Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide

Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide
From: Redbrick Limited/FASA Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide is a new RPG Core Player’s Guide from Redbrick Limited/FASA Games.

I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to.  I felt I owed those products a review and since I have started Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products.  Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide is one of them.  Since I received this, the original publisher Redbrick Limited has folded and what remained has been rolled up into a new reborn FASA Games, Inc.  Ironically, this is the only original FASA property they retain.  The other properties supported by Redbrick are now with FASA, including Blue Planet and Fading Suns, but slow progress is being made on those.

Earthdawn has always seemed to have an underground following.  In a market that is now all but devoid of a major secondary fantasy setting to Pathfinder, there is a lot of opportunity out there when fatigue sets in for the current king of the genre.  Originally written as a pre-history to the Shadowrun line, over time the two products diverted away from each other and Earthdawn had to survive on its own.

Third Edition is the most recent update to the rules and setting since the game’s release in 1993.  Starting in the hands of Redbrick, through Mongoose Publishing, and finally landing in the hands of the new resurrected FASA, the game has travelled a lot.  In the 3rd edition incarnation, it has seen a good amount of support for a while and now has been put out in Pathfinder and Savage World versions.

There are two core rulebooks for Earthdawn 3rd editionThe Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide.  If you are simply going to play a character in this game, all you need is the Player’s Guide.  In the Gamemaster’s Guide, there is more material for a GM to use to create a campaign.  The Gamermaster’s Guide will be reviewed as well at a later time.

THE SETTING

The setting of Earthdawn is similar to most other fantasy settings with a few simple differences.  Earthdawn centers on a sub-continental region known as Barsaive.  The entire world has only recently recovered from a great cataclysm known as the Scourge, where great Horrors overwhelmed the civilizations of the land and laid waste to everything living.  However, there are those that foresaw the coming of the Horrors.  To survive the Scourge, these people went underground, building great underground cities and living there for centuries, waiting for the day when the Horrors would leave their land.  400 years later, people began to return to the surface to find things changed.  Most of the Horrors had left while others still haunt the land.  Adventurers are usually a part of the effort to retake the land from the remaining Horrors and return peace to their world.

The predominant power is the dwarven kingdom of Throal.  Seeking to unite Barsaive’s scattered cities and towns under one crown, they are challenged by the Empire of Therans, which has risen to once again enslave the peoples of Barsaive.  The Therans once ruled the land with an iron fist and no free thinking people wants to see that return again.  The ironic thing is that it was the Theran magicians that predicted the Scourge and the coming of the Horrors.

The role of magic in this setting is considerable. Magic is a natural force in Earthdawn, like the phases of the moon or the rising and setting of the sun.  It is cyclical, rising up to create positive and negative phases.  During the positive phase, magic is flowing freely and all benefit from its power.  During the negative phase, horrible creatures rule the land, like in the Scourge.  Magic is at the heart of Earthdawn as a defining factor to all things.  It is just a question of how it is used that makes each character different.

Magic is handled quite uniquely in the setting.  There is quite a bit of explanation to describe magic in a way that is different than all the other fantasy settings.  Without going into a lot of detail, the game really goes out of its way to make the magic seem different in this setting. It uses quite a few metaphysical terms to describe the role of magic in the setting and defines four major types of magic – Thread Magic (magic that can produce magic items), Blood Magic (magic through bloodletting and sacrifice), Spell magic (casting spells) and Summoning (summoning spirits to do you bidding).

The races of the settings include Dwarfs, Elves, Humans, Orks, and Trolls – all familiar races from standard fantasy.  It also includes Obsidimen (stone-skinned humanoids), T’skrang (reptilian humanoids), and Windlings (fairy like creatures).  Giving the players a few familiar races with a few new ones is always a good thing to have in order to separate oneself from the pack.  A fairly thorough rundown of the setting’s primary location – the subcontinent of Barsaive – is provided at the end with a detailed and colorful map.  All you would want in a fantasy world is here.

From page # 4: “Our minds are our own, our thoughts incomprehensible to others. Should you wish to understand the  wisdom of others, that will cost you extra.

THE SYSTEM

The core system is like a merging of d20 with Savage Worlds, with a little of an old pre-d20 WotC system called Alternity thrown in (if anyone remembers that system).  It uses a variety of dice – from d6 to d12 – on a table of steps scaling from 4 to 40 called the Action Dice Table (which is reminiscent of the step table in Alternity).  Each Step on the Action Dice table defines one or more dice to be rolled. These dice range from d6 at the lowest level to 4d12+2d10 at the highest.  Basically, after determining your level on the Action Dice Table, you take those dice, roll them, add them together and compare to a difficulty.

However, that’s not all.  Like in the Savage World system, if the die rolls the highest possible result, you roll again and add that to the total as well.  This continues for all dice until something other than the highest possible is rolled.  There is also a table that for each difficulty number displays the Result Level, which can be used to measure how successful a roll is.

I am not overly thrilled by this system but I can see the fun in it.  It is already similar to too many systems out there and I would rather play them. My least favorite part of this system is the extensive table that displays the Result Level, which is the measure of just how well you do against a particular difficulty number – which is the difference between the roll and the difficulty.  However, the scale changes based on the difficulty number, making for a rather hefty table.  I can deal with some tables, but large tables like that annoy me.  That aside, however, it is a fairly solid system that is easy to learn and easy to play.

Characters are made up of their race and the discipline.  Picking a discipline is like picking a class in D&D.   However, it is a little more involved than a simple profession.  The book claims that the Discipline is “a way of life.”  Instead of levels, this game has Circles.  A character’s race provides the base attributes and a few racial abilities.  The characters spends a number of additional points to increase the six base attributes, which are three physical and three mental, much like other familiar games most are familiar with.  Various other values are derived from the attributes including defensive values and wound values.

A character’s discipline provides character talents (much like class abilities or feats in d20) and a general idea of how the character interacts with the world around him.  The various levels or Circles have bonuses to various characteristics as well as Talents.  As the character grows in experience, he gains more and more Talents and other bonuses from his Discipline.  There is enough variety in the Talents that two characters in the same discipline can be pretty different.  One can also have multiple Disciplines and would gain benefit from one or the other based on which one leveled. In the Player’s Guide, there are 15 core disciplines but it indicates there are more to come in other supplements.

From page # 14: “The magic of the world follows rules. Understand them and use them, as others will surely use them against you.

The Magic system is somewhat complex.  It introduces many strange and obscure concepts that are not always intuitive.  Central to magic is the astral space – a parallel plane of existence that is intertwined with the physical world and is the gateway to other planes  It is believed to be the source of magic in the physical world.  Patterns, True Patterns, Names and Naming also play a big part of magic, magic items and forms of magic.

To me, this is an overly complicated way to make their magic different from other fantasy worlds.  It goes to extreme lengths to make itself unique, to the point that it is simply too confusing and overly metaphysical.  I think most people want to know which spell they can cast and what they can do – not why and how the magic works in the world.  I am not a fan of overly complicated magic systems and, going in, this seemed just that.

Combat is fairly similar to other games like d20 with some subtle differences.  Some games have the players declare the action on their turn while others require it all declared at once.  This game requires all actions to be declared even before initiative is rolled.  However, there is nothing in the combat procedure that really forces you to do that so I can easily see players falling back to whatever is comfortable for them.

Central to the concept of Earthdawn is the notion of building a Legend.  What this boils down to is the experience system – called Legend Points.   Along with what one would expect to come with an experience system – buying talents and skill levels, class levels, or new class abilities – it also integrates a Renown and Reputation system.  It’s a fairly interesting system although not overly original.  I have seen it in other systems and they really never had a major affect on the game play.  Earthdawn makes it more of integrated part of the game and, over time, I am sure a good GM could make it work but I have never really seen things like that work well.

What I admire about the system the most is its consistency.  Everything – Skills, Talents, combat and magic – is resolved using the same system.  The player adds up a number using attributes and ranks to get a step from the table.  There is no other mechanic that you really have to worry about where resolution is concerned.  However, my biggest complaint is that the step table is not somewhere on the character sheet.  The table is compact enough that it could be integrated on to the character sheet, but it’s not.  I really think they could have done that.

THE BOOK/CONTENT

The biggest concern I would imagine a buyer would have is what the Player’s Guide contains.  Is it truly all you need to play?

After a short story for flavor called Inheritance as well as an Introduction, the Player’s Guide takes some time to explain key aspects of the game and game setting.  There are certain aspects of the game that make it fairly unique.  In the Game Concepts section, the dice system in introduced.  Also key concepts of Adepts, Discipline, Passions and Questors are given short descriptions.  Their  approach to magic is also introduced here.

All that you need to create a character is included.  The primary races are presented in the Namegiver Races section – Dwarfs, Elves, Humans, Obsidimen, Orks, Trolls, T’skrang, and Windlings.  Following this is Creating Characters, the chapters on Disciplines and Skills, and various chapters on the major forms of magic.

The Combat chapter is the meat of most game systems and this is no different.  Followed that are the rules behind Building Your Legend.  The book is rounded out with Goods And Services and a nice section describing the setting’s primary location, Barsaive Province.  There is a also an Appendix that contains Archetype characters and optional rules.

Overall, from a content point of view, this books is perfectly complete for a player to play the game of Earthdawn.  All they need is included in this one book.

In conclusion, Earthdawn definitely sets itself apart from other fantasy role playing games – both in good ways and not so good ways.  It has enough familiarity to allow a gamer to settle into the setting and enough differences to keep a player’s interest.  My only concern is the system.  It is similar enough to other systems that I would rather play those.  I think the publisher saw that, which is why they put out Pathfinder and Savage World systems.  The setting is great and can easily be sustained in these popular systems, to be honest.

For more details on Redbrick Limited/FASA Games and their new RPG Core Player’s GuideEarthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide” check them out at their website http://www.fasagames.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: Setting 16, System 12

Product Summary

61ogxab0d-l-_sy300_Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide
From: Redbrick Limited/FASA Games
Type of Game: RPG Core Player’s Guide
Managing Director: James D. Flowers
Line Developer: Carsten Damm
Development Team: Eike-Christian Bertram, Steven J. Black, Carsten Damm, James D. Flowers, Lars Heitmann, Jacques Marcotte, Jason U. Wallace, Donovan Winch, Hank Woon
Senior Editors: Carsten Damm, James D. Flowers
Associate Editors: Eike-Christian Bertram, Steven J. Black, Lars Heitmann, Jacques Marcotte, Jason U. Wallace, Donovan Winch, Hank Woon
Art Direction & Visual Concept: Kathy Schad
Layout: Carsten Damm, Kathy Schad
Cover Artwork: Kathy Schad
Interior Artwork: Anita Nelson, David Martin, Earl Geier, Janet Aulisio, Jeff Laubenstein, Jim Nelson, Joel Biske, Kathy Schad, Karl Waller, Larry MacDougall, Mark Nelson, Mike Nielsen, Rick Berry, Rick Harris, Rita Márföldi, Robert Nelson, Steve Bryant, Tom Baxa, Tony Szczudlo
Number of Pages: 307 PDF
Game Components Included: one core player’s guide PDF
Game Components Not Included: one core game master’s guide
Retail Price: $23.99 pdf, $39.95 (hard cover) (US)
Website: www.fasagames.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

 

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)
From: FASA Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition) is a new RPG Player’s Guide from FASA Games.

Much anticipation surrounded the much fabled Fading Suns 3rd edition, at least in the circles of Fading Suns fans.  Unfortunately, due to many difficult situations, 3rd edition never really made it to fruition.  Instead a “revised edition” was released with fewer changes to the core system and a new approach to the format of the core rulebooks.

According to the publisher, the goal of the new edition was not to make past published material obsolete but streamline the system while maintaining compatibility.  I say up front, I was not the biggest fan of the Victory Point system.  In so many words, it was anti-player to me.  Perhaps they did not want the players rolling skills as often as I did but I wanted my players to have a sense of accomplishment and most that played the VP system did not get that out of it.  My hope with any new VP system was to make it more player friendly and fun to play.

From the website:
“Nobles… Priests… Aliens… Knights. It is the dawn of the sixth millennium and the skies are darkening, for the suns themselves are fading. Humans reached the stars long ago, building a Republic of high technology and universal emancipation — and then squandered it, fought over it, and finally lost it.”

The hardest part of any game system is updating the system without making previous stuff obsolete.  When you are a big company with lots of backing, you can try to pull that off, but even then it’s not always successful.  The rumors of 3rd edition was that it was too much of a departure.  Call of Cthulhu had a similar situation recently with 7th edition.  Reaction to 7th edition CoC was not entirely positive (although I liked it a lot) and as far as I know that edition has been shelved.  The crazy thing is that it was backwards compatible with a little more.  But the feedback they got was it was too much of a departure from the original.

Fading Suns 3rd edition died a sudden death and so the publisher went with their plan B.  Being a smaller publisher under the watchful eye of the original publishers, Holistic Designs Inc, it was no surprise.  They did not want to see a bookshelf worth of source material just fade away (pun intended) and the new publisher did not want to be stuck with republishing the old books for a new system.  With a game like Fading Suns and it’s fan base, you really can’t do that.

Publishing explanations aside, the new Player’s Guide PDF is a nice looking book with a nice layout and some nice cover art.  Much of the book is reprinting of previous stuff.  Most if not all the flavor is from the second edition book or other books previously published.  In this review, I’ll try to approach it assuming the reader has had no experience in the system.  However, for those that have had experience in the system, I will point out the changes.

The Setting:  The hardest part to describe to newbies about this game is the setting.  I usually default to “… Frank Herbet’s Dune crossed with Call of Cthulhu, with a little Stargate mixed in.”  I might throw in a little Babylon 5, if I think the person I am talking about knows what that is.  I am old school that way.  Basically, the game is a science fantasy setting set in the far future – around year 5000.  After a long period of a utopian society that was the Second Republic (which I related to as Star Trek’s Federation), a new Dark Age has fallen.  Noble houses rule the people, trade guilds of the Merchant League rule the economy and commerce, and the Church of the Celestial Sun rules the people’s souls.  It is the Dark Ages in space, in many ways.  There is an Emperor, a Church patriarch and a lot of people subjugated by the various powers.  Also, long forgotten colonies of the Second Republic have banded together and invaded the Imperial space.  Quite literally, barbarians are at the gates. Players can be anything – a noble questing knight, a eccentric cleric skilled in the art of theurgy (magic), a uncivilized barbarian, or a tech-obsessed cyborg.  The people to whom I have introduced the setting say it is the like the meshing of sci-fi with fantasy.  There is a lot of both in this setting.

What people are most intimidated by, however, is the depth of the setting and some of the terminology.  Theurgy is basically the magic of the system.  Wyrd is a measure of arcane energy a character has access too.  There are many other names and factions, drawn from real life sources that might be a little confusing to the initiate.

The setting is steeped deep in intrigue and political maneuvering.  You are always questioning people’s motives – either NPC or PC.  Because the setting is so rich with background and plot, there is a lot for a GM to choose from.  There is adventure abounding as well, as PCs can explore not only ancient alien ruins but also discover lost Second Republic relics or whole worlds.  One of the things I like most about this setting is its vast opportunity for adventure.  You can have a mish-mash of different things every week – from hard science fiction in the dark depths of space to high fantasy adventure on a lost world of barbarians and alien creatures that might appear like dragons.

There is also a darkness behind this setting that is always lurking.  For the past several hundred years in the setting, suns have been fading.  What that means is unknown but distant stars are just winking out. Also there are dark creatures living in the “darkness between the stars” – demons, leviathans, space krakens, and old gods.  The church hunts down demon worshipers and those that tap the demonic powers to perform evil magics.  There is also a twisted alien threat invading the known worlds called the Symbiots –a cross between the alien creatures of Species and John Carpenter’s The Thing.  If the constant conflict between bickering factions of humanity were not enough to bring us down, there are forces beyond our imagining plotting our demise as well.

Iconic to the setting are these huge jump gates that have been found throughout the galaxy connecting systems in what is called the jump web.  Much like the Spacing Guilds in Frank Herbet’s Dune, one particular guild in the Merchant League controls the means to travel through these gates.  This is one key element (among many) in the setting that really sets the tone.  Another is the conflict that the church has with magic.  On the one side, the church abhors non-sanctioned magic expecially demon magic.  However, at the same time, it approves of certain theurgies because they have proven effective against the Symbiot threat.

I could go on and on with just how fantastically rich and deep the setting is.  The above only gives you a sampling of what the setting is about.  I have said it once and I will say it again – this is my favorite gaming setting.

From the website:
“Fading Suns is a saga of humanity’s fate among the stars — a space fantasy game of deadly combat, vicious politics, weird occultism, alien secrets and artifacts, and unknown and unmapped worlds.”

The System:  In past editions, the system was a major issue for me. Between having to learn a new system and the clunkiness of the native system, it was a hard sell to my players. It always felt like the system was fighting the players every step of the way – something I call anti-player.  Then came the d20 version.  I reviewed the d20 version of the game.  That conversion was not a satisfactory product.  Although I think the d20 system would work for the setting, that particular work was not done well.  I myself have run it in various systems other than the Victory Point system just because I love the setting so much.

Fading Suns was first published in 1996 and the first version of Victory Point System (VPS) was born.  It is based on a d20 roll, with a characteristic (ability score) added to a skill level.  The GDW house system back in the early 90s was similar.  Where it gets interesting is the “roll low but not too low” concept.  It has been described as a “black jack” dice system.  It takes some getting used to.  It switches up conventional thought in dice rolling and instead of making the lowest roll possible the critical hit value, it makes it a moving target.  If you roll a value equal to the skill and characteristic total (Goal Number), a critical success is made. The Victory Point system gets its name from the result of the roll.  If the roll is under the Goal Number, the result is Victory points.  The closer you are too the roll, the greater the success and the more Victory Points you get (found on the Victory Point table).

The new Revised Edition claims to streamline the old Victory Point System.  As I said, the VPS uses a “roll as close to the target goal number as possible” mechanic.  From this roll, Victory Points are derived.  Victory Points can be used for a variety of things – from additional bonuses to damage.  The updated system has been modified to use Victory Points as both the number of successes and as a quality of success.  All of this is displayed in the Victory Point table.  It’s an interesting expansion and streamlining of the system.  For those that know the table fairly well, they expanded the ranges to give more options for Victory Points and make it easier to remember.

The original Fading Suns system had two sets of ability scores or Characteristics – Body (Strength, Dexterity, and Endurance) and Mind (Wits, Perception, and Tech).  In this new system, the characteristics are expanded as well.  There are new Spirit characteristics: Presence, Will, and Faith.  The spirit characteristics can be used to allow characters to perform acts above and beyond what they would normally be able to perform. For example, Faith allows a character to tap into their passion and ignite the fire within. One of my favorite concepts from the original system was inciting a character’s passion and it is good that this was retained.

Characters are made up of more than just characteristics.  The game has a system for advantages and disadvantages which they break out into two different areas – Blessings/Curses and Benefices/Afflictions.  Blessings and Curses represent a character’s psychological quirks or physical endowments and/or handicaps where Benefices and Afflictions are based on the individual’s place in society.  I never really understood why these needed to be separate but that is how it has been since the first edition.  One simple advantage and disadvantage system would work just as well.

One big change from previous editions is Fighting Styles have been added as a Benefices/Afflictions trait to allow characters to choose a fighting style for their character and to provide a guideline for GM or players to create their own unique styles.  They are also tied into the Stances mentioned later in combat.

The Magic of the system is called Theurgy but it also has Psychic powers.  This is not your D&D-style magic system.  Every supernatural (or Occult) has its down side.  Theurgy, for example has Hubris, which is a representation of corruption and separation from the Pancreator, the greater power in this game.  Psychic powers have Urge which represents the breaking down of one’s mind as it is used.  It’s a little more difficult to use these powers early on, and there are not a ton of spells or powers to choose from, like in D&D.  In that way, it attempts, at least, to keep things balanced between non-Occult characters and Occult-using characters.

Changes in this area from previous editions include making Psychic powers more flexible. They can be modified by spending extra Wyrd Points before the power is used or by spending Victory Points after the power is complete to reduce the effect but make the duration longer.

Wyrd Points fuels theurgic rites and psychic powers, but can also be used by any character to reroll a failed goal roll or to reroll effect dice.  This is a common house rule that took the place of their horribly designed Accenting system.  It is good to see a system that I have always seen as somewhat anti-player finally integrate a pro-player element here.

Fading Suns regardless of edition has always had the basic skill list you would expect in most RPGs.  There are some uniquely named skills (Redemption for repairing, Think Machine for computer use) but they are what you would expect.  In the new edition, skills have been streamlined and narrowed in focus. More skills have been added for combat, instead of relying only on a few skills to perform all combat actions. Other skills like Lore and Science have been combined to allow characters to quickly specialize in technology and science skills without sacrificing skills in other areas of the game.

Combat system from the last edition to this one has changed significantly.  Nothing in the old or new system really stands out as innovative or different from other combat systems, but the changes from one to the other are interesting.  Instead of using the activate skill level as the initiative, characters now have a separate initiative stat.  The system introduces something called Stances where combatants can choose different types of Stances, based on whether they want to act aggressively, defensively, or balanced. Those characters that specialize in fighting styles have special stances available to them that can add to or improve the standard stances. Instead of dodging attacks, all characters have a Defense trait that represents their ability to avoid harm. The more attacks they face in a turn, the lower their Defense.  Other than the interesting mechanic around Defense and the introduction of Stances, the overall feel of the combat system felt like a watered down d20 combat system.  However, it is a significant change from previous editions and might be worth trying out.

In conclusion, Revised Edition (or Revised Second Edition as it should be called) does not really feel much different than the old.  Although there were some significant changes to the system, it felt more like window dressing and minor mechanic shifts.  Is it enough of a change to the system to make me rethink my opinion of it? I would say no.  But it is an improvement over the original system.  I love this setting, without a doubt. There are rumors of a possible Pathfinder/d20 version and a Savage Worlds version.  Either one would be fantastic to me.  I think Savage Worlds would work really well with this setting.

I give the writers credit for their effort in this work.  The book itself is cleaned up and much more sharp looking.  I do like some of the subtle changes but perhaps they are too subtle.  This is supposed to be the Player’s Guide. A Game Master Guide is supposed to have been released as well, but I have not seen it.  In fact, I am not seeing a lot of activity on the Fading Suns front.  Perhaps that is a bad sign.  It is disappointing as this setting is very deserving of a good system and it has yet to find it.

For more details on FASA Games and their new RPG Player’s Guide “Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)” check them out at their website http:// www.fasagames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: (setting) 20 (system) 10

Product Summary

Fading Suns Player’s Guide (Revised Edition)
From: FASA Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Todd Bogenrief, Vidar Edland, Chris Wiese
Contributing Authors: Richard Ashley, Thomas Baroli, Brandon Van Buren, Phil Cameron, Tristan Lhomme, Rubén Ramos, Mark Stout, James Sutton, Dennis Watson
Game Design by: Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg
Developed by: Bill Bridges, Andrew Greenberg.
Cover Art by: Simon Powell, Dawn Sutton
Additional Art by: John Bridges, Mitch Byrd, Tim Callendar, Darryl Elliott, Jason Felix, Sam Inabinet, Mark Jackson, Jack Keefer, Andrew Kudelka, Brian LeBlanc, Larry MacDougall, Alex Sheikman, Ron Spencer, Ken Spera, Joshua Gabriel Timbrook, Jason Waltrip, John Waltrip
Number of Pages: 386
Game Components Included: RPG core player’s guide
Game Components Not Included: RPG core gamemaster’s guide
Internet: www.fasagames.com
Contact:
fadingsuns@fasagames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung