I finally got a chance to try out the Earthdawn Third Edition rules last Saturday when a friend ran Misguided Ambitions, the demo adventure available on the Earthdawn home page. Though there were some obvious tweaks and mods to the Step System to help streamline play, the game still feels very much like Earthdawn. Considering how much I enjoy the Eartdawn game – both the system and the setting – that’s about the highest “initial impression” I can offer.
Setting-wise, nothing obvious has changed, with the exception of the story being advanced through the events in Prelude to War. On the system side, there were a number of bigger changes, but nothing that breaks the game. First off the d4’s and d20’s were removed from the Step System completely – now you only need six-, eight,- ten-, and twelve-siders. I’ve made similar changes before to tweak the way dice roll in the game so I can’t complain, but RedBrick also published an alternative Step Chart on their web site as a free download if you want to add the missing dice back in.
Disciplines got a bit of an overhaul as well. Now instead of having fixed talent lists, you have a few choices to make as you advance in your chosen profession. It does give you more flexibility, but skills always covered this roll as well. I’ve always been a fan of the stricter interpretation of the discipline as a magical entity, but players do enjoy choices so I can’t say that the changes that were made were bad ones. And if it makes the game more accessible to players, who can complain?
A lot of talents and skills got rebalanced, and I’m not going to go into all of them here. There were a couple issues I have with some changes (or changes back from Earthdawn Classic) but all in all, many of the uber-talents have been toned down to make the disciplines a little more even in power. Many of the changes were clean ups or simply moving old talent knacks into general use. For example, now anyone can try to make a check to leap to their feet to avoid losing their combat action and/or movement in combat, but there’s a chance they’ll fail the check if they’re wearing too much armor.
I haven’t dug into thread magic too deeply, but conceptually it operates the same way as previous editions. I’ve always been a fan of the way that thread magic was implemented in Earthdawn. The idea of magic items growing with characters or the ability to begin the game with a heirloom that you won’t toss out the first time you find a +1 sword is far superior to the D&D style of loot and scoot. Even D&D itself has tried to duplicate ED’s item growth system in some of their own expansions, but it’s always been crippled by it’s integration to d20’s purely level-based system.
I could go on about the ED mechanics for a while, but I’m going to touch on the art and layout of the core books before wrapping this up. I very much enjoyed the combination of more modern (in technique, not necessarily graphical style) layout design with some of the classic ED1-era art. Living Room Games went the way wrong direction with ED2, and it’s good to see RedBrick returning to art that properly conveys the grittier feel of the people and places of Barsaive. Kudos to them for that.
I’m an Earthdawn fanboy, I’ll admit it. But while that means I love the IP, it also makes me critical. ED2 was in my mind a giant failure on the part of LRG. I’m extremely pleased that RedBrick has not stumbled into the same mistakes that LRG has. Third Edition is still different than First (or even Classic) Edition, but it’s still Earthdawn. Most of the changes are just balancing and streamlining the game, but more importantly Barsaive is still intact as the wonderful setting that it is.