Live from Barsaive: Episode 17

Part 2 of our Earthdawn Crash Course:

  • Learn the ins and outs of magic in the world of Earthdawn
  • Detailed discussion of game rounds and combat
  • Specific phases of casting a spell

NOTE: We originally intended to finish the Crash Course in two episodes, but we ended up going into more detail about rules and combat. As a result, the Crash Course will be three fairly short episodes instead of two long ones.

  • Bjoern Kharramson

    Again, great show! I was a bit late to comment on the last episode so I tried to get in early on this one.

    I have some comments on the topic of adepts and magic. Just for clarification: Every player character is an adept, following a discipline and using magic to accomplish extraordinary feats. Not everyone in Barsaive is an adept, however. In fact, while adepts are not uncommon, the majority of the population are not adepts. At this point it should also be noted that the concepts of adepts and disciplines exist within the world of Earthdawn. This makes it perfectly normal for a PC to tell an NPC, “I am a Warrior adept”.

    The world of Earthdawn is actually full of magic, so that some things have become ordinary. The most common example is the light quartz, a crystal that produces a bright light. Smaller ones fit into a fist and are rather common (if a bit expensive). Larger ones were used to illuminate Kaers and are correspondingly larger and more expensive. On the other hand is magic responsible for the Scourge, and adepts are sometimes distrusted for their heavy use of magic and therefore higher risk for Horror taint or corruption.

    One thing I did for the Earthdawn one shot I did recently: To help spellcasters with their spells and spell matrices I put each spell on a small index card. I included the basic rules and stats, so it was a bit of work, but even if you just put the name on a card the player is able to visualize which spells are currently attuned. This makes it easy for the GM (and the player) to see which spells are ready for casting at any given moment. It also makes re-attuning the spell matrices less interruptive, as the player just switches cards.

    • Our intention wasn’t to imply that everyone in the world is an adept, but after listening to it again I agree that our wording was kind of ambiguous. Thanks for pointing that out. We’ll make sure to clarify in Part 3.

      I’m trying to remember now…not sure, but I thought we made a brief mention of the fact that there are some more common magical items. Maybe I’m remembering wrong. In any case, that should be clarified also. I don’t want people thinking that all magic items are thread items.

      I like the idea of the index cards to represent attuned spells. As long as the players and GM are clear about what is attuned when, any system will work, but the index card idea is probably one of the best ways to do it. Usually we use a combination of the honor system and me yelling out “make sure you know which spells are attuned!”

  • Lou Prosperi

    Another great episode.
    Listening to this one made me think about why game companies don’t do something similar to this for their own games. Short video/audio introductions to their games would be a great (and relatively inexpensive) way for game companies to spread the word about their games.

    Or maybe they do this and I’m just really out of the loop.

    Looking forward to part 3!

    • Thanks. I hope I’m not butchering your beautiful game too badly, Lou. 🙂

      Stripping Earthdawn down to the bare essentials is proving more challenging than I had anticipated. I’m hoping this series will save GM’s from having to sit new players down for a three-hour talk before the first session.

  • Keith Atkinson

    I listened to this in 3 separate sections while driving, so I’m not sure if I missed this. I think it’s important, though, so I’m trudging ahead regardless.

    The Step system is confusing at first due to its complexity. It would be useful to mention why exactly it was set up the way it was. Namely, your Step value is (roughly) equal to the number you will meet or exceed half of the time. So a Step 6 will succeed against a difficulty 6 half the time. Step 7 against 7, 8 against 8, etc. This is further discussed on an old article by Josh Harrison:

    Additionally, changing Steps due to modifiers is painful for new players. While they can do what they want, the optional rule of supplying modifying the result is much simpler and not very different in final number due to the nature of the Step system’s basis in probability. Step 12 + 5 will tend to hover around 17, as will Step 17.

    Third, you mentioned rolling well providing extra effects. I completely agree diving into what those are would be crazy and too much. However, the fact that an extra success is gained for every 5 over the difficulty probably should have been mentioned. Then pointing the listener to the rules to look up what those successes get them. Your example of 22 against a 7 (I think) would be 3 extra successes. A 21 only gets you 2.

    Keep it up and heal quickly!

    • “Keep it up and heal quickly!” <—Thanks. As long as I don't re-injure anything, I should be approaching the halfway point of my foot healing experience. By the way "The Foot Healing Experience" would be an excellent name for a terrible band, don't you think so?

      So far it seems to be going well, and the good news is that I don't need surgery. It will probably be a few months until we can get back to something approaching a normal schedule, but I think things are mostly progressing well.

      After listening to it again, the step system explanation was one of the areas that I felt I could have explained better. The 22 roll was a bad example, since it gave the impression that you only get a bonus for huge rolls. We're planning to record Part 3 sometime this weekend, so I will clarify this, including mentioning the optional rule about modifying the result instead.

      Personally, I never found the step system to be cumbersome at all, but I have talked to a lot of people who disagree. One of the things I like about the normal step system (as opposed to the optional rule for modifiers) is that by the time you roll the dice you already have the modifiers out of the way. So there isn't that awkward moment where the dice have been rolled, you see the result, but you don't yet know what it means.

      Even if it's just for a second or so while you do some quick math, I've always been annoyed by that slight delay in other games that use a "modify the result" system. I do admit that this is a very, very picky reason and just my personal preference. I think the game would still play just fine with the optional rule, so nobody should hesitate to use whichever one works best for their group.

      • Keith Atkinson

        The Foot Healing Experience will be opening for Toe Jam at this year’s Podiatry Expo afterparty.

        The main reason for using the “modify the result” rule is that most people have to reference a table to figure out what the dice for their new Step is. This is typically a much longer process than adding X. Plus 5 to Step 12 is Step 17. If I have Step 12 written down, then it’s probably faster to just roll 2D10 and add 5 rather than looking up that Step 17 is (hold on while I look it up) D12+2D8. Unless one has the table handy or memorized, that is; then it may be a wash.

        The caveat is for common modifiers. Have The Step of any modified roll you often do written down. For the oddball situation (like enemy spells causing a negative) then just modify the result. This would be the middle approach.

        Any thoughts on talking about the probabilities of the Step system? That is my biggest love from the crunchy side of the system. I despise the linear probability of single die rolls. I’m just as likely to get a 1 as I am a 20 or any in between, so stat increases are 5% flat improvements against a target. It’s hard to judge if you can hit a target number. The Step system gives you some reference point to figure out your chances right in the value!

        • Eric Mansfield

          Toe Jam? But what about Earl? 😉

  • Samules

    Still looking forward to episode 18 whenever you guys are ready!

    • We’re looking forward to it too. The plan is to record it this Friday or Saturday…fingers crossed.

  • Eric Mansfield

    I feel that having our own campaign be online using a web service, in our case, was very helpful for our own new players. They didn’t have to understand what dice the Steps were, since they only had to click a button with the right Step number on it. Very helpful tool to onboard new players, I feel.

    • Yeah, good point. I probably should have mentioned Roll 20 (we did mention dice rolling apps at some point, although that may have been part 3).

      Roll 20 looks cool, but I haven’t used it yet, other than just messing around with it some. All of my campaigns have always been in person. Plus I have spent a more-than-is-reasonable amount of money on dice, and dice are cool.