Spin Cycle for Shadow World: CoA pt. 2

5The Citadel of Ardor.

What is it? A 9 level tower of black “marble” stone. Interior features with familiar SW elements including iron/steel/laen tracked doors, glowing glass panels. There is even a lower level cavern hall.

How and where to use it in Shadow World? The tower feels A LOT like the Loremaster’s Tower of the Winds with its High Council Chamber and the lower cavern could be the repository for the Master Orb. (MA p.72). But the elements, materials and craftsmanship certainly evoke LoE or 2nd Era style.

General Ideas:

A tower for a powerful Priest of the Unlife, a Mage or local Lord/ruler. If you need to drop in a powerful adversary, this layout may be perfect for their stronghold. The lower cavern works well as a room for summoning or ritual magic. Like the CoA plot, the PC’s can try and stop a dark ritual or sacrifice.

Empty fortress to explore. If you need a floorplan for an abandoned tower this could work well. The entrance gate may need to be open or the PC’s could access the lower hall via an Earthwarden tunnel or the Ash Lairs.

Lords of Essaence (LoE) facility. There hasn’t been many, if any, LoE towers detailed—most of their surviving structures have been underground. It’s certainly possible to attribute it to the LoE, but has subsequently been taken over another ruler, powerful individual or organization.

Earthwardens (EW). The stronghold seems too polished for the EW but the lower cavern could be built around a Foci and the tower could have been built over the site later in the Interregnum or 2nd Era.

Specific Ideas:

Some of these locations are only noted in the map keys without any other information. However, if the PC’s are exploring Emer than the Citadel may be great layout to quickly insert for the following:

  1. Tower of the Church of Zanar. Isle of Fire, Emer.
  2. Tower of the Spider Queen. Haestra I. Map A #1
  3. Red Moon Tower. Haestra I. Map A #4
  4. Tower of Kelstro. Haestra I. Map B #2
  5. Amethyst League Tower. Haestra I, Map C #3
  6. Blackforest Tower. Haestra I, Map C #17
  7. Xa’Chaak Mentalist School. Haestra I, Map C #19
  8. Tower of Silver Ice. Haestra I, Map C #20
  9. Tower of the Five Moons. Haestra I, Map D #3
  10. Earthwarden Ruins. Haestra I, Map D #8
  11. Tower of the Warlock. Haestra I, Map E #7
  12. Tower of the White Sorceror. Haestra I, Map F #3
  13. Vog Ien. Northern Falias
  14. Tower of Magic. Ebon City Govon.

If you have any ideas on re-purposing the Citadel of Ardor please add a comment! Stay tuned for Part 3!

Get into Character

In Brian’s post [Shadow World Deux ex machina: Gods or Loremasters?] he mentions ‘time-strapped GMs have to rely even more on prepared materials and modules’. It is not only us poor GMs that  don’t have the time that we used to. As you all probably know I am one of those GMs that only gets to game a few times a year when the gang all gets back together. It is hard for my players to get into character at the drop of a hat if they haven’t played the character for four months or more.

To that end I have been asking around (mainly on twitter) about ideas to make this quicker and easier. My ‘plan A’ is the “First impression post-it” before I explain I will give you a little background.

I used to play in a MERP game (playing the same character for about 20 years and reaching 33rd level), that GM and the GM of a game that I am going to start playing in next week both use a three page questionnaire about your characters strengths, weaknesses, what they would sell their soul for and their deepest desires. A sort of PC SWOT analysis. I always hated them and still do. When I first create the character I don’t really know these things about him or her (normally him as I never play female characters having never been female and before you ask I don’t play elves either!). When I did have to fill one out for a newish character I wanted to change some of the answers after a few months of play and the GM said I couldn’t as he had used the answers in weaving the plot. I think 10 out of 10 for integrating the character into the game world but a big fat zero for character development.

Anyway, I don’t like these SWOT analysis forms because for new characters they either seem to end up very similar or very shallow or worst of all not reflecting the character that the player is actually playing. I suspect (and know in my case) that they are written and forgotten by the players.

I have been using first impression post-it notes for NPCs for a while. The idea is to create a sentence or two (no more than can fit on a post-it note) to describe the first impression that a character creates. Is he calm? flustered? charming? Do they speak with a booming school masters voice or a soft rural brogue? These help me get into the NPCs role quickly and keeps the NPC consistent across meetings. Bear in mind that in the players first adventure it took two human years for them to complete a small cave complex adventure.

If there are three gate guards, an old hand and two green recruits then a single note with the three names and maybe a two word description may be enough (Cyril:Sargent-major strict, Oswald:Cocky/swaggering, Bjorn:Scatter brained and untidy). Every time you exit via that gate you get one or more of the same guards and the players may even plan their escapades for then Bjorn is on duty because he suits their needs, but at least every time they meet they will be consistent.

Below is the post-it from one of my NPCs (I apologise for my handwriting, this is low tech roleplaying!). You could I hope take that post-it and character sheet and run with it.


The nice thing about post-it notes of course is that they are note a three page questionnaire, you are not giving away the deepest secrets of your characters background, should you happen to leave it at the game table while you go an get a beer and another player reads it.

I am only recording that first impression not a full psychological profile.

I am going to get my players to do these for their characters before the start of the next session. That way every time they open their mouths whilst ‘in character’ if what they say or how they say it should be in alignment with what is written on they post-it.

They can of course screw it up, toss it in the recycling and write out a new one. I had a character that was extremely happy go lucky until he was the sole survivor of a near total party wipeout. For him the adventure was no longer fun it became a grim reality pretty damn quick. That would be a new post-it moment!

How this works with real live players I don’t know yet but I will let you know. What is happening increasingly at the moment is that my players are playing themselves for most of the weekend which is not really the point of the game or where is the escapism in that?

Spin Cycle for Shadow World: Court of Ardor pt. 1

While there is always demand for new Shadow World material, even after ignoring all the non-canon material there is still an incredible amount of material for a lifetime of gaming! But gamers love new books and while Terry is working diligently on Emer IV and a slew of other projects I thought I would start a new blog series called “Spin Cycle for Shadow World”. In this series I’ll be suggesting old RPG material that can be re-purposed for Shadow World. An area map, a layout, or a fortress from other settings can be a convenient insert to fill in a campaign or flesh out current material. For the most part I’ll keep the suggestions for use in Jaiman and Emer, the two continents that are well represented by canon SW material.

So where to start? Obviously the first place to look is in other I.C.E. publications and we don’t have to look too hard! Luckily early MERP material is easily adapted to Shadow World; not only is it built on RM stats but the flavor and design aesthetic of Peter’s maps and Terry’s layouts were used in both the Loremaster modules and early MERP campaign modules. But even better, some of the coolest MERP products were authored by Terry himself. The first we’ll discuss, The Court of Ardor, shares the structural DNA of Shadow World and could almost be adopted whole and dropped into Kulthea with little effort.

I’m not a Tolkien expert, so I’m unclear on how much material in CoA was derived from his work, but most of the material seems to cover regions, politics and power not addressed in the LotR. It does feature Terry’s creative trademarks: a mysterious and powerful organization–check; cool magic items—check; powerful NPC’s—check; unique fortresses with great layouts—check. Great stuff and very familiar to Shadow World users. The Court and its members certainly has the glimmerings of the later Jerak Ahrenreth and the various “Suits” (Staves, Helms, Swords, Orbs) echoes the Eight Emerian Orders. The organization of “Darin Tesarath” is virtually identical to the Steel Rain and the Guild of Elements feels like a precursor to the Earthwardens.

While the organizations may be useful, the real benefit is the layouts of the Court’s 9 citadels and the city maps provided in the module. We’ll look at this in more detail in CoA pt. 2.

Shadow World Deux ex machina: Gods or Loremasters?

For a variety of reasons, many RPG GM’s have less time to design, develop and write original gaming material. Marathon gaming sessions with the same group in high school or college have given way to infrequent gatherings of old friends. The result: time-strapped GM’s have to rely even more on prepared materials and modules. Part of the magic of gaming is the immersive quality of the game setting—artifacts, creatures, cultures and locales all hint at a rich history and a broader world just beyond the players senses. But what happens when the PC’s stray off the modules defined, prepared course? Even a GM with their own extensive world will find themselves in uncharted territories; unprepared for a quirky player decision or random adventure tangent. Even worse are the groups that muddle about without any real direction and seem incapable of making a group decision to move the game forward!!

The original Character Law or Campaign Law alluded to avoiding “channeling players through a path deemed most desirable”, but for a GM with a narrow adventure path provided by a game module or a limited environment hastily sketched out prior to game play, keeping the players within those boundaries is paramount.

Good GM’s can subtly direct their players while maintaining the illusion of a pervasive world; bad GM’s put up roadblocks or punishments as a deterrent which can shatter the gaming experience. Luckily there are two convenient mechanisms in the Shadow World setting to help guide and direct the players while simultaneously connecting them with the larger world: Gods and the Loremasters. Both of these groups create a convenient way to introduce an “adventure hook” as well as a method to redirect a wayward party. Let’s discuss both.

Loremasters. Is there a more established trope than the “wise, mysterious and powerful” guide? Sure, Loremasters may seem a bit generic but they can be fully fleshed-out, flawed and even “in over their heads” NPC’s. However, as part of a larger organization they have real motivations and resources that can give direction and guidance to a party and keep them focused on the adventure goal. Many of the Loremasters described in the SW books are notable individuals, but the organization has younger members still in training that need field experience. It’s more likely that lower level PC’s would encounter one of these apprentice Loremasters. If and when the group grows in experience and power, so to would that younger Loremaster. As the game develops that Loremaster contact can help connect the PC’s to new plots, adventures and tasks; in spycraft terminology the PC’s become a “Field Asset” of the Loremaster! Because the guiding role of the Loremaster can become a heavy hand it’s important to bestow some vulnerabilities on the NPC: Loremasters shouldn’t all be omniscient and all powerful. It might even make sense to have the Loremaster played as a PC with direction, aid and counsel coming down from the Loremaster hierarchy. That provides the GM a more indirect guiding mechanism for the group. Certainly a PC Loremaster would have access to some proprietary information about the game world, but most players can easily download SW books, review the timeline or read the SW novel and know most of the “secrets” of Kulthea! In the end the Loremaster is an established mechanism for guiding the party and keeping them on track.

Gods. One of the often over-looked aspects of playing a Cleric or other religious profession is the compact between the God and the follower. D&D created alignments to enforce player behaviors but game systems without alignments will often encounter the inevitable behavioral drift to the center: self-interest. For Channelers in RM, there are no real game mechanisms outside GM discretion to enforce player behavior that reflects the Deities’ ethos or requirements. However, it is the use of the “God Mechanism” that enables a GM to arbitrarily assign tasks to a follower or group and guide them during an adventure. As the god’s proxy, a follower is meant to further his god’s will and purpose in exchange for miraculous powers (Channeling spells). Too often, Channeling spells are treated the same as Essence or Mentalism—follow the game mechanics, expend PP’s and roll for results.  But Channeling should be different than the “agnostic” realms: their use should imply a greater cost or responsibility of the caster to wield such powers. That cost is the crack in the door—the mechanism by which the GM can manage the party. Whether through signs, visitations, dreams or augury, the Priest/Paladin/Druid/Shaman will have a connection or dialogue with their patron as part of their service. The amount of guidance will depend on the involvement of the God; the Orhanian pantheon is relatively aloof but powerful, the Charon pantheon is more “hands-on” but less powerful, while local Gods can be very present but in a limited geography or aspect.

In summation, the Shadow World setting has two already established mechanisms for a GM to guide the party. By filtering direction through either a God or a Loremaster you can keep your group on track, maintain the immersive element of the game and connect the players to the broader world of Kulthea!


Maximizing Essaence Flows in your Shadow World campaign

One of the more distinctive attributes of Kulthea is the presence of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci. From the original Loremaster modules to the more recent Shadow World books, 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 Non-Canon SW modules, the Flows seemed minimized and moved to the background when they should have been kept as a prime actor in the ongoing SW narrative. Essaence Flows should be seen as an essential NPC in SW campaigns: always present, unpredictable, and frequently impacting the storyline and gameplay. Flows are one of Shadow World’s differentiators from so many other game settings, but it’s easy for a GM to ignore them while managing the game, PC’s and game plot.

Essaence manifestations can play a number of roles in gameplay:

  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!

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.

Encumbered by a lack of Encumbrance Rules

Rolemaster Logo

I like my game rules light. The less rules the better in my view and the less time spent trawling back and forth through the rules trying to find the exact paragraph you need should mean more time spent adventuring. I accept that it doesn’t always work out that way and without ‘enough’ rules you can end up with not knowing what should happen or what is ‘right’. And so on to encumbrance!

I do not use the standard encumbrance and exhaustion point rules in Rolemaster Classic. In fact I do not know anyone who uses those rules. I generally look over the players inventory at the end of each session to see what they are carrying. If it seems excessive then I will add a post-it to the character sheet saying they are over encumbered and they will have -5 to -25 on movement rolls until they resolve it. The severity being down to how badly encumbered I think they are.

As a working solution that is fine until you start dishing out treasure to Essence spell casters. In my game at the moment most of the characters are 1st to 3rd level and I am giving out mundane treasure. In the past adventures most of the treasure was in the form of swords and armour which they looted from bodies. There were a few fine pieces there but for the most part it was normal kit.

My players really hate having to do bookkeeping. I can sort of agree with them to some extent and as the game is being run for both their and my enjoyment then I need to take their views into account.

The way the players want things to work is by just having an A4 sheet that they jot down everything they find on. They can then remember what they need to examine further when they get back to town and any on going expenses are met from this common list. From a bookkeeping perspective this the barest minimum but I am not happy with this minimal system for two reasons.

In the last game session the party walking into the roughest bar in town, it was a real den of thieves, the sort of place where your orcish mercenaries go to let their hair down. The party being an pretty female elf, a male half elf and three humans (two male and one female) stood out like a sore thumb and were certainly not welcome. They didn’t even stay for a single drink, for some reason. It was entirely possible that one of the thieves in the bar would try to pickpocket one of the elven types. If an orc is going to put one over on one of the characters it is going to be one of the elves I would guess.

According to this communal treasure list the party have a handful of rubies.  How do I know which character has the rubies? Can I just roll a dice to see which character has them? That would seem fair. The half elven warrior mage’s player is the one maintaining the common list, is he the one with the rubies? If they had been stolen you can bet anything you like that the players would have protested that they [the rubies] were being held by someone else or were back at their lodgings. If they had suddenly needed a stake for a card game then of course the rubies would be back in their pockets and ready to throw in as their stake.

That is one issue, the other is to do with weight of metal. In Rolemaster Classic an essence spell caster cannot be carrying more than 5lbs of metal (10lbs for chanellers) before incurring spell casting penalties. The party are made up of:

  • Sorcerer (essence & channeling)
  • Elemental Warrior (essence)
  • Warrior Mage (essence)
  • Cleric (channeling)
  • Mystic (essence & mentalism)

Every single one of them has a limit on how much metal can be carried. So if the treasure represents a bunch of bastard swords and chainmail shirts where are they? Who is going to take the penalty?

To this end I have knocked up a simple two column ‘Loot List’ page for the players. It just lists their treasure and a second column lists who is carrying it, if anyone, a ‘carried by’ column. We will see in two weeks time how that goes down with the players!

Making Monster Conversions (D&D to RM)

I have been away for quite a while but I am back in the land of the gaming now and I have a face to face gaming session coming up in just two weeks and I have a lot of monster nonversions to do!

I started looking at the game notes again this week and noticed I had quite a few D&D creatures to convert over to Rolemaster for the coming sessions. The main problem being that the party could go in one of two different directions and so I had to be prepared for both.

In the back of the original Creatures and Treasures book there are rules for converting D&D and Runequest creatures to Rolemaster. The RMC Creatures and Treasures doesn’t have this section. The reason for the omission is that the original RM rules were intended as an alterntive to the D&D rules that any DM could slot into his game. Therefore it was necessary to provide them with the conversion rules for them to work with. Rolemaster Classic on the other hand is a full standalone roleplaying game and is not intended to be used as supplimental material to another game. Rolemaster Classic then does not need the conversion rules. I am using RMC in the D&D setting Forgotten Realms and consequently I keep coming across creatures that are not in the standard Creatures and Treasures menagery so I need to do these conversions. Thankfully the conversion rules are also available on the ICE forums, in the downloads vault.

This week I grabbed the rules, created a spreadsheet and have been curning out the creatures I need. It doesn’t take long to get the basic stats but I still need to find the most fitting spell effects in Spell Law to finish them off and make them useable.

One of the things that stand out in this process is that D&D magic is in many ways both more powerful and less flexible than Rolemaster magic. Many of the Rolemster spell lists contain nearly useless spells (in combat situations mostly) such as heat solid that do not do any damage and in no way compare to D&D’s burning hands as an example of a spell at about the same level. Where your D&D magician may have 2x1st, 2x2nd and a third level spell at 5th level, the same level RM magician could have up to 15 power points that could be spent in any combination from 15 x 1st level spells to 3 x 5th level spells.

Some of the creatures I have been converting have druidic or animist type spell effects and if the creatures are not killed off in the first encounter they have some very interesting possibilities outside of combat because of the interesting nature of the spell lists.


After the game session, if the creatures come into their own I will share my stats for them!

Rolemaster – An Embarrassment of Riches

I have an idea for a game I want to run. Rather than strict ‘rules as written’ this time I want to house rule to fit the game world. I intend ripping out as much of the rulebook as possible and stripping things back to as close to ‘no rules’ as possible whilst still being recognisably Rolemaster.

Most people seem to say that the thng that drew them in to Rolemaster in the first place was the critical tables. I think the two most striking features are both the critical table and the open ended roll. I will keep both of those.

Another central element of rolemaster is that any character can learn to do anything, not necessarily easily or quickly but there are very few hard limits. I want to keep that.

Those three things are not really constraining me that much but I do have some other ideas I want to incorporate. I want to do away with all the professions, to make rolemaster ‘classless’. This is not hard, Rolemaster Classic and HARP both have the No Profession ‘profession’ and the new Rolemaster Unified will almost certainly keep it too. So I can go with any of those and still have the game I want. I have bought HARP and HARP SF recently and I aready own RMC. I will buy RMU when it is released. So I wil have all the rules I need. The RMU skills buying system is simpler than RMC with its single cost per category of skills but HARP is even simpler again with all skills falling into two piles those that cost 2pts and those that cost 4pts. Both HARP and RMU have finxed DPs for character creation that gives them the edge over RMC for generating characters.

I am scrapping levels and experience points in this game and instead I am going for a runequest/CoC style ‘roll to improve the skills you have been using’ method of advancement. So powerpoints will have to based upon a skill rather than level.

I am also moving to a one or two second combat round and that means that the HARP combat system may be the better suited. I am leaning that way anyway as the final solution for the size rules in RMU is as yet unknow to me.

The magic in the game is an interesting question. The idea will be that you buy ranks in the spell list and you can cast up to that level. This is known as spells as skills in RMC, it is the standard method of learning spells in RMU and closely related to the way spells are individually developed in HARP. The RMU Spell Law is quite closely integrated with the RMU combat system especially when dealing with what are known as Action Points (AP). Whereas in the old rules Haste spells would give you double actions for the duration, RMU Haste gives and increase in APs. That is going to be harder to translate. The RMC Spell Law is based more on Level for the effects and durations. You can simply read Skill Rank for level and nothing breaks. HARP is already built around skill ranks in spells so no problem there. I like the HARP magic system but none of my players have every used it. They are very familiar with the RMC Spell Law havin played RM2 and then RMC since the late 1980s.

The combat round and initiative I am lifting out of Champions or Hero System as it now is. This will make the quickness stat more important as that will be used for calculating the characters speed. This gives me a ‘turn’ of 12 seconds and characters can act a set number of seconds within that turn based upon their quickness stat. We call each second a segment and count though them. Characters will bleed or do their bookkeeping of stun and such on the first segment of each turn. This is so alien to all forms of Rolemaster that it is effectively system neutral.  One of my new turns will be six HARP rounds, two RMU rounds or one RMC round.

I like the idea of Training Packages. I have never used them before in RM2/RMC but the rules for creating them as stated in the HARP rules is so simple that they can be imposed on any system. At present the only set of rules I have that use them is HARP so they are the rule I will use.

Healing. Healing has always been an issue in Rolemaster. It takes too damn long for my taste. RMU has a set of rules called ‘Cinematic Healing’ I want to use these as it puts what I do informally in a structured set of rules. I am using rules from RMU in my current RMC games and there have been no problems with the transplant.

Logically the next step from Healing is Combat. Not sure what to do yet with this. I want to see the new Arms Law before I discard it. I like the RMC condensed combat. I am more than capable of recreating it with the RMU stats if needed. I have never used the HARP combat system but I do like the look of it and it is by far the simplest. There is one potential issue with it but fixing that would be only a fraction of the work required to recreate the condensed combat system for RMU.

So as it stands I am am man with an idea but so many different version of Rolemaster to play with I don’t know quite where to start. I think it is quite likely that I will end up with a fusion of the best of all of them in my final game. I will let you know how it turns out.

How much fun can one person have with a ship full of orcs?

Just giving someone a ship ful of orcs may not make the best adventure, an interesting fight maybe but not an adventure. So what can you do with them to make it an interesting challenge for the players.

I would suggest just making the characters aware of their existance at first. If the characters are already on one adventure and in a tavern just have some locals arguing about whether there really was an orcish armada that invaded the southern lands. If they are pressed then they say that is what they had heard from a merchant that passed though. Others in the tavern will confirm that is what they have all heard. Now just leave that at that. The locals don’t know any more and cannot confirm or deny anything else.

Some of the things the orcs like to do is sail into harbour, launch fire arrows at every boat they can reach and sail out again. It doesn’t do them much good but they do enjoy the power trip and the thought of the destruction. It isn’t all senseless violence though. If a ship puts to sea in pursuit then the orcs will lead it out until it is isolated and then turn on it. When it comes to hand to hand fighting then the orcs are a savage and effective crew. If they capture a ship in this way but it is too big for them to crew then they will either scuttle it in the mouth of the harbour it came from (towing it along) to serve as a grim trophy or if the wind is blowing right they will set it on a ramming course back into its home harbour to try and wreck another ship. They will hang some of the crew from the spars as a grisly bit of theatre. When the ship collides with another vessel or the harbour wall the bodies will dance and swing on the ends of their rope.

It is after a ‘wrecking’ like this that the orcs have tried to demand a ‘tribute’ from the port to be left alone. Failure to pay will often mean that the orcs will moor their boat in a cove or bay near by and then raid from the landward side burning farms and out lying homesteads. The orcs like this as it provides them with fresh provisions, coin, odds and sods of equipment and a good fight on solid ground. They will often kill and raid in an arc from their hidden ship in land but not burn. They will attack and press on all though the night. At the first sign of pre-dawn they start to torch their victims properties and retrace their path burning each site as they go. This tactic means that men sent out to investigate the first plume of smoke are heading in the wrong direction to find the orcs. The orcs can also stash the booty from each raid rather than carry it with them as they know they are coming back the same way.

If the characters need to take ship at any point in their adventures it is a great time to introduce the orcs by having them come upon a town that has been treated to the orcs attention. From the landward side the characters discover the remains of burned farms and when they do reach the port they discover the wrackage made of the harbour. Everyone will be able to tell the characters that all this happened because the town council refused to pay the orcs their tribute. There will probably be people who blame the authorities and those that support that decision.

The orcs are not above a bit for piracy and in particular they like to take captives for ransom. thse plans often don’t work out too well as they have been known to eat the captives regardless of whether the ransom has been paid or not. They once managed to ransom an entire ship and its cargo back to the owner as it was to big for the orcs to sail and the cargo (grain)  was no use to them at all.

A kidnapping is a great way to have the orcs and characters cross paths. It is simply the heroic thing to do to rescue the victim. You should bear in mind that the orcs have not survived this long because they are stupid. If the characters rock up and are obviously more powerful than the orcs then they will do whatever they can to distract the players long enough to make their get away. Things like dropping the victim over the side with heavy iron manacles in their feet so they disappear under the waves like a stone. Launchig fire arrows at the characters vessel to cause a distraction and positioning their boat so that they have the wind to make their escape whilst at the same time robbing the characters boat of the wind. If the orcs end up in a chase as they flee the characters the sorcerer will attempt a ritual to control the weather (a boat chase can last for many hours) and make good their escape that way.

What the orc will not do is make it obvious that they have a spell caster with them. Nor will thye all fight to the death in the first opportunity for battle. They are all greater orcs and they got that way by surviving many battles and schemes in the past and they want to again. Do not make the mistake of killing them off too soon as there is a lot of potential here either to be an enduring pain in the side of the characters but also as a part of the local culture and as use as a plot device for your characters.

avavk Dovkov avuvk Kukiav – An Adventure

The title of this translates to The Black Pig and is the name of a sloop raiding the northern coastline of the Melos peninsular. It could of course be any coastline in any world. The language is Aioskoru Orcish courtesy of Ken Wickam (check out his blog for all things Aioskorunian).

The nature of these orcs is very much raid and move on. They are not interested in pitch battles but they pick on weak and defenceless coastal vilages where they can run amok. Occaisionally they will hide their sloop in a cove or natural harbour and raid in land. This is where the characters are to first encouter them.

How big an adventure you want to make this is rather up to you. If you want one pitched battle and done then allow the orcs to be caught easily and quickly, if you want to taunt your characters then they can be much more elusive.

The Rolemaster Creatures and Treasures book gives standard stats for a lesser and greater orc but also the rules to easily shift the creatures up and down in level and this is what I have done to create the crew. The orcs of the Kukiav are all greater orcs and one of them is also a spell caster (a 7th level sorcerer).

So first of all lets look at the crew of the Kukiav.

I am not going to name them because they are orcs and orcs exist to be killed not for their conversation.

First up is the sorcerer. There is one major consideration for the GM here. I use the optioal rules for Ritual Magic. If you allow this then This orc can call upon much more powerful weather magic, scrying and illusions at not much risk given enough time and preparation. The ship will have ritualistic markings on the deck where these rituals take place and the sorcerers quarters will be protected using waiting phantasms. the scale and magnatude of these are very much up to the GM. I now use the RMU ritual rules but the original ones were from Companion III. If you allow the use of rituals then this orc will have made his foci (a harpoon) and should be considered to have a +60 skill in ritual magic taking into account he skill, level and stats.

This orc is 7th level and has the following spell lists Fluid Destruction (1-10), Soul Destruction (1-10), Weather Ways (1-10), Essence Perceptions (1-10) and Lesser Illusions (1-10).  He has 40hits, is AT1 and has 21 powerpoints.

The orcish captain is also 7th level is AT18 and has 92hits and an OB of 120 also with a broadsword and an OB of 80 with a Harpoon (thrown). He carries a +5 non magical large shield to give a DB of +45

Subordinates. There are two greater orcs with the standard RM stats (4th level, 70hits, AT17, 40DB) What makes these two stand out is their armour and shields. They killed a pair of soldiers once and both have matching bronze breastplates and large black shields embossed to look like screaming faces.

The crew. This is another five greater orcs armed with broadswords and bucklers and harpoons as back up weapons.

The entre crew are competent sailors now, having raided successfully for a coupleof years. This has often been added by the use of illusions such as a barn fire away from town that draws all the men folk away before the orcs pull in to the harbour. The ship looks well cared for and in good condition, work carried out by captives before tey are eaten. The orcs are also partial to a bit of piracy if the opportunity presents itself and will use any advantage they can get. They will given the choice fight on land as they are all wearing metal armour and are fully aware that they sink!

The Kukiav

Sloop Deck Plan

  1. The Wheel Deck. The Orcish leader is here when active otherwise one of his subordinates will take the wheel.
  2. The main deck. The ritual circle is bewteen the masts in fron of the hold hatch. These are normally performed looking back down teh length of the ship.
  3. The Sorcerers quarters. These are pretected by a pair of waiting phantasms that will attack once before their ‘touches’ are expended. One phantasm is of a wicked axe swinging down from teh ceiling into the doorway and the other is of a trap door opening in the floor to reveal a trapped crocodile rushing up to attack. Both will attack with a 60OB on the MA Strikes Rank 1 table for x4 concussion hits. These take the sorcerer days prepare so to protect his privacy he has create a neurosis in all the other orcs making them too scared to enter his quarters.
  4. The subordinates quarters. These two orcs share these quarters in an uneasy truce. They are never on duty at the same time and if they are forced be in here and off duty then they normally duel for the right to use the bed with some kind of feat of strength such as all out wrestling or by gambling for it wth dice. The rest of the furniture in here is completely wrecked due to their vioolent life style.
  5. Captains quarters. This cabin is in surprisingly good shape considering the ocupant is an orc. Our orcish leader considers himself a bit of a master and commander or pirate king and consequently likes to live like one. All of the furniture is miss matched as it has been stolen piecemeal from coastal towns or other ships up and down the coast.
  6. Below decks. The rest of the raiding party have their hammocks hung here. The floor is strewn with leavings from meals past and the general detrius of a orc raiding party.
  7. The hold. This is where the raiding parties spoils are kept as well as spare weapons and armour. The hold holds 5000tp, 350bp and 60sp. In addition their are coils of rope, barrels of pitch and bundles of sail cloth.

Playing the Kukiav and its crew.

This could easily be a single one off encounter or a device for giving the characters a boat if the greater plot calls for it. i think it works better if the orcs are allowed to out fox the players. Let the sorcerer use rituals to spy on the characters once they know they exist and maybe over hear plans and then take advantage of that knowledge. If the characters have no way of following the ship out to sea then allow the orcs to escape on their ship and taunt the characters. If the characters try and use magic to attack then the sorcerer will try and use spells like neurosis to create an irrational fear of orcs or of water. If he is able to possess a character and start an in fight that way then that will serve. He will resort to throwing waterbolts as an absolute last resort as he knows he does not have enough power to last in that sort of fight.

If the characters become a major threat to the orcs then they will do their best to be where the characters are not but at the same time will try and taunt the characters by leaving a victim alive and then saying the raid is retaliation for the characters actions. remember the sorcerous orc loves fear and deception and with soul destruction and illusions both are very very real!

All of my Aioskoru content is made available under the Open Gaming License.