Shadow World Master Atlas 4th Edition
Review by Brent Knorr
The Shadow World Master Atlas 4th Edition is the first Shadow World product to be released by ICE in their new incarnation. (If you aren't familiar with the history of what happened with ICE, you can find a write up on it at http://www.ironcrown.com/welcomewagon/ICEhistory.htm)
The Master Atlas is a 224 page soft cover book that describes the planet of Kulthea, the Shadow World. It includes sections on the Races and Peoples and how to play them, the history of the world, an overview of the geography and politics of the Western Hemisphere, including a pullout color map. There are also stats on some of the major NPC's in the setting. It includes stats for both Second Edition Rolemaster (RM2) and the newer Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing (RMFRP). There are also plans for the Guild Companion to release a D20 version of the this book. Details on this can be found in the Editorial in the September 2003 issue of the Guild Companion website: http://www.guildcompanion.com/
Chapter One is the Introduction, it gives a brief intro to Shadow World, lists some of the other upcoming products in the Shadow World line, and lists and explains the Abbreviations and other Codes that used in the book. There's about four pages of these, mostly abbreviations for skills.
Chapter Two is History & Civilization Notes. The Kulthean Calendar is explained and methods that the inhabitants of Shadow World us for telling time are explained. Then comes the Timeline. This starts on page 12 and goes to page 42. If you aren't already familiar with Shadow World, this section can be a tough slog. My recommendation is to read the first five or six pages, then skip to about page 40 and read the last couple of pages. Once you've read the rest of the Atlas (and possibly the Powers of Light & Darkness book) and are more familiar with some of the Characters and Groups on Shadow World, then come back and read the rest of the timeline. It will make more sense that way. It's very detailed and covers 200,000 years, the most recent 13,000 getting most of the coverage.
Chapter Three is the Peoples of Kulthea. The various races are described, the mortal races first then the immortal races. There are Men of many varieties, Centaurs, Dwarves, and Elves as well as several races unique to Shadow World. Approximately 75 races are described in all, with several charts at the end of the chapter summarizing the various statistics for the races. There's not a lot of detail on each race, but what's there does give a good feel for what each race is like.
Chapter Four is Character Creation, this is three pages long and covers the Shadow World specific items that apply to the Character Creation process that is described in the Rolemaster rulebooks. This covers both RM2 and RMFRP. There are a couple of references to the Astrologer profession having a RMFRP update at the end of the section, but it's not actually there. The profession was removed from the Atlas when it was realized that it was already in the Mentalism Companion that was released as a reprint at roughly the same time. Unfortunately, a couple of references to that section were missed
Chapter Five is The Lands - An Atlas of Kulthea. This is another fairly lengthy section, 30 pages long. It describes the major realms and places of interest in the western hemisphere of Kulthea, which is the area covered on the map. Four pages are devoted to explaining the various terms that are used in the text that describes the areas on the map. These are things such as Technology Levels, Political Structures, and Subsistence Patterns. There are then a couple of pages devoted to some of the Special features on Kulthea, Isles, Volcanic and Seismic activity, underground areas and Under Sea features. The rest of the chapter is devoted to describing individual areas. Smaller black and white subsets of the big color map are included in the book in the sections that describe that area.
On the back of the large color map is a black and white detail map of an area called the Bay of Izar. Chapter Six describes this area. It is designed to give GM's new to Shadow World a starting place for a campaign. It is described in detail rather than in the general manner of the other areas. This chapter is fifteen pages long and contains several hooks that can be used as a jump start to an adventure. There isn't actually a starting adventure included, but it is mentioned in several spots that addition Shadow World products will make use of this location.
Chapter Seven is Essænce and Spells. The first paragraph of the chapter explains the difference between Essænce and Essence. Essænce refers to the arcane term for primal magical power, and is the source of what later became the three realms of magic, Channeling, Mentalism, and Essence. There is then a description of Essænce Barriers, which includes Physical Walls which physically prevent people from passing and Mental Walls which divert by misleading and misdirecting, sending the unwanted wandering away without realizing what has happened. Foci are described next, which are concentrations of pure primal Essænce. These can come in many forms and have a variety of effects.
Flow Storms are an important feature of Shadow World and they are also described in chapter seven. The storms act in a manner similiar to hurricanes and thunderstorms and cause great fluxes in energy levels, making it very dangerous to use magic, particularly Essence based magic. They can also have strange effects such as opening portals to unknown locations and dimensions. There are three pages devoted to describing Flow storms and their effects. The rest of the chapter is devoted to describing Spells and Spell Lists and the Shadow World specific modifications and elaborations on the basic Rolemaster Spells and Spell Lists.
Chapter Eight covers Kulthean Gods and Immortal Spirits. A brief explanation on how users of Channeling get their powers from the Gods is given, how much the Gods are involved in what goes on in Shadow World is covered, the major group of Gods, the Lords of Orhan are discussed including some information on their home, the Moon of Orhan and their interactions with each other. A brief description is then given for each of the Gods. The Greater Spirits are covered next, which are beings that serve the Lords of Orhan. Their general powers are discussed along with examples of several of the Spirits. Nymphs are given a three quarter page treatment next, followed by a short quarter page section on Children of Gods.
The Dark Gods are covered next, they are less powerful than the benign Lords of Orhan, but are more active in the events on Kulthea. They reside on the third largest moon, Charon. They have no real leader, but coexist in an uneasy alliance. Again, the general powers of these Gods are reviewed, then several examples of the Gods and their servants, the Dark Spirits, are given. Finally, there is a short half page section that discusses Local Gods and the Lords attitude towards them.
There's a total of fifteen pages in this chapter, the same material gets covered in more detail (double the number of pages) in the Powers of Light and Darkness book, but the Atlas gives a good summary, more than enough for a Player in Shadow World.
Chapter Nine is Good & Evil, Order & Chaos. It's a three page chapter that discusses the major force for Evil on Shadow World, the Unlife which is a "Anti-Essænce" as well as other forces of Evil such as the Dragonlords and the Dark Gods. There's also a discussion of the "Evil" Spell Lists that are found in the Rolemaster book Spell Law and how to handle characters that wish to delve into these spells.
Chapter Ten: Groups of Note gives an overview of some of the powerful Groups that exist on Shadow World, including Loremasters, Navigators, The Jerak Ahrenreth, Dragonlords, Heralds of Night and Individuals of Note. Some members of each of these groups are described with game statistics. This chapter is fifteen pages long and is really a summary of information that makes up the majority of the Powers of Light and Darkness book. Again, a good overview for players. If you are interested in more details on what these groups are, you can check out my review for Powers of Light and Darkness, I won't repeat it all here. It is a little surprising that the equipment lists for the example characters was repeated for the RM2 and RMFRP Stats when there are little or no changes for equipment between the two systems. They could have easily saved a few pages by not repeating it.
Chapter Eleven covers Creatures. It's nine pages and covers some of the animals and other beasts that are unique to Shadow World. This followed by Chapter Twelve The Undead, which is three pages, with a few notes on Undead, referring the reader to Rolemaster's Creatures and Monsters for additional details. Several Special Undead are mentioned, again just a short summary and referencing Creatures and Monsters for additional details.
Chapter Thirteen: Artificial Beings is more detailed than the previous two chapters and discuses seven different types of artificial beings in detail. These are the Kæden, insect-like creations from the First Era that may still have survived. Next are Sentinels, constructs similiar in nature to Golems but with more intelligence. They are always set in pairs and guard the entrances to palaces and holds.
Gogors are another creation from the First Era. They are resemble seven foot tall bat-like gargoyles.
Shards the next Beings described, they are given more text than the other Beings, but in something of an oversight, a physical description is missing. There is a reference to Creatures and Monsters for additional information on shards, and there is some artwork that presumably depicts a Shard (looks sort of like a Ninja Turtle sans shell). There is also some text under I-Lat Norg (High Shards) that describes how they differ in appearance from the lesser Shards, so you do still end up with a pretty good idea of what they look like.
Neng are a human looking creations mixed with demon elements. They can turn movable objects invisible, are very intelligent and can spit acid with great accuracy. Elementals and Golems are described next, and the last page of the chapter has a table with game statistics for the Beings presented in the chapter.
There are two varieties of Demons that can plague the inhabitants of Shadow World. Chapter Fourteen describes the Demons of the Essence. These include Elemental Demons, Thematic Demons and Singular Demons. Elemental Demons live in environments of pure energy, i.e. Fire, Light, Air, ect. Thematic Demons inhabit the world of dreams and nightmares, thriving on the spiritual destruction as much as physical destruction. Singular Demons, as their name implies, are unique beings tied to particular locations on Shadow World in much the same manner as Nymphs. The powers of the various demons are discussed and several specific examples are given.
Chapter Fifteen discusses the second type of demon, the Demons of the Void. These are rarely summoned by spell users, and are from dimensions or planes of existence that are alien to Shadow World. The chapter starts with an overview of the Planes of the Known Void, also known as the Near Planes or the Six Pales. Demons from here are occasionally summoned and can be somewhat understood and controlled. This is followed by the Outer Planes, home of the Demons Beyond the Pale. Not much is known about these planes as the few individuals that have returned from here have not been able to recount anything that makes sense. It's an area completely lacking sanity where the usual laws of order and logic do not apply. Finally comes the Outer Void, home of the glimmering lights known as the Aguthu. They predate life on Shadow World and when they do leave the Void, are the most revolting and disgusting in appearance of all Demons. They are so alien in their motivations and thoughts that they often can't even be considered "evil" in the ordinary sense.
The last chapter consists of the Appendices. This covers Weather & Climate, with several tables to help determine temperatures, precipitation, wind and weather.
This is followed by a section on Plantlife, including a very comprehensive set of charts describing Medicinal Herbs. This is followed by a section on Poisons and Venoms and a chart with stats for the Special & Fantasy Weapons that are mentioned throughout the book.
So, what's changed between the Third Edition Master Atlas and Fourth Edition Master Atlas? One major change is that it has been updated to include statistics for the newest version of Rolemaster, Rolemaster Fantasy Roleplaying (RMFRP). The Bay of Izar section is also new as is the artwork. The Timeline was also moved from being in near the back of the book to being near the front. Since the two editions are roughly the same size, a few items had to go to make room for the new information. The first was the conversion notes for using Shadow World in game systems other than Rolemaster. These were fairly general in nature anyway, and since the most likely other system to be used is D20 and a D20 version of the Atlas is in the works, it's not a big loss.
Another section that's no longer included is a description of the Constellations and the Kulthean Solar System and Kulthean Moons. Some bits from this section are scatter throughout the new book, but it's too bad this section got cut, especially considering it was only three pages and there seems to be four blank pages available in the new Atlas. (I'm guessing the blank pages are there to give a page count of 228). The Weather and Climate section also lost at least a page worth of information.
Another section that got removed was a chapter on Minerals, Gems, and Metals. It was basically Geology 101 plus some additional notes on Magical Materials & Alloys, handy to have but less important than the other material, so a good choice for something to cut.
The Third Edition Atlas does have the physical description of the Shards that is missing from Fourth Edition. To be fair, the description is virtually identical to that in Creatures and Monsters, but not everyone may have access to that book.
The Languages and Vocabulary appendices that were in the Third Edition are also missing from Fourth Edition. It might have been nice to keep the page and a half on the Languages themselves, but the six pages of sample words from the various languages was a good choice to cut. Another cut from the Appendices was the Attack and Critical Tables. Most of these are available in other books anyway, (except maybe the Depression Critical Strike Table) and I don't think there is anything specific in the Atlas that uses these tables.
I believe that ICE plans to make most of the deleted material available as a PDF addendum on their website at some point, which would be nice to be able to get.
Overall, it's a very well done product for a very interesting and detailed setting. The biggest drawback is that the level of detail in the timeline in particular can be rather overwhelming for someone not already familiar to the setting. I think moving that section to the front of the book may have been a mistake, but it is handy to have there when using the book as reference later. It's an excellent introduction to Shadow World and I'm looking forward to additional books like Powers of Light and Darkness that will expand on the information presented here.