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


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


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


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.



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.



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.

The Essaence: Thoughts for magic in Shadow World.



As we gather here, of primary importance is to answer this question: what is this “Viir”, as we now call it, this seeming essential force that permeates our planetary system?  Let us review.  It’s been almost 75 years since our orbital sensors first detected these energy emissions.  Tachyon detectors, plasma traps, electron screens and a variety of other particle shields all registered this force—all of them.  Is it all of these? Or is it something altogether new to our reality?

We are close to locating its source within our system—perhaps in the gravity well between the planet and its second moon.  What do we know?  It’s unclear if this energy is modifying and transmuting our physical laws or subsuming them.  The “Viir” seems to fundamentally change both ionic and covalent bonds for molecular and macromolecular structures.  In practice this energy field is also distorting chemical interactions and material structures most acutely—its effect on life forms and our planetary biome is still under analysis.

…Perhaps most perplexing and disconcerting is that the background level of the field seems to be growing….

…..We are now monitoring two dozen subjects that have exhibited unusual sensitivity to the Viir.  We have yet to isolate the specific epigenetic mechanism that allows for this, but our experiments lead us to believe that the subjects are increasing their sensitivity through time and effort.  It is our belief that sensitivity acts as a feedback loop, allowing these subjects to conversely manipulate these fields to some unknown effect.

Notes on the “Viir”

Excerpts from Emergency Meeting,

Althan Imperial Science Committee

Like every fantasy game setting, Kulthea is a world of magic, bathed in energy flows (Essaence) which provide the underpinnings for magical abilities. Unlike many other settings however, the Shadow World is also identified as being in our “known universe”, (the planet Ceril VII). This makes Kulthea somewhat unique: a fantasy setting within our real world with an aberration of the physical laws of existence. Of course this is a game, so a bit of hand waving can gloss over any logical discrepancies.

For those that play a cross-genre setting (other Sci-fi and fantasy) or want a consistent framework for the magical systems then some more details need to be considered. Over the years we’ve put together a framework during our own rewrite of Spell Law and for arbitrating Essaence effects during gameplay.

We’ve also posted up some basic rules for magic and technology on the RM Forums here.

What is Essaence?

The Essaence is a fifth energy along with the Strong Force, Weak Force, Electromagnetism and Gravity and interacts with and modifies our physical laws. Unlike these other forces which are normally produced or manipulated with technology (depending on technology level), the Essaence is also “bio-manipulative”; able to be controlled by living beings who have or developed sensitivities to this energy. Because this is a non-native energy, alien to the established physical rules of the universe, it interacts with the other forces in unusual ways.

Source. Where does the Essaence come from?

Per the MA, a rift was created by interdimensional travelers allowing energy to seep into the Kulthean system. But what does that mean? The Kulthean planetary system is moving through the galaxy—is the source a fixed point? If so, where? The Essaence gateway is a keystone between dimensions that allows the continual seep of Essaence. This object (asteroid) is at the Lagrange Point between Orhan and Kulthea—providing a continuous stream of energy to the planet and the moon. Depending on their orbital positions, the Essaence will also interact with other moons/planets. (Most notably Charon, Essaence power there will wane and wax. The Night of the Third Moon coincides with the greatest amount of Essaence energy reaching Charon.)

Is Essaence unique to Kulthea?

Apparently. A group of Ka’ta’viir left Kulthea in the 1st Era looking for other manifestations of the Essaence. (the Old Ones-who later came back in the Interregnum as the Earthwardens). This means that Essaence powers will not work outside the Essaence envelop around Kulthea, Orhan and on occasion the other satellites. However, unique Essaence imbued materials and alloys (Laen, Eog Ethloss etc) will retain their material qualities, (i.e. pure crystals that are fabricated in zero g).

Fundamental Impact.

The Essaence is a physical force but non-native to our plane of existence. On Kulthea this means it has changed reality on a quantum/physical level. We see two obvious effects. Chemical interactions and material changes. Both of these shoe-horn well into the established SW narrative. Chemical reactions and associated technologies are both rare and unreliable in SW. Also, Kulthea has a number of native “magical” /superior materials and alloys beyond normal material science. Changes to the established physical laws on Kulthea are the result of the Essaence interacting with the other 4 forces.

Spell Casting.

The Essaence was first discovered by a handful of sensitives and then explored by Althan scientists. Over the millennia, the Essaence has become fully immersed in the biology of SW. Humanoids, creatures and flora have absorbed this power, imbuing special natural abilities and/or the ability to willfully shape the Essaence into unique effects (spells). Now, almost all native flora and fauna have developed Essaence sensitivity to some extent, although the ability to manipulate it may take training.

The Realms.

Spell casters draw Essaence directly from their surroundings and into their “well”—through practice their ability to hold more power and draw it more quickly grows. The standard RM “Realms” are just different mechanisms to call upon the Essaence and manipulate the physical world. Therefore we don’t differentiate between energy sources by realm: multipliers, adders etc. are Essaence. There is no need for pools of PP’s for each specific realm, or averaging PP’s for hybrid users. Channelers provide their own power just like Essence or Mentalism, but the spell formation is drawn from their patron God.

Foci and Flows.

Casters can tap into both Foci and Flows but there are dangers as well as benefits. Adventures taking place after the loss of the Northern Eye should see an increase in Essaence fluctuations, spell failures and other random effects of spell casting.

Treating the Essaence as the “fifth force” gives us a solid framework for creating new spells, set unclear parameters on spell effects and provides a solid framework for magic in our campaign.

The Many Flavors of Shadow World


One of the great qualities of Shadow World as a game setting is the number of different “styles” that can be found in the various books. No matter what type of fantasy game you play, you can probably find a place or time in Kulthea that can work for you.

Cross-genre. SW’s sci-fi elements and tie in with Spacemaster were pretty novel for a fantasy setting in the late 80’s. For GM’s that like the “ancient astronaut” angle or want to run a Gene Wolfe style campaign, SW has a great back story and cool tech that co-exist with the more traditional fantasy elements.

Low Fantasy/Gritty. While arguably a pre-cursor to SW, The Iron Wind has a very dark feel to it. Ancient citadels, Demonic lords, icy plains and frigid waters gave the module a more mature feel than the “cartoony” D&D modules published in the early 80’s. Part of this was the artwork, but the prose was a marked difference as well. The Iron Wind is still one of my favorites with a distinctive grimdark atmosphere.

Anime. Eidolon brought a certain anime feel to SW. The sky-city, flying ships and interesting Elves evoked a more “wondrous”, lighter feel to SW than previous books. For GM’s that want to run a whimsical campaign in the spirit of Castle in the Sky, or Howls Moving Castle, Shadow World has all the right stuff!

Steampunk. Shadow World is the perfect setting for a steampunk campaign. Skyships, dirgibles, leather clad Navigators, the Elves of Namar-tol all have a great retro- tech feel. GM’s that want to run a  Butcher style campaign can easily create adventures in Shadow World.

High Fantasy. It’s a common criticism that SW is too high powered but for GM’s that want a high fantasy setting, SW works great. World spanning cults, an expansive timeline, powerful villains and the Grand Campaign make SW a perfect setting for high fantasy.

Horror. Emer, the Great Continent and the Atlas addendum brought a darker feel to SW. The Jerak Ahenrath, Aogthu, the Soulstone and the Ark of the Worlds is reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos. Want to terrify your players—introduce them to Shards or a Herald of the Night!

Hyborian Age. The Interregnum, covering over 100,000 years is a great time to run Conan/Hyborian style adventures. Powerful Dragons, Earthwardens, scattered Elven empires and the ruins of the 1st Era. Perfect!

This is just a few ideas–what style of campaign have you run in Shadow World?

Shadow World Adventure Hooks: “Rock Star” fortresses!


My campaigns have never featured a lot of traditional RPG dungeon crawls; I’ve always felt they were a little contrived and disrupted the grittier/realistic feel I was striving. Instead of stocked underground mazes filled with traps, puzzles and commensurate rewards I challenge my players with fortresses, strongholds, castles and lairs. Creative architecture is not my strongest skill, so I look to real life examples for ideas and templates. A google image search under “archaeological floorplans” generates a wealth of great layouts that can be printed and used for gaming. Most of these archaeological layouts are for ancient sites destroyed years ago and forensically recreated from the remnants of historical records, foundation stones and building science so I’m always excited to see an intact site.

Structures and fortresses built on isolated rocks are my favorites. They look cool, they are manageable projects to map out, they represent a controlled finite game environment and they can be a challenging mission to infiltrate/access. Here are a few of my favorite “Rock Star” fortresses.

Aragonese Castle


During my trip to Italy I came across a fantastic fortress: Aragonese Castle on the island of Ischea. Just looking at it makes you want to explore it! The island is skirted with sheer cliffs and the only access is through a long causeway into a tunnel that accesses the fortress. A perfect adventure site.



Mont St. Michel Abbey

St Michel 1

This famous site is more of a walled city/castle than a small fortress. Nonetheless it makes for a great adventure setting. I see this as inspiration for the fortress of the Raven Queen in Shadow World.





Sigiriya 3



A huge exposed rock sticking out of the jungle? A winding staircase up to a fortress? An entrance gate flanked by huge carved lion’s paws? What’s not to love!



Agia Triada

Agia Triada 1

Some of you will recognize this as the monastery featured in James Bond “For your Eyes Only”. That movie came out in 1981—the heights of the D&D craze for my friends and I. The assault on the fortress in the movie—the crossbow, rock climbing and the rope basket elevator was pure awesome.


Those are a few of my favorites—do you have any real life examples you’ve used?

Shadow World Cage Fight: Giants.


Welcome to my newest blog series where I discuss, rant, and explore common fantasy monsters for use (or not) in Shadow World. Like many RPGers in the early 80’s we started RM using the Middle Earth setting, moved to the Loremaster series and then on to Shadow World. The RM settings were unique in their discarding of most of the usual fantasy monsters packed into ecosystem defying environments. That really appealed to me and our gaming group. Aside from Goblins, Orcs and Dragons and the occasional Kraken, Middle Earth was “monster lite”; that same philosophy carried over to the Loremaster series that used a human-centric approach to antagonists. Opponents such as the Unlife and most villains were humanoids—relatable to the PC’s in a way far different than facing a bizarre and fantastical creature. While the original SW Master Atlas contained most of the monsters found in Creatures & Treasures, Terry’s work continued in the tradition of MERP and Loremaster and ignored most fantasy stereotypical monsters. Shadow World did have a few monster tropes: Unicorns, Dragons and Vampires but the focus instead was on unique fusion creatures that gave SW its particular flavor: Shards, Krylites, Kaeden, etc. I believe that further emphasizing these unique SW specific creatures better differentiates the SW setting from other products on the market. If Shadow World was described as “too kitchen sink” when it first came out I would argue that while many fantasy tropes were presented in the 1st Edition Master Atlas, Terry hasn’t whole-heartedly embraced those elements in subsequent modules.

Giants!!!!!! Look, G1-3 was a great module series in a “cartoony, I’m an eleven year old gamer” way but Giants as a viable game monster in Shadow World just doesn’t hold up. There are a few mentions of Giants in the SW Master Atlas and there are the Titans of Emer but Giants thankfully don’t appear in any SW “canon”. I treat mentions of “Giants” as pure speculation and rumor—the same way Giants are mentioned in fairy tales and stories in our culture. I do have very large humans: 7’, 9’ or a bit larger, but anything much larger than that I start having issues. 20’ or 30’ storm giants with a profession are just plain silly in my opinion!

Looking at it from a combat approach, Giants just don’t work. Go out and pick a fight with a 4 year old child—chances are you’ll win quite handily. A 24’ Giant wielding a 14’ war hammer wearing a massive set of platemail armor and moving and fighting in the same physical manner as a normal 6’ character is ridiculous for all sorts of reasons. A bipedal humanoid over ten feet tall, with excellent motor skills and tool making ability would be an incredibly dangerous opponent. At least a Dragon will have a different fighting style: claws, wings, breath weapon more akin to a reptile, snake or wild animal. Yes, it’s fantasy and doesn’t need to be realistic, but I feel it always take players out of the game. I’ve found a fantasy monster can be more immersive than encountering a 25’ human. RMU’s size scaling rules (Beta2) addressed the size disparity by making Giants and large creatures devastatingly dangerous—as they should, but the combat approach is only one aspect of the problem.

The cultural approach. Does a community of 20’, 2 story humanoids with size appropriate weapons, utensils, pots, clothing, and houses make any sense in your setting? Will adventurers plunder giant tombs only to find they can’t lift the 18’ magic battleaxe they find? Do your adventurers come across a 4’ sock discarded by a teenage giant or plunder a sack of 1’ wide gold coins? Every culture leaves detritus: abandoned objects and buildings that populate the adventure setting—how does a Giant culture work in any setting? Of course the answer is typically a remote Giant “settlement” high in the mountains or tucked into a hidden valley far from humans and other humanoids. And certainly SW’s Essaence Flows could wall off a remote community of Giants but for me it just doesn’t work.

Game Mechanics approach. One of the main reasons I avoid common monster types is because they are tropes and immediately changes the game play into ritualistic, rule-oriented process. Present a Giant to a D&D group and what do you get: Dwarves and Rangers to the front, others use missile weapons and Mages cast from a distance. The bonuses given to certain races and professions force the party’s strategy because they maximize the potency of certain characters. For players who memorize the Monster Manual, encounters became a combat by rote process exploiting known weaknesses. RM includes many of those monster mechanics: Silver vs. Undead, Mummies cause disease, Con drain, can only be hit by magic weapons etc. Alternatively, when your party encounters a menacing party of adventurers they have NO idea their level, power, abilities or weaknesses.

For me, Giants have no place in my fantasy game and no place in Shadow World. But that’s just my opinion and I welcome yours!

Nemeses: Introducing “Newman Groups” into your campaign.

Newman NEWMAN!!!

One of the more enjoyable elements of my past campaigns has been creating an opposing group of NPC’s that compete or thwart the party as their characters grow in experience and power. Seinfeld had his “Newman” and Indiana Jones had his “Belloq”; a fleshed out contra-group can add a personal and competitive feel to the gameplay more than just another nameless villain or mob-boss. Over a long campaign the relationship between the groups can evolve based on their shared experiences and conflicts and eventually lead to a final “reckoning” or confrontation.

This NPC Nemeses (Newman Group) doesn’t necessarily need to be similar in make-up to the PC’s but having similarities allows each PC to have their own specific nemesis as well. So there is a group vs group dynamic concurrent with a more personal and individual PC vs NPC dynamic.

Depending on your setting there are many ways to initiate a “Newman Group”.

  1. Opposing Gods. The most obvious mechanism for opposing groups is to have each group avatars of a pantheon or god. In Shadow World the conflict between the gods of Charon and Orhan sets that up easily.
  2. Opposing Employers. At lower levels PC’s are often just trying to survive, accumulate experience and wealth. Giving the PC’s a patron (Priest, Lord, merchant, scribe, mage etc) that assigns them tasks creates a tidy mechanism to start adventures. It’s only natural that such a patron would have an enemy or competitor that would also need their own group of henchman.
  3. The Unlife. Of course you could forgo subtlety and create an opposing group under the thrall of the Unlife. Perhaps they work for one of the 12 Adherants, the Priest Arnak or similar organization. This sets up a longer term campaign thread into the larger SW plotline.
  4. Familial or background element. Perhaps one of the PC’s has a brother, sister or family member they are at odds with. Jealousy, inheritance issues, rivalry or racial tensions could all be the spark to start the groups down the path of opposition.
  5. Friendly competition. Introducing the opposing group early only as a general competitor for a certain goal or treasure can leave the future open-ended. Later as the campaign progresses the groups could form an uneasy alliance to overcome a difficult task or transform into more serious and deadly rivalry.

The NPC group should plan, act and behave as the PC’s would. They will retreat or surrender when beaten; plan carefully when expecting an encounter with the PC’s and have their own goals, aims and desires. The more personal you make the relationship between your PCs and the Newman Group the more depth it will add to the gameplay. Once the rivalry is introduced it came become a great plot device to confound, frustrate and delight your players. Whether intentionally plot driven, random or capricious, the players will be left wondering as to the role of their nemeses when they encounter them!