20 December 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 24 - Counterspell Staff

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 132), the Counterspell Staff is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 273). Yet another classic item that I have never seen any indication that it got much use.

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.

Counterspell Staff
Spell Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

It is at the top end of expected Spell Defense for the tier, but that may be expected given the function of the item. With six Thread Ranks, it is pretty standard so far.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 Spell Defense.

Starting off with a standard effect (+1 to a Defense Rating).

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 5 and the wielder may cast Counterspell up to Thread Rank times each day, defaulting to Perception if they do not have Spellcasting.

It starts off with another standard effect (+1 Damage Step), which is pretty unnecessary for this item, so we may as well ignore it. Particularly since the primary effect just showed up: a very good Fifth Circle Wizard spell. The guidelines indicate that spells of that Circle should be showing up starting at Rank 7, and have a cost of 3 Strain if you can use it up to three times a day.

Well, this is five Ranks early with multiple uses and no Strain cost. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. This is already setting up to be a particularly useful Thread Item for any group with a spellcaster, particularly if it isn't a Wizard.

There is going to be a question associated with this: how many targets does this affect if you have no Ranks in Spellcasting? The easy answer is that you shouldn't give this to a non-spellcaster.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The Effect of Counterspell increases to +3 per Result Level.

It improves the primary function of the item, which is always good, but now it is officially better than the spell. Sure, you may only be able to use it a limited number of times per day, but you really shouldn't need it more than you have available - which is actually a lot.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 6 and the Effect of Counterspell increases to +4 per Result Level.

Technically two bonuses, though the boost to damage is just comical compared to how powerful that particular effect is becoming. Yes, there is a sacrifice of 2 Blood Magic Damage, but it is well worth it.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The Effect of Counterspell increases to +5 per Result Level.

Does it ever end?

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 7 and the Effect of Counterspell increases to +6 per Result Level.

Answer: Yes, but it is faintly ridiculous at this point.

How does it all stack up? This is going to be a powerful tool in the hands of any spellcaster. The costs are pretty low and the effect is way beyond what should be available for this kind of item. It has only one trick, but it is a very good trick. The ability to provide that level of a boost to Spell Defense to the entire group is pretty insane - Counterspell was already good at a mere +2 per Result Level.

If you put this in your game, expect your players to mostly shrug in the face of spells unless they are caught completely flatfooted. This particular item is very powerful, and while it may seem like a narrow focus general bonuses to an entire Defense are game deforming.

This is a decent item to look at for ideas. It has a very direct purpose associated with it and builds on it nearly every Rank. The bonuses to damage are out of place and only lend to how outlandish it gets in the end. While it has an interesting concept, it is a poor item to ultimately use as a model because it's a little boring and it's extremely powerful. 

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

Counterspell Staff (1E)
Spell Defense: 13
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

Generally the same, though the Spell Defense was increased in the latter version.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 3 and the wielder may cast Counterspell (Willforce + 5), defaulting to Perception if they do not have Spellcasting.

The first two ranks get switched and there are two things to note here: that the details of Counterspell changed between editions (in 1E it replaced Spell Defense and has unlimited targets, while in 3E it provides a bonus and has limited targets) and there are no limits on how many times it may be cast. Oh, the damage is different, but that is still irrelevant. Spellcasters should have something better to do than whack someone (poorly) upside the head with a stick.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +1 Spell Defense.

And here is the other effect from the switch. However, here is a strange thing that is revealed in the Key Knowledge for this Rank: the staff only works against spells of one Discipline. That sounds like information that would have been useful back in Rank One. That makes this significantly less powerful, since it won't even work against many of the worst effects out there that are just powers rather than spells.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The Effect of Counterspell is Willforce +6 and affects the spells of a second Discipline.

A decent bonus, given how limited this version turned out to be. Here is a spoiler: you never get more than two Disciplines. This is pretty analogous to how things look in 3E.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 4 and the Effect of Counterspell is Willforce + 8.

That is a two Step bonus there to the effect and I suppose a damage increase as well. Given the limited functionality, the bonus seems reasonable considering that you take 2 Permanent Damage here. Again, this matches up to 3E.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Spell Defense +2 and the Effect of Counterspell is Willforce + 9.

Here there is a Spell Defense bonus that is not found in 3E. If it were, that would make the already really good Thread Item even better.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 5, Spell Defense +3 and the Effect of Counterspell is Willforce + 10.

Pretty much the same, except for the Spell Defense bonus that has been omitted. Which is really for the best.

How do they stack up? Well, the 3E version is pretty insane compared to the 1E version (which also likely explains why it didn't see much use). In 1E, it was of dubious value given how unreliable it was and that it doesn't work against Horror powers. Those happen to be the #1 category of things that I want a good Spell Defense against. 1E does offer a better Spell Defense boost, which is ironic since the spell replaces your Spell Defense. Between the editions, this Thread Item went from bad to unbalancing.