Current Affairs: Thoughts on Magical Languages in Rolemaster and Shadow World.

Warning: this might be a whisky rant as well.

A recent THREAD at the Rolemaster Forums is discussing Magical Languages. Since I have some opinions on this subject I thought I would write a quick post. For those following my discussion on BASiL or have downloaded the spells probably know that I use a “no profession” system for my own Shadow World campaign.

After reading lots of comments I realize that most people only understand my reference to “no profession” as a direct reference to the RM system “no profession”. That’s not it at all! My players have profession names–but those are descriptors driven by the sum of skills and abilities of the character. With BASiL I allow access to all the realms (but  I have no hybrid realms which break logical mechanics). Professions and classes do reinforce group roles, but again, Rolemaster mostly broke that a long time ago…AND…that’s why players liked it! So having broad access to all realms has the appearance of unbalance but it’s really just the case of applying “free market” principles to control player skill selection. Early on, I decided to use pre-requisite lore skills to gain access or use certain spell lists. This would be similar to requiring advanced math to do astronomical calculations or basic anatomy for healing skills (spells or otherwise). So BASE lists might require more lore ranks to learn while OPEN lists only need a few ranks. To me that made sense. But BASiL is a work in progress and participation in the Rolemasterblog and RMForums has introduced me to new ideas.

So lately I have backed off on the Lore skill pre-req approach. It added too much to my skill offering and was not tight enough. Instead I have changed my approach to the use of Magical Languages. It’s such a simple, elegant mechanic and solves a lot of problems.

In the past, Magical Languages have been a “bolt-on” mechanic; introduced in Companions and referenced in SW for added casting bonuses etc. Spell casting requires certain mechanics: verbal, gestures, focus, components whatever. But what is that verbal and gesture component? Should it have an underlying science behind it? Is the verbal component linguistically diverse? Can a French person speaking french or a German speaking German recite the same words in their own particular language to cast? That makes NO sense! Immediately, it would be argued that they aren’t speaking French or German but reciting “arcane sounds”. Exactly!!–casting requires a power language of some time that is divested of speaking languages. Once that is accepted the conclusion follows the logic: spells need be cast using a magic vernacular, a magical language. This doesn’t have to be just verbal recitation but gestures, body motions, chants or katas.

If you accept that, than building a number of magical “languages” becomes a powerful tool to limiting spell list access rather than arbitrary “professions”. An Elemental Language might allow casting element spells, while another may allow for Illusions, Arcane or other.

From a mechanics standpoint, I use the Magical Language skill bonus for the SCR. How can anyone cast a high level spell if they have a kindergarten mastery of a language needed to cast the spell? Mastery of magical language is mastery of casting. Creating numbers of “Power Languages”  that are needed for certain types of magic limits a casters ability to learn a wide range of spells and therefore reinforces “class tropes”. (on a side note, to me, the very people that argue for professions LOVE the Arch-mage, Warrior-Mage, and other unbalanced classes).

Smells Like Stream Spirit and Fanzine #11

So this week we have one 50 in 50 adventure and the latest fanzine on both RPGnow (pdf) and Amazon (print).

First up is Smells Like Stream Spirit…

You can tell from the stupid title that this is one of mine. It was actually one of the first I wrote for the 50 in 50.

In Smells Like Stream Spirit, the characters will encounter some naiads. There are two families of naiads in the area who are generally hostile towards each other, but the hostility has not turned into outright war – yet. Naturally, a couple, one from each group, has fallen in love with other. Depending on how the characters interact with the naiads, they may incite a conflict – possibly by accident – or cause the two sides to reconcile.

Fanzine Time!

This months issue is all about BASiL and contains 33 new spell lists. I am the first to admit that all the content in this issue is also available as a free download on this site but if you buy the print editions you get real physical books that you can read easily off line, share with your players at the gaming table. For me that is the real added value, real books for a hobby that cries out for pen and paper.

You can buy the pdf on RPGnow and the print edition on Amazon. The kindle edition should be along any time this coming week. If you have kindle Unlimited then you can read it for free!

Edit: The kindle version went live on Sunday. You can find it here.

I.C.E. Deep Dive. Loremaster Series Review pt.4: The Shade of the Sinking Plain.

We are at the last chapter of my reviews of the original Loremaster module series. I wish I could say I saved the best for last; but that’s not really the case. While Shade of the Sinking Plain has occupied a place of curiosity, appeal and mystery for decades, it’s not that great. Basically a D&D module re-purposed for Rolemaster.

Despite it’s arguable quality, it’s generally seen as a “rare” book, at times on par or even more than the price of The Court of Ardor. SotSP can fetch hundreds of dollars or more in excellent condition. But has anyone read it or even used it in an adventure? A quick but not exhaustive search via google and I couldn’t find a single review of the Shade of the Sinking Plain!

First off, SotSP is a “Loremaster Adventure from North Pole Publications, Inc.” and prominently says so on the cover and ToC.  Interestingly, North Pole Publications did at least two other products: The Serpent Islands and Tome of Mighty Magic and there may be MORE. I don’t have time to hunt them down, but it would be interesting to find out more on the company. The credits can be found in the back. Apparently the author was Roger Walker with development credits to Terry, Douglas Bohlman and Rober Walker.  The remainder of the credits for art, production, editing and play testing seems a mix of North Pole and ICE.

The Cover.

The cover art quality is average but the scene itself is compelling.  A robed figure sits on his throne while slaves or pirates present treasure and booty. Skulking behind the throne is a Demon of some sort. The art appears to be done by Victoria Wheeler in 1983. The back side of the 1 piece cover is a large hex map of the “Northern Kingdoms” (which is Trademarked apparently). It’s a fairly simple map with only major geographic features, the location of the Shade’s keep, a few cities and that’s about it. Pretty sparse and in no way the quality of the Iron Wind or Cloudlords. (or Vog Mur for that matter). Again, we get the sense that this is an outlier. More Judges Guild for D&D than a curated ICE/RM product from Terry, Pete and crew.

Table of Contents.

The ToC looks like an attempt to bend the modules material into the standard Loremaster organization: section 1 is on the world of Loremaster, 2 is a general overview, 3 is Politics and Power, 4 is a physical overview, 5 is people of note, 6 is layouts, 7 is a gamemaster guide and 8 is scenarios/adventures. I’ll get more into the actual content, but it feels like there was a half-hearted attempt to “Loremasterize” some of the material by North Pole.

Material starts at page 2 and the font type immediately feels like Judges Guild or Midkemia Press than an ICE product with a smaller more distinct font. There is 1 page of the standard “world of loremaster” copy and then some definitions/glossary with RPG terms and historical people and items. Page 5 has a short general overview: basically the land of the Sinking Plain is an enormous marsh. That’s it in a nutshelf. A paragraph on inhabitants: the only humanoids are Trolls. The cities are mostly Common Man. The woods have Elves. The foothills have Goblins, Orcs and Dwarves. This is all very generic.

Politics and Power.

This section is an overview of the three cities: Zetta, Garrothold and Oriz, but the majority of the section focuses on Oriz. Why it’s called “Politics and Power” is beyond me. Zetta and Garrothold only have the briefest of material so the GM will have to fill in a lot of information for the cities to be useful in the game. Oriz gets a small hand drawn map (see above), lengthier material on different city districts, a rumor chart and some notes on the monetary system.  Strangely, each of the 8 districts are covered twice, first as descriptions and then again under a sub-category “Economy”.  Overall there is 5-6 pages covering the 3 cities and it’s sparse. The last section is a Vignette–a short first person narrative used to introduce the Shade. I’m curious whether this was written by Terry or an ICE staff member as the quality of the writing is much better than the rest of the module.

Physical Overview.

This section is short and a bit puzzling. First there is the crappy map you see above–my drawings are pretty bad, but that one looks like it took all of  minutes to draw. Unlike the other Loremaster/MERP and SW books which feature excellent maps, Shade just doesn’t keep up. Then there is a short section that describes the Shade’s keep and his Bronze Barge.  The barge is very cool, but this material should have just been inserted in the later “Layout” section. Finally there are some encounter tables that don’t work well inserted into the page layout–they should have been structured as actual tables in the back. Again, the organization of this module is poor and really breaks up the flow of information.

Peoples of Note.

This is really the “Politics and Power” section as it covers the key NPC’s and there history. This is the core of most ICE modules as it provides an overview of the dynamics and backgrounds of the key people. This section is a bit more comprehensive (punched up by Terry or ICE?), and covers the “Shade”, Aaron the pirate captain, Prince Arndre W’ricke ruler of Zetta, Danel Silens an advisor, King Y’rage, Smiley a war lord, and finally Lito Extempler prelate of the truth. Most of the section is spent on the Shade, as it’s the key NPC opponent for the players.


Section 6 covers the layouts of the key locations. First is the Shade’s keep:

It’s basic but serviceable. Then there are some detailed drawings of the portcullis winch system and piping used to disperse a variety of fluids: oil, acid, paralysis and “moron oil”. These oils are keps in cauldrons that run along ceiling tracks. Compared to the rest of the module, this is very specific and detailed and feels like Terry or Pete had a hand in this.

The next layout is the Shade’s tower:

This is a great layout and the layout key was definitely written by Terry or ICE. There are great traps, descriptive text and there are 14 levels in the tower. The Shade’s tower layout is really the best part of the module and a great drop-in to any campaign. In fact, it would be a great fortress for Roth Naku, the Lich that resides in the Thanor Stand (p. 68 Emer II).

The next layout is the Shade’s bronze battle barge.

The barge is huge, with multi story battle towers, rams, catapults and driven by an Elemental Engine. Very cool so far, but here is the kicker for me: the 380′ barge can be reduced to toy size and put in a storage bottle due to a spell “Boat in a Bottle”. I was never a fan of shrinking castles and ships and it doesn’t feel very Rolemaster.

Game Master’s Guide.

Section 7.0 is a mixture of material. The first part covers the “adventure phases”–basically the writer sees this module as a linear adventure rather than a sandbox setting like the other Loremaster books. It’s a short story in 4 parts: gather info, travel to the keep, the battle, return and collect reward. The next part introduced new magic items. There are a few good ones included but one in particular is like the barge: it’s a marble cube that transform into a 13 level fortress including forming a hill as it’s base.  Again, I’m not keen on the concept; it seems more whimsical magic than the more grounded magic found in Rolemaster. After the magic items, we have a number of new creatures: some Demonic creatures, some hybrids, snakes and giant spiders. Nothing to revolutionary or creative. Next are new spells. This IS interesting as North Pole Publications also did a Tome of Mighty Magic. Listed are individual spells that name lists and level so they can be incorporated into existing Spell Law lists. Many of the spells are more suited to d20 games but there are few goods ones:

Tangle Weed. Basically allows plants to attack using Large envelope. Plant attacks weren’t found in the first iterations of Spell Law (either Animist or Ranger) and seem pretty obvious in hindsight.

Alaup’s Zufferooma. I’m not a fan of “named” spells, but this one is pretty funny. It creates an almost indestructible, horrid, camel that is constantly surrounded by a sand whirlwind.

Healing Sleep. This is a good one. It basically sends the target into a deep sleep but also provides accelerated healing.

Hey Bartender. Yes, this spell summons a magical bar and bartender.

Elemental Summons. RM didn’t have any elemental summons for quite a while. The module has 6 summon and control spells that can be inserted into Gate Mastery. That’s a good add if you are using 1st edition RM.

The next few pages are the master charts: Personalities, NPC’s of Note, suggested player characters (thief, rogue, ranger, bard, magician, cleric), Master military, creatures, movement/travel rate chart, and several price charts.


The final section breaks down the adventure path with very specific If/When conditions.  Again, the intent here is a standard linear adventure, the the GM is coached here to keep the train on the tracks. But in this section is something interesting: a simple large scale combat system. Basically this is used for a infantry or siege battle with 30 minute phases, morale checks, archery mechanics, fortifications and charts  for Attack Conditions, Heavy Weapons, Ship Capabilities and troop training. I’m not familiar with War Law, but someone should check these rules out and see if they make sense. They only take up about a page or two and it might be a nice little mechanic for troop actions in RM.

Overall impressions and thoughts. At it’s core, Shade of the Sinking Plain is a short, basic adventure. The efforts to expand it’s scope with cities and regional maps just fall short in quality and there is so little there it’s basically meaningless anyway. However, the Shade’s keep and battle barge are cool and interesting and the NPCs can be easily fleshed out. There are some good spell ideas and that battle mechanic may be useful for a quick and dirty mechanic. Ultimately, the most useful and well done section is the Shade’s tower and that definitely has a RM/SW feel to it.

Finally, for clarification, my module The Priest King of Shade WAS meant to be a re-imagining of Shade of the Sinking Plain. I kept the best “kernels” of Shade and expanded it into a more traditional Shadow World regional module located in SW Argyra.

Thus ends my 4 part blog on the original Loremaster series! Thanks for reading.




To Tweak or Not to Tweak

…that is the question.
Is it better to have tweaked and lost
than never to have tweaked at all?

There is a thread on the the ICE forums about undead and sunlight. (

This is exactly the sort of question that I think screams “Setting over Rules”. The very question of how undead are created, how they ‘live’ and how they die are all entwined with the magical system in which they are created. Some people see Necromancy as a wizardly thing, others a dark priestly thing. I can certainly see the argument for a hybrid Channeling/Essence (Chessence?) Necromancer.

I like Skeletons. When I think of Skeletons I think of Jason and the Argonauts where the wizard throws down the bone fragments and the Skeletons emerge from the ground.

In my vision, Mordrig’s idea of sunlight effects on the undead has no place. These are more Essency than Channelly Skeletons.

In all those 1970s and 80s Zombie movies, night of the living dead types of films, sunlight had no place to play.

On the other hand, I ran a zombie apocalypse adventure for my players recently and in that session the undead came out at night and retreated before sunrise. I used the dusk until dawn mechanism simply because I was sending impossible odds against the players and the objective, although they didn’t realise it was to survive until dawn. It was never going to be possible to fight their way out unless they had solved the clues and left before sunset, and with my group that was extremely unlikely to happen!

If you did introduce a rule that directly sunlight harms or kills the undead then that piece of information becomes vitally important. There is a good time to go undead hunting and a very bad time. Earth Law suddenly becomes a  really useful spell list if you can cracks call the ceiling and bring sunlight  down into crypts and dungeons.

So Creatures and Treasures has some rules on the effects of sunlight. Vampires are the only ones with explicit damage from sunlight. My own Vampires and Vampire Spawn, converted over from the D&D 5e SRD both have the flaw of…

Sunlight Hypersensitivity. The vampire takes a A Fire critical
when it starts its round in sunlight. While in sunlight, it has -25 on
attack rolls and skill checks.

So this puts the 5e vampire firmly in the Bram Stoker/Hollywood camp. This is also where the C&T vampires lay.

The question is are there many forms of undead in your world with different creation methods, natures and ultimately game mechanics or just one unified mechanic that means all undead should behave in a coherent and consistent way.

I like the plurality of different mechanics. I like the idea of lost souls becoming ghosts or will ‘o’ wisps, mages sacrificing their mortal souls to achieve lichdom and necromancers reanimating corpses. Some have bodies, some don’t, some are purely magical and no more spiritual than a golem or animated suit of armour. Others are the willing a show of power by a dark god. I do not see a need for one mechanic or one unified Undead Lore.

Just as a bit of a straw poll, how do other GMs see the whole spectrum of undead? Is there a need for a common set of rules to bind them or is the entire concept of Class I-VI undead doing them a disservice?


The Warehouse Heist

This week’s 50 in 50 adventure hook is The Warehouse Heist.
In The Warehouse Heist, the characters have been hired to recover a small item from a dockside warehouse. The item is hidden and the employer wants it removing before the shipment is inspected. However, the characters are not the only people looking to recover the item before it is found, and they may end up in a rooftop chase.

This is one of my favourites so far. The adventure has so many possibilities relating to what the item is, who else is after it, who hired the PCs and so on.

Hope you enjoy it.

Rolemaster Spell Law. 5 problematic spell lists.

I thought I would stir things up a bit and do a quick blog on what I consider the most problematic spell lists found in the early version of Spell Law. I’m going to refer back to Spell Law #1200 which is the punched up version of Spell Law from RM2. Now that I am fiddling with a 4th iteration of BASiL I had a chance to review my original notes and comments.

Obviously this is just  my opinion and I’m not suggesting that these lists have merit–I’m sure I could make a counter-argument on the utility of these spell lists as well. However, in the process of re-writing spell lists, I found spells and many lists that were marginal, needed quite a bit of re-jiggering or some just beyond salvaging. In fact, I found real issues with virtually EVERY spell list in Spell Law! What started as a rewrite of just a few problematic ones turned into BASiL–a full renovation of the spell lists. So while I can point out issues in every list, here are my top 5 problematic lists:

#5 Weather Ways. Channeling Open. Problem: Needs a complete re-write.

At first glance, this list would seem to have quite a bit of utility and be an automatic for Druids and Rangers. On closer inspection though, there just aren’t that many useful spells here–and there are only 16 spells to begin with! First off, the first quasi useful spell doesn’t occur until 7th level: Breeze Call. The 1st spell is about as bad as the famed “Boil Water”: “Living Gauge” allows the caster to know the EXACT TEMPERATURE of the surrounding atmosphere!!!! The next three spells are various predictions: rain, storm and weather. The problem of course, is that the GM will need to decide what the weather will be over the next 24 hours in order for these spells to have any real value. So it probably becomes a self-fulfilling function where the GM has to set the future weather to provide a spell result.  Plus, do you need to break down the difference in predicting rain, storms and weather via individual spells? Can’t you just have “Predict Weather”? So once you simplify the various prediction spells you are left with 7 spells: Fog Call, Precip Call, Wind Mastery, Clear Skies, Rain Call, Storm Call and Weather Mastery. 3 of those are 20th+ level so won’t be used in 80% of play. You can see my solution HERE. (needs a RM Forum user name).

#4 Way of the Voice & Far Voice. Astrologer Base. Problem: Redundancy, thematic confusion.

I always thought the Astrologer profession was very cool–certainly different than any other classic fantasy profession that I had encountered back then. Of course one problem is that it implies a specific setting or magic mechanic around “star power”, but that’s easy to ignore.  The Astrologer spell lists Way of the Voice and Far Voice are so similar in concept that they are just begging to either be consolidated or further differentiated. The most obvious issue is Mind Speech and Mind Voice. Mind Speech allows the caster to broadcast thoughts while Mind Voice allows the caster to mentally speak with a being. Mind Speech allows broadcasting to all within the radius and Mind Voice is only 1 target.  Mind Voice is 2nd level and Mind Speech is 7th lvl.  Mind Voice basically does the same thing as Mind Speech plus has the added ability of 2 way communication. Given it’s name, the list “Way of the Voice” should actually focus on “Voice” spells and yet there are only 4 spells that do: speech, suggestion, voice of command and word of command. The rest are all “mind” spells. “Far Voice” is almost all Mind Voice spells except for one outlier: 20th lvl “Lord Voice” that allows the caster’s voice to be heard up to 100’/lvl away. So I would move that spell to Way of the Voice, and port over the Mind Speech spells. Overall, there is at least one good spell list or two  distinct ones.

#3 Plant Mastery. Animist Base. Problem: WTF?

I don’t even know where to start with this spell list. Like Alchemist spells, this list doesn’t add a lot of utility in actual game play; it’s more suited for downtime or just reinforcing the profession’s premise. But then the actual spells are confusing or utterly useless. Let’s look at the 2nd lvl spell Speed Growth. It increases the speed of growth for 1 species of plant within radius by 10x. So it speeds up growth 10 days in a 1 day period. Then 2 lvls later the growth rate is 100x! That makes more sense, but under what conditions is this even useful? Herbs? Are GM’s populating healing herb seedlings for added realism? Then we have Plant Growth: the spell doubles the size of any 1 plant. It requires 1 day of growth…but…then states that the plant when fully mature will be double its normal size. So does this mean that it will eventually grow to twice it’s size, or it grows to be twice it’s size in a single day? So it’s speed growth AND size growth? Or, if the plant is already mature it doubles in size in 1 day? It’s very confusing and while cool to grow trees to 10x their normal size, if it takes a normal growth period then it loses quite a bit of in game efficacy.  Solution: complete rewrite!!!

#2 Spell Reins. Essence Closed. Problem: Poor mechanics.

This could be a great spell list, but as is, it’s poorly executed. There are 3 spells on this list: Spell Hold, Spell Bending and Reverse Spell. All are great concepts and mostly work, but there is some confusion as well. Spell Hold will delay a spell for X rounds and the target spell gets an RR. Simple enough? Then there is this odd “movement” rule built in that says that if the target caster moves more than 20′ (that’s pretty random) then the delayed spell will instead target a random person within 10′ of the target caster. This needlessly complicates the spell. Spell Bending is also more complicated than it needs to be. Basically the caster can deflect a Elemental spell from it’s target, modifying it by -10/10% failure. I’m assuming the target spell makes the RR and not the caster? It says the spell is deflected up to 10′ but I’m not sure why that’s important–the important mechanic is the penalty incurred  to the attack. It’s an instantaneous spell, but it’s not clear how a caster would react that quickly after SEEING a elemental attack cast. Would they have time? Would they need to be waiting/Opportunity action? I’m not sure I like the RR mechanic here. Why not treat it like Bladeturn or Deflection and just apply a fixed penalty that increases with the spell level? Finally we have Reverse Spells. The attack spell makes an RR or is reversed to it’s caster. That’s simple, but it’s still a instantaneous spell and would require the caster to anticipate or see the spell coming. I think all of these spells work better with a duration to avoid that reaction mechanic. One last thought it to merge these three spells into the Dispelling Ways list (which could be trimmed as well) to make a single cool “counter spell/magic” list.

#1 Spell Enhancement. Essence Closed. Problem: Too powerful and not necessary.

12 spells. Out of a possible 23. Not a lot of bang for your buck, so what do you actually get? An ill conceived list that breaks the whole spell mechanic. Basically there are only 3 spells on this list: Extension, which increases spell duration, Ranging which increases it’s range and the 50th lvl Permanent spell that’s completely insane since there is NO level limit on the spell that can be made permanent! Ignoring that bit of crazy, let’s look at the first two. The caster casts this spell first and then it affects another spell that is cast in the next 3 rounds (allowing for Class III casting times I’m assuming). It’s a spell that improves another spell. But how? Spell scaling via PP expenditure is much simpler and makes more sense. Let’s look at Firebolt. The 6th lvl has a range of 100′ and the next one at 11th lvl has a range of 300′. So 5 PP’s to get a +200′ increase. In Spell Enhancement, the Ranging +200 is a 15th lvl spell!!! Ouch! Not a lot of value in the Ranging spells, but how about the Extensions. x2 Duration in only a 3rd level spell! That is a crazy good deal for any spell 4th lvl or higher and only get’s better as the spell level increases. Why cast a 20th lvl spell twice in a row for 40 PP’s when you can cast Extension II and the spell for 23 PP’s and get the same duration. This is broken. Spell Law already establishes a clear linear progression of ranges and duration in it’s spells in almost every spell list. This breaks that concept, it’s unnecessary and isn’t even a good value in terms of the # of spells and the cost of using them. Solution: get rid of the list.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any lists that you find problematic? Has RMU solved many of the Spell Law problems? Is there a spell list you like or dislike? Let’s debate!!!


Maybe I should make movies?

On Sunday I found myself with an hour and a half to kill but also tied to the house so I decided to watch Conan The Barbarian on Netflix. My first impression of the first five minutes was that they had the the depiction of the Pictish warriors/savages down perfectly. At that point things looked promising.

Pictish Warriors from the movie…
Pictish Warriors, they all seem to share a sort of brutal Native American vibe.

After that my opinion changed somewhat. To be honest I think this is a pretty dreadful movie and I read this evening that it cost $90M to make and grossed $21M, making a net loss of $69M. I am guessing most of that went on the CGI which was certainly plentiful and was mostly used in place of any real plot and dialogue. I admit that you don’t engage with Conan for his witty repartee.

So even when watching the movie it was plainly obvious that this was a dreadful film and no amount of topless slave girls and serving wenches was going to save it. Surely this was obvious to the creators at the time?

What the film tried to depict was what we would consider an entire adventure, not a full campaign but certainly more than just a collection of encounters. There was a definite character motivation, revenging Conan’s father’s death, that ran through the film but the fact that Conan was plainly not doing anything to further that revenge until a huge clue lands in his lap says that if this were a game and not a movie then the film represents a character goal inserted into a greater campaign.

We do get a few encounters along the way. Conan and crew attack a slave caravan. Their plan involves starting an avalanche of rocks down on to the slavers caravan and then charging in and killing the remaining slavers. Being Hollywood all those rocks only hit slavers, no innocent slaves were hurt. You try that in one of my games and there being 20 or so slaves for every slaver there is a very good chance that you will be scraping Slave jam off the road.

Another encounter has some bad guys row up to Conan’s ship and attack them. Conan’s crew then defeat them and stand around on deck cheering. No one thought to wonder where the attackers had come from. Maybe if Conan had asked a few more questions he would have exacted his revenge a few years earlier?

So was there anything good about this movie?

Yes, right near the end the hero and NPC thief (for want of a better phrase) do battle with a submarine beasty. We never really see it, just a mass of kraken-like tentacles. The fight is a bit so-so and the CGI a bit mediocre but the set for the scene, and the beast itself was really evocative of the Cthulhu style dark gods of the Robert E. Howard’s Hyboria (Howard and HP Lovecraft were close friends).

So what I think distinguished the best from the worst in this movie what that all the early encounters were disconnected and there was no visible plot thread to bring them together. Leading up to the water beasty scene we got to see Conan recruiting his thief NPC, breaking into the BBEG’s fortress and then encountering the beast and its ‘keeper’. We were suddenly into a story that was progressing from challenge to challenge and had a continuity.

I suspect that writing a good movie is slightly harder than writing a plot for a gaming campaign or at least a enough plot for a few gaming sessions but if we put the player in the seat of the viewer, unless there is a reason and a feeling of progress then games would be just a procession of meaningless encounters. We are almost back to wandering monsters, that is how the first half of the movie felt.

So how could the movie been made better? Well you could have lost the first half of the film and started with the recruiting the party to attack the fortress. Conan could have explained the entire plot up to that point in about 5 seconds “Fifteen years ago this man killed my father, I will have my revenge! Who is with me?” <kick over tavern table and shake sword>

We could then have launched into the one bit of the movie they made well. After the kraken scene they tried a bit too hard to be Indiana Jones and the movie slumps back into the mire.

For GMs, if you have ever watched his movie, or any like it, the lesson must be to draw a compelling world for your players. Not for the characters, but the players. If they are not invested in it then the best plot in the world will become just a linear series of hack and slash encounters. I think this is same idea that Brian has been pushing for for RMU. It has to have that compelling world, Shadow World, to get people to invest their heart and soul into wanting to bring the game, world and story alive for their players.

I know there is an argument that not everyone wants to play in Shadow World but casting RMU as the Shadow World rules does not exclude anyone. I don’t adventure in Grayhawk but I reuse old style D&D modules. Most people do not adventure in Faerun but they will happily use 5e stuff. GMs tinker with bought materials, they reuse and they extend them. They always have and they always will. I have put RM characters, adventuring in the Dales through Traveller adventures. I just replaced spaceships with wagons. After all a good adventure is a good adventure regardless of any fancy dressing up but for my players the clothes I put on that adventure helped bring their little corner of the Forgotten Realms to life.

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and Complexity

Pathfinder Second Edition, D&D 5E, RMU and ComplexitySo, you may have heard that in the past week or so that Paizo has just announced the playtest for the second edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, with an aim to publish the new edition in 2019.

I admit I’m not that clued up on all the details but I have been reading what others have posted who seem to have rather more of an understanding on what is happening.

One of the changes would appear to be a lack of backwards compatibility between the second edition of Pathfinder and the original rules, which could prove to be a mistake. After all, lack of backwards compatibility between D&D 4 and 3.5 was probably one of the factors that led to Pathfinder’s success in the first place. Paizo got a lot of players from D&D 3.x who didn’t want to move to the 4th Edition.

In the decade since then, some of Paizo’s customers will have purchased perhaps thousands of dollars of official material from Paizo (given the various subscriptions) that may not be compatible with the second edition, never mind third party content. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to have that all written off. So this could cause the Pathfinder market to fragment.

However, that is not really why I am writing this post. One thing I have taken note of is that, according to more than a few comments, Pathfinder Second Edition seems to have quite a bit in common with D&D 5E, in terms of reduced complexity. So, perhaps the system is being simplified to regain market share. 5E may have taken some players from Pathfinder.

Now, after I admit I have no idea how many official rulebooks, the Pathfinder system was getting a bit bloated, and perhaps impossible to keep on top of. I have stated more than once that Pathfinder is at least as complex as Rolemaster. So, if Paizo is shifting towards a less complex format with the second edition, such as seen in 5E, that does not exactly bode well for complex systems such as RMU.

Is there a general trend towards the less complex in game systems and, if so, what does this hold for Rolemaster? Will it remain an extremely niche game system even after the release of RMU?

One Muhaha, Two Muhaha

The title of this post should be spoken using the voice of the Count from Sesame Street.

There was no publication round up last week as I was en route from Norway to home and faffing about trying to embed links and what-not using just my phone was just too painful. As a result we have two adventure hooks to tell you about. The first is…

The Empty Village

In The Empty Village, characters come across a prosperous farming village, but one without any inhabitants, life or livestock. The village is utterly deserted and it seems the inhabitants disappeared without notice or expectation. Who could be responsible? That is up to the GM, but suggestions are provided.

Next up we have….

One Muhaha, Two Muhaha

In One Muhaha, Two Muhaha a new death cult has sprung up in town, attracting the offspring of the wealthy and taking them away from the established churches. Despite disapproval with the goings-on, little harm was being done by the cult. Until a body turned up, dressed like a cult member and drained of blood. The characters will need to discover what is really going on.

You can tell by the stupid title that One Muhaha, Two Muhaha is one of mine, while The Empty Village is a far more sensible offering from BriH.

What is even more awesome is the release of out second bundle. The Rolemasterblog 11-20 bundle is out and includes the second block of 10 adventures. If you have already purchased some of the previous adventures you get an automatic discount. Check out the bundle here.

I.C.E. Deep Dive. Loremaster Series Review pt.3: The Cloudlords of Tanara.


Welcome to my third review of the Loremaster Series; today we are going to explore what is possibly the most well known or popular of ICE modules: The Cloudlords of Tanara. Over the years there have been other reviews (see some links at the end) and Cloudlords has been treated to the Terry Amthor rewrite, but I’m going to focus on the original version and review it in the context of the Loremaster series and how it might have impacted the later Shadow World series.

Like the Iron Wind, the Cloudlords is undeniably “base DNA” of Shadow World where Vog Mur and Shade of the Sinking Plain felt like stand-a-alones. So despite some timeline issues and slight ret-conning, it’s easy to use Cloudlords as a canon SW book. In reality, most of the timeline and history issues are going to be lost on the players anyway!

First, let’s start with the cover art done by Gail Mcintosh. The Cloudlords is iconic cover art from the early golden era of RPG’s and is part of what I consider the “trifecta” of Gail’s early cover art that creates movement (everyone is wielding/swinging weapons) and depth (a contrast of foreground featuring the backside of a protaganist and a foe facing forward in the background). The trifecta:

Some would argue that these covers were less refined than her subsequent work for MERP covers or Dragon magazin but I think they are fantastic and captured the unique nature of early Rolemaster compared to the other d20 settings.

Once you turn the cover page you are immediately drawn into a whole new RPG module environment: a color map of “The Forge of the  Lords of Essence”!!!  That map label alone raises all sorts of questions and promises that are delivered further into the book. This is definitely not the “Caves of Chaos“!

Since Terry Amthor was the author of this book, you’ll note that the Table of Contents follows a familiar structure that is adhered to in later SW books: World Info, Geography, Flora & Fauna Politics & Power, Key Places, Master Charts and then Adventures. For regular SW users, this is a well understood template that has mostly continued throughout the product line.

The Introduction covers the fundamentals of the Loremaster world, but it’s not currently named Kulthea yet. The Flows of Essence are discussed, but primarily as the source of “magic” and the basis for RM’s three realms. In 1.17 Peoples, the test describes the isolationism of various peoples and creatures due to mountain ranges and broad seas. In the next section, History, it describes: “…a strong north-south flow of that invisible yet dangerous force of Essence. These elements combine to make passage..virtually impossible”. The kernels of SW are there but haven’t been fully fleshed out with the Flows acting as physical barriers.

The History section is a simplified version of the SW timeline: the 1st Era, Kadena, The Second Age, Loremasters, the Wars of Dominion and finally the Third Age. What’s different? There is no mention of Andraax, the Althans haven’t been tied to an advanced technological culture and there is no mention of the Lords of Orhan. In fact, it was the Loremasters who broke their creed of non-involvement to tip the scales of the Wars of Dominion.

The next few pages are some map symbols and B&W geography maps–Fenlon of course. As a GM these Fenlon maps are priceless–in fact, it’s all I really need to run a game. The maps depict trails, roads, ruins, towns, waters, cave cities, burials etc.  Amazingly, Fenlon also incorporates elevations, foliage types, and settlement patterns of people and animals. It’s really an incredible resource in these books, and frustrating that this type of quality can’t be produced at a reasonable cost. ?

Section 2.1 The Environment.

A page and half, covers basic terrain types, weather patterns, the calendar, hints at some moons and a sampling of creatures. Interestingly and in line with SW, there are very few monsters: Steardan, Garks, Demons & Undead are referenced. Under Demons, there is a reversal from the Iron Wind, ad the Pales are described as having 6 levels with the weakest being the First Pale. Here again, we can see world design shifting into place for the 1st Edition Master Atlas that came out in ’88-’89.

Section 2.2 Peoples.

Terry creates 4 distinct peoples, but are there perhaps any more iconic peoples of Shadow World than the Duranaki? Spiked and colored hair, leather armor, odd black weapons, live underground–very punk rock. It’s in the Worship sections that Terry starts developing the eventual SW pantheon. The Sulini have “Numa” the Ocean God, the Myri have Ilila, Earth Goodess, Allanda (Storms), Keo (Moons), Davix (Festivals) and Phaon (Sun) and the Yinka have Yugal.

3.1 Politics and Power

In a previous blog post, I discussed the Xiosians and part of my solution was based on this book.  The Cloudlords of Tanara are Zori  who crossed the mountains and discovered an ancient abandoned city with artifacts (the Cloudlord Gear) and the Steardan. They, like many historical cultures, co-opted the ancients legacy and became the Cloudlords. This section also covers the political powers of the Myri, Duranaki and Yinka and finally includes the Cult of Ezran.

The Cult of Ezran. Basically an outcast group of the Cloudlords was corrupted by a wandering Elf, a servant of the Unlife. Cloudlords makes no mention of the Priests Arnak, but it’s natural to ret-con Teleus as a Priest. Now an Undead, Teleus rides a “Demon-Horse” and wields the Implementor–an idea that probably morphed into the Heralds of the Night. To combat the Implementor, there are 3 very cool “swords”, the Narselkin. Give it to Terry, he comes up with the coolest magic items and these are no exception. Each has particular powers and meant for an Essence user, Fighter and Channeler.

Cool Places. The layouts and fortresses found in the Cloudlords are a step forward in the development of the “Lords of Essence” aesthetic. These buildings are clearly a fusion of classic marble style with industrial high tech features, radiant heat, locking doors and laen and shaalk panels. There are lots of odd rooms that are interesting but feel more like a standard dungeon “puzzle room” than a logical room in a fortress or structure. Other layouts include a Lords of Essence forge, a Duranaki hold, vaults for the Narselkin and the temple of the Yinka.

Finally, the module has detailed master charts for NPCs, military, a huge herb chart, and a great section featuring unique and notable magic items!!

The last sections cover details on the Navigators–a more involved section than the paragraphs in the Iron Wind 3rd ed. Plus there is a glossary that makes for an interesting read and touches upon a lot of later SW content. Special metals and materials, languages etc.

Over all, the Cloudlords of Tanara is a fantastic supplement and takes the base DNA found in the Iron Wind and really morphs into the Shadow World style.  When compared to the canon established in the original Master Atlas, there just isn’t much change. Perhaps the most significant is the additional of the pantheons of the Lords of Orhan and the Dark Gods of Charon.

So why is it relevant? Clearly in design and layout it establishes all the later SW products and while it was re-written by Terry decades later the original Cloudlords of Tanara makes a great stand-alone setting or as part of your SW campaign.

Here  and HERE are some other reviews that I like coming from people more outside the Rolemaster bubble.