25 March 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 44 - Spell Sword

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 135), Spell Sword is a Thread Item first introduced in Gamemastering Earthdawn (pg. 42). This particular item has made it into one of my games before. Just once. To find out exactly why, see below.

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.

Spell Sword
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: Warden

Everything is on the low side (six thread ranks) for the tier of Warden.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Contains a spell matrix of rank equal to the thread rank.

If this was just a thread item to assist in spellcasting, this would be fine. However, if it is expected to be useful as a weapon as well, this is pretty terribly for 3E. It is going to be playing catch-up in damage for every rank.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 6.

While this is a standard effect and appropriate, if the order of effects was switched, this would be a Damage Step 8 weapon and actually useful as a weapon.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Two spell matrices.

I do not care for thread items that have more than one spell matrix. That is what a Shared Matrix is actually designed to do. It also sets an unfortunate precedent with regard to spell matrix objects, which are already pretty sad.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 7.

Another damage increase that is uninspiring, particularly when compared to the number of matrices that have been piled on thus far.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +1 to Physical and Spell Defense.

Two effects, which shouldn't show up until Rank Seven.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 8 and three spell matrices.

By the end, it has reached what would normally be the starting damage and holds three spell matrices(!). That is quite the bargain for three extra spell matrices. This is two effects (probably more - a bonus spell matrix is generally better than a +1 to something, let alone three of them). 

How does it all stack up? If you are a magician, this is a good thread item to have access to. Even if you don't plan on whacking someone with it. The three bonus matrices allows for quite a bit of versatility. If you do plan on having a weapon to actually use, you will probably want a different one. This is... quite sad for that purpose. Really, really sad.

The sheer number of extra spell matrices that it provides can give a spellcaster more versatility than is really intended for a very low cost. It means they will have access to significantly more spells than normal. While none of them are enhanced (phew!), they will have significantly fewer difficult choices to make in that regard. It's unlikely to truly deform the game, but they are going to be able to steal the spotlight more frequently.

This is a pretty poor thread item to use as an example. It violates some guidelines, doesn't support its stated theme well, and worst of all is uninteresting. Cleaning it up into something more usable shouldn't be difficult. Switch Ranks One and Two. Then, instead of extra spell matrices, provide bonuses to the spell contained within the sword. At Rank Five, consider improving it to an Enhanced Matrix. This should encourage a core combat spell to be stored in the weapon and enable it to be effective as an actual weapon as well. 

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

Spell Sword (1E)
Spell Defense: 13
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

The Spell Defense and tier are both lower. Interestingly, the number of ranks is consistent with expectations for a Journeyman tier thread item, rather than a Warden.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 6 and Spell Matrix of rank equal to the thread rank. The wielder may cast the spell with their Perception Step if they don't have Spellcasting.

This is better than the 3E version, but a little too much. The last bit is interesting, but will require another character to attach a thread so that they can stick a spell in the matrix for the non-spellcasting character to use. That is an awful lot of work for something that probably isn't worth. Any likely why it was cut (also a very long stat block to explain all of this).

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 7 and +1 to Spell Defense

Another rank with two effects. Lower cost and more effects out of the gate compared to the 3E version.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Two spell matrices.

Here it is the same between editions.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 8.

Same effect, but 1E does more damage. Which is decidedly strange for these two editions.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +1 to Physical and +2 to Spell Defense.

Again, the same effects, but Spell Defense had already gotten the bump previously.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 10 and three spell matrices.

Similar, but with two increases to damage and that extra spell matrix. 

How do they stack up? The 1E version is more powerful in every way and less expensive. The one game this appeared in, it was simply two powerful. With good damage, bonuses and the spell matrices, it was just enough to make an already very effective character the star of the show in most scenarios.