We just finished Terror in the Skies, using the Earthdawn Classic rules as published by Red Brick Games. We even got to use their new-and-improved Grimoire casting rules in the last session.
It was a fun train-ride. The GMing advice is less bad than in Mists of Betrayal, but it’s still firmly set in an early-90s model: the GM has a story to have happen, and the players are expected to fight it—or at best to not cooperate in shaping it. Use of the combat minigame should be frequent and need not be tied overmuch to the plot. Combats should be to the death—there’s no reason to provide alternate outcomes.
It did have some great dramatic elements. I was suspicious of the ship-combat system, but it ran great: light and fast, and leading to wonderful dramatic escapades. It did take a little work to make sure it didn’t become a standoff-and-shell fight. I’d just been reading about the Scene Framing rules from Burning Empires, and some of last night really made their need clear. We spent a lot of time screwing around. I was too willing to let things wander into what the players said they did next, and the players didn’t feel like they had the authority to push on to the next interesting bit. They may not have had the setting-knowledge to do so effectively. When I did cut sharply from one scene to another, the players accepted and embraced it. It appeared to dramatically improve the gaming. I must study this and improve at it.
Also, I think I now understand more of how treasure (…and take their stuff) is supposed to work.
We tried using a mechanic for advancement based on The Shadow of Yesterday’s “Keys” mechanic. It didn’t work so well. Partly, I didn’t give it enough power. Partly, it works in PC-driven games, but has problems with railroads. That issue can only be fixed by running a free game, instead of using pre-generated adventures. But I think keys could be a nice flavor addition to a pre-generated module game if they’re given enough power, and if the base advancement rate still works.
Earthdawn already has a back-off mechanism for advancement: you need O(fib(N)) points to advance a single skill to its next rank, and O(N) skills must be advanced to go up a level… each to rank O(N). So when I added Legend Threads that needed similar advancement and only gave out O(fib(N)), it was too slow. You have to advance something that’s O(N^2 fib N) with something that only pays off O(fib N)—not going to work.
A revision: Keys ought to be binary. Either you have one or you don’t. They cost 100C to purchase, where C is your character’s Circle. They pay off 20C, 60C, or 100C when the tSoY equivalent would pay off 1, 3, or 5. If you buy one off, it pays 200C.
I do think it’s worth trying a system more inspired by Burning Wheel’s Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits—possibly tied to a generalized Karma-boost system. More on that later.