Sabre Lake Campaign

Over the past three months, [January, February & March] I have been writing up a piecemeal campaign. It is all based around a single map, but one I am chopping into smaller parts.

Each of these bite sized pieces I have been publishing in the fanzine. So far it has been two locations each month, and I have done about fifth of the map.

This was going to be a 2021 project, but it looks like it will end up taking longer than that.

Something else I am doing with this series is using a much wider variety of monsters.

The three parts so far are:

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 45

Issue 45

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 46

Issue 46

RolemasterBlog Fanzine Issue 47

Issue 47

In addition to the named sites on the Sabre Lake map, and the start of the campaign story arc, one can also drop in other encounters, locations or adventures.

I noticed that the RolemasterBlog Adventures, also known as 50in50 despite that name being a bit outdated, have now gone over 60 titles. There is a bundle of latest and #61 [Elemental Tempest] is also out.

RolemasterBlog Bundle 51-60 [BUNDLE]

The original idea behind 50in50 was to publish 50 short ‘drop in’ adventure seeds, encounters, or locations in 50 weeks. The first set actually took a fraction over the 50 weeks, but real life tends to get in the way. We then launched into another 50, but this time without the time constraint. I think we are putting out one or two a month.

I never expected these to be very popular, Rolemaster is a rather niche game, after all, but we have literally sold hundreds of copies of some of these and thousands if taken as a block.

The point of this article is that I had not really kept track of how many of these were being sold. Then today, someone was complaining that their magazine used to be in print, but due to a lack of growth, I think they are selling less than 20 a month, they are going to just online.

This is what happened to the Guild Companion, from print to online to …. flatline.

The Adventurers Quarterly took about 7 years to publish 4 issues and the withered away.

I think this is rather sad. Games are often a labour of love, but at the same time, if you give up, everyone loses. The past 12 months have been far from normal, and not every business is going to grow during a pandemic, especially if people are worried about their jobs/income.

This blog has seen a nice up turn in activity in 2021, I am impressed. I also feel like RMu is finally going to happen.

Rolemaster definitely does not feel like it is in remission, if anything, it is on an upswing.

The colors of magic in Shadow World.

Chaos Magic and The Pagan Year | The Blog of Baphomet

I can’t recall when visible colors we added to the Shadow World setting, each color or “tinged colors” assigned to the various realms, hybrid realms and aspected magic (evil spell lists). I think it was one of the Master Atlas editions but I would also guess it was included in one of the Rolemaster Companions as well? (If anyone knows feel free to comment.)

For reference, some of the language in the Master Atlas:

The Colors of Magic
Most common of the three realms, Essence colors are based
on the rainbow of light. The colors are more down-to-earth, as
would be expected for a power which comes from the earth itself.

Other colors:
Blue: The purest Magic, often associated with the Iylari. Its appearance would be more common than ‘good’ Channeling except in powerful magic items created by pure Alchemists.
Green: More suspect than golden Channeling, Green Essence implies a certain selfishness or impurity of spirit. Certainly not evil, but not necessarily to be trusted as a brother, either.
Red: Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.

So when I first encounted this concept I was intrigued and I rather liked it. But now I am of two minds:

  1. It’s cinematic. As a GM any flavor or dressing is helpful to the narrative, especially during combat which can turn quickly into rolling dice and rote damage recitation. I think one of the enduring appeals of RM critical tables are the actual critical descriptions–they too are cinematic in nature and were more interesting than D&D roll 1d8. The visual spell manifestation also works well with Terry’s writing: both the vignettes and in his fiction.
  2. It adds flavor to the Shadow World setting. While spell law gets accolades for the sheer number of spells, they are often considered “dry” both in names and in effects. Certainly different than the Vancian spell types established by Gygax. Adding spell colors gives additional depth to spellcasting and density to the concept of the Essaence.

but…

  1. It breaks Spell Law and render some spells obsolete. There are spell lists in all 3 realms that allow a caster to detect a spell’s realm, it’s type or even specifics. Having color codes for realms, alignment and even type eliminates the need for some analysis spells.
  2. There is a bit of “alignment language” imputed into colored magic. For instance: “Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.” Should the GM hide the red hue of an evil caster for narrative purposes? Spell trickery or mastery may allow a caster to “hide the hue”, but isn’t this just adding complexity where it isn’t needed?
  3. Meta gaming. Providing a visual reference allows imparts important spell information to the players–even non-caster PCs who may not “know” anything about magic even if the player does.
  4. It feels a bit simplistic and “young adult”. Good magic is “white” bad magic is red with black tinges, neutral magic is green etc.

What do you think? Do you use colors of magic? Something similar?

Shadow World Spin Cycle. Angmar: Land of the Witch King.

For those that are not familiar with my Shadow World Spin Cycle series, I review older MERP modules in the context of using them in Shadow World. Why? Well, most of the early MERP products shared much of the same DNA as the “Loremaster” series: the artwork, the writers (Fenlon, Amthor, Britton) so re-purposing them is fairly easy and consistent with the flavor and style of SW.

Angmar was the first MERP book released in 1982 and authored by Heiki Kubasch. Cover art was done by Gail McIntosh, and like all of her work, not only depicted a great “action” scene, but one that could be visualized in the context of role-playing. This is basically a 48 page supplement, plus 9 pages of beautiful Fenlon maps in the back. Interestingly, page 48 includes a section on “Selected Reading”. It was common in Gygax books and Golden Age role-playing to include a reference list in the back. I’ve never thought about it, but I wonder if this list was standardized or specific to Angmar or the author. I will check into this!

Like most I.C.E. regional modules the ToC is standard and familiar to Rolemaster players: Land & Climate, Flora & Fauna, Peoples & Cultures, Politics & Power, and Places of Note and finally Supplemental information and charts.

I’m going to skip the first 10 pages that consist of overview material on Rolemaster, B&W maps that are duplicated in color, map keys and Middle Earth background on the area.

Flora and Fauna. This section focuses on creatures that are very Tolkien/Hobbit: Trolls and “troll holes”, Giants and then dives into a few specific Dragons: Scorba and a lesser Drake Corlagon the red. Scorba is a major Dragon, and like Smaug, resides in a Dwarven stronghold (Zarak Dum) on a vast pile of treasure. Finally, there is a paragraph on Bears. Honestly, this isn’t much of a useful bestiary although tackling Trolls, encountering Giants and perhaps eventually battling Corlagon would make for a Hobbit like campaign. For Shadow World, there isn’t much useful so far.

Peoples and Cultures. There are 3 mannish races: Rhudaur, Rhun and Estarave who live in the cold, harsh environment. Not evil, but generally are governed by evil leadership. Populations reside in fortified villages, and social advancement comes through the path of the warrior. To me, this is close to the Syrkakar culture in the Iron Wind the and cultures of Xa’ar. Not much to take from, but it would easy to transport this material to the Northern regions of Jaiman and use this as part of the kingdom of Sulthon? (Angmar: Land of the Dragonlord)???

Politics and Power. Putting aside the Nazgul Witch-King, the real foes in this book are the military forces. Several pages detail the army and command structure, with added information on 7 Generals. The armies also have a band of 50 War Trolls and information on several special forces: the Crossbowmen, Trackers, and the hoerk which is an elite fighting group. This is all good stuff and easily added into a Shadow World campaign as an army in Ja’miil Targ or for Lorgalis in Ulor.

Places of Note. Most of this section covers the massive fortress of Carn Dum which is basically 2 fortresses, one built on the mountain and the vast facility underneath.

This is a great fortress layout, and easily used for any Rolemaster adventure or Shadow World stronghold. Here is just one cool level (must be by Terry):

Next is the border castle of Morkai:

A fortified village of Kuska which has conveniently numbered buildings even though it lacks the descriptions.

A small outpost of Cargash:

Eldanar Castle:

These are all useful layouts and great adds for you own adventure or campaign. If you are like me, designing fortresses, castle and towers is mostly the layout and design: I can add content quickly and easily; even if it’s an unexpected turn in the adventure! So having ready layouts from older MERP modules is a time saver!

The remainder of the book has some useful but brief material: info on raids and sorties, designing an outpost or castle, a short list of herbs and drugs, the NPC table from Character Law, Master NPC and Military charts. On page 44 & 45 there is a neat summary of siege equipment:

Finally, page 46 has some brief thoughts on adventures, a small ruin layout and a troll hole map. A bit weak for adventures, but the layouts are still worth the price of this book!

Overall, Angmar is a great resource to re-purpose for Shadow World or really any Rolemaster adventure. Again, for Shadow World I see this as a good add to Ulor (use Card Dum for his fortress) or in Wuliris (although Terry is working on that area now).

A flurry of Blows, Bolts, and Arrows

flurry of Blows has always been a bit of a bone of contention. It seems to apply to melee, where your attack is just the attack that was most likely to succeed from many in the round, but not so much for Firebolts or missiles weapons.

But what if I have been thinking about this the wrong way.

In Spacemaster, or at least the version I had, energy cells/weapons did not have a number of charges, you ran out of energy when you fumbled, or at least there was a chance of energy cell drain.

This made me think of the Conan 2d20 system for handling ammunition, such as arrows and crossbow bolts. In that system, you do not have to account for arrows and whatnot, you only run out of arrows when you have a really bad result, pretty much the same as our fumbles.

If we adopt that attitude, not necessarily out of ammunition but a less bean counting attitude to arrows and bolts, is there any reason not to apply flurry of blows to missile fire.

I am an archer, so I have always had a bit of a bias towards archery in RPG rules. It also means that I have never liked the reloading penalties in RM. I can nock, aim and shoot an arrow in about 3 seconds and hit something the size of a dinner plate from 50′ from the back of a galloping horse. The idea of firing one arrow every 20 seconds or so simply does not marry up with my own experience.

I get the argument that most of the round is spent picking the perfect moment, unless it isn’t.

If we went full flurry of blows, including archery, our archers could fire 2, 3 or 4 arrows in a round, but the attack you roll is the arrow most likely to hit. The only differences are that the character would go though arrows much faster, there is much more likely to be arrows sticking out of door frames and and anything else lying around form the arrows that didn’t hit, and the reloading penalties need to go.

There are frequently too many penalties, so dropping a penalty or two is not a bad thing.

Firebolts, and things that go Bang!

There is absolutely no reason why the firebolt spell has to throw a single bolt. It could just as easily be more akin to D&D’s magic missile, where the caster is hurling fire for the entire round. We still resolve a single attack, but the bolt that hits is just the bolt that did the damage.

There is absolutely no mechanical difference. It is purely special effects, and style.

Ammunition

The only thing I am left to worry about is ammunition. If you are firing 2-4 arrows a round (2 for a 5second round and 4 in a 10 second round) you could go through a fair few arrows in a combat.

My players don’t use bows much, they are generally unimpressed by Puncture criticals. but, I would be perfectly happy to either think of a quiver of 12 arrows actually having sufficient arrows of 12 rounds, rather than 12 arrows.

I own 3 quivers, one holds 8 arrows, one holds 48 and the last holds 60. My quivers are all built to traditional designs, none of these plastic tube things you see a lot of today. The point is that apart from a pound or two of excess encumbrance it makes no difference how many arrows the character has.

To me it is more valuable to have a completely consistent view of what happens on the battle field.

If for some reason a character gets a second critical, it would make sense of how an arrow, or firebolt, managed to hit them on the hand and the ankle! More than one arrow, more than one bolt.

Summoning – Concepts and Mechanics

Summoning is a concept that I’ve always been fascinated by in the fantasy genre, and yet never quite able to put my finger on in terms of how it should play out in terms of mechanics. I think that it’s a great niche of spell casting that can add flavor to a game system, so I wanted to explore some of the influences and how it could work more effectively in RMU, especially in light of my latest piece of the RM2 ➡️ RMU profession conversion project. I would love for the conjurer/summoner to rejoin the ranks of playable professions.

My earliest exposure to the concept comes from video games, and the Final Fantasy series in particular, so you’ll have to forgive my heavy leaning toward that framework. In basically every version of those games, Summoning magic was essentially just elementalism on steroids: A Mage could throw a fireball, but a Summoner could bring an ifriit itself to the battlefield in exchange for more magic points and more time. Later iterations became a little more utilitarian as they allowed the summoned creature to have aspects other than attacks: magic shields, invisibility, and other fun mechanics were available, again, at the increased cost/time model. It wasn’t overly complex, but the concept was clean and it worked.

At least to me, as an RM2 veteran, Rolemaster has always seemed to have very underdeveloped summoning mechanics, or at least very unexciting ones. Clerics could summon demons, various other magic users could summon mundane creatures, at higher levels there was some potential for some fantastical elements, but nothing overly exciting. Not only that, the mechanisms for controlling these creatures were hodgepodge; demons had to be controlled through still separate spells, while the animals summoned sometimes had the ability to be controlled and sometimes not. Overall, neither I nor my players were ever impressed enough to give it too much attention. I did dabble with some necromancy but that’s a tale for a different time…

After some invigorating discussion, I think that the Conjurer and some of the mechanics from its lists in Rolemaster Companion II hold the secret to making this profession viable and summoning at least a bit more consistent and interesting. There are a few concepts I’d like to propose for summoning in the new order:

🔸 Power: Summoning magic is supposed to be powerful. You aren’t flinging a temporary manifestation of elemental magic like a Bolt, but dragging a being of some kind across space/time in a more lasting fashion (even if it’s only a few rounds).

🔸 Circles: The use of circles is an essential part of the Conjurer (hereafter referred to as the Summoner) so that concept may be part of the balancing act. If summoning magic is to be more/bigger/powerful/impressive, then the requirement to have to draw/cut/create circles can add time element that balances the Power concept above. This helps create the idea of a “bunker” style caster that needs time to set up but has a trade-off in power to do so.

🔸 Components: Rolemaster has (to my knowledge) never really required these, which is a welcome departure from D&D, but maybe there’s some room for them here. What if summoning can be more finely tuned or sped up through the use of components? A Summon Elemental spell could summon a specific type of elemental if the caster has the requisite element (enchanted rock, magical water, etc from the elemental in question).

🔸 Control: I personally like the idea of control mechanics built into the spells themselves, or at least dependent on certain conditions. If a Summoner wants to control the creature he summons, a circle is needed. But perhaps he can summon it without the circle if he has the components (which are then consumed). Or perhaps the control doesn’t require concentration if both the circle and the component are used. Lots of possibilities here.

🔸Utility: Jdale mentioned this on the forums, but not all summons have to be battle-oriented. Some creatures can be used for travel, some for more utilitarian purposes like construction, but these diversified uses make the Summoner more useful than simply a magical siege engine.

This is just one possible way of looking at summoning magic, but I think that using some old lists with new ideas about mechanics might just make the profession work a bit more smoothly, and make summoning as a whole something that more players would use. I also envision a multitude of summoning lists so that there is at least some diversity in each build (Divine Summons, Elemental Summons, Animal Summons, etc), along with some of the utility circles that existed in RoCo2 like Circles of Power. Any thoughts?

Using all your senses in Rolemaster and Shadow World.

Innate Night Vision - TV Tropes

As a primer to this blog topic, I encourage you to read my 2 previous blogs related to Perception: “Inherent Ability or Skill” and “Is Perception even a Skill?”

Putting aside rule litigation, I wanted to explore the idea of perceptual capacity of PCs. My own biases with Perception gameplay is it’s either visual perception or a meta ability: i.e. a character searches for a secret door with a combination of sight, touch and perhaps intuition. A recent article on the new Mars Rover imaging cameras made me think about how small changes in a creatures “perceptual spectrum” could dramatically impact their inherent abilities. I’m not sure how some of these ideas could be integrated into gameplay, and our conception of perceptual reality perhaps limits our imagination. Early on games allowed for “infravision” and “ultravision” and Rolemaster introduced natural dark vision abilities as well. For us, we used these abilities interchangeably as “seeing in the dark” even if infra and ultra abilities connoted a more nuanced informational channel. I would refer you to this article for a better overview on AD&D style visions.

So, how many players or GMs use an expanded model of perceptual abilities? We humans tend to over rely on our visual acuity, often, other senses are better suited for situations common in roleplaying. Often these abilities, whether imparted through racial traits or spells are merely a bonus to “Perception” with a modest handwave to the mechanistic concept behind it. RMu made some progress towards developing this further, but it still lacks some depth.

There have been many article written about sight, smell, hearing, tactility, and even extra-sensory ability, and there are arguments that differentiate between Perception (sensory that you actively collect), Observation (specifically focusing sensory on a target) or Sensing (passive sensory data). There is a lot to this conversation, but I wanted to touch on a few Rolemaster and Shadow World specific concepts.

Perception With Spells. Every version of Spell Law contains spell buffs that improve perception or some sense. In RMu, this is manifest in the Ranger Base List “Beastly Ways”. (I’m referring to the Beta 1 2012 copy. some changes have been made).

3rd Lvl Wolfs Senses. This spell and it’s benefit intrigues me, since we seldom really thing about the sensory value of smell. The easy path, is to just use enhanced smell to detect “Orcs and other stinky monsters” from a distance. But smell can detect emotional states and physiological details that can determine lying, dissembling, fear or even aggressive intent. As an example in fantasy literature, Matt Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series has an: “extraordinary sense of smell, able to discern other humans’ and animals’ emotions with considerable accuracy“. We are all familiar with our own pets ability to sense their owners mental or emotional state. A sense of smell can also be used to detect illnesses or injuries, which could be helpful to Healers and Lay Healers. Perhaps for some creatures, smell is a factor of Synesthesia–and they “see” things like magic as olfactory data? That would be interesting. So, in summary, enhanced smell might be useful beyond the standard perception role/roll: it could improve bartering, detect lie, diplomacy or even sense magic or spells.

8th Lvl Hawks Sense. This spell adds +50 to visual sense and +20 to perception involving other senses. A bit confusing, but I think the goal was to minimize stacking sensory spells. While a bonus to visual is straight forward, there are possibilities around what TYPE of visual acuity is improved. Birds of prey have almost double the cone and rod receptors of a human so their have a much larger field of vision, binocular ability to see longer distances and the ability to differentiate small object within their visual field. So a spell that imparts bird vision may also provide both a telescopic AND a microscopic agility as well?

The colors of magic & essence flows. I’ll be blogging about the “colors of magic” in the next week or two, but Shadow World offers a unique aspect of the setting that could be tied into perception: the ability to see magical flows and emanations. Rather than having spells seen on the standard visual spectrum, you could have the various assigned realm colors used for magical perception. In addition, magical perception could detect intensity (power level) and spell type. Kulthea is also bathed in the Essence, and the ability to see flows and foci like winds, currents or clouds could be an interesting ability. Loremasters and Navigators have spells to that effect but standard Rolemaster spells aren’t Shadow World specific.

Racial Senses. I think there are a lot of opportunities to enhance sensory perception with races in Rolemaster and specifically Shadow World. These would be abilities beyond perception bonuses and the standard dark/low light vision. There are certainly issues around game balance, a PC with a sense of smell similar to a dog would be powerful even at low level. But is that necessarily a problem? Do heightened racial senses come with downsides?

I’m curious if anyone has utilized a more in depth sensory system in their Rolemaster or Shadow World game. What are your thoughts?

{Edited and Republished}: Maximizing Essaence Flows in your Shadow World campaign

Image result for aurora borealis

Note. This is a blog article I posted back in 2016. I wanted to revisit the topic again and add some additional thoughts.

One of the more distinctive attributes of Kulthea is the presence of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci. I would argue that Essence Flow is the primary differentiator for the Shadow World, a setting often described as generic and “kitchen sink“.

From the original Loremaster modules, the back page blurb:

Clusters of islands and small continents dot the surface of the the world. Myriad cultures and peoples lie separated by sheer mountains, treacherous reefs, and the powerful but invisible Flows of Essence.

Churning like ocean tides under the Five Moons, the Essence ebbs and flows, its eddys and currents dictating unseen barriers and centers of power. Some have learned to trap that power.

Travel across the world is perilous, though some have made it an art: the aloof Navigators will transport anyone anywhere –for a fee.

For many, myself included, that blurb was the defining description of the setting. I’ve discussed the importance of other elements of Shadow World: the Loremasters, the Dragonlords and the Lords of Orhan, but the fundamental trait of Kulthea is the various manifestations of the Essence.

Essaence manifestations have shaped cultures and history, provided a raison d’etre for the Navigator Guilds and added a unique flavor to the campaign world. In the earlier Loremaster modules the Flows seem to be more ubiquitous; splitting and separating regions and isolating pocket cultures throughout Jaiman. Not only was this a great campaign hook, but provided a “sensible” explanation for the disparate cultures, races and even climates within a relatively small geographic area.

In later SW modules, the Flows seemed minimized and moved to the background. Early SW supplements often included regional maps of the flows while later books mention them but don’t specifically call them into the gameplay or narrative. I’ve talked to quite a few people who have used Shadow World for a setting. Each handles Flows in differing degrees:

  1. Slight. The Essence Flows are invisible paths of energy that explain spellcasting and powerpoints.
  2. Modest. Essence can manifest as energetic storms with some unpredictable effects.
  3. Average. Flows can occasionally manifest as invisible “walls of force”. Essence Foci, while rare, are concentrated centers of energy. Travel is normal, with an occasional annoyance or impediment.
  4. Strong. Essence Flows are a regular part of gameplay, but are generally atmospheric but duly impactful. Travel is a bit more difficult, but Essence obstacles are temporary or delaying rather than problematic.
  5. Extreme. There are established, permanent Major Essence Flows that are physical barriers, random but frequent Essence storms that can have varying but impactful effects and Lesser and Major Foci that have significant impacts on gameplay. Travel is restrictive and will invariably require a Navigator or planning and routes will be determined by known Essence Flows.

I would guess that most players/game groups that have adventured in Shadow World would describe the Essence as falling somewhere on that scale. But I would also point out that many of the elements of Shadow World ONLY work with #4 or #5. If you are playing within #1 to #3, there probably is no real point (or commercial demand) for costly Navigators. I would argue that the Shadow World is unique as a setting the more potent and extreme the Flow of Essence are depicted! Essaence Flows should be seen as an essential NPC in SW campaigns: always present, unpredictable, and frequently impacting the storyline and gameplay.

Essaence manifestations can play a number of roles in gameplay and GMs should embrace this element:

  1. Disruptor. A sudden and dangerous Essaence storm can change things quickly! PC’s or enemies may be forced to flee or find cover. Spellcasters may be drained of needed PP’s or find casting to be too unpredictable due to the fluctuating power.
  2. Limiter. A temporary or permanent Essaence wall can block PC’s from travelling to certain areas that the GM is unprepared, too dangerous for the group to explore or to create an obstacle for the group to overcome.
  3. Balancer. A Foci can provide PC’s with added Power Points needed to overcome a more powerful adversary or replace spent PP’s to allow the PC to continue the battle. An Essaence storm could hamper a powerful spell casting opponent or agent of the Unlife.
  4. Re-locator. Essaence storms can have spatial or temporal vortexes to move PC’s to a new place or time! If you want to avoid a time consuming trip or introduce the PC’s to a distant point on Kulthea than a temporary portal could do the trick! Additionally, you could move the PC’s back or forward in the SW timeline!

Not only do Essaence effects add great flavor to the game but they inject a constant randomness that plays much different than typically fantasy RPG’s.  If you aren’t maximizing the use of Flows, Storms and Foci in your SW game then here are a few suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Make sure that Essaence effects are included in your random encounter tables. If you are using tables that aren’t SW specific or don’t have Essaence effects included, than replace a category with them. Or if there is a “No Encounter” result than use Essaence effects instead.
  2. If you aren’t using random encounter tables than make it a point to include at least 1 effect per day to reinforce it’s presence to the players.
  3. Remember, not all effects have to be serious. A faint odor of ozone, a “tingling” or a slight power surge remind players that they are dealing with an unpredictable and dangerous power.
  4. The more Essaence Flows appear in your game the more helpful Navigators will appear. While “Jumps” might be prohibitively expensive, the PC’s will probably need to hire a Navigator to bypass an Essaence Wall or traverse a particularly dangerous route. This also a great money sink to keep excess wealth from accruing!
  5. Many notable places (temples, fortresses, holy sites etc) are found at or near Essaence Foci. The Foci could have beneficial, harmful or unpredictable effects on magic within its radius or even different magical “rules”. (ie no Force spells, or double power Elemental effects) This can make an “ordinary” dungeon crawl into a unique adventure experience!
  6. Essaence Flows also impact local and regional weather. Use that in your games–changing environment conditions can affect combat and travel, but also add significance to Animists, Druids, Magicians and Rangers that have outdoor and weather related spells!

Those are just a few ideas for maximizing the use of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci in your Shadow World campaign. One last thought. I would recommend a book that came out in 1977 that I feel gives a small taste of what Essaence Flows could be like in your SW campaign.  Check it out: Time-Storm by Gordon R. Dickson.

I’m curious how other SW GM’s are maximizing their use of the Essaence Flows?

Another blog post on the Essaence Flows:

Assassins as PCs.

Image result for d&d assassin players handbook 1ed artwork

Based on the recent discussions about Mystics here on the Rolemasterblog and the RM Forums, I think one interpretation is that the Mystic could serve as a proto-type “Assassin” profession in lieu of companion classes like the Nightblade.

That got me to thinking about Assassins as a rpg profession in general–and perhaps the first iteration in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement by Dave Arneson. Most of the Assassin material was wholly transplanted to the 1st Ed. Players Handbook (p.27). The Assassin is a subclass of the Thief, and generally gains the same abilities with a few Assassin specific skills:

  1. Assassination. With a successful backstab attack the Assassin can use the Assassination table to determine if their is a kill strike.
  2. Language. Assassins can learn other alignment tongues. (recently discussed HERE.)
  3. Disguise.

Of course, all three are cool abilities, but how does an Assassin fit into an adventure group? It’s implied that Assassins can pose as a Thief or perhaps another class or person (using another alignment tongue and disguise) but would that last long in a cohesive group?

I’ve read a bit about Gygax and the early development of D&D and an Assassin class just seems incongruous to the core idea of a “balanced group” and spirit of play. Rolemaster has Professions similar to an Assassin; the Nightblade could be seen more as a Ninja style character, but nothing like the D&D version which is described thusly: “The primary function of assassins is killing.”. That’s pretty straight forward, but how does “assassinations” fit into a traditional fantasy game? What about poisons? I’ve seen quite a bit of comments/feedback from people who dislike the idea of poisons in gameplay.

Has anyone played an Assassin in D&D or similar in Rolemaster? If you GM, would you allow an assassin in your group?

Novel Weapons in Shadow World & Rolemaster

The Katar…is that a lizard man motif?

Every now and then I stumble upon another blog or reference to odd or unusual real life weapons. Some seem very impractical, but they still fuel the imagination. (Beside, impracticality is of little importance in a fantasy setting!)

Rolemaster has some “fantasy weapons” that are really Shadow World specific available HERE, and I’ve posted a couple of blogs about some alternate and odd weapons:

Helmet in the shape of a conch shell
Conch Helmet

I’ve also had the opportunity to see some fantastic collections of armor and weapons at the Army Museum in Paris, and the Higgins Armory Museum that was relocated to the Met in New York.

Since I had already written about the Urumi, I was delighted to stumble across THIS BLOG‘s post on eastern blades. Of particular interest, besides the Urumi, is this:

Assamese Dao

Like the Adya Katti, the Assamese Dao lacks a guard and gets broader towards the tip, but there the resemblances end. This is a straight sword rather than the curved one, and though it seems somewhat simple, the unusual shape of the blade adds enough character.

In my Priest-King module, I have a similar weapon that is basically a battle machete. These weapons were designed to be used by the Kinn Rangers to hunt Quarnaks–thus the lack of a hilt that is necessary against other bladed weapons. the Assamese Dao provides a good model for that weapon.

The blog post describes several other cool looking weapons that would add flavor to a fantasy setting. Do you have any unique or strange weapons in your game?

Rethinking Inherently “Evil” Races. (Updated 2/14/21)

Image result for evil fantasy races

Synchronicity, being what it is, has brought together one of my blog topics and some current discussions floating around the web. In particular the racist nature of dark-skinned fantasy races that also are inherently “evil”.

Over on the RM Forums there is discussion about the dark-skin – evil duality. However I am more interested in the broader issue of evil races and if they even make sense. As a primer this is an interesting take:

Certainly a lot of progression has occurred in fantasy over the last 40 years: simplistic tropes have developed into more mature themes, the founding player base has aged and “awoken” and world building has expanded into more realistic modeling of societies.

Putting Tolkien aside, perhaps the most stark examples of monolithic races that I can remember was in David Eddings Belgariad series. Even as a young reader, the stark rigid depiction of racial characteristics was distracting. But this was pretty standard for Golden Age fantasy gaming and driven by the ideas on literature.

There are probably many driving forces for the standardization of evil races in fantasy gaming:

  1. Alignment. The introduction of alignments, and the assignment of alignments to races, monsters and creatures created a blanket behavioral type that was hard to overcome. I remember one early game where we first introduced a half-orc PC–the rest of the group was suspicious that the PC was secretly an assassin and was never trusted.
  2. Physical characteristics. Again, there is enough written about skin color, but there is also the physical attractiveness equation: ugly = bad, beautiful = good (although beautiful is also depicted as evil, but in a remote dispassionate cruelty).
  3. Story element. Every hero needs a foe, so races of inherently evil humanoids are a great standard foil. Fighting, attacking and killing any member of a evil race is just and righteous.
  4. Societal traits. Civilizations that are ambitious, colonialist, capitalist or warlike could be described as “Evil” or just immoral. Does that mean that every member of the society also holds those traits? A majority of them? Or just the leaders and powerful members of society?

Personally, I like moral ambiguity in my campaigns. It provides a more complicated ethical framework and consequences for actions. However, I realize that one of the appeals of RPG’s is it’s relief from a morally complicated reality and the escape to a good vs evil paradigm.

But even if you like a simpler framework, does it make sense to apply a blanket label like “evil” to an entire race? Is that corruption embedded in their DNA? Is it nature vs nurture? Can a societal structure create so much influence as to pre-ordain a person’s ethical nature? This is a philosophical debate, but still worth considering when using races like Dark Elves and Orcs in your setting.

One hand-wave approach to rationalizing a racial alignment is to have it driven by the race/society’s god; ie they worship an evil god therefore the people are “evil” too. Simple. In my own Shadow World campaign, the only truly evil entity is the Unlife. Dyari (Dark Elves) are simply a label for Elves that have forsaken the Lords of Orhan, and are not a distinct separate race.

There are a lot of arguments against a intrinsic evil as a racial trait. What are the argument for it? What do you do in your game?

{Update} In a related note, James over at Grognardia had an interesting post on alignment languages. It’s been decades since I’ve dealt with alignments, but the more I ponder the concept of alignment languages the less it makes sense. Based on the comments to James’ post, a lot of people struggle to define or rationalize them.