29 January 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 14 - Archer

This is the fourteenth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Overview

The Archer is a very straightforward adept. They are interested in results and the shortest distance between themselves and their results. This does not mean they don't understand the complexities of any given situation. Simply that they have little interest in expending more than is necessary to accomplish any given task - the task doesn't care how it is accomplished, simply that it is accomplished.

An important part of that process is the ability to see all of the aspects and elements involved in the goal. Only through that clear understanding, and clarity is absolutely vital, can the best route to success be chosen. There is little an Archer hates more than deliberately obfuscating a situation, that distinct lack of clarity means they cannot doggedly pursue their goals; they cannot see how to get where they wish to go. This can be a frustrating experience for these adepts who are so used to having a commanding view of any situation.

While they can often come off as brusque, many Archers may see the value in maintaining and establishing relationships to further their goals later on, to provide more options and better perspectives when addressing their target. Others may see fellow Namegivers as little better than tools to be used in the pursuit of their aims. They tend not to spend much time around others for reasons that should be obvious.

A particular area of trouble for many Archers is the path of the sniper. Their removal from a situation and clear sight lends them a certain detachment and this strong temptation to always take the most expedient action can lead to callousness. Why not simply eliminate the target before they can act? It is efficient and you already know how this situation will play out. It is that hubris which all Archers should fear - that they know best simply because they are Archers. Falling to the path of the sniper means the Archer may find it impossible to resist this course of action and will always kill a target when the have the opportunity.

When making an Archer, it may be important to consider how they treat their fellows, how they approach problems and differences of opinion. How has the path of the sniper affected them? As a martial Discipline, were they part of a company with traditions, and what did their instructor pass on to them? What of their weapon? This should be a significant topic, since it is a physical representation of their connection to their Discipline.

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. The most likely issue to arise for an Archer is by approaching anything aimlessly. This concept is antithetical to them, as is adding needless complexity to a situation. They prefer things to be simple and unambiguous. That may not go over well with everyone in their Group and can very well lead to some tension. How this affects the relationships is worth exploring. As well, how the Archer handles interactions with those outside of their Group could create tension with their companions.

Since accuracy is such a vital concept to the Archer, making mistakes, particularly those that hurt their friends, could be a significant issue. Perhaps they did not see something as clearly as they thought and missed something. This will certainly rock a Archer's confidence because they do not miss. If it was caused by their direct actions against the wishes of their friends, there will definitely be some room for soul searching and examinations of their Discipline.

Specialists

There are two Archer specialists: the Bowman and the Crossbowman. A Bowman emphasizes the scouting aspects of the Discipline, while Crossbowman emphasizes the social aspects. Despite the statements that these reflect their weapon of choice, I prefer to think of them as reflecting how they view their place in the world - as a part of nature (the bow shaped of wood), or a part of society (the crossbow crafted of wood and metal).

A Bowman will get Long Shot as a Third Circle Discipline Talent, while Anticipate Blow becomes a Novice Talent Option, and Steel Thought becomes a Fifth Circle Discipline Talent and Stopping Aim is now a Journeyman Talent Option. This is a good build for a couple of reasons. First, Long Shot is of negligible importance as a Discipline Talent (though most Archers seem to pick it up), but moving Anticipate Blow to Talent Options removes some of the pressure on behavior in combat as initiative requirements. This means you can load up more on heavy armor and not be concerned and the downside. Second, Steel Thought as a Discipline Talent is extremely good, much better than Stopping Aim as a Discipline Talent, because you are going to want to spend Karma on Steel Thought every time it you use it.

The Crossbowman has First Impression as a Second Circle Discipline Talent, while Direction Arrow is a Novice Talent Option. Additionally, Social Defense is improved where Physical Defense normally would be, and vice versa. This specialist is going to work in a Group that either has plenty of combat characters already, or really needs everyone to fill multiple roles. In general, I prefer First Impression to Direction Arrow simply because I know I will get a lot of mileage out of the former, while the latter is very situational, though incredibly useful when it does come up; granted it will cost Karma, but it shouldn't be coming up so often for that to be a real burden. While the Defense improvements may seem like a downgrade, it is very common for Archers to pick up (or even start as) Scouts, Thieves, or Woodsmen, all of which have a good Physical Defense and benefit from a good Social Defense, as opposed from another good Physical Defense which doesn't benefit them at all.

Strangely, I would suggest any Archer to strongly consider one of the two specialists when looking at this Discipline. There is little reason not to.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Climbing, Melee Weapons, Silent Walk, Tracking

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Karma Ritual, Missile Weapons, Mystic Aim, Throwing Weapons, True Shot

Novice
Talent Options: Detect Weapon, First Impression, Flame Arrow, Great Leap, Long Shot, Speak Language, Sprint

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Direction Arrow, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Anticipate Blow

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Arrow Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Call Missile, Conceal Object, Creature Analysis, Empathic Sense, Evidence Analysis, Heartening Laugh, Lip Reading, Steel Thought

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Stopping Aim

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Bank Shot

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Impressive Shot

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Shot

This may sound incredibly redundant, but Archers do ranged combat. That's pretty much their thing. They get both of the ranged combat Talents (Missile Weapons and Throwing Weapons) as Discipline Talents at First Circle, and I believe are the only Discipline to get Throwing Weapons as a Discipline Talent. There may be a reason for that because, in all honesty, I have never seen an Archer that treated Throwing Weapons as anything other than a burden. Certainly, there was talk of the knife-throwing character after I forced some people to watch Desperado, but it never happened. Plus, it says "archer" as the name.

Between Mystic Aim and True Shot, there aren't any Disciplines out there that have cornered the market on accuracy quite like the Archer. Anticipate Blow works for both defense and offense for a patient (and fast) Archer. What is normally a limitation, as it just effects one attacker, isn't as big a deal for Archers given that not as many attackers will even be able to engage them - also, more bonuses to hit (these are going to be important). The downside to Mystic Aim is that it takes a turn to activate, but that can mean the difference between a so-so hit and an armor-defeating hit.

That armor-defeating hit is going to be important because Archers often have damage issues. Their base damage is slightly better than a one-handed weapon, but they don't have access to damage boosting Talents like many other primary combatants (Swordmasters may know this agony well). Flame Arrow is their go to Talent for this, but it is a Talent Option that costs Karma and may not be a great choice for every adept.

This is by no means a crippling state of affairs, just one of which to be aware. Despite having average Durability, their defense is not bad. The aforementioned Anticipate Blow, along with tendencies toward high dexterity, perception and charisma, help this out. And, of course, engaging opponents from a range.

Beyond their combat abilities, they have a selection of other Talents that give them some interesting things to do. Direction Arrow lets you find people, which is going to come in useful at least once in any given campaign. Stopping Aim can at least delay, if not prevent, combat - another trick that will certainly be trotted out on occasion. Finally Impressive Shot aids in social interaction, which may be a little strange, but is definitely fun. In fact, Archers make fairly excellent social characters. They won't give a Troubadour a run for their money, but with the right Talent Options (and there are a few), they can definitely contribute in that arena. The other common area for Archers to delve into is scouting, which is a natural outgrowth of that whole ranger thing.

Talent Options for Archers are generally about deciding what other things you would like to do. There aren't many choices that directly support filling things with weapons from a distance. This may either be a good thing (being a one-trick pony can be monotonous), or a terribly unfortunate thing (maybe you really like that trick). The Initiate Talent Options are pretty indicative of this:
  • Avoid Blow - This is still something that I advise against as a Talent Option, not because it isn't good, but because the math doesn't tend to work out favorably when you cannot spend Karma. It also has a requirement to improve every Circle if you want it to remain relevant.
  • Climbing - Not a bad selection if there is nothing else that catches your interest, but this works almost as well as a skill.
  • Melee Weapon - The need to continually improve this Talent to remain useful, along with long-term investments in equipment to keep them useful, means there is little to recommend this Talent.
  • Silent Walk - Always a popular choice for any Discipline that can pick it up, the Archer gets some additional benefits in the form of setting up ambushes. It isn't uncommon for Archers to take up scouting duties and this certainly helps in that.
  • Tracking - Another popular Talent Option for Archers that also fulfill the scout role.
Among the Novice Talent Options are the best choices for those that want to pick up some more ranged combat Talents, beyond that there are a number of ways that an Archer can go:
  • Detect Weapons - A potentially useful Talent, but also one that may never come up (and in the realm of things that are easy to forget about). If preternatural awareness is an important part of your character, this may be a way to further emphasize that theme.
  • First Impression - I always like to see social Talents available to various Disciplines. Something as simple as this tends to open up additional opportunities for the character to get involved and they often require minimal investment to pay off.
  • Flame Arrow - Archers with high willpower and/or Karma will get a lot out of this; elves, humans, some orks (willpower is an issue there) and windlings. Every windling will want this Talent - it allows them to ignore the reduced damage due to their size and capitalize on their great Karma. If you take this, you will want to continually improve it.
  • Great Leap - This Talent is a good way to get out of trouble, while maintaining yourself as a threat. It also has value for any Archer also acting as scout to get into those hard to reach spaces. Minimal investment may be required.
  • Long Shot - It costs Karma and may not always work, but it can give you some final chances to murder a fleeing foe, or additional attacks before opponents have a chance to retaliate.
  • Speak Language - Archers that style themselves as explorers or more social characters may want to take this in support of those themes. If no one else has this Talent, that is another reason to consider it.
  • Sprint - This Talent does cost Karma, but Archers may have a little more use for it due to their relative frailty; it will allow them to putt additional distance between themselves and approaching attackers and may buy a turn or two of safety.
The Talent Options at Journeyman are somewhat a grab bag - there are a lot of interesting choices. There is a good chance any character is going to find something they like, and the two competing alternate builds (scout and social) both find more Talents for support here:
  • Call Missile - By this time, you will know if you need this Talent or not. If ammo during combat is a concern, you're going to want this. If you have never noticed, then just keep looking. On the whole, Archers that use thrown weapons extensively tend to favor this Talent.
  • Conceal Object - Archers that use bows will probably want to pass on this Talent - I cannot think of many circumstances where this will be regularly useful for them to invest in it. Archers that use thrown weapons, however, will likely want to consider this.
  • Creature Analysis - Information is always powerful and Archers that also do scouting will want to consider this. A good Talent for any Archer that can find room for it.
  • Empathic Sense - A personal favorite of mine that helps in social situations. Additionally, when combined with Direction Arrow it makes an effective way to determine if any of your Group have been abducted and then quickly find them. This is much more useful in some Groups than others.
  • Evidence Analysis - More fun Talents for an Archer that performs scouting duties, or wants to be involved in information gathering. This will almost certainly come up in every game.
  • Heartening Laugh - At the cost of Karma and an action, there is probably something better for an Archer to take (also, Swordsmasters get this as a Discipline Talent). If no one else has it and social attacks are becoming a problem, it may be a consideration.
  • Lip Reading - An interesting meeting for the scout and social type Archers. For political games, this may be very useful. Otherwise, it is hard to predict, though odds are good by now you will know if you want this Talent or not.
  • Steel Thought - Normally I advise against this Talent for the same reasons as Avoid Blow, but there are some particular instances for Archers where it may be useful. If you have a very good willpower due to Flame Arrow and not such a great perception, this Talent may be a good selection. The small swing between those two attributes could shift the math just enough to make this favorable.
Races

Elves are the natural go to race for Archers and with good reason: they have the best dexterity, good perception, willpower and charisma. Their low toughness isn't as much a hindrance compared to other combat characters since they won't see quite as much action. Being pretty much good at everything, humans are pretty much good as Archers. Their good Karma along with Versatility can potentially help out with some of the downside to being an Archer, though there is nothing in particular to recommend them to this Discipline. On the other hand, windlings have a lot of upside to being an Archer. Flight with a ranged weapon means retaliation is going to be minimal, along with increased physical defense. Their dexterity, perception and charisma are all good, and the flight and astral sight only bring more to the table for scouting. The biggest coup is their Karma. The quantity combined with increased die means Flame Arrow (which ignores all of their typical size penalties to damage) is going to be a staple.

Orks have some things going for them as Archers, having an effective bonus to damage and good Karma, but little else. Dwarfs aren't bad, but they don't really bring anything to the Discipline that another race doesn't do better. The same can be said for t'skrang, who will get little use (on the best of days) out of their tail combat. Obsidimen and trolls, on the other hand, have little to recommend them. Their size doesn't reap any benefits outside of throwing weapons, and their low Karma means they won't be able to take advantage of all the Archer has to offer to the same degree.

Equipment

The big decision here is going to be whether you want to focus on Missile Weapons or Throwing Weapons. The former is probably the more useful of the two: better damage and range. If you want a Missile Weapon, you will want an elven warbow (the medium crossbow loses on range). The premier throwing weapon is the hawk hatchet (the spear loses on range, but is significantly less expensive), with flight daggers working well for concealed weapons, and bolas and nets being useful for entangling.

As far as armor goes, Anticipate Blow requires you to go first, so something light is going to be a must - the Smooth Armor Knack will be your friend. As always, espagra scale cloaks are worth it. Both flavors of Archer will want a shield, though Missile Weapon are limited to bucklers (whether that includes a crystal buckler is up to GM interpretation at this point). If you are just into Throwing Weapons, you can use any shield with the caveat that initiative is still important.

25 January 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 13 - Westhrall's Passage

This is the thirteenth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn.Introduction and Index.

Underneath lies an expansive network of underground rivers, passages, caves, and abandoned tunnels mines, and communities. An entire subspecies of t'skrang, the Pale Ones, call this places home. As do countless Horrors.

It was all sealed up during the Scourge when the incursions were detected, much easier to write it all off than fight an untenable war. Because of this, much was lost in the depths, particularly in the area known as Braza's Kingdom, a corrupted area home to many Horrors. The dwarf mines that stretch into the depths of the Throal mountains occasionally breach the old tunnel networks and encounter what still moves down there. Which brings in the adepts, because there seems to be little more that they enjoy more than mucking about in horribly dangerous places, with terrible conditions, fighting Horrors and their constructs for the promise of fame and money.

Braza's Kingdom is akin to a more local mini-Parlainth, though the threats posed are very real to the province as a whole, particularly the communities throughout the mountain range. This provides significant opportunities beyond just adventurers in mining shafts, but dealing with potentially remote villages and the affect that a Horror can have on these places. Underneath the mountain is a locale for continued adventure and exploration, digging up the past of Throal, and can lead to a more political game as the the happenings within the dwarf kingdom take center stage. Perhaps Pattern Items for some of the houses have been lost, or old caches of wealth. It is somewhat unique in the setting for that regard, developing both the adventure and horror aspects along side a city game with relationships and politics playing prominent roles.

The Pale Ones also call the waterways under the mountains home in their domes. These vast caverns house an entire society that has largely been forgotten, though they maintain some contact with Throal. For most games they would just be another oddity in the rich setting of Barsaive. However, for the aforementioned Throal campaign, they could play an important role in exploring the dark secrets under the mountains. The struggles between the various clans and the pressures the place on the adepts in exchange for aid would also be a source of drama for the group as they attempt to navigate the complex relationships.


Adventure Log – 13 Westhrall's Passage

Recorded By: Elmod of Glenwood Deep


Date: 18 Veltom – 24 Veltom, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster

Ontheros the Horror Stalker
Ting the Swordmaster

A quiet time of the new year, much devoted to research in the Great Library of Throal, primarily on a set of Thread Items that are a part of a set. Known as the Bands of Fortune, they are a set of items used by an adventuring group known as the Band of Fortune. A ring, large headband, bracers, and thorn armlet are all we have found so far. The set reportedly finds itself into other adventuring parties, and will also often cause some other separate group or member to meet an untimely end. Bodes trouble, though potentially powerful.

At the library an ork woman, Ela Pono, covertly invites me and the party on an underground expedition and map confirmation beneath Throal. A path along the Coil River underground allegedly leads to the dwarf kingdom. We also learn and meet some Pale Ones, pale t’skrang that live underground – a bit odd though and speak little Throalic.

I, being the most astute of the party, took the mains of the raft Ela prepared for our trip.
Along the way, many interesting subterranean creatures and flora were observed, and I had Ting take some samples for me. Of particular interest was the brain sponge, glowing moss that lures mind slugs, and we made pillows of their spherical majesty.

We camped on an old abandoned encampment. Unfortunately my examination of the brain sponges did not alter me to the descending shadowmants until they were upon us. They got me first with venom and Ting was poisoned as well. We managed to get all the shadowmants downed, but Ting succumbed to the venom and had to be salved after she crossed over. I still feel a fair bit woozy.

We continue on nonetheless, a bit wearied.

Saw some beetles and a toad being devoured by toadstools.

Another night of Horror mouth things attacking us. One devoured most of one of my Absorb Blow charms – which was new too!

A third day in Braza’s Kingdom; strange things again.

Only on the fifth day do we get out of Braza’s Kingdom, but luckily without any further attacks.


After the weirdness of the Kingdom, Ela feels only slightly better.
We find a small island, burnt raft and corpses of Ela’s friends. Another two islands of burnt out houses and raided spaces.

We finally come upon a larger island still inhabited, protected even by t’skrang Pale Ones. Pretty lights when we arrive as well.

Soon, fire cannon blasts from raiding party beats out on the water announcing the raiders’ presence. We take out a few at range and engage the landing at the beach – defeating enough of them to encourage their retreat.

We have an evening of Questions with the shivalahala, finding out about the lake and further downriver – she learns a bit about us above dwellers.

We leave downriver again and navigate some treacherous rapids – thanks to my deft piloting, we survive.

We find the raiders – flagged as Nine Diamonds – the flag of House K’tenshin.

We try to approach them silently, but Ting is still too noisy and the horde of raiders rushes us.

We focus on the riverboat seeking the map they hopefully have of the end of the waterway to the Coil River. The officers were simple to defeat (Ed note: None were defeated), but plentiful as well. With the help from Honeysuckle we take down the Captain, take him hostage, and the First Mate offers parley and we stop the battle.

We discuss terms and agree to trade the Captain for their map of the waterways and safe passage out of the underground passage.

Out of the passage we reach Ardanyan. We came there and will go to Throal to collect our bonus from Ela’s proprietor.

*     *     *

There are no annotations for this Adventure Log and there never will be. It wasn't mentioned in the log, but the adepts all made Blood Promises to not reveal anything that transpired during their employ for a year and a day. Once that is over, Ela fully intends to intercept their submission and it will be "lost", blamed on an intern that she doesn't care for. The reason for all of this effort is simple: she doesn't want it known that the passage exists, nor that she was involved in this. Involvement in one of the Groups that she curates is against Library policy, but she has been looking for a Group like this for quite some time. One with a careful blend of characteristics that make them trustworthy, but quite willing to do terrible things without thinking too hard about it. Also, much tougher than the previous Group that she thought would be perfect.


The adventure itself laid some groundwork for future events that may not really have effects which are seen on-screen. Much of the subtle build-up has been happening in the annotations Ela has been making to the Adventure Logs, and will continue to be there. Other events have been telegraphed in subtle details throughout the various sessions for quite a while and will have a big showing one day.

Under the mountain was a fun setting and allowed all of the characters to show off in some way, whether displaying extensive knowledge about various useful things, wrecking minor Horrors and their constructs, establishing contact with Pale Ones, or fighting pirates! While fun and moving some plot elements forward, and it added some creepy and weird elements, but didn't build much on the themes of the campaign.

21 January 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 13 - Purifier

This is the thirteenth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Overview

Purifiers are an obsidiman-only Discipline that exists somewhat in contrast to the stereotypical view of those Namegivers. Whereas most see obsidimen as clam and slow to anger, a Purifier tends to be significantly more tempestuous, less a craggy mountain and more an avalanche.

Their purpose is to heal the earth. While that is primarily focused on the damage caused by the Scourge and Horrors, that is by no means the limit of their cause. Any that cause wanton destruction or harm will likely earn the unwelcome attention of a Purifier. This harm can take the form of encroaching on unspoiled areas, over grazing or hunting, anything that can have a permanent impact on the balance of the world.

It is important to remember the view obsidimen have of the world and how it has changed. They do not see just the next season, month or even decade; they look to the next centuries and Purifiers in particular how to safeguard that for those that must live there beyond the sunset of the Namegivers that currently surround them. The Purifier gives form to the silent rage most obsidimen feel, but cannot give shape to. These adepts are the passion of their people, and the passion of a mountain is a volcano.

Despite their love and protection for the earth, they understand for somethings to flourish, others must die. Therein lies the balance. For other Namegivers to live, some places must be given over to their needs. It is in the overuse of these sacrifices, refusing to honor what has been lost for them to continue, and the continual need to consume that Purifiers draw the line. Some see violence as their first answer, others see education as the more successful route. Only through teaching can the younger Namegivers be expected to learn. Though a refusal to actually learn and continuing in their decadent ways is a dangerous path to tread as obsidimen have long memories and do not forgive easily; Purifiers see themselves as the earth's vengeance given form and purpose.

While their relationship with other Namegivers may be a source of contention, their main focus is to combat the Scourge. They have the abilities and drive to heal the land in a way that no other Discipline can. Their focus on eliminating Horrors is almost as single-minded as the Horror Stalker.

When playing a Purifier it is important to determine what your philosophy when dealing with Namegivers that may not know better in how they treat the earth. At what point has a line been crossed? A Purifier's demeanor is significantly different from most obsidimen, and that can be an important element to consider - they will likely be a different roleplaying experience and perhaps a study in contrasts.

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. The main concern for any Purifier is their relationship with the earth and how they tend to it. One of the main manifestations of this is likely to be the usage of the Earth Bond Talent to heal the Purifier, which draws life from the earth itself. Too much reliance on this while giving little to nothing back in return could be a significant issue. What may be a point of contention between this adept and their Group is how they deal with Namegivers that may be overstepping their relationship with the land. This could cause considerable for any Group and lead to what others may consider unnecessary violence, or may not understand entirely. While ignoring this duty may be impossible for the Purifier.

Healing the effects of the Scourge is never far from a Purifier's thoughts and their desire to stop and spend time on the land can also be a source of friction. An obsidiman's sense of urgency is typically different from an ork, and with good reason - there is an order of magnitude between their lifespans. Though everyone should find common ground when dealing with Horrors, the Purifier may pursue these goals with a particular fervor.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Avoid Blow, Battle Shout, Sprint, Wilderness Survival

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Body Control, Clay Skin, Karma Ritual, Unarmed Combat, Wound Balance

Novice
Talent Options: Creature Analysis, Heartening Laugh, Maneuver, Swift Kick, Throwing Weapons, Tiger Spring, Tracking

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (7/6), Lifesight

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Spirit Talk

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Earth Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Astral Sight, Earth Skin, Great Leap, Lion Heart, Resist Taunt, Steel Thought, Steely Stare, Temper Self

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Earth Bond

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Life Check

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Crushing Blow

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Momentum Attack

In combat the Purifier is a intimidating, and are the premier unarmed combatants until Disciplines from Cathay are considered. Between Body Control and Crushing Blow as Discipline Talents, and the natural obsidiman strength, they have no issues with damage; this is normally an area of concern for unarmed characters. Momentum Attack can even give them an additional attack, which is one of their downsides.

They also bring some considerable defense to the table with a good Durability, Clay Skin (Wood Skin with a different name), and Life Check. Earth Bond can be used for healing, or fulfilling the function of their Discipline, which is some nice versatility, and Wound Balance as a Discipline Talent coupled with being an obsidiman (amazing strength, great toughness and additional Wound Threshold) means they will never fall down barring some extreme circumstances.

Without taking Talent Options into account, the biggest weaknesses for the Purifier in combat are low static defenses (obsidimen have reduced dexterity, perception and charisma) and not that many options. Besides beating things to a pulp, but there may be a desire for more than that. Lifesight and Spirit Talk give them some unique abilities to a combat Discipline, along with Earth Bond, that strongly reinforce their themes and give them ways to contribute outside of a fight.

Through their Talent Options, a Purifier can build in a number of ways, all of which are probably going to be very effective.
Talent Options for the Purifier is almost a litany of potentially difficulty decisions. Each tier has some great choices depending on what kind of character you want to make and Initiate is no different in this regard:
  • Acrobatic Strike - The overall best option the Purifier has for more Physical Defense, but it has some strings attached: initiative and you must attack to use it. It will need continual improvement.
  • Avoid Blow - In general, I don't like Avoid Blow as a Talent Option and this is no exception. Purifiers already have a good Physical Defense, which means that without Karma, it will be a difficult task to successfully use this Talent. It will need continual improvement.
  • Battle Shout - Though their charisma tends to be rather low, this is still a good debuff and worth of consideration.
  • Sprint - Though the concept of a sprinting Purifier is awesome (the fantasy linebacker), obsidimen just don't have the Karma supply to make this worth it and have a lot of great Discipline Talents to spend Karma on already.
  • Wilderness Survival - It is already covered by Half-Magic, though as a skill, and there is probably something else in this list. If not, make certain that you are willing to invest in it to actually have it be better than Half-Magic.
This is one of the few Disciplines where you are almost certain to use up all of you Talent Options. Along those lines, introducing some more very good choices at Novice:
  • Creature Analysis - Generally more important for spellcasters that can get the most mileage from this Talent, information is always power and this is thematically appropriate for a Purifier.
  • Heartening Laugh - It requires Karma (of which obsidimen have comparatively little) and there will probably be a Swordmaster that has this as a Discipline Talent.
  • Maneuver - On the whole, there just isn't the need for this as with other Disciplines, though it can give a damage bonus for the patient player that is having issues with high armor.
  • Swift Kick - The only downside to this is that you need a better initiative and that isn't really an obsidiman's strong suit. Other than that, this is extremely good.
  • Throwing Weapons - The Purifier already doesn't carry any weapons (very successfully) and this seems to defeat the purpose. Along with needing continual improvement and potential investment in Thread Items to keep it competitive at higher Circles, this seems more like a Legend Point sink that something useful.
  • Tiger Spring - If you have Acrobatic Strike and Swift Kick, you are going to want this (and if you don't have them, why not?). Otherwise, there isn't any particular need.
  • Tracking - This is a great Talent for an adept in every Group to have. If no one else does, you might want to consider this.
Even more things to like at Journeyman! These are the Talent Options that just keep giving:
  • Astral Sight - Not many combat Disciplines get access to this Talent and it is one that lets you participate in an entirely different game. With the other Talent Options, this one isn't automatic, but with the theme of the Purifier it should definitely be a strong contender.
  • Earth Skin - It may cost Karma, but you are going to want this. Every character should want this and it shows up right when it starts becoming more and more important.
  • Great Leap - A lot of fun with an obsidiman, but the typical combo with Down Strike is unnecessary. 
  • Lion Heart - This Talent is almost always good; it has low investment requirements and is bound to be useful.
  • Resist Taunt - A Talent Option I will pass on because of the same reasons as with Avoid Blow. This can simply be too difficult to use when you really need it.
  • Steel Thought - Same as Avoid Blow, and with access to Earth Skin there isn't much reason to give it a second glance. It does have one interesting feature compared to all of the other "dodge" Talents: it uses a different attribute than the Defense is derived from, which can actually work out for an obsidiman.
  • Steely Stare - Another fun talent for combat characters as it can give you an opportunity to bypass combat or participate in scenes where you may not have as much to do.
  • Temper Self - Because the Purifier needed to be able to take more damage. Well... they do, just because. The only real downside to this is the increased damage an obsidiman takes from failure with this Talent (due to their Increased Wound Threshold). This is still an  excellent Talent.
Equipment

No matter what direction you are going, armor is always going to be a tricky subject due to the obsidiman living or stone armor requirements. If you need a good initiative (Acrobatic Strike and Swift Kick), then that will limit options even further. For the former group, the best early armor options are stone, but they will generally tank your initiative (stone disk only has a penalty of 3). Later on crystal plate becomes an excellent option. Those that need to maintain a good initiative have more limited options. Fernweave is going to be it unless there are compromises or Thread Items in the mix. The other two armors on the table are blood pebble and crystal ringlet. Purifiers may have issues with blood pebble due to the blood magic and the associated damage. Crystal ringlet will need Smooth Armor and/or initiative penalty reductions from Thread Magic. Of course, everyone needs an espagra scale cloak, unless your GM rules that it falls under the "no living armor" clause for obsidimen.

While it may look strange, there is mechanically little reason for a Purifier to not have a shield. Purifiers without a care for initiative penalties (so long as they remain below their dexterity Step) will likely find considerable use from a crystal raider shield and others from crystal bucklers.

19 January 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 12 - It Begins in Flames

This is the twelfth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn.Introduction and Index.

The Grim Legion has always been an element that I cannot help but introduce into every Earthdawn game in some fashion or another. Each time I make them different, particularly with regard to what is printed, just to keep them mysterious and interesting. But mostly mysterious. This particular game is no different on all accounts.

I'm going to keep the specifics of what they are up to here under wraps because it is a major theme that I have been slowly working on. Also a significant source of questions that have no answers, and I very much enjoy watching that particular player struggle with puzzles when he knows he doesn't have all of the pieces, but still tries to fit things together. The various puzzles I have given him over the years could fill a blog.

In this particular game, the Grim Legion has significantly less presence over Barsaive as a whole. They tend to operate in smaller groups, some with a complex version of a Group Pattern that is tied to a greater Group Pattern. The nature of how that works is a closely guarded secret. Their primary function is still to hunt Horrors across Barsaive, complete with a healthy side of moral ambiguity - the ends justify the means.

There is no doubt that they had done good by eliminating threats, not just Horrors, but at the same time, they have little regard for those that are hurt along the way. In their minds, they simply would have been victims regardless and if the Legionnaires are willing to give their lives to protect the people of Barsaive, then the people of Barsaive should be willing to give their lives as well. This also extends to taking the resources that they need - if it were not for their actions, there would be no one to produce these resources.

Not all of the Grim Legion are quite so callous, some are generous with all that they have, taking their Oaths very seriously (the nature of these Oaths is a closely guarded secret). Others may seem to be little better than criminals, but even they are still driven towards the overall goal. Ultimately, each Group is semi-autonomous and operates in a fashion they see fit, even if directed by a central authority.

While all of their efforts seem to be directed at eliminated Horrors, a task which they are incredibly effective at, there are indications that they may have other goals they are slowly working towards. Not all of their activities seem to be motivated by Horrors and their many Nethermancers have a great deal of interest in some of the research conducted in Wyrm Wood during the Scourge.

Adventure Log – 12 It Begins in Flames

Recorded By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep


Date: 01 Strassa – 07 Strassa, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster

Jak'Tak the Weaponsmith
Ontheros the Horror Stalker
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster


New Year’s party time! Elmod and Sogun start off the new training. Ontheros has returned to Bartertown on his hunt for Horror tainted items that may be showing up during the festival(1). I have started training Thistle(2) so that he can fully embrace the ways of the Windmaster. Bartertown is being occupied by a number of different mercenary groups and Sogun has been hired by the Fist of Thystonius(3) to uncover information about the other mercenary groups. Ting has been approached by Tarr, who offered her a chance to do what she does best: create mayhem, and rob a drug den that is a plight on the city. The catch is that she can’t cause casualties(4); I’m not sure if she can do that. Elmod and I were both requested at different times to meet a mysterious figure at the Juggling Shadowmant where we too were offered positions to assist in the robbing of the drug den. Ontheros and Jak go out to help Maguk(5) (world’s largest troll) with other things happening around the city.

Heist night! We were given this creepy grease paint stuff to put on our eyes (ewww). It turns your eyes black and then allows you to see in the dark
(6)! I’ve never been able to see in the dark before, it’s so exciting. With much flourish Ting and some thugs burst onto the scene and successfully rob the building of money and drugs. At the same time, Sogun said he had to deliver a message to the head of the consortium that happened to be dining with Maester Bleys. Jak and Ontheros were heroes that night and saved people from the burning building. Maguk and the rest of the patrol took care of heckling Swordmasters who were accusing the patrol of starting the fire (the nerve of them)(7).

Given some time to look at the drugs that Ting stole, Elmod and Ontheros discovered that they were Horror tainted! This drug is called krokodil(8) and it super icky. This had been the last drug house in the area and people had begun making this stuff on their own. Maester Bleys has charged us with finding whoever is teaching people how to make this junk(9).

I continue my mission to capture messages written in or’zet code. Elmod finishes his training and is kidnapped by goons that want to know about his mentor. Have no fear! We are able to rescue Elmod before any real harm is done to him.(10)

Elmod uses his scary magic to talk to the spirit of an ork that died because he was using the drugs and we found that Margin, a curio shop owner, is the one that is selling the drugs and teaching people how to make them.

Plan time! We need to get Margin to reveal that he is the one involved with the drugs. Jak and Elmod volunteer to go in and use the code word to get Margin to sell some drugs. Without much fuss Margin is captured and turned over to the authorities(11) in Bartertown. With Margin gone, Ontheros says that there are Horror tainted items in his shop. So in a style that is uniquely us we break everything in sight and find some Horror tainted coins that need to be destroyed
(12).(13)

(1) The festival is a New Year tradition that Maester Bleys organizes as a martial counterpoint to the artisan festival that happens half a year from then. It's a lot more fun than most of the dwarfs will admit. Also, many orks that are easy on the eyes.
(2) Thistle the "Prickly" is associated with Adventuring Groups: Miscellaneous: The Briars; I wish I was making this up.
(3) Mercenary group, veterans and adepts, making a Name for themselves and particularly belligerent. Competent and whatever they lack in competence is compensated with aggression; though they are not as good as they think.
(4) That is an interesting insight into Tarr - warrants further investigation.
(5) A member of Maester Bley's mercenary Group/police force; see entry cataloged under: Adventuring Groups: Miscellaneous: Mismatched Steel - 004.
(6) Investigate what this "creepy grease paint" is.
(7) And now we know the origin of that incident.
(8) We've been getting a spotty reports of this stuff from around the province. We need to know more; it sounds like very bad news.
(9) For all of his issues, Maester Bleys has cracked down on drugs in Bartertown recently.
(10) What is this all about?
(11) This word should be in quotes.
(12) This is very bad news. We need to get control of that cesspool outside the gates.
(13) Received and edited by Ela Pono.

*     *     *

Overall, this session went very well - at least from where I sat. There was a lot going on and this adventure log only touches on quite a bit of it. To be perfectly fair, it would be difficult to record everything in detail and play at the same time. Also, some of the important details may not have seemed like it at the time. Many seeds planted long ago started to bear fruit and others were planted.

In the background of what was "really" going on was a festival to introduce some characters and color into the world. Part of it was to get people invested a little more in what was going on and make things seem more vibrant. Also to show that there is always a bigger fish (this was not directed at the players) - particularly in the form of a obsidiman Warrior brotherhood, The Immortals.

One of the major events was the escalation of conflict between the two groups vying for control of Bartertown. The players have thrown their lot in behind one of the factions, but are starting to find out some of the reasons they have been obliquely warned about him. His dedication to the community is absolute, but in a "ends justify the means" way.

The robbery on the drug den involved all of the characters in some capacity, which worked well. It was also a flash point for relationships within the Group: characters began to realize what exactly they were getting themselves into. It was also something of a setup: the entire thing went sideways, an opium den burned, many died within it and it was something of a PR fiasco. One side got to be the hero and the other was blamed for causing it.

That was just the beginning of some the dark places that events were starting to explore. During the robbery, they stole some opium suspended in alcohol. While investigating, they gave some of that to a junkie for information. By gave, I mean administered because he was going through withdrawal and suffering from burns. It was a very intense scene at the table. The ends justified the means.


During all of this, a plot that has been at the edge of things forces itself to the forefront: that one of the characters (Elmod) may be involved with Horrors in some fashion he does not understand. The goons are the Grim Legion and this was a chance to rebuild some Group cohesion that had been fraying. Everyone came to Elmod's rescue and he also go a chance to show off a little. After a series of body blows, this was a victory they could rally around, even if it involved one of their number abducted and tortured.

The drugs introduced in this session are part of a much larger plot that was put into motion much earlier. It is part the complete banal horrors of life that normal Namegivers inflict on themselves and there is no panacea for, and part the insidious way that Horrors can insinuate their influence into society completely undetected.

16 January 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 12 - Beastmaster

This is the twelfth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Overview

Like most Disciplines, the Beastmaster is about self-discovery. It is through learning about themselves that they can begin to understand the world around them. By seeing the world clearly, they are able to understand the purity through which animals live. Once this understanding has been reached, the Beastmaster can once again look inward and peel back another layer on who they are and with this new discovery and sense of self, look outward once more and begin the process again.

All of this requires understanding, selflessness and a strong sense of self. Above all, however, is patience. Beastmasters must live in two worlds, that of Namegivers and that of animals. The rules of these two worlds are often inimical, as Namegiver society as diverged from the purity in which animals live. Animals experience life without a filter, it is raw, violent and beautiful. It does not feel guilt, anxiety, or self-conscious. There are lessons there, but a Beastmaster cannot ignore what they are: a Namegiver. They must balance these two worlds and live in both - they can deny their true nature no more than a tiger can give up its stripes.

The lessons of the animals, that the weak must often die, for they cannot take care of themselves and will be prey, that discretion is the better part of valor, indeed that valor and honor are entirely foreign concepts - there is only the dead and the fed. These lessons do not necessarily translate well to Namegivers. Though bringing lessons that societies value, such as compassion and defending the weak, to animals often have merit. At least in the eyes of many a Beastmaster that does not seek to ignore who they are.

Clearly the path of a Beastmaster is not an easy one and not one that Namegiver society finds it easy to deal with as a whole. Just because the ork woman from the bush says that the espagra is tame doesn't mean that anyone will believe her. The presence of their animal companions makes interaction with Namegiver society that much more difficult, but means that the Beastmaster will have to work that much harder to maintain them. There is little greater reward for most of this Discipline than having their animal companions win a place in Namegiver society, and have those same Namegivers win their companion's trust. To have each see the other in a new light, to spread that understanding, bit by bit. That is truly the Beastmaster's purpose.


Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. The primary violations for Beastmasters are around their treatment of animals, and specifically their animal companions. Mistreatment and sacrificing them, training and selling them to cruel masters, these are all certain ways to get into trouble, but also relatively uninteresting; what player is going to choose this Discipline and engage in that behavior?

More interesting areas to explore, to me at least, are how the Beastmaster relates with both animals and other Namegivers. They must live in both worlds and cannot deny who they are. How others treat animals around them and what they do about abuse, or even potential abuse, when they see it. These may cause some conflict and soul-searching as to how far the Beastmaster is willing to go. To what degree with they let others live as they will, versus protecting those that cannot protect themselves.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Climbing, Sense Danger, Tracking, Wilderness Survival

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Animal Bond, Claw Shape, Creature Analysis, Karma Ritual, Unarmed Combat

Novice
Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Borrow Sense, Frighten Animals, Great Leap, Haggle, Silent Walk, Sprint

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Dominate Beast, Durability (7/6)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Animal Training

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Beast Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Animal Companion Durability (6/5), Blood Share, Call Animal Companion, Empathic Command, Lion Heart, Poison Resistance, Search, Tiger Spring

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Heal Animal Companion

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Animal Talk

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Animal Possession

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Frenzy

The Beastmaster certainly has some indications that it is a combat-oriented in its Discipline Talents, between Claw Shape, Durability (7/6), Frenzy and Unarmed Combat. However, the sad truth is this Discipline is not terribly combat capable on its own. Even though you can spend Karma on Claw Shape, your damage is always going to lag behind pretty much anyone with a weapon, between access to Forged Weapons and Thread Items. Particularly generous GMs may allow you to use an attached weapon in conjunction with Claw Shape, but I wouldn't count on it.

Frenzy happens to be one of the very best multi-attack Talents available and Beastmasters get it as a Journeyman Discipline Talent. This can be a pretty big deal, but against moderately armored foes it may be a lot of nothing. Defensively they have even more issues. Beyond their above average Durability, there is not much here. They don't even have a great deal of options to spend Strain with. In all, it is something of a disappointing package.

Indeed, the bulk of their Discipline is focused around animal companions, more-or-less as advertised. In theory this can be awesome; Earthdawn is populated with an astounding variety of creatures that would make bad ass pets. Who doesn't want a skeorx to snuggle up with at night, or a dancing brithan? Simply traveling and finding and training new companions is full of adventure hooks in and of itself. As long as you don't mind the occasional (to constant) pokemon references.

There are a few downsides to this, however. The first is pretty obvious: these beloved pets will not really improve with you. While you can turn them into familiars, you have to spend your Legend Points to improve them, meaning that you will be falling behind simply to take advantage of what your Discipline is supposed to be doing. While you can keep gaining new companions, there are some practical limitations to traveling around with a savage menagerie. So your pets are meant to help you out in combat, but they won't be very good at that for terribly long and are in constant danger of dying. While you can use them for scouting purposes, that is a lot of investment in Talents to accomplish that in a fairly roundabout fashion.

While the Discipline has a number of charisma Discipline Talents, they have virtually no options for interaction outside of animals. This could be a significant problem for some players looking at charisma-focused adepts.

Mechanically it is a difficult place to be as all of these critters can also give the Beastmaster a significant number of actions in combat. Anyone who spent time with a druid in 3.X D&D may know this feeling well. To not take advantage of this is to ignore the vast majority of their Discipline. Before taking this Discipline, I would recommend that you talk with your GM and the rest of the Group to see if it would a good fit and how you would potentially overcome some of the weaknesses. If you are going to be happy with this Discipline regardless of any of these issues, then more power to you. I've simply had a number that had buyer's remorse that reached a zenith around Journeyman and trying to find the right mix of House Rules became onerous for everyone involved.

Reading over this, I realize that it sounds like I am very down on this Discipline, which is not quite true. Though I'm not changing what I've written. The Beastmaster requires better communication with the GM because much of what they can do will be in the GM's hands. If you and your GM don't agree on how the Beastmaster should play out, then I strongly suggest you find something else. Otherwise, there will likely only be frustrations and recriminations down that road.

There are some things to like in the Beastmaster's Initiate Talent Options and there may be some decisions taking place regarding what will be dropped:
  • Avoid Blow - If you've read a few of these, you will know I'm not a fan of this Talent as anything other than a Discipline Talent. That still hasn't changed. If it is selected, it will need to be improved every Circle.
  • Climbing - While neat, there isn't much to recommend this as a Talent over a skill, particularly with more attractive options available.
  • Sense Danger - This is always a useful Talent for at least one character to have and doesn't necessarily require constant improvement, but it will certainly help (particularly since the characters you will want to use it against the most are also likely to have the highest Spell Defense).
  • Tracking - Generally very in theme for Beastmasters and a popular choice. The Talent also has some advantages over the skill. Another Talent that someone should probably have, though there isn't a lot of benefit for more than one character to have it.
  • Wilderness Survival - Given that this is already provided by Half-Magic, it will take serious dedication to make this selection worth it. Though the Talent is better than the skill, the skill is free.
Novice is where the hard choices regarding Talent Options begin for most Beastmasters:
  • Acrobatic Strike - I generally prefer this Talent over Avoid Blow for a Talent Option and they tend to work against each other if you are tempted by both. With Acrobatic Strike active, the already potentially difficult Avoid Blow Test will become that much more difficult to succeed at because the threshold for it to work has just increased, and you cannot spend Karma on it. This Talent will require continual improvement and a good initiative, so keep that in mind.
  • Borrow Sense - It isn't uncommon for a Beastmaster to be a scout for their Group and this Talent certainly supports that. It helps to have a variety of animal companions to pick and choose from for this.
  • Frighten Animals - It costs a Karma and may rely heavily on GM discretion as to when it will work (what is an animal precisely). If you encounter considerable animals, cavalry, or scorchers, this is going to be extremely effective. Otherwise, if may be useful, it may not and it is hard to predict.
  • Great Leap - One of my favorite Talents. It gives additional mobility, which is always good, strongly reinforces a lot of what the Beastmaster is about, and moves you in the direction of Down Strike (if your GM approves of combining that with Claw Shape).
  • Haggle - Beyond tending towards a good charisma, this is just a strange choice for most Beastmasters. If someone else has this Talent, I would pass. Otherwise, I can only guess you will know if this Talent is right for you.
  • Silent Walk - I don't think I've ever seen a Beastmaster that doesn't eventually get this Talent, and with good reason - it plays to a lot of their strengths and is very in theme for the Discipline.
  • Sprint - There is a Karma cost, but it can fit with the Beastmaster themes very well and provide additional mobility. A plus is that it requires minimal investment to be useful, a downside is that it costs a Karma (in 3ER, this is less of an issue, but Beastmasters tend to go through a lot of Karma).
Journeyman Beastmasters are going to find a lot of good Talent Options at this tier:
  • Animal Companion Durability (6/5) - If you have an animal companion that frequently accompanies you into combat, you are going to want this. Otherwise, probably not.
  • Blood Share - Not cheap at the cost of a Karma, similar to the Cavalryman, this may be a very important Talent for any Beastmaster with animal companions that engage in combat. Though with Heal Animal Companion as a Discipline Talent this may be somewhat redundant. The exception to this is transferring damage from the adept to the animal companion, which is something I have never actually seen in practice, believe it or not.
  • Call Animal Companion - Most Beastmasters are going to want this, unless you have animal companions just because they are cute and fuzzy and never really leave your side.
  • Empathic Command - Much like other Talents of this tier, this is a pretty good selection. There just happen to be a lot of good Talent Options.
  • Lion Heart - A generally good Talent that requires little investment and may often be useful.
  • Poison Resistance - Unless poison is a common feature in your game, this is likely to be the only easy decision in this tier. I know that I just do not use poison very often and players tend to load up on a lot of anti-poison healing aids once they have one bad encounter.
  • Search - As Beastmasters tend to do the scouting, this Talent is very useful for them. It's simply another difficult choice to make.
  • Tiger Spring - If you have Acrobatic Strike, you are going to want this. Otherwise, you may be able to find a Talent that you need in this tier.
Races

There are a number of different races that can bring different benefits to the table for this Discipline. The decreased toughness of elves is compensated for to a certain extend, and the dexterity, perception and charisma increases can work well. Versatility and improved Karma for humans opens up a number of options to address some of the deficiencies (whether combat or socially) of the Discipline, as well as better Karma to throw at Claw Shape and Unarmed Combat (hoping for those armor defeating hits). Orks bring some pain with a bonus Step to strength and better Karma, in addition to using gahad to their advantage. Though they have penalties to both of the "important" attributes, their Karma should make up for that. A t'skrang's tail attack will see support from Unarmed Combat as a Discipline Talent, but won't benefit from Claw Shape (it's specific to hands). Beyond that, they don't have much to offer, but there is no real downside. The surprise winner out of this is the windling; normally their size is a significant downside to a combat character, but it is barely relevant here (only the strength penalty having an effect). They will be more reliant on animal companions overall, but can plausibly have access to better pets with their improved charisma and Karma.

Dwarfs may find the charisma penalties rough and have nothing mechanically to recommend them over orks. Obsidimen and trolls are particularly left out by the Beastmaster with charisma penalties and no benefit from their increased size (which is generally good for 2 more damage Steps). Their poor Karma may be a problem as well for a Discipline that relies on it to the extent of the Beastmaster.

Equipment

Unless you have Acrobatic Strike, initiative isn't particularly important to a Beastmaster. Which means that, while counter-intuitive, heavy armor is an excellent way to make up for their defensive deficiencies. In fact, a shield as completely compatible with Claw Shape, though creates something of a bizarre aesthetic.

Weapons are an interesting question and entirely based around if your GM allows you to use attached weapons in conjunction with Claw Shape. The majority will probably say "no", in which case weapons are probably for show, though elves seem to be partial to Warrior's Scarves regardless.