30 September 2014

World of Dew

World of Dew, by Ben Woener of Woener's WunderWerks, is a game of noir samurai drama based on Blood and Honor.

I think this is the first time I have ever done a foreword to a review and I make no promises it will be the last. This particular review has been incredibly difficult to write and is still behind schedule. In no small part, this is because it has been difficult to strike the right tone. Here is the heart of the matter: I really like this game. It adapts an existing system in a clever way which explores a sub-genre which is frequently discussed, but nothing to date has done particularly well. Here's the but: But, this game is not for everyone. I don't even know if this game is for me.

The following review will get into why this is in more detail, but there are some fundamental gameplay assumptions many may struggle with. The most basic is it is in the players' hands to generally solve all of their problems and make the world a wonderful place. If the players are invested in solving problems, cutting the Gordian knot, emerging victorious, this probably isn't going to be the game for them. This can be worked around, but it will always be a mismatch of what the system does well and how it is being used. What it does is give players the tools to make everything messy and terrible in ways of their own choosing. It is an expectation of the game, as presented in every example of play, players will consistently make these choices. They will make things harder for themselves; they will use the advantages they have gained to create bleak drama of difficult choices where they may not win.

This is the world of Akira Kurosawa. One where the protagonists aren't necessarily heroes, but they are probably the best the world is going to get. Every story starts out raining and things only get dirtier and more complicated from there. In many ways, this is a instance where the meeting of two genres is a great way to examine each in a new light. The importance of honor and what it means takes a new light when viewed through the lens of the noir genre.

The system, which traces its lineage through Houses of the Blooded and Fate, is a fantastic vehicle for this kind of story. A brief description of the system for those who are unfamiliar: There are six attributes which govern all actions, one of which is a character's weakness and has a 0. Dice pools are built from an attribute and bonuses from other sources, such as appropriate traits (from the character, opponent's, the scene, etc.), reputations, sword schools, etc. Characters can voluntarily make life more difficult by wagering some of their dice, which will not be rolled, in exchange for narrative control at the conclusion of the action. The winner gets to narrate the immediate outcome and keeps all of their wagers. The loser keeps half of their wagers. Those involved use wagers to add additional details to the outcome of the action.

Wagers form the heart of the system and how players are given control of the story. Depending on the kind of action and governing attribute, events and the setting can directed by the players. For example, Wisdom wagers are used to establish facts of the setting. This allows players who enjoy world-building to emphasize the attributes which give the most opportunities for this, while players who are not as interested can instead be more action-oriented.

Only the narrator has the power to change an established fact of the setting. Throughout the course of play, whenever characters spend Honor or Ninjo points (similar to Fate points), they are handed over the narrator. Each point can be spent to change a fact which has been previously established. This mechanic, which is very clever in my opinion, explicitly means the protagonists can never truly be certain of the world around them. No matter how much they think they know, they never actually know everything. As in all things, it is generally better to save these twists for the right moment.

The city in the noir genre is a living, breathing entity as any character and is a part of creating the campaign. In a setup similar to the Dresden Files Role-Playing Game (which is actually called out), everyone will work together to create their specific setting, populating it with themes, locations, threats, organizations and their faces, and people not necessarily associated with an organization. Each player is given some points to spend on these things, which helps to give the endeavor a little more direction and structure. Based on past experiences with DFRPG, this is a good thing. In no small part because it gives a place to start and an indication when you are done.

World of Dew's default setting is during the Tokugawa shogunate at either the beginning, when things were a mess because the traditional social order was being dismantled to establish a power base, or at the end, when the traditional order was being dismantled to adapt to the changing world. Either of these are excellent eras to set a game, each offering something different, and the book goes into reasonable depth discussing why to choose each of them.

There is also a complete, but concise, look at religion within the setting. This is a very complex topic which can be difficult to approach from a Western mindset, particularly how seemingly disparate belief systems all co-exist and fulfill different needs. Along with this is a discussion of supernatural elements and how best to use them within the genre and to remain true to the setting on which this is based. Along with Kuro, this is one of my favorite discussions on the topic in an RPG (they approach this from very different directions).

As appropriate to any game in this setting, there is a discussion about etiquette and how to handle it, a topic with is going to be important in establishing the shared authenticity of the setting. It is a well-written distillation of the basic premise of etiquette within the portrayed society, but the contrast it provides to contemporary culture misses the mark a little (in my opinion) when it could have instead provided an excellent example. Specifically, the discussion is regarding the concept of makoto. The text goes into differences between Eastern and Western heroes, and what are seen as virtues for each of these characters. The former value harmony within society above all else, while the latter value individuality (this is the very condensed version) and how these reflect the values of each society.

This is all true, however where this could have been improved (in my opinion) is by using the disparity between the perceived value (individuality) and the displayed value (harmony) in our society as an example which is fitting to the noir genre. Anyone who has worked in a bureaucracy knows there is a stated culture of standing up and speaking the truth, however the functional culture is one where you must work behind the scenes and compromise to accomplish things. The concept of compromise is important and can have a deeper implication in a genre which explores the struggle between doing what is right versus what you want. What compromises are you willing to make and at what point have you managed to compromise away everything you have held dear? Again, this is just me, but there is less of a functional difference between the East and the West once you look beyond the latter's rhetoric.

Combat within this game is exceptionally brutal, particularly if guns are involved. It is easy to become injured and healing can take a very long time. With a gun, death is the default unless an Honor point is spent (the rarest of resources). To begin, a the conflict is between two people, the aggressor and the target. During this first round, they are the only two characters rolling. Following that, it can open up to anyone and it gets very chaotic. In all, this is works well within the genre where violence is seen as a last resort by the protagonists - it is dangerous. When a gun is drawn, things have just gotten real and people are going to start dying.

There is an example in the combat section which does not sit well with me, particularly because it carries the weight of expectation with it. It starts with one character (Hokusai) shooting another (Garuda) with a gun. He wins the contest and chooses to miss with his privilege. Garuda declares he shoots Hokusai, who in turn spends an Honor point to not die from this. Hokusai then spends a wager to shoot Garuda. This is followed by Garuda spending a wager to turn his pistol on Hokusai's companion and kill him if Hokusai doesn't do anything. Hokusai spends a wager to jump in front of the bullet and save his companion's life.

Why don't I like this example of play? There are a few reasons. First it shows a series of choices which I don't know many players who would actually make: opting to miss, spending a valuable resource potentially unnecessarily, then effectively countermanding the initial decision, and ending up wasting the Honor point. The second reasons, which doesn't sit well at all with me, is it brings in a character who wasn't allowed to participate in the conflict and shows they can be killed by a decision which they have no control over. As a player and a GM, I do not like this. As well, if you get into any fight with a gun, as long as the other character rolls at least a 10, there is a good chance both character will die. There may be a lesson here about living by the sword and dying by the sword, but this seems problematic at the very least. The good news is this can be easily solved by consent from the group as to how to handle these situations. I'm simply not a fan of killing a character by fiat - as much as this game is about giving a player agency, this act removes it entirely.

As I said in the foreword, this is not necessarily a game for everyone and I don't want to leave this review on these down notes, because this game doesn't deserve to be solely judged by the two small things I take issue with when the rest of it is quite good. One of those things is a conceptual nitpick and the second something which falls into some good ground rules to establish for any group playing this game (or any game): boundaries.

This is an excellent entry into the noir genre and highly recommended for anyone who is interested in gaming in the world of Akira Kurosawa. There are a number of clever mechanics and ways to get players invested in a in-depth and different setting. For the right group, this will provide an amazing experience in shared storytelling, particularly for those groups who don't want to go fully into a cooperative storytelling game.

23 September 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 04 - Woodsman

This is the fourth 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.

In the previous post, there was a list of expanded disciplines from Earthdawn Third Edition (ED3) and what Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) core discipline will be the most similar. The Woodsman was on the list with either Archer or Scout being appropriate selections, depending on what angle you want, and I stand by those recommendations.

However, this doesn't mean there cannot be a slight twist in the discipline to give it a new niche. Below is my work to carve out a new space for the Woodsman as something other than just halfway between an Archer and a Scout.

The major themes of the Woodsman are remaining untouched, though how they play out shifted a little. It may be easier to discuss them in how they differ from the Archer and the Scout. The Archer is obsessed with perfecting the bow and with direction. In contrast, the Woodsman views the bow as a means to an end. It is an extremely useful tool, the very best for their work, but it is just a bow. As well, the direct path is likely to encounter obstacles, which can be easily avoided. 

Scouts have a juxtaposition between blending in with their surroundings while never truly being a part of them. This is what gives them the objectivity to truly perceive their environment. However, the Woodsman is immersed in their surroundings and becomes a part of it. They are not interested in an objective perspective, but in defending and protecting it. To do this, they must know and feel it.

Which gives a discipline who is adaptable, but implacable. They do not put distance between themselves and what they care about, but surround themselves with it. They are devoted to and defend what they care about. This is unlikely to take the form of a last stand which will accomplish nothing, but by waiting for opportunity, adapting to the situation, and exploiting it as needed.

This naturally leads to the mechanical updates, both to fit their new niche and adjusted for ED4. Previously, they borrowed a lot from the Warrior. Particularly talents which they were unlikely to use due to being a Missile Weapons-based discipline. Along with this is a reduced Durability; 7/6 is quite high for a discipline which is unlikely to see much direct conflict.

While there has always been a touch of Beastmaster, I wanted to increase this as their new major niche. It gives them a distinct area in which they are different from Archers and Scouts and plays into their theme of immersing themselves in the world. Scouts get mild access to animal companion talents at Journeyman, but it is only in the form of making their scouting options more diverse.

Along with this comes the removal of the elf racial restriction. This discipline is likely to be most popular with elves for cultural and mechanical reasons, but the themes should not be restricted to only elves.

Novice

First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Awareness
  • Missile Weapons
  • Tracking
  • Wood Weaving
Abilities
  • Durability 5
  • Wilderness Survival
  • Karma: Perception-based tests for talents available to the Woodsman.
Second Circle
  • Stealthy Stride
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Third Circle
  • Navigation
Abilities
  • Karma: Initiative tests.
Fourth Circle
  • Mystic Aim
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Mystic Defense
Talent Options
  1. Animal Bond
  2. Animal Training
  3. Anticipate Blow
  4. Call Missile
  5. Climbing
  6. Creature Analysis
  7. Enhance Animal Companion
  8. Great Leap
  9. Mystic Pursuit
  10. Surprise Strike
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Spot Armor Flaw
Abilities
  • Hunter's Strike: 1 Strain, the adept gains +2 to all Action tests in the first round of combat against a target they have Tracked for at least 10 minutes.
  • Karma: Missile Weapon damage tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Wood Skin
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Physical Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Safe Path
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative Step
Eighth Circle
  • Second Shot
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  1. Animal Companion Durability
  2. Bank Shot
  3. Borrow Sense
  4. Call Animal Companion
  5. Danger Sense
  6. Dominate Beast
  7. Evidence Analysis
  8. Stopping Aim
  9. Tactics
  10. Tiger Spring
This is a first draft without any review and no playtesting at all. In all, the mechanics are fairly close to the original. The biggest weakness from a design perspective is an Archer or Woodsman with the right talent options will be very similar. It is more different from the Scout due to the increased emphasis on combat and ability to focus only on one style of combat. There is likely still some tinkering required.

19 September 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 03 - Expanded Disciplines

This is the third 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.

When an edition comes out, there is always a lag before all of the mechanics from the previous edition(s) catch up in the releases. Some mechanics are simply never updated as there is no longer a place for them in the new edition.


Removing a specialized class or option in D&D isn't a big deal - there will be something else and there is a disconnection between the mechanics and setting. This makes development very easy. Earthdawn is a special case because the mechanics are directly incorporated into the setting. Removing a discipline is problematic because they are actually a thing within the setting.

There are 15 disciplines from Earthdawn Third Edition (not including Cathay) which have not been updated. The good news is many of these are better handled by slight modifications to existing disciplines than a brand new discipline of dubious design and support.

Below is a list of the expanded disciplines which can easily be adapted to Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) with existing disciplines. I suggest treating them as a specialization of the parent discipline if there are any modifications which need to be made (e.g. Air Sailor [Boatman]). Also, unless there is a pressing biological reason (e.g. windling disciplines and Taildancer), there are no longer any racial restrictions.
  • Boatman: Use Air Sailor as the base. Change Air Sailing to Sailing or Riverboattery as appropriate. Exchange Wind Catcher for Swimming; treat the talent version of Swimming the same as the skill.
  • Messenger: Use Scout as the base. Exchange Creature Analysis for Book Memory. This is not the best equivalency, but it largely fits with the appropriate talent options. At the end of the day, this is an entire discipline dedicated to delivering the mail. Kevin Costner would be so proud.
  • Outcast Warrior: Use Warrior with no changes. Yes, this is a hybrid of Sky Raider and Warrior, but the combination has little internal synergy or consistency.
  • Songsmith: Use Troubadour as the base. Exchange Performer for Artisan if the adept is an artist, rather than a performer, and allow Emotion Song to function through their artwork at its unveiling.
  • Taildancer: Use Swordmaster as a base. Exchange Speak Language for Swimming.
  • Winddancer: Use Troubadour with no changes.
  • Windmaster: Use Warrior as a base. Exchange Unarmed Combat for Stealthy Stride.
  • Windscout: Use Scout as a base. Switch the positions of Climbing and Avoid Blow.
  • Woodsman: Use either Archer or Scout as a base with no changes.
This still leaves some disciplines out in the cold: Horror Stalker, Journeyman, Purifier, Shaman, and Traveled Scholar. I've already put together a draft which entirely redevelops the Liberator for ED4. The other expanded disciplines simply do not fit for a variety of reasons, generally because there is nothing quite like them.

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.

15 September 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 01 - Introduction

This is the first 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 numbering for this series has restarted as this is the first entry for the new edition, Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4). This particular entry will not have an analysis of a particular discipline. Instead, I'm taking this as my opportunity to look at how things have changed and how my various Earthdawn columns will change.

As you hopefully noticed, there is a new bit of italic text at the top. This is going to be present in all of my ED4 posts which deal with mechanics and design. The reason for this is I feel it is important to separate my work here from the development for FASA Games. There may be some crossover and things which made their first appearance here may end up in an official release. However, until they are present in an official ED4 release, everything here is just the work of a fan.

There is going to be a global shift in how I approach various topics given my own change in perspective. While I am always going to strive to be as objective as possible, my analysis of ED4 is going to be tinged with subjectivity from my involvement. The good news to this is I will be able to offer an insider's perspective on how things ended up the way they did - why choices were made and what the goals were. My hope is this means the quality and value of each entry will go up because of those additional insights.

Another space I intend to explore more is introducing new material which I'm toying with on my own time. This will include doing updates of disciplines, spells, and thread items which have not been introduced in ED4 yet, in addition to new entries for each of those. My hope is to have all of the development be open so everyone can get an idea of how my process works.

To everyone reading this, here is your chance to make requests of things you would like to see or provide feedback to what you do see. Everything here is for the Earthdawn community.

Thank you for reading.

13 September 2014

The Whispering Road

The Whispering Road, by Brent P. Newhall, is a game of finding your way home.

This cooperative game is inspired by some of the works of famed director Hayao Miyazaki (not including Princess Mononoke) and is explicitly appropriate for all ages. It is stated early that violence is not appropriate for the stories told within. This doesn't mean no action, just violence isn't the answer. The premise is that each character has been separated from their home by some circumstance and is looking for a way home (Spirited Away is an excellent example). Traveling with their friends in this new world, they encounter trouble, allies, and hopefully learn more about who they are during their journey. If they play their cards right, they may just get home. 

The book itself is very slim, coming in at 26 pages, but lavishly illustrated. In all honesty, I will probably spend more time writing this than it will take you to read the game. Part of this is the number of full page illustrations and the repeated information. This can be helpful for younger players since they will not have to refer to earlier sections as the move through their session.

Getting started has each player define some part of the setting (referred to as parameters). These can include facts about the setting, or requests about the story. This is essentially a formalized way of having everyone work to create a shared world and establish the kind of story they want to tell. Particularly the things which they do not want to see in the story (e.g. "adult" content). 

Making a character is very simple: pick an archetype, a need, and some traits.

The archetypes include the ordinary hero, special one, mentor, and rascal. The primary thing they provide is a goal to achieve within each act. For example, the ordinary hero's goal is to protect another.

Each character's need is what drives them forward coupled with something holding them back. Specifically, another player's character holding them back in some way. One of the examples provided is: I need to explore, but my friend is sickly and I need to take care of her. The first part is the most important, while the second provides some roleplaying cues and connections with the rest of the group.

Finally, your five traits. There is a list of traits to choose from, some of them have special tags (intellectual, physical, and relational) which have a function if they are used in a matching conflict. While most are mundane, some are decidedly supernatural, such as shapeshifter. 

Here is where things start to get murky. The special one and rascal both have mechanical effects from their archetype. The special one gets a special power or item, but loses a trait in exchange. While the rascal gets two additional traits. The problem with the special one is there is no indication you cannot be a rascal who has future sense, power of flight, power of illusion, and shapeshifter, with three more traits. Nor is there any indication of what effect the special one's special thing has - it appears to do nothing. While mechanical parity isn't going to be a major concern, traits are the only resource character's have and they are spent by using them, with only a limited number refreshing as the game proceeds. It is almost foolish for everyone to not be a rascal, particularly since they have a remarkably easy goal as well (prove your good soul to the others). Also, the example characters have some errors with regard to their traits.

Gameplay is divided into acts and each act has a particular focus. The prologue introduces each character and what their home is like; it is just a series of expositions. Act One moves the characters to the new world, which may or may not be fantastic (it is probably going to be fantastic). Act Two and Three introduce the antagonists and allies respectively. Act Four sends the heroes through an ordeal. Finally, Act Five resolves the action.

During each act, there will various conflicts which address the characters' needs. Each conflict must address at least one need and may have a type which corresponds to the trait tags. If you use a trait which matches with the conflict type, you get a bonus to your roll. Players work together to determine which needs are involved in the conflict and how things play out.

A significant part of the game is helping others before you help yourself. For this, each character has good and bad karma. If you help others (rolling dice to help with another character's need), you gain good karma, while if you help yourself (rolling dice to help with your need), you gain bad karma. There isn't any clear instruction on what to do if you roll dice in a conflict which helps with another character's need and your need. When all of the needs have been involved, everyone moves to the next act.

The after the final act has been resolved, each character's endgame is resolved. It's a little like Fiasco, only significantly less Fiasco-like. Subtract your bad karma from your good karma and compare the result to a chart which will indicate if you get home or not and some indication of the circumstances. Positive results send you home, while negative results keep you in the new world. 0 and -0 each appear on the table, so maybe it is a choice on where you go? 

While this is a cooperative game, two players take on special roles referred to as the Navigator and the Driver. It is easy to think of them as first among equals and should be the most experienced and invested in the fun of everyone else. This is because they are responsible for ensuring the game stays on track (Navigator) and keeping the action moving forward (Driver). Specifically, the Navigator has questions the conflicts need to answer, while the Driver has conflicts which need to be established.

Each act provides a list of questions for the Navigator and some conflict ideas for the Driver. The questions are broad, but specific enough to be helpful as cues. For example, the questions in Act Two are: How have the antagonists upset this world's balance? What is the antagonists' specific threat to the new world? Do you learn anything new about the new world? Likewise, the example conflicts presented are similar: Encountering the antagonists, encountering the antagonists' past victims, learning from a mentor, thrust further into the new world. This is particularly helpful for younger players who benefit from cues to keep them in the right direction.

How does it all turn out? Well, there are troubles with the mechanics, though nothing which is insurmountable. For example, the traits can easily be resolved by giving each archetype five and calling it a day, reducing them to a goal, or even removing archetypes entirely and letting players choose their own goals. What would help above all else is to have an example of play within the actual book to reference. This is very valuable to help gamers of all ages set a tone and see the intention behind the various pieces. Naturally, it can be particularly important for younger players to get ideas and see expectations.

In the end, this is a cute game which is best suited for younger players, particularly families which want to explore some of their favorite fantasy worlds.

09 September 2014

Earthdawn: Part 33 - Comparison of 1E and 3E Part 7: Companion Talents

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

Below is a list of all the Talents found in the 1E core book and the 3E Player's Guide. The list was compiled from both sources to note new Talents, not just missing ones, that may have been pulled from another source (1E Earthdawn Companion, or Denizens of Earthdawn), or never appeared in 1E at all.

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. 

Animal Leadership - Now provides effects on a Pathetic result and no longer provides increased duration on an Excellent result.

Animate Object - Perception, Willpower, and Charisma of the object is no longer fixed. Dexterity, Strength, and Toughness are figured differently, but yield the same results. Animating an object considered weaving a thread for limits. Death Rating is no longer based on the material, but now provides Physical Armor based on the material. If a thread item, now gains benefits from attached threads.

Armor Mount - Now in Player's Guide.

Astral Pocket -  Now holds considerable less weight. No longer requires a test to place objects in or remove them from the pocket. Now has a duration.

Aura Armor -  Now based on Willpower, not Strength. Improves both Mystic and Physical Armor at the same time. No longer a test against current Armor. Duration is now based on Rank.

Bardic Voice - No changes.

Bargain with Summoned Creature - Now allows for Blood Magic to bypass the duration.

Bestial Resilience -  No longer requires an action.

Bestial Toughness - No changes.

Blade Juggle - Now in Player's Guide.

Blind Fire - Now based on Perception. Now a Simple action. No longer replaces an Attack test, instead supplements with a test against target's Mystic Defense to work.

Blood Guilt Weapon - No longer costs Strain. Now costs Karma.

Body Blade - No longer costs Strain.

Bone Compass - New talent.

Call Mount - Range multiplier has changed and is based on Rank instead of result. Now tests against mount's Spell Defense.

Casting Pattern - Difficulty for spells with no threads is now Reattuning Difficulty, not Weaving Difficulty +5.

Chameleon - Duration is now in minutes. Proscribed activities now temporarily disrupt the talent rather than end it. Spellcasting and weaving threads are now allowed.

Champion Challenge - Penalty duration is now in hours. Effects on loss are different.

Confront Horror - No longer +10 to Step by default. No longer costs Strain. Final test is now Confront Horror. No longer penalties for interference.

Create Arrow - No longer a talent.

Critical Hit - Now costs Karma.

Defense -  Now costs Karma. Now costs 1 Strain. Duration is now result rounds, not Rank hours

Detect Falsehood - Require result levels reduced by one. Additional Excellent result added.

Detect Influence - Excellent result now includes information if target is Horror marked.

Develop Animal Sense - Completely changed mechanics.

Disarm Magical Trap -  Now covered as part of Disarm Trap.

Dominate Arrow - Now result level for an Armor-Defeating Hit is increased by one.

Eagle Eye - New(ish) talent.

Earth Armor - No longer +10 to Step. Now has a Physical Armor rating. No longer increases result level for Armor-Defeating Hit. Not explicit if repairing armor costs Karma.

Echo Location - Now has a range.

Effect Pattern - Difficulty for spells with no threads is now Reattuning Difficulty, not Weaving Difficulty +5.

Elemental Walk - New talent.

Enduring Art - New talent.

Escape Divination - New talent.

Ethereal Weapon - Mystic Armor now provides protection.

First Ring of Perfection - No longer specifically affects bonus dice.

Forge Armor - Moved to Player's Guide.

Gain Surprise - Now costs Strain.

Gold Sense - Now a fixed difficulty. No longer a minimum quantity. Can no exclude materials from sense.

Howl - Paralysis now lasts Rank rounds and may be overcome like the fleeing condition.

Impossible Hide - New talent.

Impressive Shot - Moved to Player's Guide/now also Impressive Strike. Now Dexterity instead of Charisma. Action test is now the Attack test, no "Damage test" is made. Now improves Interaction tests, not causes opponents penalties.

Improve Armor - Now "Infuse Armor". Now costs Karma and 2 Strain. Description altered, now a Standard action. Effect is now result level to Physical and Mystic Armor, instead of +1 per application, up to talent rank. Duration now rank hours, instead of 24 hours. Now has an effect on a Pathetic result.

Incite Mob - New talent.

Incite Stampede - New talent.

Lion Spirit - Now also improves Spell Defense.

Matrix Strike - Now a Simple action. No longer replaces the Attack test. 

Mind Armor - New talent.

Mind Blade - New talent.

Mind Wave - New talent.

Missile Twister - Now a Standard action. Now affects thrown weapons, possibly to a reduced level. Missile Attack tests now require only one higher result level, not two.

Moving Earth - Area and thickness larger (likely to account for standardized measurements). Carrying capacity is now reduced. Now requires concentration.

Multi-Charge - Now requires movement between each attack.

Multi-Shot - No changes.

Multi-Strike - No changes.

Multi-Tongue - Now costs 1 Strain.

Multiweaving - Now "Multi-Weaving".

Netherwalk - Spell Defense bonus reduced. 

Pin - No changes.

Plant Shelter - Action Step no longer has a +10. Now takes 10 minutes to perform, instead of 5. Now has an explicit duration. Windlings are now considered one-quarter size, instead of one-half size, and dwarfs are now one-half size, instead of normal size.

Quick Shot - Now costs Karma. Now requires declaring the number of attacks initially and paying all Strain up front. No longer requires an initial Missile Weapons test. No longer requires only one target. Cannot be combing with other talents and skills which give additional attacks.

Quickblade - Removed.

Rally - No longer requires a mount to eliminate Strain. Now costs Strain if the adept cannot be seen by comrades.

Range Pattern - Difficulty for spells with no threads is now Reattuning Difficulty, not Weaving Difficulty +5. Range multiplier reduced from 100 to 20.

Reshape Object - New talent.

Resist Pain - New talent.

Rushing Attack - No longer has an Action step. Now costs Strain. Now costs Karma. No longer requires Dexterity based talents. No longer limits ranks. Now allows for splitting movement.

Safe Thought - No longer replaces Spell Defense. Now adds to Spell Defense.

Screaming Arrow - Now a Simple action. No longer causes Harried, now only causes fear. Now allows for a resistance test. Prohibition against combining with some talents (e.g. Flame Arrow). Increased duration. No additional effects based on result level.

Second Chance - No longer costs Karma. No longer requires a test against the target's Spell Defense. Retest is now made with Second Chance (limited by the original talent).

Sense Magic Weapon - Now has an area of effect, which includes the approximate direction to the magic item(s). Specific and item types may be excluded.

Shield Beater - No longer has an Action step. No longer bypasses the opponent's shield. No longer reduces the result level required for an Armor-Defeating Hit. Now reduces Physical Armor and on a Good success improves the odds of shattering a shield.

Show Armor Flaw - Now costs 2 Strain. No longer produces a number of flaws. No longer increases damage. No longer required to perform a Called Shot to take advantage of the benefits.

Slough Blame - Now in Player's Guide.

Soften Blade - No longer costs Karma. Range no longer based on sight, now Rank x6 yards.

Song of Deflection - Now a Standard action.

Soul Shatter - Action Step no longer has a +10. Now costs 1 Strain. Now costs Karma. Mystic Armor now explicitly provides protection against continued damage.

Spell Crystal Lock - Dispel Difficulty is no longer fixed. Now limits on the number of "locks" which the adept may have at one time.

Spirit Strike - New talent.

Stone Skin - Now costs Karma. Duration is now Rank rounds, not 24 hours. Now adds Rank to Physical Armor, not a fixed value. No longer increases Unconsciousness and Death Ratings. No longer a limit to the number of times it may be used in a day.

Storm Shield - New talent.

Summon - Now in Player's Guide.

Summoning Circle - Now based on Willpower. No longer costs Strain. Now costs Karma.

Tame Mount - May now be used once per animal per day. Animal is now only Unfriendly to others.

Thoughtful Expression - Range is now Rank x50 yards. Penalty is now Harried.

Thunder Axe - No longer has weapon requirements. Stunned condition now lasts Rank rounds.

Trace Missile - Duration is now in minutes.

Trample - No longer has an Action Step. No longer grants an additional attack.

Truth Skit -  Time limit now Rank years and days, not 7 year.Time interval is now one minute, not one round.

Unmount - Additional clarification regarding Setting for a Charge provided.

Venom -  No longer +5 to the Action Step. No longer costs Strain. Now costs Karma. Target may now only be affected by one Venom at a time. Now a specific prohibition against manufactured weapons.

Vital Strike - Now based on Perception. Now costs 1 Strain. No longer functions with spells. No longer replaces the Attack test. Now just adds Rank to damage.

Vitality - No changes.

Water Dancing -  Now compared against only the highest Social Defense. Now only affects Interaction tests. Duration is now Rank minutes, not 24 hours. 

Weapon Breaker - Now based on Strength, not Willpower. No longer has a +10 Action Step bonus. Success now reduces Damage Step of weapon by -2 per result level. Extraordinary results only shatter mundane weapons. Threaded weapons cannot be reduced below Damage Step 1.

Weapon Ward - New talent.

Web Astral -  Changed to "Astral Web". Step no longer has +10. Now costs 3 Strain. Area has been reduced. Test to move is now against the result, not the Step. 

Whirlwind - Now costs 2 Strain. No longer costs Karma. Damage is no longer reduced. Talent is now prohibited to use in the same round as talents granting additional attacks.

Wind Bow - No longer has an Action Step. Damage Step is equal to the Rank. Now allowed to use Flame Arrow in conjunction with Wind Bow. Duration is now minutes, not one round.

Wound Transfer - Now one test. Now transfers damage, which may cause a wound. Adept heals a Wound.