It is just now occurring to me that I should have read The Wanderer's Way and The Way of War as a single unit, because my take for both volumes is exactly the same - a workhorse book that adds some commendable detail to the Adept paths, but can't really stand on its own. I could potentially draw a distinction in my preference for skill/intrigue-style classes as opposed to pure combat classes, but while the Discipline lineup for The Wanderer's Way is overall more my style, I have to say that seeing them all grouped together like this really drives home how beholden Earthdawn is to the early-90s AD&D ecosystem. Don't get me wrong, it's doing a lot of interesting things, but if you're inventing a hundred class-based rpgs from scratch, how many times are you going to come up with something like the troubadour (bard)? "Let's go search for treasure in monster-infested caverns, but first, we need to recruit a singer-songwriter."
Likewise, the Thief continues to be a baffling class - they are literally criminals who steal stuff as their job. Their stealth and exploration skills can come in handy in a dungeon situation, sure, but why put those skills in such an anti-social package? This book even takes pains to emphasize that the class prefers solitude. Obviously we are talking about a line of descent - Dungeons and Dragons was inspired by Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Earthdawn was inspired by Dungeons and Dragons (the ED Thief's starting Talents are exactly the same as a D&D Thief's class abilities, right down to the backstab).
It's a reminder that Earthdawn is a very cleverly put-together, but the thing that's most clever about it is the way it rigorously justifies D&D tropes. . .
And I just realized that I was about to launch into the same rant about Thieves that I did after The Adept's Way (i.e. it's weird that there's a magical thievery school that people just openly advertise and it's somehow allowed to exist), but that's not surprising, because this is essentially the same book.
As an expansion to The Adept's Way it works pretty well. The Air Sailor Pirate build blurs the already tenuous line between Air Sailor and Sky Raider, and the urban Scout build blurs the tenuous line between Scouts and Thieves, but it's nice to get a ground-level view of the setting. It's best to think of this as a fiction anthology and just ignore the fact that sometimes you get fiction where a troubadour explains the concept of active listening. All of the stories are a bit basic - like the introduction of the "gentleman" air pirate - because they're really just introducing character concepts, but, yeah, sometimes they cross the line into actively condescending (the Archer chapter in The Way of War had a section explaining that people have physical senses).
Overall, I liked it, though. A lot of the new Talent Knacks are pretty cool. You can potentially do a double-jump or extend your Gold Sense to include iron or jewels. Resist Taunt seems niche, but I think you could build a really strange and memorable character around the Fool Self knack. Some of them are reprints from 1st edition, but I approve of the generally more experimental tone of the 2nd edition newcomers.
There's also a new Discipline, the Mountebank, that is kind of fun and kind of disruptive - they're magical con-artists whose ultimate ability is to control people like puppets. I'm not sure it can stand up to wilderness or kaer-exploring adventures, but it's a real powerhouse in town. It fits in well with the original Disciplines if you're okay with the eccentric old-school theory of balance where a character can excel in one arena at the expense of the others (and this is, still, a game that has a "Warrior" class, two if you count the Zhan Shi). In an ideal world, it would be versatile enough to allow diplomat or leader builds, but that might be a job for a 3rd attempt at this supplement.
Ukss Contribution: One of the new Talent Knacks, the Shortest Path, allows you to learn the shortest route to any known location. There are two interesting facts about this Knack - the first is that its short range optimizes its use for cities (in most natural settings, the shortest path is a straight line) and the second is that it works by summoning a minor elemental spirit who leads you along the route. It's an incredibly cute image and I'll have to figure out a way to work helpful urban pixies into the setting.
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