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Earthdawn

Earthdawn is a fantasy role-playing game, originally produced by FASA in 1993. In 1999 it was licensed to Living Room Games, which produced the Second Edition line. It is currently licensed to RedBrick Limited, a company that is producing the Classic or RedBrick's Earthdawn line (which is essentially an alternative second edition; see History below for more information).

The game is similar to fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons, but draws more inspiration from games like RuneQuest. The rules of the game are tightly bound to the underlying magical metaphysics, with the goal of creating a richer, more realistic fantasy world. Like many role-playing games from the nineties, Earthdawn focuses much of its detail on its setting, a province called Barsaive.

History

Starting in 1993, FASA released over 20 gaming supplements describing this universe; however, it closed down production of Earthdawn in January 1999. During that time several novels and short story anthologies set in the Earthdawn universe were also released. In late 1999, FASA granted Living Room Games a licensing agreement to produce new material for the game.

The 2nd Edition did not alter the setting, though it did update the timeline to include events that took place in Barsaive. There were a few changes to the rules in the 2nd Edition; some classes were slightly different or altered abilities from the original. The changes were meant to allow for more rounded-out characters and better balance of play. Living Room Games last published in 2005, and while they have not made any official statements with regard to their edition of Earthdawn, they are considered to be defunct by many fans.

In 2003, a second license was granted to RedBrick Limited, who are currently developing their own line based on the FASA products, while releasing the original FASA books in PDF form. The Earthdawn Player's Compendium and Earthdawn Gamemaster's Compendium are essentially an alternative second edition, but without a version designation (since the material is compatible anyway). Each book has over 500 pages, and summarizes much of what FASA published — not only the game mechanics, but also the setting, narrations, and stories. For example, each Discipline has its own chapter, describing it from the point of view of different adepts. Likewise, Barsaive gets a complete treatment, and the chapters contain a lot of log entries and stories in addition to the setting descriptions; the same applies also to Horrors and Dragons. While RedBrick Limited tried to remain faithful to FASA's vision and also tried to keep the visual style, they revised almost everything, and introduced some new material to fill the gaps. RedBrick Limited also began publishing Earthdawn novels in 2007. On July 8th, 2008, RedBrick announced a new Earthdawn line using Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rules called Age of Legend 4e, to run concurrently with Earthdawn Classic.

In 1999 Pyramid magazine named Earthdawn as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games. Editor Scott Haring noted (referring to the FASA edition) that "Earthdawn had an original, inventive magic system (no mean trick given the hundreds of fantasy RPGs that came before), and a game world that gave you the classic "monsters and dungeons" sort of RPG experience, but made sense doing it.

Setting

In Barsaive, magic, like many things in nature, goes through cycles. As the magic level rises, it allows alien creatures called Horrors to cross from their distant, otherworldly dimension into our own. The Horrors come in an almost infinite variety -- from simple eating machines that devour all they encounter, to incredibly intelligent and cunning foes that feed off the negative emotions they inspire in their prey.

In the distant past of Earthdawn's setting, an elf scholar discovered that the time of the Horrors was approaching, and founded the Eternal Library in order to discover a way to defeat them — or at the very least, survive them. The community that grew up around the library developed wards and protections against the Horrors, which they traded to other lands and eventually became the powerful Theran Empire.

The peoples of the world built kaers, underground towns and cities, which they sealed with the Theran wards to wait out the time of the Horrors, which was called the Scourge. After four hundred years of hiding, the Scourge ended, and the people emerged to a world changed by the Horrors. The player characters explore this new world, discovering lost secrets of the past, and fighting Horrors that remain. The primary setting of Earthdawn is Barsaive, a former province of the Theran Empire. Barsaive is a region of city-states, independent from the Therans since the dwarven Kingdom of Throal led a rebellion against their former overlords.

The Theran presence in Barsaive has been limited to a small part of south-western Barsaive, based around the magical fortress of Sky Point and the city of Vivane.

Races

The setting of Earthdawn features several fantasy races for characters and NPCs:

  1. Dwarf - Dwarfs in Earthdawn are similar in appearance to the classic D&D or Tolkien dwarves. They are the predominant race in Barsaive, and the dwarf language is considered the common language. Their culture, especially of the dominant Throal Kingdom, can be considered more of a Renaissance-level culture than in most other fantasy settings, and form the main source of resistance to a return of Thera's rule in Barsaive.
  2. Elf - Elves in Earthdawn fit the common fantasy role-playing convention; they are tall, lithe, pointy-eared humanoids who prefer living in nature. Elves in Earthdawn naturally live a very long time; some are thought to be immortal. Such immortal Elves feature in many cross-pollinated storylines with Shadowrun. A subspecies of Earthdawn elves are called the Blood Elves. The blood elves rejected the Theran protective magic, and attempted their own warding spells. These wards failed, and a last-ditch ritual caused thorns to thrust through the skin of the blood elves. These ever-bleeding wounds caused constant pain, but the self-inflicted suffering was enough to protect the blood elves from the worst of the horrors.
  3. Human - Humans in Earthdawn are physically similar to humans in our own real world. Human adepts are granted a special Versatility talent to make them more mechanically appealing. Humans in Earthdawn are considered to be somewhat warlike in general outlook.
  4. Obsidiman - Obsidimen are a race of large, rock-based humanoids. They stand over 7 feet tall and weigh over 900 pounds. Their primary connection is to their Liferock, which is a large formation of stone within four hours of their place of birth. Obsidimen are loyal to the community around their Liferock, and eventually return to it. Obsidimen can live around 500 years away from their Liferock, and their ultimate lifespan is unknown, as they generally return to it and remain there. Due to their rocky nature and long lives, obsidimen are rather slow moving and deliberate in both speech and action, and can have difficulty understanding the smaller races' need for haste. However, if aroused by a threat to self, friend, or community, obsidimen are fearsome to behold.
  5. Ork - The ork race in Earthdawn is similar to other depictions of orks in fantasy role-playing. They are tribal, nomadic and often barbaric humanoids, with green, tan, beige or ebony skin. They are relatively short-lived, and as a result many attempt to leave a legacy marked by a memorable death - preferably one that leaves no corpse. Before the Scourge almost all orks were enslaved by other races.
  6. Troll - The troll race in Earthdawn is also similar to other fantasy role-playing depictions of trolls. They are very tall humanoids, with a hardened skin and horns. Socially, they form clans to which they are fiercely loyal. Troll clans often raid one another, and a significant subset of the troll race are crystal raiders, which command many of the airships of Barsaive. Other trolls, known as lowland trolls, have merged with mixed communities around Barsaive, although most retain the fierce cultural and personal pride of their less-civilized cousins.
  7. T'skrang - The t'skrang are lizard-like amphibian humanoids with long tails and a flair for dramatics. Many of them exhibit the behaviors and characteristics which are stereotypical to a "swashbuckler". T'skrang are often sailors, and many t'skrang families run ships up and down the rivers of Barsaive. A rare subrace of t'skrang, the k'stulaami, possess a flap of skin much like a flying squirrel, allowing them to glide. While k'stulaami can be born as a random mutation in any t'skrang line, they tend to congregate into communities filled with their own kind.
  8. Windling - The windlings are small, winged humanoids; similar to many depictions of fae creatures, they resemble small elves with insect-like wings. They have the ability to see into the astral plane, and are considerably luckier than the other races. Windlings are often somewhat mischievous, hedonistic, and eager for new experiences, and are culturally similar to the Kender of Krynn, but without the same kleptomaniacal tendencies. They have wings similar to those of a dragonfly and are one to two feet in height.

Political entities

Barsaive
*Throal Kingdom/Throal (dwarves, monarchy)
*Iopos (city state, magocracy)
*Blood Wood (Elves, monarchy)
*Kratas (city of thieves, kleptocracy)
*Urupa (city-state, important port)
*Jerris (city-state)
*Travar (city-state)
*Trollish clans of mountains (sky raiders)
*T'skrang clans (aropagoi) of the Serpent River (traders)
*Vivane (city-state, under occupation by Thera)
*Haven and Parlainth (ruins)
*Great Dragons
*various Secret SocietiesOutside Barsaive
*Theran Empire (Thera)
*Cathay (Orient)
*Indrisa (India)
*Shosara (Elves)
*Talea (Italy)
*Creana (Egypt)
*Marac (North Africa)
*Vasgothia (Northern Europe)

Magic in Earthdawn

Earthdawn's magic system is highly varied but the essential idea is that every player character (called Adepts) has some access to magic, used to perform abilities attained through their Disciplines.

One of the most innovative ideas in Earthdawn is how magical items work. At first, most magical items work exactly like a mundane item of the same type. As a character searches for information about the item's history, performs certain tasks relating to that history, and spends legend points (the Earthdawn equivalent of experience points) to activate the item, he unlocks some of the magic in the item. As the character learns more about the item and its history, he can unlock more and more power within the item. Each magical item, therefore, is unique by virtue of its history and the scope of its powers. For example, one magical broadsword may have only 4 magical ranks and only increases the damage of the blade. On the other hand the legendary sword Purifier, has 10 magical ranks and grants its wielder numerous powers.

Game mechanics

Earthdawn stands out from other tabletop RPGs with a unique approach to skill tests. Players wanting to perform an action determines their level or "step" for the skill, talent, or ability to be used. This step can then be looked up in a list of dice to be thrown.

Examples of steps
Step Dice to be thrown
3 1D4
4 1D6
5 1D8
6 1D10
7 1D12
8 2D6
9 1D8 + 1D6
10 1D10+1D6
11 1D10+1D8
12 2D10
13 1D12+1D10
14 1D20+1D4 or 2D12 (Earthdawn Classic option)

The result of each die is added (dice which reach their maximum value are thrown again, adding each maximum to the tally, along with the final result below maximum) and compared to a value decided by the game master/storyteller according to the difficulty of the task. This approach allows for impressively high scores with high level characters, yet leaves room for possible failure. This will sometimes make combat last longer than in other games.

Publications

Note: Earthdawn has also had German, French, Japanese and Polish editions.

First edition

  • Earthdawn Game System. 6001
  • Earthdawn Gamemaster Pack. 6002
  • Barsaive (boxed set). 6100
  • Denizens of Earthdawn, Volume 1. 6101
  • Denizens of Earthdawn, Volume 2. 6102
  • Legends of Earthdawn, Volume 1. 6103
  • Parlainth: The Forgotten City. 6104
  • Creatures of Barsaive. 6105
  • The Adept's Way. 6106
  • Horrors. 6107
  • Sky Point & Vivane. 6108
  • Serpent River. 6109
  • The Book of Exploration. Legends of Earthdawn, Volume 2. 6110
  • Throal: The Dwarf Kingdom. 6111
  • Earthdawn Survival Guide. 6112
  • The Blood Wood. 6113
  • The Theran Empire. 6114
  • Secret Societies of Barsaive. 6115
  • Crystal Raiders of Barsaive. 6116
  • Ork Nation of Cara Fahd. 6117
  • Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive. 6202.
  • Magic: A Manual of Mystic Secrets. 6201.
  • Earthdawn Companion. 6200.
  • Mists of Betrayal. 6301
  • Terror in the Skies. 6302
  • Infected. 6303
  • Parlainth Adventures. 6304
  • Shattered Pattern. 6305
  • Sky Point Adventures. 6306
  • Blades. 6307
  • Throal Adventures. 6308
  • Prelude to War. 6401

Second edition

  • Earthdawn Rulebook, Second Edition. LRG-200. ISBN 0-9704191-1-2
  • Earthdawn Companion. LRG-201. ISBN 0-9704191-2-0
  • Path of Deception. LRG-100. ISBN 1-55560-450-1
  • Barsaive at War. LRG-101. ISBN 0-9704191-0-4
  • Barsaive in Chaos. LRG-202. ISBN 0-9704191-3-9
  • The Gamemaster's Screen. LRG-203. ISBN 0-9704191-4-7
  • Scourge Unending. LRG ED-204. ISBN 0-9704191-5-5.
  • Way of War: Makers of Legend Vol 1. LRG-205. ISBN 0-9704191-7-1
  • The Book of Dragons. LRG-206. ISBN 0-9704191-8-X
  • The Wanderer’s Way: Makers of Legend Vol. 2. LRG-207. ISBN 0-9755206-3-6

RedBrick edition

  • Earthdawn Player's Compendium. RBL-100.
  • Earthdawn Gamemaster's Compendium. RBL-101.
  • Earthdawn Character Folio. RBL-102.
  • Earthdawn Adventure Log. RBL-103.
  • Earthdawn Name-giver's Compendium. RBL-200.
  • Nations of Barsaive: Volume One. RBL-201
  • Ardanyan's Revenge. RBL-300.
  • Earthdawn Adventure Compendium. RBL-301.
  • Burning Desires. RBL-302.
  • Shards Collection: Volume One. RBL-303.
  • Kaer Tardim. RBL-500.
  • Character Record Sheets. RBL-501.
  • Spell Library. RBL-502.
  • Spell Design. RBL-503.
  • Discipline Design. RBL-504.
  • Barsaive Map. RBL-505.
  • Rites of Protection and Passage. RBL-506.
  • Kratas Character Codex. RBL-507.
  • Journey to Lang. RBL-700.
  • Runvir's Tomb. RBL-701.
  • Kept in the Dark. RBL-702.
  • Pale River. RBL-703.
  • Tournament Troubles. RBL-704.
  • Blackout. RBL-705.
  • Betrayal's Sting: An Earthdawn Shard. RBL-706.
  • Westhrall's Passage: An Earthdawn Shard. RBL-707
  • FASA eBooks.

Novels

  • Christopher Kubasik
    • The Longing Ring, 1993, ISBN 0-451-45277-1
    • Mother Speaks, 1994, ISBN 0-451-45297-6
    • Poisoned Memories, 1994, ISBN 0-451-45329-8
  • Sam Lewis (editor), Talisman: A Short Story Anthology, 1994, ISBN 0-451-45389-1
  • Carl Sargent & Marc Gascoigne,Shroud of Madness, 1995, ISBN 1-55560-275-4
  • Greg Gorden, Prophecy, 1994, ISBN 0-451-45347-6
  • Nigel D. Findley, Lost Kaer, 1998 ISBN 1-55560-274-6
  • Jak Koke, Liferock: A Lost Novel of Earthdawn, 2003, ISBN 0-9745734-1-8
  • Caroline Spector, Immortals trilogy:
    • Scars: A Lost Novel of Earthdawn, 2005, ISBN 0-9745734-2-6 (German and French translations were published in the 1990s)
    • Little Treasures: A Lost Novel of Earthdawn, still unpublished in English (German and French translations were published in the 1990s)
    • Worlds Without End, 1995 (ISBN 0-451-45371-9), 2003 (ISBN 0-451-45496-0), published as the 18th Shadowrun novel.
  • Tim Jones, Anarya's Secret, 2007, ISBN 9781877451232 (Published by RedBrick Limited)
  • Hank Woon, Dark Shadows of Yesterday, 2008, ISBN 9781877451393 (Published by RedBrick Limited)

References

External links

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