Welcome back, faithful readers! This post marks the first in what I hope will be a series talking about different aspects of managing an Earthdawn game. The fourth edition has brought new
victims fans, and as questions have been asked on the forums and our Discord server, it’s become clear that there are a few aspects of Earthdawn that us old guard take for granted, but which might throw newcomers for a loop.
Before we get into the topic for this installment, I want to mention what I think of as a “Rule 0” for campaign management.
Communication is key.
Everybody at the table (real or virtual) should be on the same page with regard to the goals and tone of the game. Even before your group sets out on your first adventure, it’s a good idea to talk about expectations. What is the game going to focus on? Exploration? Politics? Fighting the Horrors? Will it be more combat and action? Negotiation? High flying heroics? Grim and gritty?
The gamemaster is often the one putting the most effort into developing the scenarios and situations the adventurers will face, but they shouldn’t be the only contributor. No matter how awesome the idea for your Throalic council politics game might be, if the players are more interested in finding lost kaers in the Badlands…
As part of that, let’s talk about time. There are a number of pieces in Earthdawn that take time, and some players may want to explore or take advantage of them. Some of them are obvious and universal; meditating to raise talent ranks, training to advance circle, Item History to learn Key Knowledge, Forge Weapon to improve equipment.
Some of these things can be hired out. If the group doesn’t have a Weaponsmith, they’ll be paying a GMC to forge. They might hire a Troubadour for Item History, or a sage or scholar to perform the research needed to unlock a thread item’s secrets. But even if they are farming out these tasks, they still take time.
In addition to providing adventures that your player characters will be interested in and motivated to pursue, you need to give them downtime for the other stuff.
Some gamemasters like having a dynamic, “living” setting. Antagonists and other GMCs have their own agendas, and unless the player characters act to interfere, they will happen. Campaign time is heavily tracked, and unless the group reaches the abandoned tower before sunset in two days, the cult will sacrifice the kidnapped villagers. Taking a couple hours to go shopping and stock up on booster potions might be a life or death decision.
(This can be especially troublesome if those stakes aren’t ever made clear to the players. Springing a, “they’re dead because you had to haggle with that merchant over a poultice,” is a jerk move. Pull too many “gotchas” without player buy-in, and you may find yourself without players.)
Don’t get me wrong, time limits have their place, and can serve as a way to drive players to action. But if the group is always running from one disaster to another, and never given much of a breather… unless they’re down with that, it can lead to problems. (You will know if they are down with that if you communicate.)
So, as gamemaster, you need to be willing to flex your story timelines. Do they seem interested in crafting, enchanting, increasing mundane skills, or anything else that takes extra time? Take that into account when making long term plans for your campaign. Give them a few extra days (or weeks) if they need it.
Every player is different, of course, and not all of your players will necessarily be interested in extended downtime. Fortunately, resolving downtime shouldn’t take that long. Many actions can be handled by taking a minute to update the campaign calendar, and perhaps a couple of tests. If something is going to be more involved (for example, working up the details on a custom enchantment), it might be best to handle it between sessions (either in person or through various social media channels) so players who aren’t involved aren’t twiddling their thumbs.
For characters who don’t have the same kind of time-consuming focus, find something for them to do. See if there is some kind of personal goal they want to pursue, and a way they can do that during group downtime. Perhaps they can develop or maintain relationships with allies and supporters — even characters who aren’t focused on Charisma and social skills can contribute to this sort of thing. Once they have a couple of Circles and a little fame under their belt, lower ranked adepts might seek them out for advancement and training, which can introduce new GMCs or future plot threads.
If all else fails, they can earn money with a “mundane” job. Many of a character’s skills and talents can be applicable to day-to-day living. You can base the pay on the relevant rank of the skill or talent, or even have the character roll and base the pay on the result (different abilities might work better one way than the other).
If you want to adjust how long different downtime activities take, that’s okay too. Once again, communicate these changes with your group so they know what to expect. The times in the rules were developed not only with an eye toward playability, but also veracity of setting. Changing the required time could have an effect on the setting. For just one example, if you reduce the time required for Forge Weapon, it can increase the availability of forged weapons in the setting (increasing volume via throughput — more items in the same amount of time). This might also affect the rates charged for GMCs using the talent.
You may not want to get into this level of detail when it comes to setting-based consequences. That’s fine. Your game style might even be more free form, not really tracking time between adventures, not being specific about how long it takes to do stuff, just giving the players a chance to spend their Legend Points and manage some side projects. If it works for you and your group, it’s all good, and don’t let some dude on the internet tell you you’re doing it wrong.
That does it for this week! Just a reminder, I usually have open office hours on our Discord server the first Friday of each month starting at 9pm Eastern time (next week, at the time of this posting) . If you have any questions, suggestions for future topics, or just want to hang out, feel free to stop by! (And feel free to reach out at other times as well, either on Discord, our forums, even e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.)