SW1 5

Shadow World Atlas (1989)

Shadow World! This is overdue and kind of thematically appropriate because Terry K. Amthor’s Shadow World seems to me to be unfairly overshadowed by other fantasy campaign settings. It is, however, wonderfully detailed and wildly weird, so perhaps after this week of posts you’ll be inspired to check it out.

The world was technically first introduced in 1980 in The Iron Wind for Iron Crown’s Rolemaster system, with further entries in the Loremaster series of modules, Vog Mur and Cloud Lords of Tanara (1984) adding additional locales, but it wasn’t clear until the Shadow World Atlas box set (1989) that all these places were part of the same world. In the box you have an overview of the world in one book, a look at the various (very Tolkien-esque) races in another, a final book detailing monsters and conversion notes and, of course, a big old map. Tony Roberts’ cover painting gives an immediate sense of the world, while Jennell Jaquay’s interior illustrations relentlessly underscore its weirdness.

From this material you get a sense of the world. Many aspects of it align with Middle-earth, but made strange by civilizations running through rapid cycles of golden ages and collapse. The first societies of the world had access to fantastic technologies, many of which continue to malfunction into the present, causing weird weather patterns and other dangers — the very land, peppered with archipelagos, seems broken and a strange energy barrier cuts off access to half the planet. Magic is strong, to the point that it inhibits the development of other technologies (though the societies of Kulthea strike quite a range, from bronze age tribes to steampunk style groups with flying ships), a fact that the college of Loremasters seeks to counter by spreading knowledge. There are five moons and the gods live on them. Unlife is a constant and unambiguous threat, but there are many subtle evils in the world too. There’s a lot going on!

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