31 January 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 20 - Nethermancer Part 2, Talents

This is the twentieth 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 Nethermancer 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.

Nethermancers have a unique connection to the astral plane, which is emphasized by the association with spirits and somewhat alien demeanor. Their discipline talents changed only a little from Earthdawn Third Edition (ED3), beyond the larger talent shifts and movements. Frighten was moved to first circle with the extra space from the shift in Karma Ritual and the spell matrices. Steel Thought was added as a discipline talent and its omission previously was somewhat glaring. Valid arguments can be made for it to be at first circle, but Frighten became their iconic talent and will still take a little while for Steel Thought to come into its own.

Journeyman discipline talents were shifted around as part of the general spellcaster update: everyone gets Willforce and Hold Thread. Willforce is a talent every spellcaster is going to take and there is no reason to think otherwise. Having it as a talent option prevented karma use in ED3, but with those changes it was effectively removing another talent option (we all know one talent option is going to be taken by Enhanced Matrix). This is basically embracing the inevitable. Hold Thread was made available to every spellcasting discipline at because it is a basic and useful trick all of them would develop.

With these two additions, there were going to be cuts. Spirit Dodge was easy since it was already slated for destruction. Part of simplifying the game was to remove some redundant talents. While Spirit Dodge wasn't identical to Avoid Blow, it existed for only one discipline (taking up precious space) and did no favors to the design space for other disciplines and spells. Lifesight was only a little more difficult, but it still lives on as a talent option. It was cut over Orbiting Spy because it was less thematic and not a talent most players seemed to use with any frequency.

Talent options have been redeveloped to emphasize their role as researchers into particularly esoteric areas of magic, their connection with spirits, as well as dark and creepy things. While there have been more changes to talent options than to discipline talents, things should still be familiar. The largest change has been the wholesale removal of the animal related talents. These never quite fit with the other talents and gave the discipline too much emphasis on worldly things.

Significant new additions are the Command Nightflyer and Dispel Magic spells, which were turned into talents. Other changes include: Avoid Blow, which is available at an early point to interact with Shield Mist; Suppress Curse has been moved to Novice to help Nethermancers deal with all of the terrible things they play with (notably including Horror powers - Dispel Magic is not going to help you against those at all); Blood Share was pushed back a tier to Journeyman, which is its new tier in general; Astral Interference is a new talent which hinders other spellcasters - it is mostly a Wizard talent, but Nethermancers have a strong connection to all things astral and do some cutting edge work with spellcaster; Tenacious Weave is similar, though it helps to resist against Dispel Magic; while not as bookish as Wizards, Nethermancers can still be scholarly and Research is a fitting addition to support the theme; Spirit Mount was added as it ties into spirits and summoning; Item History was removed because Nethermancers aren't as interested in physical objects; and Elemental Tongues was removed because it simply isn't their thing.

Nethermancers are interested in pushing boundaries and the forbidden. They walk the dark and dangerous paths. If the idea of playing a character who is a pariah by their own choice and may be in danger of falling to that which they strive against appeals to you, this may be your discipline.

Novice

First Circle
  • Astral Sight
  • Frighten
  • Nethermancy
  • Patterncraft
  • Spellcasting
Abilities
  • Durability 3
Second Circle
  • Steel Thought
Third Circle
  • Spirit Talk
Abilities
  • Karma: Once per turn on any Action test against a Horror, Horror construct, or undead target.
Fourth Circle
  • Spirit Hold
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Summon [Ally Spirits]
Abilities
  • Blood Summon: Take blood magic damage equal to the strength of the spirit being summoned to gain an additional success on a Summon test. The blood magic damage may only be healed a full day after the spirit has left the Nethermancer’s service.
  • Karma: Spend a karma point to increase one penalty from a spell you are casting by 2.
Sixth Circle
  • Willforce
Seventh Circle
  • Orbiting Spy
Eighth Circle
  • Hold Thread
The three major themes for Nethermancer talents are spellcasting, spirits, and astral space. These are all intertwined, but are expressed distinctly. Their spellcasting talents are shared by all other spellcasters: Hold Thread, Nethermancy (Thread Weaving), Patterncraft, Spellcasting, and Willforce. For spirits they have all of the basic summoning talents (Spirit Hold, Spirit Talk, and Summon) as well as Orbiting Spy. Astral themed talents are a little more nebulous, but stem from their unique relationship with astral space and the forces they traffic with. Supporting this theme are Astral Sight, Frighten, and Steel Thought.

They have a versatile set of abilities through their talents, though aren't particularly adept at combat - having only defenses against mystic attacks. Frighten gives them early access to a powerful debuff effect which can effectively be employed outside of combat. Their summoning suite is one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal, which they can improve with their Journeyman ability. It generally requires advance planning to get the most out of it, but it has almost unlimited versatility.

Some of their discipline talents have gone through revision during the development for ED4. Frighten no longer forces a particular kind of reaction, but instead provides penalties which may result in the target fleeing because there is no way they can win at that point. This change was made because it's not fun to be forced to run away. Perhaps it doesn't fit the character's personality or never running away is a core trait. Used in the right situation, it can still provide the same benefit, but it no longer ties the hands of everyone involved. 

Patterncraft represents a new take on Read and Write Magic. It has subsumed and expanded the scope of the previous talent, now representing a great deal more. For right now, the practical difference hasn't changed, but the design space has been opened considerably and there are plans (plans) to take advantage of this.

Summoning as a whole has seen a complete shift. It now takes at least 30 minutes and there is benefit to summoning less powerful spirits because you can get more out of them. The process has been streamlined and made much less disruptive to the game. Spirits will no longer be able to replace the rest of your group, but they will still be valuable tools. Ones which are summoned for a very specific task.

The final big change is to Willforce. This used to be good for both improving and resisting magic, which was quite a bit for a must have talent which only costs 1 strain. Now it is more in-line with talents like Crushing Blow and Flame Arrow where it improves the effect test. There are still plenty of effect tests beyond just damage, but the number of them has been scaled down considerably. During playtests, this was actually considered a boon as paying the strain to use Willforce to use the spell which had already been cast felt like a tax in retrospect. The other piece of Willforce has been broken out into other talents, of which Lion Heart is a notable example.

In addition to their talents, they have karma abilities and a Journeyman ability. Their third circle karma ability reflects their emphasis on Horrors and their creations. While they aren't always the most pleasant to be around, very few are as familiar with these opponents as Nethermancers who have learned from them and adapted more than a few of their powers. Which just makes them even creepier, seriously folks. Every spellcaster has a fifth circle karma ability which enhances their spellcasting in a unique fashion. For Nethermancers it "improves" the penalties they dole out. This plays up the negative energy to their spellcasting and the themes of them handing out lots of debuffs.

For their Journeyman ability that can improve a summon for the cost of some blood. Summoning is an important part of this discipline, even compared to other disciplines which are summoners. Additionally, blood is a key thematic component to much of what they do. This ability brings both of those together and gives them some additional power when they need it, particularly when working with spirits at the edges of their abilities. An additional success means another hour of service. Expensive, but it can make a big difference.
  • Arcane Mutterings - A more subtle version of Frighten. Most Nethermancers will likely get by just fine the default tool at their disposal, but some may want other options on how to disconcert the person opposite them.
  • Avoid Blow - Something every Nethermancer should at least consider. Along with this consideration should also come the awareness this will be a constant investment to keep it useful. The Shield Mist spell can be applied to make it even more useful. The only notable change to this talent is it is no longer more difficult to use against ranged attacks. A change made because it only complicates what is already a branch from the main action. These tests should be short and to the point.
  • Awareness - Similar to Avoid Blow, every adept should at least think about this talent. Even if there are other characters who will constantly be improving it. If there simply isn't the space to allow for it with the other talent options, it can be had as a skill, particularly with starting skill ranks. This is sort of a new talent, but mostly an update to ED3's Search. It has a wider application and no strain. The scope was increased so it better fills the gaps for what were previously perception-only tests and the Strain was removed because it was a little silly. Strain was a cost to prevent constantly testing Search, looking for the test result which will find everything. The practical resolution is to just have a single Awareness test for the scene and letting it apply, whether it is needed or not. This can keep players on their toes and burn out a little more karma.
  • Command Nightflyer - This used to be a spell and is actually quite a good fit as a talent. It functions similarly to existing animal talents and creates a base for which the new spell system can interact more functionally. If you like the idea of having nocturnal flying critters at your disposal (and people thinking you are even more creepy), this talent will appeal to you.
  • Dispel Magic -  Another spell which is now a talent. Changing it to a talent which can affect spells moves spells from a different system, apart but above, to simply a strange extension of talents. This has the ripple effect of potentially giving other disciplines access to Dispel Magic, particularly through Versatility. If you are dealing with spellcasting opponents, this is a useful tool against them. However, if you don't believe you will regularly encounter them, there are likely more useful talents as this one is a legend point sink to keep it competitive.
  • Read and Write Language - Particularly scholarly Nethermancers may be interested in this talent, or those who engage in some espionage. Which is a particular set of skills which Nethermancers can excel if they put their mind (and talent options) to it.
  • Speak Language - Similar to the written version, this will appeal to both scholars and those who gather secrets. Both can be had as skills if there simply isn't the room, though the disadvantage is you cannot learn a language on the spot as a skill.
  • Standard Matrix - Almost certainly the first talent option every Nethermancer takes.
  • Stealthy Stride - There are many reasons to take this talent and it is likely to be a popular choice. Who doesn't like to go on the black op? It also plays into the ability for Nethermancers to become effective at espionage, particularly with a number of their spell selections. The notable change here is this talent now applies to hiding, not just sneaking.
  • Suppress Curse - This acts as a poor man's Dispel Magic (only temporarily cancelling an effect), but it is one of the few abilities which can affect Horror powers. If you are looking for a defense against them, this is one of your only options. The scope of this talent has been expanded and is now a useful counterpart to Dispel Magic, instead of the thing plebes get.
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 researcher, spy, walker, and jack-of-all-trades.

Researchers are primarily interested in advancing magic and studying astral space. These characters will tend towards a more subtle approach and others may never realize they are Nethermancers at all. They also have the most tools to bring to bear against other spellcasters. These adepts will want Arcane Mutterings, Dispel Magic, Read and Write Language, and Standard Matrix for their talent options. Of these, Arcane Mutterings and Read and Write Languages can be exchanged based on preference without betraying the core of the concept (if such a thing can really exist for an example). Suppress Curse would be the first alternate for dealing with dangerous magics, particularly of Horror origin, and Awareness would be the next best replacement.

The spy is based around leveraging the Nethermancer's affinity for darkness and forbidden places and things to learn information and gain access to otherwise impenetrable locales. They are unlikely to work alone, since their abilities don't offer all of tools to deal with problems on the fly. Summon can be used to fill many of their gaps if they know ahead of time and can plan accordingly. The unique abilities they bring should make them welcome additions to any black op. Talent options spies will want are Command Nigthflyer, Speak Language, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride. Of these, Speak Language can be traded for either Awareness or Avoid Blow based on needs and preferences.

Walker is short for "walker in darkness", which sounds all badass and is pretty much what this character is about. They are the Nethermancers who go out and put their abilities to use against Horrors. On the whole, I wouldn't give them an extremely high life expectancy. But you're not like those other guys, you're different. Walkers will want Avoid Blow, Awareness, Standard Matrix, and Suppress Curse. You may be tempted to switch Suppress Curse for Stealthy Stride so you can have the name be literal - I wouldn't suggest it, you're going to want someone who can make the Horror powers go away for at least a little while.

As usual the jack-of-all-trades wants to be a part of the story above and beyond all else. Contribution is king. For them Avoid Blow, Awareness, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride are likely the top selections. However, Stealthy Stride can easily be changed out for your talent option of choice if it simply doesn't fit your goals. Command Nightflyer, Dispel Magic, and Suppress Curse are all excellent replacements, depending on which direction you want to go. Of them Command Nightflyer is notable for its unique inclusion in the Nethermancer talent list and the number of spells it interacts with. It didn't make the default suggestion since it requires you to want to invest in having it in the first place and this may not be for every play.
  • Astral Interference - Nethermancers do not get quite the mileage from this talent that Wizards get due to their spell support. There are cases and campaigns where this is useful, particularly if you are dealing with opposing spellcasters quite a bit.
  • Banish - Are your spirits at an all time high? Use Banish to solve all of those problems! If you virtually never encounter spirits, either as distinct opponents or summoned by opponents, then this talent isn't like to help a lot. However, if you do, then this is one of the simplest ways to deal with them.
  • Blood Share - The ability to move damage between characters is a good way to maximize the available healing. Transfer damage to characters with more recovery tests, or away from characters who are Wounded to get them patched up sooner. 
  • Enhanced Matrix - Being realistic, this is the first talent option everyone will be taking.
  • Lifesight - It is easy to see this as Astral Sight's weird cousin, but it does some valuable things which Astral Sight simply doesn't. The most obvious is the information regarding the target's health and gather information about what may be wrong. More subtly, this allows you to see through solid objects as long as they aren't living. This is something which Astral Sight cannot do any longer.
  • Lion Heart - A talent which every character should at least consider. It is quite thematic to Nethermancers, allowing you to resist fear, but it also enhances your Willpower to resist anything which allows for a resistance with the attribute. 
  • Research - If you don't have someone in your group with this talent, you may want to more strongly consider it. Research is quite useful as a stopgap for those knowledge skills you don't have when you have some downtime.
  • Spirit Mount - The ability to summon your own ghostly horse is pretty awesome and is going to make quite the impression. Though it is probably the opposite of subtle - so hopefully you weren't going for that. Honestly, there isn't much I can say about this quite thematic talent. You know if you want it or not.
  • Steely Stare - Nethermancers don't get many ways to contribute in social situations. This is at the fringe of social, but still present. It is a little bit like weaponized creepy or menace in the hands of these adepts. Characters who look for more subtle resolution to potential conflicts, stopping them before they can quite start, may want this talent.
  • Tenacious Weave - If your spells are the victim of Dispel Magic, this should bolster their defenses.
Researchers finally get to live up to their appellation with Astral Interference, Enhanced Matrix, Research, and Tenacious Weave as their talent options. There is a lot of defense against opposing spellcasters to be found here. Of those, Astral Interference can be traded for Lion Heart as a different kind of defense against other spellcasters. It is less proactive and your allies probably won't be as appreciative.

At Journeyman, spies expand what they bring to their particular niche. They move from simple information gathering and infiltration into slightly more esoteric areas. The recommended talent options are Lifesight, Enhanced Matrix, Spirit Mount, and Steely Stare. Lifesight brings the ability to look through walls, the value of which really cannot be overstated for a character like this. Spirit Mount can be critical for making an escape and Steely Stare can help the operation go a little bit further before it all goes wrong and you summon an Astral Maw.

The walker gets a critical talent option here and some reasonable other choices in Banish, Blood Share, Enhanced Matrix, and Lion Heart. It is entirely possible you aren't dealing much with spirits, which opens up your possibilities depending on what you are dealing with frequently. Lots of spellcasters suggests Astral Interference or Tenacious Weave may be called for, while Spirit Mount can solve mobility problems. Steely Stare is generally popular with this type of character, even if Horrors and their ilk don't particularly care.

Even more than usual, the jack-of-all-trades has a lot of different and interesting options. Enhanced Matrix, Lion Heart, Research, and Spirit Mount are a good balance between useful and fun. Of these, Spirit Mount can be exchanged for Steely Stare for good effect.

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