Yahoo!!!!! Weekend Roundup: October 8th 2017.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Weekend Roundup” of interesting articles and news that might be RPG related, a good Shadow World hook or inspire a GM or player. Lots of good stuff since my last one…Shall we begin?

Banished to the Void? Does anyone know what’s going on?

How do the peoples of Kulthea see the Flows of Essaence?

Here in my home state of Maine! 50 skill ranks in boatbuilding?

Is feeding an army even an issue with “Create Food”?

I blogged about a pathway to Godhood (sort of). The Egyptians wrote a Book on the topic!

Would someone please do this for Kulthea–or at least Eidolon! How cool would that be?

What happens when summoned Demons get loose into an ecosystem? (part of Priest-King of Shades plotline btw)

The future is here! Althan technology in the hands of children.

Animal armor! Here is my version of special armor for Shadow World and previous blog on this topic HERE. (RM forum membership required)

Earthwarden complex?

Non coinage currency. Do you use any in your game world?

This is important. Though I’m not sure I grok completely.

The multi-class Egyptian.

The real Ship Graveyard! (another element in Priest-King of Shade)

The Syrkakar!

Energy to Matter conversion! And it mentions D&D! (I blogged on this this HERE.

Skill ranks in Memory?

Roman Tomb Raiders?

Adventures needed

Hammer of the Gods.

Last, but not least. My 2nd annual Halloween Spell List: Undead Hunter.

Undead Hunter




What’s on My Mind. Rolemaster, Shadow World & Cool News

A mixed bag of stuff this weekend; a combination of Random Musings, Weekend Roundup and Commentary on Rolemaster, Shadow World, news, and my projects in the queue.

  1. One is the loneliest number. Excluding and RMForums, are there any consistent blogs out there on Rolemaster or Shadow World? A quick search only shows 1 or 2 posts in 2017 (see THIS ONE, an interesting take even if I don’t agree with much of it). Part of this can probably be explained by the lack of RM players and partly by the effort needed to maintain new content and postings to stay relevant. Even Grognardia burned out after an impressive output of posts. User habits are changing and I wonder if the “Forum” template used by ICE is as relevant or appealing to younger consumers.
  2. Caltrops. Cool article HERE. I believe there are mechanics for caltrops in one of the Companions or 10′ Pole? I have my own mechanic that accounts for movement rate and damage (using the size scaling rules).

Anantha Padmanabha.

3. Real life tomb treasure.  Sealed vaults filled with gold, silver, gems and jewelry are just a fantasy or legacy of a time long past? I think not. This is the last unopened tomb–in 2011 another tomb in the same temple was opened to find treasure expected to be valued at over $500M!!!!

4. Cool Statues. I blogged about cool statues last year. Here is a new one I just read about: The Appenine Colossus.

The Apennine Colossus.

Even cooler:

Within the statue there are “countless caves, water cascades and ravaged by time mechanical, hydraulic and acoustic devices intended to amuse and impress any visitor of the park.”

Section of Appennino. Illustration by P. van der Ree.

It’s a Dungeon!

5. Priest-King of Shade. Depending on final feedback from Terry and Nicholas I may be posting up my SW module for free here on the RolemasterBlog. It will be mostly formatted, but many of the maps are hand-drawn. I’m looking to purchase clip-art to include to punch things up a bit. Any advice on the best place to look for art? Deviantart? RPGNow? I like old school line art over renderings but open to anything. Priest-King clocks in at over 150 pages with maps, charts and illustrations so it covers quite a bit of material. The module covers the peninsulas in SW Agyra:

Here is a quick blurb I wrote a few years ago:

Agyra. Far from the historic events of Emer and Jaiman, this region has been cruelly shaped for thousands of years by both natural cataclysms and the powerful flows of Essence.  Scattered and isolated tribes are a faint legacy of a powerful nation that sunk beneath the waves in millennium past.  Monolithic blocks scattered along deserted coasts and leagues of enigmatic ruins lying in shallow waters are remnants of a lost civilization.

However, these lands are not dormant. Powerful nations and secretive groups are at odds: a war of not just arms but of politics and commerce. Into this conflict a new power has risen. A mysterious Priest-King and his devout followers have occupied an ancient citadel and are slowly expanding their power across the lands.  For the tribes that inhabit the coasts and jungles, these newcomers are viewed with outright fear. Rumors of demonic armies, dark cults, missing children and empty villages have cast a pall throughout these lands.

But adventurers have come nonetheless. Ancient ruins have been discovered: a sprawling city lying submerged in the shallow waters off the coast of Agyra. Many believe the ruins date millennia back to the First Era and holds untold wealth and the secrets of the Ancients!

The Priest-King of Shade is a module detailing the lands of South West Agyra. This product contains a regional guide, maps and layouts of key places, detailed description of key NPCs and 10 adventures ready to play.  Designed for players levels 5-15th.  Will you confront the minions of the Priest-King?

My group has playtested the whole module–it’s quite extensive and is the prelude to “Empire of the Black Dragon” that runs up to 25th+ level. Plus, I have another 5-10 other side adventures that I will publish over time that fits into the region. I’m outlining the city of Nontataku which would be integral to both but would fit well as the 1st Chapter for players 1st to 5th or so. I’m expecting Nontataku to run about 100 pages and Empire is around 80-100 so all together it would be a great long term campaign. With add-ons they all could hit 500 page count w/o extensive artwork.

6. The Book of the Pales. I was at 32 pages w/o charts but added in some supplementary stuff on the Void Knights. I think it’s going to push well past 50 pages. It’s a Shadow World supplement for adventuring in the various Pales.

7. Legends of Shadow World. Since this is meant as a stand-alone Shadow World tourney series I’m keeping each chapter to 10 pages or less. But…I think I’m going to flesh out the “Temple Complex” which will add quite a few layouts and GM notes. I hope to have Chapter 1 ready for download by the end of the month. Again, I’m prowling for good artwork with a budget of $50/chapter. Any suggestions are appreciated.


Shadow World Adventures & The Power of the Vignette


Vignettes. These small story bits were originally used in the Iron Wind and have been a mainstay in subsequent Shadow World books.  I think the use of vignettes as journal entries, 1st person narratives, or book excerpts really breathes life into Shadow World. Glancing though the books you can see the start of Kalen and Jad that Terry spun into a full length book, The Loremaster Legacy.  Take this short narrative found in the Master Atlas p. 152:

Half a dozen men waited on the Haalkitaine dock holding mooring ropes, keeping the skyship Starwind from drifting. The Navigator Sulfean stood at the ships’ railing, staring into the sky.
“How soon before we can depart?” Randae asked the captain.
“Momentarily. I will not be rushed,” the tall Laan woman snapped, then turned to her first mate. He stood with another man at a windlass, one hand on a nearby lever. He nodded to her, tightening his grip.
Sulfean strode quickly to stand by Randae and the captain. “We must leave at once!”
On his usually expressionless face Randae thought he detected a faint betrayal of —uncertainty? Fear? Impossible.
Captain Nankara looked annoyed. “Navigators! He forgets who the captain is here,” she muttered. But a moment later a crewman called the ‘all ready’ from the rigging. Nankara rang the final ascent warning bell and braced herself at the wheel.

“Stage One!” She called out. The mate pulled the lever, then he and the other crewman began to slowly turn the windlass. The ship trembled as a system of pulleys and gears and chains controlled the unfolding of the Xenium plates towards the bottom of the Starwind’s hull. After two full turns they stopped. Meanwhile, Sulfean templed his fingers, obviously concentrating on a spell. A faint blue-violet aura danced along his hands. He thrust his palms out and forward, and translucent rays of light fanned outwards, splashing over the sails and the crew, and finally swirling around the ship like a huge, ethereal soap bubble. The Starwind creaked
and bobbed upward, rising perhaps twice a man’s height, then held steady by the mooring ropes.
“Stage Two!” Nankara’s voice cut through the night, and the first mate cranked the windlass around again, while crewmen extended the ventral sail spars and began to unfurl the mainsail.
Then the world ripped apart.
From the northwest came a flash of lurid green lightning. For an instant it turned the night to eerie day, illuminating everything in stark light and shadow. There followed utter silence and darkness for the space of perhaps three heartbeats, during which everyone was frozen in surprise — except Sulfean. He alone fully understood what that flash foretold, even as he felt his spell of Wind Mastery torn from his grasp. The Tall Elf braced himself and, turning towards the lightning, called upon the full
power of his Compass.
While not as knowledgeable in such matters as Sulfean, Randae had a pretty good idea of what was about to happen. He grabbed the nearest railing and shouted “Hold on!” At the same time, Nankara and her mate heard Sulfean’s urgent thought voiced in their heads: Drop the panels to Stage Five and come hard around to the west at once!
Next came deafening thunder, a sound so loud as to press against your very eardrums. The first mate released the windlass and the Starwind lunged upward and spun, tearing the mooring ropes from the dockmens’ hands.
And finally the wind: like a great hammer it smashed into the aft port side of the ship just as she was turning with it — and that is possibly what saved her from capsizing. Even so, her structure protested with awful creaks and groans and she pitched prow down and hard to starboard, lurching forward and earthward at a terrifying angle towards the docks.
Men on the rigging were tossed about like rag dolls — and one crewman was thrown from the foremast, falling towards certain death on the pier.
But Sulfean, bathed in a shimmering radiance, thrust his hands out and up, sending a surge of light out to engulf the plummeting ship. Then with one hand he reached forward as if to grasp something: a filament of light whipped out from his fingers to ensnare the tumbling crewman and stop his fall. Tto those on the ship the gale seemed to die away, while Starwind’s descent slowed and her bow came up.
Randae clutched the balustrade, wishing he could help but knowing that he dare not try magic in this storm; it could backfire and endanger the Navigator.
Slowly… slowly the ship leveled off and turned, encased in an iridescent sphere of Essænce. Sulfean drew the semiconscious crewman in and lowered him onto the deck, where his mates ran to help him. It was about that time the snow began, like a wall of white outside the sphere, yet only a few flakes drifted inside. Finally the Navigator relaxed a bit, shoulders slumping as the sphere around the Starwind dimmed to a phantom glimmer.

Randae approached him slowly. “That was spectacular.” He said softly. “Thank you.”
“Not as spectacular as my fee.” The corner of Sulfean’s mouth twitched just a bit. “But now that things are under control, I am a bit tired. I shall be in my cabin.” He pulled his black cloak over his shoulders and strode away.
From ShadowStorm, Part One

While it’s only a page long, the short scene allows Terry to provide quite a bit of information that GMs can use in their SW games:

  1. Visualization of the operation of a skyship and the docking system in Eidolon.
  2. The role of a Navigator.
  3. Insight into personalities/behaviors of key people (Navigator and Loremaster).
  4. Spell manifestations and Essaence eruptions.

While I’m not even close in writing skill, I like to follow Terry’s example of including vignettes to add atmosphere or exposition.So I’m finishing up the Book of the Pales, a GM guide for using the Pales in Shadow World. As a writing challenge, I wanted to create a scene that imparted information with the fewest words possible. Here is a bit from the Book of the Pales that touches upon the first Althan experiments into accessing other dimensions…

Log 1458.223. System Initiation.

Log 1469.190. All Systems Check

Log 1473.565. Zero Point Telemetry Confirmed.

Log 1538.329. Power Fluctuation Normal.

Log 1577.838. Door access. ID Check 581. Dr. Orwen D’Coste.

Log 1882.110. Door access. ID Check 275. Dr. Presam Dvora.

Log 2355.661. Quantum Foam Injection Confirmed.

Log 3202.992. Power Load Stable.

Log 3876.222. Quantum Brane Active.

Log 4789.830. Quantum Brane Penetration Detected.

Log 5391.312. Unknown Biology Detected.

Log 12435.439. ID 275 Terminated.

Log 1731.912. ID 581 Terminated.

Log 2123. 378. Emergency Quarantine Protocols Activated.


Physic Lab #13 Subroutine Monitoring Log.

I also use vignettes extensively in Priest-King of Shade. Here is a short passage that was inspired by Terry’s passage I cited above:

A cool wind whipped across the water churning up whitecaps, the vanguard of the fast approaching storm-front of menacing dark clouds and flickering lightning. The Navigator Turo Vekaram stood at the prow of the ship calmly studying his compass, but his unhurried movements did little to calm the fears of the crew and passengers. The ship was fast, but by now it was clear they would not outrun the storm. The navigator let out an almost imperceptible sigh, his normally implacable Dyari features revealed resignation…and perhaps a flicker of fear.

“I’m afraid there is little I can do now Captain, this storm appears to be an abnormally strong manifestation of the Essænce. I have neither the ability nor the power to save the ship–we are at the mercy of the Lords.”

The Captain paused, considering the Navigator’s assessment. Turning to his helmsman he began to relay his orders, “Steersman, four points….”

Suddenly, a shout erupted from one of the crew pointing towards the storm. The last few rays of sunlight pierced the roiling clouds, and glinted off a thousand dazzling points. The Navigator squinted, his brows furrowed in concentration as he tried to discern the source of the luminescence. One of the passengers screamed as the threat became clear. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crystalline insects were skimming over the water directly towards the ship….The Swarm had arrived.

Excerpt from the travel journal of Caylis Deveran

Nomikos Reference: Travel; Barrier Sea. Section 14.7

And here is one of my personal favorites I wrote quite a few years ago. Via this narrative scene, I wrapped up quite a few questions I wanted to answer in my own SW campaign: What happened to the Earthwardens? Where did the Dragonlords come from? Who is the Storm Wizard etc.

We stood silent; a circle of shadowed figures swathed in simple brown robes. Above us the ceiling of the vast cave soared into flickering darkness among the stalactites. The only light came from the coruscating glow of the vast pool in the center of our circle. Crude steps carved from the living rock led down to the edge of the churning Jewel Well: it’s power radiated out in waves that buffeted us like blasts from a forge.
At the top of the steps stood a solitary figure similarly garbed in plain brown. Jrek Okentu, leader of the remaining Earthwardens. Next to him  was a wide pedestal of black stone, the flat top adorned with rows of jagged crystals, each pulsing, as if in answer to the scintillating Essence Well.
“Brother and Sisters. For countless years we have labored as healers and guardians of this scarred planet. We have achieved much and left talismans to protect future generations, but it has been costly. We have lost many friends, and our time is ending. Most of our order has long departed this world, now, only us few remain. Should we stay, we would
continue to diminish, challenged by the remnants of our ancient brethren and the new powers that call Kulthea home. We gather here, our new birthplace, for our final act: a journey to become immortal guardians of Kulthea, imbued with its very Essænce”.
After a weighted silence, Jrek carefully selected one of the crystals and beckoned to the nearest robed figure. Stepping forward the chosen man shrugged off his robe and stood naked before Jrek and accepted the crystal.
“With this acceptance you are born anew. I name you Ssamis T’zang, Wind’s Fury”
The naked figure eyed the Well in trepidation for just a moment and then, gathering his will about him like armor, he
strode down into the bubbling pool, until his head finally disappeared below the surface. We knew not what to expect, and a humming of power washed over us all. Slowly, a shape rose out of the pool: higher, and higher it loomed over us. A long sinuous neck of iridescent scales glistened in the light, and a shadows spread out from the lithesome form. The creature’s wings unfurled, casting jagged shadows across us.

Dragon had been Born. One by one, each accepted a crystal and entered the Well to be reborn…emerging, growing, and spreading their wings….
Finally, when the last of the outer circle had passed, Jrek turned to look at us, the last remaining few. Gesturing to
the podium and the few remaining crystals that lay there he addressed us:
“For you, my closest, most trusted companions, I offer you these last remaining jewels. Long have I labored over their investiture, for you that stand so high in abilities and my esteem. With our ascendancy we ensure our stewardship of Kulthea, immortal guardians of the Essaence and one with the Flows.”
The first of us stepped forward, her robes slipping from her shoulders. She was a tall woman of black flowing hair and flawless alabaster skin bathed in the scintillating lights of the Jewel Well. She stood for a moment contemplating the crystals, and after a moment Jrek picked up a long slender crystal black in color. Light flickered and peering deep into
the shard she could discern a shadowy form of wing and claw.
Jrek dipped his head and handed her the crystal. “I name you Ulya Shek, Black Queen” he intoned, touching her forehead as he spoke. Then without even a backwards glance at us, she descended the steps into the coruscating pool.
One by one they stepped forward… each named in turn…
“…Drul Churk: Green Seer”
“…Vorig Kye: Silver Eye”
“…Oran Jatar: Ice Lord”
“…Sulthon NiShaang: Red Flame”
Finally only I remained. I stepped forward, pondering the cerulean crystal, it’s center swirled with a cloudy blue haze.
Picking up the crystal I felt the shock travel up my arm… though I was most pussiant, my knees almost buckled from the power. It’s power called to me, but I knew my mind and had made my decision. Jrek raised
his hand and began to speak.
“ I name you Riin Awduu “Sky Storm”
I shook my head.
“I must refuse this gift my brother.” I paused, carefully considering my next words. “ I fear this power will subsume us. We will be lost.”
Jrek beckoned me forth again.
Again I shook my head. “My path no longer lies with you.”
It was all I spoke, and I offered no further explanation. Jrek regarded me for some time, but he noted my resolve and his eyes saddened. He laid his hand upon my shoulder and spoke softly: “You know the path of ascendancy, and the caves of Ssoiayig Saer will lie open for you always. I wish you well.”
Stepping back he raised his own crystal, a shard of soft golden light. “I name myself Kydak Dûm, Sun Sword”.
With those final words he stepped into the Well. Suddenly I was beset with doubts and I turned quickly and left the caves alone, the blue crystal shard still held tightly in my hand.
The Ascendancy of the Earthwardens
Histories, as recorded by the The Storm Wizard

I don’t know if other settings use vignettes, but I think it gives Shadow World added depth and allows a writer to offer information in a more personal way.

Do you have a favorite vignette from any of the SW books?

Legends of Shadow World. Using “Slug Throwers” in Rolemaster.

I’m fine tuning my “Legends of Shadow World” adventures and debating the mechanics of firearms used by some particular nasty Demon Warriors: basically a large caliber gatling gun! Here is what I used:

Gϋthϋraxx Auto Gun

Weighing 22lbs and 42” long, this ornate hand held rotary gun is the preferred weapon of Gϋthϋraxx Shock Troops. The guns are ornate constructions with a bulbous receiver, curved metal stock and a cylindrical clip of grey/black metal.

Each gun holds a 12 round clip of .80 caliber slugs that are fired from 6 rotating spring powered barrels. The gun can fire up to 6 slugs/round. Each clip takes 1 round to change and the spring rewound every 12 shots.


  1. Use Heavy Crossbow Table. 4x Damage. 4x range.
  2. Each shot after the first will receive a cumulative -10 penalty due to recoil.
  3. Requires 95 strength to fire w/o penalty. For every point under 95 there is a cumulative -1 penalty. For every 5 points under 95 winding the barrel takes an additional round.


Since I’m using RM2 stats (like other SW products), I wanted to keep things simple. Using the Heavy Crossbow chart with a damage and range multipliers made sense.

Anyone have a better idea or thoughts on this?

Legends of Shadow World. Chapter 5: Ad Acta Atra Peracta Sunt Facta Atta Patrata

This past Tuesday, the group ran through the final chapter of Legends of Shadow World. Unlike the back to back nature of the first four chapters, the group was able to return to Eidolon, rest, heal and gather resources for the final task. They felt prepared and more optimistic…until the mission briefing. Apparently even a group of 50th level PCs can feel apprehension!

Once again the group had to undertake a long journey, handle adverse environment conditions and then run the gauntlet of several smaller challenges. The final encounter was against the mob boss so the party was able to shift to known RM combat strategies of a PC group fighting a singular, powerful foe (over level 100). Generally superior numbers is a huge advantage in RM combat, but this was a very powerful adversary and two of the PCs were killed during the battle. It felt truly epic and the players all had a great time–in fact they wanted another run through the battle just to see if they could win without any party kills.

Without giving away the details, this encounter was actually the starting premise of the whole exercise: to build a 50th lvl adventure. Once I had the end drafted out, I just needed to create a narrative to lead the players to the final battle. But as I was writing it, and then testing it, I wanted to use the adventure path to test various aspects of high level gaming.  Each chapter was meant to combine difficult terrains or environments with varying opponents. Unlike lower level adventures, there was much less reliance on regular skills to solve challenges–at 50th lvl, skill bonuses are maxed out and make most actions automatic or the group has spells that can tackle the problem.  Normally I would want a more well rounded adventure, but this was intended to be a tournament style to played with pre-gen characters in short 2-4 hour sessions.

Some final thoughts:

  1. There was a learning curve–I had to modify much of the chapter 1, half of chapter 2, a lot of chapter 3, a bit of chapter 4 and almost nothing in chapter 5. I’ll be getting additional feedback from the other two playtest groups but I’m pretty close to a finished product.
  2. I don’t know how 50th level characters would work in a prolonged, ongoing, campaign but they work great for stand alone adventures. The players really enjoyed roleplaying these known personalities but weren’t so invested in them that getting killed was a problem.
  3. High level creatures that have a lot of spells or special abilities give GMs a wide range of tools to play with. It becomes even more important to plan out spell usage when casters have hundreds of spells. I like to list out 10-15 spells with contingencies as a GM combat guide. That, plus special abilities and magic items should be enough choice for most battles.
  4. I’ve always preferred running low level adventures. Even small achievements seem significant and there is a real progression of power and abilities up to 10th lvl. However, I think I’m converted! High level adventures are different but a blast. Basically the player gets to use all the abilities and spells that were just a distant promise at lower levels!
  5. Information. At 50th lvl, the PCs should have access to quite a bit of hidden world info but in the framework of a short tourney adventure I didn’t bother with a “data dump”. When needed, I provided needed information in the game, but I didn’t want to ruin our regular SW campaign with world secrets. One of the PCs is a Loremaster after all! One of my players did ask for information that I suspected would be useful in the other group.
  6. High Fantasy. One of RMs greatest appeal is the granularity and grittiness of the system but with high level groups there needs to be a certain amount of hand waving. Travel is simplified when you have a Navigator that can Jump, a cleric that can create food and water, significant healing abilities and for all practical purposes, unlimited wealth. But RM grittiness manifests back into the game during combat and tactical level events. Even at high levels, fighting in burning lava, violent Essaence Storms, no/low gravity or sub zero temperatures requires resources and changed combat strategies. You can’t hand wave away non-breathable air!
  7. Herbs & Power Points. I’m going to increase herb allocations to the PCs. I think its one of the simpler ways to adjust game balance compared to the more involved process of changing the #/power of encounters. I think Peter does the same thing with runes & 1-time items in his campaign. I rarely allow instant herbs for use during combat, but it makes a huge difference after encounters in group resource management. Although I’m sticking to RAW RMC, I am using SW crystals as power storage (more of a magic item than a rule change). PCs can replenish PPs via these objects but I think they had too many PPs. I never felt they were being strategic with their usage and I like casters having to weight spells against their PP cost.
  8. Mass Combat. Still pondering this and I think I need to pour through War Law again. I have a handful of ideas on more 50th lvl adventures but need a good process for handling armies and mass groups. I know it’s doable, but it feels like a different game when you do it. There is a thread on this at the RM Forums that I’m keeping an eye on.

I’m looking forward to getting this adventure out there–I only wish I had artwork and professional layouts to punch it up a bit!



Legends of Shadow World. Player Introduction.

Von l’edor, First Secretary to the High Scion hastily adjusted his robes and consulted his schedule book once again. This meeting was highly unusual; unscheduled with no information provided to his office. He hoped his last-minute apologies to the Delgaran Trade Delegation would suffice; the Laan merchants were generally insufferable and easy to offend. He made a notation to provide them with a cask of Vermillion House Red—a rare vintage that should appease their egos.

The door to the inner Sanctum open and close with a resounding boom. His master, the Elder Scion of Kuor swept into the hall, followed by two harried looking seers or scholars. The Scion was wearing his most formal attire, robes of gold thread hemmed in black and he carried his Sceptre.

Curious, he thought, perhaps this will be a religious meeting

Upon closer inspection, the two scholars seemed more noteworthy. Their robes were functional but well-made of fine cloth, sewn with mystical or astronomical symbols.

Probably another obscure sect or cult with more apocalyptic visions—they seemed to be showing up with more frequency.

Despite their subtle finery, they both looked drawn and dusty from travels. He sniffed, hoping they would detect his disapproval of their appearance in such a holy sanctuary.

The Elder Scion settled into his chair, the black wood gleaming from hours of polish, but his presence was dwarfed by the towering statue of Kuor that dominated the background, overlooking the pillared hall. The High Temple was the grandest building in Eidolon and the center of power for the Lords of Orhan in Kulthea–despite what the Elves in Palia argued he thought. Von looked to his Master for some direction or clue to this meeting, but the Elder Scion seemed focused on the far end of the hall. Finally, he motioned for the scholars to take their place on the lower audience platform.

At the far end of the hall, the burnished doors swung open slowly and a small group assembled for introduction. Even from the distance, Von could hear Scion Oberon clear his throat nervously.

“Elder Lord, may I present Knight-Captain Gorge Kroger, Commander of the Sun Guard and First Protector of the Light Bringers of Phaon.” The tall soldier strode forward, resplendent in his gold and red enameled armor. Kroger was a regular visitor to the High Temple but the unexpected nature of the audience implied a military matter. The Knight-Captain stopped at the foot of the stairs to the Holy Dais and removed his helm. His blond hair spilled out over his shoulders and he bowed his head respectfully to the Elder Scion but was otherwise silent.

Oberon spoke again, “Elder Lord” may I present Chomen Drah, High Builder of Iorak”. My breath caught, and my writing faltered slightly. The Builder-Priests were rarely seen at the Temple and having a High Builder was even more unusual. Like all the Priests of Iorak, Chomen was wearing simple gray tunic and pants, a worn leather tool belt around his waist. Short and squat, he radiated strength and purpose and seemed to study the stone work of the High Temple as he approached the Dais. He stopped. “Elder Scion, I have come as summonsed.” He intoned in a deep baritone voice. A serious man, indeed. Von thought.

Oberon called out again. “Elder Lord” may I present Malim Pelax, of the Order of Loremasters.”

A Loremaster, a Knight of Phaon and a Builder of Iorak? Auspicious company indeed. Von peered down the hall. Who else is present for this meeting? He had met Malim before—a pompous ass to be sure, but supposedly a powerful Mage. He strode down the hall confidently and stopped between the Knight and the Priest.

“High Priest, this summons is highly unusual and inopportune. The Loremasters and Clergy of Orhan work as equals, not as master and servant. I would have you know I was involved in consequential matters to the south. Do the whims of the Priesthood outweigh the work to counter the forces of the Unlife? I demand an explanation!” Malim exclaimed loudly.

The High Scion contemplated the Loremaster as if considering his words. Calmly but forcefully he spoke. “Loremaster, your presence was ordered by the Council at my request. Answers will be forthcoming shortly, but do not presume to question me.” The Scion’s voice had slowly risen as he spoke, with just a hint of anger underneath. “While the Loremasters and followers of Orhan work together, make no mistake as to primacy. Kuor rules all above AND below and your services and loyalty or required.” At the last, the High Scion sat forward in his chair holding the Sceptre before him. With his words, the air had grown heavy, and the very walls of the Temple seems to bend inwards and groan from a great weight or pressure. My pen dropped from my hand and my knees buckled. The High Scion was barely invoking the Wrath of Kuor but those present could feel the force of will. My eyes cleared and I noted that both the Knight Commander and Loremaster had fallen to one knee, but the Builder-Priest still stood straight and was examining the High Scion’s Sceptre with open curiosity.

“Enough”, the High Scion said, and the pressure disappeared. “We don’t have time for foolishness. Malim, your reservations are noted but irrelevant. Oberon, announce our last two guests.”

Oberon’s voice squeeked once and then settled. “High Priest, may I present Sumendar of the Guides of Vurn-Kye and Jan Jo’drin..” Oberons voice faltered once again but he continued “…Changramai Warrior of the Tenth Veil”.

Both figures walked forward, a contrast in style and appearance. The Navigator, while dignified in his black uniform was pudgy and older and he moved with a bow-legged gait. The Changramai…glided…his movements precise and economical, conveying a coiled deadliness. He wore plain white robes with a gold collar signifying his rank. Tenth Veil! Von thought. Changramai of that skill were only rumored or heard about in legends!

Malim, perhaps exercising caution after Malim’s rebuke, bowed deeply to the High Scion. The Changramai matched Malim’s bow and added a fist to the heart in the traditional Changramai salute. All five abreast, waited for the High Priest to begin.

The High Scion inspected each figure below and then nodded to himself. He stood and indicated the Scholars that stood quietly to the side.

“These are the Seers of Strok. They have a crisis and they’ll need your help.”

Random Musings. Very High Level Adventures. Is “Balance” even possible?

This coming Tuesday (last night when this post is published) I’ll be running the final chapter to my 5 part series: Legends of Shadow World. The last chapter could be a stand alone adventure but is the denouement to the adventure path, typing up a lot of loose threads and presenting the group with an incredibly powerful adversary.

I’ve been parsing some data from the previous 4 sessions and feedback from the other 2 test groups (chapter 1) and will probably run my group through the series again. It won’t have the surprise/reveal elements from their first iteration, but we’ll be able to have a more open analysis during game play.

I’m using RM2 RAW, something I haven’t done for a VERY long time but want to maintain continuity with Terry’s ongoing SW material. The lack of our own house rules (combat maneuvers, multiple opponent rules, missile parry and initiative) makes RM melee feel very restraining. Most players are stuck with simple OB/DB split decision, although this becomes paramount when fighting high level foes.

RM has always been tricky in balancing encounters. DnDs Hit Point attrition system made matching groups and opponents more linear. Rolemaster criticals are the joker in the deck–a wild card that can immediately upend any possible balance a GM designs. This is not to say that the RM rules are broken at higher levels, but there are some immediate issues that are even apparent at lower levels.

  1. Outnumbering. Many, much lower level combatants can overwhelm powerful creatures. A dozen Warrior Monks (15 lvl) annihilated a 50th level character. Easily. The chance of at least 1 in 12 of scoring a potent crit result each round is quite high. Once a PC is compromised by a critical it’s “game over”.
  2. Lack of Buffs. RM2 Spell Law is really lacking in effective buff spells. People have commonly criticized my BASiL and Orhan lists as being too powerful (of course I disagree), but original Spell Law lists are pretty ineffective at high levels.
  3. Spell Attack/Counter Attack. While RM2 melee feels too simplistic, Spell Casters have SO MANY spells to choose from that strategic casting feels arbitrary. (a 50th lvl caster can have 300-500 spells!!)  Casters rarely have the luxury of countering a specific incoming spell, and to do so, would require them to forgo an offensive attack.
  4. Mixed Abilities/Protections. A hostile mixed group of NPC’s can be very deadly to a party. Even a small group comprised of a: creature immune to normal weapons; creature with high magical immunity; creature that is blinding fast, and one that is super strong could decimate a group. Each creature will require a different strategy or spell suite to counter effectively–basically dividing the groups economies of scale.
  5. The well balanced party….just does not work at high levels in RM. One effective critical against the M-U or Cleric will pull the rug from the whole group. Optimally the group needs to be almost all semi-spell users or have magic items that can allow each player to attack/defend/heal independently.

Let me end by saying that my players have had a blast with these high level adventures. They get to play known personalities, utilize spells they only have ever read about in Spell Law, encountered some CRAZY opponents and adventured in very unusual environments.  But no matter how I adjust the encounter levels in these adventures, I’m not sure there can be anything like “Balance”.

Legends of Shadow World Pt 4. The Plains of Despair.

Due to a vacation it’s been a few weeks since out last session playtesting our “Legends of Shadow World” tourney series for 50th lvl characters. Last night the group reconvened for Chapter 4: “The Plains of Despair” (or alternatively The Fortress of the Dread Lord).

Narrative wise, it felt a bit broken; the PC’s got killed or beaten badly in Chapter 3 and the few weeks off disrupted the story line. However this is playtesting, so the group was brought back to life, I doled out some moderate damage, adjusted hits, PPs and item charges etc and sent them on their way through a Portal.

This one was tricky for me–while the main encounter is between the PC’s and a small group of powerful creatures there is also this “army” that the players could confront. How do you handle 5 PCs versus thousands of soldiers? Combat mechanics aside, the good news is that all those cool high level spells in Spell Law, the ones that affect 1 target/lvl or large AoE, come in REAL handy!

The PCs actual triumphed in this one, maybe a bit too easily. Unlike the others, this Chapter ends with a victory–the group retrieved the artifact they had been chasing. Now the players get to return home, get a break and then head out. Chapter 5 ties up all the threads and puts the group in direct confrontation with the mastermind behind it all.

Now that I have run 4 chapters I can start processing issues around high level adventures. This was one of the intents of this project. Some issues and questions I am hoping to resolve:

  1. How does RM combat work between high level opponents? Is it the same as low level since high OBs are offset by high DBs, buffs, and parrying?
  2. Spells. Do spells scale appropriately or do some high level spells break the game or aren’t effective enough?
  3. Do spellcasters really have an advantage at high lvl vs pure arms users?
  4. How do you design challenging encounters for those levels?
  5. How do players roleplay a 50th lvl character? Especially iconic personalities like Navigators and Loremasters?
  6. What types of opponents are effective?
  7. What types of environments can the players handle?
  8. Do high level characters lend themselves to Rolemasters gritty “low fantasy” mechanics?

I’m collecting feedback from my other two playtest groups and hopefully have meaningful data I can post soon!

Managing the narratives in your Shadow World or RPG Campaign.

Unless you are running single session, one-off adventures, you probably have three layers of narratives in your Shadow World campaign: your immediate adventure plot, the regional politics and power and then the world overview/timeline. If you enjoy world building, or are using a comprehensive setting like Shadow World, you want your group to discover the details of the setting. But much of the disclosure has a longer-term payoff when the PCs reach higher levels of power. Coordinating these narrative layers is like building a house—you lay the “foundation” and then erect the structure, brick by brick, floor by floor.

  1. Building the foundation. Starting your players with a basic world background provides a reference point that will tie the rest of the campaign together. Many GMs do this through comprehensive player backgrounds; perhaps giving each player a unique slice of information that will prove important later in the game. For settings like Shadow World there is a “Players Guide” that provides a broad world overview of the setting.
  2. Layer 1. Local plots & adventures. The simplest narratives are the short backgrounds or primers that start an adventure. Whether it’s looting a tomb, rescuing a princess or defeating marauding monster the players are given the basics to justify group motivations. Because they are simple plots, the players aren’t required to remember too much detail, relationships, politics—just a mission direction. However, this is an excellent layer to “seed” future plot devices. Maybe the GM introduces a group nemesis, establishes a rich, but anonymous, patron for the group or places a seemingly random object or place in the adventure that becomes important later. Perhaps a goal will be to plant 10-12 narrative elements in adventures as your party goes from 1st to 5th Write them down with ideas on how they might be used. You probably won’t use them all, but you’ll be glad for them later.
  3. Layer 2. Local and regional narratives. As the players expand their travels and world awareness, their adventures may take on more importance, they will encounter key NPCs and may influence geo-political events. Layer 2 can be the densest and perhaps the most challenging to manage in terms of the sheer volume of information or relationships that can be introduced to the group. Shadow World has an expansive timeline of local events that adds flavor and intrigue to the setting, but gamers that are juggling their hobby with real life, or only play intermittently, are going to have a very hard time remembering the nuances and intricacies of fleshed-out world settings. Throw in complicated place and people names and the carefully constructed setting can just become overwhelming. One strategy is to organize your adventures into chapters that are more easily digestible and maintain familiar reference points (common NPCs or places). This is the layer where carefully planted seeds from low level adventures should be re-introduced. To the players, it will seem familiar, and impress upon them the inter-relationships of your game world. This is also the layer you should seed with a half-dozen elements for higher level adventures. Rather than providing familiarity for the players, these seeds are tied to world events. In SW, this might be hints regarding the Secret Circle, the Northern Eye, or even the “East”.
  4. Layer 3. The World. Once the players become powerful and perhaps “renowned”, they’ll be dealing with higher level NPC’s and epic quests. In many ways, this layer can feel as personal and . intimate as Level 1—as the sand box gets larger, the framework around the group actions is more defined. Whether it’s considered “high fantasy”, you probably won’t bother with incidental encounters or low fantasy granularity. The world neighborhood is populated by fewer, more powerful people and creatures. The hints planted in Layer 2 become the starting point for these epic adventures.

A few other suggestions or thoughts.

  1. When using a detailed world like SW or Forgotten Realms, it’s understandable to want to embrace the complexity. Think of it as a “firehose” of information that you’ll need to throttle and control. Start small and simple, if your group can assimilate new/more information introduce it into the game. Don’t start with a massive data dump—it’s cool but can be an anchor on the narrative. 1st level characters aren’t going to know a lot—why should the players. It’s always better to start small and then go big then it is the reverse.
  2. Controlling information. Nowadays, a player can download free PDFs of almost any gaming product, how can a GM keep crucial information hidden until the right time in the campaign? Matt’s Nomikos library tried to control access through a GM code, but that project is gone. Terry’s Shadow World novel was full of high level spoilers (sorry Terry but it’s true! While it was a great addition to the SW ecosystem it gave out too much information!!!) Most players in SW will probably know about Andraax, details of the Gods and stats for most PCs—that takes a lot of the mystery out of the game! My advice is to work in the “tertiary”: use less known or newly created NPCs, agents or creatures so the group isn’t automatically informed about the challenge or encounter. You can also turn tropes upside down—change known elements, stats or abilities to confuse the player and teach them not to rely on meta-gaming.
  3. Memory as a game mechanic. Ultimately, your players might forget a crucial clue or piece of information that is needed for the campaign to prosper. In these cases, have the PC make a memory role so you can remind the player or re-introduce the information to the group.

In the end: focus on fewer, more manageable, plot seeds. Less information is better than more. Maintain a sense of the unknown and mystery. Counter meta-gamers with a change-up.

Legends of Shadow World pt3: The %#!@ hits the fan.

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Last night the group attempted Chapter 3 of “Legends of Shadow World”. It did not go well. The session only ended up being 2.5 hours with 3 out 5 players killed and the other two “tapping out” since they could see the writing on the wall. This section was just too hard, and there are still 2 more! However, there is a gap between C4 and C5 where the group can rest, heal and gear up for the final confrontation.

I’m running these with loose notes, a rough outline and after the session I do an edit and then update the online files. Since they are meant as “tourney style” modules there is considerable railroading built into the adventure to segue between the chapters.

I’m heading off for an overseas adventure, so we won’t run Chapter 4 until next month. That will give me time to adjust the first three. What I would like to do is have another group play test these for feedback and other ideas. I can’t really run my own players through again and get good feedback now that they’ve already done it.

Keep in mind that these are not “publish ready”–it’s some bare-bones copy, a bit of exposition, pre-gen characters and hand-drawn layouts. I’m not interested in an editor or idea feedback–I need a 5 person group and GM run it in a session for gameplay feedback.

If you have an interest let me know. I can be reached at bhportland at yahoo.