12 December 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 18 - Elementalist Part 1, Spells

This is the eighteenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

Elementalists are possibly the best support spellcasters around. Outside of combat, they have a variety of effects, but are particularly strong when it comes to travel and healing. Their access to healing spells, inside and outside of combat, is unparalleled. Within combat, damage isn't their thing. All of their spells are physical, which tends to be the highest armor value. However, their ability to improve their allies is excellent and their area control and denial effects are numerous. Even their damaging spells tend to have secondary effects which benefit the rest of their group.

There are new features for Elementalists in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4), one of which includes spells which have different effects for each element, making it in effect five different similar spells. These spells can frequently all be available from the same spell matrix, which allows greater versatility when planning. The spells individually tend to be less powerful than their counterparts for the circle, but such is the price for flexibility. In truth, each discipline got some variation on this concept: illusions and their true counterparts can share a spell matrix for Illusionists and a summon and the binding counterpart do the same for Nethermancers. Wizards are the only discipline who lose out on this arrangement at a basic level, but true to nature they figure out some different ways to work around their comparative limitation.

As well, there is a new class of spell: binding. These are buff spells which provide a variety of different bonuses, but generally only one character may benefit at a time. They are powerful for their circle and can provide unique abilities, but there is often a cost associated with using them generally in the form of a required or proscribed action. While these are not unique to Elementalists, Nethermancers have them as well, each discipline has a unique flavor and mechanical feel to how they are implemented.

First Circle

Air Armor: This is one of the core spells every starting Elementalist should take. At 0 threads, it can be cast easily in combat; particularly with the ability to have Spellcasting rank additional targets with an extra thread. However, the ability to increase the duration to minutes with an extra thread makes this a spell which is probably going to see play for a very long time. The magnitude of the duration was decreased from minutes to rounds, but with the introduction of extra threads (which can return the duration to minutes), this doesn't result in an changes at low circles. Higher circles will see the effectiveness increase as extra threads can improve the armor bonus.

Crunch Climb: A boost to climbing is always welcome, particularly in low circle groups and those who don't have a character who can climb. Adding Spellcasting Rank additional targets with an extra thread means the entire group can easily benefit in a pinch. Beyond the effects from extra threads (which includes scaling), there were no changes to this spell.

Earth Darts: Another of the core spells every Elementalist should take and one which may very well see use throughout the adept's career. The damage isn't terribly impressive (a mere WIL+2), but the physical armor reducing effect should have nearly everyone excited. With extra threads which can increase the armor penalty and/or add additional targets and the duration of the penalty increasing with additional successes, this is a staple combat and support spell. Earth Darts was the spell from ED4 used to showcase changes to the magic system, and the spell I originally used to sell the new framework. It is particularly good for this task given how iconic it is and how equally terrible it was. Every spellcasting discipline from the Player's Guide needs a basic offensive spell with 0 threads at first circle - this was a basic requirement for redevelopment. This way spellcasters have something to do every round if they want, with the option to have a bigger effect for more time. Additionally, these spells should do something other than just damage - they should be interesting. Damage is largely the realm of combat disciplines, while spellcasters offer ways to shape and control the conflict. Towards these ends, the spell got a lot of work done between the editions: it lost a thread, lost some damage, gained an additional effect, and gained some range. Additionally, it has a lot of different ways it can be modified with extra threads. With the thread reduction naturally came a damage reduction. Though with the addition of the penalty to physical armor, it should have a net increase in the damage output for the group. This spell was also a test bed for the new framework which underpins the math for the vast majority of spells, which gives a more consistent range of power across circles and disciplines. There is also the potential to see other elemental darts in the future.

Flameweapon: This spell has always been neat (how cool is it to have a flaming weapon?), but the threads and potential Strain cost meant it could have seen more play. Now, it no longer damages the target and has 0 threads, and with the ability to add Spellcasting Rank additional targets with a single extra thread, it becomes significantly more attractive as a buff for your group. While I consider this to be one of the core spells for this circle, it is never going to be the first pick since it isn't likely to be cast every round and competes with other very attractive spells. There were a few key changes to this spell to improve how useful it is. The first was reducing the threads from 2 to 0. The benefit it granted was not worth the time to cast the spell as many conflicts will be nearing a close before anyone can really taste the extra ~4 damage. Next, the possible damage from rolling well was removed. It was far too punitive for a basic spell which doesn't offer much power, particularly since rolling well is supposed to be fun. The last addition of an extra thread to effectively allow it to be cast on your entire group gave more flexibility in its use based on the situation.

Heat Food: Without a doubt, the most important spell for this circle. Spells which improve healing are less common now and with extra threads this will remain one of the better healing abilities. The amount of healing granted from this spell was pulled back quite a bit from the higher circles; instead of Spellcasting rank, it now offers a static bonus. This was part of an overall push to rein in healing across the board; only two of the Player's Guide spellcasters still have healing spells at all. Extra threads still allow the healing provided to scale, but at a slower rate and one which benefits characters who are advancing as an Elementalist, rather than just picking up the spell.

Purify Earth and Purify Water: These two spells can share a spell matrix. However, since they are unlikely to be clutch to an action scene, this isn't going to be relevant terribly often. They are neat utility spells, particularly if you are traveling to horrible and dangerous places, like the Badlands. Beyond sharing a spell matrix, these spells were not changed. The reason for allowing a shared matrix is simple: if you want one, you want the other and it is almost silly to have them separate. Each is powerful enough on its own to warrant a different spell at first circle, but not to require the resources of two spells.

Resist Element: This is a collection of five different spells (one for each element) which can all live in the same spell matrix. Some are naturally going to be more useful than others (fire v. wood), but their relative inexpense can make them a useful part of your toolbox at higher circles. These spells started as just Resist Cold and Resist Fire, but there is no reason to not extend them to the other elements as well. Given how specific they are in application, it only makes sense to allow them to share a single spell matrix.

Shelter: I would never classify this as a core spell, but the ability to create temporary shelter should not be overlooked. Particularly if the shelter can eventually take the form of a tree house. This is a new spell which started its life with the humble notation: "new wood spell here". There was an effort to have elemental diversity and ensure there was a good selection of utility spells. Originally, this spell had extra threads for "Awesome Tree Fortiness", but they were cut since it was hard to convey what exactly this meant or give any good guidelines on what each thread would provide.

Snuff: It puts out fires, which can be amazingly handy. On the other hand, it may never come up, unless you set a lot of things on fire. While the function of this spell remains the same, it saw some significant revisions. Specifically, it was moved from third to first circle and lose two threads. Given the basic nature of the spell (it puts out fires), it was silly to have it at a higher circle. Also, the number of threads was curiously high given the function and the time frame in which it would be useful. Assuming it isn't in a spell matrix, it would be an additional turn to reattune the spell on the fly on top of the two threads. Which is a lot for a spell which snuffs fires.

Waterproof: Similar to Snuff, but the odds are much higher you will need to waterproof a container at some point. This spell should probably be in every Elementalists' toolkit. It may be surprising to note this spell is new to ED4 given the basic functionality. There isn't anything in particular more to say.

Second Circle

Air Mattress: Another healing spell, which is always good. This one doesn't heal as much as Heat Food, but it does reduce the amount of time required for a full rest each night. Two basic changes to this spell reduced the required time from eight to six hours of sleep and they no longer have to be uninterrupted. The latter change was to allow for watches and use of the spell at the same time. One of the thread effects reduces the amount of time necessary for a full night sleep, which was introduced to help differentiate this spell from Heat Food, a more powerful and lower circle healing spell. The reduction in time required was to allow some access to one of the potential benefits of the spell, but if utilized to reduce resting time to a minimum there is still a cost.

Fingers of Wind: One of the better utility spells available and something every Elementalist should consider for their toolkit. The range on this spell was reduced as default, but can be increased with extra threads (20 yards as a default is pretty far for the effect). Establishing the effect portion of the spell was simplified by removing the test in favor of a flat step and eliminating allocating attributes; they all go to dexterity and there is a default weight. All of this speeds things up in play and removes the need to consult the attribute table. Additional lifting capacity can be accessed through extra threads, which makes everything tidy in play.

Icy Surface: A good and early area denial/control effect. The effect step is on the low side (WIL), which means this is going to be most useful against large numbers of lower-powered foes. Though with 0 threads and an effect step which improves on additional successes, there is considerable upside. This spell saw the duration and area affected reduced quite a bit; the former from minutes to rounds and the latter from 100-square-yards to 60-square-yards. These changes were made because they were fairly obscene and put many higher circle area control and denial spells to shame. However, the Effect step now increases with additional successes, which increases it's ability to control the area, and the area can be expanded with extra threads.

Mantle of the Woodland Hunter: This spell is pretty amazing if you are hunting something in the woods, with bonuses to find the quarry and movement. With 0 threads and a low reattuning difficulty, it can even be cast in a pinch. However, only use this when serious about the hunt itself as the downside (getting distracted from the hunt) triggers a penalty for the rest of the day. Originally the plan was to have five Mantle spells, one for each element. However given the lack of wood spells and the excess of earth spells, a second wood Mantle was developed. The original form of this spell was rather different, allowing movement through trees and some other different functions. These were ultimately cut and the direction moved to the current form as the mechanics weren't coming together quite right - too many different effects and with varying degrees of power. There is a good chance the parts cut from the original version may see the light of day once more, though the precise form is as of yet unknown.

Shield Willow: If there are characters using shields in your group, they will almost certainly appreciate this bonus to their Physical and Mystic Defense. The default duration is in minutes, which makes it easy to maintain. Given the changes to how shields function in ED4, this spell was effectively rebuilt. Bonuses were changed from armor to defense values. They were also increased and the number of threads decreased as this fits within the new framework. Finally, the increase to Shatter Threshold was eliminated since it seemed not every game used those rules. Better to provide bonuses which will actually provide universal benefits.

Slow Weapon: A 0 thread penalty to damage. The downside is they must have a weapon. If you know you are facing adepts, particularly if you don't actually want to kill them, this spell may be worth considering. There was a significant conceptual change for this spell which actually echoed through many of the Elementalist effects: removing specific references to metal equipment (generally punitive) in favor of general effects which don't require special adjudication. Towards that end, this spell lost references to metal and is now an air spell - changing the density of the air around the weapon to reduce it's damage. This spell also saw a reduction in threads (from one to zero) and an increase in effect (from -3 to -4), which means it should be much more useful in combat..

Third Circle

Ice Mace and Chain: In previous editions, this was the combat spell for Elementalists. While it is still pretty much the same spell, the damage has been reduced (WIL+2) to bring it in line with the rest of the spells. You still either do good damage, or inflict Harried. This is in competition with Earth Darts for the best basic combat spell. To be honest, Ice Mace and Chain lost quite a bit of power from the previous editions. Which is a good thing, because it was significantly more powerful than any other combat spell. It was important to keep it at 0 threads, which means the damage was reduced from WIL+5 to WIL+2. The range increased and it retained the Harried effect (with the possibility to increase the duration with additional successes). These changes bring it in line with other combat spells, rather than leaving them far behind.

Lightning Bolt: 1 thread for WIL+6 is good, but an additional target for each additional success makes this a killer spell for groups of enemies. This spell truly comes into its own with an Enhanced Matrix. It also got something of a boost in ED4 - the damage was slightly increased and the range doubled. However, it lost the ability to ignore metal armor (see Slow Weapon for details), but gained additional targets on additional successes. This makes it a considerably more interesting spell in the end.

Mantle of the Reflecting Pool: This is a strange spell, but an excellent way to interrogate a target without them ever realizing what happened. The spell works best if there is a character with Conversation in your group. One of the five new Mantle spells, this one was designated as a "utility" spell. While Elementalists are not social characters, they are excellent support characters. These two played into the form of this spell and increased the utility of Conversation, which can often fall behind the more time efficient First Impression. We wanted to include more ways to gather information, but methods which are different and interesting. Evidence Analysis is hard to beat for physical information, but there aren't many good ways to get information from someone. This does so without them truly realizing it and takes advantage of the real phenomenon of mirroring to build a rapport. 

Plant Feast: This classic spell hasn't been really changed, just updated. It is something every Elementalist should have for what it can do to resource management. The only notable change to this spell is the significant reduction in Effect step, though the practical result of this is minimal given the typical size of adventuring group and how it can be increased through additional successes and extra threads. The reason for the reduction is to try and keep it from getting so quickly out of hand, particularly once Willforce gets into the picture.

Thrive: Similar to Plant Feast, Thrive still has the same effect and is worth picking up at some point for the community relations. The only change to the base spell is in applying limits to how frequently it can be used. It has been used to ridiculous ends in the past and this only serves to curb the worst of them. Particularly with the introduction of additional successes and extra threads.

Winds of Deflection: 0 threads for a bonus to Avoid Blow and the ability to use it against Surprise and Blindside attacks. The downside is it is going to take a combat action to bring this online. If you are frequently the target of physical attacks, this may very well be the first spell you cast in a fight. Like so many other spells which replaced talents, this now enhances it instead. The number of threads was reduced due to this change (from one to zero) and it also provides the ability to be used against Blindside and Surprise attacks, since a wall of wind doesn't much care. This also serves to differentiate it from other, similar effects which other spellcasting disciplines possess.

Fourth Circle

Air Blast: An area effect control spell for 0 threads with a good effect step. This doesn't have the area denial effects of Icy Surface (only one round and doesn't impede movement), but is going to affect much more powerful opponents. The odds are you will only need one of these spells at a time, but both are good depending on the circumstances. While the basic function of this spell remains the same (knocking people down), the details have changed quite a bit. Gone is the effect arc and increasing width of targets, replaced with a broad line of effect. In part because it was a somewhat absurdly large area and also because it was difficult for some to visualize without a battle map. The Effect step has also been reduced from WIL+9 to WIL+5. However, this was done to reduce the number of threads from one to zero, as these kinds of control effects are always best if they don't require a round to prepare. The Effect step also increases with additional successes. In all, the goal was to make the spell a useful tool which is significantly more accessible when needed.

Blizzard Sphere: Like Icy Surface, this is an area control and denial spell, but it has teeth. It has a range, area, damage, duration, and reduces movement. Which is to be expected from a spell with 2 threads. While not likely to be an everyday spell, it is excellent at what it does. There were three notable changes to the basic effect of this spell. The first is a reduction in the Effect step, from WIL+8 to WIL+2. Second, adding a reduction in movement speed. The third eliminates the limit on the number of targets. Overall, the goal was to move this from a damage spell which would be dropped on some people to an area control and denial spell. Movement reduction and removing the limit were important for this function, while the reduction in effect was due to it being quite powerful.

Elemental Spear: This is really five different spells which can be stored in one spell matrix. Each has a slightly different effect (action test penalties, knockdown, additional damage, healing, or Harried) and is individually a little under powered for the 1 thread. However, together they make up for it with a great deal of versatility in the available effects. This spell basically has nothing in common with the original other than name and circle. It's better this way. The new version is a test bed for offering a single spell with a variety of different effects, all in one spell matrix.The results were overwhelmingly positive, so these kinds of spells are likely to show up more in the future.

Grove Renewal: Regeneration where either the target or the spellcaster can foot the bill for the Recovery Test. Not a lot, but definitely enough to keep an ally in the black while they go through Strain. A new wood spell - it seemed strange (perhaps deliberate) to not have a wood spell which offers healing. Pretty much all other kinds of healing are available, so this is a different kind of healing likely to appeal to combat characters who go through a lot of strain. The balance here was getting the amount of healing right - a good amount per turn over a decent period while not being superior to a single, larger healing effect. Each serve different purposes and are worth having around. The reduction outside of combat is to prevent it from outshining other healing abilities. Allowing for the caster to pay the Recovery Test cost gives a little more versatility in resource management. It isn't unheard of for spellcasters to have an excess of Recovery Tests if their allies are doing a good job of keeping opposition off of them. This allows them to give something back and help shoulder some of the burden.

Lightning Step: A bonus to initiative, movement rate, and Physical Defense with 0 threads. Characters who rely on speed and mobility are going to want this spell cast on them. The downside is it can only be cast during combat. However, it does combine well with the fifth circle Elementalist karma ability since it does not allow for additional targets with extra threads. By far, the most significant change to this spell is the reduction in threads, from 3 (!) to 0. This means a spell based around making you go fast will now actually have an impact of combat, since it will go offer before it is over. Beyond this, the direct initiative replacement is now a bonus. The Movement Rate bonus is actually reduced since the notation has changed, but it was kept at a +2 so everything would have a consistent bonus. The goal for this spell was to make it usable in combat while still providing the same basic effects.

Uneven Ground: Another area control spell; this one is centered on the caster and has a large area (10-yard radius). For 2 threads, this harries targets and reduces movement rate, which is good, but the biggest benefit is your allies can be removed from the effect for an extra thread. 3 threads is a lot, but there are some significant advantages to using this spell against particularly rough encounters. The only change to the basic function of this spell was increasing the threads by one, which is due to the enormous area of effect. As mentioned earlier, the ability to remove your allies for an additional thread makes this a very powerful spell when it comes to control and mobility.

Fifth Circle

Earth Staff: Duration in minutes and all successful Elemetalism spells get an additional success. This goes exceptionally well with Lightning Bolt and is simply good all around. It should definitely be a consideration for every Elementalist for the broad benefits it provides. Earth Staff in ED4 may as well be a brand new spell. The points it shares in common with the previous version are pretty much superfluous, but the description was too fun to discard entirely. An expensive spell to summon a melee weapon exclusive to a spellcaster was bad. Development on this spell focused around making something useful to an Elementalist, something they would want to have around and be unique. Depending on the popularity of this spell, there may be additional developments along these lines.

Fireball: For 1 thread, you can cast the classic area effect damage spell. It has decent area (4-yard radius), range (30 yards), and damage (WIL+4), but the big bonuses are action penalties to affected targets and the ability to remove your allies from the blast. For an extra thread, you will never have to endure jibes about the spellcaster being more dangerous than their foes. The biggest changes here are the Effect step reduction from WIL+8 and the inclusion of the Blindness effect. These were done to bring the spell in line with the new standards and to make it a little more interesting, since Elementalist spells are rarely about just doing damage. With additional successes yielding extra damage, it still has a lot of damage potential.

Heat Armor: 2 threads means this takes a while to setup. However, ignoring armor and inflicting damage every round means this is a way to make long fights excruciating for one lucky target. Or more, if you weave extra threads. In general, this works best against physically very powerful targets who rely on heavy armor. This probably will not make the cut for normal use, but be key when preparing for specific encounters. Again, the metal note here was removed so it is effective against any kind of armor. With the significant increase in available targets and to bring it inline with the new standards, the Effect step was reduced. However, it still increases with additional successes.  

Nutritious Earth: If you have Thrive, you may very well want this as well. It is a more intense version of the lower circle spell, having a greater effect, but also requiring blood magic. Beyond effects for additional successes and threads, this spell is unchanged.

Ride the Lightning: A short range teleport for any one target, as long as the target is the spellcaster. If you need to reach a target you can see within a few miles, I would say accept no substitute, except it is a long time before there are any other options for any discipline. There are some downsides - it is increasing difficult to cast multiple times and failing to cast the spell results in a nasty shock. Odds are good this will be useful. Here is the actual new fifth circle spell. The development on this spell stemmed from: I wanted a spell with this name and I wanted it to be metal. There is something satisfying about teleporting in and immediately taking a full round of actions (assuming three successes). 

Shattering Stone: An alternate option to Fireball - a little less range and damage (WIL+5), but it causes knockdown instead of an action penalty. This is going to be more useful for crowd control and has some ugly synergy with other area control and denial spells. Two changes were made to this spell: a slight decrease in damage (was WIL+6) and includes a knockdown effect. This was done to give the spell a non-damaging control effect, making it more interesting, and have it potentially play with many of the other area control effects through the knockdown effect.

Sixth Circle

Drastic Temperature: No control effects, this is pure area denial. A small area (2-yard radius) with a duration in minutes and damage which armor does not protect against. The 3 threads and warm up/cool down time means this is best used when part of a coherent plan and not something to deploy in the middle of a fight. This spell had its Effect step slightly reduced and gained an extra thread. The latter is somewhat irrelevant given the time it takes to come into effect (30 seconds) and the duration in minutes, and the former as a slight adjustment to bring it in line with other effects. Given the duration, it pays to use all of the extra threads to increase the Effect step and area, making it significantly more powerful in the end.

Fireweave: If Winds of Deflection aren't quite convincing enough for opponents to stay away from you, consider this as an "upgrade". It takes a more direct route by damaging anyone who engages in close combat with the target. This does require 1 thread, so keeping it in an enhanced matrix is advised. There were a number of adjustments made to this spell. The first is it no longer affects people (and things, really) who are simply nearish you, but actively attacking you. This means a lot less collateral damage and staying away from your allies. The duration was also reduced from minutes to rounds, since it isn't quite appropriate to always have this effect present. However, the threads was also reduced to one, which is important since it now must be case in combat, and the Effect step got a slight boost. These all reflect the shift of this spell being cast in combat, rather than outside of combat, and making it more effective at what it does.

Mantle of the Fire Marauder: If you have a Sky Raider in your group, they will love this spell. The practical effects are Flameweapon and Fireweave, the former with a much higher step, and an improvement to their aggressive attack when combined with a Sky Raider's Overwhelming Force. Other adepts who are incredibly aggressive may also like this spell. One of the five new Mantle spells, this was one of the first new spells for ED4 (and selected for a preview). The effects of this spell are simple and straight forward, playing well to an Elementalist's strengths: buffing their allies. Having the effect based on circle instead of willpower served a few purposes. The first is it grants an easy progression in power appropriate to the opposition. Second, since it is not tied to willpower, it doesn't suffer from a spike in effectiveness due to Willforce. This is fine for damaging effects, not so good for buff effects. A side benefit is the spell is something of an Elementalist exclusive. Early in development there were some effects around setting the surroundings on fire, but these were cut due to ambiguity from playtest. The ultimate feeling was a GM should be allowed to destroy or protect their scenery as they see fit. Also, the penalty wording got a little more convoluted as players tried to work their way around being a fiery ball of death when it was no longer convenient.

Metal Wings: It is flight for the entire group with wings made of metal. I can see no reason why any Elementalist wouldn't have this spell. The changes to this spell are largely to make it fit better within the framework and require additional threads to keep pace with windling's natural flight.

Stone Rain: Area control and denial with respectable damage (WIL+5). This reduces movement and causes knockdown. It is also great when combined with other such spells to create a harrowing gauntlet for only the toughest opponents to earn the right to engage your allies in close combat. This spell received some notable boosts in the form of increasing the Effect step and adding two control effects: reduction in Movement Rate and knockdown. The previous version was quite weak for the number of threads and instead of reducing them to make it more accessible, this spell just created some powerful effects in an concentrated area which sets it apart from the other area control effects.

Tossing Earth: This spell basically creates temporary (hours) landmines. You will know if this spell is right for you. The only change here is the reduction in area, from a 20-yard radius to a 10-yard radius, which is due to the previous area being enormous. With additional castings and the duration, it shouldn't be much of a problem for a dedicated spellcaster. This simply brings it in line with the standards.

Seventh Circle

Cloud Summon: On the whole, this spell doesn't do much on its own. It is, however, the best way to reliably use some other, much more powerful spells. If you want Death Rain or Mantle of the Lightning Vanguard, this spell will make them more accessible. While the Effect was reduced, this is entirely negated by increasing the Effect step through successes and extra threads. This was done primarily because addition with even numbers is a little easier for players who have trouble with math.

Death Rain: The largest area denial spell currently available, this is perfect for hordes of low-powered enemies. It even comes with protection for all of your allies built into the spell. While the gist of the spell is the same, it saw quite a few changes. All of the changes were aimed at bringing it into the new format: the number of threads was increased, area reduced, Effect step increased, and damage changed to Physical. The last of these, changing the damage type, was because this is now the damage type Elementalists inflict and resisting acid rain with your force of will is just strange.

Earth Surfing: High speed transportation for your entire group. The lengthy base duration (2 hours) makes this a good way to travel overland in style. A number of smallish changes here for various reasons. The number of threads was reduced to make this a little more viable for escaping if necessary. Movement Rate was reduced since it can easily be increased with extra threads, though it was kept above Metal Wings to provide some benefit for this mode of transportation over flight. All of the rules regarding staying on and collisions were removed because they complicated something which didn't particularly need it: overland travel. For relevant action sequences, GMs should be able to do whatever seems like fun on the fly.

Mantle of the Blood Elf: Odds are you are either going to like this spell, or want nothing to do with it. The target ignores Wound Penalties and can create new area control and denial each round, but they take a Wound and it costs Strain. It is the most versatile spell in its category because of how it can adapt each round, but it has some costs associated with it. Number four of the five new Mantle spells. Elementalists clearly have a lot of area denial spells (it is one of their things), but they tend to require advance planning and don't adapt well to the fluid nature of combat. This spell started its life as a way to solve this problem without being overpowered. After this, it took on some additional flavor to make it useful in other situations and be rather memorable.

Thunderclap: When being overrun by enemies, this is an excellent debuff. For 2 threads, this brings a large action penalty to a large area around the caster. In most circumstances, it will be worth it to spend karma on Thread Weaving to help get it off the ground faster and use an extra thread to remove allies from the effect. The number of threads on this spell was reduced from three to two and the area increased from a 2-yard radius to a 6-yard radius. These changes make the spell much more useful - at 3 threads it was simply too long to pull off, particularly since it only affected adjacent targets. Now it has a larger range and can be cast much more quickly - it also benefits from increasing the area and removing your allies. Due to these improvements, it required a slight reduction in the actual penalties provided, but it should be a spell which may see use.

Whirlwind: An area damage spell with a duration which causes harried, can be moved, and (for an extra thread) doesn't affect your allies. The spell does require 2 threads and the damage is on the low side (WIL+2), but this is a very versatile spell for the mass harried effect alone. It does significantly less damage now, it was WIL+9, but the inclusion of the Harried effect makes it a more interesting spell and fitting for the role Elementalists fill.

Eighth Circle

Crushing Hand of Earth: This spell basically locks a character down and damages them every turn. If they don't have a high strength in the first place (opposing spellcasters?), it is unlikely they break free before the duration runs out. For 2 threads, this is an excellent lockdown effect. The Effect step reduced from WIL+6 to WIL+2 to fit in the new standards. However, it can still be improved through additional successes.

Earth Wall: Are you interested in creating near instantaneous fortifications? If yes, take this spell. The duration (hours) means grimoire casting this spell with an Earth Staff is a good way to make these last as long as needed with maintenance. The stat block for this spell was removed and replaced with all of the information you need for a wall. Also, the rules for toppling them were taken out since it just serves to cheapen the spell and create a bunch of extraneous tests. Really, what kind of terrible wall raised directly from the earth is this if it can be pushed over?

Ironskin: A solid buff spell which improves the target's Physical Armor, Wound Threshold, and resistance to knockdown. The duration can also be extended into minutes, which extends its use. There is also an ugly way to use this offensively against opponents who are swimming. If successful, they will be transmuted into a rapidly dwindling trail of bubbles. Not truly a new spell, thought it did not appear in third edition. This was brought back to give Elementalists another good buff spell, particularly one which plays to their own theme of being very tough. For particularly dedicated groups, there is also something about having everyone receive this spell along with Metal Wings to send a statement.

Mantle of the Lightning Vanguard: Gives the target the ability to fly and improves their initiative, and allows them to take all of their friends with them. This is a versatile travel spell, particularly when the terrain doesn't allow for Earth Surfing. It should also make an impression if you arrive at a destination under its effects. The final of the new Mantle spells. I wanted this spell to be big and impressive - a way for a group to travel quickly and in style. Initially, there were other effects as well, such as tossing lightning bolts. However, it was too much and it was cut back to the current state.

Venomous Fury: For 1 thread, the +3 to close combat damage is low, but the primary effect is a serious poison which causes paralysis. This gives each ally who is affected (you're spending a karma to affect more than one ally, right?) a nice control effect which is usable with each attack. The duration is probably enough to last for the entire combat, but a paralyzed opponent has a lot more possibilities than one who is simply dead. This new spell started its life as Combat Fury, which was split up into five different spells with much clearer elemental themes. The original name more clearly indicated its origin as plant-based poison, but it wasn't a very good name. No, you don't get to know what it was - it really wasn't a good name. The other four varieties will likely complete their development at sometime in the future and be let out into the wild. Tying the effect partially to circle serves largely the same purposes as it does for Mantle of the Fire Marauder, particularly with regard to providing a smooth progression for improvement of the effect.

Vital Springs: An area effect heal spell which only affects your allies. For 1 thread, it doesn't provide any default bonuses (those come from additional successes and threads), but it does allow you to heal all of your allies and you can spend your own Recovery Tests for those who are in particularly dire straits. Another new spell for this circle, which is a lot, this is the healing spell. While healing in Earthdawn is somewhat rare (and easy access has been curtailed quite a bit), this spell was introduced to allow a group the chance to turn a fight around, providing everyone the chance to heal and get back on their feet. With the ability for the caster to donate Recovery Tests, it is a boon to combatants who have already burned through their reserves and are running on empty.

09 December 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 17 - Messenger

This is the seventeenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

I have previously put together a list of disciplines from Earthdawn Third Edition (ED3) which have not been updated to Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) and the current discipline which is the best fit. The best approximation is Scout given the shared theme of travel in many different settings. This isn't a perfect fit and a better adaptation can be made.

There are other reasons why I initially suggested an alternate discipline instead of simply noting nothing quite works. This is because of how Messenger fits into the overall scheme of disciplines. There are parts which are neat and it can create an evocative character: the intrepid courier who travels Barsaive and will deliver the message at any cost. The inherent problem is with how specific this is and should this truly be a discipline?

Would this concept be better served as an organization of many different disciplines who follow a vocation? It is similar to my thoughts on the Liberator and their place within the setting; what does a Messenger do when they aren't delivering messages and how does this fit in with a "typical" adventuring group? Nonetheless, there is enough specific interest in an updated version of the Messenger and I am certainly not going to tell anyone they cannot use a discipline because of my mixed feelings. Which brings us to this first draft.

Developing the Messenger for ED4 started with their focus: delivering the message. This primarily involves travel, followed by interaction with their clients, and then overcoming any obstacles in their way and the associated elemental theme is air. This gives a discipline which needs to be adaptable to different surroundings and situations. A difficult task, given the number of different talents which can be required.

When putting together the initial talent list and revising it, making easy cuts, then difficult cuts, one thing came out: while the ED3 version had them be rather resolute, this doesn't quite fit anything other than an obsidiman. Specifically, Temper Self (now Temper Flesh) and Wound Balance just didn't fit. This isn't a discipline which can afford to stand and fight - they need to be gone before the conflict can get to the point where those talents are valuable. Defensive abilities figure prominently, but only enough to avoid the threat and escape.

To enhance their adaptability, they get more social talents and more talents for various modes of travel, in addition to amazing access to movement talents. One of my goals was to give them more and better access to proactive abilities, though they are still very reactive. Which is simply to be expected given the nature of the discipline.


First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Awareness
  • Danger Sense
  • Message Weaving
  • Wilderness Survival

  • Durability 5
  • Navigation
  • Karma: Once per turn on an Action test to overcome a direct obstacle to delivering a message.
Second Circle
  • Direction Arrow
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Third Circle
  • Sprint
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Conceal Object
  • Defense: +1 Social Defense
Talent Options
  1. Acrobatic Defense
  2. Anticipate Blow
  3. Climbing
  4. First Impression
  5. Great Leap
  6. Haggle
  7. Melee Weapons
  8. Speak Language
  9. Stealthy Stride
  10. Throwing Weapons

Fifth Circle
  • Etiquette
  • Encrypt: 1 Strain, the adept can make a piece of text incomprehensible to anyone reading it. Only the adept may reverse this effect by reusing this ability.
  • Karma: The adept may spend a karma point to resist any external influences which would prevent the delivery of or compromise the integrity of the message. This may take the form of either a karma die to a test, or +4 to Mystic or Social Defense as appropriate.
Sixth Circle
  • Steel Thought
  • Defense: +2 Physical Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Safe Path
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative
Eighth Circle
  • Resist Taunt
  • Defense: +3 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  1. Air Sailing
  2. Air Speaking
  3. Book Memory
  4. Dead Fall
  5. Disguise Self
  6. Gliding Stride
  7. Read and Write Language
  8. Spirit Mount
  9. Surprise Strike
  10. Tiger Spring
This is a first draft without any external review and no playtesting at all. There is almost certainly still some tinkering required, particularly with the first and fifth circle karma abilities. While the Journeyman ability is thematic, I don't know how useful it will be in regular play.

05 December 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 33 - Postcards from the Edge

This is the thirty-third Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Note: Adventure Log 032 was never returned to the Great Library of Throal.

The Badlands are, as the Name suggests, a terrible place to visit. A blasted and desolate plain whose very pattern resists all attempts at healing. Easy to describe as lifeless, but my preferences run towards sparsely populating it with twisted versions of Barsaivian wildlife which has either been lovingly crafted by Horrors during the Scourge or adapted to the place - aided by the pattern itself.

It is a place of forgotten kaers because of the terrible destruction wrought there. Given the inhospitable nature, this is a good location to send adepts looking for people, places, things which have been lost. Not many others frequent the Badlands if they can avoid it. This also makes it the perfect location to hide things which you don't want anyone else to find.

Adventure Log – 033 Postcards from the Edge

Written By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 02 Sollus – 16 Sollus, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Warrior
Ting the Swordmaster

We have decided to leave Bartertown and adventure to the Badlands(1).

Greetings from Ardanyan! Wish you were here. Our trip here was uneventful because of the Skull Whargs'(2) protection team. For a mere ten silver, you too can travel to Ardanyan without incident. Last time we were here, the tourism industry was better. Perhaps on our return trip we will spend more time here, but for now we are on a tight schedule.

Greetings from Lake Ban! The water is clear, the weather is perfect, and the t'skrang are doing back flips everywhere. The community around the liferock is bustling with trade. The obsidiman liferock is peaceful with the obsidimen creating intricate geometric designs in colored sand. Quite the vacation spot. As part of our vacation, we are learning some t'skrang history of the famous Jynis Y'mns and her adventures. We set up a band near the liferock and spend the afternoon at the local fair, enjoying local cuisine along with music and dancing. A good time is had by all.

Greetings from Servalen! The glowing lake welcomes us near the Servos Jungle. These t'skrang are less joyful than the previous t'skrang we partied with. We didn't stay long, off to our next scenic spot.

Greetings from Travar! City of Merchants, we are not souvenir shopping today. We need to get supplies for our trip into the Badlands. This city glitters with possibilities. Preparing for the next leg of our journey has us purchasing mules and additional provisions. We are also gathering information on the lost city from Ting's friend Rasp(3), who is also vacationing in the Badlands. We leave in the morning to head our looking for the mirage city(4).

Visit the Badlands! The Badlands tourism board seems to be lacking. The tours are non-existant, must be self-guided. Bongani is mapping the area. Perhaps we will be able to resurrect the Badlands tourism industry(5).

There are unique creatures to see in the Badlands. We saw some desert espagra. Not terribly sociable creatures, but I'm sure that we will be able to tame these creatures. We were able to make progress taming the exotic creates of this land. Soon, tourists will be able to enjoy the sights.(6)

*     *     *
(1) Spoiler alert: they didn't all die because this was returned to the Library. Still, I have a feeling there are a lot of logs which never come back that started with this sentence.
(2) This band of scorchers have taken over Ardanyan and are now providing "protection" for anyone traveling in the area. While it is a bad situation, it could be much worse.
(3) This poster boy for poor decisions has been showing up a lot lately. There is something I am missing to these patterns.
(4) What does this mean? This entire log is surreal - is this a euphemism or what they are actually doing in the Badlands?
(5) The stains on the original log are from my beverage, which may have been sprayed everywhere after reading this, but Evidence Analysis hasn't provided any useful leads.
(6) Received and edited by Ela Pono

This is the setup to a much larger plot, with many other plots hanging off of it. Which means I'm not going to be quite as forthcoming as usual given this series of plots is still taking place.

On the whole, the adventure was placid in pacing, with long breaks at Lake Ban and Travar. This worked for the general tone, setting up a juxtaposition of a vacation (which was clearly toyed with) and knowingly heading into one of the most dangerous areas in Barsaive. 

02 December 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 31 - Night Horrors

This is the thirty-first Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The life of an adept is not an easy one, particularly when you are embroiled in local politics and the threats from other Namegivers, in addition to the gnawing threats at the very fabric of the world. There are many hard decisions which need to be made. At times, the hardest decisions are those to bury the truth and make deals with the proverbial devil at the cost of your own soul for the betterment of those around you. Sometimes those decisions come back to haunt you.

Adventure Log – 031 Night Horrors

Written By: Bongani Kreskas

Date: 01 Raquas –  06 Raquas, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

Bartertown has been terribly damaged, but the people are rebuilding. Maguk(1) has taken command of the city, but he is poorly suited for the role(2). Mismatched Steel spends a couple of weeks recovering, but we must continue on our way soon.

The white shadows continue to harm the people. I feel compelled to help. Children are killing their parents, then themselves(3). We require money for research and equipment, but we must travel to do so. Elmod and Honeysuckle go to Throal to sell some of our true elements. Ting and I try to track down the Horror in Bartertown.

The children murder their parents in their sleep. The victims all have an astral sigil carved into their foreheads. I was able to look away, but only barely. I go to Throal to give the information to Elmod. White shadows are from a family called despairthoughts.

We track the corruption to the poor section, where a concerned ork couple frets over their child. We have to break in, but are able to convince the father to trust us. He mentions Fazuul(4), a doctor in the city. I examine the child, but it appears to be a preventative measure.

Elmod looks into the astral plane and sees a white shadow. It attacks him. We leave the house with Elmod guarding the child, and the rest of us seek out the "good" doctor.

We come upon him in the midst of packing, and encourage him to stay and discuss the situation with us. He opens his mouth and screams. We put an end to his Horror-marked life. Maguk and Omasu(5) arrive and we are exonerated of any wrongdoing. He recommends that we meet with Fastoon(6) to craft a good lie.

We read his journal and learn that Fazuul visited the village that Mismatched Steel burned last year ("Shepherd," I'm told)(7). He notes a location in the final pages that might be the resting place of the Horror.

We take the body to Fastoon, who is happy to exchange favors for favors. Fastoon suggests we employ steel weapons against the Horror. He also provides a discreet way out of town and we head South.

We find the burned out husk of Shepherd. Using the journal we find the spot the doctor spoke of. It is a tainted place. We search the area and find a crevice. It is the source of corruption, and it whispers to us in subtle voices.

All is lost.

My friends have betrayed me.

I must kill them before they kill me.

I will not be a slave again.

We see the crawling pink beast before us, then leap to attack.

We are victorious.

Ting and Honeysuckle are grievously wounded, but Elmod's magic saves the day(8). We return to Bartertown as heroes.(9)

*     *     *
(1) Interim leader of Bartertown and Warrior adept in charge of the local mercenary/police force. He is a long time associate of this group. See entry cataloged under: Adventuring Groups: Miscellaneous: Mismatched Steel - 004 for the first entry.
(2) We don't even need our sources to know things are going to boil over again if he isn't replaced. This situation needs to be watched; whoever replaces him will have an agenda.
(3) This is not the first we have heard of this; see entry cataloged under: Adventuring Groups: Miscellaneous: Mismatched Steel - 029.
(4) Fazuul Chemyrl (non-adept) is an alchemist and physician has been a fixture of the community for quite some time, frequently donating time and resources to those who cannot afford his services. He often travels to the nearby mountains for rare plants with alchemical and medicinal properties.
(5) It's good to see Omasu is still around, but surprising. He is probably the only thing keeping things from going horribly. Once he leaves...
(6) Fastoon Julari Makanth Phunkot of Iopos is a known Nethermancer (possibly other disciplines, but unconfirmed) has a long history with this group and deep connections to the Denairastas family. The more I learn about this guy, the more I do not like the fact he is just outside. For additional information regarding his background and activities compiled from all sources, he has his own file in the Amber Threats.
(7) This was an unpleasant affair for everyone, including the Eye of Throal. See Adventuring Groups: Miscellaneous: Mismatched Steel - 005.
(8) It is distressing just how close to Throal this was operating. Fazuul was active within the kingdom during the period he was likely marked. He was likely operating where there was minimal chances for detection - the poor orks, which makes my gahad burn.
(9) Received and edited by Ela Pono

There was a considerable break (months) in real time since the last session. Instead of keeping it light to get everyone back, this was a rather dark session. In some ways, it felt like coming back for the new season. A threat which had been foreshadowed for quite a while finally had to be dealt with on the backdrop of a city putting itself back together. It was also raining the entire time.

The fallout from the closure to the previous arc was present everywhere in Bartertown, for better or worse. While the clash between the two factions was over, there was still a huge mess left behind. In particular, there was no good leadership in place. The person thrust into the role is, quite simply, bad at it and doesn't want the job. In the end, it is always those who have the least who suffer the most.

Everything about this was quite nasty and grim. From the families who were simply terrified and putting their trust in the wrong person, to the deals which had to be made to protect the little hope they had left, to the conflict with the Horror when it was found. A trip back through Shepherd dredged up some ugly memories as they recalled what exactly happened in that place and had to explain it to the new characters (and a new player). The story itself was an attempt at a noir-influenced investigation, Earthdawn-style. Which makes the despairthought the femme fatale?

28 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Part 3 - Spellcasting

This is an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

If all of the Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) sub-systems were to have some yearbook style votes for their class, spellcasting would be voted most changed. It isn't complete different from where it started by any means - the basics are still the same. However, spellcasting and spells have received the most thorough redevelopment.

The degree of changes made run the spectrum. For example, Read and Write Magic was exchanged for Patterncraft to better embrace the various functions the talent has had previously. This also gives a chance to hang new functions on it in the future. The use of a grimoire has been updated: when casting from your own attuned grimoire, you gain an extra success. A minor benefit for use outside of combat; the goal was to give more life to an item which is supposed to be central to a character, but was seemed to be ignored unless a new spell was being added. Also, each success on a Thread Weaving test weaves a thread for a spell.

A more significant overhaul is how illusions function. They have been divided into two categories: figments and true illusions (which are simply referred to as illusions). The distinction is (hopefully simple): a true illusion contains a powerful compulsion to behave in a particular fashion, while a figment is a trick on the senses. Interacting with a figment will immediately reveal the truth, while interacting with an illusion is considerably more difficult since its very function convinces you it is real. The primary mode to detect an illusion is through a sensing test, which is essentially any interaction with the illusion through which you may learn the truth. The greater the evidence something is wrong, the less hold the illusion has over you. Which means if all of your friends have seen through the illusion, the need to lasso you to haul you out of an imaginary box should be significantly reduced.

Illusions use for combat turn their compulsion into a psychic assault on the target, though only if the target attempts to resist the effects, buying into the illusion. If you disbelieve the illusion, it simply washes over you. However, if you disbelieve a spell which isn't an illusion, it can get ugly. There isn't a roll for disbelief, just a simple choice if you think it the fireball coming at you may be an illusion.

The biggest overhaul has been spells themselves. Every spell included in ED4, at least ten first circle spells and five for each other circle, was redeveloped. Each spellcasting discipline also received a number of new spells. Thread weaving difficulties (circle + 4) and reattuning-on-the-fly difficulties (circle + 9) were standardized, spells now have effects for extra successes, and extra threads for each spell were included.

Extra threads represent a dynamic shift in how spellcasting works. A spellcaster can weave a number of additional threads based on their circle in the appropriate discipline. For example, a first circle Elementalist can weave one extra thread, while a fifth circle Elementalist can weave two extra threads. This allows a spellcasters to devote more time to a spell's pattern in exchange for tailoring the spell to their needs. Outside of an action sequence, when they have all of the time they need, this means spells can be effectively maximized and will scale up as circle increases. In combat, a 0 thread low circle spell can still have life by being placed in an enhanced matrix and pre-weaving an extra thread for a specific function each time it is cast. For example, Earth Darts could be placed in an enhanced matrix for an additional target, improve damage, improve the range, improve its armor reduction effect, or increase the duration of its armor reduction effect.

The number of combat spells which require numerous threads was also scaled back considerably. This is particularly true for low circle spells; higher circle spells tend to have more multi-thread spells, though this is reflected in their significantly larger effects. As every spellcaster knows, it is hard to justify big spells all of the time when the circumstances may be completely different by the time they are actually cast. Essentially, low circle spells now fill the general "bread and butter" style spells which should remain useful throughout an adept's career, rather than continually being cast aside for something bigger and better.

During the redevelopment, particular care was given to ensure spells reflected the core themes of each discipline. Each of the disciplines has particular things which they are good at, and those which they may not be able to do at all. For example, all Elementalist spells are elemental and physical in nature, Illusionist spells have a strong deception streak, but also outright break the rules, Nethermancer spells commonly traffic in fear and spirits, featuring numerous debuffs, and Wizard spells reflect their versatility and mastery of pure magic.

Future essays on each discipline and their spell list will discuss what they do well.