31 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 30 - The Sock of Granak

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 40), The Sock of Granak is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 85). While certainly one of the most flavorful legendary items out there, I have never actually seen this one in play. The reasons for that may not be terribly difficult to figure out.

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.

The Sock of Granak
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Warden

This is a Legendary item, which means that (nearly) anything goes as far as structure is concerned. That being said, the Spell Defense is entirely reasonable (in the middle of the range) and it only has six Thread Ranks. The origin of this item isn't long, but it certainly is evocative.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +2 ranks to Unarmed Combat.

Well, that didn't take long. Right out of the gate and two standard effects.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 ranks to Swift Kick as long as he fights with no other covering on the limb he is attacking with than the sock.

Another two standard effects, though with a restriction. That restriction is generally why this never sees play - because you have to wander around wearing only a nasty, green stained (Horror ichor) woolen sock on one foot. Not for everyone.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 ranks to Battle Shout.

Two more standard effects. This kind of bonus isn't supposed to show up until Rank Seven.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +3 ranks to Unarmed Combat and Swift Kick.

Yet again, two standard effects.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +2 ranks to Air Sailing and Great Leap.

Well, it certainly did break up the pattern of two bonuses every rank. Though I am unconvinced that going with four instead was the best path forward.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +3 ranks to Crushing Blow.

Here's a funny thing: the talents thus far are clearly Sky Raider related, no surprise. Crushing Blow was a Sky Raider talent back in 1E, but 3E changed it out for Down Strike. Now, the conversion between editions didn't translate that terribly well, because that isn't terribly useful to a Sky Raider, while is dynamite to a Warrior (who get Crushing Blow). Also, that's three effects and a very good talent. Sure, it costs Karma, but that's hardly a downside at this point.

How does it all stack up? This is a powerful item - there is not doubt. At least two effects every rank is quite good and the talents are okay to good, depending on your character. The biggest winner from an item like this is a Purifier. They make extensive use of Unarmed Combat, stand to benefit a lot from Swift Kick and already have Crushing Blow. This really isn't a Thread Item for everyone. It is going to take a special kind of character to want this. Without a doubt, they exist.

Despite the large number of relatively high bonuses compared to the number of ranks, this probably won't cause any serious problems. Any character that can fully utilize everything that it has to offer, however, could get a boost that is out-of-proportion to the costs. Well, except for the required Deed at the end. That's pretty serious.

This isn't a bad place to look for some ideas. It has a clear theme and a series of solid bonuses connected to that theme. The exact bonuses that it gives could probably use some evaluation, however.

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

The Sock of Granak (1E)
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

At six ranks, everything is the same so far.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 rank to Unarmed Combat.

That is actually the expected bonus for this rank; less than the 3E version. Which means that 3E introduced guidelines and then decided to immediately start breaking them when the original item didn't actually call for it.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 ranks to Swift Kick as long as he fights with no other covering on the limb he is attacking with than the sock.

This one happens to be exactly the same.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 ranks to Battle Shout.

Again, the same..

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +2 ranks to Unarmed Combat and +3 ranks to Swift Kick.

The same, but Unarmed Combat is still down a rank.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +1 rank to Air Sailing and Great Leap.

Here is another example of 3E increasing the bonuses from 1E.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +2 ranks to Crushing Blow.

Yet another increase in 3E for reasons unknown.

How do they stack up? The 3E version gains +4 more ranks total over the 1E version. There is little explanation for this, since in doing so this broke the guidelines that were introduced to make Thread Items less haphazard. It doesn't even maintain fidelity to the original. The negligence in converting Crushing Blow to Down Strike is also puzzling.

28 January 2014

Earthdawn: Part 31 - Comparison of 1E and 3E Part 5: Wizard Spells

This is the thirty-first part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Below is a list of all the Wizard Spells found in 1E (Core book, Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive and Magic: A Manual of Mystic Secrets) and the 3E Player's Guide.

Right now it is just a list, though if there is a desire for it (which means leave a comment to that effect) I can add some commentary and thoughts on the changes between editions.

Some of the changes were almost certainly made to accommodate the move to a battle map and hexes with a 2-yard standard size. Which means that, depending on how you count spaces, some of the areas of effect may not have changed. Regardless, the most significant changes are that the minimum casting difficulty is now a 6 instead of 2 and ranges have been drastically reduced across the board.

First Circle

Astral Sense: Range: - 30 yards; Casting Difficult is now a static 6.

Bedazzling Display of Logical Analysis: Bonus now limited to specific tests.


Crushing Will: Range: -72 yards.

Dispel Magic: Range: -30 yards; Casting Difficulty: +4; Dispel Difficulties have increased.

Divine Aura: Range: -1 yard.

Flame Flash: Range: -15 yards.

Ignite: Damage now decreases each round.

Iron Hand: Now affects all close combat Damage tests.

Mind Dagger: Range: -24 yards.

Silent Converse: Targets TSD instead of DN 4; removes Effect test; Distance that conversation can be overheard is now 2 yards.


Triangulate: No changes.

Wall Walker: No changes.

Second Circle

And His Money: Now effective on any test involving finances, not just Fence and Haggle.

Astral Shield: No changes.

Clean: No changes.

Dodge Boost: No longer requires an immediate Avoid Blow test.

Rope Ladder: Casting Difficulty: +4; movement rate has changed.

Seal: Casting Difficulty: +2


Vines: Range: -30 yards.

Wake-Up Call: Time is no longer variable.

Third Circle

Aura Strike: Range: -24 yards.

Catwalk: No changes.

Combat Fury: No longer improves Damage tests; now requires only close combat attacks.

False Aura: No changes.

Healing Sleep: Now requires damage greater than Wound Threshold; target now difficult to wake; now only grants one bonus Recovery Test; each character can only benefit from this spell once a week.


Identify Spell: Range -30 yards


Leaps and Bounds: Effect test now replaces Great Leap tests; no longer gives a static leaping movement; no longer allows Effect test to replace Avoid Blow tests.

Levitate: Range: -60 yards; Effect: -1000 lbs; platform dimensions slightly different (2-yard radius v. 10 x 10 ft. platform); no specifies movement rates.

Notice Not: No changes.

Ork Stoke: (Not present in the books that I am referencing.)

Quicken Pace: The exact movement rate increases have changed.

Seeking Sight: No changes.

Shatter Lock: Range: +1 yard; no longer allows a reversal for an extra thread.

Water Wings: No changes.

Wizard Mark: Removed Effect test.

Fourth Circle

Ball of String: Casting Difficulty: +4.

Binding Threads: Range -24 yards; Duration reduced from minutes to rounds; penalty is now Harried instead of -4 to Physical Defense.


Buoyancy: +1 bonus to Swimming tests


Dust Devil: Range: -48 yards; now causes Harried instead of -2 to relevant action tests.

Hair Frenzy: Range: -15 yards; target is now Harried instead of -2 to all actions


Icy Protection: Renamed from Icy Fingers; can no longer lower Spell Defense for the test.


Identify Magic: Range -40 yards

Inventory: Range: +5 yards.

Juggler's Touch: Casting Difficulty +4; Area now 2-yard radius; caster can now move the spell.


Kaer Knocking: (Not new, but also not in the three books I am referencing.)

Karmic Connection: No longer permanently reduces Karma maximum


Relax: Effect: +2; "cooldown" on Recovery Test reduction now in single minute increments, rather than 5 minute increments.

Repair Lock: Now a separate spell that replicates the reversal of Shatter Lock.

Thorny Retreat: Casting Difficulty: +4; now creates Spellcasting Rank sections, instead of 10 sections; dimensions have changed (4-yd x 2-yd v. 10' x 10').

Trust: Range: -30 yards.

Wizard's Cloak: No changes


Fifth Circle

Counterspell: Range: -9 yards; now improves Spell Defense instead of replacing Spell Defense.

Giant Size: Now grants bonuses to Strength and Toughness-only tests instead of giving Step bonuses.


Heat Metal Armor: Renamed from Heat Metal; Range -6 yards


Invigorate: No changes.

Kaer Pictographs: (Not new, but also not in the three books I am referencing.)

Mage Armor: No changes.

Makeshift Missile: Now only works on one item for the duration.

Mystic Shock: Range -6 yards


Sanctuary: Effect test now adds to Death Rating and Spellcasting Rank now adds to Physical Armor instead of Effect test replacing Physical Armor, Mystic Armor and Death (Damage) Rating.

Slow: No changes.

Solo Flight: Movement rates have changed.

Study Thread: No changes.

Sixth Circle

Blood Lost: No longer requires a Wound

Displace Self: Movement now 2-yards in a random direction; no longer replaces Initiative Step.

Doom Missile: Range: -60 yards.

Karma Cancel: Range: -60 yards; Difficulty to end is +3.

Loan Spell: No longer requires subject to remain in sight.


Makeshift Weapon: No changes.

Mental Library: Difficulty is now caster’s Spell Defense.


Multi-Mind Dagger: Range: -14 yards.

Rampage: (Not present in the books that I am referencing.)

Razor Orb: Range: -60 yards.

Sleep: Range: -36 yards; resistance is now against the magician's Willpower Step.

Spellstore: Blood magic now extends the duration to a year and a day instead of allowing unlimited casting for the duration, also it is now Blood Magic Damage instead of Permanent Damage

Seventh Circle

Astral Gift: Now grants the talent and ranks, instead of the windling ability (which has changed as well).

Blood Boil: Range: -36 yards.

Call: No changes.

Confusing Weave: Range: -36 yards.

Dislodge Spell: Range: -36 yards.


Lightning Cloud: Range: -72 yards.

Liquid Eyes: Range: -24 yards; Dispel Difficulties increased.


Move on Through: Range: -72 yards.

Mystic Net: Area and range have changed; targets are now Harried instead of a -4 to Physical Defense.

Spell Cage: Range: -60 yards; dimensions have changed; full stat write-up.

Eighth Circle

Catch Spell: No changes.

Cat's Cradle: Removed in 3E.

Compression Bubble: Range: -45 yards; full stat write-up.

Delay Blow: No changes.

Peacebond: Now causes Blood Magic Damage instead of Strain to extend the duration; causes less damage to extend the duration; no longer causes a Wound to extend the duration.


Safe Opening: Range: +1 yard.

Spell Snatcher: Range -36 yards.


Wound Mask: No changes.

24 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 29 - Pathfinder

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 36), Pathfinder a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 83). This was one of the more evocative items in the setting. It was always one of my favorites, but there was never just the right character for it.

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.

Pathfinder
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Warden

This is a Legendary item, which means that (nearly) anything goes as far as structure is concerned. That being said, the Spell Defense is entirely reasonable (in the middle of the range) and it only has six Thread Ranks. Not mechanical, but it has one of my favorite backgrounds and has inspired a number of other Thread Items over the years.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 9.

The standard effect for a weapon. To be honest, it's a little disappointing because I never really considered this a weapon first, or much at all.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 Ranks to Tracking and +2 to Perception tests.

While Rank One may have been a little lackluster, this more than makes up for it. That is four standard effects. Depending on how you interpret the +2 to Perception tests, it is either good (+2 to Perception-only tests), or freaking crazy good (+2 to every test that uses Perception). I strongly recommend the former. That is still a lot of good stuff for only one rank.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 Ranks to Astral Sight.

Two standard effects. A good talent that not every character has access to and above the standard one effect for this range of ranks.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 10 and +1 to Physical Defense.

Another rank with two standard effects, though most characters that are serious about combat will probably have an actual Thread weapon for fighting, rather than using Pathfinder. The Physical Defense boost is always good, however. With all that in mind, this rank is fine (its 1300 Legend Points for +1 to Physical Defense).

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +2 Ranks to Safe Path.

This is in the same category as Rank Three - it's a good talent and even less Disciplines get access to it. Also two effects before Rank Seven. The Deed involves going to Blood Wood, which can make for some interesting times (depending on your game).

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Create a rough map of the places Pathfinder has been in Barsaive.

The capstone is one of my favorite abilities. Any group that does a lot of traveling is going to have fun with it and it is possibly going to change the way that group looks at the world. Accurate maps are pretty rare and this is a big deal in that regard. The Deed itself is difficult and exciting - you have to explore a place that some of the most dedicated explorers in the province have never been.

How does it all stack up? It is definitely above par for what it brings to the table, offering four ranks that have at least two effects. That being said, none of the effects are particularly powerful and either serve to give the character a thematic bonus, or basic access to a new talent. The damage bonuses can generally be ignored in favor of the other benefits. Distributing the effects across the ranks would even things out more - mostly Rank Two.

While it is well above average for the number of Thread Ranks, all of the bonuses are small enough to a variety of abilities that this shouldn't cause any issues. If your group doesn't have a Scout, this will allow an interested character to perform some of those functions. This is going to be more appropriate for groups that spend considerable time traveling, rather than those who move between cities (or stay in one city) exclusively.

This is one of my favorite items to look at for inspiration. From the background to how the various ranks build on each other to create a theme. The final effect is unique and fun; easily one of the most interesting in the game. Everything about this item speaks of adventure, exploration and excitement. The group with Pathfinder is probably going to wander into some very strange places. 

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

Pathfinder (1E)
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: (Warden)

So far, everything is the same between the editions.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 3 and +2 to all Perception tests.

The damage is considerably lower in 1E, though that is generally to be expected. The effect from Rank Two is also distributed here. Good to see that the ambiguity on what the bonus applies to is consistent between editions.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 Ranks to Tracking.

Essentially the same, with the other bonus being provided at the previous rank.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 Ranks to Astral Sight.

Again, the same between editions.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 5 and +1 to Physical Defense.

A bigger boost (+2) to damage, but it is still far below 3E and laughable on the whole.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +2 Ranks to Safe Path.

Nothing new here.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Create a rough map of the places Pathfinder has been in Barsaive.

The same fun ability.

How do they stack up? They're functionally identical, beyond the change in Damage Step. Which isn't terribly relevant for this particular item. The distribution on effects is better in 1E, but that is just centered around Rank One and Two. In 1E it gets you right into what the item is about, while 3E makes it seem like a weapon first.

21 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 28 - Orichalcum Shield

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 137), Orichalcum Shields are a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 73). These were pretty much the best shield in the game and amazingly expensive (150,000 silver!). Available only in Theran territory, which may include Vivane - worth the trip.

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.

Orichalcum Shield
Spell Defense: 18
Legend Point Cost: Master

Given that these aren't Legendary, in fact you can buy them, they are already breaking the guidelines by being Master tier. The Spell Defense is at the bottom of where that range can be extrapolated to (18-24). With only six Thread Ranks, this seems like an ill omen for paying any attention to the nice, clean guidelines that were established in 3E.

It is worth noting that this starts of with Physical and Mystic Armor of 4, Initiative Penalty of -3 and a Deflection Bonus of +5. For comparison, a crystal raider shield is PA/MA 3, IP -2, and DB +3, and a body shield is PA 5 (no MA), IP -2, and DB +4.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor 6.

So that didn't take long. That is four standard effects in the first rank. This is officially better than crystal plate (PA/MA 7, IP -5). Can it get better? Oh yeah, it gets better.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Initiative Penalty -2.

Only one standard effect? That's almost disappointing compared to the first rank. Still, that is a good bonus. Not like it really needs more armor at this point.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor of 7 and +1 to Spell Defense.

Of course it needs more armor! Oh, and a bonus to Spell Defense while we're at it. That is three standard effects. Three.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Initiative Penalty -1 and Deflection Bonus +7.

That Initiative Penalty is pretty endangered at this point. Really the only thing holding the raw power of this in check. May as well throw in a Deflection Bonus in case your game actually uses Parry. Because with a +7, you can count on never getting hit again. That is another three effects. It's hard to emphasize this enough.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor of 8 and +2 to Spell Defense.

Yeah, why not make a shield objectively better than the best armor in the game in every way? Sure, it was kinda expensive to get here, but totally worth it. Three more effects. Man, that rank two just looks silly, now. What was it even thinking, having the temerity to actually follow the guidelines? Loser.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and Deflection Bonus +9.

Capping it all off with three more effects. Just one rank below when you are supposed to see two for the first time. It's pretty much impossible to muster any incredulity at this point. There is no downside to this item and it gives a +9 bonus to Parry. It has more armor than crystal plate and a nice bonus to Spell Defense in addition.

How does it all stack up? Amazing. Bonkers. Utter madness. This particular Thread Item laughs at the guidelines before you even start looking at the Thread Ranks. Then it gets worse. So much worse.

While it doesn't have any powers that will specifically cause problems, the sheer level of the bonuses from this item are going to lead to issues. It's hard to really put in terms how much defensive power this brings to the table, both passive and active (through Parry). All with no downside. The cost is on the high side, but not compared to what you are getting out of this. Combined with Thread crystal plate? Yikes.

This is a terrible place to look for inspiration. It is horribly overpowered compared to the costs and level of investment required. Perhaps the worst sin is that for all of the power it brings to the table, it doesn't actually do anything interesting. It's just lots and lots and lots and lots of big numbers. And you can buy this thing. 

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

Orichalcum Shield (1E)
Spell Defense: 24
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

Well, the Spell Defense is significantly higher in 1E and more what you would expect from something crafted of orichalcum. A notoriously magic resistant material. Also of note, this one only has five Thread Ranks. This is going to get bumpy. The basic stats are the same between editions (only without that Deflection Bonus that was introduced in 3E).

Thread Rank One
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor 5 and Initiative Penalty -2

Well, it's only three effects instead of four. So that's something. Still, everything about it just got better. So it's not good. Just better. Which is an awfully low bar.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor 6 and Initiative Penalty -1.

Oh, well this is familiar territory. Three more effects, the same ones as before. It is now officially better than 3E, though only by an Initiative Penalty. Still, completely insane. Though it's not like 1E should be looked to for consistency in any way. 3E should just know better (it doesn't).

Thread Rank Three
Effect: No Initiative Penalty and +1 to Spell Defense.

Only two effects. Which puts it ahead in terms of Initiative and behind in armor. Rough math puts them roughly the same now.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor of 7 and +3 to Spell Defense.

Well, that didn't take long - that is four effects and now 1E has pulled ahead! Except for the whole Deflection Bonus thing, which didn't exist.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Physical and Mystic Armor of 8 and +6 to Spell Defense.

Closing it out with five effects, way to go! Wasn't sure that it had it in it, but clearly it was in it for the win.

How do they stack up? Well, the 1E version manages to have +4 Spell Defense on the 3E version in one less Thread Rank. That's right, the 3E version of the orichalcum shield was toned down. Also, some of those bonuses were tossed to Deflection Bonus, instead of just finding their way to Spell Defense. No wonder you get 2500 Legend Points for finding one of these.

17 January 2014

Becoming: A Game of Heroism and Sacrifice

Becoming, by Brian Engard of Dangerous Games, is a unique storytelling game about a hero and their struggles against adversity and what they are willing to sacrifice while attempting to accomplish their goal.

The basic setup of this game is for exactly four players, no GM. One of them will portray the Hero that is on a Quest. The other three players are the Fates, and they are out to make the Hero's life interesting. By which I mean terrible.

This is already a setup that appeals to me quite a bit and offers a very rare asymmetrical semi-cooperative storytelling experience. Most GMless games give each participant the same narrative powers and control - it makes the experience freewheeling and collaborative. That doesn't work for all groups that need something beyond the structure provided those games. What they are missing are some very specific objectives and roles to fulfill (Our Last Best Hope happens to offer these as well - highly recommended).

Each of the Fates is a distinctive aspect of the scenario and portrays a particular flavor of adversity for the Hero to encounter. Also, each of the Fates has a unique way that they can interact with the mechanics of the scenario which work to reinforce the nature of that Fate. The Hero has only what they bring with them, which the Fates will do their very best to turn against them, and the ability to choose.

As noted above, this game isn't fully cooperative: each participant is working to earn points. At the end of the game, once it has been established in the final scene if the Hero succeeds in their quest, the player with the most points will narrate the epilogue to the story. The Hero earns points by facing adversity and emerging triumphant. The Fates earn points by taking away that which matters most to the Hero. For some groups, this could be brilliant, while for others, this could just be Diplomacy in a new format.

The basic format of a game involves selecting a scenario and establishing the Virtues, Strengths and Allies of the Hero. These are their Assets and all that they are bringing with them. The other three players will each pick one of the Fates for that scenario which will detail their special ability and how they go about ruining everything.

The scenario itself is a series nine scenes, each with a setup and elements to establish the scene, and a threat to be dealt with by the Hero. One Fate will be "running" the scene and portraying the threat. The other two Fates will be playing a character of their choice in the scene acting as their avatar and tempting the Hero.

While the Hero may be able to triumph over the early scenes without sacrifice, it will not take long before the odds begin to stack against them and they must weigh the cost of failure against the bargains offered by the Tempters. The currency Tempters have to negotiate with are their dice. They can be traded to the Hero for their Assets. If the Hero rejects a Tempter's deal, their dice go to the threat instead.

The mechanics are simple, but become gut-wrenching before long. Do you sacrifice your friendship to save the kingdom? Are you willing to compromise your faith to keep going?

A number of different basic scenarios are presented with increasing complexity, from a quest to save the kingdom from a merciless despot, to the last hope of humanity to colonize a new world, or survivors in an emerging zombie apocalypse. These provide some cues on how to develop your own scenarios, particularly with multiple different examples of Fate special abilities and how they reinforce the themes of the scenario.

It is the following chapters which are particularly notable. After a discussion of how to use what has been shown to build your own quests, the text starts to take the structure apart and show significantly different ways that it can be reassembled. Examples of how this can be done include a three person scenario of a musician resisting against Selling Out and Settling Down, or a four person scenario with two Heroes that follows a relationship and how it deals with Dependency and Resentment.

There are not many games out there that offer that level of transparency in the mechanics and support in making the game your own. At the end, an offer can be found for the author to host any quests that you develop.

The competitive nature may not be for everyone, but it serves to drive forward the narrative and force the hard decisions. It is less about winning the game and more about earning the epilogue that you want. This part game, part toolkit and offers a distinctly fresh way of looking at a GMless gaming experience.

14 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 27 - Naga Scale Brooch

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 137), Naga Scale Brooches are a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 73). These were a niche item, of primary interest to characters that were social.

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.

Naga Scale Brooch
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

Spell Defense in the range give for a Journeyman tier item and six thread ranks. So far, this is by the book.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 to Charisma-only tests.

This kind of bonus can be a little subtle, but it is actually very good. That is, essentially, a bonus to Interaction tests, and those are a test that is very hard to get a bonus to. Most of the social system is built around increasing someone's attitude towards you, thus making that whole Interaction test thing either easy, or moot. When called for, most characters are looking at a single die with no modifiers. Which is going to bring back some painful First Circle memories.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 to Charisma-only tests.

More of the same, but for the right character it is quite good.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +1 to Social Defense.

A standard effect well in theme for the item.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +3 to Charisma-only tests.

Back to those precious, precious Charisma-only test bonuses.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +1 Rank to the Hypnotize talent.

This is the single most difficult social-type talent to learn (only Illusionists learn it before Warden tier, and even then Traveled Scholars and Troubadours are the other Disciplines that learn it) and easily one of the most powerful. This is particularly good for characters that don't have it simply because it gives access to that talent.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +2 Ranks to Hypnotize and +2 to Social Defense.

Two standard effects a rank early, though there is nothing here to get up in arms about. A little powerful, but no one will likely notice.

How does it all stack up? The Naga Scale Brooch is a solid Thread Item for any social character. It gives important and rare bonuses to Interaction tests, bonuses to Social Defense, and access to a very good talent. The low costs and good benefits at each rank mean that this is going to be welcome in any group that talks to people and rolls dice when doing so. That's not actually flippant - not all groups like to involve dice in their social interaction, which is their thing and more power to them for having fun on their terms.

It is extremely unlikely that this Thread Item will have any untoward effects in your game. Everything about this is reasonable and pretty much by the numbers. The last Thread Rank is beyond expectations, but given all of the previous ranks, it can hardly be called a transgression. Just a nice cap to a solid item. 

Thematic and well balanced, this is an excellent place to look to for inspiration. While there is nothing truly unique, it gives three different bonuses that all support the theme in different ways. Of particular note is the nice benefit of access to a rare talent. One that is still good with minimal ranks invested, but that isn't going to imbalance the game with those ranks. It is a tight package that isn't showy, but will never disappoint. 

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

Naga Scale Brooch (1E)
Spell Defense: 15
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

Everything is the same so far, but I am reminded that Thread Items in this book had costs listed with them. Call me old-fashioned, but the price listing on something like this (quite literally) cheapens the whole thing. 2000 silver? Yeah, I can just go buy this.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 Step to Interaction tests.

Pretty much the same thing, this just calls out very specifically what it is for. This isn't a bad thing, as I have encountered a lot of people that never considered Interaction tests were actually Charisma-only with a funny name.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: +2 Step to Interaction tests.

Roughly the same bonus between editions.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +1 to Social Defense.

And again.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: +3 Step to Interaction tests and +2 to Social Defense.

Here it breaks and gives another bonus to Social Defense, making this rank quite good.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: +1 Rank to the Hypnotize talent.

Back to the same bonus.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: +2 Ranks to Hypnotize.

Essentially, the bonus to Social Defense at Rank 4 in 1E was moved to Rank 6 in 3E. In all, a good change.

How do they stack up? Besides the slight adjustment to the order the bonuses come in and the greater specificity in the Charisma bonus, these are pretty much the same item. The changes made are good, though this item needed virtually no cleaning up.

10 January 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 26 - Forest Robes

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Guide (pg. 135), Forest Robes are a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 71). These are one of the different varieties of spellcaster robes, which are still a tradition even though they can (and do!) wear armor in Earthdawn if they would like. It is worth noting that this can be worn over actual armor.

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.

Forest Robes
Spell Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman

With Spell Defense and Thread Ranks (6) within the expected ranges, everything is looking good so far.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 rank to Spellcasting.

A standard effect, but a very good one.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Mystic Armor 1 and +1 to Spell Defense.

We have just hit two standard effects and it's only Rank Two! This isn't really a good sign. It's not game breaking, but it sets a bad precedent when compared to other items of similar cost.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Mystic Armor 2 and +2 to Spell Defense.

Another rank with two standard effects, the same as before. This is getting to be quite a bit for very little investment. These are solid bonuses that are always going to be useful.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The robe holds a spell matrix that is permanently attuned to the Earth Blend spell.

While it lacks the versatility of an empty spell matrix, Earth Blend is a useful spell and has no threads. That last part means that anyone can cast this spell - you don't actually have to be a spellcaster at all. Remember, the first rank gives you a rank in Spellcasting.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Mystic Armor 3 and +3 to Spell Defense.

Remember those really good bonuses? Yeah, they weren't gone long.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Up to four items may be hidden within the robe.

This ability is hard to discuss since there isn't much else like it in the game. What is important is that it is different and fun. It gives a neat ability that can be very useful, but isn't likely to generate issues outside of specific circumstances.

How does it all stack up? For the costs associated, this is a very good item. Every rank gives something solid and half of them give two solid effects. Any spellcaster will likely be delighted to come upon this particular thread item. While technically any character can use what it offers, spellcasters will get the most use out of it (wanting that +1 to Spellcasting).

If you put this in your game, it's not going to deform things, but the level of bonuses it provides may cause some envy from other players. As a Journeyman tier item, this has a lot going for it and anything that follows the guidelines is going to look lackluster in comparison. 

This is a great item to look at for ideas. It is technically usable by any character due to the early Spellcasting rank and the effects are interesting without being powerful, well, half of them. The other half are too much and could easily be toned down without changing the overall flavor of the item. Removing the Spell Defense boosts at Ranks 2 and 5, and the Mystic Armor boost at Rank 3 would make this a perfectly acceptable item in any game and dilute the interesting parts of it in any way. 

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

Forest Robes (1E)
Spell Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)

The Spell Defense is lower and it has two less Thread Ranks. Curious.

Thread Rank One
Effect: +1 to Spellcasting Step and grants a rank in Spellcasting if you don't have it.

This is quite similar to the 3E version, but doesn't directly grant a rank if you already have them, making it slightly worse since Spellcasting Ranks affect spell duration.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Mystic Armor 2 and +2 to Spell Defense.

We have Ranks 2 and 3 all rolled up in one rank here. This is insanely good.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: Earth Blend spell, just a little different.

Very similar to the Rank 4 effect in 3E, though not quite as good with a reduced effect test.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Up to five items may be hidden within the robe.

Again, very similar to the Rank 6 effect in 3E, but it holds more objects and they are harder to detect.

How do they stack up? They are very similar overall, but there are some differences. The 1E version has lower bonuses overall, though gets them faster, and a better concealment effect, but a worse Earth Blend effect. The additional investment required for 3E isn't significant, particularly not compared to what you are getting out of it. In all, the 3E version represents an increase in power on a thread item that didn't particularly need it.