• Don't link to the video of the Christchurch shooting, or repost links to the shooter's manifesto.

[WIR] Earthdawn Core Rules (1993)

Mataxes

Social Justice Troubadour
Validated User
#1
I’ve read (and enjoyed) a number of different WIR threads about different games -- some I’m familiar with, others I am not. I decided to contribute to the site by rolling out one of my own, focusing on one of my favorite games ever: Earthdawn.

I’m going to start with the original rulebook from 1993, work my way through bit by bit with commentary and analysis. If this goes well, I might move on to other books from the original line.

When analyzing the game, it helps to keep in mind the era when it was originally developed. These were the days of early White Wolf (Vampire: The Masquerade was released in 1991), and late AD&D 2nd Edition (the Player’s Option books were released in 1995). The latter point is especially relevant if you look at Earthdawn as a reaction (of sorts) to the granddaddy of fantasy role-playing.

I am a long time fan of the game; I picked up the first edition book back in ‘93, and started running it a couple of years later once I had settled down and had a regular group of players. It was the system (and setting) for two of my longest-running (and most successful) campaigns.

I didn’t get involved with writing and development for the game until after the original incarnation of FASA shut its doors, but I was active in the online fan community throughout the late 90s. In my analysis I’m going to try and avoid talking about changes made in later editions, but some of that might slip in.

Join me, won’t you, as I read Earthdawn.
 

Mataxes

Social Justice Troubadour
Validated User
#2
Chapter 1: Age of Legend
“The heroes of today are the legends of tomorrow” -- King Varulus III of Throal

The first chapter is pretty short (just over two pages). It opens by telling you what you need to know; painting in broad strokes the setting's past and present, along with the game’s primary conceit. It also answers the question, “What do you do?”

It is a world recovering from a cataclysm. The people of the world are emerging after hiding for centuries. Magic exists, rising and falling over centuries in a natural cycle. The traditional fantasy races -- dwarfs, elves, humans, orks, and trolls -- exist along with some more exotic ones.

We learn about the Horrors, “creatures from the darkest depths of astral space,” that, at the peak of the magic cycle, crossed into our world and laid waste to it. Fortunately, there was advance warning of their coming thanks to the magicians of the Theran Empire. They devised wards and protections allowing people to hide from the Horrors in magical underground shelters called kaers.

Eventually, as the magic cycle ebbed, the Horrors were forced back to their native realm. After generations of living behind their wards, people slowly opened their kaers and began to reclaim the surface. They found the world--which they knew only from the legends and tales handed down over the centuries--radically changed. While most of the Horrors were gone, some remained, and continue to inflict their torments on innocent victims.

This is the world in which the game is set. A magical post-apocalypse where heroes travel the land, exploring the ruins left after the Scourge, fighting the Horrors that still lurk in the darker corners of the world, as well as the Theran Empire, who have returned to oppress and exploit the common citizens just trying to live their lives.

After this broad setting primer, we get the typical “what is a role playing game” section, which in addition to the usual comparison to movies or books where you decide what the characters do, we get a bit of additional thematic information. In addition to the usual character advancement, there’s mention of how the player characters are heroes inspired by the legends and tales of the past, and how their deeds might live on in the stories and legends told in the years to come.

Overall, it’s a good introductory chapter. I like how it pitches the high concept, gives you a basic overview of setting information, and lets you know the standard mode of play: you are a heroic adventurer looking to help restore the world in the wake of a magical cataclysm, and gives you a couple of ‘baddies’ (the Horrors, as well as the Theran Empire) as the focus.
 

TrvShane

Stumblin' around the net...
Validated User
#3
I'm running Earthdawn at the moment (3rd ed rules, 1st ed timeline), so this has my interest; I look forward to reading more. I still have my very battered missing it's spine copy of Earthdawn 1st edition from 93, too, so this will be nicely nostalgic.
 
Last edited:

TrvShane

Stumblin' around the net...
Validated User
#4
Chapter 1: Age of Legend
What I liked about the setting primer was how it grabbed you in and captured the imagination. After reading about the Horrors, or the "fantastic underground cities" filled with the remnants of a destroyed civilisation, or the PCs being legendary heroes in the making, who wouldn't want to play it? What struck 16 year old me was how evocative and alive it seemed from the very beginning. As fun a game as 2nd ed AD&D was, it was quite dry. Earthdawn, like my first ever RPG purchase WFRP some years earlier, oozes a living, breathing world.

That's why I've gone back to it now, and why it captured my group's imagination so quickly, too.
 

Mataxes

Social Justice Troubadour
Validated User
#5
That's why I've gone back to it now, and why it captured my group's imagination so quickly, too.
That's been my general experience as well. I've introduced a lot of people to the game over the *cough* years that I've been running it, and nearly all of them have come away with a positive experience and a lot of interest. Beyond that, I know a lot of folks who really like the setting, but bounce off the system (and we'll get to the system). There have been a couple of attempts (some more successful than others) to adapt the setting to other systems.

Earthdawn was one of my earliest non-D&D RPGs as well. My first was Shadowrun 2nd Ed (which I had received Christmas 1992). I went off to my freshman year of college in '93, where I got internet access for the first time, joined a couple of email lists and usenet boards dedicated to the game, learned about Earthdawn (which had been released at GenCon that previous summer), and there happened to be a copy of The Longing Ring (the first Earthdawn tie-in novel) for sale in the campus bookstore. I grabbed that (and enjoyed it). Around Christmas came across a copy of the hardcover core rulebook during an excursion to a nearby mall.
 

Stacie.Winters1

Registered User
Validated User
#6
This is still my all time favorite fantasy rpg and one of my favorite game engines. If it was new and released today you'd swear that this games influences would go beyond just D&D. I'd definitely include Fallout and Exalted as influences, if time worked backwards and we lived in a relative space and time multidimensional matrix.
 
Last edited:

Octiron

Pariah
Validated User
#7
I liked the setting a lot but was one of those people who "bounced off the system" when I found out you could fail to even cast a spell. It made for a very frustrating gaming experience. I loved their take on magic items though, with multiple levels of power based on how much you found out about the item's history during play.
 
Last edited:

vitus979

Registered User
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#8
Earthdawn was my second RPG after a short Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. Unfortunately, I started playing right as FASA was shutting the game down IIRC in 1997. I had to scramble to get the expansions before the stock ran out.

I still have two copies of the 1e core book, one of which is the red leather limited edtion. :)

I liked the setting a lot but was one of those people who "bounced off the system" when I found out you could fail to even cast a spell. It made for a very frustrating gaming experience. I loved their take on magic items though, with multiple levels of power based on how much you found out about the item's history during play.
I wouldn't mind so much failing a threadweaving roll if the upside was a GREAT effect. However, as I've said before in other threads on Earthdawn the game doesn't give you enough return on investment for taking the chance that you'll fail a Threadweaving Roll. In most versions of the game you're almost always better off casting a spell with zero threads* every turn. If an effect takes 2 turns to cast, it should be at least as good as casting 2 spells which can be cast in 1 turn each. If that two turn spell has the potential to be interrupted, then the effect should be even better.

* or with one thread if you have one of the cooler matrices that stores one for you
 
Last edited:

LouP

Registered User
Validated User
#9
Hello,

I'm going to keep an eye on this thread. :)


Take Care!

Lou Prosperi
Who wrote significant portions of the book that Josh is going to be reading.
 

Mataxes

Social Justice Troubadour
Validated User
#10
Chapter 2: Inheritance
“When the Scourge ended, we were determined to reclaim our heritage. But we were not yet ready to pay the price.” -- Tolan Oddear, Historian of Landis

This chapter is a short fiction piece, continuing to provide insight into the game world. This was a somewhat common technique with setting-focused games in the 90s. FASA’s Shadowrun 2nd Edition had an introductory story at the start of the rulebook, for example, and later editions of the game continued that tradition.

I know different people have different opinions of game fiction. Some don’t like it and feel it wastes space in the rulebooks. Others like how it can provide inspiration, guidance, or insight into the game. I personally fall in the latter camp, though I will freely admit that game fiction can sometimes get a bit dire.

The short story here follows Mestoph, an elf “magician” (he’s not named as a Nethermancer in the text, but the spells he casts and later information in the book clearly establish his Discipline); Lorm, a troll Warrior; and Ragnar, a dwarf Thief. The story is told from Ragnar’s perspective, and reinforces the theme of legend and taletelling as it starts with a paragraph where he is introducing the story of how he got the axe.

We start in media res with our POV character fleeing up a hillside from ork scorchers, finding his companions taking cover behind some rocks, with Lorm clearly upset with Mestoph because there is no sign of the lost city (or its treasure).

The group fights the orks, taking advantage of a spell from Mestoph (Ethereal Darkness, an iconic Nethermancer spell), and shortly thereafter discover a shaft carved into the hillside that was hidden by an illusion, leading to the entry chamber of Kaer Jalendale.

The team are not the first to discover the kaer. The doors are broken open, and the walls are inscribed with gashes in the rock, which according to Mestoph, drained the magic from the wards, and probably took years to work. It appears a Horror took its time breaking into this place, and there was nothing the residents could do -- they might not have even been aware before the first ward failed.

Entering the kaer, we find that while it started out with a systematic and logical design, structures were added over the years--up more than out--resulting in a maze of blocked-off streets and alleys. As the explorers try and make their way toward the center of the kaer, they remark on the lack of bodies with an exchange that always stuck with me.
Lorm shifted the lantern to his other hand, then whispered, "Where are all the bodies?"

"Maybe the Horror ate them all"

"Even all the bones?" Lorm blinked his eyes.

"Maybe it's a very tidy Hor*ror. Maybe it stacked all the bones in a corner somewhere."
The group is attacked by shadowmants--a flying, manta-ray looking beast with a poison stinger--and manage to drive them off, but not before Lorm is stung by one. As Ragnar treats the wound, applying a poultice, Lorm describes a time he and some clan-mates went to a village and found it had been affected by a Horror. It had killed the adults but left the children alive. They took the children back with them, but over time they were all touched by the Horror, and had to be cast out.

Injuries dealt with, the group moves closer to the heart of the kaer. They soon arrive at a deep chasm, and a group of cadaver men (sort of the Earthdawn equivalent of zombies) approach. Rather than attacking, though, they drop ropes off the edge of the chasm, which magically snake across to create a bridge. The task done, the cadaver men place themselves between the group and the exit.

"Ragnar, when a Horror asks you to visit him, is it foolish to say no?"

"If he wanted us dead, the cadaver men would have attacked. He wants something from us he cannot get if we are dead."
The group crosses the makeshift rope bridge, and soon after crossing is set upon by the Horror. It tells them “The one who brings me the orichalcum shield lives. The others…” and hits Ragnar with a magical effect that makes him feel like the bones in his legs snapped, and the muscles disconnected from the tendons. The pain passed a few moments later, but the group retreats to the massive structure that makes up the center of the kaer.

Inside the group finds the remains of most of the kaer’s residents. Hundreds, if not thousands of them, dead and laying on large shelf-like furnishings. There are two gold-colored shields in the center of the room. While Ragnar was recovering from the effects of the spell, Mestoph had done some investigating and determined the shields were enchanted. One prevented the Horror from entering the structure, the other prevented the Horror from moving away. To create this enchantment, the kaer’s residents had sacrificed themselves. They prevented the Horror from moving on to destroy other kaers at the cost of their own lives. The Horror wants them to bring it the shield that it must stay near so it can leave the kaer.

The group develops a plan. Lorm carries out the shield, then beats on the Horror while Mestoph prepares a spell. (It’s unclear in the story, but presumably one he found in the magical text he recovered in the kaer.) Ragnar retrieves the shield and runs it back into the central structure. Mestoph casts the spell and the group flees, intending to get out of the Horror’s range. Before they put the plan into motion, Lorm says that, according to his grandfather, his axe was destined to blood a Horror. Mestoph advises the Horror is weak to life magic, and Lorm covers the axe blade with his blood.

The plan almost works. Lorm runs out and attacks the Horror, Ragnar retrieves the shield and returns it to the crypt, and Mestoph casts the spell, injuring the Horror. They run, and think they’ve escaped. Unfortunately, the Horror appears next to Mestoph and kills him. Lorm, likewise, is killed, but Ragnar manages to escape.

The story closes back in the ‘present’ with Ragnar passing the axe over to the listener (the reader).

“Take this axe. It is Lorm's axe. His grandfather made it for his father. It has blooded a Horror. Perhaps now it shall slay one.”
Commentary to come!
 
Top Bottom