10 December 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 22 - Frost Pouch

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 136), the Frost Pouch is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 274). Here is a classic item that is certainly interesting, but I've never heard many tales of its use. This is probably because it fills a rather strange niche we are going to explore. 

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.

Frost Pouch
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

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

Thread Rank One
Effect: For 1 Strain, throw a handful of frost as a Throwing Weapons attack with an Effect Test of Willpower +5 as the Damage Step. This targets Physical Armor and has the range of a thrown dagger.

There are a few moving parts in this. It is a lot like a Threaded dagger, though it does approximately +1 damage (the dagger would do Strength + 4) and can be thrown repeatably. However, it costs a Strain. All of that washes out in the end. The catch is that the damage is based on Willpower rather than Strength and it is phrased as an Effect Test. All of this implies that Willforce could be used here (which 1E spells out). However, Willforce works explicitly for spell Effect Tests. So there is some ambiguity there for a GM to sort out before introduction.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The range is now that of a throwing dagger.

Increased range, nothing particularly special and perfectly acceptable.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willpower + 6.

A standard effect (+1 damage) at an appropriate rank.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The Freezing Frost ability may now be used. Declare this instead of a normal attack; this deals no damage. Compare the Effect Test against the target's Spell Defense and if successful the target is locked into position and can take no actions for a number of rounds equal to the Thread Rank. The target is considered Knocked Down for penalties, except for Willpower Tests to break free. Each round the target may make a Willpower Test against the Effect Step. If successful, the target breaks free. A successful Dispel Magic Test against the pouch's Spell Defense will also end the effect.

This is a very powerful ability in the right hands - finding those hands is the trick. It presents a multiple turn ability that locks a target down. That Willpower Test is going to be an uphill battle, requiring a good roll along with Karma. If you cannot spend Karma on that Test, it's going to require a very good roll. The fact that it is against the Step and not the Result is important, since it means any modifiers the user applied to their Effect Test won't carry over for the resist. That is still quite the differential to overcome and have no recourse in the meantime.

An ability this powerful should probably wait until Rank Five, which would be more in line with the guidelines provided.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willpower + 7.

Solid, but uninteresting. It builds on everything that this Thread Item has to offer, which is good.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willpower + 8.

Functionally more of the same. Though there is nothing wrong with that.

How does it all stack up? If you can find the right character the hand this over to, it can be very powerful. With the ability to be used every turn as a throwing weapon (even at a Strain), with decent damage (that may even scale - see Willforce), and a lock down ability, this item has a lot to offer. That is really the trick, though - finding the right character to use it.

You are looking for a character that has Throwing Weapons (preferably as a Discipline Talent) and access to Willforce. This is somewhat rare territory, as the Archer (the only Discipline that meets the first category) tends towards Strength and bows, despite being saddled with Throwing Weapons. Luckily, there is exactly the character out there to abuse this terribly, and they are already a good setup: the windling Archer/Elementalist.

This is something of a detour for what this piece is ostensibly about, but it serves to illustrate the bigger picture of tailoring items to the character (or finding just the right one for a character), and about how that can go horribly wrong. 

That particular combination is already solid, designed to take full advantage of everything that the windling has to offer and laugh in the face of their limitations. Astral Sight as a racial ability frees up the Elementalist to take a different Talent Option at their discretion, flight and increased physical defense takes them away from the battlefield entirely, and the fact that all of their actions are ranged simply keeps it that way. The limitations on the size of weapons and Strength are irrelevant since they will be using either spells, or Flame Arrow (their primary attack). Flame Arrow already runs off of Willpower and Karma, so there is significant synergy going on already.

All of that supports the frost pouch quite well, which only looks more attractive when (if) you apply Willforce. It certainly does more damage than a windling-sized Threaded bow, though the Strain every round may become an annoyance. For a solid lock down ability, however, it is worth it.

Putting this Thread Item into your game can cause problems. Your players may not be setup to really take advantage of what it offers. The above example is pretty specific, but not outlandishly so. It can be frustrating to invest in what feels entirely like a gimmick item, since they may not really know where it is going and how it works before they begin to attach Threads. If there is a character that this is suited for, well - prepare for your encounters to start suffering. It isn't unreasonable to expect an opponent to be frozen each round and the odds of them reversing that condition are on the long side. Even worst case scenario (for the players), it is still a lost turn.


For encounters with a large number of relatively weak opponents, this won't likely be a significant issue, since there will probably be more effective tactics to employ there. Against a solo encounter, this could turn an interesting combat into something pretty boring. 

The frost pouch is a good place to look for ideas on Thread Items even if it is best approached warily for most games. It presents two interesting abilities and every Rank supports that utility. 

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

Frost Pouch (1E)
Spell Defense: 13
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

The Spell Defense is less, but otherwise the same.

Thread Rank One
Effect: For 1 Strain, throw a handful of frost as a Throwing Weapons attack with a Damage Step of Willforce +5. This targets Physical Armor and has the range of short 2-5; medium 6-10; long 11-15 (throw dagger in 1E).

There are two differences here. The first is that it calls out Willforce specifically, as 1E does, and the second is that the ranges are slightly reduced. It may be accurate to say that the ranges of a thrown dagger in 3E have been increased.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The range is now that of a throwing dagger.

The range here is still slightly less than 3E, but that is due to changes in range of the weapons rather than this item.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willforce + 6.

The same.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The Freezing Frost ability may now be used. Declare this instead of a normal attack; this deals no damage. Compare the Damage Test against the target's Spell Defense and if successful the target is locked into position and can take no actions for a number of rounds equal to the Thread Rank. The target is considered Knocked Down for penalties, except for Willpower Tests to break free. Each round the target may make a Willpower Test against the Spell Defense of the pouch wielder. If successful, the target breaks free. A successful Dispel Magic Test against the Spell Defense of the pouch wielder will also end the effect.

Some changes were made here that are pretty subtle. The all come down to how the effect is resisted. In 3E, the target resists against the Effect Step, while in 1E they will resist against the wielder's Spell Defense (which is also the target of the Dispel Magic Test). The end result of this is that the 1E version is going to be easier to resist since Spell Defense is probably going to be lower than the Effect Step, which continues to scale for a couple of Ranks.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willforce + 7.

Same.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The Effect Step is now Willforce + 8.

Again, the same.

How do they stack up? They are nearly identical, except for 1E being explicit about how Willforce interacts and the resistance of Rank Four. In all, the 1E version is less powerful due to it being easier to resist. In all, that almost certainly makes it less likely to unduly disrupt a game with constant lock down. Don't mistake that it is still powerful in the right hands and can unbalance things.