I’ve had the opportunity to correspond and talk with many other Shadow World games over the last decade or so and one aspect I really enjoy is hearing about their own interpretation of the setting; what aspects of Shadow World they use a what they don’t. Some of that trickles into the forums and discord server so it’s clear that no two Shadow Worlds are alike. That’s the way it should be!
I’m always irritated when I read a SW review that describes it as a “kitchen sink” setting. I’ve discussed this before, and it’s probably the result of the early third party modules that varied in style and tone, but it’s also true that the 1st Ed. Master Atlas and even Jaiman could be considered standard fantasy fare. When takes as a whole though, Terry’s collected works, “Canon”, is as distinct in flavor and often very unique in material as any other established setting.
I’m going to avoid a compare and contract situation, but I think Kulthea stands up well compared to the 2 standard AD&D settings: Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms. It’s certainly more unique than the “white bread” Harn or Midkemia. But like all settings, each campaign, and each GM dips into the materials differently. Perhaps by preference or taste or driven by the players.
Throughout this blog I’ve written quite a bit of material that references my own Shadow World campaign–a campaign that I consider 1 single story despite 30+ years with different groups and players. In my mind, it’s been a continuous narrative, interwoven and ultimately heading towards a climatic conclusion that will never occur!
Over those years, I’ve adopted, discarded and changes a number of setting elements as Terry produced new material and covered new areas but some common elements remain a core part of my campaign style. I thought I’d note a few and invite others to describe their own unique elements in their Shadow World game. For this blog I’m looking for setting elements that are used or not used and not Rolemaster Rules…
- I’ve eliminated “Orcs”. Not just Orcs, but all of the standard D&D critters: Goblins, Trolls, Ogres and Giants. While Terry came up with new names for these races, I always felt they diluted the atmosphere of my game and leaned to heavily on ingrained tropes my players know too well. I use Quaidu, Neng, Krylites and of course the Unlife (which can infect all living things) as common opponents of the players. It’s not a hard adjustment, Terry uses very little of these races in his material.
- The Unlife. My use of the Unlife embraces the standard SW stuff: Priests of Arnak, Messengers etc but I’ve expanded it with a more liberal use of possession we call the “Soulless”. I also de-emphasize standard undead tropes (no ghosts, wraiths or vampires) and instead a Priests ability to Turn is effective against Unlife possession and manifestation. In fairness this was in no small part due to the Evil Dead and Deadites. The players experience more existential dread from fearing anyone being infected or possessed than being confronted with a standard Undead creature.
- I don’t really use Loremasters. It’s too easy to lean on a powerful mysterious figure that can save a group, offer advice and guidance and provide direction. As a GM it’s basically my avatar that ends up leading the party; a role I shouldn’t have. Instead I use Navigators quite a bit. Not only do I depend on the fickle and unpredictable nature of Essaence Flows, but travel is part of the setting. Getting from one place to another can be just as challenging as the ultimate goal and Navigators are an essential tool. Navigators can be funny(I play a few favorites with a very dry and fatalistic wit) but more importantly, completely neutral. In many cases wickedly mercenary with the group.
- Apparent to anyone that reads this blog, I lean heavily into the Gods. They are real and manifest, so they should have a significant role in the goings on of the world. But they are also fickle and capricious, so when they do provide aid or guidance it can be with a hidden cost or inexplicable purpose.
Of course I’ve blogged about ret-conning a number of things in Shadow World as well, but these are just some basics. I’m curious what you use, or don’t use, in your Shadow World campaign?