So here is my complete and un-biased review of one of the lesser-known tabletop RP systems: Earthdawn. I say it’s complete, though it only references the original FASA 1st ed and the LRG 2nd ed. I know 3rd ed and the “redbox” also exist, but I’m a cheap gamer and suffer (willingly) from “this game works just fine the way it is, I don’t need a new version” syndrome. Also, I say it’s unbiased because it’s me and my biases don’t count, do they? Besides, they should be obvious from the title.
So, to reiterate for the masses…. I’m a tabletop gamer. D&D, Vampire, you’ll-pry-my-dice-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands type. I’m not the most knowledgeable gamer out there… my “have played” pile is much shorter than my haven’t. But the big ones, and a couple of the more minor ones, I’ve poked my way through well enough to figure out a character sheet. All that being said, Earthdawn really is one of the best.
First off, it’s a Fantasy game. If Scifi/Cyberpunk/wargames are your thing, you’re going to disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m just more unbiased than you.
Okay, as for how it’s awesome:
- Party Balance
- XP Explained!
- You Don’t Suck
- Bucket of (Exploding) Dice
Okay, customization. How is it NOT customizable? First off, it uses a hybrid level/non-level system. Which doesn’t make sense saying it like that, so lemme explain. There are levels in Earthdawn. They’re called circles, are tied to your class, and each circle gives you new class abilities to play with. That being said, you don’t need to go up in circle EVER. You get the option to go up in circle when you’ve accumulated enough XP to progress your class abilities to a certain set point. You get the option. So you can be the fighter who is 5th circle with a few points in a half-dozen different abilites to throw into a combat situation…. or you could be the fighter with the same XP total, 1st circle, and just a massive amount of melee weapon skill. You’re just as effective, you’re just DIFFERENTLY effective. 1st circle Fighter is better at swords, maces, axes, etc. than 5th circle fighter, 5th circle just has more tricks (like “I go first” or “I take less damage”)
Secondly, you’ve a lot of freedom with the type of game you play with Earthdawn. Sky Pirates? Easy. Survival Horror? Built in. Buckling swashes? Done. Good guys? Of course. Bad guys? Simple. Pick your class, pick your setting, pick your focus, you’ve got a game.
Related, party balance is a non-issue. No, no, hear me out. Everyone’s familiar with the holy trinity in gaming. It applies to RPGs of both the tabletop and console/computer variety. You’ve got the one who tanks it with face, the healer, and the one who does damage but is kinda squishy. Earthdawn doesn’t have that. There is no healing, or more specifically, everyone heals themselves. If everyone in the party wants to play a fighter, or a spellcaster, or an archer… you’re not screwed!
Most interestingly, is the legend system. Most games don’t ever actually explain why killing a few dozen rats at lv 1 makes you better at… picking locks. You kill shit, get your XP, and level. With Earthdawn, XP, Magic, and your character are all tied to one thing: word of mouth, aka Legend. You’re not just some schmuck who killed some rats, you’re So-and-so The Rat Killer The more you do, the more you’re talked about, the wider your fame grows. The more you’re talked about, the more the fabric of the world takes notice, and the more important you get. The more important you get to reality (the higher your XP total), the more powerful you become. Want to level more quickly? Get a Troubador into the party, or spend some of your loots on a freelancer to make certain a good tale is told.
Not that you’d expect to kill rats in Earthdawn… Starting characters in Earthdawn are special, because they’re someone already a bit more closely tied to Legend… a prodigy if you will. You don’t face the D&D lv 1 wizard conundrum… You know, “Why am I adventuring when I can cast 1 spell a day, and if an acorn falls on my head, it’ll kill me?” You’re adventuring because you’re GOOD at something. You’re the kid who can hit the target as often as people who’ve been using a bow for as long as you’ve been alive. You’re quicker with a sword than people with double your experience. You can do magic. You’re a hero, and you’re off to save the world (or bend it to your will…)
Finally, dice. Gamers love their dice, and Earthdawn uses all of them. And they’re smart about it too, because every gamer loves the feeling of rolling more dice than they can comfortably hold in their hand… and rolling max means explosions… Each gets to roll again. D4s have a 25% chance to explode, which is why those little caltrops are known as the gift that keeps on giving. You roll, count, reroll any die that’s on it’s max number, reroll again and again and again… It appeals to the big numbers junkie we all have inside us.
If none of that is enough to tempt you, I can quickly mention that Earthdawn, being originally a FASA game, is a prehistory of Shadow Run, one of the big boys in the market. Not that it really matters; very little was done to tie the two together, but you’ll find most of the races/racial bonuses familiar. Earthdawn just has a few extra. Also, armor makes sense… it reduces the amount of damage you take from being hit, it doesn’t make you harder to hit. I dunno about you, bit it’s pretty easy to hit that guy wearing full plate, he moves slow! But it’s hard to actually make him feel it. Screw you, D&D.