23 January 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 19 - Illusionist Part 2, Talents

This is the nineteenth 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.

A great deal of the flavor for a spellcaster comes from their spell selection and Illusionist is no exception. However, one of the goals for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) was to make talents more relevant to spellcasting disciplines. To do this, the discipline talents and talent options were evaluated for how appropriate they are and how useful they are.

Illusionists have two themes outside of their focus on spellcasting: social interaction and deception. A number of talents which fall into the deception category have had the illusion keyword added to them. This addition mirrors their descriptions and allows more things to interact with talents which affect illusions (e.g. False Sight and True Sight).

An important aspect of the Illusionist is how they go about solving problems (or creating them) - indirectly. Their talents and spells emphasize this and they have many interesting tools at their disposal. One of their strengths is the ability to go largely undetected as their abilities support a subtle approach. The distinct lack of physical defenses should also strongly encourage these adepts to avoid direct confrontation when possible.

The Illusionist is a great fit for anyone who would rather find ways around conflict, and prefers to be subtle over overt. If you want to out think your opponents, this may be for you.


First Circle
  • False Sight
  • First Impression
  • Illusionism
  • Patterncraft
  • Spellcasting
  • Durability 3
Second Circle
  • True Sight
Third Circle
  • Conversation
  • Karma: Interaction tests
Fourth Circle
  • Disguise Self

Fifth Circle
  • Power Mask
  • Glamour: 2 Strain, create an illusionary [figment] to delight and entertain onlookers. Make an Illusionism test against the highest Social Defense in the crowd. If successful, gain a +2 bonus to Making an Impression tests for a number of hours equal to the successes.
  • Karma: +2 to the Effect Step of a spell.
Sixth Circle
  • Willforce
Seventh Circle
  • Hypnotize
Eighth Circle
  • Hold Thread
As discussed above, Illusionists have three different talent areas. The first, and largest, is the general spellcasting talents (Hold Thread, Illusionism, Patterncraft, Spellcasting, and Willforce). After this they have social talents (Conversation, First Impression, and Hypnotize) and their tricksy talents (Disguise Self, False Sight, Power Mask, and True Sight).

It is the third group which is probably the most interesting. They aren't common talents (along with Hypnotize) and have some neat interactions. False Sight, for example, not only improves illusions by making their sensing test more difficult, but it can also improve any talents with the illusion keyword. Conversely, True Sight makes any illusion easier to see through. These talents play up one of the key themes of the Illusionist: the truth through lies.
  • Arcane Mutterings - This is often something of a strange talent, though there are few Illusionists who can put this to good use. It is particularly useful for the ability to potentially head off combat before it starts, which is generally a good idea for this discipline.
  • Astral Sight - A perennial favorite for all spellcasters. If you don't already have it, you should probably consider taking it.
  • Awareness - Similar to Astral Sight, this talent is going to come. The question is if someone else can do the job and are there things you want more.
  • Dead Fall - Normally playing dead doesn't seem like a winning tactic. However, Illusionists can make better use of this talent than most (False Sight) and you never quite know what they will do with it.
  • Mimic Voice - A good pick for a few Illusionist spells and the perfect partner to Disguise Self if you want to actually impersonate someone.
  • Speak Language - If you are the primary social character for your group, which is a possibility, you may consider this talent. For everyone else, the skill will probably suffice unless you have an open option, in which case it never hurts.
  • Standard Matrix - I'm just going to assume everyone takes this talent because: more spells.
  • Stealthy Stride - This can be both very effective and very dangerous. Illusionists make great stealthy spellcasters because of their subtle effects. However, it can often take them away from their group and they are quite squishy.
  • Taunt - Illusionists who want more to do in combat should consider this talent as it gives them a solid way to contribute every round.
  • Winning Smile - Socially-inclined Illusionists will want this talent. Others may consider it, but there are probably more tempting talent options despite how well this compliments capabilities.
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 builds I will be looking at are the dandy, enigma, swindler, and jack-of-all-trades.

The dandy is the primary social character for the group. This means they are going to miss out on some of the stranger things Illusionists can bring to the table, but they will have a wide variety of ways to contribute to most situations. These characters will want Standard Matrix, Taunt, Winning Smile, and either Awareness or Speak Language. This particular character may find a lot of value in the Troubadour discipline as well, as there is good mechanical and philosophical synergy to be found.

Enigmas are concerned with the mystic side of the discipline. The curious nature of how illusions work can make the direction of their studies baffling to outsiders. Their actual talents are a little banal in comparison with Arcane Mutterings, Astral Sight, Awareness, and Standard Matrix.

Swindlers are primarily concerned with deception and truth, exposing people to the former will lead them to the latter. Frequently they come off as spell-powered trickster Thieves, and there is something to be said for the combination. For talents, they will want Dead Fall, Mimic Voice, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride. Of those, Dead Fall is clearly the odd one out, but there are interesting situations where it can be useful (such as dissuading someone from attacking you in combat) and it shouldn't be so quickly overlooked for this character.

The jack-of-all-trades wants to participate as much as possible, as usual. For this, Awareness, Astral Sight, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride are going to be the best choices. They already have two good social talents as discipline talents and since this is about being pragmatic over interesting, those talents will be the most useful overall.
  • Conceal Object - If you are generally up to no good, this talent may appeal to you. It certainly has some synergy with some Illusionist spells.
  • Dispel Magic - Opposing spellcasters got you down? This is the answer.
  • Engaging Banter - For ever advanced trickery, this can be used with some other abilities to keep a group occupied for a very long time.
  • Enhanced Matrix - This is probably the first talent option anyone takes.
  • Fast Hand - If you have Conceal Object, you will probably want this to go along with it.
  • Frighten - A good debuff which can be used without starting a fight. 
  • Resist Taunt - Worth considering for any character, but socially inclined adepts will definitely want this.
  • Slough Blame - So much trouble will be caused by using this talent. So much.
  • Steel Thought - Similar to Resist Taunt, however this is going to be more useful in general (though less specifically for social characters).
  • Tenacious Weave - Opposing spellcasters with their Dispel Magic got you down? This is the answer.
Here the dandy starts to explore some new territory and become interested in keeping their group out of trouble preemptively. To help with this, they will want Engaging Banter, Enhanced Matrix, Frighten, and Resist Taunt. This can easily put them into something of a mastermind role as their talents and spells allow them to significantly manipulate the opposition and prevent problems from escalating too much.

On the other hand, enigmas continue to some very tried and true talents. Dispel Magic, Enhanced Matrix, Steel Thought, and Tenacious Weave give them a lot of tools to deploy against opposing spellcasters. It isn't as interesting as other builds, but it will be effective.

Swindlers have moved further in the direction of deception, being able to go from subtle and stealthy to maximum entropy. To aid them in their endeavors, they will want Conceal Object, Enhanced Matrix, Fast Hand, and Slough Blame. They can cause so much trouble like this. So very much trouble.

There aren't any proactive talents for the jack-of-all-trades here, but there are still good talents. Specifically, Enhanced Matrix, Resist Taunt, Slough Blame, and Steel Thought should all be on their list. These three are good defensive talents which will serve well in numerous situations.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Illusionist how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of an Illusionist.