16 September 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 02 - Liberator

This is the second 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

The Liberator has never been one of my favorite disciplines. It easily ranks as one of my least favorite for a variety of reasons. I know I'm not alone in this and when asked nearly everyone will respond with, "It's interesting."

This is a statement I agree with - the Liberator is interesting. However, it is problematic for so many reasons, mechanical and thematic. 

Thematically, it has such a narrow focus it is virtually unplayable as written. Their entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to put an end to slavery. Let me be more specific: it is to put an end to slavery by infiltrating a slave camp and ultimately fomenting a rebellion from the slaves which will may only succeed by narrative fiat because they don't have many tools to help with the actual rebellion. This is what the vast majority of the tools at their disposal are geared towards, but I will get to this more in a paragraph or so. This doesn't even bring in the fact this is possibly the least effective way to actually achieve your goal. At the very least, it is a very narrow view of achieving your goal while ignoring other viable options.

While this makes for an interesting story once or twice, infiltrating slave camps going to get pretty repetitive for everyone else - probably for the Liberator as well. Additionally, the adept has to do something in the meantime when they actively aren't pursuing what their discipline is all about. There is probably a talent crisis lurking in there as the Liberator must wonder why they are poking around, looking for kaers, when there are slaves everywhere in need of freedom. Not to mention the abilities they bring to the table are pretty worthless for any other task. This means by virtue of having a Liberator in the group, they have effectively hijacked the story to make it slave-centric. If it isn't, why are they there? It's a lose-lose, unless everyone is invested in precisely that kind of story.

Racial disciplines are not my preference in general. They represent something which is conceptually unavailable to someone based on their race. Which is pretty screwed up when you actually think about it. Only orks can become Liberators because only orks hate slavery enough. I have a feeling there are plenty of dwarfs who hate slavery quite a bit as well. While orks are most likely to follow this path, they should welcome anyone who would want to join their struggle.

Moving to the mechanics, they are terrible. By Eighth Circle, they get the following broadly applicable discipline talents: Karma Ritual, Lock Picking, Melee Weapons, Thread Weaving, and Power Mask. Every other discipline talent is related to being a Liberator. This may be neat if they weren't terrible. Yes, they are terrible - they aren't even good at what they were designed for, let alone just how specific they are in application.

I really dislike this discipline as written. However, it is interesting. Who doesn't like the basic premise of standing up for what you believe in and fighting for it? This is important and good. What we were given is terrible. The Liberator deserves better and so I am going to work to break these chains.

What follows is a kind of open design diary of my Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) version of the Liberator.

First, it is open to every race. It feels liberating already.

Next, this discipline needs a new theme. As I've indicated, I would never allow one in my game. Every discipline should have a broad theme which can be adapted to multiple interpretations and allow for individuality. Below is the new theme for the Liberator which I will be working from:

The Liberator exists to fight injustice where ever it is encountered. Whether it be the plague of slavery, bandits pillaging towns, organized crime within a city, or corrupt leadership, the Liberator uncovers the tumor and removes it. They will rally the common people to their cause. It is through them true change can be achieved. While many in power may praise the acts of Liberators, their presence may not be welcome for long. While some uphold the law, many operate in a grey area as vigilantes, doing what must be done.

How is this going to functionally work? It means they are part investigator, part agitator, and part borderline criminal. Their talents and global design will need to match this.

Moving to the mechanics, they need a durability assignment. This may seem innocuous, but is actually important as it will shape their talent access. Durability 7 means they are a combat discipline and need to show it; Durability 5 indicates "miscellaneous" - meaning they are capable in a fight, but are more like to bring other abilities first; Durability 3 is a spellcaster (though I'm leaving this open in the future - wait for it).

Previously, they sat solidly in the combat category with a old durability of (7/6). Tragically, they were terrible at combat. Also, this version isn't a combat monster but a dabbler in a number of different areas and I would like to leave this discipline viable as something which any character could add as an additional discipline. What the last part means is there won't be any discipline talents which dictate a particular kind of combat so it remains a viable option for an Archer, Illusionist, or Warrior.

After I have a theme and a category, I make a list of all of the talents which could possible apply. The list is then slowly cut down until it is the right size. This is only going to go up to Eighth Circle, so the right size is 12 discipline talents, 20 talent options, and 1 free talent. Next are the defenses: choosing a primary (social), secondary (physical), and secondary (mental). There is only one bonus to choose, which was easy (initiative). After this are the hard parts.

Miscellaneous disciplines get three karma abilities and everyone gets a Journeyman ability. I'm not going to lie, these can be extremely difficult. IMHO, good karma abilities and tier abilities are what tie the mechanics and theme together. The former are one of the things which make each discipline more distinct than they have been in previous editions. The latter are equally important, but even more difficult to get just right - marrying the theme with good mechanics at just the right power level.

This process is pretty boring, so I will just show you the end result:

Novice

First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Awareness
  • First Impression
  • Freedom Weaving
  • Lock Picking
Abilities
  • Durability 5
  • Streetwise
  • Karma: Gathering information related to an injustice.
Second Circle
  • Stealthy Stride
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Social Defense
Third Circle
  • Battle Shout
Abilities
  • Karma: Interaction tests.
Fourth Circle
  • Emotion Song
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  1. Air Speaking
  2. Anticipate Blow
  3. Climbing
  4. Fireblood
  5. Melee Weapons
  6. Picking Pockets
  7. Read and Write Language
  8. Speak Language
  9. Surprise Strike
  10. Unarmed Combat
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Evidence Analysis
Abilities
  • Heart of Freedom: You may spend 2 Strain to gain a +2 bonus to all Action tests against those who have lost hope due to injustice for the purpose of rekindling that hope. 
  • Karma: Once per turn on any Action test while imprisoned.
Sixth Circle
  • Lion Heart
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Social Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Power Mask
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative step
Eighth Circle
  • Battle Bellow
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Social Defense
Talent Options
  1. Conceal Object
  2. Diplomacy
  3. Disguise Self
  4. Inspire Others
  5. Leadership
  6. Mimic Voice
  7. Resist Taunt
  8. Steely Stare
  9. Temper Flesh
  10. Tiger Spring
This is a first draft without any review and no playtesting at all. It represents a fairly radical departure from the original Liberator, though it should be one which is significantly more versatile and has something to bring to a variety of groups. It is still more specialized than one of the disciplines in the Player's Guide and I would suggest it as a second (or later) discipline over a initial discipline. The areas in which it specializes are (hopefully) now broad enough to actually be relevant some of the time.