24 September 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 21 - River City Ransom

This is the twenty-first Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The Twilight Mountains are in the south-western part of Barsaive, just north of Death's Sea. They are situated between two fallen kingdoms, Cara Fahd of the orks and Ustrect of the trolls, and lay between the Theran holdings of Sky Point and Vivane and Throal. The Name, the Twilight Mountains, was given because the glow of Death's Sea to the south makes it seem like twilight when the peaks are viewed from the north.

The most notable thing about the Twilight Peaks is that they are home to the majority of the highland trolls within Barsaive, who are collectively referred to as Crystal Raiders. So named because of the vast quantity and quality of living crystal that can be found within the mountains.

Prior to the Scourge, the Crystal Raiders were almost wiped out by the Theran navy at the conclusion of the Orichalcum Wars in an event know as the Battle of Sky Point. It was only through their tenacity that they managed to survive and return once more as a force to be reckoned with.

There is little quite as terrifying as being assaulted by Crystal Raider drakkars. Something that every Air Sailor dreads and has caused no end of enmity between them and their rival Discipline, Sky Raiders. They continue to raid wherever they can reach, as the mountains they call home are merely inhospitable in the nicest of locations. For the most part, these peaks are treacherous and full of equally dangerous wildlife that call them home.

As for the trolls themselves, there are numerous moots that have claimed territory along the range. Each has their own particular customs, outlook, goals and motivations. Some are more than willing to entreat with outsiders to get what they want, while others are most likely to enslave other Namegivers as newots if they are not simply killed outright.

Adventure Log – 021 River City Ransom

Written By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 08 Strassa – 30 Strassa, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Jak’Tak the Weaponsmith
Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster

The others return from Bartertown. They get into trouble when I am not around. I get my hair cut in the Travar style. A Messenger arrives and summons us to the house of Fursthir(1). The house is outstanding. The household is tense.

The Skyseekers troll moot has stolen some cargo, and we are to ransom it back(2). Dar, the Lady's son, is to accompany us. The airship is "Fursthir's Pride", a galley made for speed(3). Dar's Group is made of stalwart companions, including Hetha.

The ship takes off and we go west. The journey takes a week. Reavers, lead by Korrolis, bombard the ship, and we descend towards a mountain peak. We crash and the ship is destroyed. I save Elmod and Hetha in a crash. The mountain fell upon us. Dar and Chalice were seriously injured. Our Group survives and Dar orders us to continue on our mission.

The forest is quiet, and we run across a chimera. Rock worms burst from the earth and we do battle. We defeat the creatures, but they take their toll.

The next day we find the moot and meet with the chief. A Nethermancer in black robes translates for us. We enjoy a hearty meal. He wants us to find a tomb of a great troll king. I visit the troll Weaponsmith and compel him to instruct me with the Pledge Coin(4).

We are flown to the tomb entrance. We discover a trap at the door of the tomb, and Honeysuckle takes care of it. Inside we find a perilous chamber. A shaft with a mechanical elevator. Honeysuckle and Ting scout out the lower floor. I join them presently.

In the next room we find a shadowy ghost, and battle is joined. We defeat the phantom, and continue on our way. Troll cadavermen burst from the far doors, and battle is joined. Inside the doors we find tombs containing objects of art. Honeysuckle opens the chest and finds more treasure.

The far doors contain a looted museum. Shadows appear, and battle is joined. We defeat them and continue on our way. We desecrate the corpses of the Theran Questors and move on(5).

We find some skeletons and they come to life and battle is joined. We defeat them and retreat to rest. The next day we continue on to find a marble room devoted to the Passion of Justice. "What information do you seek, my child?" The voice speaks great truth. Iopos is a vulture ready to pick at the bones of Barsaive. The voice tells us Scarvik the Strangler, a Horror, is sealed beneath the tomb(6). We descend.

We take the king's effects and face the Horror. We send him back to the hell he came from. We loot the tomb, to the trolls' delight. Elmod had a discussion with Tana Lunar, who claimed to know his father. My elf companion's origin is truly a sinister one(7). I train with the moot Weaponsmith, who teaches me the secrets of crystal.(8)

*     *     *
(1) The Fursthir family is very powerful and Lady Fursthir arguably the most ruthless leader since the end of the Scourge. 
(2) What was the cargo to go through all of this trouble? We haven't gotten any reports of anything like this yet.
(3) Intelligence indicates that this was not the first clandestine action for this airship to be involved in. It will, however, be the last.
(4) If not for the Pledge Coin, that would have ended badly. Which would have made me strangely sad.
(5) There needs to be more details on what exactly this means.
(6) What is going on here? 
(7) Very true and there is virtually nothing that sheds any light on what is going on with this.
(8) Received and edited by Ela Pono

From the beginning, this session was going to mark a lengthy break in the campaign. There were numerous reasons for it, but a major piece was expectations. To put it plainly, mine were higher than they should have been. Nevertheless, I wanted this session to be full of excitement, hinting at things forward looking, but lean on things that I would expect from my players.

It turned out to be most of those things. The beginning went great, none of the series of unfortunate events felt forced or scripted. NPCs were introduced to give more depth to what was going on, but I have no interest in playing more characters than is necessary, particularly when the focus of the action is on the players (also, these would have been more like extra weight, as they were lower Circle).

Everything went well right up until the tomb turned into a slog. I know that careful resource management is a big part of dungeon crawling. Indeed, it is a big part of Earthdawn itself - ensuring that you have Recovery Tests and manage your Strain, as well as enough Karma to get you through. That being said, as the GM I often find it tedious. There is only so interesting that I can make a lengthy combat with cadaver men and skeletons.

So having all of those down there was something of a mistake that I realized when it was too late. Though I could still avert some of that as it was happening. The latter half of the encounters were hastily rewritten on the fly, making them less numerous and a little more interesting.

In all, it was a nice for what it was. If it was going to be an end to the first "arc", it was only mildly successful at that. There were no cliffhangers, only some minor foreshadowing; nothing that jumped out of the closet and yelled "plot!".

This also heralded some character transitions. Things don't always pan out how you imagine them, or they go exactly as you planned and it turns out that wasn't as much fun as you had hoped. This is somewhat the culmination of "lessons learned".

When things started back up, months later, I went in with a different set of expectations and started establishing a different tone for the events.

20 September 2013

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 20 - Bartertown Beatdown

This is the twentieth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The setting of Earthdawn is expansive, even when just limiting it to Barsaive. There are an astounding number of different and significant locations to visit and explore, each with their own character and adventures. Not to mention the locales of their own creation that will likely be injected. Compound this with the volume of lore that is available and the idea of crafting a campaign that addresses all of this as you may want is daunting.

To deal with this "problem" (oh, to always suffer from having too much good stuff), my general technique is to have a coherent theme and a handful of locations that will, more-or-less, serve as a base of operations. This allows to maintain the wonderful exploration which makes Earthdawn so vivid, while still building the connections that make the setting alive.

Tragically, this means that some things will inevitably have to be cut. In the long run, a game will most likely benefit from greater focus, even if it is handled in story arcs. This allows everyone to give their attention appropriately to the events at hand, allowing for serial exploration of the setting, while returning to their home base.

This isn't necessarily going to work for all groups, but it is a good way to start breaking down the setting into more digestible pieces, rather than going after it all at once.

Adventure Log – 20 Bartertown Beatdown

Written By: Elmod of Glenwood Deep

Date: 28 Teayu – 30 Doddul, 1507 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster

Sogun the Messenger
Ting the Swordmaster

A slight detour to the lands of the Coil River. Visited the liferock(1) of Sogun to also get info on Ting's sword(2). I had a lovely dinner with Kissling, mayor of Ayodhya town.

After which, we stopped off in Ardanyan to check in on Titoo. Dwarf issues and multiple Thief Guild wars, otherwise our home is okay(3). We booked employment to Bartertown as mercenaries and protectorates, but only managed to run into Arthu and his gang(4). He, unfortunately, seems quite attached to his sash of the Bands of Fortune. We also happened upon a Messenger.

In Bartertown, I met with Fastoon and sold him my black mantis egg since he explained how impossible it would be for me to rear it without special techniques.(5)

Ting, Honeysuckle and Sogun became employed by Tarr to take out some more drug dens. This also eventuated our killing of Vigo and some of his gang - which fled and will likely look for us again(6). They were involved in the Consortium and infiltrating/infringing on Tarr's business(7).

More research at the Library about items.(8)

*     *     *
(1) That would be Ayodhya, next to Lake Ban.
(2) Unrequited Wave
(3) The first of many understatements. Ardanyan has some serious issues - but ignoring those, everything is fine.
(4) A human Swordmaster that claims to be the last heir of Landis and has managed to befriend the urshan.
(5) This may be the most terrifying run-on sentence that I have read in a long time. So many terrible possibilities are contained here. This Nethermancer wanted to raise a Horror construct, but decided to sell it to Fastoon instead? We need to keep an eye on this in a big way.
(6) Other reports indicate that this isn't quite how it happened. Essentially, Tarr hired them to murder the leader of whatever the Merchant Confederation calls their guards. In a very public fashion so that there is no confusion on who did it and who ordered it. Which they did. This is impressive because that was a troll Swordmaster of a particularly nasty streak. 
(7) Tarr's only "business" is theft. Well, he has been diversifying into murder and arson as well. 
(8) Received and edited by Ela Pono

While it certainly seemed like a short session, there was actually quite a bit going on here. The majority of the events were staging future events and announcing that things were getting worse. Ardanyan has had trouble brewing for quite a while and this was simply a continuation of that. The conflicts in the shadows were hinting at some new trouble brewing in the background.

The seemingly minor events at Ayodhya and the Lake Ban area also foreshadowed some future events significantly, though they may have seemed innocuous at the time. Included in this are interactions had with Arthu, a recurring character that has a Thread Item the Group wants very badly. It has been commented that if it wasn't for the fact he was so damn likable, he would be dead in a ditch by now. That is pretty much how they roll.

It was in Bartertown where the major events took place. Some seemed harmless enough - selling the egg of a Horror construct to an Iopan Nethermancer that is known to traffic in things that would be illegal actually inside of Throal; that couldn't possibly go wrong. To be fair, most of the Group sold them previously, deciding that they wanted nothing to do with keeping those on their persons.

What really pushed the plot forward was the open act of violence they engaged in against the other faction within Bartertown. There had always been hostilities and scuffles between the two groups, though most of the actual damage was committed against proxies rather than directly against the other group. This was a watershed moment for that conflict and marked the point of no return - when there was only one way it would end: in flames.

In general, it is my preference to have the players be present, and the catalyst if at all possible, for these events. It helps to drive home that they directly effect the world around them and their actions do make a difference. In real time, the first arc of this plot has been resolved, complete with callbacks to this very event and what the implications of it were. 

17 September 2013


Technoir, by Jeremy Keller of Cellar Games, is a game of noir-style action and investigation in cyberpunk-inspired future.

In this game, the protagonists (let's not pretend and call them heroes) will use their abilities, gear and connections to resolve some kind of mystery. Their actions will inevitably complicate matters, drawing in more elements of the setting as they follow the various threads deeper. Also, along the way they will get damaged. No one gets out of anything unscathed.

The mechanics behind this are simple and unified; everything (for better or worse) revolves around the use of adjectives (I'm going to mimic some of the book's styling for emphasis). Generally speaking, the objective behind any contested action is to put a suitable adjective into play. These adjectives can be either positive or negative, and have a duration associated with them, fleeting, sticky or locked. Fleeting adjectives last until the end of the scene, while sticky adjectives last until the end of the next session (for positive), or until fixed (for negative). Locked adjectives are mostly permanent.

To accomplish this, players are primarily going to use their verbs, which are essentially the equivalent to skills; these form the basis of any roll. They can also use any positive adjectives they have access to, and their objects and associated tags (which are basically adjectives for objects). Each player starts with three Push dice which are activated by appropriate adjectives, objects and tags.

When you put an adjective on someone or something, it is fleeting by default. However, you can spend your Push dice to make it last longer. Normally Push dice will return to your pool, unless they are used in this fashion. Whoever controls the target gets the Push dice. It is important to note here that the GM does not start with any Push dice. The players are fully in control of when the game escalates - when the player's push, the GM gets to push back. Everything is setup so that they players are going to want to push.

The reason why players will want to put those Push dice in the GM's hands is two-fold. The first is that it's rather difficult to accomplish anything meaningful when the consequences don't have any teeth for either side. At the end of the scene, everything is going to be copacetic without some kind of lasting effect. The second, and perhaps most important, is that character advancement requires them. Characters can gain a new adjective by another player giving them a positive adjective and making it locked with two Push dice. Verbs are only advanced through treating sticky and locked negative adjectives on your character. Yes, to get better, you are going to get hurt (or embarrassed horribly, or your stuff broken, etc.) and must then pick yourself back up. Which is all rather noir - or all Technoir protagonists are saiyans

While the unified mechanics are a certainly neat, the most useful thing within the game is the plot map. There are a few games out there that use this concept, but this is one of the cleanest takes available. The idea behind it is that there are Connections, Events, Factions, Locations, Objects and Threats. By bringing these into play, either randomly or deliberately, the plot can evolve and complicate itself and the relationships between these various elements can be clearly communicated.

To make it work, each character starts with Connections. During play, if they go to these Connections for information, a new wrinkle to the plot will be added. The reason that the characters will go to their Connections is that they will always provide some information. If the Connection is involved, it may not be what the player is after, but it will always be something.

There are also three pre-made settings (referred to as Transmissions) within the game. Each setting has six entries into each category and tables to help randomly generate a new plot node for each Connection. This provides an excellent template of how to put a setting together without really needing to know how it all fits together ahead of time.

The advice around how to use the plot map and the plot nodes (as each discrete piece of the plot map is referred) is good for any GM who wants to expand how they think about a game. It is probably the best part of the game and useful outside of the game itself. As well, each of the setting pieces helps to breakdown the ways that various elements can come together to cause trouble and really ruin the protagonists' day.

What the game can do poorly at times is explain some of the details of the mechanics. It should be mentioned that reading all of the examples is almost a necessity. How some of the mechanics actually work (like what it means when one tag trumps another) is glossed over in the main text, but clearly shown in the examples. That being said, the examples are actually very good and helpful. They show all of the edge cases and bring all of the mechanics into play. Similarly, mechanics are frequently referenced prior to being explained. The book is well indexed and not very big in the first place, so this is hardly a concern, but a mild irritant on the first read through. Final criticism: the order of sections within the text is strange at best. Discussions of the plot map follow character creation and then the system follows that before moving back into GM topics. All in all, very mild.

Anyone who enjoys cyberpunk-style gaming and looking for something a little on the rules-light side should definitely consider looking into this game. Even if cyberpunk isn't your thing, if you are GM the structure and growth of the plot web and how Transmissions are put together could be a valuable tool in its own right.

13 September 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 29 - Illusionist Part 2, Talents

This is part two of the twenty-ninth Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.


On the surface, the Illusionist appears as a charlatan out to deceive the unwary, and take advantage of the blind. In reality, this is almost entirely true, though they will take deep offense to being called a charlatan. You don't really want to offend an Illusionist - they can make your life very uncomfortable.

Illusionists view those activities as a sacred duty, an obligation to those around them. They certainly delight and entertain with their displays, but there is always something else at work. Through all of this, their goal is to teach. To help those around them better understand the fundamental differences between truth and lies.

These adepts view the world as a dangerous place, full of the unscrupulous that are more than willing to take advantage of those around them. In a best case scenario, they are a petty crook and not much damage is caused, though the victim will become hardened to the world. Even worse, they can be left destitute by a heartless conman. At the worst, they can come under the sway of a Horror. The protection of their fellow Namegivers is what motivates these spellcasters. If they do not help others to learn the critical thinking necessary to see beyond these illusions, they may become a victim in the worst kind of way.

In the interest of better understanding the nature of truth and lies, Illusionists travel to see the world, explore new things, and have new experiences. Expanding their horizons is the only way that they can better grasp what it means to be true or false. This is fundamentally important, though not commonly discussed. In general, Illusionists prefer to maintain the facade that they have perfect clarity in such matters. Astute students will suspect otherwise, and those so duped may be fleeced for a few coins for their trouble. The lesson must hurt a little to be learned, after all, and it is far kinder to cause a little pain now and prevent grievous injury later; right?

They don't have much in the way of traditions, even handed down from mentor to student. These adepts tend to be spontaneous and adaptable, since rote repetition is simple to outmaneuver and teaches little about truth. Simply how to do exactly as those who came before you did. When playing an Illusionist, consider that, but also how they prefer to go about things. Is there imagery or tales that they particularly enjoy? Have they learned any painful lessons that brought them on this path? How much of their history that is shared is truth and how much is a lie? 

Discipline Violations

These are best employed not as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. Like most Disciplines, there are a few ways that an Illusionist can run afoul of their own way of life. The simplest is by relying on non-illusion ("real") magic too often, though the same can be said of relying exclusively on illusion magic as well. Given that an Illusionist is dedicated to understanding how to recognize the space between the two, they must practice both regularly.

A beguiling violation is the hubris of assuming that you recognize truth and lies in all things. To accept anything at face value is dangerous and goes against the ethos of the Illusionist. Along similar lines is approaching a problem in a straight-forward fashion. It goes against the way these adepts work - by facing it head on, you will never see behind the curtain and find the truth.

The final potential violation is experiencing new things. Illusionists must always seek out new sensations and experiencing then in new ways. They need to find truth and lies. To create a better lie and to know the truth, they must have a broader set of experiences. You cannot craft a convincing illusion about something you have never seen or felt, and it becomes significantly more difficult to see the truth behind something you do not understand.


Talent Options: Astral Sight, First Impression, Read/Write Language, Silent Walk, Spell Matrix

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Karma Ritual, Read/Write Magic, Speak Language, Spellcasting, Spell Matrix, Thread Weaving [Illusionism]

Talent Options: Arcane Mutterings, Frighten, Haggle, Mimic Voice, Spell Matrix (2), Winning Smile

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Disguise Self, Durability (4/3)

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Dead Fall

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: False Sight

Talent Options: Enhanced Matrix (2), Graceful Exit, Hypnotize, Resist Taunt, Slough Blame, Steel Thought, Willforce

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: True Sight

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Engaging Banter

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Fast Hand

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Power Mask

The majority of their Discipline Talents are based around deception in some fashion, whether directly (Disguise Self, Dead Fall, Fast Hand and Power Mask), by improving their illusions (False Sight), or defeating other illusions (True Sight). They have the good access to social Talents in general, mostly through their Talent Options, though Speak Language supports that and Engaging Banter is on the fence between a deception-oriented Talent and a social Talent.

Combat is by far the biggest weakness for this Discipline. These adepts don't get any Discipline Talents or Talent Options that are combat oriented. Even their spells often fall short in a direct confrontation. Which isn't to say that they cannot contribute, they have some good spells available, simply that their most effective contributions are unlikely to be through a direct application of force. That's simply not their style.

What is their style is approaching problems laterally. They have a strange toolbox at their disposal, all of it favoring an indirect approach. Playing an Illusionist is similar to staring at a round hole with a bunch of different tools that may, or may not, be useful, but the odds are good if you come at it in the right way, with the right pieces, your square peg is going to fit. It is pretty much their job to change the shape of the game and how it is occurring. This is not an easy job, but it sure can be a lot of fun.

In a combat intensive game, which features more wilderness and abandoned kaers than civilization, this is unlikely to be a good fit. There are going to be enough circumstances where all of the tricks are your disposal will be for naught. If your game features interaction and espionage (especially that), then the Illusionist is going to shine. The archetypal "balanced" game between the various elements (exploration, combat, diplomacy, espionage, etc) is going to test all of these adepts' abilities and be rewarding for someone up to the challenge.

When it comes to the Initiate Talent Options, there is a tragedy to be had: there is only one answer, but there are a number of good choices. Specifically, Spell Matrix is the answer. The odds that you come back here at Novice are nearly a certainty.
  • Astral Sight - You will be back for this (unless you are a windling, or already have it). This Talent is crucial for any spellcaster and can provide a wealth of information.
  • First Impression - I like Talents that encourage social interaction, it adds another way for the character to contribute, and this is a solid one.
  • Read/Write Language - There are a lot of good Talent Options available and the skill is pretty much just as good as the Talent. The only exception is if you want to read every language you speak.
  • Silent Walk - Yet another good Talent Option. This one is always popular when it shows up because everyone wants to go on the black op. 
  • Spell Matrix - This one. You are going to want this one here. You might be okay with just two for a long time, but you are going to need at least two Matrices and it's a long time to Fifth Circle.
The Novice tier Talent Options are something of a mixed bag, which just means there will be more opportunities to slip back into Initiate:
  • Arcane Mutterings - This is a curious Talent and can be used in support of your comrades by being "the creepy guy" during social interactions, or by weirding out someone bothering you enough to get them to leave. Outside of that, it's pretty useless and will cost a Karma.
  • Frighten - It costs Karma and while not bad, there are better Talent Options available. There are certainly spells that have similar effects as the end result.
  • Haggle - No, just not worth it.
  • Mimic Voice - In theme and can be very fun to use in conjunction with many of the Illusionist spells and Talents. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good Talent Options to choose from.
  • Spell Matrix (2) - While you may not want both of these, you will probably want one. Each of these gives you another option, and that is powerful.
  • Winning Smile - Not as good as First Impression, it is still something to consider if you are building an adept with a strong social component.
Fifth Circle, when you first get to Journeyman, is going to have the most agonizing choice you may ever have to make - especially when looking at Talent Options. Which do you get first, Enhanced Matrix or Willforce? Beyond that, there are some other good Talent Options here as well, but even then one rises above the others.
  • Enhanced Matrix (2) - Odds are reasonable you will want both of these. There are a number of good spells that become better when you don't have to Weave a Thread first (Memory Fog).
  • Graceful Exit - I have never seen a player use this Talent. There are definitely better Talent Options.
  • Hypnotize - This Talent fits perfectly with the Illusionist themes and is quite powerful. Also, not many Disciplines get access to it; highly recommended.
  • Resist Taunt - Until you reach fairly high Circles, it is hard to get any real use (by which I mean, success) from active defenses that aren't Discipline Talents.
  • Slough Blame - It costs a Karma, but that just means you get to spend it. This is a fantastic Talent and almost guaranteed to get mileage out of it.
  • Steel Thought - What goes for Resist Taunt goes for Steel Thought, even if the effects tend to be much nastier. It is difficult to rely on it to save you at all and requires a significant investment to even get to the point where you have a chance of success.
  • Willforce - Take this. It supercharges your spells and is arguably the most powerful Talent in the game for its sheer versatility (barring Versatility, of course). The biggest dilemma is do you get Willforce or Enhanced Matrix first? Willforce pretty much always wins.

Like every magician, their spells are what they are really about. The Illusionist spell list is one of the most difficult and rewarding to master. While primarily illusions (and being excellent at them with False Sight), they have a significant number of spells that affect the mind, or provide other, stranger effects that could prove useful in the right circumstances.

Which is really what their spells are about: having just the effect to solve a problem in a very strange fashion. Getting to know your spells inside and out is going to be vital to success, also always be on the lookout for the spells you don't have that could be useful.

There is a lot to like about the Illusionist spells; it is probably the most thematic list of spells out there, truly making an Illusionist feel different than a wizard with more illusions than normal. They go about solving problems differently than any other Discipline not because they choose to, but because those are the options available to them.

A fair warning: you will naturally be bringing out the Sensing and Disbelief rules and learning them well. They are likely to be a little cumbersome at first, but once they become familiar things will go more smoothly (it's not like grappling or anything). 


Elves, humans and windlings tend to bring the most (mechanically) to a Illusionist (as well as my house-ruled dwarfs). Elves have a bonus to Perception and Willpower, by far and away the two most important attributes. Humans have Versatility; they can be good at anything. Windlings get a bonus to Perception, increased physical defense, flight, Astral Sight and their penalties to strength and size are pretty much meaningless.

What the other Namegivers have to offer isn't of much use to a Wizard. Dwarfs get a bonus to Strength. Orks get the same, but also a penalty to Willpower. The benefits that both obsidimen and trolls get (increased size, Strength) are of little use to a Nethermancer, and each get a penalty to Perception. T'skrang don't have any penalties, but their bonuses aren't extremely helpful and a Wizard has no real need for Tail Combat.

While these can be effective Wizard (these differences start to become less meaningful as you advance in Circle), it is important to be well informed about your decision. This pretty much goes for everything.


Equipment for spellcasters is of minimal concern compared to all other Disciplines. On the plus side, there are no restrictions on what armor you can wear - an espagra scale cloak on top of other armor is always in style.

10 September 2013

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 29 - Illusionist Part 1, Spells

This is part twenty-eight Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.


The heart of what a spellcaster brings to any Group is their spells. They determine most of the play style and focus for a given Discipline, but also can represent a significant task to wade through and weighing the various options. The goal of this post is to analyze the spell selections in the first five Circles and give some idea of how those options may inform the emphasis of the Discipline, play style, as well the relative use of a particular spell. The reason this will only address the first five Circles is that you get to pick spells at those Circles - starting at Sixth Circle, you are on your own and it is largely in your GM's hands.

Depending on the Optional Rules used in your game, how you address picking up new spells will change. If spells can be purchased and do not cost Legend Points, there is little reason to not learn everything you can get your fingers on. If they do cost Legend Points, you may want to be more selective of what you include in your grimoire.

First Circle

Assuring Touch: No Threads, a decent duration (in rounds) and a small bonus to resist fear effects. By no means amazing, but this is an entirely reasonable spell by any stretch of the imagination.

Bellow of the Thundras: Not game changing, but if this is our Independence Day, or perhaps an apocalypse needs to be cancelled, accept no substitute.

Best Face: While the duration may be problematic (minutes), there are a lot of ways this spell can prove to be remarkably useful. It aligns nicely with how these adepts generally go about solving problems.

Blazing Fists of Rage/True Blazing Fists of Rage: This is the first entry into the shell game that is combat with an Illusionist. Each damage spell has a illusion version and an true version. The illusion potentially does more damage, but can be resisted by sensing the illusion. While treating the true version as an illusion will pretty much just hurt. It's very interesting, but you need to be interested in playing it in the first place. I would highly recommend getting a couple playing cards and writing "Illusion" on one, "True" on the other. Assuming you have both versions of the spell, when casting, place one face down. Have the GM determine how the target will react, then reveal the nature of the spell..

All of that being said, this is a probably going to be a useless spell. It is a buff, rather than a directly damaging spell, that requires the target to attack with Unarmed Combat. Low Circle Beastmasters (particularly windlings) and Purifiers may get something out of this, but otherwise just steer clear.

Catseyes: You can give anyone low-light vision for a few minutes. This can be remarkably useful in the right situation.

Disguise Metal: Let's be realistic, this spell makes money look like something other than money, or even more frequently it will make something made of metal look like it is made of gold. It isn't going to last very long (nor will it actually make it heavier), so be careful with how much you abuse this. Which is to say, make sure that you won't be around when the jig is up.

Displace Image: This is an interesting spell that is hindered by its limitations. It conceals your true location, but will still mimic all of your actions. In combat, it's biggest value seems to be setting up for a Surprise Strike, as maintaining the illusion under attack requires concentration. Outside of combat, where it has the most interesting potential, the duration is too short (rounds) to be of much actual use.

Fun With Doors: Most frequently used to simply screw with some people in a very Wile E. Coyote sort of way for a few minutes, this spell can also be used to effectively confound entry into a location for its duration. That ability can be remarkably valuable in the right situations.

Light: It creates light. You can also use that light to dazzle a target, but with one Thread to do so, I hope there are better options are your disposal (at First Circle, there might not be).

Pauper's Purse: Here is a strange spell. It can be used to protect (some of) your money from theft, or to temporarily deprive the target of some funds (to whatever end). The problem with the former is the duration is in minutes and the latter is that you have to touch wherever the money is. Sorting out how to make that work to your advantage is what playing an Illusionist is all about.

Rope Guide: So you can concentrate to have a rope wriggle anywhere within 30 yards of you. There is likely going to be some point in the future where that will come in handy. Just be prepared for some potentially crass table talk about this spell at times.

Unseen Voices: This is a great spell, particularly for investigation, social or espionage driven games. There are a lot of ways to use this effect. This is a bread-and-butter spell for Illusionists.

Second Circle

Blindness: It requires a Thread and pretty much everything the target is going to do is a Sensing Test, but blinding a single target is wildly effective. As long as the target needs to see.

Crafty Thought: I can virtually guarantee that the first time this spell comes up, there is going to be a lot of reading and re-reading of the text, trying to sort out exactly what it does. Which is not a whole lot. It can give the suggestion of a simple image/action, but there is no impetus to follow through on it. If you are conducting psychological warfare on a particular person, this may be very useful (that isn't a joke).

Disaster: Any character that uses Surprise Attack regularly may find this to be a boon. Also, if you need to get a short head start on an escape.

Encrypt: This would be a great spell in an espionage-driven game if the duration was longer. As it is, it is useful only to hide something for a few hours. There are situations where it is still useful, but the timing may be pretty crucial.

Ephemeral Bolt/True Ephemeral Bolt: Here is the next entry into Illusionist combat spells, and these are significantly better than Blazing Fists of Rage. In fact, the illusion version of this spell is great. It has no Threads, good range and good damage. The downsides are the whole illusion thing and the fact it does physical damage. Nonetheless, get both of these.

Impossible Knot: This is another in the long list of strange Illusionist spells, though this one has a duration in days, which is a bonus. There are all kinds of strange ways creating a knot that is almost impossible to untie can be useful. If you're playing an Illusionist, I certainly hope that you enjoy trying to come up with them.

Innocent Activity: If your Group gets into illicit activity (the answer to this is almost certainly "yes"), this spell will almost certainly come in useful. The duration isn't great (rounds), but it is hopefully enough time to do something clearly illegal in plain sight and conceal that activity.

Monstrous Mantle: Two Threads and a so-so duration for this buff spell that can be disbelieved. However, it does give a variety of bonuses, which is very nice. The flavor of the spell is a little strange - I generally simply treat it as a glamour making the target appear significantly more impressive and dangerous, though if the original description works for you, to each their own.

Remove Shadow: A small bonus to anything related to being unseen with a duration in minutes isn't bad. It's not amazing, but sometimes anything can count.

Send Message: In anything other than a hardcore kaer-crawling game (in which case, why are you playing an Illusionist at all?), this is a very good spell. The limited duration can work for you, leaving no trace of the note and limited opportunity to directly copy it. This spell is highly recommended.

Tailor: This is a very useful spell for anyone that engages in social interaction. Anything to help improve Attitude is a boon. This can also potentially be used to make things rather difficult for someone you don't like. I think that's a twofer.

Weather Cloak: There is nothing particularly special about this spell. It's not terrible, but also not terribly interesting.

You Got Me: If you like Best Face, then consider this the upgrade to that spell - you will want it. Similarly, if Best Face had too many limitations for you, look into this version.

Third Circle

Alarm: Most useful as an early warning protecting an unguarded (or guarded, if you fear the guard is going to go out like a chump) position. Or if you want to publicly bust someone for going somewhere. Not so useful if you are doing the sneaking. The duration (minutes) prevents it from being useful for any extended time. 

And Then I Woke Up: A significant bonus to detect an illusion. With the duration (2 rounds), it is really just a single illusion. Not bad, but nothing amazing to see here. It does reinforce the fact that the best foil to an Illusionist is another Illusionist - they know all of your tricks.

Blinding Glare: It can be powerful, but also rather difficult to make work. Essentially, you need targets that at range from your Group, but not too much range, because this spell only goes 12 yards. It has many of the same issues as Ethereal Darkness and Smoke Cloud, though the ability to use it at a distance makes it significantly better. Which moves it from "to be avoided" into "maybe".

Dampen Karma: Against a strong opponent (especially a Horror), this can be pretty amazing, particularly for only one Thread. This is a great spell to have in your arsenal.

Detect Illusionism Magic: Wizards are able to just Detect Magic and this spell rarely sees much play. Since Astral Sight is a popular (even vital) Talent Option for Illusionists, when Detect Illusionism Magic is applicable and Astral Sight is not is something of a grey to non-existent area.

Dispel Illusionism Magic: Similar to Detect Illusionism Magic, but likely to see significantly more use. A useful spell to have in your arsenal, but not the must have.

False Floor: Here is another example of a quintessential Illusionist spell. What exactly would you do with a spell that creates the impression that there is a trap? That is the kind of question that an Illusionist should enjoy grappling with.

Impossible Lock: Similar to Impossible Knot, but the duration is in hours. It's a reasonable way to keep something locked for a while, thwarting something you probably know about ahead of time, but not useful for general protection. It is worth mentioning that there has to be a lock and it only works against lock picking, not general attempts to open the door with a key.

Mind Fog: Yeah, this spell is just fun. Seriously fun. It is worth taking and putting in an Enhanced Matrix when you get one of those. A million and one uses. Easily one of the best spells in the game.

Nobody Here: Great to have for any Group that intends to get into trouble, or maybe sneak around a little. Which may as well define every Group, since forever.

Phantom Warrior: An entirely decent buff spell, giving a bonus to Physical Defense and against active defenses; which is pretty good for one Thread. The downside is that every action made against the character is pretty much a Sensing Test.

See the Unseen: Probably the best buff for perception Tests (as opposed to Perception Tests) around. It works in conjunction with other Talents (such as Astral Sight and Search), you just must be looking for something hidden.

Soothe the Savage Beast: A good spell, and certainly worth learning if the opportunity presents itself. The most fun comes from an Extraordinary Result, so make sure to spend Karma on the Spellcasting Test.

Suffocation: Three Threads and a brutal ranged area attack that affects Mystic Armor. With a duration. The number of Threads mean this isn't going to be useful all of the time, but if you can get the drop on some adversaries, it will be brutal.

Fourth Circle

Aura: An interesting spell that generally seems to be most useful for illuminating a single target for a short time.

Bleeding Edge: This spell isn't interesting, it's downright weird. Creepy, and very useful if you want to creep people out, but not so useful as a damage buff considering the requirements - you, effectively, have to steal someone's weapon and then use it against them. If you can pull that off, why not just keep their weapon and use yours that will have all of your neat bonuses baked in?

Circle of Well Being: A healing effect for Illusionists. Probably the most fiddly, but definitely worth taking.

Clarion Call: Pretty much the Jedi mind trick. This is very powerful and you are going to want it

Conceal Tracks: An anti-tracking spell. It's pretty specific in application, but you never know when it might come in handy.

Eyes Have It: The good news is this blinding effect can selectively effect a different target each round, and it lasts until they succeed at a Willpower Test. Oh, and it lasts for minutes. The only downside is that this spell as three Threads. This is a good spell.

Great Weapon: For one Thread, you can make a weapon cause opponents facing it to become Harried. Not bad, but every action they take against the person wielding the weapon counts as a Sensing Test. Not great.

Hunger: This spell is pretty messed up. It can be effective at whatever long-term warfare you want to conduct against the target, but realize you are probably a terrible person for using this spell.

Improved Alarm: It's just like the original Alarm spell, but it can be discrete and the spellcaster has some control over its notifications. That makes this a significantly better spell than the original.

Memory Blank: Similar to Memory Fog, but it requires one more Thread (for two total). It has a much longer duration and can be used to make the target forget up to a few minutes. You are going to find ways to use this.

Multi-Missile: Requires two Threads, a successful Attack Test, the Avoid Blow Test counts as a Sensing Test, you have to be next to the target and the damage is terrible. Move along, nothing to see here.

Nightmare of Foreboding: If you learned Hunger, this is a nice companion to take with it. There are really too many Threads to make this useful in a combat situation.

Stop Right There: This is a great spell. I highly recommend learning it and always keeping it in a Spell Matrix. If you have to reattune it on the fly, it may already be too late.

Unmask: Not real great, unless you are deeply involved in some intricate plots involving illusionary identities. It does allow for some Scooby-Doo unmasking, however.

Fifth Circle

Awaken: Strange, but useful. It will heal someone so that the regain consciousness, which is the primary use of this spell (let's face it), along with some other applications along the way. Pretty useful.

Bond of Silence: Tragically, the duration is rather short, but that may be all the time you need to make use of this spell. At the same time, it has three Threads, so it's not exactly perfect to use on a target that is running away from you.

Clothing Gone: At three Threads, this isn't a combat spell. However, it is a deeply embarrassing (possibly violating) spell. You're not really going to make friends of the target, but it is a great way to shame them.

Enter and Exit: This will likely see the most use looking for an entrance, rather than an exit, but it's terribly useful and cuts down a lot of the time puttering around, trying to figure out how to get into a location. Information is power and this gives some useful information.

Eye of Truth: The other half to And Then I Woke Up, this helps out with the Disbelief Tests. If you are getting mileage out of And Then I Woke Up, this will help out as well. If not, there probably isn't much to see here.

Flesh Eater: The description isn't entirely clear if anyone other than the target perceives the illusion. Nonetheless, the touch component generally makes this most useful in a social situation rather than combat (along with the Thread requirement). Be aware, the Thread is difficult to Weave.

Flying Carpet: It makes a flying carpet. Which is pretty awesome. There is very little reason to not get this spell one way or another.

Illusion: It creates a relatively simple illusion. Every Illusionist will want this spell.

Improve Karma: This is the spell I have seen Named more than any other. Why? Because +4 Steps to Karma is insane. It takes three Threads, has a duration in rounds, and costs a Karma, so this isn't really an all the time spell. Or even a very often spell. But as a permanent effect?

Noble Manner: A good bonus to social interaction, with a so-so duration (minutes); this is a solid spell worth picking up.

Phantom Fireball: While it has only one Thread, this is similar to, but worse than Suffocation. If you have lots of situations where you can lob area effect ranged attacks to great effectiveness, it may be worth investigating.

Pleasant Visions: A group lock down with a duration in minutes and only one Thread? Yeah, that will do nicely.

Switch: Five Threads is a lot and coming up with a great situation to use this in may be difficult. Honestly, this is more of an NPC escape spell than one PCs are going to use frequently. That being said, the hallmark of a successful Illusionist is lateral thinking and making a round hole fit a square peg.

Wall of Unfire: It will block off a hallway (though anything wider and someone will likely be able to slip around) and has three Threads. The damage is pretty decent and the duration is in minutes, but... it is just so small.