Time Travel in Rolemaster & Shadow World

In a recent BLOG POST, I touched upon Time Travel as a technology or mechanism that could be introduced into a Shadow World campaign. Tricky, right?

A lot has been written on time travel in RPG’s and if you have ever allowed it in your game you know it can generate great adventures but create a lot of hassles as well. Some suggested solutions are only allow travel into the past, time travel only occurs in alternate timelines that don’t affect the current one or there are side effects to encountering yourself in the past etc.

I mentioned a few mechanisms to introduce time travel or time manipulation during game play:

  1. Portals. These can be used not just to transport over distances but over time as well. Several gateways Terry describes in Emer Addendum hint at such a power.
  2. Flow Storms/Foci. Want to change things up? Add a Time jump into the effects of an Essaence effect. Not only can you send the players to another interesting time/place but you create a whole adventure path if they want to return to their own time.
  3. Spells. Spell Law never introduced Time related spells, but I think some were added in a companion? (citation needed). I posted up our Time Mastery spell list on the RM Forums. The list is a work in progress–and very powerful in some aspects and very limited in others. A couple of spells take some work and ingenuity on the GM’s part:

6. Time Jump I – Caster can “jump” 1 rnd/lvl into the past or future.

I thought of only allowing the caster to jump into the future–that’s an easy solution where the caster is basically “out of play” for the # of rounds. But that’s not really useful unless it’s just used to avoid a impending bad situation. So how do you handle a caster going back X rounds into the past? First you have to realize that there will be 2 casters for X of rounds (then the other will cast the spell and go back into time and everything is back to normal).  One option is to have the PC announce that they will be casting the spell in the future and then they can play 2 versions of themselves for those set number of rounds. One issue is that the original caster may not survive or be able to cast the Time Jump spell in the future… One resolution is to qualify that time travel creates a new timeline and that this new timeline might not end up the same way. That also means that there will be 2 casters permanently in this new timeline. Interesting…

This spell gets much simpler at higher levels when a caster can travel forward or back years or decades and thus removes the problem of 2 casters or travelling such a short time that the other “self” is present.

8. Time Bubble I – Caster is enclosed in a unmoving time singularity. He can either slow time by 1/2 or speed time by x2 during the duration. The caster cannot interact with anything outside the bubble or vice versa.(no causality). Perception is modified by the time difference(slow inside will make outside activity appear hyper fast, etc.)

Time Bubble is a more useful and less complicated time spell. Basically the Caster is demising themselves from the current timeline and either speeding up or slowing down time within that bubble. This allows the caster to create extra time to heal, prepare another spell or just get away from a dangerous situation. The bubble wall is inviolate. (Unless someone else has Time Merge to cross into the bubble.)

15. Time Stop I – Target up to MEDIUM size is enclosed in a time singularity where time is stopped. No information(visual or otherwise) can pass through the barrier.

A useful spell, it’s basically a version of Time Bubble that can be cast at a distance on a target–basically freezing the target for the duration of the spell. This does not slow or speed up time within the bubble but stops it completely. For a group, this would allow them time to prepare, heal or buff against a troublesome foe.

But Time Travel doesn’t have to be literal. Here’s the thing–one of the great parts of Shadow World is the immense timeline. It’s a great read, adds a lot of depth to the world building, but most of it will be lost on players: I’ve read it A LOT and I can’t keep track of most of it!So when people ask WHERE they should start a SW campaign I say how about “WHEN”? Want a hack ‘n slash one-off adventure? Introduce the PC’s to a battle during the Wars of Dominion. Want a mixed genre sci-fi/fantasy campaign? Start during the interregnum and have the PC’s be Worim, Taranian or Jinteni characters with technology and interacting with the fantastical creatures of SW.

So many possibilities–anyone play around with Time Travel in their game?

Random Musings: Rolemaster & Shadow World 2/12/17

Being stuck in severe winter weather is a good excuse to get some writing and work done! I’m still polishing up my next few blog topics but thought I would write a quick blog on some misc. thoughts. This is more to clear my head and refocus my thoughts on various RPG items that are floating around.

  1. There is definitely an “ebb & flow” to the Rolemaster Forum activity. Generally, it seems like the hot topics are created on the RMU forums–intense debates on rules. Right now things just seem slow.
  2. Despite my own frequent blogs about alternate rules I’m having less and less interest in rule sets. Every time I come up with something new, Peter or some one else proposes something as interesting, valid or workable. It feels like a rabbit hole that never ends. In the end I am much more interested in game content than rules. I change rules frequently–with a small group of players it’s less game testing and more about how the rules interact with the narrative flow of the game. My players learned long ago that advocating for rules that allow for min/max, power gaming or mechanistic advantages are missing the point.
  3. Being stuck indoor has allowed me to take a deeper dive in Emer III. I read it when it first came out and scanned several times since, but hadn’t really churned through it or processed new info. I have taken each “canon” SW product and pulled out any world or overview info and added it to our Master Atlas. If you comb through all of Terry’s work and separate local and regional info from world spanning info it results in a much more comprehensive MA. Ours is heading towards 400 pages without creatures or the timeline.
  4. Emer III is fantastic. Like each new product, it continues to fill in gaps in the world building that were hinted at over the last 30 years: Jinteni technology, the Dragonlord, Tower of Vour, Krylites. At 208 pages it covers a lot of new material and straddles a difficult line of overview and specific material. Terry has always been good at that–intensely detailed NPCs, equipment and layouts with broad overviews that still convey a flavor or style.
  5. I’ve said this before but almost every Loremaster or Shadow World product could cover years of gaming. Sure, like everyone else I always want to see new material from Terry, but there is currently enough material now for a lifetime of play. Every product is dense with possible adventure hooks that would be make into a long term campaign!
  6. I’ve been working on an outline to finish the Grand Campaign. My goal was to try and include a snippet of material from each product–that way a group could experience a little bit of each product and visit or explore SW “greatest hits”. Unfortunately I think there is just too much material now! What I have ended up doing is moving several plot lines down to optional to maintain the core adventure path.
  7. My players are finishing up “Priest-King of Shade”. Ideally it would have gotten the PC’s to 12-15th lvl but they are all around 10th lvl. That’s fine–they are segueing into “Empire of the Black Dragon” (which is meant to be Pt. 3 of the series). Empire is less linear than Priest-King; more the style of “Fortresses of M.E.” so the playtesting is an important part of generating adventure layouts for the final product.
  8. I’m hoping I’ve found someone to redo my layouts for Empire. It’s basically 4 facilities, each very different in style and purpose. We shall see!
  9. BASiL Mentalism. A number of people have contacted me about putting up the Mentalism spells. I’m working on it! Unlike Essence or Channeling, I felt that Mentalism needed more work. I started formatting them and ended up making significant changes to the Monk style spells and making changes to the Telekinesis spells.
  10. It’s great to see new contributors to the RolemasterBlog. I hope that the other people that showed interest will participate as well!

Advanced Technology in Shadow World

For those that want to utilize it, ancient advanced technology is a narrative aspect to the Shadow World setting. Advanced technology was not just achieved by the Althan/Ka’ta’viir civilization in the 1st Era, but also utilized by several other notable cultures during the Interregnum: Taranian, Jinteni & Worim.

When we think of technology in fantasy role playing we often visualize laser pistols, laser swords, shield devices, power armor—objects that are just more powerful version of standard fantasy weapons (crowsbows, swords, armor etc). I posted up an older file on using technology in SW here, but the convenient fact is that although it’s tech, it can be handled easily within the RM fantasy magic rules. Laser Guns cast “Firebolts”; Lightsabers inflict Electricity, Fire or Plasma Crits; Anti-grav belts cast “Levitation”, etc.

While there have been numerous ancient high-tech civilizations and contemporary cultures that use “science” (Krylites), none of them reached the advancements of the Althans or Ka’Ta’viir.(Tech Level 13+). Truly advanced technology can transcend common form factors and seem inscrutable to normal understanding. In other words, they will seem magical.

Here are a few advanced technologies that might be a good fit in your Shadow World game:

Post Physical Entities: This is a term often used to describe an “upload society” where consciousness can be transferred to a computer network, object or virtual emulator. Shadow World modules already features stored Ka’ta’viir intelligences (Cloudlords) and the Thalan are a good example of a post-physical entities (PPE’s). From a game standpoint, introducing an ancient Althan/Ka’ta’viir consciousness could be interesting. The entity would probably have their own agenda, limit information flow and perhaps “guide” the players to their own purpose. This could provide a useful guide for the GM to direct the PC’s through the adventure or tie multiple adventures into a greater campaign. Mechanically, PPE’s should be treated as an NPC, only limited by the ability to interact with the physical world. Additionally the PC’s may not even realize the “entity” is an uploaded consciousness or ancient being.

A.I.: Similar to Post Physical entities, A.I.’s are already featured in SW. Two prominent ones are the A.I. in Andraax’s tomb and Morik in Eidolan. Unlike PPE’s, A.I.’s are a technical/software artifact and may be limited by their learning ability, programming and information resources. Like PPE’s, A.I.’s should be treated as NPC’s.

Time Control: Ka’Ta’viir use a “Chronagenic” process to hibernate. Not to be confused with a cryogenic process; rather than freezing or preserving a person through physical or biological means the capsule seals the entity into a time singularity. It’s not clear whether the Althans had additional control over time (barring localized events). Jinteni also had some time dilation abilities (Emer III and Inn of the Green Gryphon). Time travel and control have always been tricky in RPG’s: a GM needs to decide the long term effects of causality and impact on the game narrative. There are three basic mechanisms for time manipulation: devices (machines & portals), spells (I’ve uploaded a Time Mastery spell list on the RM Forums  ) or Essaence effects (Essaence Storms and Foci). Time Travel introduces an introducing plot device to allow PC’s to explore other parts of the immense SW timeline. In fact, you could probably roll randomly for page, paragraph and line or 1-100,000 years to pick a date in the timeline to send the players. At the least, they could be spectators to interesting historical events and experience some of the intriguing past of Kulthea!

Matter/Energy Conversion: A truly advanced society will have mastered matter – energy conversion. This is more than simple fusion, it’s a two way process to generate power from any matter OR the ability to produce objects or material from energy. This probably has less game-world impact than other technologies but it does allow for devices to be powered indefinitely (by harvesting small amounts of matter for energy), self-repair of devices and vehicles or for generating objects “out of thin air” like a Wish spell.

Molecular Assembly: Before they have the ability of creating matter from energy, a post scarcity society will have obtained the ability to create any object from scratch using “feedstock” raw material. These Replicators or “Cornucopia Machines” are just highly advanced 3D printers. In Sci-fi and economic theory, such a machine would be a major societal disruptor allowing for the easy creation and accessibility of wealth. This technology was the basis for the post-scarcity society presented in Star Trek. In your SW game, this technology could be useful but not unbalancing on a limited basis—perhaps program/design access is prohibited except to authorized users (i.e. weapon mfg)

Mal-Metal: Malleable, changeable or programmable materials would be common in an advanced society. This allows for amorphous forms—wings that can change shape, weapons that can morph into others with a thought, adjustable cloaks, armor that can distribute impacts or force etc. This type of technology would be very useful to a PC and would be indistinguishable from common magic item tropes. Obvious examples would be morphing weapons (retain weight/mass but changes shape), fluid bracers that cover the arms as greaves at a thought etc. In SW, “Malloys” (malleable alloys) could combine advanced tech with materials like Keron, Eog or Ithloss.

Bionomics: A step past cyborg implants, Bionomics are organic based technological capabilities built into a person at the molecular and cellular level. These could be energy projections (disruptors, beams), shields (force fields or environmental shields), wetware computing power for advanced mental and calculative abilities. Unless they were born from a very specific parentage, installation of Bionomics would require substantial surgical procedures and DNA manipulation.  Bionomic abilities could be treated as innate spell abilities powered by a reservoir of cell energy (use CO. stat?).  In our campaign, Bionomic technology was a significant part of the Xiosian heritage.

Von Neumann Self Replicators: These machines combine the technologies of molecular assembly and matter/energy conversion to build copies of themselves. This is a powerful concept but might not have too much relevance in a gaming environment. However these could also work on a nano scale—“Nannite” clouds that replicate and perform programmed tasks (healing, buffs, metamorphis etc). Examples of “Nannites” might be found in upcoming SW material!

Solid State Technology: When we think of machines we often conflate it to devices with moving parts and collections of components. An advanced society will utilize microtization, exotic meta-materials and atomic level functionality to produce devices that work as machines but won’t have moving parts. To PC’s this will give machine or software functionality to solid objects–just like magic items.

Neural Control/Interface: The Ka’ta’viir were not only advanced technologically, they were able to utilize the Essaence AND access Psionic/Mind powers. At the height of their powers (Late Imperial Era) many devices were controlled through mere thought. In the game, neural interfaces should be treated as quasi-mentalism or accessed via “Attunement” skill (treat as Absurd or -150 due to the complexity of this technology or allow a PC to have some Althan heritage and reduce the penalty).

While primarily a fantasy setting, Shadow World also has elements of a post-apocalypse setting and a sci-fi setting. Maybe the PC’s will initially be unaware they are encountering technology and not magic but these elements could add flavor to your campaign!

Random Musings. War in RPG’s, Rolemaster and Shadow World.

Twice now I’ve run an introductory SW adventure in Emer that injected the players into the invasion of Miir by the Katra of Stroane (c. 6041 TE). The group, along with some interesting NPC’s (Bashar the Merchant and Livian a Cleric of the Festival) are tasked with uncovering the lapse in trade and communications along the northern coast of the Sea of Votania. Ostensibly this is a war scenario but the PC’s are still acting on an individual tactical level as scouts/spies. On the second run of this adventure the PC’s actually got involved in a full scale battle; a situation I wasn’t really prepared for, nor did I handle well. Rolemaster does have War Law and there are numerous other rule sets that would have allowed for battle resolution but I don’t have any familiarity with them. (I did play Squad Leader back in the 80’s!).

Since then I’ve thought about the issues of introducing mass combat and war into the RPG narrative. There are three basic aspects to this: integrating war generally into RPG’s, mass combat and Spell Law and the issues of Shadow World itself.

RPG’s. Again, most fantasy RPG’s have designed war/mass combat rules for conflict resolution and for use with miniatures. Rules aside, as a GM with specific goals in gameplay, I see role-playing and wargaming as two distinct “stories”. The former being personal/individual while the latter is more abstract and strategic. I’m not sure they co-exist peaceably in my setting, but curious on others views.

War and Spell Law. Before Rolemaster there was the “Village of Hommlet”. Reading that module was the first time I thought about the impact of fireballs on warfare and combat. In the module is a burned out foundation of a moat house—a structure clearly destroyed by a fireball at some point. That really got me thinking about how the accepted medieval tropes we use in RPG’s are really inappropriate once magic is introduced. What use is a castle when an attacking army has a mage with Earth Law? Many of the design standards of keeps, forts and castles are really pointless once you have powerful elemental spells. Other spells like Passing make entering an enemy installation fairly easy. Once you accept that historical fortification reasoning is out the door you can embrace truly interesting architectural designs. Form becomes more important than function. Some of my favorite SW buildings are those that eschew the traditional medieval elements of moat/keep/battlements: Tharg Jironak in the Iron Wind, Jinteni cities, the Secrets, the Dragon Lord citadel etc.

Two writers of note tackled magic and war in a fantasy setting: Cook with his Black Company series and Erickson with the Malazan books. Erickson was admittedly heavily influenced by Cook but his setting was driven by an actual RPG campaign. Both treat magic as pervasive, though users vary greatly in power and abilities. Combat in both series are very evocative of WWI trench warfare; magic is mustard gas and battle is gruesome, deadly and confusing. I think the ubiquity and disposability of magic users is the key here: a single powerful magic user could easily tip the balance of an army v. army battle. More interesting is the range in between: a few magic wielders on either side. Certainly tactics would dictate that an opposing magic user would be targeted first, making them vulnerable to assassination or counter measures. These “battles within battles” might fit well into a RPG narrative—it’s really two distinct battles where the magic-users fight each other while mundane combat goes on around them.

War in the Shadow World. SW has had many battles: Wars of Dominion, invasions by Ulor, the Raven Queen wars in Gaalt. But…in a setting where basic travel may require a Navigator due to unpredictable Essaence Flows and many regions are demised by physical Essaence barriers how do you move large armies or groups of soldiers PLUS the logistical supply lines needed for war and invasion? For me it’s simple: wars and invasions are rare in SW for these very reasons. Few nations have large standing armies and conflict is smaller and more personal. This puts the emphasis on player groups and the personal narratives of role playing. Wars are more a series of skirmishes and scattered actions than large fields of battle. The large wars are historic for a reason—they are notable for their scarcity.

Do you incorporate large scale combat and battles into your gaming?

The Many Narrative Perspectives of Shadow World

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There can be no argument that Terry has designed Shadow World with a strong meta-narrative. These over-arching plots, high level NPC’s and secretive organizations reinforce an image of SW has a high fantasy adventure setting. Multi-chapter adventures like the Legacy of the Sea Drake Crown and the Grand Campaign may discourage GM’s from adopting the SW setting or see it poorly suited to low level “one and done” adventures given the rich history and background presented.

For those that see Shadow World as a great setting for a longer term game campaign the question that might be helpful to ask is what will the narrative perspective be that directs the storyline? In short, what IS the story of Shadow World? The history of the Althans and their eventual downfall? Is it the story of Andraax and his millennium long struggle to protect Kulthea? Is it the conflict between good and evil, Orhan and Charon and the struggles against the Unlife? Perhaps Shadow World is the story of the Jerak Ahrenrath and the Shadow Stone. Or is the story of Shadow World the struggles of civilizations and the Loremasters? A simple answer might be “all of them” but that doesn’t help a GM in constructing a long term adventure path that fits his world view and gaming style.

It’s generally agreed that Star Wars follows a universal and ancient story meme: the Heroes Journey. And to many that journey starts with the young Luke Skywalker, his path to becoming a Jedi, and his final confrontation with evil and the Emperor. From that perspective the movies will be seen and enjoyed through the perspective of Luke. But a different group would argue that the “Heroes Journey” actually belongs to Anakin Skywalker: his fall into darkness and his eventual redemption. (A third, much smaller group would say Star Wars is a buddy film featuring 2 robots). The point is that a simple flip of perspective can dramatically change how we experience and understand the films. The same is true for the chosen perspective in a Shadow World campaign.

For my campaign, the story of Shadow World is the story of the Earthwardens. Their origins in the 1st Era, their return and healing of the planet and their subsequent evolution is the backbone of our ongoing SW story. (We’ve developed our own NON-CANON Earthwarden “story”, you can see it HERE with a forum username). Throughout Kulthea the Earthwardens left megalithic monuments with enigmatic powers, hidden powerful guardians and built amazing structures like the coral roads and the sea-tunnels. The Earthwardens had simple but powerful magic (Arcane?) that healed the damaged planet after the wars of the 1st Era. For our story, the Earthwardens are not the “actors” propelling the narrative but the solution or puzzle the players need to solve in their battles.

If you’ve thought about your own narrative perspective, comment on it! If you are considering using the SW setting for a long term campaign think about how a narrative perspective can guide your game.

Shadow World Creature Ideas: The Soulless.

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While I’ve posted up quite a few files, bits and excerpts from our Shadow World campaign over at the RM Forums, I put many of them up with minimal explanation or background. Since we are in the Halloween season I wanted to go back and discuss one of my posting in more detail: The Soulless or UnMen.

We’ve always run Shadow World as “monster-lite”, preferring the unique creatures (Shards, Gogor, Kaden etc) over the traditional ubiquitous fantasy RPG monsters. But generally my group is dealing with human/humanoid adversaries rather than fantastical ones. Shadow World does have one over-arching “foe”, the Unlife, but that tends to be an abstract malevolence that also raises quite a few questions. In our own campaign, we’ve made a distinction between good/evil and the Unlife and eliminated the entire “anti-Essaence” concept that further muddied the waters. We also distanced the Charon pantheon from the definition of “evil” to a more “chaotic” one.

But I did want a better mechanism to manifest the Unlife to my players and I also wanted to replace the traditional D&D Undead that can genericizes a SW campaign. Thus the “Soulless” (“UnMen” to some societies) so named because the hosts eyes turn black. The Soulless can occur in 3 ways: the animation of a dead body (“zombification” which replaces some Undead types and allows for Unlife Necromancy), the possession of a living host (replaces Demonic possession and ties into corruption of a person accessing the Unlife) and in some cases the Non-Corporeal manifestation of the Unlife (replaces Wraiths, Spectres etc).

I like this solution because it shoehorns into the existing spell system, ( “Turning Undead”, “Possession”, of Slaying “Evil”, detection of “Evil”), while it also replaces known, generic Undead with a setting specific adversary. Like Undead, we’ve built the Soulless into “Classes” I-VI with powers and abilities that increasing accordingly. Both Unlife animation and possession touch upon common tropes popular in culture: Fear the Walking Dead, Ash v Evil Dead etc, but add unpredictability and even paranoia to the group. Anyone or anything could be “infected” with the Unlife. Even better, it unifies differing and problematic mechanisms created by the “gap” between the RM ruleset and SW setting.

In this Halloween season, maybe it’s time to introduce your players to the “new and improved Unlife”: the Soulless Continue reading “Shadow World Creature Ideas: The Soulless.”

GM’ing Navigators in your Shadow World campaign: Stick to the Code.

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I like to use Navigators in our campaigns. Like Loremasters and Essaence Flows, Navigators can allow the GM to inject direction and narrative changes into the game. Plus SW is a dangerous place–and Navigators give the party added insurance when travelling through the wilderness.

It seems like some GM’s are reluctant to using Navigators. Reading posts on the RM Forums there are a few main areas of concern that people post about:

  1.  Cost. Navigators are expensive–and forget about using them for a Jump (teleport)!

From a game perspective, having the PC’s teleport everywhere can certainly expedite things and save a lot of hassle of normal travel (and work for the GM!). But the high cost of Jumping may make it prohibitive for lower level players. Keep in mind that the Nav Guilds are a “for profit” business and while they may have a monopoly they need to set their prices low enough that people will use them. Don’t be afraid to adjust pricing, up or down! Navigator fees are also a great money sink for groups overflowing with cash.

  1. Which Navigator responds to a summons?

Most Navigators in the Atlas’ are immortal, well equipped and quite powerful. That lends to the perception that Navigators are high priced or inaccessible to regular players. But the organization has to train new guild members and not every Navigator will be high level. Our common Navigator level range is 8th to 15th. These are not omnipotent characters able to fight off powerful servants of the Unlife. They are just specialized guides with extensive local knowledge and some spells that allow them to tackle unpredictable Essaence effects and barriers. Like any professional there is no guaranty of success once hired. If they players see Navigators this way they may be more inclined to utilize them–just like they would an Astrologer, Alchemist, blacksmith or other special profession.

  1. What will a Navigator do in the normal course of their duties?

Most of our exposure to Navigators are the short vignettes Terry sprinkles throughout his books and many of these depict major events or significant characters.  What’s not quite clear is the limits of Navigators services. Combined with the perceived power issue and it’s easy to assume that Navigators can and will extract the group from almost any danger or threat. Much of this decision will depend on the GM, his game style and use of the SW environment but to help guide NPC decisions we refer to the “Navigator Code”.

We are still  playing around with some of the wording and eventually will order them according to importance.

The Navigator Code

  • To Complete my task as expediently as possible.
  • To Protect my wards to the best of my ability without aggression.
  • To Avoid interfering with my clients goals.
  • To Ensure my clients confidentiality.
  • To Maintain the confidentiality of the guilds.
  • To Provide options but not advice to my clients.

Navigators can be a great ingredient to your Shadow World campaign!

Shadow World Adventure Hooks: Taking your game to a new place.

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One of my previous blogs discussed the “Many Flavors of Shadow World” and I felt like expanding on a few specific adventure environments that we’ve used that really enhanced our campaign.

  1. Underwater adventures. Having your players adventure underwater can add a new dimension to your SW environment. Lost cities, shipwrecks and new races can all be encountered and the challenges of breathing, moving and fighting add a new strategic element to group tactics and abilities. My current I.C.E. module submission, Priest-King of Shade, is focused on water/underwater adventures and environments. It’s in edit/review and hopefully will see print in the near future.
  2. Zero G. There is a sci-fi angle to SW, why not exploit it. Introducing your players to a no-gravity environment can be a lot of fun—especially if they don’t understand their situation. (they assume it’s a magical effect of some sort). I’ve includes a great Zero-G adventure in my second project, “Realm of the Black Dragon” that is part of a larger adventure thread but would work as a one-off tourney style module.
  3. Skyships. I’m drafting a new adventure thread that takes place on a Skyship. It’s a bit of a clockwork/pirates of the sky/high adventure derring-do where almost all of the action takes place in the air with multiple aerial combats. The players will need to adapt to these new types of engagements and are limited by their environment (small Skyship), general lack of flying ability, and dynamic combat. The whole adventure is inspired by a random encounter my players had with a hijacked Skyship, a crazy old man and pursuit by the Eidolon air fleet. It was a side adventure, purely organic and events were driven completely by random dice rolls.

What were your most unique adventure environments? Share your game stories!

Shadow World Game Hook: The Lair of Ozymandias

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You slowly open your eyes, paint stabbing through your head and your body aching from head to toe. Gradually, your surroundings come into focus. Above, a smooth stone roof dripping cold water. Moving your head cautiously you realize you are in a small stone room blocked by rusting narrow bars. You are not alone. Other bedraggled figures are likewise laying on the floor. All appear to be bruised, their clothes in tatters and are moving feebly taking in their surroundings.

In the distance you hear the squeal of hinges, a heavy door scraping against the floor and metal clanging on metal. Footsteps approach, methodical and clad in metal boots. You and your fellow prisoners manage to sit upright and await your captor. From around the corner a metal horror appears glinting in the flickering torch light. A towering armored figure is revealed, adorned in full plate covered in razor edges down the greaves and vambraces. Instead of hands, the ends arms end in weapons: on the right a circular cutting blade and on the left a 3 pronged stabbing tip.

Your mind is frantic…what is this figure? A man, a creature or something else? You look around, realization dawning that none of these other people are familiar to you. In shock you can’t recall how you arrived here. You have no recollection of the past…or who you are….

This is the player introduction for one of my first RM games (pre-Shadow World, mid 80’s). The players find themselves in a bare cell with no memories. They don’t know their past, how they got there, their skills or even their professions. I’ve run this 4-5 times over the year as both a short “tournament style” adventure and as the start to longer campaigns.

Besides designing pre-gen characters (which can change some of the adventure obstacles and challenges) the adventure can be quickly set-up. No need for backgrounds, history or even gear! It can organically evolve into a longer campaign and allows the GM to adapt player backgrounds as the narrative unfolds.

This works well if you want your players to gradually immerse themselves into the larger SW plots but prefer to keep it simple at the start. The memory loss can be later attributed to Andraax, Lorgalis or another important NPC.

This adventure was also the start of my journey towards a “no profession” game. What I realized is that my players didn’t fall into GAAP (Generally Accepted Adventuring Practices—that’s an accounting joke btw) because they didn’t even know what profession they were playing. There was a novelty and newness to their behaviors that was more akin to a player’s first roleplaying experience than a seasoned RPG’er. As the players attempted various actions they were able to recover some of their abilities. Even then it wasn’t obvious what the profession was. Their actions were driven by the narrative and not their abilities or group assigned roles.

Anyway, as an interesting start to your SW campaign or as a stand-alone adventure for a game day it’s a great hook.

“All that glitters is not gold”: Currency in Shadow World

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The gold coin. Since the introduction of basic D&D, the gold coin has been the foundation of fantasy gaming. Experience is awarded based upon gp’s collected; superior equipment is bought and encumbrance rules are built around the ability to carry loot and coinage. There is broad consensus that under the gold coin is silver, then bronze, copper, tin (steel) and above are platinum and perhaps some setting specific coins (mithril or laen).

But all coins are not created equal. Mercantile economies tend to use widely accepted and valued metals for their base, while more insular societies can use lesser metals or unique materials and price controls to establish value.  In general however, the value of coinage is driven the type and content of its metal base. Given this, the intrinsic value of a Gold Crown from Rhakhaan could differ greatly from the Gold Note issued is Sel-kai. With all the varied cultures in Shadow World it became quite a project to map all the various currencies, establish a baseline value and create a currency exchange chart. An easier approach is to heavily discount foreign currency when used is another culture.

However, if you are running a geo-political or commerce style campaign, then currency values may play a greater role and require some additional guidelines. For our SW setting, I decided to focus on the three major currency/economies as a baseline and then apply exchange rates as needed for other local currencies. Despite the presence of Essence Flows, Kulthea has 3 major economic forces: governments or institutions with a world reach, engage in commerce or practice sophisticated monetary policy. These three groups are: Eidolon/Sel-kai government, the Navigators and the Alliance.

 

Eidolon/Sel-kai

Due to its central location the reach of its mercantile and banking businesses and the trade routes established by its Sky Ships, Eidolon is probably the most powerful economic force in the hemisphere. Sel-kai also has benefited from the Minister of State Enik Foor, who helped introduce representative currency (Diamond, Platinum and Gold notes) and added milled edges to the coinage to reduce coin “clipping”. Eidolon coinage can be found in most any tradeport throughout the hemisphere and is considered a stable and trusted currency. For our campaign, we use Sel-kai currency as the baseline exchange.

Diamond Note dn = 100 gp

Platinum Note pn = 10 gp

Gold Note gn = 1 gp

1 gold piece (orlin) gp = 10 sp

1 jade piece jp = 2 silver pieces

1 silver piece (sellin)  sp = 10 bronze

1 bronze = 10 cp

1 cp = 10 tin

 

The Alliance

The Alliance aggressively expands its empire through trade and colonialism and not militarily. Once they’ve replaced or subdued leadership they institute a number of administrative and cultural innovations: legal contracts, taxation, trade and monetary policy. The Alliance uses a unique currency that mixes representative, fiat and fractional value currency which it aggressively promotes for major trade and commerce but allows local currency to continue for daily life. The Alliance currency are “trade bars”, (mini ingots 6” x 1” x 1” serial stamped made from a variety of bullion but whose value is set and backed by the Alliance) and credit notes (Letters of Credit backed by the Alliance). The small size of these trade bars and the disconnect between their commodity value and trade value facilitates ease of use for merchants and eliminates debasement (clipping or sweating).

Gold Bar  = 20 Silver Bars

Silver Bar = 20 Copper Bars

Copper Bar = 50 Gold Notes (Sel-Kai)

Credit Notes: Amounts as required.

 

Navigators

The Navigators have introduced a true fiat currency that was initially used for Navigator services but is now accepted as legal tender by merchants in larger cities. These Navigator tokens are 5 sided “coins” approximately 2.5” across and made of a goldish metal holding a flat crystal disk in the middle.  (These are actually memory storage disks from the Taranian civilization and are virtually indestructible.  The Navigators uncovered a huge cache of them late in the Second Era).  The Navigators will use these tokens whenever possible to promote their use and as a profit center to fund their activities.

1 “Guilders” = 10 Gold Notes

 

For a great book series that combines emerging economics, monetary policy and high adventure in the 17th and 18th centuries I highly recommend The Baroque Cycle.