Setting or Unsettling?

Brian recently touched upon the need for Rolemaster to fully commit to Shadow World as its default setting. I am 100% behind this idea.

It is obvious from Brian’s deconstructions that as soon as you start to look critically as Spell Law that the amount of setting specific magic is far greater than one would have given credit for initially. This will always be most pronounced in the Channelling realm as gods have a big role to play in most fantasy settings. That then throws up the issue of why is a cleric of a fire god just as good at healing as a god of healing?

I think it was in Rolemaster Companion IV that they introduced deity specific base lists and I have been using them ever since. For most of my games I have not had a problem with Clerics being broken.

The first version of Spell Law that I used was the blue text with the naff handwritten font. I wasn’t comic sans but it was not far off. Apart from lay out improvements I don’t think Spell Law has changed much since that first edition and I think that may explain some of the problems.

Spell Law was intended as a drop in replacement for the AD&D magic system. I am playing Rolemaster in the Forgotten Realms which is an AD&D setting. My game is set after the time of troubles which gives me areas of wild magic which are not unlike esseance storms.

In AD&D all clerics could cast cure light wounds and at higher level finger of death and raise dead. They could commune with their god and they can turn the undead.

Rolemaster Clerics can cast all the closed healing lists, they can use absolution for the finger of death, life giving for raise dead and there is a whole list for communing and another for repulsing the undead.

RM Clerics are a perfect fit for AD&D Clerics. The fault lines that Brian experiences do not manifest in my games because Spell Law is written to fit the AD&D tropes.

This just goes to show that not only is Spell Law well over due a complete overhaul but BASiL is the way forward.

I don’t care if most people use Shadow World or not. If you set RM, and specifically RMU, to use Shadow World as the default setting, tie in all the rulebook examples to that setting, feature a starting adventure in the setting and describe magic against the Shadow World context then you will have a much richer product.

A significant number of GMs will create their own homebrew setting just as a significant number of 5e DMs create their own homebrew settings.

To all intents and purposes MERP is a homebrew setting these days. Yes, there are old books that are mostly compatible but there is nothing new and there never will be. It is as easy to convert from Cubicle 7’s One Ring or 5e Adventures in Middle Earth resources to RMU as it is to convert from the 1980s MERP region books.


I do not think you can divorce setting from rules once you start to look at magic and channelling magic most of all.

It is not only the magic system but the unique monsters and races that make the setting from a rules perspective. The companion I gave me all the AD&D races I needed but I still see questions on the ICE forums about Shadow World races.

With RMU it is going to be easy to create balanced races but I don’t think ICE customers buying ICE games to play in an ICE setting should have to make the things up themselves!

I don’t think I am a diva or over demanding or is joined up thinking too much to ask?

Original Forgotten Realms PDF Sale

You may or may not know that TSR and Wizards of the Coast (WotC) have ‘rebooted’ the Forgotten Realms with every new version of the DnD rules. Each reboot followed a major world shattering even. The version I like and play is set after the Time of Troubles when the gods were thrown out of their planes and forced to live on Faerun as their avatars, priests were cut off from their magic unless they were in close proximity to their deity and the gods could be killed.

Right now there is a half price sale on original 1st edition forgotten realms PDFs on RPGNow and adventure modules are just $2.50, (that is about £1.80 in real money). There are also some 2nd edition pdfs available in the same sale.

The best thing about the 1st edition (1e) materials was how open ended they were. They do not define each area strictly but rather convey the feel for the areas. They give you the cultures and personalities and everything  you need to use the region as a GM but at the same time leave you free to make the realms your own. There are ‘dungeon maps’ of key locations but not a linear plot line you must follow. Most of the modules closely follow the plots of the Forgotten Realms novels or integrate events portrayed in those books into the world. What I mean is, in the module FR5 The Savage Frontier key NPCs such as Drizzt Do’’Urden and Regis  are listed as currently travelling with the Fellowship of the Hall adventurers’ band. This firmly places the module as taking place just after the first Icewind Dale novel ‘The Cystal Shard’. I like this ‘light touch’ approach. I do not need TSR or whoever telling me that what the players must do and when.

If you are buildig your own world then I would recommend grabbing a coupleof these while they are cheap and using them for inspiration, if you just grab the maps and the NPC names and descriptions they are worth the money alone.

 

Canon ends where the table starts

There is a massive canon of work to support a GM using the Forgotten Realms setting. The minute play starts (even before the players enter the game) it becomes my world and what I say goes. I am god(s) and I have the ultimate authority.

What brought this thought to mind is that I finally started play in my PBP game last night and created about 150 civilians, several named individuals and several locations within ‘my Waterdeep’ that exist in no other.

This was not a “set ’em up to knock ’em down” cannon fodder creation exercise, it is entirely possible the players may well grow to care about some of these people. The beauty of having an entire city to play with is that you can create and destroy quite a lot before you start to change the nature of the location but at the same time you can take just a small area and give it real flavour. That is what I am trying to do at the moment.

I am a little surprised at how long it took to get characters created. The first is now actually in play and I hope to have a second ready for play by tonight but a third is still in a work in progress. It is a general misconception that RMC is RM2 and that may well have been the idea when the reborn ICE tidied up RM2 and re-released it under the RMC banner but the reality is that RMC is not 100% compatible out of the box. Even without a lot of optional skills, optional rules, and companions it has taken my players a while to adjust to the RMC ruleset. Character creation is one of those areas where differences can be most acute.

So the idea of Canon vs Play has become apparent in the rules as well as the setting and in making the rules fit the setting. This is pretty much another manifestation of what I was saying in Roleplaying Games Do Not Exist everything is just a framework from which to hang the stories we want to tell from and everything is up for evaluation and has to earn its place in the game. If it doesn’t work for the GM and players it is gone.

Forgotten Realms, Not In the Ghetto

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One of the things I like about the Forgotten Realms setting is that unlike so many other settings the non-human races are not ghettoised.

Take middle earth for example, if you are looking for a dwarf then they are pretty much allowed to live in Erebor or the Iron hills. Need and elf? That will be Lorien or Rivendell. If Hobbits are your problem then head to the shire.

Pretty much the entire planet is human with just these little nature reserves or enclosures for the non humans. Greyhawk was not much better with elves being found in Celene, Highvale, the Lendore Isles, Sunndi, the Duchy of Ulek, the Valley of the Mage, the Vesve Forest.

Faerun is more cosmoplitan and racially integrated than either of these and more than most other settings. Take Waterdeep as an example, the city itself holds almost every inteligent race capable of living in a civilised society and that includes races normally associated with the tag ‘monster’. As long as they are kept in check there is no reason not to employ Orcish bodyguards.

This integration does not only extend along racial lines. Your magic users are not all holed up in their towers. Every spell caster who can manipulate fire or water can find a place in the cities version of the fire brigade. It is one of the ways that spell casters can make their living if they are not the adventuring type.

From an adventuring perspective what this means is that for the starting player every race is available without having to come up with some tenuous reason why they are where they are. If you want to be from foreign lands then great but if you want to be local but still be a dwarven berserker then that is cool too. If you need someone who can read dwarven runes then chances are there is going to be a dwarf in your local tavern at some point. Whether that causes more problems than it solves is one of the day to day hazards of adventuring. (Getting a dwarf to translate the runes of a grave piece from a noble dwarven family can be a bit dicey!)

The whole Dwarves don’t like Elves and Elves being patronising to Dwarves is a bit cliched and totally unnecessary in an integrated society.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t get ‘homelands’ for these races. In fact within Faerun you get elven homelands that have been abandoned (Myth Drannor), those that are in their ascendancy (Evereska) and those timeless lands that have always been and always (to the inhabitants perception) will be elven lands.

The same is true with the Dwarves. There are enough dwarves around that are looking for clues of their lost family halls that they are almost queuing up to repopulate former dwarven halls and strongholds.

So when you are adventuring in the Realms just remember there is no place for ‘human supremacists’.

Broadcryers

Broadcryers are part of the fabric of life in Waterdeep. These are the newspaper hawkers that we know selling the single page ‘broadsheet’ short scrolls that are popular in Waterdeep.

Short scrolls are a single sided scroll maybe 20cm by 30cm (8″ by 12″) that pass for a newspaper. There are several available and each is printed within the city. The most popular are ‘The Vigilant Citizen’, ‘The Blue Unicorn’, ‘Daily Luck’ and ‘Northwind’.

As a rule they carry tabloid style tittle tattle, scandle and rumours as much as any real news. The writers of the short scrolls are a mix of anonymous perveyors of rumour, often in reality scribes who become privy to private affairs through their work or through overhead snippets of information and semi professional reporters of news. The concept of ‘Journalism’ does not exist but chroniclers of events have been around since the dawn of the written word.

As a GM I absolutely love the short scrolls. Based on the premise that with all tabloid journalism 99.9% is made up crap designed to sell newspapers I can use Broadcryers to bawl out headlines which could be ‘rumours’ fit for investigation by the party of PCs, complete fabrication, events spun off from different PCs operating in the same area or a way of introducing colour and flavour into the world, names of important NPCs and what they are up to.

In the same way that Freddie Starr never consumed any hamsters I am in no way constrained by the truth.

Something that is interesting though is that according to all the official Forgotten Realms publications (City of Splendors: Waterdeep, Blackstaff Tower and Downshadow) these are printed not hand written. The printing press revolutionised fifteenth century Europe. As soon as you allow printing presses into the world you open a pandoras box of potential uses for this technology. If you look through Spell Law ways of mass duplication is something that is not are covered by the normal spell lists. Possibly you could use a Prosaic list for this or research a suitable spell but as it stands this is something that technology can do that magic cannot.

The reason Broadcryers and their short scrolls came to mind is that all week I have been making up stories to fill the short scrolls for my PBP game. When rules, reality and even truth are all optional it is really good fun creating little newspaper stories.

 

The Moray Rat (A Forgotten Realms Creature)

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In my Monster Snobbery post I mentioned a creature that is unique to the Forgotten Realms setting. This is the Moray Rat, a vicious variation of the normal rat that is the staple monster killing diet of many low-level characters.

What makes the Moray unusual is that it has nasty backward angled teeth that mean that once it has latched on to its prey it cannot let go or be shaken off. It will hang on to its prey until it eventually bleeds out.

Game mechanics-wise treat the rats as standard rats but if the rat delivers a critical that does at least 1 point of bleeding damage per round then the rat is attached. It will no longer attack but it just thrashs around worrying at the wound. I would give the victim or helper +50OB to attack an attached rat but I leave it up to the GM to decide what should happen if you try to hit a rat attached to your own leg and miss.

A Sabretooth Rat. Image by allison712
http://allison712.deviantart.com/art/Sabertooth-Rat-109701170

There is of course the option of the Moray Giant Rat but that is your own choice.

Morays tend to be found in much smaller numbers than typical rats due to the fact that their natural internal squabbles tend to lead to more fatalities which keeps numbers down. They are perfectly suited to living in burrows, pipes and crevices where prey may wander in as opposed to living in large packs and scavenging.

Drow and Drow Culture

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In my opinion the Drow are an almost perfect villain. As they are a race you can pitch them at almost any level and you can have as many or as few of them as you like whenever you like. I found their rolemaster stats in Companion I, page 45. The problems is though that the companion does not convey even one percent of the essence of drow that make them this perfect foe.

For starters lets take drow culture.

The best way to describe it would be the decadence of Rome under Caligula crossed with the fascism of the third reich. That is isn’t far from the mark. To start with the Drow worship a spider goddess called Lloth. This puts a female drow at the head of the family, known as the Matron or Matron Mother. Only the Matron Mother is allowed to have children and any others will be sacrificed to Lloth. It is perfectly acceptable and indeed normal for the Matron Mother to sacrifice the father of her own children to Lloth after mating, taking a different partner for each child. Although if she thinks the father is a good specimen or has some other value he may be allowed to live for a while longer.

A drow using one of the hand crossbows for which their race is well-known. (Image taken from the Dungeons & Dragons WikiAll of drow society is ruled by the matron mothers of the eight most powerful houses in council and the way to become one of those is by wiping out one of the houses above you in social ranking. If you try that and fail then it is almost certain death as the ruling eight close ranks. No one in power likes the idea of a powerul usurper trying to upset the status quo after all!

The worship of Lloth is everything to the drow. All drow females are enrolled into the church and the number of priestesses and high priestesses is a matter of pride to a house. The men are allowed to be warriors or magicians but are by far the lower class. Few live long enough to attain great power because should they be seen as a threat then the church will dispose of them. The drow maintain academies for warriors, magicians and the church and upon completion of their studies every drow is tested. Those that fail are sacrificed to Lloth although not killed, Lloth has other plans for them.

Below the matron mother’s children are the other drow not part of any recognised family. These could come from houses not wealthy enough to maintain an entire ‘noble’ household so family members are forced to work for other houses. This could be as housefld soldiers or other more refined rolls.

For drow that cannot be supported by their family or find employment in a more powerful house then to them goes the title of renegade. These are often mercenaries employed by houses as and when needed to bolster a families defences or even for an attack on another house or for  more subtle duties. to most though the very thought of the renegades is distasteful but renegades are not the bottom of society.

The drow economy runs on slaves, slave labour and limited trade with cultures that do not outwardly object to slavery. Slaves farm the mushroom groves, work the mines and build the aquaducts that bring in the water. Slaves carry messages across the city and carry out most of the other fetching and carrying for a household. The drow will happily force any intelligent race into servitude except surface dwelling elves whom they would rather kill on sight especially elvish children.

The drow carry forth an almost innate hatred for the surface dwelling races. This is taught to every drow from birth and reenforced at the academies. It was, to hear the drow telling of it, the surface races that robbed the drow of their right to inherit the surface world and forced them underground. Drow not infrequently mount surface raids by night to capture slaves although they prefer to take races that live below the surface such as orcs, goblins and bugbears. If on a raid they encounter surface elves they will do their upmost to leave no survivers. Anything that can survive living without the sun and can be beaten into submission is prime slave material in the drows’ eyes.

To human eyes what we are most likely to see are the remains of Drow fortresses left over from the last time the drow ruled parts of the surface. These are often magically raised or at least desiged and built with powerful magic in mind. They often include landing platforms for flying troops and whole levels or balconies that can only be reached by air and not from the ground or by non-flying or levitating troops. Each fortress is then connected to the underdark and to each other by passages that run underground, normally miles underground, so that each can be reenforced from other fortresses without the need to move on the surface.

Although most if not all of these fortresses are now abandoned or lost to the drow you can be assured that they are not forgotten and the loss will be avenged.

Next time I will tell you some more about drow weapons and equipment and their love of spider venom.

Rolemaster & the Forgotten Realms

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The original inspiration for this blog was my Rolemaster game set in the old D&D world of the forgotten Realms. As it is I have put out a handful of posts and have not mentioned the realms at all.

First a bit of background. I was at a charity event nearly a year ago now and I saw some of the forgotten realms books including the boxed set campaign setting and a few of the original novels on a second hand book stall. Purely for the sake of nostalgia I bought them. Roll the clock forward and the GM in the current main game (a RM2 ShadowWorld based game) I am playing in announced that at the end of the next adventure the campaign was ending. The players and GM in this game have been playing together in various games since 1984 and for the last two decades we have met up twice a year for a long weekend of gaming. One adventure can take two years of human time to complete so the game is not in imminent collapse but it will end.

I agreed that I would start the next game and on the Friday night when we meet and the Saturday morning we will play a new game with me as GM and then Saturday/Sunday will be our ShadowWorld game. When that ends I will take on the Satuday night/Sunday shift and we will start another game ont the Friday night/Saturday morning. This way everyone gets to play and the GMing duties are split between two of us. It sounds like a plan…

So I thought, I know that Rolemaster started life as a set of house rules for AD&D, I have a load of adventures sat here for D&D how hard can it be to do the conversion from one to another. I have a coherent world to set all the adventures in, this should be easy.

One the face of it it certainly is pretty easy but there are some wonderfully quirky things about AD&D adventures that I just haven’t seen in Rolemaster games such as almost every single adventure module feels the need to introduce yet another new monster into the game. It is not as if there weren’t enough monsters already!

So, so far we have played two sessions, one weekend, of Rolemaster in the Forgotten Realms setting. Character generation went OK and I have started to inject a little FR lore into the game, the cleric in party is worshipping Torm the god of duty and loyalty for a start. We have been back filling the characters backgrounds by email over the past few weeks and I have been grounding them firmly in the fabric of the Realms. One lost his family in the war against Zhentil Keep, another has touched on the Elvish retreat.

As I prepare for each session I am having to do more and more conversions and I am creating shareable material. The treatment of the Drow in Rolemaster is superficial at least and with the Drow go a number of associated creatures and races. I will over the coming weeks and months share creature and race descriptions of the creatures I have needed to convert and where I have found incompatabilities between Rolemaster and AD&D I will publish my solution and whether that solution seems to have worked or not.

I am going to try and publish all my forgotten Realms posts on Saturdays from now on. I fyou have any questions then please comment below.