30 September 2019

Earthdawn 4E: Rules Variant 04 - Renewable Spells

This is the fourth Rules Variant, part of 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.

Most of the rules variants presented in this series will focus on magic (spellcasters and spellcasting in particular) because it's the most complex part of the system. Part of that complexity is by design, but that doesn't mean some areas can do with simplification when possible and clarity whenever possible.

The introduction of Chain Casting as an unofficial optional rule back at the release of the 4E Player's Guide, then later a modified version as an offical optional rule presented in the 4E Companion, was an "eyes wide open" situation. Spells were designed with this in mind and it reflected the new direction of spellcasters as incredibly effective supporting members of an adventuring group, rather than the stars who could easily compete (or even outcompete) the dedicated combat Disciplines for combat effectiveness. This direction is clearly at odds with spellcasters in most fantasy adventuring games and the many tropes surrouding that disparity.

Chain Casting introduced a complication in how to allocate spell matrices by allowing for spells to be continually recast as long as the duration is measured in minutes. This occupies a spell matrix with a valuable spell, reducing the character's versatility in exchange for effectiveness. In all, it further helped drive the demand for additional spell matrices along with redeveloping spells to make them more attractive across the board.

With the benefit of hindsight, Chain Casting skewed both a little too powerful and too "loose" in implementation. While spells were designed with it in mind, it was still new and nothing is perfect. The official introduction corrected a little too much, though that is usually a safer side to err on. This entry is about a more explicit direction formally part of the basic mechanics, rather than an "after-market" addition.

"Renewable" is a new type of Extra Thread option that maintians a spell so long as it is in the spell matrix. This rule variant and it entierly replaces Chain Casting if used. The major benefits are simplicity, clarity, and scaling. Below are the requirements and effects of a Renewable spell:

  • The spell must have an extra thread woven for "Renewable"; a list of spells with this extra thread are provided below. There is no benefit to using an Enhanced Matrix for this extra thread.
  • The magician can have a total number of Renewable threads woven at one time equal to the maximum number of extra threads from their highest Circle spellcasting Discipline. For example, an adept who is a Tenth Circle Warrior, Eighth Circle Elementalist, and Third Circle Nethermancer can have a total of two Renewable spells at one time because Elementalist is their highest Circle spellcasting Discipline and can weave two extra threads.
  • The target(s) must be in range when this spell is cast and must be in range at some point during the base duration interval (unaffected by additional successes). This creates something of a tether for allies benefiting from the spell.
  • The spell can beneft from effects due to extra threads, such as Additional Targets, Increased Duration (typically rounds -> minutes to expand the "tether"), and Increased Effect.
  • The spell cannot benefit from "external" effects with costs, such as False Sight, Tenacious Weave, Karma abilities, etc. Costs can be Karma, Strain, limited uses, etc.
  • Each spell can only have one active casting with an extra thread woven for Renewable. This provides limitations on how many targets can benefit based on the tier. It takes until Journeyman before an entire group is cruising around with Air Armor at all times, which is more in-line with expectations.
  • The spell is cast with the minimum Spellcasting test result required for success, regardless of the actual result. In reality, there's no particular reason to require Spellcasting or Thread Weaving tests unless it's done in a stressful situation.
  • Targets cannot be unwilling, unless otherwise specifically noted. Such as Illusionist spells Switch, True Switch, and Form Exchange.
  • If the spellcaster falls unconscious, the Renewable thread fails, though the spells expire from the last time they were within range of the spellcaster. For example, if an Elementalist with Renewable Air Armor falls unconsciousness without an extra thread woven for Increased Duration, the duration for all targets is based on the last time they were within Touch distance from the Elementalist.
Hopefully this rules variant provides more simplicity and clarity with regard to how semi-permanent buffs can affect the group. Also, the degree to which they can scale and how quickly is more explicit, for example: Novice: one target; Journeyman: the group, one target with a greater "tether", or one target with a greater effect; Warden: the group with a greater "tether", the group with a greater effect, or one target with a much greater effect; Master: all the toys.

Below is the promised list of spells with the Renewable extra thread option.


First Circle
  • Air Armor [ED4 PG, p. 271]
  • Crunch Climb [ED4 PG, p. 271]
  • Resist Element [ED4 PG, p. 274]
  • Waterproof [ED4 PG, p. 275]
Second Circle
  • Fingers of Wind [ED4 PG, p. 276]
  • Mantle of the Woodland Hunter [ED4 PG, p. 277]
  • Shield Willow [ED4 PG, p. 277]
Third Circle
  • Mantle of the Reflecting Pool [ED4 PG, p. 279]
Fourth Circle
  • NA
Fifth Circle
  • Earth Staff [ED4 PG, p. 283]
Sixth Circle
  • Metal Wings [ED4 PG, p. 287]
Seventh Circle
  • Earth Surfing [ED4 PG, p. 289]
Eighth Circle
  • Earth Wall [ED4 PG, p. 291]
  • Ironskin [ED4 PG, p. 292]
  • Mantle of the Lightning Vanguard [ED4 PG, p. 292]


First Circle
  • Assuring Touch [ED4 PG, p. 294]
  • Best Face [ED4 PG, p. 295]
  • Cloak [ED4 PG, p. 295]
  • Encrypt [ED4 PG, p. 296]
  • Fun With Doors [ED4 PG, p. 297]
Second Circle
  • Innocent Activity [ED4 PG, p. 300]
  • See the Unseen [ED4 PG, p. 301]
Third Circle
  • And Then I Woke Up [ED4 PG, p. 302]
  • Nobody Here [ED4 PG, p. 303]
  • Pilferous Paper [T:tMC, p. 133]
Fourth Circle
  • Notice Not [ED4 PG, p. 305]
Fifth Circle
  • Eye of Truth [ED4 PG, p. 307]
  • Illusion [ED4 PG, p. 308]
  • Switch [ED4 PG, p. 309]
Sixth Circle
  • Astral Shadow [ED4 PG, p. 309]
  • Chosen Path [ED4 PG, p. 310]
  • Flying Carpet [ED4 PG, p. 310]
Seventh Circle
  • Silent Stampede [ED4 PG, p. 313]
Eighth Circle
  • Form Exchange [ED4 PG, p. 315]
  • Other Place [ED4 PG, p. 315]


First Circle
  • Life Circle of One: The magician still makes individual Spellcasting tests as usual [ED4 PG, p. 320]
  • Shadow Meld [ED4 PG, p. 321]
  • Soul Armor [ED4 PG, p. 321]
  • Soulless Eyes [ED4 PG, p. 321]
Second Circle
  • Shadow's Whisper [ED4 PG, p. 324]
Third Circle
  • Aspect of the Cowardly Skulk [ED4 PG, p. 326]
Fourth Circle
  • Aspect of the Menacing Tyrant [ED4 PG, p. 328]
  • Dark Spy [ED4 PG, p. 329]
  • Nightflyer's Cloak [ED4 PG, p. 330]
  • Viewpoint [ED4 PG, p. 330]
Fifth Circle
  • Circle of Astral Protection [ED4 PG, p. 332]
Sixth Circle
  • NA
Seventh Circle
  • NA
Eighth Circle
  • Netherblade [ED4 PG, p. 340]
  • Spirit Portal [ED4 PG, p. 341]


First Circle
  • Alarm [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Hunter's Sense [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Insect Repellent [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Moonglow [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Otter Swim [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Prey Senses [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Weather Cloak [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Second Circle
  • NA
Third Circle
  • Catwalk [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Polecat Resilience [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Sunlight [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Fourth Circle
  • Gills [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Repel Animal [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Fifth Circle
  • Falcon's Cloak [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Path Home [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Sixth Circle
  • Pangolin Armor [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Predator Senses [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Seventh Circle
  • Beastform [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Earth Q'wril [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
  • Wolf Run [TAJ:MP, p. XX]
Eighth Circle
  • Lifesense [TAJ:MP, p. XX]


First Circle
  • Astral Sense [ED4 PG, p. 342]
  • Bedazzling Display of Logical Analysis [ED4 PG, p. 343]
  • Catseyes [ED4 PG, p. 343]
  • Mage Armor [ED4 PG, p. 344]
  • Quicken Pace [ED4 PG, p. 345]
  • Speed Reading [ED4 PG, p. 345]
  • Wall Walker [ED4 PG, p. 345]
Second Circle
  • Astral Shield [ED4 PG, p. 346]
  • Dodge Boost [ED4 PG, p. 347]
  • Rope Ladder [ED4 PG, p. 348]
  • Smudged Fingers [T:tMC, p. 132]
Third Circle
  • Astral Targeting [ED4 PG, p. 348]
  • Levitate [ED4 PG, p. 350]
  • Wizard Mark [ED4 PG, p. 350]
Fourth Circle
  • Ball of String [ED4 PG, p. 351]
  • Evolved Consciousness [ED4 PG, p. 352]
  • Lighten Load [ED4 PG, p. 352]
  • Wizard's Cloak [ED4 PG, p. 353]
Fifth Circle
  • Flight [ED4 PG, p. 353]
Sixth Circle
  • Energy Shield [ED4 PG, p. 356]
Seventh Circle
  • Spellstore [ED4 PG, p. 360]
Eighth Circle
  • NA


  1. Would Renewable Spells need to be in a spell matrix.

  2. We have been using this variant in our game since Circle 3 (we are now 6th circle).
    It seems to us to work a bit better than chain casting.
    We are thinking of introducing a Patterncraft knack that adds the Alternative Approach from the Companion pg 434 - i.e the knack would let you get extra successes based on comparison of Spell difficulty and casters Spellcating talent.
    Would you allow such a knack and if so what Rank of Patterncraft should it require?
    The reason we picked patterncraft is that talent is supposed to be about your mastery/understanding of magic?

    1. Unless I'm forgetting a spell in particular, all of these spells should only have increased duration due to additional successes. Which means while using any kind of optional rule to extend duration while maintaining the spell in a matrix (whether this, chaining spells, or some other variant), increased duration through additional successes shouldn't have any impact.

      Is there some spell in particular I'm forgetting which this will impact? Regardless, Patterncraft is the most logical place for a knack along those lines and rank 7 should be a reasonable place for now. It shows the adept is becoming comfortable with more advanced applications of magic they've been building on in the previous two Circles.

  3. You make a good point.
    To be honest none of us had actually had a look at any of the spells themselves, we were just spitballing about the casters Spellcraft getting higher