Rolemaster Companion I is considered one of the best Companions of the series (although I think RMC II is the fan favorite). Not only did it include a few character classes that many feel should have been included in the original Professions (Paladin among one), it also introduced Arcane magic.
However, not only is RMCI a great addition of optional rules for Rolemaster, it also includes the kernels of many important elements of Shadow World. Published around 1986, RMCI was soon followed by the revised “Loremaster” setting, the Shadow World Master Atlas boxed set. It’s not hard to imagine that some of the material in RMCI was either inspired by earlier modules like the Iron Wind or alternatively, that RMCI material was inserted into the soon to be published Shadow World books. At that time, Shadow World was to become the world setting for Rolemaster so it makes sense that there was solidarity between the rule books and the setting, or as much as was possible. While Terry didn’t appear to have much input in the content of RMCI, I would have liked the opportunity to ask him about the pollination of elements and ideas from earlier works.
There has been a lot of writing concerning “Appendix N” in the OSR community and cultural historians. For those that wanted to understand the root of D&D, Appendix N is considered required reading, more so with the passing of Gary himself. Now, with Terry’s passing, we are left with a new “Shadow World Appendix” trail of material from ICE’s first product, “The Iron Wind“, to early MERP modules like Court of Ardor, Creatures and Treasures and RMCI. While the Iron Wind was mostly a Pete Fenlon creation, Terry expanded the sandbox with the Cloudlords of Tanara and established some setting tropes that would be developed further in Shadow World. Now, with the possibility of new Shadow World material by third party authors (again), I think it’s important to understand the evolution of the setting to establish writing guidelines for any new material.
So let’s examine some elements in the Rolemaster Companion and see if it’s possible that included material directed or influenced the forthcoming Shadow World setting.
Credits and Designer Notes. Primary design credits were given to R.Mark Colborn. I’m not familiar with any of Mark’s other work, but RMCI seems to be an amalgamation of rules from a variety of contributors. Terry is listed as “Editorial Flunky” and given Production credit as well. More fascinating to me is the Designer Notes in 1.1. Here, Mark, offers that the supplement began with the Spell Coordination list to explain some of the material in the Court of Ardor! He continues on a later paragraph:
“The other reason for this supplement is simply because there are things I wanted in Rolemaster which we do not have yet from the good and busy folk at I.C.E., and this game is too good to switch to another. I wanted to be able to make every item of Ardor, and C&T.” (emphasis mine).“
Why does Mark’s comments strike me? Obviously, Terry was the author of Court of Ardor, but in 1986, Middle Earth was firmly entrenched in the MERP rule set. Furthermore, CoA was considered a quirky, odd book that was outside of ME orthodoxy. But, as we all know, CoA could be considered very “Shadow World” or even a primer for the Shadow World brand and style. So is the Spell Coordination list the only Shadow World “pre-cursor”, or does the RMCI hold other SW DNA worth reviewing? Let’s continue.
2.1 Arcane Magic. While I’m not sure that RMU has embraced Arcane Magic in the primary ruleset, Shadow World ultimately did in the Master Atlas. Besides generally cool spell lists, the Arcane lists were peculiar and a bit setting specific with “Earth Nodes”. We’ll get to that in a bit. On page 4 is a boxed text vignette, a book excerpt by the Loremaster Yh’tomit regarding “Studies Beyond the Common White Lore”. There is much to parse from this section, but a few tidbits that struck me when I first read the Companion:
“…the study of the origins of the Arcane Tomes is the mention of the Draconic Wizards, or Dragon Mages”
“Whence the Arcania?…..Under his instruction I have mastered them all, ascended because of them…”
“…I saw the ragged edge of a great wing. I knew then that my master Leilamag was indeed greater than I had dreamed”
“…are these people who have gained the ability to become, I mean, to be dragons? And to move back and forth between the form and Essence?”
“Is it greater calling themselves Dragon Lords and riding the beases backs, or to be able to ascend into true might–to take not just the form but also the Essence as well–to be both Dragon and Dgraon Lord?”
Consider that this was pre-Shadow World, but we were aware of a Dragon Lord in the earlier product The Iron Wind: Oran Jatar. This brief passage ties together a number of elements: the primal Arcane Magic, the existence of Dragon Lords, and the idea that a Mage can “ascend” to a higher form and choose between human and draconic form. Rather than a Dragon Lord appearing whole cloth, this hints at a “Ritual” that could be allowed in game for such an ascension!
2.2 Earthnodes and Earthblood. To me, the inclusion of Earthnodes is very specific setting, but one that Rolemaster embraces. Of course The Iron Wind introduced The Flows of Essence, but Foci themselves aren’t found until the SW series. RMCI also offers that Earthnodes often will have “phenomena”: rare herbs, valuable ores, lairs, shrines or magical or supernatural manifestations”.
Terry followed this practice; most major Foci have some unique structure, object or creature at their epicenter. More notable is the tie between Earthwardens, structures and Foci in Shadow World.
2.4 Magical Languages. RMCI introduces the idea of various magical languages and their utility to various types, or specific spell lists. This is a great concept, and the section includes Iruaric for Arcane spells and Alchemist lists. Shadow World also adopted magical languages and tied them to spell lists. I believe this is a concept that could be strengthened even further in new SW books. I’ve blogged some of my own ideas before.
3.1 Arcane Spell Lists. While these lists could use some revision, that are cool, great lists. Certainly “Earthblood Ways” faintly echoes the later Loremaster and Navigator “Flow” lists. For me, these Arcane lists are perfect as the powers of the “Earthwardens” in Shadow World. I’ve re-worked these lists in my BASiL project, but it’s not necessary to do so–these lists are great in a SW campaign for use by Earthwardens, Dragon Lords and even the Storm Wizard.
7.6 Mage Drakes and Essence Drakes. In this section we have 2 types of Dragon/Mage hybrids. The Mage Drake requires the caster to be level 20, know the Arcane lists to that level and undergo a “Ritual of Ascension”. The second type is the Arcane Drake–a Mage Drake that has attained 50th level. Interestingly, these Dragon Lords can be either good or evil and not inherently a creature of the Unlife as depicted in the Iron Wind.
There are a few other kernels of SW throughout the book, but for me, the RMCI is a good resource for SW specific rules and concepts. We know that Terry was often unconcerned about the gap between the SW setting and the rules support from Rolemaster. As Mark says in his designer notes, the Companion was meant to “rulify” some aspects of the Court of Ardor. In turn, I’ve been interested in modifying Rolemaster to better suit Shadow World. Whether through the BASiL lists, addendum material or SWaRM (Shadow World alternate RoleMaster). If or when ICE allows new Shadow World material, understanding the evolution of the setting might in turn help create better products.