Shadow World. Looking Ahead.

What do you see?

If you’ve read this blog or the Rolemaster Forums regularly, it’s no secret that my focus is primarily on Shadow World and Rolemaster. It’s been a long time since I’ve played other games, and I’ve always felt that I would get more “bang for my buck” writing material, mastering game material and rules for a single system. So, like many of you, I’m pondering what I.C.E. and specifically Shadow World looks like in the future.

The last decade has seen many founders, artists and writers of early and Golden Age RPG’s pass away. Many have only recently been acknowledged or appreciated for their impact on the industry, as TTRPGs has matured, expanded and become a cultural touchpoint. Certainly the deaths of Gygax, Arneson and now Terry, has caused a profound sense of loss; not only for the loss of their creative output, but for the impact they had on our childhoods.

Few game settings have had such a delineation in “Canon” and “Non-Canon” content that Terry’s Shadow World. Many game settings are created by multiple writers and artists, over years, and often with changing styles. Shadow World was somewhat unique for the quantify and quality of output generated by Terry over 35+ years. For purists, the early SW modules were of varying quality, tone and usability, and only Terry’s material was considered Canon not only because of his founder status, but due to the quality of his writing. Terry was very protective of the world he created, and barring a “collaboration” for the Shadow World Players Guide, there hasn’t been any SW material published by anyone other than Terry for decades.

Where does that leave Shadow World now? There are two drivers for the future of Shadow World: Terry’s estate and I.C.E. itself. A few thoughts:

  1. Will or can SW continue with new material and new contributors?
  2. Should SW continue after Terry’s death, or should his work stand unaltered for posterity? (There is certainly enough current material for any gaming campaign).
  3. Could ICE just reprint SW material for RMU, d20 or other open systems rather than pursue new content?
  4. What new material is possible? What would users and fans want to see? Detailed regional books that expand “Canon” or adventures or smaller works that fill in gaps without tipping the applecart?
  5. Could SW be sold/licensed to a larger gaming company that has the inhouse resources to scale up the material?
  6. If new material is created, how is it’s quality and appropriateness arbitrated? Can new material come close to or match Terry’s style and intent?
  7. Is ICE already “all-in” with SW as it’s quasi-official setting? How can it pivot to a new setting given it’s publishing pace?

I’m sure the management of I.C.E. are already contemplating these issues, but I’m also curious what the fans and users of SW and Rolemaster think, want or find acceptable for the future of Shadow World.

16 Replies to “Shadow World. Looking Ahead.”

  1. My numbers don’t correspond directly with your numbers.

    1) I think what was already in development should be finalized and published. Much of it is probably already ready: Terry had many virtues, but among his challenges were perfectionism and scope creep. Emer IV is ready to go, by his own admission, without a full City of the Dead — and as I told him, that deserves to be a standalone megadungeon. He may have had a draft on Emer, a new edition of other things Emer and Jaiman.

    2) I am skeptical of expanding canon beyond Terry’s work: the biggest problem with non-Terry SW material has always been that the other authors had their own visions and viewed Terry’s vision as at best an inconvenience to be paid the barest lip service before haring off in their own direction. I don’t know who I’d trust to carry on Terry’s legacy. Not even myself: As much as I love SW, my vision is no this vision and I’ve made major changes to the canon for my world.

    3) ICE hasn’t been “all-in” with SW since the 1980s. ICE has spent the last 35+ years saddled with the strategic blunder of trying to sell ruleset after ruleset to a market that isn’t interested in a new ruleset; and has only seen a setting as an aid to selling rulesets rather than seeing itself as selling a gaming setting that’s supported by rule sets.

    4) From here on out, I’ll be taking SW material on a case by case basis, buying the ones I think live up to the name an ignoring the rest. Any spaces that need filling in, I’ll fill in myself.

    1. 1. Apparently, there is some new work product (Emer IV) available, based on what Nicholas said in the briefing. However, I have to wonder how Terry kept files and security on his work station and/or cloud storage. I’m not sure anyone could access my files, or even know where to look in the event I was gone.

      2. That’s a good point, and one that I agree. However, much of that “non-canon” SW material were early line modules that were submitted early in SW’s development. Most of it was not specific to SW and Terry didn’t have full creative control on the material. ICE was just scaling SW material the quickest way possible. I think a lot of the other SW modules were good work, just not SW work.

      3. It’s difficult to gauge ICE’s commitment to SW, but by page count, it might be the majority of new material published by ICE in the last 10-15 years?

      4. Agreed. However, if ICE was listening to the user base, what would you like to see?

  2. My immediate response is that I would dearly love to see Emer IV. It would be a fitting last book for Terry: the fourth quarter of his Emer saga, with Jaiman and Emer now being largely complete.

    As for going forward: I would like to see more adventures set in Shadow World. That’s about all I can say really, because I don’t know who would write them or anything else about them. I just know that there are lots of aspects of the world that I would like to see fleshed out, with an eye to helping GMs run games in it. The languages for example could be made clear and standardized. Cities such as Lethys could be given shape. Smaller towns and villages could be drawn up to serve as starter areas. That sort of thing.

    1. I think “filler” material, based on established Terry content is certainly the easiest to develop. However, my concern would be that the material would be too safe and “between the lines” and not feel SW enough. I think Norek is a good example of that. Good material but fairly vanilla.

  3. It looks like ICE are going for everything in production for HARP and RMC strategy. I would expect reissues for RMU when fully available and I’m with Hurin it feels like SW will continue to be the vehicle to sell rulesets. There is also the question of, even with an expanded “staff” team, does ICE have the capacity to publish in quantity? Certainly, as Peter often points out, the refusal to not support second party content will hamper future growth.

    1. Given the development timelines we’ve seen for any ICE product it’s hard to imagine that product production will increase now. You could argue that Terry held up SW material by other authors, and therefore new material could be green lit, but I think he also did production and layout work for ICE that might slow down new product roll out in general.

  4. Many things can be developed by the established canon from Terry, as both the second and third ages present ample locations and opportunities for acting as backdrops for both Adventures and Campaigns. The world/timeline could effectively be frozen until the second or revised edition of RMU comes forth.

    But to draw in new players, you have to sell the setting to the main-stream, so having a 5E version of the Shadow World Setting similar to what was done with AiME for Middle Earth.

    But then there still are the die-hard fans of both the older editions of Rolemaster and the new RMU, and this crowd needs also be satisfied.

    The newer stuff like “The Citadel of Osaran” has already been dual statted with RM2 and RMSS/FRP, so making it quad-statted by adding 5E and RMU does not really make sense, does it?

    Should ICE really go so far as doing quad-statted products ? (and wasting page-space)

    Or should ICE release two versions of the same Product, one written with 5E focus and the other triple stated with RM2/RMSS/RMU ?

    Maybe it would be strategically better to dual-stat with 5E and RMU only, drawing in new players into SW with a possible “upgrade” to RMU.

    For myself i do not really care anymore about the game system Shadow World is released with, as long as i can convert it to my own Homebrew Rules … which is not based on d100 (nor d20) anymore.

    1. Adding RMU stats to existing material seems like another “reprint” to a small audience. From a growth standpoint and leveraging current IP, opening up SW to 5e or d20 seems to the best bang for the buck. I’m wondering what that conversion would look like, but I have no familiarity with new D&D at all. Can you have D&D Navigators that have the innate spell ability to cast Jumps multiple times? Does D&D still use “cast and forget” mechanic?

      1. Ah … you mean Vancian Magic ? Yes the core system of 5E has returned to that kind of system, but various other 3rd party setting books have introduced their own.

      2. But thinking about it, some of the 4E magic rules may make more sense in a SW context.
        4E used a magic ability system with once per round (eg at will), N per encounter, N per day for round/combat related things. Anything else is based on ritual magic that can only be used as a narrative.

        1. This is a solid insight. 5e is actually pretty easy to convert from RMC and I’ve run Gethaena in 3e, that wasn’t hard at all, but I think you’re on to something that the 4e mechanics blend best with the flavor of Shadow World. 5e has been moving more towards X/rest and Y/day powers though, so something like the Navigator’s jumps could work into that pretty easily. The metaphysics are not too bad since both systems have a 3-sources of magic base concept: RM has essence/channeling/mentalism and D&D has arcane/divine/primal. Though 5e has largely abandoned primal making it more of a variation of channeling. Still, adding mentalism and differentiating it enough without making people go “ewww D&D psionics has always sucked” will be tricky. Once you’re bogged down in the “mentalism isn’t psionics” debate you’ve already lost. In the end, even if 4e is “best” for the conversion, you’ll undeniably get more players with a 5e conversion.

    1. A good read. I’m wondering if the lesson imparted only reinforces ICE’s position to hold IP tight and monetize it’s IP catalog.

      1. I think it is certainly a possibility. You can look at the business models and I think read the runes either way in terms of profitability. Which based on your perception is going to dictate which way you jump.

    2. Interesting article. It has me questioning an assumption of mine. The bit about funding everything via Kickstarter because of the ability to add legacy products to the add ons, thus selling more copies of the base rules with each new kickstarter event. Might be a viable path forward for ICE. Do kickstarters for Shadow World/HARN content and sell the LAW books each time to any new backers. This has potential. Thank you for sharing. Got me thinking. Where I disagree with the author is on the assumption that ecosysems are not needed. Watch any youtube creator for 5e, or the WotC Dragon Talk videos and it becomes obvious that many GMs, likely “most”, need more than the base rules. I know I read and re-read my RM Companion books so often I split the spines. Good advice, creative new rules, ideas for variant characters and monsters, etc. this stuff is valuable. Ecosystem content is great for players and GMs, it’s not just revenue for developers.

  5. Though there may be enough material for Shadow World for GMs to run campaigns without needing new material, from a publishing sense that doesn’t work so well. Many campaign settings constantly release new material, knowing that they likely have an existing base of customers to sell to. Otherwise, you need to continually draw in new customers, and it can be easier selling more to someone who likes the material than getting someone to start buying.

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