Where to Start in Shadow World. How about Gryphon College in Jaiman?

Shadow World is well stocked with interesting groups and organizations: Navigators, Loremasters, the Iron Wind, Cult of Stars, the list goes on and on. But what organization might be accessible to, and make for a good starting foundation for starting players?

Tucked into the module Jaiman, the Land of Twilight is a good candidate: Gryphon College. Gryphon College is a small monastic school that hides a secret: the institution is a façade for an intel gathering and strike team force working against the Unlife. The college hosts around 100 students, but a smaller elite group of 14 make up the Gryphons. It’s assumed that the college draws from the student body to staff this force.

This is a great premise for a starting group. The college becomes the reason for the players to meet and group up (and learn starting skills), and the hidden machinations of the school give the PCs opportunities to go on missions. Perhaps this starts as seemingly innocent errands, but eventually gives the players an opportunity to join the ranks of the Gryphons!

So, what are the Gryphons? They are goddamn Batmans! Each Gryphon is equipped with mechanical wings—jagged bat like apparatus that allow them to fly and they have small wrist mounted dart guns. Give them functional black leather armor and utility belts and you have a squad of Dark Knights. I can imagine a number of other gadgets, magical devices and alchemical tricks that could add to the overall cool factor.

So let’s review, starting the players at Gryphon College:

  1. Bases them in Jaiman which is supported by numerous supplements and key events in the Kulthean timeline.
  2. At a college, allowing players access to learn and train in skills both magical and mundane.
  3. The college fights the Unlife, so allows a great premise to send the group on missions.
  4. The college it tied up into major events in Jaiman, which provides a great gateway into larger campaigns.
  5. The college has the Gryphons, which would be a cool organization for the players to be members.
  6. Gryphons = Batmen

If you are curious about playing in Shadow World, and want to know where to start, pick up a copy of Jaiman. Used copies are always on eBay and Amazon.

Legends of Shadow World: Building a 50th level adventure group.

Tuesday night my gaming group ran the first chapter of the 50th level adventure I’ve been working on. Overall, it’s a 3-part adventure: chapter 1 is the introduction, in chapter 2 the plot is revealed (mostly) and chapter 3 is the grand finale. Each chapter takes different skills and strategies, but based on Tuesday’s game I’m not sure the current group can survive and make it to the end!

The adventure is meant to be a stand-alone campaign or tournament module to really test the system limits of Rolemaster, show case cool Shadow World stuff and as another challenge here on the Rolemasterblog. “Legends” is predicated on known or powerful Shadow World characters being called upon in a crisis. I wanted to use a group of established Shadow World NPCs as pre-generated characters.

Some basic criteria:

  1. The group should be made up of well-known persons or groups.
  2. The group should provide skills/spells to handle the challenges.
  3. The PCs should be interesting and fun to role-play.
  4. The characters should be around lvl 50.

For all the talk of Shadow World being high-fantasy and high-powered it was difficult to find 5 NPCs to use in the adventure. Here is what I ended up with for the group:

  • Malim Pelax: 41st lvl Loremaster/Magician (I bumped him up a level or two from the Master Atlas)
  • Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician –“Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona)
  • Lord-Captain Kroger: 48th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon)
  • Chomen Drah: 45th lvl Priest of Iorak (with alchemical skills)
  • Jan Jo’drin: 47th lvl Changramai Warrior
  • + 1 NPC, a 12th lvl “Engineer/technician”

On the positive side, I had a Loremaster, Navigator and Changramai represented which is cool, plus Clerics of Iorak and Phaon. On the negative, none were over 50th lvl and using RM2 RAW, no one had 50th lvl spells. Another down side was the class distribution: 2 magicians (although they had another set of base lists), no powerful mentalists and no real subterfuge (which may not be necessary). Finally, not great healing spells and no female characters (though Jan could easily be female).

The group finished chapter 1, which is more cerebral and role-playing than the subsequent chapters..but…they used up quite a bit of resources and may be in for some serious hurt in chapter 2. Even IF they could survive chapter 2, they would be in no way able to complete the final chapter. This could be the RM version of Tomb of Horrors! So, I need to change up the group for more power and if possible, replace my made-up characters with more SW personalities. Here is what I’m thinking so far:

  1. T’vaar Dekdarion. This is a “threefer”: he’s a Loremaster, a Changramai trained bad ass and he’s 61st By using him, I’m bumping up the group power level, combining the roles of Malim and Jan from the previous group iteration, and eliminating the Magician redundancy that we had.
  2. Chomen Drah: 52th lvl Builder Priest (Iorak). Terry doesn’t have too much info on high level clerics so I still have to rely on the work I did on various religions. I’m bumping up Chomen to 52nd lvl plus I’m using the Iorak base list I created.
  3. Lord-Captain Kroger: 50th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon). I’m keeping Kroger for now—he’s a serious fighter and representative for Phaon. He’ll have my “Holy Warrior” spells from Project BASiL as well.
  4. Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician – “Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona) I’m keeping Sumendar for now since I want a Navigator in the group.
  5. Empty slot. Who should it be? A Warlock of Itanis? A Dragonlord as Malim suggested?

Anyway, as I posted in the RM Forums, if anyone has any suggestions for a cool SW NPC that might work in the group, post a comment! If they aren’t quite 50th lvl I can always bump them–even NPCs level up! Terry has created some iconic characters in Shadow World–who would you play if you could?




Gun Powder in Shadow World.

So, I’ve introduced gun powder to Shadow World. Part of this is based on hints that Terry has made in various SW products and the other is my integration of “Alchemy” into my rule set. I’ve already established that the Essaence affects covalent and ionic bonds (which explains magical materials) and Kulthea is not rich with reactive minerals.

Gun Powder is interesting, unpredictable, and not necessarily a game changer in a world with Elemental Magic, but technology is still progressing. I like the steampunk opportunities in Shadow World, and I like the “Musketeers” angle that can be created by combining simple guns with sword play.

As an ancillary example, someone brought up the “Powder Mage” books on the RM forums. I think you could easily model that world with Rolemaster, but you would have to create a ruleset around the “powder control” displayed in the book. Any of the Magician elemental lists are good templates: rather than controlling an element, you just create spells around detecting, sensing, controlling or buffing using gun powder. The book series also has regular mages—very powerful and would need their own powers or spell lists. Otherwise, in response to that forum post, the Powder Mage setting is easily modeled with RM rules.

Back to Shadow Word. We have ancient tech lasers and energy weapons, crystal power, steam energy, electric zap guns and everything in between. Why not introduce gun powder and guns as a unreliable, but occasionally potent technology? Shadow World Gun Slinger anyone?

50th level adventures in Rolemaster. Does it work?

50th lvl…the mythical pinnacle of roleplaying achievement. I vaguely recall 1sted. D&D and I don’t recall 50th lvl (maybe it was 20th in that game system?). I do remember looking through Rolemaster for the very first time and thought the 50th lvl spells were so crazy—and cool! It opened up a world of possibilities. After that, MERP modules continued to introduce VHL (very high level) NPCs that continued pushing this perception of Rolemaster: deadly, complex and high level. After that…Shadow World. Again, the inference was that this was a high fantasy world, only populated by incredibly powerful NPCs and organizations.

So, Peter and I are working on a 50th level adventure series. Mine are based in Shadow World, but I’m going to convert these adventures to a generic format. So guess what? Creating adventures can be hard, but creating an adventure for a group of 50th lvl +- adventurers is even tougher!

Some people would argue that RM system rules break down around 15th lvl. Others would argue that the gradual power progression of RM spells, while potent, is not the same progression as the power progression of spells in AD&D—spells like “Wish” make high level Magic Users or Cleric almost god-like. Many 50th lvl spells in Spell Law are just “Laws”: the ability to cast lower level spells 1/rnd. That’s an efficient resource spell, but perhaps doesn’t lend itself to a transcendent narrative.

My first question when starting this adventure design was: “Under what circumstances would a 50th lvl PC even get involved? Not all world threats should, or can be, handled by a “well balanced group” of 5-15th lvl characters. An adventure should be: challenging, interesting and rewarding. Once a PC reaches the heights of 50th lvl, what is challenging? What adventure could possibly be new, novel or interesting? What could be rewarding for a player group equaling 200-250 levels?

We are going to try and find out with our Rolemasterblog 5of50 later this year. Have you run or played in a VHL adventure or campaign? What worked? What didn’t?

Rolemaster Adventure Hooks: Head Fake or Trope Embrace?

If you are a regular reader here than you probably know that Rolemasterblog is putting together a challenge of writing 50 Adventures in 50 Days! These are short adventures or “hooks”, and while there is no such thing as a new idea, I think that Peter and I have come up with some twists and turns that add depth to a one dimensional challenge.

For me this is an exercise in both creativity and discipline. I try to outline an idea every day or two and work to add an interesting element to give it some “flair”.  What I have found is that I’m torn between embracing classic RPG tropes and trying to come up with something new and novel. As much as I want to avoid standard adventures ideas, there is something appealing about an old fashion dungeon crawl or fortress layout! But I also enjoy subverting classic tropes and messing with my players assumptions!

Hopefully, people will enjoy the Rolemasterblog creative content–even derivative ideas could spark your own creative process.


Monumental Sculptures. Fantasy & Reality.

I found this shot, from the TV show Lost to be evocative. Perhaps more so because it’s just a remnant of a much larger construct. The mind fills in the blanks–envisioning the size and appearance of the “original” construct. There is something awe inspiring in monumental architecture and sculpture and it’s often featured in fantasy illustrations and images.  I’m reminded of this powerful shot from Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings.

But massive statues are not just found in the realm of fantasy.  Our own world is scattered with ancient and contemporary works of similar magnitude. A few of my favorites:

Like the foot from LOST, this is The Hand of Hercules, the remnant of what is believed to be a massive statue. The only other part found is from the elbow, but based on the size of these parts the statue would have been 13m in height (43′)–making it one of the largest known marble sculptures.

One of the great wonders of the ancient world was the Colossus of Rhodes. Few believe that the statue actually straddled the entrance to the harbor, but it was huge and real–the pieces of the statue were recorded by later travelers.

Other famous statues are the Colossi of Memmon. Each is almost 18m (60′).

Did you know that many of the maoi statues on Easter Island only have their heads exposed? The bulk of these statures are buried under ground. (an interesting note is that they have the “hand/navel” found found on other ancient statues throughout the world and cultures)

For modern sculptures few can beat the towering “Motherland Calls“.  At 285′ it’s almost twice the height of the statue of liberty.

How about Genghis Khan in Mongolia!

Finally, one of my favorite. Unfortunately, this one was apparently destroyed by rebels and might have been a contemporary construction. But still cool.

Megalthic architecture, massive statues and awe inspiring structures can add flavor to your RPG game–but you don’t have delve into a fantasy realm to find them!

Shadow World Flavor: Cool suits of Armor.

Just a few days ago I posted up some of the unique armors that I had developed for Shadow World cultures and groups. This included a laminate process, slate armor and various hide armors using Wyvern and Quarnak skins. You can download the file HERE (you need an RM Forum user account)

So it was interesting to see this short article on historical armors HERE. I thought the crocodile armor (pic above) was really neat!

Shadow World Speculation: What is the Mazatlak Pillar City?

For those that have perused the extensive Shadow World timeline in the Master Atlas or Part IV: Lands will have seen a few references to the Mazatlak Pillar City. Call me intrigued! There are four references in the Master Atlas (I’m using 3rd Edition):


  1. Mazzara Delta: [Cool Temperate/Seasonal] Y’nar (Mixed economies/Monarchy/TL: ) A vast delta/archipelago; this fragmented land and the shores to north and south are controlled by a Y’nari kingdom. At the head of this delta is the capital: Mazatlak Pillar City.

Gendael: A trading center where furs, ores, fish, meat and other staples are exchanged for exotic spices and other items from more temperate lands. The road to Mazatlak is heavily travelled.

Mazatlak Pillar City: A regional trade center and capital of the Mazzara Delta kingdom.

p.184 (Timeline 6053 TE)

Mulira: Mazatlak Pillar City shakes but the ancient stone pedestals stand.


So, what the heck is a “Pillar City”? That’s been churning around in my hind brain for years; trying to imagine what that would look like and how to design the city for a possible module. The few clues we can glean is that it’s a city, it has pillars which can shake, it’s located on a river delta:

Definition of delta: a piece of land shaped like a triangle that is formed when a river splits into smaller rivers before it flows into an ocean

The impression is lowlands, prone to seasonal flooding that require houses built on stilts like many third world areas. Like this:

But Mazatlak isn’t a “stilt village”, it’s a “Pillar City” with stone pedestals. That makes me think of this:

This is the famed Basilica Cistern in Constantinople. So this could be a good model of Mazatlak: a normal city with a vast foundation made up of pillars and columns. This feels right and creates a great opportunity for a dual world: the normal city above and this surreal “underneath” where trade, commerce and skullduggery could occur! This also reminds me of Chicago where they built a new street level above the first floor of the buildings and created a below ground world that mirrors the city above.

I was good with that image until I thought of something more fantastic. In my interview with Terry he mentioned his building design was more grounded in reality while Pete Fenlon designed more over the top structures. Is Mazatlak interesting enough as just a city built on a foundation of pillars? Is that too mundane and realistic? Then I imagined the city as large platforms on immense stone pillars. Sort of a Cloud City of Bespin, but with a thicker more substantial pillar as a base. The platforms would be connected via bridges and the heights of each platform would indicate status and prestige.

So while I’m finishing up Nontataku, thoughts of Mazatlak kept buzzing around in my head. I wish I were an artist or illustrator and could explore different concepts through drawing. Then, the other day I was reading RPG Bloggers and this came up, an illustration by Gerard Trignac:

I thought, “The Pillars ARE the City!). For Mazatlak I see the pillars being round, and much larger than this picture.

One final idea I had was that the Pillar City was actually much older, originally a Hirazi city—soaring columns with eyries on the top that was later populated by Y’nar settlers. Obviously I have several competing thoughts on this “Pillar City” that Terry hints at. Anyone have thoughts, ideas or suggestions?

Dyson’s Dodecahedron

I am truly terrible at maps. Thankfully one of the best fantasy cartographers I have ever come across is Dyson Logos. His blog, Dyson’s Dodecahedron, is an immense resource for maps including amazing isometric layouts.

This particular one…

Vault of the Ghost King

…is ideal for those of you of a Shadow World bent. The elevator just smacks of higher technology. To my mind even the spiral stairwell would quite possibly be beyond many cultures.

I am thinking of using one of Dyson’s maps for the session of fruitless searching that I mentioned last time. I guess that many GMs will have already discovered Dyson but I thought I would feature him anyway just in case there are GMs out there who have not discovered him yet.

You should certainly check the blog out.

“Long Skulls” and the Worim of Shadow World.

I just got back from Mexico and had the opportunity to visit some Mayan ruins. Seeing various ancient sites (Coba, Tulum, Chitzen Itza) is great creative inspiration for roleplaying! It’s also a reminder of an unusual and curious phenomena found not only in Central and South America, but all across the world: Elongated Skulls.

Accepted thinking is that skull elongation was the result of various types of head-binding practices adopted by primitive cultures. The application of clothes, boards and ropes on an infant’s skull to deform and stretch the soft craniums in children. Unfortunately, attributing ALL elongated skulls to this theory is challenged by 3 basic issues:

  1. Pre-natal skull elongation. There are documented cases of in-utero and very young infants with skull elongation.
  2. Cranial Volume. While purposeful elongation can change the shape of a skull, it does not alter the volume of the skull. There are many examples of elongated skulls with 20-25% higher cranial volume. (see Paracas skulls).
  3. Differences in skull suturing. Certain elongated skulls have only one parietal plate rather than two as in normal skulls.

Skull deformation, aberrations in volume and suturing are often ascribed to dolichocephaly, hydrocephaly, craniosynostosis or Antley-Bixler syndrome, but there is not enough evidence to support these medical theories. Elongated skulls have been found in Egypt, Malta, Russia, Peru, Bolivia and Mexico and head-binding was performed in the Congo, Vanuata and Malasia. Notable rulers in both America and Egypt are known to have elongated skulls: Tutankhaten (King Tut), his father Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and the Mayan Lord Pakal.

I’m not suggesting “Ancient Aliens”, but there is an argument to made for elongation via genetics verus elongation via binding. A distinct race of people, with elongated skulls, that also held positions of power is depicted in history and through the archeological record. Is it possible that the wide-spread practice of head-binding by many cultures around the world was “emulative”?

So what does this have to do with Shadow World? Terry has sprinkled bit and pieces of information throughout his books including this one:

“The tall, slender Lydians are most populous in Mythenis and some regions of Gaalt, thought they are found on other cool climes—especially in the southern hemisphere. This race has a somewhat elongated skull and large, bright, amber-colored eyes. They have fair skin, pale blond hair and are more slender than the Laan or Talath and tend to be hirsute……Some Loremasters believe that the, or perhaps the Talath, are descendants of the Worim.

And this:

“Some Loremasters hold that the Trogli are a race descended from the Worim: those who chose to hide underground at the end of the Interregnum.

So what do we know about the Worim? Only what we can piece together from various obscure mentions: they are non-native to Kulthea, had a high level of technology and built machines (tunnelers and war-machines). They may be precursors to the Laan (or Talath, or Lydians) or Trogli.

Until Terry expands upon the Worim, we’ve had to come up with some of our own material. First and foremost, the Worim had elongated skulls. This genetic trait was passed down to a lesser degree to both the Lydians and the Trogli. We’ve also generated some additional summary info in our SW Civilization Summary here (btw you need a Forum membership to see and download files).

This helps differentiate the Worim from some of the other Interregnum civilizations, Taranian & Jinteni, and adds a unique physical marker to the race. For some great ideas and SW campaign flavor, google elongated skulls, Paracas and especially Lord Pakal’s tomb.