08 July 2020

Earthdawn 4E: Musings 01 - Custom Enchanting

This is the first part of Musings 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.

This is the first entry in I suppose a new category where I share thoughts on various topics. Be aware, there will be rambling, asides, digressions, rabbit holes will be chased (as with waterfalls, but I'm not cool enough to actually know what that means), etc. Prepare for things to wander.

That being said, the first topic is relatively tight. Though it was verbose enough it was cut from the Companion because space is always a premium. However, between myself and Google, I can hoard everything. I have over a gigabyte of documents, designs, thoughts, variants, examples, etc. on Earthdawn. This particular cut was on custom enchanting and I hauled it out of the vault because it was relevant to a discussion taking place on the FASA Games Discord. But here it is saved and available for everyone.

Blood Charms

Blood charms have two additional factors beyond the effects: Blood Magic Damage and reusability. Generally disposable blood charms get a little more effect for the cost compared to reusable blood charms, while charms like desperate blow straddle between the two, but are treated mostly like disposable charms as they cannot be used from round to round. At least they aren't designed or intended that way.

If the proposed blood charm is proportionally better or worse than an existing blood charm, adjust the rank and associated Blood Magic Damage proportionally as well.

A custom pattern for a discount absorb blow charm that can take 6 Damage Points should be Rank 1 and cost 1 Blood Magic Damage, while a more powerful version that can take 24 Damage Points should be Rank 4 and cost 4 Blood Magic Damage. Since the base item is consumed when used, so is this. Evaluating this for impact, it should be low and there many very well be custom absorb blow charms for sale.

Not everything is this straightforward. A slightly more complicated example:

Elmod wants to create a custom enchanting pattern for a human friend that is an eye with heat sight, low-light vision, and a targeting eye. Heat sight is already a new effect, but it’s similar enough to low-light vision we will treat it as the same. Which gives two darksight eyes and a targeting eye. There’s nothing here with any synergy despite having three different effects. The limiting factor is how many eyes the character has. This means the easiest way to deal with it is by adding them together, giving Rank 9 and 6 Blood Magic Damage.

It isn’t entirely unreasonable to look at the rank requirement and wonder if it’s appropriate - the resulting blood charm is useful, but is it that powerful? There isn’t a good answer here, but an alternative approach is to take the rank of the highest base item (Rank 5, targeting eye) and halve the rank (rounding up) of each additional effect being added. The end result here is Rank 7 instead of Rank 9. This gives a reduction based on lumping a number of effects together. Alternatively, the perspective may be putting so much into one eye and bypassing the limitation on how many eyes a character has deserves an increase in rank, resulting in a Rank 10 requirement, putting this at the very edge of what can be accomplished with the Alchemy skill. Regardless of which approach is preferred, be wary of altering the Blood Magic Damage as it is the major balancing factor present for the effects. Since these charms are all reusable, so is the custom charm.

Both examples use existing and mostly unaltered blood charms as their base. For the final example, we’ll look at something more exotic.

Now Elmod wants to create a custom blood charm that reduces the Initiative Penalty of armor by 1 as a constant effect for his windling friend who loves her crystal plate, but also loves speed. The closest analog for this effect is an initiative booster charm, so we will start with that: it’s a Rank 8 pattern with 4 Blood Magic Damage. This charm’s impact on the game is significant, though the impact on the setting is minimal - it is unlikely to introduce any changes in warfare doctrine due to cost and availability. The reason for the game impact being high is Initiative Penalty is the primary balancing factor for heavy armor, and this provides an easy bypass for it. Which means Blood Magic Damage.

To start assessing how much Blood Magic Damage, there are two examples: blood pebble and living crystal armor. Blood pebble offers 5/3/-1 for 4 Blood Magic Damage, while living crystal offers 6/3/-2 for 5 Blood Magic Damage. Comparing these to other armor shows reducing an Initiative Penalty costs 4-5 Blood Magic Damage per point. However, there are two limitations inherent to this benefit: it cannot be transferred to different armor and it is obvious. This means the minimum cost for the proposed blood charm should be at least 6 Blood Magic Damage.

Going back the the initiative booster, it offers +1 initiative for 1 Strain, with no upper limit. This means you can get an analogous effect by paying 1 Strain every round in combat. Since this is a fixed value, rather than being open ended, this is a limitation imposed on the final blood charm. There is an additional potential benefit as it allows characters with an insufficient Initiative to wear more armor than would normally be allowed since you cannot voluntarily reduce your Initiative below Step 1, allowing that obsidiman with Initiative Step 6 to wear crystal plate and have a footman’s shield. Weighing these factors together, it’s worth guessing this total benefit is worth about 2 more Blood Magic Damage, on top of the initially ventured 6 Blood Magic Damage, giving a total of 8 Blood Magic Damage, this can be varied depending on the perceived impact to the game.

Common Magic Items

Providing good guidelines for common magic items is more difficult than the other categories due to the breadth of effects they offer. This makes evaluating the impact to the game and setting even more important. There are still some general guidelines regarding the function of common magic items and the roles they fill.

These are the most accessible form of magic to the typical inhabitant of the setting because they have no requirements for use and aren’t necessarily prohibitively expensive like an adept guzzling down healing potions. The effects provided by common magic items should not have a significant mechanical impact on the game, particularly since there are no costs associated with them and are only rarely consumable. Such effects are best saved for blood charms where the impact can have an appropriate associated cost.

Instead, these items are best used to add depth to the setting and display differences in affluence and general access to such small wonders. This means their greatest impact should be to the setting, which may need to be carefully managed. For the most part, these items represent conveniences or interesting effects, rather than significant mechanical benefits.

When designing common magic items, it’s encouraged to select the design aspects like a thread item: using the various traits to create the final effect. Since this is magic treated like a science, basic logic is good, but it just needs to sound plausible. In some ways, this may be the most interesting part of the process.

Long, long ago, Aren was an Elementalist tired of leading expeditions to find True air lodes. She had made countless divining rods when she was a Novice and considered if the design could be improved to detect True element lodes. The effect she wanted doesn’t quite fit into any category and there’s nothing precisely comparable. Looking at other common magic items for their effects and impact, it’s probably around the order of huntsman boots. They combine two effects, dry boots and additional travel, which overcomes the limitation of only having one set of feet. The impact on a typical game is likely low, since they are adepts and don’t need such things, but the final item would be invaluable to True element miners without access to such adepts. This could give anywhere from Rank 6 to 10, depending on the perceived impact. The lower end assesses it less because it replicates what adepts can do, without actually expanding anything. While the upper end assesses it higher because it opens up something once exclusive to a very small group to anyone with the drive to learn. Taking the balance, Rank 8, makes these items very rare, but by no means unheard of - they are an important part of the economy and treasured, but not something vanishingly rare that only the very best alchemists can produce, which is about where to strike it.

To improve the original design, she creates a long, hollow rod with the element in question at one end, True air in this case, and the element in opposition at the other end - True water. They are separated by a film of orichalcum, but connected by a thread of orichalcum passing through the diaphragm, forming a perfect seal. The rod can be twisted slightly at either end, tuning the kernels within, adjusting their relative distance, and the tension on the thread. The relative pressure on the diaphragm slowly adjusts an inset dial. The True element kernels are attracted to or repelled by the lode, as appropriate, allowing a skilled user to determine a rough direction and intensity of the lode.

Healing Aids, Potions, and Other Consumables

All items in this category are consumed after use, which tends to give them more potency than reusable items, but they may also have a duration to factor into their evaluation. When compared to blood charms, they do not have Blood Magic Damage as a balancing factor, which means the improved version of an existing item will have diminished increases for a higher enchanting pattern rank, compared to the proportional increase of blood charms.

Grammercy wants to make a better booster potion, which is a Rank 1 pattern. Her desired custom enchanting pattern gives a +12 bonus to Recovery tests, instead of the usual +8. To evaluate at the impact to the game, looking at what other healing aids provide at other ranks, salve of closure is Rank 4, and a healing potion is Rank 6, it seems like giving a +2 bonus for each increase in rank is appropriate. The impact here is how much a single Recovery test can be improved, as booster potions don’t stack. With an escalating cost (a Rank 3 booster potion costs 75 sp to make), it means these are only going to be popular with those who need to squeeze all the healing they can get from every Recovery test. Which is to say, the impact to the setting is low.

A more complicated example:

Grammercy needs to provide boosted healing in those awkward moments, like when someone is trying to kill you. Towards this end, she’s looking to improve on a healing potion. There’s two things she wants to do: one is have a healing potion that heals two Wounds, rather than one, and have a different healing potion that offers a better bonus/Recovery test (Step 10). For the former, the impact on the setting is nil, but it can have an impact on the economy of the game, by allowing an additional Wound to be healed in the span normally limited to one and without spending a Recovery test. A skeptical gamemaster may simply respond, “no”, due to this impact, while a more generous gamemaster may allow it. If allowed, it is certainly a Rank 10 custom pattern, combining a healing potion (Rank 6) and a salve of closure (Rank 4). Even then, it may be a bargain.

The second custom healing potion has less impact on the action economy, but a healing potion is still much more potent than a booster potion by offering the potential for an immediate, bonus Recovery test. This versatility comes with a surcharge. Each +1 to the bonus/Recovery test should be an additional Rank, rather than the more efficient increase to the custom booster potion above. This gives a Rank 8 custom pattern for a custom healing potion with a +10 bonus/Step 10 Recovery test. The impact to the setting from either of these is minimal as the number of alchemists who can make them is quite small and the market is pretty niche.

Both the above example are clearly based on existing items.

Next, Grammercy wants to make something entirely new - a potion that grants +3 to Initiative. Finding an analog isn’t simple, but some exist. The wound balance blood charm is a decent place to start - it provides a bonus to some specific tests, though is reusable and has a Blood Magic Damage cost. Initiative has more impact on the game than Wound Balance due to prevalence - you are always making Initiative tests, even when Wound Balance tests may be individually more important. This gives a rough place to start of Rank 4. Taking this and comparing it to the impact of other consumables, it has less impact than a healing potion and is probably roughly on par with a salve of closure. With this, Rank 4 seems reasonable, though it still needs a duration. Giving it a long duration feels wrong, while too short and it’s not worth having. Five rounds is likely appropriate - it should last the duration of most combats, but wearing off during something lengthy only adds to the sense of desperation. The gamemaster wants to keep this rare, rather than something that shows up constantly, so they indicate the custom pattern requires a rare ingredient, increasing the price to create it, but also reducing the difficulty.

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