In Earthdawn, high dexterity makes you harder to hit, and better at combat. High strength allows you to hit harder, and armor reduces damage. Toughness helps you heal faster. Perception helps defend against (and also use) magic, while willpower makes magic stronger (and provides armor against magic). High Charisma makes it harder for others to affect your thinking and emotions, and also makes it easier to affect the thinking and emotions of others.
Each Discipline of magic has its own worldview, and this affects how they experience their talents. For example, both scouts and weaponsmiths learn the melee weapons talent. For the scout, its use is an exercize in sensing and understanding his foe's fighting style and taking advantage of its weaknesses, whereas for the weaponsmith, it is a means of gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of the weapon he is using and all weapons in general. It is the same talent for both, and it bears both the same results, but the way they see it and experience it is strongly affected by the worldview and Discipline of the adept.
Each adept will have his own pesonal vision of his Discipline and its place in the world, but all adepts in a given Discipline will share certain core values. For example, it isn't possible to become a troubadour without valuing story and song, or a warrior if one completely forsakes prowess in battle. But each adept will emphasize different aspects of his Discipline. His view of it will be based on his master's personal vision, but it will be changed and affected by the adept's life and experiences. When he acts contrary to his vision, he loses some of his connection to his talents, and his command of them is reduced also. When he acts in accordance to his vision, his connection to his talents is restored.
Learning the talents of a Discipline is an inherently magical process for adepts. They learn new talents through insight, sometimes gained through introspection, sometimes through active self-hypnosis, sometimes through intuition, and sometimes through constantly repeating the motions of the talent. [I have an unfinished story that chronicles the journey of the mind of a young adept as he is initiated into the Warrior's Discipline that I can forward if you'd like.] Ability with talents already known is increased through introspection and meditation. After gaining an appropriate amount of experience, the adept spends eight hours meditating upon how his life would have been different, if he'd had better command of one of his talents. After the eight hours of contemplation are over, he will have assimilated his experiences and this will have gained him an enhanced grasp of his talent.
On to the core values of the specific Disciplines.
Air sailors see themselves as providing a vital service, and worthy of their pay. They owe a duty to those whom they serve, and see themselves as part of an organization that will lead them to their goals. An aimless air sailor is a contradiction in terms. They favor cleverness and wits in their approach to problems, and consider "Good thinking!" a high complement, along with such characterizations as sly, clever, cunning, and shrewd. Though they are able fighters (about 75% of a swordmaster), they do not reflexively turn to combat as a way to handle problems. Air sailors NEVER condemn or criticize each other, save before their peers, and they never leave their mates. Air Sailors depends on dexterity, willpower, and perception.
Archers see things in a direct and linear manner, striking always for the center of the matter. They follow straight lines and direct approaches, much as their missiles do. They tend to divide the world into missiles (approaches and means) and targets (obstacles and goals). They are taught to see clearly and to choose their targets wisely. Anything that obscures perception is the enemy, be it dust, glare, fog, rain, snow, or (worst of all) illusions. Any archer who loses sight of his goals (targets), dithers, or goes off on tangents is losing touch with his Discipline. Archers depend on dexterity, perception, and charisma.
Beastmasters appreciate, study, and learn from animals. Some seek to learn the powers of animals, others to be their friends, and yet others see them as puzzles to be understood. All agree, however, that animals are never dishonest, and a beastmaster must never ever be dishonest with his animals. The vast majority also believe that while one must deal with animals from a position of strength, it is better to gain their cooperation through strength of will rather than beatings. Beastmasters depends on all six of their attributes.
Cavalrymen tend to be restless and driven, preferring a gallop to a walk. They are always charging problems head on and taking life by the throat. A cavalryman and his mount are thought of as an adept pair, rather than an adept and an accessory. They think of their mounts as being more important than anything due to the deep and powerful emotional bond that forms between the adept and his mount. This doesn't mean that nothing else is important to him; it just means that it is secondary to his mount. The cavalryman often sees himself as daring and dauntless. Some prefer the challenges of exploration and travel and some the challenges of combat, but all are known for attempting great feats.
Elementalists see themselves as a bridge between the world of the elements and this world. The Discipline is a means of getting at essential, even elemental truths, and so they rarely take time for fiddling with the non-essentials of the situation. They have great respect for the natural world and work to maintain its elemental balance. Many -- perhaps most -- of the actions they perform to do so are inexplicable or incomprehensible to others. Incidentally, there are five magical elements in Earthdawn -- air, water, fire, earth, and wood. Not surprisingly, a balanced pentagram is one of the more common symbols associated with the Discipline. Elementalists, like all mages, depend on perception and willpower.
Illusionists see it as their duty to make people challenge their perceptions of and assumptions about the world. Low grade swindles (which rarely cost the victims more than 10 sp each) are a favored way of doing this. They are taught to constantly test the world and their perceptions of it against each other constantly, and to constantly check their assumptions. They develop a remarkable level of intuition when it comes to recognizing when appearances are deceiving. Illusionists are entertainers at heart, and they see their entertainment as having two functions -- amusement and teaching folks a badly needed lesson on how to perceive the truth. Those who rely solely on their senses are the illusionist's favorite subjects. Like all mages, they depend on perception and willpower.
Nethermancers are widely regarded with suspicion and outright fear for their associations with death, the dead, and the Horrors. Death, spirits, and the Netherworlds (one or more of which are the homes of the Horrors) are their field of study. They typically counter this suspicion with a "Who cares what the ignorant rabble think?" type of attitude. They often laugh at tragedy and sneer at the foolish, for whom they have no compassion. The most foolish, of course, are those who fear the nethermancer's knowledge and power. Nethermancers are moral relativists; they consider death to be just a change in life rather than something to be feared. For example, they see the Horrors as merely a more dangerous type of predator than others, and more than one would tell you that there is nothing that the Horrors do to us, for sustenance, that we do not also do to each other, for no good reason at all. This also means that they tend not to value the lives of others very highly and one typically would have no compunctions about sacrificing the lives of a dozen people to seal up an astral gateway that was admitting Horrors to the world.
A nethermancer is taught to rely upon his own judgement and never to regret his actions. "Had I known more, I might have chosen differently, but I didn't, and I made the best choice I could under the circumstances" is about as close as a nethermancer should ever come to saying "I wish I hadn't done that." They are also taught NEVER EVER to submit to fear. Fear is a nethermancer's tool, used to manipulate others (who are then scorned for letting themselves be manipulated). Caution, care, and self-preservation are all acceptable to the nethermancer; phobia and panic are not. Like all mages, nethermancers depend on perception and willpower.
Scouts are often characterized as "half-warrior, half-thief." While they share some abilities with each, this annoys them, as they do not think anything like warriors or thieves. A scout is taught first and foremost to open his senses -- ALL of them -- to the world around him. If you have read Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," it would be fair to say that a scout groks the world. He opens his senses to it so completely and accepts it so thoroughly that he becomes one with it. Because he senses so much more than others, he will often characterize others as "stumbling through the world, half blind." Scouts can work in any terrain -- their heightened senses and belonging serve them as well in cities and towns as they do in forests and fields. Scouts prefer to tread lightly and to leave no mark as they go through and become part of the world. However, should they encounter something that is destructive of the world or that does not belong, they will usually try to correct the situation. Scouts also prefer to avoid acting like warriors or thieves. It's entirely in character for a scout to say, "Violence is the last resort of the incompetent." And, of course, stealing from people is changing the world, rather than accepting it. Scouts rely on dexterity and perception.
Sky Raiders are fierce, piratical warriors. They hold personal responsibility and honor as the highest virtues. They favor a bold and intimidating style of combat. They also believe that you don't deserve to keep anything you can't defend. Win or lose, a foe who fights back honors a sky raider; one who surrenders insults him. Sky raiders often take their most valorous foes as newots (thralls). This is an honor, for a newot can become a sky raider, whereas a foe left behind in the lowlands, either alive or dead, cannot.
The sky raider Discipline is very much tied up in trollishness. All sky raiders are bound by something like kat'ral, or clan honor, as well as personal honor. In the sky raider's case, this honor is held not by his clan (or not only by his clan), but by his comrades in arms. A sky raider never, ever denies responsibility for his actions. An accusation like, "That's mine, you! Give it back!" will typically get a response along the lines of, "Not any more. I took it fair and square." Of course, sky raiders never take by stealth -- this denies their opponents the chance to gain honor by fighting to keep their property. And a sky raider's actions may be capricious and unpredictable (particularly when one doesn't know what offends or doesn't offend his honor), but his word is as absolute as stone. After all, if he dishonors his word, he diminishes himself.
Sky raiders feel that all other adepts have taken paths requiring less adherence to honor than their own, but they also realize that the path of absolute honor that they follow (in their own vision) is not for everyone. They depend on dexterity, willpower, and strength.
As far as Swordmasters go ... I shall use the words of my favorite follower of the Discipline. I am inserting notes [in brackets] to show where Arkanabar's personal vision is strictly personal.
"We Swordmaster adepts (for we do have magic) are not like the simple killers who follow the Warrior's Discipline. It is our path to make the world more interesting, and in the case of my school, more just. [This "more just" bit is Ark's personal thing. More than half of all swordmasters feel this way, but it's not universal.] Always ready are the 'eyes to pierce, tongue to lash, and sword to slash.' I gained my sword three years ago, and have already reached the Sixth Circle of the Discipline.
"You see, it's our task as swordmasters to create drama, which is what inspires others to take on their own problems with something approaching the verve, gusto, and wit that we swordmasters display." [The rest of this paragraph is personal to Ark.] His eyes grow misty as he continues, "It is probably the highest calling to which a Name-giver can be called, you know--to be a worthy recipient of the adulation of the masses for one's inspiring greatness in overcoming difficulty, injustice and evil." Suddenly serious, he adds, "Far too many swordmasters neglect this aspect of the Discipline, seeing the praise as the reason for the Discipline, rather than the natural result of following it properly.
[This entire paragraph is personal to Ark.] "There are also far too many who feel that the best approach to all injustice is to beat upon it with a blade until it goes away. That's ridiculously simplistic, of course. While there are such evils, we swordmasters have far too many other gifts and talents for attacking the many-fold forms of evil which have nothing to do with physical injury to rely solely on such a single-minded approach. This is as it should be, of course; evil is rarely so uniform in its approach, either. I prefer engagement myself; while battle clearly shows the virtues of courage and steadfastness in a manner all can see and emulate, it is far from the most difficult way of expressing courage and steadfastness, particularly for one so skilled in battle as myself."
Back to swordmasters in general. A swordmaster believes that anything worth doing is worth doing in a way that will impress the audience (and in a way that will attract an audience). Swordmasters are all exhibitionists, striving to be Errol Flynn, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro, Inigo Montoya AND The Dread Pirate Roberts, and the Three Musketeers, rolled into one. Their fights have to be interesting. Just as Sky Raiders will not steal by stealth, Swordmasters will not kill by stealth. He may sneak up on you, but you will know he's there before he attacks you. Swordmasters rely heavily on dexterity and to a lesser extent on charisma.
Theives are taught to be self-reliant and stealthy. Many see theft as a service -- freeing people from the burdens of worrying about their possessions. Some steal hearts, to teach people to be more careful where they bestow their affections. Others steal secrets, relieveing their owners of the tension and fear caused by keeping them. Some, of course, steal just to take what they don't have. The type who sees theft as a gift and a service will have friends, but he will never forget that those friends might fail him, and that all of his archetypical thiefly activities are best performed alone. He also does not hold too tightly to what he steals, lest it become a burden to him. He is also careful not to steal things which are actual neccessities. And he brags about his exploits, to warn others not to become slaves to their possessions. The selfish thief, on the other hand, has no friends and will steal anything from anyone. He absolutely refuses to allow compassion to affect his actions, for fear that by so doing, he will lose his edge. All theives need high dexterity and perception attributes.
Troubadours spread knowledge and legends. No wise adventurer will antagonize one, lest the legends he spin about said adventurer be less than flattering. They also entertain, to lighten peoples' hearts and to allow them to contemplate things which would otherwise be too painful to think about. They also educate, and they regard this almost as a sacred trust. They will go to great lengths to see knowledge preserved and spread. In fact, more troubadour talents are based upon perception than upon charisma. The dwarven Kindom of Throal is ruled by Varulus III, who is a high circle troubadour. Troubadours are best served by high perception and charisma.
Warriors see the world as a battlefield. The only safe path through it is one based upon loyalty, honor, discipline, and wisdom. Loyalty is shared first and foremost amongst brothers in arms. Any such who betrays a warrior's loyalty has to die. This isn't rancor; it is making the world less dishonorable, by removing a person who has betrayed and will continue to betray people. Loyalty is also given to one's sworn and/or signed word; obviously, one must be careful of one's word. Honor is acting in good faith; i.e., honoring the conventions of war -- truce, parley, leaving non-combatants alone, and ransom -- and of contract language (by using narrowly and precisely defined words, rather than vague "weasel words" that are easily misinterpreted). Discipline is the strong center of a warrior's life. For some, it is sufficient to obey one's superiors; for others, it is hewing so strongly to honor that one will disobey orders that reduce it. Wisdom means different things to different warriors, but to most it certainly includes the idea that if you are not struck down, you can try again to achieve your goals. In short, defense is better than offense, and survival is more important than winning. Like all fighters, a warrior needs dexterity; they also benefit from willpower.
Weaponsmiths make, enhance, and enchant weapons and armor. They are men of devotion, nigh unto being monomaniacs. They always seek to improve themselves, their knowledge bases, and their communities. Once a weaponsmith decides that something needs to be done, it gets done. He will keep trying new approaches until he gets it done. He never stops trying. He fails as many times as it takes to get the one success he needs. And his word is as absolute as a sky raider's.
The weaponsmith's Discipline is tied very much to their Forges (i.e., guilds). The Forges teach many admirable traditions (which can be summed up by two words in AD&D: Lawful Good). Amongst these are honest and honorable dealing, loyalty to the Forge, respect to one's elders, helping people who are truly in need, absolute antipathy to the Horrors, maintaining and increasing the Forge's knowledge of weapons and armor, proper treatment and handling of weapons, and courage in the face of the enemy (obviously, you don't get yourself killed -- that is a sign that you're trying a useless means of achieving your goals). Weaponsmiths need perception and willpower.
Wizards interpret everything through Ideas (i.e., Platonic Ideals) and symbols (the associated properties of each Idea). For example, the Flame Flash spell (which shoots a bolt of fire at a target) invokes the Idea of Fire as a symbol of destruction. They prefer not to do anything without first checking several references to see what Ideas and symbols are involved in the situation, and then seeing what Ideas and symbols are sympathies or antipathies of those involved, and THEN they will select a spell that invokes those Ideas and symbols that are appropriate to the result the wizard wishes to obtain.
This can lead to some counterintuitive actions. In one example, a wizard's companion was caught in a drowning trap. The wizard linked the trap to the Idea of the Machine; one of the antipathies of the Idea of the Machine was the Idea of Air, because Air is a symbol of Rust. So, the wizard had to apply air to the situation. He did so by casting a spell that creates a bubble of crushing air around his friend (who was tough enough to take it), which did in fact prevent her from drowning.
Wizards deal poorly with having their intelligence and/or reasoning denigrated or (worse yet) failing them. They also do not care to have their orderly lives put in disarray. They also pride themselves on maintaining strictly balanced emotional states; no wizard will think he is following his Discipline truly if he is suffering from prolonged emotional instability or constant upsets. Wizards, like all mages, need high levels of perception and willpower.