14 February 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 21 - Wizard Part 2, Talents

This is the twenty-first 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

A great deal of the flavor for a spellcaster comes from their spell selection and Wizard 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.

As has been said before and will undoubtedly be said again: Wizards are all about the magic. This is their primary theme and is not about casting spells, which they are no more adept than other spellcasters, but about manipulating magic in other ways. Even their sub-themes are just extensions of their primary theme. Their use of astral space is to further understand and research magic. The other major aspect to the discipline is their academic nature. This too is a sub-theme to their overall mastery of magic. Their dedication to learning about magic extends to knowledge in general, often leading to a professorial air. Along with the petty academic infighting which inevitably follows.

Journeyman discipline talents were shifted around as part of the general spellcaster update: everyone gets Willforce and Hold Thread. Though Wizards get it a circle earlier since it has been their thing previously. 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.

This seems like a reasonable place to discuss Patterncraft. Specifically, why it got a name change. The simplest reason is I detested the name Read and Write Magic. It is dull and I would constantly forget about it. It also wasn't a particularly illustrative name for what it actually did. It lets you learn spells and used a terminology holdover from D&D to do so, but what it could do was never limited to just this task. Just mostly limited to it. So, it got a new, sexy name and with this a new image of what it can do. Most of the new functionality hasn't been included yet as this edition is still in its infancy, but there are plans for this little talent.

In their discipline talents, they see the addition of three new talents. This is among the most new talents, if not the most, for any discipline. Astral Interference, Dispel Magic, and Tenacious Weave are all new to ED4 and build on their primary theme of being the masters of magic. Astral Interference continues their proud tradition of being incredibly effective against other spellcasters, this providing a blanket penalty to all spellcasting (Wizards, naturally, have a countermeasure).

While Dispel Magic is technically new, it is basically the spell with some bits torn off. The talent has been reduced to working only on other talents and spells. This is due to two primary factors. The first is limiting the scope of what Wizards are about: magic. This extends to primarily spells, but also talents. What it doesn't include is anything outside of this, such as creatures and especially Horrors. Creature powers are somewhere between natural and magical, but they are definitely a different beast than the magic learned by adepts. Horrors are the specialty of other disciplines and it stepped all over the expertise of those disciplines. The other factor is Dispel Magic as it was simply wore too many hats. It could do too much and was too useful. This meant everyone had it and it could solve too many problems all on its own. The current form is still quite good, but no long the sonic screwdriver of Earthdawn.

The final addition of the three is Tenacious Weave. It is simply a layer of protection against Dispel Magic which can be added. This was added to the game to introduce another layer of interaction between talents on the measure and counter-measure side. Also, it has a really great name.

One other talent was added to their discipline talents: Suppress Curse. While Dispel Magic no longer functions against everything magical, Wizards are tenacious when it involves overcoming obstacles related to magic. This talent is about their growth and adaptation; developing a new tool.

Despite these additions, the number of actual cuts were rather small. Read and Write Language was moved to talent options since it isn't really necessary to be literate in more languages than officially exist. Book Memory was moved as well, though this was because it has often been seen with some disfavor - it simply may never come up in a game and it isn't particularly crucial to any theme. While it supports the idea of an academic or a researcher, they will have access to all of their books littered around them whenever they choose. Thus making it the perfect candidate for a talent option. Book Recall was cut entirely - it is no longer in the Player's Guide. Finally, Resist Taunt was moved to talent options since it supported the academic sub-theme, without really contributing meaningfully to the primary theme of magic.

From here, the discipline talents were reorganized to make the discipline more focused on their key curriculum. Dispel Magic and Research define their approach to magic: mastery through knowledge. Astral Sight seems like it fits within this paradigm, and it does, however it doesn't fit quite as well as the other two for the basics which every Wizard leaves home knowing. Another reason to move Astral Sight to second circle is otherwise Nethermancer and Wizard start to look very similar and they have enough in common as it is. This clearly separates what each of them is about.

Steel Thought was moved a little earlier since it is difficult to claim mastery over magic if there isn't much you can do about the spell being cast at you. It also works to show their growing strength of will in dealing with these powers.

Naturally, talent options also fell under the dread gaze of redevelopment. These have been used to either further support the primary theme(s), or to explore different sub-themes. At this point, there weren't many talents left for exploring magic, but there were plenty for the acquisition of knowledge and petty academic in-fighting. Also, the best kind of in-fighting.

First, the cuts. Detect Trap, Detect Weapon, Lip Reading, and Orbiting Spy are the sum of the cuts made. Two of these are simple: Detect Weapon and Lip Reading were removed as distinct talents. Detect Trap was rolled into Awareness as long as you have the ability to disable them, and this is not a task Wizards should be undertaking. It's frighteningly dangerous. Orbiting Spy fits their theme of information and it is rather magical, however it also traffics with spirits. This was a line which was drawn to differentiate disciplines - Wizards simply do not deal with spirits, it is something the discipline cannot work around. This serves to preserve the flavor of Elementalists and Nethermancers, and set Wizards apart. Despite all of their efforts, there are somethings which they cannot do.

Avoid Blow, Diplomacy, Etiquette, Hypnotize, Power Mask, and True Sight are all new to the list. Technically Power Mask and True Sight were just moved from Warden, but their role with regard to magic means they are appropriate earlier. Avoid Blow was added to work with their spells which previously provided this function. Since Wizards have a social function, though very erudite and civilized, they needed some more talents to support this. Etiquette is obvious since it also plays into the theme of knowledge: learning about other cultures. Diplomacy is their potential role as peacemakers (someone has to keep the department from falling apart) and it has implied airs of wisdom. Hypnotism is an application of their knowledge of how the mind works, then exploiting it.

One talent, Evidence Analysis, was shifted from being available at first circle to Journeyman. There are two reasons for this. First, the information provided by the talent is too powerful to be available so soon. It has little in common with what Novice talents offer and a great deal more in common with what Journeyman talents offer. The second is the earlier circle makes it available to the Wizard before and at a lower cost. While the talent is thematic and appropriate to a Wizard, it isn't the core of their discipline. Where it is essentially everything a Scout is about.

Wizards have a diverse and versatile selection of spells, with a particular focus on screwing with opposing spellcasters. Their talents show a dedication to the art of magic which is second to none, and a strong knack for knowledge. If the idea of a classical wizard appeals to you, then this may be the right discipline.

Novice

First Circle
  • Dispel Magic
  • Patterncraft
  • Research
  • Spellcasting
  • Wizardry
Abilities
  • Durability 3
Second Circle
  • Astral Sight
Third Circle
  • Tenacious Weave
Abilities
  • Karma: Action tests to recall information (including Knowledge tests)
Fourth Circle
  • Steel Thought
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Astral Interference
Abilities
  • Book Mage: 1 Strain, the Wizard gains +5 to a Thread Weaving test for Reattuing on the Fly if they are looking at the spell in their grimoire.
  • Karma: Spend a karma point to change the range of a spell you are casting from "self" to "touch".
Sixth Circle
  • Willforce
Seventh Circle
  • Hold Thread
Eighth Circle
  • Suppress Curse
While Wizards have multiple themes, their discipline talents are almost all focused on supporting their primary theme of magic. They have all of the basic spellcasting talents shared by all spellcasters: Hold Thread, Patterncraft, Spellcasting, Thread Weaving (Wizardry), and Willforce. Their sole non-magic related talent, Research, defines how it is they go about their particular style of magic.

Their other discipline talents all reflect their interaction with magic on a basic level. Astral Interference, Dispel Magic, and Tenacious Weave manipulate the nature of spells, though Dispel Magic will also function against talents. This fact is important to remember and can be used to disable the abilities of other adepts. Air Dance, Astral Interference, Earth Skin, Gliding Stride, and Wood Skin (among others) are all susceptible to Dispel Magic.

The other two talents, Astral Interference and Tenacious Weave, are almost exclusively useful against other spellcasters, which somewhat defines where they are most effective. While Dispel Magic offers a remedy for spells, Astral Interference is a preventative treatment against spellcasters in the area. Tenacious Weave is a counter-measure against Dispel Magic. Typically this won't need to be used, unless there are opposing spellcasters. It is worth mentioning all Wizards should be careful with the flight spell in combat if they are opposed by anyone with Dispel Magic for non-specific reasons. Tenacious Weave is important in these situations.

Suppress Curse also operates in this spectrum. It works against all hostile magic, but has other limitations. This expands the tools available to Wizards when neutralizing magic. Steel Thought is the final piece of their defensive capabilities against magic, working against effects before they become active.

Their final discipline talent, Astral Sight, is important in how it allows them to study astral space. It also provides a side benefit of giving a small bonus to some spells when they have astrally sensed the target. For Wizards, knowledge is power.

The karma abilities at their disposal reflect two of their themes. First, the ability to improve information recall at third circle plays up their theme of knowledge. While it doesn't improve their researching abilities, it does mean they gain more from having a diverse array of knowledge skills. At fifth circle they gain a karma ability which can augment their spells, like all spellcasters. The Wizard's ability is a little more subtle in use than other spellcasting disciplines and more thematic as to how they approach magic. Instead of making things better in a particular way, they actually change the nature of a spell. There is some particular synergy here when it is combined with the Elementalist ability, allowing two targets to benefit from a spell such as Displace Self, or Flight.

At fifth circle they also gain their Journeyman ability, which continues to play on their theme of being researchers. It also works with the overall goal to bring grimoires from the background and into gameplay. Since the Wizard theme isn't quite as specific and evocative as other spellcasters, their ability reflects more their flexibility when it comes to applying spells to solve a problem. As long as they have their grimoire at hand, they have a significant advantage when it comes to reattuning spells on the fly, effectively reducing the difficulty to simply weaving a thread.
  • Arcane Mutterings - The primary uses for this talent are either gaining an advantage in social interactions or preventing a conflict before it breaks out. Either of these can be appealing to a Wizard, particularly if they want to contribute to social interaction without being a social character.
  • Awareness - Odds are reasonable every character will pick this up at some point. They already have a high perception and it's always a good idea to notice things. This talent received a name change and general face lift for ED4. The mechanical changes include an expanded scope was and the Strain was eliminated. This was done because there wasn't a general counter-measure to abilities such as Stealthy Stride. The Strain was removed because it didn't quite make sense - the measure doesn't cost Strain and most of the usage is passive. Originally the Strain was introduced to prevent players from spamming Search tests, though this kind of situation is generally best left to the table and some good GM advice.
  • Book Memory - This is an interesting talent and there isn't anything quite like it. Given how few disciplines have access, it should likely be considered. It doesn't require a great deal of investment for it to be useful either.
  • Conversation - If you are interested in playing a social Wizard, this should be the talent to get you started. The duration for this talent was increased from hours to days. This was done to differentiate it more from other social talents, particularly First Impression. It now fills the role of a long term social talent, rather than the short term usage for First Impression. They are each useful in different areas.
  • Creature Analysis - Given their ability to cause both mystic and physical damage, this talent can provide valuable information to maximize damage output. In addition, knowledge is power in any conflict. The action type for this talent was changed from Standard to Simple. The reasoning is straight forward: unless you are watching the creature outside of combat, using your action for this information isn't generally worth the action. Odds are, unless there is some crucial information, your action is better spent doing something proactive. This change allows for the talent to be done in addition to this, since you are already paying the costs in Legend Points, Strain, and the opportunity cost associated with not taking a different talent.
  • Etiquette - Typically this will be second talent for a character wishing to pursue a social path. It can also be the first if your game takes you to enough exotic and unfamiliar locales.
  • Item History - If no one in your group has this talent, someone needs to have this talent. Even if one of your allies does, it is still worth considering picking up for its use with thread items, but also to gain information with mundane items. If you intend to take Evidence Analysis later, this is the perfect companion. 
  • Read and Write Language - For most characters, the skill will suffice just fine. Some like to have the ability to pick up a new language on the fly as needed, which is where the talent shines over its mundane counterpart. This talent tends to benefit research oriented characters most.
  • Speak Language - Similar to Read and Write Languages, except this tends to benefit social characters most.
  • Standard Matrix - Realistically, this is the first talent option everyone will take. Even with the free matrices, you are here for the spells.
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 erudite, professor, voyager, and jack-of-all-trades.

The Erudite is interested primarily in knowledge and magic. Even more so than the average Wizard. They will focus most on what other information they can gather and how it can be applied to the situation. Games which feature investigation, mysteries, and puzzles will benefit this type of character greatly and they work more behind the scenes to put all of the pieces together. Later, they will also be able to affect some misdirection to help in these endeavors. For this, Book Memory, Item History, Read and Write Language, and Standard Matrix will likely be the most helpful talents. Of those, Read and Write Languages can easily be replaced most likely for Awareness, though the social talents could also be of use.

While "professor" may sound like they are interest in research, they are actually social creatures. These characters aren't going to be generally useful when fast talking someone, but if allowed considerable time, they can adapt to most situations and slowly build consensus and support. They are likely to find Conversation, Etiquette, Speak Language, and Standard Matrix the most useful. Of those, Speak Language can be switched for any of the other talents as needed.

Voyagers want to get out into the world to find some forbidden knowledge. They are generally the most prepared for trouble and well suited for a life of crawling around in kaers. Towards these ends, Arcane Mutterings, Awareness, Creature Analysis, and Standard Matrix will be the talents of choice. Of these, Arcane Mutterings can be switched for Item History if it is unlikely the former social talent will ever be of use.

As usual, the jack-of-all-trades wants to contribute and to get screen time. They will want Awareness, Book Memory, Conversation, and Standard Matrix. Book Memory may seem the odd talent out, but it is also a talent to which few other disciplines gain access. This means if it comes up, it will be your time. This being said, depending on the needs of the group Book Memory and Conversation can be switched out for whatever is most likely to be useful (probably Item History).
  • Avoid Blow - By this point you will know if you need this talent or not. With two spells which support its use and encounters likely to only get more dangerous, this is a talent which is almost certainly worth considering for any PC. Avoid Blow no longer requires a greater level of success to be used against ranged attacks. This change was made because it was a detail which added nothing to the game and was largely forgotten.
  • Diplomacy - If you have Conversation, odds are reasonable you want to consider this talent.
  • Enhanced Matrix - Just as in the previous tier, this is the first talent option you are going to take.
  • Evidence Analysis - If your game ever has mysteries which need to be solved, think of this as a shortcut. It is worth considering for most characters as it is likely to come up in most games. Odds are reasonable you will know if your game qualifies or not by this point. Even if other characters have this talent, it is still worth picking up as more information never hurt an investigation.
  • Hypnotize - This potent talent goes perfectly with the other social talents, or is even useful all on its own. If you take this talent, be prepared for your companions to make snide remarks. The action type for this talent was changed from Standard to Sustained to reflect the mechanics better.
  • Lifesight - One of the best uses of this talent is when paired with Mystic Shock as they both take advantage of being able to operate through walls. Other than this, it is still useful for the additional information it can gather which may be unavailable by other sources. While this talent didn't actually change, it did become more useful by virtue of the limitations placed on interacting with astral space. Specifically, you can no longer see through solid objects with basic Astral Sight.
  • Mystic Pursuit - This is another talent which falls under the category of "check to see if anyone in your group has this talent". Odds are reasonable someone will it, though if no one does it is worth considering. It is often unexpectedly useful. This used to be know as Direction Arrow and Direction Sense, which is about the extent of the changes.
  • Power Mask - If you are playing in an intrigue laden game, there is likely value in being able to conceal your power from others. However, if crawling around in kaers most of the time, it isn't likely to be as useful. This talent was given a Strain cost of 1 because it is powerful enough to warrant it. Also, this encourages characters to not necessarily have it active at all times. Though with a sufficiently high rank, it is very cheap to do so anyway.
  • Resist Taunt - Socially inclined characters will absolutely want this talent, while others should consider it from the variety of social debuffs which are available.
  • True Sight - Most useful against Illusionists, this still has value against the variety of talents which take advantage of minor illusion magic. The function of this talent was updated to reflect the new illusion mechanics, which now include talents.
Erudites add a few powerful talents to their repertoire, which also extend their capabilities into new areas. Enhanced Matrix, Evidence Analysis, Power Mask, and True Sight are the talents which help this build the most. Power Mask conceals information from others (since erudites know the true power of knowledge) and True Sight helps defeat various attempts at misdirection.

Professors continue down the social path even more so at Journeyman. They gain access to a social talent which allows them to be the department mediator, to help get what they want (in way which is a little creepy), and prevent others from getting what they want. These talents are Diplomacy, Enhanced Matrix, Hypnotize, and Resist Taunt.

The voyager continues down their path and expands their ability to deal with adversity. Talents for them are Avoid Blow, Mystic Pursuit, Enhanced Matrix, and Lifesight. Of these, Lifesight can be exchanged for a variety of options (including those from Novice, if they are appealing) depending on the need. Given their proclivities, Resist Taunt will help when the going gets tough, though Evidence Analysis and True Sight may help with finding the knowledge in the first place.

Jack-of-all-trades has some hard choices, but there are a few talents which rise above the rest due to how useful they are in the majority of games and situations. For them, Avoid Blow, Enhanced Matrix, Evidence Analysis, and Resist Taunt will bring the special combination of value and screen time which these characters are about.

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