The steps for character creation are given in “Creating a Character”, p. 44. We’ll simplify the steps into three areas. In “Earthdawn”, artistic and creative endeavours are integral to the setting and every character has some kind of creative hobby, so we’ll talk about those as well as mechanics.
“Discipline” is Earthdawn’s name for what other games call “character class” or “profession”. In Earthdawn, a Discipline is more than that. It includes a worldview, philosophy, and artistic or aesthetic skills.
You should pick a Discipline that embodies the fighting or magical style you like. Our sample character will be the Archer, who (obviously) centers around shooting stuff with a bow and arrow.
Disciplines come with restrictions on racial selection. For example, Obsidimen cannot be Archers.
Each Discipline comes with a list of important attributes. You can pick any legal race, but if you don’t have a strong story reason for one race over the others, pick the race with bonuses in most of these attributes. For example, the Archer favors Dexterity and Perception, which Elves have bonuses in. So our race is Elf.
Aside from that, we can note down a few details:
- Disciplines have artisan skills. For Archer, that’s Arrow Fletching, Rune Carving, and Sculpture.
- Disciplines have Talents, which are quasi-magical abilities arranged in “Circles” (the character level of Earthdawn). We’ll buy Talents later, but for now, note that the Archer has these First Circle Talents: Avoid Blow, Direction Arrow, Karma Ritual, Missile Weapons, Mystic Aim, and True Shot.
- The archer has a specific karma ritual, used by the Karma Ritual talent. We’ll skip this for now.
We’ll say that this particular archer uses the Rune Carving artisan skill to create stories about important battles. The runes are shaped and interconnected in such a way as to suggest a blowing breeze or wind, literally carrying the words of the story from start to finish.
There are six attributes:
- Dexterity: your agility, speed, grace, and so on.
- Strength: muscle, physical power
- Toughness: grit, endurance, stamina, health
- Perception: your ability to notice and realize things
- Willpower: your strength of will, your ego, and magical potential
- Charisma: charm, force of personality, ability to influence
Aside from Perception and Willpower, these map pretty closely to the familiar D&D attributes.
There’s two ways to pick attributes: point-buy or random-roll. The game recommends point-buy, and I prefer it anyway.
You start with 66 purchase points (PP) and spend these on your six attributes. You can see the prices on the table on p. 48. The average attribute is a 10, and human maximum is 18 or so. Some character concepts make more sense with stats under 10, and some races (like Windlings) have big penalties on some stats as well.
The description of your Discipline has important attributes. Your goal should be to have a 16-18 in at least one of these attributes, and 13-16 at least one other.
To simplify this process, we’ll use a spreadsheet I created that helps you allocate points. You can click on
File > Make A Copy to create your own copy.
Elves add +2 to Dexterity, +1 to Perception, Willpower, and Charisma, and subtract 2 from Toughness. Characters cannot also start below 2 or above 18. With these limitations in mind, we fiddle with our point buy allocation and arrive at these numbers: Dexterity 18, Strength 13, Toughness 12, Perception 14, Willpower 12, Charisma 13 (including racial bonuses and penalties).
Each of your attributes values has a step number and action die. These come from the table on p. 50. This gives us: Dexterity 16 (step 7, 1d12), Strength 13 (step 6, 1d10), Toughness 12 (5, 1d8), Perception 14 (6, 1d10), Willpower 12 (5, 1d8), Charisma 13 (6, 1d10).
Once you’ve figured out your attributes, we’ll use those to calculate your characteristics. We’re going to camp out on the table on p. 52 for awhile, to fill in the following values:
- PHysical Armor: this is based on equipment, so we’ll calculate it later.
- Mystic Armor: from the table, based on your Willpower attribute value. Our Willpower is 12, so this is 1.
- Damage: these are all based on Toughness.
- Death Rating: Our Toughness is 12, so we have a 34.
- Wound Threshold: 9.
- Unconsciousness 26.
- Recovery Tests: 2 per day.
- Physical Defense: based on Dexterity. For us, this is 10.
- Spell Defense: based on Perception. For us, this is 8.
- Social Defense: based on Charisma. For us, this is 7.
- Initiative: this is equal to the step number of your Dexterity. We saw earlier that Dex 18 is step 7, so that’s also our Initiative.
- Carrying and Lifting: based on Strength. We have 105/210 lbs.
Movement is complicated. First, look at the table on p. 53 for racial adjustments, then back on the table on p. 52 for your movement. For example, as an Elf, we move as Dexterity + 1. Our final Dexterity is 18, so our Movement is based on the table as though we had 19. That’s 90/45 yards per round, depending on whether we’re moving at full speed, or tactically moving during combat.
Several races have abilities that can modify these values. Our Elf has Low-Light Vision, but if (for example) we’d chosen a Windling, we’d modify our Physical Defense up by 2.
We’re happy with our Elf Archer so far. But what if we wanted to create something more unique? Perhaps this Archer character is blind, but wears an enchanted blindfold across their face that lets them see into astral space full time. In this case, we’d trade the ‘Low-Light Vision’ feature Elves have for the ‘Astral Sensitive Sight’ feature from Windlings. In some cases, this might be accepted if it sounds cool and enhances the character’s story. In others, a player might want the change for mechanical reasons, or the GM might not be comfortable overriding the rules.
Remember the list of Talents we wrote down earlier? Let’s assign ranks to those now. We get to assign 8 total ranks to our talents, a maximum of 3 per Talent. Talents are described on p. 92.
- Avoid Blow: a Dexterity-based defense. We’ll assign 2 ranks to this.
- Direction Arrow: a utility Talent for locating people. We’ll skip this one for now.
- Karma Ritual: we’ll assign 1 point, giving us a vehicle for turning Legend Points (our XP) into Karma (our luck dice).
- Missile Weapons: our primary attack as an archer. 3 ranks.
- Mystic Aim: a neat way of increasing accuracy. 2 ranks.
- True Shot: we’ll skip this one, but maybe come back to it once we know more about Karma.
If you are creating a magician character, be sure to have ranks in Spellcasting, Thread Weaving, and Spell Matrix. All three of these are core to your ability to make magic happen.
Your list of skills is shorter. Start with 1 rank in one of the Artisan skills listed under your Discipline, and 1 rank in a language. All characters also speak Dwarven for free. See p. 57 for more details on languages.
Aside from these, pick one or two Knowledge skills from the list on p. 125. If you pick one, your rank in that one skill is 2. If you pick two skills, your rank in each is 1.
Our elf will speak Sperethiel (the Elven language) and Dwarven, have 1 rank in Runic Carving as an artisan skill, and have two Knowledge skills: Barsaive Geography, and Legends and Heroes. Our Archer wants to walk in the footsteps of the heroes of old and share their own story along the way, in subtle ways.
For equipment, spend your 120 silver pieces on gear. Equipment is listed on p. 248. It’s recommended that you pick at least one piece of armor, one weapon, and some kind of practical equipment (such as healing or adventuring gear). Once you know what armor you’re wearing, and if you have a shield, update your Physical Armor characteristic.
Our Archer starts with a Longbow (60sp), 40 arrows (20sp), a quiver (2sp), leather armor (10sp), and a dagger (8cp). This gives us a Physical Armor rating of 3. We also buy Peasant’s Garb (12cp), an Adventurer’s Kit (15 sp), and a week’s worth of trail rations (10sp). This leaves us with a single silver piece in our pocket, as well as no tools with which to do our runic carvings - something we’ll want to buy soon, perhaps after actually achieving a deed worth recording?
Many things in Barsaive are ritually named. Our Archer names their bow “Zephyr”.
There are several other questions that will help flesh out your character, starting on p. 59. We’ll assign our Archer the Idealistic hidden trait, and the Reserved surface trait. They want to be a great hero! But they recognize they aren’t there yet, and stay humble as a result.