Legends of Shadow World: Building a 50th level adventure group.

Tuesday night my gaming group ran the first chapter of the 50th level adventure I’ve been working on. Overall, it’s a 3-part adventure: chapter 1 is the introduction, in chapter 2 the plot is revealed (mostly) and chapter 3 is the grand finale. Each chapter takes different skills and strategies, but based on Tuesday’s game I’m not sure the current group can survive and make it to the end!

The adventure is meant to be a stand-alone campaign or tournament module to really test the system limits of Rolemaster, show case cool Shadow World stuff and as another challenge here on the Rolemasterblog. “Legends” is predicated on known or powerful Shadow World characters being called upon in a crisis. I wanted to use a group of established Shadow World NPCs as pre-generated characters.

Some basic criteria:

  1. The group should be made up of well-known persons or groups.
  2. The group should provide skills/spells to handle the challenges.
  3. The PCs should be interesting and fun to role-play.
  4. The characters should be around lvl 50.

For all the talk of Shadow World being high-fantasy and high-powered it was difficult to find 5 NPCs to use in the adventure. Here is what I ended up with for the group:

  • Malim Pelax: 41st lvl Loremaster/Magician (I bumped him up a level or two from the Master Atlas)
  • Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician –“Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona)
  • Lord-Captain Kroger: 48th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon)
  • Chomen Drah: 45th lvl Priest of Iorak (with alchemical skills)
  • Jan Jo’drin: 47th lvl Changramai Warrior
  • + 1 NPC, a 12th lvl “Engineer/technician”

On the positive side, I had a Loremaster, Navigator and Changramai represented which is cool, plus Clerics of Iorak and Phaon. On the negative, none were over 50th lvl and using RM2 RAW, no one had 50th lvl spells. Another down side was the class distribution: 2 magicians (although they had another set of base lists), no powerful mentalists and no real subterfuge (which may not be necessary). Finally, not great healing spells and no female characters (though Jan could easily be female).

The group finished chapter 1, which is more cerebral and role-playing than the subsequent chapters..but…they used up quite a bit of resources and may be in for some serious hurt in chapter 2. Even IF they could survive chapter 2, they would be in no way able to complete the final chapter. This could be the RM version of Tomb of Horrors! So, I need to change up the group for more power and if possible, replace my made-up characters with more SW personalities. Here is what I’m thinking so far:

  1. T’vaar Dekdarion. This is a “threefer”: he’s a Loremaster, a Changramai trained bad ass and he’s 61st By using him, I’m bumping up the group power level, combining the roles of Malim and Jan from the previous group iteration, and eliminating the Magician redundancy that we had.
  2. Chomen Drah: 52th lvl Builder Priest (Iorak). Terry doesn’t have too much info on high level clerics so I still have to rely on the work I did on various religions. I’m bumping up Chomen to 52nd lvl plus I’m using the Iorak base list I created.
  3. Lord-Captain Kroger: 50th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon). I’m keeping Kroger for now—he’s a serious fighter and representative for Phaon. He’ll have my “Holy Warrior” spells from Project BASiL as well.
  4. Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician – “Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona) I’m keeping Sumendar for now since I want a Navigator in the group.
  5. Empty slot. Who should it be? A Warlock of Itanis? A Dragonlord as Malim suggested?

Anyway, as I posted in the RM Forums, if anyone has any suggestions for a cool SW NPC that might work in the group, post a comment! If they aren’t quite 50th lvl I can always bump them–even NPCs level up! Terry has created some iconic characters in Shadow World–who would you play if you could?




I’m Your Greatest Fan!

I was thinking about NPCs today. In particular about NPCs that join the party. I know some GMs like to throw in an NPC healer just because RM is so bloody dangerous that someone needs to keep the characters alive.

I am not a fan of NPC healers. I like having an NPC to give me a voice in the party. I am not sure that is always a good thing.

So, I am there happily thinking about NPCs and suddenly thought “There is a plot idea!” Imagine an NPC that is so entranced by one of the PCs that not only do they want to be in the band but they want to get rid of the others so they can have the PC to themselves.

So I am thinking along the lines of a cuckoo in the nest sort of plot with the NPC as the cuckoo. This could slowly ferment and bubble away under the skin. You could always have the NPC run short of herbs just when they get to which ever PC is closest (emotionally) to the ‘target PC’, or happen to ‘not hear’ requests for healing if it is a chaotic situation.

How soon before you reach a crisis if the healer withdraws their support?

This is an off the cuff thought this morning but scarily this is the second post I have done where the Healer is the bad guy.

Does that say something about me or should we not go there? 🙂

In Just Seven Days I can Make You A Man!

Tucked away at the back of different versions of Creatures & Treasures are some interesting little add on chapters. In the first C&T that I owned it has the comversion stats for D&D and Runequest. In the RMC Creatures and Treasures it has guidelines for creating your own monsters.

I am a dab hand at D&D monster conversions as I convert from old FR modules to RM all the time but creating new monsters is not something I have ever done.

There are three immediate uses I can think of for new monsters but I only want to discuss one of them here and now.

If your characters have been around for years (such as the hypothetical 50th level characters in BriH’s adventure plans) then they have probably met and killed everything many times over. So how about something completely new?

Trying to find a monster in the book to challenge a party of high level characters is simply not possible. I have never played at 50th level but a small party of 30th level characters, I know from experience, can eat Balrogs for breakfast and have Nazgul for whipping boys. Been there and done that, if not quite literally. Four us us once fought three Dragons simultaneously on the slopes of Mount Erabor. The monsters in C&T simply do not cut it when it comes to VHL characters.

The easy option and the one I have seen most often is to resort to evil NPCs as the end of level boss. These scale well and are the only thing that can challenge a party. 12 50th level bad guys will be a real challenge for a normal party of 50th level characters. The problem is that I guess the end of level boss is always an evil magician or evil mentalist and at that level everyone has all the spell lists so where is the sense of excitement?

Toss in something new and all of a sudden the players do not know how to handle it. So my challenge to myself is to create some adventures around completely new monsters. I have one really cool idea already that is now on my to do list.

So who here has actually made their own monsters?

50th level adventures in Rolemaster. Does it work?

50th lvl…the mythical pinnacle of roleplaying achievement. I vaguely recall 1sted. D&D and I don’t recall 50th lvl (maybe it was 20th in that game system?). I do remember looking through Rolemaster for the very first time and thought the 50th lvl spells were so crazy—and cool! It opened up a world of possibilities. After that, MERP modules continued to introduce VHL (very high level) NPCs that continued pushing this perception of Rolemaster: deadly, complex and high level. After that…Shadow World. Again, the inference was that this was a high fantasy world, only populated by incredibly powerful NPCs and organizations.

So, Peter and I are working on a 50th level adventure series. Mine are based in Shadow World, but I’m going to convert these adventures to a generic format. So guess what? Creating adventures can be hard, but creating an adventure for a group of 50th lvl +- adventurers is even tougher!

Some people would argue that RM system rules break down around 15th lvl. Others would argue that the gradual power progression of RM spells, while potent, is not the same progression as the power progression of spells in AD&D—spells like “Wish” make high level Magic Users or Cleric almost god-like. Many 50th lvl spells in Spell Law are just “Laws”: the ability to cast lower level spells 1/rnd. That’s an efficient resource spell, but perhaps doesn’t lend itself to a transcendent narrative.

My first question when starting this adventure design was: “Under what circumstances would a 50th lvl PC even get involved? Not all world threats should, or can be, handled by a “well balanced group” of 5-15th lvl characters. An adventure should be: challenging, interesting and rewarding. Once a PC reaches the heights of 50th lvl, what is challenging? What adventure could possibly be new, novel or interesting? What could be rewarding for a player group equaling 200-250 levels?

We are going to try and find out with our Rolemasterblog 5of50 later this year. Have you run or played in a VHL adventure or campaign? What worked? What didn’t?

RPG Maps. A new tech solution?

In my opinion, maps and layouts are the linchpin of RPG’s and adventures. While you could argue that form follows narrative, it is possible, and perhaps easier to build a story around a map than it is to come up with a story first. Peter touched upon this with his decahedron blog post: how many of you thought to use this great 3d layout?

I am a poor artist, mapmaker and layout illustrator–that’s fine when my group never sees the source doc, but a horrible handicap when creating products for print!  My perfect solution would be to find an artist that can create awesome maps and layouts and I can fill in the content. What I call the “Elton/Bernie” solution. Unfortunately, I have yet to find my art muse…

What if there is a better solution for our map woes? What if there were a way to create “Fenlon” style maps on demand, quickly, that can provide filler for a GM’s campaign?

I present to you, the “Uncharted Atlas” per Atlas Obscura: “a Twitter bot made to produce a new map every hour, each with its own array of  mountains and rivers, fjords, island archipelagoes, and deserts. 

The landscapes are rendered in the pen-and-ink style of maps printed at the front of certain fantasy novels à la Tolkien, complete with alien names: “The Pez-mes-Lüch Coast,” “The Confederation of nos-Us,” “Outer Háukwuénoé.” (the designer built a language generator, too).”

Tell me this isn’t the future? I recall talking to Matt about the future of Rolemaster/Shadow World years ago. The solution, above all else, is maps. Terry writes amazing content but the most useful material is campaign and tactical level maps. Check out the original Loremaster series or Court of Ardor. Those Fenlon maps marked roads, trails, terrain, cities, forts, ruins and other useful markers. As a GM that’s all I really need to create an adventure (plus my random encounter tables). Campaign Cartographer already has a “Fenlon Style Pack“: how about combining the style of Fenlon with the instant computer generation of Uncharted Atlas?

Fairly soon, cool maps will become a computer generated solution. Personally, I can’t wait!

An Opportunity Creating Rolemaster Adventures

I don’t know if you have all seen this thread but if you have wanted an opportunity to create something ‘Official’ for Rolemaster then now is a real chance.

Colin has given a single paragraph hook for their three samples on the ICE Blog http://ironcrown.com/blog/2016/02/19/roleplaying-adventure-hooks/

Now, I know we have been teasing people with the hidden project called 50 in 50 but I can let on that you will be getting more than a single paragraph from each of our adventure hooks. I have been flicking through them and each runs to a typical 1000 words with environmental considerations, battle tactics and nicely developed pen portraits of key NPCs so you could play them off the page if you are competent seat of the pants GM.

I really struggle with the whole idea of ready to run adventures for Rolemaster. What I know about RMSS/RMFRP could be written on the back of a gnats testicle and still leave room for house rules. Even my beloved RMC is different from its grandpa RM2. Just take for instance a basic skill roll. Imagine you have a fairly good skill of +57 as a 2nd level character (two ranks for the 3 levels, two lots of level bonus and a +13 stat bonus for example) and you make a middling roll of exactly 50. The skill was an absolute pass or fail test.

Total roll of +106. Did you pass or fail?

RM2 = Pass.

RMC = Fail.

To the best of my knowledge RM2 and RMC are the two most closely related RM versions there are so if RMC NPCs and characters need skills to be a typical 10 points higher than the same character in RM2 how do you balance a prepared adventure?

How about HARP? Does anyone know all the systems well enough to cross stat?

What about setting? I think the setting should be interweaved into each and every adventure. Whether it is maybe different cultures of NPCs sat around in the inns and taverns, languages heard in the market places. When I write adventures I like to explicitly write in these cultural references so I do not forget to mention them to the players. I am picturing one thing in my mind’s eye but they may not be seeing the same thing.  If the fields are filled with Aurochs grazing open common land they would look different than Bos Indicus.

Are there Shadow World races and cultures or do you not mention them?

It sounds like a real nightmare to me. In my recent post An Explosive Situation the actual setting I had in mind was an Arabian desert town with a dusty market place and white plastered buildings, the taverna with hookah pipes on the tables and curtains in the the doorways. None of that is in the text but if I had written it for myself then that would have all be there to project that across to my players.

This all sounds more negative than I had intended but going back to the beginning. Colin has make an opportunity or three available for anyone who want to have a crack at it.

Rolemaster Blog Crowdsource Challenge: 50 RM adventures in 50 weeks.

So, let me start with this–I’m not a believer in decision by committee, so when I say “crowdsource” what I really mean is a tight group of competent people with differing skill sets.

There was an attempt at crowdsourcing an adventure module on the Forums. I have no idea how far it got, but apparently it’s stalled?

I’m thinking something different–a quick and dirty production of easy to adopt adventures, scenarios, layouts or campaign seeds via the RolemasterBlog.com. After Peter’s recent blog post, “An Explosive Situation”, it’s clear to me at least that a small, flexible group of experienced GM’s/players could publish frequent and interesting material–lower in scope than a sanctioned or published product. Peters blog and few comments generated a small conflict drop in adventure. Random encounter tables can generate a whole slew of random adventure hooks…etc.

Yes, there is already many small “one-off” products online. I’m suggesting a Rolemasterblog.com specific product line using the talents already associated with, connected to, or participating in the community. We would need a few content writers, a map/battle map/layout person and a pagemaker/publisher type. This would be a d100 system or agnostic product.

Wow, this seems like a small game company startup. Not really. This is a crazy challenge of 50 adventure vignettes in 50 weeks. Is this possible? I think so just based on the word count of RM Forum participants.. Let’s start in September 17 to September 18.

Evil Healers?

All this talk about channelling got me thinking. There was also a thread on the forum of someone wanting plug and play adventures.

The problem with plug and play rolemaster adventures is that no published adventure can ever know what options are in play and which aren’t. As a rule of thumb you could optional rules relating to character creation in the companions made PCs more powerful, not less. If you accept that premise then any adventure written against the core rule books would be varyingly under powered when used with characters created with optional rules, spells and skills from the companions. As an example the core RMC core rules has no option for two weapon fighting styles which in many games are extremely common. Stunned manoeuvre is another skill that can have a huge impact on the outcome of a fight.

Any adventure where the PCs had twice the attacks and could shrug off stun results would have a huge advantage over adversaries who didn’t and couldn’t.

So bearing that in mind I am not going to give you any actual stats as you will have to build the enemy to fit your game and challenge your players characters. What I want to do is suggest what to me seems at first an unusual choice of villain.

This little adventure is completely off the top of my head, untested and unplayed. You should use it for inspiration only!

The Evil Healer

At first thought Healers would not necessarily seem the natural choice for an evil mastermind or villain. I think the prejudice comes from the idea that healers do good things to people and most people don’t want to piss off their healer. If anyone was going to coerce a healer and force them to do bad things, they are more likely to bad people themselves so a vengeful healer is most likely to be still on the side of ‘good’ or at the very least an anti-hero. Or that is what I was thinking until I stopped thinking of the healer as a one dimensional, personality free cliche.

Separate the person from the profession and  there are a multitude of reasons why you can justify an evil healer. Think how many stories there are based around experimenting on people or animals or even individuals that can get a twisted pleasure from being around the suffering of others or even their own.

For this adventure idea I want to think along the lines of having a whole ‘party’ of terminators after the PCs. What made the movie Terminator so cool was his unstoppable nature. In this little adventure at the heart of it is a simple band of brigands lead by an evil healer. The brigands have become incredibly successful as they are almost impossible to put down. Their leader can just put them back together and back on their feet again.

The healer will need the healing base lists including transference but I also  suggest adding Symbolic Ways, Light’s Way and Calm Spirits.

Back when this band started out the Healer assumed control buy using Calm Spirits to completely disarm literally and figuratively the original band of brigands and an crossbow bolt to the back of the head dispatched their former leader.

The current band is made up of two warriors, a thief and a monk. The skill level of each is up to the GM and the party that wander across this place.

The band’s hideout is littered with stones inscribed with magical symbols (using Symbolic Ways) that provide the band with a number of magical effects. Some are used as traps such as stones in the floor that when stepped on cast Calm spells. I will leave the level, number and position of these to the GM as having a single character ‘Calmed’ may be a big problem to a 1st level party but a Calm III may be more of a challenge to a higher powered group. As the brigands have been here for years any and every stone that is suitable has been enchanted to give the brigands every advantage. There are stones that will heal, protect and so on. All of these are well known to the brigands and they will use them to their best advantage while keeping them a secret if they can.

The band’s ‘lair’ is an old and now abandoned mine building. The stairs in the top left lead down into the collapsed mine tunnels. The rest of the rooms were once store rooms, workshops, dormitories, kitchens and all the other supporting services for a working mine.

The GM can dress this place as they see fit.

Much of the complex is still unused.

  1. This hall is used as both kitchen and mess hall. The corridor leading off of here ends in a natural chimney that draws the smoke from cook fires away.
  2. The centre of this room is set up for sparring and martial training. Around the periphery are assorted weapons, shields and armour that the band have accumulated over the years.
  3. These are the private quarters of a warrior.
  4. This is the groups main living area. Along one wall is an odd assortment of stolen furniture that is used for storing non-cash loot.
  5. This is the healers private quarters.
  6. These are the private quarters of a warrior.
  7. This room contains barricades and wall shields the group could use to defend their home should they ever need to. Invaders would be permitted to get this far and no further.
  8. unused
  9. unused
  10. The entrance hall is serving as little more than a tack room for the bands saddles and tack. The actual mounts are kept outside in a corral that is hidden from easy discovery.
  11. This room is piled high with junk. There is a way through but it is difficult to spot. The intention is to make it easy for band members to pass through but create the impression that the way is blocked to the untrained eye. The sort of thing they have done is lean bunks and pallets over the openings so there is no line of sight.
  12. This has been turned from a workshop into a gym for the Thief and Monk to hone their skills.
  13. The private room for a monk.
  14. This is the private chamber for a scout or thief.
  15. The thief’s walk in wardrobe.

The players should meet the brigands outside of their lair. They [the brigands] will attempt to size  up the party before deciding if they are a good target or not. If they decide to rob them then they will wait until the party are a long way from the nearest town or village and then try and steal their horses in the night. If the party look too tough then if they cannot steal them then they will kill them. Once the party are stranded then the brigands will try and pick them off. They never fight to the death. They know that as long as they can get home they will be healed up and can try again. Nothing is worth getting killed for.

The brigands can and will come back night after night and grind the party down if they have to.