09 April 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 48 - Dragon Mail

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 30), Dragon Mail is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 79). The first and perhaps only time I ever introduced this item was in a 1E game long ago as a gift from Mountainshadow. Also, perhaps a way of keeping the PCs under his thumb.

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.

Dragon Mail
Spell Defense: 21
Legend Point Cost: Master

Master tier means things get funny. While the Spell Defense is high, there are only nine ranks. Which likely means they will be significant and somewhat difficult to judge because of the costs associated. One thing of note is that this item was clearly crafted and Master tier is for Legendary items only (per 3E guidelines). For shame.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 11.

This is chain mail and that is the standard rank one effect.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Initiative Penalty -2 and +4 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

This is three effects - Initiative reduction and two +2 against a specific target (which is supposed to show up at Rank Five). So that's pretty good. A strange thing - why would a dragon craft armor specifically good against himself? That seems like it is inviting trouble. Which, reading the back story, is exactly what happened.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: The result level is required to inflicted an Armor Defeating Hit is one higher, and attacks from dragons cannot inflict Armor Defeating Hits. Also, the wearer is immune to the Venom dragon power.

That first ability? It's incredibly powerful. It's incredibly powerful when it shows up at Rank Seven. It's pretty insane to show up here. The rest is just icing on the "gonna go try and wreck a dragon one day" cake.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Initiative Penalty -1 and +6 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

Only two effects? That's a let down, particularly compared to Rank Two which had the exact same thing, only more.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Physical Armor 12 and Mystic Armor 2.

Three effects? Yes, that is what is going on here.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and +8 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

Two more effects we have seen before.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Store 10 Karma Points in the armor. +2 to all Defenses against attacks by dragons and drakes.

Karma storage is always a good thing and hard to put a price tag on, but it's probably more than one effect sitting there. Also, there are three more effects in the Defense bonuses. This happens to be the "gotcha!" rank, since the Deed requires the character to swear a Blood Oath to serve a great dragon.


Thread Rank Eight
Effect: The dragon may store Karma Points in the armor and if those are spent, use the dragon's Karma Step.

This particular effect is a strange one. It relies entirely on the good graces of the GM, who probably doesn't have a whole lot of impetus to make life easy on the wearer. It's worth noting a great dragon's Karma Step is 18. Which, last time I checked, was an awful lot to add to a roll. A whole lot more than the D6 which is normally handed out. This can make for a powerful incentive to do what the dragon wants.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Mystic Armor 4 and +3 to all Defenses against attacks by dragons and drakes.

While good (coming in at 3.5 effects), this is a let down for the final rank. There are earlier ranks which have bigger and more interesting effects. It also adds to the strange "very powerful against dragons" thing.

How does it all stack up? There is an awful lot to like here. Even removing the dragon specific effects, this is very powerful. Rank Three stands out as being exceptionally powerful. Really stands out. The dragon bonuses are strange, since most Earthdawn games seem to steer away from murdering the great dragons, as a change from its predecessor. There are still a lot of powerful effects, such as less Armor Defeating Hits. I hear that's pretty good.

While it can be difficult to judge the balance of an item at this tier, this item is clearly not balanced. It's not likely to severely impact the game, but it is awfully good. If the character does sign on with a great dragon, it can also serve to make that character the "main" character and the rest feel like the supporting cast. Some groups are okay with this, most probably will not be okay with that arrangement.


The themes on this are interesting, but strange as mentioned previously. Crafted by a dragon to fight dragons? I'm not certain what the intent behind that was other than to, perhaps, tell a predictable story. While it's not the end of the world, I wouldn't look to this item for inspiration and certainly not as a template.

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

Dragon Mail (1E)
Spell Defense: 17
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

The Spell Defense and tier are both lower. Clearly the adjustment to 3E was to move the costs up rather than bring the mechanics in line.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 8 and Initiative Penalty -2.

While this is different between the two, 3E introduced the "max forged" thing at rank one, which is a significant bonus to take advantage. This is two effects.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and +4 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

The same effect, but the Initiative Penalty is lower here because it got an early jump on it.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +6 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes and the result level is required to inflicted an Armor Defeating Hit is one higher, and attacks from dragons cannot inflict Armor Defeating Hits. Also, the wearer is immune to the Venom dragon power.

The same effects are around for the various ranks, just in different places. This rank is quite a bit more powerful than the 3E equivalent, and it really doesn't need anything else to be very, very good.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Physical Armor 9, Mystic Armor 2, and +8 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

Four effects. The Physical Armor is less (9 v. 11), but the Mystic Armor and bonus against dragons and drakes are better. Which, on the whole, makes this better.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Physical Armor 10, Mystic Armor 3, and +1 Initiative.

Three effects and the spread is closer between the two editions, one more Physical Armor in one, one more Mystic in the other. However, 1E introduces an Initiative bonus, which is very rare.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Mystic Armor 4, and +10 Mystic Armor against attacks made by dragons and drakes.

And the 1E version continues to inch ahead in effects. Currently, 3E is leading in Physical Armor, but losing in... everything else.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Store 10 Karma Points in the armor. +2 to all Defenses against attacks by dragons and drakes.

Everything here is the same.


Thread Rank Eight
Effect: The dragon may store Karma Points in the armor and if those are spent, use the dragon's Karma Step.

No differences here.

Thread Rank Nine
Effect: Mystic Armor 5 and +5 to all Defenses against attacks by dragons and drakes.

Similar, but 1E has better bonuses.

While 3E reduced the power and increased the costs, it didn't go far enough. Beyond the strange story, this would work best as a Warden tier item with eight ranks and appropriate effects.