Review: Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide

Let me preface this review by showing my predjudices up front. I love Earthdawn, I have always loved Earthdawn. I loved the original Earthdawn, I loved the 2nd edition from Living Room Games, I loved Earthdawn Classic from Red Brick. Do I love Earthdawn 3rd Edition?

The Product

Unlike the Classic Edition Player’s Compendium, which covered all 15 Circles, this rulebook only covers the first eight Circles for each Discipline. This is a throwback to 1st edition, and quite frankly I got spoiled by Classic Edition having everything in one book.

Also, Talent Knacks are not in here, but they (along with info on Circles 9-15) are detailed in the Player’s Companion. Again, while I prefer the all-in-one approach, this is a throwback to how things were handled in 1st edition.

The artwork is passable, and is all black and white. None of it is particularly bad, but none of it is super A+ double good. Most of it is recycled from previous Earthdawn editions, which is OK as it goes a long way towards invoking the feel of past editions.

The System

There aren’t a lot of huge changes in the way Earthdawn works. I take this as a “it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. The Dice Step chart is slightly different than Classic Editions was.

Character generation is somewhat different as well. For one, there are no guidelines for dice-based chargen, it’s all point-cost now. Step Numbers are derived from an Attribute value, which has always been sort of a pet peeve of mine (why not just generate the Step value and skip the whole Attribute value?). Characteristics are still generated as well, based off of the Attribute value (not the Step value). It’s really not as confusing as it sounds.

Races are handled somewhat differently as well. Instead of your race modifying your Attributes, each race starts out with a certain base attribute score for each Attribute and you buy up from there. Essentially, it works out the same but seems a little less archaic. Though it makes sense in a way, racial abilities and starting attributes are fully described under the Namegiver Races chapter, and not the character generation chapter. Humans still get the Versatility Talent.

Talent selection has changed somewhat. All members of a Discipline have certain Discipline Talents. Talent Options are a list of Talents you may choose (one per Circle) to “customize” your character. Lastly, at 5th, 9th and 13th Circle you learn a Discipline Ability.

Also, Karma die is always a d8. The Karma die can be added in addition to your normal die roll when you spend a Karma Point. In previous editions, each race had a different size Karma die.

The Disciplines are Air Sailor, Archer, Beastmaster, Cavalryman, Elementalist, Illusionist, Nethermancer, Scout, Sky Raider, Swordmaster, Thief, Troubadour, Warrior, Weaponsmith and Wizard.

The core mechanic of Earthdawn is essentially “roll the dice listed depending on your Step Number, total them together (max dice explode) and compare to a target number. The higher you roll, the better result you get.”  This has remained the same through all the editions, more or less. Bonuses and penalties are added to the Step rating. I’ve never been fond of this as it causes too much recalculation of dice pools. Fortunately, your GM can just decide that the modifiers just add to the results rather than the Steps, something I prefer and I’m glad it’s pretty explicit under the Bonuses and Penalties section.

For example, if you have an attack step of 7, you would normally roll a d12. Under the “normal” system, if you go for an Aggressive attack (+3), you would have an attack step of 10 and would instead roll 2d8. Under the option provided, you would roll your normal attack step (7/d12) and just add +3.

Spellcasting (and thread weaving in general) has always been one of the more complicated portions of Earthdawn, and it’s not any better for 3rd edition. That said, i’ve always loved the spellcasting in Earthdawn. You can be safe and store your spell in a Matrix (sort of like “memorizing” a spell in older D&D editions), you can cast from a grimoire (which requires you to have it open) or, if you’re willing to take the risk you can just pull raw astral stuff from the astral plane to cast any spell you know. And in the post-apocalyptic fantasy world of Earthdawn, that last one is really a risky maneuver.

As you accrue Legend Points, your character becomes more well known and you can spend these points to raise your Talent ranks, buy new Talents, increase Attributes. When you meet certain requirements, you can advance your Circle. I always liked this approach as opposed the whole “you get X XP you go up a level automatically” mentallity of other class and level based systems; it’s probably one of my favorite things about Earthdawn. It’s theoretically possible to become one of the greatest melee fighters in the world (melee weapons at rank 15), but still be only a 1st Circle Swordmaster.

A good change in 3e is that determining what you need to advance in Circle is simple; all of your Discipline Talents have to be at the Circle you want to advance to. The old system, where you had to have X Talents at Y rank and have a single Talent from Circle Z is still offered as an option, however.

How Earthdawn handles magic items has always been one of my favorite things about the game. Minor magic items are fairly straightforward, but more powerful items, such as thread items and unique items, can grow along with your character (provided you’re willing to attach astral threads to the items, unlock knowledge about the item and perform deeds appropriate to the item). This makes the major magic items essentially story hooks in and of themselves.

One major refinement of thread items in 3rd edition is the introduction of “thread item templates.” This standardizes the thread items so that they always have X bonus at Y rank thread. This reduces some uniqueness of thread items, however it’s a great balance tool. I really like this. A lot.

Basically, the book wraps up with an overview of the Barsaive Province (there’s an appendix and character sheet and such, but that’s pretty standard stuff). It’s a good description of the area the game takes place in, and gives you everything you need to know. Old Earthdawners, however, are going to be familiar with most of this section.

As an upgrade from an older edition there honestly hasn’t been too much that’s changed, but if you’re like me and like the shiny new or haven’t played Earthdawn in a while, it’s totally worth it.  Splitting things up between two books is not ideal in my view, but I can understand why they did it, and the splitting isn’t as irksome in the Player’s Guide/Player’s Companion as it was in the Gamemaster’s Guide/Gamemaster’s Companion.

[tags]Role Playing Games,review,Earthdawn[/tags]

9 thoughts on “Review: Earthdawn 3rd Edition Player’s Guide

Add yours

  1. Nice review. Looks like I won’t bother upgrading, though, I really never liked the step/dice-system. I wish they could do away with that and still keep all the other GOOD stuff of the system.


  2. Buddy, in your opinion which edition is the best? I own 1st edition and I want to up grade but I can’t decide if I want to get 2nd or jump straight to 3rd.


  3. No random attribute method? No upgrade. Never met a tried and true gamer yet (in over 20 years of gaming) that would rather use point allocation than random method. Well, one, but he was a tiresome jackass. Thanks for the much needed info Buddy. I’ll stick with a basically unbroken 1st/2nd ed. hybrid.


    1. Michael,

      The 3rd ed. books usually contain the old methods of creating characters along with the new, so you may still be able to do the random character generation. I don’t have the book on me, so I can’t look it up for you right now.

      To be honest though, I love 3rd ed and most of the changes. I still prefer using a D4, but again the rulebook allows for me to be able to use the old step as well.

      I have all editions and most books, novels, magazines that detail this game. 3rd ed is solid. 🙂


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