13 March 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 25 - Monk, Part 1

This is the twenty-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 Monk is one of the more requested disciplines for updating to Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) on which I haven't done much work. I'm going to try and use this opportunity to go through most of the design process to show how it works for me and gather some feedback on how this discipline is going to come together. 

To begin, the Monk is an interesting example of design. The four animal styles merging into the dragon style at Master tier is an idea I want to preserve at its core; there are some distinctly different ways this discipline can go. Creating more structure for this discipline than normal, but elegance within the structure, is the vague direction and a way to make this discipline feel different from others.

However, there are some things I don't care for in this discipline. Specifically, the animal styles. They are far too Southern Shaolin kung fu for my taste. While Earthdawn is the forgotten history of Earth, it doesn't need to be so on the nose or exist before it existed. The structure presented with all of the techniques available at Novice is too free and lacking in, well, discipline. There isn't a sense of gaining greater access to secrets as you ascend in learning, which is a common theme in the genre.

With this in mind, the plan is to switch from an animal theme (as there is already an animal-based unarmed combatant) to the very Earthdawn elemental theme. This presents its own opportunities and challenges. One challenge is the Purifier - an unarmed discipline with a strong connection to the elements. This is fairly significant, since considerable overlap between two disciplines brings up the important question: should this discipline exist? We will get back to this shortly.

Looking at the elemental theme, it should be different from the standard Barsaivian outlook. A different culture should approach things differently. The trick is the elemental paradigm in Earthdawn is empirical - the discrete elements can be found and trucked around; their interactions are not a matter of philosophy, but of "you know, we would still have house if you had kept the True Fire and True Wood separate... just sayin'."

The Chinese five element theory is useful here, though something of a bastardization, as it has earth, fire, metal, water, and wood. Some setting gymnastics can adapt this easily to the setting. The first part: what happened to air? A simple solution: the dragons of Cathay do not allow Namegivers of the land access to True Air, but jealously guard it. In return, the dragons grant them protection and metal (orichalcum). Perhaps the truth is the dragons wish to control the Namegivers' ability to produce orichalcum on their own, thus controlling their entire access to the substance; tales of the orichalcum wars?

Nonetheless, this sets up a few things. Metal is now orichalcum (the metal) in the scheme, which provides a replacement for dragon in the vague talent scheme. This also creates a proto-version of the wu xing, which is based less on philosophy and more on reality (as mentioned above). As magic leaves the world the structure and notions remain, but become adapted to a life where these things are not as they once were.

Going back to the Purifier, there should be enough mechanical and thematic differences here to separate the two disciplines. However, there can also be a connection between the two. I have often toyed with how liferocks work within the setting as the entire notion of obsidimen and their life is completely foreign. The Monk tradition could have passed from the liferocks of Cathay to Barsaive, but been adapted to the culture and needs of the local region. Thus the strong similarities between the two, but also the different applications.

Leaving setting behind and moving to mechanics: while I like the idea of a final element which unlocks secrets, I don't like the idea of this being the only answer. Characters should have the option of either specializing in an element, or being balanced between them. This means having five distinct endgame paths, but this particular problem is for later down the road.

The discipline structure which I am currently using has the standard discipline talent progression with modified talent options. Instead of the standard talent option spread (10 talent options), there will be three talent options for each element, for a total of 12. Specialists will need to take all of the options for their element at each tier, while those seeking harmony will need to take one from each element at each tier. This means specialists can have a little flexibility if they so desire, by taking their fourth option as a freebie.

This provides a nice outline of how to put things together for now - it is a place to start. From here the details need to be filled in, which means creating a list of talents. My preference is to take the current list of talents and note every talent which may be appropriate, creating a "super list". Once this is in place, talents which don't fit quite as well get removed. This can be a long process and benefits from differing perspectives and collaboration in general.

Here is the super list for Monk:

  • Acrobatic Defense
  • Air Dance
  • Anticipate Blow
  • Astral Sight
  • Avoid Blow
  • Awareness
  • Battle Bellow
  • Battle Shout
  • Book Memory
  • Claw Frenzy
  • Claw Shape
  • Climbing
  • Cobra Strike
  • Cold Purify
  • Conversation
  • Crushing Blow
  • Danger Sense
  • Diplomacy
  • Disarm
  • Distract
  • Down Strike
  • Earth Skin
  • Empathic Sense
  • Etiquette
  • Fireblood
  • Gliding Stride
  • Graceful Exit
  • Great Leap
  • Heartening Laugh
  • Impressive Display
  • Inspire Others
  • Iron Constitution
  • Life Check
  • Lifesight
  • Lion Heart
  • Maneuver
  • Momentum Attack
  • Power Mask
  • Read and Write Language
  • Research
  • Resist Taunt
  • Riposte
  • Second Attack
  • Speak Language
  • Spot Armor Flaw
  • Sprint
  • Stealthy Stride
  • Steel Thought
  • Steely Stare
  • Swift Kick
  • Temper Flesh
  • Thread Weaving
  • Tiger Spring
  • True Sight
  • Unarmed Combat
  • Waterfall Slam
  • Wilderness Survival
  • Wind Catcher
  • Wood Skin
  • Wound Balance
Clearly, this is way too many talents. Also, as the esteemed +David Marshall likes to note: it is always good to have a unique talent. I definitely think it is something which should be considered, but this desire needs to be tempered with an important question: is this a talent which any other discipline should have? The inherent problem being disciplines (or classes) released early in a development cycle won't have the benefit of access to the various abilities which are introduced later, thus ended up as somewhat sad in comparison. To this end, all new talents need to be something which an existing discipline should not already have. If they fail this test, the ability isn't discarded, but it is adapted to another form which everyone (as appropriate) can retroactively gain access.

At this point I like to look over the source material for the adaptation and see if there is any inspiration to be had. In this case, no so much, but I may return to it at a later date. The discipline also needs a template (combat, specialist, spellcaster). Right now, combat (Durability 7) is the most appropriate, but using the specialist (Durability 5, free talent, extra karma ability) is tempting for the possibilities it offers and to help differentiate the discipline. Going with that direction would change some of the decisions, but it is an intriguing option.

To make the next step (talent selection) short: I made a lot of cuts. The end result is below, but I am not happy with how it has turned out. At this point generally comes to arduous process of fine tuning the talents through collaboration and playtesting. Instead of proceeding, I'm putting this out there for everyone to see.

Part of this process involved establishing while the mechanics and core of a talent may be common between the settings, this doesn't mean the manifestation must also be the same. For example: Air Dance may end up as a talent option for one of the elements, but the elemental association could be fire or water, instead of air. A different culture manipulates magic in a different way to get the same result.

There are also some other pieces when filling out the template: defenses, bonuses, karma spends, and tier abilities. For defenses, they are ordered 1 through 3 and the bonuses are already in place. Physical is 1, Mystic is 2, and Social is 3. Depending on how things end up, Physical and Mystic may split the difference, both ending up as 1.5 much like the Swordmaster with Physical and Social. Bonuses are similarly ordered between Initiative, Mystic Armor, and Recovery Tests. This one is much more difficult as they all apply. I selected Recovery Tests as the primary due to the number of talents which require them to function.

Leaving me with karma spends and tier abilities. These can be remarkably difficult to get right. As a combat discipline, one of the karma spends is simple: damage bonus at fifth circle. This still leaves third circle and circles after eight. Luckily, this discipline is still too undefined to know what is appropriate for an early karma spend, particularly one which is often used as part of the defining flavor of the discipline. For the Journeyman ability, I know I want it to be related to meditation. What exactly it should do, somewhat up in the air. So I put a bunch of stuff down and will see what sticks over time. These abilities tend to look pretty ugly initially and are refined a great deal through revisions and playtesting. It isn't uncommon for them to be scrapped entirely if they refuse to cooperate.

Below is the bleeding alpha version of this discipline; it's not even a draft. It is going to need a lot of work. There is no expectation for anything to remain the same, but you have to start from somewhere.


Artisan Skills: N/A

Half-Magic: Probably something to do with other monk orders and fighting styles, like Swordmaster, but maybe a little more.

Novice

First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Claw Shape
  • Etiquette
  • Thread Weaving
  • Unarmed Combat
Abilities
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Maneuver
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Third Circle
  • Danger Sense
Abilities
  • Karma: ???
Fourth Circle
  • Great Leap
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Mystic Defense
Talent Options
  • Earth
    • Iron Constitution
    • Wood Skin
    • Wound Balance
  • Fire
    • Acrobatic Defense
    • Sprint
    • Tiger Spring
  • Water
    • Anticipate Blow
    • Distract
    • Riposte
  • Wood
    • Astral Sight
    • Awareness
    • Fireblood
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Wholeness of Body
Abilities
  • Meditation: The adept may make a Thread Weaving (6) test. If successful, they may meditate for a number of hours equal to their test result. Time spent meditating is considered the equivalent of sleeping, but the adept is still aware of their surroundings. The adept may make a Recovery Test after meditating for 30 minutes. After meditating for 8 hours, any additional successes on their initial Thread Weaving test give +2 to a Recovery Test made immediately after stopping meditation.
  • Karma: The adept may spend a karma point on an unarmed Damage test.
Sixth Circle
  • Steel Thought
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Physical Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Down Strike
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Recovery Test
Eighth Circle
  • Claw Frenzy
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  • Earth
    • Earth Skin
    • Life Check
    • Temper Self
  • Fire
    • Cobra Strike
    • Gliding Stride
    • Swift Kick
  • Water
    • Air Dance
    • Disarm
    • Waterfall Slam
  • Wood
    • Lifesight
    • Lion Heart
    • True Sight
Wholeness of Body
Step: Rank
Action: Simple
Strain: 1
The adept strengthens their body with the power of the elements. While active, the adept adds their Wholeness of Body rank to their Physical Armor and Mystic Armor. This talent is not compatible with worn armor and lasts for Wholeness of Body rank rounds.