Shadow World Overview: The Messengers of the Iron Wind.

One of the bedrocks of the Shadow World setting are the detailed organizations that Terry has created: Loremasters, Navigators, the 8 Emerian Orders,  and the Dragonlords, just to name a few. These groups drive the plot and can be aids or foils for the players and be used throughout a lengthy Shadow World campaign.

One of the very first of these groups is The Iron Wind detailed in I.C.E.’s first publication. An order of Dark Priests (of High Imla Arna – “The Evil High Priests”), they were the secret tentacles of the Unlife that insinuated themselves into local cultures.  There were Six Orders described in the Iron Wind, along with a order of assassins known as Messengers of Syrkakang. This became the kernel that Terry expanded upon in subsequent books.

Jaiman, Land of Twilight expanded on the material in the Iron Wind with more information on the Priests of Yarthraak. At this point the Messengers were still “of Yarthraak”, but later were changed to “Gorath”. Frustratingly, the Messengers were only hinted at, and the only additional details were found in the adventure “Living Prison” and not the “Legacy of the Sea Drake”.  It wasn’t until Powers of Light and Darkness that Terry fully fleshed out the Six orders of Arnak, both Priests and Messengers.

Terry is fantastic at writing organizations with flavor and cool equipment, and in my opinion, the Messengers are some of the best for the PC’s to encounter. The Messengers can be seen as the militant arm of each of the six Orders of the Priests and have their own style and abilities. In my own campaign I treat the Messengers as semi-spell users; each has their own unique spell list to augment their inherent power and adds atmosphere to the encounters.

Why do the Messengers work so well?

  1. The Messengers are 9th-10th lvl, which is a good power level for most PC’s and that can scale by adding or reducing to the # encountered.
  2. Anonymous, frightening with cool gear and armor, the Messengers lack higher level agency, so they make a great “mindless” foes.
  3. They evoke a number of familiar tropes found in movies and literature. That makes them both familiar and alien if introduced properly.

So let’s review the various Messengers, where they can be found in books or perhaps how to introduce them into your Shadow World campaign.

Messengers of Al-athuul (Lyak)

Description. The Messengers and their birds (both familiars and
mounts) reside in a great roost in the eaves of the Lyak
Tower, ready to serve the Priestess at a thought. The Messengers wear light green quilted cloth armor, blue cloaks of feather fall and wield swords and light crossbows.

My thoughts. As presented, Al-athuul are perhaps the least interesting of the 6 Messenger types, but would make great foes in Tanara and Urulan. Especially as combatants against the players hooking up with the Cloudlords–aerial battles anyone!!!! I added “Raptor Masks” to their kit to bring a more chilling appearance  similar to the other orders.

Where to find them. Messengers of Al-athuul can be found in the revised edition of Cloudlords of Tanara. They appear in the timeline in a few descriptions and as a possible encounter for medium level (6-10th) players. Messengers of Al-athuul would be great for a “cat and mouse” pursuit with the players on foot and the Messengers flying high overhead. This could create a fantastic tension as the group tries to escape or evade the Messengers with an occasional divebomb attack. Like the Stukas @ Dunkirk!

Spell List. My BASiL list for Lyak (the Priests get the list as well) was predicated on the concept of a “hunting bird” with spells that added more innate dread to the players (they are prey!). The combination of spells “Hunting Cry”, “Keen Eye” and “Dive Attack” allow the Messengers to circle high above on their mounts searching for targets. Then, when they find the players, they can cast their “Hunting Cry” and leap from their bird for an attack!

Lyak

Messengers of Gorath (Yarthraak)

The Messengers of Gorath are outfitted with weapons
designed of materials that do not rust or warp if
wet, as they are often charged with errands that require
them to operate on or in the sea. Their clothing is of a
seal-hide that repels water and keeps them warm on
land or under sea. Their helms are fashioned like great
nautilus shells and allow them to breathe water as well
as air, and the armor of the Messengers is a lightweight
scale-mail made up of thousands of shimmering scales
of black mother-of pearl. Their gloves are covered with
shark’s teeth spikes. On land the messengers ride grey stallions, while at sea their mounts are killer whales they control with
special whistles. Each has a black seagull as a familiar.

My thoughts.  Their nautilus helm, possible water environments and the shimmering scale armor gives them a great presence. It reminds me of an old 70’s movie that had warriors from Atlantis emerging from the Sea.

Where to find them. The prominence of the Jaiman source book makes Yarthraak one of the better known Arnak orders. In addition they are featured in short adventure the “Watchtowers of U-Lyshak“. With so many adventure opportunities in South and Southwest Jaiman, the use of these Messengers is very flexible. If you have the players travelling by boat, an encounter with the Messengers would be pretty cool.

Spell List. My BASiL list for Yarthraak focused more on underwater environments where spells would be needed for the Messenger to act.

Yarthraak

Messengers of Syrkakang (Gaath)

Description. The messengers’ helms are in the shape of a dragon’s
head and allow them to become invisible 3x per day.
Their white leather and steel gauntlets allow them to
strike with their fists as hammers, and their armor is of
white Wyvern hide.

My thoughts.  Who doesn’t love “Dragon Warriors” wearing white leather and having armored fists!

Where to find them. These Messengers should be featured in any adventuring in the Mur-Fostisyr. They are found in The Iron Wind and Xa’ar books.

Spell List. I wanted this list to be pure “Dragon Man” style magic.

Gaath

Messengers of Kulag (Athimurl)

Description. Masters of snow and ice, the Messengers of Kulag
are at home in the worst arctic storms. They come upon
the unwary to fulfill the directives of the cruel priesthood.
Each is armed with a baw and wears armor made
from the hide of white Wyverns. They have reversible
white/brown cloaks, and gauntlets with retractable
claws—useful in combat and for climbing ice-walls.
Their boots are also equipped with cleats that allow
them to run on ice and packed snow with the same
ease as dry land. The Messengers ride great white Snow-
Cats and their familiar is a Snowy Owl.

My thoughts.  Kulag shares much of the same Northern Jaiman territory as Syrkakang so it’s important to differentiate the two. In Powers, Terry explains that Athimurl is more subtle and secretive, but that may be a bit lost on the players. While Gaath is also “snow aspected” I play up the Dragonman aspect of Gaath and allow Kulag to be the real “Snow Warriors”.

Where to find them. These Messengers should be featured in any adventuring in the Mur-Fostisyr, northern Jaiman and should be included in the upcoming Wuliris supplement Terry has been working on. They are also included in the Xa’ar sourcebook.

Spell List. I used this list to emphasize the Messengers ability to travel fast over snow and ice terrain. Powerwise, it might be one of the weaker lists for offensive spells, but Kulag have Snow Cats as mounts and should be formidable fighters.

Athimurl

Messengers of Ulkaya (Dansart)

Description. Often accompanied by several large hyena-like dogs,
the Messengers go muffled against the dusty air of the
wastes. They have clawed gauntlets that allow them to
strike with the power of a great cat. Their helms are
fashioned to resemble dog-heads, with lenses in the eyes
to not only protect against dust but also allow the wearer
to see at night as if it were full day. Their armor is reinforced
leather, and each carries the deadly bola-like
weapon know as the gé.

My thoughts.  I love this faction. Wastelands, ruined cities, deserts, scavengers. It all has a very post-apocalyptic, Mad Max, feel to it that works great in Shadow World.

Where to find them. Messengers of Ulkaya are mentioned in Haalkitaine, but are featured prominently in The Grand Campaign. In fact, the Zorian Wastes (Part VII of the Grand Campaign) can (and should!) be inserted into any ongoing Shadow World campaign.

Spell List. My goal was to expand upon the feral feel that Terry has established. I was inspired by the feral dog/hyena aspect.

Dansart

Messengers of Shaynar (Thargonaak)

Description. Like the other Messengers, they ride through the
night on missions to bring fear to the indigenous peoples.
Their familiar is a huge black Bat and their steed is a
black stallion. More stealthy than most, they have voluminous
black cloaks like batwings, belts which allow
them to become Invisible, and helms fashioned like
frightening bat-heads which render them undetectable
by magic. In some regions these terrifying warriors are
called the Messengers of Kynagaax.

My thoughts. There is some confusion about the name of these Messengers. In Powers, they are known by Shaynar or Kynagaax. In Xa’ar they are named Kynagaax in the text, but labelled Chyna’ak in the Index. Certainly, they may go by different names by different cultures. Either way–these guys are evil batmans!!! I could add a ton of cool gear to their utility belts.

Where to find them. Messengers of Shaynar are mentioned in Haalkitaine, but haven’t really been highlighted in any works so far. The leader of Thargonaak is the Pale Man so Terry may have more in the upcoming Jaiman sourcebook. In my campaign, I have introduced these Messengers as enemies of Priests of Reann. They make a great nighttime encounter for the group.

Spell List. Ok, I was inspired by the Dark Knight for this list!

Thargondaak

If you haven’t used Messengers in your Shadow World campaign, give it a try! And, if you want to punch up their powers add the spell lists above for more interesting powers. Have fun!

 

Artists wanted.

We’ve discussed the difficulty in finding good artwork or artists for our projects. In that vein, if there are any artists, mappers or layout professionals that read this, I have work for you. Among the various projects:

1. A banner graphic for Rolemasterblog.com

2.  Finalized art, layouts and maps for Priest-king of Shade.

3. City map for Non-ta-taku.

4. Layout and item graphics for BASiL.

5. Layouts for Legends of Shadow World.

6.  Layout for Book of Pales.

7.  Art, layouts and maps for Empire of the Black Dragon.

if you have ability, talent or interest let me know,

Rolemaster Deconstruction: Daily X Magic Items.

Back from vacation and thought I would dip my toe back into blogging with a short deconstruction article! Today I wanted to address “Daily X” items and the mechanics around it.

When I first started with RM, the Daily X magic items were great: they softened the power of traditional permanent items found in D&D and they worked well with the Imbedding spell lists. These items were also a great way to augment player shortcomings or add spell capability to non-magic users.

My only real issue is the “Daily X” part itself–that the spell abilities “recover” at the start of the next day. Sort of an instant charge that occurs at 12:01. I’ve had players abuse this before; they scheduled attacks right before midnight hoping to use their Daily X items right before, and then again, right after midnight. Certainly that’s an annoying exploit and a sensible GM may arbitrarily stop that…but that’s not how the rule reads.

To avoid this type of rule abuse, I changed “Daily X” definition to a per/hour calculation. So a Daily V item could be used up to once per 5 hours or a Daily I every 24 hours. This certainly nerfs the Daily X items, but I also have Battle Runes, permanent imbeds and other options in the BASiL lists to fill in those gaps.

Rolemaster & Fantasy RPG’s. What are monsters really?

Since this is my last blog post for several weeks I thought I would write on a more general topic: Monsters. While “Monsters” are the mainstay of fantasy RPG’s, they were not entirely embraced by Rolemaster. Again, probably due to the influence of the generally monster-less Middle Earth and Pete Fenlon’s original campaign.

Even my earliest experiences with RM coming off of AD&D, I always appreciated the monster-lite approach that was in sharp contrast to the Gygaxian Naturalism found in the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. The parade of fantastical creatures felt like an endless one-up manship that could never be slated.

Even Rolemaster’s “Creatures & Treasures” generally avoided the term monster and looking through it, there were very few truly bizarre creatures. The standard dragon/griffin/unicorn mythical tropes were all there but the homogenization process of monster creation was lacking. Shadow World introduced a few cool “monsters” (artificial creatures) but these were setting driven and fit into the conceptual world framework.

In the real world, “Monsters” are imaginary, fictional beings. What then would you call creatures that were as real and encounter-able as horses, giraffes or alligators? In a few recent Post, I discussed whether monsters should be treated like any other race or creature; those with intelligence should be considered a “Race” just as much as a human or Elf.

The larger issue of course is whether the term “Monster” becomes less an abstract idea then a defining rule mechanic. For instance, D&D created spells for summoning or controlling “Monsters” and spells for summoning or controlling “Animals”. Suddenly we have a delineating wall–a need to classify creatures as monsters or animals. A simplistic approach would be to define “Animals” as creatures that exist in our real world, while “Monsters” are fantasy creatures that exist in the rule books. Doesn’t that sort of feel like ‘breaking the fourth wall’ from a rule perspective? Another mechanism would be that Clerics/Druids can Summon/Control Animals while Mages can summon/control Monsters. Again, that feels quite arbitrary doesn’t it?

These are real questions I ask myself while I work on various spell list re-writes. Putting aside Gates/Summons/Calls, how does one define creatures in terms of spell mechanics. These rules should be flexible enough to address different settings (than Shadow World), different game styles, but still be strict enough to avoid vagueness or excessive rule lawyer-ing.

Since I think it’s impossible to delineate a creature from an animal from a monster in general rule set terms it requires more concrete attributes. Some possible game mechanic criteria:

  1. Creature size. For me, this was the first and foremost important criteria. 1st level spell users shouldn’t be able to “spell” super-large creatures easily, if at all, not matter what their deadliness.
  2. Creature intelligence. This gets to the general difference behind animals and intelligent beings and allows for spell limitations due to intelligence levels.
  3. Creature morality/alignment. Rolemaster doesn’t use alignments, but for settings that do, perhaps limiting spell users on a creatures alignment might make sense.
  4. Creature natural environment. Requiring that a creature is indigenous to the local environment makes sense as well.

I believe that the term “Monster” is just too arbitrary to be useful in game mechanics. Remember, that the “Monster” you just killed probably had a mother somewhere!!!

 

Rolemaster deconstruction: critical tables.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time deconstructing Rolemaster, analyzing RMU and trading thoughts on various house rules.  One thing is evident, that while some tinkering may be necessary, the critical charts are the core of RM differentiation and perhaps the most beloved mechanic of the system.  I think these critical charts work so well is that they provide expository for combat damage. Where most early RPG’s relied upon simple hit damage, critical charts allow a GM to provide flavor to the combat without having to ad lib damage effects. So while some see charts as crunchy or clunky, I see a powerful tool for combat narrative.

A year ago, Peter blogged about the RM critical charts, but I wanted to take it one more step–how do the original critical charts stand up after almost 40 years?

The 3 basic weapon critical charts are the Crush, Slash and Puncture that elegantly handle the imaginable ways most weapons can deliver kinetic damage. More importantly, almost any damage delivering device a GM can think of (traps, spell effects, environmental) can probably utilize these 3 core crit charts to model effects. I can’t think of any other critical types that are needed, nor why any of these three are unneeded. They stand the test of time. A+

The next three important critical charts are the Heat, Electricity & Cold tables. While they provide the basis for the Magician spells, they can also be used for extreme environment effects (magma, blizzards, natural lightning etc).  A+

Martial Arts. Of all the attack forms, having cool martial arts requires a novel mechanic. Again, while basic damage delivery is mundane and uninspiring, critical charts provide the  cinematic approach that brings unarmed combat the “fantasy movie” treatment. I’ve played Monks in AD&D–besides the special level abilities, the damage delivery is as boring as all the other weapon attacks. A

So what other Critical Charts remain that I don’t use?

  1. vs. Large & Super Large Creatures. 2 critical charts help balance the system geared towards human size combatants. Interestingly, both of these charts go up to 251 and also accommodate special weapons: magic, Holy, Slaying. For an early RPG, this isn’t a bad band-aid to sizing problems, but it’s still a band-aid. D
  2. Impact Critical. Found in Spell Law, this chart is for other elemental spells that delivery damage due to mass/velocity and not from a special property.  It’s a cool crit chart, but is it necessary when the Crush critical table could do the same? Alternatively, this might be the better chart for Falling/Crush and Bash attacks which currently use the Crush Crit table? For someone looking to par down the charts, perhaps this one is redundant? C
  3. Tiny Animals. Like the “Large” or “Super Large” charts, this table is meant address small creature damage. While I like the Beta sizing rules (which would just adjust crits down) there are other solutions as well. D
  4. Unbalancing. This is an interesting chart. If you read the effects, it does seem like there is a focus on stuns and unbalancing. However, much of the crit results are similar to the Impact and Crush crits and it should be obvious that any major impact from a weapon or creature should have a “unbalancing” effect.  New RMU beta rules already incorporate unbalancing and various stun effects into all critical types. It’s interesting, but I think it’s redundant. Crush/Impact/Unbalancing should be consolidated into 1 chart. B-
  5. Grappling.  In RM, grappling is a poorly executed mechanic so this crit table helps define it without adding much to a workable system. Grapple/entanglement/ensnare crit chart needs to be reworked, but more importantly there needs to be a core mechanic to address this in general: penalties to MM and ability to escape etc. B-

So of course there are tons of other critical charts found in Companions and Shadow World books. They are a great add-on and cool but are there any that should be “Core”? I have 3 that I use that compliment the 8 I use from above:

Stress – Mental. I use this for mind attacks, spell failure, concentration issues, time or dimensional travel, meditation or even secondary fear effects.

Stress – Physical. For failed MM’s, slips, fatigue issues etc this results in tears, sprains, and bruising.

Shrapnel – This is the great catch all for secondary explosion effects, insect swarm attacks, shattering objects etc.

That’s it for me — 11 perfectly distilled critical charts that handle almost any situation or damage effect. This of course excludes unique spell crit charts (nether, plasma) that I might use in special circumstances or is required by a spell list.

What do you think? Did I miss anything that could be “Core” or one that is widely useful that these charts don’t address?

Turning Tropes Upside Down: Feral Elves and other thoughts.

When I was writing “Priest-King” a few years back, I ended up locating the module in SW Agyra and started fleshing out the geographic area. The land to the immediate south was Chaal-chu and in Terry’s description (Master Atlas p.34) was this fascinating tidbit:

In an (apparently) unique and frightening aberration, there
are Half-elven Eritari tribes in Chaal-chu who are cannibalistic.
They believe that feeding on their full-mortal cousins the Thesian
tribes will extend their lives.

I blogged about Elves back in June and last year as well, so it’s known that I’m not a fan of Elves in general. It’s hard to beat immortality and although the system tries to balance things with stat bonuses and other mechanics, it still doesn’t feel right. Elves are just too good. However, “Feral” Elves or Cannibalistic Half-Elves–sign me up for that!!

This is another great tidbit that is sprinkled throughout the Master Atlas, the idea of a primitive, regressed, Elven tribe, is ripe for gaming opportunities. Maybe these cannibals are more animal cunning then intelligent and wise. I visual them as  Reavers — terrifying!

This trope subversion is another reason why I like the Malazan series so much. In that setting, Erickson has included traditional “monster races” as normal races:

For instance, one of the powerful ancient races are the Jaghut, which I think are Ogres. Another race are T-Rex like creatures that had advanced technology!

We have racial stereotypes in our real world and so too in our fantasy settings: gruff Dwarfs, barbaric Orcs, flighty Elves etc. Why not flip some of these? Why not have a powerful, peaceful nation be made up of Orcs? For me, I’m going to enjoy my feral, cannibal half-elves! I know my players will too….

Sunday Musings. Projects in the queue and the Monster Squad!

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! (here in the USA).  We are winding down another year at Rolemasterblog so maybe Peter will do a “Year in Review”? We have lot’s of ongoing projects and some cool stuff planned for 2018. Personally, I have so many irons in the fire it’s feeling a bit overwhelming! I thought I would do a quick overview from my persective:

  1. Back in April we started a challenge to write 50 Adventures and publish them over 50 weeks. Now we are heading into our 5th week! These are short adventure hooks, place, ideas or small layouts you can drop into a campaign etc. You can find the latest HERE with links to the others already published.
  2. Legends of Shadow World (LoSW). Along with the 50 in 50, I decided I wanted to design a high level adventure for Rolemaster; both as a challenge and to really test the system and rules. Ultimately, I ended up with a 5 part tourney series using 40th to 50th lvl PC’s. The first Chapter can be found HERE, and the second chapter The Temples of Muartaar will be available shortly.
  3. BASiL. My rewrite of Spell Law has turned into a beast–I was fine tuning spell lists and ended up adding over 3 dozen more lists in the last few months. I think I am almost at 250 total spell lists with 25 or 30 that are Shadow World specific. The individual spell count is just over 6500 spells with a lot less duplication that the original Spell Law. My hope is to publish these under a generic d100 format: either by individual lists, groups or realm.
  4. The Book of the Pales. I have this 85% done, but started working on a few other things. I’m hoping some downtime over the holidays will let me finish this sooner. I’m enjoying this work–it greatly expands upon the Pales in Shadow World, establishes some rules for adventuring, adds new creatures and explains some underpinnings of the world to support assumptions in Summoning/Gate spells. Interestingly, this has led to a broadening of the work into the more alien, non-physical realms like the Outer Void.
  5. SWARM. I’m debating whether I should bother uploading my SWARM ruleset–either as alternative rules for RM or as a generic d100 book.  Rules are so arbitrary and every GM has their favorites, I’m not sure this would appealing to anyone and adventure content and new spell lists might be more useful than my  rules.
  6. LEGENDARY SERIES: Monster Squad! So my new project after LoSW is a series of adventures using a pre-generated group of…MONSTERS!!!! (btw: isn’t a monster just a point of view?) . A recent post on the forums HERE along with several posts Peter and I did has had me thinking about a adventure group made up of traditional “monsters”. I’ve always like to subvert tropes in my games, and the premise of flipping the players perspectives to that of traditional foes is very appealing. This follows with the recent tradition of a band of anti-heroes like Suicide Squad or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The original Monster Squad would make for a great classic adventure–I’m going to write that and post it next October for Halloween. This would include:

  • Dracula (Vampire)
  • Mummy (Egyptian Pharaoh)
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon (Lizard or Merman)
  • Frankenstein (Flesh Golem)
  • Wolfman (Were Creature)

Unlike the movie, this adventure would have the creatures as pre-gen PC’s. I’ve got a great outline for an adventure that would be around 15th to 20th lvl and 3 ideas for plots and foes. What possible enemy or situation would force this group to band together…and save the WORLD?!!

A couple of ideas I’m tossing around for a Monster Squad set in Shadow World:

  • Demons. Erickson uses Demons as NPC’s in his Malazan series and in fact, has some chapters written from a Demon’s perspective. (he was magically wrenched from his farm and found himself in the middle of a battle)!!! I already discussed Neng, but how cool would it be to have a Pale III or IV as a PC?
  • Undead. Playing a vampire is obvious..and cool..but how about a Wraith or Lich?
  • Fey. I’ll write the adventures for Shadow World, so throwing in a Dryad or other Fey might be interesting.
  • Krylites. Insect humanoids! Electricity guns! yep that’s cool!!
  • Golem. I just finished the book Heart of Stone and used an Eog Golem in my LoSW adventures. I like the idea of a sentient construct as a PC. Flesh Golems are neat but how about one of stone, steel or enchanted alloy?

My last idea for the “LEGENDARY SERIES” is an adventure using holiday/fantasy creatures. This might be a great intro adventure for kids or just a fun version for Rolemaster Lite/d100. Something like this:

The goal is to create on-off adventures using famous characters to add some fun and accessibility to new players but using the gritty RM ruleset. Who wouldn’t want to “E” 66 Santa? Any suggestions for a cool Monster or character PC?

 

Rolemaster Profession Review: The Many Flavors of Magic-Users.

I got a couple emails on my last blog regarding Shamans so I thought I would expand the conversation to include “Magic-Users”.

First off, my over-arching point about Shamans is an extension of my discussions on Clerics and Priests in general. The Rolemaster Cleric is really just the Channeling archetype; there are numerous variations that could be treated as “sub-classes” or unique Professions (like Shamans or Animists). Herein lies a systemic problem with Rolemaster–what determines whether a class idea needs a whole new profession with base lists and individual skill costs or whether it can just be a variation of skill selection using an established profession? Why have an Animist/Druid and not the Shaman? Why should there be a “Barbarian” profession and not a “Mercenary”?

The same could be said for Essence users–why is there just a “Magician” and an “Illusionist”? To fit into the D&D system? Instead, let’s flip our viewpoint–there are just Pure Essence Users, but their title (professional name) is dependent on the class or type of spells they master. Since I’ve expanded the elemental lists with BASiL, there are now enough spell lists for each elemental type that there at least half a dozen Magician types. Add in a few other tropes and the Essence Caster can be expanded just like the Channeling Caster.

Here are some templates that I use in my SW campaign:

“Elementalist”. This a broad term for a Mage that has mastered one or more of the Elements: Wind, Water, Earth, Cold, Fire, Light, Dark. Depending on that focus they may have a more specific professional name: FireMage, Windlord, Earthcaster, Dark Magician, Light Wizard etc. (In our campaign, “Elementalist” is the moniker for a Mage who masters 3 or more Elements and an Archmage is a caster who masters 3 or more “realms”).

“Aspected Mage”. This is Mage whose core powers are focused on an aspect or discipline: “Sound”, “Defense”, “Dimensions”, “Necromancy”, “Magic”, “Demonology”–really the sky is the limit. Generally I like to have at least 3 similar spell  lists to define an Aspect or Focus; otherwise I’ll just throw the list into open or closed. Obviously, I stick to BASiL, but with the various Companions including Elemental Companion, Guild Companions and user generated lists, you can put together a HUGE list of possible Mage focuses.

This process creates very diverse but specific Mage types; each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Peter has discussed rolling Channeling into Essence–doing that would greatly expand the various Mage disciplines: you could have “Healing”, “Creations”, “Weather”, “Flora and/or Fauna” aspects for Mages along with the traditional elements and other standard RM Essence lists.

Now, imagine if you will your players encountering their opponent: a Mage surrounded by his minions for the final battle. They know the Mage is an Essence user…but what else? Now it’s not just a binary choice between a Magician and an Illusionist. Do they buff themselves against heat? cold? electricity? What if the Mage has mastered the Shield Law spells (BASiL). He would be able to buff his followers and himself from Elemental attacks, spells and missile and melee damage to a great extant. That’s a whole different tactical situation than what the PCs may be use too!

By simply broadening the spell lists and grouping them thematically, you can create dozens of distinct Mage types. This is not the same as allowing players to cherry pick the very best lists for their BASE. This doesn’t ‘break’ the game but adds a tremendous variety to it.

Rolemaster Profession Review: taking another look at the Shaman.

The original Rolemaster probably ignored a few key class tropes in their original work. Paladins comes to mind of course, but in my mind one of the most important is the  Shaman!

If Clerics/Priests are defined as members of an organized religion, than perhaps we can define a Shaman as a leader of a decentralized or non-organized religion.  Maybe the society or group worships a local god, or a real god under an avatistic identity, but the belief system lacks the more coherent structure and trappings of an organized religious institution. If you are gaming in a “classic” fantasy setting, you’ll probably have, or encounter a variety of primitive societies: Orcs, Goblins, barbaric tribes etc.  These groups will most definitely have  a version of a “Cleric”, but different than the type found in Rolemaster that casts Absolutions and Channels.

A Shaman can make a great foe or adversary for the PC’s. They can have a interesting mixture of spells that give them offensive and defensive capabilities, and they could even be designed as a Hybrid caster to allow them access to Essence or Mentalism. This can keep the players on their toes if they are expecting the Shaman to use the “same old” Cleric Base lists!

The Shaman’s spell lists should be defined by the particulars of the culture. A Orc Shaman should have different spell lists than the Shaman of a barbaric jungle people. The Rolemaster Companion offered up “totems” and “animal spirit” lists for the Shaman, but I find that too culturally defining while creating clunky spell mechanics. What’s probably required is to create a number of different Shaman types whose spells reflect the needs and belief system of the culture.

Here are a few ideas or templates from Shaman that I’ve used in my SW campaign:

Kuriis Truthsayers act as tribal guides, healers and priests and stay loosely united through their ability to communicate with one another over long distances.These people worship “Shral”, which is a hybrid of Shaal and Ulya Sheck (the ostensible Empress of the region).

Profession: Using RM I would classify them as either Pure with some flexibility on lists or Hybrid using Channeling & Mentalism.

Base Lists:

  • Simple Imbed. The Truthsayers wears many charms and fetishes and will make them for the community when needed. These charms are usually necklaces and bracelets made from colorful and iridescent shells.
  • “Water Law”. As followers of Shaal/Neela, Truthsayers have access to Water elemental list(s). I use Command Water from my BASiL lists.
  • “Divinations”. I use Visions from BASiL: Channeling.
  • “Far Voice”: The Truthsayers have the Astrologer base list that they use to communicate with one another.
  • Natures Defenses: From BASiL: Channeling.

Vakshs Rune Priestesses. The Vakshs are cannabilistic Eritera living in the Jungles of Chaal-Chu. They have powerful Priestesses that use Rune Magic: magical tattoos embedded all over their bodies.

Profession. Use Cleric/Priest or Hybrid Channeling/Essence

Base Lists: All of the Priestesses magic is derived from permanent tattoos inscribed into their skin. They have a mixture of Evil Cleric and Evil Mentalism plus access to the Demonic Gate & Mastery spells plus some contingent powers in their Runes:

  • Skin Runes. The Rune Priests are covered in potent
    tattooes that provide “contingent” protection, Daily X
    and regular spells casting. The particular rune will glow
    red when activated.
    Constant: Fear 1st lvl to 20’.
    Contingent (activate automatically): Stun Relief III; Deflect I; Bladeturn I
    Daily V: Question; Mind Speech; Light Eruption; Vision

Shaman Warrior. These Shaman can be used in primitive martial tribes/cultures: Lugroki, Goblins, Barbarians etc. They have competent spell-casting ability but are also combat effective.

Profession: Semi. Use Ranger skill costs.

Base Spell Lists: If the culture follows the Unlife or Dark Gods, they’ll have some aspected list or Demon Gate/Mastery. Other ideas:

Those are just 3 ideas for creating more interesting “Shamans” in your game world. Of course, our house rules allow much more flexibility in character creation and mixing spell lists, but GM’s shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match lists to make the Shaman fit the culture. Channelers especially should have some variety as their Gods can and should provide the spell ability!

For more primitive cultures that lack formal educational systems, Shaman may be the only significant spellcasters in those societies–they should have a mixture of lists that provide best for their people and reflect the environment and belief systems.  Shaman with a creative mix of capabilities can be great opponents for you group–or interesting PC’s!!

 

 

Deconstructing Magic in Rolemaster. Magical Auras.

Over the past year, I’ve touched upon some new Spell Law concepts:  a different take on “Channeling“, a new way to look at “Summoning”  and the concept of “Links” or “Threads”. When I work on creating new spell lists for Rolemaster and Shadow World, I tend to come at it from a different perspective. I think many new lists featured in RoCos and the Guild Companion were devised from a Profession-centric approach. ie a new profession class is generated and then spells to support the concept are created. I’ve also done that with my Hierax Guard and a few others.

However, my more favored approach is a deconstructive process: what could magic do and how should it work? I’m often inspired by the books I’m reading–especially if it contains a novel or interesting magic system. While I’m reading I try to visualize how the books magic might work in the RM system or write a few spell lists derived from the ideas in the story. Since I read quite a bit, I average one or two lists per month that I sketch out and and drop in a review folder. I have almost 75 lists that I need to finish off, assign a “realm” or discard!!!! Out of those, probably 40 will make it into BASiL in my next iteration, pushing the spell list count to well over 200.

So what are some new mechanics for Spell Law? As an example, let’s use the “Detect” spells, specifically Detect Essence (or the other two realms for that matter). The spell allows a caster to detect the presence of Essence–not the type of spell or power or even the strength of the spell. That’s simple and still useful, right? But the spell works like a telescope–the caster can examine a 5′ radius area per round–as if they are peering through a telescope at a small concentrated area. Why does it work that way? DnD. In DnD, the ability to detect magic was critical–especially in analyzing treasure to see what, if any, objects were magical. So why can’t the spell work differently? Why can’t the caster just “see” the magical auras of objects, people, PP reservoirs, Essence Flows, Foci, active spells etc. Does that unbalance the game? Does it seem too powerful?

In Shadow World, magic is everywhere and RM already introduced the concept of spell casting color manifestations and “power perception” as a trainable skill. This lends to the idea of “auras”–magical emanations that are generated by magical fields. These auras can be seen via spells, scrying (or in the case of “High” Elves, perhaps through normal visual perception)

One of the benefits of having auras is not only can you have spells to see and perceive them, but you can have a whole other set of spells to hide, distort or change them! This creates another level of caster “dueling” where aura detection and aura masking or distortion spells conflict via RR’s, caster skill or spell skill bonuses.

Like other Spell Law list progressions, detecting and viewing magical auras improves through levels. At lower levels, the caster may just perceive the presence of magic, while later spells could perceive power level, realm, type of spell or “links” between another caster and a target they are controlling or concentrating on. This visual interpretation of spell affects provides a more cinematic approach to casting, without the general solution of casting “colors” (which I feel are a bit too “Snidely Whiplash“).

More importantly, the ability to view auras can work differently between realms–further differentiating realm powers and caster ability. One idea would be to have Essence casters access to quantatative aura detection (power, type, strength etc), while Mentalists have an easier ability to see mental connection/control/concentration between two or more people and Channelers can see “channeling auras” indicating what god a caster is associated with.

Another benefit is that it creates a unified structure for detection and analytics for all types of magic. Right now, Spell Law is a hodge podge of mechanisms that often require GM arbitration. For me this is the key to Spell Law deconstruction/reconstruction. Viewing RM magic through an unbiased lense, questioning built in DnD tropes and then rethinking accepted spell mechanics can lead to clearer, more flexible and interesting Spell Law.