Lowell R Matthews: A Retrospective

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2004

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

As part of our celebration of Lowell's life and work as an editor and contributor to The Guild Companion, we thought it would be fitting to take you on a journey into our archives to explore his articles and his stories. Some of this magazine's most diverse and its most comprehensive articles were born on Lowell's keyboard - and this retrospective will cover all of them.

The World of Novi

In any survey of Lowell's prolific output, pride of place must go to "The World of Novi", Lowell's highly detailed, long-established fantasy world and setting for his Rolemaster (2nd Edition) campaigns. It was only fitting that "An Introduction to the World of Novi" appeared in our very first issue back in December 1998. Lowell explored the gestation of his setting in this article, opening it as always with his trademark "Greetings, Rolemaster aficionados!". This was paired with "The Cosmology of Novi", the creation myth of that world with its Creator, its Elemental Powers and their children, and of the making of life and intelligence, as told by its people in the finest tradition of fantasy literature.

We were again privileged in the March 1999 issue with further windows into Lowell's imagination. In "The World of Novi - The View from Afar", Lowell covered his world's geography, its nations, and its cosmology in game mechanics. This went beyond a simple gazetteer to discuss aspects such as key strongholds and secret organizations. Lowell combined this with an equally comprehensive guide to "Character Creation in the World of Novi", which covered its professions (including Lowell's very own "Time Traveller"), dozens of its races, languages, selectable background options, and skill rules. The wealth of detail in these articles alone equals many published settings.

In "Weapons of Novi" (June 1999), Lowell not only brought all of the weapons from RM2 into a single complete list (as well as new weapons of his own devising), but he also gave notes on their use and development in Novi.

We returned to Novi in August 2000 with "The Encyclopedia of Novi: Herbs", wherein Lowell revealed his inner herbalist and his love of nature. A gloriously comprehensive quartet of articles, these covered every herb, bread, poison, etc., known in Novi with notes on effects, location, preparation, and associated game mechanics. Lowell, being helpful as always, provided the listings by category of effect, by climate, and in alphabetical order!

Rolemaster Bestiary

The Rolemaster Bestiary was a four-part series to which Lowell both edited and contributed. It aimed at (and succeeded in) providing new and interesting creatures for Rolemaster GMs to pit against adventurers who had become jaded with run-of-the-mill orcs and trolls. Part I (June 1999) brought us Giant Rats, deadly Slimes, and a whole slew of feline humanoid races from Lowell's Novi. Part 2 (October 1999) saw the advent of terrifying nightmares from the id, while in Part 3 (December 1999), Lowell unleashed the Nightmares of Xenar, an insectoid race of extra-planar monsters certain to imperil even the most potent of adventurers. Lowell was also responsible for the editing of Part 4 (June 2002), wherein Ross Henton, former editor of Grey Worlds magazine, brought us a new set of demonic and supernatural horrors.

The Mallorn Company and Quenta Roqueni

In August 1999, Lowell made his first excursion into our fiction section with "The Mallorn Company", a tale from the World of Novi. Intended to be a long-running serial, only the prologue giving the backstory and the first two introductory chapters (Ch1, Ch2a, Ch2b) were published. These stories again reveal Lowell's keen eye for detail and the depth of his world's background. Simultaneously with starting "The Mallorn Company", Lowell was also heavily involved with the writing of a second serial and the editing of some equally epic articles from other contributors. Naturally something had to give and "The Mallorn Company" was shelved until a more opportune moment.

Quenta Roqueni was that second serial - a retelling of a Middle-Earth Play By Email campaign wherein Lowell had been a player. Coauthored with the campaign's GM (Vincent Roiron) and with the assistance of the other players (Gavin Carey, Woodrow H. Kroll III, George Photopoulos, Trevor Sanders, and Christian Wirtnik), this was an epic set in the mid-Third Age when the Witch-King of Angmar threatened the realms of Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur. A very different era from the familiar War of the Ring indeed, but Lowell succeeded in bringing it and its characters to life. The Prologue was published in September 1999, with the first full tale ("The Thieves of Metraith") serialized in six parts ( Chapters 1 and 2: November 1999, Chapters 3 to 5: January 2000, Chapters 6 to 10: February 2000, Chapters 11 to 14: March 2000, Chapters 15 to 16: April 2000, and Chapters 17 and 18: May 2000).

The Hidden Gems

Lowell was a highly respected and well-liked member of many electronic mailing lists, participating in numerous debates and discussions. Some of these conversations inspired him to write articles, either as sole author or in partnership with other community members. Always interesting, these essays were pithy and highly germane to the needs of gamers.

The prosaically named " Table of Feudal Titles" (December 1998) was the first such, a comprehensive treatment of feudal nomenclature garnered from a host of sources. The second, " Food for Trekking" (March 1999) coauthored with Erik "Fangorn" Abranson, is a definitive guide to suitable foodstuffs for anyone embarking on long journeys in the wilds of Middle-Earth and elsewhere.

"Artificial Intelligence" looked at the possibilities of creating intelligent magical artifacts and proposed rules by which their makers could transfer their power into such objects. Lowell's guidelines even provided a working model for how Sauron could have forged the One Ring and why that dark being was destroyed when the ring was unmade. Middle-Earth also formed the setting for "The Hands of The Healer -- The Tanturaki", Lowell's creation of the healing traditions of a Black Numenorean culture of Endor's Far South.

In November 1999, Lowell persuaded three long-time gamers to submit true tales from their games (as "Storytellers Circle"). He also drew upon a political discussion on the Rolemaster mailing list with Gary Renaud to create the somewhat tongue-in-cheek anti-magic setting, which rejoiced under the title of "The Union of Sorcery-Secure Republics" (November 1999).

December 1999 saw the publication of " Eldritch Manipulations" (written jointly by Lowell, Helen Mazarakis, and Aaron Williams), an interesting utility spell list for mages who really want to know where their property is at all times. Just as the Rolemaster list had inspired a spell list, discussions on dice rolling brought Lowell into a second partnership with Gary Renaud to produce "Take Your Chances" (February 2000), a treatise on probability aimed at the ordinary gamer.

Lowell's chemistry training came to the fore with "The Fifth Element ... Of Taste" (March 2000), where he described the discovery of a fifth taste, known in Japanese as "umami", and related this seemingly esoteric fact to possibilities for world and species design.

Reviews

An occasional reviewer, Lowell wrote on "Heroes of Might and Magic III" (September 1999), his then-favorite computer game, and on "Gamemaster Law" (August 2000), giving a careful and critical analysis of that volume. (The editorial error at the end of that review is not Lowell's but mine.)

The Mark of Editorial Excellence

The hallmark of an excellent editor is absence - the absence of typographical and grammatical errors, the absence of stylistic infelicities, the absence of factual mistakes, and so on. As the number of contributions to The Guild Companion increased and as Lowell's own life became busier, his emphasis shifted from author to editor of some of our most substantial articles. Lowell's wordsmithing skills and keen eye for detail made its invisible mark on a host of contributions, such as Daniel Myers' multi-part "Mythic Greece using MERP" sequence (which began in May 1999), a plethora of professions and spell lists reclaimed by Ross Henton from the lost Grey Worlds magazine, Shadow World articles by Stephen Churchill and Cormac Doyle, Robert Wenner's Pirates Campaign, C.L. Yona's magical item article and sequels, Glen E Terry's Predator recreation, Greg Pearson's "The Pyramids of Luyten" scenario, and the Covenant Generation universe, to name but a handful. (Searches for RM2, Spacemaster, and simply Lowell will reveal many more.)

His editing achievements are truly a Roll of Honor of many of this magazine's finest articles, and all of us owe Lowell a tremendous debt for his hard work in bringing these pieces to their final form.


And so, Rolemaster and Guild Companion aficionados, we come to the end of this fond look back into the archives. We hope that you will take this opportunity to explore them for yourselves, whether it is to reread old favorites or to discover Lowell's work for the first time.

Nicholas HM Caldwell
On behalf of The Guild Companion