Legends of Shadow World: Surviving Chapter 2

This is a continuation of my previous blog post on “Legends of Shadow World“, an adventure series I’m writing for characters level 40-60th. Last night the group attempted Chapter 2 (out of what is now 5 total chapters)! It’s getting longer….

While I thought I would replace the current group with other SW personalities of higher level, I didn’t have time this past week to put together the replacements. (btw: I liked T’vaar Dekdarion but I think he’s still in a coma an assassination attempt by the Cult of Stars). I did end up bumping the characters levels a bit:

Malim Pelax: 43rd lvl Loremaster (Magician)

Sumendar: 46th lvl Navigator –“Guides of Vurn-Kye” (Magician)

Knight-Captain Kroger: 48th lvl Captain of the Sun Guard (Lightbringers of Phaon)

Chomen Drah: 50th lvl Priest of Iorak

Jan Jo’drin: 54th lvl Changramai Warrior

The biggest change was allowing Chomen access to his 50th lvl Spell “Master”. (this is one of a few allowances I’m making while using RM2) All of the characters were effective, but the Navigator felt constrained due to his organizationally mandated neutrality. I may need to replace the Navigator in the group and just have the PCs use Navigator services when needed.

Chapter 1 introduced some environmental challenges and restrictions (Essaence Fluxuations) while Chapter 2 has different restrictions, this time on Channelers. The PCs were already depleted by Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 occurs immediately so there is no time for the group to “recharge”. C2 is more of a traditional dungeon crawl, with traps, guardians etc. For the most part, the group progressed slowly but steadily, but the challenges continued to erode their resources. The final confrontation proved to be a surprise–there are RM creatures that are incredibly dangerous to even high level characters! And no, they are not Shards.

While the players followed a fairly directed route that I sketched out, I’m going to flesh out the rest of the complex for the eventual published product. I think it’s going to be an amazing place to explore!

I think my biggest take away: even though there is lots of talk about high level spell casters having an advantage over non-spell users at higher levels, the reality is that casters better get good at some type of combat skill! Large numbers of semi-powerful creatures can overwhelm and defeat the most powerful caster and smart opponents will target casters who try and stay back and cast spells. (Isn’t that always how PCs beat tougher opponents?)

So far, I’ve been pleased with how the RM2 system rules are holding up at these high levels but a bit sad my group is back using RAW rather than my own simplified system. (although we are using the simplified encumbrance rules). My players and I discussed the differences playing this in RM2 versus our normal SW campaign using our own ruleset (SWARM). Here are some thoughts:

  1. Set HPs. We adopted Peters idea of set hitpoints and eliminating Body Development. The players liked having a lot more HPs at lower level, but now wonder if it would be better to have Body D back for these high level adventures! Ha, the grass is always greener!
  2. BASiL. RM2 and most iterations just give spell casters too many spells. A 50th lvl caster could conceivably have 25 lists and over 400 spells. By 15th lvl, most casters will have all the Open and Closed, the only differentiation being Base Lists. The players like having less, more distinct, more specialized and more powerful spells that BASiL allows.
  3. Unlimited Rank Development. The group would have liked to have unlimited rank development back. A fighter could have 200+ skill ranks in a weapon. Thats a 200+ OB, but more importantly we use # of skill ranks to offset combat maneuver penalties (not Combat Specializations). So a Fighter (or Monk) with 200 ranks could engage 4 opponents without any OB penalty (-50 per opponent, but doesn’t take into effect position penalties). Or parrry most missile weapons or engage in multiple attacks against several opponents etc.
  4. Meta-Skills. By 50th level, you HAVE to bake in meta-gamer effects and assume powerful characters will just know things and be good at things. Fewer meta-skills lends itself to higher level gaming.
  5. “Level-less” gameplay. We have been using “Stats as Skills” which are basically level agnostic. The players like the improvements that a level based system gave them, but agreed it didn’t make much sense.
  6. Magic Power rules. I nerfed Daily Items quite a bit, so the players liked having Daily items that didn’t require them to provide the powerpoints!
  7.  Great Role-Playing. Having the group adopt pre-gen characters allowed them to stretch a bit without the emotional attachment they might have with their own custom built characters. Out of the 5 characters the group favorite for roleplaying was Sumendar with Kroger coming in a close second! In terms of efficacy, guess who was the most potent character? 

 

Unifying and Simplification: Rolemaster Herbs

One of the early appeals of Rolemaster was it’s “realism”, and while most people thought of the combat system there was also exhaustive material around magical herbs. In many ways, RM herbs supplanted traditional fantasy RPGs reliance on healing magic and healing potions. Some even argue that RM healing spells are relatively weak, or that the detailed injury system required too many spells to heal even minor wounds.

I think many players/groups use herbs in different ways: some to augment natural healing processes while others allow for instant, miraculous healing effects. “Chew and screw” so to speak. Instant effects allow groups without skilled healers to adventure, or groups in intensive dungeon environments to maintain their tempo.

No matter how a GM handles effects and healing times, RM established some basic criteria for herbs: location codes(biome), form, prep and rarity. Peter discussed creature codes  in a previous blog, and certainly RM herb codes were another example of over complexity!

RMU has done much to simplify herb criteria; biomes are simplified, rarity is given a modifier and “form” & “prep” are fairly simple. What RMU didn’t do is completely unify these simplified criteria with the RM skill and resolution process.

What we have done is apply difficulty modifiers to 3 criteria for herbs.

  1. Rarity. The same as RMU, we give herbs a modifier for it’s rarity. This can be applied to a foraging/survival skill check or as a check to see if an herbalist or store stocks the herb.
  2. Preparation.  This is where we diverge from RMU which sort of combines prep and application into one criteria. Each herb is given a prep modifier, based on the difficulty in preparing the agent for use. Whether that’s brewing, distilling, steeping, powdering etc.
  3. Application.  Finally, we give an herb an application modifier, based on the difficulty of delivering it’s effects. For healing and other herbs with a range of effects the maneuver roll can act as a % of success–so a 85% roll would delivery 85% of the healing effect. For herbs with an “all or nothing” effect it’s simply a pass/fail maneuver.

Interestingly, you can have a herb that is relatively easy to prepare but difficult to apply correctly or more commonly, difficult to prepare by very easy to apply. For herbs that require no prep, or the application is easy we just give it an n/a and don’t require a skill check.

Using these criteria gives herbs complexity, but still rely on the simple skill resolution process.  Additionally, players may need to rely on different herbs at lower level that don’t require a high level of skill to prepare or apply, or may need to pay an herbalist to do the preparation for them. (For simplicity sake, I don’t get into much detail on “freshness” and removed most of the herb keeping spells from BASiL).

Also note, we put all rolemaster herbs into our SW Master Encounter table by biome. You can find that HERE.

So this is the last blog for May! Whew, we did a blog every day this month!!! For the next few months I’m going to reduce by blog pace to about 1/wk and focus on getting adventure files ready, finish the other projects I’m working on and do a bit of travelling overseas!

Fanzine – Dilemma, Dilemma!

It appears there is been a slight issue at Onebookshelf following their company retreat in mid-May. At the beginning of May I got the print proof copy of the Fanzine issue #1. I made a few editorial changes and resubmitted it thinking it could be better. Shortly after I recieved the proof of issue #2. Again I was going to make some changes to that one as well but thought I had loads of time so I would wait until I got the final version #1 back first.

Issue #1 seems to have disappeared into the ether despite me sending chasing emails to Onebookshelf.

So it is virtually June now and there is still no print version of April’s issue, May’s issue is available for me to hit the button that will make it available but I know it is not perfect and June’s issue is due any day.

So do I sit tight?

So do I put May’s issue out before April’s knowing it isn’t perfect? I can then get on with Junes. I can still apply what I have learned from these two to Junes issue. The added content that I was going to insert into Mays can be added to Junes so nothing is lost.

Or do I sit tight and wait until everything is perfect?

I am tempted to say go ahead with the imperfect editions. I can update the product description and say these were the very first issues and are not prefect. Then in months to come go back retrospectively and update the print editions. One never knows if the fanzine takes off these less than perfect versions could be collectors items. It works for these odd stamps that get printed upside down or in the wrong colour after all.

So what would you do?

Shut the Damn Gate

It is not uncommon for characters to be able to summon creatures and even demons. The demonic spells start at 10th level and by 20th level you are summoning in some quite powerful demons.

So given the average life span of a demon why have none of them spent a mere decade or so researching a Summon Humanoid spell? A bit of hand waving and mumbling and ^poof^ there is a player character appearing before you. With a bit of opportune scrying and you summon the PC while taking their bath so they don’t have their +50 demon slaying sword and mithril armour of imperviousness with them either.

Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say, so if PCs can summon demons then it works the other way around.

Imagine you are running a high level campaign, you start intermittently asking your PCs to make resistance rolls vs channeling (with a nod to BriH’s post yesterday).  If they fail then the rest of the party see a rift open around the character and they disappear.

The summoning demon has assembled a squad of demonic minions waiting for the summoning to succeed and when it does then let battle commence. One rather unprepared PC vs an adequate number of demons of your choice.

You could even try and arrange it so that the PC is summoned during a battle. One which the PCs were probably going to win but was also a close run thing. You then yank one PC out of it. It disrupts the PCs strategic planning, changes the odds and puts one PC in a very dangerous situation.

You suddenly get another interesting option as well. Can the party rescue their friend from a different plane? Can they even find them?

For the, now solo, PC how do they cope without their party to fall back on?

I have lost count of the number of times that I have been on a quest for a specific item and when I finally get it I get raided by the forces of evil and they steal it from me. This is just a more impressive version of the same thing.

Spell research can be a wonderful thing, especially in the wrong hands!

Time to party? Holidays in Shadow World.

As we relax over a long weekend here in the USA for our Memorial Day, it has me thinking about a project I’ve procrastinated on for quite some time: developing a lengthy list of holidays for Shadow World and specific SW cultures.

My plan was to comb through Terry’s work (canon), the SW Players Guide, a deep dive into the timelines to come up with some ideas. It’s easy to forget about holidays in a fantasy campaign, but these days can not only be adventure hooks, but provide more game texture in a campaign.

Our own world is overripe with holidays–many are re-purposed dates important to earlier cultures–but nonetheless become a integral part of our lives. In thinking about Shadow World there are four  basic categories that could be used globally, regionally or locally (with crossovers):

  1. Astronomical Events. SW already has some significant astronomical events: Night of the Third Moon and the Comet are two of the most prominent. Certainly the number of moons and their waxing and waning might also be triggers for holidays or observances.
  2. Historical Events. The SW timeline is lengthy list of possible “memorial days”: from the first Elven Settlements to the Wars of Dominion there is an enormous amount of material.
  3. Religious. Some of the Orhan (and Charon) gods are tied to seasons, elements or natural phenomena. Their Holy Days should reflects the gods “aspect” accordingly.
  4. Personal/Social. Birthdays, anniversaries, wedding days or other social constructs can a reason for a holiday or festival.

From a gaming perspective, holidays could have profound effects on the normal functioning of society. Perhaps local businesses are closed, social norms are loosened, the practice of magic is encouraged or prohibited or there are required dress/costume and behaviors (fasting) expected of everyone–even travelers and visitors. The celebrations can also represent dangers to foreigners if social norms or customs are violated or insulted.

I’m going to start a spreadsheet and start adding various events–if anyone has an ideas for Shadow World, leave a comment and I can add it in! Don’t forget the fun ones–especially the Kieron’s Festival!

First Level – My Take

What does a first level character look like?
I’ve talked a fair amount about both modern gaming and first level characters, so I figured I’d write up an example of what a first level character looks like in my developing rules. Creating one of these characters takes a few steps, and I’ll try to provide some “time hacks” so you can get an idea of how long it takes. It’s a bit long, but this isn’t something you distill into 150 characters.

Continue reading “First Level – My Take”

Invocation & Sanctification. Expanded Channeling in your Shadow World campaign.

It’s been a while since I blogged about Channeling, so I thought I would revisit one topic and discuss another: Invocation and Sanctification. As I’ve discussed, the Channeling Realm raises a lot of issues about setting, spell access and the role of Dieties that aren’t present in the more agnostic realms of Essence and Mentalism. That’s one of the reasons that Peter and others have just eliminated the Channeling Realm and rolled it into Essence. Again, this is really driven by the metaphysical underpinnings of the setting.

Shadow World, however, does have an established pantheon to connect to the Channeling Realm and Rolemaster suggests that Channeling spells are “passed” to the spellcaster, or at the very least, a god gives tacit approval for spellcasting of higher level spells. This raises a host of issues: the behavior of the caster, their role in the religion, the difference between “Clerics” and other members of a religion.

For example, members of a religion could be broken down to a number of types–here are just a few examples:

  1. Follower. A regular person that believes/follows a specific gods and attends the local temple/church. Should/could a follower get access to Channeling spells? Maybe low level Open lists?
  2. Administrators. A religion doesn’t run itself, and high level “management” may not actual perform ceremonies or other priestly functions, but are still elevated worshipers. Should they have Channeling spells?
  3. Priests. When we think of Priests/Clerics in RPGs we think of travelling adventurers representing their gods, not Clergy that stay in a church or temple and perform religious ceremonies and “tend to the flock”.  If we make that distinction, RPG Clerics are more “Pilgrims” than “Clergy”, and as such should have different types of spell lists.
  4. Monks. Devout, monastic followers of a god are typically represented as martial artists, but religious monks could be scholars, seers, astrologers as well.
  5. Holy Warriors. Paladins are the common trope, but Holy Warrior could be any warrior granted special powers by the God.
  6. Chosen. A God could bestow or grant powers to any follower or believer in return for obedience. These powers will probably depend on the task or purpose.

So what does all this mean? Channeling spells could be granted to a variety of worshipers based on their role in the church and the needs of the God. This a very different criteria than standard RM spell acquisition.

Given all that, we utilize two other aspects of Channeling.

Invocation. It seems apparent that any follower should be able to pray to their god for aid. This is no different than an athlete whispering a quick prayer or plea before a game or challenge. This might be a general prayer or a frantic call in a dire situation and IS NOT a spellcasting. Of course, there is no guarantee a God will respond, and if they do, what that response looks like! Leaving it up to a GM is too much a deux ex machine–an easy way to bail players out of a bad situation. That’s why I use this CHART and also further guidelines based on the various Kulthean gods. The major factors are the devoutness of a character, the personality of the god, and the frequency of such pleas.

Sanctification. The second aspect of Channeling that we use is the concept of “Blessing” a holy place; making it sacred to a particular god. Mostly this is done at holy temples, churches and shrines. Sanctifying a place does several things: it allows easier casting/praying for followers of the specific God and it makes it harder for followers of opposing gods to cast spells in a sanctified area.

Here is an example of a Sanctify spell from BASiL:

7. Sanctify I – This spell will make an area/altar/shrine “Holy”. The caster will recieve +10 to Spell Casting, Rituals or Invocations, and followers is the area will receive the benefits of Bless I and Prayer I. The spell must be cast once/day/lvl to prepare the area. Caster can only have 1 Sanctified location at a time.

Invocation gives players a mechanism to relate to their chosen Diety that impacts gameplay. Sanctified areas can dramatically increase the power of Clerics in their own temples and greatly reduce the power of others on the same ground. Both, can add depth to your Channeling players in your Shadow World adventures

 

Where to Start in Shadow World. How about Gryphon College in Jaiman?

Shadow World is well stocked with interesting groups and organizations: Navigators, Loremasters, the Iron Wind, Cult of Stars, the list goes on and on. But what organization might be accessible to, and make for a good starting foundation for starting players?

Tucked into the module Jaiman, the Land of Twilight is a good candidate: Gryphon College. Gryphon College is a small monastic school that hides a secret: the institution is a façade for an intel gathering and strike team force working against the Unlife. The college hosts around 100 students, but a smaller elite group of 14 make up the Gryphons. It’s assumed that the college draws from the student body to staff this force.

This is a great premise for a starting group. The college becomes the reason for the players to meet and group up (and learn starting skills), and the hidden machinations of the school give the PCs opportunities to go on missions. Perhaps this starts as seemingly innocent errands, but eventually gives the players an opportunity to join the ranks of the Gryphons!

So, what are the Gryphons? They are goddamn Batmans! Each Gryphon is equipped with mechanical wings—jagged bat like apparatus that allow them to fly and they have small wrist mounted dart guns. Give them functional black leather armor and utility belts and you have a squad of Dark Knights. I can imagine a number of other gadgets, magical devices and alchemical tricks that could add to the overall cool factor.

So let’s review, starting the players at Gryphon College:

  1. Bases them in Jaiman which is supported by numerous supplements and key events in the Kulthean timeline.
  2. At a college, allowing players access to learn and train in skills both magical and mundane.
  3. The college fights the Unlife, so allows a great premise to send the group on missions.
  4. The college it tied up into major events in Jaiman, which provides a great gateway into larger campaigns.
  5. The college has the Gryphons, which would be a cool organization for the players to be members.
  6. Gryphons = Batmen

If you are curious about playing in Shadow World, and want to know where to start, pick up a copy of Jaiman. Used copies are always on eBay and Amazon.

Legends of Shadow World: Building a 50th level adventure group.

Tuesday night my gaming group ran the first chapter of the 50th level adventure I’ve been working on. Overall, it’s a 3-part adventure: chapter 1 is the introduction, in chapter 2 the plot is revealed (mostly) and chapter 3 is the grand finale. Each chapter takes different skills and strategies, but based on Tuesday’s game I’m not sure the current group can survive and make it to the end!

The adventure is meant to be a stand-alone campaign or tournament module to really test the system limits of Rolemaster, show case cool Shadow World stuff and as another challenge here on the Rolemasterblog. “Legends” is predicated on known or powerful Shadow World characters being called upon in a crisis. I wanted to use a group of established Shadow World NPCs as pre-generated characters.

Some basic criteria:

  1. The group should be made up of well-known persons or groups.
  2. The group should provide skills/spells to handle the challenges.
  3. The PCs should be interesting and fun to role-play.
  4. The characters should be around lvl 50.

For all the talk of Shadow World being high-fantasy and high-powered it was difficult to find 5 NPCs to use in the adventure. Here is what I ended up with for the group:

  • Malim Pelax: 41st lvl Loremaster/Magician (I bumped him up a level or two from the Master Atlas)
  • Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician –“Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona)
  • Lord-Captain Kroger: 48th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon)
  • Chomen Drah: 45th lvl Priest of Iorak (with alchemical skills)
  • Jan Jo’drin: 47th lvl Changramai Warrior
  • + 1 NPC, a 12th lvl “Engineer/technician”

On the positive side, I had a Loremaster, Navigator and Changramai represented which is cool, plus Clerics of Iorak and Phaon. On the negative, none were over 50th lvl and using RM2 RAW, no one had 50th lvl spells. Another down side was the class distribution: 2 magicians (although they had another set of base lists), no powerful mentalists and no real subterfuge (which may not be necessary). Finally, not great healing spells and no female characters (though Jan could easily be female).

The group finished chapter 1, which is more cerebral and role-playing than the subsequent chapters..but…they used up quite a bit of resources and may be in for some serious hurt in chapter 2. Even IF they could survive chapter 2, they would be in no way able to complete the final chapter. This could be the RM version of Tomb of Horrors! So, I need to change up the group for more power and if possible, replace my made-up characters with more SW personalities. Here is what I’m thinking so far:

  1. T’vaar Dekdarion. This is a “threefer”: he’s a Loremaster, a Changramai trained bad ass and he’s 61st By using him, I’m bumping up the group power level, combining the roles of Malim and Jan from the previous group iteration, and eliminating the Magician redundancy that we had.
  2. Chomen Drah: 52th lvl Builder Priest (Iorak). Terry doesn’t have too much info on high level clerics so I still have to rely on the work I did on various religions. I’m bumping up Chomen to 52nd lvl plus I’m using the Iorak base list I created.
  3. Lord-Captain Kroger: 50th lvl Paladin (Lightbringers of Phaon). I’m keeping Kroger for now—he’s a serious fighter and representative for Phaon. He’ll have my “Holy Warrior” spells from Project BASiL as well.
  4. Sumendar: 45st lvl Navigator/Magician – “Guides of Vurn-Kye” (great persona) I’m keeping Sumendar for now since I want a Navigator in the group.
  5. Empty slot. Who should it be? A Warlock of Itanis? A Dragonlord as Malim suggested?

Anyway, as I posted in the RM Forums, if anyone has any suggestions for a cool SW NPC that might work in the group, post a comment! If they aren’t quite 50th lvl I can always bump them–even NPCs level up! Terry has created some iconic characters in Shadow World–who would you play if you could?

 

 

 

I’m Your Greatest Fan!

I was thinking about NPCs today. In particular about NPCs that join the party. I know some GMs like to throw in an NPC healer just because RM is so bloody dangerous that someone needs to keep the characters alive.

I am not a fan of NPC healers. I like having an NPC to give me a voice in the party. I am not sure that is always a good thing.

So, I am there happily thinking about NPCs and suddenly thought “There is a plot idea!” Imagine an NPC that is so entranced by one of the PCs that not only do they want to be in the band but they want to get rid of the others so they can have the PC to themselves.

So I am thinking along the lines of a cuckoo in the nest sort of plot with the NPC as the cuckoo. This could slowly ferment and bubble away under the skin. You could always have the NPC run short of herbs just when they get to which ever PC is closest (emotionally) to the ‘target PC’, or happen to ‘not hear’ requests for healing if it is a chaotic situation.

How soon before you reach a crisis if the healer withdraws their support?

This is an off the cuff thought this morning but scarily this is the second post I have done where the Healer is the bad guy.

Does that say something about me or should we not go there? 🙂