Card Catalog – Earthdawn: Metal Cobras

September 3, 2019

Welcome back to Card Catalog! After our week break, I am diving back into a system we have already touched on so I can get some more time to dive into a new system and work out some new ideas.  When we did the 1 Archer, 3 Ways series, we talked a bit about Earthdawn from FASA, and we are going to revisit the system here to expand a bit on the fun that you can have with different concepts in Earthdawn.  In addition to Balama, I am going to create a Group of four more Adepts she is currently adventuring with and I will also get to look at Group Patterns and weave some threads to show how magic items work; Balama was always described as a leader so now she has a group to lead. If you know Earthdawn 4th Edition well, or don’t want more detail than we did in the Balama Domine write up, skip down to the Team Notes to see where we are going! 

Setting Notes

Earthdawn is a high fantasy game that was originally published by FASA corp. beginning in the 90s and is now published under license by FASA Games.  Earthdawn exemplifies many of the best aspects of the 90s era games with a rich and deeply engaging world that is coupled with a well designed and iconoclastic rule set.  The CoreStep system is also used in FASA’s 1879 game which we looked at for The Cermak Street Irregulars. One of the greatest parts of the Earthdawn setting is that the system was integrated into the setting so that there was a reason that the tropes already existed – the Disciplines are recognized magical manifestations, so you discuss your “Class” in character at times.  The kaers are the reasons for underground fortifications filled with treasure to exist. Don’t worry, we will take a good look at this in however many words I get out onto this series, 

Earthdawn is set on the continent of Barsaive which is recovering from The Scourge, or the period of highest magic when extradimensional entities called Horrors were feeding on all of the residents of Barasive.  Protection from this Scourge was granted by the wards of Thera which exchanged fealty for the wards becoming an Empire spanning most of the globe based on this trade. These wards were used to create protected underground kaers or sealed off citadels but the wards didn’t always work, leaving some monster infested and waiting for discovery to this day. As the level of magic fell, so too should the Horrors’ connection to the planet and therefor make it safe to once again see the lands of Barsaive.  

The short description of the setting belies the richness woven into the work for Earthdawn, and the relatively limited part of the world that Barsaive encompasses.  The Theran Empire stretches across all of modern day Europe to the West and to India in the East, each with its own special characteristics and histories. To the South, Great Thera includes what today is called Egypt and Morocco and even has begun to explore the lands across the Ocean but that is another story.  The conscious design choices in Barsaive as the main setting of Earthdawn’s published material showed an attempt to both honor and upset the tropes and traditions of Fantasy – Dwarves were the most common species in the region and were responsible for what would pass as “common” while Atlantis, Thera, is clearly the antagonizing expansionist empire that uses slaves and fuels blood magic dangerously instead of the enlightened or benighted area as so often portrayed.  The Elven Nations are splintered and the old court has undergone a painful transition to Blood Elves with magic causing thorns to constantly grow through their skin leaving blood and pain in their wake to ward off the worst of the Horrors’ depredations. As the world grapples with the remaining Horrors who have not fled the world as the dropping of the magical levels has stalled, the Dragons plot, the Therans scheme, and the few left coming out from their kaers and citadels must face this world of new and dangerous power. 

The Player Characters are all Adepts, or individuals with a connection to magic that chanel it into the Archetypal Disciplines, such as Archer, Beastmaster, Warrior, or Elementalist. 

Every player will select a Discipline which has a set number of Discipline and Optional Talents that fit within that archetype which are like magically fueled skills.  When selecting your Discipline, you get a limited number of slots into which you can use your starting Talents as well as your starting ranks in the non-magical skills. Talents are often fueled by Strain, which is marked off from and part of the same track as your health. 

Talents are a form of magic, but greater magic still persists in the setting of Earthdawn.  Magic is often tied to the Pattern, or True Pattern, that is reflective of the magic. This Pattern is often able to be discerned in the Astral plane, but if a spell caster puts too much power through a True Pattern, the remaining Horrors would detect it and come to feed.  For this reason, Magic is filtered through Matrices that each spellcaster uses to sanitize or clean that mana. Adepts of all stripes may also weave Threads of magic to True Patterns – this can be used to enhance the item’s abilities and effect or perhaps be better seen as allowing the Adept to access the powers of the item’s Pattern.  Magic items are therefore items with a Pattern that you can weave threads to which increases the power of the item available. This approach is a detailed and involved way to look at magic items, but it also allows the concept of Legends and Stories to persist. Spells are often cast with additional Threads woven so that they can have increased effect

System Notes

Like 1879, Earthdawn defines the level of prowess of a character in “steps” that are the result of combining and Attribute with a Skill or Power for a “Step Number” that tells you how many of what kind of dice to roll.  This is one of the parts that can be confusing to players new to the CoreStep system is that each step changes the die rolled, but the statistician’s allure to this system is that the Step Number is the statistical average of the dice rolled, so a Step 10 should on average result in a 10.  If you manage to roll the maximum on a die, such as an 8 on a d8 or a 6 on a d6, you roll another die of that same type and add to your results. Additionally, Adepts like the PCs may spend karma to add an additional d6 to a Talent roll. This is a terribly important part of a PC’s abilities as that extra little boost can go a long way.  Also, on each roll, if you roll the maximum on the die, it explodes and you roll again so if you have a d12 that explodes, you can see your results go through the roof.  

Opposed rolls have target numbers based on the defense of the target, be it physical, magical, or social, which is a derived statistic from your attributes.  If you beat the target number of a static or opposed test, you succeed and for every 5 points by which you beat the target number, you get an additional success which can be used to increase the quality by which you succeed.  Those exploding dice suddenly seem a lot more important, don’t they? 

Generally speaking, the limit on spellcasting is not the Vancian style number of spells per day, but instead the limited access to any spell at one time.  Every casting Discipline, the Wizard, Illusionist, Nethermancer, or Elementalist, can only cast a spell safely if it is in their Spell Matrix. If you recall the Horrors described earlier, if you work magic pulling it straight from the Pattern of the world, the Horrors remaining will take notice and come find you so the Spell Matrix is used to clean or hide the mana like a VPN.  Changing the spells in the matrix will take time and so you lose action economy and requires tests that can fail if you try to do it “on the fly”. To cast a spell, we return to the theory of Threads of Patterns in Earthdawn so the caster weaves a thread or more as required to the Spell Matrix to pull the power out and cast the spell. This means it can take multiple rounds to cast the spell, so you best have stalwart allies.  We will get a bit deeper into that when we talk about casting later in the month. 

Every character has a trio of defenses – Physical, Mystical, and Social.  As you may expect, these are the target numbers against which various attacks or checks are compared.  Physical and Mystical Armor reduce the damage that makes it through and it is then removed from the health, that is a single track for both Unconsciousness and Death.  It is important to note that many talents take a little bit of effort – Strain, which also comes off that track. The magic that flows through you exacts a toll, it seems.  

Metal Cobras Adventuring Group

The Metal Cobras are making a name for themselves.  In the wake of the Theran Invasion being repelled and the fall of Skypoint, there was a lot let in the world to explore and so Balama Domine set out.  In her journeys, she found new friends who came from across Barsaive and even journey into the Theran province of Creana returning with the jackelheaded Vha-nard as a new friend.  It is only now that they have crested into their Fifth Circle and as Journeymen are beginning to be known across Barsaive. No more are they overlooked by the Theran Provincial Governor, now they are a footnote in the interminable paperwork of the Empire and their name is one that has at least been mentioned once or twice within the Library of Throal.  Caught between the rising Ork nation of Cara Fahd and the slumbering and beaten back behemoth of Thera in the Vivane Province, the Metal Cobras have journeyed north and found that Iopos poses a greater threat than they realized. It was their peculiar skills that let them find the truth about the Deinarastas of Iopos and now they are embroiled in a battle that they knew nothing of and can only hope to survive. Their name it seems to have stuck with them, from the time in Creana where it was a descriptive epithet, to now a sigil they all bear with pride. 

Balama Domine
Human Archer

The Leader and subject of the 1 Archer, 3 Ways introduction to Earthdawn.  As a quick review, Balama is the scion of the ruling family of Kaer Domine.  The kaer opened later than many others, but with enough time to be enveloped in the Second Theran Invasion as Thera attempted to retake Barsaive as a province of the Theran Empire.  She is a Human Archer, but one with a bend towards leadership and is part of the Metal Cobras featuring quite a few Charisma heavy characters. Since that time we first met her, she has ventured out into Barsaive and beyond, exploring and meeting newfound allies in the Metal Cobras.  A not so reluctant leader, Balama remains proud but has seen her fiery nature somewhat tempered as she learned that to lead is often to wait.  

With an additional 5,000 Legend Points, I’m going to make a few updates to Balama.  First, I will raise Versatility, the Human Special Ability to add Tactics to her Talents. I also buy up several of her talents that were at a base Rank 1.  I had already threaded Domine’s Folly as Leather Armor, but I will add a Third thread enhancing it’s magic and add Thread Items like the Oratory Necklace and Kintlemeister’s Bracers.  The necklace is an obvious way to increase her social abilities and comes from the GM’s Companion while the Bracers are a Thread Item of my own invention that would factor into the future stories but are geared around increasing initiative and Awareness. Finally, I improve several skills which are easy to overlook in Earthdawn, as they are more expensive than Talents, but important in the grand scheme of things especially for Balame. I add Theran History in particular as she begins to study her opponents and learn more of their influence. Finally, I add some equipment and gear as she will also be filling somewhat of a healer role using the physicians kit and related items. 
Updated Balame Domine Sheet Here
Original 1 Archer, 3 Ways Balama Domine post here.    

Troll Swordmaster

Trolls, especially from the Crystal Peaks are known for their Honor, and while Grythlit isn’t a Sky Raiding Troll, he is fond of a fair fight! As a Swordmaster, Grythlit revels in the showmanship of the fight and is as adept at skewering his opponents ego as shredding his armor.  A jovial sort, Grythlit is perhaps the best example of how to keep a sense of wonder in this age of legend even when the shadows seem to be closing in as the Metal Cobras finds themselves at the attention of the powers of Barsaive. 

Elf Troubadour-Diplomat

What to make of a Troubadour that doesn’t sing as often, or smile as broadly, well take them as the Diplomat they present.  Iopari knows that the value of tales and history is often in the quiet moments more than the yelling and as a Diplomat, his severe elven features and sharp angles are all business.  At the drop of a hat, that dour expression will become a smile and light up the room as he works his magic, literally as a troubadour, to make people feel at ease and comfortable … before the skulduggery of diplomacy is needed in the dark of night. Of late, as the truth of Iopos has become know to the Metal Cobras, Iopari’s family history has begun to raise questions even amongst his friends. 

Ork Nethermancer

Nethermancers are often the odd ones out as they cavort with astral denizens and study the effects of the Horrors, and so it is with Prushka. Of one of the only families of Orks in Kaer Domine, they were often shunned and excluded.  A young Prushka found ways to speak with the Astral entities as the kaer had been opened. She knew she had to find her own way and did so by finding solace in the Astral and in imposing a sense of order when she would return that was often lacking.  A quiet but disconcerting Ork with hair beginning to show gray streaks, Pruska found Balama in Barsaive after she had left and together they are forging a new story for Kaer Domine’s survivors. 

Jackelman Scout

The Jackelman of Creanna are not well known in Barsaive, and that was one reason Vha-nard decided to accompany and eventually join the Metal Cobras.  While called cannibals and shunned in Creanna, and to a lesser extent in Great Thera, the Barsaivians only shunned her with the normal fear of a stranger.  Vha-nard provided not only Talents that were needed as they crossed the Wilderness, but a rather straightforward look at things. She endeared herself to Balama with that worldview while Iopari found her abilities surpassed his own when they needed to quietly gain entrance elsewhere.  A jackelheaded Scout, clad in greens and browns now ranges ahead of the Metal Cobras and only Prushka knows of her ritual to eat the heart of a worthy foe. 

Earthdawn is a registered trademark of FASA Corp and used without license. Any use of FASA trademarks or copyrighted material is not intended as a challenge to those trademarks or copyrights. Seize the GM is not associated with and does not represent FASA Corp in any capacity, official or otherwise.No claim of ownership is intended or implied to the copywritten or trademarked works and marks.

Liked it? Take a second to support Guard-a-manger on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *