Further thoughts on Ascendancy in Shadow World. PT.2

For PT. 1 see HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow World as a cross platform setting. What would it take?

I’ve written dozens of blog posts about my thoughts on the future of Shadow World and now with Terry’s passing, it’s unclear if there is even a future for the setting. Of course, there are many RM users that have no interest in Shadow World and there are other settings that might not fit quite neatly into the world. But that’s true for any setting; I have no interest in the Forgotten Realms or Tekumel (although that setting is intriguing for it’s “alienness”!

But now we are at a crossroads. RMU is being rolled out without any supporting setting or adventures; Terry won’t be writing anymore material; and yet, TTRPG’s are more popular than ever AND building a new world setting for any game system has a high barrier to entry for anyone.

Look at the cover art for EMER. Wow. Look at the material Terry has written over 30 years. Again

How might Shadow World survive or even prosper now?

  1. An aggressive re-statting for RMU.
  2. A d20 version.
  3. A flexible game license for writers to place their adventures in the Shadow World setting.
  4. An editorial schedule of micro-adventures, modules and regional books over a 5 year horizon.

While some resources would need to be deployed (art, page layout and editing) much of this framework is already in place. I wrote about this HERE in early 2021….

I’m not a big believer in “production by committee”, but we already have a core group of productive resources that could be deployed. Rolemasterblog has proven consistent material for over 8 years, over 70 adventure hooks and multiple publications. I’ve written extensively about Shadow World and have posted up quite a bit of SW material here and on the RMForums. My brother Matt (Vroomfogle) is the Shadow World moderator at the RMForums, was the architect and project manager for the SW Players Guide, was the early primary author for RMU Core, ran the Nomikos library, and was a participant in many RM products in the 2000s.

There is a roadmap of ideas, products, role-out and support–what do you think?

Shadow World Spin Cycle: Umbar, Haven of the Corsairs

Image result for umbar haven of the corsairs

Welcome to another “Spin Cycle” blog post! If you aren’t familiar with my previous entries on re-purposing MERP products for Shadow World. You can find my take on the Court of Ardor HEREHERE and HERE. and the MERP adventure module “Thieves of Tharbad” 

Today we are going to be looking at Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs. Like The Court of Ardor, Umbar was one of the first MERP products put out by I.C.E. and like Court of Ardor fits very easily into Shadow World. Cover art is by Gail Mcintosh–I always like this art for representing my idea of Rolemaster combat: gritty, dangerous (they never have much armor on!) and this is cool because it’s on a boat that’s tilting!

So why is Umbar such a useful module and a good fit for Shadow World?

  1. Strip away the Middle Earth material and you have great adventure content. The city of Umbar with city maps, sewer maps, tavern maps, 6 city towers of various “Captains”, info on the Wizard Guild, smugglers, merchants, Thieves Guild, City Milita, healers, Armorers Guild, Dark Religion and ships and sailors. Plus there layouts for 6 small castle/keeps that are great drop in plans for any adventure. This is classic RPG material. The Middle Earth info is just window dressing.
  2. Where does this fit into Shadow World? Plasidar. There isn’t much material on Plasidar in the Jaiman source book but a few data points:

Piracy along the Melurian Straits is on the rise…..the lords of Plasidar, and the Xooba raiders all increase activities.

Generally considered a ‘wild land’ filled with thieves
and pirates
, Plasidar most likely is not quite as bad as it is
made out to be.

The Duke of Plasidar….is an Elven merchant-lord who
commands an impressive fleet.

Gûl is the capital city of Plasidar and certainly Umbar is a good stand in for the port city. Umbar has the 6 “Captains of the Havens” while Plasidar has it’s Sea Captain “Lords”. Umbar has Corsairs, Black Numenoreans and Haradrim raiders, (plus smugglers and merchants) while Plasidar has thieves, pirates, raiders and merchants. All in all, a pretty good fit! Given that the new updated Jaiman source book is complete and unlikely to be revised again, using Umbar fills in a fairly large chunk of southern Jaimain that’s close to other important areas: Lethys, Nomikos, and across the sea from Emer and Eidolon.

Since this isn’t meant to be a straight up product review, I’m going to skip down to page 11 where the content starts becoming usable for Shadow World.

Lords of Umbar

3.1. There are 6 Captains the rule the city, each has their own fleet, tower in the city and castle with liege lord outside the city. The names themselves are “Tolkien” style, but dropping the accents, and putting in apostrophes convert to “Shadow World” style. Each lord gets a paragraph with a good description to flesh them out as NPC’s. The Lords are in the 20-25th lvl range, so they make great higher level bosses. There are also stats and info on each lords Chief Captain; these NPC’s are 10-13th lvl.

4.0. City of Umbar. Like most ICE products, Umbar has great color maps with building color coded as well for Alchemists, Lay Healers, Mentalists, Magicians, Herbalists and other professions. Umbar is pre-MERP so all the RM classes are used in these early products. Another bonus for Shadow World use.

Sewer Map

There are layouts and information on two taverns, The Drunken Goose and The Red Sunset. These are perfect hang-outs, meeting places and starting points for a group of adventurers.

Middle Class Establishment…
….dive bar.

5.1. Describes the 6 city towers of each lord. There are floorplans and layout keys and are perfect for a thieving expedition.

8.0 Organizations. Several pages are dedicated to city organizations that the players could interact with or even belong to: The Wizards Guild, Smugglers, Merchants and Merchant Houses, Thieves Guild, City Guard, Healers and Healing Orders, Ships and Sailors, Armorers Guild and a Dark Cult. There are stats for key NPC’s of each, some building or lair layouts and certainly enough information to easily build adventures.

10. Castles of Umbar.

Umbar contains the layouts and keys for 6 keeps, each controlled by one of the lords. Nearby are farmlands and villages that support each keep and the city.

Finally there are the usual and useful summary charts for NPC’s, master military chart, herbs, key people, magic items and some supplementary adventure info.

Umbar is a fantastic “mid-size” campaign module that easily fills in the blanks of Plasidar. The format is easily understood by SW and ICE players, the art work is cool and the stats are straight Rolemaster. The additional info on ships is a great bonus for ocean adventuring, pirates and smuggling scenarios.

While Umbar is OOP, there are multiple online sources for usable PDFs. Check it out and enjoy!

A Plague On You!

I know I could do all the research myself but I thought this would be a fun post and something people could get creative with.

Here is the idea. Evil Villain (called Evie from now on) has a plan. She wants to infect rats with a horrible plague and then use the rats to infect the people and get the people to infect each other. This will bring the kingdom to its knees without Evie ever being in danger.

The biggest problem Evie can see is priest curing the sick so she has to be able to target clerics first. Get rid of the sources of magical healing and the plague becomes much scarier.

Evie is prepared to invest in her grand scheme so can research new spells, lets give her 2 years (104 weeks) to complete any spell research.

What profession would have the spells needed? What is the lowest level that Evie could be to pull this off? Is a ritual to cast the 50th level Plague on a rat and then 9th level Animal Mastery to get that rat to just nibble on hundreds of other captured rats ( you could pay peasants a tin per rat to bring you live rats so that would not be a barrier). This would give you an army of plague carriers. Further castings of Animal Mastery could be used to target clerics.

Any thoughts?

I wrote the top half last night and was then thinking about Evie and had a second idea below.

Playing wound with 50th level rituals is fairly dangerous but there is another way and this is far more horrific.

Evie buys a few hundred live rats for a bronze piece. She kills one and then on the fresh corpse she creates and controls a type 1 undead. Not a zombie or a skeleton, no, she goes for a Lesser Ghoul. This bit is a bit rules fuzzy, Ghouls are not standard created undead but a bit of narrative dark rituals and maybe trading with shady dealers in necromantic antiquities and Evie could get hold of a part of a ghoul that could be regenerated into a ghoul.

With her captive ghoul she infects the captured rats with Ghoul Rot and Bubonic plague (See Creatures & Treasures or Creatures & Monsters and even Creature Law).

This is a much easier way of getting plague infected rats.

Control Undead will work on ghouls just as effectively as created undead so we are only looking at 2nd level for Control Undead I.

If the dealer in necromantic antiquities only had greater ghoul parts available then they are Type II so a 6th level Control spell is needed.

Evie could then control a single rat ghoul and send it into a church with the intention of ‘touching’ as many people as possible. No attack is actually necessary just their touch. The disease attack is not very high so not everyone is going to become a ghoul (30% chance on a fail) or get the plague or gangrene. Ideally Evie will get into the church during a service when there would be several clerics present and then send her rat running around and try and infect as many clergy and lay clergy as possible before having the rat running over the feet of the congregation.

Statistically about 1 in 5 normal people who are touched by the rat will become infected by Ghoul Rot and 2 in 5 will get gangrene or the plague.

This is a repeatable exercise if crowds gather to beseech the clerics to treat the plague victims that is a place to release a controlled rat ghoul.

The plague is contagious as is Ghoul Rot. In three or four days you have epidemic levels of undead infestation and disease.

Could the available clerics, that would need to have the Repulsions list, deal with the exponential growth in undead? That is on top of the growing tides of plague victims and those suffering from gangrene.

At this point I am thinking of the impact of releasing one controlled ghoul rat at a time to target the clerics in a community. Imagine if that evening Evie released a hundred plague and ghoul rot infected rats into the dock district or a towns warehouse district. You average barn contains hundreds of rats that will soon be infected or become carriers.

In a city a hundred rats into a sewer system could spread Ghoul Rot and plague right across the city in three days.

The speed and scale of Evie’s plan is limited only by power points. If she is around second level then although she can cast the control spell she only gets two or three castings a day barring any spell adder or multiplier. In RMSS the power point count is much higher and she could attack multiple temples and churches in a single day.

In RMu she could concentrate on multiple rats meaning she could achieve more in a shorter time. If she picked her moment to coniside with a major public religious festival she could get much greater access to high ranking clerics.

The chance of infecting a high level cleric is slim but there is always the chance of one or some failing their resistance rolls. If you picked a day towards the end of the festivities any visiting clerics could be infected and then take the infection away with them as they disperse but before the nature of the disease is obvious. That would make it harder to find and cure the possibly infected clerics quickly and make sure you got all of them.

Whilst the plan is not foolproof it is easily repeatable and if Evie has Control Undead, Repulsions and Cure Disease she is pretty much proof against her plans turning against her.

This is my take on how Evie could bring a kingdom to its knees and it looks like 6th level would be more than adequate to have the lists, spells and power points to carry it off.

Any better ideas?

Shadow World Speculation. Who are The Xiosians?

One of the more dense and information rich sections of the Shadow World Master Atlas is the timeline. By the 3rd Edition of the Master Atlas, the timeline has reached 25 pages and would be much longer if it incorporated all the local and regional timeline material found in other SW books. Plus, the timeline is growing: since the original release of the SW Master Atlas Boxed set I believe the timeline has increased by at least 9-10 years (6045 to 6054 TE).

My recent posts about a definitive, final Master Atlas proposes that the dated timeline be removed to another channel. A few years back, my brother Matt (Vroomfogle) started the Nomikos Library; an online database that collected all the timelines and had various search filters.

In any event, the timeline is a rich resource for a GM, not only offering unlimited adventure hooks but providing endless opportunities to explore Kulthea in different times. Sprinkled throughout the time though are many unanswered questions, cool hints and vague references that Terry has yet to explain or explore in detail. One of my favorite:  the Xiosians.

The Xiosians were first mentioned in the original Master Atlas: Warrior-Priests that were servants of the Masters of Emer and rode flying magical chariots. In Emer I we got a few more pieces of the puzzle with several mentions:

Warrior-mages on huge steeds begin purging the wilds in central Emer, driving out the ubiquitous Gark and Lugrôki hordes. These knights are harbingers of thecoming of the Masters.

They rule through an order of warrior-mages (the Xiosians)

It is believed that the Changramai are disenchanted Xiosians who left
the service of the Titans (In fact, some are

Corruption spreads through the Xiosians as well.

I was always fascinated by these references and decided to flesh out a background for the Xiosians myself. So putting what few clues I had together…

  1. Warrior servants of God like beings
  2. Flying magical conveyances

…I thought this sounds like another group of mysterious warriors that fly on magical steeds and purge the wilderness: The Cloudlords of Tanara. I wanted to tie together a number of loose ends: the origins of the Changramai martial culture, ancient militant orders with ties to the Althans/Ka’ta’viir, mysterious warrior cults and the genetic origins of special warriors like the Cal-chah and Guarlu. I had an idea that tied them all back to the 1st Era.

The Althans and the Ka’ta’viir are primarily an advanced intergalactic imperial society. But there is also a strong oligarchy element of immensely wealthy merchant families. It’s not a leap to assume that both leaders and powerful “Houses” would have their own security force to provide defense, corporate espionage and personal protection. This is not an original idea. The Romans had their “Praetorian Guards“, the Emperor had his Royal Guard, and in Dune: every Major House had it’s own army, formally independent from the Emperor‘s own military forces. (the Dune setting fit’s well with the Althan/Spacemaster/Kulthea dynamic).

As an highly advanced society, these personal guards would be genetically and biologically enhanced with superior speed, strength, healing etc. Ka’ta’viir and various Houses would want to customize their soldiers to their own aesthetic and design whims; perhaps based on distant racial lineage, or for practical purposes. These super-soldiers were mostly destroyed or scattered at the end of the 1st Era along with their Althan and Ka’ta’viir masters but remnants of them still remain. Some advanced genetic traits were passed down from individual survivors on Kulthea; operational bases were discovered with Xiosian equipment, fighting skills were passed down through many generations.

For me this was a good solution. Again, it ties up loose ends, fits well into canon for the most part and feels right. Here is a my material on the various “Xio Cadres” that ties into the Xiosians mentioned in the MA, Cloudlords, Changramai as well as others:


Obviously, playing a pure Xio warrior or even a partially full blooded Xio could be unbalancing. But I incorporated 2 significant drawbacks for Xio: behavioral inhibitors against Ka’ta’viir and the inability to use Essence/increase succeptibility to Essence effects. Of course, a player with only a small amount of Xio ancestry would have less inhibitors but conversely would have less genetic benefits as well.

Finally, since Priest-King of Shade is languishing in development limbo I thought I would share three vignettes from the book. They deal with the Tor’lan, a race descended from the ancient Xio warrior caste.

Of the Tor’lan

…apparently the Kinn have traded with them for generations, but little is known of the Tor’lan, the Giants of the Sullen Mountains. Brutish and uncivilized barbarians they are called, and they seem to have little interest in lands or conquest—they are rarely seen, content in their high mountain retreats.

We were heading south along the Ember Road, an ancient trade route that winds precariously through the mountains. Our caravan must have been watched, for just a few moments after we made camp, figures stepped from the shadowed edge of the jungle. All three were imposing specimens: tall, broad and heavily muscled—their size reminiscent of the Zor or Myri of Jamain but their skin was dusky and their facial features seemed cruder. Dressed in furs and dark leathers, they were adorned with a variety of crude fetishes: skin inks, bone jewelry and metal armlets. Tokens were woven into their long black hair. As they approached our camp site I realized the scale of the trees behind them had skewed my perception: these men were giants, much larger than the Zor and perhaps approaching 8’ in height and weighing over 250 pounds. They stopped 10’ away, and I swallowed a brief feeling of unease. The three stood confident and relaxed, and while their hands were loose at their sides and far from the grips of the huge swords strapped to their backs, I had no doubts that they would draw swiftly with little provocation. After examining us for but a moment, one stepped forward and spoke a clear greeting in Korsi, the trade tongue common to these western lands. I had made contact with the Tor’lan.

The Journals of Arand de’Mel

Loremaster Field Report. 5898 TE.Excerpt p. 131


On my third day with the Tor’lan I was allowed to travel upland into the mountains escorted by several other warriors. The air was still humid but cooler under the jungle canopy and we moved swiftly and with few rests. I still had not learned much about these imposing warriors, but we had established rudimentary communication through Korsi, the trade language common along the Storm Seas. I was always a quick study and their tongue bore a strong resemblance to higher, loftier languages, reinforcing my suspicion that their culture was a remnant of something far more ancient.

We maintained a strong pace as our path steepened and got rockier—I was feeling pressed keeping up with my companions, but they barely seemed winded. At times our trail climbed almost vertically—without guidance I would have been challenged to navigate the route. After several hours of strenuous climbing we reached the edge of a broad plateau high in the Sullen Mountains. While the lip of the plateau was broken and worn, I could see that the plateau was dressed with enormous smooth paving stones. Some were cracked, broken or tilted, but their craftsmanship was unmistakable: this was the work of the Althans.

Loremaster Field Report. 5898 T.E. Excerpt p. 147


I sat in preparation on a warm paving stone of the plateau. Around me a dozen Tor’lan stood forming a wide circle, large powerful barbaric figures, seemingly elemental in their strength and stillness that they projected. I thought back to the simple instructions from my guide:  Prepare. Fight. Honor. The words seem ritualistic and I could only guess at their deeper intent and meaning. My opponent would be a youth, not yet a clan warrior but with some battle training. I secretly felt that they underestimated me, for they had not yet seen me fight. I had trained with the Bikal Sword Masters in Sel-Kai and learned the two weapon attack forms of the Duranaki. I had traveled with Changramai Monks and witnessed the battle forms of a Void Knight. I had been tested in combat numerous times. While physically imposing and intimidating, the Tor’lan seemed crude in their manner and styles. I was determined to be a gracious guest and fight at whatever my opponent’s skill.

The far side of the circle parted and a warrior stepped into the circle. Taller and lean from youth rather than heavily muscled, his tanned skin also had fewer tattoos than the warriors I had traveled with. His hair was braided into numerous shoulder-length tails and he wore only a simple grey hide breastplate and leggings. He held a long heavy bladed sword, though not as large as the back-sheathed swords the other massive warriors wielded. He was taller than I, perhaps by a hand but not overly so. His reach would be comparable and though he moved confidently, I felt my speed and skills would quickly overwhelm his slight advantages in size and strength.

I looked down at my weapons. I wielded a longsword in my right hand and a Loari parrying knife in my left. In fairness I thought I should drop the knife, but the young warrior’s heavier weapon would still be an advantage against my two blades.

I rose to my feet and walked slowly to the circle’s center while my opponent watched with dark eyes, his face expressionless and bland. Were he in the city streets of Sel-kai his only notable feature would be his unusual height. He nodded slightly and raised his sword high and to the side, an unusual guarding position for a long blade. Crossing my weapons I returned the nod. Without further delay I stepped forward and lunged with both blades, hoping to reach inside is guard. Before my lead foot had touched the ground, a precise blow to the side of my head knocked me sideways onto the ground. I hadn’t seen the warrior move but he must have struck with the pommel of his sword. I shook my head, pushed off the stone and considered the barbarian. He still stood as if he hadn’t moved while my own head was still ringing and my footing felt less sure. Crossing my blades, again I approached just outside of his reach. Wary of his speed, I would not make the same mistake twice. I spun, both blades turned in a flat arc, my longer blade carving a path toward his left side while my shorter blade was held higher to block any movement of the opposing sword. I was half way through my attack and I saw the warrior move—almost quicker than I could fathom. Stepping back and to the side, just avoiding the tip of my longsword, his left hand dropped from his sword grip and tapped my left shoulder. I felt a shock run through my arm and my hand involuntarily dropped the dagger as my fingers went numb. I was exposed, but the warrior made no counter-attack. My mind reeled for I had seen a similar move practiced by the Changramai elite!  After this there is not much to relate. The remainder of the battle was a blur: every one of my attacks was blocked or avoided, seemingly without effort. My movements seemed clumsy and slow compared to the graceful barbarian. For perhaps two or three minute we fought and finally, when I was covered in sweat and aching from carefully placed strikes, I stepped away from the center.

The circle was quiet and the surrounding warriors watched me: their expressions were inscrutable but I felt I had failed some test. Much later I learned the truth: the warrior I dueled was just a young student; his training had been measured in only a few years.

Not long after, I witnessed the full battle skills of an adult Tor’lan warrior…pray that they never have reason to go forth in anger or war…

Loremaster Field Report. 5898 TE. Excerpt p. 204

So can you incorporate Xiosians into your campaign? They may be a better alternative than having a player with Ka’ta’viir heritage, or may give a boost to a non-spell user fighter if they have some limited Xio ancestry. Or you can build a campaign around uncovering the Xio heritage that is imprinted in any number of cultures or organizations around Kulthea.

Certainly, the players could encounter an original Xio warrior; perhaps they were in chronogenic suspension. They might make a great ally against a Ka’ta’viir–they would be able to provide advice and assistance but couldn’t directly fight the Lord of Essence due to the genetic conditioning. Xio Cadres had both high tech equipment as well as ceremonial garb (like the Cloudlords kit) but many of the cadres consisted of very large warriors, so keep in mind that much of the equipment would not fit a smaller size player. It’s cool when they find 1st Era Battle Armor…only to realize they can’t work the neural interface and it’s just too large!


Shadow World. What would a definitive Master Atlas look like? Pt. 2

There has been endless speculation about adapting Shadow World to the RMU ruleset, but every year that goes by only makes the task of converting all the Shadow World books into the new format less and less likely. On top of that Terry is methodically going through older source books and updating them and adding new content still using the RM2 ruleset. A third iteration of that process seems hard to imagine.

So where does that leave a new, revised Master Atlas? Last spring I wrote a blog post on this subject, but now with the Rolemasterblog having new readers and another year gone by in the RMU development process I thought I would revisit this topic.

To me, it seems unlikely  that SW will ever have a comprehensive reformat to fit the RMU rule set–that would be over a dozen books? But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a final Master Atlas that creates a definitive baseline for Shadow World and any or all future projects. In my mind, the DMA (Definitive Master Atlas) would set SW Canon, tackle a lot of the unaddressed issues and become the road map for any third party books (if that ever occurs). Of course, as egdcltd commented, you could also make the DMA system agnostic. To me, that’s a very interesting idea!!!

If you’ve followed my “Misc SW Material” thread on the RM Forums, you may realize that many of those partial files are part of a much larger document–our own, in house, DMA we’ve been adding to for 30+ years. Our own book is around 350 pages and that doesn’t include charts, illustrations/art, graphics or any Flora/Fauna material. A strong pass-through edit and I’m fairly confident that a DMA could be 500 pages. Is that possible to publish or print in hard copy format? I personally have no idea, so please weigh in on that.

Ok, so what would a DMA include? There should be guidelines on what material qualifies as “world spanning”, “canon” or appropriate for a Master Atlas and not just a regional source book. Should it incorporate some of the material found in the original Gamemaster Law? The Shadow World Players Guide was well received: although it was mostly collated content, the presentation, art and production value were topnotch. A definitive Master Atlas might only need 100-200 pages of new material, culling of 50-100 pages (timeline removed?) and the addition of 100 or so pages of material found in other source books that are better suited for a MA. I think much of the Powers could be incorporated into the DMA while information on the Iron Wind, Raven Queen or Silver Dawn should be more regional in nature.

What would be on your list for a Definitive Master Atlas?

  1. Should the ever changing timeline be removed and handled elsewhere?
  2.  Should there be a final Essence Flow & Greater Foci map of the hemisphere?
  3. What organizations  or content are “world-spanning” and what is “regional”.
  4. Is there any material in other SW books (canonical) that should be moved to a DMA?
  5. What topics or material should be included or expanded upon?
  6. Should a DMA be all encompassing or should it be a multi-book endeavor. For instance, it could be 3 parts: a MA, a Flora/Fauna supplement and a Gazetteer with a variety of maps and keys  that expands upon the geographical chapter in the current MA?
  7. A box set with hardcovers?
  8. A map supplement that has every map every printed for SW–new detailed maps of all the continents with key locations, some poster maps. Some enlarged city maps?
  9. Could this be a Kickstarter project to fund great artwork, mapmaking, a wiki  and project management?

Yes, there are already 4 versions of the Master Atlas, so is this even possible or worth discussing? I think the only issue is new content that would need to be written or approved by Terry. The rest, much like the Players Guide, would be editorial and organizational.

Any thoughts?

Sunday Musings. Projects in the queue and the Monster Squad!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! (here in the USA).  We are winding down another year at Rolemasterblog so maybe Peter will do a “Year in Review”? We have lot’s of ongoing projects and some cool stuff planned for 2018. Personally, I have so many irons in the fire it’s feeling a bit overwhelming! I thought I would do a quick overview from my persective:

  1. Back in April we started a challenge to write 50 Adventures and publish them over 50 weeks. Now we are heading into our 5th week! These are short adventure hooks, place, ideas or small layouts you can drop into a campaign etc. You can find the latest HERE with links to the others already published.
  2. Legends of Shadow World (LoSW). Along with the 50 in 50, I decided I wanted to design a high level adventure for Rolemaster; both as a challenge and to really test the system and rules. Ultimately, I ended up with a 5 part tourney series using 40th to 50th lvl PC’s. The first Chapter can be found HERE, and the second chapter The Temples of Muartaar will be available shortly.
  3. BASiL. My rewrite of Spell Law has turned into a beast–I was fine tuning spell lists and ended up adding over 3 dozen more lists in the last few months. I think I am almost at 250 total spell lists with 25 or 30 that are Shadow World specific. The individual spell count is just over 6500 spells with a lot less duplication that the original Spell Law. My hope is to publish these under a generic d100 format: either by individual lists, groups or realm.
  4. The Book of the Pales. I have this 85% done, but started working on a few other things. I’m hoping some downtime over the holidays will let me finish this sooner. I’m enjoying this work–it greatly expands upon the Pales in Shadow World, establishes some rules for adventuring, adds new creatures and explains some underpinnings of the world to support assumptions in Summoning/Gate spells. Interestingly, this has led to a broadening of the work into the more alien, non-physical realms like the Outer Void.
  5. SWARM. I’m debating whether I should bother uploading my SWARM ruleset–either as alternative rules for RM or as a generic d100 book.  Rules are so arbitrary and every GM has their favorites, I’m not sure this would appealing to anyone and adventure content and new spell lists might be more useful than my  rules.
  6. LEGENDARY SERIES: Monster Squad! So my new project after LoSW is a series of adventures using a pre-generated group of…MONSTERS!!!! (btw: isn’t a monster just a point of view?) . A recent post on the forums HERE along with several posts Peter and I did has had me thinking about a adventure group made up of traditional “monsters”. I’ve always like to subvert tropes in my games, and the premise of flipping the players perspectives to that of traditional foes is very appealing. This follows with the recent tradition of a band of anti-heroes like Suicide Squad or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The original Monster Squad would make for a great classic adventure–I’m going to write that and post it next October for Halloween. This would include:

  • Dracula (Vampire)
  • Mummy (Egyptian Pharaoh)
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon (Lizard or Merman)
  • Frankenstein (Flesh Golem)
  • Wolfman (Were Creature)

Unlike the movie, this adventure would have the creatures as pre-gen PC’s. I’ve got a great outline for an adventure that would be around 15th to 20th lvl and 3 ideas for plots and foes. What possible enemy or situation would force this group to band together…and save the WORLD?!!

A couple of ideas I’m tossing around for a Monster Squad set in Shadow World:

  • Demons. Erickson uses Demons as NPC’s in his Malazan series and in fact, has some chapters written from a Demon’s perspective. (he was magically wrenched from his farm and found himself in the middle of a battle)!!! I already discussed Neng, but how cool would it be to have a Pale III or IV as a PC?
  • Undead. Playing a vampire is obvious..and cool..but how about a Wraith or Lich?
  • Fey. I’ll write the adventures for Shadow World, so throwing in a Dryad or other Fey might be interesting.
  • Krylites. Insect humanoids! Electricity guns! yep that’s cool!!
  • Golem. I just finished the book Heart of Stone and used an Eog Golem in my LoSW adventures. I like the idea of a sentient construct as a PC. Flesh Golems are neat but how about one of stone, steel or enchanted alloy?

My last idea for the “LEGENDARY SERIES” is an adventure using holiday/fantasy creatures. This might be a great intro adventure for kids or just a fun version for Rolemaster Lite/d100. Something like this:

The goal is to create on-off adventures using famous characters to add some fun and accessibility to new players but using the gritty RM ruleset. Who wouldn’t want to “E” 66 Santa? Any suggestions for a cool Monster or character PC?


Rolemaster Profession Review: taking another look at the Shaman.

The original Rolemaster probably ignored a few key class tropes in their original work. Paladins comes to mind of course, but in my mind one of the most important is the  Shaman!

If Clerics/Priests are defined as members of an organized religion, than perhaps we can define a Shaman as a leader of a decentralized or non-organized religion.  Maybe the society or group worships a local god, or a real god under an avatistic identity, but the belief system lacks the more coherent structure and trappings of an organized religious institution. If you are gaming in a “classic” fantasy setting, you’ll probably have, or encounter a variety of primitive societies: Orcs, Goblins, barbaric tribes etc.  These groups will most definitely have  a version of a “Cleric”, but different than the type found in Rolemaster that casts Absolutions and Channels.

A Shaman can make a great foe or adversary for the PC’s. They can have a interesting mixture of spells that give them offensive and defensive capabilities, and they could even be designed as a Hybrid caster to allow them access to Essence or Mentalism. This can keep the players on their toes if they are expecting the Shaman to use the “same old” Cleric Base lists!

The Shaman’s spell lists should be defined by the particulars of the culture. A Orc Shaman should have different spell lists than the Shaman of a barbaric jungle people. The Rolemaster Companion offered up “totems” and “animal spirit” lists for the Shaman, but I find that too culturally defining while creating clunky spell mechanics. What’s probably required is to create a number of different Shaman types whose spells reflect the needs and belief system of the culture.

Here are a few ideas or templates from Shaman that I’ve used in my SW campaign:

Kuriis Truthsayers act as tribal guides, healers and priests and stay loosely united through their ability to communicate with one another over long distances.These people worship “Shral”, which is a hybrid of Shaal and Ulya Sheck (the ostensible Empress of the region).

Profession: Using RM I would classify them as either Pure with some flexibility on lists or Hybrid using Channeling & Mentalism.

Base Lists:

  • Simple Imbed. The Truthsayers wears many charms and fetishes and will make them for the community when needed. These charms are usually necklaces and bracelets made from colorful and iridescent shells.
  • “Water Law”. As followers of Shaal/Neela, Truthsayers have access to Water elemental list(s). I use Command Water from my BASiL lists.
  • “Divinations”. I use Visions from BASiL: Channeling.
  • “Far Voice”: The Truthsayers have the Astrologer base list that they use to communicate with one another.
  • Natures Defenses: From BASiL: Channeling.

Vakshs Rune Priestesses. The Vakshs are cannabilistic Eritera living in the Jungles of Chaal-Chu. They have powerful Priestesses that use Rune Magic: magical tattoos embedded all over their bodies.

Profession. Use Cleric/Priest or Hybrid Channeling/Essence

Base Lists: All of the Priestesses magic is derived from permanent tattoos inscribed into their skin. They have a mixture of Evil Cleric and Evil Mentalism plus access to the Demonic Gate & Mastery spells plus some contingent powers in their Runes:

  • Skin Runes. The Rune Priests are covered in potent
    tattooes that provide “contingent” protection, Daily X
    and regular spells casting. The particular rune will glow
    red when activated.
    Constant: Fear 1st lvl to 20’.
    Contingent (activate automatically): Stun Relief III; Deflect I; Bladeturn I
    Daily V: Question; Mind Speech; Light Eruption; Vision

Shaman Warrior. These Shaman can be used in primitive martial tribes/cultures: Lugroki, Goblins, Barbarians etc. They have competent spell-casting ability but are also combat effective.

Profession: Semi. Use Ranger skill costs.

Base Spell Lists: If the culture follows the Unlife or Dark Gods, they’ll have some aspected list or Demon Gate/Mastery. Other ideas:

Those are just 3 ideas for creating more interesting “Shamans” in your game world. Of course, our house rules allow much more flexibility in character creation and mixing spell lists, but GM’s shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match lists to make the Shaman fit the culture. Channelers especially should have some variety as their Gods can and should provide the spell ability!

For more primitive cultures that lack formal educational systems, Shaman may be the only significant spellcasters in those societies–they should have a mixture of lists that provide best for their people and reflect the environment and belief systems.  Shaman with a creative mix of capabilities can be great opponents for you group–or interesting PC’s!!



…and another Happy Halloween!

Brian got in there first with his Happy Halloween From BriH post. He signs off by saying that “I know  all of us at Rolemasterblog have a lot of work in store for the coming year.” This was timely as on Saturday we released our first mini supplement. I say mini as it is a single page adventure hook. This one was written by BriH and edited by Edgcltd, published by Azukail Games and sold on RPGnow. Now it only costs 50¢ but that is not the point.

Spires Reach is the first of 50. All 50 are already written and cued up. If we were allowed to give you NPCs in all their detail, Monster stats for the encounters and so on then these would not be just a couple of pages of adventure hooks, or locations or outlines of adventures. These would be much more substantial adventures.

You may ask who is going to pay even 50¢ for an adventure hook like Spires Reach? I don’t know the answer to that but they are selling as I can see the royalty reports.

I spent yesterday evening writing the next edition of the fanzine which looks like it is going to be the biggest issue yet. I am full steam ahead on converting monsters. These free to use monsters will mean that anyone can start to create adventure modules for any version of RM.

I am convinced that if there were a 3rd party industry for producing adventures and supplements for Rolemaster then the system would be more attractive to the gaming community. Right now RM is just a game people used to play in 80s. If anything Rolemaster is a bit like Latin, yes, sure a small number of people can still speak it but to most they think of it as a dead language. Rolemaster is not dead but it is going take a small band of plucky adventurers to take on the quest to save Rolemaster, especially if RMU is not going to be on the shelves until the 2020s!

If the RPG year starts now then the next year is going to be really exciting.

Ascendancy. The pathway to Godhood in Rolemaster.

Earlier this year, I blogged about the concept of players channeling power and or spells to “followers”. To me, this was a natural progression of the original Channeling Skill & Spells found in the earliest versions of Rolemaster. I was always intrigued by the channeling concept in RM, but we never, ever used it in any of our games. It’s a powerful concept, especially for game system in the early days of RPG’s, but the game mechanics were clunky and the upside benefit during gameplay was never really clear.

A workable Channeling mechanism is the first step towards a character gaining “followers” and having the ability to send power or spells to these acolytes. Isn’t that flirting with some concepts of deification?

This topic has now come full circle for me and I wanted to think it out via this blog. I’m working on multiple projects, but most actively on my 50th lvl adventure series and re-examining high level spells in my Spell Law re-write. These adventures forced me to think about high level challenges, the power curve of skills and spells, and the general ecosystem of 50th level characters.

Rolemaster is not “epic” in the sense that characters are granted special abilities upon reaching certain levels. So while most players might think that attaining 50th lvl would somehow bestow a special capacity upon a character it’s not the case. For spell users, 50th lvl spells might be cool, but I don’t think particularly revelatory–and in many cases, not that powerful. Obviously arms users don’ t have access to any transformative abilities at 50th level.

Some game systems have introduced game mechanics that allow powerful characters to receive special abilities at high levels. (did the Expert Immortal set do this first?). My favorite example in fiction is in the Books of the Malazan. In this setting, which is based on the authors own RPG campaign, Erickson clearly establishes the concept of “Ascendancy”. Since he doesn’t spoon feed exposition to the reader, it wasn’t clear what the mechanism is exactly; or even what special abilities are imparted upon such. Now we have much more info on the setting, and per the Malazan wiki we have:

Ascendants were individuals who had transcended death. They formerly had been called First Heroes.[1] Ascendants could become gods if they gained sufficient following among mortals but they were not gods by default. They were more or less immortal, but could be killed. They had access to magic, even if they were not mages prior to their ascension.

So it appears the benefits are: immortality, one step closer to Godhood, access to magic. That’s interesting and certainly reasonable to incorporate into most fantasy settings. Immortality is an easy one–it’s not like players are going to game out a 1000 years of life and longevity doesn’t really impact gameplay. But does immortality include self-healing or regeneration? That’s unclear. Access  to spells/magic seems reasonable as well. Rolemaster is flexible enough that it would be simple to create special Closed lists for Ascendants. So it seems to me, dependent on the setting (it’s always about the setting!), including Ascendancy is relatively easy to do in Rolemaster!

So why would a GM want to add this functionality into their RM game? Becoming a God (via an Evil Ritual)  is a common plot meme for evil foes. Once you establish something is possible than it needs to be allowed for all characters, right? Is it unbalancing to have a long term goal of a player becoming MORE? Perhaps not a God, but a Demi-God or Ascendant or Hero? Isn’t that the basis for fantasy RPGs?

Since this is also dependent on the meta-physical underpinnings of the setting, does this work for Shadow World? The Gods of Orhan/Charon aren’t “Gods” in the strictest sense, just powerful beings from an alternate realms. Kulthea has “local gods”, demi-gods and other powerful beings. So while there might not be a strict classification of Ascendants, it seems there are some. I introduced Ascendancy in relationship to the Dragonlords in my own campaign. (See HERE at the end of the post). I was trying to tie up loose ends and wanted an explanation for the origins of the Dragonlords. The Earthwardens, via a ritual, Ascended to a higher state, beings of raw, elemental Essaence.

So, how else could Ascendancy work in Shadow World? The setting has many local gods, spirits and avatars…could a player become one of those? My own version of the Channeling Spell list discussed in the other blog is the stepping stone to Ascendancy. Players gain followers and create a feedback loop of power and spells. The more followers the more power the character has. But is this enough to establish “godhood” or some derivative of it? What other mechanisms could be put into place?

  1. Special access to Essaence Foci or Flows. One commonality of local gods is that they are centered on special locations, geographic features or an Essaence Focus. Perhaps a bonding or imprinting between the character and Foci could be step?
  2. Access to “Arcane” spell list(s). RoCo I established some of the baseline of this topic: Focuses, high level spells to become Dragons etc are in the DNA of Shadow World.
  3. “Granting”. Perhaps the Lords of Orhan can give a character lesser access to the Essaence “aether”. This might be raw power, special spell abilities or some aspects of immortality. Sort of like accessing a wifi signal on a local hub.

For a game system that is pure skill based, the “high fantasy” aspects of Ascendancy mechanics are intriguing to me. What do you think?