Rolemaster Settings Shadow World?

I am in a peculiar situation of putting together a ‘Shadow World special’ for the Rolemaster Fanzine and yet I know almost nothing about Shadow World. I know what I have read in the Players Guide and I know what I learned in the last campaign we played set in SW but I cannot trust what I learned in the game for two reasons. Firstly, the GM could have changed anything. Secondly we were playing The Curse of Kabis and it is my understanding that that particular adventure is non-cannon.

This post is not actually about the fanzine but this issue got me thinking about Rolemaster and its relationship with setting.

To my mind when I look at RM I see MERP. I think the reason is twofold. I first played RM in Middle Earth in a game that lasted for nearly 20 years. First impressions last! The second reason is that the races as laid down in Character Law were obviously written with Middle Earth in mind and they have never changed. It has been decades now since the lost of the ME license but those foundations still lay at the bottom of RM.

If I had to say what was the default system for Rolemaster I would have to say it was Shadow World. It alone really attempts to unify Rolemaster and Spacemaster into a single universe.

(There is a rumbling issue over sizes of combatants in the RMU beta that I think will cause problems, if it isn’t resolved now, when they try and create a SMU. Right now the rules are skewed in favour of smaller combatants taking on larger foes e.g. heroes fighting dragons. In a future SMU tiny robots will be ripping human sized player characters to bits under the same rules.)

Ignoring any possible SMU for now, there are far more RM players than there are SW users. I for one base my games mostly in Forgotten Realms. I would guess that most games are set in a home brew setting.

Some will be set on our own Earth with or without magic. I am running a RMU play test set on our Earth, medieval China, with only a single realm of magic, mentalism, and that is extremely rare.

So here is the issue. If as a complete newbie you pick up RM, you get no setting. To use an existing setting you may have such as Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, assuming a lot of new to RM GMs may have D&D experience, you have a lot of conversion to do and the races, particularly elves are not a neat fit. Not every D&D monster has a RM equivalent either.

To create your own setting and adventures right from day one is a big demand. A new GM can easily wipe out a party just by under estimating the danger of the RM combat system. It is often a case of not what you are fighting but how many you fight at once.

Another issue is that the Rolemaster books do not ‘up sell’ Shadow World. At no point have I been urged and encouraged to buy into the Shadow World setting. I honestly have no idea what I would need to buy as an absolute minimum to start playing in that setting.

When I run my RAW game I am a pure RMC GM. Are the Shadow World books statted up for RMC? Will I have all the right professions? I know Shadow World predates RMC and if I had to make a guess I would say that RM2 is Shadow Worlds natural mate. RMC is close but a hell of a lot smaller than RM2, less professions, less skills, less spell lists.

I think the lack of a tied up setting is a significant weakness. To fix it I would urge the RMU Devs to start to make direct and explicit references to Shadow World in the core rules text. I would set all the extended examples in that setting. Most core systems also include a starting adventure to kick new groups off and I would suggest setting this in Shadow World as well.

As soon as the rules are fixed for RMU I would call on Terry to revise at least one book/continent so that all the NPCs, monsters, magic items, spells are RMU compatible. This would be the same continent that all the books’ examples were set in and the starting adventure took place in.

Just because the core books are SW flavoured will never stop a GM from rolling their own setting, so there is no loss there. If you want to set a game in China or Rome then you could just as easily. GMs do that everyday with just about every system and so they will RMU.

I think the first house rule I ever made was to allow a chain saw in Spacemaster use the Battle Axe table in Arms Law because I was running a weekend game of Doom inspired Rolemaster.

Can you think of any explicit down side to tying RMU to Shadow World?

12 Replies to “Rolemaster Settings Shadow World?”

  1. What doesn’t help matters is that some of what you really need for Shadow World is old stuff. Much of that is available in PDF, but some isn’t, only old printed material from last century. New books have stats for RMC/RM2 and RMSS/RMFRP. The fourth edition of the Master Atlas – and you really need one – has stats for RM2 and RMFRP. The third edition may just reference RM2 – by page number, for books that aren’t available. PDFs of older supplements refer to RM2 and Fantasy Hero. Even older ones; well, I’m not really sure.

    I think Shadow World suffered from the MERP license; so much effort went into developing MERP supplements that little was left over for Kulthea. Which turned out to be bad in the long run.

    There are plans for a fifth edition of the Master Atlas once RMU is released, one compatible with it. Not sure how long such will take to create though.

    I do think that more needs to be done for promoting Shadow World, and more supplements need creating. Which is why I, and others, have suggested a semi-regular release of short, officially approved material. Take a look at Schwalb Entertainment’s releases for an idea that would work. Or even Columbia Games (perhaps a little cheaper though).

      1. Yes, I know how I’d do it if I was trying to set it up, but ICE have got a lot of resources tied up in RMU and other overhauls, which means they have less time to do other stuff, and anything for Shadow World really needs looking over by Terry first, which takes his attention from developing new supplements. I think short bits of just a few pages would be easier to squeeze in than bigger ones, and more importantly would increase the amount of material available for new players. There is quite a bit out there, but a lot is still out of print. Much of what Brian has posted in the forums would be ideal and Terry has done short things in the past that could also be released such a way.

        1. I like the short supplement. They are fast to produce, sell for pocket money prices, keep the interest in the product line up and give enthusiastic customers frequents hits of their favourite addiction.

          1. I took a look at Schwalb Entertainment.’s portfolio. In the less than two years since Shadow of the Demon Lord was published they’ve released another 134 supplements. Admittedly this does include spell cards, bundles and products outside the main setting, such as for Freeport and rules for adapting the concept to other settings, but that’s still a lot, and many of these are in the few dollars range, starting at around $1. There are many short adventures and supplements detailing locations and other things.

  2. The old RM2 companions often included examples for the new rules they presented using Shadow World.
    Boats for the different cultures, handling of elemental energies, etc.
    In the newer books, you get Shadow World references/examples in HARP Folkways.

    1. Plus stuff like the Elemental Companion and Sea Law had Shadow World stuff. I’d forgotten about Folkways – I haven’t read it yet – but it did seem a bit odd to be using SW in a HARP book. Although truthfully it’s more system-neutral than pure HARP.

      1. I have bough Folkways but not read it yet.

        I just feel that by putting a coherent Shadow World thread through all the core rule books, all set in the same region, even with some of Terry’s vignettes to introduce chapters of the core rules I think would add flavour to the core rules and encourage new players to buy into both RMU and Shadow World.

        Having an integral setting is so helpful to a new GM and to their players.

  3. I think to play Shadow World really all you need is the Master Atlas (latest edition would be best of course), and then whatever modules you want. The Master Atlas is pretty comprehensive. The class stats will need to be redone now that RMU handles stats a little differently, but the RMU professions would all fit fine into SW.

    I agree that offering SW examples throughout RMU would be a good idea. You make RMU setting agnostic, but offer SW as a default, much the way DnD tries to be somewhat setting agnostic, but also offers the FR setting as a default.

    The only problem I see right now with RMU’s agnosticism is the size rules, which favor smaller creatures. If you set your campaign in ancient Rome and want to make a fortune in the forum in the beast hunts, you need only to train a pack of ferrets, which will be able to take down even war elephants 🙂

    Assuming that this gets ironed out, though, I think you do want to make RMU as agnostic as possible, since settings like SW will mix the Fantasy genre with other more realistic genres like sci-fi (at least hard sci-fi) and historical. So making the default rules agnostic but all the examples SW is a good way to go IMHO.

    1. Right now the standard RMU isn’t going to work well for either firearms or non-magic settings as far as I can tell. The stuff I’m doing has extensive modifications to the combat system and modest changes to character generation and skills.

      The challenge I have with SW (both when I was writing Sea Law and when trying to game in it) is you have to be a fan of a sort of blended fantasy and SF type setting. I don’t know if that will appeal to a wide audience. But if that’s the direction they want to go, more thought is going to have to be put into the core rules in certain areas. They’d also need to do more smaller area products (not quite to the scale of Harn, but better than they did before) I think…just to allow GMs to get a feel for the world.

      Just my take, though.

      1. I would also play down the SF and steampunk elements. You cannot show that in the core rules but then not provide the mechanics and rules for implementing those same things in the same books.

        Funnily enough I think that your physics based damage rules would solve some of your objections to the fantasy rules if they were adopted. You could even say something along the lines of joules of energy per level for spells to create a coherent framework for the damage done by spells.

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