11 April 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 49 - The Little Troll's Helm

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 39), The Little Troll's Helm is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 81). I have never used this item, though the early ranks were neat enough to inspire a number of other effects over the years.

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 Little Troll's Helm
Spell Defense: 19
Legend Point Cost: Warden

That's near the top of recommended Spell Defense's for the tier and the ranks come in at six, which is low.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Aggressive Attack combat option now gives +4 to close combat Attack and Damage tests and -2 to Physical and Spell Defense.

Let's be honest, this is too much for a Rank One ability. While it is keyed to a particular combat option, it's a good combat option and is giving effectively four bonuses. An increase in benefits or a reduction in penalties would be significantly more appropriate. Even then, that may be better suited for Rank Five or Six.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: No penalties when using Aggressive Attack.

So that's another four bonuses and now Aggressive Attack has no downside - 1 Strain isn't a downside. I'm also not a fan of getting rid of the penalties altogether. This is too much, too soon.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +3 ranks to Battle Shout.

Three more effects and also a very good talent.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +3 ranks to Great Leap.

Three more effects. This is pretty ridiculous and it's not going to let up anytime soon.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +3 ranks to Battle Bellow.

Another rank with three effects.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +3 ranks to Crushing Blow.

And finally, three more effects. This rank is funny because the 1E Sky Raider got Crushing Blow, but it was switched to Down Strike in 3E. So this is almost certainly an error of some kind in the development process.

How does it all stack up? Those are a lot of bonuses for not much investment. In the hands of a Sky Raider, this is a huge boost (except for the Crushing Blow thing). Just improving Aggressive Attack would be worth the investment if it was spread over a number of additional ranks. The big pile of bonuses to talents? That's just gravy.

This item is problematic because of how many bonuses it provides. Just the Aggressive Attack boost is going to mean +4 to Attack and Damage tests every round with no real downside. That is going to affect game play. It isn't likely to distort things terribly, but I wouldn't be surprised if other players were envious of all the bonuses provided.

For the purposes of inspiration, it's not bad. It has a strong theme around supporting Sky Raiders and the improvements to Aggressive Attack are appropriate and interesting. As far as the actual mechanical implementation of those themes, it's bad. Everything needs to be scaled back and spread out. Give bonuses to talents in the early ranks, save the improvement to Aggressive Attack for some later ranks.

Giving a bonus to a damage boosting talent is dangerous ground from a development perspective. If the character doesn't have the right talent, it's a waste. Sky Raiders won't actually get anything from the listed benefit, as they will be using Down Strike. If it is changed to Down Strike, then a Warrior will get a useless benefit at Rank Six. Tying an item to a discipline with themes is good, but rendering it less effective to anyone else is significantly less good. Particularly since this item hardly needs an additional damage boost with what it does for Aggressive Attack. A boost to Fireblood, for example, would be good for nearly anyone and make an excellent mid-rank effect.

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

The Little Troll's Helm (1E)
Spell Defense: 12
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

That's a big change. The Spell Defense has dropped significantly (into the Novice realm) and the tier is one lower. Still has six ranks.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Aggressive Attack combat option now gives +4 to close combat Attack and Damage tests and -2 to Physical and Spell Defense.

No changes here, which should be worrisome with the reduced costs.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: No penalties when using Aggressive Attack.

Again, no change between editions.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Bonus ranks to Battle Shout equal to the Thread Rank.

This is madness. Yes, the 3E version made it less powerful with only a +3 bonus.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +4 ranks to Great Leap.

Again, this is better than the 3E version.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Replaces the Battle Shout effect with Battle Bellow.

This gives the better talent a bigger bonus, but they are both worth having around.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +6 ranks to Crushing Blow. A Good or better success on Battle Bellow gives +3 to Crushing Blow.

Completely bonkers.

3E clearly reduced the power of this item and it should be obvious why this has never made it into a game at my table. Those are some huge bonuses across the board. There isn't much more to say - this is about as unsubtle as it gets with regard to bonuses far greater than are appropriate. 

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