26 November 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 19 - Lightning Mace

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 136), the Lightning Mace is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 275). A weapon with interesting visuals and themes that never seemed to gain much popularity despite its longevity. 

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.

Lightning Mace
Spell Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

The Spell Defense is normal, but with eight Thread Ranks, this is certainly beyond the guidelines on Journeyman tier and into the Warden tier.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 7.

Standard Rank One weapon effect (Damage Step 4 + Size 3). Though largely unrelated, I have often wondered why maces only have a Damage Step of 4, which is below the established "norm" of Step 5 for Size 3 weapons (the typical formula for Damage Step is Size + 2).

Thread Rank Two
Effect: For 1 Strain, gain +3 to Damage Tests for a number of rounds equal to Thread Rank.

This is a solid effect, perhaps verging on too powerful for the Rank based on the duration.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 8.

A standard effect.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: For 2 Strain, the wielder may shoot a number of bolts of lightning equal to the Thread Rank. This is done with a Spellcasting Test against Spell Defense and the bolts must have different targets. Damage Step WIL + 5 against non-metal physical armor.

Well, this is a reason why it probably isn't popular in 3E. While this is a pretty powerful effect, even for 2 Strain - multiple attacks against weak to no armor - this weapon probably won't end up in the hands of the characters that will make the best use of it. Which is spellcasters. A melee combat character that also dabbles in spellcasting (or vice-versa) can get some good use from this. For everyone else this is not so great.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Lightning bolt Damage Step WIL + 7.

A good effect. It only works on a previous ability and Thread Rank Five indicate that it should be more than a simple +1 Damage Step increase.

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

This is two standard effects, which is normal for Rank Seven, but this is a little early for that to be showing up. While a Warden or Master tier Thread Item may get a pass on that, this already has some fairly powerful effects going for it.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Damage Step 9.

Here is one standard effect at the Ranks when two is the norm. This would be better served switched with the previous effect.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: +2 to Physical and Spell Defense. Lightning bolt Damage Step WIL + 9.

This is essentially three standard effects, and one hell of a way to close this Thread Item out.

How does it all stack up? If there is a character that is a spellcaster and a melee weapons character (such as an Elementalist/Warrior), they are likely to be a lot of mileage from this weapon. In the hands of such a character, this is a pretty potent weapon for the costs associated with it. The basic damage is nothing spectacular, but the other abilities and effects can more than make up for that. At Rank Eight, for 2 Strain you get eight good attacks against what may very well be low armor ratings. That is outstanding. Any character outside of that particular combination is probably going to be disappointed - combat characters more so than spellcasters.

Putting this Thread Item into your game could cause some issues. Depending on how you adjudicate the Rank Four effect, one roll v. individual rolls, it can take a long time to resolve and overshadow other characters with the sheer volume of attacks that it can lay down. Deciding if Willforce can apply to this will also be important. The rest of the effects, while good, are unlikely to cause any real issues.


This is a great Thread Item to use for ideas. It presents two different abilities and builds on the defining ability of shooting lightning bolts with later effects. Everything is tied thematically tied together (tenuously for the Defense bonuses) and it creates an evocative picture. The actual effects at each Thread Rank could likely use some more tuning to bring them in line with "guidelines".

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

Lightning Mace
Spell Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

Everything here is the same, including the Spell Defense, tier and number of Thread Ranks.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 5. For 1 Strain, gain +3 to Damage Tests for a number of rounds equal to Thread Rank.

The Damage Step is a little lower, but that is generally normal between the editions. What did change is where the bonus damage is introduced; it got pushed back a Rank in 3E. Also the wording was changed. The 3E version is considerably cleaner and was preserved for the sake of clarity. How this ability works is functionally the same. This is a pretty powerful Rank One effect.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 6.

A standard effect, bringing this is just one Step below the 3E version.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 7.

Another damage boost, the same between editions.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 8. For 2 Strain, the wielder may shoot bolts of lightning at a number of targets equal to the Thread Rank. This is done with a Melee Weapons Test. Damage Step STR + 5.

This Rank has a lot of small differences, starting with the standard effect. That's right, it gets a damage bonus, putting it equal to the 3E version. The ability has some key differences. There is no provision against metal armor. Which is less powerful. However, it uses Melee Weapons and Strength for the Damage Test. Those more than make up for the other differences. This is an amazingly solid weapon for melee characters. Almost certainly overpowered give the relatively low costs and consistently good effects.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Lightning bolt Damage Step STR + 7.

The same effect, just keying off of Strength instead of Willpower.

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

Again, the same effect here.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Damage Step 10.

It has now surpassed the 3E version in basic damage with two standard effects at this Thread Rank. Taken in a vacuum, that is appropriate by 3E standards. Looking at it as a whole, that is crazy good.

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

Mostly the same, but without the final increase to lightning damage. Which is probably for the best - this thing is a monster as it is.

How do they stack up? With a few minor exceptions, the 1E version is hands down better. It misses out primarily on the power of the lightning bolt itself in terms of damage, but the character types that can make use of the 3E version are also fairly limited. Whereas the 1E version is going to be useful for any melee character. Which may answer the original question of why it never seemed terribly popular - most GMs probably didn't let this beast into their game.