It never fails that I when I go through the various SW books I find something that “slipped through the cracks”. Sometimes it’s a reference to a Loremaster that is never listed anywhere else, or a herb that is brought up once and was never included with the master list of herbs and poisons.
I’ve been going through the original Emer: The Great Continent boxed set as part of a review and I found these two critters:
I’m a firm believer that the Shadow World setting needs to lean into specific creatures, races and “monsters” and not rely on generic fantasy creatures like skeletons, vampires, orcs etc. So I rather liked both of the creatures and especially the Boerks “azure ivory” which is a great addition to the list of valuable trade goods and special material to be included in alchemy and magic item creation.
I checked for these creatures in Emer I, II and III, Master Atlas 3 & 4 but can’t find them. Did I miss it? Were they renamed and I skipped over it?
Of course the subject of A.I. is all the rage in our society nowadays, and there has been a lot of discussion about using this tech in content creation in roleplaying games. Recently, Wizards of the Coast banned the use of AI generated art in their products. But make no mistake about it, AI content is here to stay and will quickly become a invaluable tool artists, designers and writers. The wave is here and there is no stopping it.
I’m not going to make the argument against AI content creation; many better informed people have done so online and in public forums. I don’t disagree with them. And for now, I certainly support the arguments against using AI in monetized products; but what about fan made material, open source products and free OGL supplements?
First, let’s demise two types of basic content in RPG’s: text and art. Can AI generate basic copy for adventure hooks and seeds, or even fully fleshed out adventure plots? Sure, but they still feel a bit flat, derivative and lacking some “flair”. But that content will get better, more setting and game rule specific over time. But artwork and graphics are very different. My own self-publishing experience has shown me that artwork (illustrations, diagrams, floorplans and maps) are a major obstacle for me to put out average quality product. I don’t have the skills and I don’t have the time or experience to properly commission art for a product. For many amateur writers or small publishers good artwork is just not financially feasible or pushes the cost of publishing a product up to the point there is no profit making ability.
What about Shadow World? A rich setting with significant amount of content, but it’s author now passed away. Many of us believe that simply reorganizing and compiling existing information could make some of Terry’s products better and more user friendly. For example a Jaiman source book or a new, fully comprehensive edition of the Master Atlas. I’ve blogged about these ideas for years, but given the overall pace of SW publications and ICE’s current focus on RMU and HARP it’s getting less likely that SW will continue on in any official capacity or with substantial new publications. But AI can leverage existing SW material and IP and accelerate a publishing schedule that would introduce new SW books that are derived from CANON material.
My brother Matt (Vroomfogle) has started to deep dive into AI capabilities and see how they might be used for his own SW and Rolemaster gaming, but perhaps as an assist to generating some new material as well.
From Matt on his first endeavor:
I ran this campaign with the boys online around Covid…we actually played quite a bit, with maybe a couple dozen sessions. Some of them took notes which was pretty spotty, random, and didn’t make much sense. Well I combined the notes along with my own notes, and threw that into ChatGPT to get what was a pretty decent narrative for each session.
I then find myself wanting to expand upon descriptions of NPCs, groups, organizations….e.g., throw all the text about Yinka in ChatGPT to create a 1 paragraph summary.
Then, I went one step further and started creating images with Stable Diffusion….
This is all because we’re picking up the campaign again and I needed to summarize the story so far. Now, this still took a fair amount of work, but I finally got it together, in 37 pages!
But note the artwork. Barring the town map and the map of Jaiman, this was all AI generated art. Of course they are different styles: watercolor, line drawing, colored etc but it certainly provides a look at the opportunities AI may provide for amateur creators. So what types of projects might AI assist in for Shadow World?
Shadow World Herb Supplement. I’ve been working on fleshing out a supplement on SW herbs and wanted to add artwork for each plant. AI would make that very easy–and quick!
Shadow World Races – Illustrated. Based on previous comments on blogs and forums I think there is a real demand for illustrations depicting the various SW races. There are a lot them, and I think it can be hard to visualize them without a reference point.
The Nomikos Library. What would you get if you partitioned a vault, assessable to AI and uploaded the full SW Timeline and supporting historical materials? Then you wrote code to create a user portal where you could “Ask Andraax” any question about SW. That would be a powerful tool and perhaps add some differentiation and user value to the Shadow World setting.
These are just 3 simple products that could be developed without messing with CANON. They would be done quickly and at a fairly low cost! Combined with PoD and Drivethrurpg it could revitalize SW in a way that hasn’t been possible.
What are your thoughts? Check out Matt’s work on his “Legacy of the Y’kin” campaign over on the forums.
I was reading this Blog Post, and this sentence caught by attention:
“I was 90% sure…..This group of four would sit down to learn 5e D&D, make new characters, and run out of time before even rolling a single die outside of character creation.”
To be sure, I am completely unknowledgeable about current RPG rule systems, but I was always under the impression that Rolemaster, beyond it’s reputation for charts and deadliness, was also notorious for it’s lengthy chargen. So I was surprised to hear that these later editions of D&D and 5e specifically were seen as a cumbersome process.
I’ve always find the process of making a character, using flexible rules, was enjoyable and it was certainly the appeal of Rolemaster when I was first introduced in the 80s. But in the context of introducing new players to a game system, the blogger made a salient point:
“When your friends agree to sit down to a game of D&D, they want to *play* D&D, not learn rules or have to make dozens of choices they don’t really understand. That’s nerd shit. They want to start having these thrilling adventures, funny moments, and participate in the experiences that they hear you rave about. Or maybe see in video or hear about on podcasts.”
In other words, immerse new players into the game experience quickly without the minutia of game rules or technicalities. I had the chance to introduce D&D players to a high level Rolemaster adventure recently. By supplying them with pre-made characters, solid backgrounds and ran the adventure as more “high fantasy” than the typical Rolemaster grittiness, I was able to shepherd them through the first 3 chapters. While they were lost a bit on the some of the game systems intricacies, I leaned into the world building aspects of Shadow World. Either way, they had a great time and experienced a game system they might never have tried.
Perhaps Rolemaster will never be the “rules light” system that seem to be in vogue today, but it doesn’t seem to be an outlier any more with the more dense rules introduced in D&D. Is this the right take on this?
I like to regularly check the ranking for the Rolemasterblog. We have a lot going against us: the majority of content is for D&D style games, despite RMU, RM is seen as a legacy system and there are only a handful of people writing new content for Rolemaster or Shadow World.
This month we rank 35th. I think that is very impressive, although I admit to being lost on the methodology used for this ranking system. It certainly gives me hope that there is a dogged interest in RM, and the Rolemasterblog in general.
Now that we are past COVID, I have the opportunity to establish a weekly game night at a local bar/restaurant. Hopefully, this will be in conjunction with a local game store and focus on community and group gaming for TTRPG’s and regular games like Cards against Humanity, Settlers of Cataan or even Secret Hitler.
I first saw a packed game night in Seattle up on Capitol Hill and since then have discovered other public game nights taking off in Atlanta and other major cities. For young professionals that crave social interaction (beyond left and right swipes) and the peak of D&D in pop culture, this seems like a great time to bring group gaming to the forefront.
Where are you and does your community have public gaming nights at a local bar, restaurant, coffee shop or similar?
Back in 2021 I started listing out certain topics and content in Canon Shadow World that I thought should be re-examined and possible modified in any future work. One item I find particularly problematic is the introduction of the “Anti-Essaence”.
There are many threads to untangle in this subject and there are many threads on the RMForums and the Discord channels that touch upon it. Certainly everyone’s approach will be driven by their own campaign, ethos and background, but one of the first things I found appealing about Shadow World was it’s moral relativism. The inclusion of the “Anti-Essaence” feels very much like an attempt to square some circles created by the Unlife in general.
Many fantasy games have clear dualities, with opposing forces of absolute good and evil and graduations in between (alignment system of AD&D). The need for absolute evil is clear justification of any player actions within the game system, and simplified the narrative and direction of player action.
So before we get to the Anti-Essaence let’s review Terry’s thoughts on evil per the Master Atlas 4th Ed.
“Good” and “Evil” fall at the two extreme ends of a spectrum; most thinking beings exist somewhere in the middle ground.…. True Evil, the evil that is fostered by the Unlife, is the drive to destroy— and to feed on that destruction.… Without attempting to make a judgment on what is “evil” and what is not, the concept of pure, true, universal evil in the context of Shadow World applies only to the Unlife and its willing servants….
So obviously this leads to a number of problems discussed ad nauseum:
Are there inherently evil races?
2. Are Demons of the Unlife?
3. What’s the deal with the Dragonlords?
4. How do you tap into the power of the Unlife?
5. How does Unlife corruption work?
6. Are there 2 sets of power points?
7. Are Spell Law Evil Spells of the Unlife?
7. If “Evil Spell Lists” are channeled from the Unlife, how does an Essence Magic User actually be a Channeler?
There seems to be clear demising wall established by Terry, if they aren’t of the Unlife, they aren’t “True Evil”–whatever that might mean for you. But then we bring in the Anti-Essaence.
The Anti-Essaence concept seems more of “rule for rules” to try and patch up or systemized a muddy system. But the problem is that the Essaence isn’t actually the opposite of the Anti-Essaence: the Essaence is just power, neutral in nature. It’s application can be either beneficial or hurtful; but is it really “True Evil”? Are Sorceror spells any less or more evil than the Evil Magician spell list solid destruction? What isn’t evil about a fireball painfully incinerating an opposing force? Is subjugating a person against their will with a Charm spell, good and just?
Let’s examine this through the lense of the Dark Gods. Is Andaras absolutely evil and a user of the Unlife? (I know a few cat owners who would think so!!). Many of the Dark Gods have easily found, public temples in all the major cities. Does it make sense that a incomprehensible entity of undying malevolence, that seeks the destruction of all life would manage and maintain the administration of a such a temple? Would that God even be tolerated in a city? It’s clear that Terry doesn’t treat the Dark Gods as “Gods of the Unlife”. (In my SW, the Dark Gods are outcasts from Orhan which makes far more sense)
How did the Anti-Essaence get inserted into Shadow World? The source of power of the Unlife needed to fit into the Realm and magical system. There needed to be a game mechanism to model “power corruption” and thus the concept of the “Anti-Essaence” was included into the Master Atlas.
I don’t believe it was necessary and I see no issues with Essence or Mentalism users being corrupted and essentially becoming “Channelers” of the Unlife. Don’t you already allow the logically inconsistent “hybrid” spellusers in Rolemaster?
In short, “Anti-Essance” isn’t necessary, it doesn’t clarify any confusion and it complicates an intangible framework of morality. The Unlife is a nihilistic force destruction. It’s easy to oppose, but it doesn’t need to fit into our good/evil framework.
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?