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.

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