30 May 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 17 - Tournament Troubles

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

Typically, I take this opportunity before the Adventure Log to relate some information about the Earthdawn setting, often through the lens of this campaign. This time, however, I am going to be a little selfish and use this to relate where the various setting elements currently stand. Which is a fancy way of saying the trouble that is happening and the trouble that is brewing.

The most direct threat that has been encountered is the influence of a still unknown Horror. It has been active in some form or another along the northern Serpent River, to Bartertown, down to the southern Throal Mountains and the Servos Jungle. They have seen it's Mark and know something of methods (objects; crystal, metal and stone).

Next they encountered a troll Sky Raider, Korrolis, that they thwarted in exacting his revenge. He seems to have transferred that old grudge on to them because of it.

There is also considerable trouble going on in Bartertown that they have become involved in. In particular are the growing hostilities between two different factions within the city, the libertarian "Consortium" loosely united behind Auntien Tighe, a Swordmaster from Jerris, and the populist "Patrol" that have been gathered behind a local Weaponsmith, Maester Bleys. The conflict has boiled over into violence on more than one occasion, particularly with the shadowy support of Tarr, who controls the local Thief activities. Not only that, but there is also an underground slave trade and gladiatorial arena under the nose of Throal and a growing drug problem that may have connections to Horrors.

Ardanyan is a continual hotbed of racial tensions. Getting freed from the pressure cooker of the Kaer has done little to calm anything, particularly once the treachery of the followers of Raggok had been revealed. It is still a city divided and ripe for plucking by an increasingly organized and brazen Scorcher tribe united under a very skilled leader.

Even the Servos Jungle is a place of concern. Two Theran expeditions have been seen there, working with their old t'skrang allies, House K'tenshin. They were looking for something, and although it is uncertain what exactly they were looking for, it seems that they found it.

While Blood Sworn to secrecy, they also discovered a long lost passage from under Throal to the Serpent River. It turns out that they were not the first to make this discovery, as House K'tenshin had already established a foothold under the mountains. Much of the nature of that expedition still remains a mystery.

A new power has moved into the province from the North. Calling themselves urshan and riding the formidable urgarlshan, this could be the one bit of good news they have encountered. While not overly aggressive, these new Namegivers represent the vanguard of their population, refugees from the vulfaider, with no real explanation as to what that is. The stoic obsidiman, Sogun, decided that maybe he didn't want anything to do with whatever bears riding bears were running from.

With this new tale, it is clear that external powers are moving pieces to exert influence in Travar through their t'skrang proxies; Iopos through House Ishkarat and Thera through House K'tenshin. Even the vaunted tombs of Travar play host to corruption and the undead. 

Above and beyond all of this, the very nature of one of the boon companions is in question. What is his role in all of this? Is he a new threat, gestating in their midst (Horror Jesus, as so eloquently put by one of the Group), or is he their salvation? (No one really thinks that last one, but everything sounds better when you put it in terms of a juxtaposition, so there it is.)

Adventure Log – 017 Tournament Troubles

Written By: Sogun of Ayodhya and Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 25 Mawag – 16 Gamhil, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster


We start our adventures in Travar. The festival(1) is about to start and the shops increase prices and stock up on wares.

We set up camp in Travar for about a week. I take this time to stretch my legs and make a trip to K’tenshin(2). So far my Group seems to have the heart of an obsidiman: Very slow pace. They love taking their time in the towns we visit.

We spent most of the week pouring over texts and scrolls to uncover the history of a few items we found(3).

Elmod had quite a few questions about my Messenger abilities. I feel he is planning something.(4)

We are approached by an elf that seems a little too well informed about our team for my liking.

We agree to help him in the tournament.

Like any great adventuring group, we hit the bar! Then the next day we continue our bar crawl to a bar named the Broken Cutlass. We meet a man Named Bokin who proved to be a dead end.

The first day of the tournament was deceptively easy. Windlings are easily able to cross the paths and the questions were easy.


During our celebration we were approached by the man accused of murdering Torvak – Koll was his name(5). He denies everything and says that Galonar is part of an Iopan conspiracy. Wasn’t sure I believed him until a poisoned arrow went through his throat. Assassins aren’t typically called in to silence those that are guilty. We attempted to track down the assassin, but she was too fast for us. Seems like an elf Archer.(6)

The second day of the tournament was a chariot race. Sogun was our valiant driver and the rest of us were dedicated to destroying the other chariots. I cut the reigns to many chariots. Elmod was magical artillery, causing pain to those around and Ting was able to flip onto the other chariots and cause havoc. In the end, by the skin of our teeth, we won the race.

The finals we faced off against a Warden Group of t’skrang and the Winds of War. We knew we wouldn’t win, but we didn’t want the t’skrang to win. So, while we were greatly outmatched, we managed to allow the Winds of War(7) to be victorious and the incumbent magistrate to continue her place of power.

We were victorious in being the surviving underdogs. That was a sweet victory.(8)


*     *     *

(1) This refers to the Games that elect one of the ruling council of Travar every year.
(2) The t'skrang House. Also huge assholes that sided with Thera over Throal.
(3) Why can't they ever include any information of historical significance? If we don't know where legendary items have been, it's harder for future generations to make use of them. They generally end up in some horribly dangerous place with no survivors, after all.
(4) He's an elf and a Nethermancer. The question isn't "is he planning something", but "what is he planning?"
(5) We heard about this, it was a big deal and still is. What does Iopos want with this?
(6) Details! What else happened here? I have not seen any of this information from our other sources and I have seen a lot of the intelligence on this situation.
(7) The winners aren't that surprising. Not many mercenary Groups are as uniquely suited for this type of activity. Impressive that Mismatched Steel made it this far for a Group so young.
(8) Received and edited by Ela Pono.

This was an adaptation of a published adventure of the same name from Shards Collection Volume One. The overarching plot fit nicely into the web of power that I have been slowly putting together in the background and the tournament would represent a nice change of pace to the game. Particularly the covert elements and the intrigue.

So, of course, the players ignored any potential cheating. Not interested. Most of the actual plot of the adventure wasn't recorded, which includes all of the intrigue and power plays by outside factions (including their own patron). With all of the skulking out of the picture, I quickly whipped up some more extensive mechanics to handle the chariot racing.

The chariot racing (with expanded rules and detail) was a big hit. Every player got to meaningfully contribute to the event and it was honestly a hard won battle that came down to the very last die roll. No punches were pulled on my part and they were clearly the underdogs - there was no guarantee they would make it to the next round and things may have turned out poorly if they hadn't.

In the end, they were given the opportunity to play spoiler and absolutely delighted by that. To be fair, they didn't want to win - not trusting their patron at all. They got to generate some buzz about their Group; even if they didn't win, who doesn't love a Cinderella story?

27 May 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 23 - Winddancer

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

Overview

The Winddancer is similar to a Troubadour, and often mistaken for them, but their position in windling society is most similar to that of a Songsmith in elf society. They are the keepers of tradition, the memories of the past, arbiters of the community, and the voice of their society. Their role is somewhere between Troubadour and Weaponsmith in a very uniquely windling expression.

One aspect of that expression is they believe less in the written word than in oral tradition. History is still alive as long as there is someone to speak of it, and thus these adepts believe that it should be spoken, danced, lived. What this means in practical terms is that the historical accuracy of the tale is less important that tailoring it to the audience and ensuring that the spirit of the tale lives on. There may be some amount of friction between them and Traveled Scholars.

Not only do they maintain their oral history, ensure the traditions are followed, proper ceremonies followed and that society to continues to function; they also go see the world. They are driven to travel, bringing their culture and stories to the world, while learning the same from everyone that they meet. Winddancers embrace new things, new people, new places, learning new things, etc. Despite having the task of maintaining traditions, they do not feel anything against eschewing the old for something new. The world changes and it is best to change with it than be lost when the inevitable happens.

In many ways, these adepts are the exemplars of what it is to be a windling. They strive to live every moment of their life to the fullest, to have no regrets, and to leave things better than when they arrived.

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. There are two primary facets of this Discipline: preserving the windling culture and learning new things. Failing in either of these can be a source of existential trouble for these adepts.

Either of these can present different opportunities for self-assessment and conflict. Perhaps the Winddancer's viewpoint isn't welcome; Weaponsmith's are rarely fond of outsiders treading in their traditional role. A continual desire to learn new things can lead to asking the wrong questions, dragging the Group into a conflict. It can also mean choosing between spending time to learn of a new culture, or pursuing other goals.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Air Speaking, Avoid Blow, Impress, Melee Weapons, Speak Language

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Conversation, Etiquette, Karma Ritual, Taunt, Wind Dance

Novice
Talent Options: Distract, Emotion Song, Empathic Sense, Engaging Banter, Haggle, Heartening Laugh, Mimic Voice

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

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Bird Song

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Dance Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Dead Fall, Enduring Art, Fast Hand, Inspire Others, Item History, Lasting Impression, Lip Reading

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Graceful Exit

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Leadership

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Hypnotize

The primary emphasis of this Discipline is social, with Charisma-based Talents making up the bulk of their Discipline Talents. Specifically, Conversation, Etiquette, Diplomacy and Hypnotize are social interaction Talents, while Taunt, Wind Dance, Bird Song (only windling Disciplines get this Talent), Resist Taunt and Leadership all support or benefit from this emphasis in some way. Really, the Winddancer shares a lot of thematic common ground with the Troubadour, though very little mechanical ground.

Looking at their available Talents (including Talent Options), they are missing First Impression entirely, which is a somewhat strange omission given the full range of other social Talents they have at their disposal. Beyond First Impression, they don't have Performance and Seduction; that is excellent access to social Talents. Which is goes into how strange and unfortunate it is that First Impression is missing, but it is also generally the most social Talent in other Disciplines.

Clearly, the primary strength of a Winddancer is the social interaction they bring to the table. Their biggest weakness is... everything else. Outside of being social, they don't have much to offer. As well, they have some Discipline Talents that may be thematic, but are of questionable use over the course of a career as a professional adventurer. The specific Talents are Wind Dance, Graceful Exit and Leadership. From a PC perspective, I'm not generally a fan of these Talents, and I will address each of them with why that is.

Wind Dance can be found in three windling-specific Disciplines (also as an optional Talent replacement for any occurrence of Climbing). It fills a niche that I'm not certain needs to exist - allowing a windling to communicate via their flight pattern. While anyone can learn to read this, non-windlings get a penalty. There is nothing here that is truly useful in a Group, unless that Group has an obscene number of windlings (and all have access to this Talent, or picked up the skill). As a Talent Option, it's flavorful and appropriate, the kind of thing that I would expect a Winddancer to have. As a Discipline Talent? It is a speed bump.

Graceful Exit perpetually falls into the category of Talents that I have never heard of anyone actually using. I've seen players take it, but never actually use it. Maybe others have had different experiences, but the ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Earthdawn (which often makes it great) actively discourages the use of this Talent. While I always advise against it (and alliteration), it's fine as a Talent Option. As a Discipline Talent, that's pretty rough.

Leadership is a similar story to the previous two. I actually like this Talent quite a bit, it can bring some excellent moments into a game - if the player wants to bring those moments. Not all players want to be a leader, and that's fine. It will almost certainly create less power struggles, which may or may not be a good thing, ymmv. While it can be thematic to this Discipline, I don't think that it is automatically the case (something similar can be said for the Troubadour for that matter). This is another Discipline Talent that would have benefited from being a Talent Option, in my opinion.

All of that being said, the social aspects of this Discipline present a big upside. If you like the look of the Winddancer in the first place, odds are reasonable that the aforementioned issues won't be much of a deterrence. Where what this Discipline has to offer comes into its own is as a secondary Discipline. A windling that wants to explore their culture more and engage in social activities will find a lot to like here.

This is a particularly strong choice if your campaign involves a great deal of social play. If your game is primarily combat, or kaer-crawling (such as a Parlainth centered game), there won't be much of use here. Part of what makes this a significantly better secondary Discipline than primary is the understanding if what the Winddancer brings to the Group will be useful.

If you can open up the space, there are at least two good Talent Options to be had at Initiate (assuming you don't already have them):

  • Air Speaking - I still don't quite get the use of this Talent, since it has a somewhat limited range, but you cannot limit the recipient(s) in any way.
  • Avoid Blow - Hopefully you have another Discipline with defensive Talents on offer, because this is their only one. I'm still not a fan when this isn't a Discipline Talent.
  • Impress - This is a good addition to the arsenal of any social character, and entirely in-theme for these adepts.
  • Melee Weapons - The only combat Talent available. If you don't have one, get this.
  • Speak Language - Always useful, even with minimal investment. It is, however, easily replicated with the skill. If you have a open Talent Option, pick it up; as the (likely) primary social character, speaking the language is always useful.
Depending on the nature of your character, there may be more good Novice Talent Options than you have room for:
  • Distract - If you aren't one of the primary combatants, this can be a very useful Talent for your Group. It gives a significant advantage to you allies and your ability to fly can help keep you out of harm's way.
  • Emotion Song - Entirely thematic for this Discipline and boosts your social capabilities. 
  • Empathic Sense - The more people in a Group that have this, the less likely someone will get into trouble without someone knowing about it. It also has the side benefit of providing social bonuses.
  • Engaging Banter - If your Group engages in schemes where someone needs to be occupied why they are taken advantage of, this is a good choice. Otherwise, not so much.
  • Haggle - Without Evaluate to go along with it, this Talent is of somewhat dubious value. You will certainly be good at it, but it may or may not be fun.
  • Heartening Laugh - This costs Karma, but provides a boost to the rest of the Group. The boost tends not to be that useful across the board. If anyone in the Group already has this (such as most Swordmasters), I would give it a pass.
  • Mimic Voice - If you have taken Engaging Banter, this is on the list. Even if you haven't, it will still take your storytelling (and pranks) to the next level. It is thematic, but may not necessarily be useful.
The Journeyman Talent Options tend to be more specific in application, but there are a few must haves:
  • Arcane Mutterings - This isn't a subtle Talent, nor can it be used in combat. It does give penalties that can be used in conjunction with someone else's action (or even your intimidate). 
  • Dead Fall - While there may be some value to playing dead, there probably isn't much when you also have Graceful Exit as a Discipline Talent.
  • Enduring Art - I like this Talent. I like it a lot. There is something that is just primal fun about giving your friends magical tattoos. (Look for it in the Player's Companion.)
  • Fast Hand - This costs Karma, but if you engage in subterfuge it is going to be a great selection. It is very situational - great in some (even necessary), useless in others.
  • Inspire Others - Get this Talent. It is a buff for your entire Group. 
  • Item History - Even if others have this Talent, it almost never hurts to have too many adepts with Item History. That is, if you have space for it. If you already have two adepts with this, then you can easily pass.
  • Lasting Impression - Probably the single best social interaction Talent available. You are going to want this.
  • Lip Reading - If you have Engaging Banter, Mimic Voice, or Fast Hand, this will likely be on your list as well.
Equipment

Given that there are no real combat Talents here, there are no real requirements either. However, the specific nature of windlings does lend to a certain combination of equipment. Given that the only combat Talent is Melee Weapons (which is also a solid category), that is where we will start. I always suggest one-handed weapons for windlings when initiative isn't an issue (and often even when it is). The reason is pretty straight-forward: A two-handed weapon gives +2 to damage, which is less than a two-handed weapon for other Namegivers (+6 to damage). The armor provided by a shield, however, remains unchanged. Assuming that the damage and protection are roughly balanced for Namegivers at size 3 and 4, that means protection is significantly better for a windling at size 1. For armor, take whatever you can still afford to wear with your initiative.

23 May 2013

Earthdawn: Part 25 - Flora of Barsaive

This is the twenty-fourth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

As a part the most recent arc (at the time of writing this) of my Earthdawn game the characters were exploring an ancient, creepy forest populated by some very curious and rare things. When I asked them what kind of trouble they wanted to get into during their stay, one of the characters intended on looking for interesting plants. It is worth mentioning that the forest is located in the Cara Fahd/Landis region of South-East Barsaive.

The entire exploring the forest became a mini-game unto itself that was a remarkable amount of fun. Nonetheless, here is a list of the 30 interesting flora that I created which could be found in this forest. As always, feel free to adapt any of this for your own game. Most of these effects don't have mechanics attached to them so that they can be introduced however would best suit your world.

Drash
These oily leaves are a pungent and powerful insect repellent. They can be turned into an ointment that is water resistant as well, though soluble in alcohol.

Tonga
A crunchy red tuber that is slightly sweet. When dried and allowed to age, it gains a euphoric quality that causes severe disorientation and some memory loss. Consumers are also susceptible to suggestion during this time.

Orchan Nuts
Not truly a nut, these brilliantly red legumes are considered a long-lost secret of Cara Fahd. Amazingly potent, they were used in a special dish for warriors prior to battle to "light a fire in their belly." For other Namegivers, these are almost unbearably spicy - though rumored to be popular with dwarfs and elves that may still haves stores. In other Namegivers, they heighten perception and creativity, though lower inhibitions and cause aggression.


Lustre Fruit
A purple fruit in a brown membrane casing. While incredibly juicy, this fruit is considered to be too tart to be edible for most Namegivers, though obsidimen and some lowland trolls have developed a taste. It is commonly used as an alchemical ingredient. Each fruit is worth 20 silver pieces in alchemical reagents.

Nyin Berry
These yellow berries are bitter and sour, with a tough skin and jelly-like center. Popular with dwarf, ork and troll warriors, these berries provide additional stability. Obsidimen find their effects disorienting, and they interfere with a windling's ability to fly.

Lum Melon
This green melon as a crisp and sweet flesh. When preserved with smoke and salt, it gains the properties adventurers most prize: it naturally wards off disease (+5 to tests to resist disease for a day).

Yantos Fruit
The blue and aqua fruit from this low-growing plant are crisp and refreshing. They are particularly prized by Therans for how long they remain fresh, and popular for use in beverages in hot climates across the world. Consuming the crunchy and lush fruit will protect against the ill effects of heat for a day.

Jimicia Fruit
This yellow fruit grows in bunches off of vines. Considered to be very rare, it only grows in very specific places (with seemingly no correlation). When consumed, the fruit puts the subject into a euphoric state where some claim to see visions; none of the visions have a reputation of being pleasant, but some seek this experience.


Kuo
The bright red stalks of this plant are bitter, sour and spicy. Popular in some ork and human foods, they also gain dangerous properties when properly treated, then dried and powdered (a process know to few alchemists). The powder is extremely pyrophoric and will ignite on contact with water.

Fren Berry
An orange and green berry that is tasty and pleasant. When used to brew alcohol, it gains curious properties that engender a sense of friendship between the imbiber and those around them. Not many brewers posses the knowledge to craft this beverage (vanishingly few).

Merlan Berry
An orange fruit with red spots from a low shrub. Slightly sweet when ripe (entirely red), it is sour when unripened. In the unripened state, they can be dried into a powerful stimulant. It is illegal to possess merlan berries in this form in Throal. (+3 to initiative for one hour.)

Vileyo
These red seeds are exceptionally spicy and popular in some warrior cultures. They cause aggressive behavior and a significant loss of control. Because of that, they are almost never included as a part of a recipe. For 10 rounds, they consumer must adopt the Aggressive Attack stance, but does not take any Strain for doing so.

Braben Beans
These beans are brown and flavorless, if nutritious, when fully grown. In their immature, green state an oil can be press
ed from them that is a dangerous poison. It takes some specialized equipment and knowledge, along with quite a few beans, but it is popular with assassins. Also very, very illegal.


Guvos Melon
This small, low growing "melon" is actually a seed. The green casing is hard and bitter, but the yellow seed is savory and custard-like. It is rare, but very popular with human, dwarf and elf desserts. When dried and powdered, it is known for its restorative properties. (+3 to the result of Recovery Tests for the remainder of the day.)

Arienti
While the silver flowers of this plant are renown for being lovely, it is the bulb that interests most alchemists. When consumed raw, they place the consumer in a trance-like state for an hour or two that is incredibly restful and has significant healing properties. Unfortunately, they do not stay fresh indefinitely. When dried, they are commonly used as a part of healing aids (worth 50 silver pieces each).

Cerac Seeds
These blue seeds are popular with windlings, particularly warriors. They greatly extend the period of time a windling may remain aloft without rest, though there are downsides. The following day, most windlings find it difficult to fly at all. Repeated use may even impair their ability to fly permanently.

Licotta Melon
A green melon with a hairy, yellow fringe in sections. The flesh is stringy and unpleasant. For those willing to brave it (a difficult task indeed), this melon is amazingly nourishing (+2 to Recovery Tests for a day, a Willpower Test of 8 is required to eat it). It cannot be overstated how difficult it is to stomach a meal of licotta melon. The dwarfs of Throal occasionally investigate ways to make it more palatable.

Zentos Root
A red, bulbous tuber with a stringy texture and spicy flavor; the are popular in ork stews. Often warm to the touch, it can keep someone that eats it warm on a cool night, though exceptional specimen may cause burns when consumed (these are prized with Scorchers). Certain areas have been known to grow zentos that have True Fire in the roots, generally very close to Death's Sea.

Sen-Sen Seeds
The seeds are uninteresting, but the pink pods from this vine produce an entirely pleasant state of euphoria. This effect eliminates all pain and is extremely addictive. Curiously, it also aids in the healing process, but has been known to be lethal in t'skrang and windlings.

Quarsh Berry
A purple berry cluster that is remarkably sweet. Despite the delightful flavor, there are no culinary uses - it has been impossible to remove the soporific effects, which are significant.

Iosh Root
A white tuber with pink spots that is a common ingredient in alchemical recipes. Each root is worth 10 silver pieces in alchemical reagents.

Edden Leaves
The new leaves of the edden shrub can be turned into a poultice originally made popular by a healer Named Kelix. Used in the treatment of various poisons.

Cirtas Berry
Yellow berries from a large shrub. Capable of providing a tasty snack, they are mostly popular for their glow when crushed. Naturally a yellow color, other varieties have been cultivated. Every society prizes these berries for celebrations.

Obop Seeds
The green seeds from obop pods are rare due to how quickly they ripen. In this state, they are dangerously toxic, though have been spread across Barsaive from their origins in Poison Wood. The only way to prevent their ripening is by storing them in alcohol. Don't drink the alcohol.

Fildan
When juiced and rendered, this purple squash with an amazingly hard rind, affects a significant change in the imbiber. It turns their skin purple and hard, granting 3 Physical Armor for a day in this excruciating process (inflicting 1 Wound and costing 1 Recovery Test).

Uva Fruit
A red and orange, spikey fruit that grows at the base of trees in the area that was once Landis. Considered the royal fruit of that kingdom, it is said to grant incredible clarity of thought, or protection from Horrors (even both!) depending on the story. Regardless, it has an interesting, if acquired texture and a spiced flavor to the flesh.

Ninoku Leaves
Blue and brown leaves from this rare ground cover plant are a mild stimulant when chewed and are a common ingredient in alchemical creations. Each bunch is worth 25 silver pieces.

Topo Berry
This black and pink berry is bitter and causes severe nausea for a day in anyone that consumes one. Prolonged exposure can result in death.

Krilion Berry
These blue, purple and green berries have a luxurious texture and a lightly sweet and sour flavor particularly prized by elves, windlings and some t'skrang as a part of their spiced fish. These berries act as an amazing preservative when juiced, or a delicious and filling meal when eaten.

Riash Root
A round, orange tuber popular in salads when it can be found fresh. However, when dried and suspended in alcohol, it increases the imbiber's sensitivity to magic and astral energies. There is considerable wariness regarding the use in this way.

20 May 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 22 - Traveled Scholar

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

Overview

The Traveled Scholar is the unquestioned, absolute master of the primary source. For those not invested in the academics, that means they go out into the field and do the research. They go to the Servos Jungle, spend years with the jungle t'skrang, learn their ways, try not to get eaten in the process, and then return to write a paper about it. There is nowhere that these adepts will not go to learn something new.

That is the essence of the Discipline: going somewhere new to learn something. Often there are other things to learn on the way, but every destination should be a discovery that will result in a paper to publish. Indeed, the publishing treadmill of academia began back in the Fourth Age. Without published papers, a Traveled Scholar will never get the attention of those above them to receive training and the praise they so richly deserve.

The society of these adepts is something of a viper's nest as well (not unlike contemporary universities). There are not enough funds and spots as there are applicants, which creates a complicated social dance. Your papers must be significant, particularly if you do not publish very often, but if you publish too often, it may very well be taken as the academic equivalent of spam. Not only that, but interactions are often laced with treachery, as your peers are constantly looking for advantage. It is quite likely that the cannibalistic jungle t'skrang are the least of your problems.

When playing a Traveled Scholar, it would likely be best to decide on a focus of your studies. Other areas can branch from there, or simply be hobbies, but one particular area will help guide your stories and communicate to others where your interests lie. Similarly, who are your rivals? These are other Traveled Scholars that you are ostensibly friends with, but constantly working against, just as they are working against you. Part of the appeal for this Discipline is the rich world back in the academic institution.

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. There are a number of ways that a Traveled Scholar can run into trouble, and often drag their Group with them. The first is their drive to learn things; they cannot pass up the opportunity to learn something new (this doesn't mean a trade, this is academic, not practical knowledge). Since they are compelled to seek this out, it can be a source of conflict with the rest of the Group as priorities align differently.

Similar to that, these adepts cannot always simply rely on secondary sources of information. If it didn't come from a primary source (someone that was there), then they must go see for themselves. Generally, this should only apply strongly to the focus of their research, but anything peripherally related could be relevant to this as well. Even the primary source research of their rivals may require an independent verification. For the sake of objectivity, of course.

The final way they can run afoul of these violations is by withholding information. The knowledge was gathered to be shared with everyone. That doesn't mean appropriate compensation cannot be requested (appropriate being important to the concept), but that outright refusal to share a piece of research means that you don't trust your work to external scrutiny, or, even worse, are trying to keep it from the world.

Specialists

There is a special of this Discipline, the Spy; they are primarily interested in learning secrets. Though as the modern day rogue hacker, they are less interested in learning them for the gain of an individual or group, but because information wants to be free. These adepts have Search as a First Circle Discipline Talent; Bribery, Item History and Silent Walk as an Initiate Talent Options; and Conversation and Navigation being removed from the Talent Option list. Also, Disarm Trap becomes a Journeyman Talent Option, while Arcane Mutterings becomes a Warden Talent Option.

The end result is a somewhat more "adventure ready" adept, though not significantly so. These specialists are likely going to be popular as a secondary Discipline, the loss of Navigation isn't a notable one, Item History works just as well as a Talent Option, and the later tier changes make the trap associated Talents workable if they are important. Search as a Discipline Talent is good and access to Silent Walk is always a bonus.

Talents

Initiate
Talent Options: Conversation, Etiquette, Evidence Analysis, Navigation, Search

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Item History, Karma Ritual, Read/Write Language, Research, Speak Language

Novice
Talent Options: Abate Curse, Astral Sight, Avoid Blow, Creature Analysis, Evaluate, Haggle, Lock Picking

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Book Memory, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Book Recall

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Lore Weaving]

Journeyman
Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Conceal Object, Detect Trap, Direction Sense, Graceful Exit, Resist Taunt, Spirit Talk, Steel Thought

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Applied Sciences

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lip Reading

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: True Sight

The Traveled Scholar is a curious Discipline, having the dubious distinction of being the only Discipline without any access to a Talent that will let them attack. That is one of the reasons that they have significant difficulties as the primary Discipline for any adept. Others include their rather narrow focus: they gather knowledge.

Not only do they gather knowledge, there are two unique elements to this Discipline in that regard. The first is that knowledge skills are Novice tier Talents for Traveled Scholars. This is a significant advantage for anyone that likes to heavily invest in knowledge. While knowledge in very useful, having that as the sole focus is problematic. Unless a campaign features that prominently, these adepts will find quite a bit of time they need to fill. With reading a book, most likely. The specific Discipline Talents are Item History, Research, Book Memory and Book Recall. Read/Write Languages and Speak Languages are useful Talents for this theme, but valuable in any campaign that has considerable travel, exploration or even intrigue themes.

The second is Applied Sciences. This is the Discipline Talent where the Traveled Scholar gets to put all of their accumulate knowledge to use. If they have any specific piece of knowledge that is relevant to the task at hand, Applied Sciences can be used to grant a bonus to that task to the Traveled Scholar and (potentially) the rest of their Group. To get the best use of it, however, these adepts will need Talent Options in support. This can be pretty powerful, particularly for an adept that may struggle to contribute in other ways, but the need for significant supporting Talents can potentially limit its usefulness in all circumstances. By far the biggest drawback to this Talent is that it takes until Fifth Circle to get it - which is a long time to (quite literally) stand by idly.

True Sight is appropriate, but uninteresting for a Discipline that is already lacking in "things to do"; it's a passive bonus, that while good, doesn't ever scream "must have". Lip Reading is a useful in any game that features investigation and intrigue, situations where the Traveled Scholar has more ways to contribute already.

Safe Path is an odd Talent - with the lack of Elemental Tongues and the questionable value it brings in the first place. While it may be used constantly, and fun can be had from misunderstandings stemming from miscommunication with an elemental using sign language, it's functional usefulness pulls back the curtain a little bit: if it was used and bypassed all of the danger, was there really any danger in the first place? Essentially, it is a little piece of game fiat that allows you to jump directly to your destination if appropriate - but would there have been encounters if you had failed? It is entirely dependent on the campaign, but it does raise some interesting meta questions.

Essentially, this Discipline suffers terribly if it is a primary Discipline. There is a considerable amount of game that these adepts and their companions may have to endure till Journeyman. Even then, Applied Sciences is hardly a powerhouse, despite its value. As a secondary (or later) Discipline, Traveled Scholars begin to shine and can compliment a variety of Disciplines. A Wizard would find their ability to gather information greatly expanded, while a Warrior would have an entirely new area of the game to contribute to.

As mentioned above, Talent Options are incredibly important to this Discipline. The Initiate tier has a number of good selections, depending on the campaign style:
  • Conversation - Games that have a stronger social angle, particularly centered in more urban settings, will likely find this Talent valuable.
  • Etiquette - The counter-point to Conversation, this tends to fill a similar role, though centered in more exploration style games.
  • Evidence Analysis - This is probably the most thematic and useful Talent Option at this tier, potentially being useful through Applied Sciences later on.
  • Navigation - Available through Half-Magic, and already the weakest entry at the tier. Pass.
  • Search - Always a fantastic Talent to have at your disposal, coming in right behind Evidence Analysis. You may want to come back for this later.
The Novice Talent Options  are varied in use an application, allowing these adepts to explore new areas, or pick up something from Initiate that they had to skip initially.
  • Abate Curse - This can be a powerful Talent to have at your disposal (if you don't already have an adept with it in the Group). Be aware, if you take this, you will almost certainly have the "honor" of handling anything that might be dangerous.
  • Astral Sight - The ability to gather additional information to use with Applied Sciences makes this very valuable. Keep in mind that most of the value of this Talent comes from remembering that you have it in the first place.
  • Avoid Blow - Normally, I'm very down on this Talent when it isn't a Discipline Talent. Technically, I'm still down on it, but Traveled Scholars really don't have anything else to save their bacon. You might want this, but hopefully you have another Discipline that gives you a better way to protect yourself.
  • Creature Analysis - Similar to Astral Sight, but possibly even more helpful to your Group earlier on. It will also give you something to do in combat against creatures. If you don't really fight creatures, then there isn't much use to this.
  • Evaluate - Potentially useful, but there are likely better Talent Options to explore.
  • Haggle - Similar to Evaluate, however if you have one of these, you should get the other as well.
  • Lock Picking - For this Discipline, I tend to think of this less in the "breaking-and-entering" sense, and more in the "I've found something old and locked" sense. Not to say it cannot be applied to the former, just that you won't find any Talents here to support that.
Similar to the Novice Talent Options, the Journeyman Talent Options have even more avenues to expand your character into, though not all of them are likely to be useful to every character:
  • Arcane Mutterings - It can provide some non-combat penalties, but in a way that could never be considered subtle. The best use I've ever gotten out of this is when gathering information or in conjunction with someone else using intimidation. Be warned, it costs Karma.
  • Conceal Object - If you are a less than totally honest researcher, this may be your thing. Since it doesn't (by default) have any combat application, the question becomes: do you have any reason to sneak something small into or out of someplace?
  • Detect Trap - There is bound to be another adept better at this than you, particularly since there isn't the ability to actually disarm them yet. If traps are a problem, you need a Thief to deal with them. If they aren't a problem, don't remind your GM that they exist.
  • Direction Sense - For whatever reason, this is one of those Talents that always seems to get the strangest use. It isn't cheap (Karma and 2 Strain), but it can be vital, or a shortcut, to resolving some problems. Definitely consider this if you don't already have it.
  • Graceful Exit - Probably the only Discipline that would get use from this Talent. Though by this point you will have some ways to contribute, but discretion may be the better part of valor once you have given some bonuses with Applied Sciences.
  • Resist Taunt - It's Avoid Blow for social attacks, and I still don't like it when you cannot spend Karma on it.
  • Spirit Talk - You can talk to spirits, but lack the ability of the Nethermancer to actually find them in the first place. It doesn't work with Safe Path and cost Karma. I cannot see much reason to take this over a different Talent Option (probably from a previous tier), but by this point you would have a good idea if this Talent will have value in your game. If it will, maybe you should consider picking up the Nethermancer Discipline?
  • Steel Thought - Pretty much the same as Resist Taunt above.
Equipment

With (effectively) no natural defenses, it hardly matters what weapons you have. For armor? As much as possible. Unless you have another Discipline, initiative is something for people with actions to take.

18 May 2013

Earthdawn: Part 24 - Tangled Threads - Dealing with Powerful NPCs in Game

This is the twenty-fourth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Powerful NPC allies are a problem in any setting. Their very presence can distort the game in various ways. Common threads when they appear are: why aren't they handling this problem? They may dispense with information, but why be coy? If they do help, why are the PCs even present? The easiest way to solve this is to simply remove them from the game - they don't exist, so the PCs are the movers and shakers in the raw power area.

In some settings, such as Earthdawn, this just isn't an option. Verisimilitude, and even the basic mechanics in Earthdawn's case, requires that the presence of more powerful NPCs in the world for a host of reasons. The most fundamental reason is training. For most of their careers, the PCs will receive their training from higher Circle adepts, meaning that there always needs to be someone bigger hanging out. Which is fine, but why aren't Master tier adepts hogging all of the glory?

This is the explanation that I have introduced to my current Earthdawn game. It draws on the metaphysical concepts already present in the setting, Karma, Patterns and Threads, and expands on them in new areas. When dealing with "big ideas" like this, it is generally my preference to build on elements that already exist within the setting/system. I feel it gives them significantly more authenticity, which is important when what you are really after is player buy-in. If you cannot get authenticity, always go for awesome, but that's for another day.

The essential idea is that as an adept grows more powerful, their connections to the world increase. They Weave Threads, their Legend grows, their Pattern infects objects important to them, and they bind it to items, people, places, concepts. As the adept gains more power, the greater the metaphysical "tangle" that surrounds them. It becomes impossible to track the full extent of their unintentional connections through their various associations. All of this is their Karma (their "deed" or "effect") and using their Karma sends tremors down those Threads, gently touching all of those connections.

When they are young and lower in Circle, there is nothing to worry about. Their Karma is little; the effect is minimal and doesn't spread beyond their grasp. As they grow more powerful, their deeds become significant, and the effects are similar. These emanate around them, touching other Patterns and Threads in ways the adept could never truly consider. Eventually, this Karma may rebound on itself, as the vibrations collide with other vibrations and cascade back to the adept. This is when the unintended consequences begin. When things start to go wrong, when the universe recoils on the adept, when their Karma is too great and they must begin to carefully consider their actions.

It starts in small ways, but will eventually envelope adepts that are not careful. Those that are reckless are lucky if it only affects them - few are so lucky. The practical result of this is that most high Circle adepts retire from the public eye. They remove themselves from the world, reluctant to return for fear of what their Karma may cause, what the tremors of their actions may result. Instead, they must select and train those to come after them. Advise, but never act. Even saying too much may have unintended consequences. For these reasons, they act carefully, always selective of what they do. To minimize their new connections, they may invest in a handful of promising adepts, but always cognizant of the danger their actions may hold to those young adepts.

Some powerful adepts refuse to believe this and fight against these forces. They have fought and never been defeated before, why should this be any different? It is because they are not fighting an enemy, but everything that they are. The harder they struggle, the tighter they are bound. These adepts serve as cautionary tales for others and also as a source of some excellent plots to run with: a powerful adept that always makes everything worse no matter how hard they try. And they can try very hard.

To illustrate this, I give you a Tale of Two Weaponsmiths. Grommit and Firefly were two of the finest Weaponsmiths of their respective generations. They changed the world through their deeds, crafted the arms and armor for their friends and companions, and strode across Barsaive as heroes and legends. Their works were second to none, but it was not long before each of them noted the tremors and the causality of their actions.

When Grommit crafted a fantastic set of armor for the king of Cara Fahd, it was hailed as a masterpiece. It truly was a thing of beauty. It inspired glory, passion, pride in the king's people. However, to other Namegivers it inspired jealousy, fear and rage. The king of Landis requested a similar honor to be bestowed upon him - this incensed Grommit. Who was this human to make such requests of him? Grommit could not have predicted the fallout from that much later, as both Cara Fahd and Landis fell to each other in battle.

He took note and chose to use all of his power to correct these mistakes. He intervened in the affairs of the world, using his influence and Talents, he trained promising adepts and Initiated countless youths, and produced more and mightier weapons and armor. All of his attempts to solve problems at best led to stalemates, often leading to open and brutal conflict as soon as he was no longer present - sometimes he would return in a rage at the actions in his absence, hardly making things better. The adepts he trained would often meet cruel fates, the world would seem to turn on them with bad luck, old foes of Grommit would seek them out to mete out a revenge that couldn't be delivered directly; those may be considered the "lucky" ones, some were much worse.

The Thread Items he crafted were the most insidious in the end, for their influence is still felt today. Grommit imbued them with all of the power he could, granting them an uncommon level of sentience. The lure of their power was seductive, but their long term effects were devastating. While all True Patterns have the power to subtly influence the world, which is why Thread Items are never truly lost, this influence was not subtle. They would twist events to their ends, bending those Woven to them. When their partners were broken, it wouldn't take long for another to find them. Part of this influence distorted any retelling or recording - words forgotten, recorded incorrectly, or happenstance would make the original passage impossible to read - the end result is the truth of these items was always forgotten, but their power and pedigree never were.

Firefly learned these lessons early and was troubled by the conclusions he came to. Once he felt that his time was done, he retired to a quiet life, carefully selecting and training those that would follow. His goal was to allow his Legend to wane; this would minimize the affect of his Karma and grant him an opportunity. Seeing that his companions did not recognize the danger as he did, he used their Group Pattern to siphon much of their Karma onto him (a frighteningly dangerous prospect, effectively turning himself into the black koi), it would give them more time to accomplish their goals.

Most importantly, however, he would have the chance for one final creation. Completing his Heartblade, it would be his final gift to his daughter. He deeply feared any connection to him would bind her to his Karma. So he watched her from afar as he could, as much as he dared. Even when he finally did meet her, he still could not tell her, despite how he wanted to. How he ached to tell her how proud he was of her; he wanted her life to be her own, not an echo of his failures. It was then that he completed his Heartblade, binding all of his power into his life's work, this final creation that was the culmination of everything that he was. It was his final sacrifice, knowing that were he to live beyond his masterpiece's birth, the ripples would be tidal waves. That was his Dying Legacy to his only child that never knew him.

That is the thesis that I have introduced into my current Earthdawn campaign and it works nicely with/was created for one of the themes of that game. Specifically, that each new generation of adepts must rise to fix the mistakes of those that came before them. Beyond that, it (or something that borrows and/or adapts the ideas) can serve well for a number of other campaigns and settings where powerful NPCs need to be present without overshadowing the PCs. If you have any thoughts or questions, leave a comment. I would love to hear them and see if this can be developed in any other ways.

15 May 2013

Kickstarter: Part 12 - Thoughts as Crowdfunding Continues to Evolve and New Projects!

This is the twelfth part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

Of the eight new crowdfunding projects here, four of them are new editions (Witch Hunter, Cartoon Action Hour, Exalted and OVA), one is an expansion to a current line (Transhuman for Eclipse Phase), and two are from authors using previous success (Golden Sky Stories and Myriad Song). Only Trigger Happy is new to the print field, and even then has been previously published. This is a veteran group and the success of the various projects shows it; they have all been funded.

This is a microcosm of the larger trend when established "artists" are using the crowdfunding model to bring their project directly to their customers and bypass the normal funding model. Some supporters are offended by what seems like co-opting the mechanism to discover and fund newcomers to the field; what was indie is now mainstream, in essence.

On the surface, this may seem to be true, but I think that it is missing the larger opportunity. When "big names" show up, they bring attention with them. They bring fans and they bring money. This opens up the playing field to supporters out there that may not have experienced the crowdfunding model previously. Getting involved early with a project that delivers, which veteran artists are more likely to do - let's face it, experience counts for a lot, means that they will have a net positive experience.

Colloquially, I've noted that backers that have a good first experience are more likely to continue supporting new projects. Even more than that, however, is once you have backed one project, you are significantly more likely to back additional projects. You've taken the risk once, you've gotten exposed to other projects and your awareness of the crowdfunding model is increased.

My thoughts on the matter are: Bringing in more big names, more people, more attention, is only a good thing. Maybe it will bring a greater sense of responsibility and accountability to the various projects. Crowdfunding is more successful with a bigger crowd. Sure, it isn't as indie or as cool anymore, but just because there is a juggernaut like Exalted 3E, doesn't mean that Golden Sky Stories or OVA (which despite having experience, really are indie publishers) cannot see amazing success, or new entries into the market cannot have modest success.

The more people paying attention, the more likely you will get noticed or there will be something amazing that never would have been available previously. It's a big tent, why not invite everyone in that wants to be there?

New Projects

Witch Hunter: The Invisible World 2nd Edition

Closes: 18 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

The new edition of a great game that never managed to get much press. The original was clearly inspired by the World of Darkness (in a good way) as a colonial era swashbuckling/horror game about fighting back the darkness. There is a lot to like about this game of action and adventure, mystery and intrigue, and investigating ancient ruins and musty tomes. The new edition promises more streamlined combat and magic systems. If this sounds like your thing, take a look. The pdf is $25 and color hardback at $40.

Trigger Happy: Role-Playing in a World that Hates You

Closes: 20 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

No need to lie, I love Feng Shui and pretty much any game that does a good job of handling cinematic action movies (though there aren't very many). This promises to fall neatly into that category. The mechanics seem to be simple and focused on moving the action forward, rather than worrying obsessively over resources (I like those games too, just not for this genre). Elements include Ins (ways you get in trouble), Outs (how you get yourself out of trouble), and Limit (which seems to put you constantly on the razor edge of success and failure). The pdf is $10 and softcover available for $30. 

Golden Sky Stories: Heartwarming Role-Playing

Closes: 21 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

Okay, so you play magical animals that have taken the form of humans. You get up to some mischief, but ultimately solve problems in a small, enchanted town with your creativity and friendship. It's the translation of a Japanese game and the art looks amazing. I have a niece that I plan on turning to the geek side. Could you imagine a better gateway? Perfect for any Studio Ghibli fan out there, the pdf is $10 and the softcover (with a dust jacket) is $25. Also, the success of this project was clearly unanticipated - the number of stretch goals blown through is impressive.

Transhuman: The Eclipse Phase Player's Guide

Closes: 22 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

The newest sourcebook for Eclipse Phase, probably the premier transhuman RPG out there. If you're not familiar with Eclipse Phase, it's a real gem and one of the best takes on what can be a rather unapproachable genre. It is a hard sci-fi game that examines what it means to be human in a world where traditional definitions of "human" just don't apply anymore. There are elements of horror, but primarily action and intrigue. If you like the game, you will probably want to get in on this, as there are some excellent stretch goals to be had. The pdf is a $10 and the full-color hardcover $50.

Myriad Song - Science Fiction Tabletop RPG of 10,000 Worlds

Closes: 25 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

Anthropomorphic space opera from the creators of Ironclaw, and using the same Cardinal system. The history of the setting is one of oppression under the thumb of the brutal Syndicate, who disappear one day without warning. Now, 100 years later, the various races have spread and factions have formed. Corporations, new empires, federations and even Syndicate loyalists all vie for power in this interesting premise. To be honest, I'm a sucker for fun space opera, and so far Sanguine has delivered the fun. The pdf is $20 and physical rewards start at $40. 

Cartoon Action Hour: Season 3

Closes: 02 JUN 2013
Funded: Yes!

Do you have a deep and abiding love (or at least fascination) with 80's cartoons that always had a toy line lurking behind the scenes waiting to be out of stock in the holidays? If yes, then you should look into this game. It's the 3rd edition of a perennial favorite for emulating that particular genre - BraveStarr, Centurions, C.O.P.S., Captain PowerDino-Riders, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Inhumanoids, JemM.A.S.K., She-Ra, SilverHawks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the cartoon, not the comic), ThunderCats, TigerSharks, Transformers, Voltron... okay, this could go on forever. CAH is designed from the ground up to emulate those cartoons, with all of their "logic" fully intact - if there is something of a slightly different color, then you will be touching it no matter the consequence! The pdf is $10 and the full-color softcover book is $25.

Deluxe Exalted 3rd Edition

Closes: 08 JUN 2013
Funded: Yes! (and how)

I don't know if any introduction needs to be done here. Exalted is a thing unto itself - there's nothing else quite like it, and there likely isn't any other fan base quite like it. It's an extremely high-powered fantasy game that takes cues from a number of different sources that can be emphasized, or entirely ignored. The setting is unique and poised right at the moment before everything breaks. In a switch form the average fantasy game, you start out as a force to be reckoned with in the world and only go up from there.

The newest edition has a host of changes and improvements over the previous incarnation - seriously, there are a lot - including two new Exalted types you can include in your game. The biggest story here is the level of support it has received. It was fully funded at $60,000 18 minutes after launch and all of the initial stretch goals funded under two hours. Currently sitting at $375,000 as I type this, there are still 23 days left. That is insane. Kicktraq, for all that it is to be trusted, projects this to end somewhere between $680K and $1M. Uh, what? This project also has the dubious distinction of providing the most expensive book (not produced in strictly limited quantities) that I've ever seen at $375. To be fair, it has a slab of real gold on the cover. Which is certainly a thing.

In all honesty, despite the amount of text I've spent on it, I'm not certain if there is anyone left that hasn't heard of this project.

OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game

Closes: 17 JUN 2013
Funded: Yes!

Open Versatile Anime is a cute, rules light (though with enough depth to sink your teeth into it) game designed to emulate various anime. As the name suggests, it's customizable and easy to learn and play. Similar to Big Eyes Small Mouth, OVA benefits some of the more recent developments in gaming (such as the rise of player created character traits to generate mechanical effects, rather than just attributes and lists of powers) to create a faster experience that feels more like the character, rather than their mechanical baggage, matters. It is worth mentioning that this game works for any genre, not just emulating stereotypical anime tropes - I've used it for some grim urban fantasy and space opera. Essentially, there is a lot to like in this game for a lot of different tastes; example player books can be found here and here. The pdf is $15 and the full-color softcover (with dust jacket) is $30.