4th Edition Earthdawn Game Master’s Guide Review

Sorry for the no post last week, I was busy winning a regional championship of Android Netrunner!  It has been some time since I have visited the Earthdawn game.  I reviewed the Player’s Guide some time ago, just after I received it.  I intended to follow that up with the Game Master’s guide but I realised that I was just not going to play it.  The player’s guide took player’s to the eighth circle and without the Companion book taking things as far as they could I realised I had no desire to play the game.  I was also super busy running my store.  But stuff has changed.  I no longer run the store and have more time to read and blog.  The Companion is on the way to the printers and if I wanted to I could download a copy of it today.  I have just finished reading the Game Master’s Guide and also just begun playing the game with some new enamoured players.  So, is the Game Master’s Guide a good addition to the game?

Earthdawn Game Master's Guide
The cover of the Game Master’s Guide special edition 🙂

What is in the Games Master’s Guide?

Inside this 500+ page book, you will find a wealth of information designed to help run your game.  The book starts off by giving a brief history of what has happened in the setting.  It is a very brief coverage of what has happened.  If you are an Earthdawn player from way back and have followed the meta-plot through you will realise that this material just touches the surface.  They then dedicate a chapter to the state of the land of Barsaive and its people (Barsaive is likely where Earthdawn games are set).  This is again brief but informative.  The book then turns its topics to being a Games Master (GM) and a good 4 chapters cover this topic.  Telling you what to do as a GM, how to build adventures, encounters and campaigns.  It describes the feel of adventuring and exploration as well as the challenges and obstacles you may find. Beyond this, the book then scopes out into Thread items (these are loosely similar to magic items of other games), Creatures, Spirits, Dragons and Horrors.

What is the best thing about this book?

Without going into a huge amount of detail and page by page synopsis, this book teaches you how to GM very well.  That is its purpose and I find the chapters that deal directly with this topic were approached and delivered brilliantly.  There is a good deal of depth of advice delivered in a factual manner.  There are no long philosophical ramblings about what it is to be a GM, just good hard advice that will make you comfortable running the game.  I have run every edition of this game and I find this section is possibly the best that it has ever been.  Great work on this all.

The layout is also very well done.  It is ordered very well and although there are not massive amounts of art I was not lamenting the loss because of good layout.  The text is a mixture of character speech and direct advice which allows for the game to light up and gives the GM the feel of what their worlds could be like.

What did I not like about the book?

In reality, this criticism is more about the way that Earthdawn has been approached in this edition.  The material in the book is all quality but there is not much art.  This really hurts the creatures section.  There are also no named Horrors in the book.  I know that they intend to make a Horrors book BUT they specifically talk about running campaigns around these Horrors and supply none of them to be able to do it.  This is not a fault of the writers, it is a fault of the approach in this edition.  What do I mean?  Well, there is about 100 pages of material covering how to be a GM in the Game Master’s Guide – so where did the other 400+ come from?

Game Master's Guide art
There is some art in the creatures section but it is few and far between…

The approach

Earthdawn has nearly always been a one book affair.  This would cover the history, how to build and expand the characters of eighth circle and below, spells, creatures/spirits/dragons/horrors, setting and game mechanics.  These books were always around the 300-400 page mark and never felt crowded.  I think the Player’s Guide and the Game Master’s Guide of the fourth edition has attempted to cram too much into the two books.  I talked about how the Player’s Guide was sorely missing the details about spirits in it – something the players can manipulate and use so the information should be available to them.  These got shifted into the Game Master’s Guide – I am fairly certain due to space.  In the Game Master’s Guide, they have basically put in a complete another sourcebook of creatures and dragons into it.  There used to be some material on these but it is now extensive.  In doing this we now no longer have an artistic expression of each creature due to space again I imagine.  In short, I really don’t think they should have pursued a Player’s Guide and a Games Master’s Guide.

Does it hurt the game?

No, not at all.  I can still go back to my older books and look at the pictures for these creatures and new GM’s can pick up these PDF’s cheaply.  It is just a shame they are not there.  It is annoying that I have to continually hand over my guide when a player is considering a summoning though.  The game itself is still elegant and beautifully presented.  From the ground up they talk about the story and how stories have power in this world.  These ideas are woven into the fabric of the game and enrich the play to a fantastic level.  It is a very crunchy system that supports story-driven goals elegantly.


In reality, the splitting of the books is a minor issue.  Earthdawn is a beautiful game and one that the players I have just introduced to it are eager to explore.  With the Companion soon to hit my table I am now very keen to explore a plot thread that I have been running for the better part of two decades with another group of players.  Earthdawn is a game you can get lost in.  I feel like I am uncovering important tales every time I run this game and that is from my perspective as the GM.  I really envy how it appears to my players.  With the Companion now soon to be released I would strongly suggest that anyone who plays Earthdawn now looks to switching to Fourth Edition.  In the short play that I have had so far, I have seen how the minor changes truly enhance the game.  Earthdawn, it is time to get into it.  Keep rolling!


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