Earthdawn is a fantasy role-playing game, originally produced by FASA. It has since been licensed to Living Room Games, which is producing the Second Edition line, and RedBrick Limited, a company that is producing the Classic 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.
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. There have been several releases since then, including Earthdawn 2nd Edition and the 2nd Edition Companion (Jan 2002).
The 2nd Edition does not alter the setting, though it does update the timeline to include events that took place in Barsaive. There are a few changes to the rules in the 2nd Edition; some classes have slightly different or altered abilities from the original. The changes were meant to allow for more rounded-out characters and better balance of play.
In 2003, a second license was granted to RedBrick Limited, who are developing their own line based on the FASA products, and released the original FASA books in PDF form. The Earthdawn Player's and Gamemaster's Compendia 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 â 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.
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 â 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.
The setting of Earthdawn features several fantasy races for characters and NPCs:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Throal Kingdom (dwarves, monarchy)
- Iopos (city state, magocracy)
- Blood Wood (Elves, monarchy)
- Kratas (city of thieves)
- 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 Societies
- Outside Barsaive
- Theran Empire (Thera)
- Cathay (Orient)
- Indrisa (India)
- Shosara (Elves)
- Talea (Italy)
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.
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Earthdawn stands out from other tabletop RPG's 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.
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.
Note: Earthdawn has also had German, French, Japanese and Polish editions.
FASA SKU and title
- 6001 Earthdawn Game System.
- 6002 Earthdawn Gamemaster Pack.
- 6100 Barsaive (boxed set).
- 6101 Denizens of Earthdawn, Volume 1.
- 6102 Denizens of Earthdawn, Volume 2.
- 6103 Legends of Earthdawn, Volume 1.
- 6104 Parlainth: The Forgotten City.
- 6105 Creatures of Barsaive.
- 6106 The Adept's Way.
- 6107 Horrors.
- 6108 Sky Point & Vivane.
- 6109 Serpent River.
- 6110 The Book of Exploration. Legends of Earthdawn, Volume 2.
- 6111 Throal: The Dwarf Kingdom.
- 6112 Earthdawn Survival Guide.
- 6113 The Blood Wood.
- 6114 The Theran Empire.
- 6115 Secret Societies of Barsaive.
- 6116 Crystal Raiders of Barsaive.
- 6117 Ork Nation of Cara Fahd.
- 6200 Earthdawn Companion.
- 6201 Magic: A Manual of Mystic Secrets.
- 6202 Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive.
- 6301 Mists of Betrayal.
- 6302 Terror in the Skies.
- 6303 Infected.
- 6304 Parlainth Adventures.
- 6305 Shattered Pattern.
- 6306 Sky Point Adventures.
- 6307 Blades.
- 6308 Throal Adventures.
- 6401 Prelude to War.
Living Room Games SKU and title
- 200 Earthdawn Rulebook, Second Edition. ISBN 0-9704191-1-2
- 201 Earthdawn Companion. ISBN 0-9704191-2-0
- 100 Path of Deception. ISBN 1-55560-450-1
- 101 Barsaive at War. ISBN 0-9704191-0-4
- 202 Barsaive in Chaos. ISBN 0-9704191-3-9
- 203 The Gamemaster's Screen. ISBN 0-9704191-4-7
- 204 Scourge Unending. ISBN 0-9704191-5-5.
- 205 Way of War: Makers of Legend Vol 1. ISBN 0-9704191-7-1
- 206 The Book of Dragons. ISBN 0-9704191-8-X
- 207 The Wandererâs Way: Makers of Legend Vol. 2. ISBN 0-9755206-3-6
- Dangerous Goods
- Way of Will: Makers of Legend Vol. 3
- 100 Earthdawn Player's Compendium.
- 101 Earthdawn Gamemaster's Compendium.
- 102 Earthdawn Character Folio.
- 500 Kaer Tardim.
- 501 Character Record Sheets.
- 502 Barsaive Map.
- 503 Spell Library.
- 504 Spell Design.
- 505 Discipline Design.
- 506 Rites of Protection and Passage.
- FASA eBooks.
- Christopher Kubasik, The Longing Ring, 1993, ISBN 0451452771
- Christopher Kubasik, Mother Speaks, 1994, ISBN 0451452976
- Christopher Kubasik, Poisoned Memories, 1994, ISBN 0451453298
- Carl Sargent, Marc Gascoigne, Talisman: A Short Story Anthology, 1994, ISBN 0451453891
- Shroud of Madness, 1995, ISBN 1555602754
- Greg Gorden, Prophecy, 1994, ISBN 0451453476
- Nigel D. Findley, Lost Kaer, 1998 ISBN 1555602746
- Jak Koke, Liferock: A Lost Novel of Earthdawn, 2003, ISBN 0974573418
- Caroline Spector, Scars: A Lost Novel of Earthdawn, 2005, ISBN 0974573426
- Living Room Games
- RedBrick Limited Earthdawn Homepage
- RedBrick Limited Company Homepage
- EDCG: Character generator for Earthdawn 1st edition
- Second Step: Earthdawn 2nd Edition Character Generator (freeware)
- Earthdawn Journal ezine
- Earthdawn Publishing Trust - publishers of 'Book of Tomorrow' fanzine
- Internet Archive of FASA's official Earthdawn page
- Aunty H's SR/ED Crossover Information