Named Things in Shadow World: Dragons and Books.

First, to address the picture above. I thought it was amusing to include a reference to Shadow World, Dragons and the fact that it is a book although with no connection to Terry’s world.

Anyway, this is the second installment of “Named Things” where I’m noting certain elements of Shadow World that are worth indexing. Today, due to their brevity I’m grouping 2 categories in this post: Dragons and Books.

Dragons.

For those familiar with my take on the origins of the Dragonlords, I was attempting to put together a greater Dragon genealogy that went from the Dragonlords to their offspring. My assumption is that lesser Snakes, Serpents, Drakes and Wyverns were byproducts of Ka’ta’viir experiments in the late 1st Era, while intelligent, powerful Dragons were offspring from those Earthwardens that underwent the Ritual of Ascension.

So after a search through the various canon SW books I came up with a list of all the named Dragons (exclusive of the 6 Dragonlords):

Ssamis T’zang, The Light Dragon

Kaedan, Undead Gas Dragon

Vaalg Stoyy, Fire Drake

Motar Voorg, Red-Gold Dragon

Ssoei Womiis, Gas Drake

Ssoei Womuul, Gas Drakes

That’s it. I thought for sure that there was about twice as many tucked into the expanse Timelines, but in reality, there are only 6 named Dragons presented by Terry. Given the scarcity, I revised my plan and made the named Dragons above part of the few original Earthwardens that underwent the Ritual during the Interregnum.

Books.

I’m a sucker for cool, ancient tomes of magic and power. They can be great plot devices for adventures, provide knowledge and spells to the group, or exposition to a campaign. Certainly Shadow Worlds immense timeline begs for the need to transmit ancient knowledge or history to the players, and lost tomes can be a great way to do so. So what books can be found in Canon?

Book of Gates

Book of Theky’Taari

Syka’av Klytaru (The Book of Lord Klysus)

Omiar Akalataru (The Codex of Lord Akalatan).

Book of the Ring

Book of Air
Book of Earth
Book of Ice
Book of Light
Book of Water

Again, far less than what I would have guessed! Did I miss any named Dragons or Tomes?

Arms Law Hack: Splitting Offensive Bonus 3 Ways.

Strike hard, strike fast or defend?

This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed this; one of my first blog posts went into way more depth and complexity on this subject; you can find it HERE.

The elegance of splitting the offensive bonus (OB) into attack and defense has been a hallmark of RM since it’s first publication. It’s intuitive and hands more agency to players during combat. However, I’ve always felt there was 1 piece missing that took this a step further: allowing OB to be split into 3 parts. Attack/Defense/Initiative. This also feels intuitive and we’ve been using this system for years (if not decades now). I’ve played around with the conversion figures depending on the initiative system I was using and testing, but it’s always felt “right”.

Not only does it create 3-dimensionality to combat decisions, but it brings in weapon type choices that go beyond their ability to deal damage or inflict a critical. As we all know, striking first can be the real advantage in Rolemaster!

What’s the News with Shadow World?

The news is: there is now news! Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with real life and haven’t had time to finish up the myriad of projects I’ve been working on lately. I’m probably averaging 1 page/week versus 1 page/day which doesn’t feel like much progress.

Anyway, I keep track of things on the RMForums and Discord just to get a sense of new player activity, trends and any possible news. I do get a fair amount of questions about the status of Shadow World

Per the recent Directors Briefing, Nicholas wrote:

I will be turning my attention back to Shadow World and indeed everything else once we have RMU Core Law and RMU Spell Law safely published.

Besides that, I don’t have any insider knowledge or updates on Shadow World, and Matt hasn’t had any meaningful contact with ICE in years, although he remains the SW forum moderator and primary RMU author. I wish I could answer more definitively! Let’s assume RMU Core & Spell publish in mid 2023. There will be a push to get the other RMU support material finished, errata and various fixes to the published material and probably a host of other issues particular to game publishing. My best guess is 2024?

In the meantime I’ll try to pump out material when I can, with the goal to upload material that is about 80% done and would allow them all to be possible publishable SW material. Matt (Vroomfogle) is unlikely to have time to contribute but is a great resource for mapping given his background https://www.linkedin.com/in/geoskeptic/

Thanks to everyone that reached out and your supportive words!! And, if you are new to Rolemaster, Shadow World or this blog here are links to my file resources:

The “Rings of Power” and “The Court of Ardor”.

I am no Tolkien scholar, but I’ve been reading a bit about the new Amazon show Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. A summary that I think is from the Silmarillion:

Morgoth was the most powerful of a race of beings known as the Ainur, which were immortal spirits who existed before Creation

Previously called Melkor, he became what’s known as a Valar, each of which is attracted to a particular aspect of the world. Melkor was drawn to violence. After a battle with other Valar during which Melkor literally plunged the world into darkness, he dominated Middle-earth while the other Valar retreated to Aman in the far west, settling in Valinor, which would later become home of the “Undying Lands” for the elves.

After the awakening of the elves, the other Valar waged war against Melkor and defeated him, after which he was sent to Valinor, where he feigned penance but secretly plotted against the elves whom he blamed for his comeuppance. Melkor destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor and was subsequently renamed Morgoth, escaping to Middle-earth where he resumed his rule.

I was intrigued. As a long time fan of The Court of Ardor I generally ignored the Middle Earth components and used the material in my Shadow World campaign. But the recent publicity around the new Amazon show made we take another look at Terry’s work from way back in 1983. Keep in mind that reference to the Silmarillion in gaming material way back in the early days of RPG’s was obscure to most. Many reviews of The Court of Ardor expressed confusion or dismissed the entire premise as not fitting into Middle Earth.

Here is Terry’s “set up” for the modules plot:

The Court was formed in the waning years of the First Great Age of Arda. when Morgoth, the Black Enemy, still ruled much of the world, possessing the Silmarils in his Iron Crown. As is well known, after the death the of the Two Trees of Valinor (which had lighted the world), the Valar created the moon and the sun , which were much brighter than the dim luminescence which had filtered to Middle Earth from Valinor and the Trees, and itblinded and drove into hiding nearly all of Morgoth’s servants. Only in the night and the relative dimness of the moon could they roam abroad and cause terror. and even then they cursed the silvery lunar light. preferring overcast skies.

Morgoth thought long upon this, and decided that the sun and moon be destroyed so that his dominion would be assured. Sauron being his chief general, he could not he spared for even this most important of tasks. Instead, the Black Enemy called upon Ardana the Astrologer. A Noldor of power, she was among the mightiest or the Eldar whom Morgath corrupted to his cause, and, perhaps, one of the most tragic. She was once afollower of Elbereth, a lover of the stars. She knew much of the ways of the Heavens — so she was charged with the fall of the Lights.

The Astrologer travelled Middle-earth, seeking method by which she could bring down the sun and moon, gathering followers in her wake.

Let it be said here that, for the most part, Elves cannot be corrupted to ‘evil’ as such. They can be seduced by clever word, and convinced Of things which are not so. In this way, Ardana, a powerful Lady of the Eldar, appearing in shimmering rainment, convinced many of the Elves that her plan what best for them: that the glaring lights in the sky were ‘evil’ contrivances designed to block out the light or Elbereth’s stars, cherished by all Elves.

James over at Grognardia wrote this:

The Court of Ardor was written by Terry K. Amthor and filled with 62 pages of dense text and some gorgeous maps by Peter C. Fenlon. The supplement described a land far to the south of Middle-earth called alternately Ardor or Mûmakan, which was home to number of elven lords who had cooperated with Morgoth during the First Age. I remembered nothing of this from The Silmarillion and, though I’ll admit my appreciation of the finer details of Tolkien’s world were shaky at best, it struck me as strange, if not impossible, to imagine evil elves in Middle-earth. Stranger still was that these evil elves used magic associated with a Tarot-like deck of cards supposedly created by Morgoth himself. There were also peoples and places that had no connection to Middle-earth in the supplement as well, not to mention an epic plot line involving Morgoth’s half-elven children and the continuation of their father’s plan to destroy the Sun and the Moon.

As a kid, I was baffled by all this. The Court of Ardor was undeniably cool, but it was also undeniably inappropriate to Middle-earth. I couldn’t figure out then (nor now) just how this product was ever released under the Middle-earth label, since, except for names here and there, it was seemed like it took place in its own fantasy world rather than in Tolkien’s sub-creation. But it was also strangely compelling and while, in retrospect, I find it a little too over the top for my liking, it is quite well done and I can easily imagine how someone who took it up and ran with it would have a great campaign using it. I myself did not, mostly because, while I liked many of its ideas, I somehow found myself in the odd position of simultaneously thinking it didn’t belong in Middle-earth and finding it too strongly associated with it to be able to use it.

Here is another over at The Age of Ravens (he mistakenly attributed CoA to Fenlon and not Terry):

You see, what sane person gets the license to craft an RPG for Tolkien’s world and then releases three campaign settings that pretty much no one but hard core Tolkien diehards would even know exist? Well, Pete, I guess because that is exactly what he did.

I mean, these supplements are remote in the extreme, and he was pretty much just whistling out his ass when it came to the creation of The Court of Ardor. Still, why not try to talk about dark elves and lands no one ever really thought to explore or even had a hand in the various works of middle-earth that even Silmarillion readers would remember?

It’s certainly true that Jacksons’ “LotR” trilogy generated renewed interest in Middle Earth and definitely a new appreciation for the quality of ICE’s MERP product line. I wonder now if Amazon’s new show will do the same for Terry’s “odd” little book, “The Court of Ardor”? Will we all be talking about Morgoth and the 1st Age?

One final thought. Did most of the major MERP books have a timeline for that product/region that included the 1st Era? Did the authors include 1st Era adventure ideas? That would be another feather in ICE’s cap to have that old 1st Era becoming “cool”.

What do you think? I wish Terry was here to share his thoughts on the new series.

Writing in a Vacuum.

I just posted over at the Iron Crown Forums asking for feedback, critique or really just anything on several SW projects I’ve posted up and made available for download.

Since I’m not able to publish Shadow World material officially, and I don’t want to scrub this work into a general d100 product for DrivethruRPG, I’m left in a bit of a vacuum. At least with our “50 in 50” products I have feedback just from the sales numbers–and we’ve sold a lot of mini-adventures and hooks!

I’m always going to write what I want based on my own campaign needs, a spark of creativity or an idea that springs up from reading the Master Atlas, timeline or other SW product, but it would be nice to get any type of feedback. What is useful, relevant or interesting? Specifically the last three projects that I worked on:

1. “Legends of Shadow World”. High level tourney style module. Has anyone run this as a one-off?

2. “The Book of Pales”. Material on Demons etc. http://www.ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=15879.0;attach=4353

3. “Channeling Handbook”. Material on SW religions and PC’s playing Clerics. http://ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=15879.0;attach=4373

It’s possible that:

  1. SW has such a small user base that there isn’t enough people to get a response.
  2. SW users are older, long time gamers that have enough of their own material they don’t need third party material.
  3. The only SW stuff is material that was officially published.
  4. People want more “game aids” like new herbs, spells or magic items and aren’t interested in non-canon adventure or world building content.

Anyway, I welcome any thoughts!

Shadow World Earthwardens and their Works.

Most of the major works of the Earthwardens are dated throughout the Interregnum 50,000 to 70,000 in the past. The planet was still in turmoil from the Galactic Civil Wars so it’s expected that some of their work has been lost to the still changing planetary surface.

Xa’ar has some new material on the Earthwardens, but I thought I would explore the most significant endeavors built by the Earthwardens.

Coral Roads:

  • Ancient submarine “highways”
  • Above ground entries to the network are cleverly hidden in rocky coastlines or lonely atolls. follow island chains and undersea ridges, always in shallow water.
  • Inside, the roads are arched corridors made up of coral and shell; some areas are translucent to allow filtered sunlight to illuminate the tunnels by day.
  • Access via Earthwarden artifacts.

I hope that many GM’s have introduced the Coral Roads in their SW games/campaigns. Not only is it a great SW “element”, but it does allow the players to travel safely from one area to another and enforces the broader concept that Kulthea has many secrets.

Inspiration for a Coral Road

ENIGMATIC ANCIENT STRUCTURES:

The Earthwardens left many mysterious structures around Kulthea. Some have been repurposed or cities and towns have sprung up around them without the people even knowing the age or provenance of these buildings. Almost all are built with interlocking stones of Cavarite.

Essaence Towers. Often built at the nexus of an Essaence Foci, the towers can be seen as power conductors or antennae: they can focus and control nearby Flows. The use of these towers is beyond most today, but a few hold this secret knowledge…

Essaence Spheres. It’s believed that the Earthwardens built undergrounds complexes to store and protect powerful artifacts and knowledge.

Block Tombs. It’s not clear what their original purpose was, scholars believe they were actual tombs for Earthwardens (they don’t date back to the 1st era) or they could be an artifact of some unknown Interregnum civilization. Either way, the surviving ones have been co-opted by the the Z’taar Priests to be used as their Chapter Houses.

SEA TUNNELS:

It is believed that dozens of tunnels were created to facilitate travel, but only a few survived and some remain hidden or their entrances blocked by tectonic activity. The Tunnels are a marvel of ancient power–their flows reversing direction on a regular schedule and allowing for ship transit in both directions. The Tunnels resist damage and blockages. Three of them are:

Imarij Sea Tunnel in Agyra. The southern entrance is found at the base of Nontataku and is a major hub of commerce for Agyra.

Grotto Path in Emer. A critical path for trade, the Tunnel is now a dangerous transit due to the presence of Krylites.

Naichon Tunnel. East/West tunnel between Bokorean Kingdon and Ur Jujuy in Falias. Hidden and rarely used.

Guardians:

One of the final legacies of the Earthwardens was the creation of guardians placed throughout the hemisphere.  Five of these Golems were built, powerful enchanted warriors who could be utilized by those with access to ancient knowledge.

GuardianTypeLocation
Zarin DeyroainKregora GolemEarthwarden ruins in Red Dawn Pass, Falias
Arestiis LanedriLaen GolemIsle of the Turning in Mythenis
Elezyii Ankyra,.Diamond GolemEarthwarden ruins in NE Kelestia
Renia AthosTitanium GolemEarthwarden temple under Nontataku in Agyra
Yanie SteraiadEog GolemEarthwarden temple in Vog Mur

MEGALITHS, STANDING STONES AND CIRCLES:

These structures are found throughout Kulthea, mostly in wilderness areas. They are mysterious and avoided by locals, although they are meant as safe havens against dark forces; especially Demons. These structures can be single monoliths, dolmens are stone spirals but typically have similar powers. The stones will often glow whenever a Demon or servant of the Unlife is near…

These are just a few examples of the legacy of the Earthwardens but the possibilities are endless!

Fun is more important than realism.

I know that the cornerstone of Rolemaster has always been a more realistic D&D. It all goes back to throwing yourself off a 100′ cliff and knowing you cannot die because you had 63 hit points and the damage from a 100′ fall was 10d6.

But, realism in fantasy is just a bit weird. How do you calculate the psychic shock from confronting an entity from a different plane? We have a Fear mechanic, but how do we know it is ‘realistic’. Ultimately it is all made up and game balance is of greater importance than realism, and this is a game and not a simulation.

The problem with that is when something is compromised in favour of game balance, and the compromise works against your character. “Yeah sure, in the real world that would work, but it is unbalancing in the game so it doesn’t”. That would upset some players.

We can fix these things on an ad-hoc basis by ignoring the compromise if it would make sense narratively. The danger is that at some point you will meet a player that will argue that if it worked once it should work every time and will then attempt to engineer the situation that the compromise was designed to avoid. There is always at least one!

It is no secret that I was very opposed to the size rules. I found them distinctly unfun. I remain unconvinced that they fix anything at all. Having said that, I haven’t seen the finished rules, so I don’t really have a valid opinion. In all the playtests I ran, they did not add anything to the experience but did suck the fun out of combats.

This is the sort of ‘problem’ that VTT automation will simply make go away. It will know the sizes and it will auto calculate the results. There will be no shifts to forget. There is one major problem that I cannot really see an easy solution to. There were originally two size effects. The first was multiplying the hits damage and the second was shifting the critical severity. The hits multiple is optional.

How can any published encounters account for such widely differing danger levels? If games that prefer the increased realism of modifying hits delivered will be doing massively more, or less damage than the book says, how can a published adventure ‘balance encounters’ to a ball park level?

In a sandbox, balancing encounters isn’t so much of a thing. If you are stupid enough to confront a dragon at 1st level, that is your own fault. In an adventure intended for 1st level to 3rd level characters (the starting range for RMu) you want encounters that are challenging, but not suicide. You can die in any encounter via stupidity or bad dice rolls, but planned encounters that can only be survived via exceptionally good dice rolls remove all layer skill from the game, and are distinctly unfun.

I was planning an encounter recently and I wanted foes that had a ‘glass jaw’. I wanted them to do large amounts of damage but to have extremely poor defences and low hits. The reason for this was that I wanted to put my characters under time pressure and so the fight would ideally be over quickly, and not turn into a slugfest.

Adding the Frenzy skill/ability to weaker foes does the trick, they gain OB, lose DB, and double damage. Frenzy and no shield makes things extremely easy to hit and do good damage too.

Would this encounter have worked with the full size rules in play? I am not sure it would. The characters were fairly low level, so being able to hit 175 on the tables would only happen on an OE roll. Dividing the damage down for the smaller characters, or those using smaller-sized weapons would have just dragged the encounter out. The critical shift would have been less important as the fight was intended to be finishable just by taking the foes’ #hits down.

This isn’t a thought experiment, this is a real encounter from a real game that I don’t think would work under the size rules.

The issue with it making published adventures extremely unpredictable is also a very real problem. If RMu is going to be played, it needs playable material.

If RMu is going to be played it has to be fun.

If RMu is going to be played it also has to be fast at the table.

There are enough long in the tooth detractors that will remember the endless page flipping and book hunting of previous editions. If we want to win over these people, people who may be willing to come back and try RM again, RMu needs to dispell their fears that RM is slow and more work than fun.

Ultimately it all comes down to games have to be fun, or they won’t be played.

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