Earthdawn is the heart of the Earthdawn roleplaying system, a large tome weighing in at over three hundred pages. We were lucky enough to get a copy at half price, beacuse we bought it with its companion, Barsaive. With this in mind, we found the game to be excellent value, but only because we got Barsaive as well.
There are two versions of the rulebook, the hardcover version and the softcover version. The softcover version was produced after the hardcover and included some minor revisions to eliminate mistakes that had crept into the original. I would assume that the hardcover versions currently being sold would also incorporate the new changes. For my money I prefer the hardcover version, it feels a lot more solid and is still in one piece after three years of abuse. Admitted it looks a little tattered, but that is a sign of a well used book.
The rulebook is intelligently divided into a number of sections, and I will briefly look at each one. It starts with Age of Legend, a brief introduction to the system and the obligatory explanation of what is a roleplaying games. This is followed by Inheritance, a short story which gives the reader a feel for the world of Earthdawn. This is an excellent addition, and sets the game apart from many other drier and systematic approaches. Though not a work of literature, the short story is useful for both the Games Master and the players to gave them a first sampling of the people and places that make up this extraordinary game.
How It Came To Pass starts the introduction into the bulk of the material, and gives a general overview of the history of Earthdawn. There have been a number of people who have put forward the argument that Earthdawn is what Shadowrun, another FASA game, was like before magic was locked away but I tend to disagree. Though they have a similar feel, Earthdawn is a rich environment which seems to be designed to stand alone.
Game Concepts gives the reader a feel for the terms used in the rest of the book before launching into the character creation sections. Major Races of Barsaive introduces the eight races that inhabit Earthdawn, three familiar, three unusual and two generally considered to be monsters in most other systems. This is another sign of the differences between Earthdawn and many other fantasy systems. Creating a Character and Disciplines both cover two essential aspects of the character creation system. The first covers the essential attribute and associated characteristics generation which is fairly stock standard. The second section covers the Disciplines, much like the character classes in AD & D, except that they have a different view of the world. Talents and Skills describes the talents and skills (respectively) allowed in the game that the characters acquire over time, and is generally used as reference.
Workings of Magic introduces the magic system of the game and is perhaps the most original and unique aspect of the game. The system is based on the idea that each living thing has a pattern, connected to other things by threads. This section covers the basics, which are covered in more detail in the Spell Magic section which includes the spells. The emphasis on Earthdawn being magic rich is made clear, and even non-magic-user classes still use magic of their own kind.
Combat covers the combat system which is useable, fast but hardly remarkable. Adventuring in Earthdawn covers the more mundane rules and Building You Legend covers character progression and experience. Gamesmastering Earthdawn gives a few good pointers on games mastering, though most of what is presented should be familiar to veteran Games Masters. Goods and Services and Magical Treasure covers what the characters can buy and acquire over time (respectively), though the latter section is of more interest as it once gain demonstrates the unique magic system.
Creatures give statistics for some of the dark creatures that inhabit the area including the Horrors. The Passions of Barsaive details the deities which rule over Barsaive, though they are refereed to as passions. Barsaive is the weakest section of the whole book and the most disappointing. It gives sketchy details on the places, flora and fauna of Barsaive the main region of the system. Luckily when we got the rulebook we also bought Barsaive which details the region in a lot more detail.
The tome ends with the Character Record Sheet and Index.
Summary: The quality of the book is excellent, with a generous smattering of excellent quality artwork throughout. The colour plates, which are now a regular feature of Earthdawn books, are gorgeous. The system is fast, flexible and easy to use, but the best feature of the system is the world. Well detailed, fresh and exciting it is a joy to play in. Earthdawn is worth every cent.
© 1997 - 2000 David Schibeci