16 May 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 59 - Dagger of Ishkarat

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

Found in Nations of Barsaive II: Serpent River (pg. 110), Dagger of Ishkarat is a Thread Item first introduced in The Serpent River (pg. 127). One of these has never shown up in a game over the years for the fairly simple reason I've never had a t'skrang from that particular aropagoi.

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.

Dagger of Ishkarat
Spell Defense: 12
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

The Spell Defense is on the low side, but the thread ranks is spot on with six. I never particularly cared for the idea that every member of House Ishkarat got one of these upon entry. Instead, I used them as a cue on NPCs for a particularly dangerous character.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 3.

While it is the standard effect, it is rather uninteresting on a dagger.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +1 Rank to Avoid Blow.

This is much more like it and good for something which isn't going to be a primary weapon. Particularly if the GM allows the bonus if it is just worn, and not held as a weapon.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +1 Rank to Riposte.

Another good effect which is also appropriate. This one isn't as universally useful as a bonus to Avoid Blow, but Swordmasters are certainly going to appreciate it a great deal.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +1 to Physical Defense.

A good effect which is within guidelines and fits the defensive theme of the item.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Damage Step 4, and Retributive Strike. 1 Strain, add Willpower Step to all Damage tests made for the dagger against an opponent who has caused harm to House Ishkarat, and may spend 1 Karma on the Damage test if no other ability allows the use of Karma.

Well, there are two effects here and it isn't Rank Seven. Retributive Strike is very powerful. However, since it must be performed with the dagger, which is a sad weapon, it's not too bad. The damage is probably going to come out around Step 10, which may not be better than the adept's normal weapon. In all, this ability ends up being underwhelming at this point.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: 1 Strain, Retributive Strike may be used against any enemy of House Ishkarat. Retributive Strikes are automatically Armor-Defeating Hits. Additionally, up to 3 Karma may be spent on the Damage test. However, the dagger shatters after the first Damage test.

There is quite a bit going on here. First, the expansion on who Retributive Strike can be used on is a bit strange. Specifically, I'm uncertain where lies the distinction between someone who has caused harm and is just an enemy. Next, the attack is extremely powerful. However, it can only be done once and this is quite the investment to simply throw away. There is a strange follow-up to the ability about killing someone in a single hit, taking their weapon, and an Ishkaratan Weaponsmith making a "remarkable threaded weapon". It indicates this has never been done before, so an interesting place to hide a plot hook with no guidance?

How does it all stack up? It's decent enough looking for three of the six ranks, then it starts to go a little sideways. This item would never be classified as being powerful, it actually may struggle to be considered good. It has some interesting flavor, particularly building on the reputation of House Ishkarat, but it suffers from being wrapped up in a weapon which isn't likely to see use as a weapon. 

Starting a character out with this may cause some problems from the simple angle that no one else starts with a thread item. However, it isn't going to cause any issues beyond that point. It gives some minor bonuses, but nothing remotely powerful. The big effects are plot related, rather than player-controlled.

Themes of this item are good. It plays up the nature of the House and the basic abilities of a Swordmaster. The defensive bonuses acknowledge that a dagger isn't going to be the weapon of choice for a Swordmaster (who really is the target audience). The final two abilities are certainly interesting and can be used for inspiration, but could easily lead to problems if attached to a more effective weapon without some adaptation first.

The weapon forging thing is neat, but it would be better if there was some guidance beyond "it has probably never been done before". It's good to offer players a chance to be the first, but what makes it remarkable? Can it even be done? How does this process empower the Weaponsmith? So many questions which may be asking too much of GMs for what amounts to a throwaway line; it requires the sacrifice of a thread item for a possible, not guaranteed, reward.

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

Dagger of Ishkarat (1E)
Spell Defense: 9
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

The Spell Defense is very low and there is one less rank than the 3E version. It is worth mentioning right now: these items are going to be pretty different at each rank.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 4, use Avoid Blow twice a round. If the wielder doesn't have Avoid Blow, add the Thread Rank to Avoid Blow tests.

Keeping in mind you only got one Avoid Blow test a round, this was very powerful. Particularly for characters who did not have the talent. There is also a two Step damage boost here. A lot of bonuses for only 200 Legend Points.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 5.

The damage on this is starting to get respectable, but still not in the realm of a primary weapon.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 Steps to Riposte. If the wielder doesn't have Riposte, they can use the talent with a Step equal to DEX + 3 + Thread Rank.

Two ranks is good, granting Riposte at that step to characters who don't have it is quite a thing.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +1 to Physical Defense.

This is actually the same.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Retributive Strike: 1 Karma, the next attack against an enemy of House Ishkarat is an Armor-Defeating Hit. The Damage is STR + WIL + 8, but the wielder takes the same amount. The dagger breaks during the strike

Similar-ish to the 3E version, though this is in one rank while the other is spread across two. The fact that you are going to be taking the same damage makes this distinctly unappealing. 

For the most part, the 1E version is better across the board, particularly for characters who don't have the talents natively. The Retributive Strike ability, however, is not so good. Which is possibly a little generous. Without a doubt, the 3E version marks an improvement over the 1E version, though it could still use a little help. It is good to see some of the designs taking some steps back from the original and adapting the overall intent to the proposed guidelines. At least mostly doing so.