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?

RM Combat Hack: Simplified armor & encumbrance


While both encumbrance and fatigue are critical elements in our game it’s always added an extra step of record keeping that was onerous. We’ve played around with several mechanisms but found that the new piecemeal armor and fatigue rule in RMU work great but we’ve taken it one step further.

First, we’ve eliminated the Maneuvering in Armor skill. I’ve always had an issue with it in concept and it unnecessarily complicated encumbrance rules by having this “dual path” calculation of min/max armor penalties, encumbrance by weight and the Quickness penalty. Since MnvArm is a skill that basically ties a characters ability to wear better/heavier armor to their level. I’ve heard the argument that it’s “for game balance”—I think that’s absurd. Can you imagine a game system that says a fighter can only use a dagger at 1st level, then moves up to a short sword, than a long sword and finally at higher level can use a 2-handed sword? That’s the same thing.

I’ve always seen armor as a “handicap”—it adds weight and restriction of movement. There are benefits (protection) and negatives (penalties) that a player has to balance out. I don’t think it’s something that’s “trainable” like other RM skills. Getting rid of MnvArm eliminates a skill (good) and eliminates the dual process of armor penalties & encumbrance calculation.

Second we’ve adopted the RMU encumbrance calculation as a % of body weight and applied adjusted %’s to armor pieces. I’ve inserted the table below. For example, a character wearing full plate would have an armor encumbrance penalty of 66% (Plate 40, Plate Sleeves 8, Plate Leggings 12, Full Helm 6). We’ve also added some armor penalties for Perception and Missile weapons. This simplified armor/encumbrance also makes it easy to create new armor types for cultures or materials.

With armor simplified, encumbrance becomes a pretty easy calculation. Tally total weight, convert to % of body weight, add armor encumbrance % and reduce by the weight allowance. I like encumbrance to have a real impact and armor should have appropriate draws backs to reduce the incentive for everyone to wear the heaviest armor. For weight allowance we use a much lower threshold than RMU: 10% + str bonus. So a character with 100str could carry up to 25% (10 + 15 assuming no racial Str mods) of their body weight before incurring penalties. That makes sense to me—a 200lb person could carry 50#s without penalty. If anything that’s still too generous. If that character were wearing Full Plate and carrying nothing else they would have a 41% (66-25) encumbrance penalty. For GM’s that want to lessen the impact of encumbrance just use a higher weight allowance: 10% + Str bonus x2 or even x3.

Finally because we have one simple encumbrance number that represents carried load and armor it can be applied in a variety of ways.

Encumbrance Penalty (Load – weight allowance)

  1. Modifies MMs or any action where weight is a factor.
  2. Modifies fatigue rolls.
  3. Reduces pace/distance. (replaces the encumbrance/pace chart)
  4. Cancels Quickness bonus for DB or optionally reduces DB.
  5. Total encumbrance % is used to modify Essence SCR.
  6. Calban, a 5th lvl fighter with a 100 str weighs 200lbs. His weight allowance is 25% (50lbs). Calban decides he’s going to wear Full Chain/Mail armor and a half helm. His armor encumbrance would be 47%. He’s also carrying 30lbs of gear (15%) for a total load of 62%. His encumbrance penalty is 37% (62-25).

                Calban attempts to somersault over an opponent. In addition to difficult modifiers and his acrobatic skill bonus the attempt will be modified by the -37% encumbrance penalty.

                Calban is required to make a fatigue roll—it’s modified by -37%.

                Calban wants to sprint x5. His base rate is 20’rnd so he’s attempting to move 100’ but the distance moved is reduced by 37% (63’) due to his encumbrance penalty.

                Calban has a -10 DB which is cancelled out due to his encumbrance. Optionally, if a GM wants encumbrance to have an even greater impact than his DB would be -27 making him easier to hit due to his lack of maneuverability! (does that sounds harsh? Keep in mind that he’s basically carrying a 134lbs load).

For our game these rules work great.

  1. The reduce skill bloat.
  2. They disconnect the idea that heavier/better armor use is tied to character level.
  3. Creates one encumbrance number that can be applied in a variety of situations.
  4. Eliminates encumbrance pace chart, min/max armor penalties.
  5. Allows us to incorporate strength buff spells and weight reduction spells in our Spell Law which have a real impact.
  6. Creates advantages/disadvantages to armor that fits into our “free market”, “no-profession” game.
  7. Creates a quick way to generate new armors for cultures/tech.
  8. Easy to adjust. A GM can change the armor %’s, the weight allowance calculation or both!
  9. Utilizes RMU piecemeal armor rules which we like!

To aid in record keeping we have a game work sheet for each player that tracks encumbrance, hits, damage etc, In the margin of the worksheet we include a chart to convert total weight to % based on the characters body weight. We usually round off the penalty to simplify even further. Most of the players can separate out their kit so in combat they can drop a pack or sack and immediately have and know their adjusted encumbrance.

Armor AT Type Percept Miss Pen Enc.
None 1 0
Heavy Cloth 2 VL 2
Soft Leather 3 VL 5
Hide Scale 4 L 10
Laminar 5 L 15
Rigid Leather 6 M 20
Metal Scale 7 M 25
Mail 8 M 30
Brigandine 9 H 35
Plate 10 H 40
Leather Sleeves VL 1
Hide Sleeves L 5 3
Mail Sleeves M 15 5
Plate Sleeves H 20 8
Leather Leggings VL 3
Hide Leggings L 7
Mail Leggings M 10
Plate Leggings H 12
Leather Cap VL 0.5
Half Helm L 5 2
3/4 Helm M 10 4
Full Helm H 15 6
Target 15 2
Normal 20 5
Full 25 5 10
Wall 30 15 20
Reinforced Cloak 5 5

In Search of the Unknown: Reintroducing caution to your players.


After decades of GMing one of my greatest challenges has been to consistently invoke the feeling of surprise, wonder, fear and even caution into gameplay. While they may not be “jaded”, my gaming group have seen it all: there is no plot device, game trope or foe that will truly surprise them. We will probably never replicate the wonder and surprise we felt gaming when we young teenagers but I would still like to instill some caution into my players—they often make decisions based on the assumption that every encounter is perfectly balanced or that they will get bailed out by “greater forces” if they get in over their head.

I think a number of factors have contributed to this:

  1. Simplified combat systems. Starting out on d20 game systems reinforced combat by attrition. Battles were a methodical race to 0 hits with no real impacts. You were either combat capable or unconscious. At mid to higher levels it was easy to keep a running tally of average hit damage; combined with players knowledge of monster stats combat became an exercise in simple math. The introduction of criticals in Rolemaster changed that calculation—combat could be decisive—quickly—and accumulated damage had a real impact on characters performance. Nonetheless there are still a great number of players who never parry, preferring all offense all the time.
  2. Assumption of “Game Balance”. There is a lot of lip service paid to game balance but let’s be clear—as long as there is a human arbiter (the GM) there really is no such thing as pure game mechanics ruled by random number generation. GM’s will often put their influence on the scales of balance. Players know this and rely upon the GM to tip encounters and balance in their favor to maintain the storyline. No GM wants to be considered heartless—this is after all a game, played for enjoyment—and allowing PC’s to die can be a fun killer. As a GM I want adventures to challenge, but I also want my players to act rationally.
  3. The Heroic Journey. Characters/players see themselves as the central characters in a storyline—and main characters don’t get killed. Heroes don’t retreat, don’t surrender and never take prisoners!
  4. Inside Baseball. Most experienced players are well versed in the rules and the monster stats. Combat becomes a quick calculation of abilities, offense, hits etc. Knowing what’s behind the curtain can take some of the fun out of the game and combat choices becomes a calculation of odds rather than true “role-playing” of the character.
  5. Magical Healing. Making most injuries healable, often instantly takes some of the penalty out of reckless behavior.

To counter these player mindset’s I use a number of strategies:

  1. Upend Tropes. I love using my player’s bias’s and assumptions against them. The “mysterious old man in a tattered cloak”: Disguised god? Powerful enchanter? Nope, he’s exactly what he looks like—a low level bum. The “red shirt” city guard: Low level fighter? Throw away nobody? Nope—he’s a retired army commander of considerable skill.
  2. Random Encounters. I use the random encounter table quite a bit without adjusting for the group’s level. They will encounter powerful beings or situations but they’ll have a chance to talk, parley, hide or run. Shadow World is a dangerous place and the players are a “tiny fish on a big hook”.
  3. Ancillary costs of losing. I don’t want my players to die but I’m not rewarding foolishness. There are other potential costs to losing a battle: being captured, losing possession/favorite items, temp stat loss from injuries or even more serious permanent stat loss or loss of a finger/limb/organ. Most damage be fixed with magical healing and items replaced but it’s going to cost the players time and effort.
  4. Personalize opponents. I think players react different when their opponent is personalized a bit more. Fighting “4 mercenaries wearing leather armor and wielding short swords” is antiseptic and anonymous. However, when the players are confronted by “3 men and a women wearing worn and dirty leather armor, all with long unkempt hair, dirty faces and rusty swords approach the party hesitantly but with a desperate look in their eyes…” the players will not only visualize their adversaries but perhaps react differently as well.
  5. Have foes behave rationally. Whether humanoids, animals or monsters, my foes behave to their nature. They don’t fight to the death; they flee when injured, surrender when beaten or call for the PC’s to surrender when triumphant.
  6. Most opponents are NPC characters. Our Shadow World is “monster lite” and we use a “no profession” system so it’s difficult to gauge the powers and abilities of NPC’s. My players have to be cautious when engaging with NPC’s and they can’t assume typical abilities implied by the profession system when a NPC utilizes a distinct skill or spell.

Over time my players have become naturally distrustful—mostly of my craftiness—but that translates to their gameplay. They are cautious engaging and they rely on an initial strategy of defense until they can take the measure of their opponent. They understand the importance of parrying and they know there are worse things than death! How about waking up unclothed, without any of their hard-won treasured items and missing your sword hand? Yikes.

Shadow World Cage Fight: We don’t need no stinking horses!!!


Want another reason to adopt Shadow World for you game setting? How about cool creatures to ride! From the early genesis of Shadow World in the “Court of Ardor” and the Loremaster series, fantastic mounts have been an integral part of the setting. Other game settings include the usual cool mounts: Dragons, Pegasus, Hippogriffs etc, but tying unusual creatures with distinct cultures and organizations has been a mainstay of Shadow World. Here are just a few samples from various books:

The Iron Wind. The special militia of the Udahir are the Thyfuriak; young men and women who bond with the Thyfur, a giant bird of prey. These warriors undergo specialized training and lead a monastic life of solitude in defense of their people.

Cloudlords of Tanara: Perhaps one of the best known groups are the Clourdlords. These knights, clad in gleaming armor of gold and silver fly their noble Steardan (winged horses) and wield rods of Sunfire against their enemies.

Jaiman: Land of Twilight.  The Dragon Lord Sulthon Ni’shaang forces ride Gartyl: pterodactyl/bat-like creatures.

The Messengers of the Iron Wind. Both Lyak and Athimurl ride special mounts: Great Birds and Large Cats respectively.

The Golden Eye. The riders of the Order of the Golden Eye are formed into four divisions, each with it’s own special mount. Depending on which you encounter the Rider could be mounted on a Climbing Wyvern, Fire Wolf, Land Wyvern or Winged Wyvern.

The Kuluku. The mysterious people of the jungles in SE Emer have domesticated giant Dragonfly’s for pets and steeds!

Heralds of the Night. These fearsome servants of the Unlife are mounted on demonic, black unicorns.

Other cool mounts:

Uthula: Large lizards that can grow up to 20’ in length.

Kith: Who can forget Kith; the 6-legged panthers and famed for being the companion of the Loremaster Vurkanen Tyes!

Pfurgh: These ostrich like birds can carry a rider at considerable speeds over open ground.

As a GM I love to introduce mounted foes and SW allows more interesting variants than the usual warhorse. I’m not averse to PC’s with the right background having a unique mount. Most of these mounts are limited in carrying capacity, work only in certain environments and require care and maintenance often not found in towns and villages. Plus the PC will need to expend some effort in riding skill. So while it adds a great character element I haven’t found it to be “unbalancing”.

Cool mounts: just one more great aspect of the Shadow World setting!

For inspiration on interesting mounts from works of fiction I would recommend:

“The Emperor’s Blades” by Brian Staveley. The story features Valyn, an elite soldier of the “Kettral”—gigantic black hawks. Very reminiscent of the Thyfuriak although Kettral actually can carry a whole squad of soldiers. The series also has a unique take on monks.

The Malazan series by Steven Erickson. One of my all time favorite series and a triumph of world-building and fantasy trope subversion. The world includes the culture of the Moranth. While “human” they are always encountered encased in chitinous armor and riding their enormous flying insects the Quorl. The Moranth are famous for developing “munitions” which we incorporated into our SW alchemy rules. The Malazan world is covered by 20 books by 2 authors. There is an extensive Wiki that would be a great model for SW.

Thoughts on growing the RM and SW gaming community.


For those that feel like table-top RPG’s are a stagnant market or that there is no growth opportunity for ICE, RM or Shadow World I would point out two facts:

  1. There are an average of 27 new forum members per day on the ICE Forums. That’s not a lot but that’s incremental growth. Every new member will be able to see the development of RMU, the large number of resources in terms of thread topics, file uploads and Q&A’s that are available and the active participation of product authors. Being able to get quick and detailed responses from the RMU developers or Terry himself is pretty cool—especially to a new ICE customer!
  2. There are still gamers that haven’t heard of, or are not familiar with Shadow World! Even after almost 30 years. I recently saw this thread where several posters were completely unaware:

There are three basic ways to grow sales: acquire new customers (grow the game community), convert competitor’s customers or sell/upsell to your existing customers. Many would argue that growth in new table top players is stagnant, lost to new media and video games. But growth is occurring and RM and SW have a place in that market. Converting gamers to RM and SW is a bit easier—RM started as a modular “bolt on” product to D&D and SW has never really been stat intensive and can and has been used with a variety of gaming systems. Selling more product to current customers is the fall-back approach; what we call “low hanging fruit”. Publish a new product or revision and you’ll get a certain percentage of existing customers that will buy it—baked-in sales.

There is certainly opinions and criticisms of each of these approaches. Some argue that RMU won’t bring in new gamers; that ICE needs a simple introductory rule set. Others feel ICE just needs to push out more products in general. If there was one right answer, or if business strategy was that definitive than everyone would be a millionaire! The truth is that all three channels need to be explored and I think that ICE is doing a fairly good job given its organizational footprint and resources to bear.

There are new tools for small or emerging companies: social media, organic growth strategies, guerilla marketing etc. Putting those aside, there is one essential strategy for growing a customer base: from the ground up: “boots on the ground”. RM and SW need to be introduced locally, whenever possible. Gaming nights at the local library, game store or youth center. Tournament modules at gaming conventions etc. Other industries use “sponsorships”; this might be worth exploring. Having GM starter packs, online private forums and other tools to encourage local GM’s to adopt ICE games and use them locally builds a customer base. Reimbursing GM’s for travel and hotel costs at GENCON might pay itself off quite well.

Let’s look at another industry that has some similarities: rapid adoption, youth client base, local growth. I used to be heavily involved in the paintball industry. The sport grew rapidly in the 2000’s: tournaments were televised nationally, fields opened up everywhere, there were at least 8 glossy magazines dedicated to the sport and equipment companies had robust sponsorships for teams and local retail stores. Over time, the equipment manufacturers started their own retail websites and sold directly to their customer base. Once they captured direct sales and the associated retail margins they became less motivated to spend money on local sponsorship and player development. They became direct competitors of the local stores. While the economic crash was a contributing factor, since the late 2000’s the industry has shrunk by 80%. Yes, part of the issue was the wholesale/retail strategy of the manufacturers, but a larger part was a slower and more insidious feedback loop: there is no place to play paintball.  Store retail sales suffered, which reduced player development, field investments and local marketing. Because of this, fewer players participated in paintball and store sales suffered further. Local paintball businesses closed and there were less options to play and thus less players. Overall a self-fulfilling downward spiral.

What are the analogs to the gaming industry? Local development can be an effective strategy to growing a customer base. I don’t think RGP’s will see the same boom that we experienced in the early 80’s BUT…aging gamers are teaching their kids to play and creating a new generation of RPGers. It’s a slower process that requires a broader strategy than a top-down advertising or point of sale effort. Supporting gaming conventions, creating a GM starter pack, reimbursing experienced GM’s to attend every con possible, creating a “game ambassadorships” for targeted cities/regions—these are low cost strategies to build the game base. Growing the local gaming community grows the base, which then grows company sales. A virtuous feed-back loop.




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!

RM Combat Hack: Missile Parry


Popular fiction is replete with master swordsmen deflecting arrows with their blades or martial artists knocking aside or even catching thrown weapons. In our efforts to reduce skill bloat and add a “cinematic” quality to game play we’ve allowed the ability to parry missiles along with the standard option of applying OB to DB against melee weapons. For simplicity we prefer to build it into the normal OB/DB mechanic but we have also play-tested it as a combat expertise skill as well.

Parrying a missile attack uses 2 modifiers: the missile parry modifier of the parrying weapon used (which models the utility of the weapon in deflecting a missile object) and the missile parry modifier of the missile itself (which models the size and speed of the missile). Weapon missile parry modifiers can be found on the “Weapon Attack Modifier Chart” posted on the RM Forum (you need to have a forum account to see and download). The download can be found here:;topic=17102.0;attach=3660

Missile Parry Modifiers are as follows:

Spear/Javelin/Axe:  -40

Dagger/Shuriken/Dart:  -40

Bow/Crossbow:    -60

Sling:   -80

In our current simplified version anyone can parry a missile attack under the following conditions:

  1. They must be aware of the attack.
  2. They must have OB to allocate towards the missile parry attempt.
  3. The allocated OB to DB must exceed the weapon and missile parry modifiers.

Ex. Caylis, the famed Warrior Monk is confronted by a powerful servant of the Unlife, a Messenger of Kulag. Before they can close and engage, the Messenger fires his short bow at Caylis. Caylis decides to full parry the missile attack. His 110 MAStrk OB is modified by +10 (parry weapon modifier) and the arrow is modified by -60 (missile modifier) for a total modifier of -50. Caylis can add +60 to his DB against the arrow.

Note that between the parry weapon modifier and the missile parry modifiers, a character might need a very high OB to offset those penalties and be able to add any DB against the missile attack. This is purposeful and reflects the high level of skill and weapon mastery needed to successfully parry a missile attack.

For those that prefer a skill-based mechanism and a more effective missile parry system we also play-tested “Combat Expertise: Missile Parry”

Missile Parry: This skill reduces the parry weapon and missile penalties associated with blocking or parrying a thrown object or missile. The skill must specify the weapon category to be used. For Unarmed MA, the skill can also be used to catch a thrown object or missile. The character must be aware of the attack and must have available “action” left. The catch attempt is resolved before the attack resolution: Treat as an Absolute Maneuver modified by the attack OB, Missile Parry Mod and Missile Parry skill bonus. Success the object is caught. Failure and the % failed by is added to the missile attack roll.

Ex. Caylis, the famed Warrior Monk is confronted by a powerful servant of the Unlife, a Messenger of Kulag. Before they can close and engage the Messenger fires his short bow at Caylis. Caylis decides to full parry the missile attack. He has +60 in Missile Parry: MAStrk which offsets the +10 (parry weapon modifier) and -60 (missile modifier) for a total modifier of -50. Caylis can add his full +110 OB to his DB against the arrow.

Alternatively, Caylis can elect to catch the incoming arrow in the hopes of impressing and intimidating his opponent. The Messenger fires his arrow. In order to catch the arrow Caylis must roll above 110! (110sb + 60 weapon modifier -60 Missile Parry skill bonus). He rolls an 82, short of success and the Messenger can add an additional +28 to his attack roll since Caylis intentionally put himself in the arrows path during his attempt to catch it!

Additional Options.

  1. We allow unarmed melee the same parrying ability as weapon melee. It’s implied that unarmed combat techniques incorporate defensive block/dodge/parry techniques into their respective combat systems. Additionally, “Parrying” has been defined as not just one specific, physical, blocking of a blow but the general balance between offense and defense.
  2. Because of this allowance we eliminated the skill “Adrenal Defense”. This always felt like a work around: since MA attacks couldn’t parry then there needed to be a mechanism for martial artists to dodge and evade blows.

Trump RPG: Low level characters and property ownership.


I was doing some work on the training packages we use the other day. Depending on the package, the player gets a starting kit, money, maybe a bonus item etc. Then it occurred to me that even a starting character has a good chance of being “landed” ie they own property. Thinking back over decades, I can’t ever recall giving a starting player land/building/business and can’t seem to think of a reason why not. Whenever a realization like this occurs I suspect the subtle hand of a fantasy trope guiding my thinking process. What reasons, good or bad, might have formed this mental model?

  1. The Hero’s Journey/Taran, Pig Farmer. Putting Frodo and Bag’s End aside, it’s pretty common for characters to be unknown, impoverished or “wet behind the ears” at the start of their adventures. Owning property and its implied wealth and value discards that trope and disrupts the Hero’s Journey.
  2. “Game Balance”. Starting players that own property wealth, leasable land/building or income producing business have too many resources which could allow them to buy better equipment, magic items that unbalances the game or removes the risk/reward proposition of adventuring.
  3. Ingrained “western medieval caste system” trope. The common allusions of a fantasy setting to western medieval feudalism re-enforces the idea that only the powerful (high level or royalty) are landowners and the rest are crofters/lease-holders.
  4. D&D. Obviously the founding game system has set the standard for many Rolemaster mechanisms that we take for granted now: invisibility until struck; turning undead by “levels”; Mages have Sleep, Charm, Fly, Fireball; permanent effect magic items etc. D&D also established the progression between character level and having henchman, followers and strongholds. Land and property are directly equated to character level and power.

So why not allow for starting players to own land? There is a lot of options between a thatched hut on a farm plot and a multi-story tenancy in a large city—it doesn’t have to be a hovel nor a large castle or stronghold.  A GM can choose easily choose a property that fits the setting and not give a 1st lvl player an unfair “advantage” (a better benchmark than “game balance”). A few thoughts:

  1. If you aren’t running a gritty “low fantasy” game,  having a small income mechanism for a player or the group eliminates the need for constant calculations of room & board cost.
  2. Similarly, having a reliable, safe place to dwell, organize or hide out gives the group a base of operations and a foundation for future adventuring.
  3. Having a “base” can help with group cohesion. They can fortify, improve, trap or modify it for their own needs. Secret doors, hidey holes, safes etc give them a common purpose and a convenient staging area between adventures.
  4. The property itself could be a great adventure hook. I’m not suggesting “Real Estate RPG”—but being robbed, having the property seized or even starting a business or legitimate “Adventure Group for Hire” could add to the game. Have one of the players inherit a small tavern—what better way is there to immerse the group in local events, intrigue and drama!

In the bigger scheme of things a small building in a city worth a few hundred GP’s will quickly seem like  a small value to a group that adventures for magic, gems and gold worth thousands. A starting character with leasable land or property that generates a few silver a month will quickly outgrow that need for such income. However, at the start of the game or campaign that property could provide the hook for the initial adventure, be a safe haven for a low powered group and a common foundation for the group’s identity.


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!