Thursday, November 5, 2009

Flogging The Horse - Rifts Resignation Part 2

I guess the main thing to say for anyone getting into Palladium at this late stage of the game is manage your expectations. Here’s what I mean:

RIGHT NOW, the gaming community has over 30 years of published game material to draw upon. There HAVE been innovations over time: Universal game mechanics. Meta-game mechanics. Narrative games with rules aimed at addressing premise and telling stories NOW rather than in hindsight. Games that share more narrative control with players. Games that reduce or remove the game master entirely. Games with real “troupe style” (multiple character) play. Rules that resolve stakes/conflict instead of individual tasks. Games that resolve actions in ways other than dice rolling (karma and drama mechanics).

Palladium has NONE of these things. It is the same game in 2009 that it was in 1985. One game system to rule every type of task resolution? No. Meta-game mechanics? No. Addressing premise? No. Sharing narrative duties or GM responsibilities? No. Conflict resolution over task resolution? No. Resolution with something other than dice? No…unless you’re talking shooting an MDC robot with an SDC pop-gun.

Palladium isn’t just Old School, it is practically obsolete! And whereas OD&D or B/X fits all their rules into a few snug pages (and in B/X’s case in a nicely organized fashion), Palladium spreads its shit over hundreds of pages in each game book…and not in a very user-friendly fashion (your “search and handling” time is about on par with navigating the 1st edition DMG, maybe even a little slower, and a LOT slower if you’re using supplemental rules found in different books, such as the Conversion books, Source books, World books, etc.).

Slow and clunky. Lack of innovation. I’m just being up front here.

“Combat” (fights!) can be long drawn out affairs, depending on how many combatants are involved, their capabilities, and their power levels relative to each other. If you rely only on the rules for the inspiration for your games, you will spend most of your gaming time resolving fights.

Character generation is SLOOOOOOW. What slows it down is skills and (sometimes) “power selection.” The easiest way to speed this up would be to change each OCC (Occupational Character Class) into a template to which players simply add random ability scores. This is probably easiest in Rifts with the exception of the magic-using or Mega-Psyker classes, which need to select a handful of spells or psychic abilities. However as a GM you could write up several different spell “packages” for players that choose a magic wielding “template.”

If you speed up chargen, you can cut down on fudging in combat. Battles can end up deadly fast when MDC gets thrown around, but who wants characters to die when it takes two hours to create a new one?

If you’re playing Rifts, it’s easier to pick a specific setting for adventure than to try and manage several different ones. The core book is good for stuff happening around Chi-Town and the ‘Burbs OR in “no man’s land” outside the ‘Burbs. The Conversion Book 1 is good for monsters, DBs, and interdimensional travelers from other dimensions (at least it was; I haven’t seen the “revised” version). Of all the non-setting supplements, this is the one book I used the most. The original Sourcebook 1 had a lot of good errata for the original core book (under the heading “Frequently Asked Questions”). These two and the original core book are pretty much all you need to run Rifts…plus, your choice of World book if you want to set the game outside the Midwest.

For Heroes Unlimited, the books needed are even fewer: the core book is good enough, but I like Powers 2 for additional character classes, ESPECIALLY the “minor hero.” Unfortunately, some of the powers referenced in Powers 2 are only found in Powers 1, so I occasionally consult that as well. I found the GM Guide and various Alien/Galaxy books to be of little use, and I skipped Powers 3 as I found only one power worth including in a campaign (Extraordinary IQ) and it was easily kit-bashed.

There are better war games (I believe) than Advanced Recon. TMNT is good if you want a very setting specific game (otherwise the mutant animal rules in HU2 or Rifts are both satisfactory). If you are interested in Mechanoids, I’d get Rifts and the Mechanoids Sourcebook rather than the original game. There are much better spy games around than Ninjas & Superspies and the martial arts present simply make a clunky game clunkier, in my opinion. Beyond the Supernatural IS pretty cool if you want something more hi-tech than Call of Cthulhu and more serious than InSpectres. And Robotech? Well, only if you’re a fan of the series and don’t want to take the time to recreate it using MektonZ or Big Eyes Small Mouth, both of which have better rules more conducive to the source material.

Hmmm…I just realized I have neglected to mention Palladium Fantasy. Personally, I’ve chosen to skip Palladium Fantasy for a couple of reasons. 1) There are plenty of other fantasy RPGs out there, both Old School and New, with systems I prefer. 2) The Palladium Fantasy game uses a different core rule set from the other Palladium megaverse games (at least it did in the past). If you want to play an elf in Rifts, get the Conversion Book 1.

All right…have I flogged this dead horse enough yet? My relationship with Palladium is love/hate. The love comes from some of the stuff buried beneath the dross of Heroes Unlimited and Rifts. Rifts has the better IDEAS, HU does the granular superhero game nicely (though I wonder if I would feel the same if I’d ever managed to pick up a copy of Villains & Vigilantes). Oh, and the art which is consistent, if not always stellar.

The HATE part stems from…well, all the things I’ve already mentioned. Truth be told, I’m a little surprised that I could find enough things to love to re-purchase a couple/few of these books. But there’s the proof! I’ll end this post with a list of reasons why one might decide to dabble in the Palladium universe:

- Historical value (these games have been around a looong time)

- Example of fairly successful self-publishing (like with a blog, support and content is king!)

- You enjoy “fixer-upper” RPG products

- You appreciate Old School games enough that you prefer/accept games where different mechanics are used for different systems (d20 for combat, % for skills, spend “points” to activate powers/psionics, etc.).

- You like the idea of granulated, down & dirty, street-fighting superheroes (especially of the 21st century variety, rather than Silver Age sentinels).

- You like the present day movies BASED on the Silver Age superhero comics.

- You think a punch from the Hulk should kill Aunt May (or most normal folks) rather than knock ‘em out (and through a wall).

- You are curious who would win a fist fight between Black Canary and Misty Knight.

- You like the idea of inter-dimensional, post-apocalyptic games.

- You like the idea of fighting Nazis/Stormtroopers with magic (ugh)

- If any single Rifts World Book feels like a cool setting for an adventure campaign.

- If you’re a fan of anime action but don’t want all the weepy, emotional drama that goes with anime (‘cause if you like the latter, there are other RPGs I’d recommend)

- Similarly, if you’re a fan of old school Saturday Morning cartoons BEFORE the era of He-Man and GI Joe (where the only things getting killed were inanimate robots). In other words, do you grok Thundarr, baby?

- If you’re a fan of the weirder fiction of the 60s and 70s and want to emulate it in an Old School way (ability scores, granulated task systems, experience tables, variety of different dice); you WILL need to do some dramatic editing of certain classes/game aspects but the pieces are otherwise present.

Do not, repeat, NOT buy into Palladium if:

- You want Story Now.

- You suck at setting boundaries within the social contract of your gaming group and have a problem with munchkinism (unless you want to use Rifts as a tool for growth!)

- You want slick, over-produced books suitable for coffee table display

- You are unwilling to work with a rule book where systems are scattered all over the text in a not-always-logical fashion

- You require your rule books to be stand-alone and self-contained (as in, you don’t like making house rules and are unwilling to buy supplemental resource material)

- You are a completionist with a limited budget

- You are exceptionally put-off by game authors with a casual, off-hand style or a bullying, defensive style…Siembieda vacillates between both

- You dislike multi-genre mixing (you can always edit, but why spend the money? There are other games out there to purchase and play!)

- You prefer player choice in character creation over randomness

- You prefer innovation and efficiency in design to crazy Old School stuff

- You only enjoy systems with unified game mechanics (e.g. the Storyteller system, the One Roll Engine, FUDGE, Story Engine, etc.)

- You are at risk of stabbing yourself in the brain when you read something incredibly dumb, trite, contradictory, or poorly designed

Okay, okay…one final note (or two). One think anyone should realize is that Palladium takes itself very seriously, even if no one else does. It is NOT “fraught with whimsy” even though one might suspect that based on its subject matter, nor do I find many examples of real humor in the text or subject matter. Often, the designer strives for realism over the cinematic, pulp, or comic book DESPITE the subject matter presented. This can be exasperating at times.

One famous example from the books explains how a GM should not allow a character to simply put a pistol to his head and pull the trigger, just because the character has dozens of SDC/hit points and the pistol only does 3D6 damage. Later, specific rules are presented for “point blank” shots of this nature…as if a special rule is needed for every goddamn piece of common sense that needs adjudicating. This type of rules elucidation (or “patches”) and discussion takes up paragraphs and paragraphs of text that could be used to better explain ACTUAL rule systems. However, much of Palladium works suffer from a profound lack of editing.

Not that things don’t famously end up on the “cutting room floor” (check out the reviews of Rifts World Book 7: Underseas on if you don’t believe me). But when things DO get edited for space they are generally whole sections of ideas, not the author/designers musings and rumblings, nor re-prints from earlier supplements!

My advice on this score…just let it drop. Read the book, get familiar with the rules, and in true HackMaster fashion, make up the extra necessaries on the fly. Use common sense and consistency, and don’t get too bogged down in the details. Palladium games ache to be a bit more cinematic…give ‘em that! Don’t worry too much about how many pounds can be thrown how many feet by someone with “augmented strength” versus “supernatural strength.” Hell, there are no miniature rules, and I’ve never tracked range, distance, and movement in the game (“the SAMMAS comes flying over the rooftops, rail gun blazing a line of fire through the ground towards your feet…what are you doing?”). You can still have granulation without crumpling into a fetal position due to Search & Handling paralysis.

Good luck, folks.

No comments:

Post a Comment