It never fails that I when I go through the various SW books I find something that “slipped through the cracks”. Sometimes it’s a reference to a Loremaster that is never listed anywhere else, or a herb that is brought up once and was never included with the master list of herbs and poisons.
I’ve been going through the original Emer: The Great Continent boxed set as part of a review and I found these two critters:
I’m a firm believer that the Shadow World setting needs to lean into specific creatures, races and “monsters” and not rely on generic fantasy creatures like skeletons, vampires, orcs etc. So I rather liked both of the creatures and especially the Boerks “azure ivory” which is a great addition to the list of valuable trade goods and special material to be included in alchemy and magic item creation.
I checked for these creatures in Emer I, II and III, Master Atlas 3 & 4 but can’t find them. Did I miss it? Were they renamed and I skipped over it?
Of course the subject of A.I. is all the rage in our society nowadays, and there has been a lot of discussion about using this tech in content creation in roleplaying games. Recently, Wizards of the Coast banned the use of AI generated art in their products. But make no mistake about it, AI content is here to stay and will quickly become a invaluable tool artists, designers and writers. The wave is here and there is no stopping it.
I’m not going to make the argument against AI content creation; many better informed people have done so online and in public forums. I don’t disagree with them. And for now, I certainly support the arguments against using AI in monetized products; but what about fan made material, open source products and free OGL supplements?
First, let’s demise two types of basic content in RPG’s: text and art. Can AI generate basic copy for adventure hooks and seeds, or even fully fleshed out adventure plots? Sure, but they still feel a bit flat, derivative and lacking some “flair”. But that content will get better, more setting and game rule specific over time. But artwork and graphics are very different. My own self-publishing experience has shown me that artwork (illustrations, diagrams, floorplans and maps) are a major obstacle for me to put out average quality product. I don’t have the skills and I don’t have the time or experience to properly commission art for a product. For many amateur writers or small publishers good artwork is just not financially feasible or pushes the cost of publishing a product up to the point there is no profit making ability.
What about Shadow World? A rich setting with significant amount of content, but it’s author now passed away. Many of us believe that simply reorganizing and compiling existing information could make some of Terry’s products better and more user friendly. For example a Jaiman source book or a new, fully comprehensive edition of the Master Atlas. I’ve blogged about these ideas for years, but given the overall pace of SW publications and ICE’s current focus on RMU and HARP it’s getting less likely that SW will continue on in any official capacity or with substantial new publications. But AI can leverage existing SW material and IP and accelerate a publishing schedule that would introduce new SW books that are derived from CANON material.
My brother Matt (Vroomfogle) has started to deep dive into AI capabilities and see how they might be used for his own SW and Rolemaster gaming, but perhaps as an assist to generating some new material as well.
From Matt on his first endeavor:
I ran this campaign with the boys online around Covid…we actually played quite a bit, with maybe a couple dozen sessions. Some of them took notes which was pretty spotty, random, and didn’t make much sense. Well I combined the notes along with my own notes, and threw that into ChatGPT to get what was a pretty decent narrative for each session.
I then find myself wanting to expand upon descriptions of NPCs, groups, organizations….e.g., throw all the text about Yinka in ChatGPT to create a 1 paragraph summary.
Then, I went one step further and started creating images with Stable Diffusion….
This is all because we’re picking up the campaign again and I needed to summarize the story so far. Now, this still took a fair amount of work, but I finally got it together, in 37 pages!
But note the artwork. Barring the town map and the map of Jaiman, this was all AI generated art. Of course they are different styles: watercolor, line drawing, colored etc but it certainly provides a look at the opportunities AI may provide for amateur creators. So what types of projects might AI assist in for Shadow World?
Shadow World Herb Supplement. I’ve been working on fleshing out a supplement on SW herbs and wanted to add artwork for each plant. AI would make that very easy–and quick!
Shadow World Races – Illustrated. Based on previous comments on blogs and forums I think there is a real demand for illustrations depicting the various SW races. There are a lot them, and I think it can be hard to visualize them without a reference point.
The Nomikos Library. What would you get if you partitioned a vault, assessable to AI and uploaded the full SW Timeline and supporting historical materials? Then you wrote code to create a user portal where you could “Ask Andraax” any question about SW. That would be a powerful tool and perhaps add some differentiation and user value to the Shadow World setting.
These are just 3 simple products that could be developed without messing with CANON. They would be done quickly and at a fairly low cost! Combined with PoD and Drivethrurpg it could revitalize SW in a way that hasn’t been possible.
What are your thoughts? Check out Matt’s work on his “Legacy of the Y’kin” campaign over on the forums.
I was reading this Blog Post, and this sentence caught by attention:
“I was 90% sure…..This group of four would sit down to learn 5e D&D, make new characters, and run out of time before even rolling a single die outside of character creation.”
To be sure, I am completely unknowledgeable about current RPG rule systems, but I was always under the impression that Rolemaster, beyond it’s reputation for charts and deadliness, was also notorious for it’s lengthy chargen. So I was surprised to hear that these later editions of D&D and 5e specifically were seen as a cumbersome process.
I’ve always find the process of making a character, using flexible rules, was enjoyable and it was certainly the appeal of Rolemaster when I was first introduced in the 80s. But in the context of introducing new players to a game system, the blogger made a salient point:
“When your friends agree to sit down to a game of D&D, they want to *play* D&D, not learn rules or have to make dozens of choices they don’t really understand. That’s nerd shit. They want to start having these thrilling adventures, funny moments, and participate in the experiences that they hear you rave about. Or maybe see in video or hear about on podcasts.”
In other words, immerse new players into the game experience quickly without the minutia of game rules or technicalities. I had the chance to introduce D&D players to a high level Rolemaster adventure recently. By supplying them with pre-made characters, solid backgrounds and ran the adventure as more “high fantasy” than the typical Rolemaster grittiness, I was able to shepherd them through the first 3 chapters. While they were lost a bit on the some of the game systems intricacies, I leaned into the world building aspects of Shadow World. Either way, they had a great time and experienced a game system they might never have tried.
Perhaps Rolemaster will never be the “rules light” system that seem to be in vogue today, but it doesn’t seem to be an outlier any more with the more dense rules introduced in D&D. Is this the right take on this?
I like to regularly check the ranking for the Rolemasterblog. We have a lot going against us: the majority of content is for D&D style games, despite RMU, RM is seen as a legacy system and there are only a handful of people writing new content for Rolemaster or Shadow World.
This month we rank 35th. I think that is very impressive, although I admit to being lost on the methodology used for this ranking system. It certainly gives me hope that there is a dogged interest in RM, and the Rolemasterblog in general.
Peter’s newest post (welcome back Peter!) had me thinking of a recent opportunity that has arisen. My lifelong friend, and part of our gaming group in the 80’s, asked if I would be interested in DMing a game for his son and friends. These are kids in their early twenties, and are just casual gamers that played around with D&D the last few years.
I’m a bit rusty, my regular game group has slowly dissolved since COVID and for the last 35 years I’ve been almost exclusively a Rolemaster/Shadow World players barring a brief run of Pathfinder that Matt ran 10 years ago. I’d like to give it a try, but it would likely be a 1-shot “all-nighter” since they don’t live in commuting distance.
I’m left with a few decisions:
Run a D&D game for them. Downside: The last time I played it was 1st ed., so I would need quite a bit of review and learning. Upside: I suspect it’s the ruleset they are most familiar and I’m sure I could find a ton of game material to choose from.
Introduce them to Rolemaster. They would have to be open to it, but this would be the easiest for me. Upside: Tons of experience, I have lots of material. Downside: I wouldn’t want to bore/overwhelm them with chargen, but, that is part of the process in learning the character a game.
If I had my preference, I’d run them through my “Legends of Shadow World“. It was designed to be “tourney style” and playable in 4-6 hours. I think it’s dynamic material and I already have pre-gen characters for them to use. There is a “but”. It’s a 50th level adventure that leans into Shadow World quite a bit. So these new players would need to get their heads wrapped around skills, abilities and spells of a 50th level character and would need some deep background on SW given who their characters are.
As I get older, I’m more focused on collaborative story telling and setting material and less concerned about rules. With my SWARM ruleset, these characters have less skills and far less spells than core RM rules allow, so it’s not completely overwhelming. The style of play at 50th level is not that different than most any other level (barring 1st to 5th) and the larger than life personalities lend itself to more of a Superhero game style.
What do you think? Can relatively unexperienced D&D players handle 50th level Rolemaster adventure?
Back in 2021 I started listing out certain topics and content in Canon Shadow World that I thought should be re-examined and possible modified in any future work. One item I find particularly problematic is the introduction of the “Anti-Essaence”.
There are many threads to untangle in this subject and there are many threads on the RMForums and the Discord channels that touch upon it. Certainly everyone’s approach will be driven by their own campaign, ethos and background, but one of the first things I found appealing about Shadow World was it’s moral relativism. The inclusion of the “Anti-Essaence” feels very much like an attempt to square some circles created by the Unlife in general.
Many fantasy games have clear dualities, with opposing forces of absolute good and evil and graduations in between (alignment system of AD&D). The need for absolute evil is clear justification of any player actions within the game system, and simplified the narrative and direction of player action.
So before we get to the Anti-Essaence let’s review Terry’s thoughts on evil per the Master Atlas 4th Ed.
“Good” and “Evil” fall at the two extreme ends of a spectrum; most thinking beings exist somewhere in the middle ground.…. True Evil, the evil that is fostered by the Unlife, is the drive to destroy— and to feed on that destruction.… Without attempting to make a judgment on what is “evil” and what is not, the concept of pure, true, universal evil in the context of Shadow World applies only to the Unlife and its willing servants….
So obviously this leads to a number of problems discussed ad nauseum:
Are there inherently evil races?
2. Are Demons of the Unlife?
3. What’s the deal with the Dragonlords?
4. How do you tap into the power of the Unlife?
5. How does Unlife corruption work?
6. Are there 2 sets of power points?
7. Are Spell Law Evil Spells of the Unlife?
7. If “Evil Spell Lists” are channeled from the Unlife, how does an Essence Magic User actually be a Channeler?
There seems to be clear demising wall established by Terry, if they aren’t of the Unlife, they aren’t “True Evil”–whatever that might mean for you. But then we bring in the Anti-Essaence.
The Anti-Essaence concept seems more of “rule for rules” to try and patch up or systemized a muddy system. But the problem is that the Essaence isn’t actually the opposite of the Anti-Essaence: the Essaence is just power, neutral in nature. It’s application can be either beneficial or hurtful; but is it really “True Evil”? Are Sorceror spells any less or more evil than the Evil Magician spell list solid destruction? What isn’t evil about a fireball painfully incinerating an opposing force? Is subjugating a person against their will with a Charm spell, good and just?
Let’s examine this through the lense of the Dark Gods. Is Andaras absolutely evil and a user of the Unlife? (I know a few cat owners who would think so!!). Many of the Dark Gods have easily found, public temples in all the major cities. Does it make sense that a incomprehensible entity of undying malevolence, that seeks the destruction of all life would manage and maintain the administration of a such a temple? Would that God even be tolerated in a city? It’s clear that Terry doesn’t treat the Dark Gods as “Gods of the Unlife”. (In my SW, the Dark Gods are outcasts from Orhan which makes far more sense)
How did the Anti-Essaence get inserted into Shadow World? The source of power of the Unlife needed to fit into the Realm and magical system. There needed to be a game mechanism to model “power corruption” and thus the concept of the “Anti-Essaence” was included into the Master Atlas.
I don’t believe it was necessary and I see no issues with Essence or Mentalism users being corrupted and essentially becoming “Channelers” of the Unlife. Don’t you already allow the logically inconsistent “hybrid” spellusers in Rolemaster?
In short, “Anti-Essance” isn’t necessary, it doesn’t clarify any confusion and it complicates an intangible framework of morality. The Unlife is a nihilistic force destruction. It’s easy to oppose, but it doesn’t need to fit into our good/evil framework.
The section on “Artificial Beings” in the Master Atlas is a bit of mixed bag, but also contains some undeniably cool material. There are 7 different types of creatures classified as “Artificial” but I don’t think the category holds up well after a cursory inspection. There seems to be some fungibility between the words “artificial” and “construct” to the point of conflation.
So what are “Artificial Beings”?? In the first few paragraphs of the first entry, “Kaeden” we have this:
Like all constructs, Kæden cannot reproduce.
Further reading implies that many of the artificial beings were created in the First Era, mostly by Kaedena. Out of the seven though, only Kaeden, Gogor, Shards and Neng really meet the general definition of an “Artificial” being and then it confusingly states that:
Neng are able to reproduce, though may not interbreed with other races. In this way they qualify as a ‘race’,
I’ve written about N’eng here, and I think there is a strong argument that they should be moved to the Race section with the explanation that they were originally created, but have since developed through reproduction. They are certainly unlike immortal Shards, Kaeden that can “hibernate” or Gogor that were stored in jars for millennia. If you think about it, it implies that many of the races present on Kulthea were either created by the Althans or perhaps by the Lords of Orhan. Doesn’t that essentially make all races “artificial beings”?
The other three “artificial” creatures are: Sentinels, Golems and Elementals. Sentinels are “guarding statues”, immovable “golems” and I would argue that both should be categorized as true “Constructs”. The last, Elementals, are a curious entry in this category. Certainly they are summoned, and perhaps occur naturally via Essaence effects, but I’m not sure they belong here. A revamp of the Master Atlas could clump these in a “Elemental Creature” category (zephyr hounds, elemental demons etc) or perhaps under an expanded category of “Summoned Creatures”.
All in all this is a awkward category but I still love it. Kaeden, Shards and Gogor are unique, Shadow World specific monsters, that deserve more attention. I think there is room for even more unique creatures to define this setting and there is certainly room to reorganize the creatures presented in the Master Atlas. It’s clear that Terry generally avoided the standard fantasy creatures and leaned heavily into humanoids, Demons and servants of the Unlife. There seems to be few “Monsters of the Week” in Terry’s adventures, and in that spirit, any future works should reflect that ethos.
Certainly Shards are notable, but has anyone used Kaeden or Gogor in their SW adventure? Has anyone come up with a new creature that fits well into Shadow World and want to share?
Today I thought I would throw out some broad questions relating to Shadow World content and the timeline. It’s understandable that after 30 years and a dozen books you can find some discrepancies in Terry’s work, but sometimes there is more of a “Mandela Effect” where broadly held assumptions don’t match the text. Case in point, “Demons” are often depicted as being creatures of the Unlife, but is that accurate?
We no longer have the option of “Ask Andraax”, but most answers can be found with a quick search of the Master Atlas. I’ve explored some of these questions in depth before and I’ve provided my own solutions but I’m seeing increased activity and new participants in SW threads (probably due to RMU) so it might be a fun exercise for readers that haven’t had much exposure to Shadow World!
Can you answer these without referring to the books?
Are Demons of the Unlife? and When were Demons introduced to Kulthea?
When did the Unlife appear?
When did Elves appear and where did they come from?
When did the Essaence split into the three realms?
When did the Lords of Orhan appear?
When did the Dark Gods appear on Charon?
Where did the Dragonlords come from?
What do you think? What’s the right answer or what would be a better answer if Canon isn’t definitive? What other questions do you have about Shadow World?
Have fun and while you ponder these I’m working on my comprehensive Shadow World Trivia Test that I will publish next week!
It’s quite often that I see an online comment from a new Shadow World player about what books to buy. More specifically what Master Atlas might be appropriate putting aside the availability of each edition.
When I’m working on new material and always keep both the 3rd Ed. and 4th Ed. opened up as reference. For the most part, they are identical, barring the inclusion of “Character Creation” and “Bay of Izar” material in the 4th Edition. Generally I prefer the layout, typeset and organization in the 3rd Ed.
One small detail that strikes me the most is the interior title of the book. In the 3rd Ed. we see this:
THE MASTER SHADOW WORLD ATLAS AND ENCYCLOPEDIA KULTHEA THIRD EDITION
I believe this is the first time we see the term “Encylopedia” to describe the volume. I wonder if Terry wanted to differentiate between “Atlas” material that covers maps and places and the broader information that’s best described as “Encyclopedia”. By the 4th Edition, however, it’s back to this inner title:
ShadowWorld: Master Atlas 4th Edition
I’ve always been a proponent of expanding the Atlas substantially, and 3rd Ed. seemed like a start to that. Assuming people have access to multiple editions, what is your preference, 3rd or 4th Ed. and why??