Campaign Restarted

After what turned into a much longer break than I had expected my campaign is now back. You probably don’t care that much about my personal game, but it is in my game that I play through all the adventures that turn up in the Rolemaster Fanzine. No regular game means no playtesting and that means no fanzine content.

We played the first Tuesday in January, and that was mostly getting back into the characters, working out where we were, and I brought the characters virtually up to the front door of their next encounter.

I have misplaced a player, at least temporarily, so the party is now two player character fighters, a former player character rogue that is now an NPC, and the only non-human is a centaur healer, who was always an NPC.

My game has restarted because the game I am playing in Shadow World is taking a break. That was my Druid under old RM2 rules. My Druid is 5th level, possibly pushing 6th once we get the final experience.

Our group now has four GMs, one running Call of Cthulhu, one running 5e, and two Rolemaster. We are playing every Tuesday, alternating one RM game with one of the others. Right now it is CoC and RM.

Do Powerful Magic Items Spoil Games?

This is an observation I have made over the past 30 years. When a character is given a powerful magic item it seems to have a negative impact on the game as a whole.

The GM we have just finished with is the kind of GM that don’t kill characters, it is very hard to die in his games. His villains are more likely to take the opportunity to escape than to press their advantage and kill characters. He enjoys high-level campaigns and big battles against powerful foes. In one game we started session 1 at 10th level. It is only in the final session of the campaign, the final battle that the gloves come off and let the dice land where they will.

Given that this is a GM that actively tries to save characters, in each of his last two campaigns, there have been two character deaths, and they were both effectively character suicides. Where the player has said that they don’t want to play that character any more. The reason in both cases was that one character with a powerful magic item had made the other character superfluese. This happened not once but twice. In both cases the players talked to the GM, created a new PC that was not going to have to live in the shadow of the other character and rejoined the game after their original character was killed.

I have seen players get very upset or feel their character is suddenly underpowered when they lose a powerful item that they have become accustomed to.

A GM I used to play with many years ago used to enjoy throwing characters into rivers or in the sea, and then washing them up on the beach or bank without half of their equipment. It was his way of resetting the magic item economy. He did this once and one player left the game and never returned because they felt robbed.

Players who knew the GM was used to these regular inventory resets and took them in their stride.

I would honestly say that I have never seen a game improved by powerful magic items.

I tend to not give out items where the bonus is more than +5 more than the characters level. At 5th level you may get something that is +10, and +15 at 10th. It means that I can frequently give a magic item as a reward, knowing that it will still be an upgrade from what went before.

I recently saw a character at 4th level given a +30 broadsword that did x2 round so of Stun. +30 is a huge bonus anyway, but if your opponent of almost constantly stunned that is almost a +60 bonus (+30 + another 30 for being stunned) and you rarely ever need to parry because they cannot attack you back.

I suppose the problem is at its worst when only one or some of the characters have these over-powered weapons, those without will always be overshadowed by their allies.

In the game with that+30 sword, most of us would just parry and wait for the uber-fighter to come around and kill everything. Even the other fighter in the party would just parry every round. We all became bit parts in the story, which is not what RPGs are supposed to be about.

I suspect that this is only really a problem for items that have a lot of utility. Swords get used almost every session, something that allowed you to transform into a great white shark would be less useful but could be a lot more powerful.

Master Spell List Reference

Recently I received an email from someone looking a spell list (and a few particular spells)–it took some time given that some of these lists were done years ago, I’ve updated some of them since, and I haven’t run any sessions during COVID so some things are a bit hazy! So to help in the future, here is the full list and links to all of the spell lists I’ve posted up so far. These are on the Rolemaster Forums and do require that you have an account to access these lists. Almost all are in PDF form.


Shadow World

Cult of Hraask:;topic=19644.0;attach=4307

Arnak List Thargondaak:;topic=15879.0;attach=4109

Arnak List: Dansart:;topic=15879.0;attach=4108

Arnak List Athimurl:;topic=15879.0;attach=4106

Arnak List: Gaath:;topic=15879.0;attach=4105

Arnak List: Yarthraak:;topic=15879.0;attach=4104

Arnak List: Lyak:;topic=15879.0;attach=4103

Nynaku Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3804

Klysus Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3803

Moralis Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3802

Scalu Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3799

Zatar Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3795

Andaras Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3787

Kesh Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3782

Inis Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3781

Orgiana Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3780

Iloura Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3770

Iorak Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3768

Kieron Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3765

Jaysek Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3764

Oriana Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3763

Teris Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3762

Phaon Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3760

Eissa Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3759

Shaal Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3757

Cay Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3755

Valris Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3754

Kuor Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3752

Void Knight Base List:;topic=15879.0;attach=3187

“Misc Lists”

Needlework Mastery.;topic=17557.0;attach=3798

Undead Hunter;topic=17568.0;attach=4058

Santa’s Ways:;topic=17707.0;attach=3828

Haunting Ways:;topic=17568.0;attach=3801


Acid Law:;topic=16681.0;attach=4114

Force Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3797

Physics Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3796

Sand Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3793

Sand Attacks:;topic=16681.0;attach=3792

Sand Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3788

Master of Dark:;topic=16681.0;attach=3342

Summon Dark:;topic=16681.0;attach=3343

Call Cold:;topic=16681.0;attach=3338

Cold Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3339

Ice Attacks:;topic=16681.0;attach=3340

Ice Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3341

Fire Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3334

Fire Travel:;topic=16681.0;attach=3335

Fire Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3336

Fire Attacks:;topic=16681.0;attach=3337

Summon Light:;topic=16681.0;attach=3330

Light Veils:;topic=16681.0;attach=3331

Light Manipulation:;topic=16681.0;attach=3332

Light Attacks:;topic=16681.0;attach=3333

Sound Control:;topic=16681.0;attach=3328

Sound Waves:;topic=16681.0;attach=3329

Earth Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3324

Earth Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3325

Earth Attacks:;topic=16681.0;attach=3326

Earth Reigns:;topic=16681.0;attach=3327

Call Water:;topic=16681.0;attach=3320

Command Water:;topic=16681.0;attach=3321

Water Commune:;topic=16681.0;attach=3322

Water Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3323

Defensive Winds:;topic=16681.0;attach=3316

Controlling Winds:;topic=16681.0;attach=3317

Attacking Winds:;topic=16681.0;attach=3318

Moving Winds:;topic=16681.0;attach=3319

Demonic Summons:;topic=16681.0;attach=3313

Demonic Protections:;topic=16681.0;attach=3314

Demonic Forms:;topic=16681.0;attach=3315

Gate Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3310

Phase Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3311

Time Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3312


Physical Analysis:;topic=16681.0;attach=3308

Power Analysis:;topic=16681.0;attach=3309

Spell Disruption:;topic=16681.0;attach=3304

Spell Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3305

Spell Reigns:;topic=16681.0;attach=3306

Elemental Shields:;topic=16681.0;attach=3301

Spell Shields:;topic=16681.0;attach=3302

Weapon Shields:;topic=16681.0;attach=3303

Living Enhancements:;topic=16681.0;attach=3298

Living Change:;topic=16681.0;attach=3299

Living Augmentation:;topic=16681.0;attach=3300

Lesser Cold:;topic=16681.0;attach=3294

Lesser Earth:;topic=16681.0;attach=3295

Lesser Fire:;topic=16681.0;attach=3296

Lesser Light:;topic=16681.0;attach=3297

Lesser Wind:;topic=16681.0;attach=3292

Lesser Water:;topic=16681.0;attach=3293

Lesser Magic Mastery:;topic=16681.0;attach=3285


Physical Enhancement:;topic=16681.0;attach=3287

Minor Spell Shields:;topic=16681.0;attach=3288

Minor Elemental Shields:;topic=16681.0;attach=3280

Essence Hand:;topic=16681.0;attach=3281

Lesser Delving:;topic=16681.0;attach=3282

Lesser Detections:;topic=16681.0;attach=3283





Willful Compulsions:;topic=17405.0;attach=4324

Willful Influences:;topic=17405.0;attach=4325

Self Projection:;topic=17405.0;attach=4323

Sensory Riding:;topic=17405.0;attach=4321

Sense Projection:;topic=17405.0;attach=4322

Matter Manipulation:;topic=17405.0;attach=4319

Mental Kinetics:;topic=17405.0;attach=4318

Mental Hand:;topic=17405.0;attach=4313

Subtle Touch:;topic=17405.0;attach=4311

Self Change:;topic=17405.0;attach=3921

Self Control:;topic=17405.0;attach=3922

Self Healing:;topic=17405.0;attach=3923

Self Weapon:;topic=17405.0;attach=3924

Self Enhancement:;topic=17405.0;attach=3925


Mind Lore:;topic=17405.0;attach=3747


Dark Powers:;topic=16688.0;attach=3395

Dark Protections:;topic=16688.0;attach=3396

Dark Warrior:;topic=16688.0;attach=3397

Dark Channels:;topic=16688.0;attach=3392

Dark Master:;topic=16688.0;attach=3393

Dark Wounding:;topic=16688.0;attach=3394

Holy Arms:;topic=16688.0;attach=3389

Holy Auras:;topic=16688.0;attach=3390

Holy Battle:;topic=16688.0;attach=3391

Summon Followers:;topic=16688.0;attach=3383



Flesh Law:;topic=16688.0;attach=3378

Organ Law:;topic=16688.0;attach=3379

Muscle Law:;topic=16688.0;attach=3380

Bone Law:;topic=16688.0;attach=3381

Healing Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3382

Create Undead:;topic=16688.0;attach=3375

Undead Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3376

Undead Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3377

Natures Guises:;topic=16688.0;attach=3372

Natures Lore:;topic=16688.0;attach=3373

Natures Defenses:;topic=16688.0;attach=3374

Flora Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3369

Herb Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3370

Flora Commune:;topic=16688.0;attach=3371

Animal Summons:;topic=16688.0;attach=3365

Animal Forms:;topic=16688.0;attach=3366

Animal Control:;topic=16688.0;attach=3367

Animal Bonds:;topic=16688.0;attach=3368


Weather Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3362

Unholy Transference:;topic=16688.0;attach=3363

Unholy Transformation:;topic=16688.0;attach=3364


Life Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3357




Spirit Mastery:;topic=16688.0;attach=3353

Spell Defense:;topic=16688.0;attach=3354

Natures Movements:;topic=16688.0;attach=3355


Communicating Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3346

Communing Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3347


Lights Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3349

Locating Ways:;topic=16688.0;attach=3350

Minor Curses:;topic=16688.0;attach=3351

Minor Healings:;topic=16688.0;attach=3352

Magical Item Lists

Simple Imbedding:;topic=15879.0;attach=4062


Other Blogs You Should Check out.

Sorry for the unfinished post, but I got sidetracked! Anyway, I thought I would put up a few other RPG blogs that I check into regularly. I wish there were more sites dedicated to Rolemaster and/or Shadow World, but it’s pretty lean! That doesn’t mean there isn’t great content out there. My preference are blogs with unique opinions, reviews or thoughts rather than aggregator sites. There are some great posts on defunct sites that are also worth looking for, but for this post I’m keeping my list to sites that are regularly updated. Here are a few that I read:

Akratic Wizardry has shifted focus over the years–in the past there was some coverage of Rolemaster/MERP and currently has veered over to other game systems. Nonetheless, there is some good writing and interesting topics worth checking out.

Grognardia. I’ve mentioned this site many times in my own blogs. James has an appealing writing style and an eye for topics that is pure nostalgia. For many of us, roleplaying games is a continually effort to recreate the wonder and joy of our first experiences with gaming in our formative years. Reading Grognardia brings some of that back!

Gnome Stew. I typically check in once or twice a month, but I appreciate the macro-view of gaming issues, gameplay and theory.

Swords & Dorkery. I’ve always enjoyed Mike’s blog, and he is still at it!

Roleplay Rescue’s. A grab bag of blog topics, but there is discussion of wargaming and Panzer! As an old school Squad Leader gamer, I always like to read about turn based table top wargaming.

What blogs do you read or I should check out, let me know. Also, if you have any interest in contributing to the Rolemasterblog let us know. A handful of bloggers writing once/month would help us keep our content up!

Languages in Shadow World

Polyglot - Department of Modern Languages - Dietrich College of Humanities  and Social Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

One mechanic that is often brushed aside in RPG’s relates to language barriers. Early D&D provided most players with a number of languages, a common racial tongue and an alignment language. It was not uncommon for PC’s to have access to a dozen or more language channels within the group.

Ostensibly, in the Shadow World setting, there should be much more material addressing languages and communication. SW is a setting that covers 100,000 years and is made up of smaller landmasses divided by mountain barriers and impassable Essaence flows. Even assuming the same root language, locals will differ by dialect and common etymology. Erlin, which is often the default “common language” should still vary by region, continent or culture.

My experience is that players will sink very little, if any, DPs into languages. I suspect they lean on the GM to solve any language barriers to facilitate gameplay. Language is just a hand wave problem! I get it, as a GM, I don’t want to impede the story and needed exposition due to the “realities” of language so I find myself solving that problem for the PC’s rather than creating a roadblock.

So what are some options:

  1. Languages are more easily learned at an early age, so the GM could spread around some useful languages as part of adolescent development. Even a few “root” language can bridge a basic communication gap among a variety of SW cultures.
  2. Account for it when planning a session. If the group is encountering a new culture, travelling in general, or might have a relevant meeting with an NPC or similar info source, come up with a mechanism for communication. Perhaps the NPC has a spells, device or another language that will work.
  3. Spell Law. There are a number of communication spells in Rolemaster. They may not be the most exciting lists or have broad utility (depending on the game style), but information can be a key element of gaming success. The players should know that not everything will be spoon fed to them, and it’s incumbent on players to not only equip themselves with the right gear, and arm themselves with the right weapons, but to have appropriate non-combat related skills and spells.
  4. NPCs. I discussed hirelings in a previous blog. If languages are an important element in our game, than the players should prepare by hiring/using a translator when interacting with others.
  5. Magic Items. This feels a bit of a cheat, but the group could find/buy a magical “translator” (or Althan tech that seems magical).

Anyway, I’m curious how much emphasis GM’s place on language barriers in Shadow World. What are your thoughts?

Retconning Shadow World Pt.2

At the risk of repetition, many of the generic elements of Shadow World were simply the inclusion of general Rolemaster material in earlier books to support the RM rules. If you were to parse out Terrys “canon” work, it’s clear that his material is more specific to his world setting than fidelity to RM.

In my first “Retconning Post“, there seemed to be some collective agreement about eliminating “Lugroki” (Orcs) and some mixed comments on my other suggestions. I also realize that this retconning topic is similar to my recent “Canon or Can It” posts, but in these blogs, I’m focused on questioning baked in canonic items rather than elements of Shadow World that were only mentioned sporadically–like Jewel Wells. Many of these items are revisiting past posts, but with the future of Shadow World unclear it’s worth discussing how Shadow World could be tightened or improved if ever given the opportunity.

  1. Giants. So my first item are “Giants”. I blogged about this a few years back so you can click the link to read more in depth thoughts. Where are Giants in Shadow World and do they belong there? Terry only mentions Giants 40 times in the Master Atlas and ALL the references are either in the “Lands” section involving other areas not fleshed out by him (not Emer or Jaiman) or the “Creatures” section. There are no mentions of Giants in the timeline or other supporting material, no Giant NPC’s other than the Titans (which are something altogether different), 1 mention in Haestra (used as an adjective re: Titans), 2 mentions of Cloud Giants (only that they are rumored to exist in the Mountains), none in Emer III . Like many other creatures, Giants were originally included to marry the Rolemaster material with the default SW setting. Certainly Giants are a classic creature in D&D and human mythology, but do they belong in Kulthea? My belief is that Terry’s writing should direct these questions–and he didn’t use Giants.
  2. Elves. I also blogged about Elves in the past, and I still feel like they need some adjustment and posted up some thoughts on the Forums HERE. Elves were a favorite of Terry’s and he definitely ported over some Elvish standards from his love and work on Middle Earth. Could Elves be modified to clarify some issues? Dyar certainly raise a host of issues around the “Evil Race” theory and the modal language around “Dark Elves”, “High Elves” and “Common Elves” seems simplistic now. What, if anything would you change about Elves?
  3. Unicorns. “Black Unicorns” ridden by the Heralds of the Night are cool…but not sure about the standard one. Thoughts?
  4. Undead. Here is my past post on Undead. For me there are two issues with Undead in Shadow World. First, how does it fit into the metaphysical underpinnings of the world regarding souls, resurrection, the afterlife and the deities (who aren’t really gods). Second, I think using traditional Undead creatures: mummies, vampires, ghouls etc pull the player out of setting immersion into standard fantasy RPG tropes. Personally, I like the undead “Class” system combined with either physical or non-physical manifestations. I’ve also married the concept of Undead to the Unlife–it’s more likely that intelligent undead are a manifestation of the Unlife than a trapped soul or angry spirit.
  5. Physical Travel. One of the original conceits of the Loremaster/Shadow World setting was the physical isolation of various lands due to geological barriers and Essence flows. I think this concept needs to be emphasized more in any future Shadow World products. What reason for the Navigators if travel was dangerous but nonetheless accessible to most anyone?
  6. Dragons. The Shadow World includes 160 mentions of Dragons–they are an integral part of the setting. But based on Terry’s writing, there are relatively few “real” Dragons: just the 6 Dragonlords and handful of named, older/great Dragons. I like that. Dragons are rare, powerful and perhaps not even “evil”. In fact, the Master Atlas names a handful of other Dragons: Kaedan (undead Gas Dragon), Ssamis T’zang (light dragon) and Motar Voorg (red-gold dragon). The remainder of “Dragons” are lesser types–drakes, wyverns etc that are tied to dark forces. I think it’s all great but perhaps needs to be clarified a bit more.
  7. Navigators & Loremasters. Both of these “professions” have unique sets of spell lists that sort of upend the normal Rolemaster professional limitations. One could argue that these lists are the 4 extra base allowed by pure spellcasters, but it’s not clear that Navigators or Loremasters are recruited at a young age and trained from childhood. In fact, Terry mentions that Loremasters and Navigators start with some other profession; sort of a dual-class situation:

Two groups which are key to the scheme of Kulthea are the
Navigators and the Loremasters. Both of these associations—
through rigorous training and aptitude—have access to lists which

are Arcane in nature. No one without the full regimen of training
could possibly learn these lists. Those within the circles of these
groups may choose these as their Base Lists (in fact, to be learned at
all, they must be chosen as Base Lists). As noted in Spell Law, .,
Pure Spell Users may choose up to four other lists to be their “Base”
lists. In the case of Loremasters and Navigators, they may also
forfeit as many as three of their Professional “Base” Lists (those lists
becoming like “Closed” lists) and select more of the following
Arcane lists for their Base. Thus, while they theoretically retain one
of the other Rolemaster professions, they are also a hybrid with
either Loremaster or Navigator lists. Note that a Loremaster or
Navigator is actually some other profession initially, then chooses
the additional discipline afterwards.

Since Lorematers and Navigators are invariably NPC’s it’s easy to hand-wave this mechanic, but rule carve-outs complicate the marriage of rules to setting.

These are just a few examples of SW content that could be “retconned”: changed, modified, clarified or eliminated. What are your thoughts?

A few quick thoughts on “Level-less” Rolemaster.

Levels Health - Home | Facebook

We’ve discussed “Level-less” Rolemaster before here on the RMBlog, but Vladimir’s recent post on the ICE Forums had me thinking and I wanted to put some quick thoughts down.

While RM was a bolt-on to D&D, character levels were never an integral part of Rolemaster. Levels didn’t impart any names or titles, there were no special abilities granted at “X” level, and no other real benefit of levels except to measure the “when” of imparting more development points except for 2 areas: spellcasting and saving throws.

  1. Spellcasting. Early RM only allowed a caster to cast spells up to their level. This restriction was removed in later alternate rules and now with newer editions “overcasting” is not only allowed it’s basically baked into the system via special skills (grace or spell mastery?). My understanding of RMU is that character level and spell level are now disconnected. The other aspect of spellcasting and character level is casting time. I believe this has been discarded as well. Either way, it’s fairly easy to separate character level, spellcasting level and casting time.
  2. Saving Throws. This is a bit trickier since it’s DEEPLY ingrained into RPG psyche that more powerful, higher level characters are better able to avoid, fight off, repel spell effects, poisons, diseases and other similar type of attacks. However, when you have a system like Rolemaster that is completely skill based, level based RRs seem like a artifact from a past era. I blogged about it HERE and HERE.

I’ve eliminated any RM mechanics based purely on the character level. Level is just a measure of experience/development points, but meaningless otehrwise. My question to you all–what MECHANISTIC function do you think levels serve?

Happy New Year! 2021 Year in Review.

Happy New Year from the Rolemasterblog. 2021…what a year…I’m going to call this past year a loss and move on to the next, but wanted to put some thoughts in order and reflect on a few items.

R.I.P. Terry Amthor. 1958-2021. For the Rolemaster and Shadow World community, there is no greater loss than Terry’s passing. While Shadow World is his most comprehensive work product, Terry was an icon in the early days of roleplaying: one of the founders of I.C.E., author to seminal MERP products, author of the Mentalism realm to note a few. While the future of Shadow World seems dim, many of our lives were brightened by his creativity.

RMU. Another year gone by and RMU is still in process. While I use my own rules (SWARM: Shadow World Alternate Rolemaster), I see RMU as a critical milestone for the company. I’m not sure if there is another ruleset left “in the tank” for ICE given everyone’s age and their resources. I imagine someday in the future–the IP might be bought out and given new life as a legacy product.

Priest-King of Shade. PK was submitted in 2013 in first draft form. Since then, during the editing passes, I have made roughly 200 changes for spelling, punctuation and grammar and added roughly 4 pages of finishing material. That’s not a lot of editorial work–the product is basically complete. However, I always felt it was a long shot given Terry’s reluctance for third party work, and the other priorities in the queue at I.C.E. However, my goal has always been, and still is, to get at least 1 Shadow World product officially published! I still have hope!

Rolemasterblog. This was not a great year for the team here. It looks like we only posted about 60 times TOTAL–a little over 1/week and I had 40-45 of those. Our past output of 1 blog/day seems unreal!

RMBlog Adventues and DrivethruRPG. Our RMBlog adventures production sort of whimpered out…BUT…for 2021 we sold a total of 1280 units via DrivethuRPG. That’s something!!!!! The top selling hook was The Inn of Dusk with 60 sold, followed up by Grosks Tavern with 51 sold. Thanks everyone!

My Shadow World Stuff. This was not my most productive year getting new material up on the Forums or RMBlog. In January I put up the last Chapter 5 of my “Legends of Shadow World” 50th lvl adventure module, and the Shadow World “Channeling Handbook”. That was it….

There were some good conversations over on the Forums, including this one about the nature of “Evil”.

Best wishes for a great 2022!

Rolemaster Podcasts

Happy Holidays to everyone. I have a light work week, so I’m hoping to catch up on some blogging. In the meantime, here are a few podcasts that discuss Rolemaster. It’s always interesting to hear other peoples perspectives! Sorry for the format, some of these are showing as embed’s in the preview and draft but aren’t showing in the published version. Peter?

Retconning Shadow World. Pt.1

The Difference between Revisiting, Reinterpreting, Retconning, and  Retroactively Ruining Stories - Salt and Iron

So what do we do now? With the tragic passing of Terry, the future of Shadow World is uncertain to some degree. Hopefully we’ll see some posthumous material that is being reviewed: Emer IV and perhaps Wurilis? But even recovered work in progress may take many months or even years to edit, add artwork, design and publish. Is it possible to publish 1,2 or even 5 new products in the next decade? Most of the long-term Rolemaster & SW crowd will be heading or well into their 60’s. The ICE team will be in their 50s, 60s or 70s…

In my mind, there are few realistic options and not a lot of time to re-invigorate or revise Shadow World. That’s upsetting to say and hard to think about given how much effort I’ve put into my own material, and the lifetime of enjoyment I’ve had with RM and SW.

But I want to imagine another option: Shadow World is “re-imagined” and retconned with a comprehensive plan to grow the product line and perhaps it’s user base. There are lots of ideas and opinions floating around about what new products could be produced, how kickstarter or other strategies could finance a new product launch schedule, or how opening up the IP to third parties could drive new product development. No matter what happens, I would argue that a conversation needs to occur about fundamental SW canon that may need to be modified to lay the ground work for future material and to appeal to a new user base. You may see this as retroactively editing, revisiting or reimagining Terry’s work, but let’s just refer to this as retconning.

Over the last 30 years, trends and tastes in game settings have evolved and changed. While SW is a comprehensive setting, with many books and thousands of pages of material, some of the material feels unwieldy, dated or not user-friendly. If it were up to me, I would take a hard look at the following:

  1. The Timeline. It’s been mentioned that the timeline is a bit daunting and perhaps overwhelming for new GMs. I think it’s a great reference, interesting reading and a source of adventure seeds, but it is still problematic. Specifically the time of the Interregnum which spans 100,000 years: that is just a massive length of time. During this period the planet “healed”, races were reintroduced to the world (some by the Lords of Orhan), and 3 major civilizations existed. The Jinteni, Taranians, and Worim civilizations lasted thousands and even tens of thousands of years during the period. Any yet, despite the eon that separates the Third and Fourth Era’s (let’s call those modern times) from this ancient period, much of those past civilizations survives in some form. Artifacts, transport systems, buildings, vehicles etc. And, the Lords of Essance and Althans predate the Interregnum and they are a significant part of the Shadow World setting. The Interregnum needs to be shortened—perhaps to 10,000-20,000 years total. That is still an extraordinarily long time, and puts the end of the Althan era to 30,000 years in the past. Shortening the interregnum solves a lot of problems.
  2. The Great Barriers & Hemisphere. The “East”is the mysterious hemisphere of Kulthea that is given a handful of pages in the Master Atlas. Apparently, the East is ruled by powerful Ka’ta’viir, but little else is given. Why these Lords of Essaence can’t travel into the “Western” half is unknown. They were a spacefaring race and able to utilize instantaneous transportation via technology and Essence. Plus they have had thousands or tens of thousands of years to figure it out and conquer the West. A handwave concerning the “Eyes of Utha” and the Great Barriers kinda works. But not really. My solution: eliminate the barriers and adjust the current hemisphere into the whole world. Just forget and remove the “Eastern hemisphere”. First, it’s never a story that is going to be told, it has no impact on any gameplay (unless the players are travelling in the extreme East or West regions) and it makes SW feel unfinished and awkward. The Eyes can still serve a legitimate purpose of taming and regulating the Essaence flows, and the “barrier effect” can be changed to a disruptive shield in the ionosphere rather than a wall circumnavigating the world. This explains the difficulty in reaching the planet surface and justifies the quarantine of the planet (Spacemaster setting). There is already more lands and continents left to be developed as it is; who needs the “East”?
  3. Anti-Essence. I’m not sure when the anti-essence was introduced in the SW Master Atlas. It wasn’t in the first edition, IIRC. There is no doubt that the anti-essence was meant to explain some aspects of the Unlife, but feels more like a standard duality trope found in most fantasy: Yin/Yang, Positive/Negative, both sides of the “Force”. It feels tidy at first glance, but I think it creates confusion among the roles of “good” and “evil”, Channeling, gods of Charon, Lords of Essence, evil spell lists, undead and a host of other factors. If you do a search of “Unlife” in the Master Atlas PDF you’ll see how confusing it comes across. There is a discussion about this right now on the RMForums. I think introducing the anti-essence was unnecessary and problematic. Get rid of it.
  4. The Bestiary. The original Flora & Fauna book in the Master Atlas was mostly a reprint of Creatures & Treasures and helped establish Shadow World as the default setting for Rolemaster–which was meant to be a ruleset for generic settings. But Shadow World shouldn’t be a generic setting and can’t be if it’s ever going to grow it’s audience. It needs differentiators and Shadow World should lean into as many unique elements as it can. There are enough generic “pseudo-medieval” setting with the the slate of standardized monsters, creatures and humanoids. A revamp of SW fauna will require quite a bit of new material, but it’s needed. And in relation to that….
  5. Lugroki. Let’s revisit “Orcs and Goblin”. Ok, Terry changed the name of Orcs, but they are still what they are. Are they needed? There are plenty of interesting humanoids and reading through Terry’s works, Lugroki aren’t really featured that often. The Master Atlas only has 34 mentions of Lugroki–they are the default “horde” critter, but aren’t that relevant in actual SW gameplay.

That’s a few items I would change if it were up to me. What do you think? Are there things you would like to see modified, deleted or changed?

The Creative Process.

Like myself, many of you have been able to watch the new documentary about the Beatles: Get Back. Put together by Peter Jackson (LoTR), it’s an intimate view of the creative process of art. A view of the most groundbreaking bands of our lifetimes. I was born in 1969, so the Beatles were already relegated to history when I became conscious of musical styles, but I am fascinated by the creative process and generally in awe of any artist that can create reality out of imagination. Both of my brothers are talented musicians (some of you may know that Vroomfogle is my younger brother), but I chose not to follow any musical path, even in high school, much to my regret.

As a youth, I had my eyes set on art school and I was considered a raw talent in line drawing and perspective art but that did not survive the realities of “teenager’ism”. My brother, OTOH, was taught the novae styles of “upside down” drawing” that activated right brain activity. In hindsight this development path seems obvious–but right/left brain activation bias does create inhibitions later in life. My recent experiences with art class rendered my with mild headaches after a lifetime of finance and linear thinking.

So, what does this have to do with Rolemaster or Shadow World? Glad you asked. I’ll be blogging about some recent posts on the RMForums on SW, but I wanted to draw it back to a broader perspective.

I think everyone is wondering what the future of Shadow World might look like. I don’t have any answers to that, but I there are clearly some paths:

  1. SW freezes and becomes a legacy work.
  2. SW generates no new IP, but publishes guidelines for other game systems.
  3. SW has a fixed “canon” but allow third parties to generate “canon” material for new publication.
  4. SW allows for new publications that violate “canon’.
  5. SW allows for “ret-con” of TKA material, and allows for some aspects of the previous options.

Circling around, if you are familiar with the creative process, work product is a evolutionary process. SW has had many flavors, Terry’s product has varied between whimsical, grimdark and and anime BUT it has changed. More importantly, and will be addressed in my next blog, Terry’s work was not faithful to Rolemaster and perhaps needs to be “tightened up” or establish a new basis: “Shadow World RPG”. Based on what we know, Terrys’ story of Shadow World was not restrained by the RM rules–he told the story he wanted, which was not different than Pete Fenlon’s campaign in ME. The story was more important than the rules.

But beside that, Terry’s writing style changed over many years: like the Beatles, his artistic references also changed. In fact, he went back to almost every previous work and expanded/revised it. Some may argue that was an easy economic decision, but I think his writing style and goals may have changed as well.

At this point this heads towards some recent RMForums threats about Essence, Channeling, “Evil” lists and the “Unlife”. I’ll get to that later.

My belief. Terry/Peter created an amazing sand box over that last 40+ years! There is so much material you can play for years…yet, it needs a ret-con to continue. For those of you that have read most of the RMBlog for the last 6-7 years, you may have a sense for my direction–I want to revise some weak parts of Terry’s world.

What are your thoughts?