13 May 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 58 - Armor of Elemental Water

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

Found in Nations of Barsaive II: Serpent River (pg. 110), Armor of Elemental Water is a Thread Item first introduced in The Serpent River (pg. 126). This particular item never showed up as written in a game, but the description of it is memorable. In a good way. The mechanics were a little problematic for me to introduce, but it was modified.

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.

Armor of Elemental Water
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Warden

The Spell Defense is as expected for the tier, though it is one rank shy of the full eight I would expect. Without a thread attached, the numbers are a little sad (PA: 4, MA: 0, IP: -2, Weight: 30), but this shouldn't be a big deal. Right?

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 5, Mystic Armor 1, and Initiative Penalty -1.

For 300 Legend Points and one rank, it is the equivalent of non-magical hide armor. Thread hide armor would be 6/2/-1. What I'm saying is: this is not good.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and if fully immersed in water, the wearer floats.

This is really two effects, but the first rank is bad enough it can have a pass. The wording on the second effect is troublesome, however. By a literal reading, and it is pretty specific, anyone wearing this armor would be bobbing up and down in the water; sinking to fully immersed, then floating until they are no longer fully immersed, then sinking, and repeat. Common sense can easily correct this, but so could thinking about the incredibly specific wording for one more moment.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Physical Armor 6 and Mystic Armor 2.

Another rank with two effects. The good news is this armor is now equivalent to thread hide armor of the same rank. Assuming the whole floating thing is an effect for its own rank.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Physical Armor 7 and Mystic Armor 3.

And two more effects.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Physical Armor 8 and the Result Level required for Armor-Defeating Hits increases by one.

So this is 2+ effects. The Armor-Defeating Hit thing is a very powerful effect. Seeing it this early with another effect and no other strings attached is somewhat problematic. Very problematic.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Mystic Armor 4 and +1 to Initiative. The wearer can communicate with the spirit in the armor. If treated well (?), it can Aid Summoner on the wearer once a week.

This is somewhere in the order of three effects. The Aid Summoner is a bit hard to sort out, due to the time limitation and requirement to treat it well (intelligent items never go well), but it is a very powerful ability.

Thread Rank Seven
Effect: Permanently gain +4 to Mystic Armor, +1 to Initiative, and access once per week to Aid Summoner.

Depending on who you are, this is either amazing or terrible. You destroy the armor and free the spirit, gaining some permanent bonuses in the process. However, the Legend Points invested are lost forever. High Circle characters will find this to potentially be a cheap way to gain some permanent buffs and then get into some custom armor. Lower Circle characters will certainly be loathe to give up all of the benefits for not much in exchange.

How does it all stack up? Once you get beyond the initial three ranks, this becomes very good armor. Too good, honestly. It looks at the guidelines, gives them the bird, and then does its own thing. Which bears no resemblance to those guidelines at all. For an appropriately powerful group, this represents a way to gain some permanent bonuses. Which is one of the reasons this has never seen a game with all of the mechanics intact. 

Unless other characters have access to items of similar (long-term) power, this is going to cause problems. The bonuses are very good, the Armor-Defeating Hit effect is quite potent, and Aid Summoner can make quite the difference. Some games may be balanced to deal with an item of this power, but the default assumptions presented in the Gamemaster's Companion (and then promptly ignored) will find this a little unbalancing. 

There isn't much mechanically interesting here. It is a bunch of pretty standard bonuses doled out in inadvisable ways. The spirit interactions are interesting and can often make items more fun (for the GM at least). Beyond that and the description, there isn't much to draw inspiration from on this item. Even the themes are pretty weak.

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

Armor of Elemental Water (1E)
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

The Spell Defense is lower in 1E and it has one less thread rank at six. It's worth noting going into this that the two items are actually pretty different, so I won't be doing as much of a direct comparison.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical Armor 6 and Initiative Penalty -2.

So, the 1E version manages to be worse out of the gate. Well, that's a thing.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and the wearer floats if immersed in water.

The same net effect, but this has three for the rank. What is notable is how the text for the floating ability doesn't create a terrible perpetual motion machine of drowning. Why was that one word added in 3E?

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Physical Armor 8 and and Extraordinary success is required for an Armor-Defeating Hit.

This is a lot of Physical Armor and 3+ effects in total. The incredibly powerful effect shows up a full two ranks earlier in 1E.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Physical Armor 9.

Just one effect; couldn't space those earlier bonuses out a little better?

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Mystic Armor 2.

Two effects here. What is interesting is Mystic Armor has shown up for the first time here. I would expect armor constructed entirely of a True Element and empowered by an elemental to have significantly more mystic mojo. Clearly, I was wrong.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +2 to Initiative.

This has the same clause as the 3E version, where you destroy the armor, but the bonuses you end up with are quite a bit better: 4 Physical Armor, 2 Mystic Armor, +2 Initiative, and the whole floating thing. It does cost 2 Permanent Damage, but it is worth it.

The balance on the 3E version is ever so slightly better because there is one more rank and the permanent benefits are less, even if it does have the Aid Summoner ability once per week. What is strange is this item was clearly redeveloped during the edition change. However, it really wasn't redeveloped enough. All of the same problems are still present, just spread out a little more.

It was a lost opportunity to bring this item in-line with the 3E guidelines. To be honest, it was yet another lost opportunity in a long and proud line of lost opportunities. As I write these every week, I often wonder why those guidelines were even written. If I were in charge, things would be different. Oh, wait...

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