I like to regularly check the ranking for the Rolemasterblog. We have a lot going against us: the majority of content is for D&D style games, despite RMU, RM is seen as a legacy system and there are only a handful of people writing new content for Rolemaster or Shadow World.
This month we rank 35th. I think that is very impressive, although I admit to being lost on the methodology used for this ranking system. It certainly gives me hope that there is a dogged interest in RM, and the Rolemasterblog in general.
I wish I was posting a blog with more content, but I just thought I would check in and see how everyone is doing. Speaking of “dog days of summer” I found my last similar post way back in 2018. Wow, 5 years ago. A lot of changes: RMU is finally release and Terry passed away, but other than that it seems more of the same.
Of course I’m following the forums and discord. It feels like there is activity from new users or players that have found their way back to the Rolemaster fold? Certainly a lot of the usual rule adjudication.
Anyway, I hope all is well with the RM community. My hope is to get back to blogging regularly this fall when things settle down for me. In the meantime, happy to hear your comments:
Are you playing regularly? In person or still online?
Have you switched to RMU?
What are you looking forward to? Treasure Law? Something else?
If you are playing in Shadow World, where is your group now? Any good stories?
My next session of Lost Mines of Phandelver will be a week today. The characters have made it to the town and have been picking up rumours. There were three possible ways that they could have chosen to go from what they learned, and I picked the one that I thought was most likely to appeal to the players.
I am recreating all the maps in the module using DungeonDraft and then importing them into Fantasy Grounds for us to play. DungeonDraft has a trace image function so I can easily screenshot the PDF map, save it as an image and then draw over the top. It makes building maps quite quick.
I assumed that they would go after the bandits, and two of the players immediately latched on to those clues, but then the most stubborn player decided that they needed to head back and deal with the goblins and help rescue their NPC patron.
I, of course, had planned and mapped the bandits and set up all the encounters on Fantasy Grounds. The effort isn’t lost because I know that they will come back and deal with them.
There was more than enough to do in town to keep them amused during the session and it was only at the end of the game that they finally decided on their next course of action.
I now have this week to build all the maps, encounters, and loot parcels for Cragmaw Castle. I also copy’n’paste the adventure text into Fantasy Grounds Story boards so that I can link from those to the encounters, maps, images etc all from within the VTT.
My prep looks to be 8 planned encounters, one map to create, one trap, and about 10 parcels of things that could be found and looted. Then just copy the text over.
So far I have been pleased with how the conversion from D&D to RMC has gone. I have had to increase encounter numbers because the characters are tougher than first/second level D&D characters but apart from that it has been easy to find equivalent monsters, spells, and items.
Peter’s newest post (welcome back Peter!) had me thinking of a recent opportunity that has arisen. My lifelong friend, and part of our gaming group in the 80’s, asked if I would be interested in DMing a game for his son and friends. These are kids in their early twenties, and are just casual gamers that played around with D&D the last few years.
I’m a bit rusty, my regular game group has slowly dissolved since COVID and for the last 35 years I’ve been almost exclusively a Rolemaster/Shadow World players barring a brief run of Pathfinder that Matt ran 10 years ago. I’d like to give it a try, but it would likely be a 1-shot “all-nighter” since they don’t live in commuting distance.
I’m left with a few decisions:
Run a D&D game for them. Downside: The last time I played it was 1st ed., so I would need quite a bit of review and learning. Upside: I suspect it’s the ruleset they are most familiar and I’m sure I could find a ton of game material to choose from.
Introduce them to Rolemaster. They would have to be open to it, but this would be the easiest for me. Upside: Tons of experience, I have lots of material. Downside: I wouldn’t want to bore/overwhelm them with chargen, but, that is part of the process in learning the character a game.
If I had my preference, I’d run them through my “Legends of Shadow World“. It was designed to be “tourney style” and playable in 4-6 hours. I think it’s dynamic material and I already have pre-gen characters for them to use. There is a “but”. It’s a 50th level adventure that leans into Shadow World quite a bit. So these new players would need to get their heads wrapped around skills, abilities and spells of a 50th level character and would need some deep background on SW given who their characters are.
As I get older, I’m more focused on collaborative story telling and setting material and less concerned about rules. With my SWARM ruleset, these characters have less skills and far less spells than core RM rules allow, so it’s not completely overwhelming. The style of play at 50th level is not that different than most any other level (barring 1st to 5th) and the larger than life personalities lend itself to more of a Superhero game style.
What do you think? Can relatively unexperienced D&D players handle 50th level Rolemaster adventure?
During the pandemic, we started a Shadow World campaign and I got to play. We made it to about 5th level, but then the game fizzled out and we stopped playing. The GM caught covid, and that caused the first break, then they had another time clash, and before you know it two months had gone by and we had lost all the momentum.
Now the GM has lost the motivation to restart the game and that was the end of that.
I was running a game set in my generic, not quite forgotten realms. It started as a one-shot for us to learn how to use Fantasy Grounds, and it turned into a campaign. The characters are about 6th level now.
I have often been interested in converting between systems and for their current adventure I have taken Lost Mines of Phandelver, a low-level D&D 5e adventure, and I am converting it to RM Classic.
I haven’t moved over to RMu yet for two reasons, the first is that we can only play via Fantasy Grounds and there is no FG support yet for RMu, and secondly, the RMu rules are still only partially published and I don’t what to faff around with house ruling the missing parts or using beta stats.
RMC is complete and we know it and it is well supported.
It is interesting to convert D&D stuff to RMC. A 10′ pit is no threat to a 5e character, a few hit points lost that are recovered at the first rest. In RM they can break your hip, if not your neck.
I am also dealing with a level disparity. My characters are 6th level, and the adventure is written for 1st-5th level D&D characters. Some challenges are way too easy, such as stock goblins, but the adventure has a young green dragon as the main showdown, and RM has lots of options for me to use, lesser drakes, greater drakes, and if I really needed it, actual dragons.
D&D 5e characters are a lot more robust than RM characters, and they recover faster. It will be interesting to see if these many small encounters will grind my characters down, and what seemed easy at the start becomes death by a thousand cuts by the end.
Now that we are past COVID, I have the opportunity to establish a weekly game night at a local bar/restaurant. Hopefully, this will be in conjunction with a local game store and focus on community and group gaming for TTRPG’s and regular games like Cards against Humanity, Settlers of Cataan or even Secret Hitler.
I first saw a packed game night in Seattle up on Capitol Hill and since then have discovered other public game nights taking off in Atlanta and other major cities. For young professionals that crave social interaction (beyond left and right swipes) and the peak of D&D in pop culture, this seems like a great time to bring group gaming to the forefront.
Where are you and does your community have public gaming nights at a local bar, restaurant, coffee shop or similar?
Back in 2021 I started listing out certain topics and content in Canon Shadow World that I thought should be re-examined and possible modified in any future work. One item I find particularly problematic is the introduction of the “Anti-Essaence”.
There are many threads to untangle in this subject and there are many threads on the RMForums and the Discord channels that touch upon it. Certainly everyone’s approach will be driven by their own campaign, ethos and background, but one of the first things I found appealing about Shadow World was it’s moral relativism. The inclusion of the “Anti-Essaence” feels very much like an attempt to square some circles created by the Unlife in general.
Many fantasy games have clear dualities, with opposing forces of absolute good and evil and graduations in between (alignment system of AD&D). The need for absolute evil is clear justification of any player actions within the game system, and simplified the narrative and direction of player action.
So before we get to the Anti-Essaence let’s review Terry’s thoughts on evil per the Master Atlas 4th Ed.
“Good” and “Evil” fall at the two extreme ends of a spectrum; most thinking beings exist somewhere in the middle ground.…. True Evil, the evil that is fostered by the Unlife, is the drive to destroy— and to feed on that destruction.… Without attempting to make a judgment on what is “evil” and what is not, the concept of pure, true, universal evil in the context of Shadow World applies only to the Unlife and its willing servants….
So obviously this leads to a number of problems discussed ad nauseum:
Are there inherently evil races?
2. Are Demons of the Unlife?
3. What’s the deal with the Dragonlords?
4. How do you tap into the power of the Unlife?
5. How does Unlife corruption work?
6. Are there 2 sets of power points?
7. Are Spell Law Evil Spells of the Unlife?
7. If “Evil Spell Lists” are channeled from the Unlife, how does an Essence Magic User actually be a Channeler?
There seems to be clear demising wall established by Terry, if they aren’t of the Unlife, they aren’t “True Evil”–whatever that might mean for you. But then we bring in the Anti-Essaence.
The Anti-Essaence concept seems more of “rule for rules” to try and patch up or systemized a muddy system. But the problem is that the Essaence isn’t actually the opposite of the Anti-Essaence: the Essaence is just power, neutral in nature. It’s application can be either beneficial or hurtful; but is it really “True Evil”? Are Sorceror spells any less or more evil than the Evil Magician spell list solid destruction? What isn’t evil about a fireball painfully incinerating an opposing force? Is subjugating a person against their will with a Charm spell, good and just?
Let’s examine this through the lense of the Dark Gods. Is Andaras absolutely evil and a user of the Unlife? (I know a few cat owners who would think so!!). Many of the Dark Gods have easily found, public temples in all the major cities. Does it make sense that a incomprehensible entity of undying malevolence, that seeks the destruction of all life would manage and maintain the administration of a such a temple? Would that God even be tolerated in a city? It’s clear that Terry doesn’t treat the Dark Gods as “Gods of the Unlife”. (In my SW, the Dark Gods are outcasts from Orhan which makes far more sense)
How did the Anti-Essaence get inserted into Shadow World? The source of power of the Unlife needed to fit into the Realm and magical system. There needed to be a game mechanism to model “power corruption” and thus the concept of the “Anti-Essaence” was included into the Master Atlas.
I don’t believe it was necessary and I see no issues with Essence or Mentalism users being corrupted and essentially becoming “Channelers” of the Unlife. Don’t you already allow the logically inconsistent “hybrid” spellusers in Rolemaster?
In short, “Anti-Essance” isn’t necessary, it doesn’t clarify any confusion and it complicates an intangible framework of morality. The Unlife is a nihilistic force destruction. It’s easy to oppose, but it doesn’t need to fit into our good/evil framework.
The section on “Artificial Beings” in the Master Atlas is a bit of mixed bag, but also contains some undeniably cool material. There are 7 different types of creatures classified as “Artificial” but I don’t think the category holds up well after a cursory inspection. There seems to be some fungibility between the words “artificial” and “construct” to the point of conflation.
So what are “Artificial Beings”?? In the first few paragraphs of the first entry, “Kaeden” we have this:
Like all constructs, Kæden cannot reproduce.
Further reading implies that many of the artificial beings were created in the First Era, mostly by Kaedena. Out of the seven though, only Kaeden, Gogor, Shards and Neng really meet the general definition of an “Artificial” being and then it confusingly states that:
Neng are able to reproduce, though may not interbreed with other races. In this way they qualify as a ‘race’,
I’ve written about N’eng here, and I think there is a strong argument that they should be moved to the Race section with the explanation that they were originally created, but have since developed through reproduction. They are certainly unlike immortal Shards, Kaeden that can “hibernate” or Gogor that were stored in jars for millennia. If you think about it, it implies that many of the races present on Kulthea were either created by the Althans or perhaps by the Lords of Orhan. Doesn’t that essentially make all races “artificial beings”?
The other three “artificial” creatures are: Sentinels, Golems and Elementals. Sentinels are “guarding statues”, immovable “golems” and I would argue that both should be categorized as true “Constructs”. The last, Elementals, are a curious entry in this category. Certainly they are summoned, and perhaps occur naturally via Essaence effects, but I’m not sure they belong here. A revamp of the Master Atlas could clump these in a “Elemental Creature” category (zephyr hounds, elemental demons etc) or perhaps under an expanded category of “Summoned Creatures”.
All in all this is a awkward category but I still love it. Kaeden, Shards and Gogor are unique, Shadow World specific monsters, that deserve more attention. I think there is room for even more unique creatures to define this setting and there is certainly room to reorganize the creatures presented in the Master Atlas. It’s clear that Terry generally avoided the standard fantasy creatures and leaned heavily into humanoids, Demons and servants of the Unlife. There seems to be few “Monsters of the Week” in Terry’s adventures, and in that spirit, any future works should reflect that ethos.
Certainly Shards are notable, but has anyone used Kaeden or Gogor in their SW adventure? Has anyone come up with a new creature that fits well into Shadow World and want to share?
Today I thought I would throw out some broad questions relating to Shadow World content and the timeline. It’s understandable that after 30 years and a dozen books you can find some discrepancies in Terry’s work, but sometimes there is more of a “Mandela Effect” where broadly held assumptions don’t match the text. Case in point, “Demons” are often depicted as being creatures of the Unlife, but is that accurate?
We no longer have the option of “Ask Andraax”, but most answers can be found with a quick search of the Master Atlas. I’ve explored some of these questions in depth before and I’ve provided my own solutions but I’m seeing increased activity and new participants in SW threads (probably due to RMU) so it might be a fun exercise for readers that haven’t had much exposure to Shadow World!
Can you answer these without referring to the books?
Are Demons of the Unlife? and When were Demons introduced to Kulthea?
When did the Unlife appear?
When did Elves appear and where did they come from?
When did the Essaence split into the three realms?
When did the Lords of Orhan appear?
When did the Dark Gods appear on Charon?
Where did the Dragonlords come from?
What do you think? What’s the right answer or what would be a better answer if Canon isn’t definitive? What other questions do you have about Shadow World?
Have fun and while you ponder these I’m working on my comprehensive Shadow World Trivia Test that I will publish next week!