11 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Part 1 - Special Effects

This is 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 world of Earthdawn is full of magic and this is one of the biggest draws. It is an intrinsic part of the setting, which was built upon the assumptions of magic being readily accessible. Nowhere is this more clear than the fact characters are adepts who learn all of their abilities through magic. However, sometimes you may not feel very magical.

All of the rules say a character is using magic, but it may take a Swordmaster quite a long time before they can throw around some overtly magical effects in combat. On the other hand, the Sky Raider is bleeding fire and the Warrior may need to apply regular varnish to their skin from day one.

There are no mechanical problems here, but sometimes it isn't just about doing something cool. It is about doing something awesome and looking even more awesome while doing so. The good news is there is a simple and straight forward way to make all characters feel like they are using magic and look completely bad ass.

I like to refer to them as trappings, though they should probably be called special effects (SFX). The premise behind SFX is for each character to develop visual themes around how their magic works for them. All adepts are using magic, but each is using it in a different way based on their discipline and unique perspective. For example, the above Swordmaster may want to have a wind theme, while the Warrior may embrace an elemental theme, while a Thief may want shadows.

To implement this in play it is all in the description of the action. The Swordmaster's strikes may be accompanied by gusts of wind, or their movements so fast they leave after images. When standing still, it may look like they are standing in a mild breeze. These effects should become more apparent as the talent rank increases, their Circle advances, and especially if they are spending Karma. If they are burning through Strain and using a lot of Karma, it could look like they are standing in gale force winds which are actually picking up small objects around them (with no mechanical effect, but it should look awesome). Perhaps the air even starts to crackle with electricity.

For talents and disciplines which are interested in not being noticed (such as a Scout or the Thief up there), their SFX can describe how their talents and magic helps with this. When the Thief with shadows as their theme uses Stealthy Stride, the descriptions can be about how shadows lengthen in the area and move to conceal the adept's presence. Their own shadow could notice it is sticking out and fold itself up to better hide the adept. A Scout in the wilderness may describe the environment itself moving slightly to the adept's advantage, or using illusions to make themselves fit better in the surroundings like a ghillie suit.

The reason I prefer to use the term trappings is due to how the basic nature of a talent or ability can remain the same while changing the superficial elements. A specific example of this is the Emotion Song talent. Ostensibly this involves performing a song for an audience and moving them to a certain emotion. However, there is no reason this cannot instead be an impassioned piece of rhetoric instead of music. The basic premise of the talent is being satisfied - verbal communication designed to elicit an emotional response from an audience. Perhaps your Swordmaster isn't into the repartee associated with swashbucklers, but they have the Taunt talent. Instead of actually being an insult, it could be a kiai to demoralize their opponent. Again, this is a social debuff in combat based on vocalization and fulfills the basics of the talent. Superficially, this seems a lot like Battle Shout. However, should everyone instantly know exactly the talent being used instantly and will it affect play? Those are not rhetorical questions and I don't have answers to provide - it is for each table to decide.

Where this is all going is presenting some different options to make your game more how you want it to be. Adepts should be as overtly magical as you want and each adept's expression of a talent should be as personal as you want.