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Cover of the 2nd Edition Earthdawn Rulebook

Earthdawn is a fantasy role-playing game produced originally by FASA. It has since been licensed to Living Room Games, which produced the second edition, and RedBrick Limited, a company that is producing the 'Classic' line.

The game is similar to fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons, but draws more inspiration from games like Runequest. The rules of the game are tightly bound to the underlying magical metaphysics, creating a richer, more 'realistic' fantasy world. Like many role-playing games from the nineties, Earthdawn focuses much of its detail on its setting, a region called Barsaive.

In Barsaive, magic, like many things in nature, goes through cycles. As the magic level rises, it allows alien creatures called Horrors to cross from their distant, otherworldly dimension into our own. The Horrors come in an almost infinite variety -- from simple eating machines that devour all they encounter, to incredibly intelligent and cunning foes that feed off the negative emotions they inspire in their prey.

In the distant past of Earthdawn's setting, an elf scholar discovered that the time of the Horrors was approaching, and founded the Eternal Library in order to discover a way to defeat them -- or at the very least, survive them. The community that grew up around the library developed wards and protections against the Horrors, which they traded to other lands and eventually became the powerful Theran Empire.

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Cover of the 2nd Edition Earthdawn Companion. Picture shows an underground city - a kaer

The peoples of the world built kaers, underground towns and cities, which they sealed with the Theran wards to wait out the time of the Horrors, which was called the Scourge. After four hundred years of hiding, the Scourge ended, and the people emerged to a world changed by the Horrors. The player characters explore this new world, discovering lost secrets of the past, and fighting Horrors that remain.

The primary setting of Earthdawn is Barsaive, a former province of the Theran Empire. Barsaive is a region of city-states, independent from the Therans since the dwarven Kingdom of Throal led a rebellion against their former overlords.

The Theran presence in Barsaive has been limited to a small part of south-western Barsaive, based around the magical fortress of Sky Point.

Magic in Earthdawn

Earthdawn's magic system is both its's most innovative and most derivative aspect. It is highly varied, but the essential idea is that every player character (called Adepts) has some access to magic, used to perform abilities attained through their Disciplines.

One of the most innovative ideas in Earthdawn is how magical items work. At first, most magical items work exactly like a mundane item of the same type. As a character searches for information about the item's history, performs certain tasks relating to that history, and spends legend points (the Earthdawn equivalent of experience points) to activate the item, he unlocks some of the magic in the item. As the character learns more about the item and its history, he can unlock more and more power within the item.

Each magical item, therefore, is unique by virtue of its history and the scope of its powers. For example, one magical broadsword may have only 4 magical ranks and only increases the damage of the blade. On the other hand the legendary sword Purifier, has 10 magical ranks and grants its wielder numerous powers.

Despite the similarities to the new 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, Earthdawn's ideas and particularly its integration of the setting's magical philosophy into the game's rule system are distinctive and enjoyable.

Recent Game History

FASA closed down production of Earthdawn in January 1999. In late 1999, FASA granted Living Room Games a licensing agreement to produce new material for the game. There have been several books released since then, including Earthdawn 2nd Edition and the 2nd Edition Companion (Jan 2002).

The 2nd Edition does not alter the setting, though it does update the timeline to include events that took place in Barsaive. There are a few changes to the rules in 2nd Edition; some classes have slightly different or altered abilities from the original. Generally speaking, it is the same game but is not quite compatible with the original edition.

As time passed a growing segment of the fan base has become disgruntled with the way Living Room Games has managed the line, mostly due to their slow production of new material.

In 2003, a second license was granted to RedBrick Limited, a group dedicated to reviving the game in its original incarnation of first edition rules. The company is based in New Zealand but is supported by a world-wide effort. They will reprint the first edition rules and develop their own line under the Earthdawn Classic heading.

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