31 January 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 20 - Nethermancer Part 2, Talents

This is the twentieth 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.

A great deal of the flavor for a spellcaster comes from their spell selection and Nethermancer is no exception. However, one of the goals for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) was to make talents more relevant to spellcasting disciplines. To do this, the discipline talents and talent options were evaluated for how appropriate they are and how useful they are.

Nethermancers have a unique connection to the astral plane, which is emphasized by the association with spirits and somewhat alien demeanor. Their discipline talents changed only a little from Earthdawn Third Edition (ED3), beyond the larger talent shifts and movements. Frighten was moved to first circle with the extra space from the shift in Karma Ritual and the spell matrices. Steel Thought was added as a discipline talent and its omission previously was somewhat glaring. Valid arguments can be made for it to be at first circle, but Frighten became their iconic talent and will still take a little while for Steel Thought to come into its own.

Journeyman discipline talents were shifted around as part of the general spellcaster update: everyone gets Willforce and Hold Thread. Willforce is a talent every spellcaster is going to take and there is no reason to think otherwise. Having it as a talent option prevented karma use in ED3, but with those changes it was effectively removing another talent option (we all know one talent option is going to be taken by Enhanced Matrix). This is basically embracing the inevitable. Hold Thread was made available to every spellcasting discipline at because it is a basic and useful trick all of them would develop.

With these two additions, there were going to be cuts. Spirit Dodge was easy since it was already slated for destruction. Part of simplifying the game was to remove some redundant talents. While Spirit Dodge wasn't identical to Avoid Blow, it existed for only one discipline (taking up precious space) and did no favors to the design space for other disciplines and spells. Lifesight was only a little more difficult, but it still lives on as a talent option. It was cut over Orbiting Spy because it was less thematic and not a talent most players seemed to use with any frequency.

Talent options have been redeveloped to emphasize their role as researchers into particularly esoteric areas of magic, their connection with spirits, as well as dark and creepy things. While there have been more changes to talent options than to discipline talents, things should still be familiar. The largest change has been the wholesale removal of the animal related talents. These never quite fit with the other talents and gave the discipline too much emphasis on worldly things.

Significant new additions are the Command Nightflyer and Dispel Magic spells, which were turned into talents. Other changes include: Avoid Blow, which is available at an early point to interact with Shield Mist; Suppress Curse has been moved to Novice to help Nethermancers deal with all of the terrible things they play with (notably including Horror powers - Dispel Magic is not going to help you against those at all); Blood Share was pushed back a tier to Journeyman, which is its new tier in general; Astral Interference is a new talent which hinders other spellcasters - it is mostly a Wizard talent, but Nethermancers have a strong connection to all things astral and do some cutting edge work with spellcaster; Tenacious Weave is similar, though it helps to resist against Dispel Magic; while not as bookish as Wizards, Nethermancers can still be scholarly and Research is a fitting addition to support the theme; Spirit Mount was added as it ties into spirits and summoning; Item History was removed because Nethermancers aren't as interested in physical objects; and Elemental Tongues was removed because it simply isn't their thing.

Nethermancers are interested in pushing boundaries and the forbidden. They walk the dark and dangerous paths. If the idea of playing a character who is a pariah by their own choice and may be in danger of falling to that which they strive against appeals to you, this may be your discipline.


First Circle
  • Astral Sight
  • Frighten
  • Nethermancy
  • Patterncraft
  • Spellcasting
  • Durability 3
Second Circle
  • Steel Thought
Third Circle
  • Spirit Talk
  • Karma: Once per turn on any Action test against a Horror, Horror construct, or undead target.
Fourth Circle
  • Spirit Hold

Fifth Circle
  • Summon [Ally Spirits]
  • Blood Summon: Take blood magic damage equal to the strength of the spirit being summoned to gain an additional success on a Summon test. The blood magic damage may only be healed a full day after the spirit has left the Nethermancer’s service.
  • Karma: Spend a karma point to increase one penalty from a spell you are casting by 2.
Sixth Circle
  • Willforce
Seventh Circle
  • Orbiting Spy
Eighth Circle
  • Hold Thread
The three major themes for Nethermancer talents are spellcasting, spirits, and astral space. These are all intertwined, but are expressed distinctly. Their spellcasting talents are shared by all other spellcasters: Hold Thread, Nethermancy (Thread Weaving), Patterncraft, Spellcasting, and Willforce. For spirits they have all of the basic summoning talents (Spirit Hold, Spirit Talk, and Summon) as well as Orbiting Spy. Astral themed talents are a little more nebulous, but stem from their unique relationship with astral space and the forces they traffic with. Supporting this theme are Astral Sight, Frighten, and Steel Thought.

They have a versatile set of abilities through their talents, though aren't particularly adept at combat - having only defenses against mystic attacks. Frighten gives them early access to a powerful debuff effect which can effectively be employed outside of combat. Their summoning suite is one of the most powerful tools in their arsenal, which they can improve with their Journeyman ability. It generally requires advance planning to get the most out of it, but it has almost unlimited versatility.

Some of their discipline talents have gone through revision during the development for ED4. Frighten no longer forces a particular kind of reaction, but instead provides penalties which may result in the target fleeing because there is no way they can win at that point. This change was made because it's not fun to be forced to run away. Perhaps it doesn't fit the character's personality or never running away is a core trait. Used in the right situation, it can still provide the same benefit, but it no longer ties the hands of everyone involved. 

Patterncraft represents a new take on Read and Write Magic. It has subsumed and expanded the scope of the previous talent, now representing a great deal more. For right now, the practical difference hasn't changed, but the design space has been opened considerably and there are plans (plans) to take advantage of this.

Summoning as a whole has seen a complete shift. It now takes at least 30 minutes and there is benefit to summoning less powerful spirits because you can get more out of them. The process has been streamlined and made much less disruptive to the game. Spirits will no longer be able to replace the rest of your group, but they will still be valuable tools. Ones which are summoned for a very specific task.

The final big change is to Willforce. This used to be good for both improving and resisting magic, which was quite a bit for a must have talent which only costs 1 strain. Now it is more in-line with talents like Crushing Blow and Flame Arrow where it improves the effect test. There are still plenty of effect tests beyond just damage, but the number of them has been scaled down considerably. During playtests, this was actually considered a boon as paying the strain to use Willforce to use the spell which had already been cast felt like a tax in retrospect. The other piece of Willforce has been broken out into other talents, of which Lion Heart is a notable example.

In addition to their talents, they have karma abilities and a Journeyman ability. Their third circle karma ability reflects their emphasis on Horrors and their creations. While they aren't always the most pleasant to be around, very few are as familiar with these opponents as Nethermancers who have learned from them and adapted more than a few of their powers. Which just makes them even creepier, seriously folks. Every spellcaster has a fifth circle karma ability which enhances their spellcasting in a unique fashion. For Nethermancers it "improves" the penalties they dole out. This plays up the negative energy to their spellcasting and the themes of them handing out lots of debuffs.

For their Journeyman ability that can improve a summon for the cost of some blood. Summoning is an important part of this discipline, even compared to other disciplines which are summoners. Additionally, blood is a key thematic component to much of what they do. This ability brings both of those together and gives them some additional power when they need it, particularly when working with spirits at the edges of their abilities. An additional success means another hour of service. Expensive, but it can make a big difference.
  • Arcane Mutterings - A more subtle version of Frighten. Most Nethermancers will likely get by just fine the default tool at their disposal, but some may want other options on how to disconcert the person opposite them.
  • Avoid Blow - Something every Nethermancer should at least consider. Along with this consideration should also come the awareness this will be a constant investment to keep it useful. The Shield Mist spell can be applied to make it even more useful. The only notable change to this talent is it is no longer more difficult to use against ranged attacks. A change made because it only complicates what is already a branch from the main action. These tests should be short and to the point.
  • Awareness - Similar to Avoid Blow, every adept should at least think about this talent. Even if there are other characters who will constantly be improving it. If there simply isn't the space to allow for it with the other talent options, it can be had as a skill, particularly with starting skill ranks. This is sort of a new talent, but mostly an update to ED3's Search. It has a wider application and no strain. The scope was increased so it better fills the gaps for what were previously perception-only tests and the Strain was removed because it was a little silly. Strain was a cost to prevent constantly testing Search, looking for the test result which will find everything. The practical resolution is to just have a single Awareness test for the scene and letting it apply, whether it is needed or not. This can keep players on their toes and burn out a little more karma.
  • Command Nightflyer - This used to be a spell and is actually quite a good fit as a talent. It functions similarly to existing animal talents and creates a base for which the new spell system can interact more functionally. If you like the idea of having nocturnal flying critters at your disposal (and people thinking you are even more creepy), this talent will appeal to you.
  • Dispel Magic -  Another spell which is now a talent. Changing it to a talent which can affect spells moves spells from a different system, apart but above, to simply a strange extension of talents. This has the ripple effect of potentially giving other disciplines access to Dispel Magic, particularly through Versatility. If you are dealing with spellcasting opponents, this is a useful tool against them. However, if you don't believe you will regularly encounter them, there are likely more useful talents as this one is a legend point sink to keep it competitive.
  • Read and Write Language - Particularly scholarly Nethermancers may be interested in this talent, or those who engage in some espionage. Which is a particular set of skills which Nethermancers can excel if they put their mind (and talent options) to it.
  • Speak Language - Similar to the written version, this will appeal to both scholars and those who gather secrets. Both can be had as skills if there simply isn't the room, though the disadvantage is you cannot learn a language on the spot as a skill.
  • Standard Matrix - Almost certainly the first talent option every Nethermancer takes.
  • Stealthy Stride - There are many reasons to take this talent and it is likely to be a popular choice. Who doesn't like to go on the black op? It also plays into the ability for Nethermancers to become effective at espionage, particularly with a number of their spell selections. The notable change here is this talent now applies to hiding, not just sneaking.
  • Suppress Curse - This acts as a poor man's Dispel Magic (only temporarily cancelling an effect), but it is one of the few abilities which can affect Horror powers. If you are looking for a defense against them, this is one of your only options. The scope of this talent has been expanded and is now a useful counterpart to Dispel Magic, instead of the thing plebes get.
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. The builds I will be looking at are the researcher, spy, walker, and jack-of-all-trades.

Researchers are primarily interested in advancing magic and studying astral space. These characters will tend towards a more subtle approach and others may never realize they are Nethermancers at all. They also have the most tools to bring to bear against other spellcasters. These adepts will want Arcane Mutterings, Dispel Magic, Read and Write Language, and Standard Matrix for their talent options. Of these, Arcane Mutterings and Read and Write Languages can be exchanged based on preference without betraying the core of the concept (if such a thing can really exist for an example). Suppress Curse would be the first alternate for dealing with dangerous magics, particularly of Horror origin, and Awareness would be the next best replacement.

The spy is based around leveraging the Nethermancer's affinity for darkness and forbidden places and things to learn information and gain access to otherwise impenetrable locales. They are unlikely to work alone, since their abilities don't offer all of tools to deal with problems on the fly. Summon can be used to fill many of their gaps if they know ahead of time and can plan accordingly. The unique abilities they bring should make them welcome additions to any black op. Talent options spies will want are Command Nigthflyer, Speak Language, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride. Of these, Speak Language can be traded for either Awareness or Avoid Blow based on needs and preferences.

Walker is short for "walker in darkness", which sounds all badass and is pretty much what this character is about. They are the Nethermancers who go out and put their abilities to use against Horrors. On the whole, I wouldn't give them an extremely high life expectancy. But you're not like those other guys, you're different. Walkers will want Avoid Blow, Awareness, Standard Matrix, and Suppress Curse. You may be tempted to switch Suppress Curse for Stealthy Stride so you can have the name be literal - I wouldn't suggest it, you're going to want someone who can make the Horror powers go away for at least a little while.

As usual the jack-of-all-trades wants to be a part of the story above and beyond all else. Contribution is king. For them Avoid Blow, Awareness, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride are likely the top selections. However, Stealthy Stride can easily be changed out for your talent option of choice if it simply doesn't fit your goals. Command Nightflyer, Dispel Magic, and Suppress Curse are all excellent replacements, depending on which direction you want to go. Of them Command Nightflyer is notable for its unique inclusion in the Nethermancer talent list and the number of spells it interacts with. It didn't make the default suggestion since it requires you to want to invest in having it in the first place and this may not be for every play.
  • Astral Interference - Nethermancers do not get quite the mileage from this talent that Wizards get due to their spell support. There are cases and campaigns where this is useful, particularly if you are dealing with opposing spellcasters quite a bit.
  • Banish - Are your spirits at an all time high? Use Banish to solve all of those problems! If you virtually never encounter spirits, either as distinct opponents or summoned by opponents, then this talent isn't like to help a lot. However, if you do, then this is one of the simplest ways to deal with them.
  • Blood Share - The ability to move damage between characters is a good way to maximize the available healing. Transfer damage to characters with more recovery tests, or away from characters who are Wounded to get them patched up sooner. 
  • Enhanced Matrix - Being realistic, this is the first talent option everyone will be taking.
  • Lifesight - It is easy to see this as Astral Sight's weird cousin, but it does some valuable things which Astral Sight simply doesn't. The most obvious is the information regarding the target's health and gather information about what may be wrong. More subtly, this allows you to see through solid objects as long as they aren't living. This is something which Astral Sight cannot do any longer.
  • Lion Heart - A talent which every character should at least consider. It is quite thematic to Nethermancers, allowing you to resist fear, but it also enhances your Willpower to resist anything which allows for a resistance with the attribute. 
  • Research - If you don't have someone in your group with this talent, you may want to more strongly consider it. Research is quite useful as a stopgap for those knowledge skills you don't have when you have some downtime.
  • Spirit Mount - The ability to summon your own ghostly horse is pretty awesome and is going to make quite the impression. Though it is probably the opposite of subtle - so hopefully you weren't going for that. Honestly, there isn't much I can say about this quite thematic talent. You know if you want it or not.
  • Steely Stare - Nethermancers don't get many ways to contribute in social situations. This is at the fringe of social, but still present. It is a little bit like weaponized creepy or menace in the hands of these adepts. Characters who look for more subtle resolution to potential conflicts, stopping them before they can quite start, may want this talent.
  • Tenacious Weave - If your spells are the victim of Dispel Magic, this should bolster their defenses.
Researchers finally get to live up to their appellation with Astral Interference, Enhanced Matrix, Research, and Tenacious Weave as their talent options. There is a lot of defense against opposing spellcasters to be found here. Of those, Astral Interference can be traded for Lion Heart as a different kind of defense against other spellcasters. It is less proactive and your allies probably won't be as appreciative.

At Journeyman, spies expand what they bring to their particular niche. They move from simple information gathering and infiltration into slightly more esoteric areas. The recommended talent options are Lifesight, Enhanced Matrix, Spirit Mount, and Steely Stare. Lifesight brings the ability to look through walls, the value of which really cannot be overstated for a character like this. Spirit Mount can be critical for making an escape and Steely Stare can help the operation go a little bit further before it all goes wrong and you summon an Astral Maw.

The walker gets a critical talent option here and some reasonable other choices in Banish, Blood Share, Enhanced Matrix, and Lion Heart. It is entirely possible you aren't dealing much with spirits, which opens up your possibilities depending on what you are dealing with frequently. Lots of spellcasters suggests Astral Interference or Tenacious Weave may be called for, while Spirit Mount can solve mobility problems. Steely Stare is generally popular with this type of character, even if Horrors and their ilk don't particularly care.

Even more than usual, the jack-of-all-trades has a lot of different and interesting options. Enhanced Matrix, Lion Heart, Research, and Spirit Mount are a good balance between useful and fun. Of these, Spirit Mount can be exchanged for Steely Stare for good effect.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Nethermancer how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of an Nethermancer.

27 January 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 20 - Nethermancer Part 1, Spells

This is the twentieth 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.

When developing the spell list for Nethermancer's in Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4), there were a few themes which were key. The first is a connection to the astral plane. This influence needed to show on many of their spells. Second was a connection to fear and darkness. This is similar to, but not necessarily the same as, the connection to astral space. Both of these come together to show a discipline which is about treading where others would not and delving perhaps a little too deep. The third theme which stems from the other two is: sinister. Their spells should make you a little uneasy and question what they are willing to do for their power.

Mechanically, they can do a lot of different things. They have access to healing spells (one of two disciplines in the Player's Guide) and a variety of combat spells. Since combat is a thing, they have access to good damaging spells - all of which deal Mystic damage - and probably the widest variety and some of the best debuffs available. They don't have as much synergy with the rest of their group as the Elementalist, but their spells tend to reinforce their own abilities more. For example, Arrow of Night, Night's Edge, and Spirit Dart all reduce Mystic Armor, of which a Nethermancer is very well positioned to take advantage.

They also gain access to some powerful summon spells which have much less complex mechanics. Instead of bringing a new creature into play, they have an effect which persists until either the duration wears out or a specific condition is met. Along with these (and frequently in the same spell matrix), there are also a number of new binding spells along the same lines as what is seen in the Elementalist spell list. They just tend towards being much more unwholesome.

Many of their spells have a connection with Horrors and their constructs. They may be directed towards them, interact with them in some fashion, or be adapted from their powers. This along with their astral theme were some important ways to distinguish Nethermancers from Wizards. There is a great deal of similarity between the two disciplines and their capabilities. Creating a some clear distinctions between the two and what they can do (not just how their spells appear and feel) was not an easy task. 

First Circle

Astral Spear: Though it is available at first circle, this spell really comes into its own once an Enhanced Matrix is available. It is one of the few spells which doesn't do anything particularly interesting, except for having a long range (40 yards), good damage (WIL+4), and increasing damage with additional successes. The applications are pretty straight forward from there and will likely be a key part of a Nethermancer's combat suite at Journeyman (or whenever they get an Enhanced Matrix).

Bone Circle: On its own, this doesn't do much. It is, however, a spell on which other spells build. Every Nethermancer will want this eventually, but there isn't much of a rush to get it right out of the gate. Those who operate in a limited geographic area will want this even more and like have them spread out. This was originally a second circle spell, but was moved earlier to make it a more fundamental part of a Nethermancer's repertoire; something many Nethermancers learn as a part of their initiation, even if they aren't able to utilize it quite yet.

Dark Messenger: If you have the Command Nightflyer talent, you should eventually pick this spell up as it will probably come in handy. If you don't have Command Nightflyer, there is nothing to see here. This used to be a third circle spell, but was moved to first for some early synergy with Command Nightflyer and because it isn't quite as powerful as other third circle spells - it is right on par with enhancing Command Nightflyer.

Ethereal Darkness: Descend the area into impenetrable darkness which only you can see through? Great for you, not so great for anyone else. When used carefully, this is quite useful. When used indiscriminately, your allies may not appreciate the things you do very much and act accordingly. Another spell from second circle which was moved to first. This is in part to give a stronger connection to darkness at an earlier circle and also because the effect of this spell isn't quite up to the use of other second circle spells.

Experience Death: So dangerous, but so useful and so much fun. For the player and the GM. Every Nethermancer should probably have this spell and should always have second thoughts whenever they use it, which is every chance they get and almost certainly more than they should. Just remember when casting this spell: use your grimoire and increase the effect as much as you can. You should probably drop karma on the Spellcasting test as well. You are going to need that buffer.

Life Circle of One: To be clear, this is a good spell. However, this spell is best used before combat. Casting it during combat is a tricky proposition because of the size (4-yard radius) and positioning - it is entirely possible the very entities you are trying to keep out may wander inside before the spell is done. It also isn't going to help any characters who engage in close close combat, or protect against ranged attacks. If you do have time to prepare, this spell can definitely be an important line of defense. It is just important to keep its limitations in mind as well.

Shadow Meld: It's a bonus to Stealthy Stride, a talent which someone in your group is bound to have (even you!) and it is always better to mitigate the chances of getting caught as much as possible. The effect is no longer a replacement for sneaking, but an enhancement. This is part of the larger decision to remove replacement effects from spells, making talents more important to spellcasters (like other adepts). In addition to the bonus of making spellcasters less of their own thing, it also means the problems which arise from spells replicating talents (only better) are also gone. See D&D 3E if you have any questions on that particular topic. This used to be a third circle spell, but like Ethereal Darkness, establishing the connection to darkness earlier is important. Also, with the change in the effect (enhancement instead of a replacement) it didn't warrant being such a comparatively high circle.

Soul Armor: A bonus to Mystic Armor with a default duration in minutes. What isn't to like here? Every Nethermancer should have this spell, or pretend like it doesn't exist so they don't have to face reprisal from their group. A bonus to Mystic Armor isn't as important at the Novice circles, also when you don't have many matrices to go around. However, starting at Journeyman, this starts to become very relevant. When last seen, this was a sixth circle spell and it is pretty far from home. While a slightly more powerful version could be at home there, this would put it very close to Circle of Astral Protection, which has a remarkably similar effect. This is also a connection to astral space, a theme which could use a little reinforcing early on, and there was an opening for a buff spell at first circle. The parallels between Elementalist and Nethermancer were somewhat deliberate as mechanically they are mirrors - one is physical, the other mystic, one specializes in buffs, the other debuffs, etc. Having a counterpart to Air Armor seemed fitting.

Soulless Eyes: It's remarkably hard to get bonuses to intimidation, so this new spell was created to fill this perceived gap. It fits nicely in the Nethermancer's capabilities and makes a general tool a little more accessible for a group. As far as new spells go, I doubt this is going to make anyone excited to see it exist, but I also have a feeling it will appear in many Nethermancer spell lists.

Spirit Dart: This is going to be your primary attack spell for a quite a while - you should get to know each other. While the damage isn't terribly impressive (WIL+2), this is a mystic analog to Earth Darts, inflicting a short term penalty to the target's Mystic Armor. Which means you should be reaping some extra damage on subsequent rounds. The fact it targets Mystic Armor over Physical Armor (and Mystic Defense over Physical Defense) means it will be absurdly effective for quite a while - low circle opponents tend to have little Mystic Armor to speak of, just look at your allies' character sheets. The analog to Earth Darts was a deliberate choice given the similarity in names and how the two disciplines related to each other.

Spirit Grip: Very similar to Spirit Dart, but pretty much everyone will benefit from the debuff while Spirit Dart is likely to only help you. The major downside here, huge, is the range: touch. This is playing with fire, but good for everyone. The original version of this spell was big damage for the risk, but this made it stand out too much from the other spells and simply didn't feel right. The penalties play more into Nethermancer debuffs and how they help the entire group makes it quite tempting. There was also some prohibitions previously about where it could be used. These were needlessly punitive for a spell which wasn't particularly powerful nor warranted by the flavor (drawing power from the dead, that's all?). Not to mention the idea of sacred ground being a little out of place in the setting and protection from a Life Circle of One implying a connection to Horrors which was dubious.

Second Circle

Aspect of the Fog Ghost: This is the first of the Nethermancer's binding spells, a new type of spell introduced in ED4. The idea is to summon and bind a spirit to a willing target. They gain some specific benefits (generally quite powerful), but also have some prohibitions in behavior. Here the target gains bonuses to close combat attack and damage, and Physical Defense. They also are urged to attack the nearest target. If they the urge, the spirit departs rather upset (probably vengeful). The bonuses are quite large for only one thread, but there is a downside. As I have seen it used, "pull pin, throw Sky Raider". An added benefit is this can be in the same spell matrix as Summon Fog Ghost, being only a variation on the other spell. If you have one, you may as well have the other.

Chilling Circle: The only area effect damage spell with no threads. It is also one which cannot benefit from Willforce and scales only with the Nethermancer's circle. Still, the damage does automatically improve with circle, it has a duration in minutes, and it also halves the movement rate of those affected, which makes this a good choice to use in conjunction with running away. This used to be a first circle spell and a pretty bad one at that. It was moved to second circle to reflect its improved capabilities and to take some of the combat spells away from first circle - particularly an area of effect spell.

Death's Head: Frighten got a lot more useful with this spell as it allows the talent to be used as a Simple action. For 0 threads, this means the debuff will probably be showing up a lot more, probably immediately after casting this spell (for example). Previously, this spell created its own fear effect and was a third circle spell. As discussed previously, I didn't want to use spells to replace perfectly good talents, particularly when they could be used to allow for the talent to be used in a new fashion. Trading a spell matrix for this ability seems like a fair trade for so inclined Nethermancers, particularly with the reduction in easily available spell matrices. Moving from third to second circle was to put a little distance between it and Fog of Fear. Having both spells which improve Frighten at the same circle was too much.

Night's Edge: Along the lines of Flameblade, this spell improves a weapon by adding a cold effect which increases the damage. Unlike Flameblade, the damage is a little less and it decreases the target's Mystic Defense. An effect which definitely helps out someone who almost exclusively targets Mystic Defense! This new spell plays into the Elementalist/Nethermancer reflection thing going on, particularly by adding a debuff which is mechanically thematic and works with the discipline themes of them being a little self-centered, particularly compared to the utilitarian Elementalist.

Shadow's Whisper: Eavesdropping up to 100 yards - unless you are in a dedicated kaer crawling campaign, this is probably going to be useful. However, be aware some targets are likely to notice the eavesdropping. The only noteworthy mechanical change was to remove the effect test entirely and replace it simply with the Spellcasting test. This simplifies things quite a bit at the table by removing an extraneous roll which had little impact on the result. It also gives a more natural progression and scales better with other characters.

Shield Mist: If you have Avoid Blow, you should consider this spell. For 0 threads, you get a +4 to all Avoid Blow tests. The duration cannot be extended into minutes, but with an Enhanced Matrix, the bonus can be boosted to +6. The original version of this spell had a thread and entirely replaced the need for Avoid Blow. In fact, with Willforce, it was significantly better than Avoid Blow (always sporting a +6 bonus and without costing Strain as a default). The thread made casting it in combat difficult due to either taking two rounds, at which point the combat may be practically over when your defenses finally get ready, or it takes up a valuable Enhanced Matrix. Turning this from a talent replacement into a talent enhancement was an easy choice, as was reducing the number of threads, which makes it more available for spellcasters. 

Summon Fog Ghost: Nethermancers' first summoning spell, and it is a pretty good one as long as you are willing to put up with a Fog Ghost cruising around. The spell automatically scales with circle, though you can opt to cast it at a lower circle if you want a lower difficulty number. The damage it inflicts is good without being insane (Circle+10/Mystic), though it attacks every round with the same step. Which is good as long as you aren't near it because it is just angry and will attack whoever is nearest. Previously this generated a creature with a full stat block, but anyone dealing with this in an actual game knows it is just a pain to bring another thing of which to keep track. Dealing with it was simplified to a condition upon which it is banished: If you hit it with a sufficiently powerful attack, it goes away. No tracking anything anymore. It is particularly resistant to physical attacks, but any mystic attack is likely to send it packing in short order. To make it more accessible to a spellcaster, the threads were reduced from 2 to 1; the potential downsides make up for this and the duration has been reduced as well (though some spellcasters may count this as a boon). The fact the spell improves with circle means it is also a viable spell throughout the Nethermancer's career instead of quickly becoming irrelevant as the spirit can no longer hold its own.

Third Circle

Arrow of Night: Any ranged character is likely to greatly appreciate this spell and you are likely to appreciate them using it. This grants a very good (+6) bonus to damage for ranged weapons and inflicts a -2 penalty to Mystic Armor against anyone hit by one of the affected missiles. For 0 threads, this should be on the list of spells for any group which will benefit. Additional successes increase the amount of time before the missile must be used, which goes particularly well with an extra thread to affect Spellcasting rank additional missiles. Or for Archers who have an insane rate of fire. The previous version of this spell, quite simply, wasn't very good. The bonus was better (+8), but it required a thread which makes it more inaccessible to a spellcaster. This is particularly bad since the spellcaster isn't benefiting from the spell in any way and the target has to use the missile within the round (requiring some initiative shenanigans). Trying to use this at the same time as an Archer is fiddling with Anticipate Blow is... not fun. Also, it didn't work with Flame Arrow. The damage was reduced and Mystic Armor reduction was added so the Nethermancer gets something out of it as well.

Aspect of the Bone Spirit: Very similar to Aspect of the Fog Ghost, this is one half of a summon spell (and fits in the same spell matrix). A spell with 1 thread, this gives significant (+4) bonuses to both Mystic Armor and Defense. The downside is you have to do whatever the caster tells you and their bone circle needs to be somewhere near-ish. This more in the vein of Nethermancer's offering astral protection to their allies with a dash of megalomania. A notable fact of this spell: normally, there is a limit of one casting at a time for binding spells. The limit for this spell is the number of bone circles within range.

Aspect of the Cowardly Skulk: A powerful spell for anyone who wants to clandestinely gather information, particularly if they have no interest in combat. There are considerable benefits while being sneaky, but some direct prohibitions against combat at the same time. This is the new third circle spell and it fills an interesting niche by making scouting much easier, but preventing the scouting from quickly turning into violence which only involves a couple of characters. An entire group of sneaky characters may not find a lot of use for this, but if there is only one or two, the encouragement to come back before murdering some people (in addition to making getting caught more difficult) may be important. Best when combined with Shadow Meld.

Fog of Fear: Like Death's Head, this improves upon Frighten by making it affect an area at range. The single thread means it may not really come into its own until an Enhanced Matrix is available, but it makes for a powerful crowd control effect (something which Nethermancers do not have many, in contrast with Elementalists). When used in conjunction with Death's Head, this allows for Frighten to be used every round against everyone in an area, at range, as a Simple action. It takes a little bit to get rolling, but with some prep empirical evidence shows it to be pretty fun. The original version of this spell filled roughly the same niche and pretty much replicated the effects of Frighten. However, it had 2 threads and affected a smaller area. With the removal of forced retreat in favor of just penalties (which for some should result in a retreat), the reduction in threads was easy. It also made the spell much more accessible, which is important. The increase in area makes it much more useful for crowd control as the 2-yard radius was not impressive.

Grave Message: An interesting spell which seems to be used more as a plot device than by PCs. However, it is something which you never know when it will be useful and can convey an important message. Essentially, if you are willing to spend the Legend Points, it is worth picking up - though it may never actually be useful. The differences from when it last appeared are really in the details. This is one of the few spells which naturally scaled with circle, based on the selected difficulty. Converting this to the extra threads mechanic was simple and had the side effect of making greater distances attainable at lower circles, though the greatest distance (100 miles) takes longer. In all, the linear increase is easier to predict. A more important change is removing the restriction on the recipient being a Nethermancer. While it did further the impression of them being an insular discipline, it also made the practicalities of using this utility spell more difficult than they really need to be.

Pain: No threads and this inflicts 2 temporary Wounds and reduces movement. This is a good deal, particularly for keeping a single target away from the caster. Just don't cast it against cadavermen. It makes them angry and you wouldn't like them angry. Compared to the previous version, this took a hit. Being able to effectively lock a target down, particularly once Willforce was available, was just too much for a spell with no threads. There may also have been some arguments about the timing. However, the transition wasn't all bad - the range increased from a paltry 4 yards to 10 yards and it no longer requires any concentration.

Summon Bone Spirit: This is one of the few ways to get a spirit on hand during combat. If you have bone circles strewn about, there is a good chance this spell is going to appeal to you. Unlike in previous editions, the spirit itself scales with circle, no just a few of its attributes. Otherwise, the duration was reduced to reflect the new, more limited summoning mechanics and the range it can go from the caster was increased. Since the spirit is summoned outside of combat when the bone circle is created, the caster should have them on hand instead of needing to get the stats at the time. Because of the prep time, Bone Spirits have the standard complexity, but also a great deal more versatility than other summon spells. It is a trade off, though one which is okay given the prep work required.

Fourth Circle

Aspect of the Menacing Tyrant: The new fourth circle spell and another binding spell. This one is a social buff spell which plays with their themes of fear and dominance. You aren't like to make friends with this spell, in fact you are guaranteed to do the opposite, but it is a great way to get things from people who dislike you immensely. Since it's good to be the king, sometimes the spirit will want to stay and it can be hard to pry it out. Which is to say, unless you have Banish on hand, this may not be the best spell to use repeatedly on a weak-willed character. At the same time, GMs, don't punish players repeatedly with a fun bit of flavor. They did play for it to be helpful and every potential usage shouldn't be accompanied by the thought, "we're going to have to go through all of that again," rather than the fear it might happen this time. The spell was developed to provide some more social options to groups, particularly those who may not have many to begin with. This is a shortcut for them, though with a long-term downside which shouldn't be ignored.

Dark Spy: If you have Command Nightflyer or Animal Bond, this is a spell worth learning to get the most from your talent. Otherwise there isn't much to see here. Zing!

Evil Eye: Do you really love your Frighten talent? Because if you already have Death's Head and Fog of Fear, you will almost certainly want Evil Eye. This 0 thread spell improves the penalties caused by Frighten and stacks with all of the aforementioned spells. Combined with Death's Head and a little preparation, this can be brutal to key opponents. The duration was cut a little from the last edition, as was the effect, but the number of threads was reduced from 2 to 0, which is a big difference. Like many other spells, the goal here was to make it more practical to actually use and enhance what is something of a keystone talent for Nethermancers. They have a lot of different ways to customize the usage of Frighten based on the situation and play style.

Last Chance: Being realistic for just a moment - take this spell. If you don't, your group will heckle you endlessly if they know it exists. Currently, this is the only spell which can be used to bring a character back from death and there aren't many other options in this category. Odds are good you are going to use this spell. Very similar to the last edition, except the bonus has been reduced. This is in part due to scaling from extra threads and additional successes (it can get much larger), but also to make characters choose how much time what other resources they want to spend to make it bigger, versus the one minute time limit.

Nightflyer's Cloak: Like Dark Spy, only a little more up close and personal. If you have Command Nightflyer, you should consider this spell. It may not be worth learning both Dark Spy and this spell since they are so similar in application, though there are times when you may want to be where action is and other times where you want to be nowhere near the action because the action is full of face murder.

Viewpoint: Nothing quite like spying through solid objects with what is basically magical x-ray vision. Nearly any game style will be able to get use from this spell, from kaer crawling to political intrigue. As a personal request, just don't be creepy with it. Please. The number of threads was increased by one from the last edition for minor balance reasons; the spell is powerful enough it shouldn't be something you can cast directly from an Enhanced Matrix without weaving any threads. Also, the effect test was removed in favor of using the Spellcasting roll. This eliminates an extra roll which didn't add anything in particular.

Fifth Circle

Aspect of the Cruel Physician: Confession time: most of the new spells for Nethermancers are binding spells, and this one is no different. Like other binding spells, this comes in at 1 thread and offers a powerful ability at a price. This one is "free" healing in the form of "elective surgery". (Yes, I did enjoy writing the description, why do you ask and what is with the funny look?) This allows the target of this spell to heal their allies with free Recovery Tests (and a +6 bonus!) for the low cost of a Wound. Not a spell which is going to use in most conflicts, it can be incredibly valuable when showing down with something with may just result in a TPK. The cost after the fight is over may be a long recovery, but this spell will help ensure there is a recovery in the first place.

Blind: No threads and it inflicts full darkness penalties on the target. Pretty good, even though the target gets resistance every turn. This can be quite effective against smaller groups of opponents where large penalties make a greater impact. This also stacks with Frighten, a fact which is mentioned for no particular reason. A big change from the 3E version is the number of threads - it used to be three. To go along with that, the duration was a little longer and the effect test was much more difficult to resist. Cutting down the number of threads was a necessity to make this worth casting and along with it went the difficulty. The end result is a spell which is much more useful in combat simply because it can be used before the combat is over. With stacking penalties, this along with Frighten can cripple an opponent.

Circle of Astral Protection: 2 threads is a lot, but the default duration in minutes means this spell benefits characters who are planning in advance. If you are putting up a Life Circle of One, it is probably worth throwing up one of these to go along with it. The previous version had 3 threads and replaced the Mystic Armor. The value it granted would probably be good for anyone who got it, but with a radius of 2-yards, there may be a lot of your friends who are unaffected. The move to a static bonus was just simpler and also prevented Mystic Armor from getting simply insane with a fantastic roll - or wasting all of that time for a terrible result. It also eliminated another roll, making things faster.

Dust to Dust: If you are going to be facing a lot of undead, this is probably the best spell you can have at your disposal. The damage against them is amazing (WIL+8), particularly for a spell which defaults to 0 threads. Additional successes increase the effect and there are threads up to your Spellcasting rank for additional targets which don't count against extra thread limits. If you don't see undead often, there probably isn't much for you here. In a way, this was the first spell to use extra threads, as it had the same effective mechanic for targeting multiple undead. It did a little more damage (+3), however it required a thread for each target (not starting with the first free) and the difficulty increased by one for each target. This niche spell has become quite a bit more useful. It was also moved down a circle as it fits better with the fifth circle effects and specialty spells like this benefit from a little earlier introduction.

Reverse Withering: The countermeasure to Wither Limb. If you even suspect you are going to encounter some jerk who will cast Wither Limb on you, get this spell. The only change in this spell is moving it from seventh circle to fifth. Players - you are welcome. GMs - now you can use this on your players without feeling as much guilt.

Wither Limb: This is a spell best used on someone you don't actually want to kill, it's not a great combat spell since it requires 3 threads and does modest damage for those threads (WIL+6). This is a spell you use on someone you want to suffer, as an intimidation tactic, or on an NPC who you cannot kill for whatever reason. The main change reduced the damage by 2, but with the ability to increase the effect through extra threads and additional successes, dedicated casters will find it even easier to inflict that Wound they want so much.

Sixth Circle

Astral Maw: Similar to Fog Ghost in many ways (most notably the effect test), except it takes an extra thread. Perhaps the most important difference is you can control who this attacks, while the Fog Ghost is indiscriminate. In the negative column, it does require concentration and does physical instead of mystic damage. However, it cannot be banished and it can also eat people with a good roll. It was moved from seventh circle because the effect is powerful, but doesn't quite fit in with the other seventh circle spells. There was also a desire to have a summon type effect at each circle to reinforce that aspect of Nethermancers.

Bone Shatter: For 2 threads, this can be a very powerful spell in the right situation. Like Lightning Bolt, each success allows for an additional effect test. Since it is tested against the highest Mystic Defense, it is best when used against a smaller number of more powerful opponents. This is particularly true since it can affect one target twice (unlike Lighting Bolt), which is rare - multiple "attacks" against a single target is generally in the realm of combat disciplines, while spellcasters work better against multiple different targets. This doubling up along with increased difficulty to knockdown tests from taking a Wound can make this a particularly devastating spell.  However, the ability for additional successes or increasing the effect step through extra threads means it is probably worth waiting just a little bit longer to get this spell off. The damage from the last edition was reduced a little, but the knockdown penalty was increased (to the level which guarantees a knockdown test). It was reduced because even though this spell has been toned down since 1E, it was still just a little too powerful, particularly with the new framework which has been introduced.

Debilitating Gloom: A new spell which provides a debuff combined with area control. It requires 2 threads, which means this isn't necessarily going to be used every conflict. However, the 6-yard radius is quite large and with halved movement it provides some good control. Combine this with the Wounds suffered while in the are will last well beyond the conflict, and this is a great way to soften up the opposition before they get to you, or to even prevent the conflict entirely. In an enclosed area, careful positioning can actually trap your opponents in the area of effect. At this point it becomes a waiting game as they slowly become unable to do anything.

Friendly Darkness: Another 2 thread area of effect spell, though this one is both a debuff and a buff. It inflicts full darkness on the opposition, while allies are immune and gain a small (+2) bonus to a single test. The number of threads probably puts this spell just outside of useful for every encounter, though it is close. For encounters which are likely to go for an extended time, or you need every advantage which can be mustered - then it is a different story. The spell was improved from the previous edition by reducing the number of threads from 3 and increasing the effect - the previous bonus only negated the penalty from darkness, rather than than actually giving a bonus. This makes the spell pretty much better in every way and considerably more attractive given the thread cost.

Recovery: With 1 thread, this healing spell can be effectively used in combat - an important trait in any healing ability. The prohibition on other healing aids is to keep access to healing magic from getting completely out of control and to maintain the value of Air Mattress, Heat Food, and booster potions. Particularly since the improved effect with additional successes and extra threads can make this a very effective healing spell without any additional help. The last version had 3 threads, which didn't make it very useful in combat, but had a crazy effect which replaced the original step (WIL+15!). Combine it with Willforce and resource management through recovery tests becomes almost trivial - also having a step value for recovery tests is simply irrelevant. This was reduced to provide an effective healing option in combat and to provide the possibility for the kind of tension which can only come from having resources slowly drained.

Step Through Shadow: If you have Viewpoint, you should probably also get this spell. It allows you to move between shadows up to 100 yards (more with extra threads) apart. For 2 threads, this can even be used as a solo escape from combat. Just don't even waste time when moving through the portal, because if the duration ends while you are still inside things are going to get ugly. It also has a side effect where astral entities can enter the physical world through the portal, though use of this caries the same admonishment as with Aspect of the Menacing Tyrant - don't over do it. Compared to the previous version, it is all sunshine and roses. One less thread, a slightly longer duration, no longer having to worry about the hazards of astral space while moving through it, and explicit clarification on the other end of the portal. There wasn't much about this spell which needed to be changed, just a little friendlier for use. Also, moving it a circle earlier helps to separate it from the more powerful effect of Spirit Portal (which got pushed one circle back to give more distance between the similar effects).

Seventh Circle

Aspect of the Casual Murderer: One more new binding spell, but not the last. This one offers some significant bonuses against disadvantaged opponents. Pretty much every Thief will want to have this spell during combat as it makes them even better at what they are already good. The downside isn't so bad - it just requires the target to actually cause damage (as PCs, they should be behind this plan) and to attack opponents who are disadvantaged. The latter is only a mild tactical disadvantage, possibly diverting from a "focused fire" strategy over taking out someone who may not be a comparative threat. Still, this can make a big difference.

Astral Beacon: Really, this is a jerk thing to do to someone. It is a lot of threads, but it is a good way to absolutely ruin someone. The end result is the same as if the target had cast a seventh circle spell with raw magic. In safe areas, it's not so bad - but hardly good. But as soon as things get all Horrror-y, damage may be the last of your worries. This spell was changed little from the previous edition, only making it even worse through additional successes and extra threads. If you do this to someone, expect to be removed from their Christmas card list.

Bone Pudding: Another thing to do to someone which is just horribly wrong. At 4 threads, this takes a while to pull off. However, the target is pretty much done. The 3 Wounds are just icing on the cake of no movement and severely curtailed action options. Also, additional successes inflict even more Wounds. Which is what extra threads can do as well. So many Wounds. The previous version had 1 less thread and inflicted 3 more Wounds as a default. However, it was also much less clear as to what it meant by "movement becomes nearly impossible", so the explicit restriction on what you can do is going to be helpful at the table. The number of threads was increased simply because of how devastating this is to pull off - it can effectively end the encounter for the target with a single spell. There should be a significant cost involved in getting there.

Constrict Heart: Like Bone Pudding, this is a 4 thread spell. Based on the name and the number of threads, this should be a clue things are going to get nasty. It requires concentration, but it also does WIL damage each round which is not reduced by anything. Oh yeah, and the target cannot take actions which require them to move. The mitigating effect to this is the target gets to resist against the effect step each round. This is very similar to Bone Pudding and you may feel it is unnecessary to have both of them, though they are different enough to warrant having both if you particularly like these kinds of effects. The previous version of this spell has no threads and a higher effect step (WIL+6), which is way out of balance with the impact it has. The degree of immobilization was also clarified as to what it means - in the previous version it could have meant anything from you don't have a movement rate to you cannot take actions. When balancing this spell, it was important to consider not just players using this against their opponents, but having opponents use this against players. These kinds of considerations are one of the major reasons for incredibly powerful control effects being much more costly, or having their effects reduced. Also why fear effects no longer force the target to run away, but simply provide penalties. Maybe your character never runs, no matter what. Far be it for some ability to force you to compromise your character. Instead, the penalties encourage lesser foes to simply leave since it is only going to get worse, while others simply fight through it. Also, running away for multiple rounds means it may take just as many to get back. At which point the conflict is over. Which is no fun; not making the encounter more difficult, but actually not fun. Which goes back to powerful control effects - making them too cheap and effective makes the encounter less fun for everyone.

Foul Vapors: A control effect with an enormous area (10-yard radius) for 2 threads. Not only does it inflict reasonable damage (WIL+5), but it also causes Harried to anyone who takes damage. Also, the caster is immune. Your friends aren't immune, but you can get new friends, right? All of this comes together to make a particularly effective area control spell which is good in a variety of situations. The number of threads was increased and the radius halved from the previous version because it was a little out of control and clearly put Death Rain to shame. The Harried effect was added to give this a control effect and not just area damage.

Restrain Entity: For 2 threads, this spell gives you a chance to talk or to prepare for when it goes down against Horrors and spirits. After you use this spell, then you break out Life Circle of One and Circle of Astral Protection and just start casting for all you are worth. Unless you simply never deal with Horrors and spirits, you should take this spell. The interval for breaking out was increased from each round to each minute because making a test every. single. round. is. crazy. for. a. spell. with. a. duration. in. minutes. The effect step has mostly been reduced, though it scales with circle. This means the entity is more likely to make a given test, but there won't be so many of the blasted things.

Eighth Circle

Aspect of the Astral Savant: The final new spell and the final binding spell. This is a binding spell which you will probably want to cast on yourself - giving you bonuses to Physical Defense and Astral Sight (which doesn't cost Strain for the duration). The big effect is from using Astral Sight on a target to either gain bonuses against them (Spellcasting and effect tests), or gain some special insight to the pattern. The downside is you are directly exposed to astral space, so you are effectively raw casting a first circle spell each round. This particular spell exists to explore those astral themes a great deal and exactly what a Nethermancer is will to do and expose themselves to for power. The working text had some... colorful... descriptions I had used as placeholders. Actually, this is somewhat true for a lot of things, but particularly this spell. Part of how this spell works is through the assumption Astral Sight offers a filtered view of astral space. Something which our minds can deal with. While this spell, in contrast, gives the whole thing. Which only a crazy person would want to expose their mind.

Horror Call: Learning this spell is almost certainly going to end you up on some Throalic watch list and with good reason - it is only useful for summoning Horrors. There are some uses, such as dealing with a particularly slippery Named Horror once an for all. Previously, it caused permanent damage, but this has been eschewed in favor of the less punitive blood magic damage. The time frame is a year and a day, so it's still relevant, just not a permanent sacrifice for a spell which is already of dubious value. Also, the effect test has been removed in favor of just using the Spellcasting test. One less roll and all that.

Netherblade: This spell allows a weapon to affect astral targets, but no longer affects physical targets. It's a trade off, but it also has no threads and by this point there may be some use in this kind of effect. Generally, it is better to be safe than sorry. Particularly with a duration in minutes. Also, this allows for the damage to be improved with extra threads on the scale of minutes. The previous version had two more threads and some unnecessary complications. Checking against both the target and weapon's Mystic Defense just adds more time when one of the values is right at hand, and the effect test following the Spellcasting test to see if the spell which was successfully cast actually works is just tedious. The spell really isn't powerful enough to warrant all of the extra work. Especially for the two threads and a duration in rounds - by the time it is in the fight, it may be too late and the caster is probably going to be one of the most effective offensively during those rounds when the spell is being prepared. The changes move the spell into useful territory, while the prohibition against affecting physical targets means it isn't likely to be in constant use. Just for special occasions.

Shadow Tether: For 2 threads, you can effectively reduce the movement of Spellcasting rank targets to 0 and inflict Harried on them. This is a particularly effective control spell in no small part due to the selective nature. Each round the do get a Strength test to get free, but it is against your Spellcasting result, so the odds of that working out in their favor at this point aren't so good, even for an obsidiman. The previous version is similar, though it has a duration in minutes, which is too powerful for the number of threads, and an effect test to determine how hard it is to get free. Again, the effect test was eliminated in favor of just the Spellcasting test result to keep things simple.

Spirit Portal: It opens a portal to astral space in a bone circle. You know better than I do if you want to do this (of course you do! You're a Nethermancer and this has "bad idea" written all over it - this is the best thing of which you have ever heard). The only change was removing the Strain from preventing someone from crashing your party. It was just needless bookkeeping.

Wither Away: Another completely terrible thing to do to someone. The primary use for this spell is as leverage, or assassination. This slowly kills the target and there is pretty much nothing they can do about it other than hope they know someone who can dispel it for them.

23 January 2015

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Discipline 19 - Illusionist Part 2, Talents

This is the nineteenth 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.

A great deal of the flavor for a spellcaster comes from their spell selection and Illusionist is no exception. However, one of the goals for Earthdawn Fourth Edition (ED4) was to make talents more relevant to spellcasting disciplines. To do this, the discipline talents and talent options were evaluated for how appropriate they are and how useful they are.

Illusionists have two themes outside of their focus on spellcasting: social interaction and deception. A number of talents which fall into the deception category have had the illusion keyword added to them. This addition mirrors their descriptions and allows more things to interact with talents which affect illusions (e.g. False Sight and True Sight).

An important aspect of the Illusionist is how they go about solving problems (or creating them) - indirectly. Their talents and spells emphasize this and they have many interesting tools at their disposal. One of their strengths is the ability to go largely undetected as their abilities support a subtle approach. The distinct lack of physical defenses should also strongly encourage these adepts to avoid direct confrontation when possible.

The Illusionist is a great fit for anyone who would rather find ways around conflict, and prefers to be subtle over overt. If you want to out think your opponents, this may be for you.


First Circle
  • False Sight
  • First Impression
  • Illusionism
  • Patterncraft
  • Spellcasting
  • Durability 3
Second Circle
  • True Sight
Third Circle
  • Conversation
  • Karma: Interaction tests
Fourth Circle
  • Disguise Self

Fifth Circle
  • Power Mask
  • Glamour: 2 Strain, create an illusionary [figment] to delight and entertain onlookers. Make an Illusionism test against the highest Social Defense in the crowd. If successful, gain a +2 bonus to Making an Impression tests for a number of hours equal to the successes.
  • Karma: +2 to the Effect Step of a spell.
Sixth Circle
  • Willforce
Seventh Circle
  • Hypnotize
Eighth Circle
  • Hold Thread
As discussed above, Illusionists have three different talent areas. The first, and largest, is the general spellcasting talents (Hold Thread, Illusionism, Patterncraft, Spellcasting, and Willforce). After this they have social talents (Conversation, First Impression, and Hypnotize) and their tricksy talents (Disguise Self, False Sight, Power Mask, and True Sight).

It is the third group which is probably the most interesting. They aren't common talents (along with Hypnotize) and have some neat interactions. False Sight, for example, not only improves illusions by making their sensing test more difficult, but it can also improve any talents with the illusion keyword. Conversely, True Sight makes any illusion easier to see through. These talents play up one of the key themes of the Illusionist: the truth through lies.
  • Arcane Mutterings - This is often something of a strange talent, though there are few Illusionists who can put this to good use. It is particularly useful for the ability to potentially head off combat before it starts, which is generally a good idea for this discipline.
  • Astral Sight - A perennial favorite for all spellcasters. If you don't already have it, you should probably consider taking it.
  • Awareness - Similar to Astral Sight, this talent is going to come. The question is if someone else can do the job and are there things you want more.
  • Dead Fall - Normally playing dead doesn't seem like a winning tactic. However, Illusionists can make better use of this talent than most (False Sight) and you never quite know what they will do with it.
  • Mimic Voice - A good pick for a few Illusionist spells and the perfect partner to Disguise Self if you want to actually impersonate someone.
  • Speak Language - If you are the primary social character for your group, which is a possibility, you may consider this talent. For everyone else, the skill will probably suffice unless you have an open option, in which case it never hurts.
  • Standard Matrix - I'm just going to assume everyone takes this talent because: more spells.
  • Stealthy Stride - This can be both very effective and very dangerous. Illusionists make great stealthy spellcasters because of their subtle effects. However, it can often take them away from their group and they are quite squishy.
  • Taunt - Illusionists who want more to do in combat should consider this talent as it gives them a solid way to contribute every round.
  • Winning Smile - Socially-inclined Illusionists will want this talent. Others may consider it, but there are probably more tempting talent options despite how well this compliments capabilities.
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. The builds I will be looking at are the dandy, enigma, swindler, and jack-of-all-trades.

The dandy is the primary social character for the group. This means they are going to miss out on some of the stranger things Illusionists can bring to the table, but they will have a wide variety of ways to contribute to most situations. These characters will want Standard Matrix, Taunt, Winning Smile, and either Awareness or Speak Language. This particular character may find a lot of value in the Troubadour discipline as well, as there is good mechanical and philosophical synergy to be found.

Enigmas are concerned with the mystic side of the discipline. The curious nature of how illusions work can make the direction of their studies baffling to outsiders. Their actual talents are a little banal in comparison with Arcane Mutterings, Astral Sight, Awareness, and Standard Matrix.

Swindlers are primarily concerned with deception and truth, exposing people to the former will lead them to the latter. Frequently they come off as spell-powered trickster Thieves, and there is something to be said for the combination. For talents, they will want Dead Fall, Mimic Voice, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride. Of those, Dead Fall is clearly the odd one out, but there are interesting situations where it can be useful (such as dissuading someone from attacking you in combat) and it shouldn't be so quickly overlooked for this character.

The jack-of-all-trades wants to participate as much as possible, as usual. For this, Awareness, Astral Sight, Standard Matrix, and Stealthy Stride are going to be the best choices. They already have two good social talents as discipline talents and since this is about being pragmatic over interesting, those talents will be the most useful overall.
  • Conceal Object - If you are generally up to no good, this talent may appeal to you. It certainly has some synergy with some Illusionist spells.
  • Dispel Magic - Opposing spellcasters got you down? This is the answer.
  • Engaging Banter - For ever advanced trickery, this can be used with some other abilities to keep a group occupied for a very long time.
  • Enhanced Matrix - This is probably the first talent option anyone takes.
  • Fast Hand - If you have Conceal Object, you will probably want this to go along with it.
  • Frighten - A good debuff which can be used without starting a fight. 
  • Resist Taunt - Worth considering for any character, but socially inclined adepts will definitely want this.
  • Slough Blame - So much trouble will be caused by using this talent. So much.
  • Steel Thought - Similar to Resist Taunt, however this is going to be more useful in general (though less specifically for social characters).
  • Tenacious Weave - Opposing spellcasters with their Dispel Magic got you down? This is the answer.
Here the dandy starts to explore some new territory and become interested in keeping their group out of trouble preemptively. To help with this, they will want Engaging Banter, Enhanced Matrix, Frighten, and Resist Taunt. This can easily put them into something of a mastermind role as their talents and spells allow them to significantly manipulate the opposition and prevent problems from escalating too much.

On the other hand, enigmas continue to some very tried and true talents. Dispel Magic, Enhanced Matrix, Steel Thought, and Tenacious Weave give them a lot of tools to deploy against opposing spellcasters. It isn't as interesting as other builds, but it will be effective.

Swindlers have moved further in the direction of deception, being able to go from subtle and stealthy to maximum entropy. To aid them in their endeavors, they will want Conceal Object, Enhanced Matrix, Fast Hand, and Slough Blame. They can cause so much trouble like this. So very much trouble.

There aren't any proactive talents for the jack-of-all-trades here, but there are still good talents. Specifically, Enhanced Matrix, Resist Taunt, Slough Blame, and Steel Thought should all be on their list. These three are good defensive talents which will serve well in numerous situations.

For a discussion over the general themes of the Illusionist how they can function in game, see the Third Edition Anatomy of an Illusionist.