No, the real jaw dropper are the Wounds. With the bonus damage, that is probably going to work out to a -11 penalty for the rest of the fight. Might as well pack it up and go home if you don't have anything to mitigate those penalties. 

How does it all stack up? This is something of a hard one to evaluate because of how focused it is and there isn't much in the way of analogs to the later effects it grants. Ignoring Rank Five, it is probably underpowered. For the number of Legend Points each rank costs, what is gained (for the most part) is a little on the underwhelming side, even if it strictly (more-or-less) follows the guidelines up through Rank Four.

As far as using this as a template for other Thread Items, it's not a great pick. Part of the reason for the increased cost of higher tier items is that they have access to more Thread Ranks, which means that the total bonuses from a given Thread Item will be greater given the number of Ranks and that the higher ranks grant better bonuses. Since this lacks Rank Seven+, where the bonuses really start to get impressive, you are paying a surcharge for less. Despite being mechanically a poor choice, it is thematically a very interesting one. There is a reason that almost every Earthdawn fan knows Purifier. It is iconic because of things beyond the mechanics.

The bonuses against Horrors and Horror constructs are incredible, and this would make a great back-up weapon for those encounters, but it falls short as a primary weapon. It stalls out at Damage Step 9 against anything that isn't a Horror or Horror construct, including undead. The Rank Six effect is mentally hard to use unless you absolutely need to, though it will heavily stack the deck in your favor when used (assuming that the adversary in question isn't immune to effects of Wounds). Really, Rank Five is what Purifier is all about. For that alone it is worth being wary of handing this to a player.

Any plot revolving Horror mysteries has a shortcut to the end. If steps are taken to block off that particular road, players may feel offended that you are specifically denying the use of an ability that significant investment was made towards getting. That feeling isn't entirely unfair, either. Which means that events have to be planned with all of that in mind. While none of this is inherently bad, it requires a different way of crafting those events. However, if you are kicking down doors and raiding kaers, it probably doesn't matter much.

Handing this to your players is tempting fate. They may be amused by the antics of this little guy, or they may feel like they are throwing good resources after bad as they try to figure out when it is going to get useful. Their initial research into the carpet may return stories of it having legendary fights with its owner and carrying a literal ton of stuff! Which are all true, but the reality is significantly less impressive than the legend.

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

Purifier (1E)
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

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

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 6 and anyone can wield it.

The Damage Step is lower, but that is largely to be expected when comparing 3E and 1E. Otherwise, the same.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 7.

A standard effect that is different from its successor, though they will both have this exactly once.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 8 against Horrors and Horror constructs.

A small bonus against a limited set of targets, significantly smaller than what is seen in 3E.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 9 against Horrors and Horror constructs.

The same thing as the previous rank. Also, not very good.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Detect those corrupted by a Horror.

The same effect in both editions, still the best thing this weapon has to offer.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: For 4 Permanent Damage, the Damage Step becomes 35 against Horrors and Horror Constructs. If at least 1 Damage Point is scored, the attack inflicts a minimum of 10 Wounds.

Except for the constant bonus, this is mostly the same as 3E, though the 1E bonus is a little higher. 

How do they stack up? Quite frankly, except for the Rank Five effect, the 1E version is pretty terrible. All it offers is bonus damage, which is entirely underwhelming, particularly given the Legend Point costs associated with it. Even with the issues in 3E, it represents a whole sale improvement on the item. It gives roughly the same kinds of bonuses, though moves them around a little bit and the specific bonuses against Horrors and Horror constructs are attractive enough to entertain using Purifier as a backup weapon.