GM’ing Navigators in your Shadow World campaign: Stick to the Code. pt 2

Recently there has been an uptick in discussions about Shadow World’s Navigators on both the forums and the discord server. I thought I would write a follow up to my previous blog that I wrote back in 2016, found HERE.

Navigator Cost. Given the importance of Navigators and the original concept of the Essence Flows, it makes sense that Navigator services should be affordable by the PC’s. Otherwise, what’s the point? Some people have pointed out that the published costs of Navigators (MA ed. 2) are prohibitive and when you calculate the cost for merchants and the weight of trade goods doesn’t hold up under a rational economic system. But first, let’s review the original source, The Iron Wind (not the 1st ed. parchment), where the outlines of the Navigators Guilds were germinated:

To calculate the cost of a Guild-directed trip, use as a standard unit of
either one person or 501bsof cargo. Charge I gp . per mile per unit overland ;
1 gp . per 10 miles per unit by sea. An additional flat rate of 100 gp . per unit
per Jump -as deemed necessary by the Navigator – is charged, with a surcharge
of 10 gp . per unit per mile of Jump travel over 50 miles. (Nearly all
Jumps used at the Navigator’s discretion to bypass barriers and perilous
areas are less than 50 miles.)

I’m pretty sure that this price structure carried over to the Master Atlas, but do these costs even make sense given the prices for other goods and services? I would note that there is very little evidence that Terry actually GM’d in any significant way; he was a writer and creator, but may not have play tested his materials to any degree. Maybe the Navigator prices need to be adjusted?

Or perhaps we need to address what the Navigators do and don’t do.

It wouldn’t surprise me if most SW players perception of Navigators was that of high level magic users that can teleport at will, have extensive spell powers and provide passage AND safety to the group that hires them. Of course there are high level Navigators with formidable powers but the Guilds are very clear on what services they provide. In no particular order and drawn from a variety of SW books:

–They provide swift, relatively safe transport to anyone who has the money to afford their prices

–They will not transport what military personnel or items, either
for the purpose of attack, espionage or sabotage

–They provide is the ability to guide people safely through the Essænce flows, and to locally influence Kulthea’s often violent weather.

–They guide ships and caravans along the safest route; they are able to teleport groups—or cargoes and even ships— across vast distances by using nearby Essænce Flows

–Direct ‘Jumps,’ , especially long ones or those involving large numbers of people, are tricky and correspondingly prohibitively expensive

–Conventional transportation—such as riding animals or sea vessels—is almost never supplied by the Guild, and in fact must be provided to the Navigator by the client. The Navigator, however, will advise the ignorant client on what mode of transport is most appropriate.

–Navigators are notoriously unsympathetic to people with no money in tight situations.

–The Navigator will not fight unless he or she is personally threatened.

–The Navigators will not communicate their knowledge to clients: transport is their trade, not information. 

–The Navigator will inform a potential client if he asks to be delivered to a dangerous location. 

–The official stance of the Navigators is complete neutrality.

The take away is that Navigators are primarily guides an less often are providing “Jump/Teleporation” services which are much, much more costly. But that raises a whole other issue: what powers do they really have and do they match the services they should be able to provide? There are 3 Navigator Ranks: Apprentice, Journeyman and Master that are roughly 5th lvl, 10th lvl and 20th+ level respectively. For the moment, let’s put aside any undefined abilities that the Navigator compasses may provide and just review the profession Base Lists for the Navigators, specifically: Mass Transport, Self Transport, Flow Mastery and Path Mastery.

Apprentice. (Around 5th lvl). These Navigators handle simple tasks like responding to summons via the Obelisk network and negotiate services and pricing. They may even handle simple guide services in safe areas, but they still need to teleport to the client.

Self Transport. At or around 5th lvl an Apprentice Navigator can “Jump” up to 10miles per level and Long Door up to a 1000′. So at this point, until they reach 8th lvl they can’t Teleport to a Obelisk or return to Nexus which would be the minimum requirement to handle initial requests.

Transporting Targets. Apprentices can basically do short “leaving” or “long door” with up to 3-5 targets over distances of a few hundred feet.

Weather Control. An Apprentice can control winds, perhaps calm water and predict weather.

Guidance. With Path Mastery an Apprentice has some decent skills of navigation, location and sensing hazards.

Essaence Control. Barring the ability to locate flows and foci, Apprentices are able to tap into Flows and completely replenish their PPs.

Conclusion. At just 5th level and assuming no ability to overcast, an Apprentice can’t really perform the basic duties ascribed to them. But as basic wildnerness guides they have some utility, but perhaps not more than a Druid or Ranger.

Journeyman. (Around 10th lvl). A Journeyman is allowed to lead low-risk
expeditions that won’t require Jumps or high-level magical weather or Flow control. Can they do this?

Self Transport. By 10th level a Navigator can easily teleport to any Obelisk, return to Nexus and Teleport themselves up to 100m/lvl using Flows.

Transporting Targets. Journeyman can Teleport 2-3 targets 10 miles/lvl.

Weather Control. Advanced spells to calm water, control winds and call clouds.

Guidance. Journeyman gain useful spells for guidance, sensing hazards, scout ahead and create magical bridges.

Essaence Control. Slightly more advanced abilities than a Apprentice including parting a minor flow and the ability to draw power in excess of normal limitations.

Conclusion. Journeyman can probably handle most of the typical Navigators duties. At 10th level they’ll have skills and abilities based on their normal Profession (I have issue with this) so they will be competent.

Master. (Around 20th lvl). Master’s should be considered “full-fledged” Navigators with all of the abilities attested to. Let’s see:

1Self Transport. By 20th lvl a Navigator can basically transport themselves pretty much anywhere.

Transporting Targets. Have the ability to Teleport up to 20 targets 10 miles/lvl.

Weather Control. Excluding complete mastery of weather, Master’s can modify skies up to 1 mile/lvl for 1 hr/lvl.

Guidance. Slightly more advanced than a Journeyman with longer range of senses.

Essaence Control. Masters have the ability to “ride the flows” and by 25th lvl can part Major Flows.

Conclusion. Masters are basically the “full package” but don’t have the ability to move large groups and objects (like Skyships) via Teleport until 50th lvl, and even that is limited by size and range. So the reputed powers of Jumping ships to avoid danger is only held by a few of the most powerful Navigators.

Additional thoughts and comments:

  1. The Navigator spell lists are a mess. Some of it seems like lack of editing but there are quite a few useless spells and some useful abilities are missing. I have it on my list for BASiL treatment.
  2. Exact powers of Compasses are never enumerated, but to address some gaps in Navigators abilities, it would easy to assume that compasses provide the ability to cast above your level–I think 10 levels over would be adequate. Apprentices are given “lesser Compasses” (of more recent fabrication). Perhaps these only allow to cast 5 levels above.
  3. Why would Navigators spend days or weeks guiding parties when they could just Jump them quickly and be on their way? Well as written, the Nav spell lists just don’t provide that ability. Other reasons could be the risk involved, factors due to the loss of the Northern Eye, difficulty in Jumping through various Flows, Storms and Foci for longer jumps.
  4. Why would high level Navigators even stoop themselves to such a mundane task? First, powerful Navigators would only be tasked with the most risky assignments. Second, they are probably working for powerful or wealthy entities which could provide valuable intel or insight. Third, it isn’t inexpensive and they need to keep the lights on!
  5. How many Navigators could there possibly be? If you want Navigators to be an element in the game, they can’t just be a legend or rumor–they need to be seen and attainable. But imagine all of the trade, all of the Obelisks and the apparent need for Navigators to, at least, help bypass Essaence Barriers. Would there need to be thousands of Navigators? Tens of thousands?
  6. How many Compasses could there be? The first batch was found in the City of the Dead, consisting of “a dozen magical wristbands”, and then more were found of various designs. All are thought to be of Ka’ta’viir construction. Are there hundred or thousands? Certainly not tens of thousands. We know that the Ka’ta’viir were a small population subset of the Althans, perhaps a few dozen families. Can they be copied? They are supposedly intelligent…by whom or what? (that could lead to an interesting adventure if compasses were corrupted or changed..)
  7. Where did the Navigator Base lists come from? The Loremasters helped the early Nav’s to figure out the compasses, but spell lists access is controlled. Nav and Loremaster base lists are considered “Arcane”, which date back to proto realms times. Maybe the intelligent compasses themselves have the spell lists and grant their use via attunement.

As NPC’s this is mostly a thought exercise. Terry is known for bending, or ignoring, the Rolemaster ruleset to fit his world building. Certainly we can handwave away any inconsistencies. However, I think there is work that could be done to tighten up the Navigators, and I’m all for hidden knowledge escaping–why shouldn’t a player character discover these erudite lists or find a compass themselves in some unplundered tomb?

What do you think??

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6 Replies to “GM’ing Navigators in your Shadow World campaign: Stick to the Code. pt 2”

  1. My players have encountered Navigators, but I think they never payed for a trip from their own pocket.
    They only had more interaction with the rules and limitations once a character found a proto-compass (the Nazarian from Emer III), and started teleporting the party this way and that, and also started taking along small groups of kuluku guerrilla figthers.
    The campaign was all fine and good, but they had to confront a Navigator official sent to warn them about their actions, and eventually after the campaign ended they offered the character formal training, during which she had to surrender her compass.
    Now in a follow up campaign, she was given the item during a special assignment, and a choice of 1 Navigator list to develop (only during the last level up, so 3 ranks because we play RMFRP). She is also now considered an Arcane spell caster with access to all 3 realms, but this only affected RRs so far.

    1. My players have used Navigators a lot, but it’s almost mandatory. As you may be able to tell from my blogs I adhere to the idea of isolation caused by physical Essaence barriers, so Navs are needed to get the party through Flows. They have fairly good Flow maps now for Jaiman and Emer, but temporary barriers are always springing up–I roll for an Essaence effect 1/day when they are travelling.

  2. As for the rules without a compass all Navigator spell lists are 4 lvls higher- I would personally forbid overcasting without a compass, too.
    A good overview, though.

  3. This is a great overview of Navigators! And yes I agree the lists they have are a mess (the level 7 and 8 spells on Transport Self are way too OP and game breaking and exist only to make this “viable”). I assumed the compasses do most of the heavy lifting and allow a DM to fudge things a bit. I mean, even the idea of summoning a Navigator to any old obelisk you touch within X minutes or less (like ordering a pizza?) seems kind of funny. Are they literally sitting around in their Nexus tower just waiting like a call center? And do they need to communicate back to headquarters when on the job, if so how? They have no spells for that I don’t think. And the only things that can do that are like the 16 access spheres which isn’t enough. Maybe the compass wrist bands are star trek communicators? I’m sure there are answers to this and I just haven’t looked into it enough.

    Regardless, in the campaign I’m in right now we have two things going on: (1) the players are too low level to be able to use the Navigator’s services at this time as it feels to “easy” to go place to place (much like waypoints in a video game break the immersion for a physical world) and we haven’t hit any major Essaence barriers yet, and (2) we are treating the Navigator Guild monopoly as a giant group as jerks that (2a) segregate people by who can pay and who cannot, which is very elitist and creates a massive class division in society right off the bat, (2b) are almost solely responsible for the control of information and knowledge between different regions of Kulthea thus making them an unelected dictators of the world who can decide at will who knows what and who is allowed to go where (and also it blows my mind that the Loremasters would not have had an issue with this since 3300 SE), (2c) despite their claim to be “neutral” they have in fact gotten involved multiple times in history in significant ways whether it was taking sides, isolating places, or transporting people during times of lockdown in secret, so they are hypocrites, and (2d) perhaps they don’t transport “armies” but they sure as heck have transported rich assassins (or assassins in disguise with rich patrons). Again, hypocrites, but of the worse kind claiming ignorance to the involvement in world events. How many Priests or Arnak have used this service?

    So yeah, we are using them as a group to be dismantled and power given back to the people! It’s kind of fun, and quite obvious if you think of a group like that existing in our actual world. People would not stand for it. My character in particular is an Itanis “Warlock” who is set on becoming a Loremaster, with the long term goal of finding a way to rapidly disseminate information freely amongst all the continents and realms of Shadow World so that it is no longer under the Navigator’s iron grip.

    1. That’s a great take and approach, and of course, no one likes monopolies. However, I would reiterate that they (Navigators) are addressing a fundamental limitation built into the world build: segregation and isolationism from powerful Essaence Flows. This allowed for small microcosm societies, cultures and even temperature zones. This was really fundamental to the Loremaster series, but as I have blogged about might have been minimized in later works by Terry.

  4. Oh yeah I totally get they are NEEDED, I just mean they could use a little competition to drive down prices! So when I mean “dismantle” I mean the monopoly, not the need for safe travel across the Flows. I don’t want it to become a “regulation” vs “democratization” thing, but more of an effort to bring the tech and knowledge and training to other groups. As you know, for the first ~400 years they did indeed have contention and competition (and low prices), but it all got brought under one umbrella for “reasons” … public reasons being safety/etc, private reasons being rigid pricing. Yes the “Alliance” (not to be confused with that other one) helped establish the obelisks and probably a bunch of great, but boring, company wide SOPs. But I think of that like the FAA. Necessary for safety, but still can allow privatization and competition so “all can travel”. Even the Raven Queen should be allowed a cheap ticket! Kidding.

    And again in this particular instance, it’s more about the restriction of information that the Navigators Guild controls, which is dangerous in all societies. I mean if the Navigators had a “mission statement” that fully aligned with the Loremasters intention to educate the world, then cool. But they sure don’t. And why would they?

    In the end, the thing I like about Shadow World is that the very nature of Kulthea hanging tenuously in the balance of space and time in a rift of sorts, allow for multiple replays (i.e. campaigns all starting roughly between 6050 and 6057) to “tweak” the world a bit. In many of them, the Navigators are just there, doing their thing, and no one comments on right or wrong. But in one “replay”? Why not shake things up!

    One other thing we “changed” in this campaign is the Northern Eye has yet to be taken. We felt the countdown to Ondoval taking the Southern Eye and more or less sending Kulthea back into the First Era, with K’ta’viiri coming from the East and so on … was a bit too much time pressure for some lowly fresh adventurers getting their footing. So their campaign “endgame” will triggered by the Northern Eye being taken, even if that isn’t for 10-20 years from our present day (we happen to be in 6056 TE). At that point they could keep up with Andraax and such high level and powerful characters (perhaps they help him get the Soulsword).

    One thing is for sure. It’s all super fun!

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