Shadow World as a cross platform setting. What would it take?

I’ve written dozens of blog posts about my thoughts on the future of Shadow World and now with Terry’s passing, it’s unclear if there is even a future for the setting. Of course, there are many RM users that have no interest in Shadow World and there are other settings that might not fit quite neatly into the world. But that’s true for any setting; I have no interest in the Forgotten Realms or Tekumel (although that setting is intriguing for it’s “alienness”!

But now we are at a crossroads. RMU is being rolled out without any supporting setting or adventures; Terry won’t be writing anymore material; and yet, TTRPG’s are more popular than ever AND building a new world setting for any game system has a high barrier to entry for anyone.

Look at the cover art for EMER. Wow. Look at the material Terry has written over 30 years. Again

How might Shadow World survive or even prosper now?

  1. An aggressive re-statting for RMU.
  2. A d20 version.
  3. A flexible game license for writers to place their adventures in the Shadow World setting.
  4. An editorial schedule of micro-adventures, modules and regional books over a 5 year horizon.

While some resources would need to be deployed (art, page layout and editing) much of this framework is already in place. I wrote about this HERE in early 2021….

I’m not a big believer in “production by committee”, but we already have a core group of productive resources that could be deployed. Rolemasterblog has proven consistent material for over 8 years, over 70 adventure hooks and multiple publications. I’ve written extensively about Shadow World and have posted up quite a bit of SW material here and on the RMForums. My brother Matt (Vroomfogle) is the Shadow World moderator at the RMForums, was the architect and project manager for the SW Players Guide, was the early primary author for RMU Core, ran the Nomikos library, and was a participant in many RM products in the 2000s.

There is a roadmap of ideas, products, role-out and support–what do you think?

RMU: Settings, Adventures and Modules.

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:

  1. Generic setting adventures. This could quickly fill the gap and it sounds like there are a number of people that could submit material.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

What are your thoughts?

Race or Monster: Saurkur?

Welcome to my recurring blog series: “Race or Monster”. In these posts I try to uncover whether a particular humanoid or creature is best left as a “monster” or used as a race suitable for a player character. Of course, the individual GM is the final arbiter in their campaign, so I also want to examine whether a particular creature is even Shadow World “canon”. (see my most recent Race or Monster discussing the Droloi). Today I wanted to dive into the Saurkur.

So, unlike the Droloi which appeared much later in the Rolemaster supplement “Races & Cultures”, the Saurkur first appeared in “Island of the Oracles“, the 11th SW product printed in 1990. Like many non-canon modules, one gets the impression that IotOs was material that was retrofitted into the SW series. I had a copy at one point, but remember little about the book. I did think that the archipelago setting was very Shadow World, given the geography of many small land masses and island chains separated by the Flow of Essence.

From Terry’s comments on the development of Shadow World, there was certainly an internal tension between Terry’s creative vision and others at ICE that wanted SW to be a more generic setting that would appeal to a larger customer base. The inclusion of standard fantasy tropes was common in many of the SW non-canon books. But should the Saurkur be considered canon? Here is the few mentions (excluding the racial charts where they are classified as an “Alien Race”

General Info: 5’8″-7′ tall, 250-350 lbs, no professional limitations

Description: tall, thin, bipedal lizards.
dark green to brown in color, hands
have four digits, posses an uncanny strength
for their build, and move very quickly, have long, thin tails


Mentions:

MASTER ATLAS III
The Saurkur are a race of warm-blooded reptilian people that make up the bulk of the population of the Abarquan Islands (about 700 miles
south of Kelestia). Loremasters believe them to be
the descendants of a space-faring race
that came
to Kulthea on a colony ship which crash landed
on the islands.

EMER I

The K’ta’viiri begin experimenting……Masters of genetics, the Lords of Essænce alter plants, animals,and races to suit their whim. These unusual races
include the Krylites, the Saurkur, and the Kuluku

Master Atlas:

.Abarquan Islands: [Tropical/Humid] Saurkur
(Mixed economies/Oligarchy/TL:4).
Home of the Lizard-men described in the ICE
SW module Islands of the Oracle.

That’s not much to go on, so unless you have Islands of the Oracle you may not have ever used or encountered the Saurkur in SW. As humanoid creatures, they may either be descendants of a seafaring race or a Ka’ta’viir experiment, but they are at least Tech lvl 4, have a organized culture and no professional limitations. There doesn’t seem to be any issues around breathing air, keeping their skin wet or any limitation on adventuring. In fact, they have unusual strength (+20 str bonus!!) and speed (although no Qu bonus) that should make solid warriors/tanks. They appear to be “Medium” size so they don’t have issues that might arise by playing a Troll or similar larger race. Of course there would be cultural issues assimilating into a human or Elvish community, but Shadow World does have alien-like canon races (Hirazi).

What are your thoughts? Are Saurkur Shadow World “Canon”? Have you had a PC play one?

Named Things in Shadow World: Dragons and Books.

First, to address the picture above. I thought it was amusing to include a reference to Shadow World, Dragons and the fact that it is a book although with no connection to Terry’s world.

Anyway, this is the second installment of “Named Things” where I’m noting certain elements of Shadow World that are worth indexing. Today, due to their brevity I’m grouping 2 categories in this post: Dragons and Books.

Dragons.

For those familiar with my take on the origins of the Dragonlords, I was attempting to put together a greater Dragon genealogy that went from the Dragonlords to their offspring. My assumption is that lesser Snakes, Serpents, Drakes and Wyverns were byproducts of Ka’ta’viir experiments in the late 1st Era, while intelligent, powerful Dragons were offspring from those Earthwardens that underwent the Ritual of Ascension.

So after a search through the various canon SW books I came up with a list of all the named Dragons (exclusive of the 6 Dragonlords):

Ssamis T’zang, The Light Dragon

Kaedan, Undead Gas Dragon

Vaalg Stoyy, Fire Drake

Motar Voorg, Red-Gold Dragon

Ssoei Womiis, Gas Drake

Ssoei Womuul, Gas Drakes

That’s it. I thought for sure that there was about twice as many tucked into the expanse Timelines, but in reality, there are only 6 named Dragons presented by Terry. Given the scarcity, I revised my plan and made the named Dragons above part of the few original Earthwardens that underwent the Ritual during the Interregnum.

Books.

I’m a sucker for cool, ancient tomes of magic and power. They can be great plot devices for adventures, provide knowledge and spells to the group, or exposition to a campaign. Certainly Shadow Worlds immense timeline begs for the need to transmit ancient knowledge or history to the players, and lost tomes can be a great way to do so. So what books can be found in Canon?

Book of Gates

Book of Theky’Taari

Syka’av Klytaru (The Book of Lord Klysus)

Omiar Akalataru (The Codex of Lord Akalatan).

Book of the Ring

Book of Air
Book of Earth
Book of Ice
Book of Light
Book of Water

Again, far less than what I would have guessed! Did I miss any named Dragons or Tomes?

Arms Law Hack: Splitting Offensive Bonus 3 Ways.

Strike hard, strike fast or defend?

This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed this; one of my first blog posts went into way more depth and complexity on this subject; you can find it HERE.

The elegance of splitting the offensive bonus (OB) into attack and defense has been a hallmark of RM since it’s first publication. It’s intuitive and hands more agency to players during combat. However, I’ve always felt there was 1 piece missing that took this a step further: allowing OB to be split into 3 parts. Attack/Defense/Initiative. This also feels intuitive and we’ve been using this system for years (if not decades now). I’ve played around with the conversion figures depending on the initiative system I was using and testing, but it’s always felt “right”.

Not only does it create 3-dimensionality to combat decisions, but it brings in weapon type choices that go beyond their ability to deal damage or inflict a critical. As we all know, striking first can be the real advantage in Rolemaster!

What’s the News with Shadow World?

The news is: there is now news! Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with real life and haven’t had time to finish up the myriad of projects I’ve been working on lately. I’m probably averaging 1 page/week versus 1 page/day which doesn’t feel like much progress.

Anyway, I keep track of things on the RMForums and Discord just to get a sense of new player activity, trends and any possible news. I do get a fair amount of questions about the status of Shadow World

Per the recent Directors Briefing, Nicholas wrote:

I will be turning my attention back to Shadow World and indeed everything else once we have RMU Core Law and RMU Spell Law safely published.

Besides that, I don’t have any insider knowledge or updates on Shadow World, and Matt hasn’t had any meaningful contact with ICE in years, although he remains the SW forum moderator and primary RMU author. I wish I could answer more definitively! Let’s assume RMU Core & Spell publish in mid 2023. There will be a push to get the other RMU support material finished, errata and various fixes to the published material and probably a host of other issues particular to game publishing. My best guess is 2024?

In the meantime I’ll try to pump out material when I can, with the goal to upload material that is about 80% done and would allow them all to be possible publishable SW material. Matt (Vroomfogle) is unlikely to have time to contribute but is a great resource for mapping given his background https://www.linkedin.com/in/geoskeptic/

Thanks to everyone that reached out and your supportive words!! And, if you are new to Rolemaster, Shadow World or this blog here are links to my file resources:

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 Earthwardens and their Works.

Most of the major works of the Earthwardens are dated throughout the Interregnum 50,000 to 70,000 in the past. The planet was still in turmoil from the Galactic Civil Wars so it’s expected that some of their work has been lost to the still changing planetary surface.

Xa’ar has some new material on the Earthwardens, but I thought I would explore the most significant endeavors built by the Earthwardens.

Coral Roads:

  • Ancient submarine “highways”
  • Above ground entries to the network are cleverly hidden in rocky coastlines or lonely atolls. follow island chains and undersea ridges, always in shallow water.
  • Inside, the roads are arched corridors made up of coral and shell; some areas are translucent to allow filtered sunlight to illuminate the tunnels by day.
  • Access via Earthwarden artifacts.

I hope that many GM’s have introduced the Coral Roads in their SW games/campaigns. Not only is it a great SW “element”, but it does allow the players to travel safely from one area to another and enforces the broader concept that Kulthea has many secrets.

Inspiration for a Coral Road

ENIGMATIC ANCIENT STRUCTURES:

The Earthwardens left many mysterious structures around Kulthea. Some have been repurposed or cities and towns have sprung up around them without the people even knowing the age or provenance of these buildings. Almost all are built with interlocking stones of Cavarite.

Essaence Towers. Often built at the nexus of an Essaence Foci, the towers can be seen as power conductors or antennae: they can focus and control nearby Flows. The use of these towers is beyond most today, but a few hold this secret knowledge…

Essaence Spheres. It’s believed that the Earthwardens built undergrounds complexes to store and protect powerful artifacts and knowledge.

Block Tombs. It’s not clear what their original purpose was, scholars believe they were actual tombs for Earthwardens (they don’t date back to the 1st era) or they could be an artifact of some unknown Interregnum civilization. Either way, the surviving ones have been co-opted by the the Z’taar Priests to be used as their Chapter Houses.

SEA TUNNELS:

It is believed that dozens of tunnels were created to facilitate travel, but only a few survived and some remain hidden or their entrances blocked by tectonic activity. The Tunnels are a marvel of ancient power–their flows reversing direction on a regular schedule and allowing for ship transit in both directions. The Tunnels resist damage and blockages. Three of them are:

Imarij Sea Tunnel in Agyra. The southern entrance is found at the base of Nontataku and is a major hub of commerce for Agyra.

Grotto Path in Emer. A critical path for trade, the Tunnel is now a dangerous transit due to the presence of Krylites.

Naichon Tunnel. East/West tunnel between Bokorean Kingdon and Ur Jujuy in Falias. Hidden and rarely used.

Guardians:

One of the final legacies of the Earthwardens was the creation of guardians placed throughout the hemisphere.  Five of these Golems were built, powerful enchanted warriors who could be utilized by those with access to ancient knowledge.

GuardianTypeLocation
Zarin DeyroainKregora GolemEarthwarden ruins in Red Dawn Pass, Falias
Arestiis LanedriLaen GolemIsle of the Turning in Mythenis
Elezyii Ankyra,.Diamond GolemEarthwarden ruins in NE Kelestia
Renia AthosTitanium GolemEarthwarden temple under Nontataku in Agyra
Yanie SteraiadEog GolemEarthwarden temple in Vog Mur

MEGALITHS, STANDING STONES AND CIRCLES:

These structures are found throughout Kulthea, mostly in wilderness areas. They are mysterious and avoided by locals, although they are meant as safe havens against dark forces; especially Demons. These structures can be single monoliths, dolmens are stone spirals but typically have similar powers. The stones will often glow whenever a Demon or servant of the Unlife is near…

These are just a few examples of the legacy of the Earthwardens but the possibilities are endless!