24 April 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 20 - Messenger

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


Messengers aren't just magical postmen, they are more like a freakishly determined Pony Express with magical powers built around delivering vital information in a land fraught with peril from beyond our world. There may be no Discipline with the same level of commitment and determination. When these adepts set their mind to a task, they can become like a force of nature in accomplishing it.

Through their tasks they also see the world. Often traveling to far corners and back - if the task was simple or cheap, there are plenty of non-adepts willing to deliver a message for coin. Those that are dangerous, private, or absolutely must be delivered that require these adept's special touch. While they would never travel the world just to see it, that isn't an objective or goal, it is certainly a perk. And few adepts are better suited for wandering the land.

Far from being a loner, Messengers prefer to travel with company. Perhaps it is the temporary company of a caravan, or the constant company of a Group. Additional Namegivers mean greater safety as well as a chance to share stories, tales of other places, information on destinations, etc. Messengers know all too well that knowledge is power.

The messages they deliver are important, often world-changing, and they realize this importance and handle each accordingly. Some messages cannot be committed to writing, and must be memorized. Others are objects. They are equipped to handle all of these and as they raise in Circle, the messages and their destinations become more important and more dangerous. These are the couriers that carry information countless spies (Bothans?) died for, taking it out from the heart of enemy territory without getting caught.

When creating a Messenger, it may be important to consider what teachings your instructor passed along. What were their philosophies and how they approached things? These should form the foundation for how this adept goes about their duties, but this Discipline is not steeped in tradition like others. A vital question to consider is why your Messenger has chosen this path, what drives them? The answer to this may evolve over time, perhaps it should, as they discover new facets of who they are and the importance of what they do.

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 significant violation that any Messenger can have is regarding their message. Losing it, failing to deliver it, betraying it; those all represent a significant crisis for the adept and reflection if they do indeed possess the determination and perseverance for this demanding Discipline.

To a much lesser extend, when "on task" Messengers are not known for their adaptability. While they can consider different routes to their ultimate goal, once a path is decided upon they are hesitant to change mid-course - it was decided on for a reason, after all. Even if not related to delivering a message, the thought of altering their destination is a difficult one to comprehend. They are goal oriented in the extreme and that laser-like focus is at times their greatest asset and their greatest weakness. It is also this area that will most likely bring friction within the Group as a whole, as the Messenger is determined to complete the task, regardless of the developing situation around them.


Talent Options: Book Memory, Climbing, Melee Weapons, Read/Write Language, Wilderness Survival

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Avoid Blow, Direction Sense, Karma Ritual, Navigation, Speak Language

Talent Options: Book Recall, Detect Weapon, Haggle, Search, Sense Danger, Silent Walk, Throwing Weapons

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Conceal Object, Durability (6/5)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Sprint

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Message Weaving]

Talent Options: Air Speaking, Anticipate Blow, Detect Trap, Disguise Self, Gliding Stride, Mimic Voice, Trick Riding, Wound Balance

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Temper Self

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Resist Taunt

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Steel Thought

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Safe Path

Mechanically, the Messenger is a professional traveler with an emphasis on defense. They actually have one of the most versatile collections of defensive Talents available. With Avoid Blow, Resist Taunt and Steel Thought, they have an active defense for Physical, Spell and Social Defenses as a Discipline Talent. Temper Self raises all of the other defensive traits: Death and Unconsciousness Ratings and Wound Threshold.

With Direction Sense, Navigation, Safe Path and Speak Language they can go pretty much anywhere. Conceal Object will ensure that their delivery arrives at its destination as well. This is all nicely in theme for this Discipline and works well. All of their Talents are good, particularly Sprint as a Discipline Talent; which makes it free and the only Discipline to get that, which is in addition to being the only Discipline with all of the active defenses.

The broad range of Talents means they will likely be able to contribute to a variety of situations and always welcome in any Group that does a lot of traveling (which is most Groups). As well, this diversity supports the narrow focus of delivering messages, or realistically being a courier in dangerous situations as they gain Circles.

There are still weaknesses to this Discipline. The most glaring is their lack of social Talents. It is the major area which they will have to supplement in some way to contribute. A more subtle weakness is that there are not many active Talents on their Discipline list. With all of the defensive Talents and those geared towards traveling and/or transporting their package, there isn't really any room left for doing things directly. 

It may seem like a minor issue, but if this is your only (or primary) Discipline, it can build into something more problematic over time. Most Disciplines are built around the concept of doing, while what the Messenger "does" is less front and center, it is a journey composed of scenes. The scenes are what truly make the journey and that is, ironically, where these adepts have the most trouble contributing.

This can still be a great Discipline with built in flavor and plot hooks, just one that should be entered into knowing the potential pitfalls.
Messengers get one of the more interesting collections of Talent Options at their disposal. What is the "best" choice is going to depend on what kind of campaign you are playing in, for the most part. Initiate starts the process off with some difficult decisions:
  • Book Memory - In a game where intrigue features prominently, or you are playing the role of a trusted courier, this could be of amazing use. In a more traditional exploration-style game, probably less useful.
  • Climbing - Whereas this is likely more useful in an exploration campaign, though may still have some use for a game with intrigue. You never know when climbing may be a vital part of delivering your message.
  • Melee Weapons - Let's face it, no matter what type of game you are in, you are almost certainly going to want this. The only exception is if this is a second (or later) Discipline.
  • Read/Write Language - This is handy for nearly any game, but with dwindling selections, often does not make the cut. The reason is simple: there is a skill and it's nearly as good.
  • Wilderness Survival - Given that this is available as a part of Half-Magic, I would give it a pass.
The Talent Options at Novice can build on, or expand the previous selections. However, there are too many fun choices:
  • Book Recall - If you took Book Memory, you are going to want this. Otherwise, it is easy to pass up.
  • Detect Weapon - In a game laden with intrigue and conspiracies, this could be a winner. In a more traditional setting, it isn't likely to come up enough to be worth it.
  • Haggle - There is almost certainly something better here.
  • Search - Like this! This all-purpose Talent is pretty awesome, though you will really want to improve this every Circle; it is the counter to Silent Walk.
  • Sense Danger - Similar to Detect Weapon, though more generally useful. That being said, the information it yields may not further the plot in a game with heavy intrigue the same way. Overall, a better choice.
  • Silent Walk - The measure to go along with the counter-measure. This falls into the same category as Melee Weapons: you will almost certainly want this.
  • Throwing Weapons - You took Melee Weapons already, right? Okay, good. I know, the image of a messenger throwing knives as they run, trying to evade pursuit and deliver their message is awesome. Unfortunately, the mechanics just don't support it very well.
Journeyman really sees more of the same: good Talent Options. There are likely to be some difficult decisions here:
  • Air Speaking - This is a strange Talent in general, and I haven't yet found a great use for it. Which means I generally give it a pass.
  • Anticipate Blow - The only static defense boosting Talent Messengers get, this may be a decent Talent Option. If you generally win initiative, it also has a offensive bonus. It will need to be improved every Circle to remain useful and you will need to have a good initiative to be able to use it at all.
  • Detect Trap - Without the ability to disarm them and with how late this shows up, I would give it a pass.
  • Disguise Self - This particular Talent goes very well with the overall theme of the Messenger, but particularly well for an intrigue-based campaign. In the latter case, it is almost a must-have.
  • Gliding Stride - Useful and quite a bit of fun, this is a great Talent to use when making an escape. Or getting into a hard to reach location.
  • Mimic Voice - Not quite as useful as Disguise Self, but makes an excellent companion to it. If you don't have Disguise Self (and don't intend on taking it), this can be ignored.
  • Trick Riding - If you spend a lot of time mounted, this may be worth it. Otherwise, not so much.
  • Wound Balance - While expensive at this tier, I always suggest this Talent when I see it. The investment can be minimal and it will almost certainly come up.

Given the variety of competencies the Messenger has, there isn't any particular Namegiver that is a stand out for this Discipline. Only t'skrang are notable in that they won't have any specific method to take advantage of their tail combat special ability.


If you have Anticipate Blow, you will want to keep a good initiative. Otherwise, there is no reason to not load up on weapons and armor to your heart's content.

20 April 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 16 - Trilogy of Terror

This is the sixteenth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

As per usual, the information presented here regards how things exist in this particular campaign and is not necessarily indicative of the canon Barsaive. That being said, feel free to borrow any of it you like - that's why it is here.

Travar is an amazing sight to behold. It was wondrous prior to the Scourge and one of the few major Citadels to survive unscathed. This city of brilliant white towers whose golden caps reach to the sky is where fortunes and legends are made. As a nexus for trade, this is where airships and riverboats from across the province bring adepts seeking fame. A place where fortunes are made and lost. A place where legends are born.

The powers that be in Travar do all they can to attract adepts to their walls. They are exalted as heroes and many Troubadours spend countless hours researching history and legends, penning new works, and learning forgotten tales. Nearly every major city within Barsaive has a particular specialization to what knowledge can be found there; legends and heroes is the specialty of Travar.

Adepts are so important to Travar's existence that they are critical to the "election" process. Ruled by three citizens each with a term of three years (one year off to "take care of private matters", which of course means "fully exploit their position monetarily"), their position is gained the Games when one of the terms ends each year. The events in the Games are a closely guarded secret every year and truly fantastic to behold. Their draw is a powerful one to any Namegiver that can afford to attend. As well to any adept looking to build their legend - many found were catapulted to fame from a stunning showing in the annual Games. Groups with a strong track record are often courted each year by those who covet a seat.

Not only do the Games serve a political function and boost the economy through trade and increasing the status of the city as a whole, but all adepts that take part in the Games are bound to serve in the protection of Travar. The formal requirement is for a year, but it is considered poor form to shirk on the duty if there is a need. Poor form in a city with that many Troubadours looking to be noticed is dangerous (just ask the Brave Sir Robin). In the end, Travar has a fantastic, if completely unconventional military, that serves as a strong deterrent to any potential aggressor (who knows what adepts are in the city at the time ready to just wreck things) and is free, allowing them to continually invest in making Travar a destination.

At the center of Travar are a series of massive mausoleums. These beautiful structures are ringed in statues, gardens, libraries and other impressive and important buildings. Within these crypts that extend far underneath the city are the remains of heroes that have fallen in the service of Travar. Those who are truly great are immortalized in stone in the surrounding area, carefully tended so that their legend may live forever. This is part of the true currency that continues to draw adepts to the city. Here are stories of the past (Key Knowledge) and a chance to live forever in the hearts and minds of future generations.

Despite the fantastic nature of Travar, it is also a place of terrible lows. Just as fame and fortune are won, so can they be lost. For every story of success, there are more of terrible failure. While it is illegal to sell slaves within the city, it is not illegal to own them and a vast slave market exists just beyond the walls. The fickle nature of the populace ensures that what was once a thriving community within the city, may shortly become unfashionable and home to downtrodden and soon-to-be unsavory individuals. Even many of the famed tombs have been closed for a very long time.

Somewhere between our Los Angeles and Las Vegas is Travar. It is easy to miss the corruption and darkness amid the majesty and glamour, but it is plain to see if you look.

Adventure Log – 016 Trilogy of Terror

Written By: Jak’Tak

Date: 09 Mawag – 24 Mawag, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster

We return to find Elmod stitching on his doll. He invites us to his Blood Ritual. Elmod gives life to his child and Names her Regia(1). It is good to see Elmod committing to family life(2). He researches our tools as we wait for Ting.

Ting returns from Sky Raider adventures. Elmod finds that the Semi-Charmed Life is of pre-Scourge elf make. He finds that the apron is ancient and of elf-make.

Travar sounds like a good destination. The Confederation hires some Swordmasters called the Judges. Thugs, nothing more(3). Ardanyan is having issues with the dwarfs being racist isolationists(4). Our friends are having trouble keeping the peace. The elf Weaponsmith has been abandoned by her heartless mentor.

We head to Lake Ban. We stop off at Ban for a few days speaking with the obsidimen and t’skrang.

Travar is beautiful from afar. White towers and golden roofs. The city is full of activity. Thing found a t’skrang who recognized “Graduate”. The tombs might know more, but they are sealed. We find Arthu, who has become guide for the bear men(5). We wish him luck.

The mausoleum is for the glorification of the heroes of Travar. We look for ways down. One of the statues is of a t’skrang Weaponsmith, but the Name is lost(6). There is also a windling Swordmaster. We find an obsidiman statue with a strange gauntlet.

We visit the library to research the heroes. The obsidiman is mysterious, died in the defense of the city, entombed under the city.

Tools are purchased to break into the tombs. We attempt to bribe the guard. Sogun has to smooth things over. We break down the wall and make our way down. There are sounds of movement. The denizens of the tomb attack. Cadavermen emerge, but we retreat to a choke point and construct barricades to hold them off(7).

A sphere of ancient weapons and bone joins the fray. We smash it to splinters! We dispatch the remaining cadavermen, then find the tomb. The obsidiman has a gauntlet, but his name is not listed. The t’skrang and windling bodies are not present but we find his name: Kyyven Cotagin. We stay in Travar for a time.(8)

(1) This is by far one of the creepiest things that I have ever read.
(2) I love an ork with an actual sense of humor!
(3) Very true. This is becoming a problem out there, but no one in the Kingdom wants to do anything about it. Not until it's way too late. As usual.
(4) That sounds familiar.
(5) We have been receiving some spotty reports regarding these Namegivers, first cataloged in these logs (if you want the whole number, ask Zamrica). There have been incidents with scorchers, but so far they don't seem hostile. So far. The Eye needs to watch this development carefully. Find out more about this Arthu character.
(6) That is surprising and unusual. What would cause someone to deface the statue like that?
(7) Something we have suspected for a while, but now we have confirmation. No wonder they keep it under wraps - that's incredibly embarrassing for them!
(8) Received and edited by Ela Pono
*     *     *

The title of the session was emergent during play from the revelation of what Regia had become. Prior to then, she was simply a doll off of a belt from a noose. Which was creepy. It was unanimously decided that she did not get better when ambulatory. Along with the events below Travar, there were some unsettling events taking place.

To be completely honest, this session was never really one the rails in the first place. The original intention was to continue with the mess that Bartertown and/or Ardanyan were becoming. Clean things up. Make some change. Or make it worse. Instead, the plan devised after starting was to head West. The way of Horatio Alger and the Donner Party Crossing. What actually occurred was not according to any plan.

With all of that said, it went well. Some things that I had been saving for later were rushed to the front lines for deployment. The first part was exploring a new city, I've always quite liked Travar for it's incredible highs and devastating lows. Following that was planning the caper. Even though it's the penultimate paragraph, it was more involved. In the fashion of every gaming caper ever, it went terribly wrong. In no small part because they couldn't figure out how to bribe a guard that was totally willing to be bribed. In the end, it turned out... well, it turned out really badly.

Once in the tombs, it didn't take long to figure out why the place was thoroughly sealed: Horror constructs (which are generally a strong indication of Horrors). The fight scenes were connected and involved significant movement throughout the crypt as they searched for the right tombs. It had a great pacing with holding actions and retreats once the enormity of what they were facing was clear - they couldn't just resolve this by murdering everything.

The shatterspikes (spheres of bones and weapons) added some considerable tactical elements, though they were supposed to be countered by Elmod, the Nethermancer. However he left during the majority of the combat scenes to attend other events in town. This made things more difficult than I originally intended, lacking a clutch combatant when dealing with the undead. Nonetheless, everyone pulled though, though rather bedraggled. They came out of it with Key Knowledge and a new Thread Item. Also, they may have release some undead onto the streets of Travar and gotten some corrupt night guardsmen killed as they fled the scene. Oops.

In all, it was a good session. When facing a situation with no real plans, focusing on tempo becomes the most important element for me. Ensuring that the pacing is good, nothing dragging out too long, keeping scenes tight and interesting, plays an important role in the tempo. There wasn't much in the way of metaplot this session - it was specifically avoided - but I did work on two of the major themes of the campaign: mistakes of the past and the darkness under the surface. Those were where I decided to go with this session as it unfolded.

16 April 2013

Kickstarter: Short Order Heroes

Short Order Heroes, by Calico Games, is a crowdfunding project currently ongoing on Kickstarter (closes 06 May 2013). A copy of this project was provided to me for review.

Full Disclosure: As I stated in my Kickstarter post where I first mention this, one of the creators is one of my closest friends, and I am backing this project. Not because of the aforementioned reason, but because of actually using it. Read on for more.

The basics are pretty simple: It is a deck of cards. Each card has an adjective and a picture that illustrates that adjective. The cards have a number in the lower left corner and are color-coded by that number (more on that in a moment). Uses for this are as a game aid in creating characters (PCs and NPCs), or as a stand alone game with a built in resolution system.

To play the game, each player draws three cards. Those adjectives build the groundwork for their character. NPCs are built on one to three cards, depending on how important they are. As we all know, the more description an NPC has, the more relevant to the story. This mechanic supports that with the amount of impact on the story they have as well.

Resolution comes in the form of a card draw. Any traits that you have which will help you increase your result by one, and any that will hinder you decrease your result by one. The difficulty is 4 and the cards range from 0 to 7 - there is only one 0 and one 7, with an equal distribution of the remaining values (1 through 6). Well, equal distribution until you start getting traits, at which point it skews a little. Generally, the better traits tend to have higher numbers, and the higher the number, the better the trait tends to be (7 is Lucky, for example). The converse is true for the lower traits as well (0 being Jinxed). This tends to mean that the more "good" traits that are in play, the lower the pulls from the deck will be overall. This may, or may not, be relevant to you, but it is an interesting global balancing idea. If you happen to be on the losing side of that math, it may seem less interesting.

From a practical standpoint, this means you can have a functional game with all of the mechanics you need right in your pocket. Perfect for today's busy geek on the go who wants to take advantage of any gaming opportunity at the drop of a hat.

My personal preference is as a gaming accessory. For that, there are numerous ways that it can be used, but really a few jump to mind. The biggest for anyone is likely to be as a GM aid. I would use this to add a little additional personality to any random NPC and keep them all different. For example, I don't think that I would ever assign the personality "Melodramatic" (which is a 4) to an ork scorcher that was captured and is being interrogated. But after I drew that just now, I think that I am obligated to because it sounds awesome.

If you, or your players, ever have some difficulty fleshing out a character, this can also be a useful tool. For some games, maybe you are just looking for a few character traits to hang things on (a beer and pretzels game). Perhaps you're playing FATE and need more traits, particularly the negative ones (like Trouble) and are having difficulty making decisions. Could be that you just don't even know where to start. I've seen all of these and this deck could be a great way to help. Draw some cards, see what you like; maybe an adjective or some art will grab you.

In an upcoming Feng Shui mini-series that I am currently working on, I will be having my players draw two traits. If a trait will help them, +1 to the Action Value, if it will work against them, -1. A quick and easy way to add a little more flavor to the game. Really, the kind of thing that can easily be added to almost any game in some fashion or another.

Everything about this is fast and easy to work with, which is a big plus from behind the screen - keeping momentum and maintaining the tempo of a game are always concerns for me. Too many commercial game aids slow things down as you implement them. They may be fun, but can take away from the game as they start to become the game (Critical Hit decks, I'm looking at you). Others require some interpretation and re-calibration to make it work. All of this makes things skip a beat and it may be hard to rebuild that momentum. Which is where the clean simplicity of Short Order Heroes is very successful.

The Kickstarter is already through it's second stretch goal, which puts it up to a 90 card deck for $20. The promo deck I received is a mere 54 cards. Clearly, I am not the only person who likes this idea. The next stretch goals are themed decks of 36 cards each, and I would like to see at least a couple of those. Specifically, I'd like a deck with super-powers and one for scenes. The last one in particular for FATE games.

To put my money where my mouth is on this, I'm not only going to be backing this project, but I'm going to give away my promo to someone reading this. There are a couple of requirements: first, I have to be able to identify you since this is going to be random; Anonymous isn't distinctive. This can be via e-mail, G+, or a comment on this post. The second part: you have to spread the word about this project. I'll pay for shipping to get this to you. Spread the word and it could be yours. I'm going to randomly pick the winner in a week. Sound fair?

13 April 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 05 - Ivory

This is the fifth Anatomy of a Thread Item in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

If you happen to be a player in this game, please do not read this series. There will be spoilers and some of this information is subject to change.

This Thread Item is the companion to a Thread Item I wrote about previously, Ebony. While the entire plot that connected these two items fell out from under me, this had been introduced into the game by then. Luckily, it is generic enough to be good for nearly any character. Even more than that, however, it is particularly good for the new character. The story, however, may need some changing on the back end to tie it back in to the game as a whole.

Since much of the story behind this item has already been related, I'm going to take this opportunity to break down how I came up with the various elements for this Thread Item at each step. First, the overall themes: while Ebony was a monster, this is a more delicate instrument. It is smooth and sleek where the counterpart is rough and massive. Instead of a blunt instrument of brutality, this offers more subtle protection and allows to adapt to more situations. It was designed to be worn on the off-hand by a Swordmaster, taking advantage of their Talents (as House-Ruled for this campaign) and general fighting style. In particular, the need to have a weapon in their off-hand.

Maximum Threads: 1
Spell Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Warden

The gauntlet is a sleek affair of black steel and living crystal. Constructed of small plates and smooth surfaces, the crystal appears asymmetrically from under the metal as though musculature.

Everything here is pretty standard - the maximum Threads is low because of the Blood Sworn Deed at Rank Seven. It only makes sense for there to be only one wearer with such a restrictive requirement. I wanted the description to convey that this appears like living armor, an extension of their skin rather than simply a gauntlet.

Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the gauntlet’s Name.
Effect: The wearer gains +1 to Physical Armor, +2 to Mystic Armor and a +1/+1 Deflection bonus. If used as a melee weapon the gauntlet has a Damage Step of 2 and is considered an attached weapon. The gauntlet will provide no armor or deflection bonuses if used with a shield.

The Rank One effect is effectively a crystal buckler. Normally they would have +2 Physical Armor and -1 Initiative, but I applied the Smooth Armor Knack and eliminated the initiative penalty. This goes into the effects of it being a second skin. All of this is standard for a Rank One effect. The damage is not good, but it hardly matters - for the intended recipients I doubt it will ever see use. The important feature here is that it can be used with a weapon, but not another shield. This encourages Swordmasters, but prevents some abusive defensive stacking. On the whole, this is powerful for a Rank One effect, but it is a Warden tier item and a beefed up crystal buckler is incredibly lackluster here.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The wearer gains a +1 rank bonus to the Second Weapon Talent (only if the weapon is held with Ivory).

This effect is completely in line with the appropriate bonuses: +1 to a Talent. This particular Talent hits home with the heightened usefulness for Swordmasters, while limiting the value for two-handed weapon users. The restriction seems strange, but a t'skrang can use Second Weapon with their tail combat racial ability. That isn't something this particular Thread Item is intended to support.

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the Name of the gauntlet's first wearer.
Effect: The wearer gains a +1 rank bonus to the Avoid Blow Talent.

The Key Knowledge thus far have been standard, and that is perfectly fine for these purposes. If I play with them too much, it can at times become a burden to keep them constantly different and it makes the Key Knowledge that I want to stand out just become part of the noise. The Rank Three effect is standard as well, +1 to a Talent. With my House Rules, that replaces Parry, and plays into the defensive nature. Instead of granting a bonus to armor or Physical Defense, I wanted to emphasize the active defenses and the fluid nature of the Thread Item. Also, it plays into the effect at Rank Four below.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The wearer gains the Dazzling Parry ability. For 1 Strain, if the wearer has not made a Second Weapon Test during this round, they may give up that opportunity and apply their Second Weapon Rank as a bonus to an Avoid Blow Test. This ability may be used once per round.

Here, there is value for anyone with the Avoid Blow Talent, since Ivory already grants you the Second Weapon Talent. I always prefer to give the Talents up front that will be required later on for some big effect that I want to throw in, and I almost always want to throw in an effect that isn't just more bonuses. In my experience, even an effect that isn't powerful will make a Thread Item significantly more interesting than just a pile of bonuses. By the same token, too many effects can dilute the flavor of the Thread Item and complicate things (giving players too many options can have a downside, not the least of which is forgetting they exist).

This particular effect builds on the defensive nature of the gauntlet and grants some versatility in how the character approaches combat. Useful, but not extremely powerful - it just allows the character an extremely good defense each round, particularly if they are holding back on offense for whatever reason. It is particularly good when using the Maneuver Talent.

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge:  The wearer must learn and visit the mines which provided the iron and living crystal used to craft the gauntlet.
Effect: The wearer gains +2 to Physical Armor and +1 to Spell Defense.

At Rank Five is when I prefer to have Key Knowledge really start to require some work and investment. This is not going to be something easy to learn, as it is probably in the Twilight Peaks - if it's not, that will make it even more obscure. For Thread Items that were clearly crafted, rather than Legendary, the Key Knowledge shouldn't relate to things that were done with it, but more around the genesis of the Thread Item. That isn't to say that Legendary Ranks cannot be added later, but they should be at the end of the Thread Ranks.

Rank Five is also when I increase the power of the bonuses based on the tier of the Thread Item. For a Warden Item, like this one, that means handing out two different bonuses. The expense of getting this Thread Rank is going to be considerable (2100 Legend Points) and I want it to feel like it is worth it, not to mention the effort required to get it. There are two standard bonuses, +1 to Physical Armor and +1 to Spell Defense. Again, this is a protective item and I want that to be front and center, but with the living crystal I wanted to ensure it offered mystic and physical protection.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The wearer gains +3 to Mystic Armor and +1 to Physical Defense.

This just completes the other half of Rank Five by offering +1 Mystic Armor and +1 Physical Defense to complement the +1 Physical Armor and +1 Spell Defense.

Thread Rank Seven
Key Knowledge: The wearer must learn the fate of the first wearer.
Deed: The wearer must be Blood Sworn to the wearer of Ebony.

Effect: If the wearer successfully uses Dazzling Parry, they may apply the Test Result as an attack against the attacker’s Spell Defense. On a Good Result or better, the attacker suffers a penalty to their Initiative next round equal to the Thread Rank.

The Key Knowledge isn't the restriction at this Thread Rank, but the Deed. Not many characters will fulfill that requirement. This is also a Thread Rank where the bonuses tend to go up again. For Warden tier that doesn't mean three bonuses, but I like to introduce effects that improve or build on the primary effect of the Thread Item which may be a bit on the powerful side. By now, the player has gotten used to what the Thread Item can do, so changing that up a little keeps it fresh.

Going back to the themes of adapting and versatility, this gives some additional benefit to the Dazzling Parry effect. It may not be something that the character can capitalize on, but definitely something that will benefit the Group as a whole. Which is another aspect that I like to include in Thread Items, effects that will benefit everyone. They tend to get the other players more interested in what is going on with this character and their gear if they stand to benefit from it. This also plays with the Riposte Talent a little - offering a different kind of outcome, which may be better depending on the situation.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: The wearer gains +3 to Physical Armor and a +2/+2 Deflection bonus. Additionally, Dazzling Parry may be used a second time each round. If Dazzling Parry is used successfully on the same target twice in a round, the penalties do not stack.

For the final effect, I went big. From here on out, improving this Thread Item is up to the character and their Legend. The Physical Armor is now equal to the Mystic Armor, which I like in terms of symmetry. Also, the Deflection bonus went up, which is like a bonus to Avoid Blow, but a little more limited. The additional use of Dazzling Parry is nice, but you still have to give up your Second Weapon attack to use it in the first place and you cannot stack the penalties. So there are three different bonuses, but overall I don't think they are too much for this Thread Rank given some of the inherent limitations.

12 April 2013

Kickstarter: Part 10 - The Return!

This is the tenth part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

It has been quite a while since the last post; nearly half of a year. Many crowdfunding campaigns have began and ended since then (20, to be exact). Covering all of those would make this post significantly longer than I intend, not to mention updating all of the projects from days past - some awards have arrived, most have not. Such is the way of the Kickstarter.

To keep this as relevant as possible, I'm just going to be covering projects that are currently active. Hopefully you will find interesting as well.

New Projects


Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: Yes!

Cooperative world-building is often a compelling endeavor, particular one constructed around beliefs and the explicit desire to change the setting. While I'm not entirely certain how this game will play out, it is an interesting concept that I wanted to support.

Read the review.


Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: No [Update]

The first in a series of projects that are not likely to get funded for various reasons. I'm always looking for systems that can handle a variety of genres in different ways - they make a useful resource for tackling whatever strange idea piques my interest. Unfortunately, there much specific to recommend this game over any of the others. The art on display is nice, but what convinced me to back this was the indication of tinkering with your own equipment. I love a good crafting system. As well, custom abilities and magic tend to draw my interest as well. 


Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: No [Update]

This game is an interesting entry - rules light and a design focused around the terrible antics of reality television. It is seems like a cousin to Fiasco, where terrible behavior is rewarded. The mechanics revolve around the persona that you are portraying for the show and how that character is revealed through the story. Keeping in mind the kind of people that make it onto "reality" TV in the first place. Tragically, with only a few days left, funding is unlikely to be met at this point.


Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: No [Update]

A game of mystical conspiracies with parts of Mage: The Ascension, The Everlasting, Unknown Armies, and related games, along with fantastic looking art? Awesome. I was looking forward to this project quite a bit - urban fantasy and conspiracies are one of my favorite game genres. Unfortunately, there isn't much time left for this project and it doesn't look likely to fund. That doesn't mean it cannot be turned around in the last two days. The power of the "Remind Me" button is pretty strong.

Apotheosis Drive X

Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: Yes!

FATE Core-based mecha game that draws from the more anime related inspirations making it more about the characters and using the big-ass robots as an extension of the story? Yes. That. More of that. This took me a nano-second to support when I found it. The biggest risk associated with this project is the group behind it (Machine Age Productions). They do some of the most interesting work around, but have issues with deadlines and delivery. That being said, those concerns are always minimal because this format isn't for traditional delivery of product and I'm willing to wait for something that I really want. The stretch goals on this project (two of which have been met) are additional settings that are rife with game ideas. I won't lie, I want this project to hit $15,000 so I can get mega dragon armor.


Closes: Closed [Update]
Funded: No [Update]

I have always had a soft spot for superhero games, though I don't really know why - my comic collection is not large, or full of classic titles. It has also languished for about a decade. Nonetheless, I'm a big fan of game to make super-powered characters and seeing the direction new authors take when trying to deal with the genre. The sheer scope of what any character may want to do is immense and most games are written to make an attempt at accomodating all of them - this is not an easy task. This particular game promises versatility in a simple package with motivations being key. I'd like to see that, and since this is a new edition of a game already out there (even though I haven't looked into it yet... something about pdfs), the risk level is low.


Closes: 30 APR 2013
Funded: Yes! [Update]

A steampunk game with a strong dose of fantasy and a system that seems to embrace high action. What I've seen evokes Castle Falkenstein and Arcanum, which is a very good thing. The art is good, with some of the pieces very good. An interesting element is the concept of serialized adventures. They get sent out at regular intervals and shape the metaplot for the game. I don't know exactly how that may work out, but I would like to find out.

Short Order Heroes

Closes: 06 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes! [Updated]

Full disclosure on this: I was sent a copy of this to review (which is forthcoming) and I would count the man behind this project as one of my closest friends (despite him being banished to Southern California). That being said, I am backing this project because I like it - a lot. And I want all of the cards (stretch goals).

It's both an accessory and a simple game in an of itself - a deck of cards with an adjective and a cute picture associated with the adjective. This is the kind of thing that comes in handy when creating an NPC on the fly, or for players having trouble fleshing out their character (both of these even more in FATE). The project has met it's second stretch goal, so the deck is up to 90 cards and additional stretch goals will and add themed decks (such as places and super powers - I want super powers). There's already discussions about the additional cards to be created; I didn't suggest "misanthropic", but I sure wish I had.

Atlantis: The Second Age

Closes: 09 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes! [Update]

A new game by Jerry D. Grayson? Yes. One that combines Elric and Conan? YES. Swords and sorcery, horror, mighty and fallen empires, dark magics; all of these things sound awesome. It is a new iteration of an older game (the Atlantean Trilogy from long ago), inspired by the previous material. His games always have excellent art and this doesn't seem to be an exception, also dynamic magic and exotic technomantic magic creations? Yes. There is even a 200+ page draft of the text here so that you know what you are getting. This is close to getting funded, so here is to hoping. Also, the stretch goals sound awesome (including an action deck and hardcover upgrade).

Lords of Gossamer and Shadow

Closes: 15 MAY 2013
Funded: Yes!

Amber Diceless Role Playing Game (ADRPG) may be one of the most subtly influential games out there. It still has fervent fans (any property would kill to get the fans Amber has) and there may be something to that. While I have my own opinions and differences with this system, it was revolutionary at its time. It still brings a lot of fantastic ideas to the table and presents a different way of looking at your game. Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is the spiritual successor of ADRPG and presents a new world that is more compelling than the original in many ways. It is designed as a world to be played from the ground up, not an adaptation. This shows in how it provokes your imagination, instead of addressing the texts as they were. The author, Jason Durall, is probably the authority on ADRPG out there and his work shows. Some truly excellent artwork has been paired with his writing for this project, and I've already been conned into running this game online - and I'm pretty excited about it. The second stretch goal for this project is nearly funded: an Icon Deck. That is a set of tarot cards with faces for use in your game. We don't know what Stretch Goal #3 is, but I would like to find out.

07 April 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 19 - Weaponsmith

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


The Weaponsmith is simultaneously one of the most straight-forward and complex Disciplines in Earthdawn. Their demeanor is forthright and honest, they are interested in results. Yet they are contemplative and focused on the effects that their actions will have on those around them. While this may seem like a juxtaposition, it is entirely within their scope.

Central to the Weaponsmith is the Forge. This is the social core for these adepts, and one which many communities across Barsaive are built around. It is through the Forge that their view of the world comes into focus. As the heart of their society, they have deep roots and responsibilities to those Namegivers. They are trusted, so must respect that trust with everything they are. They must be direct, so there are never misunderstandings. They must think before they act and decide, because they represent their community. They must act with purpose, because decisiveness is at times more important than the most correct action. Without results, all actions and decisions are useless. But perhaps most of all, they must think about tomorrow and the tomorrow generations from now - not only must there be a tomorrow to consider, but it should also be one worth living.

These are the central concepts to this Discipline, and they are complicated. Their responsibilities are many, but they bear them with pride and strength. A Weaponsmith without resolve and love for their work isn't truly a Weaponsmith at all. A traveling Weaponsmith may not have a Forge, which means they are always a guest wherever they go. This does not relieve them of their responsibility to the community by any stretch of the imagination. At the very least, it means that wherever they are at the time is their community they owe their loyalty and consideration to. Some may extend that to a greater area, perhaps all of Barsaive, or even the world as a whole.

Anyone that sees this level of responsibility as an onerous obligation may want to choose a different path. What this truly is, is an opportunity. A Weaponsmith can make inroads in even the most xenophobic community with what they bring. If there is an established Forge, gaining acceptance there should mean the rest of the Namegivers welcome the adept and their companions sooner than later, particularly once the Weaponsmith begins working for the betterment of their new family. If there isn't, then certainly the services they bring are a welcome addition to these people. By investing their time and effort, they gain friends and allies.

As well, the role of the Forge allows them information regarding the community as a whole. The goings on, major events, relations, etc. The Weaponsmiths of the Forge are often sought for their advice, or just as someone trusted to listen to - a Weaponsmith would never betray this trust unless it was absolutely necessary. While they would never admit it, they are horrible eavesdroppers; with good reason. As a social hub of the community, there is plenty of opportunity and they view it as a necessity to the harmony of their home to be aware in advance of any storms that may be brewing, perhaps heading them off. Never revealing the source, or betraying any trusts, they can diffuse a tryst in the making before it occurs, or even work towards mending a relationship in trouble because of misunderstandings.

Beyond all of these social elements, they are also fearsome protectors. It is their solemn duty to protect their friends and family. They craft weapons and armor, working behind the scenes to ensure the very best. When it comes time, they are there with the rest of their companions, never ones to shirk at even the most dangerous duty. Against even the most dangerous foes, Horrors and their constructs, Weaponsmiths represent a bulwark against them. Standing strong against their powers and unraveling their curses.

When making a Weaponsmith, remember the importance of tradition. It is handed down from Master to Apprentice and tradition is where a community derives its identity from. The things that you were taught should shape how you view the world. Those traditions will be ingrained and carried in all of your travels. Establishing details on that relationship, those traditions, that initial culture and the Forge itself, will give a much deeper experience. These are elements that can be shared with the Group as a whole, and as the Weaponsmith often falls into role of the "heart" of any Group, are often adopted by those around them (possibly through sheer stubbornness).

Where a Weaponsmith came from is only half of the question. Where they are going is the other half. More than nearly any other Discipline, these adepts are looking to the future. While you may not know your goals initially, it should be on your mind - why haven't you settled down (the natural state of being for a Weaponsmith), what are you looking for? Maybe your community is larger than simply what you can see. This is something that you should consider.

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. There are a number of ways in which the Weaponsmith can run afoul - their road is not an easy one. Betrayal of any kind, including the community, allies and Forge, is unthinkable. Just as is breaking their word, which may extend to any kind of deception to those they care about. Even failing to share important knowledge may be the source of a violation to these adepts. Also, any hospitality shown must be returned and cannot be forgotten.

Less obvious issues that can arise involve their relationship with their companions. To call a Weaponsmith bossy would be something of an understatement. They view their role as the heart and soul of their Group, and take that very seriously. Which means that they may get involved in things they are not welcome, and share their even more unwelcome opinion. Their belief that they are always right can also cause some friction. Combine this with their stubborn nature and desire to become involved in every little thing when there may be other priorities... well, there are plenty sources of strife and potential growth.


Talent Options: Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, Parry, Speak Language, Throwing Weapons

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Evaluate, Forge Weapon, Haggle, Karma Ritual, Steel Thought

Talent Options: Detect Weapon, Fireblood, First Impression, Heartening Laugh, Read/Write Language, Shield Charge, Wound Balance

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (6/5), Item History

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Abate Curse

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Thread Smithing]

Talent Options: Conceal Object, Detect Trap, Elemental Tongues, Fire Heal, Leadership, Read/Write Magic, Resist Taunt, Temper Other

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Temper Self

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Lion Heart

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Spot Armor Flaw

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Forge Armor

Mechanically, the Weaponsmith is a support character. Not just any support character, they are an amazing support character. Not many games provide this much for support characters without them being healers, and that is a big plus for Earthdawn. If you prefer to work for the better of your group and not necessarily be in the thick of all the action all the time, then this may be a great choice for you.

The first thing they bring to any Group is gear. Forge Weapon is any combat character's best friend. Every Group without a Weaponsmith spends as much as they can afford upgrading their gear. This may require some additional downtime, but the Group will probably have superior weapons overall (I know every game I have run works out this way). Though much later, this also applies to Forge Armor and crafting Thread Items in general.

Next up is money. Evaluate and Haggle of the first ways they support the Group's funds and will often find the task of quartermaster being thrust upon them. It certainly helps that these adepts have to be honest. The next way they aid the overall treasury is through Forge Weapons. This, along with their Half-Magic, can be used to earn some extra cash during downtime, but most importantly the savings from not paying someone else to improve your armor and weapons. It is surprising what the final costs for that end up at.

Item History rounds it all out. Every Group will want at least one character with this Talent. Any Group that doesn't have someone with this Talent will feel it once they get to Journeyman. Not only is this practically a requirement for Thread Items, it's excellent for investigation and intrigue.

They do have a few other elements that they bring to the table. Steel Though and Abate Curse give them some good anti-magic abilities early on. Along with Lion Heart, they will be valuable when confronting mystical threats, but Horrors in particular. While not combat characters, they do get more combat related Talents than most non-combat Disciplines. Temper Self and Spot Armor Flaw are both solid combat related Discipline Talents, and there are some more in their Talent Options.

Despite their reasonable access to combat related Talents, these are not combat characters. A Weaponsmith tends to be more durable than their average Durability may indicate, but they don't have the variety of tricks that a Swordmaster or Warrior has available, nor quite the staying power. They also don't have a lot to spend their Karma on; it mostly gets used during downtime. This means that whenever you have an opportunity to spend Karma, you should. There is no reason to not spend it.

In all, this is one of the Disciplines that sets Earthdawn apart from so many other fantasy games. The Weaponsmith isn't for everyone, but it is perfect for certain players. It is relatively straight forward, uncomplicated, always useful and welcome, and can contribute in nearly every type of scene. It may be frustrating at times to most often be the crew, rather than the star of the show.

There are a few good Initiate Talent Options, but decisions here shouldn't be extremely difficult:
  • Melee Weapons - This is the most popular combat Talent for a Weaponsmith in my experience. It is also the only one to have some additional support, though minimal. You will want to continually improve this.
  • Missile Weapons - If you don't intend on getting into harm's way (not a bad plan, a Weaponsmith can be a bit fragile), this can be a good selection. You are only going to want one combat Talent, however, since they require maintenance to be useful.
  • Parry - For the most part, I am not much of a fan for active defense Talents that are not also Discipline Talents. If you happen to be using a two-handed weapon (and aren't a windling), the Size bonus makes up for that rather well. With their few combat options, this can be a good pick. It will need to be raised regularly to remain relevant.
  • Speak Language - If you are going for a more social Weaponsmith and/or no one else in your Group has this (assuming you aren't exclusively dungeon-crawling), this could be useful. On the whole, this can be covered by the skill unless you are the social character and heading well off the beaten path.
  • Throwing Weapons - You only need one of these combat Talents and this one just falls short. When you cannot use concealment to your advantage, these weapons simply aren't as good as the other options available. This is particularly true considering this Talent will need to be improved every Circle and may see minimal, if any use.
The Talent Options for the Novice tier have some interesting choices (as well as some very good choices):
  • Detect Weapon - For some Disciplines I have mixed opinions on this Talent, but I am generally for it in the case of the Weaponsmith; it fits nicely with the overall Discipline and themes. Now, there are at least two things to consider: how many of your encounters take place in a city and how much intrigue is there in general? Those two answers (which, to be fair, are pretty related) will have a considerable bearing on how useful this Talent will be for you. If the answers are "few and not much", then you can pass, but if they lean towards "most and a lot", then this rapidly becomes more useful.
  • Fireblood - Pretty much any character that can take this Talent should seriously consider it. This can mean the difference between continuing to contribute and saving the day, or sitting things out for a while as you hope things do go sideways without you. It doesn't even need to be improved all the time to be great, it just makes it even better!
  • First Impression - It is my general recommendation for every character to pick up some basic social Talents (or failing that, skills). They allow you to contribute to a different aspect of the game, one that can be frustrating at times to be continually excluded. The investment here can be minimal to get a return and there are a number of social opportunities that a these adepts have that few other Disciplines do.
  • Heartening Laugh - While there isn't a lot to spend your Karma on, there are likely better Talents for you to pick up that this. If your Group has a Swordmaster in it, this is probably a Discipline Talent for them. 
  • Read/Write Language - For most purposes, this skill suffices. However, if you have open Talent Options, this is never a bad choice.
  • Shield Charge - If you don't have Parry and use Melee Weapons, this is a Talent worth considering. It fits into the overall support theme of the Discipline by setting up the more combat capable characters for a big hit.
  • Wound Balance - If you are going to mix it up in combat, this is a good place to start. It is a passive defense that doesn't require much investment. You are going to take Wounds and as you gain Circles, the odds that those Wounds cause Knockdown goes up. This is extremely helpful in mitigating that.
Journeyman tier is where the Talent Option choices may start becoming difficult. There are some solid selections and chances to go in interesting directions, but they also get more expensive:
  • Conceal Object - I don't care for this Talent for the Weaponsmith. It goes against their themes, even if you can come up with the philosophy to support this. Unless you are doing some heavy intrigue, there is almost certainly a better character in the Group to take this Talent. Which, of course, makes hiding things on the Weaponsmith more tempting, but it could run afoul of their honesty theme.
  • Detect Trap - If no one else in the Group has this Talent, you will know by now if you need it or not.
  • Elemental Tongues - This is a great Talent for this Discipline, particularly if you intend on taking advantage of the Warden ability to use Elementalism. It's good without that for numerous things, such as making Thread Items and gathering strange information in general. Also, a lot of fun.
  • Fire Heal - This Talent plays very well with Fireblood, you will just want to make sure you never fail.
  • Leadership - There are some uses for this, particularly with a more social Weaponsmith, but on the whole it simply isn't a Talent that a PC will get a lot of use from. There will be occasions, but they will likely be irregular.
  • Read/Write Magic - If you intend on picking up the rest of the magician Talents in Warden, this is the one to start with. Otherwise, it is a pass.
  • Resist Taunt - Similar to any active defensive Talent, if it isn't a Discipline Talent, it's hard to be worth investing in. This will require considerable Legend Points and is unlikely to work during those times when you really need it (because no Karma). However, if you are finding social attacks to be a significant problem, then this could be a solution - it must be raised every Circle.
  • Temper Other - This is a fantastic support Talent and fits well with the support theme of the Weaponsmith. While you may not benefit directly, your Group will benefit greatly.

Overall, the differences between a race that has ostensibly great bonuses to being a Weaponsmith (elf) versus one with terrible bonuses (obsidiman) is absolutely minimal. Every Namegiver can be successful at this Discipline, though there are a few that have a little more upside or downside in their abilities.

T'skrang cannot take advantage of their tail combat as a Weaponsmith - which may be a small thing, but it is something to keep in mind. Windlings have Astral Sight, which can potentially aid in some of the mystical aspects of the Discipline and gathering information in general. Humans have Versatility and for a Discipline that can already do a number of different things, this can enhance those options further. You can have a Weaponsmith that really holds their own in combat, does social interaction really well, has all of the support Talents, or is an investigator.

The race decision may have some effect on Talent and equipment selections. Obsidimen and trolls benefit from Melee Weapons even more and by taking a two-handed weapon (Size 7) and using Parry. While a windling will want Missile Weapons, or if going with Melee Weapons favor a shield (the armor bonus is unaffected by size, while the damage gained from a two-handed weapon is less than the additional armor).


Given that there are no initiative requirements for any of the Talents, equipment selection is fairly open. The Talent selection will dictate some weapons that you use, or vice versa, but armor is fair game. Ideally, a Weaponsmith is a big tank capable of soaking up all of the damage. This may be important because your Durability is average and defensive options are limited overall, not terrible, just limited.

If you want to use a two-handed weapon, you may want to pick up Parry; alternatively, if you want Parry, you will want a two-handed weapon. If you want a one-handed weapon, you may want to pick up Shield Charge.