101 Days of Rifts: Palladium and OSR

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Hey Herb, didn’t you start this blog because of an interest in old school game and especially old school D&D. Why are you focusing on Rifts, a cheesy 90s game that everyone knows is junk.”. Okay, maybe you aren’t doing the judging but are wondering why Rifts instead Gamma World or Runequest or Starships & Spacemen or anything by Sine Nomine given how much you’re into their games. I contend that Rifts and Palladium games in general are old school. In fact, I’ll lay down my marker and say Palladium is the oldest old school company still in existence and is ignored by the OSR to the OSR’s loss. Actually, ignored is probably too strong a word. I think the OSR and the Palladium fan base should naturally overlap and just never have.

The Palladium system, as I have pointed out before, is a variation of OD&D. As such, it uses Gygaxian building blocks. Palladium has used this to advertise all their games as compatable. That’s a bit of a stretch but it does mean Palladium supplements are great supplements for an old school game. A couple of year’s ago when I tried to do a month of posts using Jeff Rients’s Alchemical Formula I picked Palladium’s Mystic China as a supplement. I think any OSR oriented person would do well to add a Palladium book or two to their collection. Picking the right one, such as Rifts England or Splicers can add a strange spice to your game not dissimilar to early Arduin in feel.

Since the late nineties Palladium has produced a quarterly house magazine called The Rifter. To give an idea of the contents here is the table of contents for issue #4, the first I bought (for its Nightbane content):

  1. From Behind the Desk (editorial)
  2. Palladium New, Info, & Coming Attractions
  3. Palladium Fantasy RPG Hook, Line, & Sinkers for the Western Empire (scenario outlines)
  4. Knight of the Dinner Table (yes, the comic)
  5. Palladium Fantasy RPG Long, Strange Trips (G.M. tips & ideas)
  6. Palladium Fantasy RPG Death is Not Always Final (monsters)
  7. Nightbane RGP The Tribes of the Moon (character races and classes)
  8. Rifts A.R.C.I.E. Three vs. The World (adventure)
  9. Rifts The Evolved (monsters)
  10. The Siege Against Tolkeen (gamer fiction)
  11. Hammer of the Forge (gamer fiction)
  12. Optional Character Sheet

Pretty much looks like an issue of Fight On to me except for the fiction.

Finally, the Palladium Forums at the company’s website spend a lot of time on either houseruling things (Palladium is like OD&D, every game is unique) or doing new material. There is less of a web presence and much of it has been static for a decade but it is still there.

Palladium’s heritage and fan base are very much OSR types. While they might put a bit more emphasis on cannon, especially the Rifts section, for game worlds with as many books there is a smaller cannon police feel. I think if you’re into the OSR mindset Palladium games are a great fit.

101 Days of Rifts: Appendix N Robotech New Generation

Robotech New GenerationRobotech is an American animated television series from the 80s. Yes, I said American even though the animation was Japanese. The US TV syndication market prefers (or at least did in the 80s) series of at least 65 episodes in length. The provides a minimum run before repeats of 13 weeks if broadcast Monday through Friday. To meet this requirement Harmony Gold combined the animation of three anime series, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (interesting side note, originally the third part was to have been the other Super Dimension series, Super Dimension Century Orguss) with a new story covering three wars pitting Earth against alien invaders over Protoculture a combined energy and spiritual source. This gave them 85 episodes and the ability to sell in the syndicated TV market.

The original Robotech was a modest hit and saw a variety of spin-off media including toys, model kits (actually, Revell was selling these prior to the series), comic adaptations (by the now defunct Comico), a RPG by Palladium (that saw the first use of MDC), and a series of novelizations. The novelizations were written by Brian Daley (author of the Han Solo adventures novels) and James Luceno (also a Star Wars universe writer) under the pen name Jack McKinney. Macross was the subject of six books and the other two series three each. Later they would write novels of the never finished squeal series, a wrap up novel, and four connective novels. At this point the novels are no longer Robotech cannon with the 2006 movie Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles.

The three New Generation novels, covering The Third Robotech War, are Invid Invasion, Metamorphosis, and Symphony of Light which are now availible as a single volume omnibus. At the end of The Second Robotech War the Earth’s population is tiny given it has been less than 20 years after the First Robotech War ended with Earth’s population under 100,000. Also, the fighting of the two wars has devastated Earth’s surface. Less than a year after the Second War Ended the Third War begins with the invasion of the Invid, an insect like race. They rapidly take over and enslave some of humanity while the rest hides in remote places with a few rebels fighting to regain control.

The actual action of the series begins with the second attempt to retake Earth. The sole survivor, a space fighter pilot named Scott Bernard, crashes in South America begins to work his way towards the Reflex Point near the Great Lakes region of the US that is the center of the Invid host. He collects around him a band of freedom fighters and adventurers including a rock start, a mechanic, an orphan girl, a biker, a survivalist, and two Invid who have taken human form. Among their interesting gear are high tech armor and motorcycles that can withstand the fire of military weapons. As they work their way north they perform rock concerts, explore ruined cities, fight Invid, and generally cause trouble. As they reach the Reflex Point another attempt is make to retake Earth and the war ends.

I think someone approaching Rifts would do well to watch the New Generation (it is the last 25 episodes of the original series) or read one of its adaptations. I’m personally partial to the novels and as this is Appendix N they are what I have linked. Robotech Earth in the Invid period is the closest media to Rifts I know. Earth is overrun by foreign monsters and a nearly wiped out humanity fights for its existence while also collaborating with the invaders. The resistance has ultra high tech weaponry as do the invaders who also have some psychic powers. The only things really missing are magic and multiple sources of invaders. The group is also pretty much thrown together and freelance like many RPG parties.

The big reason, however, I like this series for Rifts inspiration over other alien invasion or after the apocalypse fiction is the strong separation of combat and non-combat action. This is a hallmark of mecha oriented anime and I think it is crucial to understanding Rifts especially MDC versus SDC combat. As I remarked in my first rules post MDC came from the Robotech RPG where it works fairly well but many people think it is broken in Rifts. I used to think that way but my thinking is evolving but a variety of items, including the series at question, are changing that. One of the conventions of mecha anime is rivals fight as equals. Mecha combat occurs in mecha and personal combat at the personal level. Rarely does the villain try to kill the hero by smushing him with his mecha or blasting him with missiles or laser canon. The MDC complaint in Rifts comes down to claiming the existence of MDC weapons means humans can never leave their armor. The counter by the author of Rifts in several books and many fans is that reduces the game to just tactical combat. However, if we model Rifts on something like a mecha series the counter makes sense.

What better first model than a mecha series which also became an MDC using RPG from Palladium featuring a ruined Earth when humanity on the edge fights monsters from beyond with power armor.

101 Days of Rifts: Day Off

I had hoped to have the first Buried Treasures reviews for 101 Days of Rifts but end of month isn’t a quiet time for us in banking. Add in that my Team Lead’s annual vacation to Dragoncon is this week and I picked the wrong week to start.

So to tide you over until next Friday (with two Buried Treasures from the Rifts/Palladium lines) here are links to my prior Rifts related reviews/overviews: R is for Rifts and where Palladium got started The Mechanoid Invasion Trilogy.

101 Days of Rifts: Rules I

To say Palladium’s rules, especially the version presented in Rifts, have a poor reputation among much of the RPG Internet community is an understatement. The most common complaints are the rules are badly organized and contradictory, Mega-Damage Capacity is broken, the system is just a clunky version of D&D, and it’s for power mad munchkins. While true they create problems of different severity.

Let me kill the last one first. Yes, Palladium, especially in the Rifts is a power gamer’s wet dream. My answer to that is “so what?” FATE and HeroQuest, both games I own and have for years (my first FATE rules were the downloaded PDF circa 2000 and I bought Hero Wars), are story oriented gamer wet dreams. I do go running them down for that. I appreciate them for that. Similarly, I appreciate the design of Palladium’s rules provide a certain kind of bronze age of comics feel. An argument that other games give that same feel better than Palladium is something I’m willing to engage. Proclaiming that giving that feel alone makes a game bad is a subjective judgment I won’t.

The core Palladium system is mostly house ruled D&D although to the point it’s a cousin and not in the immediately family. This was obvious way back in the early 80s with The Mechanoid Invasion so why should it be different today? Given the number of games built on a Classic D&D chassis both in the past and today this is a twist on “I don’t like D&D” and should be treated as such. Classic D&D and variants have done a decent job of powering a variety of games over a variety of genres for the life of the hobby. I won’t reject Palladium on that one.

Mega-Damage Capacity (MDC) is where I do start having issues with the system. For those not familiar with MDC it is a form of super hit points at a 100:1 scale. One point of MDC damage is equal to 100 points of SDC/hit point damage (SDC is Structural Damage Capacity). However, the scale does not work the other way. Doing 100 SDC, even if done in a single attack, does not do 1 MDC. Palladium originally did this for their Robotech RPG line and it actually works well there. A punch from a Veritech in guardian or battloid mode will smush a human big while a punch from a human on the Veritech is just going to result in boxer’s fractures. In Robotech MDC only applies to mecha and futuristic war machines and heavy weapons.

In Rifts, however, there are hand held MDC damage weapons as well as living creatures with MDC instead of SDC/hitpoints. This is where the system starts to break down. When a simple laser pistol can do a minimum of 100 SDC/hitpoints personal combat is going to disappear. Moving outside of tightly controlled areas means wearing MDC armor all the time. As you might guess, MDC in and of itself will take up at least post so I’ll get into it in more detail later.

The biggest issue with Palladium rules and Rifts specifically is it is an unorganized mess. Although there are fewer typos it is, in many ways, less organized than OD&D. At best it is as organized as the original DMG which was the worst organized of the original three hardbacks. However, I think OD&D is a fairer comparison because a lot of the rules starting with character creation make assumptions that you get RPGs, specifically late 70s/early 80s RPG culture. Rules are scattered hither and yon. For example, the character creation sections tells you in step 1 to roll 3d6 for attributes. This is correct but if you do this and get to step 5 to select an occupational character class (OCC) or racial character class (RCC). If you pick the RCC of Dragon Hatchling you use a different set of rolls. This isn’t a huge issue because for the Dragon Hatchling you can just add some extra dice but it is still a bit of disorganization which can lead to flipping pages. Given RCCs appear in a lot of supplemental books as well is a huge organizational problem. Another good example is plenty of equipment descriptions but not basic item-price list.

In fact, I’ll say this disorganization is bad enough that even though I think by the book Rifts is possible (yes, even with MDC) I’m not sure with just the book Rifts. I used to make cheat sheets but I don’t have them anymore. I also think, especially having learned TeX, that I can build better ones now. As a result in parallel with my setting design I’ll be doing Rifts cheat sheets, which I’ll provide for download. Building cheat sheets on classes, races, and equipment also make it easier to lay out what I allow and what is not in the campaign. It also makes it clear what side of contradictory rules I’m taking.

Rifts Inspirational Art I

I did not buy into Rifts when it first came out. I was mostly into Gurps at the time. However, when my wife first left me I found myself hanging out at the game shop (the sadly gone Dragon’s Lair in Hartford, Connecticut). I kept looking through their huge selection of used gaming books. One night I started looking through Rifts books and three images captured my imagination. Rifts is the first game I bought because the art struck me. Even now it remains one of the few games where that is true. Off-hand I cannot think of another.


The least among the three is this image of a mystic druid (from Rifts England) clearly not in her native environment. Yes, she looks very 80s fantasy but in a way I found appealing even in the late 90s. She could easily be the sister of Morgaine given the cover of my original paperback of Gate of Iverl.

What is also interesting is that game with giant robots, floating barges, and laser guns also had room from someone from an 80s fantasy movie. It was the first hint that Rifts Earth wasn’t the typical post-apocalyptic setting.



Next up is the picture in my mind when I mentioned snow and forests in yesterday’s post. It is a DeeBee and a CyberKnight although it could easily be any fantasy setting instead of Rifts. The DeeBee could be used as an orc.

Again, this is how Rifts got into my head. At this point I was thinking less of giant mecha games and more of something that could support crossing C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine stories with something like Appleseed for a really wild ride.


It was this last image, though, that sealed the deal. A group of explores with high-tech gear but still using torch in wilderness so barren it was like being back in Wyoming watching a ley line burn in the night. This was something new for me. I hadn’t even had images like this in my mind playing D&D in Greyhawk in the 80s.

I bought a used core book, a used Rifts England due to the mystic druid caption, and because the beginning of the England book mentioned it Wormwood. I’d later realize the last two weren’t related closed just from here to there in a travel journal. I haven’t really looked at Wormwood much since but still, 15 years later, these three images define what I think about when I first think Rifts. Wyoming is a place, based on the brief entries, to make this images what I see during my game.

101 Days of Rifts: Notes and Gamer ADD

This is not the Rifts post for the day, that is already in and scheduled. As was my want back when I last regularly updated it is inspirational art.

In fact, my plan is the Monday through Saturday posts will mostly follow my old schedules:

Monday: pointers to interesting articles
Tuesday: campaign information (not so random campaign ideas)
Wednesday: Inspirational art
Thursday: Rules material
Friday: Buried Treasures (all Palladium for the period)
Saturday: Appendix N

Now, as to how hard this “nothing but Rifts and Palladium I can use in Rifts for 101 days”. Monday the new issue of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad arrived. Yesterday my huge, heavy, coffee table style Guide to Glorantha books arrived (from the Kickstarter a couple of years back). I have to wait for December to read them.

101 Days of Rifts: Where to Start?

Rifts Earth is the core of the Palladium Megaverse. It is important the same way Earth is in the Marvel Comics universe. While most Marvel Comic RPGs focus on New York City, Rifts Earth has a lot more options. Much of North America, parts of Central America, parts of Europe, Africa, Russia, China, Japan, and Australia have one or more Rifts books. The default setting is arguably the upper Midwest of the US, home of Chi-town, center of the Collation States.

Of course, what kind of Megaverse would be limited to Earth. It has a major outer space option forming a parallel to Marvel’s space empires (now brought to movies with Guardians of the Galaxy) in Phase World and the Three Galaxies presented over six books. Two books feature other planets. Wormwood describes a weird living medieval type world of the same name. Skraypers presents the world of Charizolonf which has a huge superheroes population fighting alien invaders. The last big official Rifts setting still available covers a pair of hell dimensions and their war which spills across the Megaverse over five books. The setting of the game Manhunter by Myrmiddon Press was presented as a Rifts setting in a long out of print book licensed by Palladium*. Finally, any other Palladium setting can connect to Rifts Earth via the titular dimensional rifts. The universe of the Mechanoids is an interesting case as it has both a separate game and a Rifts Sourcebook.

For a long time my stock Rifts setting was the Connecticut River valley. It’s a nice location in terms of potential opponents and society. Free Quebec is both a threat and a trading partner, the Splugoth will be raiding the coastal area, and Archie Three can be a threat without much work. The key thing for New England was realizing you just couldn’t use the population numbers from Rifts Sourcebook or the combined human/DeeBee population would be lower than even the lowest estimate for native North Americans before Columbus by a factor of three. If you do the math (which I will in a future post) there aren’t enough people left to have adventure.

However, I’d like to try something different. I’m a huge fan of Phase World. I’d also like to do something around the place I did most of my growing up, Casper, Wyoming. One place I want to avoid is the original US Upper Midwest of the US setting. I’m not a big fan of the Collation and would rather avoid anything that makes
them the good guys. That’s what is keeping me from doing a Federation of Magic game.

The biggest advantage now of Phase World is I could sell the campaign as a Guardians of the Galaxy style game. I’ve always though of Phase World as
several setting ideas or perhaps just as something that could be expressed in different way. Traditionally I’ve thought of it as the best BESM setting book
for space and mecha games. As a longtime fan of the Legion of Superheroes I’ve also seen Phase Worlds as a super’s setting. The biggest downside of Phase
World is it’s harder to get a tight initial focus. At least, I think it would be.

Casper, Wyoming is actually mentioned in the book Spirit West:

Casper Preserve (Wyoming): This Preserve is built on the ruins of Casper, Wyoming and is manned and controlled by the Cheyenne/Sioux Coalitions. It is one of the best defended of the Preserves in terms of the skill and determination of its warrior, shamans, and spirit allies, but then it needs to be. It is located on the edge of the Black Hill Nexus and is a land besieged by supernatural horrors.

Sounds great except an Indian preserve might be limiting in terms of the types of characters. This is especially true as 90% are Traiditionalist, Native Americans who have rejected tech in the years since the apocalypse.

That said, this conflicts with the original core Rifts book to a degree. It’s entry for Wyoming says:

The American sector once known as Wyoming is a range of grassland and dense forest where faerie folk abound. There is a feeling of magic about the entire place, although there are no apparent mystic or supernatural forces at work.

This brings up one of the great strengths of Rifts for an old school type GM that has hurt Palladium in the contemporary market. Rifts is often a contradictory mess especially over the course of multiple books. For an old school GM the lack of an official answer gives me a lot more freedom to make the game mine.

I’m going to work on a game set in what was Wyoming and western South Dakota. As we’ll see tomorrow forests, snow, and active ley lines are a huge
part of what drew me to Rifts. This seems the perfect place to take advantage of them.

*We’ll have a review of that book somewhere along the line during my Friday Buried Treasures reviews.

101 Days of Rifts: What and Why?

In the past year my RPG life has been nearly non-existent. I was briefly in a B/X game that migrated to AD&D2 and was a bit too railroady for my tastes. My two attempts to get something started, one S&W and one Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (with the Starter Set), were still-born. The second one, coming about the time of the D&D 5th Edition release controversy basically turned me off of even reading about RPGs.

Yet, one of the reasons I agreed to move to the new house is room to regularly game. The living room is essentially setup as a game room with my old kitchen table and a ton of Ikea bookcases. I have a frame and space for my print from the recent version of Orge. I have reserved a space for my Metamorphosis Alpha cover print. Now all I need is a gaming group.

The easy thing would be to offer up the new edition of D&D but it’s still dribbling out. Also, everyone is trying to sell that game. I wanted to do something different but due to my interest and in competing for a group. Lately I’ve been going through my every 18 months love affair with Palladium Books’s games. I have wanted to run Rifts, Nightbane, or one of their other games for quite a while. So, I figured what not offer up some Rifts.

However, when games don’t make immediately I tend to easily give up. I want to avoid that this time around. About a decade ago an RPG.net user started a forum thread 101 Days of Savage Worlds. It became a hot idea for a while there. In fact, my first real notice of James Raggi IV himself was 101 Days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The last one of which I am aware, which is appropriate to note here, is 101 Days of Palladium Fantasy 2nd Edition in 2011.

Grubman declared:

For the next 101 days as a GM I will use nothing but Savage Worlds for all my Game Mastering. That means I will write adventures and run game sessions using nothing but SW despite the genre or setting. I also will not be reading/buying any new games with any intention to read the system (but perhaps the setting) other than WFRP which I refuse to stop “collecting”.

So, starting today (August 25, 2014) and running for 101 days (December 3, 2014) I’m going to limit my GM side RPG thinking, reading, and writing to Rifts and maybe a few other bits from the broader Palladium Megaverse as it would impact my hope to soon be running Rifts game. I will not buy any non-Palladium materials with two exceptions: my already ordered Fifth Edition core books (but my picked up just this past Saturday PHB will remain unread) and two Kickstarters (the Necromancer Games Fifth Edition books and the upcoming Sine Nomine one).