“Can It” or “Canon”: Krals.

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Welcome to my new blog topic: “Can It” or “Canon” where we explore some elements of Shadow World that might not quite fit Terry’s vision and be dumped, or alternatively should be fully embraced as official SW material. Today we are going to discuss Krals, humanoids that were first introduced in Vog Mur and then appeared once again in Quellbourne, the first official module of the Shadow World series.

First, let’s gather the various descriptions of Krals from various sources and see if we can come to some consensus:

Krals Per wiki:

Krals are described as semi-human or ape–like creatures. Both, the Krals and their close kin the Garks are considered two distinct subraces of the Karku, a race believed to be related to both Men and Trolls. The Krals resemble the Garks but they are taller and more intelligent.There were two different subraces of Krals, Sea-Krals and Ice-Krals.

So I found this wiki entry interesting. I know that Quellbourne featured “Ice-Krals” and Vog Mur had “Sea-Krals” but for the life of me I have never heard of “Karku”??? A quick search of the Master Atlas finds no reference to Karku. However, based on this wiki source we know that Krals are ape-like, related to Garks and have the 2 sub-races: Ice & Sea.

Sea Krals Per Vog Mur:

Krals are an ancient nocturnal race of cloudy origin. They may be distantly related to Men, but show no pity or charity toward Mankind. A typical Kral is vaguely humanoid, and stands 4 to 5 ½ feet tall and has lengthy arms. Their arm is marked by an additional bone which connects the wrist to their four fingered hand, making the hand appear unusually long. Each of their fingers stretches 5-6 inches and is capped by a claw like nail. They have opposing digits, and are dexterous enough to be accomplished craftsmen and bowmen. Kral skin is normally dark grey or bluish in palor, and has a leathery character. Their hair is uniformly thick and white, and grows primarily on their head, neck, and shoulders. This gives them the appearance of having a mane of sorts. Random protrusions of hair can be seen in other body areas, however. Perhaps strangely, female Krals have considerably more body hair, for they have a long expanse which grows down the bony spine of their backs. The females rarely exceed 4 ½ feet in height, but are formidable foes, for they are generally much quicker. Since they are exceedingly long-lived, they rarely bear children. Krals wear leather armor and carry scimitar-like swords. These creatures all sleep communally and carry or wear their few possessions. Home is a mobile mat of hair.

Besides their physical description, the Sea Krals were a military force and seemed organized, intelligent and militaristic.

Ice Krals From Quellbourne:

Appearance: Shorter than men and vaguely ape-like. Ice Kral
stand 5’6″ tall, with broad shoulders and long arms. They have
long dexterous fingers capped by long nails. Their skin is a
grayish-blue and their heads sprout thick white hair, which spreads
across their shoulders and down their backs. They have piercing
green eyes, deep-set under beetled brows.

Again, the Krals are seen as violent, with a society built around the “Law of Battle” and the “Law of Duels”. The Krals are pirates and raiders, but live in a fortified town and seem to be societal to some degree.

Sea Krals from Creatures & Treasures:

Sea-krals are ape-like creatures with dark grey or blue skin and a pelt of thick, white hair growing on the head, neck, and shoulders. Females possess an additional thicket that grows down the bony spine of their backs. Both genders have long arms and an extra bone connecting the wrist to the hand. Long, dextrous fingers capped by a claw-like nail aid them in becoming accomplished craftsmen and bowman. They stand 4’6″ tall. Sea-krals fear the hungry waves, but derive too much pleasure from their violent way of life to abandon the ocean. They build longships in which to ply the seas, raiding and plundering other vessels as pirates. Their boats serve as their only home in spite of the fact that most can not swim. Their average life span is 55 years. They sleep during the day and are active during the night. Leather armor and curved swords are their usual battle garb.

Initial conclusions. Based on the publishing timeline, I would assume that the Sea Kral from Vog Mur was the first appearance of the Kral. After Vog Mur, the Kral were included in Creatures & Treasures and then picked up by the third party author for Quelbourne. Given the Quelbourne was the first of the official SW series, there wasn’t a lot of established SW content to draw from–I don’t believe that the Sea Kral were included in the original Shadow World boxed atlas set. Can anyone verify that?

My second thought is that the Kral are very similar to Garks–although Garks seem less intelligent and have a prehensile tail. Here is the Gark description below and keep in mind that Garks are featured in many of Terry’s books.

Garks from Master Atlas:

Garks: Mottled grey fur covers covers all of the ape-like Gark, except
the palms and soles of his feet. Long arms hang to his knees, and
a powerful, prehensile tail grows from the base of his spine. Most
Garks possess only limited intelligence, and they use crude weapons such as clubs, hatchets, and spears. They wear simple, decorative clothing and organize themselves by family groups. Each group shares a large nest suspended high above the ground in the trees or a cliff-face. Occasionally, males band together to raid the homes of nearby Mannish peoples. Garks are omnivorous, but some groups relish the taste of raw human flesh.Garks have been trained by some dark sorcerers and lords to act as a crude military force, and though they are powerful fighters, they are not as easily disciplined as the more disciplined Lugrôki. Three basic types of Gark are known to exist: Snow Garks, Jungle Garks, and Cliff Garks, each inhabiting the type of environment they are named for.

“Can It” or “Canon”?

Kras are an interesting race, perhaps more unique and interesting than the renamed “Orcs” and “Goblins” that are featured in SW: but Terry didn’t use Krals. Anywhere. Garks seem like a proximate type and could certainly be expanded into other terrain types (I used them in Priest-King) in place of Krals. Additionally, Garks can have other off-shoots that are more organized, more intelligent or more societal.

In the end, Krals were never embraced by Terry. My opinion: Can them! What do you think?

Dwarven Stronghold

I should have been publishing the next Rolemaster Fanzine this week, but I am digging into a bigger project for the next issue.

At the end of last months ‘zine I said I was going to detail out one of the Dwarven strongholds. As I have been creating Dungeondraft maps of each location for use on VTT this stronghold is taking somewhat longer than I had anticipated.

I have also invested some time in improving my map-making, thanks to YouTube.

I am also on a drive to use a wider variety of foes. My first dwarven stronghold is long abandoned, at least by dwarves, but it gives me an opportunity to use Constructs in all their myriad forms.

I have a subterranean river on the map, and that is plied by animated paddleboats that will ferry non-existent passengers back and forth from the mines to the inner stronghold for all of eternity (or until they meet an angry player character).

It is quite fun to have three basic stat blocks but they have an infinite number of forms, one could be a sentry suit of armor, another boat, and a third a noble child’s toy warhorse.

I am also building in some physical challenges, the adventure isn’t just a hack-fest through unthinking machines.

I was hoping to be playing my campaign again by now but the Shadow World game I am in is taking a little longer to complete than we had anticipated. One of the three players had been ill and needed an operation. The illness meant that he couldn’t play for a few weeks, then the operation definitely put him out of action. We had our first session back on Fantasy Grounds (RMC) last night and he was exhausted by 10pm, we normally play to near midnight.

But, he is on the mend. We left the session last night as we just rolled for initiative to fight a Giant. Not just any giant, but a GM tweaked unique giant. It is several hundred years old, cyclops-like, but very intelligent, sophisticated, and seems to be using some nature magic, possibly druid lists. We are not sure.

The party is strung out, I am halfway up a cliff face doing a free climb, the two fighters are charging into melee, but it is a long way away. The paladin got flattened by a thrown boulder in the first round, but has shaken off the stun but is carrying a lot of bruising with its associated penalties. The bard is our weakest party member. Little or no armor, little skill with weapons, and very few spell lists. The giant started hurling rocks at the paladin, but I started jumping around and shouting to get its attention. This is not a way to guarantee a long life, but it did buy enough time to get the remaining two fighters close enough to launch an attack. I have light armor, so I am hard to hit, and a pretty good DB. I am also the party healer, so I have a reasonable chance of standing up even if I do take a direct hit.

We will see how this fight pans out.

We believe that we need to take down this giant, scoop out its eye, deliver that to a witch that lives in the swamp, and she will guide us to the stronghold of the necromancer that has been plaguing this region. Simple!

Retrospective: Shadow World Blog Posts. Advanced Tech in SW.

Obviously I am thinking a lot about Shadow World with Terry’s passing: his past works, projects he was working on, and what the future might have been. Of course, Shadow World will continue in the imaginations of fans, players and GM’s for years to come, and we can only imagine what Terry had in store with Emer IV, Wurilis and other projects he hinted at. In that spirit, I wanted to revisit my own ideas and blog posts from the last 5 years here on the Rolemasterblog.

Apologies and Neglect

I have been neglecting the blog recently. My own RM campaigns have been on hiatus. My face-to-face game hasn’t been played since Feb 2020, which is no surprise. My VTT game hasn’t been played in two or three months now.

I am playing a druid in a Shadow World RM2 game, and a cleric in a 5e game, so I am still playing, but my group of players and I could not sustain three games running at once.

Now, the Shadow World game is reaching a natural point to take a break, and we will be pausing to pick up my game again.

It is harder to think of really interesting things to write about when you are not planning and running games.

I even skipped a month of the Rolemaster Fanzine. It has been exploring an idea about two extremely dangerous weapons, one slaying to elves and the other to dwarfs. Without the stimulus of the running and planning, it was incredibly difficult to build a gripping scenario.

But, that is all about to change. I am getting my game notes in order and preparing for some upcoming sessions. Hopefully that will spark some interesting topics to put out here on the blog.

Weekend Musings 9-12-2021

Greeting to the Rolemasterblog, it’s participants and readers! As you can see, our blogging activity has really dropped off over the last few months. It felt like we had some energy and spring in our step earlier this year, but speaking for myself, the return of the COVID really has had a demoralizing effect on my time management and creativity. I hope everyone that reads this is doing well and have not suffered any personal tragedies from this pandemic.

So while I have a number of blog posts started, I thought I would return to a weekend centric overview blog of some thoughts, notable news and other items that have come up.

  1. If you don’t read Grognardia and have an interest in the “Old School” movement, you should check it out. James recently posted a review of “The Iron Wind” that is worth reading. Certainly I have a very different view point of the IW based on my back ground, but outside views are very relevant!
  2. Roleplaying plots. Like many of you, my game ideas are often drawn from a variety of media sources. Recently, Amazon made available one of my favorite genre movies: “Brotherhood of the Wolf“. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it and would also suggest the original french version with subtitles. Visually striking, the movie is a period piece, historical fiction, martial arts film, costume drama, mystery with a touch of horror. But what makes the movie great, is how easily adapted it could be to a great role-playing adventure. Mysterious monster killing women and children? It’s got that. Secret societies and cults. Yes. Adventures called in to save the day. Of course. Throw in royal and political intrigue, a Paladin with his trusted companion native Scout, a spy/assassin and lots of action and…well, just check it out!

3. The image above is a 800 year old chain shirt found recently and in excellent condition! More on the story can be found HERE.

4. The authors of the Dragonlance series are creating a new world setting using the D&D “open source System Reference Document”. (Is this like OGL? Someone chime in on this as I’m not up-to-date on the vagaries of IP use or D&D in general.) However, two things strike me. First, it’s interesting to see open source opportunities for gaming system in general, and still frustrating that we haven’t found a working solution for RM besides “d100”. Second, the setting consists of “dragons and flying airships”. Look, I’m not suggesting that Shadow World isn’t derivative or there hasn’t been flying ships or dragons elsewhere, but if you had to describe Shadow World one way would be to “dragons and flying ships”. So while the SW setting has been described using phrases like: “derivative”, “kitchen sink” or “standard fantasy tropes”, apparently those tropes must still be interesting to someone. I touched up this subject back in 2016 HERE.

5. Mathieu is teasing some of his art for RMU HERE.

My final thought is that this has been an exceptionally slow period for ICE, the Rolemaster Forums, this blog and other RM and Shadow World material and updates. Thinks seem to go with cycles, so hopefully we’ll see an uptick this fall and over the winter.

Waste Not, Want Not

How many times, after battle, does your party start scouring the bodies of fallen foes for armor, weapons, magic items, and loot? If they’re like mine, the answer is “every time.” If I don’t bring up encumbrance, they’ll try to haul off every piece of gear in the hope it may be magical or valuable, leaving nothing but naked bodies behind.

But what do they do when they defeat a nonhumanoid creature? Does your party skin their fallen mammal foes for the furs? Do they scavenge the poison glands of giant spiders or reptiles? My party has actually done both, and often more. It’s made me think more about what parts of various creatures may be useful, or of great value. 

Historically, at least pre-industrially, cultures have made use of every part of their prey or livestock. Many still do — Americans are uniquely squeamish about eating organs, like heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. — but many cultures eat blood sausage or something similar, bone marrow, etc. Hooves are rendered to produce gelatin, blood is made into glue, brains are used to tan leather. Little goes to waste. Composite bows are an impressive combination of economy and mechanics, with sinew for tensile strength, horn for compression strength, and glue — all of these components usually taken from the same animal.

In my campaign, I make up a lot of new creatures for the party to encounter. They’ve been on a subcontinent inhabited in one region by fire-creatures, in another by water-creatures. The party’s penchant for harvesting anything they can has led me to include details on the uses for various parts in my creature descriptions. Fantastic creatures  (a.k.a. “Beasts” in Rolemaster taxonomy) can be useful for ingredients needed by alchemists or for magical rituals, but some parts can have more direct uses.

In this land of fire, Bastrekah, I created a type of salamander. The larvae roam the volcanic wastes and scrub, eating anything it can find, while the adult (8-10 meters long) burrows into the ground and spends its life eating precious metals and gems, and the miners who dig for them. 

The bones and sinews of the larvae make exceptionally strong composite bows, with a bonus to hit/damage. The skin of both larvae and adults can be used to make excellent soft leather armor that provides partial protection from heat and fire attacks. It won’t work as rigid leather, because the heat used to make the leather rigid doesn’t affect salamanders or their skin. Adult salamanders produce nodules the size of large-eggs in the rock they burrow through. These can be used by alchemists as power point multipliers when enchanting fire-related items, but they’re consumed in the process.

Not all creatures yield so many notable or powerful products, and many have none. But these are very powerful creatures, and while they don’t hoard treasure for the party to acquire, the value of their parts can be a reward of its own. Adding these details to creatures can also provide plot material. A leatherworker might pay handsomely for a large swath of salamander skin. An assassin might be interested in another creature’s venom, a barbarian may go after exotic hides or skulls to adorn themself, and just about any part of a rare creature might interest a mage. 

If your party routinely leaves the animals and beasts they fight laying to rot, consider encouraging them to think again. Let someone start following them, cashing in on the valuable bits. Eventually, they may start looking for work hunting creatures for their parts, or asking around town about what they can glean. And that brings more opportunities for interesting nonplayer character interactions. Personally, the challenge of thinking “what parts are cool?” and learning what real-world cultures have done with what nature gives them makes game prep much more fun.

Squishing Levels

A topic came up on the ICE Discord server recently that I feel deserves some discussion: The leveling curve in Rolemaster.

As a frame of reference, the initial commentary was that a 2nd level HARP character was equal to a 9th level character in the RM framework. Without having a real knowledge of HARP, this got me thinking about other systems and the relative curve of power as characters level. Consider that D&D has historically had a system based on levels 1-18, or more recently levels 1-20. By comparison, RM has a highly bloated (at least at first glance) system of leveling from 1-50.

Before we delve further, let’s look at the advantages of such a spread out system of leveling. Bear in mind that these are generalizations:

🔸 Levels 1-10 seem to be where the most progress is made, with characters mastering their core skills. Consider that during these levels, the character is maximizing the 5/3/2/1 rank progression, and by roughly 10th level is starting to see diminishing returns on these skills.

🔸 Levels 11-20 are where we see some real diversification of skills. At this point a fighter may have some decent bonuses in skills like fighting styles and periphery combat talents (disarm, protect, etc). Spellcasters have some talents in extraneous skills like Spell Mastery, applicable lores, maybe some rituals. Semis at this point now have a chance to spread out some development since they are typically DP-starved at lower levels. Characters in general have more DP available to sink into skills like lores, trades, leadership, and the things that make them unique.

🔸 Levels 20+ is a bit of an enigma. Rank progression at this point slows to a halt in all core skills, so this really becomes the point in the game where class lines begins to blur the most. Looking at old MERP supplements, Aragorn is depicted as Level 27 at the outset of the War of the Ring, and 36 at the end. So rangers can pick up some magical expertise and leadership skills to become party leaders, mages like Gandalf develop some skill at arms, other classes distinctions are blurred since most people inclined to learn magic have picked up many of the same spell lists, and so on and so on. At the same time, this is where classes gain some of their biggest power boosts and distinctions as spells 20th level and above are typically game-changing. While a Bard may be able to cast some elemental attacks at this high a level, the mage reigns supreme with Triad Bolts and the like.

More nutrition, in a smaller package?

This notion that level 20+ is where characters can break out of their class-limitations is not a bad thing. At this level of play, characters are supposed to be special and transcend some of these limitations. However, I wonder if this is actually conducive in the long run to a good gaming system. With RMU on the horizon (somewhere… we hope…) the idea of selling this system is limited by a few of the disadvantages:

🔻So many other systems have a faster, smoother inherent progression. While GMs can certainly increase XP awards to compensate, the fact that HARP seems to scale better, and that D&D has more delineated thresholds makes these systems seem to have more tangible rewards.

🔻A slow climb seems to be the accepted fate in Rolemaster in general. A number of articles have been written here, on the forums, and in Discord about the perils of low-level gaming in RM and the grind to survivability. Consider that the RAW in RMU suggest starting characters at 3rd level or above simply so they have enough skills to make gaming fun. I don’t think this is a design flaw, so much as a design choice that I don’t necessarily agree with, but it’s an issue that many have been vocal about in discussions.

🔻High-level gaming seems like the crawl is even more profound. When a character is only learning new spells every 5th level, that has a profound effect on player investment, as does reduced rank progression.

I know that a lot of what I’ve said here has multiple perspectives, and I’m not trying to be overly critical of a system that I see as a truly enjoyable one, but perhaps there’s some ways to make RM a bit more… fluid? I have two starting suggestions:

🔹Squish levels 20 through 50 so that there isn’t a 30-level gap in power development. By retooling some of the 20+ level spells and making them available at lower levels (even if the new level “cap” was 30th) that might create a smoother progression overall. Drop some of the repetition on lower level spells and move the higher level ones down so they are available from around level 15 onward.

🔹Retool magic at the starting levels so that it functions more like cantrips. One contributor on Discord suggested making all spells from 1st-5th level cantrips that can be cast at will (with normal restrictions, just no PPs). Even if you took only 2-3 spells per list and made them cantrips, and then scaled all of the other spells down accordingly, this would make early levels more palatable, especially for magic users. I see it as giving Semis a boost since they struggle to find a role early on in the game.

Any thoughts from the elders on these concepts? The goal is not to make RM more like D&D or even HARP, but to create a system that sees a more linear progression rather than an asymptotic one. Admittedly, these are just quick thoughts about some very large, complex concepts and I’m not suggesting a full-scale redesign, but this seems like a project that might be on the horizon.