Dark Tales

This month I have read Dark Streets & Darker Secrets, which is a modernday setting filled with black magic, sorcery and cosmic horror. I am also reading Eldritch Tales, which is your classic 1920s Cthulhu era horror setting and the next thing on my reading list is to take another look at the original Cthulhu rules, all be it 6th edition.

There is a theme forming here. You may also remember that I was also loaned, and then given, Dark Space.

I am thinking that it appears somewhat harder to run a horror game in a fantasy setting. In most, the characters face things that would petrify us on an almost daily basis. You could throw a beast from another dimension at your party but they will either die or cut it down. Are the Fungi from Yuggoth any different from Uruk Hai when it comes down to it?

I have just finished writing the 40th issue of the Rolemaster fanzine and it contains two adventures. Both of which contain an element of horror, if you look at them through that lense. What I wanted to do was scare the characters, and put the players in fear for their characters. This is not easy to do, especially if you are not gunning for a TPK.

So how do you scare people who fight undead dinosaurs for a living?

Miscellaneous Musings

I’m not sure if Peter is scheduled for a post tomorrow, but I thought I would write a quick post with some random items that have been on my mind of late.

  1. Discord. I’m still trying to get my head around the Discord server and it’s overall utility. Does it add functionality beyond the RM Forums? I feel like I’m missing something, and normally I’d say I was showing my age–but all you other RM players are my age as well!
  2. Was there a Gen Con or was it just a virtual convention. Does that work? I’m looking forward to Hurin’s report on running a game.
  3. We have started our new “50 in 50” this past weekend. The first adventure hook is The Haunted Dagger. Like virtually all of my mini-hooks they were extracted from past games or ultimately intended for the Shadow World setting. I mostly strip setting specific material out.
  4. Reviews. Obviously we are not writing these adventures for any real monetary motivation, but sales and exposure can depend on reviews. Three of my adventures have gotten poor reviews: The City of Spiders, Bokars Wagon and Curse of the Ancient Tomb. So CoS I get–the reviewer wanted more “meat on the bone” in terms of city maps etc. That would be nice, and perhaps some day we’ll expand upon these with new, more evolved versions. However, I was surprised by Bokars Wagon. I thought it was cool and Adrian did a solid floor plan of the wagon. It was an interesting little NPC drop-in. Unfortunately, all I can see is a 2-star review with no feedback on what the issue or problem was with the product. The same for “Curse of the Ancient Tomb”. 1-star! Really, I’m no Stephen King but I didn’t think it was that bad. I had to make some changes to strip it of SW stuff, and the Time magic might be too complicated for a GM come on–if you gave me the 1-star I would appreciate a few sentences explaining why. Now that we are writing more adventures, ANY feedback is helpful.
  5. RMU. We seem to be getting closer…
  6. Pandemic. Will we see an increase in gaming from people/families/friends being forced to stay at home and quarantine? Is this an opportunity to reach a broader market while people are spending so much time online? Is RM Forums, Rolemasterblog etc seeing an increase in registered users and traffic? Just curious.

Stay safe!

Undeath like you mean it

I am sketching out 25 adventures for our next set of 50 adventures in 50 weeks and I keep coming back to the undead. I don’t want to write same ol’ same ol’ stuff, but the undead are just such good villains. They are uncomplicated, everyone knows who the bad guys are and what needs to be done.

The one class of monster goes from low level challenge with skeletons and zombies right up to wraiths and liches.

I am going to write at least one undead themed entry this time, but the emphasis is more on doing interesting things with them rather than just lining them up for you to knock down.

One of the things I have done this time is flip though Creatures and Treasures and look for under used, at least by me, monsters, with the intention of giving them an outing an moment in the spotlight.

This has been a real eye opener, there are some really fearsome monsters in C&T. I seem to have forgotten a lot of them over the years. I think many settings suggest a much reduced monster ecology. Middle Earth is very much like that. It is just not teeming with fantastical creatures, unlike ancient greece, where you couldn’t move without rubbing shoulders with harpies, hydras, skeletons, at least one cyclops, a minotaur and a sorceress or two for good measure.

Last year, I wrote a lot of stuff with demons of all levels and all the incorporeal undead. I think I have over done those a bit.

This year, I want to make it the year of the weird and the wonderful.

Do you have any favourite RM monsters?

Adventure Styles

I was struggling somewhat to write those city adventures last month, and I was talking on Discord recently and commented that Rolemaster is not ideal for dungeon delves, as the injuries and penalties mount up very quickly.

I have been playing Forbidden Lands recently and that is all about the hex crawl and a sandbox world with masses of things happening all around the characters. The characters can engage with those that they want to, or not. Other events will sweep up the characters eventually, like it or not.

I could see that working with Rolemaster. With the characters in the driving seat, the pace would fall upon them. Plenty of time for healing and recovery, but also a hex crawl calls for rounded characters with many cross over skills, something that RM does exceptionally well.

The one part of Forbidden Lands I was less keen on was the resource management side of the game. It felt a bit like an old Age of Empires game where you had to manage the amount of Stone and Wood to build different functions into your strongholds. Once you had a stronghold you can use it as an adventuring base or a point at which adventures come to you.

Underground Overground

One of the nice things about wilderness adventures is that you can mix up the adventure sites, ruined castles, natural caves or open terrain all come naturally. In the open, the long ranges of bows can be a deciding factor, if you are skillful enough to hit at range. Put the characters in a cave or building and melee becomes the order of the day.

With a much wider range of terrain and adventure sites you also get to use a much wider variety of foes.

Random Encounters

If I was going to run a wilderness game, the place to put all the effort in is random encounters. Randomly rolling for a bunch of orcs is frankly boring. It is boring on multiple levels. I have been playing RM with my group since the late 80s and we have butchered thousands of orcs, been there done that.

It is also boring because it is See Orcs, Kill Orcs, move on. The encounter does not really bring anything to the game.

I would want to rolled a dozen random encounters before the game starts. Look at what the table throws up and then take each one and make the absolute most out of each one. Ask why are these threats being encountered? What do they want to achieve? What are they doing and why?

Sure they may encounter a band of orcs, but what if the orcs have an elven hostage? What if the orcs are expecting the characters to be bringing them a ransom in gold? This is a possible mistaken identity situation. The orcs want to parley at first, they want their money. Maybe the orcs feel betrayed or double crossed? But, what if the characters do have enough gold to pay the ransom anyway?

Now we are role playing and not roll playing.

I would want to give this treatment to every random encounter. Look at what the encounter is with, where it is likely to happen and when. Is the creature nocturnal? Is it likely to be the hunter or the hunted? What complications can be weaved into the encounter? How can I increase the stakes, such as the hostage with the orcs.

The goal would be for the players not to know what was a ‘wandering monster’ and what was an intrinsic part of their plot or storyline.

Another part of what makes RM settings uniquely RM is the existence of healing herbs. Herbs that have specific biomes. Herbs can bring together character collaboration, a wide range of skills, region lore, foraging, herb lore, survival to name the ones that come to mind. If someone is carrying an injury, looking for the right herb can become a side quest in its own right.

Anecdote: In a MERP game we had a seriously hurt character and there was one herb that could possibly save him. I cannot remember the name but it was the one that could heal anything in the hands of an ordained king. We decided to try and look for it. The very first roll I made was a 350+ foraging open ended roll. The GM decided that I had idly picked one while the healer was explaining what we were looking for, so I held it up and said “Does it look like this?” Needless to say, the character survived.

I am not sure if I am just being lazy, urban adventures are hard to pull off, and dungeon crawls are equally hard, but I just instinctively think that wilderness and/or hex crawl explorations really suit RM as a style of adventuring.

Throttling magic in your game setting.

A recent POST in the RM Forums asked for advice about handling “secular” /non-magic combatants against spellcasters. While the scope of the question was defined to the poster’s specific setting, the responses and scope touched upon issues that we have discussed before: low magic versus high magic settings; technology in a fantasy world; settings and rule systems; and the ubiquity of casters in a setting, among other topics.

So in no particular order I wanted to put some thoughts down on paper.

Combat: non-casters versus spell-casters. The primary questions the poster raised, is how can a non-magic using society/group fight against magic-users. What general techniques or plot devices can be utilized to allow “fighters” to prevail against “magic-users”? I think we have all had experience using RM with this exact situation and the question answers itself. Arms Law criticals, combined with the casting limitations makes combat against spell-casters quite easy–especially in situations with numerical advantages. In the poster’s situation, the war is already won–the winning “non-magic using” side (the Steel Rebels) is in charge. There is no need to explain how the Rebels originally won. It could have been superiority in numbers, luck, subterfuge or a combination of factors. At this point, keeping the diffusion of magical knowledge is a combination of identifying potential M-Us at an early age and destroying the knowledge base of magic (books, schools, tomes, etc). Basically the destruction of the Library at Alexandria. Certainly this is a great start pointing for a spellcaster in a campaign. Not only do they have to survive against a magic hostile regime, but they also have to uncover lost bits of magic to advance their skill.

Faith vs Science. One of the common tropes in fantasy literature is the battle between religion (channeling) and secularism (magic). Obviously this mirrors our own social tensions between faith and science. In fantasy literature, one side dominates the power structures and attempts to suppress the other. A religious sect has the “inquisition” to root out the evil of magic or a Magic-User cabal banishes faith and clerics from their domain. Rolemaster’s division of magical realms makes these possibilities interesting; especially when realm spells are more distinct from one another and gives Channelers strengths and weaknesses that are different than Essence users.

Science vs Magic. So how can technology nullify or overcome magic in a fantasy setting? Certainly much advanced technology mirrors or is indistinguishable from magic; but unlike magic, can be utilized by non-spellcasters. That’s a huge advantage. But technology doesn’t have to be sufficiently advanced, it can merely be an advantage: better alloy armors, tactical communication systems, battlefield intelligence etc. In my SW campaign, “alchemy” is used to counter battle magic with explosive munitions. Sure it’s not that reliable, but can be used by regular soldiers.

Prejudices and social biases. Being a magic-user can be problematic in a society that fears, hates or discriminates against spellcasters. What can a caster do if the entire populace refuses to talk to, trade with or provide services to them? Casters can be turned away at borders, refused entry into gated cities and harassed and mocked in public. What if casters are required to wear a “scarlet letter” or other visible symbol that “marks” them to the rest of the suspicious populace? Imagine a city or society that requires a caster to wear a Kregora collar to prohibit casting while in city limits? Social constraints alone can make spellcasters challenging to play.

Those are just a few thoughts on limiting magic without relying on tweaks to game mechanics. What have you used in your setting to constrain spellcasters?

Time to Shut Down the Beta?

I was looking at the ICE forums this morning and it struck me that the text for RMu is now fixed. No changes are going to be made, but the discussions are still on going.

This can lead to two things. Either the perception that ICE are not listening. Or that RMu is just being pushed out the door regardless of its state.

No one can say that ICE have rushed RMu to market. I just cannot see the debates about how each and every part of RMu works ever ending.

Two that jumped out at me were Haste and the Simple Round. The reason why these struck me was that they were both Action Point related issues. Action Points are seen as new and they are not something most GMs are used to.

Lock the Forums

If there is going to be a ramping up of media coverage for RMu, that should bring about more visitors to the forums. People interested in the new RMu will be drawn to the Beta forums being the only place to find out about RMu.

And there they will see daily posts about things that people see as not working, or not working well.

This is not the best first impression.

Why not lock down the beta forums and create a new forum for RMu Companion One?

Now we can debate proposed revisions and alternative options and in doing so create the impression of a forward thinking and active community. A game where new things are in the pipeline.

RMu has the dubious honour of being a game where house rules were published before the actual game. Hurin’s individual skill costs per profession were put out in the GC, possibly, two years ago now?

The Guild Companion finally died in May 2019, so that is 14 months ago, and I am sure it limped along for a few months with just previews of HARP books.

Look Forward Not Back

I think trying to paint the RMu community as forward thinking and creative, with new books, adventures, and options being lined up for publication will create a better impression than pointing out more flaws in a game that has had its last editing pass and is now going to layout.

Picking holes in the text now is not going to improve the game or its chances of success in a really tough market.

If we want RMu to be successful, we need to put it out there as being a great game to play and fun to bring to your table.

City Adventures (…again)

This time last week I was musing about city adventures. It seemed a common theme that the crux of the problem was that most city adventures involve wrong doing, and that there would always be people better suited to dealing with wrong doers than a heavily armed gang of vigilantes, or PCs as we like to call them.

The core of this months fanzine is city adventures. I think I came up with a pair of interesting and exciting situations for players to try and unravel.

As I was finishing writing the issue, I started to reflect and at the time what struck me was that what I was offering took this form (under th ehood, not literally)

  • These are the bad guys
  • These are their plans
  • This is how they carry them out
  • This is how the PCs can get caught up in this mess

I know GMs that love that structure. It gives them great flexibility to play out the ‘adventure’ in their own style. What it isn’t is a dungeon in city clothes.

For city adventures, palace intrigues/assassinations/insurrections are over done.

Equally, the sewers seem to be the ‘go to’ place to put the bad guys.

It is the middle ground that appears to be the hardest territory to run something. That is where the town guard walk the streets, where inconvenient witnesses could see too much.

If I were writing up and adventure idea for my own game, then I may happily burn a city to the ground. I could then run adventures arround the rebuilding. Doing that in someone else’s game is possibly overstepping the mark.

In adventures I have previously published, I have burned cities to the ground, open portals to the time of dinosaurs, had them ripped apart by active trees/treants, and infected them with the plague.

The common factor is that the city becomes the canvas against which the adventure takes place. In the city burning, there is only one potential combat encounter, but the adventure is best served by talking the situation out, not by killing the person that is being awkward.

In the dinosaur adventure it is pure hack and slash with T. Rexes in the street and pterodactyls in the air and big swishing tails mashing through the fronts of buildings.

The Treants may or may not have been borrowed from Isengard, an idea I can neither confirm or deny. Only this time the characters are on the inside of the ring of trees.

With the plague city/town, it is almost a casual obstacle in the characters way. They are supposed to resupply in the next town, when you get there is it is closed because of the plague. No supplies, no rest, but there could well be a chance to earn some serious brownie points and reputation.

What has struck me is, in the same way that the most dangerous threat that a PC can meet is an NPC, they are much more dangerous than any monster, so it is with city adventures. What makes the adventures work are the NPCs and their plans.

The actual setting is backdrop, even more so than in a dungeon or in teh wilderness.

Urban Adventures

One of the things I have to do this week is put together the July issue for the fanzine.

One of the things I want to include is an adventure for beginning level characters, which I consider 1st to 3rd level, set in a town.

Being in a town poses some challenges.

  • From a hack and slash point of view, the town guard is more likely to a better bet than the characters at dealing with threats.
  • There is a more limited selection of beasties to use for hack and slash encounters.
  • Using intelligent creatures means they will more likely want a fair trial then be summarily executed by the characters.

From a non-hack and slash perspective we have other problems.

  • Characters may not be diversified enough to have the social skills for a social conflict adventure.
  • ‘Prime movers’ in social circles are highly likely to be a vastly higher level than the characters.

One of the things I struggle most with for urban adventures is how to create a challenge for the characters that makes sense for the characters to actively take part in. If the challenge is clearly illegal, what is to stop the characters simply calling the guard in to take care of it?

If it isn’t illegal, what is to stop the antagonists just calling in the guard to arrest the characters for the medieval version of harrassment?

In my face to face game, which we played before lockdown and we are due to play again in October or November, so has a chance of happening but no promises, the players are both hunting and hunted by at least one assassin. The actual number of assassins is not known. They could be the same person or different.

The identity of the assassin is also not known.

This is almost on a par with a superhero/villain with a public and secret identity. That is where some of the tension is coming from. The characters don’t know who they can trust. As they are also the hunted as well as the hunters they cannot afford to do nothing.

So over the course of today I will be wandering around the farm thinking of horrible things to do the the characters that are not to difficult for them to resolve, but not to easy either!

BHanson’s Shadow World File List

Now that the Rolemaster Forums are back up and running, I thought I would index the various Shadow World files I’ve posted there and some notes on updates and editing I have in my queue. This is partly for me, to help keep track of things, and partly as a quick guide to these file that are buried in lengthy forum thread.

Please note that some of these files may be here on the Rolemasterblog, but to access these links to the RM Forums will require a Forum account–otherwise you cannot see or access.

Here we go:

  1. SW Healing Chart. This was a quick reference chart for cinematic healing, but taking into account cultural access to healing skills. I use it between adventures to quickly establish healing times & costs without a lot of more complicated calculations. It was included in my Master Atlas, but probably needs to fleshed out.
  2. RM/RMU Class Comparison. Another chart from my Master Atlas, this was a quick guide to mapping RMU professions to classic RM professions with notes specific to SW.
  3. SW Research Chart. Small chart to generate research results.
  4. Invoke Chart. I’ve blogged and written about invocation quite a bit. This chart allows PCs to call/pray for their gods intervention. This is a common mechanism in my SW campaign and brings the gods into gameplay in a less abstract way.
  5. SW Lore Table. Incomplete, but the start of summarizing skill levels/competence level and knowledge of various skills and lores.
  6. SW Metal Chart. Summary of SW metals and alloys with a unifying “breakage” number that use for material RRs and enchantments/imbedding.
  7. Master Herb Chart. Collated list of all herbs, plants, and poisons found in all RM books. May need some updates to include Terry’s more recent books.
  8. SW Crystal Summary. Crystals play a key role in SW, but Terry never really fleshed out a full system for the. This chart assumes that all “Essence Crystals” are basically the same–even if know as Zirix Crystals, or Essaence Crystals or Jewel Slime etc. It needs some work, but I use crystals as PP storage devices that can be drawn upon or recharged with channeling skill.
  9. Cantrips. Really this is part of BASiL, but in the thread.
  10. God Invocation Summary. This chart is used with the Invocation chart. Summarizes modifiers to SW’s gods responses and specific things they may do.
  11. SW Encounter Chart. This is a comprehensive chart for random encounters by region. Includes weather and Essence effects. Inspired by the encounter tables in the AD&D DM’s guide. Needs a little updating but I think a very useful tool!
  12. Void Knight Base List. Spell list for a organization I use in my SW campaign and features in “Priest-King of Shade”. It needs some touch up.
  13. Soulless. This is my effort to consolidate the concept of the Unlife, traditional fantasy Undead, corruption and possession. In my SW campaign, the Unlife possesses or inhabits creatures to various degrees.
  14. Hierax Guard. Organization dedicated to fighting Demon’s. Uses the Void Knight base list.
  15. Xiosians. My interpretation of the Xio Warriors mentioned in a few places and a way to integrate them into the larger SW story.
  16. History of the Earthwardens. I went through every single SW book and collated all the references to the Earthwardens. This is my conclusions.
  17. Notes on Tech & Languages. Quick excerpt from my Master Atlas.
  18. Elves. Again, this is my fleshing out of Elves: how they came to be and their place in the larger story. Plus a Shadow World explanation of the various types of Elves beyond the Tolkien archetypes.
  19. Alchemy Notes. I use alchemy skill a lot in my game. This is my simplified but flexible rules on alchemy. I plan on expanding on it at some point.
  20. SW Trade Goods. Treasure is more than gems, jewelry and gold!
  21. SW Civilization Summary. Chart from my Master Atlas with overview of the various ancient civilizations.
  22. Cult of Hraask. I wanted a “spider/insect” spell list grounded in SW.
  23. SW Cultural Skills. This is part of SWARM rules (Shadow World Alternate Role Master) and my “build a character in 10 minutes. Includes specific SW cultures rather than the broader types in RMU.
  24. SW Professions. List of vocations and skill packages for quick character generation.
  25. SW Background Table. Random background table, SW specific.
  26. SW Material Strength. Unifying method for breakage, VS RR’s and imbedding, enchanting and weapon runes.
  27. Weapon Modifier Chart. Combat modifiers and stats for specific weapons rather than general modifiers used in RM.
  28. SW Racial Chart. Conversion of bonuses to RMU. Probably will need a re-edit after RMU publication.
  29. Orhanian Base Spells Lists. God specific lists for Clerics and Followers. Kuor. Valris. Cay. Shaal. REann. Eissa. Phaon. Teris. Oriana. Jaysek. Kieron. Iorak. Iloura.
  30. Charon Base Lists. Orgiana. Inis. Kesh. Andaras. Ztaar. Scalu. Moralis. Klysus. Nynaku.
  31. Religious Organizations. Orhan. Kuor. Valris. Teris. Cay. Shaal. Phaon. Reann. Kieron. Iorak.
  32. Religious Organizations. Charon. Inis. Ztaar.
  33. History of SW in narrative form. My Master Atlas version.
  34. SW Languages. My notes, needs some work.
  35. SW Special Armor. Cool armors.
  36. SW Archaeology. Notes on ancient SW civilizations.
  37. SW Antiquities. Price chart for ancient stuff!
  38. Jaiman Tradegoods. More trade items specific to Jaiman cities and cultures.
  39. Iron Wind Base Lists. Lyak. Yarthraak. Gaath. Athimurl. Dansart. Thargondaak.
  40. SW Notes on Currency. Summary of various coins and currencies.
  41. Shrapnel & Swarm Crit Chart. I use for explosions or insect swarms.
  42. SW Trade Goods: Drugs & Alcohol. Small file that needs more work!
  43. BASIL: Essence Lists.
  44. BASIL: Channeling Lists.
  45. BASIL: Mentalism Lists. Still working on these.
  46. Legends of Shadow World. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5. Alternate all Priest PCs.
  47. Priest-King of Shade. Small module that takes place in SW Agyra.
  48. The Book of Pales. Summary and overview of the Pales.

…and the excitement builds

but probably slowly.

It is great that the ICE site is back up and running, and it looks like they preserved most of the data, everything important at least.

It is also great that RMu seems to be still making progress.

I think it was about this time two years ago that I last got excited about RMu being nearly complete. I wrote a series of posts about starting adventures, and cliches.

The point behind those posts was that to make RMu a success we need to get people playing it. New players are going to be starting at the bottom, whatever level that turns out to be.

What we are going to do with the 50in50 part 2 may be fine for experienced GMs with campaigns to drop things into, but I think that is a bit tough for a new GM with new players trying to learn a new game.

I was chatting to a podcaster last night on Discord and they were talking about live streaming their next game, using a VTT.

I can see the value of that. The live stream goes out via twitch, which attracts a live audience, who can interact with the GM via the chat stream. Post-game the video goes out to YouTube for posterity, so people can catch up or learn how to play.

You could even take the audio, clean it up and podcast it for people who just want to get their RPG fix while not being fixed to a screen.

I am building up my experience with VTTs, Fantasy Grounds, and although I can see the point of it, I really struggle with them. I am not seeing the software as enabling, I am seeing the software as interfering.

This isn’t a problem, no one says that we have to use FG or roll20 for that matter. It just means that this is not for me. When I have been doing it we were using voice of Discord and the character management over FG. It was quite detestable. One of those things where if this was the only option I would rather not do it.

As I say, it is not for me.

I always have a commercial head on my shoulders. I think it comes from the fact that I work in both advertising and finance. For someone with the appetite for this I think it could be an interesting side hustle.

Right now, you would struggle to get 100 subscribers to a Rolemaster channel but post RMu’s release, I would seriously hope to increase the interest in Rolemaster ten- or twentyfold.

I did a quick survey of existing Rolemaster streamers and actual play channels and that would mean as long at they could get over the 1000 subscriber threshold required to earn anything, they would earn $20-$40 per session. That was assuming a 10 or 20 times increase in interest in Rolemaster.

That isn’t a huge sum of money, but I looked at other streamers for other games. Some regular Zweihander youtubers are earning a ballpark $50 to $150 per streamed session. Even HARP, which is not expecting any kind of new edition anytime soon is bringing in thousands of subscribers and multiple thousands of views of each video.

I am basing this on a typical $3/1000 views.

This isn’t going to be an instant pay cheque, some of those HARP videos have been around for 8-9 years and have had time to keep ticking away picking up the viewers.

The things is, if you and your group are happy to put your games online, you are being paid to play. That is good for you but it is also good for the entire community. The more stuff there is out there to bring people to Rolemaster the stronger the community will become.

You don’t need to be Critical Roll to make a difference.