Adding Intrinsic Abilities to Spellcasters in Rolemaster.

It’s not uncommon that while I’m reading a fantasy novel, I’ll try to quantify how the magical rules might work in that setting. The original RM/MERP did a poor job of modeling Tolkien’s magic system (which was less codified than narrative driven), while it’s understood that Vance’s “Dying Earth” series was an inspiration for Gygaxian D&D magic.

There are some novels that strike me as being very “Spell Law” or “Rolemaster”‘; in these cases I will do a bit of research on the author to see if there is any tie ins. Other fictional settings lend the question of whether Spell Law could be modified to fit the magic system.

But rather than debate which work of fiction is best suited for Rolemaster, or what setting might be the best bit, I wanted to look at a few common “intrinsic” powers that are common in fantasy stories.

Magical Awareness. Magic users in many works of fiction have a sensitivity or awareness of magical fluctuations, momentous magical events or the nearby presence of great powers. Powerful castings can send reverberations through the “ether”, ascendant and immortal presences can create ripples through the cosmos or the types of magic casting can be detected by a like minded caster. Spell Law has several types of detection and analysis spells that provide similar functions, but they require active casting. Mentalists have a Presence spell that requires no PPs, and allows them awareness of nearby entities. Perhaps Essence and Channelers could also have some inherent awareness of their realm casting?

“RAW” Power Casting. In addition to casting spells with specific effects, often casters are able to channel raw magical energy waves, streams or emanations for devastating effect. Rolemaster had a “Power Projection” skill but if I recall it was pretty limp. Perhaps allowing casters a elemental Essaence attack that converts PPs to direct damage could be interesting.

Immunity. For spellcasters that have a “focus” or “aspect” to their magic (ie Firemage) they are often provided a natural defense or immunity from that aspect that increases with their power. Perhaps a caster receives a +1/rank vs fire for every spell rank of Fire Law?

These types of acquired abelites are more similar to AD&D than the skill focus of Rolemaster, but I do find it intriguing. Are there other abilities that could manifest for spellcasters that don’t require skill acquisition?

RMU has had a successful launch! Will Shadow World benefit?

As of today, 1-24, RMU is back to the #2 position at DrivethruRPG and is at Platinum level seller. That’s great news, and while there is much debate on the stickiness of buyers, the adoption of the rules in gaming etc., there is no doubt that RMU has swung the spotlight on Rolemaster and ICE to some degree. That’s a good thing!

Given that my focus is on adventure material, specifically Shadow World, I wonder if SW will benefit from the RMU “halo effect”. Will Shadow World get a bump as new RM users look at ancillary ICE products? I’d be curious to know if SW products are also getting a sales bump.

Shadow World Evil Realms: Wrangôr

Despite it’s reputation as a “kitchen sink” setting, mostly due to the inconsistent tone set by third party authors, I’ve always thought Shadow World had a unique feel driven by Terry’s artistic sensibility. I’ve written about the Many Flavors of Shadow World before and I’ve always appreciated the blends of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, anime and even goth and horror. Despite my own lack of interest in standard fantasy tropes, I acknowledge that there is still huge interest in the “Dark Lord/Dark Master” trope in roleplaying and pop culture.

Luckily, Terry has included this trope in many parts of Shadow World! Putting aside Lorgalis and other “Dark Lord” NPC’s in his fleshed out works of Emer and Jaiman, the Master Atlas outlines some other parts of Kulthea that might be readily adaptable for a traditional “Against the Darkmaster” style campaign.

Where might one look? Wrangôr

Per the Master Atlas:

Wrangôr: This is a realm of Lugrôki (Orcs), and Lugrôk-hybrids,
the result of centuries of captured slaves being
interbred with the Lugrôk population. This has
created a race smaller than the true “High
Lugrôki” but able to function during the day as
well as at night. They are no less ugly, however.
This program has been under the Dark Master,
a shadowy dictator who, with his War Troll
guard, resides in a citadel outside the port city
of Vashtak. The “Dark Master” of this realm is a Dyar Elf, a
powerful Mystic who rules through terror and
brute force—concepts which the Lugrôki understand all too well.

This is the only substantive reference to Wrangôr in any of the books, typical of the short summaries found in the Master Atlas. Wrangor is located on the eastern part of Thuul, the continent west of Emer that is begging to be fleshed out! It’s proximity to Emer’s southern reaches makes it accessible to adventures based out of EMER book III.

In short, if you enjoy the straightfoward nature of an evil Kingdom and a mysterious Dark Master, Shadow World has that too!

Has anyone run adventures in Thuul?

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?

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:

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!

A look at Kulthea’s “other” continents: Folenn and Falias.

I’ve been meaning to follow up on a comment Terry had made in my interview with him a few years back:

BH: Are there any other continents besides Emer and Jaiman that you’ve written notes/materials that you’d like to tackle?

TKA: A couple (Folenn and Falias) are kind of taken-care of. I would like to go southwest to Thuul…

So I thought I would start blogging about some of the other continents that haven’t been developed well, or at all, excluding the basic summary material in the Master Atlas. We can all agree that Jaiman and Emer are pretty well fleshed out with years of play material. While it would be nice to have Emer IV and Wurilis and Urulan to round out Jaiman, the existing material stands on it’s own.

First, Folenn. I’m assuming that Terry saw Folenn as partitioned off as the “Bladelands” even though there hasn’t been any further development of that material AND I’m not sure the Bladelands even fit into SW. I have to admit some ignorance on the topic of “Metal Express” or really anything about the Bladelands. Per the Master Atlas the word “Bladelands” is only mentioned 1 time and Folenn is described thusly:

17•FOLENN
An isolated, shadowy land on the edge of the
earth, Folenn has had little contact with the rest
of the hemisphere. It is shielded by the encircling
Gale of Hues (a name for the Essænce Flow surrounding
the continent), and is near the Great Barrier
dividing East from West
.

So it seems as though Folenn has been set aside for the Bladelands and that is that. Terry basically washed his hands of it and saw it as a done deal.

I was a bit more curious about his comment including Falia. Did I miss a source book that provided a lot of material on Falia? One of the non-canon modules perhaps? Falia is the home of the Vashaan Domain (a nation of angry elves, but I don’t see Falia as especially developed. Certainly no more so than the rest of the continents. Why would Terry mention Falias specifically as being “kind of taken-care of”? Does that imply that he has some additional work, notes or the start of a book that might be in his papers? That is intriguing.

What do you think? I’ll be looking at some of the other continents in upcoming blog posts and offering my own thoughts on future development.