Project Kaern: A POSR Earthdawn RPG

(Game currently in pre-progress)

Earthdawn was one of the games that started to crack open RPG design for me.


After finally opening myself to the world of OSR/NSR (henceforth “NSR”), I realized what is potentially a great little niche for me.

I did some initial interest-gauging (like the overall brand, there’s some-but-not-much interest) and have started to plot out a few hypothetical ways I could approach it. I’d like to post about it here because a) maybe someone here has some feedback and b) trying to blog gives me stress.

Initial Goals for NSRifying Earthdawn:

Earthdawn presents an interesting world and a complex and complicated system (from the same people that brought us Shadowrun), which is explicitly tied to the setting. I feel that the system has been a barrier to entry for many might-have-been players and GMs that may otherwise enjoy the setting and mechanical take on the classic gameplay style.

I would like to try my hand at applying the lessons I’ve learned from NSR designs to trim down and adapt Earthdawn to a more casually approachable form. I am not talking about making Earthdawn fit into an NSR form, but rather using the process NSR has used in adapting and updating older games and applying that to Earthdawn. I want the end result to be more Earthdawn-like than Earthdawn-lite, but still a smidge Earthdawn-lite. I want it to feel like playing Earthdawn.

That last part is important because Earthdawn has been adapted to a LOT of other systems. None of them have actually felt like playing Earthdawn (to me, anyway).

So, I’m working with the following bits of game system as crucial to the project:

-A Step System of dice for task resolution

-Disciplines, Circles, Talents, Spells and Threadweaving as the core player mechanics

–The above are both in-system and in-fiction

-Hybrid level- and non-level-based advancement via Legend Points

That’s really all I’m holding sacred right now. They might not all survive the design process.

The first bits I’m working on are some ideas around the Step System and trimming down the Disciplines to a more manageable number. My thoughts, such as they are at this moment, are below.

Step System

I really love the Cairn’s take of core resolution. Maybe I’ll try that out in a future iteration. For now, though, to keep things “feeling like Earthdawn,” I’m sticking with the old hat of rolling against a difficulty and having your own difficulty that other things roll against.

However, Earthdawn’s existing Step Systems can be a bit unwieldy. I want this to be easy for a player to glance at and figure out what to roll while a GM can just as easily glance and figure out how to set a difficulty.

So, this is my current hypothetical flow of steps

1: 1d4-1

2: 1d4

3: 1d6

4: 1d8

5: 1d10

6: 1d12

7: 1d12+1d4

8: 1d12+1d6

9: 1d12+1d8

10: 1d12+1d10

11: 2d12

12: 2d12+1d4


I like this because the Step # can serve as a base difficulty number. The 1-die steps provide a 50% chance to roll over the step #. The 2-die steps a 62.5% chance. The 3-die steps a 70ish% chance (I still need to spend more time on the math). GMs can then add or subtract from the character Step # as they see fit for the challenge.

I’m still tinkering with other versions. So far, this is just the option I like best. It feels like Earthdawn, makes some sense (to me, right now, before anyone else has had a chance to point out the massive flaws I’ve likely overlooked), and creates an easy-to-eyeball situation for the GM.


There are too many Disciplines in Earthdawn for me to replicate in this game and, perhaps, not enough for each of them to do. I’m going to reduce them to 5 or 6.

The set I’m working with now is: Archer, Elementalist, Nethermancer, Swordmaster, Thief, Troubadour. I’m likely going to rename them because of reasons below, as well as the fact that these names never really did the trick of communicating the game’s thematic elements. Except, I love the name “Nethermancer.”

This set of 6 ignores major Discipline types, such as those concerned with air sailing, hanging out with animals, and blacksmithing. I like leaving these holes because

a) It makes less work for me to complete this project

b) I can steal from the other Disciplines to flesh out and reflavor the ones I’m keeping

c) People may think “Hey, he didn’t do it the way I’d do it! I’m gonna do it, but differently than he did!” and that would be good.

Approach/Things I’m Thinking About

Free: I want to give it away for free. I’d love to do the print-at-cost thing, but I’d need to fully and completely scrub it of all Earthdawn IP to get there.

Open: I want it to do the NSR thing and inspire other creators to build on it, remix it, create adventures for it, and do it all without worry of infringing on Earthdawn copyright. This one’s going to be hard. I want it to primarily be a game one can use to play Earthdawn, but also be not SO Earthdawn that there’s no room to breathe. Essentially, I want other creators to be able to make content for it or derived from it and be able to ask for money in exchange for what they’ve created. I’m still figuring this part out, because…

Beneficial to the IP: I want to help new people discover Earthdawn. I want this game’s existence to be a good thing for FASA employees. Ideally, I want people who wouldn’t have otherwise to now buy a new Earthdawn book or two as a result of their interest in this project. That’s very pie-in-the-sky. I’m not expecting to actually get there, neither am I expecting other creators to actually riff off what I do, but I want to proceed with those goals in sight and work in a way that is conducive to those ends.

I don’t think I’m going to get to achieve everything I want to achieve with it right now. That’s OK.

And so, I’m striking out on this journey. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Earthdawn, much less if there are any fans, but I welcome all feedback.

Let me know if this isn’t a good place for this. To me, it feels better here than anywhere else I’ve found. But if it’s out-of-place I can find a new home for this whole… this. My plan is to update this thread as I go, but I can do that elsewhere.

Note: the “Kaer” is central to the setting of Earthdawn. It’s low-hanging fruit and I couldn’t help myself. Yochai, just let me know if, for any reason (you don’t even need to explain why), you’d rather I not call it that.


I have little input, except that I’m cheering for you!

Earthdawn was my intro to ttrpgs, and I’d love a system for it that’s less clunky

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Thank you for the encouragement! That alone is a huge help!

Oh man, Earthdawn takes me back. It’s still the best example I’ve seen of how to reinforce traditional RPG gameplay with narrative/setting. Just like you, I wished the system wasn’t as clunky, so I’m hoping that your project will get off the ground :slight_smile:

Your step system makes sense to me. Not only it’s cleaner than what we had before, but the fact that the step number tells you what you’re likely to roll is a good tidbit. I’m still not a huge fan translating numbers to step dice, but that’s just the ultra-lite-rules-loving me. Step Dice were a big part of the game, so I completely understand wanting to keep them.

As for Disciplines, I think a better approach would be to focus on talents and how they would work. After all, disciplines are just collections of talents. This is even more true for the non core disciplines which would often use existing talents. If there was one other game that made feel like each “class” is a weird and unique thing, it would be Troika, and that relies heavily on collection of “talents” to create a gestalt image of what the character can do. Definitely worth to take some inspiration from it.

While on the topic of Troika, I think it’s also worth looking on how the skills are tackled in it (and other games, 2400 comes to mind). We don’t get detailed mechanical explanation for each skill - they exist mainly in the narrative, letting the players use them in creative ways. I feel any NSR Earthdawn game would benefit from that - a lot of the clunkyness in the original game came from the talets being overly mechanical and it also made the characters feel less “magical”

And the characters in Earthdawn should feel magical, akin Heroes from ancient epics or even superheroes of today: we know the general idea of what they can do, but they should be able to use their powers in novel ways. Don’t really have much in terms on advice on this front apart from keeping talents more narrative focus (maybe akin to some of the more open-ended PbtA moves?)

Lastly - are you planning on getting the Earthdawn license? It’s cool if you do, but I think a better option would be to make an Earthdawn-like game. It allows you to experiment a bit more from the mechanics standpoint, create something new and still be beneficial to the IP by pointing people to Earthdawn and letting them use the setting with your rules - or just make their own setting if they want.

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Yeah, I’d like a less-faithful version of it, too. A nice 24XX or Caltrop Core Earthdawn would be lovely!

Ooo, good rec! I flipped thru Troika once, but it’s sat on my shelf unread since. I’ll give it another look.

I’ll take your advice into consideration. I think having Disciplines would help communicate the tone, but I might be able to get there without them.

My current, fleshless idea for talents is to keep them short, sweet, and interpretive. I want each to have an evocative name and (at most) a 1-sentence description. Each should allow the character to do something special in the narrative and/or add their Circle # in Steps to any relevant attempt. That’s it.

I’m still not sure about skills. There needs to be 1 artisan skill, obviously. Beyond that, I figure they can just roll their attribute step for anything that doesn’t fall under one of their Talents. I guess it could go the other way, with just being 1 or 2 words and
If a Talent applies: add your Cricle to your attribute step
If a Skill applies, but not a Talent: roll your attribute step
If no Skill or Talent applies: roll your attribute step-2 (or something).

That feels a bit clunky, but that’s just a first draft I just came up with for this post. I’ll do more work!

I think you and I are friends now.

Yes! Earthdawn hasn’t always stuck the landing on getting the epic hero feel of the in-game lore to actually transfer over to the mechanics. You want to play a magic-powered Thief? Here, this Thief can… pick pockets, pick locks and backstab…

I would have included this in my first post, but I wanted it to focus purely on the mechanical elements. It’s really very encouraging to see other people mention this. I missed it entirely the first time I played the game. They’re supposed to be more like jedi than mundane adventurers. I am going to be leaning into that.

It’s even part of why I want to keep Disciplines instead of making it pure Talent-picking. I want the names to evoke the themes. My placeholder for Troubadour is currently “Legend Keeper,” and it pulls in some bits from the abandoned Disciplines, like Weaponsmith and Wizard, to make it more mystical and narratively weighty. At least, that’s the hope. Your comments have left me thinking that I should at least include a line encouraging players to create new Disciplines if the ones in the book don’t suit them.

No license. You hit the nail on the head with the better option and the reasons why. And on top of those reasons, there’s also a lot of problematic race-based things in Earthdawn that I’d rather just not engage with. I’m boiling things down enough that Race won’t be needed for anything mechanical. Players will be free to play whatever, describe their characters however they want, and leave me out of it.

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and perspective! It reinforced some of my early assumptions and gave me valuable new things to consider. I grabbed my copy of Troika while typing this up and I’m diving into it right after posting!