Writing in a Vacuum.

I just posted over at the Iron Crown Forums asking for feedback, critique or really just anything on several SW projects I’ve posted up and made available for download.

Since I’m not able to publish Shadow World material officially, and I don’t want to scrub this work into a general d100 product for DrivethruRPG, I’m left in a bit of a vacuum. At least with our “50 in 50” products I have feedback just from the sales numbers–and we’ve sold a lot of mini-adventures and hooks!

I’m always going to write what I want based on my own campaign needs, a spark of creativity or an idea that springs up from reading the Master Atlas, timeline or other SW product, but it would be nice to get any type of feedback. What is useful, relevant or interesting? Specifically the last three projects that I worked on:

1. “Legends of Shadow World”. High level tourney style module. Has anyone run this as a one-off?

2. “The Book of Pales”. Material on Demons etc. http://www.ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=15879.0;attach=4353

3. “Channeling Handbook”. Material on SW religions and PC’s playing Clerics. http://ironcrown.com/ICEforums/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=15879.0;attach=4373

It’s possible that:

  1. SW has such a small user base that there isn’t enough people to get a response.
  2. SW users are older, long time gamers that have enough of their own material they don’t need third party material.
  3. The only SW stuff is material that was officially published.
  4. People want more “game aids” like new herbs, spells or magic items and aren’t interested in non-canon adventure or world building content.

Anyway, I welcome any thoughts!

26 Replies to “Writing in a Vacuum.”

  1. I sympathise completely. My blog, such as it is, gets a trickle of views and, extremely rarely, a comment. It’s hard to maintain motivation when you suspect you’re merely mumbling into the void, echoing unheard. I’m uncertain as to why you don’t get feedback on your SW material – SW isn’t my cup of tea, but the other bits of your work I’ve perused seem very good. Maybe all four of your speculations above apply, in varying proportion?

    I do think Shadow World users probably represent a smaller group of Rolemaster users, who are themselves a small group (my own ‘table’ have been playing RM for 28 years now, and I don’t think any of them have heard of Shadow World). I suppose some folks might have just stopped looking at SW with Terry Amthor’s passing, too, assuming that there will be no new content, or no new content that will measure up.

  2. It really curbs motivation to produce content and not get feedback, so I’ll try to cover all your points:

    – Not being able to write “official” material is certainly a block here, since you can’t publish it, but you wrote it and want to share it, and nobody else is writing anything on the same topic, so there is surely a market there, small as it may be. Looking back at the stuff you’ve shared on the forum, it’s still amazing that given ICE track record they have not been either more aggressive about preventing you from uploading it or offering you the job to continue Terry’s legacy.

    – You could write on DTRPG without explicitly mentioning Shadow World, and change the name of navigators, dragonlords, gods, etc . but I guess that would take some of the enthusiasm out of you, since it would be like a splatter of random paint over your creations.

    – Legends of Shadow World: I’ve read all of it, and at one point proposed to my players to give it a go, but they weren’t convinced. So I kept the content and from time to time draw inspiration from situations or challenges there, adjusted to their characters and level.

    – The book of pales: I’ve read it, and I’m basing my latest decision on how it works guided by it or at least inspired by it. Sadly the pandemic and the kid have meant playing only a few sessions in the last years, so there has not been much room for exploring it nor any other content.

    – Channeling Handbook: I’ve read it, as I have read all your BASIL spells, although I’m not using it. Your take on magic requires adjusting too much of the basics of Spell Law, and my players are set in their ways and don’t want to relearn all the balance between spell lists and realms. Also from my point of view your Channeling lists are way overpowered (just so you know, that’s how I refer to your content to my group: the guy who wrote the overpowered channeling spells has this idea about dragonlords…). I know you’ve said that is partially to convince your players to use channeling casters, while my group does that without a doubt (current campaign is 1 priest, 1 healer, 1 summoner, used to also have 1 animist).

    – With that said, there is for sure only a small subset of people plating TTRPGs, of which only a few play RM, and only a tiny fraction of those has ever heard about SW. Unless you get an official position to promote SW content, there is always gonna be a limit to the reach of your writings. Adjusting that content to other games won’t work if you can’t also move all the SW background to another d100 generic or whatever.

    – Finally, it is quite uncomfortable to write long comments on a blog, so I’d say you’d get more/faster/better feedback if you share your ideas on Discord, maybe ask for rights to pin messages in the SW channel, to get a listing of the content you’ve uploaded like you’ve done here.

    – In summary, thanks for the content, keep it coming, sorry I can’t use all of it, I do hope you get your motivation going, I’ll make sure to let you know if I think of anything else that might help reach more players and get more/better feedback about your work.

  3. Like Brad, I think it’s a combination of things. Not that many people play RM to begin with (it’s a semi-dead system with too many versions and options for many beginners to get into easily), and of the ones that do SW isn’t often a draw, I don’t think. I know it never was for me, and my group wasn’t interested, either. RM is just too easy to adapt to other settings, and in my experience most RM GMs are experienced gamers who already have their own world concept (or want to use something like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms or even Middle Earth in some variation) and don’t want to change.

    In your original post you also identified one of the challenges RM writ large has always faced: “I’m always going to write what I want based on my own campaign needs, a spark of creativity or an idea that springs up from reading the Master Atlas, timeline or other SW product…”. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that, but it’s easy to forget that the Companions (which cause so much confusion and contradiction in original RM’s rules) were mostly collections of what GMs wrote for their campaign needs. And RMSS always struck me as a set of rules written for some undisclosed campaign setting. The few folks I know of who’ve heard of RM usually dismiss it as either “Chartmaster”, “Rollmaster”, or complain it’s too unfocused for them to use. So you’re working against that right from the start.

    Most of the regulars over at the forums are experienced GMs with their own settings. I suspect they pick and choose what they use and simply ignore the rest. Comments will always be hard to come by, and sometimes people don’t comment if they find something useful. Just my take, at least.

  4. I understand your frustration at the lack of feedback. You do good work, and I’ve incorporated several things (from you, and this Blog in particular) into my campaigns. The players, while grumbling at changes of direction in general, seem receptive once they get accustomed to them. I wish you were better supported, and better recognized.

    I’ll also second Voriig Kye’s comment wrt the lack of any support from Iron Crown, especially vis-a-vis Shadow World. Some of us love the setting and the system, but would never publish anything for the simple truth of the “implicit threat” that ICE treats all fan content. I’m tired of hearing “they have to protect the product”; they’ve had years and years (and YEARS) to tackle that issue and never chosen to do it. There are dozens of licenses out there that could easily be modified and adopted, but I suspect the honest truth is that availability has never been the problem. Honestly, I’d be willing to bet $ that we’d see a license for HARP before RM.

    I tell you, if I ever decide to publish my campaign (tons of stuff on the culture of Nuyam-Khom (cities, factions, family structures, dynamics, etc..) I’d damn well rethink it (four or times at least) before EVER submitting it to ICE. I’d much rather spend days gutting specific ICE/SW references, and then publish it under Open00, if only to say to ICE “F’ you” for the years of outright neglect.
    (And yes Voriig, it would feel like I was taking the heart out of the content).

    1. I do wonder why there isn’t something similar to the Storyteller’s Guild, Hall of Champions, Pathfinder Infinite, etc. for RM/HARP on DTRPG. Surely that would be an ideal way to bring in a little income, protect the IP and encourage fans and writers. Maybe its a lot of work to keep track of the content, or they are worried about quality assurance?

      1. They’ve never seemed to handle any fan content well when it comes to settings, no matter which incarnation of ICE is being discussed. The lack of an official setting was always a handicap, especially when the rules feel like they were designed for a specific setting (no matter how often they said they weren’t).
        As for QA, it’s hard to worry about when the content is so limited. Even Harn allows for fan-based stuff, though it’s done by the second of the two entities that seem to control the game (Columbia Games and Kelestia Productions). I’m not sure what their resistance is to fan content, but it seems to run very deep and has been around for some time.

        1. Oh, I get the “fear” that a too complete ‘Fan Use’ or ‘SRD’ could create their own competition, or the “worry” about “lack of control”. But a fan base, and it’s active participation makes or breaks a system. The continued treatment of honest fan content as unwelcome sends clear, unambiguous signals to the base; namely “Don’t bother”. And don’t even start me on the “Submit it, and we’ll take a look” dodge. Somewhere in the back of my head I keep seeing the words “2015” and “Priest” popping up. humm….

          Even that RPG Elder Monte Cook (who had some history with ICE (RMSS C&T?)) has published ‘Fan Use’, ‘Limited Licenses’ and a whole ‘SRD’ for Cypher. I guess the Cyper one is new, but some of those go back a decade. No matter their issues (never looked at them), it’s better than the complete neglect we see.

          1. They’re not completely averse to taking on new writers. I can’t account for the delays or inaction in some areas, but ICE did publish the adventure I submitted and were extremely supportive (most of the delay was totally my own fault; so to for the follow-up). I suspect there simply isn’t time enough for the few core people at ICE to roll things out with any rapidity, especially with RMU rumbling along in the background. That’s why I suggested something along the lines of the Storyteller’s Guild.

            1. There may also be some among the old guard with memories of how the original ICE handled things before it imploded and are simply gunshy about doing business with them. The sort of licensing you’re talking about would remove quite a bit of that legacy while still giving ICE revenue and a modicum of quality control.

      2. I can answer this:
        You have to apply to DTRPG for a community content programme and the rules are quite strict. You need to be selling a certain value of products per month consistently every month for 12 months.

        I have seen some much more popular game systems get turned down for a CCP.

        There was a brief window when DTRPG were giving CCPs to any publisher that asked for them, or so it seemed. Those days are gone, and ICE would not qualify by today’s standards.

        There is only one model that ICE could follow, and that is the format created by Britannia Games for Chivalry & Sourcery*. They have art assets available for amateur creators, rules for what IP can and cannot be used, and pay a revenue share of all new creations. The fans create the content, share it with Britannia, and Britannia then upload the content and sells it under their fan content banner.
        The difference between Britannia Games and ICE’s approach is that Britannia Games do not take editorial control. They read the titles to check for IP violations, and if it meets the criteria, it gets published, typically within 2-3 days. ICE wants writers to hand in manuscripts and take over the entire publishing process, and then release things under the ICE imprint.
        *Chivalry & Sourcery started as a much more detailed and realistic version of D&D in the late 70s/early 80s. It is a skills-based d100 system with a core book and then optional companions. Sounds familiar?

          1. Neat system! I’ve been contemplating with my players to try a a few runs of either C&S, or Age of Heroes (Brian Glickman’s effort). 10 stats, and a skill system, but tweaked for long running campaigns.

        1. From what I’ve seen, the other company that holds part of the Harn stuff seems to work rather like this as well. They don’t have a presence on DTRPG, but they are out there and focus mostly on expanding the setting beyond the original limits.

  5. I appreciate everyone’s comments, it’s a good conversation! Generally I’m resigned to the situation with I.C.E., and without sounding ghoulish, with Terry passing, my brother and I are probably the only people that could take the SW ball and run with it as writers, editors or product line managers. Otherwise SW is done with Terry gone. I’ll continue to do my thing because I really enjoy it and SW has a lot of empty spaces that need filling.

    OTOH I don’t know the perspective on the other side with Nicholas and while I may not agree with some of their business decisions, I respect that it’s their decisions to make. I also know that Terry definitely slow walked-third party submissions and Nicholas had to respect Terry’s work process. (PK is now going on 10 years!) That’s ok too, it was Terry’s decision and I know he was frustrated with the original SW roll-out and product release and wanted to avoid another tranche of non-canon products.

    Anyway I was just curious and wanted to get some feedback on the stuff that I’ve put out there so far. Given that I don’t commission art or hire someone to do layouts I don’t see these in any way as final products. Plus I leave about 25% out–Nicholas has already implied that if it’s out there in mostly final form it doesn’t make sense to have production cost on a more polished version. Therefore, I see these as more “treatments” than final products. I can double the page count on most with the official go ahead. That said:

    1. Definitely interested in a debate with you Voriig re: high powered channeling spells! Let’s do that in a blog post? Sort of firing line debate style?

    2. Some feedback on the RMForums. No one likes the “parchment” background and some comments on my art direction. Honestly, the parchment was meant to be a throwback to the early ICE stuff: Arms Law and Iron Wind, but I get that it might be distracting. I’m using Bell MT font. It’s more machine look than Times New Roman.

    3. On a final note–is anything I’m writing too “far out” from Canon that it feels inappropriate or not in the SW flavor? I used to run things by Terry but he was fairly non-committal. For me that’s the only criteria that I’m motivated by–does it fit SW or does it feel like it’s coming from another setting, it’s too D&D generic or it doesn’t add something the to the fabric of the setting.

  6. At one time (2016?), I was involved in a crowd-sourced (i.e. created by forum members) project with ICE oversight (Terry and Nicholas were the moderators), writing Shadow World adventure(s) for RMU. It started with a hiss and a roar, but faltered after a year or so, as such things can do. But my point is that there was a lot of initial enthusiasm and there is quite a reservoir of SW knowledge out there. Mayhap people are reluctant to comment, or have simply missed the particular posts you’ve put up?

    I also wonder if ICE might be prevailed upon to resume the project I was involved in with some new personnel?

    1. I know the most recent post was an update to a thread that’s massive, and downloads are often missed due to the format’s structure (which, to be fair, is common with just about any forum or blog design).
      It might be worth starting a fresh thread looking for comments and feedback, with links to the appropriate downloads. Put a new spin on it and get it front and center instead of being the last post in a 23 page thread. Just a thought.

    2. That grand campaign project was doomed to failure from the very first post.
      If you gather the contributors again and try and re-energise it I would suggest the following:
      1. Start with a single adventure, based in a single village. Think of it as a bringing the characters together adventure. Write it, probably about 4k-5k words, and publish it. Use something free like inkarnate for your maps and don’t bother with any other art except your cover. You could have a member of the team that is interested in midjourney or stable diffusion AI tools to create your cover, or grab a piece of nice stock art. Your total investment will be sub-$50.
      Someone could write 5k words in a week.
      A small team play test the adventure with their groups and feeds back.
      The next person in the project reads for rules accuracy.
      The next checks grammar and spelling.
      You release the adventure as the first installment of The Grand Campaign.
      You then rinse and repeat but keeping each step small and manageable. Your goal should be one release, typically every two to four weeks. The writing for one can be ongoing while the previous installment is still in playtesting and editing.
      This keeps your project scope small enough that you do not get swamped.
      It creates interest with your audience, they will start to wait, anticipating the next release.
      You will earn money on each release so your initial $50 risk will become a reinvestment of profits.

      If you want to see this plan in action, there is a well respected adventure writer known as M.T. Black. He is building his entire setting, Iskandar, piecemeal through this process.
      Azukail Games are also building an entire world one hex at a time with their Sundara setting.

      You should be thinking in terms of SMART targets or stepping stones to create the campaign.
      Specific – don’t try and create a huge sprawling adventure path because it will just be too much to manage.
      Measurable – You will know when each stage of your adventure path is complete when it is ready to release and your sales figures will give you an idea if it is growing in popularity.
      Achievable – Any GM can create a standalone adventure, and anyone could check such and adventure for errors, grammatical and rules, so the writing and editing is within the groups capabilities.
      Realistic – Each iteration of the process with teach you the skills you need and define your group roles to create a smoother production process.
      Timely – If you started today, you could realistically have your first release ready before RMu is even published, or publish on the same day. Regular small releases give a great sense of satisfaction. Spending months or years and having nothing to show for it is demoralising and as you say the previous attempt withered and died.

      1. Warhammer FRP also did this amazingly well with The Enemy Within campaign and the assorted follow-ons. Twilight 2000 did this as well, though the system was a bit on the awkward side and when GDW went down the game did as well.

      2. That’s a really fascinating idea – introducing the setting a little at a time! I had thought of doing something like this with the New Kingdoms, and have roughed out a few “Tale of Two Hexes” (or Four Hexes, etc.) pieces, that I’d thought of releasing for Blood & Treasure, introducing the setting and associated rules variants as I went along. It’s nice to know that it’s a sound idea that might work if done well.

  7. As an aside, the contributors to this blog seem to have ideas aplenty – both to better market RM and improve it mechanically, along with general worldbuilding creativity. Has there been much thought given to collaborating on building your own system and world setting?

    1. We’ve had great success with our “50 in 50” adventure hooks. Mine are almost all from my SW campaign that I scrubbed of SW references. Given my work style (I try and average 1page/day) I’ve thought about building another setting and I’ve got my own version of Character Law (SWARM) that is built for SW but could be a new d100. However, to make a useable world setting is just too much for me at this point. I’m 52 with 10 years left of writing and have no mapping or art skills to speak of. You can almost get away with a new setting that’s 80% maps and illustrations and 20% content, but I would be the opposite as you might see from my work product.

      1. I’m – slowly, painfully – trying to get a handle on mapping software, although I’m devoting considerable thought to concentrating on Hexographer, which takes a fair amount of the legwork out of that aspect, but for the things I intend to publish under my own name, I’m stuck with stock art. I certainly hear you on the content issue: writing stuff for the New Kingdoms always generates more stuff for the New Kingdoms…

        I’ve found I have an increasingly vexing bee in my bonnet about publishing my own work in my own name: the setting I made, although originally made in the early 90s for RM2 doesn’t quite square neatly with RM (any incarnation, to be honest) or HARP. I tend to feel setting ought to precede system, so I’m looking for a more flexible – and open! – ruleset to publish New Kingdoms stuff. I’ve looked at Legend, Open00, Hero Games, Pathfinder and approximately 300 million OSR systems, and I’m still at a bit of a loss as where to fly my flag…

        1. Fly your flag here. We publish finished product under d100 rules, add articles and generate brand awareness. Thoughts Peter or Adrian? We respect content.

        2. I heavily customized RM2 to fit my setting (to the point of overhauling the Profession and Skill systems and other fun things)…almost to the point it’s a world-specific system all by itself. And the majority of my effort now is going into developing a modern setting system as I’m not happy with most of what I’ve seen out there and feel it could be done much better. I didn’t start with fantasy gaming (the first game I played in was actually first edition Top Secret), so it’s never been my first love exactly.

  8. Sorry I’m late to join the conversation, and sorry again, I am very much a lurker, I know I have down loaded several of your works, I just checked nearly all of them sit on my hard drive, I must admit I seem to be a hoarder too, I will make an effort to read some of them. The main problem that I have is that I haven’t gamed in quite some time, I love Rolemaster and Shadow World, but with no gaming group it’s not easy.

    I am beginning to think that I have left it too long to get back into a gaming group, not sure if I can spare even two hours to join a game, not even sure there is a game near me, in the UK, East Anglia so not even close to Peter. The time zone thing also creates issues, and also I am now a Teams user during the day, I’m not sure if I started video chatting or even just chatting over Discord my wife would appreciate it too much, she has moved me into the “study”, the smallest room in the house, and the furthest from the lounge,

    Back in the day, and it was some time ago, I was GMing a long running campaign on Jaiman, it used nearly every book set on the island. In the end I think the lack of new material for Jaiman as well as life just meant that the group of players went their separate ways. Which is a pity as it was a good times and I think the player were about 14th or 15th level by the time things fell apart, they had started at 1st level, and yes we did lose a character or two along the way.

    I should of said this before, I guess when downloading your free products, I am so grateful that you continue to product Shadow World products all be it unofficial one. I was really shocked to hear at the time that Terry had passed away, and I guess also that I am hoping that SW will come back to life in some form, but without that user base showing their appreciation there will be little chance, I for one will be hungry for new stuff, even if I don’t get to run it.

    I know RMU is taking forever to come out, and obviously taking up a massive amount ICE’s of time, and until its out other things will take a back seat, hopefully the wait will be over soon.

    Sorry, I have gone a little off topic too.

    1. Lurking is more than fine, but I appreciate the check-in. It’s always hard to tell how much traffic we get here on the blog in general.

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