Back in 2021 I started listing out certain topics and content in Canon Shadow World that I thought should be re-examined and possible modified in any future work. One item I find particularly problematic is the introduction of the “Anti-Essaence”.
There are many threads to untangle in this subject and there are many threads on the RMForums and the Discord channels that touch upon it. Certainly everyone’s approach will be driven by their own campaign, ethos and background, but one of the first things I found appealing about Shadow World was it’s moral relativism. The inclusion of the “Anti-Essaence” feels very much like an attempt to square some circles created by the Unlife in general.
Many fantasy games have clear dualities, with opposing forces of absolute good and evil and graduations in between (alignment system of AD&D). The need for absolute evil is clear justification of any player actions within the game system, and simplified the narrative and direction of player action.
So before we get to the Anti-Essaence let’s review Terry’s thoughts on evil per the Master Atlas 4th Ed.
“Good” and “Evil” fall at the two extreme ends of a spectrum;
most thinking beings exist somewhere in the middle
True Evil, the evil that is fostered by the Unlife, is the drive to destroy—
and to feed on that destruction.…
Without attempting to make a judgment on what is “evil” and
what is not, the concept of pure, true, universal evil in the context
of Shadow World applies only to the Unlife and its willing
So obviously this leads to a number of problems discussed ad nauseum:
- Are there inherently evil races?
2. Are Demons of the Unlife?
3. What’s the deal with the Dragonlords?
4. How do you tap into the power of the Unlife?
5. How does Unlife corruption work?
6. Are there 2 sets of power points?
7. Are Spell Law Evil Spells of the Unlife?
7. If “Evil Spell Lists” are channeled from the Unlife, how does an Essence Magic User actually be a Channeler?
There seems to be clear demising wall established by Terry, if they aren’t of the Unlife, they aren’t “True Evil”–whatever that might mean for you. But then we bring in the Anti-Essaence.
The Anti-Essaence concept seems more of “rule for rules” to try and patch up or systemized a muddy system. But the problem is that the Essaence isn’t actually the opposite of the Anti-Essaence: the Essaence is just power, neutral in nature. It’s application can be either beneficial or hurtful; but is it really “True Evil”? Are Sorceror spells any less or more evil than the Evil Magician spell list solid destruction? What isn’t evil about a fireball painfully incinerating an opposing force? Is subjugating a person against their will with a Charm spell, good and just?
Let’s examine this through the lense of the Dark Gods. Is Andaras absolutely evil and a user of the Unlife? (I know a few cat owners who would think so!!). Many of the Dark Gods have easily found, public temples in all the major cities. Does it make sense that a incomprehensible entity of undying malevolence, that seeks the destruction of all life would manage and maintain the administration of a such a temple? Would that God even be tolerated in a city? It’s clear that Terry doesn’t treat the Dark Gods as “Gods of the Unlife”. (In my SW, the Dark Gods are outcasts from Orhan which makes far more sense)
How did the Anti-Essaence get inserted into Shadow World? The source of power of the Unlife needed to fit into the Realm and magical system. There needed to be a game mechanism to model “power corruption” and thus the concept of the “Anti-Essaence” was included into the Master Atlas.
I don’t believe it was necessary and I see no issues with Essence or Mentalism users being corrupted and essentially becoming “Channelers” of the Unlife. Don’t you already allow the logically inconsistent “hybrid” spellusers in Rolemaster?
In short, “Anti-Essance” isn’t necessary, it doesn’t clarify any confusion and it complicates an intangible framework of morality. The Unlife is a nihilistic force destruction. It’s easy to oppose, but it doesn’t need to fit into our good/evil framework.
4 thoughts on “Discussion: Evil and the Anti-Essaence in Shadow World.”
I don’t think you need to be a channeler to draw upon a particular source of power. That’s certainly one method but for example if we postulate fire magic is coming from a plane of fire, which the Magician is able to draw upon to do fire magic, then it’s no stretch to postulate that Evil essence spells are drawing upon whatever source is used by the Unlife.
Being a channeler requires that you have some kind of relationship of service or veneration with your source of power. That’s not how Essence users approach their art. Not all sources will permit being drawn upon by just anyone (a deity generally won’t let some random Essence user steal their power), but some sources are not inherently willful. It could be that whatever powers the Unlife is in the latter category. That doesn’t mean it’s safe, radiation isn’t willful either, but it could allow Essence users to draw upon it. The question in that case is not about channeling but about what effect does the use of this power have upon those who do so?
I’m going to challenge you on these responses, but respectively:
I don’t think you need to be a channeler to draw upon a particular source of power.
I agree with that, but most strict advocates of RM acknowledge that there are 3 paths: Essence, Mentalism and Channeling. It was specific. I allow casters to draw upon any of the disciplines (I have 7 not 3)
That’s certainly one method but for example if we postulate fire magic is coming from a plane of fire, which the Magician is able to draw upon to do fire magic, then it’s no stretch to postulate that Evil essence spells are drawing upon whatever source is used by the Unlife.
There is nothing in Rolemaster or Shadow World that says that fire magic comes from a plane of fire.
Being a channeler requires that you have some kind of relationship of service or veneration with your source of power. That’s not how Essence users approach their art. Not all sources will permit being drawn upon by just anyone (a deity generally won’t let some random Essence user steal their power), but some sources are not inherently willful.
It could be that whatever powers the Unlife is in the latter category. That doesn’t mean it’s safe, radiation isn’t willful either, but it could allow Essence users to draw upon it. The question in that case is not about channeling but about what effect does the use of this power have upon those who do so?
You can define your setting however you want. If you want to define things in a way that forces a particular answer to the questions you posed, that’s fine, but then why ask the question? You already answered it.
I am merely saying the system is open to a way of defining how Essence works that does not force a particular answer.
Now since there is anti-Essence, I think it necessarily follows that Essence is something that can be pulled from a source, and anti-Essence is just one such source. Otherwise you’ve already decided there can be no solution.
I agree with you, JD. Setting definitions and modifications are very much in the hands of each gaming group, and if one happens to decide something like anti-Essence works for their particular interpretation of Shadow World, that’s totally fine. If not…simply don’t use the concept.
All I know is when I was in discussions with the original ICE team regarding my setting they were especially interested in the idea that evil wasn’t the same as the Unlife, but rather a tool the Unlife could use to further their goals. Evil casters were automatically ‘tainted’ by the Unlife and gained access to certain additional spells as their levels increased. When ICE (in its earlier incarnation) folded I replaced the Unlife with another extra-planar power but the concept of it using evil while not being evil remained.
In my setting, Channeling was defined as power coming from a specific source that had what were essentially entry requirements for certain professions. As they met those requirements, they gained access to unique spells based on their particular deity. Each gaming group is going to define these things in slightly different ways, and I don’t think there’s a single answer for any of those questions (unless you want to sound dogmatic about it).