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.

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


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.


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.


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!