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.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

A look at Kulthea’s “other” continents: Folenn and Falias.

I’ve been meaning to follow up on a comment Terry had made in my interview with him a few years back:

BH: Are there any other continents besides Emer and Jaiman that you’ve written notes/materials that you’d like to tackle?

TKA: A couple (Folenn and Falias) are kind of taken-care of. I would like to go southwest to Thuul…

So I thought I would start blogging about some of the other continents that haven’t been developed well, or at all, excluding the basic summary material in the Master Atlas. We can all agree that Jaiman and Emer are pretty well fleshed out with years of play material. While it would be nice to have Emer IV and Wurilis and Urulan to round out Jaiman, the existing material stands on it’s own.

First, Folenn. I’m assuming that Terry saw Folenn as partitioned off as the “Bladelands” even though there hasn’t been any further development of that material AND I’m not sure the Bladelands even fit into SW. I have to admit some ignorance on the topic of “Metal Express” or really anything about the Bladelands. Per the Master Atlas the word “Bladelands” is only mentioned 1 time and Folenn is described thusly:

17•FOLENN
An isolated, shadowy land on the edge of the
earth, Folenn has had little contact with the rest
of the hemisphere. It is shielded by the encircling
Gale of Hues (a name for the Essænce Flow surrounding
the continent), and is near the Great Barrier
dividing East from West
.

So it seems as though Folenn has been set aside for the Bladelands and that is that. Terry basically washed his hands of it and saw it as a done deal.

I was a bit more curious about his comment including Falia. Did I miss a source book that provided a lot of material on Falia? One of the non-canon modules perhaps? Falia is the home of the Vashaan Domain (a nation of angry elves, but I don’t see Falia as especially developed. Certainly no more so than the rest of the continents. Why would Terry mention Falias specifically as being “kind of taken-care of”? Does that imply that he has some additional work, notes or the start of a book that might be in his papers? That is intriguing.

What do you think? I’ll be looking at some of the other continents in upcoming blog posts and offering my own thoughts on future development.

So Many Names in Shadow World!

One of the oft heard complains about Shadow World are all the different names of groups, organizations and nations. It can be a bit overwhelming and even confusing at time!

While I was working on a recent blog, I encountered a bit of that “naming dissonance”: The Empire of a Thousand Dawns, The Empire of the Black Sun, The Black Dawn and finally The Silver Dawn! Yikes.

I’ve already written about the Empire of a Thousand Dawns, but I’ll summarize all four below:

  1. Empire of a Thousand Dawns. An ancient, militant, kingdom of Elvish races in Palia founded at the start of the 2nd Era.
  2. Empire of the Black Sun: A nation of city-states ruled by a powerful lord circa 5000-5500 Third Era. Ochu people.
  3. The Black Dawn. A religious “doomsday” cult originating in southern Silaar and moving into Haestra, Emer and Thuul.
  4. The Silver Dawn. An organization of the Unlife similar to the Priests Arnak or Steel Rain located in Agyra & Mulira. Quite a nasty bunch to be honest!

Luckily I can refer to this blog whenever I get confused. What groups or names do you get mixed up?

Shadow World “Droloi”: Race or Monster?

Welcome to the 4th Rolemaster Blog entry of “Race or Monster” where I raise the question of certain races in Shadow World and their suitability for being PCs. You can find the other posts here: Hirazi, Krylite and Neng.

To be honest, I generally forget about Droloi even though they are listed in the various charts and lists found in the back of the Master Atlas with all the other “Mortal Races”. The Master Atlas only has 6 mentions in the index, with no entries in the timeline or text. Here is the entry from the MA4ed.

DROLOI
4´6˝-5´8˝ tall, no professional limitations; night vision
allows perfect sight in equivalent to a normal clear night,
100′ even in pitch dark. Skin is natural AT3, and tough
nails on hands allow attacks as Medium Claw. Resistant
to natural cold above freezing. Lifespan: 100 years.

While not evil by nature, most would say that
the Droloi are the result of some dark breeding experiment
between Demons and Humans. It is true
that they are alien in appearance, but not as strange
as the Krylites or Saurkaur. With their pale, leathery
skin, large clawed hands and feet
, and—most
of all—their four large protruding eyes, they are
certainly not pleasant for most to look upon.

One obstacle to many of the SW races is the lack of artwork. I think that’s a major flaw with SW books in general given Terry’s background as art director for many ICE products. But we do know he was also frustrated at times and limited by budget considerations. So without a good rendering of a Droloi, I think it’s hard for GMs and players to adopt a new race concept.

Races & Cultures embraces the Droloi more with some additional verbiage:

Build: Droloi are human in shape, but have long, clawed
hands and disproportionately large feet. They weigh
100 pounds on average.
Coloring: Droloi have pale, leathery skin and dark eyes.
They have no body or head hair.
Endurance: Normal.
Height: Droloi range in height from 4’6″-5’8″.
Life Span: Droloi have an average life expectancy of 100
years.

Strengths and Weaknesses: Their night vision
allows Droloi to function exceptionally well in
caves and underground environments, and they
do not have any corresponding weaknesses
when operating in daylight.

Droloi work best as Fighters, as their strongest
attributes (indeed, their only strong attributes),
Strength and Constitution, correspond with those
most important to that profession. They do not
make the best Thieves, as they are relatively weak in
Agility and Quickness. Also, their penalties to
Presence and Appearance ensure that they are not
as effective in social situations as most races.

CHARACTER CONCEPTS
Droloi are not terribly popular, even among other
Subterranean races (and Subterranean races in general are
not terribly popular with surface dwellers). In the volatile
political ecology of the Ash Lairs, therefore, Droloi must
devote themselves to the protection of their race, no matter
what their profession. It is rare that a Droloi would
consent to leave home, but it is possible that he would do
so on an errand to help his community, or if offered a
suitable reward to serve as a guide.

So what to make of all this? It’s a start of a racial concept but feels incomplete. It’s implied that they are found in the Ash Lairs, but there is nary a mention of them in any Shadow World book barring the mentions above in the MA. They could be a better foil for the Krylites and more alien then the Lugroki, Murlogo or Troglodytes. But would they make an interesting Player Character? Maybe a Droloi would be an interesting PC for my long gestating “Monster Squad” adventure!

I think the Droloi are another failed opportunity in Shadow World. Rather than focus on Orcs, Trolls, Goblins and Giants I think the setting needs to focus on unique creatures and monsters that add to the concept and not just rely on trusted and true D&D style photos.

So what are you thoughts? Are Droloi really “monsters” or could they be a PC?

{Amended 8/18}. A reader alerted me to the fact that Droloi might have been adopted from one of the non-canon SW modules OR was ported over from Races & Cultures as part of the merge of RMSS and SW. Anyone have insight on this? Either way it doesn’t seem to be a Terry creation at all.

Named Things in Shadow World: Known Demons.

Is this Susymog or Aztaur?

As part of my cataloging all things Shadow World in our Master Atlas and indexing for the “Nomikos Library” project, I thought I would start a new blog topic: “Naming Things in Shadow World”. Today I thought I would start with named Demons that are mentioned in various SW books and are considered newsworthy in the timeline or elsewhere. Like the Dragonlords, powerful Demons play a major part in the SW history and are still major forces to be reckoned with!

Mur Fostisyr

While the book that started it all, The Iron Wind, is really a proto-SW product, most of the content continued into Terry’s later canonical material. Unfortunately, unlike Cloudlords, The Iron Wind never received an update due to authorship and IP issues around Peter Fenlon’s authorship. Nonetheless, I believe that The Iron Wind sets the tone for a darker, more menacing tone for Shadow World. In this product we learn about two powerful Demons: Susymog and Aztaur.

Susymog. An Ordainer Demon, he is lord of Var Ukaak and master of Priests of Arnak. He is also 50th lvl and secretly the Syrkakang. Elor was right to avoid this confrontation!

Aztaur. Master of Taurkytaal (K. “Dark Ice-stone”). Aztaur is known as the “Lord Demon of Cold” and “Beyond the Pale” (which had slightly different meaning than later SW book). At 30th level he is quite powerful.

Other Named Demons

Khortus. It’s unclear what type of Demon he is, but he was drawn into Kulthea by a sorcerer but was able to escape his spell bonds and “decides to remain in the Shadow World“. {see by notes on Summoning}. Anyway, Khortus is really up to no good, and now leads the Vulth Horde.

Muarga. An Earth-Demon who is the King of Murlogi battling the Lankani and embroiled in various high-level plot points in Shadow World.

Mæzebrasân. A female Demon that entered Kultha via a portal, she is now disguised as the Mayor of a small village in Sarnak…

Kharuugh. More of a historical figure, Kharuugh the Ordainer battled King Hanreth (wearing the Wyvern Crown) during the Wars of Dominion, his whereabouts remain unknown…

Quard and Urno. Demon servants of the Dyar Mage Shanarak. They are entrusted with guarding the Ark of the Worlds! (they must be powerful)

Orlhach. An Ordainer Demon that resides in a volcano in Kailoq, he is worshipped by the inhabitants as a fire god.

Gorlhach. At first I thought this was a mispelling of Orlhach, but no. (maybe a brother?). This named Demon lives under the Mountains of Gold and controls an army of Lugroki. He may also be known as the “Ordainer of Argaath”, but it’s a bit unclear.

Wargur. The Demon lieutenant of Schrek. Was banished to Rael after being defeated by Sigrius.

Raathmaauriig. An Ice Demon, he is the half-demon son of Aztaur. Has his claws in all sorts of things up in Saralis.

Vargus. A Demon Lord that resides in the Hall of the Cloudlords.

Gha’ath’uk (also known as Gha’ath’uz). A Demon of the Void, a Guguth, from Folenn. He has a Compass surgically mounted to his skull!!

Mauk, Geth and Wrang. While they sound like “sidekicks” they are all powerful Sixth Pale Demons that reside in Aalk Athimurl.

Morloch. I saved the best for last. Perhaps the mightiest, he is named Lord Ordainer and was once known as Shuraax the Fire Claw and bodyguard of Kadaena. Morloch is featured quite a bit in the story of Shadow World and I use him extensively in Priest-King of Shade. There is even a cult in his name!

{UPDATED 8/17}

Wurliis. Not sure how I missed this, thanks Alan! One of the 12 Adherents, Wurliis is a Demon of the Fifth Pale.

Wurliis is a master of arcane mechanisms. His favorite weapon is a terrifying device which fires four heavy crossbow bolts in a volley. Wurliis is somewhat smaller than most of his Demonic type

Turasoq. Another Adherent and a Procreator Demon.

If you like to use Demons as big baddies, some of these may work well. Have you used any of these in your game? Did I miss any?

Gunpowder in Shadow World

It’s no secret that Shadow Worlds history encompasses a vast range of civilizations with “technological levels” ranging from Stone Age tribes to advanced post-physical societies. Terry often stressed that magic and high technology could often be indistinguishable and most of his SW books contain high tech items. In between those two extremes are a spectrum of technological advancements that are found scattered throughout Kulthea: the lightning guns used by the Krylites, the airships and barges designed by the Elves of Namar-tol and even bicycles that are appearing around Eidolon.

But one tech period is rarely found on Shadow World: civilizations and tech based on chemical reactions and the use of fossil fuels. More specifically, gunpowder and the advent of explosives and guns.

The fusion of guns and magic have become a popular theme in fiction, but Shadow World has some built in roadblocks that seem to prevent widespread use. In the Master Atlas we find this:

Gunpowder: The secret of this potentially devastating
tool is far from being unlocked, by even
the most advanced cultures on the Shadow World.
The power of magic has stagnated any desire for a
chemical explosive, and the mysteriously fluctuating
effects of the Essænce can have a transmuting
effect on chemical reactions
.

I expanded on this a bit more in my own SW campaign:

The “Viir” seems to fundamentally change both ionic and covalent bonding for molecular and macromolecular structures.  In practice this energy field is distorting chemical interactions and material structures most acutely—

In short, the Essaence is disruptive to chemical reactions and/or Magic itself precludes the need for such technology. Why invent a grenade when many people can cast a Fireball or Firebolt?

Personally I like the mix of tech and possible settings that can be found in SW, and introducing guns and related tech can add a new element to gameplay. So how can explosives be introduced to Kulthea:

  1. Outsiders. Kulthea has been explored by off-planet visitors. Some have arrived in spacefaring vehicles while others via “portals”. If they have explosives or munitions they might be reliable–for some period of time. Either you could argue that their chemical properties are stable due to their production off-world, or that it takes time for the Essaence fields to corrupt their potential.
  2. Demons. The Fifth Pale is a nightmarish place of industrial technology gone mad. Smokestacks and gigantic refinery-like superstructures fill this world, which is constantly enveloped in a luminous steam. The rhythmic wheezing of bellows mixes with the clatter of gears and the roar of engines. Foul pools of chemicals, theiroil-slicked surfaces aflame, illuminate open-scaffold elevators, steel mesh platforms, and large, baroque machines of incomprehensible function. It’s seem common sensical that Demons from this realm could have guns, explosives and munitions.
  3. Tinkerers & Alchemy. Expanded alchemy rules and perhaps a tech based profession (not using spells) can provide an avenue for guns, explosives and other violent delights. Of course, Kulthea based chemistry should not be reliable, but really, isn’t that half the fun?

4. Those damn Elves! Of course the Elves in Namar-tol are experimenting with chemical based combustion, explosives and projectiles. Here we have it, the beginning of it all:

5•45: Emer: The Lankan Empire sends a small
fleet across the Circular Sea from their port of
Kûru-kal, with the goal of seizing the northwestern
Loari isle of Surt Naduum. The first warboat
barely reaches shore before airborne Loari
battleships appear and drop exploding canisters—“
bombs”—on Lankan ships. This marks
the first known use of chemical explosives since
the Interregnum.
The Lankan ships are destroyed
and the few Lankani who reach shore
are captured. Námar-Tol sends a warning to the
Lankani that any further aggression will be met
by overwhelming force.

I’d be interested in your take on guns, gunpowder and explosives in your own SW game!

Shadow World: Dawn of the Xiosians.

I had a few messages regarding my most recent post on Earthwardens & Dragonlords, so I thought I would revisit another of my SW topics: the Xiosians. I’m reposting this from a Feb 2018 entry with some changes.

One of the more dense and information rich sections of the Shadow World Master Atlas is the timeline. By the 3rd Edition of the Master Atlas, the timeline has reached 25 pages and would be much longer if it incorporated all the local and regional timeline material found in other SW books. In any event, the timeline is a rich resource for a GM, not only offering unlimited adventure hooks but providing endless opportunities to explore Kulthea in different times. Sprinkled throughout the time though are many unanswered questions, cool hints and vague references that Terry has yet to explain or explore in detail. One of my favorite:  the Xiosians.

Xio (I. Shield) Cadre

def. A monastic warrior cult formed in the First Era by the Ka’Ta’Viir ruling families to use as loyal household guards and special forces.  The Xio combat techniques became the foundation for most other martial forms that followed.

(P. Xiosians  a.k.a. Xo, Xso, Xsosians)

The Xiosians were first mentioned in the original Master Atlas: Warrior-Priests that were servants of the Masters of Emer and rode flying magical chariots. In Emer I we got a few more pieces of the puzzle with several mentions:

Warrior-mages on huge steeds begin purging the wilds in central Emer, driving out the ubiquitous Gark and Lugrôki hordes. These knights are harbingers of the coming of the Masters.

They rule through an order of warrior-mages (the Xiosians)

It is believed that the Changramai are disenchanted Xiosians who left
the service of the Titans
(In fact, some are

I thought this sounded like another group of mysterious warriors that fly on magical steeds and purge the wilderness: The Cloudlords of Tanara.

I wanted to tie together a number of loose ends: the origins of the Changramai martial culture, ancient militant orders with ties to the Althans/Ka’ta’viir, mysterious warrior cults and the genetic origins of special warriors like the Cal-chah and Guarlu. I had an idea that tied them all back to the 1st Era.

The Althans and the Ka’ta’viir are primarily an advanced intergalactic imperial society. But there is also a strong oligarchy element of immensely wealthy merchant families. It’s not a leap to assume that both leaders and powerful “Houses” would have their own security force to provide defense, corporate espionage and personal protection. This is not an original idea. The Romans had their “Praetorian Guards“, the Emperor had his Royal Guard, and in Dune every Major House had it’s own army, formally independent from the Emperor‘s own military forces. (the Dune setting fit’s well with the Althan/Spacemaster/Kulthea dynamic).

History:

Few organizations in the Shadow World’s early history have had a greater impact on the development of Kulthean martial culture.  The Xio Cadre were the personal bodyguards of the Ka’Ta’Viir during the First Era.  Originally Althans, the Xiosans pursued aggressive eugenics programs and genetic and physical modifications to create the most adept warriors in the Althan Empire.  Too few in number to be an effective military force, the Xiosans became an extension of ruling Ka’Ta’Viir political power.  While serving primarily as bodyguards, Xiosan Cadres later became a symbol of personal wealth, extravagance and power among the ruling families.

Initially one central organization, the Xio Cadre grew into several dozen Cadre “Temples” each under the patronage of a particular Ka’Ta’Viir family.  Over time the temples reinforced patron loyalties and developed distinctive styles of dress and appearance.  While Xio warriors were adept in modern combat systems, the Ka’Ta’Viir would have their Xiosan guards attend public ceremonies in distinctive cultural garb: shining armor, swords and flying mounts that played upon Althan classical mythology and heroic memes. Xiosans warriors performed in elaborate athletic and martial performances during Ka’Ta’Viir social events and were used to mediate family or business disputes in proxy combats.  A few individual Xios became celebrities in their own right, either through martial or athletic prowess.

The Legacy of the Xiosans:

Scattered remnants of the Xio Cadre survived the First Era: either with their Ka’Ta’Viir patrons in cryogenic hibernation, or were off planet during the worst of the conflicts.  During the Interregnum, refugee Xiosans merged with indigenous cultures or established new settlements, slowly diluting their singular genetic traits. Still, interbreeding passed along many beneficial aspects of the Xio physical traits: the Zedrahin, Zor, Udahir and Shay all possess some of the size, physical characteristics and strength of the Xio warriors.  It is believed that pure Xiosans still survive in the Eastern hemisphere with their Ka’Ta’Viir Lords, but out of a dozen Cadre Temples in the West only a handful of facilities and warriors survived:

  1. Vale of the Merisia.  The abandoned Sunlords Temple in Tanara still held armor, weapons and the offspring of their Steardan mounts when it was discovered and occupied by a Rhakaan expeditionary force during the Second Era.  Using the equipment they found, the Zorians assumed the role of the mythical “Cloudlords”, emulating their Xiosan predecessors.
  2. Changramai Monastery. The Changramai monastic order was a rebirth of the Xio discipline.  The monastery was built upon the bones of a ruined Cadre temple.  The Halls are intact, but the knowledge to access the security door has been lost.  (The key is interred with Master Changramai). 
  3. Votania. Sun Cadre.  The Masters of Emer built their palaces alongside an abandoned Xiosan Cadre Temple.   The Masters repopulated the temple with their own servants. Adopting the flying chariots and weapons of the Sun Cadre.
  4. Western Thuul.  The Temple was reoccupied in early second era by a splinter group of Xiosans.  They attempted to build a new settlement on Barzu-chaa (South Eastern Thuul) but the City-State was destroyed after conflict with surrounding cultures.  The surviving Xiosans fled: some moved permanently to the Cadre Temple located in the Sullen Mountains while others fled east to the Gufu Rainforest where they are believed to be an offspring of a lost giant race.  While still large of stature, most of the surviving Xiosans are a product of mixed heritage and have lost many of their defining physical attributes.
  5. Mur Fostisur.  The Mountain Enclave of the Udahir was originally a Xio Temple. Now the Udahir and their flying mounts occupy the vast hold.

Scholars whisper of a darker chapter in the Xiosan history. It is rumored that some Xiosans were ultimately bent to the will of the Unlife and became its most feared warriors: Heralds of Night.  More chilling stories are spoken among the Loremasters: that Kadeana performed experiments on her own Imperial Cadre.  Six and sixty Xio warriors she used for her most terrifying creation: Shards.

{Note: Terry actually establishes that Kadaena created the Shards via “Elor’s Text. MA 4th Ed. p.192. It’s logical to me that she would use her “super soldier” Imperial guards in that horrifying experiment!}

The Ka’Ta’Viir were not naïve to the physical threat of the Xiosans.  Their proximity to the inner sanctums of the Ka’Ta’Viir and the Lords’ own paranoia made them cautious. Part of the genetic modifications included behavioral conditioning: Xiosans cannot attack a Ka’Ta”Viir and indeed had to submit to their will.  Additionally the Xiosans were made more susceptible to the Essence (which only the Ka’Ta’Viir controlled at that time) and they themselves were not able to tap the powers of Essence.

Xio Cadre Summary

CADRE:  Imperial (Xio-And)

PATRON:  House Kaedeana

LOCATION:  ???? 

FOCUS:  Modern Minimalist/Technology.

PHYSICAL TYPE:  Tall, muscular, black hair, dark eyes.

MOUNTS:  Lesser Black Dragons

ARMOR:  Dark red poly-steel armor and seamless visor less black helms.

WEAPONS:  Laser Pistols, Energy Swords

NOTES: Less ostentatious than the Cadres of the lesser ruling caste, the Imperial Cadre were the personal guard of the Empress Kadeana.  Their training center was a closely guarded secret and the Cadre rarely participated in ceremonial displays.  Despite Kaedenas defeat by Doenku and the Soulsword, the Imperial Cadre had already made a pact with their mistress.  In a lengthy process, the Imperial Cadre volunteers became immortal servants in a new incarnation: that of the Shards.  The Cadre Commander, Shar-Bu is now lord of the I-Lat.

CADRE:  SunLords (Xio-Kygar)

PATRON:  House Tessananta

LOCATION:  Vale of Merisia, Tanara Jaiman

FOCUS:  Althan Classic Mythology

PHYSICAL TYPE:  Tall, muscular, blond, blue-eyed.

MOUNTS:  Steardan.

ARMOR:  Golden Plate & Greaves

WEAPONS:  Hand Axes, Sunswords

NOTES: This abandoned facility still held armor, weapons and wild Steardan when it was discovered and occupied by a Rhakaan expeditionary force during the Second Era.  Using the equipment they found, the Zorians assumed the role of the mystical “Cloudlords”, emulating their Xiosan predecessors

CADRE:  Lightning (Xio-Pizik)

PATRON:  House Terra

LOCATION:  Changramai Monastarey, Choak Mnts, Emer

FOCUS:  Martial Arts, Athleticism, Adrenal Focus

PHYSICAL TYPE:  Varied.

MOUNTS:  Anti Grav Bracers

ARMOR:  Black cloaks, Black Masks w/yellow bolts.

WEAPONS:  Changa,

NOTES: The Lightning Cadre were perhaps the most dedicated to the physical arts.  Athletic ability, acrobatics and unarmed combat were the focus.  The cadre put on elaborate displays of martial prowess combined with amazing ariel feats using their anti-grav arm and leg bracers.  They could seemingly “fly” through the air.

CADRE:  Claw (Xio-Raax)

PATRON:  House Centarus (still exists as a powerful trade and banking conglomerate…)

LOCATION:  Mur Fostisyr

FOCUS:  Berserker Troops.

PHYSICAL TYPE: Large, dark-haired, and heavily muscled. Claw Cadre was feared for their combat prowess and mercurial nature.

MOUNTS:  Fire and Ice Dragons.

ARMOR:  Spiked Plate and Force Armor.

WEAPONS:  Over-sized battleswords. In modern combat they wielded heavy laser cannons and disentagrators.

NOTES: The Temple was discovered and settled by the Udahir but had been looted long before. 

CADRE:  Steel (Xio-Tok)

PATRON:  House Letrati

LOCATION:  Votania, Emer

FOCUS:  Deception, misdirection, subterfuge

PHYSICAL TYPE:  Tall, dark hair, grey eyes, light skin

MOUNTS:  Anti-Grav Chariots

ARMOR:  Grey Armor, Chamelion Cloaks

WEAPONS:  Wide leaf bladed short swords

NOTES: The Masters of Emer built their palaces alongside a Xiosan Cadre Temple. It’s not known whether any original Xio pledged service to the Masters or the Temple was repopulated by others.

CADRE:  Onyx (Xio-Uxya)

PATRON:  House Thorenian

LOCATION:  Sullen Mountains, SW Argyla

FOCUS:  Tribal, Physical Form, Animalistic

PHYSICAL TYPE:  Dark skin, silver eyes, silver/white hair

MOUNTS:  Kith

ARMOR:  Silver metallic armor, Jewelry

WEAPONS:  Black Laen Longsword & Shortsword

NOTES: The Temple was reoccupied in early second era by a splinter group of Xiosans.  They attempted to build a new settlement on Barzu-chaa (South Eastern Thuul) but the City-State was destroyed.  While still large of stature, most of the surviving Xiosans are a product of mixed heritage and have lost most of their defining physical attributes.

PC’s as Xiosans

Obviously, playing a pure Xio warrior or even a partially full blooded Xio could be unbalancing. But I incorporated 2 significant drawbacks for Xio: behavioral inhibitors against Ka’ta’viir and the inability to use Essence and an increased susceptibility to Essence effects. Of course, a player with only a small amount of Xio ancestry would have less inhibitors but conversely would have less genetic benefits as well.

CONCLUSIONS:

I like tying “current” Shadow World elements to the ancient past. Terry used the word “Legacy” a lot and much of the Shadow World story is tied to the Althans and Ka’ta’viir from the 1st Era. The Xiosians’ legacy can be found in the martial skills of the Changramai and the physical stature of many of the races found on Kulthea.