This year we start with a game I played long ago. When I was first getting into games(I was fourteen or fifteen at the time) I had this odd categorization of games in my head. First, there were the games I played al the time - Palladium games, D&D, and Traveller - which I thought of as Normal. Then there came the games I was forced to play - Mostly White Wolf Games, and games that imitated that style - that I thought of as snooty games that I didn't like. though to be honest I think I disliked the people who played those games and their attitudes toward other players than the games themselves. And finally there were the games that looked interesting but I could never get into a game. Mostly these were games like Cyberpunk 2020, Battletech, and Ars Magica. Anyway, one day I was at the game shop and this girl was in there with this game I had never seen before, never even heard a whisper of it. When I asked about it she spoke of it like it was a very important and powerful thing. I knew right away I wanted to play it, I wouldn't get a chance for years(over five years). That game was...
Through this review, I will be using the first edition of the game(there are like four editions out now). The reason is that it is the only edition I have played, so I feel a little better discussing that edition that those which I have only read. And now without further ado, let's dig into Earthdawn.
The book is solidly put together, I have had mine since the nineties and the biggest problem I have had some fading and curling of the cover. the font choice was a solid, simple design that is easy to read and follow along. The art is very well done, especially for the time it was written. mostly black and white, though there are some color inserts. The art is spread out evenly throughout the book and is a nice breakup. Flipping through the bk I still get excited to see what is on the next page. Always fun when you get some solid art in your book. The only issue I have with the art is that sometimes it has nothing to do with the mechanics or setting described on the page.
The mechanics of the game are somewhat complex. For the time period it was fairly middle of the road, but seen through the lens of history it is complex. That is neither a condemnation nor a confirmation of that complexity. In the nineties, there was a glut of games with intense amounts of complexity, games like AD&D, Champions, and GURPs. compared to games of its age the Earthdawn is about the middle of the road. the game is a task-based system where you roll dice of carrying types against a target number. I think this may have been the first game to use die steps(d4, d6, d8, d10, etc), in fact, I think this game was the one that invented the term itself.
You have a set of attributes which set ut the base die step of any given task with that attribute. Then you add in any relevant skill or Talent(magical ability) to that rating to get the final die step for your task. This game has levels, in which you gain new talents and skills, but they didn't call it that. The levels are called circles, I think this is to make them a part of the setting rather than a metanarrative conceit of the game. There are a number of things like that. Maybe that is why I liked the game so much when I was a kid. It was the first game I had encountered where the mechanics were linked to the setting explicitly. Even names had importance in the game, names of people, places and things are deeply connected to eth magic system in the game. Though I do need to be clear that I have always been a bit lost n the names, patterns, and threads. My GM really seemed to get it, but it got kind of obscure as I dug further in. This Naming thing did allow for a cool feature of magic items. Basically the more you knew about the name and history of a magic item the more powerful it became. This has always been a neat idea and I would love to use it in many other things.
SettingThe setting of Earthdawn is what truly drew me to the game. It was aCaerns, underground chambers made of pure elemental magic material, from dragons and begin making them. Lots of politics and the like happen and the magic rises to even greater levels. Eventually, everyone that will retreat int the Caerns des so and they begin the long wait for the magic levels to drop back to safe levels.
s if they sat down and looked at the tropes common in the fantasy RPG genre and tried to come up with a setting that would make them all make sense. It is pretty spiffy. It goes like this: long ago there was a time of high magic. One day a wizard discovered that the magic levels would keep growing and growing until the walls between worlds began to break a little. When that happened, horrrs would creep into the world and destroy, torment, and devour any and all they encountered. This had lead to previous cataclisms and the shattering of history. This wizard spread the word and started a project to save civilization, he began archiving all the histories and knowledge he could trying to find a way to save the world. ver time all this knowledge and power became an empire built around this archive and project. Now that I break it down like this I see some interesting parallels to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. So with the empire building and growing they eventually find the solution to the Horrors. They learn the secrets of building
Some folk began to reopen their Caerns and explore the world left bear by Horrors and hundreds of years. They began to rebuild and explore. For a while things were good, then the empire began to come back and use its massive magical power to try and reestablish their great empire. Now the players play members of the Naming races exploring underground Caerns, fighting horrors, and dealing with troubles with the empire. The naming races are the elves, dwarfs, orks, trolls, humans, Windlings(pixies), Tskrang(lizard people), and Obsidimen(rock people). overall the setting is very deep and well put together. I have just hinted at the basics, I would recommend digging in further, it is a fun trip.
First game of Christmas is now complete, tomorrow we will dig into...
Should be fun fun!