Shadow World Economics. How many Alchemists can there be in Kulthea?

I feel like the recent publishing of RMU Treasure Law is a good time to delve into an issue I’ve touched upon slightly in past blog posts. How many alchemists are required in Shadow World to create all of the magic items and work the various enchanted materials and alloys found in the various supplements?

Terry was always adept at creating cool, and powerful, items for his various NPCs and key persona but a quick examination of the various Master Military Charts will show that most militaries, groups and organizations also had their “standard kit”, much of it superior or magical in nature.

A few examples:

  • There are 500 Duranaki Warriors, each with +10 Kynacs (ignore the fact that Keron has an intrinsic +20)
  • There are 42 Duranaki Captains Aids, each with +30db Bracers, +10 Shurikens, AT8 Cloak and headbands that protect as a full helm!
  • Sulini has 500 Warriors, each with a +5 Broadsword and +10 bow.
  • There are 1600 Sentinels in the Elven Forest in Jaiman. Each has Cloak +40 to hiding, +5 Long Knife and +10 Longbow.

This are just general militia members. If you look at specialized groups like the Eight Orders, the Messengers, Navigators or other secret or powerful groups then the number of magic items really piles up. The Loari are currently making A LOT of specialized magic weapons for the Kuluku–this is on top of their “normal” alchemical/enchanting work that they do. Then, dig into the NPCs, many loaded with powerful magical items, you get the sense that magic items may not be that rare in Shadow World.

But there are really two issues at play: who is making the more powerful items that, based on Rolemaster item creation requires very high level Alchemists and perhaps more importantly, how can they produce the volume of magic items no matter what their potency? One could argue that militias, armies and guards draw upon an armory for their kit and are required to hand those items back at the end of their service. So once a certain inventory of magical gear is generated it remains stable after that.

One thing that Rolemaster players love is digging into the realism/verisimilitude/data used in the game! One would imagine that with all of these magic items there are many mass production facilities found throughout Kulthea, or at the least, each powerful organization has their own specialized Alchemist factory to generate the unique items for their members. But that really doesn’t seem to be the case. Looking through the various city books, Alchemists are about as common (or rare depending on how you see it) as other specialized casters like Astrologers.

Magic items are cool, and Terry came up with a lot of neat and interesting items. But he didn’t seem that concerned with the the underlying economics that were needed for his world building. This is more noticeable because Rolemaster was one of the first systems that created a workable system for making magic items: the Alchemist lists. One of the principals of Rolemaster Alchemy is the binary process of Crafting and Enchanting. Magic items must first be manufactured using “Work” spells found on the Alchemist Base lists, and then spells or abilities are imbedded in the object.

I have a lot of issues with this approach, so I’ve done away with those “Work Materials” spell lists. Work spells are really “spells as skills” and removes any incentive for tradecrafts. Furthermore, there is no requirement for a caster to learn the appropriate craft skill; they just learn the applicable spell and somehow gain knowledge of the crafting process that would take years or decades to master? Should a skinny 20th level Alchemist be able to Work Laen just because he can cast a spell? Where does the knowledge of forge work, hammering, smithing or any other applicable subskill come into play? It doesn’t under the Alchemist spell lists.

A better solution, one already provided by Terry solves a lot of the issues around bonus item creation. Materials that have an natural bonus can simply be crafted into suitable items: swords, armors, cloaks, shields etc. through tradecrafts; spellcasting is not necessary. Per the Master Atlas:

These correspond (roughly) to alloys described in Rolemaster.
The number in brackets is the intrinsic bonus given to a blade
fashioned of this material because of its hardness and ability to
hold an edge.

So Laen has a natural +25 bonus. If one wanted to stick to corresponding “levels” of such material–in this case 20th level to correspond with the Spell Law “Work Laen” spell then crafting Laen would require 20 ranks of smithing or laenworking or whatever skill the GM indicated. Standard skill acquisition of 2 ranks/lvl means that a competent craftsperson can work Laen by 10th level. It doesn’t require a 20th Level Alchemist Spellcaster. This fits well with many of the cultures that utilize Laen but don’t seem to have expansive Alchemist populations. The Udahir in The Iron Wind being one example.

Separating the Crafting process from the Enchanting process supports the need for tradesmen or acquiring tradeskills. It allows for large production of bonus items by regular craftsmen using superior/enchanted materials like Tethium, Keron or Quevite. So Alchemists can utilize workshops of skilled craftsmen and they can spend their time on Embedding unique abilities or spells into those items.

Do your players utilize Alchemists to make them special magic items? Are Alchemists common in your Shadow World campaign? Should Alchemists need to be 15, 20th or even high level to create magic items from superior materials like Laen, Eog or Star Iron?

What are your thoughts?

This is my Shadow World. What’s yours?

I’ve had the opportunity to correspond and talk with many other Shadow World games over the last decade or so and one aspect I really enjoy is hearing about their own interpretation of the setting; what aspects of Shadow World they use a what they don’t. Some of that trickles into the forums and discord server so it’s clear that no two Shadow Worlds are alike. That’s the way it should be!

I’m always irritated when I read a SW review that describes it as a “kitchen sink” setting. I’ve discussed this before, and it’s probably the result of the early third party modules that varied in style and tone, but it’s also true that the 1st Ed. Master Atlas and even Jaiman could be considered standard fantasy fare. When takes as a whole though, Terry’s collected works, “Canon”, is as distinct in flavor and often very unique in material as any other established setting.

I’m going to avoid a compare and contract situation, but I think Kulthea stands up well compared to the 2 standard AD&D settings: Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms. It’s certainly more unique than the “white bread” Harn or Midkemia. But like all settings, each campaign, and each GM dips into the materials differently. Perhaps by preference or taste or driven by the players.

Throughout this blog I’ve written quite a bit of material that references my own Shadow World campaign–a campaign that I consider 1 single story despite 30+ years with different groups and players. In my mind, it’s been a continuous narrative, interwoven and ultimately heading towards a climatic conclusion that will never occur!

Over those years, I’ve adopted, discarded and changes a number of setting elements as Terry produced new material and covered new areas but some common elements remain a core part of my campaign style. I thought I’d note a few and invite others to describe their own unique elements in their Shadow World game. For this blog I’m looking for setting elements that are used or not used and not Rolemaster Rules…

  1. I’ve eliminated “Orcs”. Not just Orcs, but all of the standard D&D critters: Goblins, Trolls, Ogres and Giants. While Terry came up with new names for these races, I always felt they diluted the atmosphere of my game and leaned to heavily on ingrained tropes my players know too well. I use Quaidu, Neng, Krylites and of course the Unlife (which can infect all living things) as common opponents of the players. It’s not a hard adjustment, Terry uses very little of these races in his material.
  2. The Unlife. My use of the Unlife embraces the standard SW stuff: Priests of Arnak, Messengers etc but I’ve expanded it with a more liberal use of possession we call the “Soulless”. I also de-emphasize standard undead tropes (no ghosts, wraiths or vampires) and instead a Priests ability to Turn is effective against Unlife possession and manifestation. In fairness this was in no small part due to the Evil Dead and Deadites. The players experience more existential dread from fearing anyone being infected or possessed than being confronted with a standard Undead creature.
  3. I don’t really use Loremasters. It’s too easy to lean on a powerful mysterious figure that can save a group, offer advice and guidance and provide direction. As a GM it’s basically my avatar that ends up leading the party; a role I shouldn’t have. Instead I use Navigators quite a bit. Not only do I depend on the fickle and unpredictable nature of Essaence Flows, but travel is part of the setting. Getting from one place to another can be just as challenging as the ultimate goal and Navigators are an essential tool. Navigators can be funny(I play a few favorites with a very dry and fatalistic wit) but more importantly, completely neutral. In many cases wickedly mercenary with the group.
  4. Apparent to anyone that reads this blog, I lean heavily into the Gods. They are real and manifest, so they should have a significant role in the goings on of the world. But they are also fickle and capricious, so when they do provide aid or guidance it can be with a hidden cost or inexplicable purpose.

Of course I’ve blogged about ret-conning a number of things in Shadow World as well, but these are just some basics. I’m curious what you use, or don’t use, in your Shadow World campaign?

The “Rings of Power” and “The Court of Ardor”.

I am no Tolkien scholar, but I’ve been reading a bit about the new Amazon show Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power. A summary that I think is from the Silmarillion:

Morgoth was the most powerful of a race of beings known as the Ainur, which were immortal spirits who existed before Creation

Previously called Melkor, he became what’s known as a Valar, each of which is attracted to a particular aspect of the world. Melkor was drawn to violence. After a battle with other Valar during which Melkor literally plunged the world into darkness, he dominated Middle-earth while the other Valar retreated to Aman in the far west, settling in Valinor, which would later become home of the “Undying Lands” for the elves.

After the awakening of the elves, the other Valar waged war against Melkor and defeated him, after which he was sent to Valinor, where he feigned penance but secretly plotted against the elves whom he blamed for his comeuppance. Melkor destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor and was subsequently renamed Morgoth, escaping to Middle-earth where he resumed his rule.

I was intrigued. As a long time fan of The Court of Ardor I generally ignored the Middle Earth components and used the material in my Shadow World campaign. But the recent publicity around the new Amazon show made we take another look at Terry’s work from way back in 1983. Keep in mind that reference to the Silmarillion in gaming material way back in the early days of RPG’s was obscure to most. Many reviews of The Court of Ardor expressed confusion or dismissed the entire premise as not fitting into Middle Earth.

Here is Terry’s “set up” for the modules plot:

The Court was formed in the waning years of the First Great Age of Arda. when Morgoth, the Black Enemy, still ruled much of the world, possessing the Silmarils in his Iron Crown. As is well known, after the death the of the Two Trees of Valinor (which had lighted the world), the Valar created the moon and the sun , which were much brighter than the dim luminescence which had filtered to Middle Earth from Valinor and the Trees, and itblinded and drove into hiding nearly all of Morgoth’s servants. Only in the night and the relative dimness of the moon could they roam abroad and cause terror. and even then they cursed the silvery lunar light. preferring overcast skies.

Morgoth thought long upon this, and decided that the sun and moon be destroyed so that his dominion would be assured. Sauron being his chief general, he could not he spared for even this most important of tasks. Instead, the Black Enemy called upon Ardana the Astrologer. A Noldor of power, she was among the mightiest or the Eldar whom Morgath corrupted to his cause, and, perhaps, one of the most tragic. She was once afollower of Elbereth, a lover of the stars. She knew much of the ways of the Heavens — so she was charged with the fall of the Lights.

The Astrologer travelled Middle-earth, seeking method by which she could bring down the sun and moon, gathering followers in her wake.

Let it be said here that, for the most part, Elves cannot be corrupted to ‘evil’ as such. They can be seduced by clever word, and convinced Of things which are not so. In this way, Ardana, a powerful Lady of the Eldar, appearing in shimmering rainment, convinced many of the Elves that her plan what best for them: that the glaring lights in the sky were ‘evil’ contrivances designed to block out the light or Elbereth’s stars, cherished by all Elves.

James over at Grognardia wrote this:

The Court of Ardor was written by Terry K. Amthor and filled with 62 pages of dense text and some gorgeous maps by Peter C. Fenlon. The supplement described a land far to the south of Middle-earth called alternately Ardor or Mûmakan, which was home to number of elven lords who had cooperated with Morgoth during the First Age. I remembered nothing of this from The Silmarillion and, though I’ll admit my appreciation of the finer details of Tolkien’s world were shaky at best, it struck me as strange, if not impossible, to imagine evil elves in Middle-earth. Stranger still was that these evil elves used magic associated with a Tarot-like deck of cards supposedly created by Morgoth himself. There were also peoples and places that had no connection to Middle-earth in the supplement as well, not to mention an epic plot line involving Morgoth’s half-elven children and the continuation of their father’s plan to destroy the Sun and the Moon.

As a kid, I was baffled by all this. The Court of Ardor was undeniably cool, but it was also undeniably inappropriate to Middle-earth. I couldn’t figure out then (nor now) just how this product was ever released under the Middle-earth label, since, except for names here and there, it was seemed like it took place in its own fantasy world rather than in Tolkien’s sub-creation. But it was also strangely compelling and while, in retrospect, I find it a little too over the top for my liking, it is quite well done and I can easily imagine how someone who took it up and ran with it would have a great campaign using it. I myself did not, mostly because, while I liked many of its ideas, I somehow found myself in the odd position of simultaneously thinking it didn’t belong in Middle-earth and finding it too strongly associated with it to be able to use it.

Here is another over at The Age of Ravens (he mistakenly attributed CoA to Fenlon and not Terry):

You see, what sane person gets the license to craft an RPG for Tolkien’s world and then releases three campaign settings that pretty much no one but hard core Tolkien diehards would even know exist? Well, Pete, I guess because that is exactly what he did.

I mean, these supplements are remote in the extreme, and he was pretty much just whistling out his ass when it came to the creation of The Court of Ardor. Still, why not try to talk about dark elves and lands no one ever really thought to explore or even had a hand in the various works of middle-earth that even Silmarillion readers would remember?

It’s certainly true that Jacksons’ “LotR” trilogy generated renewed interest in Middle Earth and definitely a new appreciation for the quality of ICE’s MERP product line. I wonder now if Amazon’s new show will do the same for Terry’s “odd” little book, “The Court of Ardor”? Will we all be talking about Morgoth and the 1st Age?

One final thought. Did most of the major MERP books have a timeline for that product/region that included the 1st Era? Did the authors include 1st Era adventure ideas? That would be another feather in ICE’s cap to have that old 1st Era becoming “cool”.

What do you think? I wish Terry was here to share his thoughts on the new series.

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:

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.

An Interview with Terry K. Amthor. Author of Shadow World and I.C.E. Founder.


Anyone reading this RolemasterBlog should be familiar with Terry K. Amthor. One of the founding members of Iron Crown Enterprises and author of Court of Ardor, Lorien and Thieves of Tharbad (to name just a few). Terry is now the principal of Eidolon Studios where he continues to publish fantastic Shadow World material. There have been detailed accounts written about I.C.E. and their history and the epic battle for M.E. licensing, so I thought it would be enjoyable to get a more personal perspective from Terry himself.

BH: Terry, there have been several comprehensive articles about ICE and in depth interviews with I.C.E. founders but relatively few interviews with you. Anecdotally, there are few designers and authors that have survived on one setting or rule-set as long as you. Shadow World was introduced in 1989 and you’ve been the master architect for all of that time. Do you have thoughts or perceptions on your own role or influence on RPG’s?

TKA: Well, to be honest, I think what limited notoriety or influence I have had was my role in Middle-earth Role Playing, as the editor and author of several books. MERP was one of the biggest selling RPGs of all time after D&D. And I was happy to stand in Pete Fenlon‘s shadow; he’s kind of larger-than-life. But I’m also proud of my role in the creation of Rolemaster. Olivia Johnston and I basically invented the Mentalism realm, and many of those critical hits and spell lists were written by me. Now of course I look at RM and think that it is rather daunting. Ha! Regarding Shadow World, I was honored and excited that it was agreed that I would be the world creator. I built heavily on our work in Iron Wind and went from there.

‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’

And in a somewhat unrelated topic, I got a little fame for my article ‘Queer as a Three-sided Die’ in White Wolf Magazine back in 1994, about feeling isolated as the only gay gamer (besides one other guy in the industry) that I knew of. The WW guys said it got a tremendous response. The last few years at GenCon now they hold a seminar with that name.

BH: As you mentioned, your 1994 article in White Wolf “Queer as a Three-sided Die” helped motivate a recurring seminar at Gen-Con of the same name. You’ve included both gays and women in Shadow World: the Sarnak amazons and the Komaren Cluster “Sherikaan” (SW term for gays). There seems to be an emphasis on “minorities”, can you elaborate on that and its importance to you in your creative process

TKA: I dunno, it just seemed natural to me. I knew I was taking a risk of offending people including an entire gay culture in SW, but that was when I was writing SW unsupervised for the first time and thought, what the hell. (The main protagonist in my SW novel is also gay). I never got any negative feedback, and even got a few letters and emails praising it.

As far as women and other races, it just seemed natural to me, especially after Middle-earth, which is totally dominated by men, (except for Galadriel), and the only people of color were savages from Harad who served Sauron. Back in the 80’s the gaming world was overwhelmingly white and str8. Fortunately it has changed quite a bit, along with popular culture.

BH: Your background in architectural design must have played a role in your work. Is your creative process driven by physical design or does narrative drive the form factor?

‘but how does that work, really?’

TKA: Ha! Though in many ways I think my architecture experience helped, sometimes I think it has held me back from creating really exotic building designs. Pete would design these beautiful but totally impractical structures, and in the back of my mind I was always wondering. ‘but how does that work, really?’ I’ve gotten a little better at letting go over the years, I hope.

BH: One of your earlier SW products, Jaiman, had the Dragonlord fortress–that was pretty fantastical! 

TKA: Heh, yes that was kind of wild. But to be honest, I can’t remember if my design came first, or if I had to retro-design it after the artist’s work. I think the latter.

BH: Many of us are in our 40’s or 50’s and consumers of early RPG’s in the heady days of the 80’s RPG industry. Early business successes are often attributed to “lightning in a bottle”–a mixture of right time, right place and right team. Charlottesville is a special place and UVA is an amazing institution. Certainly I.C.E. benefited from a confluence of factors: a start-up industry, Fenlon’s maps and the original ME campaign, your layouts and design aesthetic and a solid publishing team. I.C.E published A LOT of quality material in a short period of time, 1980-1990. What is your perspective of that time and the factors for success?

TKA: I have to say that I have often thought how different my life would be if I had not allowed myself to be talked into going to my first D&D session by a friend, way back in 1976 when I was first year in college. I loved LotR, but the game idea sounded silly to me. We went and I joined Pete’s early quest to destroy the Iron crown and I was hooked. Most of the people who would go on to found ICE were there. We had many all-nighter gaming sessions.

After ICE was established, we often joked that we were probably the only RPG company run by committee, for better or worse. All the other major companies of the time seemed to be run by one man. Pete was the driving force, but all of us founders had a voice. And yes we had an enormous pool of talent! Most of us were UVa grads, but we managed to get some great freelance artists and writers. It was an exciting time, especially the early 80’s. We all put in long hours, and often were down in shipping, collating and packing games.

“gold standard”

BH: MERP is considered a “gold standard” for M.E. reference material. Anecdotally I’ve heard that Peter Jackson used I.C.E. material in the LOTR production. Had you heard that?

TKA: Yes, that was amazing that Pete managed to secure the rights. And yes I heard that as well. And looking at the cover of ‘Lorien’ by Angus McBride (which I art directed), its hard not to think that he was inspired by some of our art and materials. I prefer to be flattered about that. However, how the license holders treated ICE when the movies were about to come out and they smelled big money, that was inexcusable.

BH: Many of the larger ME books are as much reference material as a gaming product. Were you all Tolkien scholars? With all the other product lines you were working on, how did the company manage the output and product quality? I can’t imagine many companies taking on the challenge of mapping Moria!

TKA: Pete and I both prided ourselves on being Tolkien ‘scholars’ and we researched what was available. I learned how to write Elven script, learned a lot of vocabulary, and got deep into the lineage of the Eldar, especially Galadriel and her history. It was an obsession of mine back then. Of course, sadly, most of that is gone from my brain-cells.

As far as quality, I don’t know, but we wanted to get it right when dealing with Middle-earth history, but make an exciting game. Meanwhile at ICE I moved from editor to production manager to art director, so it was a crazy time for a guy in his 20’s. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even the office moves, the hiring, the buying new technology and being the go-to Mac geek (while we had Coleman the PhD in Computer Science, who was above that crap).

I was so excited to bring Kevin Barrett on with Space Master. (I actually drove up to Toronto with a monstrous KAYPRO computer to meet Kevin, and we spent a weekend working out Space Master. The whole thing started as a random mailed-in submission that Coleman and I both liked (that was rare!!!)

BH: How do you see Shadow World in the ecosystem of RPG settings?

TKA: I am pleased that it has survived and remains profitable, but these days it is kind of a niche setting, along with many others. Long gone are the huge print runs and massive distributor networks of the 80’s and 90’s. And from the beginning, SW suffered from some unfortunate compromises in the early days. I had to include Fantasy HERO stats, which took up a lot of space, and from what we could tell, there was very little interest from the FH players. I was also ‘encouraged’ to accept some less than high-quality modules that had little to do with my idea of SW. A couple of the other ICE principals strongly wanted SW to be very a generic, plug-and-play world, which I was strongly against.

I was grateful that, when I left ICE in 1992 and moved to Northern Virginia, Pete allowed me to take SW, and licensed RM to me for a minimal fee. That’s when I founded Eidolon Studio and began self-publishing. Then I could do whatever I wanted. SW did also maybe suffer because it got the reputation of being a high-powered world. I think that was possibly unfair; there were high-powered NPCs, but plenty of low-level adventure possibilities. It may have also suffered because it was tied so closely to Rolemaster, which had a rep as a complex high-powered system. SW is definitely a very narrow kind of setting. It is high fantasy with sci-fi elements (which people love or hate), and a very detailed history, with major plots going on that the PCs might never know about. Like Rolemaster, it might seem daunting to a GM just starting out, but I hear about people jumping in to SW all the time.

BH: MERP had the benefit of Tolkien’s world-building and history. Did that later influence your work on the extensive SW timeline? Not many settings have 110,000 year+ of back history!

TKA: Absolutely. I wanted SW to have a deep history of its own with legends and epic events that most current inhabitants assume are just stories. But the gods are real. And that ancient history is infused with tech, and even in the present, a space empire is watching Shadow World from orbit. It’s all kind of fun. One of my tenants of Shadow World Is the Arthur C. Clark Law “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

BH: Typeface/font choices have been an important design element for the Shadow World line. However, you made an abrupt change with the Xa’ar book. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: I had to go pull out a copy of Xa-ar to see what you meant. Back with Eidolon (before returning to the fold of the new ‘ICE’) I went a little crazy with typefaces. They can tell a story and add a lot of flavor. And the type foundry ‘P22’ came out with all these cool handwriting faces… I think I used a lot in a free downloadable file of handouts for the GM of clues.

BH: How do you think your SW writing has changed over time? The Emer box set and MA addendum had a much darker feel than the original SW box set. Eidolon had a touch of anime and steampunk. You’re now working on Wurilis; do you choose a tone first or does the tone reveal itself while you write?

TKA: To be honest, I had not noticed a change of tone. The books you refer to are 20 years back, and I was also production manager at ICE and fighting for some quiet time to write, so it’s hard to say. When I was close to a deadline on a SW book I would literally lock myself in my office, assign an assistant to run production (it was not that hard) and ask that no one disturb me for days. I don’t choose a ‘tone’ but Wuliris is an area with a lot of buried ancient tech, so that will be evident in the book. I always thought of SW as a dark place, what with Priests Arnak and evil gods, but I never wanted it to be gratuitous or gory (despite our critical hits, I guess!).

I do hope that my writing has improved through practice over the years. Practice, reading, practice!

BH: Let’s talk about your creative inspirations. You’ve mentioned your passion for Star Trek and it seems there is some anime influence as well? Any other movies, books or aesthetic that guides your work or has been an inspiration?

TKA: There’s no question that Anime has been an influence. I was totally in love with Hayao Miyazaki‘s ‘Laputa, City in the Sky.’ It was an influence for Eidolon, though of course the two are completely different cities. Miyazaki’s characters and storytelling, and his amazing steampunk settings, are really inspiring. His movies really inspired my vision of the SW steampunk Loari Elves. Watching his movies makes me feel young again.

BH: I occasionally see comments (or complaints) about the lack of new products for SW. But if you really look at the list of SW books there is easily enough material for YEARS of play. I think what people are saying is they want new material from you! That’s a good thing-right? Do you feel pressure from SW fans to “produce” or to come up with something new and original?

TKA: Well, we have built up a catalog, but obviously we are missing some key products like Emer I and II and Haalkitaine, so I am working on the revisions of those. I am a slow writer, but we also have some freelancer submissions that I am working on editing.

BH: You’ve recently moved back to Charlottesville after almost 25 years. Has that impacted your creative process–coming back to “where it all started”?

TKA: I love being back in this wonderful town; it is so unlike northern VA/DC. Part of me wishes I had never left, but water under the bridge. I am still getting fully settled and hope to meet up with more of my old friends again who are still here. I have a nice condo with a beautiful view out of my home office.

BH: Media companies often look for ways to monetize content they already own in different ways. For example, Disney is masterful about taking a brand and developing it through multiple channels: movies, books, games, toys etc. You’re doing that now with your Shadow World novel but have you thought about other opportunities? Certainly a d20 conversion of existing SW material could potentially open up a huge player market for you. Is there demand for licensing a SW creatures line to a miniatures company? That Eidolon map you had printed on canvas was fantastic (and a great gift item). I think someone did a SW comic book concept. Just throwing out ideas but wondering if you’ve explored anything.

TKA: A D20 version of the Atlas was started but several editors dropped the ball. It fell on my lap, but my knowledge of D20 was insufficient to do the system charts, so it once again fell by the wayside. As far as miniatures, that is outside of my arena. The current ICE owners could better answer.

BH: Given the size of the timeline, the number of Master Atlas editions there have been miscellaneous errata and inconsistencies in the SW books. Putting that aside, is there any earlier material you’d like to retcon to better fit your current view of Shadow World or something significant you’d change or delete?

TKA: Yes there are inconsistencies. SW needs a content editor. I’d really like someone to redo the Jaiman book as an atlas of the continent without all the dungeons.

BH: Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. Have you looked at any of the Numenera products? Multiple past ages, high tech, the “Iron Wind”, strange constructs and artificial creatures. While any RPG borrows from common tropes and memes, there seems to be a distinct bit of SW in Numenera. Any thoughts on that?

TKA: When Numenera came out, I admit I was a bit annoyed because it smelled like SW, and the game was selling on an idea of ancient tech, and that very evocative art of the floating crystal. And Monte worked at ICE during my Shadow World time. But Monte created a very different and compelling universe. If maybe SW inspired him, I’m flattered. I wish him the best.

BH: Some of the ICE founders have moved on to other gaming companies. Have you ever been interested, considered, or been approached to work at another gaming company. (besides your work with Kult)?

TKA: Pete and Coleman went on to Mayfair and of course, Catan! I could not be happier for them. But no, we don’t really talk about business.

BH: Given the various changes that have occurred at ICE, I think a lot of people are probably confused about the status of some of the older SW products. You mentioned Emer I, II and Haalkitaine. Can those just go through a reprint or do you need new material & artwork? Are there any other older products you would have liked to see re-published? 

TKA: The Emers and Haalkitaine all suffer from sub-standard artwork (I was on a very tight budget, doing those books on my own!), and as the years went by, I thought of a lot more material I wanted to cover in those books (Emer III ended up being almost twice as large as those early books). So for me, new editions were imperative. Actually I am working on Haalkitaine and Emer I now; Haalkitaine might be out by the end of the year.

BH: The lack of a full-time employees and in-house resources must make it difficult to spin out new ideas or products. On the other hand, you have a fairly broad skill set: writer, designer, page layout, art etc and you continue to generate well produced and well-received products. Is there ever times when you feel like “ramping up” and growing Eidolon studios or even doing a Kickstarter campaign?

TKA: I’m not sure what you mean? Right now Eidolon pretty much exists to do ICE products. I am doing layout for some HARP books, which is some nice easy income, and hope to continue our relationship with producing mutually lucrative Shadow World books. I don’t really have the time (or much desire) to go off and do something independently outside of those borders. Some other publishers have had big success with kickstarters, but that’s really not my call.

BH: You seem to have covered all the major elements in the “SW story”: gods, major organizations, key artifacts, etc. With this framework in place, is it now just “filling in the gaps” with regional material like Wurilis and Emer IV?

TKA: Pretty much! I mean, should I ever get bored with this hemisphere, there is always the East, beyond the Barrier. But there is still so much to tell here.

BH: Between the Grand Campaign, the timeline and your Shadow World novel, the larger meta-narrative appears to be heading towards a climactic conclusion. Do you have the major plot points outlined? Are there any new elements that have yet to be introduced to GM’s or players in the books so far? (spoiler-free of course)

TKA: Heh-heh. Yes, events seem to be heading to a few major confrontations. The novel obviously uses the characters I’ve created, but I assume that GMs will put their own PCs in those key positions where they can ‘save the world’ if they desire. And at the rate I am going, the big catastrophe is years away in real-world terms…

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…

BH: Throughout the SW books there are tantalizing tidbits or references to things, places or people that haven’t been covered yet. (My favorite is the Mazatlak Pillar City). Is there any person/place/thing that you’ve referenced that you’d like to explore further?

TKA: I’d like to learn about Mazatlak Pillar City too! 😉 Yes, in the Atlas (and in the Emer I maps) I designated a bunch of locations with little or no description. They were mainly meant as teasers for the GM to develop, but I may get to some of them eventually.

BH: You commented that you weren’t happy with the art in Emer I and Haalkitaine but I’d like to get your thoughts on RPG artwork for the last few decades. Like D&D, ICE started with b&w line illustrations and hand drawn layouts and regional maps. You then oversaw the artwork for MERP and the popular Angus McBride covers (which might have influenced the artwork for the LOTR movies). I recall you diving into computer rendered art for the Shadow World website in the 90’s. Now RPG’s have embraced full color illustrations that seem drawn out of computer gaming: exaggerated or out of scale features or excess musculature drawn from comic book aesthetics. There has been some comments on the forums about re-introducing hand drawn and colored maps but that sounds a bit too labor intensive? That’s a lot to unpack, but I guess the question is. if and how has your artistic sensibility has changed over the years?

TKA: That is a long, complicated, and unfortunately often painful story. Back in the old ICE, we often were very late in paying artists (and sadly, I fear ICE did not pay some artists what they were owed, but I am not sure. I had no control over how money was paid out). This continued until the current managers (GuildCompanion), who are very careful about staying in budget and paying on time. However, with smaller numbers of product sold ICE cannot afford the prices of the well-known hand-drawing artists any more.

(re: the Emer and Haalkitaine art, I got that mostly from copyright-free books and um, other sources.)

I experimented with computer rendering back in the 90’s with a little program called Bryce, which was great for landscapes, but sucked beyond that (and print-quality renderings took hours, even on the most powerful Macs back then). But again, I had no money, and it seemed like a way to convey some atmosphere. I know some people resist it even now, despite the gorgeous renderings by our artist Craig, but I think they really convey the Shadow World.

Now, since we are doing Shadow World books in full color, we are sticking with computer renders for illustrations (I work very closely with Craig to get the scenes, characters and costumes just right), and we will mix hand-drawn and computer maps.

BH: Last question. Most SW products are a combination of small narrative vignettes, text body and stats. When you are writing a product do you develop the three in a linear fashion? Write the copy first and then the stats? Floorplans first? Do you have a writing process or system that you’ve developed over the years?

Using my current work on Emer IV and NE Jaiman as a guide, I guess I start with the big picture, and almost naturally work through a book in a similar way to which it is presented. I do the geography and environment, governments, then towns and interactions, then bore down to individuals, interesting characters. Adventures and floorplans are usually last. I find it hard to write adventures.

As a side note, the novel came out a result of a series of ‘Kalen’s journal entries’ I published on an old web site years ago, which people seemed to enjoy and thought gave the SW some additional personal life.

BH: Thanks Terry. We all waited for each new addition to the “Journals of Kalen Avanir” back in the day!  It’s interesting to note that “serial stories” like yours are all the rage now on the internet. You were a pioneer!

Anyway, I want to thank you for decades of inspiration, great gaming sessions and creative content! For those that want a more detailed background for Terry you can see his wiki HERE. If you are interested in Shadow World you should check out Eidolon Studios and the Shadow World Forum.