Earthdawn: OneStep System

My current group has decided to set aside Star Wars for now while one of our players settles in to his newfound role of fatherhood. Instead of waiting for him to be able to play again, we’ve decided to run another semi-short term game to give the rest of us something to play while he gets used to his new schedule. Since I’ve had some ideas for a short term kaer-emergence Earthdawn game called First Dawn floating around my head (I almost decided to run it as a play-by-post), I volunteered to be the interim GM.

The group as a whole has had very little experience with the Earthdawn system, and given the intent to have a short term game to begin with, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on system explanation. In addition after talking to one of the players I learned that while he didn’t have a problem with the system, looking up what dice to roll for a given test was a little annoying.

Personally Earthdawn is probably my favorite RPG to run and play and I enjoy the varied dice of the Step System. That said I want to be sympathetic to my players’ complaints and I want to make the game run as fast as possible for this mini-campaign. In addition I love tinkering with rule systems; making little tweaks to the mechanics to make certain aspects of a game run more like my preferences. As a result I’ve decided to make a few slight modifications to the Earthdawn ruleset for this campaign.

To understand my changes, your first have to understand how the existing system works. Instead of having a unified dice mechanic, Earthdawn features a Step chart. This chart lists what die or dice the player rolls for each Step from one to fifty. The dice are assigned to each step in such a way that the average roll for any given Step is that Step value. Dice in Earthdawn are also open-ended, meaning if you roll the maximum value on a die your roll it again and add the new value to the previous result.

Take Step 8 for example. Because of the open-ended dice, a d6 averages to roughly 4. So Step 8 is 2d6. Therefore the average result a player will roll on Step 8 is 4 + 4 = 8. I particularly like this system because as a player you can judge your chance of success fairly well. Knowing you have Step 8 in Climbing and that a tree with many branches may be a difficulty of 5 translates directly into the character knowledge that you’re pretty good a climbing a tree.

To determine what Step you roll for a test, you add the Step of the corresponding Attribute with the Rank of a Skill or Talent (if relevant). So the person in the above example may get his Climbing Step of 8 from a Dexterity of 5 and Climbing of 3. However even if he didn’t have the Climbing Skill, the character could still roll his Dexterity alone, but the Step (and thus the result) will typically be lower.

Another facet of this system I like is the lack of a linear distribution on die rolls. Although there are some scattered Steps which are exceptions, most Steps have some sort of bell curve to their distribution graphs. In other words, they’re weighted towards the middle results that Step can generate. For example you’re more likely to roll a 8 on Step 8 then you are a 3. This is another aspect of the system that lends itself to estimating your character’s skills.

In OneStep I’m going to be removing the Step system from the game completely replace it with a unified dice mechanic. There will be no consulting charts to determine what die you roll. Instead all rolls will be made by rolling 3d6 and adding the Step of your Skill or Talent to the roll. These dice are not open-ended and average out to 10. However if this is the only change made, OneStep is no longer statistically similar to the Step System. Before Step 8 produced an average result of 8. Now it will produce an average roll of 10 (the average of 3d6) + 8 = 18. To accommodate this change, all difficulties in Earthdawn will be raised by 10. This includes derived statistics like Defenses and Armor Values.

At this point I’m confident I’ve identified all of the issues this change could cause, such as Armor and Armor defeating hits. Adding 10 to an individual’s Armor Rating is fine in general but if an attacker scores an Armor-Defeating hit, the system breaks again. Where an AD hit is made in the Step System, the target’s armor is bypassed completely. So an Armor Value of 6 would be treated as an Armor Value of 0, for a net of +6 damage to the target. This Armor Value of 6 is increased to 16 in OneStep, and if an AD hit completely bypassed that, it would reduce Armor to 0 for a net of +16 damage; far more deadly. Instead in OneStep an AD hit will reduce the target’s armor for 10, causing the net effect of an Armor Defeating hit in both the Step System and OneStep to be the same again.

If an unexpected hiccup does show itself during game play, adding or subtracting 10 from a given roll or difficulty will be a minor task. This is actually the specific reason I chose 3d6 as the unifying mechanic as opposed to 2d6; adding or subtracting 10 is faster than adding or subtracting 7. So I’m not expecting any slowdowns if we find an issue that needs resolving.

The other aspect of the Step System I decided to revisit was the Karma system. In Earthdawn, a character pays a number of Legend Points (the Earthdawn equivalent of Experience Points) to purchase Karma points, which he can store. The cost of these points and the amount which he can store is dependent on the race of the character. A character can spend a Karma Point under certain conditions to roll an additional die and add it to his result. In the Step System this die varied depending from a d4 to a d10 on the character’s race. In OneStep I’ve decided to make all Karma dice a d6 to preserve the unified d6-based mechanic. However in the Step System the various Karma Dice helped balance the attribute bonuses and penalties associated with each race. In order to keep this balance I’ve decided to increase or decrease the amount of Legend Points a race has to spend to purchase a Karma Point accordingly.

This does leave one outstanding anomaly: creature Karma. In Earthdawn, some highly magical creatures also have Karma they can spend to increase their rolls. However some of them have Karma Dice that are much higher than those of the player races. The Windling, the highest Karma Die race, rolls a d10, which is the equivalent of Step 6. Some Horrors have a Karma Step of 15 or higher. Unfortunately for the players, having a Horror with a Karma Step of 15 rolling a single d6 when he spend a Karma die is just too statistically dissimilar.

Here are the possible solutions I’ve identified:

  1. Choose some value X. For each multiple of X (or fraction thereof) the creature’s Karma Step is, have them roll a d6. So if I set X at 5, a creature with a Karma Step of 15 (average of 15 in the Step System) would roll 3d6 (average +10). Unfortunately it’s impossible to choose a value of X for One Step that results in a perfect match to the Step System.
  2. Have spending a Karma Point result in d6, always. Boost the number of Karma Points a creature has based on it’s old Karma Step. This will let a creature spend Karma even more freely, but it won’t have near the impact it did before. In addition some creatures like Horrors or Dragons have abilities that require the expenditure of a Karma Point to activate. Many of these abilities are very powerful, and increasing the number of Karma Points a creature has allow these abilities to be activated much more frequently.
  3. Keep character Karma as above. When a creature spends a Karma Point simply add its Karma Step to the result of the test instead of rolling additional dice. This maintains statistical consistency between the Step System and OneStep, but you loose some of the randomness of the Karma Die.
  4. Scrap Karma Dice for player characters. Assign each race a Karma Step that corresponds to their old Karma Dice (eg 6 for the Windling). Whenever anyone, character or creature, spends a Karma Point they simply add their Karma Step to the result. Personally I like the idea of Karma resulting in more dice being rolled, but this is an option to maintain consistency between characters and creatures.

At this point I’m still undecided as to which solution is the best. I like 4 the least, but it does make the most mathematical sense. So I’m throwing these options out to the readers. Of the above creature Karma changes, which do you prefer and why?


  1. If you insist on getting neutralizing Karma dice then option 4 seems to me to be the only way to go. Personally, I wouldn’t mess with them, unless your buddies refuse to tote around any dice at all besides d6 ;-}

    Otherwise you’re mod looks pretty swank. Keeps the good ol’ bell-curve in effect but makes everything go quickly.

  2. Ravious, I’m full of blarg. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yeah, Diss, you’re probably right on the neutralizing aspect. I guess the thing I’ve been subconsciously fixated on is that the OneStep system feels a lot like Warmachine, except it’s 3d6-based instead of 2d6. In Warmachine if a warcaster spends a focus point he can roll an extra d6, which to me feels a lot like spending a Karma point in Earthdawn. Because of this I’ve been trying to work out a way to keep the “buy an extra d6” mechanic in place but unfortunately creature karma really messes with this. I’m not married to the idea but I think I’d like to keep it if possible.

    I should probably add that I’m considering implementing a “stunt die” mechanic where in a character can gain an extra d6 on a roll with a cool description. At first I didn’t mention this because it wasn’t really relevant to my system conversion but then I realized that because I’m thinking of having this mechanic in place, the similarity between it and the karma die is at least worth considering.

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