24 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 07 - Archer

This is the seventh 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.

Like all of the disciplines, the Archer went through some soul searching during the development for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4). In doing so, some primary themes emerged for what these adepts are all about.


First and foremost, they are the premier missile weapons discipline. Not ranged combat discipline - there is design space for a throwing weapons discipline - but explicitly missile weapons. Requiring proficiency in two different forms of ranged combat can be discouraging; not everyone wants to shot things with a bow and throw knives; it's why they have the bow. 

Beyond this, they have a perception theme, but specifically sight-based perception, and two sub-themes. The sub-themes were previously their specializations, Bowman and Crossbowman, which are essentially wilderness and social themes. There is also an undercurrent of mysticism to the Archer; their philosophy of direction can help protect them against unwanted outside influences.

Within a group their primary role is as a combatant who specializes in engaging the opposition's support structure. Spellcasters and other ranged combatants who are not on the front line are simple for the Archer to reach out and touch. There are three other areas which they can explore with their talent options: adventuring (Bowman), information, and social (Crossbowman).

Novice

First Circle
  • Arrow Weaving
  • Avoid Blow
  • Missile Weapons
  • True Shot
  • Mystic Aim
Abilities
  • Durability 5
  • Call Missile
  • Karma: Perception tests which rely on sight.
Second Circle
  • Direction Arrow
Third Circle
  • Anticipate Blow
Abilities
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Long Shot
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Spot Armor Flaw
Abilities
  • Create Projectile: 1 Strain, make a Arrow Weaving (6) test. Each success creates one projectile which lasts for Arrow Weaving Rank in minutes. All projectiles must be of the same type (e.g. arrow, bolt, dagger, etc.).
  • Karma: Damage tests with ranged weapons
Sixth Circle
  • Bank Shot
Seventh Circle
  • Flame Arrow
Eighth Circle
  • Second Shot
The primary mechanical theme Archers have is accuracy. This fits perfectly with their philosophy of direction, patience, and action. Every shot will ideally be a perfect shot, and they have four different talents to help with this. Anticipate Blow and Mystic Aim both improve the next attack test, True Shot can either ensure a hit, or allow borderline abuse of the extra successes for damage, and Bank Shot helps with both hard to reach areas and opponents who have the gall to dodge your attacks.

They aren't slouches with damage between Flame Arrow and Spot Armor Flaw. They are not likely to deal quite as much damage as melee combat adepts for the majority of the early Circles, but make up for it with their greater options and less fear of retribution. Also, why these adepts may want to focus more on less armored opponents in the rear. It is important to note Flame Arrow is based on willpower and now adds to damage, instead of replacing damage. strength will still be the initial attribute used for damage, but at Seventh Circle it will rapidly fall by the wayside and plans may need to be made accordingly.
  • Awareness - Odds are good you are going to want this. Noticing things is always important and this becomes even better with the First Circle karma ability.
  • Climbing - Archers who are also filling the role of a scout should consider this talent option. This also goes for anyone who wants to get into a relatively unassailable position from which they can dispense violence.
  • Creature Analysis - The ability to gather additional information on your opponents is valuable. Compared to many of the other talent options, this is not going to be high on many lists.
  • First Impression - The basic talent for any social character, or even any character who wants to engage in interaction. This is worth considering even if you don't intend on going full Crossbowman.
  • Impressive Display - Similar to First Impression, this is a must for any social Archer. It can also be popular with others since it doesn't require a significant investment to get use out of it and will probably make you feel awesome.
  • Navigation - This talent may be on the list for Bowman-style characters. It is going to help with exploration and traveling, which will support characters going for a ranger theme.
  • Stealthy Stride - Always popular and useful for this discipline. Stealth supports the Bowman theme and information gathering. It also allows Archers to setup a particularly nasty ambush.
  • Throwing Weapons - For those who may want to master all forms of ranged combat. Most Archers will find this supplement to Missile Weapons lacking, though not all. To remain useful, it will require continual investment.
  • Tracking - Another talent for the Bowman.
  • Wilderness Survival - The final Bowman talent.
Outside of actually playing and figuring out which talents will best fit your character, play style, and the campaign you are a part, there are a few different generic "builds" which can help show off themes and different decisions.

A Bowman Archer, themed for the wilderness and information gathering, will probably be most interested in Awareness, Climbing, Stealthy Stride and either Tracking or Wilderness Survival.

The Crossbowman, who is thematically about social interaction and life in the city, would want Awareness, First Impression, Impressive Display, and Stealthy Stride. A jack-of-all-trades Archer who is interested in being involved in the game above all else will likely want the same talent selections.

It is pretty clear all of these suggestions have Awareness and Stealthy Stride on the lists, even though they are for seemingly different themes. The answers are pretty simple: those are talents which will be used. As mentioned in the talent commentary, Awareness is simply good and it compliments everything the Archer is about. In all honesty, it was hard to move it from the discipline talents to talent options, but other talents fit the primary theme better.

Stealthy Stride isn't necessarily better than the other options, but it is incredibly popular with players because of the opportunities it can create. While it is most appropriate for a Bowman and the wilderness, skulking around cities is a proud tradition of player characters everywhere. Also, it is generally fun to have the option to hide and sneak around; everyone wants to be a part of the black op.

The reason two different character types (the social Crossbowman and the jack-of-all-trades) would want the same talent selections has to do more with what the jack-of-all-trades is about than anything else. Awareness and Stealthy Stride were discussed previously, so this will be specifically addressing the two social talents, First Impression and Impressive Display. At its heart, this is about being able to participate in as many different areas as possible without diluting your essential premise. Impressive Display is a classic ability for Archers to gain social benefit, either favor or intimidation, through their prowess. First Impression is also a very versatile social talent and has great synergy with Impressive Display.

A jack-of-all-trades along these lines will be able to fill in as either the primary social character, if there isn't someone more suited to the task, or as a back-up with those two talents. However, if your group already has an Illusionist, Swordmaster, Troubadour, and/or Air Sailor who is going in that direction, selecting talents which help round out your group's competencies is likely going to get the "screen time" we are all after. Climbing, Navigation, Tracking, and Wilderness Survival will all be generally useful talents to help your group and generally will not require significant investment to remain competitive. The exception is Tracking, which you will probably want to keep at a high rank as Mystic Defenses increase.
  • Conversation - Another key talent for social characters. This isn't quite as useful as First Impression and Impressive Display. Which means only specialists are likely to be interested.
  • Danger Sense - If one of your roles in the group is providing intelligence, this should be on your list of talents to consider. Even if this isn't your role, there is value for an Archer to not be caught by the inevitable ambush.
  • Distract - This is simultaneously a powerful talent for Archers, but also a risky one. Archers have the advantage of range and if their target cannot get to them, there is virtually no downside. However, if they can, things can get messy since these adepts tend to be on the fragile side.
  • Etiquette - Social characters and dedicated explorers will find this talent to be useful. Much like Conversation, others will likely pass.
  • Evidence Analysis - One of the best talents for gathering information and it never hurts to have multiple characters in a group with access to it.
  • Resist Taunt - While social characters will likely see the most use, this is worth considering for any Archer to help prevent social attacks.
  • Speak Language - Another talent primarily for social Archers, almost anyone can gain some benefit from the low investment requirement.
  • Steel Thought - The ability to neutralize offensive spells is incredibly useful. Even more so if your primary role is directly attacking the spellcasters in question, which tends to earn their very personal attention in short order. Also, Horrors are out there and they often like to target Mystic Defense. If this is selected, it will need to be continually improved to remain competitive.
  • Stopping Aim - This particular talent is highly dependent on both play style and the game in question. It can allow you to diffuse a conflict before it even begins, or it may simply delay the inevitable.
  • Tiger Spring - One of the reasons Archers work best when picking on the backfield is initiative. While theirs tends to be above average due to high dexterity, their karma ability, and a tendency to wear light armor, it still doesn't compare with a Warrior or a dedicated Swordmaster. This talent will help guarantee their ability to use Anticipate Blow against slower opponents (such as spellcasters), it still will not bridge the gap against the aforementioned disciplines.
As with most disciplines, the Archer Journeyman talent options tend to be more specialized. Here is the point where you start to decide specifically what your adept should be able to do. Individual concepts and campaigns should be the biggest contributing factor, but here are generic suggestions for the three previous broad types.

Bowmen are a little more rough-and-tumble than their city-oriented brethren. Consequently, they will likely pick up Danger Sense, Evidence Analysis, Steel Thought, and Tiger Spring. These give them some nice combat advantages as well as information gathering.

Crossbowmen have a difficult decision before them. Conversation, Etiquette, and Resist Taunt all directly support their social theme and are easy picks. The final talent option is a bit more elusive and depends on individual factors. The three front runners are Evidence Analysis, Steel Thought, and Tiger Spring. Evidence Analysis is great for games which feature a lot of investigation and mysteries, where information is power. Steel Thought works best when Horrors are prominent. While Tiger Spring edges ahead for games which are simply combat heavy.

The jack-of-all trades straddles all of the various themes. They are good with the social talents from the previous tier and should be looking to fill in the various gaps in their group. For some selections which are likely to be good in all situations, stealing most of the Bowman is in order: Distract, Evidence Analysis, Steel Thought, and Tiger Spring.

This is combat heavy, but the Archer is a combat-oriented discipline. While Distract is risky, the reward is often worth it, and the rest of your group will appreciate it. The general key to Distract with more fragile characters is to use it tactically when everyone will benefit most from the advantages it provides. Information provided from Evidence Analysis is almost always going to be useful, even if other characters possess it - this just means more questions. Steel Thought and Tiger Spring both help with the Archer's primary combat role in addition to simply being generally good talents which will have ample opportunities for use.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Archer and how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Archer. Example characters: elf and windling.