I am having a great deal of trouble making my encounters challenging, fast and non-stalemate. Added to the problem of exploding dice that can turn the whole fight upside down in a single blow.

I have 2 PCs and an NPC, respectively a Sky Raider (think barbarian), a Weaponsmith (think paladin/bard) and a Swordmaster (think agile fighter), all of first circle.


  • the Weaponsmith can't hurt the critter because of low damage and the other two are challenged (assuming no extra-lucky armor-pierce, triple damage roll);

  • the weaponsmith is challenged and the other two rip through the enemies;

  • everybody hits and it's a total massacre;

  • or nobody hurts anybody (which is very uninteresting).

I don't think any monsters in the books are min-maxed — they are either weak or overall too strong.

Am I running the game right? Are the monsters usable right out of the books?

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ Earthdawn 1e was written when "encounter balance" as a game-design concept was nearly non-existent. How are you designing your encounters right now? Are the players just confronted with "a combat encounter"? Are the creatures just living their lives and you let the players observe and attack (or not) as they choose? Something in between? Basically, I'm wondering if you're running the encounters as set-piece, toe-to-toe fights, in a "combat as sport" style. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 14, 2014 at 22:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be clear, I'm not implying combat as sport would be doing it wrong. But if you are approaching encounter design and deployment that way, which answers will be useful will be very different than if you're running encounters with the same 1990s-era assumptions as the books are making. How you're approaching this is important for understanding the problem we're supposed to solve. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 15, 2014 at 21:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, mostly the creatures are there, and the characters happens to run by and... as lightning lizard are prone to do when they are hungry.... they ambush the party. Some other times they wander through the forest and fall upon a roving band of bog gobs. They tried chasing a bunch of pygmies in the forest and a battle ensued. I try to make things go logically... like not make everything attack them on sight, make some ambushes, some chases and stuff... not always an easy task, but it keep the game away from routine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Nov 15, 2014 at 23:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ As a sidenote, i'm starting to believe the game is more thought as either "Namegivers vs horrors" or "Namegivers vs Namegivers" be it open warfare, espionage, diplomacy, or all the subtleties and variants of real-life Humans vs Humans \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Nov 18, 2014 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ 1st circle may be a bit early to deal with real horrors, but by all means start leading them towards one. A goal is good to have, and if they have some idea what's coming, they can prepare. \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Jan 26, 2015 at 13:05

1 Answer 1


Keep in mind that the Weaponsmith is a support character, not a primary fighter. If the Skyraider and Swordmaster are challenged in combat, and the Weaponsmith can't hit anything, that's fine. It's not the Weaponsmith's job to hit anything. His strength lies elsewhere.

In general, though, Earthdawn doesn't need a carefully tuned balance. Challenge the party as a whole; everybody has different talents that contribute to the final success (or failure). It's true that some classes take a while to really get into their own. But more importantly: fights don't have to be predictable. My group has lost fights we should have won, and won fights we should have lost. When things go wrong, you can still improve your odds by spending karma, and when that's not enough, well, you need to think on your feet, which is where the real fun is. Sometimes you need to run or strike a deal. Sometimes you get captured and need to escape, sometimes one player has to rescue the others. Sometimes failure can lead to interesting things.

And in Earthdawn, even much weaker characters can still contribute their unique abilities. My group also had a PC die when the group was around circle 4 or 5. The player started a new character, a Swordmaster, at circle 1, and managed to contribute fine during combat. One thing he did was to focus on one specific talent (Maneuver) and maximize that way ahead of anything else. He could make himself hard to hit, and that way he could keep one enemy busy while the rest of the group (a Warrior, a Skyraider, a Nethermancer and an Archer) tore through the rest of the opposition. He punched way above his weight, but you need to know what the strengths of your discipline are.

And once the players have figured out how their disciplines work and how they interact with each other, you may even throw "impossible" encounters at them to see them get creative. Nothing is cooler in GMing than seeing your players do the impossible. Just don't expect it of them every single time. And give them and yourself the time to figure out what they're capable of. Start out easy, and keep varying and increasing the challenges until you reach something that works, and then you continue varying, as every combat (and every non-combat encounter) needs to be unique. And if it gets too hard, give them some space to recover.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer, you seem to have played quite a lot. I'm having difficulty in finding/making creatures with interesting stats that challenge the group, in an INTERESTING fashion. Combat shouldnt be ALL OUT ATTACKS UNTIL ONE SIDE DIES... but then again, i fear the weaponsmith, having little XP, thus little skills, finds the whole thing boring not being a killer, not being a buffer, and not being overall useful YET. Any advice? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Jan 26, 2015 at 18:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Stats are never interesting. Situations, goals, motivations are interesting. Think about what you want to accomplish with the combat. What's at stake? Why are they fighting? Should they be fighting at all? \$\endgroup\$
    – mcv
    Jan 28, 2015 at 1:52

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