Shadow World Creature Review: The Agothu.

A Overseer

One of the least utilized of Shadow World creatures are those that dwell “Beyond the Pale”. Known as the Agothu, they seem to have appeared in the “Atlas Addendum” found in the Emer box set. I’m going to write more about the addendum in a separate blog, but in my mind, it’s where much of the essence of Shadow World was set down after a number of generic third party SW modules.

The Agothu, or “Older Ones” are very reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos: indescribable extra-dimensional beings of terrifying appearance and power. They are brought full-fold into the setting by at least the Master Atlas 3rd Ed. (anyone have 2nd edition to check?) with some changes and expansion from the original Addendum material. Generally, these creatures come in two types: Agothu and Agothu Servants (also known as Destroyers) although it’s not given that an Agothu is more powerful or higher level then a servant. In fact, several of the Destroyers are formidable…

Terry expanded the creatures by adding a Agothu (Breathless) and increasing the Destroyers from 5 to 7. Interestingly, one of the Destroyers, the “Nof-Kef” was eliminated in later books. If I recall, the Nof-kef was specific to the third party module “The Orgillion Horror” and it appears that Terry struck that creature out of Canon quite early? My own impression is that the Agothu were added in the Atlas Addendum to incorporate the material in Orgillion, but Terry then embraced it and made the Agothu his own.

Unfortunately, he never really incorporated the Agothu into his later material. There is a mention in the Grand Campaign, but aside from that, the Agothu are only used in reference to Shrek.

A Tresh

That’s unfortunate because the Older Ones are yet another cool element that makes Shadow World a unique setting and not another Orc/Skeleton/Dragon fantasy world. Agothu are between 5th and 30th level so they can be incorporated into any campaign. Agothu are also an example of Terry’s creativity and feature some of his most descriptive writing.

For example:.

are vaguely humanoid, but their
oversized heads are little more than skulls. Their bodies are covered
by a skin like grey parchment, dry and peeling
. Their large,
claw-like hands are skeletal. Their eyes show moisture, however,
oozing a bloody liquid as they move in their sockets.

Or this:

They are covered by tough,
toenail-like protrusions, which form a scaly skin. Life Eaters have
beaks instead of mouths, surrounded by an array of eight squidlike
tentacles, tipped with hollow spines. They have four eyes in
the front and four in the rear of their elliptical skull. Four ears
crown their heads, each protected by a bony tusk. Their four arms
end in four-fingered talons.

Imagine your players encountering this fella:

are vaguely anthropoid, with a certain ‘melted’ look.
Closer inspection reveals a tripedal rather than bipedal structure,
with skin pulsing with external veins and arteries. Their
feet are mere stumps, and their three long arms each end in three
strong tentacles, each equipped with a row of powerful suction
cups with sharp serrated rims. The head is no more than a
neckless ovoid punctured by three nostrils and three unblinking

This is really the stuff of nightmares and in line with the grim dark feel of the Emer: The Great Continent. At this risk of being redundant I’ll say that it’s this Shadow World specific content that brings the setting to life.

Tell us about any of your Agothu encounters!

Encyclopedia Kulthea

It’s been 5-6 years since I blogged about a new encompassing Shadow World “Master Atlas”. Since Terry’s passing it’s unlikely that we might see it, but most of the material is there, ready to be collated and reorganized, and new material fills in gaps without altering Canon.

I thought it was worth revisiting now that RMU is being rolled out. I don’t think it would difficult to move RM stats and rules to a support supplement and make the setting rule agnostic.

All Those Rules….

I’m corresponding with a number of long time Rolemaster users. One of the most surprising things I encounter is the rigid adherence to any published material. To distill: “If it’s published, it’s Canon “.

Look, there is solid material in many of the Companion books, but they are only proffered as alternate material. So many RM users take these fringe rules as absolute. Why is that?

It’s clearly stated in RM Companion 1 that these are “alternate” rules…In my opinion they get a bit crazy after RM3. It’s not that they are bad rules, but they aren’t official rules. That bleeds thru in comments throughout the web. Is it just me?

Unique Weapons In Shadow World: Crossbows.

One of my favorite Shadow World blog topics is examining the unique elements that makes SW my choice of setting and showcases Terry’s creativity. I firmly believe that if Shadow World were to continue it should be a “2.0” version that embraces key elements, eliminates some generic tropes and also allows for SW to be used in other game settings–and adapted for RMU. That’s sounds like a tall order, but I don’t believe it requires a significant amount of new material, just a strong editorial pass.

Shadow World already has cool, cultural weapons, but they aren’t emphasized. In this blog I wanted to talk about the various cool dart guns and crossbows that are sprinkled throughout Terry’s work. Given the various tech levels in Kulthea and access to unique and superior materials, it’s possible to standardize some of these weapons to add to the atmosphere and uniqueness to the setting. So, instead of using a generic “light crossbow” the player or NPC may use a “Dyari Handbow” or a “Janak Springbow”.

So let’s look at a few crossbow weapons found in Shadow World.

GoldenEye Eye of Nygoret.

A beautiful light crossbow, of mahogany with a
golden alloy bow (+15) and a special spring mechanism
that allows it to be re-cocked quickly and fired every
round without penalty

Kedrick Bularis.

Double Crossbow: A compact weapon that nevertheless has the full range and power of a full-sized heavy crossbow, it also has two stacked bows and twin triggers. Thus, two shots can be fired before reloading. There is a
‘safety’ switch, and a device also holds the loaded quarrels in place, so the bow may be carried primed and loaded.

Sulfean Kuldir.

Dart Gun: A curious, baroque affair, it looks like a contorted pistol of some
kind. It is fashioned of a variety of fine metals and woods, and fires tiny
metal darts with the same effectiveness as a Light Crossbow at 1/2 hits. It
holds clips of 12 darts, and can be fired 2x a rnd


Heavy crossbow with four ‘bows.’ Can fire one shot at a time, two shots at the same target (each at –5) or all four shots at one target (all at –10) before having to be reloaded and cocked


Featured in the Rolemaster Fantasy Weapons supplement. Loari Dart Pistol. Fire 2x/rnd (missile & melee). Can be poisoned. 10 dart clip. (Also used by the Prince Guard in Eidolon)

Per the descriptions, none of these devices appear to operate due to magical properties; instead they are just technologically advanced. I’ve started assigning different types of crossbows to certain cultures rather than the generic weapons found in Arms Law. This is just a small part of Shadow World, but one that should be expanded on.

Has anyone come up with their own unique, cool weapons?

AI and ChatGPT. Is this a Game Changer?

For those following the news around AI content generation, you are probably aware that software like ChatGTP has already been leveraged as a tool in TTRPG’s. There are a number of youtube videos that are worth exploring, and I encourage content creators to check out a few.

While there are some arguments that using AI tools is “cheating” and lacks human input and creativity, the truth is that most adventure hooks fall into about 10-12 literary devices. Of more interest to me is a common problem we discuss quite a bit here on the Rolemasterblog: ICE and SW needs content and there are few authors that can start and finish works that are ready for publication. These AI tools are in their infancy in many ways, and it’s possible to only create text content, but stat blocks, creatures and virtually any type of material to populate an gaming supplement. Using an AI tool like ChatGPT, the author is more akin to a composer or conductor than a 1-man band–they design a wire frame of input, has the AI generate bulk content and then it can be edited or directed as needed.

Could this speed up the process for getting ICE products to market? Is this a helpful tool for authors that may have the skills but perhaps not the time or experience?

I spent 1 minute using the AI as follows:

ME: write an adventure idea in the kulthea shadow world setting

ChatGPT: In the Kulthea Shadow World setting, the players are a group of adventurers who are hired by a mysterious figure known only as “The Watcher.” The Watcher claims to have information about a powerful artifact that has been lost for centuries, hidden somewhere in the treacherous swamps of the Shadow World. The artifact is said to possess the power to control the very fabric of reality itself, and is highly sought after by many powerful factions and individuals.

The players must navigate the treacherous swamps, fighting off dangerous creatures and avoiding deadly traps set by rival groups who are also searching for the artifact. They’ll also need to be on the lookout for signs of the ancient civilization that once inhabited the area, as the artifact is believed to be hidden within the ruins of one of their temples.

As the players get closer to their goal, they’ll discover that The Watcher is not what they appear to be, and that the true nature of the artifact is much more sinister than they could have ever imagined. The players must choose whether to continue their quest, risking everything to gain control of the artifact, or to destroy it before it falls into the wrong hands.

The adventure is filled with action, intrigue, and moral dilemmas, as the players navigate the dangers of the Shadow World and confront the true purpose of the artifact they seek.

While generic in some respects, I wonder that can be attributed to the lack of SW content online in general. I would imagine that a similar query using the Forgotten Realms could get quite specific!

Is that output anything novel or something I couldn’t have come up with? No, but it was a very general request. A quick scan actually provides a solid wire frame for a good adventure, one that fits into Shadow World. References to powerful artifacts, powerful factions and individuals, and the power to control the fabric of reality itself hits many of Terry’s SW meta themes.

I’m going to play around with this some more, but try to input specific SW content to see what happens!! Has anyone been using or experimenting with AI content?

Further thoughts on Ascendancy in Shadow World. PT.2

For PT. 1 see HERE.

Over the last 6 years (barring the gaming break during COVID), I’ve had a chance to really experiment with high level gameplay via my “Legends of Shadow World” and another adventure I’m testing that also takes place on Charon.

Part of that game testing was introducing hard rules for Ascendancy that I was pondering back during that blog post in 2017. I think that post covered most of my thoughts, but there are really two parts to this:

  1. Additional vested powers that are gained at higher levels.
  2. The ability for characters (PCs or NPCs) to gain worshippers.

I’m still playing around with #2, but I’ve started instituting some specific benefits per #1. I’m generally starting these at Lvl 20, but I may bump that up to 25th lvl. Here are a few benefits that we’ve tried:

  1. Character is treated as +1 size.
  2. Stun reduction
  3. Magical resistance
  4. Disease & Poison resistance
  5. Essaence sensitivity
  6. Inherent spell ability (as appropriate)
  7. Self-healing
  8. Acute senses
  9. Heroic stat gain

Of course one obvious benefit is that this helps the disparity between casters and non-casters at higher levels. It also helps the “drudgery” of high level advancement where the marginal increase to skill ability is di minimis.

I don’t see this as a rule change for Rolemaster, instead I see this a natural progression of Terry’s implied rule setting in Shadow World. SW already “bent” the rules for multi-classing, clearly needs a benefit for ascension to local God hood, and in general SW is seen as a high-level setting. Ascendancy provides a new paradigm for high level adventuring, not unlike the 1983’s D&D Immortals supplement and can make high level Shadow World “post-level” in some aspects.

Would this differentiate Shadow World even more? Provide a different style and purpose of play at higher levels? What other game systems include rules for ascension?

Will the real Chartmaster please stand up?

Rolemaster has been criticized for years for being too crunchy, or having too many tables. It might be helpful to remind ourselves that AD&D had it’s share of charts and tables too.

Update: Rolemaster (and RMU) got mentions in the comments!

Cultural and organizational spell lists in Shadow World.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

When introduced in 1980, Spell Law’s breadth and scope of spell lists was a revelation in TTRPG! Hundreds of lists, thousands of spells and spells up to 50th level. I was 13 years old when I first got my hands on Spell Law, and reading through the Alchemist, Astrologer, Monk and Mentalist lists fired my imagination.

Over the years the novelty of the original spell lists have worn off, and newer lists in the various Companions became more exotic, powerful and interesting. More importantly for me, the monolith nature of the base spells for the professions became an anchor on the system. Every Magician encountered had the same spell lists, every Cleric used the same few offensive spells despite their Diety’s aspect and my players could anticipate most of their opponents spell castings or, at the least, identify the exact spell cast based on it’s effects.

One of the appeals of Terry’s Shadow World material in the inclusion of specific organizational spell lists: Navigators, Loremasters, Steel Rain etc. I expanded on this effort with my own lists for the various Kulthean pantheons, spell lists for the Messengers of the Iron Wind among a few others.

It’s my belief that knowledge of any type, is transmitted through cultural or organization channels: communities, schools, cults, guilds and similar organized entities. In our own world, an education to become a lawyer and the knowledge and skills it imparts will be different between a student at Harvard Law and a law student at the Law School of Sao Paulo. It could be argued that the quality of the legal education may not be equal between the two schools and therefore it’s reasonable to believe that different cultures or groups may have similar but unequal spell lists of similar powers. A Fire Law list learned from the Fire Cult of “Volcano Island” may be different than the Fire Law list from a Cult of Nature worship somewhere else. Perhaps there are different spells, or similar spells but obtained at different levels–the belief that “balance” must be achieved is limiting. Fireball could be learned at a lower level by a Cleric of the Fire God than Fireball on a list of a general “Elemental Mage”.

I think this philosophy could extend to specialized skills and lores: they are only available through specific cultures and groups. Of course this doesn’t work in general with Rolemaster, but it can be incorporated into a setting like Shadow World quite easily. Obviously, Terry has already done this to some degree. I’ve been reading Cults of Prax which provides cult specific spells and runes for various sects and cults and it definitely provides another dimension to spells and lists in a specific setting. In my SW campaign I use my BASiL lists AND the original Spell Law lists to have the largest pool and variety of spell lists.

Does anyone restrict access to lists and skills in their campaign?

Adding Intrinsic Abilities to Spellcasters in Rolemaster.

It’s not uncommon that while I’m reading a fantasy novel, I’ll try to quantify how the magical rules might work in that setting. The original RM/MERP did a poor job of modeling Tolkien’s magic system (which was less codified than narrative driven), while it’s understood that Vance’s “Dying Earth” series was an inspiration for Gygaxian D&D magic.

There are some novels that strike me as being very “Spell Law” or “Rolemaster”‘; in these cases I will do a bit of research on the author to see if there is any tie ins. Other fictional settings lend the question of whether Spell Law could be modified to fit the magic system.

But rather than debate which work of fiction is best suited for Rolemaster, or what setting might be the best bit, I wanted to look at a few common “intrinsic” powers that are common in fantasy stories.

Magical Awareness. Magic users in many works of fiction have a sensitivity or awareness of magical fluctuations, momentous magical events or the nearby presence of great powers. Powerful castings can send reverberations through the “ether”, ascendant and immortal presences can create ripples through the cosmos or the types of magic casting can be detected by a like minded caster. Spell Law has several types of detection and analysis spells that provide similar functions, but they require active casting. Mentalists have a Presence spell that requires no PPs, and allows them awareness of nearby entities. Perhaps Essence and Channelers could also have some inherent awareness of their realm casting?

“RAW” Power Casting. In addition to casting spells with specific effects, often casters are able to channel raw magical energy waves, streams or emanations for devastating effect. Rolemaster had a “Power Projection” skill but if I recall it was pretty limp. Perhaps allowing casters a elemental Essaence attack that converts PPs to direct damage could be interesting.

Immunity. For spellcasters that have a “focus” or “aspect” to their magic (ie Firemage) they are often provided a natural defense or immunity from that aspect that increases with their power. Perhaps a caster receives a +1/rank vs fire for every spell rank of Fire Law?

These types of acquired abelites are more similar to AD&D than the skill focus of Rolemaster, but I do find it intriguing. Are there other abilities that could manifest for spellcasters that don’t require skill acquisition?

RMU has had a successful launch! Will Shadow World benefit?

As of today, 1-24, RMU is back to the #2 position at DrivethruRPG and is at Platinum level seller. That’s great news, and while there is much debate on the stickiness of buyers, the adoption of the rules in gaming etc., there is no doubt that RMU has swung the spotlight on Rolemaster and ICE to some degree. That’s a good thing!

Given that my focus is on adventure material, specifically Shadow World, I wonder if SW will benefit from the RMU “halo effect”. Will Shadow World get a bump as new RM users look at ancillary ICE products? I’d be curious to know if SW products are also getting a sales bump.