Retconning Shadow World Pt.2

At the risk of repetition, many of the generic elements of Shadow World were simply the inclusion of general Rolemaster material in earlier books to support the RM rules. If you were to parse out Terrys “canon” work, it’s clear that his material is more specific to his world setting than fidelity to RM.

In my first “Retconning Post“, there seemed to be some collective agreement about eliminating “Lugroki” (Orcs) and some mixed comments on my other suggestions. I also realize that this retconning topic is similar to my recent “Canon or Can It” posts, but in these blogs, I’m focused on questioning baked in canonic items rather than elements of Shadow World that were only mentioned sporadically–like Jewel Wells. Many of these items are revisiting past posts, but with the future of Shadow World unclear it’s worth discussing how Shadow World could be tightened or improved if ever given the opportunity.

  1. Giants. So my first item are “Giants”. I blogged about this a few years back so you can click the link to read more in depth thoughts. Where are Giants in Shadow World and do they belong there? Terry only mentions Giants 40 times in the Master Atlas and ALL the references are either in the “Lands” section involving other areas not fleshed out by him (not Emer or Jaiman) or the “Creatures” section. There are no mentions of Giants in the timeline or other supporting material, no Giant NPC’s other than the Titans (which are something altogether different), 1 mention in Haestra (used as an adjective re: Titans), 2 mentions of Cloud Giants (only that they are rumored to exist in the Mountains), none in Emer III . Like many other creatures, Giants were originally included to marry the Rolemaster material with the default SW setting. Certainly Giants are a classic creature in D&D and human mythology, but do they belong in Kulthea? My belief is that Terry’s writing should direct these questions–and he didn’t use Giants.
  2. Elves. I also blogged about Elves in the past, and I still feel like they need some adjustment and posted up some thoughts on the Forums HERE. Elves were a favorite of Terry’s and he definitely ported over some Elvish standards from his love and work on Middle Earth. Could Elves be modified to clarify some issues? Dyar certainly raise a host of issues around the “Evil Race” theory and the modal language around “Dark Elves”, “High Elves” and “Common Elves” seems simplistic now. What, if anything would you change about Elves?
  3. Unicorns. “Black Unicorns” ridden by the Heralds of the Night are cool…but not sure about the standard one. Thoughts?
  4. Undead. Here is my past post on Undead. For me there are two issues with Undead in Shadow World. First, how does it fit into the metaphysical underpinnings of the world regarding souls, resurrection, the afterlife and the deities (who aren’t really gods). Second, I think using traditional Undead creatures: mummies, vampires, ghouls etc pull the player out of setting immersion into standard fantasy RPG tropes. Personally, I like the undead “Class” system combined with either physical or non-physical manifestations. I’ve also married the concept of Undead to the Unlife–it’s more likely that intelligent undead are a manifestation of the Unlife than a trapped soul or angry spirit.
  5. Physical Travel. One of the original conceits of the Loremaster/Shadow World setting was the physical isolation of various lands due to geological barriers and Essence flows. I think this concept needs to be emphasized more in any future Shadow World products. What reason for the Navigators if travel was dangerous but nonetheless accessible to most anyone?
  6. Dragons. The Shadow World includes 160 mentions of Dragons–they are an integral part of the setting. But based on Terry’s writing, there are relatively few “real” Dragons: just the 6 Dragonlords and handful of named, older/great Dragons. I like that. Dragons are rare, powerful and perhaps not even “evil”. In fact, the Master Atlas names a handful of other Dragons: Kaedan (undead Gas Dragon), Ssamis T’zang (light dragon) and Motar Voorg (red-gold dragon). The remainder of “Dragons” are lesser types–drakes, wyverns etc that are tied to dark forces. I think it’s all great but perhaps needs to be clarified a bit more.
  7. Navigators & Loremasters. Both of these “professions” have unique sets of spell lists that sort of upend the normal Rolemaster professional limitations. One could argue that these lists are the 4 extra base allowed by pure spellcasters, but it’s not clear that Navigators or Loremasters are recruited at a young age and trained from childhood. In fact, Terry mentions that Loremasters and Navigators start with some other profession; sort of a dual-class situation:

Two groups which are key to the scheme of Kulthea are the
Navigators and the Loremasters. Both of these associations—
through rigorous training and aptitude—have access to lists which

are Arcane in nature. No one without the full regimen of training
could possibly learn these lists. Those within the circles of these
groups may choose these as their Base Lists (in fact, to be learned at
all, they must be chosen as Base Lists). As noted in Spell Law, .,
Pure Spell Users may choose up to four other lists to be their “Base”
lists. In the case of Loremasters and Navigators, they may also
forfeit as many as three of their Professional “Base” Lists (those lists
becoming like “Closed” lists) and select more of the following
Arcane lists for their Base. Thus, while they theoretically retain one
of the other Rolemaster professions, they are also a hybrid with
either Loremaster or Navigator lists. Note that a Loremaster or
Navigator is actually some other profession initially, then chooses
the additional discipline afterwards.

Since Lorematers and Navigators are invariably NPC’s it’s easy to hand-wave this mechanic, but rule carve-outs complicate the marriage of rules to setting.

These are just a few examples of SW content that could be “retconned”: changed, modified, clarified or eliminated. What are your thoughts?

10 Replies to “Retconning Shadow World Pt.2”

  1. On (5) Physical Travel. — fully agreed.

    On (2) Elves. — On my table i only ever allowed Erlini(-related) and Half-Elves as PCs.

    On (7) Navigators & Loremasters. — hand-wave … this simply a non-issue for the setting itself.
    Other rulesystems may have different solutions or simply have no issue at all with this.

    On (3) Unicorns. — as the Lord of Orhan first used Fey to repopulated the planet “Unicorns” are a simple by-product.
    “Black Unicorns” are simple corrupted and/or undead versions of “White Unicorns”.

    On (6) Dragons. — What if all real true Dragons (and/or Dragonlords) are simply Ascended High Arcanists ?
    What if all lesser Dragons/Darkes/etc are simply degenerated procreations/offspring ?

    On (1) Giants. — Similar to Dragons.
    What if all suviving Giants are simply degenerated procreations/offspring of Titans ?

    On (4) Undead. — Does Eissa really hold the keys to the afterlife for all mortal races ?
    Or are only the devout and marked faithful of the Lords of Orhan drawn there ?
    (i want this to be a short answer, so i dont elaborate on my principal views of undead states.)

        1. And it fits in nicely with established canon:

          1. Earthwardens were Ka’ta’viir that left Kulthea and came back during the early Interregnum.
          2. They used early (Arcane?) magic focused on foci, elements and monumental works to “heal” the tortured planet.
          3. Where did they go? This explains it.
          4. There were the progenitors of Druid and Animists.
          5. Ascending to a higher, elemental form, they could protect the planet but lost whatever “humanity” they had. As Terry says, their outlook and motivations are alien.
          6. Gives a great background to the Storm Wizard. ( I never liked the Taranian origin that was mentioned somewhere).
          7. Provides a mechanism for the few other “great dragons”–they are offspring of the Dragonlords but lesser as well. They are beings born of the Essaence and elements.

  2. Giants: years of campaigns, even outside Emer and Jaiman, and the only similar thing that we used were the Forest Giants of the Gufu Rainforest in Thuul. I’m not even sure if the characters ever found more than one or two to chat with them, and never even visited a settlement. I was unsure on how big to make them, the idea of creatures taller than the trees living in a forest seemed so weird biologically/environmentally. My group is mostly biologists, so every session has some questioning about what they encounter, and I don’t like it at all when I try to justify something, fail and they tell me “don’t worry, we’ll say it’s a magic thing”.

    Elves: we’ve had Dyari as PCs and NPCs and the only difference with Loari we use is that the Dyar society is more “honest” about their attitude towards others, they are superior and don’t sugarcoat it, and so most members of that society will be ok with treating non-Dyari as pets/slaves/cannon fodder. I think most of the time my players get more angry with Loari, since they are generally presented as do-gooders superheroes who need to do everything by themselves, lest other races/cultures ruin the world.

    Unicorns: maybe once? maybe never, I’m not even sure if I remember to describe a horn on the mount of the Heralds. Black evil horses and that’s it.

    Undead: we’ve used undead extensivelly and in many forms. Most undeads are sentient and carry their own agenda. It’s like the soul gets trapped after death, for some reason it does not go to Eissa. Those trapped with a body are corporeal, those that can’t move on but have no body are non-corporeal. Most non-corporeal are just angry things near the place they died, relieving the pain they suffer and trying to impart it on others if they can’t be reasoned with. Other times, when the body is gone but there was no pain associated with the death, they will be chatty spirits barely resembling their living form, sometimes unaware of the passing of time.
    And on one momentous occassion, at the end of a campaign, I tortured the characters until their bodies gave up, with a previous casting of Soul’s Damnation (SUC Cruelty Ways lvl 16). So they were reborn as undead versions of themselves, with enough drive to escape the place and haunt the big bad dragon that was behind the evil in the campaign.

    Physical Travel: yep, always try to make it hard, but after all, the characters are the heroes that do the impossible, so they always find a way, it’s their quest to get to the other side after all.

    Dragons: apart from dragonlords, I’ve limited dragons to some evil plotters in some old campaigns, and there was one very friendly mentalist faerie dragon that helped on a campaign. His origin was never really explained. It’s like sometimes there are dragons on some places, no one asked where they came from, family, magical origins, nothing… hmmm something to ponder and improve in the future perhaps.

    Navigators and Loremasters: for the current campaign, we are using high level characters that completed the Emer III main story (
    Since the Summoner was supposed to be studying under the Navigators, we changed the profession to Summoner-Navigator, a hybrid for all 3 realms, changed 1 spell list from base to closed, then added 1 base list from the Navigator ones. The idea was that if she ever completes her training more lists will be treated like that until she gets access to all the Navigator base lists. All skill costs remain the same for now.

    1. FYI, I retconned the forest giants in the Gufu Rainforest in Priest-King. They are descended fron an Xio warrior enclave, (so they are 6.5’ to 8’ tall). So while I dont use Giants in my SW material, there are larger races like the kal-chah or the Guarlu, most are descnded from one of the xiosian clans.

        1. The Xiosians were the “Warrior-Priests” of the Titans. It was a cool throwaway line from Terry and he brought them back in with a few other references in the timeline. I developed them further as a the bodyguard warriors of the Ka’ta’viir–drawing heavily from Dune, the excesses of Rome warrior pageantry etc. Xio allow for a the genesis of a number of SW elements: larger, strong “humans”, the beginnings of the Changramai, the battle dress of the Cloudlords of Tanara, and the source of both the Heralds of Night and even Shards. As you can tell, Terry dropped a lot of breadcrumbs but left a lot of questions about the origins of things.

          The file on the Xio are here:;topic=15879.0;attach=3276

  3. 1. Giants, I never used. Didn’t see a need to or a palace for them.

    2. Elves, I don’t see a problem with using the civilizations as distinct. Names are just names and they change over time.

    3. Unicorns I like, but they’re rare. They’re fey and there’s lots of mention of fey.

    4. Undead I use a LOT. Most of mine I personalize and make unique. Done well it is memorable and makes people ask questions about the afterlife without providing answers.

    5. Total agreement that I think the navigators and difficulty with travel should be emphasized. This is a key point that makes Kulthea different from other fantasy settings. And the flows are super cool, the navigators have wonderful potential for roleplaying. This is a strength and I hope future products leverage it.

    6. Dragons, I use minimally, mostly just in the distance or in rumors. Having so few of them and them being so powerful makes them less “monsters to be killed” and more a force shaping the world. Again, this is a point of difference from other settings (only Iron Kingdoms is similar) and should be leveraged.

    7. Navigators and Loremasters, as with travel I think they are a unique part of the setting and would love to see their role in products increased. I also think mystery is better than clarity on who they are, how many, how they function, etc. And I’m better with them not being a player option.

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