03 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 25 - Crystal Spell Box

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 133), the Crystal Spell Box is a Thread Item first introduced in the original Earthdawn book (pg. 274). While important in some of the setting material (the Great Library makes use of these), the few occasions they have appeared in games never tended to end with their extensive use.

There will be an analysis of how the 3E Thread Item stacks up to the proposed guidelines (pg. 46 of the Gamemaster's Companion) and what it looked like in its original release.

Crystal Spell Box
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

Nothing notable about the Spell Defense, though these do have Seven Ranks, which puts them beyond expectations.

Thread Rank One
Effect: The wielder may Reserve an action to capture a spell as it is being cast by succeeding at a contested Spellcasting test. The box can hold one spell can it can be released by making a Spellcasting test, no Threads need to be woven. Once released, the spell is gone.

This is what this Thread Item does. Which seems good, but there are a few issues behind actually using it. There is definitely value in shutting down an opponent's spell (preferably with some Threads involved) and throwing it back at them. The primary issue is figuring out when they are actually going to cast it. Without that, you are spending actions waiting for them, when you could be doing something active instead. Unconscious magicians have trouble casting spells. Follow that with your test is going to have a penalty (-2) because it is a Reserved action. That last part will get better, but setting this up to use in the first place has the opportunity cost of a Thread and Legend Points.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 bonus to Spellcasting when capturing or casting spells with the box.

A better than normal bonus, but to a specific task which is central to the item. In all, a good effect for this rank.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The box can now hold two spells.

Building more on the primary theme and opening more options on how to use the item.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +4 bonus to Spellcasting when capturing or casting spells with the box.

More of the same, but it continues to reinforce what the item is about.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The box can now hold three spells.

And it continues.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +6 bonus to Spellcasting when capturing or casting spells with the box.

And again.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: The box can now hold four spells.

Ending in the same pattern and under typical expectations for this rank (normally, two effects would be appropriate at Rank Seven).

How does it all stack up? It is good at what it does, but what it does is very specialized and not likely to be terribly useful. If you spend a considerable amount of time facing spellcasters as antagonists and have the ability to know when they will be making a Spellcasting test, this can be used to great effect. Those are a couple of big ifs, however. Also, you have to be a spellcaster in the first place to get any mileage out of this.

While it overcomes the initial penalties, the action itself isn't surefire. This particular Thread Item is laden with risk without commiserate reward. All of that can change the moment you get two spellcasters in your group and they are willing to have spells cast at them. Then things can get out of hand.

If you put this in your game, it's definitely not going to deform things. If you don't include some way for it to be of regular use, your players may become frustrated with it (worst case scenario) or simply use it to trade for something that the do want (best case scenario). Unless there is the two spellcaster thing happening. If you have that, you probably do not want to introduce this item. Spells that once took multiple turns to pull off will now take only a single action to cast if your players have time to prepare.

This is a decent item to look at for ideas. It supports the primary function with a focus that tends to be rare and is pretty restrained with the bonuses. While the function itself may not be what you are looking for, it does present some interesting (if repetitive) ideas. 

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

Crystal Spell Box (1E)
Spell Defense: 12
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

The only change is the Spell Defense, which was increased a reasonable amount between editions, and probably for the best considering the function of this item.

Thread Rank One
Effect: The wielder may Reserve an action to capture a spell as it is being cast by succeeding at a contested Spellcasting test. The box can hold one spell can it can be released by making a Spellcasting test, no Threads need to be woven. Once released, the spell is gone. Spellcasting +1 step.

This is very similar, except for the blanket bonus to Spellcasting. Which makes this a much better item to have just in case. It is powerful to have all of that at this rank, but since it is just a bonus instead of an actual Spellcasting Rank (with the associated benefits), it isn't so bad.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Spellcasting +2 steps.

The benefits between the editions even out here for the most part, except for the fact that the 1E version still gives the bonus to every Spellcasting test.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The box can now hold two spells.

Exactly the same.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Spellcasting +3 steps.

Very similar, except that 1E is giving a lower, but better bonus.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: The box can now hold three spells.

And it continues.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Spellcasting +4 steps and the box can hold four spells.

Here the editions part ways as the 1E version gives two bonuses.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Spellcasting +5 steps and the box can hold five spells.

Same as the previous rank and twice what 3E provides.

How do they stack up? The 1E version is flat out better and not a bad item to have simply for the generic Spellcasting bonus. While it ends up with a slightly lower specific bonus, it is significantly better because of the broad applicability. It can also hold one more spell, which is just gravy, though probably not absolutely vital. Unless there are two spellcasters hanging out, in which case another spell that can be cast with no Threads is pretty brutal.