06 December 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 21 - Potion of Life

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 138), the Potion of Life is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 275). This is the classic magical healing potion and was a common fixture in most groups. It seemed like everyone would get one eventually and provided a nice supplement to their healing abilities. Particularly if an Elementalist wasn't around, or if spells from supplements had limited access *cough* Healing Sleep and Relax *cough*. 

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.

Potion of Life
Spell Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

The Spell Defense is normal and with five Thread Ranks, this is all pretty standard.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Twice per day, create a healing potion with a +6 (instead of +8) bonus.

Comparing this to the Healing Vial from the Player's Guide, which is Novice tier, but the exemplar of the type, this is significantly better. The bonus is +2 more, an additional potion can be created per day and there is no limitation on healing Wounds. Keep in mind that the Healing Vial doesn't produce two until Rank Four, and that is all it gets at that rank. For a mere 200 Legend Points, this is pretty amazing.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The bonus is +8.

And now it is a healing potion. This is typical to the Consumable Item template, though it still produces two a day, instead of one.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The bonus is +10 and Cure Disease Potions can be produced. Three potions can be produced per day.

So, there's a +2 bonus, which is typical of the template (a quarter of the original bonus, which is +8), but also an entirely different type of potion and an additional per day? That feels like three different ranks rolled into one.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The bonus for the Cure Disease Potion is +6.

The bonus granted here is standard at +1 (it a quarter of the original bonus, which is +5). It feels like the entire Cure Disease Potion effect could be moved here (even at the increased bonus) and the balance of the item would feel better. Not good, but much better.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The bonus for the Cure Disease Potion is +7 and it can now produce a Cleanse Poison Potion. Five potions can be produced per day.

Another normal increase of +1, but also a new kind of potion and two more uses per day (?!?). Madness. This is amazingly good and effectively four different effects rolled into one effect.

How does it all stack up? Well, it is amazingly good. The increased cost over the Healing Vial is negligible, but the end result of that is insane. It effectively removes the need for a group to carry additional healing aids around, except for emergencies. I know there is a requirement that you throw a silver over your shoulder prior to each use, but nothing stops you from picking it back up. Even with that prohibition (which would have to include the entire group and by somewhat draconian in enforcement), it's still just a silver.

Putting this Thread Item into your game is going to cause problems. In general, I avoid any Thread Item like this and those that I do include, tend to be on the "weak" side. Weak, of course, being relative to what else is available. The reason of that is pretty simple: including this Thread Item is going to distort the perceived danger of adventuring. This is easy healing, not provided by the features of a Discipline. With up to five uses a day and the ability to make disease and poison irrelevant, this is going to change how any group looks at their resources. 


Despite the prevalence of magic, there has always been a certain amount of risk and grit associated with things in Earthdawn. While every character can heal on their own, and casters get access to healing, it can still be a thing as the basic healing resource, the Recovery Test, is a limited resource. Healing Potions bypass that resource, which is why they are so expensive (compared to a Booster Potion). It's my preference to keep players hungry and motivated. That way the victories taste that much better.

If you want to even pretend to follow the suggested guidelines, walk away from this Thread Item. It manages to acknowledge that they exist by carefully following the bonus increases, while still making a mockery of them on the odd Ranks with two, three and four effects at each successive Rank.

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

Potion of Life (1E)
Spell Defense: 8
Legend Point Cost: (Novice)

The Spell Defense is significantly lower, even to go with the lower tier of the Thread Item. It's also worth noting that this only has four Thread Ranks, not five.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Spend one silver and create a potion that gives +6 to a Recovery Test.

Immediately, this is very different from the 3E version. It explicitly costs a silver, is a booster, rather than healing potion, and there is only one use per day. That is incredibly significant. A booster potion cannot create Recovery Tests and doesn't automatically heal a Wound.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The bonus is +8.

The same effect here.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The potion adds +4 to resist the effects of poison.

Instead of the cornucopia of effects, this just grants an entirely reasonable bonus against poison.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The potion adds +9 to a Recovery Test and +6 to resist poison.

In all, the bonuses are pretty unremarkable. The more specific (poison) gets a +2, while the general (healing) only gets a +1. That seems entirely reasonable.

How do they stack up? Given that the 1E version is entirely reasonable and really won't change the face of the game much. The bonuses are good, but not amazing. Since there is only one per day, it isn't an amazing cure all against whatever hazard is around.

If the 1E version is entirely reasonable, what happened between editions? This is an instance where 3E didn't need to curb the excesses of 1E (which it doesn't really do anyway) and could do a pretty simple port. Instead, it goes bonkers. Even the basic Healing Vial is more powerful than this (it heals Wounds and can create two a day - that's a thing).