Category Archives: Role Playing

Building Virag (Part 2)

Last time was dedicated to Attribute selection. As you may have noticed in some of my reasoning, the choices were not made in a vacuum — there were times where later choices influence what I decided to do. For example, looking at the available spells to see what the Effect Step would be based on different Willpower values.

This bit of forethought becomes easier as you become more familiar with the game and the options available (especially to starting characters), but even if you’re new to the system and building your first hero, don’t be overly shackled to the process described in the book. If, at a later step, you find you want to go back and tweak something from earlier, go right ahead. The character isn’t done until you set out on that first adventure.

(Even then, I encourage gamemasters to allow ‘mulligans’ — especially for new players. It is possible they may find the character isn’t performing as well as they hoped, or that certain choices had unforeseen consequences. Since many of the players in the Legends of Earthdawn podcast were new to the system, one of the things I did was offer advice on their builds, pointing out potential pitfalls. I think experienced players and gamemasters have some obligation to help out the newcomers.)

All of that said, let’s continue with the character creation process for Virag.

(4) Determine Characteristics

There really aren’t any choices to be made here. The numbers are derived from the Attributes chosen in step 3, but going over these numbers might prompt you to go back and tweak how you spent those initial build points. For example, if you see that your Dexterity is one point shy of getting a Physical Defense increase, you can go back and see if shuffling some things around might help you get that without losing out in another area.

Here are Virag’s derived characteristics, based on her Attributes.

  • Base Initiative (based on Dexterity): Step 6.
  • Physical Defense (based on Dexterity): 8
  • Mystic Defense (based on Perception): 9
  • Social Defense (based on Charisma): 8
  • Carrying Capacity (based on Strength): 140 pounds
  • Unconsciousness Rating (based on Toughness): 28, +3 for Durability, totals 31
  • Death Rating (based on Toughness): 34, +4 for Durability and First Circle, totals 38
  • Wound Threshold (based on Toughness): 9
  • Recovery Tests (based on Toughness): 3 per day
  • Physical Armor (based on armor worn): Will have to wait until I buy equipment.
  • Mystic Armor (based on Willpower): 3
  • Movement Rate (based on race): 14 yards per combat round
  • Starting Karma (based on race and Circle): 3 points

(5) Record Racial Abilities

As with the previous step, there ins’t really a choice to be made here. Or rather, the choice was made back in step two when I decided Virag would be a troll. As a result, she has:

  • Heat sight

(6) Assign Talent Ranks and Spells

Okay, back to some choices. Virag has 8 points to distribute among her talents–5 Discipline and 1 optional. She also gets two free Standard Matrices (which can inform the selection of optional talent).

The First Circle Nethermancer Discipline talents are: Astral Sight, Frighten, Nethermancy, Patterncraft, and Spellcasting.

While it is possible to assign up to Rank 3 at the start, as with Attributes I tend to prefer a more balanced approach. You never know what might come in handy. If you look at things from a perspective of most efficient use of Legend Points to advance, going with four Discipline talents at Rank 2 means you only need to spend 300 Legend to qualify for Second Circle, you end up not having any ranks in one of your Discipline talents, and no optional talent.

That isn’t necessarily a problem, depending on your Discipline and whether you know what you’re doing. You might want to hold off on selecting an optional talent until you have a better sense of who your character is, or looking to fill potential holes in your group’s suite of abilities.

Back to Legend Point efficiency, any other distribution of starting points would cost more Legend to qualify for Second Circle, but only by a couple of hundred points. In the grand scheme of a character’s career, that isn’t much of anything.

So… Virag. I place one point in each Discipline talent, which leaves me with three points. Before I go any further, I take a look at the optional talents available to Nethermancers, and decide which one I want to start out with.

While there are several good options, my choice is obvious: a third Standard Matrix. The flexibility this offers a starting magician cannot be overstated. Having an extra spell available on short notice can be extremely helpful (though this depends on your starting spells). Other choices are certainly valid, especially if you know what you’re doing or have a particular build objective in mind.

If I’m going to take a third matrix, that uses up one of my three remaining points, and there’s no sense in putting more into it. A starting magician–even if they decide to take a Second Circle spell to start–can’t put a spell higher than First Circle in a matrix.

With all my starting talents selected, all that remains is where to spend my last two points. Looking at the Attributes connected to my Discipline talents, all of them except Frighten are based on Perception. Since I have a Step 7 Perception, that means all but Frighten are starting at Step 8. If you recall from last time, I recommend doing all you can to have as many starting talents as you can at Step 8, to get into those multiple-die Steps.

All right then. I might as well put one of my remaining points into Frighten to bring that to Step 8. One point to go.

Spellcasting is, in my opinion, the best option here. It’s the one that most benefits from a higher Step, and consequently a higher average result. But let’s go over the other talents, and the reasoning there.

Nethermancy has fixed difficulty numbers–First Circle spells have a standard thread weaving DN of 5, and 10 for reattuning on the fly. Step 8 has a fairly good chance of success against a 5 (about 83%). Reattuning on the fly is more difficult (only about a 17% chance of success without Karma), but I’ll leverage my third matrix, and make sure my “standard” spell attunement is weighted more toward being prepared for the heat of the moment (aka combat). If I need to swap out on the fly, I can use my Karma (increasing my chance of success to about 83%), but with only 3 points per day, that’s a precious commodity.

Patterncraft has both fixed and variable DNs. It’s fixed for learning new spells (DN 6 for First Circle, DN 7 for Second Circle, etc). Step 8 gives me better than even odds for both of those, and since learning new spells costs Legend Points, it’s not something I’m likely to do early on anyway. The DN can vary when it comes to using Patterncraft to analyze magical stuff, but I’m not sure how much of that is going to factor into this game. Extra information can be helpful, but not critical.

Astral Sight can benefit from the higher results available with higher Steps, but Step 8 puts me at a decent chance of success against the base DN of 6 for seeing into astral space, and even odds against the modified DN of 8 for “Open” Astral Space. I’m probably not going to be using Astral Sight for more than getting a sense of how corrupted local astral space is, or whether a given item is magical–actually studying patterns is based on the target’s Mystic Defense, and probably a bit out of my reach (at least without spending precious Karma).

Firghten I’ve already raised to Rank 2, and with my balanced approach, probably doesn’t need any more. Especially with my concept of going against type. Sure, making it Rank 2 already works against that concept, but I’m also willing to sacrifice some aspects of concept in the name of numerical advantage. I can make it up through my character portrayal, and not relying on the talent too much.

Spellcasting, obviously, goes against the target’s Mystic Defense. The higher my Step, the higher the average result, the more likely I will be able to affect targets, and get potentially more successes. Last point goes there.

Also, once I’ve gotten a few Legend Points under my belt, it’s only a matter of a couple days to bring up those other ranks. Here’s where Virag’s starting talents stand, with the rank in parentheses, and the final Step and dice after:

  • Astral Sight (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Frighten (2) 8 / 2d6
  • Nethermancy (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Patterncraft (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Spellcasting (2) 9 / d8+d6
  • Standard Matrix A (1)
  • Standard Matrix B (1)
  • Standard Matrix C (1)

That will do it for this installment. Next time we’ll wrap up the series.

Building Virag (Part 1)

Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in an actual play podcast for Earthdawn. (For those who don’t know, this means the game is recorded and the audio posted online for people to download and listen to at their leisure.) We’ve been playing for a few months now, building up a backlog of gameplay so  episodes can come out in a regular basis.

The podcast launched yesterday. You can find it here. I’ve been having a good time. It’s nice to play for a change. I’m almost always the gamemaster, whether that’s for my local games (when I had time to run them), or for demos and one-shots at conventions. I went with a magician, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who knows me.

I figured, as a way to generate some content for this site, I would go through the step-by-step process of how I created the character, with some thoughts and commentary on why I made the choices I did. This series will follow the process as described in the Earthdawn Player’s Guide.

(1) Choose a Discipline

I decided to go with Nethermancer as my character’s Discipline. I was originally leaning towards Wizard, going as I usually do for a character that has a reason to know the same stuff I know when it comes to magic theory and such. But upon further reflection, I decided I wanted Virag to be fascinated with spirits and other astral fauna. Kind of an astral David Attenborough. I also decided at this point I wanted to play somewhat against type for Nethermancers, eschewing the deliberately creepy for more of a generally happy sort who enjoys creature comforts when they are available, but isn’t against getting her hands dirty. (And yes, I had decided to play a female character.)

(2) Choose a Race

I decided to go with troll for Virag’s race. I don’t recall what the exact reasoning was. Part of this, I think, was based on what the other players were creating. But I like trolls, and enjoy putting together unconventional Discipline/Race combinations. Trolls are often cast in combat roles, and making my magician a troll goes against type.

(3) Generate Attributes

With my concept established, this is the step where the real nuts and bolts work begins. One of the difficulties when going against type and creating unconventional combinations is the uphill battle of the race’s starting Attribute values not being ideally suited for the chosen Discipline, and needing to spend more points to my scores where I want them.

Trolls start with Dexterity 10, Strength 14, Toughness 12, Perception 9, Willpower 11, and Charisma 10. Perception and Willpower are the most important Attributes for a Nethermancer (and any other magician, for that matter), with Charisma not as important, but useful when dealing with spirits and the like.

When creating a new character, I prefer a more balanced approach instead of maximizing the Discipline’s most important Attributes. I think ‘maxed out’ starting builds, unless you really know what you’re doing, are more likely to hinder than help.

For instance, I could buy a +7 adjustment to Perception and Willpower (using 24 of my 25 available points), but that leaves me with just a +1 to add to one of my remaining Attributes. This means I could bump my Dexterity or Charisma from 10 to 11, giving me a Physical or Social Defense of 7 instead of 6. If I wanted some extra points, I could maybe afford to drop my Strength and/or Toughness… but then I’m hampering my chosen race’s strengths.

I don’t think Earthdawn has “dump stats” as such. Even if a given Attribute isn’t particularly important for your chosen Discipline, it’s often helpful. Dexterity helps you avoid being hit. Toughness makes it harder to take you out. Perception and Willpower each help you resist spells, while Charisma helps you avoid being taken advantage of. For those not expecting to be hitting enemies with swords and such, Strength might count, but even then… a low Strength can limit your options in terms of what kind of armor you can wear and how much loot you can haul out of an abandoned kaer.

You can build your magician around the idea their melee combat companions will run interference, so maybe Physical Defense and Toughness aren’t that important. But Archers are a thing, as is “geek the mage.”

All of this is a rather wordy way to say, I would rather have an Attribute score be one or two points lower than you could otherwise purchase, because it translates into better overall scores. Taking a +6 instead of a +7, for instance, saves you enough Attribute build points to give a +1 bonus to 3 other Attributes, or a +2 and a +1, or even a +3. Bringing up your Dexterity (for example) up enough to get an extra 2 points of Physical Defense is nothing to sneeze at.

Generally, I recommend that a new character shoot for Step 7 in the Attribute (or Attributes) their talents are based on. Not just First Circle talents (though those are important), but the talents available through the first few circles, both Discipline and optional. Shooting for Step 7 in those Attributes means even a single talent rank puts you at Step 8, the first multiple-die Step at 2d6. If you look at the probabilities involved, the jump from Step 7 to Step 8 is significant, and if you can get it, you should.

With all that theory-crafting in mind, here’s how I decided to spend my Attribute build points.

  • 3 points for +3 to Dexterity, raising it to a 13.
  • 0 points on Strength, leaving at its starting value of 14.
  • 2 points for +2 Toughness, bringing it up to a 14.
  • 12 points for +7 Perception, raising it to a 16.
  • 5 points for +4 Willpower, raising it to a 15.
  • 3 points for +3 Charisma, raising it to a 13.

Here’s the more involved reasoning:

Raising Perception to 16 is an obvious first choice, since that puts me at Step 7. Both Nethermancy and Spellcasting are based on Perception, and are the bread and butter for a magician. While a 17 would give me a starting Mystic Defense of 10 (instead of 9), that costs an extra 3 Attribute build points, which as I explained above, limits my options. Also, if I look ahead, I get a +1 Mystic Defense at Second Circle, and I can spend Legend Points to raise my Perception to a 17 later on for that extra point of Defense if I really want to.

Going with a 15 instead of a 16 for Willpower might seem to run against my earlier statement about shooting for Step 7 with my Discipline’s key Attributes, but the only talent based off Willpower to begin with is Frighten. A 16 doesn’t gain me any extra Mystic Armor, and (as we’ll see in a moment), the extra two Attribute build points are better used elsewhere. Spell damage is based on Willpower, but the starter 0-thread damage spells (Spirit Dart or Spirit Grip) are both Willpower+2, which still put me at Step 8. I can put 2 of my starting talent ranks in Frighten to bring that up to Step 8, but given my feelings on going against type… I decide to leave that for later.

Given that I am only one point shy of a Step increase, though, means I will probably aim to have Willpower be the first Attribute I raise with Legend Points.

Between those two, I’ve spent 17 of my 25 Attribute build points, leaving 8. If I divide them evenly between the other four Attributes, that gives me a +2 in each. But that puts both Dexterity and Charisma at a 12 — one point shy of both a Step increase and a Defense Rating increase. Given trolls have a starting Strength of 14, I can get away with not putting any more points there. That frees up 2 points, which get split between Dexterity and Charisma, bringing those each up to 13, granting Step 6 and a relevant Defense Rating of 8. Nice.

The two points remaining go into Toughness, raising that to a 14. Unconsciousness Rating 28, Death Rating 34, Wound Threshold 9, and 3 Recovery tests per day. I could drop my Strength down to a 13, giving me an extra point to raise my Toughness to 15, which gives me an extra couple points of health and a Wound Threshold of 10… but I think things look good where they are.

(I’m not personally fond of dropping scores if I don’t need to, and I think in this case the choice doesn’t make that much of a difference. While the optimization game can be fun, I’m not one to fiddle with the odd point when it doesn’t make what I feel is a significant difference.)

That will wrap it up for this installment. As you can see, none of my decisions were made in a vacuum. I looked at the derived characteristics, along with an eye toward what my talent choices are. This isn’t the only way to approach building a character, but I’ve given you some insight into my process. Hopefully it will help with yours.

Next time, we’ll look at talent selection.

 

Still plugging away…

Once again, there are no significant updates to the material on the website, but once again, there is a reason for that — and it doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking off!

First of all, at my “day job” we’ve spent the last couple of weeks training for the new contract we’re servicing. The training was kind of easy, because 90% of the stuff they were teaching us we already knew… but the training ran from 7am to 3pm. Since I’ve been working 2pm to 10pm the last three years (or so) my whole schedule was thrown out of whack.

It can be tough to update a website when you’re desperately needing sleep.

I’ve been continuing my work on the Workings of Magic chapter for the Earthdawn Classic Player’s Compendium. I’ve been in semi-regular contact with James Flowers (current line developer) and Lou Prosperi (former line developer) to make sure that everything is up to snuff. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work.

Hopefully, we’ll be playing Earthdawn tonight… but at this particular moment whether we will or not remains to be seen… the lovely wife was put through the paces in her first week back at school, and may choose to sit out and get some homework done instead of gaming. She also has an 8am class, so it’s likely to be an early night.

Which is cool — your real life should take priority over fantasy life. It’s good to relax and blow off steam with an RPG, but when your real life suffers… you should take a step back and examine why you feel the need to shirk your responsibilities.

That about does it for now. See you ’round the net!

Always a new release in the queue

Sometimes I really hate my hobby.

Not from an enjoyment level, of course — I still get a lot of enjoyment out of it. No, I’m talking about the slew of new stuff coming out later this that I will desperately want to own, even if I never play it.

Brief list? Well, there’s Ars Magica fifth edition. Paranoia XP, Earthdawn Classic (though I probably won’t have to pay for copies of those books *grin*), the new World of Darkness and Vampire: the Requiem.

*sigh*

I’m sure there are others, but that’s just off the top of my head. It’s been several years since I really wanted to go on a big RPG spending-spree, but this summer (and fall) looks like my wallet is going to take a hit.

I look forward to it.

Con Report`

I spent this past Saturday at NERE, the North-East Regional Event for the Camarilla LARP. I had a good time, all things considered, but I could have had even more fun. I was a little reluctant to try risky things that could get my character in trouble.

As a result, I kind of spent a bunch of time lurking around not doing much of anything. If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that — in Live-Action Roleplay anyhow — you are largely responsible for your own fun. In fact, the larger the game, the more responsible you are. The GM doesn’t have the time to make sure that everybody is having a good time. So if you’re bored… do something to get involved!

Here’s some things I should have done… introduced myself to the Prince hosting the party. As Primogen of my clan in Bangor, I should have done so — especially since the Prince was also of my clan. I also should have caused grief for the vamp that cheated at cards and cost me $4,000 (it was actually somebody else that was cheating, but that’s not what I thought in character). I should have added myself to the list of performers at the party, and lightened the mood with a little humorous or ribald song… especially after the last song (while a great performance) turned the mood rather somber. I should have struck a bargain with the Ventrue Primogen of Bangor — not reporting her infraction of the rules in return for a favor to be paid later (as it is… I may need to offer her a favor to return to her good graces).

In the end, any lack of fun on my part was purely my own fault. Of course, I have never been in a LARP on that scale before, and was a little reluctant to get out there and be me (or rather… be Harlan). So.. my words of wisdom for today? Get out there and make your own fun, I guess.