Summary of Miscellaneous Musings on Spell Law, BASiL and RM Magic.

53 Chaos' Magical Languages ideas | runes, book of shadows, ancient symbols

With RMu seemingly close to release, I’ve left my BASiL project on the back burner for quite some time. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’m focusing more on game content rather than rules or rule hacks. Rolemaster & Shadow World needs more game support, not more Companions or optional rules. Plus, I’ve found everyone is fairly set in their ways using their own house rules, are waiting for RMu, or I rapidly change my own house rules as I progress. In fact, my participation here on the Rolemasterblog has slowly shifted me to more “rule light” than my previous drift to rule density. I like grittiness but am pushing back on complexity.

Eladans participation here on the RMBlog and over at the Forums, has re-opened some of the broader discussions on spells, lists, base lists and spell functioning. I had some thoughts rolling around, so I thought I would excise them via a blog post! An older summary can be found HERE.

  1. Revisting Spell Law Mechanics.
  2. Essence. Mechanics. The skill bonus is the appropriate Magical Language Skill. You can read more thoughts on this HERE.
  3. Channeling. You can read some thoughts HERE, and I’ve written extensively on this blog about channeling.
  4. Mentalism. I probably tinker with Mentalism more than any other “realm”. Here are my last thoughts about this. There were some comments and concerns about the impact of concentration on gameplay. Lately, I’ve been allowing the total number of spell levels cast not to exceed the total ranks in Mental Focus. So 10 ranks of Mental Focus would allow the caster to have 10 1st level spells “running” or 2 5th lvl spells etc. It’s less complicated but still models the appeal of “partitioning” that comes from Mental Focus.
  5. Notational Magic. Eladan’s posts over on the Forums, made me revisit some of my thoughts on Notational magic. You can read my original post HERE.
  6. Investiture/Enchanting. I haven’t done a deep dive on my solutions for imbedding and creating magical items. Mostly because the spell lists are fairly simple, much of the sausage making takes place out of game time and I built a very simple system for making magic items in game time. Some thoughts can be found HERE.
  7. Rendered/Performance Magic. I haven’t written much about this at all. First I need to put a lot more time into this, it’s potentially the most complex and interesting realm and it could add a lot of new magical layers to the Spell Law system. The concept of magic as performance is not new or novel, but utilizing it in gameplay can be.

This is just a summary of a handful of relevant posts I’ve made over the last 5 years! My thoughts and views evolve, but I always enjoy other thinking “outside the box”!

Rolemaster game settings and Shadow World boxed sets.

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The most recent post in Grognardia had me thinking about a number of issues around game settings, game material and the appeal of the old school box sets. The Grognardia blog was a review on a early 80’s Chaosium/Runequest box set: Borderlands. I admit that I have no experience with Runequest or this product, but the blog evoked fond memories of older game products we did use and enjoy.

First, I want to point out a quote that James is quoting in his blog (bold emphasis is mine):

Borderlands is another good example of what Chaosium did well: present a large area of Glorantha in an approachable fashion and never forgetting to make it gameable. That’s very important to me. However interesting and evocative a game’s setting may be, one must never lose sight of its purpose: to foster adventure in the game itself. Setting for setting’s sake seems to me to miss the point..”

As soon as I read this I immediately thought of Shadow World. There are lots of reviews on Shadow World products that can be found on the web, but two of the most persistent are it’s “Kitchen sink” nature and it feels so high level as to preclude useful adventuring. The first complaint I attribute to the non-canon SW modules; no matter their quality, they so varied in theme and tone that it gave SW a very generic feel. I challenge anyone to read Xa’ar or Emer material and argue that it’s a generic setting.

Beyond that though, I wonder if Shadow World is a better narrative product than a practical adventure material? As James asks:

“…a setting through adventures rather than through pages upon pages of background information, a “show, don’t tell” approach…”

Shadow World books are certainly great to read; the timeline alone is a significant piece of work product that is filled with depth and campaign ideas. But I’m reminded that many people’s favorite SW books are Quellbourne and Norek–both are foundational low level settings with generic fantasy concepts but are definitely not Terry’s writing style. So is Shadow World more inspirational than usable? Is it more cool than practical? I’m not speaking for myself; I write and use SW exclusively since I have so much time invested in the setting and not enough time to commit to other game systems or settings.

What about other settings? We used Rolemaster in some other settings:

Middle Earth. Like everyone else, we shifted from D&D to Rolemaster, but still wanted to play in Middle Earth. For us, it was mostly a campaign using The Court of Ardor, but I don’t recall ever getting to the higher level narrative. Thinking back though, I’m not sure much of the MERP books were playable in the way that James is discussing.

Midkemia Press. One of our favorites, and very reminiscent of Borderlands mentioned above and perhaps much of the early Judges Guild products were the Midkemia books. Of course a quick read of the first Midkemia novel Magician: Apprentice reveals it’s roots in a rpg game. This makes the associated game material so “useable”. We especially liked Jonril: Gateway to the Sunken Lands.

I try to be conscientious when writing SW material, and part of the process for me is adventure hooks. That’s why the Rolemasterblog 50 in 50 is such a good exercise; it forces me to continually come up with short adventure sparks that might not fill pages, but could end up using several game sessions and mutate into a significant narrative. I also want to maintain roots in those early game sessions that I played. SW may not be dungeon oriented, but my early gaming years were spent in the search of treasure!

I also wanted to comment on boxed sets. SW was launched with the original box set, but honestly, it felt a little underwhelming. Emer: the Great Continent was a vast improvement–especially the darket cult aspects and the addendum material. But, like Borderlands, box sets were a feature of early gaming.

Will there ever be a future for box sets in Shadow World or for I.C.E.? In the new world of digital media and print on demand, I doubt the economies work for such a product…but let’s use our imagination. I imagine 2 box sets, a final capstone on Terry’s work that completes the 2 main continents: Jaiman & Emer.

Box 1. Jaiman.

  1. Gazetteer Jaiman. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview.
  2. Jaiman Players Guide
  3. Jaiman I, the NW.
  4. Jaiman II, the NE.
  5. Jaiman III, the SE.
  6. Jaiman IV, the SW. .
  7. City Books. Lethys, Norek, Haalkitaine.
  8. Book of Adventures. Legacy of the Sea Drake and assorted adventures.
  9. Atlas Jaiman. maps and more maps.

Box 2. Emer.

  1. Gazetteer Emer. Timeline, flora and fauna and politics and power overview and more maps!
  2. Emer Players Guide
  3. Emer I
  4. Emer II
  5. Emer III
  6. Emer IV
  7. City Books. Eidolon + 2-3 others.
  8. Book of Adventures.
  9. Atlas Emer. maps, maps and more maps. GM maps, city maps, player maps, treasure maps. etc.

Looking that over, most of the work is already done and Terry probably has little incentive for one last re-write or re-org. But imagine a kickstarter campaign that funds this work and new artwork and lots and lots of maps. Would that be of interest to anyone? Plus it would cement both continents into final organized products with a TON of material for years of play. I can’t imagine Terry tackling another continent in a comprehensive way that took decades of work for Jaiman and Emer.

As stand alone books, there is well over $100+ in print products. As a kickstarter you could offer special maps, or similar incentives to tier pledges. What would you pay for that product? Finally, if you could group fund it and raise the capital, why not stat it for RMu. Tackle the whole thing once and for all.

In summation:

  1. What are your thoughts on the playability of SW material?
  2. Besides ME, have you used SW in other settings?
  3. Do you have a favorite box set from the Golden Age or something more recent?

Hirazi. Race or Monster?

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I recently wrote on my blog topic “Race or Monster” and discussed the Krylites in Shadow World. Like the blog previous to that on the Neng, I wanted to explore the suitability of non PC races for use as player characters. Given that racial stats are provided for virtually all humanoid creatures, it doesn’t seem a stretch, even if playing a “monster” creates in-game social issues.

This time around I wanted to discuss an actual Shadow World race that may be ill-suited for PCs: the Hirazi. Here is some data from the Atlas:

Hírazi:

  1. No professional limitations.
  2. Large, muscular humans, with wide shoulders to support their wing structures.
  3. Their bones are hollow, their lungs are huge, and their muscles have a
    unique structure which makes them very light.
  4. This race is rather fragile.
  5. Their fabulous wings are covered with plush white feathery hairs like those of a bird—vary in color from blue to white to gold, often a shimmering combination of the above.
  6. A Híraz may fly at up to 30 mph for short periods (1 min/con pt)
  7. They may acquire skill in gliding and travel for hours on thermals.
  8. An adult Híraz can carry up to about half his/her weight for short distances at half-speed

Having a winged humanoid is interesting, but not only could it be potentially unbalancing, but the player would be severely limited in a variety of environments. In fact, when you examine their flying ability, they have some short-comings there as well. So they don’t seem very good underground, underwater, in cities, in small confined spaces and can’t really fly fast or for very long….

I’ve never used Hirazi in my SW campaigns. Not as PCs, NPCs or even as window dressing. So what’s everyone’s opinion?

The colors of magic in Shadow World.

Chaos Magic and The Pagan Year | The Blog of Baphomet

I can’t recall when visible colors we added to the Shadow World setting, each color or “tinged colors” assigned to the various realms, hybrid realms and aspected magic (evil spell lists). I think it was one of the Master Atlas editions but I would also guess it was included in one of the Rolemaster Companions as well? (If anyone knows feel free to comment.)

For reference, some of the language in the Master Atlas:

The Colors of Magic
Most common of the three realms, Essence colors are based
on the rainbow of light. The colors are more down-to-earth, as
would be expected for a power which comes from the earth itself.

Other colors:
Blue: The purest Magic, often associated with the Iylari. Its appearance would be more common than ‘good’ Channeling except in powerful magic items created by pure Alchemists.
Green: More suspect than golden Channeling, Green Essence implies a certain selfishness or impurity of spirit. Certainly not evil, but not necessarily to be trusted as a brother, either.
Red: Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.

So when I first encounted this concept I was intrigued and I rather liked it. But now I am of two minds:

  1. It’s cinematic. As a GM any flavor or dressing is helpful to the narrative, especially during combat which can turn quickly into rolling dice and rote damage recitation. I think one of the enduring appeals of RM critical tables are the actual critical descriptions–they too are cinematic in nature and were more interesting than D&D roll 1d8. The visual spell manifestation also works well with Terry’s writing: both the vignettes and in his fiction.
  2. It adds flavor to the Shadow World setting. While spell law gets accolades for the sheer number of spells, they are often considered “dry” both in names and in effects. Certainly different than the Vancian spell types established by Gygax. Adding spell colors gives additional depth to spellcasting and density to the concept of the Essaence.

but…

  1. It breaks Spell Law and render some spells obsolete. There are spell lists in all 3 realms that allow a caster to detect a spell’s realm, it’s type or even specifics. Having color codes for realms, alignment and even type eliminates the need for some analysis spells.
  2. There is a bit of “alignment language” imputed into colored magic. For instance: “Those who have fallen to the Shadow cast spells with a luminous red hue. Evil Magicians such as the Dyari wield the red light of dark magic with skill and ease.” Should the GM hide the red hue of an evil caster for narrative purposes? Spell trickery or mastery may allow a caster to “hide the hue”, but isn’t this just adding complexity where it isn’t needed?
  3. Meta gaming. Providing a visual reference allows imparts important spell information to the players–even non-caster PCs who may not “know” anything about magic even if the player does.
  4. It feels a bit simplistic and “young adult”. Good magic is “white” bad magic is red with black tinges, neutral magic is green etc.

What do you think? Do you use colors of magic? Something similar?

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).

{Edited and Republished}: Maximizing Essaence Flows in your Shadow World campaign

Image result for aurora borealis

Note. This is a blog article I posted back in 2016. I wanted to revisit the topic again and add some additional thoughts.

One of the more distinctive attributes of Kulthea is the presence of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci. I would argue that Essence Flow is the primary differentiator for the Shadow World, a setting often described as generic and “kitchen sink“.

From the original Loremaster modules, the back page blurb:

Clusters of islands and small continents dot the surface of the the world. Myriad cultures and peoples lie separated by sheer mountains, treacherous reefs, and the powerful but invisible Flows of Essence.

Churning like ocean tides under the Five Moons, the Essence ebbs and flows, its eddys and currents dictating unseen barriers and centers of power. Some have learned to trap that power.

Travel across the world is perilous, though some have made it an art: the aloof Navigators will transport anyone anywhere –for a fee.

For many, myself included, that blurb was the defining description of the setting. I’ve discussed the importance of other elements of Shadow World: the Loremasters, the Dragonlords and the Lords of Orhan, but the fundamental trait of Kulthea is the various manifestations of the Essence.

Essaence manifestations have shaped cultures and history, provided a raison d’etre for the Navigator Guilds and added a unique flavor to the campaign world. In the earlier Loremaster modules the Flows seem to be more ubiquitous; splitting and separating regions and isolating pocket cultures throughout Jaiman. Not only was this a great campaign hook, but provided a “sensible” explanation for the disparate cultures, races and even climates within a relatively small geographic area.

In later SW modules, the Flows seemed minimized and moved to the background. Early SW supplements often included regional maps of the flows while later books mention them but don’t specifically call them into the gameplay or narrative. I’ve talked to quite a few people who have used Shadow World for a setting. Each handles Flows in differing degrees:

  1. Slight. The Essence Flows are invisible paths of energy that explain spellcasting and powerpoints.
  2. Modest. Essence can manifest as energetic storms with some unpredictable effects.
  3. Average. Flows can occasionally manifest as invisible “walls of force”. Essence Foci, while rare, are concentrated centers of energy. Travel is normal, with an occasional annoyance or impediment.
  4. Strong. Essence Flows are a regular part of gameplay, but are generally atmospheric but duly impactful. Travel is a bit more difficult, but Essence obstacles are temporary or delaying rather than problematic.
  5. Extreme. There are established, permanent Major Essence Flows that are physical barriers, random but frequent Essence storms that can have varying but impactful effects and Lesser and Major Foci that have significant impacts on gameplay. Travel is restrictive and will invariably require a Navigator or planning and routes will be determined by known Essence Flows.

I would guess that most players/game groups that have adventured in Shadow World would describe the Essence as falling somewhere on that scale. But I would also point out that many of the elements of Shadow World ONLY work with #4 or #5. If you are playing within #1 to #3, there probably is no real point (or commercial demand) for costly Navigators. I would argue that the Shadow World is unique as a setting the more potent and extreme the Flow of Essence are depicted! Essaence Flows should be seen as an essential NPC in SW campaigns: always present, unpredictable, and frequently impacting the storyline and gameplay.

Essaence manifestations can play a number of roles in gameplay and GMs should embrace this element:

  1. Disruptor. A sudden and dangerous Essaence storm can change things quickly! PC’s or enemies may be forced to flee or find cover. Spellcasters may be drained of needed PP’s or find casting to be too unpredictable due to the fluctuating power.
  2. Limiter. A temporary or permanent Essaence wall can block PC’s from travelling to certain areas that the GM is unprepared, too dangerous for the group to explore or to create an obstacle for the group to overcome.
  3. Balancer. A Foci can provide PC’s with added Power Points needed to overcome a more powerful adversary or replace spent PP’s to allow the PC to continue the battle. An Essaence storm could hamper a powerful spell casting opponent or agent of the Unlife.
  4. Re-locator. Essaence storms can have spatial or temporal vortexes to move PC’s to a new place or time! If you want to avoid a time consuming trip or introduce the PC’s to a distant point on Kulthea than a temporary portal could do the trick! Additionally, you could move the PC’s back or forward in the SW timeline!

Not only do Essaence effects add great flavor to the game but they inject a constant randomness that plays much different than typically fantasy RPG’s.  If you aren’t maximizing the use of Flows, Storms and Foci in your SW game then here are a few suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Make sure that Essaence effects are included in your random encounter tables. If you are using tables that aren’t SW specific or don’t have Essaence effects included, than replace a category with them. Or if there is a “No Encounter” result than use Essaence effects instead.
  2. If you aren’t using random encounter tables than make it a point to include at least 1 effect per day to reinforce it’s presence to the players.
  3. Remember, not all effects have to be serious. A faint odor of ozone, a “tingling” or a slight power surge remind players that they are dealing with an unpredictable and dangerous power.
  4. The more Essaence Flows appear in your game the more helpful Navigators will appear. While “Jumps” might be prohibitively expensive, the PC’s will probably need to hire a Navigator to bypass an Essaence Wall or traverse a particularly dangerous route. This also a great money sink to keep excess wealth from accruing!
  5. Many notable places (temples, fortresses, holy sites etc) are found at or near Essaence Foci. The Foci could have beneficial, harmful or unpredictable effects on magic within its radius or even different magical “rules”. (ie no Force spells, or double power Elemental effects) This can make an “ordinary” dungeon crawl into a unique adventure experience!
  6. Essaence Flows also impact local and regional weather. Use that in your games–changing environment conditions can affect combat and travel, but also add significance to Animists, Druids, Magicians and Rangers that have outdoor and weather related spells!

Those are just a few ideas for maximizing the use of Essaence Flows, Storms and Foci in your Shadow World campaign. One last thought. I would recommend a book that came out in 1977 that I feel gives a small taste of what Essaence Flows could be like in your SW campaign.  Check it out: Time-Storm by Gordon R. Dickson.

I’m curious how other SW GM’s are maximizing their use of the Essaence Flows?

Another blog post on the Essaence Flows:

Assassins as PCs.

Image result for d&d assassin players handbook 1ed artwork

Based on the recent discussions about Mystics here on the Rolemasterblog and the RM Forums, I think one interpretation is that the Mystic could serve as a proto-type “Assassin” profession in lieu of companion classes like the Nightblade.

That got me to thinking about Assassins as a rpg profession in general–and perhaps the first iteration in the 1975 Blackmoor supplement by Dave Arneson. Most of the Assassin material was wholly transplanted to the 1st Ed. Players Handbook (p.27). The Assassin is a subclass of the Thief, and generally gains the same abilities with a few Assassin specific skills:

  1. Assassination. With a successful backstab attack the Assassin can use the Assassination table to determine if their is a kill strike.
  2. Language. Assassins can learn other alignment tongues. (recently discussed HERE.)
  3. Disguise.

Of course, all three are cool abilities, but how does an Assassin fit into an adventure group? It’s implied that Assassins can pose as a Thief or perhaps another class or person (using another alignment tongue and disguise) but would that last long in a cohesive group?

I’ve read a bit about Gygax and the early development of D&D and an Assassin class just seems incongruous to the core idea of a “balanced group” and spirit of play. Rolemaster has Professions similar to an Assassin; the Nightblade could be seen more as a Ninja style character, but nothing like the D&D version which is described thusly: “The primary function of assassins is killing.”. That’s pretty straight forward, but how does “assassinations” fit into a traditional fantasy game? What about poisons? I’ve seen quite a bit of comments/feedback from people who dislike the idea of poisons in gameplay.

Has anyone played an Assassin in D&D or similar in Rolemaster? If you GM, would you allow an assassin in your group?

Novel Weapons in Shadow World & Rolemaster

The Katar…is that a lizard man motif?

Every now and then I stumble upon another blog or reference to odd or unusual real life weapons. Some seem very impractical, but they still fuel the imagination. (Beside, impracticality is of little importance in a fantasy setting!)

Rolemaster has some “fantasy weapons” that are really Shadow World specific available HERE, and I’ve posted a couple of blogs about some alternate and odd weapons:

Helmet in the shape of a conch shell
Conch Helmet

I’ve also had the opportunity to see some fantastic collections of armor and weapons at the Army Museum in Paris, and the Higgins Armory Museum that was relocated to the Met in New York.

Since I had already written about the Urumi, I was delighted to stumble across THIS BLOG‘s post on eastern blades. Of particular interest, besides the Urumi, is this:

Assamese Dao

Like the Adya Katti, the Assamese Dao lacks a guard and gets broader towards the tip, but there the resemblances end. This is a straight sword rather than the curved one, and though it seems somewhat simple, the unusual shape of the blade adds enough character.

In my Priest-King module, I have a similar weapon that is basically a battle machete. These weapons were designed to be used by the Kinn Rangers to hunt Quarnaks–thus the lack of a hilt that is necessary against other bladed weapons. the Assamese Dao provides a good model for that weapon.

The blog post describes several other cool looking weapons that would add flavor to a fantasy setting. Do you have any unique or strange weapons in your game?

Rethinking Inherently “Evil” Races. (Updated 2/14/21)

Image result for evil fantasy races

Synchronicity, being what it is, has brought together one of my blog topics and some current discussions floating around the web. In particular the racist nature of dark-skinned fantasy races that also are inherently “evil”.

Over on the RM Forums there is discussion about the dark-skin – evil duality. However I am more interested in the broader issue of evil races and if they even make sense. As a primer this is an interesting take:

Certainly a lot of progression has occurred in fantasy over the last 40 years: simplistic tropes have developed into more mature themes, the founding player base has aged and “awoken” and world building has expanded into more realistic modeling of societies.

Putting Tolkien aside, perhaps the most stark examples of monolithic races that I can remember was in David Eddings Belgariad series. Even as a young reader, the stark rigid depiction of racial characteristics was distracting. But this was pretty standard for Golden Age fantasy gaming and driven by the ideas on literature.

There are probably many driving forces for the standardization of evil races in fantasy gaming:

  1. Alignment. The introduction of alignments, and the assignment of alignments to races, monsters and creatures created a blanket behavioral type that was hard to overcome. I remember one early game where we first introduced a half-orc PC–the rest of the group was suspicious that the PC was secretly an assassin and was never trusted.
  2. Physical characteristics. Again, there is enough written about skin color, but there is also the physical attractiveness equation: ugly = bad, beautiful = good (although beautiful is also depicted as evil, but in a remote dispassionate cruelty).
  3. Story element. Every hero needs a foe, so races of inherently evil humanoids are a great standard foil. Fighting, attacking and killing any member of a evil race is just and righteous.
  4. Societal traits. Civilizations that are ambitious, colonialist, capitalist or warlike could be described as “Evil” or just immoral. Does that mean that every member of the society also holds those traits? A majority of them? Or just the leaders and powerful members of society?

Personally, I like moral ambiguity in my campaigns. It provides a more complicated ethical framework and consequences for actions. However, I realize that one of the appeals of RPG’s is it’s relief from a morally complicated reality and the escape to a good vs evil paradigm.

But even if you like a simpler framework, does it make sense to apply a blanket label like “evil” to an entire race? Is that corruption embedded in their DNA? Is it nature vs nurture? Can a societal structure create so much influence as to pre-ordain a person’s ethical nature? This is a philosophical debate, but still worth considering when using races like Dark Elves and Orcs in your setting.

One hand-wave approach to rationalizing a racial alignment is to have it driven by the race/society’s god; ie they worship an evil god therefore the people are “evil” too. Simple. In my own Shadow World campaign, the only truly evil entity is the Unlife. Dyari (Dark Elves) are simply a label for Elves that have forsaken the Lords of Orhan, and are not a distinct separate race.

There are a lot of arguments against a intrinsic evil as a racial trait. What are the argument for it? What do you do in your game?

{Update} In a related note, James over at Grognardia had an interesting post on alignment languages. It’s been decades since I’ve dealt with alignments, but the more I ponder the concept of alignment languages the less it makes sense. Based on the comments to James’ post, a lot of people struggle to define or rationalize them.

Shadow World “Krylite”: Race or Monster?

Image result for fantasy insect creature with gun

It’s been 4 years since I’ve blogged on “Race vs Monster”, the last time we discussed “Neng“. So today I wanted to review Krylites, an insectoid race that is classified at an “alien race” in the SW Master Atlas (page 131). Described as non-native to Kulthea and non-humanoid. They have professional limitations of no Essence or Channeling, but that makes common sense for a non-native race.

Krylites are grouped in 3 classes: Workers, Defenders and Minds. Apparently there are total Minds that direct and lead the collective through a hive mind. The most interesting aspect of the Krylites is their knowledge of advanced technology-specifically electricity. One group of Krylites works in cooperation with the Itanian Warlocks and trade resources for some of their technology.

The Apsis from Slave Pits of the Undercity.

So clearly, Krylites have quite a few limitations and perhaps don’t make the best PC race, but is it possible? Certainly there would be limitations when interacting in normal societies and settings, but a Krylite would definitely be a cool PC to play for a one-shot. Perhaps the “Hive Minds” need help against the Trogli and have sent a Krylite warrior on a mission with the PCs? Or a Krylite might be a good race for my “Monster Squad” idea. Maybe just fleshing out the Krylites and their society would allow them to be PCs in a more Mieville inspired Shadow World setting.

What are your thoughts? It would be great to do an adventure hook or one-shot with a Krylite or Krylites.