Using all your senses in Rolemaster and Shadow World.

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As a primer to this blog topic, I encourage you to read my 2 previous blogs related to Perception: “Inherent Ability or Skill” and “Is Perception even a Skill?”

Putting aside rule litigation, I wanted to explore the idea of perceptual capacity of PCs. My own biases with Perception gameplay is it’s either visual perception or a meta ability: i.e. a character searches for a secret door with a combination of sight, touch and perhaps intuition. A recent article on the new Mars Rover imaging cameras made me think about how small changes in a creatures “perceptual spectrum” could dramatically impact their inherent abilities. I’m not sure how some of these ideas could be integrated into gameplay, and our conception of perceptual reality perhaps limits our imagination. Early on games allowed for “infravision” and “ultravision” and Rolemaster introduced natural dark vision abilities as well. For us, we used these abilities interchangeably as “seeing in the dark” even if infra and ultra abilities connoted a more nuanced informational channel. I would refer you to this article for a better overview on AD&D style visions.

So, how many players or GMs use an expanded model of perceptual abilities? We humans tend to over rely on our visual acuity, often, other senses are better suited for situations common in roleplaying. Often these abilities, whether imparted through racial traits or spells are merely a bonus to “Perception” with a modest handwave to the mechanistic concept behind it. RMu made some progress towards developing this further, but it still lacks some depth.

There have been many article written about sight, smell, hearing, tactility, and even extra-sensory ability, and there are arguments that differentiate between Perception (sensory that you actively collect), Observation (specifically focusing sensory on a target) or Sensing (passive sensory data). There is a lot to this conversation, but I wanted to touch on a few Rolemaster and Shadow World specific concepts.

Perception With Spells. Every version of Spell Law contains spell buffs that improve perception or some sense. In RMu, this is manifest in the Ranger Base List “Beastly Ways”. (I’m referring to the Beta 1 2012 copy. some changes have been made).

3rd Lvl Wolfs Senses. This spell and it’s benefit intrigues me, since we seldom really thing about the sensory value of smell. The easy path, is to just use enhanced smell to detect “Orcs and other stinky monsters” from a distance. But smell can detect emotional states and physiological details that can determine lying, dissembling, fear or even aggressive intent. As an example in fantasy literature, Matt Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series has an: “extraordinary sense of smell, able to discern other humans’ and animals’ emotions with considerable accuracy“. We are all familiar with our own pets ability to sense their owners mental or emotional state. A sense of smell can also be used to detect illnesses or injuries, which could be helpful to Healers and Lay Healers. Perhaps for some creatures, smell is a factor of Synesthesia–and they “see” things like magic as olfactory data? That would be interesting. So, in summary, enhanced smell might be useful beyond the standard perception role/roll: it could improve bartering, detect lie, diplomacy or even sense magic or spells.

8th Lvl Hawks Sense. This spell adds +50 to visual sense and +20 to perception involving other senses. A bit confusing, but I think the goal was to minimize stacking sensory spells. While a bonus to visual is straight forward, there are possibilities around what TYPE of visual acuity is improved. Birds of prey have almost double the cone and rod receptors of a human so their have a much larger field of vision, binocular ability to see longer distances and the ability to differentiate small object within their visual field. So a spell that imparts bird vision may also provide both a telescopic AND a microscopic agility as well?

The colors of magic & essence flows. I’ll be blogging about the “colors of magic” in the next week or two, but Shadow World offers a unique aspect of the setting that could be tied into perception: the ability to see magical flows and emanations. Rather than having spells seen on the standard visual spectrum, you could have the various assigned realm colors used for magical perception. In addition, magical perception could detect intensity (power level) and spell type. Kulthea is also bathed in the Essence, and the ability to see flows and foci like winds, currents or clouds could be an interesting ability. Loremasters and Navigators have spells to that effect but standard Rolemaster spells aren’t Shadow World specific.

Racial Senses. I think there are a lot of opportunities to enhance sensory perception with races in Rolemaster and specifically Shadow World. These would be abilities beyond perception bonuses and the standard dark/low light vision. There are certainly issues around game balance, a PC with a sense of smell similar to a dog would be powerful even at low level. But is that necessarily a problem? Do heightened racial senses come with downsides?

I’m curious if anyone has utilized a more in depth sensory system in their Rolemaster or Shadow World game. What are your thoughts?

One Reply to “Using all your senses in Rolemaster and Shadow World.”

  1. This is timely as ever… I am in the process of creating a new race for my next campaign: the Sidhe, who do not have eyes but still are able to “see” their surroundings. If you are familiar with the Waynhim or the ur-viles from the Thomas Covenant series, this form of vision is somewhat inspired by them. Each sub race has a different form of sight:
    🔸 The “Feral” Sidhe are woodland a woodland people that can see natural beings with ease, but in a city would see masses of people and have difficulty making out the outlines of buildings or picking a mechanical device like a lock.
    🔸 The “High” Sidhe forsook their link to nature and dedicated themselves to the study of magic, and are able to see how forms of it pool and flow, while having the aforementioned issues with other forms of sight.

    I feel like the mechanics for creating this are rough to say the least. Using RMU’s new talent choice, I can give them each the Extra Sense option at a high tier, and then give them the Poop Vision flaw at either -5 or -10. My issue is that this seems a little too… mechanical? I picture the Sidhe seeing the world almost the way Neo does in Matrix Revolutions after he loses his eyes, but this talent/flaw method really only approximates that. I’m struggling with how to create a more organic method of representing this.

    This “mechanics” issue appears in other ways too. One of my favorite lines from The Hobbit was when Tolkien talks about the wargs for the first time: “Wolves of that sort smell keener than goblins, and do not need to see you to catch you!” I remember being terrified by this concept reading this at the tender of 10-years-old! And what is the RM equivalent? I suppose it’s that a warg can attack an invisible creature based on smell at a certain penalty. Workable, but not really organic.

    I’m curious what others think about how to handle these situations. Maybe I’m simply reading too much into it since ultimately our characters in RM are defined by numbers. Peter’s method of never letting his players roll perception seems like it might solve some of this by allowing the GM to focus on the narrative aspect of how these abilities should work.

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