The “Rings of Power” and “The Court of Ardor”.

I am no Tolkien scholar, but I’ve been reading a bit about the new Amazon show Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. A summary that I think is from the Silmarillion:

Morgoth was the most powerful of a race of beings known as the Ainur, which were immortal spirits who existed before Creation

Previously called Melkor, he became what’s known as a Valar, each of which is attracted to a particular aspect of the world. Melkor was drawn to violence. After a battle with other Valar during which Melkor literally plunged the world into darkness, he dominated Middle-earth while the other Valar retreated to Aman in the far west, settling in Valinor, which would later become home of the “Undying Lands” for the elves.

After the awakening of the elves, the other Valar waged war against Melkor and defeated him, after which he was sent to Valinor, where he feigned penance but secretly plotted against the elves whom he blamed for his comeuppance. Melkor destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor and was subsequently renamed Morgoth, escaping to Middle-earth where he resumed his rule.

I was intrigued. As a long time fan of The Court of Ardor I generally ignored the Middle Earth components and used the material in my Shadow World campaign. But the recent publicity around the new Amazon show made we take another look at Terry’s work from way back in 1983. Keep in mind that reference to the Silmarillion in gaming material way back in the early days of RPG’s was obscure to most. Many reviews of The Court of Ardor expressed confusion or dismissed the entire premise as not fitting into Middle Earth.

Here is Terry’s “set up” for the modules plot:

The Court was formed in the waning years of the First Great Age of Arda. when Morgoth, the Black Enemy, still ruled much of the world, possessing the Silmarils in his Iron Crown. As is well known, after the death the of the Two Trees of Valinor (which had lighted the world), the Valar created the moon and the sun , which were much brighter than the dim luminescence which had filtered to Middle Earth from Valinor and the Trees, and itblinded and drove into hiding nearly all of Morgoth’s servants. Only in the night and the relative dimness of the moon could they roam abroad and cause terror. and even then they cursed the silvery lunar light. preferring overcast skies.

Morgoth thought long upon this, and decided that the sun and moon be destroyed so that his dominion would be assured. Sauron being his chief general, he could not he spared for even this most important of tasks. Instead, the Black Enemy called upon Ardana the Astrologer. A Noldor of power, she was among the mightiest or the Eldar whom Morgath corrupted to his cause, and, perhaps, one of the most tragic. She was once afollower of Elbereth, a lover of the stars. She knew much of the ways of the Heavens — so she was charged with the fall of the Lights.

The Astrologer travelled Middle-earth, seeking method by which she could bring down the sun and moon, gathering followers in her wake.

Let it be said here that, for the most part, Elves cannot be corrupted to ‘evil’ as such. They can be seduced by clever word, and convinced Of things which are not so. In this way, Ardana, a powerful Lady of the Eldar, appearing in shimmering rainment, convinced many of the Elves that her plan what best for them: that the glaring lights in the sky were ‘evil’ contrivances designed to block out the light or Elbereth’s stars, cherished by all Elves.

James over at Grognardia wrote this:

The Court of Ardor was written by Terry K. Amthor and filled with 62 pages of dense text and some gorgeous maps by Peter C. Fenlon. The supplement described a land far to the south of Middle-earth called alternately Ardor or Mûmakan, which was home to number of elven lords who had cooperated with Morgoth during the First Age. I remembered nothing of this from The Silmarillion and, though I’ll admit my appreciation of the finer details of Tolkien’s world were shaky at best, it struck me as strange, if not impossible, to imagine evil elves in Middle-earth. Stranger still was that these evil elves used magic associated with a Tarot-like deck of cards supposedly created by Morgoth himself. There were also peoples and places that had no connection to Middle-earth in the supplement as well, not to mention an epic plot line involving Morgoth’s half-elven children and the continuation of their father’s plan to destroy the Sun and the Moon.

As a kid, I was baffled by all this. The Court of Ardor was undeniably cool, but it was also undeniably inappropriate to Middle-earth. I couldn’t figure out then (nor now) just how this product was ever released under the Middle-earth label, since, except for names here and there, it was seemed like it took place in its own fantasy world rather than in Tolkien’s sub-creation. But it was also strangely compelling and while, in retrospect, I find it a little too over the top for my liking, it is quite well done and I can easily imagine how someone who took it up and ran with it would have a great campaign using it. I myself did not, mostly because, while I liked many of its ideas, I somehow found myself in the odd position of simultaneously thinking it didn’t belong in Middle-earth and finding it too strongly associated with it to be able to use it.

Here is another over at The Age of Ravens (he mistakenly attributed CoA to Fenlon and not Terry):

You see, what sane person gets the license to craft an RPG for Tolkien’s world and then releases three campaign settings that pretty much no one but hard core Tolkien diehards would even know exist? Well, Pete, I guess because that is exactly what he did.

I mean, these supplements are remote in the extreme, and he was pretty much just whistling out his ass when it came to the creation of The Court of Ardor. Still, why not try to talk about dark elves and lands no one ever really thought to explore or even had a hand in the various works of middle-earth that even Silmarillion readers would remember?

It’s certainly true that Jacksons’ “LotR” trilogy generated renewed interest in Middle Earth and definitely a new appreciation for the quality of ICE’s MERP product line. I wonder now if Amazon’s new show will do the same for Terry’s “odd” little book, “The Court of Ardor”? Will we all be talking about Morgoth and the 1st Age?

One final thought. Did most of the major MERP books have a timeline for that product/region that included the 1st Era? Did the authors include 1st Era adventure ideas? That would be another feather in ICE’s cap to have that old 1st Era becoming “cool”.

What do you think? I wish Terry was here to share his thoughts on the new series.

Shadow World Spin Cycle. Angmar: Land of the Witch King.

For those that are not familiar with my Shadow World Spin Cycle series, I review older MERP modules in the context of using them in Shadow World. Why? Well, most of the early MERP products shared much of the same DNA as the “Loremaster” series: the artwork, the writers (Fenlon, Amthor, Britton) so re-purposing them is fairly easy and consistent with the flavor and style of SW.

Angmar was the first MERP book released in 1982 and authored by Heiki Kubasch. Cover art was done by Gail McIntosh, and like all of her work, not only depicted a great “action” scene, but one that could be visualized in the context of role-playing. This is basically a 48 page supplement, plus 9 pages of beautiful Fenlon maps in the back. Interestingly, page 48 includes a section on “Selected Reading”. It was common in Gygax books and Golden Age role-playing to include a reference list in the back. I’ve never thought about it, but I wonder if this list was standardized or specific to Angmar or the author. I will check into this!

Like most I.C.E. regional modules the ToC is standard and familiar to Rolemaster players: Land & Climate, Flora & Fauna, Peoples & Cultures, Politics & Power, and Places of Note and finally Supplemental information and charts.

I’m going to skip the first 10 pages that consist of overview material on Rolemaster, B&W maps that are duplicated in color, map keys and Middle Earth background on the area.

Flora and Fauna. This section focuses on creatures that are very Tolkien/Hobbit: Trolls and “troll holes”, Giants and then dives into a few specific Dragons: Scorba and a lesser Drake Corlagon the red. Scorba is a major Dragon, and like Smaug, resides in a Dwarven stronghold (Zarak Dum) on a vast pile of treasure. Finally, there is a paragraph on Bears. Honestly, this isn’t much of a useful bestiary although tackling Trolls, encountering Giants and perhaps eventually battling Corlagon would make for a Hobbit like campaign. For Shadow World, there isn’t much useful so far.

Peoples and Cultures. There are 3 mannish races: Rhudaur, Rhun and Estarave who live in the cold, harsh environment. Not evil, but generally are governed by evil leadership. Populations reside in fortified villages, and social advancement comes through the path of the warrior. To me, this is close to the Syrkakar culture in the Iron Wind the and cultures of Xa’ar. Not much to take from, but it would easy to transport this material to the Northern regions of Jaiman and use this as part of the kingdom of Sulthon? (Angmar: Land of the Dragonlord)???

Politics and Power. Putting aside the Nazgul Witch-King, the real foes in this book are the military forces. Several pages detail the army and command structure, with added information on 7 Generals. The armies also have a band of 50 War Trolls and information on several special forces: the Crossbowmen, Trackers, and the hoerk which is an elite fighting group. This is all good stuff and easily added into a Shadow World campaign as an army in Ja’miil Targ or for Lorgalis in Ulor.

Places of Note. Most of this section covers the massive fortress of Carn Dum which is basically 2 fortresses, one built on the mountain and the vast facility underneath.

This is a great fortress layout, and easily used for any Rolemaster adventure or Shadow World stronghold. Here is just one cool level (must be by Terry):

Next is the border castle of Morkai:

A fortified village of Kuska which has conveniently numbered buildings even though it lacks the descriptions.

A small outpost of Cargash:

Eldanar Castle:

These are all useful layouts and great adds for you own adventure or campaign. If you are like me, designing fortresses, castle and towers is mostly the layout and design: I can add content quickly and easily; even if it’s an unexpected turn in the adventure! So having ready layouts from older MERP modules is a time saver!

The remainder of the book has some useful but brief material: info on raids and sorties, designing an outpost or castle, a short list of herbs and drugs, the NPC table from Character Law, Master NPC and Military charts. On page 44 & 45 there is a neat summary of siege equipment:

Finally, page 46 has some brief thoughts on adventures, a small ruin layout and a troll hole map. A bit weak for adventures, but the layouts are still worth the price of this book!

Overall, Angmar is a great resource to re-purpose for Shadow World or really any Rolemaster adventure. Again, for Shadow World I see this as a good add to Ulor (use Card Dum for his fortress) or in Wuliris (although Terry is working on that area now).

Rise of the Old Guard.


For those that follow various RPG blogs, you are probably familiar with Grognardia, written and curated by James Maliszewski. James ended the blog back in 2012 and it looked like he was done with the project. Perhaps he ran out of creative energy, or there was no topic left unturned.

Many of his older posts are worth perusing, but as it turns out, James is back and restarted the blog after an 8 year hiatus! Since the restart he has been prolific with 309 posts in 2020 alone! We managed 1 or 2 months of almost hitting 1 post a day here at the Rolemasterblog, and that was with 3 or more contributors!

James brings a true OSR viewpoint to his writing and he has in depth knowledge of the early Golden Age of roleplaying. He’s posted several articles on MERP and has some familiarity with Rolemaster even though he’s not a fan of the system. Welcome back James!

Three Tales of the Tarot Deck.

Tale 1. One of the more curious aspects of The Court of Ardor is the “Deck of Ardan”, a tarot-like magical set of cards. At first glance, the deck simply acts as an “org chart” for the mysterious Court and assigns members to various roles based on a playing deck. Additionally, the deck holds other powers, two of which are detailed. The first is the ability to communicate with other members of the Court featured in the deck. This can be through voice, or if chosen a visual window akin to modern “Facetime”. The second detailed power was enhanced “Channeling”–per the channeling skill in Rolemaster. Since no one I know has ever used the Channeling skill (as described in RM2), it was interesting but ultimately unhelpful. (I recently asked Terry about the origins of the Channeling skill, but that’s another blog!)

Tale 2. The Court of Ardor was not the first appearance of a Tarot style deck in fantasy that replaced the cards with characters in the particular story. It has been decades since I had read Roger Zelazny’s “Nine Princes in Amber” but I vaguely recalled the same style device being used. The book was published in 1970, so it clearly predated Rolemaster and I’m not the first that noted the similarity. Age of Ravens blog noted the similarity in 2011.

So was this just a coincidence or an example of convergent creativity in early fantasy? When I asked Terry, he provided this short explanation:

“Yes the Ardan Tarot was inspired by Zelazny’s books. More details I am afraid I don’t recall after all these years!”

So there we have an answer, but answers to questions I had about additional powers of the deck or further ideas on their use were lost in the mists of time!

Tale 3. 29 years after Zelazny’s book and 16 years after The Court of Ardor, a Tarot plot device appeared in another fantasy series. One that had it’s birth in fantasy gaming. Gardens of the Moon is the first Book of the Malazan and featured the Deck of Dragons. This deck of cards was both a divination tool and depicted the various members of a pantheons court. The Deck of Dragons plays a major role in the early Malazan books, but less so as the books go on and other systems replace the deck. I’d enjoy asking Steven or Cameron (the authors) if they too were inspired by Zelazny’s book; the Malazan series was driven primarily by their early roleplaying games.

Perhaps I’ll read Nine Princes in Amber again, but I’m still intrigued by the use of Tarot cards in Court of Ardor and Malazan. Zelazny might have been the progenitor of an idea that is now shared DNA in two other fantasy settings.

Background, Passions and Drive in Against the Darkmaster

One of my favorite features of Middle-Earth Role Playing is its Background Options Table. Oh, man, how fun it is to put those points into rolls on the Special Abilities and the Special Items charts. I allow my player-characters to roll only once each on these tables, but how disappointing if the player rolls something mundane like +5 to a primary skill or +15 to a secondary skill or something just weird or out of concept such as “Infravision”? Anyway, I soon learned that the real mini-game was to maximize stat increases to higher Bonus thresholds. If this process left any points left over (in other words, if the next stat bonus was out of reach), then one could drop a point into the Special Items table.

Against the Darkmaster (VsD) provides Background Options, at first glance, in a manner similar to MERP. As in MERP, the number of Background Points to be spent is determined by the character’s Kin, and they are spent according to a menu of options. Unlike MERP, however, there are no random rolls on these Background tables. In fact, they almost can’t be described as tables. At least according to the QuickStart, each option has two “Tiers.” The first Tier always costs a single point. The cost of the second Tier varies according to its in-game “power” but seems to average 3 points. A player need not spend points on both Tiers of a single option but gains the benefits of both options if he spends points on the second Tier. Here is an example of a Background Option:

I chose to share this option because it’s easy to photograph and because it’s a good example of how Background Options can inform the narrative elements of a character’s backstory. Most of the Background Options contain a narrative element that is conducive for emulating the heroic aspect of VsD’s source material, and all of these features are tied to a mechanical benefit.

I think this is where the design choices in VsD become most compelling. I love these options! They work very well in my games, both by adding “character” to the PCs and by awarding them cool toys. I could do with pages and pages of these things, and who knows, maybe I’ll get them with the full game. The QS contains just two pages of Options, more like a page and a half, really—eight Options total. But they’re very well-chosen! My players haven’t had any problems finding something attractive for them. Our only difficulty had been how the description of an important feature has been inadvertently left out of Elven Training, but the designers quickly and willingly supplied us with that missing information.

VsD’s mechanic tying Passions to Drive likewise encourages more detailed character backgrounds and character-driven campaign play, something that pleases me. I’ve already pointed out how, at this stage in VsD’s development, the guidelines for players developing Passions are inadequate, particularly if Passions are tied to stereotypical features regarding Kin. But, when carefully chosen, Passions work well, and, so far, they have been working for all of my players.

I have been thinking of Passions as composed of three parts, but, looking again, I see that the designers describe Passions as three distinct elements: Motivation, Nature, and Allegiance. Motivation is, essentially, what the character wants to do; Nature is her demeanor or personality; Allegiance is his faction. In my games, the only Passion that has been driving the campaign is Motivation. Nature, in time, might become more important, but I tend to see character personalities emerge throughout gameplay, and my current games still are in their “Adolescence.” Finally, as a gamer said at my first tabletop session, “Allegiance might change from session to session.” I’ll explain the mechanical implications of Passions after I cover Drive.

Every PC begins play with 1 Drive Point. This, essentially, is a heroic resource with a menu of applications. Rather than going through all of them, I’ll give arguably the most common use: a Drive Point can be spent to immediately re-roll any failed roll with an automatic +10. There are explanations for how multiple spends might “stack.” A character can’t possess more than 5 Drive Points, and, if a character is fortunate enough ever to have 5 Drive Points, all 5 might be spent at once for some truly sensational effects.

At first glance, to me, it looks like just another thing to track, but I’ve seen these points get used twice already, and I think the mechanic will be an enjoyable feature. I’ve even had occasion to award a Drive Point, and now is the time to show how Passions interact with Drive Points. The QS says,

Whenever a character willingly puts himself into a dangerous situation, in a challenge, puts himself in a bad light because of one of their Passions, or makes the story change in a new and interesting direction following their Passion, they then gets to increase their Drive score by one – to a maximum of five.

p. 30

I can provide an example from my first session. A PC’s Motivation is to recover an abducted sibling. A member of a rival desert tribe, claiming to have information regarding the PC’s sister’s capture, met with the PC. Trying to determine if the NPC was trustworthy, the PC Critically Failed a roll, which caused the NPC to withdraw from the interaction. Later, desperate to learn more about his family member, the PC stepped in front of this new antagonist (who was quite dangerous, a third Level Assassin), gave him a gift, and with fancy words implored his help.

“Take a Drive Point,” I said. And, of course, the PC received his information.

A last observation is that the designers of VsD seem to hope that the Passions mechanics will knit together the PC group, writing,

Creating interesting Passions is a collective process that really must involve all the players at the table, since it’s vital for a VsD game to come alive with vibrant and interesting characters, and it’s also an excellent opportunity to tie characters to each other and to NPCs and root them to the story.

p. 29

Perhaps some groups will have the collective conversation that the QS describes, but I found myself working individually with each player to define, for that PC, a Motivation. Then, multiple PC Motivations in mind, I endeavored to give the group a shared goal, a reason to be together, that at least hinted at the possibility of everyone in the group attaining his Motivations separately. I can see new GMs having difficulty with this—weaving together the strands of individual character narratives. It’s possible that either the new GM will push the players towards one shared goal, a direction that could be intuited from the QS’s words about collective world building, or risk the PCs venturing forth in separate directions. I expect the full rules will contain thorough directions about this aspect of VsD.

Next will be Adventuring! So I will “mop up” with some final observations on Character Creation. Finishing Touches and Derived Attributes are as follows: every character has a Base Move Rate of 15m; Defense is the character’s Swiftness or 0, whichever is higher; Save Rolls are calculated from the relevant Stat, Kin and other bonuses and # character level x 5; total HP are starting HP and total Body Skill (the QS appears to erroneously leave out starting HP); and total Magic Points are the relevant Stat/10 (round down) per level + bonus MPs for Kin, Vocation and Items (such as Spell Adders). Our characters are done!

An Interview with Terry K. Amthor. Author of Shadow World and I.C.E. Founder.


Anyone reading this RolemasterBlog should be familiar with Terry K. Amthor. One of the founding members of Iron Crown Enterprises and author of Court of Ardor, Lorien and Thieves of Tharbad (to name just a few). Terry is now the principal of Eidolon Studios where he continues to publish fantastic Shadow World material. There have been detailed accounts written about I.C.E. and their history and the epic battle for M.E. licensing, so I thought it would be enjoyable to get a more personal perspective from Terry himself.

BH: Terry, there have been several comprehensive articles about ICE and in depth interviews with I.C.E. founders but relatively few interviews with you. Anecdotally, there are few designers and authors that have survived on one setting or rule-set as long as you. Shadow World was introduced in 1989 and you’ve been the master architect for all of that time. Do you have thoughts or perceptions on your own role or influence on RPG’s?

TKA: Well, to be honest, I think what limited notoriety or influence I have had was my role in Middle-earth Role Playing, as the editor and author of several books. MERP was one of the biggest selling RPGs of all time after D&D. And I was happy to stand in Pete Fenlon‘s shadow; he’s kind of larger-than-life. But I’m also proud of my role in the creation of Rolemaster. Olivia Johnston and I basically invented the Mentalism realm, and many of those critical hits and spell lists were written by me. Now of course I look at RM and think that it is rather daunting. Ha! Regarding Shadow World, I was honored and excited that it was agreed that I would be the world creator. I built heavily on our work in Iron Wind and went from there.

‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’

And in a somewhat unrelated topic, I got a little fame for my article ‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’ in White Wolf Magazine back in 1994, about feeling isolated as the only gay gamer (besides one other guy in the industry) that I knew of. The WW guys said it got a tremendous response. The last few years at GenCon now they hold a seminar with that name.

BH: As you mentioned, your 1994 article in White Wolf “Queer as a Three-sided Die” helped motivate a recurring seminar at Gen-Con of the same name. You’ve included both gays and women in Shadow World: the Sarnak amazons and the Komaren Cluster “Sherikaan” (SW term for gays). There seems to be an emphasis on “minorities”, can you elaborate on that and its importance to you in your creative process

TKA: I dunno, it just seemed natural to me. I knew I was taking a risk of offending people including an entire gay culture in SW, but that was when I was writing SW unsupervised for the first time and thought, what the hell. (The main protagonist in my SW novel is also gay). I never got any negative feedback, and even got a few letters and emails praising it.

As far as women and other races, it just seemed natural to me, especially after Middle-earth, which is totally dominated by men, (except for Galadriel), and the only people of color were savages from Harad who served Sauron. Back in the 80’s the gaming world was overwhelmingly white and str8. Fortunately it has changed quite a bit, along with popular culture.

BH: Your background in architectural design must have played a role in your work. Is your creative process driven by physical design or does narrative drive the form factor?

‘but how does that work, really?’

TKA: Ha! Though in many ways I think my architecture experience helped, sometimes I think it has held me back from creating really exotic building designs. Pete would design these beautiful but totally impractical structures, and in the back of my mind I was always wondering. ‘but how does that work, really?’ I’ve gotten a little better at letting go over the years, I hope.

BH: One of your earlier SW products, Jaiman, had the Dragonlord fortress–that was pretty fantastical! 

TKA: Heh, yes that was kind of wild. But to be honest, I can’t remember if my design came first, or if I had to retro-design it after the artist’s work. I think the latter.

BH: Many of us are in our 40’s or 50’s and consumers of early RPG’s in the heady days of the 80’s RPG industry. Early business successes are often attributed to “lightning in a bottle”–a mixture of right time, right place and right team. Charlottesville is a special place and UVA is an amazing institution. Certainly I.C.E. benefited from a confluence of factors: a start-up industry, Fenlon’s maps and the original ME campaign, your layouts and design aesthetic and a solid publishing team. I.C.E published A LOT of quality material in a short period of time, 1980-1990. What is your perspective of that time and the factors for success?

TKA: I have to say that I have often thought how different my life would be if I had not allowed myself to be talked into going to my first D&D session by a friend, way back in 1976 when I was first year in college. I loved LotR, but the game idea sounded silly to me. We went and I joined Pete’s early quest to destroy the Iron crown and I was hooked. Most of the people who would go on to found ICE were there. We had many all-nighter gaming sessions.

After ICE was established, we often joked that we were probably the only RPG company run by committee, for better or worse. All the other major companies of the time seemed to be run by one man. Pete was the driving force, but all of us founders had a voice. And yes we had an enormous pool of talent! Most of us were UVa grads, but we managed to get some great freelance artists and writers. It was an exciting time, especially the early 80’s. We all put in long hours, and often were down in shipping, collating and packing games.

“gold standard”

BH: MERP is considered a “gold standard” for M.E. reference material. Anecdotally I’ve heard that Peter Jackson used I.C.E. material in the LOTR production. Had you heard that?

TKA: Yes, that was amazing that Pete managed to secure the rights. And yes I heard that as well. And looking at the cover of ‘Lorien’ by Angus McBride (which I art directed), its hard not to think that he was inspired by some of our art and materials. I prefer to be flattered about that. However, how the license holders treated ICE when the movies were about to come out and they smelled big money, that was inexcusable.

BH: Many of the larger ME books are as much reference material as a gaming product. Were you all Tolkien scholars? With all the other product lines you were working on, how did the company manage the output and product quality? I can’t imagine many companies taking on the challenge of mapping Moria!

TKA: Pete and I both prided ourselves on being Tolkien ‘scholars’ and we researched what was available. I learned how to write Elven script, learned a lot of vocabulary, and got deep into the lineage of the Eldar, especially Galadriel and her history. It was an obsession of mine back then. Of course, sadly, most of that is gone from my brain-cells.

As far as quality, I don’t know, but we wanted to get it right when dealing with Middle-earth history, but make an exciting game. Meanwhile at ICE I moved from editor to production manager to art director, so it was a crazy time for a guy in his 20’s. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even the office moves, the hiring, the buying new technology and being the go-to Mac geek (while we had Coleman the PhD in Computer Science, who was above that crap).

I was so excited to bring Kevin Barrett on with Space Master. (I actually drove up to Toronto with a monstrous KAYPRO computer to meet Kevin, and we spent a weekend working out Space Master. The whole thing started as a random mailed-in submission that Coleman and I both liked (that was rare!!!)

BH: How do you see Shadow World in the ecosystem of RPG settings?

TKA: I am pleased that it has survived and remains profitable, but these days it is kind of a niche setting, along with many others. Long gone are the huge print runs and massive distributor networks of the 80’s and 90’s. And from the beginning, SW suffered from some unfortunate compromises in the early days. I had to include Fantasy HERO stats, which took up a lot of space, and from what we could tell, there was very little interest from the FH players. I was also ‘encouraged’ to accept some less than high-quality modules that had little to do with my idea of SW. A couple of the other ICE principals strongly wanted SW to be very a generic, plug-and-play world, which I was strongly against.

I was grateful that, when I left ICE in 1992 and moved to Northern Virginia, Pete allowed me to take SW, and licensed RM to me for a minimal fee. That’s when I founded Eidolon Studio and began self-publishing. Then I could do whatever I wanted. SW did also maybe suffer because it got the reputation of being a high-powered world. I think that was possibly unfair; there were high-powered NPCs, but plenty of low-level adventure possibilities. It may have also suffered because it was tied so closely to Rolemaster, which had a rep as a complex high-powered system. SW is definitely a very narrow kind of setting. It is high fantasy with sci-fi elements (which people love or hate), and a very detailed history, with major plots going on that the PCs might never know about. Like Rolemaster, it might seem daunting to a GM just starting out, but I hear about people jumping in to SW all the time.

BH: MERP had the benefit of Tolkien’s world-building and history. Did that later influence your work on the extensive SW timeline? Not many settings have 110,000 year+ of back history!

TKA: Absolutely. I wanted SW to have a deep history of its own with legends and epic events that most current inhabitants assume are just stories. But the gods are real. And that ancient history is infused with tech, and even in the present, a space empire is watching Shadow World from orbit. It’s all kind of fun. One of my tenants of Shadow World Is the Arthur C. Clark Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

BH: Typeface/font choices have been an important design element for the Shadow World line. However, you made an abrupt change with the Xa’ar book. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: I had to go pull out a copy of Xa-ar to see what you meant. Back with Eidolon (before returning to the fold of the new ‘ICE’) I went a little crazy with typefaces. They can tell a story and add a lot of flavor. And the type foundry ‘P22’ came out with all these cool handwriting faces… I think I used a lot in a free downloadable file of handouts for the GM of clues.

BH: How do you think your SW writing has changed over time? The Emer box set and MA addendum had a much darker feel than the original SW box set. Eidolon had a touch of anime and steampunk. You’re now working on Wurilis; do you choose a tone first or does the tone reveal itself while you write?

TKA: To be honest, I had not noticed a change of tone. The books you refer to are 20 years back, and I was also production manager at ICE and fighting for some quiet time to write, so it’s hard to say. When I was close to a deadline on a SW book I would literally lock myself in my office, assign an assistant to run production (it was not that hard) and ask that no one disturb me for days. I don’t choose a ‘tone’ but Wuliris is an area with a lot of buried ancient tech, so that will be evident in the book. I always thought of SW as a dark place, what with Priests Arnak and evil gods, but I never wanted it to be gratuitous or gory (despite our critical hits, I guess!).

I do hope that my writing has improved through practice over the years. Practice, reading, practice!

BH: Let’s talk about your creative inspirations. You’ve mentioned your passion for Star Trek and it seems there is some anime influence as well? Any other movies, books or aesthetic that guides your work or has been an inspiration?

TKA: There’s no question that Anime has been an influence. I was totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki‘s ‘Laputa, City in the Sky.’ It was an influence for Eidolon, though of course the two are completely different cities. Miyazaki’s characters and storytelling, and his amazing steampunk settings, are really inspiring. His movies really inspired my vision of the SW steampunk Loari Elves. Watching his movies makes me feel young again.

BH: I occasionally see comments (or complaints) about the lack of new products for SW. But if you really look at the list of SW books there is easily enough material for YEARS of play. I think what people are saying is they want new material from you! That’s a good thing-right? Do you feel pressure from SW fans to “produce” or to come up with something new and original?

TKA: Well, we have built up a catalog, but obviously we are missing some key products like Emer I and II and Haalkitaine, so I am working on the revisions of those. I am a slow writer, but we also have some freelancer submissions that I am working on editing.

BH: You’ve recently moved back to Charlottesville after almost 25 years. Has that impacted your creative process–coming back to “where it all started”?

TKA: I love being back in this wonderful town; it is so unlike northern VA/DC. Part of me wishes I had never left, but water under the bridge. I am still getting fully settled and hope to meet up with more of my old friends again who are still here. I have a nice condo with a beautiful view out of my home office.

BH: Media companies often look for ways to monetize content they already own in different ways. For example, Disney is masterful about taking a brand and developing it through multiple channels: movies, books, games, toys etc. You’re doing that now with your Shadow World novel but have you thought about other opportunities? Certainly a d20 conversion of existing SW material could potentially open up a huge player market for you. Is there demand for licensing a SW creatures line to a miniatures company? That Eidolon map you had printed on canvas was fantastic (and a great gift item). I think someone did a SW comic book concept. Just throwing out ideas but wondering if you’ve explored anything.

TKA: A D20 version of the Atlas was started but several editors dropped the ball. It fell on my lap, but my knowledge of D20 was insufficient to do the system charts, so it once again fell by the wayside. As far as miniatures, that is outside of my arena. The current ICE owners could better answer.

BH: Given the size of the timeline, the number of Master Atlas editions there have been miscellaneous errata and inconsistencies in the SW books. Putting that aside, is there any earlier material you’d like to retcon to better fit your current view of Shadow World or something significant you’d change or delete?

TKA: Yes there are inconsistencies. SW needs a content editor. I’d really like someone to redo the Jaiman book as an atlas of the continent without all the dungeons.

BH: Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. Have you looked at any of the Numenera products? Multiple past ages, high tech, the “Iron Wind”, strange constructs and artificial creatures. While any RPG borrows from common tropes and memes, there seems to be a distinct bit of SW in Numenera. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: When Numenera came out, I admit I was a bit annoyed because it smelled like SW, and the game was selling on an idea of ancient tech, and that very evocative art of the floating crystal. And Monte worked at ICE during my Shadow World time. But Monte created a very different and compelling universe. If maybe SW inspired him, I’m flattered. I wish him the best.

BH: Some of the ICE founders have moved on to other gaming companies. Have you ever been interested, considered, or been approached to work at another gaming company. (besides your work with Kult)?

TKA: Pete and Coleman went on to Mayfair and of course, Catan! I could not be happier for them. But no, we don’t really talk about business.

BH: Given the various changes that have occurred at ICE, I think a lot of people are probably confused about the status of some of the older SW products. You mentioned Emer I, II and Haalkitaine. Can those just go through a reprint or do you need new material & artwork? Are there any other older products you would have liked to see re-published? 

TKA: The Emers and Haalkitaine all suffer from sub-standard artwork (I was on a very tight budget, doing those books on my own!), and as the years went by, I thought of a lot more material I wanted to cover in those books (Emer III ended up being almost twice as large as those early books). So for me, new editions were imperative. Actually I am working on Haalkitaine and Emer I now; Haalkitaine might be out by the end of the year.

BH: The lack of a full-time employees and in-house resources must make it difficult to spin out new ideas or products. On the other hand, you have a fairly broad skill set: writer, designer, page layout, art etc and you continue to generate well produced and well-received products. Is there ever times when you feel like “ramping up” and growing Eidolon studios or even doing a Kickstarter campaign?

TKA: I’m not sure what you mean? Right now Eidolon pretty much exists to do ICE products. I am doing layout for some HARP books, which is some nice easy income, and hope to continue our relationship with producing mutually lucrative Shadow World books. I don’t really have the time (or much desire) to go off and do something independently outside of those borders. Some other publishers have had big success with kickstarters, but that’s really not my call.

BH: You seem to have covered all the major elements in the “SW story”: gods, major organizations, key artifacts, etc. With this framework in place, is it now just “filling in the gaps” with regional material like Wurilis and Emer IV?

TKA: Pretty much! I mean, should I ever get bored with this hemisphere, there is always the East, beyond the Barrier. But there is still so much to tell here.

BH: Between the Grand Campaign, the timeline and your Shadow World novel, the larger meta-narrative appears to be heading towards a climactic conclusion. Do you have the major plot points outlined? Are there any new elements that have yet to be introduced to GM’s or players in the books so far? (spoiler-free of course)

TKA: Heh-heh. Yes, events seem to be heading to a few major confrontations. The novel obviously uses the characters I’ve created, but I assume that GMs will put their own PCs in those key positions where they can ‘save the world’ if they desire. And at the rate I am going, the big catastrophe is years away in real-world terms…

BH: Are there any other continents besides Emer and Jaiman that you’ve written notes/materials that you’d like to tackle?

TKA: A couple (Folenn and Falias) are kind of taken-care of. I would like to go southwest to Thuul…

BH: Throughout the SW books there are tantalizing tidbits or references to things, places or people that haven’t been covered yet. (My favorite is the Mazatlak Pillar City). Is there any person/place/thing that you’ve referenced that you’d like to explore further?

TKA: I’d like to learn about Mazatlak Pillar City too! 😉 Yes, in the Atlas (and in the Emer I maps) I designated a bunch of locations with little or no description. They were mainly meant as teasers for the GM to develop, but I may get to some of them eventually.

BH: You commented that you weren’t happy with the art in Emer I and Haalkitaine but I’d like to get your thoughts on RPG artwork for the last few decades. Like D&D, ICE started with b&w line illustrations and hand drawn layouts and regional maps. You then oversaw the artwork for MERP and the popular Angus McBride covers (which might have influenced the artwork for the LOTR movies). I recall you diving into computer rendered art for the Shadow World website in the 90’s. Now RPG’s have embraced full color illustrations that seem drawn out of computer gaming: exaggerated or out of scale features or excess musculature drawn from comic book aesthetics. There has been some comments on the forums about re-introducing hand drawn and colored maps but that sounds a bit too labor intensive? That’s a lot to unpack, but I guess the question is. if and how has your artistic sensibility has changed over the years?

TKA: That is a long, complicated, and unfortunately often painful story. Back in the old ICE, we often were very late in paying artists (and sadly, I fear ICE did not pay some artists what they were owed, but I am not sure. I had no control over how money was paid out). This continued until the current managers (GuildCompanion), who are very careful about staying in budget and paying on time. However, with smaller numbers of product sold ICE cannot afford the prices of the well-known hand-drawing artists any more.

(re: the Emer and Haalkitaine art, I got that mostly from copyright-free books and um, other sources.)

I experimented with computer rendering back in the 90’s with a little program called Bryce, which was great for landscapes, but sucked beyond that (and print-quality renderings took hours, even on the most powerful Macs back then). But again, I had no money, and it seemed like a way to convey some atmosphere. I know some people resist it even now, despite the gorgeous renderings by our artist Craig, but I think they really convey the Shadow World.

Now, since we are doing Shadow World books in full color, we are sticking with computer renders for illustrations (I work very closely with Craig to get the scenes, characters and costumes just right), and we will mix hand-drawn and computer maps.

BH: Last question. Most SW products are a combination of small narrative vignettes, text body and stats. When you are writing a product do you develop the three in a linear fashion? Write the copy first and then the stats? Floorplans first? Do you have a writing process or system that you’ve developed over the years?

Using my current work on Emer IV and NE Jaiman as a guide, I guess I start with the big picture, and almost naturally work through a book in a similar way to which it is presented. I do the geography and environment, governments, then towns and interactions, then bore down to individuals, interesting characters. Adventures and floorplans are usually last. I find it hard to write adventures.

As a side note, the novel came out a result of a series of ‘Kalen’s journal entries’ I published on an old web site years ago, which people seemed to enjoy and thought gave the SW some additional personal life.

BH: Thanks Terry. We all waited for each new addition to the “Journals of Kalen Avanir” back in the day!  It’s interesting to note that “serial stories” like yours are all the rage now on the internet. You were a pioneer!

Anyway, I want to thank you for decades of inspiration, great gaming sessions and creative content! For those that want a more detailed background for Terry you can see his wiki HERE. If you are interested in Shadow World you should check out Eidolon Studios and the Shadow World Forum.