“Can It” or “Canon”: Krals.

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

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

Krals Per wiki:

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

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

Sea Krals Per Vog Mur:

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

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

Ice Krals From Quellbourne:

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

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

Sea Krals from Creatures & Treasures:

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

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

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

Garks from Master Atlas:

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

“Can It” or “Canon”?

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

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

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

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

Weekend Musings 9-12-2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Back To It.

Now that most everyone I know is vaccinated and the world is going back to normal I am able to restart my Shadow World campaign. This is less of a continuous adventure and more of a ongoing testing campaign, but my players expect, and I think welcome, random rule changes that occur almost every session (“Inter-office Rule Memos). In the past, that has meant having all of their spell lists replaced with new ones, losing skills that I deleted from my core rules, abrupt level changes and other pivots that they have learned to expect and provide feedback.

I have them running through Chapter 4 & 5 of Legends of Shadow World a few more times and then they are heading to the city of Nontataku to test out my new module. They have been to the city before, but just passed through on their way to Shade. It’s been a long time since they have done real urban adventuring and I’m looking forward to the change in environment and to stretch my DMing skills with more in-game social interactions and political intrigue. The Alliance is in town and making a play for the city!

A few years ago, I decided to focus more on blogging about content rather than rules, but I have 3 fairly major changes that I’m implementing and have been adopted in my SWARM rules. I’m going to see how it goes, and will probably blog more about them as things develop.

  1. Stats as Skills. I started working on this back in 2017, and had the players make stat checks on a few regular items: feats of strength, recall and correlation and poison/disease RRs. Over the subsequent couple of years, I’ve expanded the use of stats in the game and happy with the result. I’ve been reading some Grognardia blogs about the use of stats in D&D that coincides with some RM conversations about eliminating stats and just use bonuses. I am in the camp of increasing the use and utility of stats rather than eliminating them.
  2. Stat “Nerf”. There was some comments about the utility of low stats over on the D&D blogs: for example, a low intelligence may make the player immune to charm spells or ignore Illusions. I played around with some ideas for these types of benefits for all of the RM stats, but I admit I wasn’t completely satisfied with the results. However this led me to the conclusion that my player’s average stats in general are too high. Most have every stat above 75! So I’m trying something new: players are given 600 points to assign to the 10 stats. They still roll for Potential stats, but that’s starts them slightly above average and makes them think long and hard about stat levels. Given the increase use of the stat score for action checks and the added utility of historic “dump” skills like memory, the players really think about things. Even with a 30 or 40 stat score, they aren’t getting negative modifiers, but it does change the stat as skill roll outcomes.
  3. Magical Languages. For those that have followed the perpetually evolving Project BASiL know that I allow casters access to all of the spell “realms”. However, within some of the realms are different classes of spells: for example, Essence has Minor, Lesser and Greater “Paths”. This somewhat mimics the base list structure of RM and creates cost obstacles so players can’t learn the highest powered lists of each Realm without concerted DP allocation. To accentuate that further, I created qualifying skills, pre-requisites, that needed to be developed in tandem with the higher Paths. In the end I found this cumbersome and didn’t like to add skills that only had one purpose and no real in-game functionality. To simplify I decided to expand the magical language list and assign them to various spell lists. This had the added benefit of working well! In general, Essence lists now have a required magical language needed to cast the spells. Some lists can be cast with different languages, and some languages can add bonuses or other benefits to casting. Like rare spell lists, the casters are motivated to track down and learn other magical languages!

I’m looking forward to finalizing my Shadow World ruleset, but a part of me feels like the endless tinkering with the rule toolbox is a feature and not a distraction.

Should players have an entourage? Using followers in your Rolemaster game.

One of the features of early AD&D was the use of various types of “followers” that the PCs could obtain. Most are defined by the level of loyalty they have to the PC character; ranging from a mere hired helper to a devoted sidekick. These NPCs are often interchangeably termed as followers, hirelings, retainers and henchmen, and their use can have significant impact on gameplay. As a primer, I would suggest reading this post from the OSR perspective.

It is notable to me that early Rolemaster rules (Character Law or Campaign Law) didn’t address PC followers of any type: even the cost of hirelings is absent the early charts in Character Law and Campaign Law (did any of the Companions delve into this?)

Looking back on the 1st ED. DMG, you can find a number of pages that cover these types of NPCs:

Page 16. “Followers for Upper Level Player Characters”.

This section alludes to a powerful characters obtaining followers of one sort or another. The mechanism isn’t addressed, except for the reference to “reaching a certain level” or “building a stronghold”. So while there is no real rules around the “how”, there are certainly a lot of charts about the “what”! For instance, Clerics can obtain up to 200 men-at-arms, ranging from light infantry to heavy cavalry. Fighters will obtain a military commander/leader between 5th and 7th lvl and a company of soldiers. Rangers have one of the more interesting follower charts, and can get humans, demi-human classes, animals, mounts and special creatures including were-beasts, giants or even a copper Dragon! Thieves and Assassins will attract a dozen or so followers upon reaching “Guildmaster” status and of course the Paladin will receive a special warhorse. And that’s just the start to the topic of “followers” in the DMG!

Page 26. “Hirelings”.

This section delineates between normal Hirelings and Expert Hirelings. All are various NPCs that provide labor, low-skilled services or specialty or niche abilities but are differentiated from henchmen by being “employees”. There is extensive material on various hirelings: soldiers, mercenaries, sages, engineers and beyond; the section starts on page 26 and runs onto 3/4 of the way through page 34.

Page 34. “Henchmen”

Retainers, like Hirelings, are also employed and paid, but they function along a system of loyalty based on many modifiers. It’s also inferred that henchmen act as a secondary PC, and can be used in place of the main character.

Page 103. “Hiring NPCs to cast spells or use devices”.

Finally, later in the Guide is a section on cost of hiring specialists to cast specific spells . This should have been included under the “Hirelings” section; but as it’s been noted by many others, the original DMG is an organization wreck.

Returning to Rolemaster, there are certainly times when the group will need to hire specialists, spell-users to cast spells or pay for magical healing, but there is not real attention paid to building a posse or retinue of hirelings or loyal henchmen and retainers. Is this an important angle overlooked by Rolemaster? Do you use followers in your campaign? I’ve written about a similar situation on this blog regarding familiars–I think they are pain in the ass and a constant source of abuse by the players. But perhaps there are other reasons:

  1. RM character development allows a broader skill set among the party compared to the structured approach of D&D. There is less need to add specialists to fill ability gaps.
  2. Complexity. If every PC had a retainer, you would effectively double the party size and add a considerable work load onto the GM. Even if you allowed the player to develop the retainers personality, the GM would still need to control or direct the NPC to some degree.
  3. D&D’s foundation in wargaming was the impetus for followers and henchmen. Rolemaster doesn’t have that pedigree and thus ignored it. Alternatively, RM was influenced by LoTR and that setting had less of a medieval approach to social organization?

I’m not a lazy GM, but since I already run a human-centric (or at least an anthropomorphic) game, I’m already managing a number of NPCs. I don’t need too, or want too, keep any eye on the use of a handful of retainers or henchmen. (I can handle hirelings). But I am intrigued by the concept being built into the game system. Certainly Shadow World’s emphasis on organizations implies the need for guild like systems: mentors, trainees, followers, squires etc. It’s seems natural to have higher level characters access human resources of the organization in some form or another–whether it be a trainee or a devoted believer.

Certainly this issue might be setting specific, but it might be cool to add some follower tables for use in Rolemaster. What are your thoughts?

Games: played or not played?

So I thought I would branch out into non-Rolemaster territory; mostly because I’ve been reading a lot other blogs and I have been thinking about my early years of roleplaying.

Like many rolemaster players in their late 40s or 50s I started with D&D and worked my way through other games and systems in the heyday of the gold/silver age of roleplaying. From middle school to halfway through highschool we were open to experimenting with other games and genres but unlike other players I’ve talked to, I ended up sticking to Rolemaster from high school to now with brief times playing Castles & Crusades with my brother.

Today I wanted to talk about 2 games, one I played and the other I didn’t but was intrigued with.

Game I played:

Ringworld (role-playing game) - Wikipedia

First, I should mention that I never actually received my physical high school diploma (I graduated) due to 2 overdue, never returned library books: Ringworld and the Dirty Dozen. If you have read Ringworld you might have realized that it would make a great campaign setting. Per the wiki entry:

The game is intended to be set on the Ringworld itself, an enormous single world discovered at the far reaches of Known Space, a ring around a sun at approximately the orbit of the Earth. It is 997,000 miles wide, about 125 Earth-diameters. The total inner surface of the ring is equal to that of 3 million Earths. The ring is spun at a speed to provide 0.992G of gravity on the innerside, while 20 giant shadow squares at about the orbit of Mercury occlude the Sun to provide night. It was constructed by the Pak Protectors, now mostly extinct, who had a common origin with humans. The Ringworld is home to some 30 trillion sentient inhabitants from up to 2000 hominid species.

I bought the box set, a companion and I think a supplement on tech and equipment. While much of the game system is vague now, the setting is still compelling and a bit like Shadow World. I mix of fantasy and sci-fi, technology that can easily be confused with magic, and a mix of cultures. I can’t recall if we played a lot of Ringworld, but we certainly immersed ourselves in the game system and the “rulefication” of a popular book. For many of us, the challenge to adapt a ruleset to a literary setting, or design new rules to accommodate a setting was, and is still, a favorite topic.

Game I didn’t play.

Twilight: 2000 and its amazing hook – Yore

Maybe it was the ads in Dragon magazine, or maybe it was my deep interest in WWII history, but I was fixated and curious about this game. Plus I was reading Axler’s Deathlands series and felt this might have some similarity to it.

But, I never bought it and don’t think I played it with anyone else. To be honest, once I tried Rolemaster in ’83, I was overly critical of simplistic combat rules. From what I read about the game, I was skeptical about the game mechanics.

It’s my understanding that the game has undergone new editions (maybe to reflect the different historical results of 2000AD and beyond?). Has anyone tried this game?

What I’m reading.

There are many ways to get my creative juices flowing, but perhaps the most fundamental is just reading: fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, historical novels. I tend to read in clusters of topics and since I’m reading quite a bit of fantasy and catching up on authors and series that I left languish during COVID, I thought I’d blog about several of them.

I’m not sure if I ever read Vance “back in the day”, but I thought it worth exploring given various blog posts I read that reference Tales of the Dying Earth and Appendix N. The D&D DNA is certainly there; especially in the magic system and I found the stories enjoyable. I also enjoy the vague references to ancient, technologically advanced societies. One of the reason’s I enjoy Shadow World.

I’ve mentioned Adrian Selby’s first work, Snakewood. His setting is low magic with only a handful of Magic-Users. Instead, the world is driven by mercenaries and fighters that use “Brews”; basically a potion that enhances strength, speed and senses like a supercharged dose of steroids. I’ve already started working on a SW version of this which combines alchemy and herbs since I’m not a fan of “magic potions”.

I read Liavek and it’s sequel back in the 80’s and apparently there has been many more books in the series over the following decade. Setting anthologies were popular in the 80’s, the most well-known being Thieves World. I wanted to revisit Liavek as part of my process writing Nontataku–a city module for Shadow World. Anyway, these are light but fun reading. Will Shetterly, the editor has also written one of my old favorites: Witch Blood.

What are you reading?