17 April 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 27 - Blade Dancer, Part 2

This is the twenty-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.

This is a continuation of development on the Blade Dancer discipline from part 1.


Since the first post on the Blade Dancer has gone up, I have received good feedback. An important part of it was the assessment of Firefly Lure: it should probably be available to Warriors at the very least. Which means some will need to be a general reconfiguration to deal with the hole this creates in the talent progression.

Before getting into that topic, a brief aside [this is a lie; I am incapable of anything resembling brevity] on potential access to Firefly Lure. The only public comment suggested Swordmasters and Sky Raiders should potentially gain access to the ability as well. To be clear: this is not an unfair suggestion by any stretch; it, in fact, deserves more than I gave it at the time. If things went in this direction, I was on the fence regarding Sky Raiders. In the end, it is appropriate to them, but it would be access gained much later than Blade Dancers and Warriors. Battlefield control like that isn't one of their specialties, but the ability to draw attention, take punishment, and fire are all in theme for them.

In the reply, I indicated this is not an ability to which Swordmasters will gain access without expanding on the statement. Here are the reasons why this is the case. The first is one of specialization; Swordmasters specialize in single opponents over multiple. This isn't to say they cannot take on a group, but it isn't their strength. Second is about elemental themes. It seems like a little thing, but it helps to establish a feel for a discipline if they follow particular elemental themes. This also helps when it comes time to make tough decisions regarding talent options. Swordmasters do not have fire as one of their themes. The third reason ties into both the first and second. It goes back to maintaining clear distinctions between Blade Dancer and Swordmaster. The difference in combat styles, the elemental themes, all of this is important in establishing and maintaining the distance and validity of both disciplines. 

Longer than I thought it would be, which is why I added the note in brackets. Hopefully this explanation makes sense and pulls back the curtain a little on why some decisions were made. Returning to the topic at hand: changing talents.

Removing Firefly Lure isn't just a simple swap in this instance. It was a Journeyman talent and the replacement, Distract, is Novice. While it could be installed at fifth circle, this feels too much like a surcharge on a basic talent for the sake of convenience. Of the Novice discipline talents, Wound Balance is the poorest fit, which puts Distract in Novice where it belongs and Wound Balance is a Novice talent option. This still leaves a hole at fifth circle, however.

There are a few options on how to proceed here, but they effectively come down to either developing another new talent, or moving a talent from the Journeyman options to the discipline talents. Since everything of which I can think to fulfill the role a new talent is also something to which other disciplines should have access, I am going to skip all of the agonizing work involve and graduate a talent option.

Moving a talent option to a discipline talent in this case will have the linked effect of requiring a new talent option. First things first, however. Looking at the list, the best choice is Waterfall Slam for two reasons. The first, it continues with the vague water theme of Journeyman. Second, it also emphasizes more battlefield control, which is good for this discipline (particularly since they don't have a lot of damage to send opponents sprawling in the first place).

Waterfall Slam could just go in at fifth circle, and this wouldn't be inherently a bad thing, but it is something of a new signature talent for Warriors and I would like to have it be special for them a little bit longer. Also, Spot Armor Flaw would fit nicely earlier. So, Spot Armor Flaw gets moved down and Waterfall Slam comes in at seventh circle. I'm not sold on the location of these talents and they can be switched based on a compelling argument.

There is still an opening for a talent option which requires attention.

Three different areas can be explored with this: mental, physical, or social.

Going through the more cerebral talents, Research, Steel Thought, and Tactics are the best options. However, none of these are particularly great options. As of yet, this hasn't been a scholarly discipline, nor focused on mystic aspects, and it isn't associated with organized conflict. Perhaps there is a place for a scholar-warrior style discipline (the Monk is somewhat shaping up in this direction), but this is a topic for another day.

Social talents are a bit more fertile with Empathic Sense, Lasting Impression, and Winning Smile all coming up. The latter two are quickly discarded because this treads too much on Swordmaster territory. Empathic Sense still remains as an interesting option.

Combat talents are tricky because they already have nearly everything which is appropriate. There are still two, Blade Juggle and Unarmed Combat, which may work. Despite being strangely compelling, Blade Juggle gets pulled because it just doesn't quite fit. This is a discipline based around having a single, one-handed weapon, not a sack full of weapons and a talent which requires both hands (thus making the Journeyman ability useless).

The final tally leaves us with Empathic Sense and Unarmed Combat. In the end, I picked Unarmed Combat, but part of me wants Empathic Sense as a talent option. However, Empathic Sense isn't quite as appropriate as the other talent options. This isn't a discipline with a strong group or exceptionally prominent social theme. Though it does fit their social theme well. Unarmed Combat won the day because it goes well with having an open hand, I can see this discipline appealing to t'skrang characters (and they tend to want access to Unarmed Combat), and for some other reasons which are shrouded in secrecy for now.

Since nothing is ever easy, Unarmed Combat needs to be available as a Novice talent option to be relevant. The open spot is for a Journeyman talent option. Looking over the list, Impressive Display is the best choice for moving up a tier. There are three reasons for this. The first is it spreads out the social talents a little better, putting two at each tier. Second, Impressive Display doesn't need many ranks invested in it to be useful, which means it is easier to absorb the increased costs of a Journeyman talent for interested characters. The third reason is it introduces a little more distinction between Blade Dancer and Swordmaster, as the latter has access to Impressive Display as a Novice talent option. This makes Blade Dancers a little less social leaning.

All of the talent shifting is now cleaned up and settled. Until some more valuable feedback comes in to stir things up again. Well, that and as I look at the talent options, I see Anticipate Blow. A talent which is somewhat redundant with Acrobatic Defense as a discipline talent. This could be removed and Danger Sense could drop down to Novice. Which opens up a place for Empathic Sense as a Journeyman talent option. What are the thoughts on this potential shift?

Hopefully everything discussed here makes sense. If it does not, please let me know if there are any questions on the above decisions and reasoning. Otherwise, below is the updated version of the discipline. 

Artisan Skills: Dancing, Rune Carving

Half-Magic: Blade Dancers use half-magic to care for their weapons and recognize different types of melee weapons. Blade Dancers may also use half-magic to identify another Blade Dancer’s fighting techniques, the influences of a Blade Dancer's particular style, and elemental fighting techniques. They are also familiar with prominent dance styles.


Novice

First Circle

  • Acrobatic Defense
  • Avoid Blow
  • Blade Weaving
  • Melee Weapons
  • Tiger Spring
Abilities
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Maneuver
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Third Circle
  • Air Dance
Abilities
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Distract
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Social Defense
Talent Options
  1. Anticipate Blow
  2. Awareness
  3. Conceal Object
  4. Etiquette
  5. First Impression
  6. Graceful Exit
  7. Great Leap
  8. Surprise Strike
  9. Unarmed Combat
  10. Wound Balance
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Spot Armor Flaw
Abilities
  • Water Dance: For 1 Strain before Initiative is determined and if your off-hand does not have a weapon or a shield, you may take either a +2 bonus to your melee weapon Damage tests, or a +2 bonus to your Physical Defense. To change the benefit, this ability must be used again. This ability lasts until the end of combat.
  • Karma: The adept may spend a karma point on melee weapon Damage tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Momentum Attack
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Physical Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Waterfall Slam
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative
Eighth Circle
  • Second Attack
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  1. Danger Sense
  2. Disarm
  3. Gliding Stride
  4. Impressive Display
  5. Lion Heart
  6. Resist Taunt
  7. Riposte
  8. Sprint
  9. Swift Kick
  10. Wind Catcher

10 April 2015

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 34 - Journey Through the Badlands

This is the thirty-fourth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The Badlands are a strange place and, in this version of Barsaive, very poorly understood. They are terrible and broken, but not just because of the corruption. This is something which will be explored more as this arc continues, but the fundamental wrongness of the Badlands and how it warps everything is important to the events which take place there.

Horrors remain in the Badlands not just because of how they have twisted it, but because of how it continues their work. There is an awareness and malevolence to the very land itself. It has an insidious influence on those who venture into clutches and it is very reluctant to let anyone go. Many will return time and again, never realizing they have fallen into its sway.


Adventure Log – 034 Journey Through the Badlands

Written By: Bongani Kreskas

Date: 17 Sollus – 19 Sollus, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Warrior
Ting the Swordmaster


We head into the Badlands, seeking the Hidden City(1). Elmod summoned an earth elemental to help us, but he was not forthcoming with assistance. On the second day we find a lone obsidiman. It is Physt! He is attempting to make a flower grow in this lifeless place(2). How strange he is!

Physt warns of the terrible creatures in the Badlands. We wish him well and continue on our way, leaving to his work of purifying the land. We will meet again, I am sure.

The Badlands stretch endlessly in all directions. It is beautiful in a bleak, desperate sort of way. I would not want to live here, but it has been a fascinating visit.

We come across a site of slaughter. Five men killed by a Horror attack, three days ago(3). They then moved west, the same direction we were headed. We found food, but left it, as it might have been tainted. in the carnage, we find a small green crystal with runes carved into it. A strange curio to say the least. Their equipment is interesting, but the astral pollution prevents us from making a detailed investigation.

We find a different spot to camp, though it is not as distant as we might like. As the night sets in, a creature of swirling wings and fangs fell upon the camp. Ting was on watch and charged to meet the creature. The swarms are devious and relentless, latching onto Ting with ravenous hunger. The creatures are like krilworms, but more vicious and enormous. They also stink intensely(4), so we wisely move camp.

The next day we come across another scene of horror. An ork was gruesomely displayed on a long speak with a flapping pennant. I consulted with Elmod and Honeysuckle and determined that the Horror that killed those men was a gestalt Horror - many small creatures forming into a big, dangerous one(5). After discussion, we decide that Elmod should cast a spell to re-live the final moment of one of the poor wretches' life(6).

The dwarf saw a swarm of horrifying children. They merge together to form a massive beast. He fights bravely with his friends, but is overcome by the creature. The biting faces that cover its body snap and snarled. The Horror grew knives for fingers and tore the dwarf apart(7).

The Horror apparently knows us, as it spoke to us by Name in his vision. The Horror claimed that it would continue to kill travelers until we find and confront him(8). Our duty is clear - we must locate and kill this fiend. I found his tracks and we continued southwest.

At night we made camp.(9)


*     *     *
(1) So this is what they are doing - chasing after a hidden city. Great.
(2) There is something incredibly endearing about this. Foolish, utterly foolish, but endearing.
(3) This doesn't sound like the work of a Horror, though there are enough of them out there.
(4) Reason 587 to never go to the Badlands.
(5) So this sounds more like a Horror, though like nothing even Zamrica has heard of before.
(6) I will never understand why every Nethermancer seems to think this is a good idea.
(7) No sleep for me tonight.
(8) We need to keep an eye on this situation. 
(9) Received and edited by Ela Pono

This session continued the setup from the previous session, increasing the tension and sense of foreboding. There was also some foreshadowing for a few different plots. It's going to get dark and its going to get weird.

Since this plot is still happening, I'm going to leave it there for now.

03 April 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 27 - Blade Dancer, Part 1

This is the twenty-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.

The Sword Dancer is a discipline from Cathay which has not yet been updated to Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4). This isn't the Sword Dancer, but the Blade Dancer. It is derived from/inspired by the Sword Dancer, but there is a reason the Name change is important for this discipline.

Identity of the discipline is the reason. When introduced in Cathay, the Sword Dancer was an interesting enough discipline in concept - a sword-wielding wuxia martial artist. In execution, it struggled to differentiate itself from the Swordmaster. So much, it was strange why the Swordmaster even existed in the setting; the Sword Dancer filled the equivalent niche from a different cultural perspective. Changing the Name of the discipline sets it enough apart from its roots and from the Swordmaster discipline to become its own thing.

The core concept of the discipline remains - sword-wielding wuxia martial artist. This is a starting point and only a source of inspiration, rather than something to be emulated slavishly. From here, the goal becomes finding a niche for this discipline between Swordmaster and Warrior. I bring up Warrior because part of separating the Blade Dancer from the Swordmaster involves exploring a limited elemental theme. Limited because the elemental theme is key to the Warrior.

One of my goals was to remove much of the essential Cathay flavor and turn the discipline into something which, while keeping the original inspiration, is applicable to Barsaive in addition to Cathay.

Cutting to the chase, the Blade Dancer is (currently) an elementally themed (air, fire, and water) light fighter designed around using a single one-handed weapon and facing multiple opponents at once. This is a counterpoint to the Swordmaster who uses two weapons and specializes in facing a single opponent. They have access to social talents through their talent options and can also bring quite a bit of mobility if they desire. The Blade Dancer is more militant than the Swordmaster and likely to appeal to previous fans of the Bladesman specialist of the Swordmaster.

The elemental themes exist in talents (both discipline and options) and in their discipline abilities and roughly (though imperfectly) tracked to tiers. They will receive a "dance" ability for each of the elements in the first three tiers which aligns with the primary element for the tier: Air Dance as a Novice discipline talent, Water Dance as the Journeyman discipline ability, and Fire Dance as the Warden discipline ability (even if it isn't shown below). 

There are two new mechanical elements for this discipline. The first is their Journeyman ability; it provides some versatility to the discipline from giving up their off-hand, being unable to use a second weapon, shield, or two-handed weapon. The key is it allows them to adapt to their situation, particularly with a custom talent which shows up at the same circle - either going defensive, or pressing the advantage. A previous iteration provided a larger bonus while requiring the adept to have no more than a specific Initiative Penalty from armor. This was discarded because it already has enough dictation about weapon selection. It definitely needs additional testing to ensure it works appropriately without giving too much of a boost.

Next is the talent, Firefly Lure. This is a counterpoint to Distract and intended to be used against a large number of opponents, instead of just one. The penalty is conditional based on behavior, which encourages opponents to focus on the Blade Dancer. It provides more group control and can allow her allies more freedom around the battlefield. This talent went through a number of different iterations, balancing various effects. A lot more testing needs to go into this talent to see how it plays out. Also, I'm uncertain if this is an ability which other disciplines should possess; in particular the Warrior and Sky Raider to a lesser extent. If yes, there are ways to maintain this ability and give broader access to those who should have it.

At this point, it exists apart from the Swordmaster and the Warrior and does some things which neither of them do. However, it is still undecided if this is a discipline which is different and unique enough to warrant existing with some more development. Does it bring something to the game and setting which is worthwhile and new?

Artisan Skills: Dancing, Rune Carving

Half-Magic: Blade Dancers use half-magic to care for their weapons and recognize different types of melee weapons. Blade Dancers may also use half-magic to identify another Blade Dancer’s fighting techniques, the influences of a Blade Dancer's particular style, and elemental fighting techniques. They are also familiar with prominent dance styles.

Novice

First Circle
  • Acrobatic Defense
  • Avoid Blow
  • Blade Weaving
  • Melee Weapons
  • Tiger Spring
Abilities
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Maneuver
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Physical Defense
Third Circle
  • Air Dance
Abilities
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Wound Balance
Abilities
  • Defense: +1 Social Defense
Talent Options
  • Anticipate Blow
  • Awareness
  • Conceal Object
  • Distract
  • Etiquette
  • First Impression
  • Graceful Exit
  • Great Leap
  • Impressive Display
  • Surprise Strike
Journeyman

Fifth Circle
  • Firefly Lure
Abilities
  • Water Dance: For 1 Strain before Initiative is determined and if your off-hand does not have a weapon or a shield, you may take either a +2 bonus to your melee weapon Damage tests, or a +2 bonus to your Physical Defense. To change the benefit, this ability must be used again. This ability lasts until the end of combat.
  • Karma: The adept may spend a karma point on melee weapon Damage tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Momentum Attack
Abilities
  • Defense: +2 Physical Defense
Seventh Circle
  • Spot Armor Flaw
Abilities
  • Bonus: +1 Initiative
Eighth Circle
  • Second Attack
Abilities
  • Defense: +3 Physical Defense
Talent Options
  • Danger Sense
  • Disarm
  • Gliding Stride
  • Lion Heart
  • Resist Taunt
  • Riposte
  • Sprint
  • Swift Kick
  • Waterfall Slam
  • Wind Catcher

Firefly Lure
Step: Rank + CHA
Action: Simple
Strain: 2
The adept’s blade becomes surrounded with beguiling flame, causing opponents to be distracted by the bright, darting colors and drawn to the adept. To use this talent, the adept makes a Firefly Lure test against the highest Social Defense of each adjacent opponent. If successful, all affected targets must remain adjacent to the adept and include her in all of their attacks for a number of rounds equal to the number of successes. If a target moves away from the adept, or makes an attack which does not include the adept, they are Blindsided until the end of the next round as they find it nearly impossible to pay attention to anything other than the flames. The Blindsided duration is independent from the talent duration.