Interview with Josh Harrison, Line Developer for FASA Corporation, about Earthdawn, Fourth Edition

Like many a 90s gamer, I was growing up at a great time. Vampire: The Masquerade was just coming out. Shadowrun, Second Edition was blowing me away. Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition captured my imagination. AD&D, Second Edition gave uis Ravenloft, Spelljammer and Planescape. Games like TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes, Mayfair’s Chill and so many other systems now lost to the sands of time were still publicly available. One of those new systems was Earthdawn, released by FASA Corporation in 1993. Although it was only around for six years, everyone I knew at the time was really impressed by the artwork, the choices of character races and even the licensed fiction was pretty good. I still have a copy of The Longing Ring on my bookshelf for example.

Although Earthdawn was never one of the bigger or most known gaming systems out there, it had a loyal diehard fanbase that still exists to this day. Even when FASA stopped producing the game, there were two separate attempts to revive the system. They met with mixed success and in fact, several fans of first edition Earthdawn that I know didn’t even know about second or third edition until recently, when FASA Games brought the game back into the limelight with a crowdfunding campaign for Earthdawn, Fourth Edition. Currently, this campaign is running on Kickstarter with a little over two weeks left on the clock. It’s already made its goal; four and a half times over in fact at the time of this writing. So Earthdawn, Fourth Edition is already a success with several stretch goals met and over five hundred backers coming forth to keep the setting alive. I wanted to learn more about FASA’s plans for Earthdawn and also help promote the system to those of you who might not have encountered or played it before. Josh Harrison, Line Developer for Earthdawn over at FASA Games, was happy to sit down and answer some questions that I had for him about the game and their crowdfunding attempt.

Diehard GameFAN: FASA stopped producing Earthdawn content in 1999. What was the
decision behind reviving the brand?

Josh Harrison: It was — as I understand it — driven by the changes to game publishing since the late ’90s and early 2000s. RedBrick had the license to produce material for Earthdawn for about ten years, and a lot changed in that time. With the end of RedBrick as a company, and the clear demand for Earthdawn as a property, it made sense to bring production back in-house.

Diehard GameFAN: Your Kickstarter is actually funding two books: The Player’s Guide and the Gamemaster’s Guide? What can gamers expect to find in each of these books and about how many pages will each run?

Josh Harrison: The current plan is for each book to run roughly 350 pages.

The Player’s Guide will have the bulk of the rules mechanics, character creation, write-ups of the core Disciplines, talents, spells, and some setting information to give players an overview of where they will be adventuring.
The Gamemaster’s Guide will have the bulk of the setting information, along with game information for creatures and magical treasures, as well as advice and tricks for running the game.

Diehard GameFAN: Between the original first edition and the upcoming fourth edition, there were two editions put out by third party companies (Living Room Games and Redbrick Limited). There’s also the Revised Edition FASA put out a year or two back. Many gamers might not of been aware of those versions since they weren’t getting the media attention the original did back in the 90s. What sorts of changes from those editions will be incorporated into Fourth Edition and what will be excised?

Josh Harrison: Probably the biggest change that is being carried over from the Third Edition is the introduction of “optional” talents. At each Circle, one of the talents is pre-selected, and the other is chosen by the player from a pool of options. This allows a bit more flexibility when it comes to developing or customizing your character — as a Swordmaster, are you going to focus more on combat or social talents? Perhaps a mix of both?

This also solves a bit of the “cookie cutter” aspect of Disciplines that was common to the earlier editions of the game; in First Edition, one Fifth Circle Warrior would look pretty much like another, and players (with a little experience) would have a pretty good idea what they were capable of. Now, while all Warriors will have a few core abilities in common, there will be some variation between individuals.

In some respects, there hasn’t been a lot of significant change in the game since the original edition. Polishing and tweaking here and there, but no radical changes to the core concepts or mechanics.

Diehard GameFAN : How does Fourth Edition compared to previous versions of Earthdawn mechanically? Will it play roughly the same? Will long time players need a conversion guide to bring their longtime characters over to 4e? Will it be a total rules change ala Dungeons & Dragons from 3e to 4e, or will it be a bit of a face lift ala Chaosium’s occasional Call of Cthulhu updates?

Josh Harrison: It should play roughly the same. There will be updates and tweaks to some of the talents, and the talents available to different Disciplines might change a little bit. The core mechanic, the Step System, will remain largely unchanged. I would say we’re more on the Chaosium end of the scale than the D&D4 end, but there are some previewed changes that have caused a bit of consternation and debate in the online fan community.

Diehard GameFAN: For gamers who haven’t experienced Earthdawn before, what sets it
apart from other fantasy themed RPGs?

Josh Harrison: What fantasy themed RPGs are we comparing it to? If you mean the elephant of D&D/Pathfinder, then I would say that Earthdawn sets itself apart in a couple of notable ways. First, while it uses a lot of the classic tropes of those games, it has a setting that incorporates those elements in a way that makes sense. Massive complexes of monsters, traps and treasure? Those are ruined or abandoned kaers. Even game artifacts like “class” and “level” have an actual in-setting presence (Discipline and Circle).

Second, rather than simply “leveling up” when you reach an arbitrary amount of experience, Earthdawn borrows from more skill-based systems, allowing you to choose where to spend your those points to enhance and improve your abilities. You advance in Circle when you’ve met certain criteria, but you have a bit more choice and flexibility in how you improve and advance in the game.

Finally, the magic system — especially the system for using magical weapons and other items — is fantastic and plays into those same advancement concepts, and also plays into the idea of rediscovering a lost world. You can’t just pick up a magic sword and get a bonus to your attacks; you must learn that it is the Sword of Fenthiri, and you bind your own power to the item’s. The more you learn about the item and its history, the more strongly you can connect to it, and the more powerful it becomes. These items can frequently become the focus of story arcs in an Earthdawn campaign, as you travel to other places to find information about the item so you can increase its power.

Diehard GameFAN: Your previous Kickstarter, 1879, didn’t fare so well and you ended up cancelling it. What did you learn from that previous crowdfunding attempt and how did you apply it to the Earthdawn one?

Josh Harrison: The biggest thing we learned was to have a product more ready to go. While the Fourth Edition isn’t completely done, we are fairly confident that we will be able to meet the production deadline we set for ourselves. We are able to better engage the community by having previews as the campaign progresses, and we set a goal that seemed attainable while at the same time allowing space for growth if things took off.

Diehard GameFAN: So far the Earthdawn Kickstarter has been a huge success. At the time of these questions, you have raised 440% of your original goal. What will you do with the extra funds you have raised?

Josh Harrison: A couple of things. First off, we are using the extra funds to fund production costs of additional books in the line — this allows us to get them out the door a little bit more quickly, and not need to have another Kickstarter for them down the road. Second, and this is somewhat still in flux, we’re looking at our production values and seeing what we can do to enhance and improve the production value of the core books (looking at things like color plates, things like that).

Diehard GameFAN: Some of your stretch goals for Earthdawn include new books such as The Earthdawn Companion, Travar: City Of Merchants, The Elven Nations and Questors. Tell us a little about these future sourcebooks and why Earthdawn fans will want to pick them up.

Josh Harrison: Travar is the first sourcebook planned for the line. It was originally in development for the Third Edition, but never saw print. It will focus on the Merchant City in south-central Barsaive, looking at its people, power structures, and ways to use it as a base of operations in an Earthdawn campaign. It will also look at the Badlands, an area that was heavily ravaged by the Horrors during the Scourge.

The Earthdawn Companion will be the “high Circle” book. While the core Player’s and GM’s Guides will be focused on Circles 1-8, the Companion will have Circles 9-15, as well as the talents and spells available to those characters. It will also have high-Circle opponents (dragons, horrors, and the like) for Gamemasters to throw at these powerful characters.

Elven Nations is another book that was in development for Third Edition. This one looks outside of Barsaive, examining the nations of Shosara and Sereatha, their relationship with the court at Blood Wood, giving alternate settings for an Earthdawn game, or places that high-Circle characters might travel in the course of their adventures.

Questors is the project I am most excited about. The Passions and their representatives — Questors — have not seen much in the way of development in any previous edition of the game. This book will look at the Passions, their role in the daily life of Barsaive, and what their Questors do. It will offer rules for Questors and their powers, giving players and gamemasters the option of expanding the role of these figures in their Earthdawn game.

Diehard GameFAN: One of the more notable decisions for this Earthdawn relaunch is to release the rulebooks in digest form. This 9″ by 6″ format is a lot smaller than most gaming rulebooks and I know some backers aren’t happy about the decision. Could you elaborate on why you choose this style and what the benefits will be?

Josh Harrison: There are two big reasons we decided to stay with the digest size. First, it does allow us to keep our production costs down — full-size books are a little bit more expensive to produce. Even though a digest size book ends up with a higher page count, the difference in production cost at the print-runs we’re looking at was a factor. Second, with the explosion of tablets and e-publishing/PDF in the RPG market, the digest size scales a lot better for the 7-9 inch screen size common to tablets. If you scale down a full-size page to fit on those screens, it often makes the text too small to be useful.

We understand it isn’t necessarily a popular choice, and there are die-hards who prefer the traditional, full-size over any other considerations. But I’ve used both sizes in my gaming life, and I personally find the digest size to be a little bit easier to physically handle; it’s more the size of a trade paperback novel, and takes up less space on my gaming table. I don’t tend to run games with the book open in front of me — it’s there as a reference if I need to look something up. I find the digest size works pretty well in that regard.

Diehard GameFAN: Will any familiar artists or writers be returning to Earthdawn?

Josh Harrison: The most recognizable name coming back is probably Jeff Laubenstein, who is the art director for FASA Games, and will be helping ensure that the new art will fit the style and tone we’re looking for in the line. Whether he will be able to wrangle some other classic names on the art side of things… that we’ll have to see.

As far as writing, the folks who worked on the early Earthdawn material have moved on to other things — both inside and outside the game industry. As of right now, we don’t have any of them on tap to write stuff, but who knows what the future might hold?

So there you go. If you’re a long time fan of Earthdawn, Fourth Edition, it sounds like this latest incarnation of the game offers a lot of new ideas and fleshed out content in addition to holding true to the original feel, mood and atmosphere of the game. If you’re completely new to Earthdawn, the Kickstarter campaign seems like a great way to try something new, as you can pick up both books (Player’s and Gamemaster’s Guide) for as low as thirty dollars! That’s a pretty good price. If you head over to the campaign, you can converse with other backers, watch the promo video, get some mechanics previews and a whole lot more. You still have two weeks to take part in this campaign and if you do, you just might discover that Earthdawn is the fantasy RPG you’ve been searching for.



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