Earthdawn is a high fantasy game that was originally published by FASA corp. Beginning in the 90s and is now published under license by FASA Games. Earthdawn exemplifies many of the best aspects of the 90s era games with a rich and deeply engaging world that is coupled with a well designed and iconoclastic rule set. The CoreStep system is also used in FASA’s 1879 game which we looked at for The Cermak Street Irregulars.
Earthdawn is set on the continent of Barsaive which is recovering from The Scourge, or the period of highest magic when extradimensional entities called Horrors were feeding on all of the residents of Barasive. Protection from this Scourge was granted by the wards of Thera which exchanged fealty for the wards becoming an Empire spanning most of the globe based on this trade. These wards were used to create protected underground kaers or sealed off citadels but the wards didn’t always work, leaving some monster infested and waiting for discovery to this day.
The Player Characters are all Adepts, or individuals with a connection to magic that chanel it into the Archetypal Disciplines, such as Archer, Beastmaster, Warrior, or Elementalist.
Every player will select a Discipline which has a set number of Discipline and Optional Talents that fit within that archetype which are like magically fueled skills. When selecting your Discipline, you get a limited number of slots into which you can use your starting Talents as well as your starting ranks in the non-magical skills. Talents are often fueled by Strain, which is marked off from and part of the same track as your health.
Like 1879, Earthdawn defines the level of prowess of a character in “steps” that are the result of combining and Attribute with a Skill or Power for a “Step Number” that tells you how many of what kind of dice to roll. This is one of the parts that can be confusing to players new to the CoreStep system is that each step changes the die rolled, but the statistician’s allure to this system is that the Step Number is the statistical average of the dice rolled, so a Step 10 should on average result in a 10. If you manage to roll the maximum on a die, such as an 8 on a d8 or a 6 on a d6, you roll another die of that same type and add to your results. Additionally, Adepts like the PCs may spend karma to add an additional d6 to a Talent roll.
Opposed rolls have target numbers based on the defense of the target, be it physical, magical, or social, which is a derived statistic from your attributes. There is a great deal of complexity and beauty in the spell casting system of Earthdawn, but we will save that for a day when a spell caster is on the agenda.
We already know that we are starting with a human and an Archer, which means that we would normally be making a beeline for Perception and Dexterity as our main attributes, but the Balama character concept means that we will want a good bit of Charisma as well. The initial designs in a CoreStep system lend themselves to making a well balanced character and offer a greater ability to spread things and when we talk about advancement you will see why I set out Balama’s attributes as Dexterity 15 (Step 6), Strength 13(6), Toughness 13(6), Perception 14(6), Willpower 10(5), Charisma 15(6) looking like a fairly balanced beginning.
With 8 Ranks of Talents to start, Balama is going to spread them out across Arrow Weaving for Magical Threads, Missile Weapon, Avoid Blow, Mystic Aim, and True Shot as Discipline Talents with one each. The remaining three will go to Awareness and First Impression as Talen Options and Versatility. Versatility is the Human Racial feature that allows a human adept to learn a talent from another discipline. While you cannot spend karma on it, and so it functions like a skill in many respects, it can be learned more quickly. Every rank in Versatility allows for a single talent to be learned in this manner.
For skills, I am going with an Artisan skill of Singing, Languages of Throalic (the Dwarven language that is the common tongue of Barsaive) and Theran, and literacy in Throalic. Two Knowledge ranks will be split between Barsaive History and Military Organizations. The eight general skills are going to Melee Combat, Diplomacy, Physician,
While in Earthdawn, could could power straight through to Fifth Circle with about 15,000 Legend Points, but I am working with about 25,000 just to have some fun.
You have a limited ability to increase Attributes in Earthdawn – you can only raise each Attribute a total of three times with an increasing cost each time. Charisma and Dexterity were both put on the cusp of the next Step, so 800 Legend Points each raises them and boosts their Step to 7.
To raise your Circle, you have to advance your Discipline Talents, but not your Optional Talents or in this case Versatility Talents, to the target level and be trained by someone of a higher circle. We spend a large chunk of our Legend Points to raise our original 5 Discipline Talents to 5 and the new Discipline talents of Mystic Pursuit, Anticipate Blow, and Long Shot. I keep Awareness and First Impression at that same level too. Additionally, along the way, we raise Versatility to pick up the Versatility Talents of Leadership and Conversation and raise some skills. As you can see, the Versatility Talent is allowing us to expand the Leadership and Noble bearing sort of talents from our concept. While you can’t spend karma on the Versatility Talents, you can raise them more quickly and cheaply than Skills.
I also began to provide a forged Longbow and made the family armor a thread armor to enhance her abilities as well. Mystic weapons and Armor in Earthdawn has its powers unlocked as you discover parts of its history and magical Pattern. You weave magical “threads” to that Pattern, tying your pattern to its.
At Fifth Circle, we pick up the first rank of Spot Armor Flaw Discipline Talent and the Talent Option Etiquette as well as having the ability to crease a mystic projectile from thin air if out of arrows and enhance the damage of ranged attacks with karma.
Earthdawn provided the most flexibility of all the systems we looked at here to advance Balama but that flexibility did come with complexity. Of our three Balama’s, I think this one is the middle ground in a lot ways but with a truly unique rule set that I distinctly enjoy.
The kaer had been opened for some time by now. Those of Kaer Domine who made it through the Scourge were a proud sortand Balama had a reason to be prouder than most. Born since the end of the Scourge, when the kaer had been opened, Balama was from the line that descended through the Scourge from the old Burgers and had become hereditary rulers. The most obvious sign of this blessing from the passions is the calling to the Archer Discipline in her family line. Only those with power and fortune would be Archers when there was no need for a Long Bow underground for hundreds of years.
Balama was particularly glib, or some would say charming when she began to use ehr words and see through the deceits of others. Her calling to the Archer Discipline came as a bit of a surprise when many assumed she was destined to be a Troubadour. Being born to parents who recalled the quiet and dark caverns that kept the kaer safe and sealed, only further fired the desire in Balama to travel and see this frightening land. Her chance came quickly, though not as she had hoped.
Kaer Domine had allied with Throal, in opposition to the Theran Empire when the Therans returned after the Scourge laying claim to all of Barsaive. The hundreds of years of self sufficient freedom in the kaer had sparked the flame of independence and stoked by the dwarves Book of Throal laying out the basis for modern Barsaive. Empires, however, do not take such answers easily. The Theran-Throalic conflict roiled across Barsaive, and Kaer Domine was swept up in the fight. Laying near the Badlands, not far from Travar, the Kaer had to defend itself from the Therans and their House K’Tenshin T’Skrang allies. Here the Archers shone. Here Balama was given the first taste of travel and true leadership.
After the war, Balama had a desire, a need, to see more of Barsaive when not under constant threat of Theran attack. Her family’s leather armor that stayed polished and well kept during the Scourge went with her, and a hint of her family’s pre-Scourge past began to surface. It wasn’t easy to leave home but she had to do it. Had to follow her own path that was fired from the heart of her kaer and into Barsaive.