Adjusting Earthdawn’s Strain Mechanic

RedBrick Limited‘s third edition of Earthdawn has been a big hit so far with my Saturday gaming group. The system is providing us with a solid internal consistency through which we can interact with the rich setting.

But like most groups, we’ve come up with a few tweaks to the system to make it better fit with what we want out of our game.  The biggest is that we’ve decided to try a slight re-working to how strain is handled.

The concept of strain is that it is a key balancing feature to the game – there are a vast number of talents, skills, and maneuvers which include a strain cost to use them.  The disconnect for many members of my group is that this is basically taking hit point damage any time they want to do something.

Two of my fellow players and I sat down one night after our gaming session to discuss the strain mechanic and it’s effect on game play.  We tossed around a few ideas before finally settling on a proposed solution that we’ve decided to adopt on a trial basis: adding wind to each character and creature, as defined below:

Wind

  • Wind Threshold is a character’s Toughness Step plus Durability Rank (if any).
  • Any time a character suffers Strain, they may instead take an equal amount of Wind.
  • Any Wind taken over a character’s Wind Threshold is converted back to Strain.
  • Once per combat, a character may spend an action to make a Toughness Test.  Reduce their accumulated Wind by the amount rolled.
  • All Wind points are removed when a character has a chance to catch their breath.  This usually takes place at the end of any given scene and outside of any strenuous activity (such as combat).  The Gamemaster has final say on when Wind is renewed.

This definitely increases a character’s all around power, especially adepts.  But after discussion its impact with my group, we believe that the effect of the increased power on the game is actually beneficial.

In essence, Wind lets players do more cool things. In my opinion this is one of the top priorities in a game – make the players feel like they’re being heroic.  Wind makes that easier to do awesome physical things without hampering anyone’s ability to do interesting social things — win-win.

One of the biggest concerns a player has when considering a strain-causing talent is that there are a number of feats in Earthdawn you can do if only if you’re free of damage – like increase talents or heal wounds.  Since Wind is easy to refresh, it helps alleviate this concern.  You don’t have to forgo using an ability like Tracking just because you’re out of recovery tests or are planning on raising a talent later.

We were worried at first about intolerably drawing out combat, but so far it seems that Wind has actually sped combat up.  It gives martial disciplines like the Warrior the opportunity to unleash their bigger combat talents more freely, magicians the freedom to be more liberal with Willforce, and other characters the ability to use Avoid Blow and other combat options more often.  More fancy maneuvers means more offensive output, which means quicker and more deadly combat on both sides since npcs and creatures have Wind as well.

On top of this freedom, Wind helps Strain make sense for many of our players.  Some of our group has had problems with the idea of basically hurting yourself to do even mundane things.  The example usually brought up was the Evidence Analysis talent/skill, which required a character to take damage to get to ask Sherlock Holmes-style questions about a scene.  From a balance standpoint it makes sense – there’s a cost necessary to balance the ability, but “cutting yourself” just didn’t feel right.

So far Wind has had the desired effect on our game, and we’ve been happy with its introduction.  We’ll be keeping an eye on its impact on the game and tweaking the rules as needed, but for now it appears we’ve found a solution that improves our game.

4 thoughts on “Adjusting Earthdawn’s Strain Mechanic

  • Yeah, the meta-physical explanation just didn’t carry through on Strain so I’m digging our changes. The fact that the bad guys gets it too balances it pretty good in my book.

  • I like the conceptual points of your presentation. But not to sure what I think about the mechanical points. I’d say its one of those items you’d have to see in action in order to make a fully informed opinion over.

    But had to share this with the RB Forums. 🙂 So be prepared for the exposure.

  • Heh, thanks EDC. I should have enough bandwidth to be ok. 🙂

    I wouldn’t presume this setup would work for everyone, but at the very least it’s a starting point people can either jump from or decide that the base system works better for them.

  • We handle it a separate way track your strain seperatly from your damage.. the total is still gonna knock you out but after a fight you can regain a toughness test in strain. Similar… but not quite

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