07 November 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 11 - Sky Raider

This is the eleventh 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 changes to Sky Raiders in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) are rather subtle, but have some greater implications to them. The most immediately notable is Air Sailing is no longer a discipline talent. More subtly, Shield Bash (once Shield Charge) is no longer a discipline talent, replaced by Fire Heal.

This is another problematic discipline. Unlike Cavalryman, it isn't the mechanics, but the accessibility. There can be Cavalrymen everywhere, but hauling their mount around is troublesome. Sky Raiders have a great mechanical theme, but their inclusion in the setting is very limited - they are pretty much synonymous with crystal raiders. Including a non-troll Sky Raider may require back story contortions, pleading, and some leniency from a GM. Which is a bad place to be for one of the core disciplines.

Changing Shield Bash to a talent option was an easy, if not necessary decision. As it was, Sky Raiders were forced into either using a shield, or being forced into investing in a talent which they would never use. This opens the discipline up for the entirely appropriate character who uses a two-handed weapon; embracing the adage the best defense is a good offense.

Including Fire Heal was part of the thematic focusing which happened for every discipline during development. Simply, it is a great fit for the discipline. There is mechanical synergy between it and Fireblood - one of the signature Sky Raider talents. Even more important, it supports the overall themes and feel of the Sky Raider. Fire is a strong elemental connection and part of the overall aggression. The concept of a group of Sky Raiders performing Fire Heal as part of a pre-raiding ritual to grant strength is a powerful image - forging bonds in addition to being quite practical.

Moving Air Sailing from the discipline talents to talent options does two useful things: it removes the obligation for players to take a talent they may never use and is the first step in divorcing the mechanics from the lore. They now become a useful discipline for anyone who wants to create a very aggressive adept; perfect for raiders anywhere.

There are still vestiges of the origins in their talent options, Air Sailing and Wind Catcher. Similar to Air Sailor, these can be adapted. Water-based raiders would use Pilot Boat/Sailing and Swimming, and for land-based raiders they would use Trick Riding and Tracking. Half-magic can be adapted to caravan and river trade routes. Even Sky Weaving can easily become Raid Weaving.

The goal here is not to inherently change the landscape of Barsaive, but instead to make a discipline with solid flavor and mechanics more accessible to any interested player. If you want an adept who is all about offense, intimidation, and mobility, there is almost certainly something here for you.


First Circle
  • Battle Shout
  • Climbing
  • Fireblood
  • Melee Weapons
  • Sky Weaving
  • Durability 7
Second Circle
  • Great Leap
Third Circle
  • Wound Balance
  • Karma: Recovery Tests
Fourth Circle
  • Fire Heal

Fifth Circle
  • Battle Bellow
  • Overwhelming Force: The adept no longer takes Strain when using the Aggressive Attack combat option. If another effect grants the same bonus, the adept instead reduces the penalties by 1. 
  • Karma: Damage tests using melee or thrown weapon at or above the adept's one-handed size limit.
Sixth Circle
  • Steely Stare
Seventh Circle
  • Down Strike
Eighth Circle
  • Momentum Attack
Offense: it isn't just a Sky Raider's default move, it is nearly their only move. Which means an encounter with a one of these adepts is almost certainly going to be harrowing because they are going to come hard and fast. Their Journeyman ability means they can aggressively attack all of the time, relying on Battle Shout and Battle Bellow to both reduce their opponent's offense and defense. This allows them to mitigate the downside of aggressive attacks by reducing their opponent's ability to capitalize on it, while maximizing their own benefit by reducing their opponent's ability to defend. Not only are they powerful, but Fireblood along with Fire Heal give them staying power like few others.

There is no slowing down the freight train which is a Sky Raider, and there is also no escaping them. They are the shock troopers of Earthdawn and coupled with all of their offensive power is superior mobility. Climbing and Great Leap ensure there is little which can keep them away, and Sprint as a talent option gives them access to just about anywhere on the battlefield.

In combat, Sky Raiders want to stay on the offense as much as possible and keep the on the pressure. The diminishing returns on Battle Shout means you want to seal the deal as soon as possible and quickly move on to a new opponent. While there is very little a Sky Raider cannot overpower, you need to be careful about getting tied up against something you cannot overwhelm and outlast. Even apex predators know better than to mess with the proverbial badger.

By using your mobility to its fullest, you can easily retreat from an engagement which is not going in your favor, heal if needed, and find a new target. Opposing skirmishers and others who are prone to going after your supporting allies are prime candidates for a Sky Raider's particular brand of shock and awe.
  • Air Sailing - Adepts who want to be a crystal raider will want this talent. Everyone else will either pass or consider an alternative (see above).
  • Air Speaking - Useful for communicating during combat and while plummeting through the clouds to a target beneath you.
  • Avoid Blow - One of the few defensive talents available to Sky Raiders. The upside is penalties while using Aggressive Attack do not apply. However, the downside is the other Sky Raiders may make fun of you for dodging.
  • Danger Sense - If you are the primary combatant in your group, it can be important to always be on guards.
  • Navigation - Characters who are either wilderness types or involved in raiding may be interested in this talent. However, if someone in your group already has it, this doesn't tend to be a talent more than one person needs.
  • Shield Bash - If you are using a shield, this is worth taking. It is much easier for you and your friends to attack people who are on the ground.
  • Throwing Weapons - As long as the weapon is big, Sky Raiders can apply their karma ability for damage to Throwing Weapons. If you do pick up this talent, it needs to be regularly improved to remain competitive.
  • Unarmed Combat - Similar to Throwing Weapons with regard to improvement, though any t'skrang will almost certainly want this talent to make use of their tail combat.
  • Wilderness Survival - It is a generally useful talent to have and fits the "barbarian" theme which the Sky Raider can be used to model.
  • Wind Catcher - This is generally how crystal raiders launch their attacks - death from above. It is incredibly impressive and likely terrifying to be on the receiving end.
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.

Crystal raider is the classic version of this discipline and the archetype. Characters looking for this will want Air Sailing and Wind Catcher at a minimum. From here, there are a few directions to go. Avoid Blow is a must for anyone who wants to include some defense in their arsenal, and Shield Bash is a winner if you have a shield. If you want to play up the air sailing angle, Air Speaking and Navigation will be useful. The former setup will have a stronger combat angle, while the latter will be a good setup for a future leader.

If you want a classic "barbarian" with a big weapon, Avoid Blow, Danger Sense, Navigation, and Wilderness Survival. This will solidly put you at home in the wilderness and more defensive options. If you are using the alternate talent options, this would be a prime candidate to pick up Tracking (swapping for Wind Catcher) instead of Navigation.

The "jack-of-all-trades" who wants to have the most to do in the most situations will generally skew towards combat talents, while cherry-picking some of the better adventuring talents. Shoring up weaknesses is always important for this kind of character, which means Avoid Blow, Sense Danger, and Shield Bash (wanting the extra Physical Defense of a shield) are going to be important. Assuming no one else has it, Wilderness Survival or Tracking (if allowed). However, if you just want some crazy fun - Wind Catcher. It's not going to come up often, but you will feel awesome when it does.
  • Distract - Since you are already a big, threatening target who is drawing most of the attention, you may as well take advantage of this and give your friends some bonuses. Given the defensive limitations, this can be a dangerous talent to use, but quite powerful.
  • First Impression - The basic social talent. Anyone who wants to be involved in social interactions should consider this option.
  • Iron Constitution - Potentially a good to weak talent, depending on how often you see disease and poison in your game. The good news is it the talent is always active and even minimal investment can see benefit.
  • Leadership - Not generally a talent which PCs find useful. However, anyone looking to have their own ship or band will want this talent.
  • Lion Heart - Almost a requirement; it was very nearly a discipline talent, barely edged out by Steely Stare. This is a very useful talent, resisting fear and magic by sheer force of will, and very thematic to most Sky Raiders.
  • Second Weapon - Another attack is always good and even better when it also benefits from Aggressive Attack. If you want this talent, you should plan for it early and let your GM know. It obviously isn't going to work well if you have a two-handed weapon or have invested in Shield Bash.
  • Sprint - Another piece in the mobility puzzle. With this talent, Sky Raiders can project a lot of force nearly anywhere in a combat.
  • Swift Kick - A good talent, but potentially difficult for a Sky Raider to use. Since they don't have anything else which relies on initiative up to Journeyman, they tend to have heavier armor. Also, because they don't have much in the way of other defense. This leads to a lower initiative, making this talent have less availability for use. However, if you spend your time picking on other slow disciplines (Cavalrymen, spellcasters, Weaponsmiths, etc.) and have Tiger Spring, you can get some use here. If you do have this talent, use the Attack to Knockdown combat option.
  • Tactics - Another talent characters shooting for the leadership angle will want. This being said, nearly anyone can benefit from taking this talent as it affects other PCs as well. As long as the plan is being followed. So for a round or two.
  • Tiger Spring - In general, there isn't a lot of benefit from this talent. It's fun to go earlier, but it isn't free and you are probably wearing enough armor to be fighting for the end of the order. It may pay off later down the road, however, and is a requirement if you want Swift Kick.
Looking at the three archetypes we have, a crystal raider shock trooper will want Lion Heart, Sprint, Swift Kick, and Tiger Spring. Their goal is to hit fast and hit hard. Lion Heart helps against any shenanigans the opposition may try to pull, while the other three are important for dominating the tempo of the conflict. If you want Second Weapon, eschew Lion Heart for it. All offense, all of the time.

Characters looking to be a crystal raider leader will be more interested in First Impression, Leadership, Lion Heart, and Tactics. This is a big departure, but at this point they are moving into management and while they can still play on the front lines, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Barbarians are similar to the crystal raider shock trooper, but possibly a little more group oriented. Distract, Sprint, Swift Kick, and Tiger Spring are going to be winners. Using an enormous weapon will help with initiative since a shield isn't bringing it down, though this will involve a lower initiative overall. This character is going to play right into the classic trope of the barbarian fearing and hating magic. In no small part because they have no defenses against it, which is just more incentive to use their mobility and power to quickly crush opposing spellcasters.

The jack-of-all-trades has some difficult choices. However, given the basic goals of engaging in the as much of the game as possible, minimizing weaknesses, and enhancing the basic strengths of the discipline, there are some winners. Distract is going to benefit the entire group and the enhanced defense of this character will allow them to deal with the attention better. First Impression will open up social interactions as a possibility. Lion Heart will provide some defense against ongoing control effects. Finally, Sprint will enhance their battlefield mobility even more.

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

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