24 February 2021

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Creature 36 - Kriktikik

This is the thirty-sixth 4E Anatomy of a Creature, 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 particular peice of work has been bouncing around in my head for a while and I decided to put it to paper. Er, virtual paper. It's a highly mobile pack hunter with a variety of different disrupting options beyond just doing damage. They would (hypothetically) be even worse if there were some kind of gnarlier version within their social structure where these beasties harassed, screened, and generally pinned opponents down for the others to lay down the hammer.

But that would just be mean.


Described by some windlings as the “little Scourge” of Glenwood Deep, these arachnids first appeared there sometime during the Scourge, but have since spread to forests and jungles across Barsaive and potentially further. There are many things that set them apart from other arachnids, but perhaps the most dangerous is their social organization. They get their name from the sounds like make when communicating with each other, only growing silent while waiting in ambush.

Kirktikiks are typically around four feet long with mottled exoskeletons that take on the appearance of their habitat within two to four generations, blending in well. They have eight limbs, the foremost developed grasping hydraulic claws at the end that hold prey to paralyze and consume with their mandibles and complex mouth parts. Kriktikiks’ bodies are long and flexible with an orifice at the end capable of producing both venom and webbing as needed. It can point in nearly any direction and the nozzle at the end allows it to achieve both remarkable accuracy and range.

They are fiendishly clever and quick, and always hunt in groups. Kriktikiks lay traps with their webbing among the branches of trees, allowing them to easily navigate the sticky substance along with their incredibly jumping ability. Though sometimes one may act as bait to lure prey in if other tactics are not working.

Challenge: Journeyman (Sixth Circle)
DEX: 9        Initiative:                  13      Unconsciousness:      54
STR: 7         Physical Defense:   14      Death Rating:               62
TOU: 8        Mystic Defense:       12     Wound Threshold:     13
PER: 7         Social Defense:        10      Knockdown:                 13
WIL: 5        Physical Armor:       8       Recovery Tests:           3
CHA: 6       Mystic Armor:           4        
Movement: 20 (Climbing 20)
Actions: 2; Bite: 12 (17, Poison), Claws ×2: 16 (13)
Ambush (10)
Awareness (13): As the skill, Player’s Guide, p. 129.
Creature Power (16, Spit Venom, Standard)
Great Leap (16)

Hardened Armor
Poison (12): If the kriktikik sprays a target with venom or inflicts a Wound with its bite, the target must resist a paralytic poison (Gamemaster’s Guide, p. 171). The poison is Step 12 [Onset: 1 round, Interval 4/1 round, Duration: 8 hours]
Resist Pain (2)
Spin Web (15, Standard): The kriktikik can spit its webbing at a target within 20 yards. The kriktikik makes a Spin Web test against the target’s Physical Defense. If successful, the target is affected by the Web Trap power.
Spray Venom (15): The kriktikik can spray venom at a target within 20 yards. It makes a Creature Power test against the target’s Mystic Defense. If successful, the target suffers Step 10 Mystic damage.
Stealthy Stride (15): As the skill, Player’s Guide, p. 170.
Web Trap (12): Kriktikik webs are strong enough to entangle most Namegivers and difficult to spot, using the kriktikik’s Stealthy Stride Step to be detected. If a character becomes stuck in the kriktikik’s web, they are entangled (Player’s Guide, p. 391). They must succeed at a Strength (12) test to break free. If a character is carrying a small (Size 1 or 2) sharp weapon at the time they were trapped, they may add the weapon’s Damage Step as a bonus to the Strength test.

Willful (1)

Special Maneuvers:
Defang (Opponent, Close Combat)
Grab and Bite (Kriktikik, Claws)
Hamstring (Kriktikik, Bite)
Pounce (Kriktikik)
Pry Loose (Opponent, Close Combat): This special maneuver can also be used for allies entanglied with Web Trap.
Stifle (Opponent)The attacker may use two extra successes on an Attack test to prevent the kriktikik from using Spin Web or Web Trap until the end of the next round. If the attack causes a Wound, the kriktikik cannot use Spin Web or Web Trap until the Wound is healed.

17 February 2021

Earthdawn 4E: Musings 04 - The Importance of Canon

This is the fourth 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.

It’s cliche, but let’s start this discussion of canon with what it is. I find it useful to define the terms I’m working with at the beginning of a discussion so everyone has a common frame of reference. This is also quite relevant to the topic at hand. We have two definitions, one given by a dictionary and another more casual from Wikipedia:

“A collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.” - Oxford Languages

“... the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story.” - Wikipedia

Canon is essentially the shared version of the setting. This is important because it gives everyone a common frame of reference to discuss the topic. Without that, things can quickly lead to misunderstandings or worse. That’s the key and the value of canon: it provides a clear starting point to discuss and alter things.

In terms of Earthdawn (though this can apply to anything), the canon setting is the currently published version of the setting. Reboots reset that canon (e.g. Battlestar Galactica) and new editions may retcon portions of it (e.g. Star Wars). There’s nothing wrong with discussing previous versions, but it’s important to establish that up front because the default assumption is to work with the most recent version, unless there’s context to indicate otherwise.

Statements like “everyone’s game is canon” are not helpful or useful. It takes a very useful term, “canon,” and strips it of all value. Indicating they are canon to the campaign isn’t useful because that’s an already known fact and a misuse of the term. What happens at your table is awesome, but not officially part of the setting.

This is not to impune or look down at what happens at individual tables with the setting or in fan fiction (which is in some ways what we’re creating)—that’s literally the point of the game in the first place. I always change elements of settings I’m familiar with because they’re so familiar. There’s often some aspect I want to play with and use that to subvert my players’ expectations. Their familiarity with things their characters don’t know is a way to make things surprising and new, even in small ways.

Canon is important conceptually, but less so once you get to your table. You do you. Have fun and be awesome. But in doing this, let’s not misuse the word and see it for the value it brings: clear communication and reference point to discuss and deviate from.

In practical terms, the canon for Earthdawn Fourth Edition is everything released by FASA from 1E, Redbrick from Classic and 3E, and obviously 4E. Which excises the material produced by Living Room Games. There may be some similarities between Barsaive at War and the history presented in the 4E Gamemaster’s Guide, though this is because they started from the same place and moved in different directions. Which is to say: the events in Barsaive at War are not canon, but you should absolutely use them at your table as you see fit.

If something isn’t specifically addressed in a 4E book that covers a topic (e.g. the windling tribe in Blood Wood), this doesn’t mean it was removed, but is left to each table and campaign to determine its fate and relevance. Another example along these lines is the material from the unpublished 1E Dragons manuscript. It was published by Living Room Games as part of their 2E run. Much of the material from the 1E manuscript was incorporated into the 4E Gamemaster’s Guide, but not all of it. What does this mean for the material omitted from the unpublished 1E manuscript? Well, it isn’t canon. However, it doesn’t mean you cannot use it—you absolutely should use it as you see fit! There’s material in 4E that relies on pieces of the unpublished manuscript as the setting moves forward. Which pieces remain a secret because that ruins the surprise.

10 February 2021

Earthdawn 4E: Musings 03 - Failing Forward and Success with Cost

This is the third 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.

Failing sucks.

Whether in real life or in a game, it’s not fun to fail. However, without failure there isn't that sweet, sweet dopamine rush from success. Oftentimes, the harder the success, the better it feels when you arrive. The results from failing a single test in gaming can range from wasting your turn to failure to move the plot forward or character death.

Two similar, but distinctly different concepts in gaming arose to address these topics: failing forward and success with a cost. Because the gaming lexicon is hardly uniform and more of a cobbled-together jargon, there is almost certainly different terminology and definitions for these ideas. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use that terminology and define them as follows:

Failing Forward: The failing result from an action benefits future attempts at that action.

Success with Cost: The action meets the minimum requirements for success, but there is a significant cost associated with this success.

The benefits from failing forward don’t necessarily have to be for the character who failed. They should ideally be for the same overall goal, preferably supporting the original tactic as closely as possible, but this may not always be practical. After all, there may be a good reason it failed the first time and not to try the same thing again.

Failing forward is best used in situations where time is of the essence. Combat is likely the most common example, but whenever turns are an important resource can apply, such as a chase or ending a ritual effect.

At the same time, always mitigating failure goes back to making success feel meaningless. Even if you don’t get everything you want, you cannot really fail. This makes all the victories a little anticlimactic and failure as a concept toothless. Like with most things, the right answer is somewhere in the middle.

The mechanics of Earthdawn can make failing forward challenging to include. However, they’re already present in my Pack mask and opponent groups found in Empty Thrones. Below are two knacks to strike a balance between failure and successes, where you technically succeeded, but may as well fail. Offering some concessions for that effective failure. These can also help with a bit more diversity for otherwise low damage options. There are some restrictions on them to keep them true to their intentions and not become wholesale replacements.

Baiting Strike [Special Maneuver]
Talent: Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, Throwing Weapons, Unarmed Combat
Requirements: Rank 2
Restrictions: None
This knack can be purchased multiple times for each talent. It can only be used with attacks associated with the appropriate talent. For example, to use it with a t’skrang tail attack, the adept must purchase it for Unarmed Combat, even if they have a knack that allows them to use their Melee Weapons Step.

Baiting Strike (Adept): If the adept fails to inflict damage after armor reduction with a successful Attack test, the next Attack test against the same target and same Defense gains a +2 bonus per success spent on this special maneuver. The initial success and additional successes spent to increase damage can be spent on this special maneuver. This special maneuver is used after the Damage result is determined. The initial Attack test must be capable of inflicting damage—e.g. it cannot use the Attacking to Knockdown combat option—and cannot be used with entangling weapons.

Spell Package
Talent: Patterncraft
Requirements: Rank 2
Restrictions: None
Step: NA
Action: Free
Strain: 0
Skill Use: No
If the adept fails to inflict damage to all targets after armor reduction with a successful Spellcasting test, the adept can affect the targets with a Spellcasting knack they know (e.g. Fluster). The spell must be capable of inflicting damage and did not affect an area (e.g. Chilling Circle) nor inflict damage over a duration (e.g. Flame Flash).

The timing implications from these two knacks can seem at odds with how the fiction proceeds and actions resolve in Earthdawn and other traditional games, but the shift in perception is minor and still consistent with how actions are interpreted and resolved. In this case, instead of the Damage result narrating the injury inflicted, it turns out the character was never trying to injure the opponent, but set them up for a later attack or with a different effect hidden within the spell to impair the opponent. Looking strictly at the fiction generated at the table, this makes it more interesting and fluid; attacks set up allies, rather than just being strikes to injure, even if determined after the fact.

Success with cost is complementary to failing forward, but they shouldn’t both be applied to the same tests. While failing forward works best when each action is critical, success with cost works best when either time isn’t a factor at all, or when failure carries a disproportionate weight or provides a story block.

Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition introduced “taking 20” as a way to deal with tasks where the character can repeat them without consequence until they maximize their chances of success. At which point it becomes a binary yes/no. Either you can do the thing or you cannot. This doesn’t quite work in Earthdawn with the existence of bonus dice. Allowed functionally infinite time and no consequences for failure, they always succeed and it becomes an exercise in real world patience of rolling dice. An excellent example here is picking a lock.

In this case, limits on the number of attempts can be placed, but this may feel artificial and if characters fail through poor luck, the story may not be able to proceed. Failure in gathering required information is a common example of blocking the story. This is an entirely separate discussion from GM planning. This is a mitigation strategy.

The other instance I indicated is when failure carries disproportionate weight. These are typically things like a character’s fate resting on the result of a single test, which feels out of step with the shared narrative. When what should be a simple Great Leap test or an important Climbing test results in the character’s death, and quite possibly a body that cannot be retrieved. No last chance salve for you.

In all these instances, utilizing success with a cost is quite likely the best way to go. This may not feel right for some groups (including failing forward), particularly in the last example. In which case, you do you, but that’s not what this is about. Allow the character to pick the lock—particularly if it is important to the story—but provide teeth to the failure of their test. Someone else knows they picked the lock, or it cost them significant precious time (if it is important), or even a combination of factors. There have to be consequences to this failure or it’s not really a failure and why bother?

The failure to gather information: the group gets the information, but their enemies know what they’re looking for and have an ambush for them later. Perhaps they’re stymied later on, have to call in a favor, or owe one to someone they find very distasteful. The story proceeds, but they have to really hope they succeeded the first time. Allow the character to make the jump or climb, but they suffer serious injuries in the process. They’re not dead, but they require time and resources to get better.

Having a cost for failure, even while offering the success is paramount. The goal is to always keep the story moving and not have the players feel as though they can’t proceed, but there are real consequences for failing their tests.

03 February 2021

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Thread Item 122 - Thriving Stag

This is the one-hundred and twenty-second 4E Anatomy of a Thread Item, 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 thread item written for an online game I offered to help with thread items and happens to be the last item before I resigned. This was written with the request of a helmet with a bonus to Toughness Value. After mulling it over for quite a while, I decided to go with a life theme for the Toughness. Antlers and warm bronze went well with that.

Thriving Stag

Maximum Threads: 1
Mystic Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Master

This bronze helmet is of a curious design. It resembles a Corinthian helmet with massive antlers affixed to it and extending out. Swirling, circular glyphs are etched into the surface with a tidy row of runes carved along the edge. These runes are most prominent along the nasal and cheeks. The helmet’s metal has a warm patina of use and a faint green sheen when the light strikes it just right.

When a thread is attached, the helmet adjusts to fit the wearer, including allowing for a troll's horns along with the antlers. An aventail of morning glory vines begins growing from the helmet, extending in length as the wearer’s thread rank increases.

Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn the helmet’s Name.
Effect: The wearer gains +1 to their Physical Armor.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The wearer gains +1 rank to Wood Skin. When the wearer activates Wood Skin, the trailing flowers wind around the wearer and appear as part of the appearance.

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn the meaning of the glyphs etched into the helmet.
Effect: The wearer gains +1 to their Mystic Armor.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The wearer gains +2 ranks to Wood Skin.

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn the runes carved into the helmet.
Effect: The wearer gains +1 Recovery Test per day.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: The wearer gains +2 to their Toughness Value.

Thread Rank Seven
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn where the flower cutting used for the helmet originated.
Deed: The owner must visit this site and gather additional flower cuttings to incorporate into the helmet.
Effect: When the wearer uses Wood Skin, the vines grow into the wearer’s skin and the flowers are pink variegated. All tests the wearer makes to heal damage gain a +2 bonus if their Wood Skin is active.

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: The wearer gains +2 ranks to Lifesight.

Thread Rank Nine
Key Knowledge: The owner must learn the stag’s Name whose antlers adorn the helmet.
Deed: The owner must find one of that stag’s legendary offspring and earn their antlers to replace on the helmet.
Effect: The wearer gains the Thriving Stag ability. As a Simple action for 1 Strain when their Wood Skin is active, the wearer’s eyes glow green within the helmet as the flowers and vines become animated. They make a Lifesight test (the cost pays for the Lifesight cost) against a target’s Mystic Defense. If successful, they can more effectively see the target’s energy moving through their body, giving them a +2 bonus to their next Action test against the target and an associated Effect test (including Damage, Effect from a spell, or Recovery test caused by the Action test).

Thread Rank Ten
Effect: The wearer gains +4 ranks to Lifesight.