A New Setting – Part 1: Intro

“And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not…but there was happiness.”

In response to Brian’s call to arms for new content on the blog, I figured I could hit two birds with one stone. As has been discussed here, on the I.C.E. Forums, and on Discord, one of the issues RMU has to somehow overcome in order to attract new players is the question of setting. It seems, at least at present, that RMU is moving in the direction of a relatively generic fantasy setting — the standard fantasy races, a smattering of the elements that have become Rolemaster staples, and a smorgasbord of creatures in Creature Law that GMs can mix and match to create a setting. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily… RM’s strength has always been its modular nature. But looking over some older content from other games, D&D in particular, I’m more convinced that setting is its biggest weakness.

I was thumbing through the D&D 2e Monstrous Manual the other day, and the first page is a reference of their various game settings at the time: Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Dragonlance… each with a distinct flavor and lending to the overall mythology of the WotC multiverse. In recent years, this has only grown and now is a key element of their game appeal. The addition of Diablo II, Magic the Gathering, and other worlds to their repertoire has only given D&D more fuel and appeal.

This isn’t new to RM which has some rich settings in its vaults already: Shadow World is easily the most developed, although the sheer amount of lore can be daunting. The RMSS Shades of Darkness setting is fascinating, and deviates from the standard fantasy tropes without deviating from fantasy roleplaying. And of course there is MERP…

What I’d like to see are some truly developed world settings with some unique flavor to them that I.C.E. embraces as their “core worlds”. A quick Wikipedia search shows over a dozen world settings in D&D that have the backing of the main developers, and living lore that continually gets development. Every GM (and there seems to be a lot of us old veterans floating around out there) have takes on worlds in which we’ve created our adventures… some of them are cookie-cutter fantasy settings, some of them are built into the aforementioned RM settings, and some are our brainchildren with their own unique flavor, rules, and lore. This may be presumptuous in the extreme, but would the powers that be of RMU be open to creating sections of their forum or website dedicated to living worlds that they could call their own? Would GMs be willing to work on them, largely as a creative endeavor, as a project for expanding the accessibility and appeal to RMU? Thoughts? Or am I simply repeating what’s already been suggested?

Stay tuned for additional writings. In Part 2, I’ll introduce my own setting under development: The Far-Realms, a universe created by Dragons, warped by Demons, and a place of primeval magic and natural wonders attempting to recover from the constant blighting assaults by the forces of Corruption. Think of it as Lord of the Rings meets the apocalyptic fantasy elements of the Gunslinger world (minus the technology).

10 Replies to “A New Setting – Part 1: Intro”

    1. As far as the game I’m a PC in now, and the one I’ve been prepping for the last year, it’s RMU. I’m buying in wholesale on the rules in the hopes that it’s the great new unifier for the community. I do think that it’s the best version of RM in terms of the crispness of the rule. That being said, my own game has some significant house rules intended to streamline playing… some parts are too crunchy for my taste.

      My experience has always been with RM2 though, so I tend to view things through that lens. Given its patchwork development over the years, that’s probably why I’m leaning so hard into RMU.

  1. Sounds super interesting, and I agree on the matter of an absence of settings. I know Shadow World is there, obviously, but in this case, I think more is actually more. I’ve a rather mammoth setting of mine own that I’d love to get out there. I’m unconvinced that it is particularly innovative, but, if nothing else, it’s been burnished by a great deal of love and attention for many, many years.

    1. I share the same sentiments about my Far-Realms setting… so much of it has clear influences from other places (novels, games, etc) that it doesn’t necessarily feel innovative. I think that the arrangement of those elements is what’s important to make it unique. I actually have chopped down the number of sentient races compared to a lot of other fantasy because I want to focus on how these groups interact. You state it well — burnished with love — and that attention to detail makes all the difference.

  2. I may be in the minority here, but I’m not convinced a setting has to be 100% innovative to draw in players, especially those new to role-playing. My own setting has innovative elements (at least I think they are…), but I also took some pains to preserve a few standard tropes (dwarves, for example). My groups often contained RPG newbies…people who’d seen Lord of the Rings or other things but had never gamed before. Having those tropes gave them some grounding based on what they’d seen before…a point of relation if you will. But I also focus more on culture than some games do. RMU could also do worse than find ways to make itself at least partly compatible with Harn. The setting is fantastic, but their rules (which are a supplement to the setting) are in many ways cumbersome.

    1. I don’t disagree, and you’re right in that the comfort of well-known tropes can be quite inviting. One of the games I play in (D&D in this case) is all newbies, including the GM, and me as a veteran. The fact that they already know something of the setting because it’s the standard fantasy package certainly is helpful to them. That being said, I do think that settings are always more attractive if there is something unique about them that builds on the familiar. I think that’s where culture, which you mention, can play a huge role, and doesn’t depend on rulesets.

  3. Some settings are very open to non-core supplements. For example, 0one Games states quite openly that “fan-conversions are welcome, should they be well done we will make them available for download on our website.” If you are unfamiliar, The Great City is a wonderful set of supplements, similar to Shadow World’s “Eidolon” or “Haalkitaine”. Except on steroids.

    “intothatdarkness ” mentions Harn, and they too seem open to other gaming systems. For example up on DriveThruRPG there is a product called “5e Harn”. In the first paragraph of the description it’s stated “This is an unofficial product, approved by the copyright holders.”, and later on it’s stated that “Columbia Games” (the copyright owner of Harn) is perfectly fine with it (because CG reviewed the product, and their copyright was correctly acknowledged). So it’s still unsupported, but welcomed.

    All that said, call me a skeptic but you’d have to pick me up off the floor if that kind of effort would ever be welcomed by ICE, specifically core concepts like Skills, Spell Lists, Professions, etc… Now you might might be able to sidestep it by leaning on the wonderful Open00 system from Open Ended Games, but IANAL.

    1. Harn is actually configured to be system agnostic (it’s primarily a campaign setting first). They do have their own rules as you mention, but the bulk of their stuff is setting-focused and doesn’t depend on their rules. Harn itself is also split between two companies: Columbia Games and Kelestia Productions (the latter seems to focus more on setting stuff outside the original Harn region). Their region supplements don’t even include stats for NPCs, leaving that to whatever system the gaming group is using.

      In some ways it’s the reverse of Rolemaster’s original idea: it’s a setting you can bolt systems into instead of a system you can add into settings.

    2. Sadly, I think you’re right about ICE’s willingness to open their doors in this way, which is a shame because one of the strengths of RM, and especially the rebalancing in RMU, is the ability to be customized across so many settings. Have a world where resources are depleted and you need highly customized cultures? There’s rules for creating that. Have a world where there are customized professions with spells tailored to the setting? There’s rules for creating that. So why not lean into the strengths and utilize the small but fanatically loyal fanbase to help create something that sells the system?

      Again, maybe it’s vanity for any of us to think our worlds would be detailed enough to be a flagship product (ok, at least vanity for me… you all are much more versatile and creative), but this seems like a no-brainer.

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