Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Earthdawn Companion - 1st Edition

 The Earthdawn Companion is a workhorse book that mostly serves to add stuff that could or should have gone into the core. There are new rules for things like followers or airship combat, guidelines for creating new monsters and Disciplines (character classes), and long lists of new spells and talents. It's all welcome material, but it is precisely as useful and interesting as more pages of the core (which is to say, "somewhat.")

A decision I somewhat disagree with is separating out the high-level Disciplines. The core covered levels 1-8, and the Companion extends the level range from 9-15. I guess it shaves off a page per Discipline and lets you trim down the talent chapter, but at the price of making high-level play seem like an afterthought.

Although, I  would be remiss if I didn't confess that a major factor contributing to this feeling is the fact that I have only the vaguest idea about how the classes are balanced. I compared a few of the capstone talents the Disciplines get at level 15, but is the Beastmaster's "Venom" ability better or worse than the Thief's "Gain Surprise?" Even if they could be compared directly, what am I to make of the fact that Cavalrymen get "Life Check" at level 15, but Warriors gain it at Level 6? Thanks to the way xp costs work, not only are the Cavalrymen losing out on the benefit of the talent for 9 levels, they are also paying more than twice the xp per rank.

The whimsical balance between the Disciplines suggests to me that there's no real plan for high-level play. In order to advance to the highest ranks of a Discipline, you've got to have significant investment in approximately half your available talents, so maybe there's the hope that the rules force you into a viable build, but my instinct is that character-optimization is a major concern.

The other big thing this supplement does is introduce two new character models - Questors, who gain magical powers from the Passions (i.e. "gods") and Lightbearers, who are a secret occult society organized around one of the main premises of the game (fighting the Horrors). They're both pretty interesting, from a setting-perspective, but my main concern is that each option is powered by a single talent, giving you an irresistible bang for your buck (3 powers, typically comparable to a high-level spell for the Questor Talent and 1 power per rank, all keyed off the same talent, for the Lightbearer talent).

There are downsides - Questors must perform notable deeds in their Passion's name, in addition to spending xp (at least 987 life-threatening deeds to max-out your Passion talent), and some of the Lightbearer's best abilities don't trigger until they're dead - but as a dip, both are an incredible bargain, which kind of seems like the opposite of what you'd want for character concepts representing extreme dedication and faithfulness.

Overall, I'd say that the Earthdawn Companion is nearly obligatory, given how basic its extra rules are, but that its very utility means that I don't think highly of sectioning off this information into a supplement.

Ukss Contribution: The Gold Sense talent - some people just have a knack for finding gold. That creates an interesting economic niche.

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