I have not posted for several months, but diligent in watching other posts here and on the Rolemaster Forums. What are your thoughts? We have done well with this blog, but if users migrate to the official RM Forum, what should we do??
Can you boil down the overarching theme of your campaign into just one or two words?
And, why would you want to?
I have been thinking about this idea, and the essence of it is that if you know what your campaign is about at a conceptual level, it becomes easier to guarantee that each adventure sits within that theme, and you are not drifting toward something generic fantasy. It is also a useful prompt for when you are knocked into improvising. If you have to start making stuff up, if it is bang on the theme, it should be easier to reintegrate the stuff you made up on the fly with the stuff you have prepped for future sessions.
The theme of my Rolemaster Classic campaign is Deception. Dark Elves have deceived the dwarves into believing they were attacked by surface elves. The person the characters beleive is the villain is actually trying to prevent a brewing war between elves and dwarves. This person will use any means available and is one person against an entire conspiracy of dark elves.
Powerful artifacts that all sides want have been hidden in plain sight and protected by deceiving magics.
The list goes on. At first, the characters had no idea what was going on, but they have slowly started to pick at the loose threads and are getting a glimpse of what lies behind all the lies.
It is possible that in the next session they will work out that their early patron had been lying to them.
If my players flounder, such as when one of my ‘obviously brilliant’ clues goes right over their heads, I can easily make something up that will fit the overall theme of deception and misdirection.
If I need to get my characters back on track, I can have one of the opposing forces misdirect the characters back towards that groups natural opposition. The dwarves share evidence of elven treachery, the elves portray dwarven reprisals as unprovoked attacks, and the dark elves are just trying to drag both sides into conflict. It gives me enough levers to pull.
By sticking to my theme I am also signposting, bit by bit, what kind of powerful magics they are eventually going to have to face down. I am not going to go from deception, deception, deception to fireball.
I am finding having defined my theme that it is making my GM prep more fun. It is a challenge to weave the theme into, not every encounter, but all the big encounters and when building NPCs.
Many of you may remember my struggles with characters that were risk-averse. They avoided committing to conflicts and always tried to either control everything or take the safest route possible.
I recently did an exercise called writing a passion statement. It is intended as a business activity but it worked well for RPGs and adventure design.
The exercise starts with completing this “Looking back at my roleplaying days I enjoyed…” but write for 10 or 15 minutes. No one else is going to see it. It is just about getting ideas out and on to the page.
Once you have that text, pick out what looks like the important ideas. Pick out as many ideas as you like. Just make a list of them.
Once you have that list, rate each idea on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the things you enjoyed the most or were most important to your enjoyment. 1 is the least important ideas.
Now look at the things you rated 5 and try and build a single statement that encompasses all those ideas. It could be a single sentence, or a short paragraph.
My statement distilled down to almost one word.
“I roleplay so I can be the hero.”
I asked a couple of my players to do the exercise and their statements were very different. They were much more about winning, or achieving power or leveling, and defeating dragons and demons.
The overriding sentiment was that they wanted to win.
To me, winning and RPGs are kind of uncompatible. You win at an RPG by having fun. But, all my players are hardcore wargamers and in a wargame you have victory conditions. You can win. Winning is the goal.
I don’t think my players want to win rolemaster. They want to win each encounter, they want to defeat the orcs nest, beat the giant monster.
They achieve their goal by minimising risks.
They only want to take on challenges where they perceive that the odds are in their favour.
I can use this to tailor their adventures, encounters and the plot hooks I dangle in front of them. I need to make them more imperative, effectively limiting their ability to procrastinate. I can also launch adventures with a surprising turn of events, so there is no time to prepare and contemplate avoidance.
These feel a bit like railroading. But, as long as I know there is a risk of railroading I should be able to guard against it.
Their current adventure started with a lost child in an area with a lot of goblin activity. My characters have defeated a great many goblins. They will happily fight goblins because they have always won against goblins. They discovered the child at the bottom of a hole being attacked by a zombie. They had no real choice. They could not leave the child to die, so they had to jump down and fight the zombie.
Once they were committed, and they defeated several groups of zombies and skeletons, their confidence rose they did withdraw and rest, their healer was out of PP, but they are volunteering to go back down the hole. Their dungeon delve is hitting the right buttons, they are winning each encounter.
This also makes running the game more fun for me. I can now create adventures that I know the characters will engage with. There is much less frustration about prepping stuff just to have it ignored by the players who don’t want to take risks.
One of the enjoyments of reading Terry’s Shadow World books, is finding a interesting but vague tidbit that just cries out for more detail. I previously blogged about one such nugget, the Mazatlak Pillar City, and today I wanted to speculate on the Clycallah War Machines.
There are only a 3 mentions of mentioning or relating to these War Machines in the Master Atlas:
5983: The Raven Queen’s armies first encounter the Clycallah war machines, rebuilt from ancient Wôrim designs. They are routed by the huge walking mechanical terrors. Later encounters are inconclusive
Gaalt: The Raven Queen launches a new assault, this time led by land and air drakes, each with a Quaidu rider. They prove an even match against the Clycallah war machines.
That’s not much to go on, but it definitely sparks the imagination. From these few points we can conclude that:
These are mechanical not magical–they are not Constructs but “technology” of some sort.
They move by walking rather than wheels or tracks.
They are “huge”.
They are built using Wôrim designs. This implies that they Clycallah had the technological capacity to build these machines, but it also hints that they are “rebuilt” so perhaps they fixed older inoperable machines.
Where is Clycallah? Per the Master Atlas, it is in Gaalt:
G. Clycallah: [Cool Temperate/Seasonal–Wet & Dry] Laan (Mixed economies/Republic (TL:6-7). This little realm would have fallen long ago to Gaalt but for two things: the powerful Mages among the Laan, and their machines. The Clycallah’s war machines (based on Wôrim technology) strike terror into even the Raven Queen’s elite forces, and they are powerful enough to defeat her Troll warriors.
Who are the Wôrim? Again we are left with only a few references that they were a vanished, technologically advanced race during the Interregnum:
c.-30,000 – -20,000: The Wôrim empire, centered in Gaalt, is founded and expands rapidly and is soon at odds with the Jinteni and Elven populations.
What else do we know? Per the Master Atlas we also have some possible conflicting info that:
The Lydians might be descendants of the Wôrim
Trogli might be descendants of the Wôrim
The Wôrim might be the pre-cursors to the Laan.
Other than that, there is little, if any, real data on the Wôrim. Unlike the Jinteni which were fleshed out quite a bit in Emer III, we only have a few more hints on the Wôrim found in the Haalkitaine book:
Corridors: Most of the tunnels correspond to the usual Wôrim trapezoidal profile with periodic buttresses of a grey stone. Some sections were cut from solid granite, but where there was only earth the halls were faced with granite slabs. It is these areas — mostly to the west — that have deteriorated the most. There are many caveins caused by water seepage from the sewers; some have opened cracks between the two networks while some have shifted or even completely blocked corridors. Also typical of the Wôrim, there is little decoration or engraved writing; the stone cutting is precise and starkly angular. The only apparent written records are etched on the oval metal canisters which hold the bodies — and those are the as-yet undeciphered dot patterns believed to be the Wôrim written language.
Anyway, circling back to the Clycallah War Machines, we are left wondering about it’s abilities. Clearly it must have some offensive capacity–it is called a “War Machine” and they can battle with Dragons! Chemical reactions are not reliable on Kulthea, so traditional explosive weaponry seems unlikely. The Jinteni had energy weapons–perhaps these War Machines were armed with laser guns!
What are your thoughts? Have you ever introduced Clycallah War Machines in your campaign? What do you think they look like? What type of weapons could you imagine they have?
Unfortunately, in my attempts to contact Rolemaster and Shadow World authors, I discovered that Tim Taylor had passed away in 2020. Tim was quite prolific in the late 80’s and early 90’s and had 3 Shadow World modules published and contributed to a number of Rolemaster products.
Tim Scott Taylor November 30, 1959 – November 8, 2020 Tim S. Taylor was born November 30, 1959 in Berea, Ohio to James and Ruth Taylor. He grew up in Columbia Station, Ohio, outside Cleveland. He died at home November 8, 2020 in Port Townsend, Washington after a brief struggle with cancer. Tim attended Columbia High School, graduating in 1978, and Ohio State University where he received undergraduate degrees in history and philosophy with a minor in mathematics. He was especially interested in military history, strategy and tactics, game theory, role playing games and board games. He was a lover of eclectic music. He greatly enjoyed sharing his music with friends and found joy in introducing people to board games of all sorts as well as role playing. In the 1990s Tim worked as a disc jockey at WICR radio station in Indianapolis where he hosted radio shows including “Time Without Meaning” featuring music he mixed live in the studio, and “Around the World in 60 Minutes”. Tim also worked as a proofreader and layout tech at Macmillan Publishing in Indianapolis. A Tibetan Buddhist, Tim volunteered many hours at the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana. He was a close friend of Thubten J. Norbu, a Tibetan lama and refugee from Chinese oppression in Tibet. Tim served for several years as Prof. Norbu’s personal secretary, writing articles, letters and speeches for him. Tim arrived in Port Townsend, Washington in 1999. He volunteered for a year at the PT Public Library and worked at Ravenstone Tiles, an art tile company in town. He was also a writer and game designer. Tim designed and published several war games, wrote books and articles, created a deck of Tarot cards inspired by a dream, and wrote fantasy role playing modules. In the last couple years of his life he went by the name ‘Crow’ and dressed all in black. He had many friends in the area and gave Tarot readings, which seemed uncannily accurate, at the Cellar Door in downtown Port Townsend. Tim/Crow was preceded in death by his father James Taylor. He is survived by his mother Ruth Taylor, sisters Tammy Taylor and Toni Cassidy, brothers-in-law Pete Wieneke and Ed Cassidy, three nieces and three nephews, and his long-time friend and housemate Laura Reutter.
I wish I had the chance to interview Tim, it sounds like he led an interesting life.
In my last post, I discussed the need for rich, unique settings that are labors of love in order to create an appeal to players learning about (and hopefully investing in) RMU. While I’m not sure how unique my setting is, creativity begets creativity, so enter my world…
🔸Introduction – The Far-Realms is a “middle-fantasy” world; the setting is roughly medieval-level technology, with most scientific advancement at a relative halt due to the global political landscape and the subtle presence magic. Magic is not completely unknown to most of the population, but is still treated with reverence and awe by the vast majority… it and its users are considered rare, and often distrusted. The reason for this distrust is due to relatively recent events in the timeline. Here’s a quote from my notes:
The effects of the War of the Magi still lie upon the land. Where once lush and vibrant forests stretched as far as the eye could see, now there are barren and blasted remains of mighty trees. Dotted intermittently across the landscape are wastelands where nothing grows, and that which does is sick or, in some cases, cursed. Dust storms periodically ravage the countryside as weather patterns work to reestablish themselves. Some of the grandest and most ancient cities from the Old Empire lay deserted and crumbling, victims of the devastating war and the passage of time. Those who travel to these places seldom return, and those who do speak of dark spirits and worse haunting the once populated avenues and passageways beneath the streets.
And yet it is a time of relative peace and healing. In the five centuries since the War, new centers of civilization have begun to spring up across the land and small areas of commerce have become bustling cities. In the wilderness, signs of life have started to reemerge in those places that were once laid waste, and not all of the untamed places of the world suffered during the conflicts of the past. In some cases, the land has become more beautiful, and more savage, without the presence of humanoids and their banal struggles. In short, it is a wondrous and dangerous world for heroes to emerge… or perish.
Some classic fantasy elements, with a bit of a post-apocalyptic flair and savage garden meshed together. So let’s get into the basic mythology…
🔸Mythology – I’ll try to make this brief. In the beginning, the Great Dragon created the universe, but it was simply pure imagination until he constructed the final element to give his imagination form: Time. When he bellowed and started time, the echo of his roar gave rise to the Demon, which creates the Balance necessary for reality to exist. The Dragon represents Balance, while the Demon represents Corruption. Note that Balance is not necessarily always in favor of good, while evil is not always aligned with Corruption.
The Dragon then curled around himself and began the Dreaming, so that his creation could have a home in the infinite void. His body became the earth and all magic, no matter how it is used, draws from the Dreaming and the infinite possibilities therein. From his Dream, forms of life began to spring up, and from the species of bestial, animalistic drakes, he empowered the race of dragons with intelligence and magic to serve as his agents, enforcers, and teachers of the Balance.
The dragons are arranged into seven different Dragon-flights, each representing a core element (fire, water/cold, earth, air/light, spirit, mind, and time). One of these flights, namely the Dragon-flight of Time, was corrupted by the Demon and its offspring twisted into demons as we know them now. While in ancient days all the dragons of time were destroyed, dragons periodically fall from the other flights and join the ranks of Corruption, aiding the demons in their pursuit of destroying creation.
As you can see, there’s a ton of DNA from literature and games here, but I’m trying to create a setting with some unique flavor to it. My dragons might seem similar in scope to Tolkien’s maiar, and the image and even the terminology of “flights of dragons” is inspired by the cartoon of the same name. The idea of Corruption being a pervasive element is something I want to explore in my world. I always liked the idea of evil turning on itself when a villain realizes he is being used for goals not his own, and the struggle to retain identity amidst the pursuit of power.
🔸Races – I was pleasantly surprised that Rolemaster is creating (or at least rebalancing for gameplay) so many races for its upcoming product. That being said, I’m bored of so many classic fantasy races and tried to whittle my custom races down to a handful that have some distinctiveness to them:
Hume – Humans. I don’t have any distinctions regarding “high” men or anything like that. I want them to be a baseline that other races are compared against with a lot of DP for customization. They are the most prolific race in the Far-Realms, having spread to most regions of the world. I do have a few custom cultures with some genetic variations (infravision, recurved musculature, etc), but nothing unbalancing in terms of stats.
Sidhe – At first glance they might be mistaken for some traditional fae race, but these magically adept people have a number of differences. They have no eyes, but have a form of ESP that allows them to sense different aspects of their surroundings based on their sub-species. They have two branches – the Woads, who are a feral, sylvan folk, and the Elurae, who have forsaken the wilds for pursuit of arcane lore. A key to their culture is preservation of the Balance and tend toward lawful alignments of every variation. If you ever read the Thomas Covenant series, they are inspired by the Waynhim.
Trols – Not much originality here, but think a combination of the World of Warcraft orcs crossed with Trolls from Dark Age of Camelot. A large, savage, yet noble race made from stone. They have a scattered nomadic culture because of a racial rage that builds over time as they spend time with one another. As such, they tend to function almost like ronin or mercenaries, serving lords and seeking combat to earn honor amongst their kin.
Saurians – In the Far-Realms, lizardmen are one of the oldest species, and have two additional sub-races as a result of selective breeding in their past. The main race (the Sauros) bred the mighty Varan (hulking, larger, and heavily scaled) as shock troops for their wars, and the diminutive Gilan (squat, frog-like and hardy) as a servant class. After millennia of service, the Varan developed a peculiar warrior code of honor and freed the Gilan. All three races have a complicated history and relationship to one another.
The Redeemed – When the first Dragon-lord of the Dragon-flight of Time betrayed her Flight to the service of the Corruption, their eggs were warped and turned into the first demons. Millennia later, a group of demons was spared and eventually cured, becoming the Redeemed. This race is uniformly good, as any deviation from the Balance inevitably results in their fall back into Corruption. They inadvertently are somewhat similar to the Draenei from WoW. Their culture is based around a crusader esprit de corps, and make excellent spell and semi spell-users.
🔸General Notes – For the most part, this world plays like a traditional fantasy setting, but am trying to build a sense of fatalism and savagery into the atmosphere. The world is harsh, and it may be too late to stop the world’s slide into ruin (eerily close to our own… hmm…). In this way it harkens to White Wolf’s original World of Darkness setting, with occasional flashes of epic fantasy where heroes actually make a difference.
The current timeline is set 500 years after the Old Empire fell and 50 years after the last of the survivor states fell defeating the Armies of the Demon-Kings. It seems as though Corruption was defeated, albeit at great cost. I am using the War of Magi as a mechanic to level the playing field; only a handful powerful individuals exist in the world as a result of the devastation, to the point that perhaps only one or two 50th-level people in each profession exist in the entire world.
Any thoughts? Trying to decide what exactly should be detailed in Part 3…
This blog series started in my post on the relationship between Shadow World and the Rolemaster Companion I. That got me thinking a bit more about a topic that was percolating in my head for a number of years: what would the Essaence powers of the Ka’ta’viir and Earthwardens look like exactly. In the first part of this blog series, I did a quick review of existing Arcane spells lists found in the first 4 Companions.
What would these proto-spell lists developed by the Ka’ta’viir and ultimately the Earthwardens look like? I think it’s illustrative to see what Terry says about the Earthwardens and what they did. We know that:
-They were a group of Ka’ta’viir that left Kulthea, were trapped in a time dilation and only returned after Kulthea was laid waste.
–They created Essaence artifacts like Flute Keys, Twig Bridges and Shell Shields and magical crystals, but they also constructed the Coral Roads, Sea Tunnels and left megalithic structures and Guardians throughout the hemisphere.
The powers in that second section above are very much in line with the central ideas of Arcane Magic, but we also know that the Earthwardens had the knowledge and technology of the Althan/Ka’ta’viir civilization as well. In my SW campaign, the Earthwardens are one “splinter group” of the Ka’ta’viir that returned to Kulthea. These groups were not monolithic, but were general philosophies within the group as follows:
Erudites. These members were more focused on developing their knowledge of Essaence and science and it’s believed they initiated the early separation of the realms of Essence and Mentalism.
Elementalists. The Ka’ta’viir delved into the fundamental and raw powers of the Elements and manipulation of the physical world. Much of their legacy is found in the Magician Base lists.
My goal was to define and finish 10 Arcane lists f or use by the Earthwardens. The goal was to encompass most of the powers hinted at by Terry and be illustrative of early magic before the split into the three basic realms.
My rough ideas with loose spell list titles:
“Creations”. This list would encompass the various magical creations attributed to the Earthwardens: shaping crystals, sentinels, golems, flutes and similar artifacts.
“Essaence Mastery”. Spells related to Foci, Flows, travelling, recharging PP’s.
“Dimension Mastery”. Making of gates, interdimensional travel and similar powers.
Shapechanging. Basically a polymorph list leading up the higher level “Mage-drake” spell and the Ritual of Ascension.
“Time Mastery”. I wrote a time spell list for BASiL, but it really feels like it needs to be a Arcane list. Given the Earthwardens history with time dilation, it’s logical that they would master time via Arcane magic. Plus chronagenic statis tech is a SW element.
“Mana-fires”. I will skew this more towards plasma, but it’s feels like a good foundation for later Elemental Essence spells.
“Earthworks”. The Earthwardens had the power to build megalithic structures, major earthworks and similar edifices. More than Earth Law, this should be epic in scope. These spells would encompass stone, metal etc.
“Sound Mastery”. This needs more thought, but there is something here that feels very ancient and fundamental. Ideas include levitation, disintegration etc.
“Life Mastery”. The Lords of Essence created and manipulated many living beings. This might be too similar to Shapechanging…
“Words of Power”. I’ve always felt that instantaneous words of Power needed to be Arcane (and require Iruaric or Kugor)
“Warding”. Many of the Earthwardens works included protective powers. This would be protective magic: prototype of wards, runes, symbols etc.
“Physics”. BASiL also has a physics mastery list I might revise and include given the Lords of Essence’s technology level.
In part 3 I’ll have the finished draft lists. But for now, can you think of any “proto-magic” that should be included and fits with the Earthwardens and Lords of Essence in Shadow World?
In response to Brian’s call to arms for new content on the blog, I figured I could hit two birds with one stone. As has been discussed here, on the I.C.E. Forums, and on Discord, one of the issues RMU has to somehow overcome in order to attract new players is the question of setting. It seems, at least at present, that RMU is moving in the direction of a relatively generic fantasy setting — the standard fantasy races, a smattering of the elements that have become Rolemaster staples, and a smorgasbord of creatures in Creature Law that GMs can mix and match to create a setting. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily… RM’s strength has always been its modular nature. But looking over some older content from other games, D&D in particular, I’m more convinced that setting is its biggest weakness.
I was thumbing through the D&D 2e Monstrous Manual the other day, and the first page is a reference of their various game settings at the time: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Dragonlance… each with a distinct flavor and lending to the overall mythology of the WotC multiverse. In recent years, this has only grown and now is a key element of their game appeal. The addition of Diablo II, Magic the Gathering, and other worlds to their repertoire has only given D&D more fuel and appeal.
This isn’t new to RM which has some rich settings in its vaults already: Shadow World is easily the most developed, although the sheer amount of lore can be daunting. The RMSS Shades of Darkness setting is fascinating, and deviates from the standard fantasy tropes without deviating from fantasy roleplaying. And of course there is MERP…
What I’d like to see are some truly developed world settings with some unique flavor to them that I.C.E. embraces as their “core worlds”. A quick Wikipedia search shows over a dozen world settings in D&D that have the backing of the main developers, and living lore that continually gets development. Every GM (and there seems to be a lot of us old veterans floating around out there) have takes on worlds in which we’ve created our adventures… some of them are cookie-cutter fantasy settings, some of them are built into the aforementioned RM settings, and some are our brainchildren with their own unique flavor, rules, and lore. This may be presumptuous in the extreme, but would the powers that be of RMU be open to creating sections of their forum or website dedicated to living worlds that they could call their own? Would GMs be willing to work on them, largely as a creative endeavor, as a project for expanding the accessibility and appeal to RMU? Thoughts? Or am I simply repeating what’s already been suggested?
Stay tuned for additional writings. In Part 2, I’ll introduce my own setting under development: The Far-Realms, a universe created by Dragons, warped by Demons, and a place of primeval magic and natural wonders attempting to recover from the constant blighting assaults by the forces of Corruption. Think of it as Lord of the Rings meets the apocalyptic fantasy elements of the Gunslinger world (minus the technology).
It seems almost ironic that a blog covering RPG’s has difficulty in finding new contributors. Right? Roleplaying games are a purely creative endeavor, a collaboration story-telling among it’s player and referee participants. By nature an improv process.
We have been lucky here at the Rolemasterblog in having a number of great contributors over the last 8 years (is that right Peter?). We want more bloggers! D&D and other systems have dozens and dozens of blogs–Rolemaster has a couple at best. Competitive disadvantages compel the few survivors to circle the wagons and join talents. Rolemaster was a powerhouse in the industry–even if that might not happen again, it still deserves a strong forum for ideas and advocacy. I see great ideas, thoughts and even discussion topics over at the Rolemaster Forums–many of those ideas can be expanded upon in a blog.
I have reached out to few people about writing for the Rolemasterblog. These are creative, talented and experienced GM’s–masters of the RPG craft after decades of gaming. Why won’t they write a blog post or two? Everyone has a difference answer: no time, don’t want to be criticized, aren’t confident writers, don’t want their players to read the blog for insight etc.
I would only point out that outside perspective is important. Potential new players, curious about “old school games” will google “Rolemaster”, “Shadow World”, “MERP” among others. If they see new, fresh content, they will click on it. They will believe that Rolemaster is still relevant. Let’s show them why.
If you have an idea, want to discuss your thoughts in a more public forum, or share the creative parts of your campaign or game, write for us! Contact Peter, he can set you up with access and the Rolemasterblog will grow as a blog and Rolemaster may be helped in the process. Isn’t that what we all want?