24 February 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Companion Discipline Preview 13 - Beastmaster

This is the thirteenth 4E Companion Discipline Preview, 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 week brings a preview of the Beastmaster Discipline from the forthcoming Earthdawn Companion for 4E. This is intended to offer some insights into the Discipline design. Obviously the actual progression is missing, which is found at FASA Games.

The primary theme for Beastmasters as they reach these lofty heights of power is they are dangerous. They are apex predators and increasingly take on characteristics of beasts within their domain. While each Beastmaster takes a different approach, they are tough and tenacious as few others, while maintaining brutal offensive prowess.

Tough Hide is still their Warden Discipline ability, but instead of providing a bonus to Physical Armor, it gives them a bonus to Toughness. This change was primarly made to allow a broader bestial nature and connection, rather than just to creatures with a tough hide.

The previous Master Discipline ability, Wild Sense, has been replaced by Bestial War Form. Wild Sense is certainly an interesting ability and appropriate for the Discipline, but falls short of the mark when it comes to the impact of a Master tier ability, particularly with the adjustment in emphasis of the Discipline. Bestial War Form is their apotheosis, blending flexibility with power, allowing them to adapt their form to the situation. For example, taking on traits from a cheetah to give chase, and once their quarry has been cornered, shifting to a brithan's hide and claws.

Their Discipline talents saw some movement as well, reflecting changes in the talent line-up and their thematic adjustment. Animal Leadership and Chameleon were moved to talent option, Bestial Resilience is now Relentless Recovery (while the former was an excellent name, it didn't quite describe what the talent did), and Astral Web, Develop Animal Sense, and Scent Identifier are no longer talents. Animal Leadership and Chameleon were moved for the same reason: they aren't appropriate to all Beastmasters. The former includes animals in a way that may not be appropriate to every character or every game, while the latter requires the adept to possess Stealthy Stride.

Critical Hit, Howl, Momentum Attack, Unflinching Fortitude, and Vicious Wound replace these Discipline talents. These talents are more generically useful, but show a certain brutality to the Discipline. Vicious Wound is debilitating, particularly when combined with Claw Frenzy. The volume of attacks then can generate (and possible bonuses from Cobra Strike) increase the likelihood of a Critical Hit and Momentum Attack. While Unflinching Fortitude means they're unlikely to be bothered by any but the worst attacks. Finally, Howl allows them to express their dominance over the battlefield, causing a broad penalty to their opponents.

Their talent options show some significant changes. Bestial Toughness (effectively) and Howl were both moved to Discipline talents, while Cobra Strike is a Journeyman talent option. Enduring Art, Incite Stampede, Plant Shelter, and Tame Mount are no longer talents. While First Ring of Perfection, Safe Path, and Spirit Strike weren't good fits for the Discipline. The Discipline simply doesn't have the Sustained actions to utilize First Ring of Perfection - and it's also a strange talent for the Discipline in general - Safe Path is about avoiding danger, whereas the Beastmaster is a predator, and Spirit Strike reflects a spirituality or connection to astral space they simply don't have. Theirs is a world of flesh and blood.

New talent options include: Alley Cat Approach, Armor Mount, Aura Armor, Bloodhound Form, Burning Vigor, Eagle Eye, Life Check, Resist Pain, Second Chance, Steely Stare, Vital Strike, and Vital Ward. These reinforce existing themes, or build on new/secondary themes. For combat, most of their talent options are defensive in nature (Aura Armor, Defensive Posture, Life Check, Resist Pain, and Vital Ward), but their ability to inflict a frightening number of attacks can do frightening things with Burning Vigor and Vital Strike, not to mention the general increase in physicality Burning Vigor brings with it.

Alley Cat Approach, Bloodhound Form, Chameleon, Eagle Eye, and Echolocation all provide more subtle approaches for these adepts, particularly in the role of a scout and gathering intelligence in general.

Lion Spirit and Steely Stare both play with their concept of dominance, particularly the latter which extends it from just animals to Namegivers as well. Speaking of animals, Armor Mount, Goring Attack, and Animal Leadership all further that connection, with the first two directly improving animal companions' capabilities in combat (defensive and offensive respectively).

The end result is a versatile and dangerous combatant, who also can follow varied directions to best suit their concept and group.

17 February 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Companion Discipline Preview 12 - Thief

This is the twelfth 4E Companion Discipline Preview, 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.

The last Discipline in this triad is the Thief. This is intended to offer some insights into the Discipline design. Obviously the actual progression is missing, which is found at FASA Games.

Thieves have a few different themes they explore in their higher Circles. One, seen through their Discipline abilities, ever increasing embrace of darkness and shadows. Another is taking their thieving abilities to another level, metaphorically, or even another plane, quite literally. There are also their deceptive and opportunistic streaks.

Both Warden and Master Discipline abilities are new, replacing the previous entries for different reasons. Shadowcloak is so appropriate for the Discipline, it is the Journeyman Discipline ability. Shadow Heal, on the other hand, isn't a bad ability, it's just a strange one. It fits with the idea Thieves are loners and don't need anyone else, but doesn't particularly reinforce anything else they have going on. Which is to say it may be seen again in some form at a later date.

As mentioned above, the new abilities both build on how Thieves aren't just as competent in darkness as they are in light, but it's starting to feel like home. It's a part of them. This begins with their Warden ability, Shadow Sight. As long as they can see, even magical darkness doesn't bother them anymore. If they're using Shadowcloak, they can see even better. At Master they can become one with their Shadowcloak, bringing a new dimension to their intrusion game.

Like so many other Disciplines before them, Thieves' Discipline talents got a makeover. Aura Armor, Gain Surprise, Gold Sense, and Lip Reading are all gone. Of those, Aura Armor is still a talent, but it wasn't a good fit for Thief. That feeling of fortitude, stability, etc., it just isn't their style. Gain Surprise is somewhat gone. We'll get back there in a moment.

Naturally, this means there are some new Discipline talents to fill the gaps that were created. Enter Beguiling Blade, Dream Thief, Power Mask, and Snatch Talent. Of those, Power Mask isn't new and is also a natural fit for a Discipline naturally involved in deception. Also, something about Thieves not always being popular *cough* Travar *cough*.

Building on the theme of deception is Beguiling Blade. This can be seen as the replacement for Gain Surprise, but it does a few different things that make it a more interesting option. It builds on an existing talent, Conceal Object, rather than effectively replacing it - an area explored in a number of high Circle talents. It does two things: improves the Conceal Object test and turns it into a Simple action. This effectively accomplishes the purpose of Gain Surprise, but has non-combat applications as well and Conceal Object just got better. The name strongly implies it is a combat-only talent, but to be perfectly honest, it's a really good name.

The next two new talents, Dream Thief and Snatch Talent, both move Thieves from stealing literal objects into the realm of stealing things more... ephemeral. Also, both interact with Pick Pockets. Snatch Talent does pretty much what it says on the tin, while Dream Thief is a bit weirder. It allows the adept to steal memories. The stolen talents and memories, once stolen, have a substance to them that can be stored in an Astral Pocket and transferred to others with the appropriate talent. Each has a duration and prohibition against using the stolen bits. But Thieves have a certain knack for breaking the rules.

Moving to their talent options, let's take stock of what has been lost: Bank Shot, Detect Falsehood, Mind Wave, Poison Resistance, Quick Shot, Safe Thought, Sense Magic Item, and Shackle Shrug. As usual, some of these aren't talents anymore or maybe weren't a good fit. With that, let's see the new entries: Acrobatic Defense, Alley Cat Approach, Anticipate Blow, Astral Sight, Defensive Posture, Disarming Smile, Echolocation, Fluid Movement, Netherwalk, Orbiting Spy, Perfect Focus, Resist Taunt, Spirit Strike, and Wind Catcher. It's worth noting Escape Divination is now Escape Plan, while Second Weapon and Sense Danger are both in earlier tiers.

There's a lot of new things here to support a variety of different Thief characters and their particular direction. The one thing that didn't get a lot of support is the more social Thief character, receiving only Disarming Smile and Resist Taunt. Many of the advanced social talents weren't a great fit and they already have access to solid set of abilities to support any grifting. These two build on that, without moving them into the realm of a truly social character. Instead reinforcing the idea social abilities are a means to an end for this Discipline.

One they do see more options include improving their ability to gain access and get out of trouble, with talents such as Alley Cat Approach, Escape Plan, Netherwalk, and Wind Catcher. Along with this comes new ways to gather information, useful for casing a target, scouting, or spying: Astral Sight, Echolocation, and Orbiting Spy. For those more interested in the role of opportunistic killer, they have some new defensive options, Acrobatic Defense, Anticipate Blow, and Defensive Posture, along with offensive options in Critical Hit and Spirit Strike.

All together, Thieves are embracing the concepts of taking and shadows. The ephemeral is now something they can grasp. That maybe all these rules are for other people, not them. And they would give it all up for just a little bit more.

10 February 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Companion Discipline Preview 11 - Elementalist

This is the eleventh 4E Companion Discipline Preview, 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.

Continuing with the established trend brings the final spellcaster: Elementalist. This is intended to offer some insights into the Discipline design. Obviously the actual progression is missing, which is found at FASA Games.

While their mastery of elemental magic has always been their thing. As they enter higher Circles, Elementalists focus even more on their connection to the elements. Whether Discipline abilities or talents.

Earth and Wind, their Warden tier ability, remains mostly the same. The circle of earth has been clarified, noting the adept doesn't need to be inside the circle, the radius is based on successes, and now only affects allies. Which should make it more useful in general and inline with other Warden abilities. The circle of air also has the same clarification and successes effect, but now acts as Dispelling effect for some specific effects. It's not going to come up as much as the former ability, but is effectively a fun bonus ability that can be incredibly valuable in certain circumstances.

Their Master tier ability, Elemental Form, emphasizes their elemental connection and also serves to highlight some of the fundamental interactions of those elements. It doesn't have quite the raw power of Nethermancer's Astral Face, but offers more versatility through bonuses to Thread Weaving as well and a free extra thread. Well, versatility at a cost to giving up a particular element for the time - nothing's free. The fun really seems to begin when paired with an active Earth Staff and the high Circle spellcasting talents.

Element Matrix, the previous Master tier ability, isn't a bad ability at all - it's quite good. However, it didn't drive home their elemental connection other than carrying around a bag of sticks and stones. Something similar to this particular ability may show up again sooner than later.

Looking at their Discipline talents, there are two in common with the previous edition: Elemental Walk and Stone Skin. The other five are new: Concise Casting, Elemental Mastery, Plant Talk, Spliced Weave, and Vine Armor. These talents either improve their spellcasting abilities (Concise Casting, Elemental Mastery, and Spliced Weave), or their elemental connection (Elemental Mastery, Elemental Walk, Plant Talk, Stone Skin, and Vine Armor). As well, Stone Skin and Vine Armor work to improve their defensive abilities 

Of those, Elemental Mastery is the only talent new to the previews. It's basic effect, improving Thread Weaving tests for spells with an elemental keyword, is fairly staid. However, it designed to have knacks that enhance spells with specific elemental keywords hang off of it.

Their talent options are a similar story, with Armored Matrix, Perfect Focus, Shared Matrix, and Summoning Circle (previously a Discipline talent) being the only returning entries. As always, the reason for removing various talents runs a variety of reasons. Plant Shelter is now a spell, while Disarm Trap is much too late. At this point, the group has probably figured out some way to deal with traps. Possibly whoever has the most health. While many weren't a particularly good fit (Spirit Strike) or simply aren't talents anymore.

The talent options available all work to enhance some aspect of their primary themes, whether improving their summoning capabilities (Contest of Wills and Summoning Circle), their spellcasting abilities (Armored Matrix, Casting Pattern, Effect Pattern, and Range Pattern), their elemental connection (Burning Vigor, Iron Constitution, Shock Treatment, Temper Flesh, and Thunderous Resolve), being tough bastards (Burning Vigor, Iron Constitution, Life Check, Temper Flesh, Thunderous Resolve, Unflinching Fortitude), or their aptitude with objects (Evidence Analysis, Perfect Focus, and Suppress Curse).

There are a lot of different ways to approach these talents, depending on the direction the adept wants go and their role within the group. The result is a Discipline with quite a bit of diversity, which can build towards a variety of roles, focusing on one theme in particular, or picking up a variety of useful abilities. Which reinforces their role as a clutch supporting character, keeping the group going against all odds. Sometimes against their will - take that Recovery test. Take it and like it.

03 February 2017

Earthdawn 4E: Companion Discipline Preview 10 - Warrior

This is the tenth 4E Companion Discipline Preview, 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.

For this week we have a preview of the Warrior. This is intended to offer some insights into the Discipline design. Obviously the actual progression is missing, which is found at FASA Games.

While other combat Disciplines may have their particular specialties, Warriors are the all-around best when it comes to violence. Their particular specialty is sheer endurance. Their abilities don't tend to be as big and flashy, but they're dependable and enable Warriors to keep going, to be the bulwark when things go wrong. Along with their elemental and group themes, this continues through their higher Circles.

Their Warden ability, Battlefield Awareness, is similar to the previous edition, though it was rather costly at 3 Strain and often had associated timing questions. Such as, can it be used as a Free action to prevent being Surprised? Otherwise, it's of limited use. Now it lasts for an entire day for 2 Blood Magic Damage, which allows it to be specifically useful in the situations where it is most needed. However, it no longer entirely negates Harried because that is too powerful and entirely eliminates too many different options.

Elemental Warrior is the new Master ability, replacing Resurrect Self. It plays up their elemental connection in a way that gives players interesting ways to describe their actions, and provides a solid benefit to not just the Warrior, but their allies as well. Since it is always active and at no cost, this continues the overall trend of straight forward and effective abilities.

The previous Master ability, Resurrect Self, wasn't bad, but it also didn't come up very often and was too reactive in nature. It simply may never come up, which is good in a way, but also uninteresting. Coupled with the permanent cost for using it, this made it something that needed to be replaced.

As expected, their Discipline talents have a number of differences across the board. Earth Skin is available at Journeyman, while Resist Pain and Burning Vigor (effectively a replacement for Vitality) were moved to talent options, and Unmount is no longer a talent (an oddly specific Discipline talent against a rather uncommon opponent). This gave an opportunity to entirely rebuild their Warden talents with Chilling Strike, Relentless Recovery, Unflinching Fortitude, and Vine Armor.

Relentless Recovery and Unflinching Fortitude both improve the overall toughness of a Warrior, enabling to keep going longer and harder. Vine Armor has a similar effect, by both improving Wood Skin and their Mystic Armor at the cost of a Recovery test. Chilling Strike benefits Warriors for synergy with Air Dance, but also any allies who are ganging up on the same target.

While Stone Skin isn't a new talent and still improves Physical Armor, it has changed. Like Vine Armor is to Wood Skin, it also improves the usage of Earth Skin in addition to the Physical Armor boost for the cost of a Recovery test. The duration of both these talents is in hours, like the talents they improve.

Similar to their Discipline talents, there are quite a few changes to talent options. Battle Bellow, Body Blade, Frenzy, Matrix Strike, Mind Blade, Shield Beater, and Weapon Breaker have all been removed. Some aren't talents anymore, while others weren't the best fit given other options on the table.

The new talent options that were introduced, Champion Challenge, Defensive Posture, Iron Constitution, Lion Spirit, Rally, Soul Aegis, Storm Shield, Vicious Wound, and Vital Ward, support some combination of their themes. Iron Constitution and Storm Shield are both elemental themed, along with the already present Burning Vigor, Rushing Attack, and Steel Thought. Champion Challenge and Rally are both group oriented talents, an argument can even be made for Storm Shield supporting this as well - who doesn't like attacking an opponent on the ground?

Critical Hit, Ethereal Weapon, Spirit Strike, Vicious Wound, and Vital Strike provide new offensive options, while the list of talents that support defense or being tougher is... extensive. Iron Constitution, Lion Spirit, Steel Thought, and Soul Aegis all improve their ability to deal non-physical attacks, while Burning Vigor and Resist Pain simply make them tougher in general. The former can almost feel like a necessity given the number of talents at their disposal that cost Recovery tests. It was almost a Discipline talent, but ultimately cut because there wasn't a strong impetus for everyone to continually improve it. This leaves Defensive Posture and Vital Ward as options against physical attacks.

The resulting adept is tough as nails in virtually any situation with preparation. They can keep going all day and have access to a tool for virtually any situation. When things are grim, the best option may be to regroup behind the Warrior who can bear the brunt of an offensive. Warriors can be both the spear of an assault, and the rock opponents break upon. Which is about right for these masters of close combat.