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While there is always demand for new Shadow World material, even after ignoring all the non-canon material there is still an incredible amount of material for a lifetime of gaming! But gamers love new books and while Terry is working diligently on Emer IV and a slew of other projects I thought I would start a new blog series called “Spin Cycle for Shadow World”. In this series I’ll be suggesting old RPG material that can be re-purposed for Shadow World. An area map, a layout, or a fortress from other settings can be a convenient insert to fill in a campaign or flesh out current material. For the most part I’ll keep the suggestions for use in Jaiman and Emer, the two continents that are well represented by canon SW material.

So where to start? Obviously the first place to look is in other I.C.E. publications and we don’t have to look too hard! Luckily early MERP material is easily adapted to Shadow World; not only is it built on RM stats but the flavor and design aesthetic of Peter’s maps and Terry’s layouts were used in both the Loremaster modules and early MERP campaign modules. But even better, some of the coolest MERP products were authored by Terry himself. The first we’ll discuss, The Court of Ardor, shares the structural DNA of Shadow World and could almost be adopted whole and dropped into Kulthea with little effort.

I’m not a Tolkien expert, so I’m unclear on how much material in CoA was derived from his work, but most of the material seems to cover regions, politics and power not addressed in the LotR. It does feature Terry’s creative trademarks: a mysterious and powerful organization–check; cool magic items—check; powerful NPC’s—check; unique fortresses with great layouts—check. Great stuff and very familiar to Shadow World users. The Court and its members certainly has the glimmerings of the later Jerak Ahrenreth and the various “Suits” (Staves, Helms, Swords, Orbs) echoes the Eight Emerian Orders. The organization of “Darin Tesarath” is virtually identical to the Steel Rain and the Guild of Elements feels like a precursor to the Earthwardens.

While the organizations may be useful, the real benefit is the layouts of the Court’s 9 citadels and the city maps provided in the module. We’ll look at this in more detail in CoA pt. 2.

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For a variety of reasons, many RPG GM’s have less time to design, develop and write original gaming material. Marathon gaming sessions with the same group in high school or college have given way to infrequent gatherings of old friends. The result: time-strapped GM’s have to rely even more on prepared materials and modules. Part of the magic of gaming is the immersive quality of the game setting—artifacts, creatures, cultures and locales all hint at a rich history and a broader world just beyond the players senses. But what happens when the PC’s stray off the modules defined, prepared course? Even a GM with their own extensive world will find themselves in uncharted territories; unprepared for a quirky player decision or random adventure tangent. Even worse are the groups that muddle about without any real direction and seem incapable of making a group decision to move the game forward!!

The original Character Law or Campaign Law alluded to avoiding “channeling players through a path deemed most desirable”, but for a GM with a narrow adventure path provided by a game module or a limited environment hastily sketched out prior to game play, keeping the players within those boundaries is paramount.

Good GM’s can subtly direct their players while maintaining the illusion of a pervasive world; bad GM’s put up roadblocks or punishments as a deterrent which can shatter the gaming experience. Luckily there are two convenient mechanisms in the Shadow World setting to help guide and direct the players while simultaneously connecting them with the larger world: Gods and the Loremasters. Both of these groups create a convenient way to introduce an “adventure hook” as well as a method to redirect a wayward party. Let’s discuss both.

Loremasters. Is there a more established trope than the “wise, mysterious and powerful” guide? Sure, Loremasters may seem a bit generic but they can be fully fleshed-out, flawed and even “in over their heads” NPC’s. However, as part of a larger organization they have real motivations and resources that can give direction and guidance to a party and keep them focused on the adventure goal. Many of the Loremasters described in the SW books are notable individuals, but the organization has younger members still in training that need field experience. It’s more likely that lower level PC’s would encounter one of these apprentice Loremasters. If and when the group grows in experience and power, so to would that younger Loremaster. As the game develops that Loremaster contact can help connect the PC’s to new plots, adventures and tasks; in spycraft terminology the PC’s become a “Field Asset” of the Loremaster! Because the guiding role of the Loremaster can become a heavy hand it’s important to bestow some vulnerabilities on the NPC: Loremasters shouldn’t all be omniscient and all powerful. It might even make sense to have the Loremaster played as a PC with direction, aid and counsel coming down from the Loremaster hierarchy. That provides the GM a more indirect guiding mechanism for the group. Certainly a PC Loremaster would have access to some proprietary information about the game world, but most players can easily download SW books, review the timeline or read the SW novel and know most of the “secrets” of Kulthea! In the end the Loremaster is an established mechanism for guiding the party and keeping them on track.

Gods. One of the often over-looked aspects of playing a Cleric or other religious profession is the compact between the God and the follower. D&D created alignments to enforce player behaviors but game systems without alignments will often encounter the inevitable behavioral drift to the center: self-interest. For Channelers in RM, there are no real game mechanisms outside GM discretion to enforce player behavior that reflects the Deities’ ethos or requirements. However, it is the use of the “God Mechanism” that enables a GM to arbitrarily assign tasks to a follower or group and guide them during an adventure. As the god’s proxy, a follower is meant to further his god’s will and purpose in exchange for miraculous powers (Channeling spells). Too often, Channeling spells are treated the same as Essence or Mentalism—follow the game mechanics, expend PP’s and roll for results.  But Channeling should be different than the “agnostic” realms: their use should imply a greater cost or responsibility of the caster to wield such powers. That cost is the crack in the door—the mechanism by which the GM can manage the party. Whether through signs, visitations, dreams or augury, the Priest/Paladin/Druid/Shaman will have a connection or dialogue with their patron as part of their service. The amount of guidance will depend on the involvement of the God; the Orhanian pantheon is relatively aloof but powerful, the Charon pantheon is more “hands-on” but less powerful, while local Gods can be very present but in a limited geography or aspect.

In summation, the Shadow World setting has two already established mechanisms for a GM to guide the party. By filtering direction through either a God or a Loremaster you can keep your group on track, maintain the immersive element of the game and connect the players to the broader world of Kulthea!


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One of the more distinctive attributes of Kulthea is the presence of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci. From the original Loremaster modules to the more recent Shadow World books, Essaence manifestations have shaped cultures and history, provided a raison d’etre for the Navigator Guilds and added a unique flavor to the campaign world. In the earlier Loremaster modules the Flows seem to be more ubiquitous; splitting and separating regions and isolating pocket cultures throughout Jaiman. Not only was this a great campaign hook, but provided a “sensible” explanation for the disparate cultures, races and even climates within a relatively small geographic area.

In later Non-Canon SW modules, the Flows seemed minimized and moved to the background when they should have been kept as a prime actor in the ongoing SW narrative. Essaence Flows should be seen as an essential NPC in SW campaigns: always present, unpredictable, and frequently impacting the storyline and gameplay. Flows are one of Shadow World’s differentiators from so many other game settings, but it’s easy for a GM to ignore them while managing the game, PC’s and game plot.

Essaence manifestations can play a number of roles in gameplay:

  1. Disruptor. A sudden and dangerous Essaence storm can change things quickly! PC’s or enemies may be forced to flee or find cover. Spellcasters may be drained of needed PP’s or find casting to be too unpredictable due to the fluctuating power.
  2. Limiter. A temporary or permanent Essaence wall can block PC’s from travelling to certain areas that the GM is unprepared, too dangerous for the group to explore or to create an obstacle for the group to overcome.
  3. Balancer. A Foci can provide PC’s with added Power Points needed to overcome a more powerful adversary or replace spent PP’s to allow the PC to continue the battle. An Essaence storm could hamper a powerful spell casting opponent or agent of the Unlife.
  4. Re-locator. Essaence storms can have spatial or temporal vortexes to move PC’s to a new place or time! If you want to avoid a time consuming trip or introduce the PC’s to a distant point on Kulthea than a temporary portal could do the trick! Additionally, you could move the PC’s back or forward in the SW timeline!

Not only do Essaence effects add great flavor to the game but they inject a constant randomness that plays much different than typically fantasy RPG’s.  If you aren’t maximizing the use of Flows, Storms and Foci in your SW game then here are a few suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Make sure that Essaence effects are included in your random encounter tables. If you are using tables that aren’t SW specific or don’t have Essaence effects included, than replace a category with them. Or if there is a “No Encounter” result than use Essaence effects instead.
  2. If you aren’t using random encounter tables than make it a point to include at least 1 effect per day to reinforce it’s presence to the players.
  3. Remember, not all effects have to be serious. A faint odor of ozone, a “tingling” or a slight power surge remind players that they are dealing with an unpredictable and dangerous power.
  4. The more Essaence Flows appear in your game the more helpful Navigators will appear. While “Jumps” might be prohibitively expensive, the PC’s will probably need to hire a Navigator to bypass an Essaence Wall or traverse a particularly dangerous route. This also a great money sink to keep excess wealth from accruing!
  5. Many notable places (temples, fortresses, holy sites etc) are found at or near Essaence Foci. The Foci could have beneficial, harmful or unpredictable effects on magic within its radius or even different magical “rules”. (ie no Force spells, or double power Elemental effects) This can make an “ordinary” dungeon crawl into a unique adventure experience!

Those are just a few ideas for maximizing the use of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci in your Shadow World campaign.

One last thought. I would recommend a book that came out in 1977 that I feel gives a small taste of what Essaence Flows could be like in your SW campaign.  Check it out: buy yellow phentermine by Gordon R. Dickson.

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I like my game rules light. The less rules the better in my view and the less time spent trawling back and forth through the rules trying to find the exact paragraph you need should mean more time spent adventuring. I accept that it doesn’t always work out that way and without ‘enough’ rules you can end up with not knowing what should happen or what is ‘right’. And so on to encumbrance!

I do not use the standard encumbrance and exhaustion point rules in Rolemaster Classic. In fact I do not know anyone who uses those rules. I generally look over the players inventory at the end of each session to see what they are carrying. If it seems excessive then I will add a post-it to the character sheet saying they are over encumbered and they will have -5 to -25 on movement rolls until they resolve it. The severity being down to how badly encumbered I think they are.

As a working solution that is fine until you start dishing out treasure to Essence spell casters. In my game at the moment most of the characters are 1st to 3rd level and I am giving out mundane treasure. In the past adventures most of the treasure was in the form of swords and armour which they looted from bodies. There were a few fine pieces there but for the most part it was normal kit.

My players really hate having to do bookkeeping. I can sort of agree with them to some extent and as the game is being run for both their and my enjoyment then I need to take their views into account.

The way the players want things to work is by just having an A4 sheet that they jot down everything they find on. They can then remember what they need to examine further when they get back to town and any on going expenses are met from this common list. From a bookkeeping perspective this the barest minimum but I am not happy with this minimal system for two reasons.

In the last game session the party walking into the roughest bar in town, it was a real den of thieves, the sort of place where your orcish mercenaries go to let their hair down. The party being an pretty female elf, a male half elf and three humans (two male and one female) stood out like a sore thumb and were certainly not welcome. They didn’t even stay for a single drink, for some reason. It was entirely possible that one of the thieves in the bar would try to pickpocket one of the elven types. If an orc is going to put one over on one of the characters it is going to be one of the elves I would guess.

According to this communal treasure list the party have a handful of rubies.  How do I know which character has the rubies? Can I just roll a dice to see which character has them? That would seem fair. The half elven warrior mage’s player is the one maintaining the common list, is he the one with the rubies? If they had been stolen you can bet anything you like that the players would have protested that they [the rubies] were being held by someone else or were back at their lodgings. If they had suddenly needed a stake for a card game then of course the rubies would be back in their pockets and ready to throw in as their stake.

That is one issue, the other is to do with weight of metal. In Rolemaster Classic an essence spell caster cannot be carrying more than 5lbs of metal (10lbs for chanellers) before incurring spell casting penalties. The party are made up of:

  • Sorcerer (essence & channeling)
  • Elemental Warrior (essence)
  • Warrior Mage (essence)
  • Cleric (channeling)
  • Mystic (essence & mentalism)

Every single one of them has a limit on how much metal can be carried. So if the treasure represents a bunch of bastard swords and chainmail shirts where are they? Who is going to take the penalty?

To this end I have knocked up a simple two column ‘Loot List’ page for the players. It just lists their treasure and a second column lists who is carrying it, if anyone, a ‘carried by’ column. We will see in two weeks time how that goes down with the players!

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I have been away for quite a while but I am back in the land of the gaming now and I have a face to face gaming session coming up in just two weeks and I have a lot of monster nonversions to do!

I started looking at the game notes again this week and noticed I had quite a few D&D creatures to convert over to Rolemaster for the coming sessions. The main problem being that the party could go in one of two different directions and so I had to be prepared for both.

In the back of the original Creatures and Treasures book there are rules for converting D&D and Runequest creatures to Rolemaster. The RMC Creatures and Treasures doesn’t have this section. The reason for the omission is that the original RM rules were intended as an alterntive to the D&D rules that any DM could slot into his game. Therefore it was necessary to provide them with the conversion rules for them to work with. Rolemaster Classic on the other hand is a full standalone roleplaying game and is not intended to be used as supplimental material to another game. Rolemaster Classic then does not need the conversion rules. I am using RMC in the D&D setting Forgotten Realms and consequently I keep coming across creatures that are not in the standard Creatures and Treasures menagery so I need to do these conversions. Thankfully the conversion rules are also available on the ICE forums, in the downloads vault.

This week I grabbed the rules, created a spreadsheet and have been curning out the creatures I need. It doesn’t take long to get the basic stats but I still need to find the most fitting spell effects in Spell Law to finish them off and make them useable.

One of the things that stand out in this process is that D&D magic is in many ways both more powerful and less flexible than Rolemaster magic. Many of the Rolemster spell lists contain nearly useless spells (in combat situations mostly) such as heat solid that do not do any damage and in no way compare to D&D’s burning hands as an example of a spell at about the same level. Where your D&D magician may have 2x1st, 2x2nd and a third level spell at 5th level, the same level RM magician could have up to 15 power points that could be spent in any combination from 15 x 1st level spells to 3 x 5th level spells.

Some of the creatures I have been converting have druidic or animist type spell effects and if the creatures are not killed off in the first encounter they have some very interesting possibilities outside of combat because of the interesting nature of the spell lists.

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After the game session, if the creatures come into their own I will share my stats for them!