Quickie Dungeons?

This was a tip published for D&D, but it is equally applicable to any fantasy games.

Build dungeons quickly with a map, some one- to three-word room descriptions with fantastic monuments, and a handful of potential encounters (good and bad).

Casting this into Rolemaster throws up so interesting ideas.

  1. Three Things. This is an improvisational theatre technique. When you want to improvise something you only create three very general facts about the ‘thing’. Then if your attention or focus falls on the thing, you create three more facts about the thing. You can continue to drill down as greater detail as you need.

    In RPG terms this could be describing a room as being dominated by a pair of statues of angels (1), an altar stands between the statues (2) and the floor is made of chequered black and white tiles (3). At this point you can possibly imagine the room, but much of it is vague. If your players think that floor is suspicious, they want to know more, so… Each tile of the floor is made of marble with only the faintest hint of coloured veins (1), the joins between tiles are near perfect and no caulking has been used or was needed (2), the tiles running along the centre of the chamber are worn and scratched from the passing of hundreds of feet over years or decades (3).

    You can keep drilling down to almost forensic levels, if the players have the interest or the means of discerning ever more detail.
  2. A handful of potential encounters. This one is something that Rolemaster has traditionally been very bad at. For two reasons (at least). The first is that no one has ever thought to publish books of encounters. If you ever get the chance to read the rules of Forbidden Lands the random encounters are fantastic. You are not just looking at the combat stats of a random monster, but you also get roleplaying advice on how to play them, strategies and context, why they are doing what they are doing.

This one is about as basic as they get. Now, the interesting thing is that they include no game mechanics. If you replaced “page 64” with Creature Law/Creatures & Monsters/Creatures & Treasures and the page number, this could be for any flavour of RM.

The second reason that published encounters are harder than one imagines is that your version of RM is the sum of all the optional rules. Almost invariably the optional rules in the companions made the player characters more powerful. Sometimes it is neglible, sometimes the power creep was obvious. But, as soon as you tweak the player characters any published encounters go out of whack.

If you have to roll your own encounters, tweaking all the monsters to fit your version of RM this stops being quick, by any reasonable meaning of the word. If you are using published encounters, you are going to have to rejig them to challenge your players. Flexibility is Rolemaster’s greatest strength and weakness.

3. The last part is the quick dungeon map. There are dozens of random dungeon map tools. This one is more interesting for the GM that wants something not entirely random but fast and customisable.

https://probabletrain.itch.io/dungeon-scrawl

Take a look and have a play.

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Rolemaster (u) tips?

I started this blog in November 2014. At that time I thought Rolemaster Unified was imminent.

Now, I again feel that it is just around the corner. There is a scene in Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy where the planet Margrathea is closed until the galactic economy is strong enough to afford their designer planet-building service.

I kind of feel the same way now. I set the blog up waiting for RMu, I started the fanzine in April 2017, again expecting RMu to be right around the corner. This time I hope that it is third time lucky.

What I would like to gather together are some Rolemaster tips, not version-specific, but generic Rolemaster tips that will be as useful to old hands like us as they would be to new blood. The kind of people we need RMu to bring in.

I will then turn the tips into articles and start regular posting again. As you may have noticed I took a bit of a break this year. Then if I can get the posting habit back, I can kickstart the fanzine again.

If you have what you think would be a good tip, or piece of GMing advice, you can contact me via the contact form on the ‘about’ page. https://www.rolemasterblog.com/about/

I will gather them up and start posting again.

Shadow World Earthwardens and Megalithic Temples.

I’ve been writing frequently about the Earthwardens in Shadow World. Not only do I find them a viable link between the techno-magic of the Ka’ta’viir and the “arcane magic” of Shadow World, they also represent a mysterious shadowy past also present in our history.

So Monday I’m heading to Malta to explore the ancient megalithic temples found there. Much is mysterious there, and history continued with the Knights of Malta and even more recently with the German invasion during WWII (I’m a history buff!)

I’m excited and I know this will spur my imagination and creative in the coming months! If you are intrigued by the Earthwardens as well, please read my blog posts and add your own thoughts and insight.

50 in 50 Update: The Inn of Dusk hits “Electrum” sales level on DrivethruRPG!

Back in 2017 the Rolemasterblog created a writers challenge for ourselves to write 50 adventures/hooks over a 50 week period. Basically 1/week to be published on DrivethruRPG as d100 adventures.

By almost every measure it was a great success and those adventures are still selling to this day! Many of mine were cribbed from my Shadow World campaign, but The Inn of Dusk was written specifically for this challenge.

Now, 5 years later, it has hit “Electrum status” based on sales volume. (not sure how many units are needed for that…)

Our second attempt at 50in50 sputtered out a bit due to COVID, but I think it might be worth revisiting!

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/234207/The-Inn-of-Dusk

Shadow World Religions Handbook

It’s odd how creativity works isn’t it? Like many of you, I have multiple writing projects in the works and while I plan on finishing one, I end up getting distracted and start working on something else!

One project I “finished” was my Shadow World Religions Handbook, but after some review I realized that I had left out some useful information that would have been easy to include.

So given that I’ve been compiling some past encounters I’ve used in my campaigns, plus some NPC’s and other adventure hooks to integrate various SW religious organizations into an adventure. All told, I want to have at least 3 “hooks” or encounters for each religion covered in the handbook.

The goal of course is not to get distracted by some other project, but my goal is still 2 pages/day.

RM Users

I have not posted for several months, but diligent in watching other posts here and on the Rolemaster Forums. What are your thoughts? We have done well with this blog, but if users migrate to the official RM Forum, what should we do??

What is our role here and Shadow World?

Campaign Themes

Can you boil down the overarching theme of your campaign into just one or two words?

And, why would you want to?

I have been thinking about this idea, and the essence of it is that if you know what your campaign is about at a conceptual level, it becomes easier to guarantee that each adventure sits within that theme, and you are not drifting toward something generic fantasy. It is also a useful prompt for when you are knocked into improvising. If you have to start making stuff up, if it is bang on the theme, it should be easier to reintegrate the stuff you made up on the fly with the stuff you have prepped for future sessions.

The theme of my Rolemaster Classic campaign is Deception. Dark Elves have deceived the dwarves into believing they were attacked by surface elves. The person the characters beleive is the villain is actually trying to prevent a brewing war between elves and dwarves. This person will use any means available and is one person against an entire conspiracy of dark elves.

Powerful artifacts that all sides want have been hidden in plain sight and protected by deceiving magics.

The list goes on. At first, the characters had no idea what was going on, but they have slowly started to pick at the loose threads and are getting a glimpse of what lies behind all the lies.

It is possible that in the next session they will work out that their early patron had been lying to them.

If my players flounder, such as when one of my ‘obviously brilliant’ clues goes right over their heads, I can easily make something up that will fit the overall theme of deception and misdirection.

If I need to get my characters back on track, I can have one of the opposing forces misdirect the characters back towards that groups natural opposition. The dwarves share evidence of elven treachery, the elves portray dwarven reprisals as unprovoked attacks, and the dark elves are just trying to drag both sides into conflict. It gives me enough levers to pull.

By sticking to my theme I am also signposting, bit by bit, what kind of powerful magics they are eventually going to have to face down. I am not going to go from deception, deception, deception to fireball.

I am finding having defined my theme that it is making my GM prep more fun. It is a challenge to weave the theme into, not every encounter, but all the big encounters and when building NPCs.

What is your Rolemaster Passion?

Many of you may remember my struggles with characters that were risk-averse. They avoided committing to conflicts and always tried to either control everything or take the safest route possible.

I recently did an exercise called writing a passion statement. It is intended as a business activity but it worked well for RPGs and adventure design.

The exercise starts with completing this “Looking back at my roleplaying days I enjoyed…” but write for 10 or 15 minutes. No one else is going to see it. It is just about getting ideas out and on to the page.

Once you have that text, pick out what looks like the important ideas. Pick out as many ideas as you like. Just make a list of them.

Once you have that list, rate each idea on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the things you enjoyed the most or were most important to your enjoyment. 1 is the least important ideas.

Now look at the things you rated 5 and try and build a single statement that encompasses all those ideas. It could be a single sentence, or a short paragraph.

My statement distilled down to almost one word.

I roleplay so I can be the hero.

I asked a couple of my players to do the exercise and their statements were very different. They were much more about winning, or achieving power or leveling, and defeating dragons and demons.

The overriding sentiment was that they wanted to win.

To me, winning and RPGs are kind of uncompatible. You win at an RPG by having fun. But, all my players are hardcore wargamers and in a wargame you have victory conditions. You can win. Winning is the goal.

I don’t think my players want to win rolemaster. They want to win each encounter, they want to defeat the orcs nest, beat the giant monster.

They achieve their goal by minimising risks.

They only want to take on challenges where they perceive that the odds are in their favour.

I can use this to tailor their adventures, encounters and the plot hooks I dangle in front of them. I need to make them more imperative, effectively limiting their ability to procrastinate. I can also launch adventures with a surprising turn of events, so there is no time to prepare and contemplate avoidance.

These feel a bit like railroading. But, as long as I know there is a risk of railroading I should be able to guard against it.

Their current adventure started with a lost child in an area with a lot of goblin activity. My characters have defeated a great many goblins. They will happily fight goblins because they have always won against goblins. They discovered the child at the bottom of a hole being attacked by a zombie. They had no real choice. They could not leave the child to die, so they had to jump down and fight the zombie.

Once they were committed, and they defeated several groups of zombies and skeletons, their confidence rose they did withdraw and rest, their healer was out of PP, but they are volunteering to go back down the hole. Their dungeon delve is hitting the right buttons, they are winning each encounter.

This also makes running the game more fun for me. I can now create adventures that I know the characters will engage with. There is much less frustration about prepping stuff just to have it ignored by the players who don’t want to take risks.

Shadow World Speculation: What are Clycallah War Machines?

Pin on Catch for other Tech types

One of the enjoyments of reading Terry’s Shadow World books, is finding a interesting but vague tidbit that just cries out for more detail. I previously blogged about one such nugget, the Mazatlak Pillar City, and today I wanted to speculate on the Clycallah War Machines.

There are only a 3 mentions of mentioning or relating to these War Machines in the Master Atlas:

5977: Gaalt: [Clycallah archeologists discover a
Wôrim underground vault containing strange
vehicles.]

5983: The Raven Queen’s armies first encounter
the Clycallah war machines, rebuilt from ancient Wôrim designs. They are routed by the huge walking mechanical terrors. Later encounters are inconclusive

Gaalt: The Raven Queen launches a new assault,
this time led by land and air drakes, each
with a Quaidu rider. They prove an even match
against the Clycallah war machines.

That’s not much to go on, but it definitely sparks the imagination. From these few points we can conclude that:

  1. These are mechanical not magical–they are not Constructs but “technology” of some sort.
  2. They move by walking rather than wheels or tracks.
  3. They are “huge”.
  4. They are built using Wôrim designs. This implies that they Clycallah had the technological capacity to build these machines, but it also hints that they are “rebuilt” so perhaps they fixed older inoperable machines.

Where is Clycallah? Per the Master Atlas, it is in Gaalt:

G. Clycallah: [Cool Temperate/Seasonal–Wet &
Dry] Laan (Mixed economies/Republic (TL:6-7).
This little realm would have fallen long ago to
Gaalt but for two things: the powerful Mages
among the Laan, and their machines. The
Clycallah’s war machines (based on Wôrim
technology) strike terror into even the Raven
Queen’s elite forces, and they are powerful
enough to defeat her Troll warriors.

Who are the Wôrim? Again we are left with only a few references that they were a vanished, technologically advanced race during the Interregnum:

c.-30,000 – -20,000: The Wôrim empire, centered
in Gaalt, is founded and expands rapidly
and is soon at odds with the Jinteni and Elven
populations.

What else do we know? Per the Master Atlas we also have some possible conflicting info that:

The Lydians might be descendants of the Wôrim

Trogli might be descendants of the Wôrim

The Wôrim might be the pre-cursors to the Laan.

Other than that, there is little, if any, real data on the Wôrim. Unlike the Jinteni which were fleshed out quite a bit in Emer III, we only have a few more hints on the Wôrim found in the Haalkitaine book:

Corridors: Most of the tunnels correspond to the usual
Wôrim trapezoidal profile with periodic buttresses of a
grey stone. Some sections were cut from solid granite,
but where there was only earth the halls were faced with
granite slabs. It is these areas — mostly to the west —
that have deteriorated the most. There are many caveins
caused by water seepage from the sewers; some have
opened cracks between the two networks while some
have shifted or even completely blocked corridors.
Also typical of the Wôrim, there is little decoration or
engraved writing; the stone cutting is precise and starkly
angular.
The only apparent written records are etched on
the oval metal canisters which hold the bodies — and those
are the as-yet undeciphered dot patterns believed to be
the Wôrim written language
.

Anyway, circling back to the Clycallah War Machines, we are left wondering about it’s abilities. Clearly it must have some offensive capacity–it is called a “War Machine” and they can battle with Dragons! Chemical reactions are not reliable on Kulthea, so traditional explosive weaponry seems unlikely. The Jinteni had energy weapons–perhaps these War Machines were armed with laser guns!

What are your thoughts? Have you ever introduced Clycallah War Machines in your campaign? What do you think they look like? What type of weapons could you imagine they have?

Tim Scott Taylor 1959-2020

Unfortunately, in my attempts to contact Rolemaster and Shadow World authors, I discovered that Tim Taylor had passed away in 2020. Tim was quite prolific in the late 80’s and early 90’s and had 3 Shadow World modules published and contributed to a number of Rolemaster products.

His obituary:

Tim Scott Taylor November 30, 1959 – November 8, 2020 Tim S. Taylor was born November 30, 1959 in Berea, Ohio to James and Ruth Taylor. He grew up in Columbia Station, Ohio, outside Cleveland. He died at home November 8, 2020 in Port Townsend, Washington after a brief struggle with cancer. Tim attended Columbia High School, graduating in 1978, and Ohio State University where he received undergraduate degrees in history and philosophy with a minor in mathematics. He was especially interested in military history, strategy and tactics, game theory, role playing games and board games. He was a lover of eclectic music. He greatly enjoyed sharing his music with friends and found joy in introducing people to board games of all sorts as well as role playing. In the 1990s Tim worked as a disc jockey at WICR radio station in Indianapolis where he hosted radio shows including “Time Without Meaning” featuring music he mixed live in the studio, and “Around the World in 60 Minutes”. Tim also worked as a proofreader and layout tech at Macmillan Publishing in Indianapolis. A Tibetan Buddhist, Tim volunteered many hours at the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana. He was a close friend of Thubten J. Norbu, a Tibetan lama and refugee from Chinese oppression in Tibet. Tim served for several years as Prof. Norbu’s personal secretary, writing articles, letters and speeches for him. Tim arrived in Port Townsend, Washington in 1999. He volunteered for a year at the PT Public Library and worked at Ravenstone Tiles, an art tile company in town. He was also a writer and game designer. Tim designed and published several war games, wrote books and articles, created a deck of Tarot cards inspired by a dream, and wrote fantasy role playing modules. In the last couple years of his life he went by the name ‘Crow’ and dressed all in black. He had many friends in the area and gave Tarot readings, which seemed uncannily accurate, at the Cellar Door in downtown Port Townsend. Tim/Crow was preceded in death by his father James Taylor. He is survived by his mother Ruth Taylor, sisters Tammy Taylor and Toni Cassidy, brothers-in-law Pete Wieneke and Ed Cassidy, three nieces and three nephews, and his long-time friend and housemate Laura Reutter.

I wish I had the chance to interview Tim, it sounds like he led an interesting life.