Monday, July 18, 2011

Weekend Review: Earthdawn RPG

Earthdawn 3rd Edition

This is a review of the core system rules for the Earthdawn, which includes the Player’s Guide and the Game Master’s Guide. Available in both print and PDF format from Mongoose Publishing’s Flaming Cobra Imprint. Licensed from FASA Corporation by RedBrick Ltd.

First Glance: This is Earthdawn, the game I remembered from FASA, from the artwork to the system, this is Earthdawn. The cover art is absolutely gorgeous, evoking the feel of Ancient ruins with the use of an Aztec calendar style mask, on a solid background. It’s begs you to look inside to find what is within.

Main Review: Earthdawn is fun system, it uses a step die system, with exploding dice. This was an early innovator of a hero point system, through the use of Karma Points. While Karma has been updated the usage has not. Earthdawn uses a non-Vancian skill based magic system, which eliminates part of the 15 minute adventure day problem of other systems. Earthdawn uses a wound system, and had recovery checks long before the newest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons. All magic is thread based, such that you weave part of yourself into the magic of the world, experience is measured as Legend points, the more your legend grows, the more your reputation grows. You might find a powerful legendary item such as Purifier, but not realize its full potential until much later in the game, as you explore the history and prove yourself worthy of its greatest secrets through deeds. The Horrors should be gone, but they still linger, corrupting name givers feeding on the fear, and hatred, like psychic vampires. Dragons are still around, some protect their humans like pets, others just eat them, Dragons are the oldest of the name-givers, and the most powerful. Players need not know a lot of information about Earthdawn, as they can just be leaving their Kaers, at the end of “The Scourge”. Much of the information contained in the supplements from the original system have been brought straight into the player’s guide, such as the Air Sailor and Scout Disciplines. The talents have been slightly altered so that every 3rd circle Warrior doesn’t have the exact same disciplines, which it s very nice change. The skill system has been updated nicely so it doesn’t feel slapped on any more. Even the step table has been updated to eliminate the d20 and make the curve much more balanced. Another balancing issued was addressed by adding a point buy system for attributes. Not needed, but more balanced.

In Earthdawn you don’t play a mundane character, you play an adept, someone who taps into the magical energies to increase your ability with a sword or a bow, give you the ability to leap great distances or use magic in spell form. You don’t have classes in Earthdawn, you have a discipline, though you can be multi-disciplined, it will slow down your advancement. Your strength and the weapon itself determine what damage you do, instead of a static bonus, strength step is added directly to the weapon step to get an over-all step. It’s a game which must be played to fully understand.

Artwork: Good. The artwork is decent, most is recycled artwork from previous editions all the way back to the original FASA Jeff Laubenstein artwork, which to me is Earthdawn. The color plates from the first edition are gone, which is unfortunate as there were some beautiful pieces of color art in there.

Replay Value: Excellent, as an RPG, there’s always good replay value. Earthdawn is a big world, but with many enemies, no single group would encounter all the major horrors, or find all the legendary treasure.

Comprehension Level: Good. The rules are decently written, there are some editing errors, but not too bad.

Humor: Not so much humor in the main game, the older version had a bit more fluff humor, but there’s some to be had.

Game Mastering: Game Mastering Earthdawn is about weaving a story; it’s not a super difficult system to master, though creating appropriate challenges can be difficult as there is no Challenge Rating system in place like the d20 systems. Even at upper power curve of the game, it still plays quickly, and is very fun, as it doesn’t bog down with 20 feats and iterative attacks, damage scales with level as the steps increase.

Family Rating: Tween+, Earthdawn is a world of great upheaval, with truly horrific monsters, from predatory mutant baby calves, to the Verjigorm, the Corrupted Dragon. Even the zombies, cadaver men, are meaner, quadrupling their attacks if they’re wounded. The rules are easy enough for younger players to grasp however, and if the GM can tweak the world a bit, it can be fun for younger crowds.

Price Tag:  The price to play is decent, but to Game Master you’ll need at a minimum the Player’s Guide and Game Master’s Guide. Costing $39.99 retail each. This is on par with Industry average for B&W Hard Cover editions. Player’s Companion and Gamemaster’s Companion are needed to take a campaign beyond circle 8. The Namegiver’s Companion, while not required, definitely adds lots of nice fluff, and several race specific disciplines.

Value: For me, it’s well worth the money. It is one of my favorite systems and the setting is fun as well.

Overall Rating: EPIC! This is High Fantasy at its greatest, the progress from young adept to legendary adventurer is definitive, and advancement comes in little steps, almost addictive.