04 March 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 38 - The Twilight Staff

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 42), The Twilight Staff is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 90). It is an interesting item that I used exactly once in a game. When introduced, there was considerable interest from the Nethermancer, though it didn't go over so well in the end. Let's see how it has fared between the editions.

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.

The Twilight Staff
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Warden

While the Spell Defense is appropriate for the tier, something seems off with only five thread ranks.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 9 and can give off light equal to bright moonlight at the wielder's command.

The standard benefit for a weapon (fully forged; Damage Step + Size) and a small bonus on top of it. I find that the ability to give off light is a neat additional effect for a given rank. It's neat and can often resolve a piece of bookkeeping that may become tedious for some groups to always keep track. This is particularly true for a weapon like a quarterstaff that under performs for its size.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 10 and +1 bonus to Damage tests against Horrors, Horror constructs and undead.

One normal bonus and a small extra bonus. Not a big deal for a quarterstaff (again, it does sub par damage out of the gate). What is already a concern is the fact that everything about this, from the history to design, suggests that it was designed for a magician. However, nothing so far benefits a magician. Well, a generous GM may consider the boost to Damage tests to include Effect tests.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: 2 Strain, make a Spellcasting test (default to Perception) against the target's Spell Defense. If successful, make their astral aura visible for 10 minutes.

There is a spell that does this and it is interesting, but certainly nothing worth sticking into a Thread Item. The requirements for this ability indicate spellcaster, but this is more likely to be useful to characters that don't have Astral Sight. However, analyzing the aura typically requires Astral Sight anyway, which would cost less Strain. I'm not actually sure what the point of this is.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: 2 Strain, cast the Blessed Light spell without any Strain. Default to Perception if the wielder doesn't have Spellcasting.

Blessed Light is a decent spell and this allows you to have access to it without sticking it into a matrix. It even gives the same effective casting time as putting it into an Enhanced Matrix. This is a good ability and the situational nature of the spell means that 2 Strain to always have it on tap isn't a bad thing to have around.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 4 Strain, make a Spellcasting test (default to Perception) against a Horror's Spell Defense. If successful, the Horror cannot move into astral space for 10 rounds. +3 bonus to Damage tests against Horrors, Horror constructs and undead.

Expensive, but likely worth it. Understand that after using this, the encounter may get real. The Horror is no longer going to play games with the puny mortals. It does represent one of the few ways to nail down a Horror, which is important. The bonus to damage is almost an afterthought.

How does it How does it all stack up? There are two good abilities in here and both significantly earlier than they should be showing up. Everything about this particular item indicates that it is for a magician, but the two ranks spent on damage bonuses are a waste for them. The Third Rank effect is going to depend entirely on what exactly the GM lets you do with it, because the text offers no real indications and 2 Strain to kinda use Astral Sight is a bad deal.

By the guidelines, Blessed Light should be a Rank Seven+ effect that costs 3 Strain and can be used up to three times a day, or once a day for no Strain (the latter would probably be the better of the two). The Rank Five ability would be a good fit for a Rank Eight effect. All of the effects prior to that can largely be ignored for most spellcasters (unless your GM allows the damage bonus to apply to Effect tests, then that is okay). In all, this isn't such great design.

Based on all of that, it is hard to predict how it will affect a game. Much of it depends on what the GM allows and doesn't, and how strong of a presence Horrors play in the campaign. If hunting Horrors is pretty common and they are notably elusive, this is going to change how that entire endeavor is undertaken. Even with the unfortunate early ranks. No one is likely to be jealous of the personal power this imparts - because it doesn't. It does bring new effectiveness to the entire group, which is good, but it would be nice if it benefited the character actually doing the investing a little more.

This is an interesting place to look for some inspiration. It has a good theme and a number of interesting effects, but it puts them together poorly. The background is neat, but it could really stand for some more thread ranks and effects that benefit a dedicated spellcaster, rather than someone who might cast a spell and might bonk a Horror on the noggin with a stick.

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

The Twilight Staff
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

Everything is the same, though it is notable how much sadder a quarterstaff is in 1E (STR+2).

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 4 and can give off light equal to bright moonlight at the wielder's command.

Mostly the same, but man is that damage anemic. It is the same as a short sword.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 5 and Damage Step 6 against Horrors, Horror constructs and undead.

This is pretty clear that the extra damage against Horrors and their get is only from beating them with the stick. Otherwise, the bonuses are the same.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: 2 Strain, make a Spellcasting test (default to Perception) against the target's Spell Defense. If successful, make their astral aura visible for 1 minute.

Except for an order of magnitude reduction on the duration, this is the same.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: 2 Strain, cast the Blessed Light spell without any Strain. Default to Perception if the wielder doesn't have Spellcasting.

Everything is the same.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 4 Strain, upon striking a Horror with the staff, make a Spellcasting test against a Horror's Spell Defense. If successful, the Horror cannot move into astral space for Spellcasting rank rounds. Damage Step 8 against Horrors, Horror constructs and undead.

There is one significant difference between the two editions and that is the 1E requirement to hit the Horror first. Assuming that means a successful Melee Weapons test against the Horror first, this just isn't going to happen. A smaller difference is the duration, which is Spellcasting rank rounds instead of 10 rounds and it doesn't allow a default to Perception.

Everything about the 3E version is better, most importantly the capstone ability actually being usable. It takes a very particular character to make that work, one that is both a caster and a melee character. While not common, it's not unheard of - however, the difficulty is the fact that this weapon has to actually be used as a weapon for that effect. And this is actively terrible as a melee weapon. Really, there is a neat item hiding in here, but the design around it is something of a mess.