Rolemaster Profession Review: Thoughts on the Warrior Mage.

Hurin wanted Rolemasterblog to tackle the Warrior Mage next, so I put aside my blog on the Mystic and spent some time reviewing and thinking about the Warrior Mage. I can’t recall any of my players choosing a Warrior Mage, but I know that the Warrior Mage is VERY popular among players and controversial as well. Hurin is doing a rebuild of WM spell lists and is a proponent in general, so I thought I would take an opposing view of the profession!

One of the first issues for me, is that the Warrior Mage doesn’t feel like a “Profession” like other RM semi-spell users. Instead it’s really a multi-class, A Fighter-MU that combines the 2 most popular PC aspects: combat and elemental attack spells. Not only does it merge the best of 2 classes, but it fully embraces the Fly, Sleep, Charm, Fireball cornerstones of the fantasy Magic-User.

What’s in a name? Most RM Professions carry an implied conceptual design with their name–a topic we visit with these blog posts. Most people have a clear concept of a character when they hear words like: Bard, Ranger or Paladin. These Profession names evoke class tropes, literary references and a skill and power framework. We don’t call a Ranger a “Animist/Fighter” or a Paladin a “Cleric/Fighter” even if those descriptions are technically accurate. Profession names carry enough referential information that we can even argue over skill cost minutia. Of course some of these Professions imply a setting or specific social construct but the Warrior Mage does none of that. What do you think of when you hear Warrior Mage? Probably that it’s a great character because there is both fighting ability and useful spells–but what’s the context? It’s merely a Chimera–a combination of two primary ABILITIES, but without any conceptual framework. While we may disagree on small details of varying Professions, we immediately get the concept of an “Astrologer”, a “Beastmaster”, a “Dervish” or a “Moonmage”. There is connotation. I just don’t get that with a Warrior Mage. To me, it feels like a work-around and a class designed by a player not a GM. A RM Magician can already allocate DPs to learn combat skills–the Warrior Mage just accelerates and amplifies that outside of the game balance. The Warrior Mage spells feel cherry picked for power and utility–in some ways they feel BETTER than the Base lists of the pure Magician spell caster!

Spell lists picked and designed by a player. There are several versions of a Warrior Mage, but let’s stick to the original in RMCOII. In this version, the Warrior Mage receives 3 Base lists and a suggestion for a 4th: Minds Touch, Elemental Ways and Highriding. The 4th suggestion is Body Renewal, a Monk base list. If a player could individual choose spells and put them into their own lists, I’m not sure you could do better than these. I’m not making a argument for the inherent power of the spell lists–I realize that there is an argument that they are “overpowered”. I just don’t like the incredible bias of these lists.

Minds Touch. Basically combine Spirit Ways with Telekinesis and you get the 4 incredible spell abilities: Charm, Sleep, Telekinesis and Telepathy. All great for in-game use!

Elemental Ways. Why bother with a handful of Elemental Spell lists organized by the Element, when you can just bundle the ALL the best spells of a Magician into a single Base list! Fireball, IceBall, Fire Bolts, Ice Bolts, Water Bolts, Shock Bolt at 2nd level and Lightning Bolt by 12th.

Highriding. My favorite! Flying, Longdoor, a Tensers Floating Disc and even Teleport. Wow!!!

The final suggested list is Body Renewal–a Self Healing list that rounds out the Warrior Mage as virtually a self-sufficient offensive machine. While the WM base lists don’t have spells from 16-20 why bother? Most games seem to run at player levels less than 15th, allowing the WM to put together a basket of great spells by 10th.

Profession as a Trope. So I want to return to the Warrior Mage as a template beyond a Fighter-Magic User or semi spell user/Essence. I’m not opposed to a simple Essence semi-user, but that doesn’t really fit into the RM system does it? Is there a better set of spell lists that aren’t: a teenager’s masturbatory idea of a PC; imbue the Profession with a concept or connotation like other Professions?

I’m going to think about this further. Since I can already build a Magician that spends Development points on a combat skills (yes, at a high cost), I want to see a Warrior Mage concept that is unique or inspires roleplaying ideas. Of course, I always think of Professions in relation to Shadow World–in that setting there are some ideas that could make great templates for a WM: Cloudlords, Xiosans or the Guarla of the Raven Queen. Any of those might work as an organization of Semi-Essence professions, albiet with specific organizational spell lists rather than the RMC II Base. I’m interested in seeing what Hurin comes up with! What are your thoughts?

Spell Law Deconstruction: Building Spell Lists to 50th lvl.

Image result for spell law

Now that I’m posting up some more spell lists–Mentalism primarily, I’m tracking comments and feedback on the forums and here at RMBlog. The number one issue I see is the desire for spell list reductionism, maybe build 10 spells per “list” and allow for creative scalability similar to or identical to HARP.

That is a compelling thought, but after writing a ton of spell lists I wanted to put my own thoughts in order.

  1. Distillation. Rebuilding classic RM spell lists typically requires some trimming. Many spells within a list are redundant: not just the spells that progress as I, II, III etc, but different named spells that do similar things. Distilling the essence of a list can really reduce the total number of spells which makes a scalable spell system very appealing!
  2. Spell scope. I’m not a fan of kitchen sink style spell lists, but do see a fundamental difference between the realms. Essence should be very tightly focused around a key aspect, Channeling should allow for much more variability based on the particular god and I see Mentalism lists following a shared mental mechanism. Using these basic rules provides different ways to build lists in different realms.
  3. Compatibility. A major motivation to maintain the 1-50th spell lists is basic compatibility with RM and Shadow World.
  4. Built in scalability. Many of my lists are built around 3-6 spells, that progress from I-V and maybe include a mass effect. If each spell repeats every 5 levels that takes up a chunk of the list, but also gives a repetitive appearance that seem suitable for scaling. However, the spell versions don’t just scale progressively, but change in target size, AoE, Range and other aspects that provide “more bang for the buck”. General scaling assumes increased power point cost/expansion of range, area, damage etc. So from an efficiency standpoint, higher versions of the spells in BASiL provide a better impact/PP than just linear scaling. “Spell II” isn’t just 2x better than “Spell I”, it can be 3x better or have expanded efficacy or powers as well.
  5. Opportunity and tactical cost. By having built in scaling, players can use higher or lower level spells based on the target, PP consumption and risk/reward calculations. Of course, that’s also one argument for Scaling spells, but the PP usage will be much different per #4 above.
  6. Level assignment. One of the more difficult aspects of designing a spell list is deciding what level to make a spell. Part of me wants to calculate an estimated “power cost”, while other times I’m thinking of utility and game balance. For instance, the big three: Charm, Fly and Invisibility can be very unbalancing to the game, but perhaps shouldn’t be based on “power needed” or some other arbitrary assessment. Some lists just can’t be distilled into 10 spells with scaling options. Some spells need to be higher level to reflect their real power and also make them unavailable to lower level players.
  7. Vertical versus horizontal acquisition. RM (and probably RMU) is build around horizontal model of spell acquisition. Generally players will know more spell lists than overall spell levels. For instance, a 5th lvl caster may have access to 5-10 lists but can only effectively cast to 5th level without risk of failure. In BASiL, it’s the opposite. I use a levelless system so players generally know a few spell lists to higher level. That gives them more powerful, niche abilities. It’s just the way I like my game to run–hard specialization versus the generalization of RAW.
  8. Keystone spells. I still like cool spells that can be found at 10th, 20th and certainly 50th level. I try to add something unique or interesting at these levels for players to look forward too, or to give the list a “bump”!

I guess sticking with RM I wanted to improve on the originally 35+ year old Spell Law and incorporate spell ideas and powers introduced since then. But if I were to start over, I would take a hard look at a HARP scalable system. Or maybe just use HARP rules?

Many of you also build your own spell lists. Do you have build guidelines, mechanistic philosophies or other design criteria that help you in the process?

Druids in Shadow World.

The recent discussions on Druids here on the blog seemed a relatively easy assignment. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to Druids and generally argued for a more distinctive Druid by making them either a semi-spell user or even an Essence based profession. For me the Druid was just a new name on a predictable template already covered by Clerics, Animists and Rangers.

However, several comments and some googling made me start thinking about Druids quite a lot…

druid, druid religion
An arch-druid in his judicial habit.

Who were the Druids?

There is not a lot of first-hand knowledge of the Druids, but it’s generally believed they were: “philosophers, teachers, judges, the repository of communal wisdoms about the natural world and the traditions of the people, and the mediators between humans and the gods.” So, in some respects this sounds a lot like a Cleric or Priest, and in RM terms, a Channeler. But there are other descriptions of Druids that evoke a more mysterious and perhaps even sinister aspect. Then, while reading this description,

Druids, like numerous cultures both prehistoric and modern, were fascinated by the movements of stars and other celestial bodies. This implies that they were still using Neolithic monuments such as Stonehenge to track different astronomical alignments.

I was struck by a thought. While the Druid profession was missing in the original RM, the Astrologer was not. The Astrologer is an odd profession–I certainly thought it was cool when I first was introduced to RM, but the concept seems curiously unfinished. First, I think star-based spell lists are a very setting specific idea and the the lists themselves were incomplete with very few actual spells on each list. Assuming some fixes to the Astrologer lists, a great Druid concept would consolidate the Druid base with the Astrologer base lists. That would make the Druid interesting and unique while still retaining some the cool factor that the Astrologer promised. In this scenario I see possible Druid Base Lists as:

  1. “Far Voice” But a rewritten combination of Astrologer “Far Voice”, “Way of the Voice” & “Starsense”
  2. “Visions” A combination of Astrologers “Time Bridge” and “Holy Visions”
  3. “Starlight”. Original Astrologer but needs some fixing.
  4. “Druidstaff”. Either the original RMC I version, Hurin’s version or my BASiL list “Talisman”.
  5. “Natures Forms”. Original Druid list.
  6. “Stone Mastery”. Original Druid list.
  7. “Weather Mastery” type list as an alternate.

These six Base lists make a Druid very distinct from other Professions, especially the Animist and Ranger, by dropping the Animal and Plant control spells. To me this still feels like a “naturalist” spell user but in a more raw and visceral way. There is a nature and elemental angle to the class with “Starlight” and “Stone Mastery” and a touch of a Seer with “Visions”. Plus the elemental spells and the Druidstaff gives the Druid combat and offensive ability. “Far Voice” allows the individual Druids to communicate across vast spaces with each other–providing them a network of information.

I was pretty satisfied with this new Druid concept and would have left it alone…but I kept thinking about Druids and Shadow World. Shadow World has an organization that aligns quite well with a Druidic concept: The Earthwardens. In SW canon, the Earthwardens helped heal and rebuild the shattered planet. They built great earthworks, megalithic constructions, circles, henges, and passages, while nurturing civilization back from the brink. This is a familiar tale–not unlike legendary figures in our own history: Hermes, Thoth, Quetzalcóatl, and other “bringers of civilization” that were steeped in hermetic traditions.

While it’s not implicitly stated or clarified, the Earthwardens were using “proto-magic”; early Essaence before it was divided into the individual realms. The Earthwardens built structures on Essaence Foci–basically “Earthnodes” and “Leylines” often associated with Druidic tradition. While the Earthwardens esssentially disappeared during the Interregnum, it’s conceivable that their knowledge was passed down through a secret tradition and organization: The Druids.

So putting it all together we have an organization/profession that utilizes “proto-magic” and “Earthnodes” and is the repository of ancient traditions and wisdom. To me, that sounds a lot like what many people would think of for a fantasy Druid archetype. What types of spell powers are proto-magic? Luckily, I don’t have to write a bunch of new spells–just adopt the Arcane Magic lists as Druid base lists! In fact, Rolemaster Companion I has every thing we need: earthnodes, arcane magic and Druids! The base lists would be:

  1. Bladerunes. A great utility spell list that gives the Druid weapon enchanting ability and replaces the list “Druidstaff”.
  2. Earthbloods Ways. Obviously, this is easy to convert to Shadow World’s versions: Essence Flows and Essence Foci.
  3. Entity Mastery. I would make some changes and eliminate the homoculous spells, but I like the idea of a Druid commanding Golems and Elementals.
  4. Ethereal Mastery. Not sure about this one, but I like the concept of Astral Projection for Druids.
  5. Mana Fires. Feels very Allanon’ish and Druids should be “Wielders of the Secret Flame”.
  6. Shapechanging Ways. Gives the Druid the connection to Flora and Fauna.

The Arcane lists in RMC I are right on point for Druid spells and work well as inherited knowledge of the Earthwardens. With these lists, Druids tie into SW history and make a kick-ass profession with unique powers.

So what do you think? Druid/Astrologer or Druid/Arcane? I like them both, but Druid/Arcane fits my SW campaign. You can read my amended history of the Earthwardens in this file (inspired by page 5 of Rolemaster Companion I)

ROLEMASTER PROFESSION REVIEW: TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT THE BARD.

Before I get into my thoughts on the Bard, it’s probably important to look into the past. The rpg Bard profession was introduced in the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook, wayyyy in the back on page 117 as optional material. What does Gary say regarding the bard:

As this character class subsumes the functions of two other classes, fighters and thieves, and tops them off with magical abilities, it is often not allowed by Dungeon Masters. Even though this presentation is greatly modified from the original bard character class, it is offered as supplemental to the system, and your DM will be the final arbiter as to the inclusion of bards in your campaign.

AD&D not only required the Bard to have fairly incredible stat scores to qualify, but they needed to attain at least 5th lvl fighter, than switch to thief, then attain at least 5th level and then start tutelage as a Druid!!! That’s a pretty steep climb for any character class. What was it about the Bard that required multi-classing and high attributes?

That wasn’t the final word on the Bard. New material for the Bard was presented in Dragon Magazine #56 of December 1981. Both the original Players Handbook and Dragon Magazine article are worth a read just to understand the origins and ideas around the Bard class. The Dragon article, in particular really delves into the western cultural history of bards.

Obviously, the RM Bard profession was included to match up with the AD&D rules, but where does a Bard really fit into a gaming group in Rolemaster? Like any semi-spell user, they are weak by nature of the balance between spell acquisition and martial skills. Song spells require them to perform at the cost of all other actions, and their lore and knowledge skills are only important if the game requires it–the RM “Attunement” skill takes over a lot of magical item analysis.

Several original RM professions seemed more geared towards being NPC’s than PC’s: Healers, Astrologers, Alchemists, Seers certainly, and Bards might be just a toss-up? So what might a player character Bard bring to the table?

  1. A “Jack of All Trades” role for the group.
  2. Knowledge/Lore.
  3. Language Skills.
  4. Social Skills.
  5. AoE Spells. (with major limitations)

That’s a great list if you are playing AD&D that has strict profession requirements and limitations, but how does that work with Rolemaster?

  1. Jack of All Trades. Rolemaster already allows any profession to access all available skills. You can be a “Jack of All Trades” with virtually any profession.
  2. Knowledge/Lore. Meta-gaming aside, this will really be dependent on the GM and the game. Rolemaster has the Attunement skill and there are various spells to assess items so a specialist Bard might not be critical.
  3. Language Skills. Language should be important but can often be a plot obstruction. However there are Channeling and Mentalism spells that allow for communication.
  4. Social Skills. For many games, social interactions are just roleplayed. I think social skills can add depth to a game, but does a GM want to develop greetings, insults, eating graces and social norms for every culture, civilization or group the game meets? In social situations–which could be virtually every encounter that isn’t met with immediate violence, the Bard could be a lifesaver. Literally.
  5. AoE spells. The one standard thread of Bard’s abilities is the power of music and song. This allows a Bard to cast “buffs” on the group and possibly neutralize adverse affects like “Fear”, “Loss of Morale”, “Sonic attacks” etc.

So, looking over this list, there are 2 items that stand out as Bard specific: Social skills and AoE spells. Do these two abilities justify the Bard profession? Does it only come down to a handful of constructed spell lists to make a Bard? If so, do normal skills and skill costs matter if virtually all of the Bard’s abilities are derived from their Base lists?

Putting aside the D&D versions of the Bard, what works of fiction depict Bards? My earliest idea of a Bard came from the Black Cauldron series: Fflewddur Fflam. Later, there were traces of “bardic” DNA in Tolkien: poems, epic stories, songs and even slight ditties were sprinkled throughout the story. Obviously, there was “Bard” in the Hobbit: a descendant from the men of might, who slew Smaug and became the lord of Dale. Of course, his name evoked an image of “Bard” but not necessarily “a Bard” profession. In more recent works, we have Kvothe, from the Kingkiller trilogy. Kvothe is a man of many talents, a “Jack of All Trades” who has spellbound people with the power of his music. But he is also a “Wind Mage”, “Alchemist” and “Martial Artist”. Is Kvothe a “Bard” drawing from fantasy inspirations, or simply drawing from the “Philosopher King” mythos? It’s apparent that in myth and literature, Bards are truly unique individuals; AD&D reinforces this principle with the stat requirements and lengthy development process. But every PC cannot be king or group leader by mere fact of their profession. How do Bards fit into a fantasy RPG group?

Whether you base it on Welsh, English, Western or Eastern lore, Bards can be defined by their titles: Minstrel, Troubadour, Jester, Actor, Diplomat, Tinkerer, Jongleur, Poet, Musician or even Balladeer. Some seem noble, others tricksters. Some are repositories of truth while others spread fantastical tales for fame or fortune. These wide ranging and varied definitions are no different than any other RM profession. But the single factor that defines a Bard over another class is the use of music and song. Otherwise, the tertiary skills of Bards are purely cultural and are driven by the fantasy world it occupies.

So where might that fit into Rolemaster? I’m going to revert to an earlier blog format I’ve used previously: ROLEMASTER PROFESSION REVIEW: TAKING ANOTHER LOOK AT THE SHAMAN. In this blog, we’ll be looking at a few variations of Bards that could work in Shadow World.

Bard Loremaster.

A Loremaster advising a young ruler.

Bard Type: Diplomat, Mentor, Tutor, Advisor, Historian

Prominent Skills/Training: Lore, Social Skills, Language, Etiquette, History, Diplomacy, Debate, Philosophy, Influence, Perception, Memory.

Spell Lists: Base Loremaster Lists “Living Lore”, “Lost Lore”, “Word Lore”, “Lore Mastery”; Base Bard “Controlling Songs”; Essence Lists “Spirit Mastery”, “Detecting Ways”, “Essence Perception”,

Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Bard Loremasters serve as advisors, observors, tutors and diplomats to governments, leaders, and rulers.

While a Loremaster is not an official RM Profession, they hold a quasi professional status in Terry’s world. They have Base Lists, organization etc but under RM rules still have to be proscribed a traditional RM class rather. (It would be easier just to create a quick skill cost list and designate the Loremaster as a SW specific profession!) When looking at the roles and skills of Loremasters: historians, mentors, advisors and teachers, the Bard class seems well suited for this job! Loremasters will often appear to be powerful NPC’s that can guide the players, but Loremasters have to be low level to start! Making your Bard PC a journeymen Loremaster is a great solution for the class. They can provide campaign guidance to the group, become a vector for new adventure paths, access information and help when needed and not necessary imbalance the game. A low level initiate in the Loremaster organization and being in an adventure group are not exclusive!

Bard Cleric of Kieron.

Bard Type: Leader, Fellowship, Goodwill

Prominent Skills/Training: Song, Dance, Instruments, Oration, Acting, Social, Mediation,

Spell Lists: Base Bard Lists “Inspiring Songs”, “Sound Control”, “Entertaining Ways”, “Controlling Songs”, Kieron Base List.

Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Cleric Bards serve as Masters of Ceremonies, lead Holiday and Festival events, entertain, spread cheer and goodwill and impartial but fair judges.

If you drop the mental models around classes and realms it’s easy to see that a Bard could easily be a “Cleric” of Kieron. Sure, you might need to change the spell Realm to Channeling, but so what! Kieron is the God of Festivals, and he would definitely want a Bard type to be his emissary on Kulthea. This really doesn’t change the nature of the Bard and probably makes more sense from a learning and institutional process.

Legacy Bard.

Bard Type: Secretive, Warrior, Purposeful, Hidden Knowledge

Prominent Skills: Combat, Stalk & Hide, Perception, Lore, Languages, Survival.

Spell Lists: Bard Base “Controlling Songs”, Mentalist “Mind Merge” and “Mind Speech”, Druid Base “Natures Lore”

Tasks/Jobs/Roles: Keep hidden or lost knowledge alive. Search/find/protect bloodlines of past empires. Recover knowledge and artifacts of past eras.

There are 2 major empires that might have a “legacy organization”–a small group of survivors that retain the knowledge of a past era. If we focus only on Jaiman and Emer that would be the combined crown Kingdoms of Jaiman in the early part of the third Era and the Emerian Empire of the 2nd Era. Imagine a hidden group of loosely organized Bards. Who better to retain and disseminate the knowledge of these past empires and work to return the world to it’s old glory. Emerian Bards might be secretly fighting the new Orders that have been subverted while the Jaimani Bards work to re-unite the splintered realms.

Travelling Bard.

Bard Type: Jack of All Trades, Tinkerer, Minstrel, Troubador, Adventurer

Prominent Skills: Perception, Disarm Traps, Survival, Trickery, Animal Handling, Ambush, Music, Song, Social, Influence, Crafts, Gadgetry, Item Lore, Thieving Skills

Spell Lists: Bard Base, Mystic Base “Confusing Ways”, various Open and Closed up to 5th lvl. Minor Illusions.

Like a “Hedge Wizard” a Travelling Bard is more akin to a Tinkerer, an informally trained “Jack of All Trades”. These Bards wander and survive on their wits and skills. They have spells, but they are generally lower level and represent a broad hodge-podge of spell powers. These Bards still play instruments and perhaps sing, but not with a great deal of skill. Travelling Bards are great random NPC’s or can be a fun addition to the group by straddling the role of Thief, Negotiator and Comic Relief!

So that’s my thoughts on 4 types of Bards that can be great in Shadow World or Bard archetypes to be used in any setting. Really, there is a Bard for every occasion!!!

Shadow World Spin Cycle: Umbar, Haven of the Corsairs

Today we are going to be looking at Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs. Like The Court of Ardor, Umbar was one of the first MERP products put out by I.C.E. and like Court of Ardor fits very easily into Shadow World.

Image result for umbar haven of the corsairs

Welcome to another “Spin Cycle” blog post! If you aren’t familiar with my previous entries on re-purposing MERP products for Shadow World. You can find my take on the Court of Ardor HEREHERE and HERE. and the MERP adventure module “Thieves of Tharbad” 

Today we are going to be looking at Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs. Like The Court of Ardor, Umbar was one of the first MERP products put out by I.C.E. and like Court of Ardor fits very easily into Shadow World. Cover art is by Gail Mcintosh–I always like this art for representing my idea of Rolemaster combat: gritty, dangerous (they never have much armor on!) and this is cool because it’s on a boat that’s tilting!

So why is Umbar such a useful module and a good fit for Shadow World?

  1. Strip away the Middle Earth material and you have great adventure content. The city of Umbar with city maps, sewer maps, tavern maps, 6 city towers of various “Captains”, info on the Wizard Guild, smugglers, merchants, Thieves Guild, City Milita, healers, Armorers Guild, Dark Religion and ships and sailors. Plus there layouts for 6 small castle/keeps that are great drop in plans for any adventure. This is classic RPG material. The Middle Earth info is just window dressing.
  2. Where does this fit into Shadow World? Plasidar. There isn’t much material on Plasidar in the Jaiman source book but a few data points:

Piracy along the Melurian Straits is on the rise…..the lords of Plasidar, and the Xooba raiders all increase activities.

Generally considered a ‘wild land’ filled with thieves
and pirates
, Plasidar most likely is not quite as bad as it is
made out to be.

The Duke of Plasidar….is an Elven merchant-lord who
commands an impressive fleet.

Gûl is the capital city of Plasidar and certainly Umbar is a good stand in for the port city. Umbar has the 6 “Captains of the Havens” while Plasidar has it’s Sea Captain “Lords”. Umbar has Corsairs, Black Numenoreans and Haradrim raiders, (plus smugglers and merchants) while Plasidar has thieves, pirates, raiders and merchants. All in all, a pretty good fit! Given that the new updated Jaiman source book is complete and unlikely to be revised again, using Umbar fills in a fairly large chunk of southern Jaimain that’s close to other important areas: Lethys, Nomikos, and across the sea from Emer and Eidolon.

Since this isn’t meant to be a straight up product review, I’m going to skip down to page 11 where the content starts becoming usable for Shadow World.

Lords of Umbar

3.1. There are 6 Captains the rule the city, each has their own fleet, tower in the city and castle with liege lord outside the city. The names themselves are “Tolkien” style, but dropping the accents, and putting in apostrophes convert to “Shadow World” style. Each lord gets a paragraph with a good description to flesh them out as NPC’s. The Lords are in the 20-25th lvl range, so they make great higher level bosses. There are also stats and info on each lords Chief Captain; these NPC’s are 10-13th lvl.

4.0. City of Umbar. Like most ICE products, Umbar has great color maps with building color coded as well for Alchemists, Lay Healers, Mentalists, Magicians, Herbalists and other professions. Umbar is pre-MERP so all the RM classes are used in these early products. Another bonus for Shadow World use.

Sewer Map

There are layouts and information on two taverns, The Drunken Goose and The Red Sunset. These are perfect hang-outs, meeting places and starting points for a group of adventurers.

Middle Class Establishment…
….dive bar.

5.1. Describes the 6 city towers of each lord. There are floorplans and layout keys and are perfect for a thieving expedition.

8.0 Organizations. Several pages are dedicated to city organizations that the players could interact with or even belong to: The Wizards Guild, Smugglers, Merchants and Merchant Houses, Thieves Guild, City Guard, Healers and Healing Orders, Ships and Sailors, Armorers Guild and a Dark Cult. There are stats for key NPC’s of each, some building or lair layouts and certainly enough information to easily build adventures.

10. Castles of Umbar.

Umbar contains the layouts and keys for 6 keeps, each controlled by one of the lords. Nearby are farmlands and villages that support each keep and the city.

Finally there are the usual and useful summary charts for NPC’s, master military chart, herbs, key people, magic items and some supplementary adventure info.

Umbar is a fantastic “mid-size” campaign module that easily fills in the blanks of Plasidar. The format is easily understood by SW and ICE players, the art work is cool and the stats are straight Rolemaster. The additional info on ships is a great bonus for ocean adventuring, pirates and smuggling scenarios.

While Umbar is OOP, there are multiple online sources for usable PDFs. Check it out and enjoy!

Three Tales of Ranger Magic.

Several days ago, Peter blogged about the Ranger and then Hurin responded with his own blog post and thoughts on the Ranger. Since they both weighed in, how I could resist not adding my own ideas on the Ranger! Since there have been two previous posts, why not “Three Tales of the Ranger”? ( a subtle reference to the writings of Elor Once Dark and the three tales of Tor’lan p. 26)?

Peter. First let me tackle a few items from their posts. Peter, while you titled it regarding RMU, you also needed to drag in a 20 year old spell list from RM Companion to flesh out the Ranger. Fair enough, but that allows me to utilize other non-RMU spell lists for my own Ranger build! Yes?

Hurin. Welcome to the club! While you fully didn’t embrace “no-profession” in your post, you clearly embraced the spirit of flexible chargen. Your story about your Thief character that had convincingly played as a “Scout”, “Ranger” and even a “Paladin” is great anecdotal evidence that skills define the character and not an arbitrary profession designation! If your Thief was spending DP’s on spells, transcend armor and other non-core skills is he really a Thief? I also appreciate your eagerness to adopt Mentalism or Essence realms to build your ideal character. With some type of no-profession philosophy you can build whatever type of PC you want; and call him whatever you want. You didn’t transcend armor, you transcended class tropes! Congrats!

While I don’t use standard professions and build off a profession DP template, it’s easy to build a “Ranger” in my ruleset. Not only build a “Ranger”, but virtually any type of Ranger or subclass concept the player wants. However, I’m not going to dive into skill minutia, but instead define a Ranger via spell lists as Peter and Hurin have done. Luckily, I have a whole slew of non-ICE spells to choose from, that were designed for exactly this type of flexibility: BASiL Channeling! And guess what–they are non system, general d100 spells that could be PUBLISHED shortly for any d100 system.

But wait, doesn’t that conflict with some game company IP? NO.

RMU RANGER LISTS.

First, I wanted to address my personal issues with RMU Spell Law/Ranger lists. These are my opinions, not mean to be criticism since RMU was meant to be the gentle arbiter of all RM and ICE conflict.

Beastly Ways. Generally I think this is a great list and improvement from RM Spell Law. First, I’m not sure it’s “Ranger” spell list as I conceptualize the profession. Druid? Sure. Beastmaster? Absolutely. Shaman. Of course. I think it needs some tinkering and I would use SW specific names (rather than Terran animals). Definitely could be treated as a Mentalism or Essence list as well.

Inner Walls. Another improved list and a good generalist list for any spell caster. I think there are some small logic errors and OOP spells: Sterilization which affects other than the caster, and Martial Wall should have some logical mechanism for it’s implementation.

Moving Ways. Great spell list and probably what I would consider the “Core” list of the Ranger concept: it has to do with travel, movement and traversal. I would tinker with it and the 50th lvl spell “Submarine Ways” is a horrible 50th level spell. (allows a 50th lvl caster to swim 50 miles w/o fatigue!!!! WOW!!!!). That should be a 10th lvl or under spell. The 35th lvl spell Distance Running should be a 5th lvl spell–especially with groups that don’t focus on fatigue mechanisms.

Nature’s Guises. Good conceptually, but really just a grab bag of ideas. Not sure what 3rd lvl “Freeze” is doing in this list (should be in a “Nature’s Manipulation” list, and “Animal Thought” is a bit of an oddity as well-That should be in “Natures Communing”). Pruned and tightened up a bit and it’s a great spell list that would work for a Ranger, Shaman, Druid or Animist–if you even think there is a needed mechanistic difference between those classes!

Pathmastery. This is another list that seems tailor made for a type of Ranger. Again, there are some outlier spells that don’t fit thematically in the list: Nature’s Tongue comes to mind. I’m also not a fan of bonus to skill spells. It just feels lazy and it undermines the value of the underlying skill itself. At third level a +50 bonus to Tracking? Why would the player even bother with taking more than a handful of tracking skill ranks at lower levels?

Survival’s Way. This is a solid spell list with some problems. Again, bonus to skill spells like the 3rd lvl Wound Tending I find problematic. How does that work? Does it bestow knowledge to the caster? Better coordination? A steady hand? Divine intervention? Also the 35th lvl Adaption should be moved to the “Inner Walls” spell list.

To be clear, these RMU Beta lists seem like a solid improvement over past Spell Law iterations. If there is a requirement for 6 base lists it will suffice. However I feel that a this archetype needs around 2-3 lists: some type of Moving Ways, Pathmaster and Survial Ways. All three RMU lists above need tweeking but certainly act as a foundation for the character trope. Looking at the remaining lists, I would combine some of the spells in Survival’s Way into Pathmastery and Inner Walls, move the Change spells into Natures Guises and Beastly Ways and maybe make a new list Natures Commune for plant/animal speech, thoughts, control and mastery.

BASiL “Ranger” Lists.

So writing this blog to the “Ranger Series” of blog posts, I hadn’t reviewed my BASiL channeling in several years (working on Mentalism final revisions). Luckily, these changes were prior to RMU Beta spell lists. I’m going back to review and revise, but this was a great opportunity to analyze them after several years!

While I purposefully didn’t organize BASiL to track with Open, Closed or Base–it’s fairly evident that it can easily follow along with this process. So for a “Ranger”, “Druid”, “Animist”, “Beastmaster”, “Pathfinder”, “Scout”, “Warden”, “Hunt Master”, “Shaman”, “Witch”, “Forest Wizard”, “Path Blazer”, “Elf”, “Liberal”, “Eco-Terrorist” or any similar ridiculous class or profession name, these are the following BASiL core spells:

Natures Guises. This is a cleaned up version we discussed above. Discarded nonconforming spells, adjusted powers to level and attempted to increase utility of ALL spells in the list (rather than meaningless placeholders.) All these spells are about concealment, disguise, misdirection etc.

Natures Lore. This spell list consolidates “Divination” style spells for the Ranger or similar class. Spells are entirely informational or predictive.

Natures Defenses. This spell is purely self-reliant, with all spells about personal survival and protection vs. disease, poison, tainted food and water or extremes of temperature or elements.

I think these are CORE spells for any “Nature” style character. However, if I wanted to add some more specific powers that seem Ranger specific:

Natures Movements. This is a cleaned up and focused “movement list” for a Ranger. It covers different terrains: water, ground, air (not just a forest ranger from Tolkien!)

Locating Ways. This is meant to be the core locating power of a Ranger, Bounty Hunter (fantasy Mandalorian!), Beastmaster, Detective etc. There is a light overlap with Nature’s Lore, but far less than the overlap and redundancy of RM spell lists. None of these spells devalue, replace or simply add a bonus to RM skills.

Finally: though not really “Ranger”. Weather Mastery. This is more a Druid/Animist or Nature Cleric style spell, but depending on the campaign or setting could be used by a Ranger type for some weather and elemental control.

So this is just a classic Ranger build. If you want more Tolkien I would add a lesser healing spell list, lower level weapon rune spell list or even a lesser fire law list! (all can be found on BASiL spell lists btw). If you want a more martial Ranger, I would replace a few lists with some Mentalism lists for Warriors, Monks, Disciplars, Weapon Masters, Erudites etc :

So, lots of options, cleaned up spell lists, flexibility to build YOUR idea of a Ranger AND a real functional Ranger. Whatever that means to you! That is my Third Tale of the Ranger for the Rolemasterblog.com!

A Definitive Shadow World Master Atlas. What should it contain? Pt. 3

From the earliest days of the 1980 World of Greyhawk Folio, it’s been expected that comprehensive fantasy settings include a “Master Atlas” or a “Gazetteer” to set the tone and include fundamental information about the world. Nine years late, ICE introduced Shadow World: Master Atlas Boxed Set.

The first Master Atlas set the stage for the new Shadow World line–an expansion of the original Loremaster Series published between 1980-1984.  SW was now a professionally published product with a glossy presentation. The original boxed set included to books: the World Guide & Inhabitants Guide plus a poster size color map of the hemisphere. It was a great start to world building, but it never felt complete until combined with Jaiman: Land of Twilight and Emer: The Great Continent. Between those 3 products (all written by Terry Amthor) a GM could piece together a coherent and in depth profile of Shadow World augmented by the original Loremaster books (Iron Wind, Cloudlords of Tanara & Vog Mur). Since then, Terry has expanded SW Canon with 3 Emer regional books, Powers of Light and Darkness, 2 city books (Haalkitaine & Eidolon) plus Xa’ar in NW Jaiman. In the queue are Wurilis (NE Jaiman) the final Emer regional book and a re-write of Jaiman. Once those are completed, GM’s and gamers have an extremely robust overview of the two “main” continents: Jaiman and Emer.

It’s difficult to say if Terry will ever be able to tackle a third (or more) continent in such a comprehensive way with multiple books, but no one could argue that there isn’t enough material for years or even decades of game play with existing Shadow World material. And even with all the current SW books, both Emer and Jaiman have plenty of room for new material, short adventures, city books  and smaller regional supplements.

However, despite 4 editions of the SW Master Atlas, these books are hardly comprehensive. “World” level information is often found scattered throughout the other regional SW books, important cultural information is left unaddressed and various topics could use more campaign level information. In Pt. 2 and Pt. 3 I covered a number of these items that could be included, but I thought I would print off the Table of Contents for my own “Master Atlas” to show what could be in new version. I actually have 40-50 more pages that I haven’t incorporated into the master file, but this one is 281 pages.

Click below to download my own “Definitive Master Atlas Table of Contents” :

DMA ToC

Shadow World. What would a definitive Master Atlas look like? Pt. 2

There has been endless speculation about adapting Shadow World to the RMU ruleset, but every year that goes by only makes the task of converting all the Shadow World books into the new format less and less likely. On top of that Terry is methodically going through older source books and updating them and adding new content still using the RM2 ruleset. A third iteration of that process seems hard to imagine.

So where does that leave a new, revised Master Atlas? Last spring I wrote a blog post on this subject, but now with the Rolemasterblog having new readers and another year gone by in the RMU development process I thought I would revisit this topic.

To me, it seems unlikely  that SW will ever have a comprehensive reformat to fit the RMU rule set–that would be over a dozen books? But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a final Master Atlas that creates a definitive baseline for Shadow World and any or all future projects. In my mind, the DMA (Definitive Master Atlas) would set SW Canon, tackle a lot of the unaddressed issues and become the road map for any third party books (if that ever occurs). Of course, as egdcltd commented, you could also make the DMA system agnostic. To me, that’s a very interesting idea!!!

If you’ve followed my “Misc SW Material” thread on the RM Forums, you may realize that many of those partial files are part of a much larger document–our own, in house, DMA we’ve been adding to for 30+ years. Our own book is around 350 pages and that doesn’t include charts, illustrations/art, graphics or any Flora/Fauna material. A strong pass-through edit and I’m fairly confident that a DMA could be 500 pages. Is that possible to publish or print in hard copy format? I personally have no idea, so please weigh in on that.

Ok, so what would a DMA include? There should be guidelines on what material qualifies as “world spanning”, “canon” or appropriate for a Master Atlas and not just a regional source book. Should it incorporate some of the material found in the original Gamemaster Law? The Shadow World Players Guide was well received: although it was mostly collated content, the presentation, art and production value were topnotch. A definitive Master Atlas might only need 100-200 pages of new material, culling of 50-100 pages (timeline removed?) and the addition of 100 or so pages of material found in other source books that are better suited for a MA. I think much of the Powers could be incorporated into the DMA while information on the Iron Wind, Raven Queen or Silver Dawn should be more regional in nature.

What would be on your list for a Definitive Master Atlas?

  1. Should the ever changing timeline be removed and handled elsewhere?
  2.  Should there be a final Essence Flow & Greater Foci map of the hemisphere?
  3. What organizations  or content are “world-spanning” and what is “regional”.
  4. Is there any material in other SW books (canonical) that should be moved to a DMA?
  5. What topics or material should be included or expanded upon?
  6. Should a DMA be all encompassing or should it be a multi-book endeavor. For instance, it could be 3 parts: a MA, a Flora/Fauna supplement and a Gazetteer with a variety of maps and keys  that expands upon the geographical chapter in the current MA?
  7. A box set with hardcovers?
  8. A map supplement that has every map every printed for SW–new detailed maps of all the continents with key locations, some poster maps. Some enlarged city maps?
  9. Could this be a Kickstarter project to fund great artwork, mapmaking, a wiki  and project management?

Yes, there are already 4 versions of the Master Atlas, so is this even possible or worth discussing? I think the only issue is new content that would need to be written or approved by Terry. The rest, much like the Players Guide, would be editorial and organizational.

Any thoughts?

More Musings on Professions: Are they Necessary in Rolemaster?

For a game system that was predicated on “no limitations” for player characters, I still find the need to cling to Professions curious. More importantly–beyond PC creation and occasionally leveling–do Professions serve any other purpose? Is a Professional label important for NPCs–the most generally the predominant characters in a game world?

Besides acting as a general trope label, NPC’s in ICE products still list out all skills, skill bonuses and spell lists. Unlike D&D, there are no intrinsic skills or abilities imparted to professions at various levels in Rolemaster. The Profession listed on an NPC stat might give a GM a “sense” of that character, but what really matters is the stat block itself. There is really no need to know a Profession for an NPC–only their stats and abilities. That’s the whole point of a skill based character system.

In Shadow World Terry pretty much throws away strict adherence to Professions; in my mind this an acknowledgement of the creative limitations such a system produces. Loremasters and Navigators are clearly a Profession, but due to RAW, are first assigned a standard RM Profession and then given extra base lists. The Steel Rain, Priests Arnak etc are all given extra lists on top of the Profession (whether it be Mentalism, Channeling or Essence) with NO REGARD to realm limitations.

As a GM do you build an NPC from the ground up? When creating a 22nd level NPC do you go through all 22 levels of character build using Profession skill costs??  I don’t, I just fill in stat blocks based on a general sense of power level and the narrative needs the NPC serves. Have you looked at any NPCs in MERP or Shadow World and analyzed whether the skill stats have any relation to Profession skill costs, ranks or bonuses?

My point being that “descriptors” are more useful to me than some arbitrary Profession assignment in an NPC stat block that serves no other purpose in the game mechanics. Unless PC’s know the NPC’s Profession and then make meta-gaming decisions based on that, they serve no purpose.

That means, in practice, that Professions only serve a purpose for a handful of people; the 2, 3 or even 5 players in your group. All those rules, all the arguments about skill costs and the nitpicking about whether Weather Watching should be 2/3 or 2/4 for a Animist seem complex for complexity sake.

I’m building a city in Shadow World: Nontataku.  Like any RPG city, this is an NPC intensive environment. Per RAW (RM2), I need to assign a Profession to shopkeepers, blacksmiths, porters, etc. Obviously giving them a RM Profession is absurd. Assigning a shopkeeper the Profession of “Figher, Thief or even Mage” is pointless. Some versions of RM do add non-adventure tropes as additional Professions (craftsmen, laborer and even “no-Profession”) but, for me, that is just another example of “Rule for Rules”.

For me, simple descriptors like “Shopkeeper” or “Loremaster” or “Merchant” work better than some arbitrary, and limited, Rolemaster profession.