31 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 09 - Cavalryman

This is the ninth 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.

To be perfectly honest, the Cavalryman is a hard discipline. It is not easy to write and even more difficult to include in a game. The bond between the character and their mount is the most important thing to these adepts, and this can get in the way and cause problems within the standard adventuring group. These problems are likely to start with the mount not being able to go everywhere and can proceed to issues with group dynamics. Specifically, being true to the character and concept versus enabling the group to function without the mount. I have been there and it can be messy. Windlings are the exception, since their small size means their mounts can travel all of the same places as the rest of the group.


When developing this discipline for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4), there were a number of different sub-themes for them to explore. Beyond their central theme, warrior bound to a mount, there is a blank space. This is good, because there is a lot to explore, and difficult, because there isn't any clear direction. Looking at cavalry throughout history gave some cues on how handle this and expand on those core themes as well.

They bring offensive power and mobility to any conflict, though do not have much in the way of defense. Their talent options give them a few different ways to develop, by expanding into social talents, improving their mount's effectiveness, and improving their own offensive capabilities.

Novice

First Circle
  • Animal Bond
  • Charge
  • Melee Weapons
  • Mount Weaving
  • Trick Riding
Abilities
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Animal Training
Third Circle
  • Enhance Animal Companion
Abilities
  • Karma: Attack tests while charging
Fourth Circle
  • Call Animal Companion
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Armor Mount
Abilities
  • One Soul, Two Bodies: +2 on any non-combat test involving the adept's connection with their favored mount.
  • Karma: Damage tests while mounted.
Sixth Circle
  • Wheeling Attack
Seventh Circle
  • Wheeling Defense
Eighth Circle
  • Double Charge
Cavalrymen are a combat discipline first, followed by an animal companion discipline. Though they, above any other, leverage their animal companion for increased effectiveness in combat. In ED4, they have benefited considerably from the expansion of animal companion talents. Their mounts' will now improve skills through Animal Training and their other ratings through Enhance Animal Companion. Which when applied to a thundra beast is simply terrifying. This is not to belittle the much more likely zoak, who can become dangerous as well.

Their combat talents chase the adage, "the best defense is a good offense." The tactics for a Cavalryman start very simple: charge, set up for a charge, charge, etc. These will land devastating attacks and generally keep the Cavalryman out of harm's way. As they increase in Circle, how to approach combat becomes a more complicated tactical puzzle. They hit hard and it becomes a question of how best to use their mobility and power while recognizing they can be surprisingly fragile with the wrong set of circumstances.
  • Avoid Blow - This is a recommended talent if you frequently find yourself fighting without your mount. Also, if you should figure out a way to stop this from happening, because it is putting a serious cramp in your style.
  • Battle Shout - Highly recommended for any adept who wants to expand their combat capabilities. This has the advantage of being useful regardless the mounting situation.
  • Blood Share - Very useful for healing your mount, who are often even more frail than a Cavalryman. Even beyond that, it can move damage around a group to make healing more manageable.
  • Conversation - If you are interested in engaging in social activities, this is the second place you will want to look.
  • Creature Analysis - Thematic for adepts who want to play up their connection to animals, and information is always useful.
  • Dominate Beast - This falls into the same category as Creature Analysis. It will be less generally useful, but likely quite good when it does come up.
  • First Impression - This is the first place to look for a social talent and recommended for nearly every Cavalryman to consider.
  • Heartening Laugh - A solid group buff. If you are already heading down the social path because no one else is around to fill it, there is a good chance no one else will have this talent. You may want to consider fixing this.
  • Speak Language - With their ability to travel freely, it is natural for these adepts to come in contact with a number of different languages. Social Cavalrymen will find this the most useful, but with the low investment requirement, nearly any character can find some value.
  • Sure Mount - Basically Wound Balance for you and your mount while you are mounted. This is going to be useful for any adept wanting to improve their defenses.
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.

The social Cavalryman will want First Impression straight away, followed by Conversation, and then Heartening Laugh. Their fourth talent option is a bit more ambiguous and defined by their particular campaign. Speak Language is useful for a true face character, while Battle Shout is charisma based and beneficial in combat.

Those who want to further specialize in combat should start with Battle Shout, then Sure Mount, and Blood Share. Avoid Blow makes a good final selection because you simply never know.

Animal companion specialists will want Blood Share, Sure Mount, Dominate Beast, and Creature Analysis. This character is all about their mount.

Finally, the "jack-of-all-trades" who simply wants to participate as much as possible will find Battle Shout, Blood Share, First Impression, and Sure Mount to be solid choices. This is pretty close to the combat build, only picking up First Impression instead of Avoid Blow. The reason is straight-forward: this is a combat character. First Impression allows them to contribute meaningfully in social situations, and Blood Share can benefit the entire group.
  • Animal Companion Durability - If your mount is attacked with any frequency (not all GMs will engage in this tactic), this is a must.
  • Empathic Sense - A solid choice for a socially-oriented adept.
  • Etiquette - Another good talent for social Cavalrymen.
  • Fearsome Charge - A great debuff for any Cavalryman.
  • Leadership - Not generally useful for PCs, but very thematic for cavalry bands and units.
  • Lion Heart - One of the few defensive talents at their disposal. This is worth considering for every adept.
  • Missile Weapons - With the mobility of a mount, you can engage in ranged combat without any real fear of melee reprisal. However, there are also no other talents to support this and it will continual investment to be competitive.
  • Mount Attack - If your mount is particularly fearsome, this is probably worth picking up.
  • Spirit Mount - Never be without a mount again! However, it won't actually be your mount. This talent is in a strange place between worlds. It is thematically appropriate, but at the same time seems so deeply inappropriate. The Third Edition discussion goes into this in more detail and continues in the comments for those who want to look into this more.
  • Tactics - A good group buff even if it may only last for a round, two at most. I'm just being realistic about the ability of the average group to stick to the plan.
Going back to the builds from above, a social Cavalryman will want Empathic Sense, Etiquette, and Fearsome Charge (taking advantage of what is likely a good charisma). After this, Lion Heart and Animal Companion Durability are both solid choices. For those who want more defense, eschew Fearsome Charge for both Lion Heart and Animal Companion Durability.

Combat specialized Cavalrymen probably have a nasty, violent mount. Which means Animal Companion Durability, Fearsome Charge, Lion Heart, and Tactics are going to be good choices. If you always want to have a mount available, Tactics should be traded for Spirit Mount.

Those adepts most interested in their mount will want to stick to the combat selections, possibly returning to the Novice talents for Battle Shout.

A jack-of-all-trades will likely be interested in Animal Companion Durability, Empathic Sense or Etiquette, Fearsome Charge, and Lion Heart.

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

28 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 08 - Beastmaster

This is the eighth 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 discipline which changed the most during Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) development was the Beastmaster. While the themes have always been clear and appealing - a savage warrior who commands wild animals - the mechanics have always struggled. There are a few reasons for this problem.


First, the Beastmaster discipline has traditionally been chasing multiple themes at the same time. The end result has been them doing a number of different things poorly and nothing particularly well. This was the easiest fix, though also the source of the most significant changes to the discipline. Their primary theme has been focused to being a savage warrior. They are not just a part of nature, they are the master of nature. The outgrowth of this is they finally earn their primary combatant Durability 7. While they may not be as combat focused as many of their peers, they can perform at a high level and have the tools to focus even more if so desired.

Second, the mechanics to around animal companions have traditionally been sub-par, to say the least. How they were supposed to function hasn't be clear. Their effectiveness in combat, or lack thereof, is directly related to how recently you bonded with them; the panther which has been with you since First Circle is more of a liability than an ally once you are a Journeyman. Even what tasks they can perform is in question. To be perfectly honest, this situation hasn't been entirely resolved. However, significant strides have been taken and tools have been presented to help resolve it.

The final point I'm going to touch on is the general difficulty with animal companions in general. Getting the balance on them just right is difficult even in a controlled environment. With the diverse nature of Earthdawn and how each game and group is unique, it becomes quite the challenge. At the heart of this of this is the effectiveness of animal companions. If they are too effective, then they take away from the rest of the adepts and it turns into the Beastmaster show and her Deadly Circus. If they are ineffectual, then they are dead weight at best or a liability at worst. Their out of combat utility is largely left to each individual game to sort out, but as a combat discipline it has always been assumed animal companions should be offering combat support.

This goes back to the first point: the simplest solution to the dilemma facing the Beastmaster was to move all of the animal companion talents from discipline talents to talent options. This allows the discipline to focus on two themes and do both of them well. It also means players who want to play this kind of character aren't saddled with talents they may have no interest in or a GM doesn't want to introduce to their game.

There is also a silver lining to the new paradigm. It has opened up the design space for some interesting new directions to explore.

Novice

First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Beast Weaving
  • Claw Shape
  • Unarmed Combat
  • Wilderness Survival
Abilities
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Awareness
Third Circle
  • Dominate Beast
Abilities
  • Karma: Recovery Tests
Fourth Circle
  • Great Leap
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Blood Share
Abilities
  • Cat's Grace: Automatically succeed on tests to maintain balance (not including Knockdown) and may stand up as a simple action with no cost or test.
  • Karma: Damage tests with unarmed attacks, including when using Claw Shape
Sixth Circle
  • Animal Talk
Seventh Circle
  • Down Strike
Eighth Circle
  • Claw Frenzy
The Beastmaster is supporting two different themes through their discipline talents: combat and wilderness. These themes are often complimentary; such as using Blood Share to either provide or receive healing as needed, Great Leap for mobility in and out of combat (also for use with Down Strike), and it is always good to have a combat character with Awareness. Animal Talk, Dominate Beast, and Wilderness Survival are all useful talents which provide more options in a wilderness setting. Animal Talk and Dominate Beast are useful in all settings - the former can be amazing for gathering information and the latter either in conjunction with Animal Talk, or on its own to bypass guard animals.

Without any talent options in the equation, the Beastmaster doesn't have a specific combat theme. Between Claw Shape and Down Strike they have good damage, Claw Frenzy gives them arguably the best-in-class for multiple attacks, Avoid Blow is a generically good defensive talent, Great Leap provides mobility, and Blood Share allows them to either take advantage of their better resilience to heal allies, or to heal faster from serious damage by distributing it among those who have suffered significantly less.

Claw Shape and Down Strike deserve a little attention for how they interact with the rest of the mechanics. By Seventh Circle, a Beastmaster using both will be able to spend three karma (!) on a damage test; one from Claw Shape, one from Down Strike, and one from their Fifth Circle karma ability. This seems quite powerful - which it is - however there are also costs associated with this capability. The biggest cost is Claw Shape itself.

During the development of ED4, the bonus to Claw Shape was restored (Rank + STR +3) to make it a comparable choice to an actual weapon, rather than forcing Beastmasters to spend skill points on a weapon skill as a crutch for early Circles. While this can equal, or even exceed, a broad sword at First Circle, the advantage begins to wane quickly. Weapons can be improved with Forge Weapon, while Claw Shape only through Legend Points and it is a discipline talent. The ultimate cost of Claw Shape is one of opportunity - they are using a talent to keep up with a weapon instead. There are a couple of benefits to balance this situation. One is they can never be disarmed and the other is the additional karma on damage, which can be used (on average) to push them to just under the damage for a two-handed sword.

The end result is a combat discipline which is a solid choice in a number of different circumstances and will almost always have a viable option. In contrast with Warriors who are quickly out of their depth when not in combat, or Swordmasters who may at times struggle with weaponless opponents. Talent option selections will allow Beastmaster to further define their capabilities, specializing in animal companion, combat, or wilderness talents.
  • Acrobatic Defense - If you want to specialize further in combat, this is the first stop for talent options.
  • Animal Bond - Similar to Acrobatic Defense, if your goal is animal companions, this is the core talent.
  • Animal Training - For animal companions, this is either the second or the third talent to take.
  • Borrow Sense - Only Beastmasters with animal companions are likely to get much out of this talent. It is best for adepts who want to get the most out of their Awareness.
  • Climbing - While this may be thematic and good for any Beastmaster, those without animal companions and who are performing reconnaissance for their group will find this to be the most useful. Adepts with animal companions should them do most of the climbing.
  • Creature Analysis - This is thematic for every Beastmaster, but animal companion Beastmasters will get the most use from it when looking for new friends.
  • Danger Sense - Combat-oriented Beastmasters will want to consider this to maintain momentum during an ambush. 
  • Enhance Animal Companion - The partner with Animal Training for second or third animal companion talent.
  • Stealthy Stride - This talent is always a popular option and goes well with the existing Beastmaster abilities, particularly Awareness allowing them to gather intelligence for their group or bring some more muscle on the black op.
  • Tracking - Adepts who don't have animal companions will want to consider this talent, particularly if no one else in the group has it. While it isn't likely to come up often, the odds are good it will come up enough and be important enough when it does for this to be useful. Those on the animal path should have a companion for this task.
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.

The "traditional" Beastmaster with animal companions will want Animal Bond, Animal Training, and Enhance Animal Companion in their first three Circles. By Fourth Circle, there should be a good enough grasp on the campaign and group to decide between Borrow Sense and Creature Analysis. If you are one of the primary scouts, Borrow Sense will be valuable. However, if you want to focus further on getting the most out of animal companions, Creature Analysis can be a useful tool for determining acquisitions.

For those Beastmasters who are not interested in animal companions, there five talent options at the top of the list for consideration: Acrobatic Defense, Climbing, Danger Sense, Stealthy Stride, and Tracking. Being realistic for a moment, as a combat adept, you will want Acrobatic Defense and as a player character, you will want Stealthy Stride. With this in mind, the decision is between two of Climbing, Danger Sense, and Tracking. Looking at the rest of your group should give you a good idea of what will get you the most use. 
  • Animal Companion Durability - Animal companion Beastmasters will want this right away.
  • Animal Possession - On the surface, this seems like adepts with animal companions get the most use from this talent. Since they should have a ready supply of animals, this is likely to be true. However, the best uses of this talent tend to be when taking an animal which already belongs in the surroundings and using it as the spy. Even if you aren't your group's scout, this can be a versatile tool.
  • Battle Bellow - This talent is good for every Beastmaster - it improves your allies and hinders your opponents. Those with animal companions who fight alongside will gain additional benefit since it affects them as well.
  • Cobra Strike - If you don't have animal companions, this is a good place to start Journeyman. It adds speed and accuracy to the Beastmaster's repertoire. If you want to maximize the effectiveness and cost, this talent will be an investment.
  • Call Animal Companion - Easily the second pick for adepts with animal companions.
  • Iron Constitution - If poison and disease are problems in your game, this is going to be a must. Otherwise, there are a lot of other talents which are likely to be more tempting. The passive nature means this is good even with a low investment, however.
  • Lion Heart - This talent provides resistance to a lot of different magical effects and should be a strong contender. Depending on your game, this may even be a must have talent.
  • Sprint - Combined with Great Leap makes this Beastmaster very mobile. If you are a scout, this will help when you are inevitably discovered. Combat specialists may consider this for the ability to quickly engage and access the support characters behind the front lines.
  • Swift Kick - If you have Cobra Strike and Tiger Spring, this can be a useful tool. The importance of those two talents is to ensure you will have a viable target each round with a lower initiative. It is best used not for damage, but to knock opponents down.
  • Tiger Spring - Do you have Cobra Strike? If not, get it first then take this next. While the cost is less (1 Strain v. 2 Strain), it doesn't have any additional effects and doesn't grant the ability to spend karma. However, if you have Cobra Strike, this is going to help you get the most out of the talent and allow you to start competing with Swordmasters and Warriors for initiative.
Beastmasters focused on their animal companions will most likely want Animal Companion Durability, Battle Bellow, Call Animal Companion, and Lion Heart for their talent options. Animal Possession is something of a dark horse candidate for the place of Lion Heart, but the general defensive value of Lion Heart (along with the low investment requirement) makes it a solid choice to round out. As well, by this point your animal companions will likely be competent enough on their own to not need your direct guidance when gathering information. Particularly with Animal Talk.

Combat specialists should strongly consider Cobra Strike and Tiger Spring as their first two because of how they expand their offensive capabilities. From there it becomes tricky and should involve looking at the role they play during combat as to which of the four talents to choose: Battle Bellow, Lion Heart, Sprint, or Swift Kick. For general value, Battle Bellow and Lion Heart are going to be the best choices. However, Sprint and Swift Kick can wreak terrible havoc on opponents who prefer to avoid close combat - they tend to have lower strength and no Wound Balance, which makes Swift Kick devastating. Compared to Warriors where it is pretty useless. The importance of disrupting opposing spells early cannot be understated if you do not have Lion Heart. Knocking on their door in a direct manner is immediately going to draw attention and Lion Heart is the only defense against control spells.

Adepts filling the role of a scout will likely want Animal Possession, Cobra Strike, Lion Heart, and Sprint. You won't get the most out of Cobra Strike like the more combat-oriented character, but there will almost certainly be other characters to fill the role - it will still lend some important abilities. Lion Heart can be switched for Tiger Spring to be more aggressive, but will leave quite a bit of vulnerability to control spells.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Beastmaster and how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Beastmaster. Example characters: ork and t'skrang.

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.

22 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 06 - Air Sailor

This is the sixth 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 Air Sailor in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) is one of the most versatile disciplines. They have good access to combat, social, and "adventuring" talents, along with a strong emphasis on teamwork. Depending on the talent options selected, they can emphasize any of these roles to fit their goals or needs of the group.


They can also be adapted to other arenas, such as river boats or sailing, by changing their bonus talent, Air Sailing, and Wind Catcher to talents more appropriate to their new environment. For example, an Air Sailor who operates on the Aras Sea would likely have Sailing and Swimming instead. The mechanics for Sailing would be identical to Air Sailing, simply on the water rather than the air, and Swimming is the same as the skill.

Air Sailors are nearly always welcome in any group due to their versatility and teamwork. If you want to support your group first and foremost, and able to participate in nearly any endeavor, this is a discipline worth considering.

Novice

First Circle
  • Air Weaving
  • Avoid Blow
  • Climbing
  • Melee Weapons
  • Wind Catcher
Abilities
  • Durability 5
  • Air Sailing
  • Karma: On an airship
Second Circle
  • Awareness
Third Circle
  • Empathic Sense
Abilities
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Wound Balance
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Heartening Laugh
Abilities
  • Collaborate: 1 Strain, once per round describe specifically how you are working with an ally to achieve a common goal to give them a +2 bonus (GM’s discretion).
  • Karma: Interaction tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Air Dance
Seventh Circle
  • Inspire Others
Eighth Circle
  • Lion Heart
Their discipline talents are slightly weighted towards combat with just under half of the talents (Air Dance, Avoid Blow, Lion Heart, Melee Weapons, and Wound Balance). This means all Air Sailors will be capable of contributing to a fight. From there, they are divided between adventuring talents (Air Sailing, Awareness, Climbing, and Wind Catcher) and social/teamwork talents (Emapthic Sense, Heartening Laugh, and Inspire Others).

The selections were made to emphasize their themes and how an Air Sailor is likely to function within the setting. Their adventuring talents, along with Wound Balance, account for the abilities they will need to fulfill their duties on an airship - thus they are all acquired prior to Journeyman. Once the Air Sailor is a Journeyman, they become a more senior member of the crew and their talents reflect this with access to more abilities which promote teamwork: Collaborate, Heartening Laugh, and Inspire Others.

Every Air Sailor is expected to defend their ship, particularly against their nemeses: Sky Raiders. This is why all Air Sailors have default access to a variety of combat talents - every body must be able to protect their fellows and their ship. Their fighting style benefits from speed, which fits with their connection to the air element, particularly with the ability to spend Karma on Initiative tests and access to Air Dance.

Heartening Laugh and Lion Heart are both excellent defenses against the potent fear effects, such as those of Sky Raiders - it simply does not do for the senior crew to show fear in the face of the enemy, particularly in front of the junior crew members.

 It is important to note Air Sailors are not intended to be primary combatants. While they can certainly hold their own in a fight, their mid-level Durability 5 means they will fall behind more combat focused disciplines, such as Sky Raiders, Swordmasters, and Warriors. Talent option selection can make a big difference in what these adepts bring to a fight and are at their most dangerous when actively working as part of a team.

All Air Sailors are social to a degree, hence the Karma on Interaction tests, though the amount of emphasis placed on this depends on the adept. This goes for further combat specialization and those who are interested in leadership positions. If you are interested in focusing further on combat, you will want to keep your combat talent options at the same rank as your discipline talents. This will keep them useful as Defense ratings continue to increase.
  • Acrobatic Defense - One of the two ways for an Air Sailor to improve their Physical Defense. The advantage this has over Maneuver is it works against all adjacent opponents. In particular, this gives them a greater ability to tie up a number of weaker opponents while their heavier hitting allies concentrate on the more dangerous adversaries. Any Air Sailor who intends to be combat focused will want to consider this talent.
  • Distract - Powerful and dangerous. This talent gives their allies a distinct advantage against one opponent. However, Air Sailors don't have a lot of defensive staying power and this can go sideways. When timed correctly, this can change the momentum of a conflict.
  • First Impression - Adepts looking to expand their social influence want to start here. Since Social Defense tends to stagnate compared to Physical and Mystic Defense, the required investment is on the low side. This is the foundation of a social character and is worth considering for every Air Sailor.
  • Great Leap - This talent increases battlefield mobility and can be a good compliment to the other combatants in the group. Either by giving them a partner to collaborate with, or someone to harass enemy ranged attackers.
  • Haggle - Likely to be one of the less popular talent options overall, it still has a place with the right Air Sailor. That being one who likes to be the quartermaster for the group. Buying supplies isn't sexy, but the money to pay for forged arms and armor must come from somewhere.
  • Maneuver - The other talent which improves Physical Defense. While it only works against one opponent, this also improves the adept's attack test. Air Sailors who want to focus heavily on combat will want this talent because of the offensive boost it offers.
  • Navigation - If you are interested in really being an Air Sailor, this adventuring talent is for you. It supports a traveling group and doesn't require the same level of continual investment as combat talents to get use out of it. 
  • Speak Language - It is generally useful to speak more languages, though social characters and groups who travel quite a bit will likely get the most value from this talent. It requires little investment to keep this talent useful.
  • Taunt - A social combat talent from which everyone benefits; this is a good option for every Air Sailor.
  • Throwing Weapons - This is the talent I would gently steer new players away from until they get a handle on the system. It will require continual investment to keep it competitive and likely an entirely different set of weapons to use. There are reasons to take this, but the decision should be made knowing it may end up as a resource sinkhole. For adepts willing to make the investment, it can end with some awesome gameplay.
What Novice talent options are right for you? Well, it depends on what direction you want your character to take. A jack-of-all-trades Air Sailor will likely get the most mileage from First Impression, Great Leap, Maneuver, and Taunt.

An adept who wants to be social will likely find First Impression, Haggle, Speak Language, and Taunt the most valuable. This character can easily fill in for a group which doesn't have an Illusionist, Swordmaster, or Troubadour. Here is where I confess I have never played in a game where there wasn't a Swordmaster.

Air Sailors with a combat focus should select Acrobatic Defense, Distract, Maneuver, and Taunt. While still not at the level of a Swordmaster, it comes rather dangerously close.
  • Air Speaking - Air Sailors who find communication with each other to be particularly important or difficult may consider this talent. It's primary uses are communicating covertly over a distance and during periods where it may otherwise be impossible. Such over the din of battle or while dropping through the sky onto a target.
  • Battle Bellow - Similar to Taunt, this is a talent which every Air Sailor should at least consider. This talent penalizes all of your opponents and improves your allies.
  • Conceal Object - Adepts who engage in smuggling will definitely find use for this talent, though only for objects which can be carried on their person. The other primary use is in conjunction with Surprise Strike. If Surprise Strike isn't as appealing to you, this talent is not going to be as useful overall.
  • Engaging Banter - This is going to appeal most to social characters in groups which like to get up to no good. Particularly helpful for sneaking things which would otherwise be noticed immediately (e.g. obsidiman Warrior) part guards.
  • Etiquette - Socially or travel inclined Air Sailors are going to find the most value here. The ability to adapt quickly to a new culture is very useful for groups which spend a lot of time going to new places.
  • Graceful Exit - If you have Engaging Banter, this may be worth considering. While running away is never a player character's default move, this talent can now affect your entire group. This makes the prospect of a retreat less unpalatable in general since no one will be left behind.
  • Leadership - While not typically of much value to the average player character, this is invaluable to any Air Sailor who wants to captain their own vessel. It can also find use for rallying faceless masses of NPCs to a cause temporarily.
  • Resist Taunt - A must for social characters and also worth considering for combat characters to help with the various social debuffs out there.
  • Second Weapon - With the importance of Initiative for Air Dance, the prospect of a shield is not appealing to most Air Sailors. As well, there is variety of attributes which they rely on, meaning they aren't likely to have the strength for two-handed weapons. All of this makes Second Weapon a good talent for every Air Sailor.
  • Surprise Strike - This is the only damage booster Air Sailors get in the first two tiers. However, it is also quite limited in application and effectively requires Conceal Object to regular usage. Working as a team with your group can make it more useful and it is also the only talent which can improve damage on both melee and ranged weapons. Anyone serious about throwing weapons will want this over later options.
The talent options available at Journeyman are more specific in application and benefit most from having a clear idea of your direction. It isn't a bad thing to look back on the Novice talents for selections if so inclined. What this does is make it more difficult to offer suggestions since many of these are very useful in specific campaigns, while not broadly useful outside of those campaigns.

The jack-of-all-trades Air Sailor will most likely want Battle Bellow, Etiquette, and Second Weapon. This leaves an open spot depending on the role they tend to be fulfilling; Air Speaking and Resist Taunt could be quite useful. Looking back at the Novice list may be a good idea if neither of those are appealing - characters seeing a lot of combat may be interested in Acrobatic Defense or Distract to help a Thief with their Surprise Strike.

Social Air Sailors will find Air Speaking, Battle Bellow, Etiquette, and Resist Taunt to round out this tier nicely. If combat is becoming more important, Air Speaking can be substituted for Second Weapon.

Those who are most interested in specializing in combat will want Battle Bellow and Second Weapon at the very least. From there, it depends in you want to invest in Surprise Strike or not. If so, Conceal Object and Surprise Strike are best friends. However, if you want to wait for something else, Great Leap should be appearing on this list and Resist Taunt is a good partner to work against your opponents' social attacks.

For a discussion over the general themes of Air Sailor and how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Air Sailor. Example characters: dwarf and t'skrang.

18 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Part 2 - Chain Casting

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.

Spellcasters have a lot of different spells at their disposal. Spells which grant bonuses (buffs) are one of their more potent spell types. Chain casting is the process of recasting a buff as soon as the duration runs out so it is always active.


This is not something which every game allows for as a default status as it represents a powerful bonus. However, the spells and associated mechanics in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) were developed with this possibility in mind. This article is about recommendations for handling it in your game and how it is supported in the rules.

The basic premise is simple: pause every few minutes to recast a spell, keeping it active indefinitely. This is appealing from a player's perspective as they can save precious rounds doing something other than casting buffs when a fight breaks out. There are also reasons a GM may balk at this concept: re-rolling constantly can break the flow of action and pacing, it feels like a free bonus, and often comes off as abusive and cheesy.

Here is my suggestion for handling this in game: determine how many extra threads are woven each time, what they are for, and consider the spell active at all times. Only allow this for spells which have a duration in minutes, anything less simply isn't feasible. If there is a need to determine a specific Spellcasting result, roll it at the time it is needed (don't allow Karma or other benefits) and the result stands. It is important to not allow any abilities which have associated costs to be used, such as Karma, as they would have to be paid each time the spell is cast. For a task which is on the tedious side, throwing in extras every time will start to get costly.

This is going to give players access to considerably more bonuses at all times, however there are a number of other costs associated with this practice. First off, it consumes a spell matrix. Reattuning a spell matrix takes 10 minutes, which means most spells will have worn off by the time the buff has been replaced, let alone put back in the spell matrix to recast, then replace again, etc. Reattuning on the fly is an option, but a costly one - at least 2 Strain every recasting, with the possibility for even more. Whatever spell is being continually renewed, it is in a spell matrix.

As well, there are not as many spell matrices as talents available to spellcasters in ED4. This increases the reliance on spell matrix objects, which occupy threads. Until Shared Matrices, but Thirteenth Circle adepts are pretty intense. The end result is keeping a spell active is going to have an opportunity and Legend Point cost for the spellcaster.

Hypothetically, all of the spells could be recast over and over again until some magical number of successes is reached. The good news for this situation is all of the applicable spells increase the duration from extra successes, making it a moot endeavor. Also entirely hypothetical; I cannot imagine this actually happening at a table. Though definitely something which would be argued about.

Extra threads allow for some spells to be upgraded from rounds to minutes, widening the pool of available buffs. Some also increase the number of targets with a single casting. It is going to be up to each GM to decide if they will allow a single spell to be active on more than one target without a thread for the purpose. I can say the intention was to allow for a buff to be deployed in combat on multiple allies in a single turn while in combat. Chain casting can be a controversial topic.

The other effect of extra threads is they can improve the bonus itself. Since these are limited by tier/Circle, the increases which are allowed are intended to scale. It also means the version of the spell cast by an adept of the discipline versus an adept who learned it through Versatility will inherently be better.

Hopefully, this sheds some light on how this topic can be addressed and was specifically part of the spell mechanics development in ED4.

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.

04 October 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 05 - Traveled Scholar

This is the fifth 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 Traveled Scholar has not received an official Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) treatment, but there are still players who want to bring their character into the most recent edition. Here is my first draft at bridging the gap for them. For most characters, the Troubadour or Wizard disciplines can achieve what this discipline offers. However, for each of them knowledge is a sub-theme instead of the primary theme.

When updating this discipline, the only thematic change was to remove the dwarf racial restriction. While the dwarfs of Throal have the largest and most active library in the province, it is difficult to argue they have a complete lockdown on the sage archetype. Other races may find Troubadour or Wizard more appropriate to their society, but this doesn't mean the option should be entirely closed.

The mechanical changes were a bit more extensive, though this is to be expected with the changes between editions. One mechanical change of note is the inclusion of two weapon talents, Melee Weapons and Throwing Weapons. The Traveled Scholar previously had the dubious distinction of being the only discipline which had no in-discipline ability to attack anything. If they are truly going to embrace their ability to travel Barsaive, which has never been described by any GM ever as a kind and safe place, they are going to need to be a little more proactive in their protection. It is also unfortunate to be the only character in a fight looking for something to do. They still do not have a lot of options, but there are indeed options.

Novice

First Circle
  • Item History
  • Lore Weaving
  • Read and Write Language
  • Research
  • Speak Language
Abilities
  • Durability 5
  • Area of Expertise
  • Karma: Knowledge tests.
Second Circle
  • Etiquette
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Social Defense
Third Circle
  • Awareness
Abilities
  • Karma: Action tests which involve gathering information.
Fourth Circle
  • Book Memory
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Mystic Defense
Talent Options
  1. Avoid Blow
  2. Climbing
  3. Conversation
  4. First Impression
  5. Graceful Exit
  6. Melee Weapons
  7. Navigation
  8. Taunt
  9. Throwing Weapons
  10. Wilderness Survival
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Applied Knowledge
Abilities
  • Related Topic: 2 Strain, the Traveled Scholar may apply their Area of Expertise to a semi-related field. Be prepared to come up with a justification for the GM and the Difficulty Number increases by 5.
  • Karma: Interaction tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Evidence Analysis
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Social Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Suppress Curse
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative Step
Eighth Circle
  • Lion Heart
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Social Defense
Talent Options
  1. Anticipate Blow
  2. Arcane Mutterings
  3. Astral Sight
  4. Cold Purify
  5. Inspire Others
  6. Resist Taunt
  7. Spot Armor Flaw
  8. Steel Thought
  9. Tactics
  10. True Sight
Area of Expertise: This is a relatively broad topic which is the focus of the Traveled Scholar's studies. In general, it should encompass roughly three Knowledge skills to represent their focus. For example, two Traveled Scholars may both have an Area of Expertise centered around Barsaivian history, however one may focus on the heroes of Barsaive (Ancient Weapons, Barsaive History, and Legends and Heroes), while the other may focus more on the Scourge in Barsaive (Barsaive History, Horrors, and the Citadels and Kaers). 

Applied Knowledge
Step: Rank + PER
Action: Standard
Strain: 1
The adept to use their accumulated knowledge to gain insight and an advantage on related activities. Following a successful and relevant Knowledge test (this includes Area of Expertise), the adept may make an Applied Knowledge test against the target's Mystic Defense, or Difficulty Number 6 (whichever is higher). Up to Applied Knowledge Rank characters gain +1 to a specific Action test for each success. The adept must impart this knowledge to the affected characters, but it doesn't actually have to make sense to them (though they must understand the communication) - the adept's confidence and the talent's magic are all they need to benefit. This talent lasts for Applied Knowledge Rank minutes and a character may only benefit from one use of Applied Knowledge at a time.

This is a first draft without any review and no playtesting at all. Applied Knowledge has been updated from Applied Sciences because it wasn't actually science. The scope has been narrowed, limiting it to just Knowledge tests. It's not that the previous version was too powerful, but can create a lot of different grey areas. With the inclusion of Area of Expertise and Related Topic, it should be widely useful (likely even more so).

While the Quest for Knowledge ability expanded the theme of traveling, I am of the opinion they haven't yet spent enough developing their primary theme. There are plenty of other disciplines which travel and learn things, but for the Traveled Scholar to have a niche, it needs to finish establishing it with abilities which other disciplines do not have access.

Which is where Related Topic comes into play. Area of Expertise gives them a good base to start from, replicating an academic department and how there isn't actually one person who knows everything. Related Topic expands this to give them a broader depth of knowledge, representing the other things which they would reasonably pick up along the way. It comes with a cost, the increased difficulty, which means it will never replace another Traveled Scholar's Area of Expertise and may not replace a character dedicated to a particular knowledge skill - not that having redundant skills in case of a poor roll was ever a bad thing.

As noted above, none of these have actually been playtested, so I do not know what the functional balance on them is like.