29 April 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 54 - The Sword of Fentheri

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 40), The Sword of Fentheri is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 87). This is basically a lightsaber and I don't want to live in a world where that isn't cool. That being said, it's a lightsaber in the form of a lobster which is... well, I don't think I've ever used looking exactly like that.

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 Sword of Fentheri
Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: Master

The opening info is unique on this item - one thread, Spell Defense 23, and Master tier. This is all unusual, particularly with only six thread ranks. It is also worth noting every single thread rank has a Key Knowledge or Deed associated with it.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +2 to Recovery and Toughness-only tests. If the sword is stolen from the wielder, the lobster claws will pinch the culprit and not let go, inflicting Damage Step equal to the Thread Rank; no armor protects (unless they are wearing metal gauntlets).

The theft-reduction strategy is interesting and fitting as an add-on for highest tier item like this. The actual bonus is very good - four full effects at Rank One. Effects an elf (which the item was originally gifted) would appreciate, given their Toughness related issues.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: 2 Strain, project a Damage Step 8 broadsword of water from the lobster for up to one hour.

This is just neat, though I always felt it would be better as the Rank One effect. I know the Key Knowledge is how to operate it, but from a game play perspective, this could be a lot of lag between getting the weapon and being able to use it. The Strain is rather steep for a neat, rather than powerful, effect. I'm not entirely convinced this needs a Strain cost.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 to Physical Defense and Sprint.

That's another four effects. Physical Defense is always good. Sprint is situational, but there is likely going to be a situation where moving faster will be helpful. Besides Rank Two, this way above par.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 9, +2 to Mystic Armor, +2 to Willpower tests against spells and Horror abilities.

That's five effects; I'm counting the +2 to a specific circumstance as a single effect each. The whole being a sword thing is pretty incidental for this item.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 2 Strain, one Result Level less is required for an Armor-Defeating Hit on their next Attack test.

This is a very powerful ability, one which should be used every chance. However, this item is at something of a strange place. As a weapon, it's not so good. This ability is amazing, but the damage is rather terrible. The bonuses provided have little to do with being a weapon. 

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 10 and gains the Speed Ship questor power as if the wielder were a Rank 6 questor of Floranuus.

After six ranks, this does Damage Step 10 and has a grab bag of incredibly powerful other abilities. It's hard to figure out what to say here.  

How does it all stack up? There is no doubt this is an incredibly powerful weapon. None. At all. Well, maybe not weapon. Item. It's not actually terribly good as a weapon. Sure, Armor-Defeating Hits are awesome, but the costs set up to become pretty high. 2 Strain to activate the sword, 2 Strain for each attack, this is expensive. On top of that, the damage is low and the bonuses are all over the place. Beyond increasing damage, there isn't a repeated effect. While I certainly enjoy items with some diversity, I enjoy items more which have an actual theme.This is a big sack of random bonuses which happens to be a weapon. The weapon functions could be removed entirely and the bonuses divided better - it would be significantly less memorable (which is a thing), but the functionality would largely be the same.

Honestly, this isn't likely to have a big impact on game balance. There is no real synergy and none of the effects are game changers. It is certainly way above where it should be on the power scale, but nothing is particularly a standout. The ability to inflict more frequent Armor-Defeating Hits may be problematic, particularly if combined with Spot/Show Armor Flaw, but this is it and it is still expensive - Strain costs are paid prior to the Attack test. The Speed Ship power could be considered a huge boost, but in practice events will still happen at the speed of plot and that is about the end of it.

The premise of this item is neat. The history is fun. The lobster thing is weird. However, it fails to deliver. The mechanics follow designs only understood in R'lyeh, mostly hanging out at way too much, but occasionally dipping into, "really?". This has the potential and space to make a great template for a powerful item with some interesting abilities, but they aren't even thematic to Floranuus. It starts out with Toughness and anti-theft measures. After that, arguments could be made, but it is all over the place. I really want to like this, very badly, but it is a mess.

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

The Sword of Fentheri (1E)
Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

Everything is the same here.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +2 to Recovery and Toughness-only tests. If the sword is stolen from the wielder, the lobster claws will pinch the culprit and not let go, inflicting Damage Step equal to the Thread Rank+3; no armor protects (unless they are wearing metal gauntlets).

The anti-theft system is more powerful: damage increased and the test to remove it (which I haven't listed because it's boring) is more difficult. I'm not certain if those were considered balance issues (I hope not), or too complicated (far more likely) to justify the change. The 3E version is more simple in this regard, which is a net positive - the word count on this effect is actually pretty staggering.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: 2 Strain, project a Damage Step 3 sword of water from the lobster for up to one hour.

There are two things I dislike about this rank (and feel 3E vastly improved). The first is in the description it notes you cannot even tell this is a sword until you hit this rank. This is has bait-and-switch written all over it and may require some not-so-subtle GM nudging to prevent the player from making a horrible mistake. Which might be treating this like a weapon, because this is the second item. The damage is terrible and makes you wonder if it can even be Forged. I couldn't honestly give an answer to the question. It would need it, but it's a sad weapon.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +3 to Physical Defense and increased movement.

The bonuses in 1E are higher. I didn't list the actual speed increases because the two editions are pretty divergent in this regard.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +2 to Mystic Armor, +Thread Rank to Willpower tests against spells and Horror abilities.

No damage increase and a huge bonus against spells and Horror abilities.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: 3 Strain, Armor-Defeating Hits on Good success.

The cost is higher, but the timing is non-specific. Meaning it could be interpreted that you spend the Strain once, and it's good to go forever. Probably not what was intended, but it isn't a stretch at all. It would actually be the technically correct reading.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Gains the Speed Ship questor power at a Rank equal to the Thread Rank.

No damage increase and the power is open ended. They are technically the same, unless a player adds more ranks to the item. I cannot bring myself to call this a weapon. This also costs 3 Permanent Damage.

As long as you don't think this is a weapon (it's not really), this is significantly more powerful than the 3E version across the board. Beyond damage, it is at least as good, but more likely to be better. The damage is just sad. While it isn't everything, for a weapon it is certainly something. The mechanics in this version are also rather poor, Rank 5 being notable. Without a doubt, 3E improved on this item, but it still needed more beyond what was done.