Shadow World Speculation: What is the Mazatlak Pillar City?

For those that have perused the extensive Shadow World timeline in the Master Atlas or Part IV: Lands will have seen a few references to the Mazatlak Pillar City. Call me intrigued! There are four references in the Master Atlas (I’m using 3rd Edition):


  1. Mazzara Delta: [Cool Temperate/Seasonal] Y’nar (Mixed economies/Monarchy/TL: ) A vast delta/archipelago; this fragmented land and the shores to north and south are controlled by a Y’nari kingdom. At the head of this delta is the capital: Mazatlak Pillar City.

Gendael: A trading center where furs, ores, fish, meat and other staples are exchanged for exotic spices and other items from more temperate lands. The road to Mazatlak is heavily travelled.

Mazatlak Pillar City: A regional trade center and capital of the Mazzara Delta kingdom.

p.184 (Timeline 6053 TE)

Mulira: Mazatlak Pillar City shakes but the ancient stone pedestals stand.


So, what the heck is a “Pillar City”? That’s been churning around in my hind brain for years; trying to imagine what that would look like and how to design the city for a possible module. The few clues we can glean is that it’s a city, it has pillars which can shake, it’s located on a river delta:

Definition of delta: a piece of land shaped like a triangle that is formed when a river splits into smaller rivers before it flows into an ocean

The impression is lowlands, prone to seasonal flooding that require houses built on stilts like many third world areas. Like this:

But Mazatlak isn’t a “stilt village”, it’s a “Pillar City” with stone pedestals. That makes me think of this:

This is the famed Basilica Cistern in Constantinople. So this could be a good model of Mazatlak: a normal city with a vast foundation made up of pillars and columns. This feels right and creates a great opportunity for a dual world: the normal city above and this surreal “underneath” where trade, commerce and skullduggery could occur! This also reminds me of Chicago where they built a new street level above the first floor of the buildings and created a below ground world that mirrors the city above.

I was good with that image until I thought of something more fantastic. In my interview with Terry he mentioned his building design was more grounded in reality while Pete Fenlon designed more over the top structures. Is Mazatlak interesting enough as just a city built on a foundation of pillars? Is that too mundane and realistic? Then I imagined the city as large platforms on immense stone pillars. Sort of a Cloud City of Bespin, but with a thicker more substantial pillar as a base. The platforms would be connected via bridges and the heights of each platform would indicate status and prestige.

So while I’m finishing up Nontataku, thoughts of Mazatlak kept buzzing around in my head. I wish I were an artist or illustrator and could explore different concepts through drawing. Then, the other day I was reading RPG Bloggers and this came up, an illustration by Gerard Trignac:

I thought, “The Pillars ARE the City!). For Mazatlak I see the pillars being round, and much larger than this picture.

One final idea I had was that the Pillar City was actually much older, originally a Hirazi city—soaring columns with eyries on the top that was later populated by Y’nar settlers. Obviously I have several competing thoughts on this “Pillar City” that Terry hints at. Anyone have thoughts, ideas or suggestions?

Drinking and RPG Blogging.

Welcome to my new blog topic! This is where I had a hellacious work day and needed to vent my energy on table top RPG bloggers! Yeah! ‘Murica! And because I’m drinking bourbon, I have no idea if this makes any sense! If not, you lose. I only post amazing blogs, they are the best, and they WIN! You read my blogs, you will only WIN, in fact, you’ll be tired of WINNING. If you don’t feel that way. SAD!

So we have a  nexus of issues! Between RolemasterBlog, RM Forums, history, fantasy economies and the prevalence of magic in a world. I thought I would respond to JDales comments. For non RMForum members, JDale is part of the development team for RMU–the newest edition of RM.

Here is his comment.

Here is my response below. btw I don’t see this as adversarial and I’ve never met Jonathan (but we should, given that you are in New England)? btw Peter, “New England” is a reference to the NE area of the “colonies” and now the rich source of true craft beer brewing and homespun problem solving! and we drink coffee not tea and don’t need times set aside for “tea drinking” which allows us higher productivity.

My response to JDale (aside.. I have no idea how any of you track mechanistic changes to erudite rules)

I suspect my initial assumptions were based on the Sel-Kai economy than the euro-medieval model of traditional fantasy trope (warhorses and castles). In SW, nobles and powerful individuals wield clear or colored LAEN swords; garb themselves in high tech and stylistic garb (Duranaki anyone?) and access a fusion of magic/tech that is mostly tech. I see SW as more Star Wars than Game of Thrones. Most of the powerbrokers in SW are immortal, immensely wealthy, high powered individuals, groups or secret societies.

With that said, there is a whole other level of antiquities that are based on a more attainable category of collectibles: 2nd Era and 3rd Era objects. That still covers 8000 plus years (comparably now until before the Mesopotania cultures!). Gobleki Tepi, 10,000 years old and well beyond historic paradigms is still relatively crude compared to Shadow World’s Interregnum–that would be 100k years after Gobleki in our time scale and doesn’t cover the 1st Era.

These objects are like pre-history, pre-history. In our world this would be like the Papyrus of Turin or the Sumerian Kings List which trace rules back 10-40K years. So long ago that it’s dismissed as superstition and story telling.

So what the hell does all this mean? 100,000 years of civilization is a LONG TIME. Most fantasy RPG’s treat all past civilizations as “the relative, commercial value of their treasure”. Everything is measured in a GP standard. We’ve seen that before: the Spaniards melted down priceless objects, hammered walls of gold and precious written histories for the base value of the metal.

So, my valuations seem high compared to a feudalistic society but this is for “museum quality” historical artifacts in a society that accepts either high “tech” or metaphysical phenomena. So the argument is really whether this a BUYER pool to justify these values rather than  a supply argument? btw,  for those in the know, this mirrors the current valuation for air-cooled 911’s o r 80’s super cars? (check Haggerty Insurance valuations). Is this rational?

Wait, what? This seems like a very modern argument. Yes? But..the the vast majority of power brokers are Ka’ta’viir or descendants or off-world visitors. Economics was well developed in the late middle ages; commerce, fiat currency, debt etc. A modern understanding of economics lifts a culture past feudalistic tendencies?

Does these high antique valuations “break the game”? No, I’m a firm believer in money sinks: breakage, overhead, research, outfitting, training etc.

Let’s tie this all together? I can’t, I’ve been drinking bourbon. I just wrote a “stream of conscious” and not even sure it make sense. Your comments on any of this? I am open to criticism and scorn, but more interested in insightful observation. Or, thoughts on American bourbon or single malt scotch!


Rolemaster: Outside Looking In.

I’ve been reading quite a few RPG blogs lately, and as you might imagine most of them discuss DnD or one of it’s near variants. Some of it is nostalgia (OSR), part curiosity, and general interest in other viewpoints and experiences. One thing I notice over and over–most of these other blogs and forums don’t spend too much time on rule litigation/arbitration. Most blog posts are:

  1. Product reviews or retrospectives
  2. In game experiences
  3. General advice on creating content or running games.

That made me wonder what non-RM rpg players see when they encounter online RM content. First, if you google “rolemaster, blog” you won’t get that many results. Some of it is older forum discussion on “chartmaster”, “rulesmaster” or the complexity of playing. That’s probably not best foot foward. So how about the people that check out the RM Forums? What do they see or what impression do they get? If they aren’t a member they won’t see the RMU development forums (that may not be a bad thing–those discussions really get in the weeds). If you are active on the RM Forums, take a step back and look at it through the lense of a new user.

One of the most active thread topics of course is “Rolemaster”. What are the current topics? “Withdrawing from Melee”, “How to teleport into a moving target”, “how to handle Perception/Stalking”, “monster orientation roles”. These threads and many, many more are adjudication topics–“How do I handle this or interpret the ruleset”?

I’ve made the analogy before comparing Rolemaster to DOS and other game systems to MAC OS. DOS users love to tinker and program while MAC users just want a packaged user experience. While I consider the “rule programming” of RM a plus, I often wonder if it has been at the cost of user experiences (game content). Obviously Terry can only write so much, so fast. MERP is in permanent stasis, Cyradon and Echoes of Heaven are…(I have no idea really)? When people do wax nostalgic about RM it’s usually about the old MERP modules: artwork, maps etc and of course the cool critical tables. How do you create more content? Does opening up to third parties help? Is there even a large enough user base?

When I read about cool new content and modules in other RPG blogs, I sometimes feel like an outsider. What do other players see when they look at RM now?

Weekend Roundup: March 25, 2017

Welcome back to the “Weekend Roundup”! It’s been several weeks since I’ve done one; it’s been hard to scan the news here in the U.S.A. without getting bogged down in political crazy. In the interim, I got a message on the RM Forums:

BHanson: Do you think you could post more roleplaying news rather than obscure or fringe stories?

To clarify, the ‘Roundup’ is more a collection of news, stories or facts that grab my attention or give me an idea or hook for my own RM/Shadow World campaign. Sometimes a story just clicks, I make a note of it and when I get enough of them, put them up on the ‘Blog. I was hoping for more comments–just curious if any of the links spark a similar thought, idea or creative path for anyone else. I think I just posted up general RPG news, it would a. be topics covered at other bog sites, b. rarely be about RM or SW! So with that said, let’s begin.

Keron, Eog, Laen, Ithloss…..ORICHALCUM????

I was doing research and found these real life Roman SUPER SHIPS!

Syrkakar Armor?

Something found in a Wizards Tower. In an RPG, THIS would have to be a powerful artifact!

Detailed and Mystical Statues.

Real life Arms Law


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sweet Jesus!  #$&@!& more Elvish crap!

Legacy of the Earthwardens: Cultural transmission of knowledge.

No Elves…how ’bout Gnomes?!

It’s been 5 years, but still a great reservoir of RPG blog posts.

Now I’m enjoying this RPG blog.

Speaking of “Longskulls”….The HUN also practiced skull elongation….

Good advice for the Next Generation.

I’ve posted up quite a few files on the RM Forums and linked to them on various posts on this blog. For those that asked–you need to have a RM Forum account to SEE and DOWNLOAD files and see the RMU development forums. JOIN! REGISTER NOW

Evil Healers?

All this talk about channelling got me thinking. There was also a thread on the forum of someone wanting plug and play adventures.

The problem with plug and play rolemaster adventures is that no published adventure can ever know what options are in play and which aren’t. As a rule of thumb you could optional rules relating to character creation in the companions made PCs more powerful, not less. If you accept that premise then any adventure written against the core rule books would be varyingly under powered when used with characters created with optional rules, spells and skills from the companions. As an example the core RMC core rules has no option for two weapon fighting styles which in many games are extremely common. Stunned manoeuvre is another skill that can have a huge impact on the outcome of a fight.

Any adventure where the PCs had twice the attacks and could shrug off stun results would have a huge advantage over adversaries who didn’t and couldn’t.

So bearing that in mind I am not going to give you any actual stats as you will have to build the enemy to fit your game and challenge your players characters. What I want to do is suggest what to me seems at first an unusual choice of villain.

This little adventure is completely off the top of my head, untested and unplayed. You should use it for inspiration only!

The Evil Healer

At first thought Healers would not necessarily seem the natural choice for an evil mastermind or villain. I think the prejudice comes from the idea that healers do good things to people and most people don’t want to piss off their healer. If anyone was going to coerce a healer and force them to do bad things, they are more likely to bad people themselves so a vengeful healer is most likely to be still on the side of ‘good’ or at the very least an anti-hero. Or that is what I was thinking until I stopped thinking of the healer as a one dimensional, personality free cliche.

Separate the person from the profession and  there are a multitude of reasons why you can justify an evil healer. Think how many stories there are based around experimenting on people or animals or even individuals that can get a twisted pleasure from being around the suffering of others or even their own.

For this adventure idea I want to think along the lines of having a whole ‘party’ of terminators after the PCs. What made the movie Terminator so cool was his unstoppable nature. In this little adventure at the heart of it is a simple band of brigands lead by an evil healer. The brigands have become incredibly successful as they are almost impossible to put down. Their leader can just put them back together and back on their feet again.

The healer will need the healing base lists including transference but I also  suggest adding Symbolic Ways, Light’s Way and Calm Spirits.

Back when this band started out the Healer assumed control buy using Calm Spirits to completely disarm literally and figuratively the original band of brigands and an crossbow bolt to the back of the head dispatched their former leader.

The current band is made up of two warriors, a thief and a monk. The skill level of each is up to the GM and the party that wander across this place.

The band’s hideout is littered with stones inscribed with magical symbols (using Symbolic Ways) that provide the band with a number of magical effects. Some are used as traps such as stones in the floor that when stepped on cast Calm spells. I will leave the level, number and position of these to the GM as having a single character ‘Calmed’ may be a big problem to a 1st level party but a Calm III may be more of a challenge to a higher powered group. As the brigands have been here for years any and every stone that is suitable has been enchanted to give the brigands every advantage. There are stones that will heal, protect and so on. All of these are well known to the brigands and they will use them to their best advantage while keeping them a secret if they can.

The band’s ‘lair’ is an old and now abandoned mine building. The stairs in the top left lead down into the collapsed mine tunnels. The rest of the rooms were once store rooms, workshops, dormitories, kitchens and all the other supporting services for a working mine.

The GM can dress this place as they see fit.

Much of the complex is still unused.

  1. This hall is used as both kitchen and mess hall. The corridor leading off of here ends in a natural chimney that draws the smoke from cook fires away.
  2. The centre of this room is set up for sparring and martial training. Around the periphery are assorted weapons, shields and armour that the band have accumulated over the years.
  3. These are the private quarters of a warrior.
  4. This is the groups main living area. Along one wall is an odd assortment of stolen furniture that is used for storing non-cash loot.
  5. This is the healers private quarters.
  6. These are the private quarters of a warrior.
  7. This room contains barricades and wall shields the group could use to defend their home should they ever need to. Invaders would be permitted to get this far and no further.
  8. unused
  9. unused
  10. The entrance hall is serving as little more than a tack room for the bands saddles and tack. The actual mounts are kept outside in a corral that is hidden from easy discovery.
  11. This room is piled high with junk. There is a way through but it is difficult to spot. The intention is to make it easy for band members to pass through but create the impression that the way is blocked to the untrained eye. The sort of thing they have done is lean bunks and pallets over the openings so there is no line of sight.
  12. This has been turned from a workshop into a gym for the Thief and Monk to hone their skills.
  13. The private room for a monk.
  14. This is the private chamber for a scout or thief.
  15. The thief’s walk in wardrobe.

The players should meet the brigands outside of their lair. They [the brigands] will attempt to size  up the party before deciding if they are a good target or not. If they decide to rob them then they will wait until the party are a long way from the nearest town or village and then try and steal their horses in the night. If the party look too tough then if they cannot steal them then they will kill them. Once the party are stranded then the brigands will try and pick them off. They never fight to the death. They know that as long as they can get home they will be healed up and can try again. Nothing is worth getting killed for.

The brigands can and will come back night after night and grind the party down if they have to.

Channeling, it’s not just for Gods anymore?

Why do I keep coming back to Channeling? Tackling Spell Law deconstruction and rewrite forced me to look at all the underlying assumptions around the magic system—not just RM but other games as well. I think Essence (generic magic) is easy: as long as you allow for the phenomena, then simple rules allow for casting spells. Mentalism is not much different than Essence and often conflated as Psionics. Channeling is a whole other can of worms: God given magic REALLY needs to work in a completely different way. We’ve discussed Channeling in depth in several blogs HEREHERE and HERE.

How might Channeling be different than the other two magic Realms?

Spell Acquisition. Unlike Essence or Mentalism, a PC can’t just go to a library, secure a scroll, learn a spell list and then cast a channeling spell. A “God” must give at least tacit approval for someone to cast a channeling spell. Additionally, you could argue that no learning is really needed—spells could be directly granted by the Diety. This changes the standard process of spell acquisition.

Spell Effects. Common sense would dictate that a caster might not be able to provide magical buffs, benefits or spell effects to targets of an opposing Diety. Unlike Essence which is agnostic, Channeling is driven by an ethos, aspect or belief system. You shouldn’t be able to heal a follower of a mortal foe of your God…right? So the whole group dynamic might be complicated when the Cleric is the primary “buffer” and healer for the group but the other members of the group worship different gods.

Force Majeure. RM Channeling description suggests that PP’s are funneled to the caster and in my BASiL project the spell itself is funneled to the caster (ie like a software download). Either way, the Diety is providing, approving or allowing part of the casting formula. That requires SOMETHING in return on the part of the caster: certain behavior, loyalty, tribute, sacrifice, tithing etc.

Certainly much of this relies on the setting. These may seem like niggling over fine points; and you can certainly hand-wave away any needed explanation—it is religion after all. But RM and RM users take a certain pride in quantifying effects into game mechanics: detailed herbs and spells for healing; complicated Alchemy rules for magic item creation; math driven charts for modelling weapons and armor effects. If Channeling raises some broader questions about its use, than why not establish this in the game rules?

Personally, I’ve come down to two broad options:

Option 1. Disconnect the Channeling mechanism between a caster and a Diety. As Peter argued, Channeling could just be rolled into Essence as “general magic”. That makes sense. Just disconnecting Dieties from spell casting mechanics eliminates all of the awkward questions that Channeling raise in the above examples. If you were you to do that, what then would be the purpose of Dieties?

  1. They can still bestow “beneficence” in answer to prayers for held or assistance.
  2. Lead, create and direct religious organizations.
  3. Control the dissemination of hidden knowledge (spell lists and certain skills).
  4. Interfere in the mortal world

Under this option, Gods are still supreme entities, still have the same powers, play the same role in the world but just don’t act as a conduit for Channeling spells.

Option 2. Go “all in”. Further develop Channeling as a relationship between a powerful being and a follower. If we accept that channeling magic is controlled, allowed, or provided by a Diety than how should that work? More importantly, what prohibits anyone from being having followers and Channeling spells/power to them? I’ve touched upon this with my BASiL Channeling project—spells that only work with designated targets: loyal followers, henchmen, oathbound etc.

The idea goes back to the issues explored earlier—that a Cleric can provide powerful benefits, but only to followers of the same Diety. For Holy Warriors, it becomes even more specific—benefits are only bestowed upon the group, militia or organization of the Holy Warrior. (ie High Templars cast spells to the benefit of his soldiers and/or followers).

The Gods of Shadow World aren’t really gods—just very powerful entities from another dimension. How do they parse out spells/powers? Do they control the entry point of Essaence into Kulthea? Did they devise spells and teach them to their followers? If they are just powerful beings, then can any powerful PC or NPC also grant similar spell ability to their followers? Popular fiction is replete with “Lords” or “Archmages” bestowing their hirelings and henchmen with special abilities—isn’t this Channeling? How about the Dragonlords? Are they powerful enough to act as Minor Gods? Can Minor Gods in Kulthea also provide Channeling to their followers?

At what point can a person bestow spells or power to another? RM already establishes a base mechanism for transferring PP’s or spells  with the Channeling SKILL. I would take it a step further: a formalized process of creating a relationship between “god/lord/being” and “followers”. I played around with an initial spell list concept I uploaded HERE. (RM Forum account needed to access the list). Conceptually, the mechanics of a Channeling process should include:

  1. Bond, link or loyalty or obligations between a god & a follower.
  2. Mutual benefits to both parties. (follower gets spells/benefits, God gets…?)
  3. A substantial downside if the bond is broken, destroyed or a party is killed.

My list needs a lot more work (more specifics on penalties and drains–comments welcome) and is just one possibility of many. (Perhaps the Lords of Orhan use a similar but different spell list). But the framework is there and I like the possibilities for a number of reasons:

  1. It allows a PC/NPC to grow in power outside of the normal experience/level/skill paradigm.
  2. Establishes a known process for Gods to be created/and or a player to ascend to a demi or minor god.
  3. Creates a mechanism for a powerful lord/being/god to influence a local event or encounter.
  4. Provides benefits for a player to pledge to a lord/God.
  5. Balances risk and reward for such a relationship. (need some more work on this)
  6. Acts as an adventure hook.

Is the list too powerful? It certainly wouldn’t be readily available, but let’s review the cost/benefit analysis to a PC using the list:

  1. A follower would have to forgo any other Channeling relationship. (no other god)
  2. The player would need to offer a real benefit to a follower to justify their fealty.
  3. Followers would be a liability. An adversary would target a player’s followers knowing that would weaken or harm the player.
  4. Each follower will require a resource drain on the player.
  5. The benefit would be a growing pool of devoted followers which the player can enact agency through and receive some benefit (HP, PP, stat points?—needs some more thought)

Ultimately Options 1 and 2 aren’t mutually exclusive. I can still disconnect Channeling realm from Dieties and still have the Channeling list and mechanics. Anyway, this went from a thought experiment: “how should Channeling Realm work” to the start of an interesting game mechanic for my SW campaign. Channeling isn’t just for Gods anymore!

Get Off My Lawn!!!!! RPG Rant of the Day.

“Fair and Balanced” is not just a Fox News blurb, but a constantly cited principle for RPG game design. But what is balance? An arbitrary viewpoint? Neutral game mechanics? “Fairness”? Often it comes down to personal opinions and long accepted norms established long ago in D&D.

RMU development is a perfect case study in the tension between rethinking a ruleset and an unquestioning loyalty to RPG tropes. The most basic assumptions are often the most discussed: Magic Users can’t wear armor; magic is broken down into 2 or 3 realms; the balanced party (Fighter, Thief, MU, Cleric); Class tropes and the definition of a particular class, etc.

Rolemasterblog has discussed and deconstructed many of these tropes, but it always seems like the fall back argument is “balance”—without ever a real discussion of what balance means. Like most of you, I started playing D&D and AD&D—you know what? That was a broken, unbalanced system. I recall playing a higher level Cleric at a CON and just destroying everything. (Blade Barrier anyone?). It wasn’t fun, it frustrated the DM and while I got all the glory it didn’t feel earned.

Table top RPG games have too many variables to allow for true balance. Players can make unexpected choices, it’s impossible to create encounter parity and role-playing actions can usurp game mechanics. Also, the adventure or GM can emphasize other aspects that rely less upon game mechanics and more on problems solving or role-playing. The problem with “balance” is that it assumes the following paradigm:


This model positions the GM on opposing end with a ruleset balancing the two. This is a false dichotomy, with the main focus on the impact of rules on the player and PC’s.

However, if chasing “balance” is a false choice, then a better mental model switches the positions of “Rules” and “GM”.

This model accepts that no open system can ever be truly “balanced” and recognizes that the GM is the final arbiter AND best able to adjust game flow to handle unpredictable outcomes, player behaviors and rule shortcomings.

I’m less concerned with a PC being able to cast spells AND wear armor, than a flexible set of rules that handle in game action resolution. Profession constraints, skill access and player roles within a group are NOT really RM/RMU game mechanics. The game mechanics are maneuver resolution, skill check resolution, spell resolution and combat resolution. Period. Whether a mage can wear armor or what skill costs should be for a Ranger is purely arbitrary or setting specific and not part of game balance.

“Balance” is the last argument of the scoundrel! So GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!

Mobile Apps and RPGs

In the real world right now I am studying Android development and Java programming. As a roleplayer I simply cannot do this without thinking about how I could use this to make bespoke roleplaying tools for my phone.

I am also a big fan of open source software and freeware.

The only real problem with creating Rolemaster apps is that RM is such a closed system that ICE would never agree to anything open source that anyone could take, change, expand and share.

Anything I could create would have to be somewhat generic. The most generic of rpg apps has to be the dice roller and there are hundreds of those available.

Somewhere there is a middle ground of more useful than a dice roller but system agnostic enough to avoid the intellectual property rights belonging to ICE but also useful to the RM fan base.

Does anyone have any ideas?