Fictional Settings for use with Rolemaster?

In my previous POST, I made an argument for ICE to license interesting, but perhaps lesser known fictional settings as a way to leverage Rolemaster and/or springboard RMU.

While I didn’t dive too deep into it, my thought was a RMu or RM “lite” version of stripped down rules that could be used as a source book for other settings. Basically, what MERP was compared to Rolemaster. There was a lot of people asking for a RMu lite version to precede the full publication of the rules: some argued that it would get the game to market a bit quicker and raise some awareness, while others thought it would be entry point for new players. My thought was that source books for new settings would solve two issues: growth through licensing IP and ease of entry by simplifying the rules.

For clarification I thought I would propose 3 fictional setting from fantasy literature as case studies.

  1. Joe Abercrombies “First Law” series. For those not familiar with Joe’s work, it’s considered “grimdark” with gritty, and unforgiving combat scenes. There is already several online discussions about what RPG system would work best for Joe’s world, but no one mentions Rolemaster. While the world of the First Law doesn’t feature traditional monsters or feature a lot of magic (neither did Middle Earth), RM’s combat system and low fantasy approach would work great for this setting. Plus the world is anthropomorphic–which also works well with RM. The downside is probably the removal of most of “Spell Law” from the source book–but the setting should drive the ruleset, right?
  2. Alex Huston’s “The Crimson Queen“. I mentioned this book here back in 2017. Reading the first of the series made me think it would make a good RM setting. The subsequent books felt a bit lesser, but it’s a interesting (if typical FRPG) setting, but has a following. I described it as being RPGLit, and while that is not high praise, it argues for a game system.
  3. Steven Erikson. The Malazan series. Look, it’s my favorite fantasy literature bar none. Every time I read it, I can’t help but think how Rolemaster could tackle the setting. The magic would need to get re-configured, but that just requires a larger source book. Certainly Power Points are the best way to handle the constant casting, and the combat is very gritty. Some aspects of the Malazan world touch more upon conceptual rules rather than the quantitative process embraced by RM–I discussed part of this HERE.

So good readers, what setting in literature, film or other might be a great fit for ICE/Rolemaster/HARP or Spacemaster? Again, it doesn’t have to fully embrace every aspect of the ruleset–but fit’s the style and feel of the game.

Thought Experiment on Growing Rolemaster.

Is it possible?

There have been thousands of works devoted to the future of Rolemaster, Shadow World and other ICE properties here on this blog, on the RM Forums and around the web. Like everyone else, I have my own opinions. Some are based on my emotions and hopes for a game that I’ve enjoyed, but other opinions are founded in my own business experiences–which are not unsubstantial.

A recent discussion here on the blog included a link reference to HERE which was a useful summary of some issues–although I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions presented or inferred it’s definitely worth the read.

At the risk of simplifying things I would offer the following concepts in no particular order or relationship:

  1. The RMU ruleset might provide a boost to the ICE catalog, even if by fond curiosity of older gamers.
  2. Shadow World is the default setting for Rolemaster and probably HARP, even if that hasn’t been fully embraced or executed.
  3. “Companions” sell, even if they bloated the system and contributed to the negativity it created on the brand. “Chart Master”, “Rules Master” or RoleMathster” are common conceptions.
  4. MERP was simplified, but solid, version of Rolemaster. However, it’s use was due to the draw of the Middle Earth setting. MERP was a gateway drug to Rolemaster.
  5. It’s believed that rule books and similar supplements sell better because they can be bought by the whole gaming group, whereas modules are usually only bought by the GM. (not sure I agree with this, but the economics seem to support this theory).
  6. When game rules become stale, or mature, they can be re-invented with a new rule set to re-brand and re-sell to the same audience. D&D did this how many times?
  7. I’m thinking RMU is not a bad idea from a general business standpoint, but maybe it’s taking too long? Would it have been better to license the Rolemaster rules to another published with more in house talent?
  8. Does PoD, self-publishing and distributed business models allow for small gaming companies to be nimble and quick?
  9. How does any small gaming company, lacking in-house talent, generate quality artwork, trade dress, floor plans and maps?
  10. How can any company build a setting to support their rule-set, effectively, while competing with larger companies, their ecosystems and settings built over DECADES.

So, recently, I watched DUNE (should have been a Spacemaster variant setting). Yes, I’ve read the books and saw the 1984 movie and was spectacularly unimpressed. But watching this last week, it struck me, although this is obvious, that there are already amazing works of world building, that might work with the RM/Spacemaster/RMU ruleset.

You are probably thinking, hey Brian, this is not that insightful. Agreed. But let’s be honest, Rolemaster’s popularity got a huge boost form the Middle Earth IP. As great as Shadow World is…it’s not known by most people or in the collective popular zeitgeist. So there is a company that is monetizing pop culture–Modiphius. From the looks of it, they have Dune, Fallout, Star Trek, Conan, Mutant Chronicles among others! It’s a 2d20 system, but I’m a dinosaur (and probably a luddite), so I encourage all your thoughts on this.

This got me thinking, based on the various #1-#10 items above. Is the best path forward for ICE to license semi-popular properties to adapt that setting for Rolemaster. Why would this make sense?

  1. The world building is started or evolved enough to save development work.
  2. Basic mapping and geography is established.
  3. The setting has a fan base. They can be cross marketed into a RPG.
  4. The setting REINFORCES the ruleset’s strength.
  5. The author would contribute to the process.
  6. Each setting would have a setting “rulebook” that would adapt RM/U to that particular world. (this sells more products one way, and introduces players back to RM the other). It’s a virtuous loop!

My idea is to find popular (but not too popular!) fictional settings to license for the RM/RMU ecosystem. Why would any author agree to using a 40 year old game system?

  1. It’s undergoing a revision.
  2. The specific setting would have a source book to adapt the setting to RM/U. (like MERP did for ME)
  3. Many authors are US. They are out age, and know or have used RM in the past.

I have a number of settings that might work. Of course, licensing an IP is a commitment, but kickstarter or crowd sourcing strategies could allow for a responsive product publishing schedule–especially if the original author was on board.

Shadow World Review: “All the Pretty Horses”

This blog is a bit of a spin off of my “Can It” or “Canon” series, where I delve into various aspects of Shadow World. Since it doesn’t quite fit into the “Canon” series, I’ll call it “Shadow World Review”.

Today’s topic concerns our favorite 4-legged beast: the horse, and to a lesser extent cows and cattle. Horses are sort of a given in almost every fantasy campaign, a terran creature needed to fit into existing tropes: the mounted knight etc. Cows/cattle are also a requisite, even if in the background to supply the hide for all of the leather goods also common in fantasy rpgs!

However, if you were to read the SW books, horses are not that prominent and cattle are barely mentioned. In the SWMA, horses are only mentioned 35 times and cattle twice. Of the 35 horse mentions, many are context references to steardan, pegasus or a comparison of intelligence. Only a few societies are “horse based” and reading through most of Terry’s vignettes, horses seem to be exceedingly rare. (Of course the blight that hits and decimates the horses in Emer in the Third Era also helped kill off the “horse trope”.)

Based on my use of the earlier SW books: Iron Wind, Jaiman, Tanara and my own campaigns, I’m not sure the players ever had horses! They feel more of after thought…a few thoughts:

  1. Early “Loremaster Series” books emphasized the demising nature of the Essence Flows. Travel was DIFFICULT and unpredictable–thus the need for Navigators. Most lands and countries were physically isolated from one another, making horses seem a bit impractical.
  2. Cool mounts. Terry already embraced the idea of setting unique mounts. Why bother will horses when you can add flavor to the SW setting.
  3. Land. Besides Emer, which has some open land and plains, SW is frequently small land masses, with diverse elevations, climates that aren’t that horse friendly.

Similarly, the appearance of “cows & cattle” are infrequent throughout Terry’s books. Leather is a common material in the RM system and SW books, but we don’t see that much focus on it’s source. Of course, leather is just hide, and SW creatures provide a lot of opportunity to source “leather”. Jengada recently blogged about this overall topic HERE, and I posted up some SW specific armors in a file via HERE.

Anyway the point of this blog was more a quasi thought experiment. Despite being tagged as a “kitchen sink” setting, SW has many unique elements. I don’t know where horses and cows fit into your use of SW, but I had to comment on it!

“CAN IT” OR “CANON”: Jewel Wells



Various types of crystals are featured throughout the Shadow World books: Lords of Essaence crystals, the mindstones of the Warlocks of Itanis, Zirix crystals, Sun Crystals–the list goes on. I’ve tried to consolidate them HERE., but depending on which SW book you read there seems to be some variations that defy a “unified theory” around crystals and their associated powers.

So, it was with a bit of surprise when I read about “Jewel Wells” and “Jewel Slim” when Xa’ar was released. This was something new and my reaction wasn’t exactly positive. Now, it may be that Jewel Wells were introduced in the Bladeland settings and Terry merely ported the concept over to the broader setting in Xa’ar. If anyone is familiar with the BL setting, please weigh in.

Jewel Wells are mentioned 28 times in the supplement and the description starts on page 28:

These magical sites were virtually unknown in recent
history outside of Folenn and the East before Ondoval
took the Northern Eye and disrupted the Flows. The
last time any were seen on Jaiman was during the Wars
of Dominion over six thousand years ago.
All Jewel Wells are Essænce Foci (see the Shadow
World Master Atlas 3rd or 4th edition); some are even
a Greater Focus (they can fluctuate), and can cause
Dimensional Rifts and other magical effects, as described
in the Atlas. Jewel Wells appear spontaneously and can
remain for a day, a month, or a hundred years before
vanishing just as quickly, leaving no evidence of their
presence except remnants of crystallized Jewel Slime.
They are among the most strange manifestations of the
Essænce, like some kind of magical, interdimensional
lava eruptions. The Jewel Slime that intermittently spews from Jewel Wells is a concentrated physical focus of Essænce, but Alchemists disagree about its true
nature. Different wells produce Jewel Slime of different
hues and viscosity, and the color can even change in
the same well. This may be a clue to the attributes of
the slime, but few have the ability to fully understand
this volatile material. Some Loremasters believe that the
Earthwardens actually summoned the first Jewel Wells
as a potential source of power to use against the dark

forces. (While there is little evidence to support this,
it is in fact true: the Earthwardens summoned/created
the first Jewel Wells, but these manifestations proved
difficult to control, even by those as powerful as the

What I take away from this are the following:

  1. Jewel Wells were created by the Earthwardens
  2. They were originally seen in Folenn (Bladelands)
  3. The manifested elsewhere until the Northern Eye was removed.
  4. The produce Jewel Slime.

Xa’ar presents the first real material on the Earthwardens, who had only been mentioned in passing in previous SW books, so introducing a new element like Jewel Wells, related to the Earthwardens and the loss of the Eye seems viable. For me however, after running years of SW campaigns, Jewel Wells felt like they came out of left field! Did I want to incorporate them into my campaign? So far I haven’t.

The product of the Wells is Jewel Slime, also a new element. It is described as cold viscous material that casts a prismatic light. It can harden into jagged crystals and has magical properties. Once hardened only a powerful Alchemist can re-shape it.

There is something whimsical about Wells and Slime. For me the flavor of this is more anime or Miyazaki–elements that Terry freely admitted inspired Shadow World. Does it feel ubiquitous and appropriate for SW. Certainly if you are of the position that anything Terry wrote in SW books should be considered “canon”. But Jewel Wells are rarely mentioned again in subsequent books. No mention of Jewel Wells in Haestra, nothing in Emer II and a single mention in Emer III:

GM Note: It should be noted that the mined piezocrysytals of the Jinteni are not the same as the Earthwarden magical crystals created from jewel slime as described in the Xa-ar sourcebook; these are of a completely difeferent nature.

It’s not until Tales of the Green Gryphon Inn that we get another mention of Jewel Slime:

Earthwardencrystals look like quartz crystals, are crystallized læn
(solidified Jewel Well slime), come in various colors, and
are of the same nature as K’ta’viir crystal technology.

This was VERY interesting and feels like a bit of ret-con or clarification by Terry. Here he implies that laen is actually solidified jewel slime and are the same as Ka’ta’viir crystal technology. This is kind of big given laens prominence in Shadow World!

Generally, it feels like Jewel Wells/Slime was a prominent new feature in Xa’ar but relegated to the back shelf afterwards. I haven’t used Jewel Wells or Slime in my campaigns, what about you?

Shadow World. Looking Ahead.

What do you see?

If you’ve read this blog or the Rolemaster Forums regularly, it’s no secret that my focus is primarily on Shadow World and Rolemaster. It’s been a long time since I’ve played other games, and I’ve always felt that I would get more “bang for my buck” writing material, mastering game material and rules for a single system. So, like many of you, I’m pondering what I.C.E. and specifically Shadow World looks like in the future.

The last decade has seen many founders, artists and writers of early and Golden Age RPG’s pass away. Many have only recently been acknowledged or appreciated for their impact on the industry, as TTRPGs has matured, expanded and become a cultural touchpoint. Certainly the deaths of Gygax, Arneson and now Terry, has caused a profound sense of loss; not only for the loss of their creative output, but for the impact they had on our childhoods.

Few game settings have had such a delineation in “Canon” and “Non-Canon” content that Terry’s Shadow World. Many game settings are created by multiple writers and artists, over years, and often with changing styles. Shadow World was somewhat unique for the quantify and quality of output generated by Terry over 35+ years. For purists, the early SW modules were of varying quality, tone and usability, and only Terry’s material was considered Canon not only because of his founder status, but due to the quality of his writing. Terry was very protective of the world he created, and barring a “collaboration” for the Shadow World Players Guide, there hasn’t been any SW material published by anyone other than Terry for decades.

Where does that leave Shadow World now? There are two drivers for the future of Shadow World: Terry’s estate and I.C.E. itself. A few thoughts:

  1. Will or can SW continue with new material and new contributors?
  2. Should SW continue after Terry’s death, or should his work stand unaltered for posterity? (There is certainly enough current material for any gaming campaign).
  3. Could ICE just reprint SW material for RMU, d20 or other open systems rather than pursue new content?
  4. What new material is possible? What would users and fans want to see? Detailed regional books that expand “Canon” or adventures or smaller works that fill in gaps without tipping the applecart?
  5. Could SW be sold/licensed to a larger gaming company that has the inhouse resources to scale up the material?
  6. If new material is created, how is it’s quality and appropriateness arbitrated? Can new material come close to or match Terry’s style and intent?
  7. Is ICE already “all-in” with SW as it’s quasi-official setting? How can it pivot to a new setting given it’s publishing pace?

I’m sure the management of I.C.E. are already contemplating these issues, but I’m also curious what the fans and users of SW and Rolemaster think, want or find acceptable for the future of Shadow World.

“Can It” or “Canon”: Krals.

53,309 Cannon Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Welcome to my new blog topic: “Can It” or “Canon” where we explore some elements of Shadow World that might not quite fit Terry’s vision and be dumped, or alternatively should be fully embraced as official SW material. Today we are going to discuss Krals, humanoids that were first introduced in Vog Mur and then appeared once again in Quellbourne, the first official module of the Shadow World series.

First, let’s gather the various descriptions of Krals from various sources and see if we can come to some consensus:

Krals Per wiki:

Krals are described as semi-human or ape–like creatures. Both, the Krals and their close kin the Garks are considered two distinct subraces of the Karku, a race believed to be related to both Men and Trolls. The Krals resemble the Garks but they are taller and more intelligent.There were two different subraces of Krals, Sea-Krals and Ice-Krals.

So I found this wiki entry interesting. I know that Quellbourne featured “Ice-Krals” and Vog Mur had “Sea-Krals” but for the life of me I have never heard of “Karku”??? A quick search of the Master Atlas finds no reference to Karku. However, based on this wiki source we know that Krals are ape-like, related to Garks and have the 2 sub-races: Ice & Sea.

Sea Krals Per Vog Mur:

Krals are an ancient nocturnal race of cloudy origin. They may be distantly related to Men, but show no pity or charity toward Mankind. A typical Kral is vaguely humanoid, and stands 4 to 5 ½ feet tall and has lengthy arms. Their arm is marked by an additional bone which connects the wrist to their four fingered hand, making the hand appear unusually long. Each of their fingers stretches 5-6 inches and is capped by a claw like nail. They have opposing digits, and are dexterous enough to be accomplished craftsmen and bowmen. Kral skin is normally dark grey or bluish in palor, and has a leathery character. Their hair is uniformly thick and white, and grows primarily on their head, neck, and shoulders. This gives them the appearance of having a mane of sorts. Random protrusions of hair can be seen in other body areas, however. Perhaps strangely, female Krals have considerably more body hair, for they have a long expanse which grows down the bony spine of their backs. The females rarely exceed 4 ½ feet in height, but are formidable foes, for they are generally much quicker. Since they are exceedingly long-lived, they rarely bear children. Krals wear leather armor and carry scimitar-like swords. These creatures all sleep communally and carry or wear their few possessions. Home is a mobile mat of hair.

Besides their physical description, the Sea Krals were a military force and seemed organized, intelligent and militaristic.

Ice Krals From Quellbourne:

Appearance: Shorter than men and vaguely ape-like. Ice Kral
stand 5’6″ tall, with broad shoulders and long arms. They have
long dexterous fingers capped by long nails. Their skin is a
grayish-blue and their heads sprout thick white hair, which spreads
across their shoulders and down their backs. They have piercing
green eyes, deep-set under beetled brows.

Again, the Krals are seen as violent, with a society built around the “Law of Battle” and the “Law of Duels”. The Krals are pirates and raiders, but live in a fortified town and seem to be societal to some degree.

Sea Krals from Creatures & Treasures:

Sea-krals are ape-like creatures with dark grey or blue skin and a pelt of thick, white hair growing on the head, neck, and shoulders. Females possess an additional thicket that grows down the bony spine of their backs. Both genders have long arms and an extra bone connecting the wrist to the hand. Long, dextrous fingers capped by a claw-like nail aid them in becoming accomplished craftsmen and bowman. They stand 4’6″ tall. Sea-krals fear the hungry waves, but derive too much pleasure from their violent way of life to abandon the ocean. They build longships in which to ply the seas, raiding and plundering other vessels as pirates. Their boats serve as their only home in spite of the fact that most can not swim. Their average life span is 55 years. They sleep during the day and are active during the night. Leather armor and curved swords are their usual battle garb.

Initial conclusions. Based on the publishing timeline, I would assume that the Sea Kral from Vog Mur was the first appearance of the Kral. After Vog Mur, the Kral were included in Creatures & Treasures and then picked up by the third party author for Quelbourne. Given the Quelbourne was the first of the official SW series, there wasn’t a lot of established SW content to draw from–I don’t believe that the Sea Kral were included in the original Shadow World boxed atlas set. Can anyone verify that?

My second thought is that the Kral are very similar to Garks–although Garks seem less intelligent and have a prehensile tail. Here is the Gark description below and keep in mind that Garks are featured in many of Terry’s books.

Garks from Master Atlas:

Garks: Mottled grey fur covers covers all of the ape-like Gark, except
the palms and soles of his feet. Long arms hang to his knees, and
a powerful, prehensile tail grows from the base of his spine. Most
Garks possess only limited intelligence, and they use crude weapons such as clubs, hatchets, and spears. They wear simple, decorative clothing and organize themselves by family groups. Each group shares a large nest suspended high above the ground in the trees or a cliff-face. Occasionally, males band together to raid the homes of nearby Mannish peoples. Garks are omnivorous, but some groups relish the taste of raw human flesh.Garks have been trained by some dark sorcerers and lords to act as a crude military force, and though they are powerful fighters, they are not as easily disciplined as the more disciplined Lugrôki. Three basic types of Gark are known to exist: Snow Garks, Jungle Garks, and Cliff Garks, each inhabiting the type of environment they are named for.

“Can It” or “Canon”?

Kras are an interesting race, perhaps more unique and interesting than the renamed “Orcs” and “Goblins” that are featured in SW: but Terry didn’t use Krals. Anywhere. Garks seem like a proximate type and could certainly be expanded into other terrain types (I used them in Priest-King) in place of Krals. Additionally, Garks can have other off-shoots that are more organized, more intelligent or more societal.

In the end, Krals were never embraced by Terry. My opinion: Can them! What do you think?

Dwarven Stronghold

I should have been publishing the next Rolemaster Fanzine this week, but I am digging into a bigger project for the next issue.

At the end of last months ‘zine I said I was going to detail out one of the Dwarven strongholds. As I have been creating Dungeondraft maps of each location for use on VTT this stronghold is taking somewhat longer than I had anticipated.

I have also invested some time in improving my map-making, thanks to YouTube.

I am also on a drive to use a wider variety of foes. My first dwarven stronghold is long abandoned, at least by dwarves, but it gives me an opportunity to use Constructs in all their myriad forms.

I have a subterranean river on the map, and that is plied by animated paddleboats that will ferry non-existent passengers back and forth from the mines to the inner stronghold for all of eternity (or until they meet an angry player character).

It is quite fun to have three basic stat blocks but they have an infinite number of forms, one could be a sentry suit of armor, another boat, and a third a noble child’s toy warhorse.

I am also building in some physical challenges, the adventure isn’t just a hack-fest through unthinking machines.

I was hoping to be playing my campaign again by now but the Shadow World game I am in is taking a little longer to complete than we had anticipated. One of the three players had been ill and needed an operation. The illness meant that he couldn’t play for a few weeks, then the operation definitely put him out of action. We had our first session back on Fantasy Grounds (RMC) last night and he was exhausted by 10pm, we normally play to near midnight.

But, he is on the mend. We left the session last night as we just rolled for initiative to fight a Giant. Not just any giant, but a GM tweaked unique giant. It is several hundred years old, cyclops-like, but very intelligent, sophisticated, and seems to be using some nature magic, possibly druid lists. We are not sure.

The party is strung out, I am halfway up a cliff face doing a free climb, the two fighters are charging into melee, but it is a long way away. The paladin got flattened by a thrown boulder in the first round, but has shaken off the stun but is carrying a lot of bruising with its associated penalties. The bard is our weakest party member. Little or no armor, little skill with weapons, and very few spell lists. The giant started hurling rocks at the paladin, but I started jumping around and shouting to get its attention. This is not a way to guarantee a long life, but it did buy enough time to get the remaining two fighters close enough to launch an attack. I have light armor, so I am hard to hit, and a pretty good DB. I am also the party healer, so I have a reasonable chance of standing up even if I do take a direct hit.

We will see how this fight pans out.

We believe that we need to take down this giant, scoop out its eye, deliver that to a witch that lives in the swamp, and she will guide us to the stronghold of the necromancer that has been plaguing this region. Simple!

Retrospective: Shadow World Blog Posts. Advanced Tech in SW.

Obviously I am thinking a lot about Shadow World with Terry’s passing: his past works, projects he was working on, and what the future might have been. Of course, Shadow World will continue in the imaginations of fans, players and GM’s for years to come, and we can only imagine what Terry had in store with Emer IV, Wurilis and other projects he hinted at. In that spirit, I wanted to revisit my own ideas and blog posts from the last 5 years here on the Rolemasterblog.