28 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Part 3 - Spellcasting

This is 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.

If all of the Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) sub-systems were to have some yearbook style votes for their class, spellcasting would be voted most changed. It isn't complete different from where it started by any means - the basics are still the same. However, spellcasting and spells have received the most thorough redevelopment.

The degree of changes made run the spectrum. For example, Read and Write Magic was exchanged for Patterncraft to better embrace the various functions the talent has had previously. This also gives a chance to hang new functions on it in the future. The use of a grimoire has been updated: when casting from your own attuned grimoire, you gain an extra success. A minor benefit for use outside of combat; the goal was to give more life to an item which is supposed to be central to a character, but was seemed to be ignored unless a new spell was being added. Also, each success on a Thread Weaving test weaves a thread for a spell.

A more significant overhaul is how illusions function. They have been divided into two categories: figments and true illusions (which are simply referred to as illusions). The distinction is (hopefully simple): a true illusion contains a powerful compulsion to behave in a particular fashion, while a figment is a trick on the senses. Interacting with a figment will immediately reveal the truth, while interacting with an illusion is considerably more difficult since its very function convinces you it is real. The primary mode to detect an illusion is through a sensing test, which is essentially any interaction with the illusion through which you may learn the truth. The greater the evidence something is wrong, the less hold the illusion has over you. Which means if all of your friends have seen through the illusion, the need to lasso you to haul you out of an imaginary box should be significantly reduced.

Illusions use for combat turn their compulsion into a psychic assault on the target, though only if the target attempts to resist the effects, buying into the illusion. If you disbelieve the illusion, it simply washes over you. However, if you disbelieve a spell which isn't an illusion, it can get ugly. There isn't a roll for disbelief, just a simple choice if you think it the fireball coming at you may be an illusion.

The biggest overhaul has been spells themselves. Every spell included in ED4, at least ten first circle spells and five for each other circle, was redeveloped. Each spellcasting discipline also received a number of new spells. Thread weaving difficulties (circle + 4) and reattuning-on-the-fly difficulties (circle + 9) were standardized, spells now have effects for extra successes, and extra threads for each spell were included.

Extra threads represent a dynamic shift in how spellcasting works. A spellcaster can weave a number of additional threads based on their circle in the appropriate discipline. For example, a first circle Elementalist can weave one extra thread, while a fifth circle Elementalist can weave two extra threads. This allows a spellcasters to devote more time to a spell's pattern in exchange for tailoring the spell to their needs. Outside of an action sequence, when they have all of the time they need, this means spells can be effectively maximized and will scale up as circle increases. In combat, a 0 thread low circle spell can still have life by being placed in an enhanced matrix and pre-weaving an extra thread for a specific function each time it is cast. For example, Earth Darts could be placed in an enhanced matrix for an additional target, improve damage, improve the range, improve its armor reduction effect, or increase the duration of its armor reduction effect.

The number of combat spells which require numerous threads was also scaled back considerably. This is particularly true for low circle spells; higher circle spells tend to have more multi-thread spells, though this is reflected in their significantly larger effects. As every spellcaster knows, it is hard to justify big spells all of the time when the circumstances may be completely different by the time they are actually cast. Essentially, low circle spells now fill the general "bread and butter" style spells which should remain useful throughout an adept's career, rather than continually being cast aside for something bigger and better.

During the redevelopment, particular care was given to ensure spells reflected the core themes of each discipline. Each of the disciplines has particular things which they are good at, and those which they may not be able to do at all. For example, all Elementalist spells are elemental and physical in nature, Illusionist spells have a strong deception streak, but also outright break the rules, Nethermancer spells commonly traffic in fear and spirits, featuring numerous debuffs, and Wizard spells reflect their versatility and mastery of pure magic.

Future essays on each discipline and their spell list will discuss what they do well.

25 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 16 - Weaponsmith

This is the sixteenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, 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.

Development for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) brought a lot of changes to the Weaponsmith in different ways. From thematic changes to underlying functions of their key talents, this particular discipline got a great deal of attention.

The thematic changes this discipline have undergone include focusing more on their role as craftsman. Their bonus talent allows them to build pretty much anything and their karma ability means they are going to be very good at it. The Journeyman ability has remained spiritually the same, but instead of taking twice as long, it simply imposes a penalty to the test. This encourages the usage of a proper forge, but doesn't make using it agonizingly slow.

There is also an increased focus on their role as the center of a community, and access to combat abilities to help support their association with weapons. Additionally, their "anti-magic" theme has been expanded on slightly and will continue to grow.

To make room for these changes, there were some themes shuffled and removed. Talent consolidation also helped and haggle was simple enough to make a talent option - for some being a Weaponsmith is a trade, while for others it is a passion. Conceal Object was a strange fit for a discipline which is values honesty and being forthright above all else - and thus was cut. 

The expansion of the discipline into Elementalism was interesting and seemed like a great marriage in concept, but in play it never went well. Many adepts who wanted Elementalism wanted it earlier than Warden and the number of basic talents to make it function meant they were locked into purchasing them at a premium while eschewing their other high circle talent options. If a character didn't want Elementalism, then they were stuck with a virtually useless Warden ability. It should come as no surprise at this point all of these talents were removed to make room for some truly Weaponsmith talents.

As has been discussed elsewhere, Forge Armor and Forge Weapon have been expanded considerably. The bonuses they provide are now related to the talent rank, not the base item. Critically, these talents would become forgotten by Journeyman with Forge Armor virtually obsolete before it was received. Their value was only maintained for crafting your own thread items and waiting until thread equipment could be obtained. The changes, including bringing Forge Armor to the beginning of Journeyman, emphasize these talents and what they bring to the group. An essential goal here was to make the forging theme a key part of the discipline throughout their career.

The end result is a versatile discipline which can go in numerous directions depending on what the player wants and what the group needs. One of their biggest strengths is as a support character for their group and consequently often find themselves in positions of leadership and influence. If you are more interested in your group as a whole than your character in particular, this may be a good discipline for you.


First Circle
  • Forge Weapon
  • Item History
  • Melee Weapons
  • Steel Thought
  • Thread Smithing
  • Durability 5
  • Craftsman
  • Karma: Any test to craft, repair, or improve an item.
Second Circle
  • Conversation
Third Circle
  • Suppress Curse
  • Karma: Recovery Test.
Fourth Circle
  • Wound Balance

Fifth Circle
  • Forge Armor
  • Traveling Smithy: 2 Strain, create an improvised forge; -3 to tests using the forge.
  • Karma: Damage tests with weapons you have made.
Sixth Circle
  • Temper Flesh
Seventh Circle
  • Spot Armor Flaw
Eighth Circle
  • Lion Heart
There are a number of different things which this discipline can do just from their discipline talents. Items is clearly a focus between their Forge talents, karma ability, Craftsman, and Item History. They also gain a considerable number of combat talents, magic resistance, and a social talent. Which means they have a lot of different ways to contribute and talent options give the ability to further expand in all of these areas, depending on the needs of the group and your desired direction.

In combat, their discipline talents are mostly defensive, though they can do respectable damage through their karma ability and Spot Armor Flaw. This puts them in a similar category to a Warrior, particularly with their mobility (or lack-thereof). It may be tempting to have them hold the line, and perhaps they are best suited for it in some groups, but they simply do not have the staying power nor many of the tools to which combat disciplines have access. Specializing in combat allows them even more defensive abilities in addition to some offensive and control abilities. This makes them more capable of holding the line with another character. What does set them apart is their ability to handle spellcasters and other mystic attacks. With a naturally high Mystic Defense, Lion Heart, Steel Thought, and Suppress Curse they can wreck most spellcasters foolish enough to get near them. Throw Earth Skin in as a talent option and it gets ugly.
  • Avoid Blow - If you want to pick up more combat talents, this should probably be where you start. Weaponsmiths' do not have a naturally impressive Physical Defense and this can be supplemented with an active defense.
  • Awareness - This is simply a good selection in general. Everyone likes to notice things.
  • Danger Sense - Probably not the first choice for anyone, though if no one else in your group has this, it is worth considering to stave off ambushes. If you are handling traps, this is going to be more valuable.
  • Disarm Trap - Consider taking this if your group does not have someone with Disarm Trap. If you do take this talent, you will absolutely want Awareness to go along with it.
  • Fireblood - Adepts who want to specialize in combat are going to want this talent. It gives Weaponsmiths a lot more staying power, particularly if they are tanking for their group.
  • First Impression - Characters who want to engage more in communities and the social parts of the game in general will definitely want this talent.
  • Haggle - If you find yourself as your group's quartermaster or leader, then this will likely appeal to you from a pragmatic perspective.
  • Shield Bash - Combat specialists who use a shield should take this talent - it provides battlefield control and can limit your opponents' mobility. Particularly useful against spellcasters who have low strength and no Wound Balance.
  • Speak Language - This is of primary use for characters who want to be more involved in the communities they visit.
  • Read and Write Language - Similar to Speak Language, though probably a second choice. It does have additional use in reading texts for adepts who want to focus more on ancient items.
Outside of actually playing and figuring out which talents will best fit your character, play style, and the campaign you are a part, there are a few different generic "builds" which can help show off themes and different decisions.

These builds are the protector, quartermaster, tinker, and jack-of-all-trades. The protector is a combat specialized Weaponsmith who is naturally focused on defense, particularly against magic. The are going to want Avoid Blow, Fireblood, Shield Bash, and either Awareness or Danger Sense. This does lock them into using a shield, but the additional Physical Defense and Mystic Defense are going to be particularly useful given their moderate Durability. These talents give additional defense and staying power, along with some control. The choice between Awareness and Danger Sense probably weighs heavily in favor of Awareness simply because of the utility, but Danger Sense is the best defense against ambushes.

Quartermasters are social specialists and nicely fill the role of a group or community leader. These characters will want to establish connections to the community in which they currently reside and use these to further the plot or simply gain goodwill. You never know when the goodwill of a community will pay enormous dividends. They are just as likely to be a face as they are to work behind the scenes to ensure their group has what they need. To accomplish this they will want Awareness, First Impression, Haggle, and Speak Language. First Impression and Speak Language are important for earning that trust - speaking the language goes a long way to fitting in and ensuring no one is keeping something from you. Awareness helps to pick up the things you would either miss and Haggle should improve the group's coffers.

A tinker may not be the best term, but I couldn't come up with a better one so we all suffer. This particular build is most interested in playing with things and exploring the some of the more esoteric parts of their discipline. The talents they will want are Awareness, Danger Sense, Disarm Trap, and either Fireblood or Read and Write Language. The first three make up the core of dealing with traps and generally exploring kaers. The latter two options either emphasize one of their elemental connections, or give them a tool to help gain additional knowledge.

As per usual, the jack-of-all-trades wants talents which will see use more than anything and support their group in general. These are most likely to be Avoid Blow, Awareness, First Impression, and Shield Bash. Avoid Blow and Shield Bash open up more options in combat and Shield Bash can help everyone. First Impression is a solid social talent and helpful when establishing a presence in the community. Awareness is likely to be rolled every session. At least once. It is simply one of those talents and it never hurts to have more people in the know. The other talent which may be a good fit for the right character is Haggle, though there isn't a clear choice as to what it should replace.
  • Battle Shout - A powerful talent which can be used to great effect against a single target. Combat specialists will definitely want this, though it can be useful for any adept who regularly engages in combat.
  • Diplomacy - Weaponsmiths particularly invested in solving other Namegivers' problems will want this talent.
  • Earth Skin - If you either find yourself as the target of magical attacks, or want to be in their face, this is a very useful talent with its long duration bonus to Mystic Defense.
  • Etiquette  - Another talent for characters who are frequently the face of their group, or interested in building community goodwill. The ability to avoid social faux pas never hurts.
  • Fire Heal - Extra Recovery Tests are simply good in general. They are even better if you have Earth Skin and Fireblood.
  • Heartening Laugh - A group buff against fear effects can be very powerful in the right situations. Characters more invested in the group will likely want this; it is also worth finding out if anyone else already has this talent.
  • Iron Constitution - General protection against disease and poison. You are going to know if this talent is right for you and the investment is minimal for it to be useful.
  • Leadership - Not generally a talent which PCs get a lot of use from, but it can be very helpful when rallying the community to your cause.
  • Missile Weapons - Shield Bash is the only talent which locks Weaponsmiths into a particular style of combat (besides starting with Melee Weapons) and this gives them some additional versatility in combat to supplement their poor mobility.
  • Resist Taunt - This talent gives Weaponsmiths access to an active defense for each Defense, which can be pretty powerful. Social and combat specialists will want to take this talent. The former for the edge it gives in social situations and the latter to avoid the potent social debuffs.
At Journeyman, protectors get access to even more defensive talents and a powerful debuff: Battle Shout, Earth Skin, Fire Heal, and Resist Taunt. With these talent options and their discipline talents, they should be resistant to nearly everything thrown at them, even though they are somewhat fragile until their shell. Battle Shout is best used to keep a single powerful opponent from bringing everything they have to bear for a little while, or debilitate a foe for their allies to exploit.

A quartermaster's ability to become involved in the community increases considerably with access to Diplomacy, Etiquette, and Resist Taunt. Leadership is a the perfect fit for this character, but not necessarily perfect for every game or player. In this case, Heartening Laugh makes a good substitute.

The tinker invests heavily in their elemental connection with Earth Skin, Fire Heal, and Iron Constitution. They will probably want either Fireblood or Read and Write Language from Novice - which ever of the two they did not take previously. This is definitely a strange character, but also an excellent choice to bring with you into dangerous kaers with their ability to never be caught unaware and some excellent defense.

There are a number of different directions a jack-of-all-trades can go depending on what their group needs, which is going to be important for their selections. Battle Shout, Earth Skin, and Heartening Laugh, and Resist Taunt are all good choices which will almost certainly prove to be useful. This provides a variety of different tools to use at their disposal and interesting things to do in general.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Weaponsmith how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Weaponsmith. Example characters: dwarf and obsidiman.

21 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 15 - Warrior

This is the fifteenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, 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.

The Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) redevelopment of the Warrior was primarily concerned with two things: 1) increasing the emphasis on their elemental theme and 2) rearranging talents to improve choices.

Elemental talents have always had a place in the Warrior talent list and given a clear flavor to the discipline, particularly one which sets Earthdawn apart from D&D. To make this more prominent, Air Dance and Earth Skin were moved to the discipline talents and the talent Waterfall Slam was written. With Fireblood as a talent option, they have access to talents of all the elements.

Improving talent choices came down to removing talents to allow for the elemental talents and giving more room for character customization. The three talents in question are Anticipate Blow, Life Check, and Unarmed Combat. Removing Anticipate Blow and Unarmed Combat were easy decisions to make. Having the former as a discipline talent meant the value in taking Acrobatic Defense was extremely limited since these talents are mutually exclusive. Giving players the option of which of the two is best for them (or none at all) was the course of action. Unarmed Combat simply never saw use in some games and was often considered dead weight, making it a perfect candidate for inclusion as a talent option.

Moving Life Check to the talent options was a more difficult decision and came down to Earth Skin being a better fit for the new thematic focus rather than Life Check being a poor one. In particular, Earth Skin gives Warriors a much needed boost to Mystic Defense, playing up their one of their combat themes of being unstoppable.

Their Journeyman ability, Battle Rites, was updated based on the changes to karma and issues encountered during play. It enables Warriors to have a longer workday and effectively gives them a larger pool of Strain than other disciplines, something of a nod to the previous Durability hierarchy.

Consider a Warrior if you are looking for a discipline which can dominate the battlefield - fast, powerful, and tough. If you want to be the rock around which your enemies break and your allies rally, this is probably what you want.


First Circle
  • Avoid Blow
  • Melee Weapons
  • Tiger Spring
  • War Weaving
  • Wood Skin
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Wound Balance
Third Circle
  • Air Dance
  • Karma: Recovery Test.
Fourth Circle
  • Waterfall Slam

Fifth Circle
  • Earth Skin
  • Battle Rites: Select one talent, during any encounter for the rest of the day, the Warrior may spend a karma point to reduce the Strain cost of the talent by one per round for the rest of the encounter. Only one karma point may be spent per encounter, but this may be used for each encounter.
  • Karma: Close combat damage tests.
Sixth Circle
  • Temper Flesh
Seventh Circle
  • Crushing Blow
Eighth Circle
  • Second Attack
Most disciplines have a particular way in which they excel at combat. Warriors, however, simply excel at combat. The only discipline talent they have which isn't directly combat related is War Weaving. Even their talent options are almost exclusively combat oriented, with only three which are non-combat talents. This narrow focus means Warriors have no true peers when it comes to causing violence, but little to do outside of a fight.

Without talent options, Warriors are good at nearly everything and in nearly every circumstance. Air Dance and Tiger Spring mean they are going to be one of the fastest adepts out there. The speed from Air Dance and Second Attack give them excellent access to additional attacks, and Crushing Blow and Waterfall Slam make those attacks even more powerful. This all combines to create a devastating offense.

Their defense is equally impressive, though relying mostly on passive boosts which are good in every situation. Temper Flesh and Wood Skin both improve their basic toughness, while Wound Balance protects against knockdown. Earth Skin gives a rare, but important boost to Mystic Defense, and Avoid Blow is their only active defense.

Despite all of this, there are still some weaknesses. Mobility is the most noticeable area in which these adepts are deficient. They have no particular ability to move around the battlefield to engage with specific targets - their only option is to leave a swath of destruction in their wake. Beyond this, they have no resistance against social attacks, which contain some potent debuffs, and require talent options to improve their Physical Defense.

Warrior's don't have a particular approach to combat through just their discipline talents. It is their talent options which will truly define how the Warrior engages in combat and what is their precise role within the group.
  • Acrobatic Defense - One of the three different talents to improve Physical Defense. Characters who are likely to be facing multiple opponents at once may find this the most useful.
  • Anticipate Blow - The second of the three Physical Defense talents. This one is very similar to Maneuver (improving Physical Defense and your next attack test against the target), though it works at any range and requires a higher initiative than your opponent. The requirement is unlikely to generally be a concern for Warriors and the added versatility may be appealing to characters who also take Missile Weapons. There may be some future value in this talent for characters who want to defend their allies.
  • Danger Sense - Avoiding being taken by surprise is generally a good thing and if it appeals to you, consider this talent.
  • Distract - Given their ability to take a beating, Warriors can take advantage of this talent without much fear of being the focus of the attention. In fact, it may very well be the primary purpose with the other effects as a side benefit.
  • Fireblood - Healing during combat is a powerful ability and only increases the resilience of a Warrior. The downside is between Earth and Wood Skin, there may not be a lot of Recovery Tests to go around to take full advantage of this talent, in contrast with Sky Raiders who benefit from Fire Heal for extra Recovery Tests.
  • Maneuver - The third talent which provides a bonus to Physical Defense and it also gives a bonus to the next attack test against one opponent. There is a lot to like here and characters looking for general competence will likely want to start with this talent.
  • Shield Bash - If you have a shield and intend to keep using one, this talent is probably worth taking; knockdown can be very powerful, particularly if timed just right.
  • Tactics - Thematic for Warriors and it provides a bonus to your entire group, even if for a limited time.
  • Missile Weapons - Supplemental weapon talents are always tricky since they absolutely need to be continually improved to get use from them and they may not come up very often. This being said, if you aren't comfortable without a ranged attack, this is the best one in the game and make sure you have Anticipate Blow to supplement its use.
  • Unarmed Combat - Similar to Missile Weapons, this is recommended for characters who specifically want to engage in Unarmed Combat on a regular basis, or have a plan.
Outside of actually playing and figuring out which talents will best fit your character, play style, and the campaign you are a part, there are a few different generic "builds" which can help show off themes and different decisions.

Warriors have quite a few different builds to take advantage of their talent options. I am going to explore the defender, juggernaut, officer, tempest, and jack-of-all-trades.

The defender is primarily concerned with protecting their allies. They are likely to be the key element of the front line, and be concerned with disrupting any attempts by skirmishers to engage with their support allies. To help with this, they will want Anticipate Blow, Danger Sense, Distract, and Shield Bash. Shield Bash helps break the opposing formation, Distract keeps the attention on you, and Danger Sense means you should always be ready. Anticipate Blow may seem like a strange choice, but it is a good talent to support Distract and allows you to improve your defense against ranged attackers from the opposition.

In contrast, juggernauts want to cause maximum carnage. They use their innate abilities to punch a hole in the opposing line and relentlessly keep on the pressure. Acrobatic Defense, Fireblood, and Maneuver are solid choices for this kind of character (who has a two-handed weapon). Acrobatic Defense will help with Physical Defense when they are surrounded by opponents, which should be all of the time, while Maneuver should be used against the primary target to both help land a decisive hit and mitigate retaliation. Fireblood will help keep you active if things go wrong, which is probably going to happen. This leaves an open selection and there are two good options depending on what you prefer - Distract will allow your allies to engage with the primary target and quickly take it down, while Tactics gives an initial boost which can help take control of the fight tempo. Acrobatic Defense can be exchanged for Anticipate Blow for a more aggressive direction. The specific goal of this is to load up all of the bonuses to hit on one attack for a better chance of triggering Momentum Attack at Journeyman.

Officers are interested in being the core of the group in combat and directing the action. It is less about personal glory and more about how to maximize their allies' abilities. Towards this end Distract, Maneuver, Shield Bash, and Tactics will give the most options for controlling the conflict. Distract isolates an opponent, Shield Bash controls movement (or really ruins the day of the one opponent), while Maneuver provides a general benefit and in particular against the target of Distract, while Tactics improves everyone.

A tempest wants attacks - all of the attacks. Which means they will not be getting them quite yet. This build will be using a light shield at this point, preparing for Second Weapon, but does not want any initiative penalties - they are after the additional attack from Air Dance. This character is going be in the thick of things like the juggernaut, but with lots of smaller attacks rather than single big hits. At this point, they want the same talents as the juggernaut, except Tactics instead of Distract; you don't want to draw that kind of attention since you are likely to be very lightly armored.

As usual, jack-of-all-trades wants maximum impact rather than a particular theme. Talents which will give them the most options in combat and are most likely to always be useful include Acrobatic Defense, Distract, Maneuver, and Shield Bash. This has a lot of different ways to improve your defense and open up opportunities for your entire group. Even without a top of the line initiative, this talent selection should have things to do every turn.
  • Disarm - This is one of the more limited talents in the Warrior options since it requires the target to be wielding a weapon. Against such opponents, it can be a great control ability by denying actions or even forcing a surrender.
  • Etiquette - The only true social talent available to Warriors, and something which may interest characters who want to play the role more of an officer than a soldier.
  • Leadership - As usual, this isn't likely to be a talent which most PCs will find very useful. However, it can be an important part of a concept and valuable in the right game.
  • Life Check - It never hurts to have this talent in your back pocket. If you are holding the line for your group and drawing all of the wrong kind of attention, the odds are good you will go down at some point and this talent helps prevent it from occurring.
  • Lion Heart - This is a second line of defense against control effects. While it won't generally stop them from happening, it will help end them quickly. The low investment required makes this worth considering for nearly every character.
  • Momentum Attack - Another talent which can grant an additional attack (which is always good), though it is dependent on your attack roll. Characters who can consistently get additional successes on their attack tests may want to consider this talent.
  • Second Weapon - A more reliable talent for another attack, though characters who want this talent should plan for it early and communicate this to your GM. This talent will make you more offensive, lacking a shield, though individual attacks will do less damage than a two-handed weapon and there will be more investment for a second thread weapon.
  • Spot Armor Flaw - An inexpensive multi-round damage boost. With the number of attacks Warriors can get, there is a lot of appeal to this talent. Characters who specialize in multiple attacks will find even more to like here.
  • Steely Stare - A social-ish talent which is primarily useful for avoiding conflict, or to simply be left alone. It can even be used as a dark horse replacement for Engaging Banter.
  • Swift Kick - Warriors can take advantage of this talent more so than any other discipline. They already have the initiative to use it and with Waterfall Slam, it is perfect for kicking opponents to the ground.
From the Journeyman talent options, defenders will want Life Check, Lion Heart, and Swift Kick. The first two are to further specialize in defense, while the latter is to create openings for their group to take advantage. This leaves an open option and Disarm, Etiquette, Spot Armor Flaw, or Steely Stare can all be good selections. Disarm gives a a control ability, while Etiquette is useful for a bodyguard character who needs to blend in at least a little while attending fancy affairs, Spot Armor Flaw is a damage boost and never a bad choice, and Steely Stare can prevent a situation from occurring in the first place.

A juggernaut is straight forward with talents to match: Life Check, Lion Heart, Momentum Attack, and Spot Armor Flaw. The first two will keep them going, while the latter two increase their offensive power. There is nothing particularly subtle about these selections or this character.

In contrast to the juggernaut, officers are less a force of nature and more about adapting to the situation. There is a pool of talents to consider for this character, depending on exactly what you want. The default suggestions are Disarm, Etiquette, Leadership, and Steely Stare. This has control and all of the non-combat abilities available to open up different avenues for the adept, rather than just violence. Since some of these talents may not be for you, despite enjoying what the character is about, other options include Lion Heart, Spot Armor Flaw, and Swift Kick. Lion Heart is the only defensive talent and useful to stay in the fight - relying on their already formidable physical abilities to resist conventional attacks. Additional damage is always good and Spot Armor Flaw may gain some group support in the future. Swift Kick adds some additional control to to their abilities as an additional Shield Bash, effectively, allowing them to put more opponents on the ground for their allies.

As the other side of the coin from the juggernaut, the tempest truly comes into its own and gets all of the attacks. Momentum Attack, Second Weapon, Spot Armor Flaw, and Swift Kick are their talents of choice. Three of those are additional attacks, one to knock opponents to the ground, and the fourth makes every attack better. All of the attacks.

Comparatively playing the middle ground, the jack-of-all-trades should consider Life Check, Lion Heart, Momentum Attack, and Spot Armor Flaw. Instead of trying to be something they are not, this character is going to focus on what they are best at: combat. This is something of a generalist who is taking talents which will benefit any situation and any equipment selection. These are solid talents which are unlikely to ever cause buyer's remorse.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Warrior how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Warrior. Example charatcers: dwarf, obsidiman, and t'skrang.

18 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 14 - Troubadour

This is the fourteenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, 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.

All things considered, the Troubadour has come out of the development fairly similar to the previous version. There have been changes, shifting some themes and then tightening the focus, but the Journeyman ability is unchanged.

The specific themes which have been shifted are the leader and the trickster. These were represented with Leadership and Lion Heart, and Disguise Self and Mimic Voice, respectively. There was simply too much going on with the discipline and little focus - they were social characters, lore keepers, performers, leaders, and tricksters. There are a lot of different directions here and not all of them tend to play nice with each other. The heart of this problem is the Earthdawn Troubadour was essentially a D&D bard - which is where it started, but not where it should end. Which isn't to say these aren't possibilities for the discipline, but they shouldn't be the default - they are all still available as talent options.

Even beyond these thematic problems, Disguise Self, Mimic Voice, and Leadership aren't necessarily appropriate for every character. While they may be great for putting on a performance, this isn't their primary mechanical application. The former can be handled with some generous allowances of their Performance talent and half-magic. Leadership is a tricky talent in general for a PC to have and not necessarily appropriate for every game.

With these two themes moved to the talent options, the Troubadour focused even more on being the premier social discipline, increasing their role with information gathering, and expanding their ability to support other characters. The end result (hopefully) is to give players more of what they showed up for in the first place. 


First Circle
  • Emotion Song
  • First Impression
  • Heartening Laugh
  • Item History
  • Story Weaving
  • Durability 5
  • Performance
  • Karma: Interaction tests
Second Circle
  • Etiquette
Third Circle
  • Empathic Sense
  • Karma: Gain or recall information
Fourth Circle
  • Research

Fifth Circle
  • Inspire Others
  • One Last Word: 2 Strain, when you fail a test against a target's Social Defense, add a karma die to the result. This may be used once per test.
  • Karma: Once per round, on another character's test.
Sixth Circle
  • Lasting Impression
Seventh Circle
  • Resist Taunt
Eighth Circle
  • Slough Blame
The discipline talents and abilities of a Troubadour are primarily social, followed by information, and group support. It is outside of action sequences where the Troubadour shines and they can avoid quite a few conflicts simply through the use of their silver tongue. As either a discipline talent or a talent option, they have access to nearly every social talent in the game. Those missing are limited to fear-based talents, which isn't quite their thing.

Along with their social talents are two key information gathering talents, Item History and Research, which are supported by a karma ability. This gives them few peers when it comes to thread item key knowledge, particularly when it inevitably comes to talking to people. Their support talents, Heartening Laugh and Inspire Others, and karma ability aren't going to make them rock stars in combat, but they will always be welcome in any group because of what they bring.

Through their talent options they can expand their current abilities, or expand into other areas such as combat, deception, and leadership. Troubadours are a versatile discipline (except for combat) and have a lot of different ways to contribute based on the needs of their group.

In combat, their primary move is going to be supporting their allies first and foremost. They don't have a particularly good selection of combat talents, but they do have access to some which help their allies or provide defense. Getting isolated from your allies is bad, you are going to want to stick near one of your group and then support each other. Even if you cannot do significant damage, there are still considerable ways to contribute. Though if you happen to be a troll Troubadour, contributing with damage may be less of a concern than drawing undue attention which you cannot handle well.
  • Avoid Blow - This helps defense, but it also encourages you to get into combat, which is dangerous. If you plan to get mixed up quite a bit, and particularly if you are using Melee Weapons, consider this talent.
  • Conversation - For those who want to specialize more in social talents, this is a good place to start.
  • Haggle - A talent which will benefit the group more than the character which takes it. If you want to be a team player, someone should have this talent.
  • Impressive Display - Every Troubadour should at least consider this talent, which requires minimal investment to start paying off.
  • Melee Weapons - One of the two weapon talents. You are going to want one of them and this is the offensive choice.
  • Read and Write Language - This is going to expand your abilities as a researcher.
  • Speak Language - While this will expand your abilities as the face of your group.
  • Taunt - Combat-oriented characters will want this talent as it helps the entire group.
  • Throwing Weapons - The other weapon talent, and this is the defensive choice.
  • Winning Smile - A must for any character who wants to further specialize as a social character.
Outside of actually playing and figuring out which talents will best fit your character, play style, and the campaign you are a part, there are a few different generic "builds" which can help show off themes and different decisions.

There are quite a few different themes to play with and not all of them are obvious at each tier. I'm going to take a look at a combat specialist (skald), social specialist (charmer), trickster, leader, and jack-of-all-trades.

Skalds play a dangerous game by getting in the thick of things. They will want Melee Weapons for the increased offense. Avoid Blow and a shield will help keep them alive, while Taunt should be used judiciously to help everyone.

Charmers are going to be social monsters and should get all of the social talents they do not already have. This means Impressive Display, Winning Smile, and Conversation. The best weapon talent will likely be Throwing Weapons so you can keep your distance.

Tricksters do not have much which specifically benefits them at this tier, which means they will be building for the future. Speak Language and Read and Write Language are going to help with their spying and future impersonations, along with Winning Smile to get your targets on your side. A weapon talent will round things out nicely. If you don't want Read and Write Language, there are some options. Conversation will help with building a rapport and can be used to gather information on any targets, while Taunt is good for when things inevitably go wrong.

Leaders are about contributing to the group before anything else. For this, they will want Haggle, Taunt, a weapon talent, and either one of Conversation, Impressive Display, or Winning Smile to further help with their social duties. Each of these serves a different purpose, so there isn't quite an obvious choice.

The jack-of-all-trades is about participating, they want talents which let them do more and in more areas. For this, a weapon talent and Taunt will have them covered in combat, while Impressive Display and Winning Smile will play to their strengths in social areas and allow them to dominate interactions. One of those two can be switched for Haggle if so desired.
  • Air Speaking - (Mostly) secure communications are important for most groups and this allows for coordinating activities for capers. Leaders will love this talent.
  • Blade Juggle - This gives a hybrid defense/offense talent which is a little strange and complex at first blush. Combat characters are most likely to want it, though it can encourage many enemies to simply stay away.
  • Diplomacy - Troubadours who want to focus even more on their social talents and those who want to be leaders will want to look at this talent.
  • Disguise Self - The first step for being a spy, this is good for anyone who needs to make a get away or can even help getting in somewhere. Particularly dangerous when paired with Mimic Voice.
  • Engaging Banter - The talent to take if someone needs to be distracted for an extended period of time.
  • Graceful Exit - Given how most Troubadours fare in combat, having an exit strategy for your entire group on hand isn't necessarily a bad way to be. This being said, running away isn't typically the go to move for a PC.
  • Hypnotize - Social specialists and tricksters will love this talent and the trouble it can cause.
  • Leadership - Not for most characters or games, this can be good for some character concepts.
  • Lion Heart - The only defense Troubadours have against many control effects. Everyone should at least consider this talent, even if it doesn't make the final cut.
  • Mimic Voice - If you have Disguise Self, this may be the talent for you. It is best used for impersonating someone. Which means if you took Disguise Self for basic intrusion or escape, this may not be the talent for you.
Going back to the (many) example builds, skalds will want Blade Juggle to help them with both offense and defense, and Lion Heart for its defensive abilities as well. Graceful Exit may be worth looking into, even if it pains you, since at times discretion is the better part of valor. Air Speaking is also a good choice for communication and coordination in combat. Other than this, looking back at the Novice talent options (Haggle, Impressive Display, Winning Smile), or seeing about impersonating someone (Disguise Self and Mimic Voice).

Charmers are still looking for every edge they can get, and Hypnotize is a significant one. Diplomacy will also help in the tricky situations your increasing fame brings to the table. For the right group, Engaging Banter will help your allies gain access while you keep people distracted and Air Speaking can help during combat. Since fighting is a very weak point, you may also consider looking back at Novice talent options for Avoid Blow and Taunt, or Graceful Exit simply to avoid it altogether.

This is the tier where tricksters start to come into their own. Disguise Self, Mimic Voice, and Hypnotize are musts to causing trouble. From there, Air Speaking, Engaging Banter, and Graceful Exit are all useful for different reasons. The former for coordinating actions while you are "in character", Engaging Banter for keeping the marks occupied, and the latter for getting out of there when it all goes wrong.

There is also a lot for leaders to like here. Diplomacy is a must if you are going to be in-charge, along with Leadership to help with the whole being in charge in the first place. Air Speaking is good to maintain communications at all times, while Lion Heart helps to ensure you will always be there for the people who need you.

Finally, the jack-of-all-trades has a lot of different options here and less clear direction. Hypnotize and Lion Heart are good for basic selections which will be useful. From there, Blade Juggle will help with their general combat problems, while Diplomacy or one of the social talents from Novice can be a good choice. The truth is at this point, it is about recognizing what will benefit your group the most for this particular character - you are looking to fill in the gaps, or excel at your existing roles.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Troubadour how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Troubadour. Example characters: troll and windling.

14 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 13 - Thief

This is the thirteenth 4E Anatomy of a Discipline, 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.

The Thief may have benefited more than any other discipline from talents being condensed in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4). As a result, these adepts have a wider array of abilities at their disposal.

To begin with, Trap Initiative is now a default function of Danger Sense, which Thieves get for free. Since they are generally up to no good, they have preternatural senses about the whole thing. Detect Trap has been divided between Awareness and Disarm Trap - if you have Disarm Trap, Awareness will allow you to detect traps. These were essentially a lot of talents to handle some very specific tasks and allow other disciplines to fulfill the role of "trap finder", meaning the Thief can explore other aspects of their discipline. Mostly being very sneaky.

Sense Poison went away for now - it will return in a different form - and True Sight was replaced with False Sight, which can give bonuses to talents with the illusion keyword. These were easy cuts to make; Sense Poison was often of limited applicability with problematic usage and True Sight wasn't particularly thematic to a Thief, allowing them to pierce illusions. Now they are able to improve their own abilities, and build on their theme of deceit.


First Circle
  • Awareness
  • Lock Picking
  • Picking Pockets
  • Stealthy Stride
  • Thief Weaving
  • Durability 5
  • Danger Sense
  • Karma: On any charisma-based test when the adept is attempting to deceive a target.
Second Circle
  • Disarm Trap
Third Circle
  • Haggle
  • Karma: Initiative
Fourth Circle
  • Conceal Object

Fifth Circle
  • Engaging Banter
  • Shadowcloak: 2 Strain, the Difficulty to detect the adept is increased by +2 for Thief Weaving rank minutes.
  • Karma: Attack tests against surprised or blindsided opponents.
Sixth Circle
  • Slough Blame
Seventh Circle
  • Fast Hand
Eighth Circle
  • False Sight
Deception is the primary mechanical theme for a Thief, with other abilities supporting this, either though infiltration or exploiting the fruits of their labor. All of their talents are designed for getting into places which they do not belong and taking things which do not belong to them. There are definitely some other applications to this as well, which Thieves tend to be more than willing to exploit. Such as, unaware targets tend to be much easier to fight than some kind of fair fight (which is for suckers).

These adepts can build on their discipline talents in a few different fashions. They have combat, deception, detection, evasion, infiltration, mobility, and social talents. Which is to say, there are a number of different directions a Thief can go, depending on what the needs of their group may be.

Since combat is almost certainly an inevitability, it is worth discussing how Thieves go about making with the violence. The first and most obvious tactic is to use surprise to your advantage and immediately following that is to have friends. Thieves are fragile combatants and have rather limited defensive abilities. If your group has someone with the ability to get Distract, make friends with this adept and convince them they need to get Distract. It will open up a whole new world by creating targets who are Blindsided as a state of being. This means Surprise Strike without using Conceal Object constantly and double karma on Attack tests. Also, the target will probably not be attacking you - which is a huge bonus.

There are three different weapon talents available: Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, and Throwing Weapons. Each has benefits and drawbacks; Melee Weapons has the most damage potential with Second Weapon, Conceal Object to take greater advantage of Surprise Strike, and no special thread weapons to make it work, however it also puts you in danger constantly. Missile Weapons is the most defensive option, though has limited damage potential since Surprise Strike isn't likely to work often unless someone has Distract and is making use of it. The big advantage is you can keep your distance and stay safe. Throwing Weapons somewhat splits the difference: you have range on your side to stay out of trouble, though not necessarily a lot, and can use Conceal Object to take advantage of Surprise Strike. However, you are either going to constantly use Call Missile to get your thread weapon(s) back, or need some kind of threaded throwing knife brace which constantly generates weapons. Which may or may not be in the works (it is totally in the works).
  • Avoid Blow - Characters interested in being a combat specialist, or investing in melee weapons, will probably want this talent. Those who have ranged attacks can get away without this as long as they are careful to keep their distance.
  • Climbing - Any Thief who isn't a windling will probably want this talent, though it isn't necessarily a requirement.
  • First Impression - This is a generally good talent for nearly any character due to the broad usefulness, but especially anyone who wants to be a more social character and fast talk their way out of problems.
  • Great Leap - Useful for improved mobility in combat (to engage and disengage) and to help quickly gain access during an intrusion.
  • Melee Weapons - You are likely going to want one of the three weapon talents. There is a much more in-depth discussion above, but this is the offensive choice.
  • Missile Weapons - The second of the three weapon talents, of which you are going to want one. This is the most defensive choice, see above for a more detailed discussion.
  • Sprint - Mostly useful for mobility in combat and making an escape.
  • Surprise Strike - Combat specialists will definitely want this talent. Other character types may consider it, but may not get as much use out of it. This is particularly true if your group doesn't have a character with Distract and/or you are using Missile Weapons and cannot benefit from Conceal Object to reestablish surprise.
  • Taunt - Primarily beneficial to combat specialists, but the nature of the talent means the entire group will benefit from the debuff.
  • Throwing Weapons - The final of the three weapon talents, of which you are going to want one. This is the the balanced choice, though it has some unique problems which you can read more about above.
Outside of actually playing and figuring out which talents will best fit your character, play style, and the campaign you are a part, there are a few different generic "builds" which can help show off themes and different decisions.

There are a lot of different ways to put together a Thief, even with the same end goal, to the point where trying to do example builds is almost a folly. Nonetheless, I will give it a shot, though these are are by no means definitive even within their own specialization. Let's look at a combat specialist (bravo), con man, infiltrator, and the jack of all trades.

Bravos are going to want Melee Weapons because of the damage potential. Defense is an issue, so Avoid Blow is a must. Add Surprise Strike for additional damage and Taunt as a solid debuff. This character isn't going to have much in the way of mobility and will rely heavily on either an ally with Distract or Conceal Object to get their Surprise Strike damage. At low Circles, they will likely be one of the biggest damage dealers in the group.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a con man will either want Missile Weapons or Throwing Weapons, depending on their taste (I prefer Throwing Weapons so people don't necessarily know you are armed). First Impression is going to be your primary talent as a social character and Taunt is a good addition to build on what should be a good Charisma. From here, there are a lot of different ways to go - a Throwing Weapons character may consider Surprise Strike, while someone looking to save their own hide may consider Avoid Blow, Great Leap, or Sprint. Climbing is also a good talent if you need to break in to do your con.

The infiltrator is about being a somewhat traditional Thief, getting in and getting out (hopefully) unnoticed. Any weapon talent will suffice for combat and Climbing and Great Leap will help give access to the target. The final talent is open here as well, depending on preferences. Avoid Blow and Surprise Strike can each help in combat, while Sprint will give even more mobility for escapes and when you must cross a lot of ground in very little time.

As usual, jack of all trades wants to do be involved in the most parts of the game with their talents, rather than follow a particular theme. This means the talent selection will depend heavily on what the rest of the group looks like. However, for general participation, Climbing, First Impression, a weapon talent, and Surprise Strike will maximize the number of ways to contribute and the general Thief flavor. There is nothing here to help you with defense, so make sure to hang out with big friends or keep your distance.
  • Blade Juggle - This is a cool, but weird and a little complicated talent. The complexity has been reduced in ED4, but it is still present. If you take this, you are going to want to carry around a bunch of melee and throwing weapons, so it will likely appeal most to adepts with one of those talents, but technically anyone can benefit. 
  • Call Missile - Throwing Weapon characters who haven't solved the problem of thread weapons may want to invest in this talent.
  • Dead Fall - While not typically something PCs engage in, this talent now makes anyone affected leave your "corpse" alone. Even thinking they have stabbed you to make certain you are dead, if that is their thing. This talent is generally best for some outside of the box problem solving.
  • Direction Arrow - Odds are good you have wanted to find something at some point and this may be just the talent to help.
  • Disguise Self - One half of the impersonation combo, this is the most useful of the two for infiltration and exfiltration, as well as losing pursuers in a crowd.
  • Graceful Exit - This talent allows the Thief to retreat and now can take all of their allies with them. Much like Dead Fall, this isn't necessarily a go to move for a PC, but may be valuable for some games.
  • Mimic Voice - If you already have Disguise Self and want to go full impersonation, this is the second talent to seal the deal. The amount of trouble which can be caused by those two talents is amazing.
  • Second Weapon - Every melee combat specialist will want this talent. It doubles their offensive output and maintains a higher initiative since they won't have a shield. Two-handed weapons are always an option for greater damage, but they have rather high strength requirements and cannot be concealed, making Surprise Strike more difficult to rely upon.
  • Spot Armor Flaw - It is entirely possible every Thief will want this talent. It is a general damage increasing talent and works with all of the fighting styles.
  • True Sight - If you want to work against other sneaky characters or have problems with illusions, this is a solid choice.
Returning to the above example builds, a bravo will want Blade Juggle, Second Weapon, and Spot Armor Flaw to give defense and significantly more offense. Blade Juggle may not be for everyone, it is a little weird and doesn't work with Second Weapon, which leaves at least one open option. Graceful Exit could work for those who also feel discretion can be the better part of valor, or Disguise Self will help in getting next to their target. Returning to the Novice talent options is also a viable choice to pick up something which will improve mobility (Great Leap or Sprint), or help with infiltration (Climbing or Great Leap).

The con man is all about being a trickster, so Disguise Self and Mimic Voice are a must. This still leaves some options and there are quite a few ways to go from this tier, let alone looking back at Novice if something from their would be a good fit. Journeyman talents worth considering are Blade Juggle for some defense, Dead Fall and/or Graceful Exit to get away from your mess, Spot Armor Flaw for a little offensive power, or True Sight to help you from being conned.

Infiltrators are going to want Direction Arrow and Disguise Self. From there it starts to diverge. Graceful Exit will help with getting out of trouble and Mimic Voice can give even more access. Spot Armor Flaw is a solid talent if you see combat and True Sight, well, you never know when it will be useful. Dead Fall is also a potential if there is use in playing opossum, or Second Weapon if you are a melee character and want to really have some offensive bite.

The eclectic nature of jack of all trades makes this a difficult proposition and it also starts to depend on what the original weapon selection was. However, there are still some solid choices to be made here: Disguise Self and Spot Armor Flaw are simply worth taking. If no one else in the group has it, Direction Arrow is also useful and if you are a melee character, Second Weapon is a good choice for fun. If you don't go with Second Weapon, Blade Juggle is the other talent to win on cool factor, though I don't recommend combining the two since they are mutually exclusive and you aren't as dedicated to combat as the Bravo. Going back to Novice and investigating talents like Great Leap and Taunt may also be worthwhile.

Ultimately, Thief is a very versatile discipline which has a lot of different tricks at their disposal.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Thief how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of Thief. Example characters: ork and windling.