Rolemaster game settings and Shadow World boxed sets.

ICE Shadow World 6100 Emer - The Great Continent | #129387579

The most recent post in Grognardia had me thinking about a number of issues around game settings, game material and the appeal of the old school box sets. The Grognardia blog was a review on a early 80’s Chaosium/Runequest box set: Borderlands. I admit that I have no experience with Runequest or this product, but the blog evoked fond memories of older game products we did use and enjoy.

First, I want to point out a quote that James is quoting in his blog (bold emphasis is mine):

Borderlands is another good example of what Chaosium did well: present a large area of Glorantha in an approachable fashion and never forgetting to make it gameable. That’s very important to me. However interesting and evocative a game’s setting may be, one must never lose sight of its purpose: to foster adventure in the game itself. Setting for setting’s sake seems to me to miss the point..”

As soon as I read this I immediately thought of Shadow World. There are lots of reviews on Shadow World products that can be found on the web, but two of the most persistent are it’s “Kitchen sink” nature and it feels so high level as to preclude useful adventuring. The first complaint I attribute to the non-canon SW modules; no matter their quality, they so varied in theme and tone that it gave SW a very generic feel. I challenge anyone to read Xa’ar or Emer material and argue that it’s a generic setting.

Beyond that though, I wonder if Shadow World is a better narrative product than a practical adventure material? As James asks:

“…a setting through adventures rather than through pages upon pages of background information, a “show, don’t tell” approach…”

Shadow World books are certainly great to read; the timeline alone is a significant piece of work product that is filled with depth and campaign ideas. But I’m reminded that many people’s favorite SW books are Quellbourne and Norek–both are foundational low level settings with generic fantasy concepts but are definitely not Terry’s writing style. So is Shadow World more inspirational than usable? Is it more cool than practical? I’m not speaking for myself; I write and use SW exclusively since I have so much time invested in the setting and not enough time to commit to other game systems or settings.

What about other settings? We used Rolemaster in some other settings:

Middle Earth. Like everyone else, we shifted from D&D to Rolemaster, but still wanted to play in Middle Earth. For us, it was mostly a campaign using The Court of Ardor, but I don’t recall ever getting to the higher level narrative. Thinking back though, I’m not sure much of the MERP books were playable in the way that James is discussing.

Midkemia Press. One of our favorites, and very reminiscent of Borderlands mentioned above and perhaps much of the early Judges Guild products were the Midkemia books. Of course a quick read of the first Midkemia novel Magician: Apprentice reveals it’s roots in a rpg game. This makes the associated game material so “useable”. We especially liked Jonril: Gateway to the Sunken Lands.

I try to be conscientious when writing SW material, and part of the process for me is adventure hooks. That’s why the Rolemasterblog 50 in 50 is such a good exercise; it forces me to continually come up with short adventure sparks that might not fill pages, but could end up using several game sessions and mutate into a significant narrative. I also want to maintain roots in those early game sessions that I played. SW may not be dungeon oriented, but my early gaming years were spent in the search of treasure!

I also wanted to comment on boxed sets. SW was launched with the original box set, but honestly, it felt a little underwhelming. Emer: the Great Continent was a vast improvement–especially the darket cult aspects and the addendum material. But, like Borderlands, box sets were a feature of early gaming.

Will there ever be a future for box sets in Shadow World or for I.C.E.? In the new world of digital media and print on demand, I doubt the economies work for such a product…but let’s use our imagination. I imagine 2 box sets, a final capstone on Terry’s work that completes the 2 main continents: Jaiman & Emer.

Box 1. Jaiman.

  1. Gazetteer Jaiman. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview.
  2. Jaiman Players Guide
  3. Jaiman I, the NW.
  4. Jaiman II, the NE.
  5. Jaiman III, the SE.
  6. Jaiman IV, the SW. .
  7. City Books. Lethys, Norek, Haalkitaine.
  8. Book of Adventures. Legacy of the Sea Drake and assorted adventures.
  9. Atlas Jaiman. maps and more maps.

Box 2. Emer.

  1. Gazetteer Emer. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview and more maps!
  2. Emer Players Guide
  3. Emer I
  4. Emer II
  5. Emer III
  6. Emer IV
  7. City Books. Eidolon + 2-3 others.
  8. Book of Adventures.
  9. Atlas Emer. maps, maps and more maps. GM maps, city maps, player maps, treasure maps. etc.

Looking that over, most of the work is already done and Terry probably has little incentive for one last re-write or re-org. But imagine a kickstarter campaign that funds this work and new artwork and lots and lots of maps. Would that be of interest to anyone? Plus it would cement both continents into final organized products with a TON of material for years of play. I can’t imagine Terry tackling another continent in a comprehensive way that took decades of work for Jaiman and Emer.

As stand alone books, there is well over $100+ in print products. As a kickstarter you could offer special maps, or similar incentives to tier pledges. What would you pay for that product? Finally, if you could group fund it and raise the capital, why not stat it for RMu. Tackle the whole thing once and for all.

In summation:

  1. What are your thoughts on the playability of SW material?
  2. Besides ME, have you used SW in other settings?
  3. Do you have a favorite box set from the Golden Age or something more recent?

7 Replies to “Rolemaster game settings and Shadow World boxed sets.”

  1. JDale noted just a few days ago that someone has taken up the challenge of a Shadow World conversion for RMU. I don’t know who it is, but I look forward to that.

    I think of and use Shadow World as primarily a world/regional setting. I think it works best for people who want a full realized world, with maps and a history and kingdoms and encounter charts, but who write their own adventures. I think D&D does better with the ‘on rails’ adventures, with their boxes of text to read to players and all that. This I think is why Quellbourne is so popular: it added a bit of that to Shadow World.

    Personally, I strip out the sci-fi elements when I use Shadow World, other than in the most generic sense of an awareness that the Lords of Essence once travelled between worlds. My players don’t usually like to mix fantasy with sci-fi.

    1. I quite like the sci-fi elements of Shadow World, but there is now a problem with them. They’re based on Spacemaster, and it seems unlikely there will be a SMu any time in the forseable future. Which makes them a bit harder to run.

      1. Interesting, do you think that is perceptual or an actual rule issue? I’ve never referred to SM to use SW tech and besides some references to the broader universe, I think Terry writes technology with RM rules as well.

        1. I’ve used the SM rules quite a bit for Shadow World. Back when I retained the sci-fi elements, I used it for some Krylite tech; the psion rules can easily be ported into RM; and of course the SM grenade rules are great for whenever a player wants to throw some burning oil. But more often I’ve used them when playing a Spacemaster campaign, with the players landing on Kulthea (and seeing real Essence magic for the first time!).

          There has been some talk about a SMu in the future, but yes, that won’t be for a long time if it ever happens. So it might be best for now, if you want to use SM stuff in RMU, to convert it to RMU rules first. It shouldn’t really be too hard: the armor types are different, but can be translated pretty easily (especially since RMU enables armor by the piece).

        2. I seem to recall a discussion with Terry in the forums about SM. Specifically, I think the critical tables were mentioned, but perhaps some other material as well.

  2. SW is good for some groups, and I think it’s best-suited for experienced GMs because of its level of detail (both what it covers and what it leaves out). If you’re just starting out, my impression is the whole of SW is just too big for a new GM to handle. And if you’re trying to bring in new players that’s a problem.

    I always enjoyed Greyhawk, because Gary gave you enough high-level stuff to flesh out the details on your own and it felt pure fantasy to me. The SciFi elements in SW were usually a turn-off to my groups, and honestly it always felt too big to be useful. Greyhawk focused on a smaller area, leaving enough options for GMs to add their own stuff if they wanted. Gary was also really good at detailing kingdoms, their rivalries, and other information you could use to either flesh them out or come up with great adventure hooks. Games Workshop deserves mention, too, for the quality of their Old World stuff. It doesn’t leave as much room for GMs, but if you want a setting you can just drop a party into and go it’s hard to beat (so long as you agree with the setting parameters, of course).

    Honestly, though, my favorite box sets tend to come from non-fantasy settings. FASA did some really nice stuff for its version of Star Trek, and Cyberpunk also had great world products (the same can be said for Judge Dredd, even though most of those are in book form instead of what you’d call box sets).

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