18 April 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 51 - Nightscar

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 34), Nightscar is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 82). This item is one of my favorites and has appeared in some form or another in every game which also featured a Nethermancer. Regardless of the mechanics, some part of me just thinks Nightscar is awesome.

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.

Nightscar
Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: Master

The Spell Defense is pretty high. Inexplicably high, really. This item has a mere five ranks for the tier and was crafted, which is explicitly against the guidelines for anything Master tier (Legendary items only). Everything about this item is dripping with terrible cliches. Possibly why I like it so much. Nightscar was created by a Nethermancer Named Noir Darkwind and has a insane bound ally spirit Named Gloom. This is basically a metal song. Which might be why all of the variations over the years I've played with have taken all of the Names from metal bands and songs. It's tradition.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 8.

The standard effect for Rank One.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Communicate with the bound spirit and call on the spirit's powers on a successful Contest of Wills and paying all costs.

This is an interesting effect; potentially an incredibly powerful one depending on what your GM lets you get away with. The spirit is only Strength 4, which is pretty low for a Named spirit. The list of powers is pretty good. Regardless, this is more appropriate for Rank Five or Six, rather than 2. The Contest of Wills reigns it in quite a bit, but also makes this pretty obnoxious to use; more irritating than interesting.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 9.

A standard effect.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Cast the Ethereal Darkness spell for 2 Strain. The wielder is considered to be a Nethermancer for this spell.

I honestly don't know why this effect goes through the trouble of having a spell matrix with this spell in it if you just pay Strain to make it happen. The Spellcasting test is an unnecessary additional step and limits the use for non-spellcasting characters. There is actually little here which requires a magician - except for the Contest of Wills, but that is really it's own set of problems. Mechanically, this is a pretty good ability, though an actual combat character may very well prefer to attack over spending their action setting up a debuff (which will probably irritate their friends).

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 3 Strain, on the wielder's next successful Attack test, make a Spellcasting test against the target's Spell Defense. If successful, the target is frozen in place and cannot take any actions for a number of rounds equal to the wielder's Willpower step. Each round the target may make a Willpower (12) test to end this effect.

So this is really powerful. Really, really powerful. 3 Strain is definitely expensive, but worth it for a lockdown effect which won't be wasted on a failed Attack test. Probably too powerful for Rank Five, but it has been pretty expensive to get here in the first place without a whole lot to show for it. This brings up another Spellcasting test, however, which I do not care for. It unnecessarily limits the characters who can benefit from this weapon to a very small number. It makes the mechanics easy to write, but it isn't an elegant solution. 

How does it all stack up? This is a powerful-ish item, but one with a very limited target audience. Only a spellcasting close combat character is going to get use out of this. It doesn't actually support spellcasting at all and, outside of the Rank Five ability, is pretty terrible as a weapon. The damage is poor and the Rank Two ability is entirely dependent on how often the player wants to bother with a Contest of Wills. There is a lot going on here, but none of it particularly works together.

On the whole, it is unlikely this item will cause problems. It's expensive and while it has a powerful effect, high end opponents (such as Horrors) are unlikely to find it too troublesome due to their ability to succeed at the Willpower test. Still, even losing one round can be a big deal. It really doesn't bring much to the table, though anyone who does receive it may be irritated at the costs and requirements compared to what it does in the end. A straight magician isn't going to find much of anything worth their while here.

Despite all of that, I do like this item. While it doesn't have any mechanical themes, it has a lot of flavor and heart. It's neat and does some very different things, even if it doesn't do them very well. This is a pretty good item to go to for ideas, but isn't a good pick for a template of any kind. It is all over the place with regard to the guidelines.

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

Nightscar (1E)
Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

This is mostly the same, however it starts life as a Damage Step 6 weapon, which is notable.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 7.

Less than 3E, but very good for 1E.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Communicate with the bound spirit and call on the spirit's powers on a successful Contest of Wills and paying all costs.

The text here is considerably lengthier, which is ironic if you are familiar with the 3E stat blocks everywhere. They are the same, though 3E relies on the generic ally spirit template, rather than giving discrete stats.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Damage Step 8.

The same basic effect.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Cast the Ethereal Darkness spell for 3 Strain. The wielder is considered to be a Nethermancer for this spell.

The Strain cost went down in 3E, which is good - the spell isn't good enough. The duration here is also slightly different with Rank +1d10 rounds.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 3 Strain, on the wielder's next successful Attack test within Willpower step rounds, the target is frozen in place and cannot take any actions for 9 rounds. Each round the target may make a Willpower (12) test to end this effect.

This is even more powerful as it doesn't require a Spellcasting test. It also happens to make it actually useful for non-spellcasters, though it is probably too powerful. There is a duration on how long you have to score a hit and the duration of the freezing effect is now static.  

They are pretty similar, though the 1E version is more powerful (and useful to more characters) due to the reduced reliance on Spellcasting. Sure, Ethereal Darkness costs more, but it wasn't so great in the first place. The Rank Five ability is where it is at.