11 August 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Thread Item 03 - Astral Sextant

This is the third 4E Anatomy of a Thread Item, 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.

Found in Parlainth (p. 54), I don't believe astral sextant was updated to 3E. Just watch, someone is going to prove me wrong in the comments - in which case, I will gladly update with the location where it can be found. I can only recall this particular thread item appearing in one game over the years, which happened to be set primarily in Parlainth. Go figure.

However, it wasn't the only game in that setting. Just the only with this item. Which caused problems. It came down to strong differences of opinion on how exactly it should do its thing. The players felt it should actually be useful, rather than require a lot of pixel bitching to get it pointed exactly in the right direction. The GM felt the information it provided was too powerful to make it easy to use. I think there was a chart that required two rolls to get the exact horizontal and vertical direction based on our base of operation in Haven. Then things got funny if we used it anywhere else. Funny in that space seemed to become decidedly non-Euclidean.

From an objective perspective, both groups were right. Not only that, but as alluded previously, it's not really easy on a GM to use. There is no range on this - point in a direction and you know stuff. Lots of stuff. Which also leads to a lot of, "Some random Horror thousands of miles away, focus."

In lieu of listing out each original thread rank and effect, I'm going to give a brief summary and take a shot at rebuilding it because it is a cool thread item

At first, you get to know the location of the nearest Horror, including the distance in the direction the device is pointing. "A difference of even a few degrees will result in a different reading; the sextant cannot detect a Horror even slightly to one side of the straight line from the pointer." Pixel bitching. If used in combat, this isn't such a big deal. However, this power is absolutely useless in combat - thanks astral sextant, I know where it is.

Second rank, it gives the type of Horror. This is a little strange as it indicates a universal taxonomy of Horrors as taxonomy isn't intrinsic. Even if programmed, did the creators include every kind of Horror, is there anything they didn't encounter? What about Named Horrors? This quickly gets weird and starts to remove some of the interesting guesswork that may go along with identifying Horrors.

Third rank, the user now gets the Name of the Horror and if the Horror senses the user's presence. That first one was potentially the thing a campaign was made of. 

Fourth rank, the astral sextant also detects Horror constructs (okay) and Horror-marked individuals (not-so-good). It gives names (so much for hiding your identity), if they know the user is there, and type if a construct. So... this removes a lot of the paranoia that can be associated with having Horror-marked people out there. Now, just point your doohicky them and all questions answered. Also, in an interesting twist, the sheer volume of Horror constructs in a place like Parlainth now makes this really hard to use to find a Horror, since there just needs to be a construct in the way, "Another freaking strawman? Ugh!"

Finally, at Fifth rank, the astral sextant gives up Horror powers, talents, spells by any "Horror-touched" creatures it detects. And the rough Death Rating in relation to the user. This kills the mystery in many ways. An argument can be made that's the entire purpose of the device, but this is really just too much. It's very easy to see both sides of using it in a game and why it simply never showed up - it is both too powerful and too limiting.

So, let's try to fix that. I don't think this is going to be an easy task and there may be multiple drafts before it's right. But you have to start somewhere. A major concern with designing effects for this is ensuring it doesn't make (currently unavailable) Horror Stalkers obsolete. One way is to assume if a game will eventually have a character who pursues Horror Stalker, this isn't an appropriate thread item to include. This is honestly the easy way out. So, let's shoot for them both being able to co-exist at the same table and maybe, eventually, take that easy way out.

Starting out, the tier of the thread item. It has the base cost of a Warden tier item, but the thread ranks of a Journeyman item. Detour: While these are not incompatible, my preference is to provide examples that color within the lines so they are most useful as examples and benchmarks. The hope is this makes it easier for others to follow and make informed decisions when going outside those guidelines.

For right now, I'm going to put this at Journeyman - though this decision may change. The biggest reason is the effects at Rank Seven and beyond are pretty big and I'm wary of this providing that much information. However, if the effects end up too powerful, it may get expanded to Warden with eight ranks and some effects pushed back. The Mystic Defense is set at 14 because that's the top end of the Journeyman range (10-14) and it feels appropriate for this particular thread item.

The general effects for this thread item involve determining the location and some information about Horrors and Horror constructs. Anything related to Horror-marked victims is being removed because that's no fun. Right up there with magic powers that detect lies. The plan is to stick to that direction, but create something more useful and palatable to both players and GMs; there's no point in writing a thread item the former never use and the latter never introduces.


Astral Sextant
Maximum Threads: 2
Mystic Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: Journeyman


Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn this device is called an astral sextant and its Name.
Effect: 
For 1 Strain as a Standard action, the owner makes a PER + Thread Rank test against the Mystic Defense of each Horror and Horror construct within Thread Rank × 20 yards. If successful, the astral sextant indicates the number of detected targets within the range.

This should be a useful detection ability that doesn't provide too much information, which is always important. Effects like this can be trick in the form of something like a spell because access to them may not be appropriate for every game, but a thread item is something specifically introduced by the GM, meaning it absolutely is appropriate for that game. The effect was initially tied to Astral Sight, which allows it to scale much better for higher Circles. But that limits the characters who can benefit from this thread item significantly. Moving it to PER + Thread Rank means it's about understanding the astral sextant itself, which is good because it's doing all the astral heavy lifting. The 1 Strain cost discourages this effect from being used over and over until there is a good result.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The owner gains a +2 bonus to all PER + Thread Rank tests with the astral sextant and it now indicates the direction of each detected target.

Providing bonuses to the test is how I decided to solve scaling issues for now. Given the limited applicability of the test and how much it impacts the game, I don't think this is too much of an issue. By the end, the total bonus to PER (including Thread Rank) is 14, which should be good for the most part. The effect also improves the initial ability, which is an ongoing thing with this item.

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn the precise location of the chamber in which the astral sextant was built.
Effect: The 
owner gains a +4 bonus to all PER + Thread Rank tests with the astral sextant and the range increases to Thread Rank × 50 yards.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The owner gains a +6 bonus to all PER + Thread Rank tests with the astral sextant and it now indicates the distance to each detected target.

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn how many gears the astral sextant contains.
Effect: The owner gains the Scrutinize Horror special maneuver.
Scrutinize Horror (Owner): The owner can spend additional successes on a Perception-based test at a cost of 1 Strain per success. The test must target a Horror or Horror construct's Mystic Defense and the owner must see or astrally sense the target. Each success allows the player to ask a specific question that reveals one of the target's game statistics or abilities. This special maneuver may be used once per round and only affects one target per use.

This is the big effect it's building towards and I like it because it's interesting. It effectively gives Creature Analysis only for Horrors, which is territory stepping on the toes of Horror Stalkers. However, there are some limitations, such as the Strain cost per success, the equivalent Horror Stalker ability won't have. It can be used with the basic effect of the thread item, using the provided bonus, or any applicable talent the character may be using, such as Anticipate Blow, Astral Sight, or Mystic Aim. Sorry Awareness. For talents that provide bonuses, this is an opportunity cost, reducing the bonus for information. Using just the basic effect still allows any Discipline access to this effect, which is important.


Still, this may be too potent for a Rank Five effect and more appropriate for Rank Seven.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The owner gains +8 to all PER + Thread Rank tests with the astral sextant and can use Scrutinize Horror twice per round.

09 August 2017

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 48 - Is This Going to Happen?

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







Adventure Log – 048 Is This Going to Happen?

Written By: Bongani Kreskas

Date:  27 Strassa, 1509 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

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


As the party took a rest, I went to scout around. I heard the thumping of feet and found some strange ball-like creature with stumpy legs, clawed hands, and a gigantic mouth. I retreated with my friends up the tunnel to prepare for a pitched battle. The creatures seemed repelled by the light, so I crept forward to see what was the matter. I come face-to-face with a critter doing the same. In surprise, I cried out and Honeysuckle came to my rescue, cleaving it nearly in half! I skillfully retreat down the hallway and battle was joined!

Ting says the creatures are "gnashers" - weak Horrors. They are, however, freakishly strong. They swarmed over Ting and Honeysuckle, but our line held. The creatures gave us a surprising amount of trouble, but we eventually persevered. Peculiar how these minor threats cause so much grief - perhaps we should use more caution in the future(1).

After a little recovery time, we continued on our way. We found a lovely grotto where everything gleamed like crystal(2). We also found statues of Namegivers transformed into crystal(3). Ting identified it as living crystal, even. In the back, I saw some crystal creatures moving, so we crept back to the mouth of the cave. Elmod started us off with a fireball. How explosive!

The crystal cave reverberated intensely as the horrors awoke, becoming manta-like creatures sailing through the air(4). Ting engaged them with an amazing leap, swirling through the air. Like an airborne dervish, scything through their crystal wings, Ting tore them to pieces! The horned, winged creatures descended upon Elmod, injuring him viciously. The gargoyles took quite a bit more attention to deal with, as they were hardy creatures(5).

We gathered up some of the living crystal (for barter) and continued on our way. We also took the horns off the gargoyles (Elmod takes their faces, for unclear reasons)(6). Afterwards, we returned to the kaer.(7)


*     *     *
(1) This should be their mantra. 
(2) Trap.
(3) Now I want to know more. After consulting with Zamrica, he shivered, threw up, then hid (if that order, and yes, this needs to be maintained for posterity). After prying him out of the wardrobe, he thinks this is the work of a powerful crystal entity. While superficially similar to the Crystal Gardner, it's too blunt for that Named Horror. Interesting.
(4) These sound like shadowmants of living crystal. How curious. Were they formed completely from crystal, or turn from their living form into a crystalline form?
(5) Similarly with the gargoyles, though I suppose these could be a different form, rather than the work of a Horror, just with an affinity to a different kind of earth.
(6) Well. That... happened. I suppose. 
(7) Received and edited by Ela Pono

As the title of the session may suggestion, there were some scheduling problems leading up to this. Months of scheduling problems. Complete with loss of internet when assembling everything for the session. The result was events not going quite as planned. Still, some pieces of the plot were dispensed and it was, in part, about getting things back on schedule. Ready to be disrupted by GenCon.

Mechanically, the gargoyles and shadowmants had crystal masks applied (Infused and Imbued respectively, adding +1 and +2 Circles). And even when much lower Circle, gnashers are still dangerous and obnoxious.

07 August 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Namegiver 06 - Blood Elf

This is the sixth 4E Anatomy of a Namegiver, 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.

Blood elves have been part of Earthdawn since the beginning, representing a unique portrayal of elves in fantasy. However, they weren't a playable Namegiver race until The Blood Wood was released some four years later. Truth be told, they still weren't easily accessible to players for a variety of reasons. Playing a blood elf character means you are going to have a lot going on.

This is a first draft updating blood elves to Fourth Edition mechanics because the odds are reasonable at some point I'll be doing this for real. There are no illusions this is going to accurately resemble the final draft, but the process has to start somewhere. Hopefully someone will get some use from this.

Typically there would be a brief background on the race, but I'm going to skip that because they're pretty iconic and part of the common lore. That being said, if you are serious about playing one, The Blood Wood is an absolute must. Some mechanics are referenced without going into details (e.g. wood longing).

Getting down to business, blood elves have some significant restrictions. The first is armor: unless magical, fernweave is the only option. Most armors can be enchanted (increasing the cost by x3-4) for a blood elf wearer. Other armors cause a penalty to all Dexterity and Perception-based tests (see a table in The Blood Wood), so it's not really worth exploring them. It can be inferred thread armor in unaffected by this, but it also isn't clear and the specially enchanted armor certainly muddies the water with regard to how this is intended to work. It's likely best for each group to decide how they want to handle this restriction with regard to thread armor. Second are attitude modifiers: all* NPCs' attitudes are reduced by one level towards blood elves. The exception to this is if the NPC is affected by their unnatural beauty, in which case they get an improved attitude by one level. The third and final is wood longing.

Wood longing is blood elves' compulsion/desire to be in Blood Wood. There's a table in The Blood Wood showing how long it takes a blood elf to progress through the stages of wood longing based on their Willpower value: Wishing -> Obsession -> Consumption -> Attribute Loss. It is worth noting there is a paragraph specifically calling out how it is intended to add flavor and depth, rather than forcing blood elf characters to return. Which is odd, because it is the exact opposite of what including them accomplishes. If a character with Willpower 14 stays out for 13 months, they're losing Toughness and Willpower every day (that first loss drops them down to the Willpower 13 row).

Doing a more-or-less straight port from 1E to 4E (and assuming the racial abilities all balance out) looks like the following:

Game Information
Starting Attribute Values
DEX 11, STR 10, TOU 8, PER 10, WIL 11, CHA 13
Movement Rate: 14
Karma Modifier: 4

Racial Abilities:
Armor Restriction: The only non-maigcal armor blood elf characters can wear without penalty is fernweave.
Attitude Adjustment: Blood elf characters find NPC attitudes reduced by one level, unless the NPC is taken by their unnatural beauty. In which case, their attitude improves by one level.
Improved Defenses: Blood elf characters gain +1 to Mystic and Social Defense.
Low-Light Vision: Like elves, blood elf characters have the racial Low-Light Vision ability (see Player's Guide, p. 46).
Pain Resistance: Blood elf characters reduce Wound penalties by 1.
Reduced Recovery Tests: Blood elf characters have one less Recovery test each day.
Wood Longing: Blood elf characters are affected by wood longing.

If that works for you and is what you want, awesome. Look no further.

However, to start, the attribute modifications as compared to the "standard" elf don't quite make sense to me. Taking a closer look, blood elves have a reduced Dexterity bonus (+1 v. +2), no Perception bonus, and a significantly increased Charisma bonus (+3 v. +1). In fact, that's the highest Charisma bonus in the game. Which is really weird.

I know they're described as being frighteningly attractive, but that's only part of what Charisma represents. The other part (arguably more important) is being able to relate to people. Where blood elves are freakishly bad. We also already see their beauty being handled through Attitude Adjustment, making this somewhat redundant. Also, that same modifier makes it clear just how unlikable blood elves are.

The Dexterity reduction could be explained by their thorns just generally impeding movement (rather than looking for places to pay off that huge Charisma bump). However, the lack of Perception bonus is also strange. We know it's not due to their constant pain, which doesn't bother them at all. It could be explained by their detachment, but I would argue that should increase, rather than decrease, their Perception as they aren't distracted as easily.

Examining their racial abilities as a whole they seem to balance out, but it's hard to tell as they are numerous. We've got +2 to defenses total (similar to Windlings) and reduced Wound penalties, balanced by -1 Recovery test, armor restriction, and wood longing. I'm going to call their attitude adjustment a wash as it can go either way and it's difficult to predict which outcome is more frequent without providing specific instructions to GMs (which they aren't under any onus to follow). It's not out of the question to value this package as a whole at +1 Attribute value.

I don't see any reason to change blood elves' Karma Modifier as that takes them too far from their elf roots. With that, we know the Attribute value total we are playing with (+3). Applying the previous analysis, I'm going to bring back +1 Perception and reduce their Charisma modifier to 0. The latter is a significant change from their original presentation, but I think it is a more accurate reflection when paired with attitude adjustment. I'm accepting the reduced Dexterity modifier because I'm generally in favor of making them a little more different to increase diversity in the various options. Based on their description, I feel a +2 to Willpower is highly appropriate. A +3 might even work, but I'm reluctant to have that much creep over the currently available races.

This still leaves a +1 Attribute value modifier on the table. There are a few options on how to deal with it. 1) Restore blood elves to +2 Dexterity modifier. This is viable, but boring. 2) Consider their racial abilities worth +1 Attribute value modifier. It might be the answer, but needs some feedback first. 3) +3 Willpower modifier. It might be appropriate, but as discussed previously, it's more creep than I want to introduce. 4) +2 Perception modifier. This is my current favorite as it plays into their detachment and being a little more alien - they see everything. With their enhanced Willpower, this makes them excellent spellcasters, which also fits their typical portrayal. This also helps to present a more different character option without too much creep. There is definitely some (+2 to both spellcasting attributes), but this is also present in jubruq characters and there is enough other stuff going on blood elves aren't an automatic choice for min-maxing a spellcaster.

All this being said, option 2 may be the better choice once some additional perspectives have been considered and data gathered.

The alternate presentation of blood elves is below:

Game Information
Starting Attribute Values
DEX 11, STR 10, TOU 8, PER 12, WIL 12, CHA 10
Movement Rate: 14
Karma Modifier: 4

Racial Abilities:
Armor Restriction: The only non-maigcal armor blood elf characters can wear without penalty is fernweave.
Attitude Adjustment: Blood elf characters find NPC attitudes reduced by one level, unless the NPC is taken by their unnatural beauty. In which case, their attitude improves by one level.
Improved Defenses: Blood elf characters gain +1 to Mystic and Social Defense.
Low-Light Vision: Like elves, blood elf characters have the racial Low-Light Vision ability (see Player's Guide, p. 46).
Pain Resistance: Blood elf characters reduce Wound penalties by -1.
Reduced Recovery Tests: Blood elf characters have one less Recovery test each day.
Wood Longing: Blood elf characters are affected by wood longing.

04 August 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Horror 02 - Gnashers

This is the second 4E Anatomy of a Horror, 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.

There was a request for some less powerful Horrors to throw at lower Circle characters. Since this sounds like fodder, rather than something interesting I put together gnashers for Circles 1 - 3. This means there are generic gnashers for all Novice Circles. I know it's not the most interesting thing, but hopefully it is useful.

Gnasher, Least

Challenge: Novice (First Circle)
DEX: 6        Initiative:                  8       Unconsciousness:      19
STR: 6         Physical Defense:  9       Death Rating:               23
TOU: 4        Mystic Defense:      7       Wound Threshold:     6
PER: 4        Social Defense:       6       Knockdown:                  8
WIL: 6        Physical Armor:     5       Recovery Tests:           1
CHA: 2       Mystic Armor:         4       Karma:                            4 (16)
Movement: 10
Actions: 1; Bite: 11 (13)
Powers:
Awareness (7)As the talent, Player's Guide, p. 130.
Great Leap (6)
Special Maneuvers:
Pounce (Gnasher, Least)


Gnasher, Lesser

Challenge: Novice (Second Circle)
DEX: 6        Initiative:                  8       Unconsciousness:      29
STR: 8         Physical Defense:  10      Death Rating:               34
TOU: 5        Mystic Defense:      8       Wound Threshold:     7
PER: 4         Social Defense:       7       Knockdown:                  10
WIL: 6        Physical Armor:      5       Recovery Tests:           2
CHA: 3       Mystic Armor:          4       Karma:                            4 (16)
Movement: 8
Actions: 1; Bite: 12 (14)
Powers:
Awareness (8)As the talent, Player's Guide, p. 130.
Great Leap (8)
Special Maneuvers:

Pounce (Gnasher, Lesser)


Gnasher, Minor

Challenge: Novice (Third Circle)
DEX: 6        Initiative:                  8       Unconsciousness:      39
STR: 9         Physical Defense:  12      Death Rating:               45
TOU: 6        Mystic Defense:      10      Wound Threshold:    9
PER: 4        Social Defense:        9       Knockdown:                  11
WIL: 7        Physical Armor:      6       Recovery Tests:           2
CHA: 3       Mystic Armor:          5       Karma:                             4 (16)
Movement: 8
Actions: 1; Bite: 13 (15)
Powers:
Awareness (9)As the talent, Player's Guide, p. 130.
Great Leap (8)
Special Maneuvers:

Pounce (Gnasher, Minor)

02 August 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Horror Construct and Undead List

This is a list of Horror constructs and undead, part of 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.

There isn't any truly new content in this post, simply a list of all Horror constructs and undead in Earthdawn 4E. I'm including thread items from official English releases (except Legends of Barsaive adventures) and this blog. Since this list will be updated with all new, applicable material, these constraints are going to help me stay sane.

As of right now, the list is by challenge, but I don't know if it would be more useful organized in a different fashion. If there is any additional information that would both be useful and easy to include, let me know.


Novice
  • Ape, Gaunt (Novice, 1) <U> [PGG]
  • Flesh Beast (Novice, 1) <U>
  • Strawman (Novice, 1) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 471]
  • Ghoul (Novice, 2) <U> [ED4 GMG, p. 473]
  • Waxman (Novice, 2) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 471]
  • Boar, Grotesque (Novice, 3) <C> [PGG]
  • Cadaver Men (Novice, 3) <U> [ED4 GMG, p. 469]
  • Ghoul Leader (Novice, 3) <U> [ED4 GMG, p. 474]
  • Nightworm (Novice, 3) <C>
  • Voidwalker (Novice, 3) <C>
  • Ghoul, Pestilent (Novice, 4) <U>
  • Spectral Dancer (Novice, 4) <U> [ED4 GMG, p. 478]
Journeyman
  • Brute (Journeyman, 5) <CU>
  • Dil'kava (Journeyman, 5) <C>
  • Jehuthra (Journeyman, 5) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 475]
  • Plague (Journeyman, 5) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 476]
  • Stoneman (Journeyman, 5) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 472]
  • Stormwraith (Journeyman, 5) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 480]
  • Brithan, Cadaverous (Journeyman, 6) <U> [PGG]
  • Chained Flayer (Journeyman, 6) <CU>
  • Chaos Hounds (Journeyman, 6) <C> [T:tMC, p. 297]
  • Erhlgren, Robiech (Journeyman, 6) <C>
  • Kaer Crawler (Journeyman, 6) <C>
  • Norikot (Journeyman, 6) {C} <C>
  • Qural'lotectica (Journeyman, 6) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 478]
  • Spectral Child (Journeyman, 6) <U>
  • Umbral Stalker (Journeyman, 6) <C>
  • Wretched Imp (Journeyman, 6) <C>
  • Bone Shambler (Journeyman, 7) <CU> [ED4 GMG, p. 468]
  • Boneless (Journeyman, 7) <CU>
  • Erhlgren, Kaschrek (Journeyman, 7) <C>
  • Rockworm, Gruesome (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Spider, Befouled Archer (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Spider, Befouled Beastmaster (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Spider, Befouled Spellcaster (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Spider, Befouled Warrior (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Stoneman, Massive (Journeyman, 7) <C> [PGG]
  • Troll, Petrified Cave (Journeyman, 7) <U> [PGG]
  • Black Mantis (Journeyman, 8) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 467]
  • Deathless Reaver (Journeyman, 8) <U>
  • Dreamer (Journeyman, 8) <C>
  • Erhlgren, Kruz (Journeyman, 8) <C>
  • Steelman (Journeyman, 8) <C> [ED4 GMG, p. 473]
  • Wind Hag (Journeyman, 8) <C>
Warden
  • Erhlgren, Draamf (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Fire Wraith (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Grotesque (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Mournguard (Warden, 9) <CU>
  • Nightwist (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Plague, Crimson (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Shadow (Warden, 9) <C>
  • Gloomwing (Warden, 10) <C>
  • Viltik (Warden, 10) <C>
  • Skullfiend (Warden, 11) <CU>

{C}: Suitable as an animal companion
<C>: Horror construct
<U>: Undead
<CU>: Undead Horror construct