This week brings a preview of the Beastmaster Discipline from the forthcoming Earthdawn Companion for 4E. This is intended to offer some insights into the Discipline design. Obviously the actual progression is missing, which is found at FASA Games.
The primary theme for Beastmasters as they reach these lofty heights of power is they are dangerous. They are apex predators and increasingly take on characteristics of beasts within their domain. While each Beastmaster takes a different approach, they are tough and tenacious as few others, while maintaining brutal offensive prowess.
Tough Hide is still their Warden Discipline ability, but instead of providing a bonus to Physical Armor, it gives them a bonus to Toughness. This change was primarly made to allow a broader bestial nature and connection, rather than just to creatures with a tough hide.
The previous Master Discipline ability, Wild Sense, has been replaced by Bestial War Form. Wild Sense is certainly an interesting ability and appropriate for the Discipline, but falls short of the mark when it comes to the impact of a Master tier ability, particularly with the adjustment in emphasis of the Discipline. Bestial War Form is their apotheosis, blending flexibility with power, allowing them to adapt their form to the situation. For example, taking on traits from a cheetah to give chase, and once their quarry has been cornered, shifting to a brithan's hide and claws.
Their Discipline talents saw some movement as well, reflecting changes in the talent line-up and their thematic adjustment. Animal Leadership and Chameleon were moved to talent option, Bestial Resilience is now Relentless Recovery (while the former was an excellent name, it didn't quite describe what the talent did), and Astral Web, Develop Animal Sense, and Scent Identifier are no longer talents. Animal Leadership and Chameleon were moved for the same reason: they aren't appropriate to all Beastmasters. The former includes animals in a way that may not be appropriate to every character or every game, while the latter requires the adept to possess Stealthy Stride.
Critical Hit, Howl, Momentum Attack, Unflinching Fortitude, and Vicious Wound replace these Discipline talents. These talents are more generically useful, but show a certain brutality to the Discipline. Vicious Wound is debilitating, particularly when combined with Claw Frenzy. The volume of attacks then can generate (and possible bonuses from Cobra Strike) increase the likelihood of a Critical Hit and Momentum Attack. While Unflinching Fortitude means they're unlikely to be bothered by any but the worst attacks. Finally, Howl allows them to express their dominance over the battlefield, causing a broad penalty to their opponents.
Their talent options show some significant changes. Bestial Toughness (effectively) and Howl were both moved to Discipline talents, while Cobra Strike is a Journeyman talent option. Enduring Art, Incite Stampede, Plant Shelter, and Tame Mount are no longer talents. While First Ring of Perfection, Safe Path, and Spirit Strike weren't good fits for the Discipline. The Discipline simply doesn't have the Sustained actions to utilize First Ring of Perfection - and it's also a strange talent for the Discipline in general - Safe Path is about avoiding danger, whereas the Beastmaster is a predator, and Spirit Strike reflects a spirituality or connection to astral space they simply don't have. Theirs is a world of flesh and blood.
New talent options include: Alley Cat Approach, Armor Mount, Aura Armor, Bloodhound Form, Burning Vigor, Eagle Eye, Life Check, Resist Pain, Second Chance, Steely Stare, Vital Strike, and Vital Ward. These reinforce existing themes, or build on new/secondary themes. For combat, most of their talent options are defensive in nature (Aura Armor, Defensive Posture, Life Check, Resist Pain, and Vital Ward), but their ability to inflict a frightening number of attacks can do frightening things with Burning Vigor and Vital Strike, not to mention the general increase in physicality Burning Vigor brings with it.
Alley Cat Approach, Bloodhound Form, Chameleon, Eagle Eye, and Echolocation all provide more subtle approaches for these adepts, particularly in the role of a scout and gathering intelligence in general.
Lion Spirit and Steely Stare both play with their concept of dominance, particularly the latter which extends it from just animals to Namegivers as well. Speaking of animals, Armor Mount, Goring Attack, and Animal Leadership all further that connection, with the first two directly improving animal companions' capabilities in combat (defensive and offensive respectively).
The end result is a versatile and dangerous combatant, who also can follow varied directions to best suit their concept and group.