04 February 2014

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Thread Item 31 - Truefang

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

Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 40), Truefang is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 91). A number of players throughout the years (all of them Swordmasters) wanted this weapon so very badly. It was almost inexplicable. However, few games went long enough that it could be introduced in the first place - check out that Spell Defense - and by that time the characters had Legendary items of their own. Thus, it never actually saw play for better or worse.

There will be an analysis of how the 3E Thread Item stacks up to the proposed guidelines (pg. 46 of the Gamemaster's Companion) and what it looked like in its original release.

Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: Master

First off, that is a lot of Spell Defense. There may no be another published item with more, and it is one point less than the recommended maximum. This is a Legendary item, so the tier (Master) and Spell Defense are all on the up and up. With only six Thread Ranks, this item isn't really stretching it's legendary legs much, but those ranks can probably be expected to be well above average. For the costs associated, and the Circle you have to be to even contemplate that Spell Defense, there is going to be a certain amount of slack.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 8.

Right out of the gates its...! A standard effect. Yup, normal damage.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 9.

Surely Rank Two is going to...! Nope, another standard effect. Just one of them. As a note, the designers picked a hell of a time to actually start following guidelines.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 to Initiative tests.

There we go, finally. At Rank Three we see two standard effects. It's a solid one too. Outside of two talents (Air Dance and Tiger Spring), initiative bonuses are pretty hard to come by.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 10 and +1 to Physical Defense.

Another two standard effects. Both solid, but uninteresting.

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Damage Step 11 and +4 to Mystic Armor.

FIVE standard effects; now that is more like it. However, the Deed to get here is serious business. It involves lifting a curse and taking a Blood Oath. Unless your GM is a pushover, that isn't something to engage in lightly. Particularly for the likely Circle of this character. Still, that's a solid bonus.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Damage Step 12. The wielder may spend 1 Strain and make a melee Attack test with the sword. If the attack causes a Wound, the target bleeds for 2 damage each turn until they make a Recovery Test or die.

So, that is the first interesting ability that this sword has. Tragically, it just isn't that good. Luckily, it also isn't that expensive, so you may as well try for it every time. There is no indication if this will stack with itself, so figure that one out before you put this in the game. The reason it's not so great is that it is hard to predict since it requires a Wound. Basically, you are looking for Armor-Defeating hits with this. When you score one of those 2 extra damage may just be drops in a bucket. On the other hand, it does set the clock ticking on the fight to run out. All of that being said, the Deed to get here is another beast to deal with. This item is a long road at the end.

How does it all stack up? For all of the costs to get to the end, and they are significant in terms of Deeds and Legend Points, there isn't much waiting for you. The Mystic Armor bonus is pretty nice and you still benefit from it while waiting around for the final Deed, but that is a lot of investment for +2 to Initiative, +1 to Physical Defense and +4 to Mystic Armor. You could craft that item for far less effort. The final effect is interesting, but too hard to predict to actually be useful. By the time you pull it off, the conflict may well already be over.

Why my players wanted this so badly, I will never know. Suffice it to say, this is almost certainly not going to unbalance a game. There are so many more powerful items out there for far less. There are strictly average, by the book items that can give you a better return while you are loitering at the last Deed. None of those will have a truly monstrous Spell Defense to tangle with, either. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of flavor in this item, but your players may thank you more if you never put it in their path.

The back story is by far the most interesting thing to be found. That's not to say that the mechanics are strictly bad, they are just uninspired for what you see when you first arrive, "Whoa! Master with 23 Spell Defense? What is going on here..." Turns out, not a whole lot. 

How does the 3E version compare to the 1E version? Let's find out:

Truefang (1E)
Spell Defense: 23
Legend Point Cost: (Master)

Everything is the same from Spell Defense, to tier and Thread Ranks.

Thread Rank One
Effect: Damage Step 6.

Starting damage is higher in 3E because you could still forge Thread Weapons back in the day.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: Damage Step 7.

Nothing different going on; same +1 to damage.

Thread Rank Three
Effect: +2 to Initiative tests.

In 1E, this power had a name: Swift Bite. While ultimately meaningless, it was a cute bit of flavor that was sanitized out for better or worse. Cool names were pretty rare and giving a straight bonus a name may be overkill.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: Damage Step 8 and +1 to Physical Defense.

Again, the same bonuses (+1 to damage and Physical Defense), but that Physical Defense bonus got the name "Gliding Block". Which makes it sound pretty impressive until you see what it does (+1 to Physical Defense).

Thread Rank Five
Effect: Damage Step 10 and +4 to Mystic Armor.

This one actually had SIX standard effects. The damage is raise by +2, not +1 at this rank. Also, the bonus to Mystic Armor is called "Spell Eater". Tragically, it only eats spells that do damage. Which aren't necessarily the scariest spells. And by eat, it really means takes some nibbles out of them

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The wielder may spend 3 Strain and make a melee Attack test with the sword. If the attack causes a Wound, the target bleeds for 2 damage each turn until they make a Recovery Test or die.

Here we don't have the damage bonus and the cost is 3 Strain. Which solidly puts the cost above the damage. Given the risk associated with actually pulling off the Wound, which the sword doesn't particularly help you with in any way, that is a bad gamble. It does have another cool name: Deep Bite.

How do they stack up? The 1E version is not so good. It's mostly the same, though with neat names (that may be unnecessary or a nice bit of flavor, depending on how you look at it). However, the "capstone" ability is actively bad. So it actually got improved in 3E, but it still wasn't actually made worth it. Instead, fidelity to the original was mostly preserved. Which is something of a loss, because there is a neat item hiding in all of that flavor, particularly with the cool power names. Maybe I will gin up an alternate version of this.

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