One of the least utilized of Shadow World creatures are those that dwell “Beyond the Pale”. Known as the Agothu, they seem to have appeared in the “Atlas Addendum” found in the Emer box set. I’m going to write more about the addendum in a separate blog, but in my mind, it’s where much of the essence of Shadow World was set down after a number of generic third party SW modules.
The Agothu, or “Older Ones” are very reminiscent of the Cthulhu mythos: indescribable extra-dimensional beings of terrifying appearance and power. They are brought full-fold into the setting by at least the Master Atlas 3rd Ed. (anyone have 2nd edition to check?) with some changes and expansion from the original Addendum material. Generally, these creatures come in two types: Agothu and Agothu Servants (also known as Destroyers) although it’s not given that an Agothu is more powerful or higher level then a servant. In fact, several of the Destroyers are formidable…
Terry expanded the creatures by adding a Agothu (Breathless) and increasing the Destroyers from 5 to 7. Interestingly, one of the Destroyers, the “Nof-Kef” was eliminated in later books. If I recall, the Nof-kef was specific to the third party module “The Orgillion Horror” and it appears that Terry struck that creature out of Canon quite early? My own impression is that the Agothu were added in the Atlas Addendum to incorporate the material in Orgillion, but Terry then embraced it and made the Agothu his own.
Unfortunately, he never really incorporated the Agothu into his later material. There is a mention in the Grand Campaign, but aside from that, the Agothu are only used in reference to Shrek.
That’s unfortunate because the Older Ones are yet another cool element that makes Shadow World a unique setting and not another Orc/Skeleton/Dragon fantasy world. Agothu are between 5th and 30th level so they can be incorporated into any campaign. Agothu are also an example of Terry’s creativity and feature some of his most descriptive writing.
are vaguely humanoid, but their oversized heads are little more than skulls. Their bodies are covered by a skin like grey parchment, dry and peeling. Their large, claw-like hands are skeletal. Their eyes show moisture, however, oozing a bloody liquid as they move in their sockets.
They are covered by tough, toenail-like protrusions, which form a scaly skin. Life Eaters have beaks instead of mouths, surrounded by an array of eight squidlike tentacles, tipped with hollow spines. They have four eyes in the front and four in the rear of their elliptical skull. Four ears crown their heads, each protected by a bony tusk. Their four arms end in four-fingered talons.
Imagine your players encountering this fella:
are vaguely anthropoid, with a certain ‘melted’ look. Closer inspection reveals a tripedal rather than bipedal structure, with skin pulsing with external veins and arteries. Their feet are mere stumps, and their three long arms each end in three strong tentacles, each equipped with a row of powerful suction cups with sharp serrated rims. The head is no more than a neckless ovoid punctured by three nostrils and three unblinking eyes,
This is really the stuff of nightmares and in line with the grim dark feel of the Emer: The Great Continent. At this risk of being redundant I’ll say that it’s this Shadow World specific content that brings the setting to life.
It’s been 5-6 years since I blogged about a new encompassing Shadow World “Master Atlas”. Since Terry’s passing it’s unlikely that we might see it, but most of the material is there, ready to be collated and reorganized, and new material fills in gaps without altering Canon.
I thought it was worth revisiting now that RMU is being rolled out. I don’t think it would difficult to move RM stats and rules to a support supplement and make the setting rule agnostic.
When introduced in 1980, Spell Law’s breadth and scope of spell lists was a revelation in TTRPG! Hundreds of lists, thousands of spells and spells up to 50th level. I was 13 years old when I first got my hands on Spell Law, and reading through the Alchemist, Astrologer, Monk and Mentalist lists fired my imagination.
Over the years the novelty of the original spell lists have worn off, and newer lists in the various Companions became more exotic, powerful and interesting. More importantly for me, the monolith nature of the base spells for the professions became an anchor on the system. Every Magician encountered had the same spell lists, every Cleric used the same few offensive spells despite their Diety’s aspect and my players could anticipate most of their opponents spell castings or, at the least, identify the exact spell cast based on it’s effects.
One of the appeals of Terry’s Shadow World material in the inclusion of specific organizational spell lists: Navigators, Loremasters, Steel Rain etc. I expanded on this effort with my own lists for the various Kulthean pantheons, spell lists for the Messengers of the Iron Wind among a few others.
It’s my belief that knowledge of any type, is transmitted through cultural or organization channels: communities, schools, cults, guilds and similar organized entities. In our own world, an education to become a lawyer and the knowledge and skills it imparts will be different between a student at Harvard Law and a law student at the Law School of Sao Paulo. It could be argued that the quality of the legal education may not be equal between the two schools and therefore it’s reasonable to believe that different cultures or groups may have similar but unequal spell lists of similar powers. A Fire Law list learned from the Fire Cult of “Volcano Island” may be different than the Fire Law list from a Cult of Nature worship somewhere else. Perhaps there are different spells, or similar spells but obtained at different levels–the belief that “balance” must be achieved is limiting. Fireball could be learned at a lower level by a Cleric of the Fire God than Fireball on a list of a general “Elemental Mage”.
I think this philosophy could extend to specialized skills and lores: they are only available through specific cultures and groups. Of course this doesn’t work in general with Rolemaster, but it can be incorporated into a setting like Shadow World quite easily. Obviously, Terry has already done this to some degree. I’ve been reading Cults of Prax which provides cult specific spells and runes for various sects and cults and it definitely provides another dimension to spells and lists in a specific setting. In my SW campaign I use my BASiL lists AND the original Spell Law lists to have the largest pool and variety of spell lists.
Does anyone restrict access to lists and skills in their campaign?
It’s not uncommon that while I’m reading a fantasy novel, I’ll try to quantify how the magical rules might work in that setting. The original RM/MERP did a poor job of modeling Tolkien’s magic system (which was less codified than narrative driven), while it’s understood that Vance’s “Dying Earth” series was an inspiration for Gygaxian D&D magic.
There are some novels that strike me as being very “Spell Law” or “Rolemaster”‘; in these cases I will do a bit of research on the author to see if there is any tie ins. Other fictional settings lend the question of whether Spell Law could be modified to fit the magic system.
But rather than debate which work of fiction is best suited for Rolemaster, or what setting might be the best bit, I wanted to look at a few common “intrinsic” powers that are common in fantasy stories.
Magical Awareness. Magic users in many works of fiction have a sensitivity or awareness of magical fluctuations, momentous magical events or the nearby presence of great powers. Powerful castings can send reverberations through the “ether”, ascendant and immortal presences can create ripples through the cosmos or the types of magic casting can be detected by a like minded caster. Spell Law has several types of detection and analysis spells that provide similar functions, but they require active casting. Mentalists have a Presence spell that requires no PPs, and allows them awareness of nearby entities. Perhaps Essence and Channelers could also have some inherent awareness of their realm casting?
“RAW” Power Casting. In addition to casting spells with specific effects, often casters are able to channel raw magical energy waves, streams or emanations for devastating effect. Rolemaster had a “Power Projection” skill but if I recall it was pretty limp. Perhaps allowing casters a elemental Essaence attack that converts PPs to direct damage could be interesting.
Immunity. For spellcasters that have a “focus” or “aspect” to their magic (ie Firemage) they are often provided a natural defense or immunity from that aspect that increases with their power. Perhaps a caster receives a +1/rank vs fire for every spell rank of Fire Law?
These types of acquired abelites are more similar to AD&D than the skill focus of Rolemaster, but I do find it intriguing. Are there other abilities that could manifest for spellcasters that don’t require skill acquisition?
As of today, 1-24, RMU is back to the #2 position at DrivethruRPG and is at Platinum level seller. That’s great news, and while there is much debate on the stickiness of buyers, the adoption of the rules in gaming etc., there is no doubt that RMU has swung the spotlight on Rolemaster and ICE to some degree. That’s a good thing!
Given that my focus is on adventure material, specifically Shadow World, I wonder if SW will benefit from the RMU “halo effect”. Will Shadow World get a bump as new RM users look at ancillary ICE products? I’d be curious to know if SW products are also getting a sales bump.
Despite it’s reputation as a “kitchen sink” setting, mostly due to the inconsistent tone set by third party authors, I’ve always thought Shadow World had a unique feel driven by Terry’s artistic sensibility. I’ve written about the Many Flavors of Shadow World before and I’ve always appreciated the blends of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, anime and even goth and horror. Despite my own lack of interest in standard fantasy tropes, I acknowledge that there is still huge interest in the “Dark Lord/Dark Master” trope in roleplaying and pop culture.
Luckily, Terry has included this trope in many parts of Shadow World! Putting aside Lorgalis and other “Dark Lord” NPC’s in his fleshed out works of Emer and Jaiman, the Master Atlas outlines some other parts of Kulthea that might be readily adaptable for a traditional “Against the Darkmaster” style campaign.
Where might one look? Wrangôr
Per the Master Atlas:
Wrangôr: This is a realm of Lugrôki (Orcs), and Lugrôk-hybrids, the result of centuries of captured slaves being interbred with the Lugrôk population. This has created a race smaller than the true “High Lugrôki” but able to function during the day as well as at night. They are no less ugly, however. This program has been under the Dark Master, a shadowy dictator who, with his War Troll guard, resides in a citadel outside the port city of Vashtak. The “Dark Master” of this realm is a Dyar Elf, a powerful Mystic who rules through terror and brute force—concepts which the Lugrôki understand all too well.
This is the only substantive reference to Wrangôr in any of the books, typical of the short summaries found in the Master Atlas. Wrangor is located on the eastern part of Thuul, the continent west of Emer that is begging to be fleshed out! It’s proximity to Emer’s southern reaches makes it accessible to adventures based out of EMER book III.
In short, if you enjoy the straightfoward nature of an evil Kingdom and a mysterious Dark Master, Shadow World has that too!
I thought I would put a quick post in an effort to stir some discussion on support products for RMU. We’ve blogged and talked quite a bit about Shadow World and there has been some discussions on a RMU.
Following the RMU threads on discord, RPGNet and others there seems to be some interest in game support material. No one expects that to happen quickly, Spell and Creature Law still need to to be published, errata corrected and POD’s rolled out etc.
It’s been stated that rule books generate more $ than supplements and modules. I think that’s hard to quantify given that virtually every game system can rely on older settings for support, and old modules can be converted or pillaged for material. So perhaps RMU can rest on the laurels of RM SW, Cyradon and MERP modules.
There does seem to be some interest in new material, and I can’t help but think that gaming material written specifically for RMU rules, races (species?), professions and creatures would be beneficial to system adoption. Of the varied comments:
Generic setting adventures. This could quickly fill the gap and it sounds like there are a number of people that could submit material.
A new setting. A new setting could really embrace the specifics of RMU, would not rely on Terry’s unique setting and could draw talented writers to participate.
Revision. It would seem that revising older RM material to RMU stats might be the easiest solution?
It appears that interest in RMU is peaking, with new members at the RMForums and perhaps new readers here at the RMBlog. This is an excellent chance to engage to RM players and invite them to participate in the community!
It’s no secret that Shadow Worlds history encompasses a vast range of civilizations with “technological levels” ranging from Stone Age tribes to advanced post-physical societies. Terry often stressed that magic and high technology could often be indistinguishable and most of his SW books contain high tech items. In between those two extremes are a spectrum of technological advancements that are found scattered throughout Kulthea: the lightning guns used by the Krylites, the airships and barges designed by the Elves of Namar-tol and even bicycles that are appearing around Eidolon.
But one tech period is rarely found on Shadow World: civilizations and tech based on chemical reactions and the use of fossil fuels. More specifically, gunpowder and the advent of explosives and guns.
The fusion of guns and magic have become a popular theme in fiction, but Shadow World has some built in roadblocks that seem to prevent widespread use. In the Master Atlas we find this:
Gunpowder: The secret of this potentially devastating tool is far from being unlocked, by even the most advanced cultures on the Shadow World. The power of magic has stagnated any desire for a chemical explosive, and the mysteriously fluctuating effects of the Essænce can have a transmuting effect on chemical reactions.
I expanded on this a bit more in my own SW campaign:
The “Viir” seems to fundamentally change both ionic and covalent bonding for molecular and macromolecular structures. In practice this energy field is distorting chemical interactions and material structures most acutely—
In short, the Essaence is disruptive to chemical reactions and/or Magic itself precludes the need for such technology. Why invent a grenade when many people can cast a Fireball or Firebolt?
Personally I like the mix of tech and possible settings that can be found in SW, and introducing guns and related tech can add a new element to gameplay. So how can explosives be introduced to Kulthea:
Outsiders. Kulthea has been explored by off-planet visitors. Some have arrived in spacefaring vehicles while others via “portals”. If they have explosives or munitions they might be reliable–for some period of time. Either you could argue that their chemical properties are stable due to their production off-world, or that it takes time for the Essaence fields to corrupt their potential.
Demons.The Fifth Pale is a nightmarish place of industrial technology gone mad. Smokestacks and gigantic refinery-like superstructures fill this world, which is constantly enveloped in a luminous steam. The rhythmic wheezing of bellows mixes with the clatter of gears and the roar of engines. Foul pools of chemicals, theiroil-slicked surfaces aflame, illuminate open-scaffold elevators, steel mesh platforms, and large, baroque machines of incomprehensible function. It’s seem common sensical that Demons from this realm could have guns, explosives and munitions.
Tinkerers & Alchemy. Expanded alchemy rules and perhaps a tech based profession (not using spells) can provide an avenue for guns, explosives and other violent delights. Of course, Kulthea based chemistry should not be reliable, but really, isn’t that half the fun?
4. Those damn Elves! Of course the Elves in Namar-tol are experimenting with chemical based combustion, explosives and projectiles. Here we have it, the beginning of it all:
5•45: Emer: The Lankan Empire sends a small fleet across the Circular Sea from their port of Kûru-kal, with the goal of seizing the northwestern Loari isle of Surt Naduum. The first warboat barely reaches shore before airborne Loari battleships appear and drop exploding canisters—“ bombs”—on Lankan ships. This marks the first known use of chemical explosives since the Interregnum. The Lankan ships are destroyed and the few Lankani who reach shore are captured. Námar-Tol sends a warning to the Lankani that any further aggression will be met by overwhelming force.
I’d be interested in your take on guns, gunpowder and explosives in your own SW game!