15 December 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 09 - Boatman

This is the ninth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.


They ply the length of the Serpent River and its tributaries, as explorer, merchant, pirate, or all of that (we often call those "player characters"). If there is one thing that can be said about a Boatman, it is that they would like their life to be interesting. The river is everything to a Boatman and it holds all of the most important answers to their questions in it. When role-playing a Boatman, always consider the river in your actions - how would it behave and what would it do? One thing, it never goes backwards.

Considered to be more pragmatic than a Swordmaster (which is not a high bar by any measure), they are still adventurous and interested in danger, just not unnecessary risks. However, their definition of "unnecessary" may not be the same as other Namegivers may apply in the same situation. It could be completely necessary to take the shortcut through dangerous and pirate-infested waters to shave a day off of the trip so that you can beat your rival to the port and flood the market, thus crushing their profit margin and making a Name for yourself.

Which is ultimately what being a Boatman is about - spreading your Legend. They travel throughout Barsaive and have an opportunity to spread tales of their exploits to all of the major trading hubs throughout the province. Generally this leads to greater and more dangerous exploits as they seek to outdo themselves and other Boatmen (no need to outdo Swordsmaters, everyone knows they are just in it for the glory).

There is something to be said that the "honest" merchants of the Serpent and the pirates live in something of symbiosis. It would be more difficult for each part to find meaning without the other. Though neither would be inclined to ever admit this - perhaps a pirate would, just to start something that would end in awesome.

When making a Boatman character, consider where they come from and places they have traveled to; this Discipline is about seeing the world and experiencing new things. While every Discipline should have a driving motivation, it is more intrinsic to the Boatman than most: what is it that drives them, what are they working towards? An important, if long-term, extension to that is: what will their Legend be about? The influences of the crew(s) they have spent time with and any traditions they may still maintain will also be important aspects. It can also be a considerable amount of fun to introduce the trouble they have gotten into in the various ports along the Serpent and the rivals they may have gained along the way.

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. The most important thing to any Boatman is moving forward. That is the direction of the river and the only direction a Boatman will ever contemplate. They are not prone to introspection or dwelling on the past, which can often lead to repeating the same mistakes over and over. This is compounded by spur of the moment decisions and lack of planning. This can represent some significant dangers to any Group and what happens when the past catches up with the Boatman could be a source if great drama. Particularly with how this affects their companions.


Talent Options: Avoid Blow, Haggle, Speak Language, Throwing Weapons, Unarmed Combat

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Climbing, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Pilot Boat, Swimming

Talent Options: Evaluate, First Impression, Heartening Laugh, Maneuver, Missile Weapons, Swift Kick, Wound Balance

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Cast Net, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Read River

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [River Weaving]

Talent Options: Acrobatic Strike, Conceal Object, Engaging Banter, Great Leap, Lasting Impression, Mystic Aim, Surprise Strike, Tiger Spring

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Swing Attack

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Second Weapon

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Disarm

A Boatman is mechanically similar to an Air Sailor: most of their Talents are combat related, but they have mediocre Durability (6/5). While the are not as dedicated to the Group, some of their Talents can work well in a support capacity, enabling the heavier hitters, or creating opportunities for others. They can be successful social characters and excellent merchants for any group lacking a Weaponsmith.

Pilot Boat and Read River are mostly the equivalent to Air Sailing and Navigation, only Navigation is pretty much better (though navigating on a river in that sense isn't super useful since they only go so many directions; usually two). These, along with Climbing and Swimming, make up the uninteresting Talents (imho). The later two, Climbing and Swimming, are certainly useful, just not terribly notable.

In Journeyman, the Boatman sees Swing Attack, which is one of the most fun Talents I have come across. It will never be considered a powerful Talent, but it is completely in theme and opens up some fun actions, like swooping attacks, which can be very useful in staying alive against a very powerful, but slow, opponent. Lion Heart is simply useful starting at that Circle, but not so sexy. Second Weapon is going to be best used with a Boatman's tail weapon, rather than offhand weapon. Their offhand weapon will most likely be a net (see below) and they tend to have unimpressive damage. Disarm plays into the Boatman's minor theme of having interesting things to do in combat and Disarm, along with Cast Net, provide options for taking combat into a non-lethal direction. This can be potentially very useful (and frustrating for GMs that may then have to come up with answers before they are ready to).

Cast Net deserves its own special paragraph. This is, to a certain degree, the defining Talent of a Boatman - at least in the ways that player characters pan out. It requires a net in the offhand, and is pretty generous with what this constitutes (including a cloak, with penalties for an improvised net). It provides a parry that with an Excellent Result upgrades into entanglement.  From there potentially obnoxious options open up, mostly maintaining the entangle or getting a bonus on disarm attempts. The rules behind this are more complex than average, so be aware of that beforehand. This ability, combined with the other options available, make this Discipline more complicated than other options; given the average Durability and amount of Strain that can be spent, restraint may be a virtue.

Given their mercantile inclinations, there are more than a few good Initiate Talent Options to consider:
  • Avoid Blow - Not a favorite Talent Option in general; it takes a large investment and a lot of time to pay off and you will never be able to get the rolls out of it that you really need because no Karma can be spent. As well, Cast Net already serves this purpose for melee combat.
  • Haggle - If you want to engage in being a merchant, this is a must.
  • Speak Language - A solid choice for any Boatman that wants to be a social character.
  • Throwing Weapons - Never a favorite, given the investments required, and there are generally better options. However, there are some off-hand throwing nets
  • Unarmed Combat - An excellent choice for a t'skrang given tail combat. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
More good Talent Options for a Boatman at Novice as well:
  • Evaluate - The other Talent required for any Boatman that wants to be a merchant.
  • First Impression - A must for any social character.
  • Heartening Laugh - Given the prevalence of Swordmasters, I don't care much for this Talent. The costs are high (an action and Karma) and it doesn't come into play much.
  • Maneuver - All things considered, a rather inefficient way to improve damage and incompatible with Swing Attack.
  • Missile Weapons - It suffers from the same drawbacks as Throwing Weapons and cannot be used with an off-hand throwing net. Missile Weapons tend to be better than Throwing Weapons on the whole, but for a Boatman there are likely to be more opportunities to use the latter.
  • Swift Kick - This is an excellent selection for t'skrang in general, but it does require having a higher initiative than the target. It will require continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Wound Balance - A Talent that is never bad and the higher the Circle, the more important it is.
The problems of too many good Talent Options continue in Journeyman for the poor Boatman:
  • Acrobatic Strike - If you have a good initiative and go before your opponents regularly, this is a good defensive option. It will need continual improvement to remain useful.
  • Conceal Object - Despite having little synergy with the rest of this Discipline, this Talent plays up the smuggler theme and is fun. I cannot recommend it, but it always makes me smile. The exception is, of course, with Surprise Strike.
  • Engaging Banter - Useful for a smuggler, keeping nosy officials and the like occupied, otherwise this Talent is more often miss than hit.
  • Great Leap - Always one of my favorite Talents due to the mobility that it grants and the ability for a melee character to deal with flying targets much easier.
  • Lasting Impression - The other must have Talent for any social character.
  • Mystic Aim - If Throwing Weapons or Missile Weapons were selected, this is a good way to bolster them. Particularly if you are planning for things to go sideways and have a turn to prepare.
  • Surprise Strike  - This Talent is notoriously difficult to utilize on a regular basis, though can make a good combination with Mystic Aim and a ranged Talent. It is simply difficult to rely on in general and there is often a better choice due to the amount of investment to use it at all.
  • Tiger Spring - Great for anyone that going before their opponents is important. This goes well with Swift Kick and Acrobatic Strike.

If high initiative is important, which it probably will be, then lighter armor will be recommended; likely nothing heavier than crystal ringlet once Mystic Armor becomes important. This Discipline tends to avoid shields, primarily due to the offhand net. Weapons are generally similarly constrained: a one-handed weapon, an offhand net, and a tail weapon. The natural choice in nets for an adventuring Boatman is going to be a barbed throwing net.

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