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 edition – The 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 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 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 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 Guide “Earthdawn 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
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)
Reviewed by: Ron McClung