101 Days of Rifts: Burried Treasure Rifter #21

As a general rule in the Buried Treasure series I’ve tried to highlight items of broad use to the OSR community. This time the item is much more limited, at least the reason I selected it limits it to Palladium fans. However, I consider it important for Palladium GMs to at least consider.

For those not familiar The Rifter is Palladium’s house organ. It comes out quarterly and while a periodical it resembles a typical Palladium game book. It is perfect bound and on the heavy but not glossy paper that is Palladium’s norm. In terms of content it has what you’d expect of an RPG house organ: company news and ads, scenarios, setting info, optional rules, and some fiction or comics. However, those last four have much more of a fanzine feel than a professional publication. That is not a criticism. I have enjoyed The Rifter more than I expected. I have a standing order for it at Teahouse Comics in Atlanta, GA. Most issues have material I think any old school GM would find useful. A well picked issue would be perfect for someone using Jeff Rient’s Alchemical Formula.

Issue 21 articles for Heroes Unlimited, three Rifts articles, one Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game article, a general Palladium rules article, and a lot of company info and ads. To be honest it’s a bit sparse with a catalog of Palladium’s fantasy game dressed up as an article and a couple of full-page ads.

The Heroes Unlimited article describes organizations of psions created with organic implants that are the offspring of psionic creature that melds with a computer. It includes background, a point building system, descriptions of the Motherframe creature and their offspring systems, and a character class for the psions created with the system. They have a strong cyber/gene-punk feel and would be at home in a much broader variety of games than just supers. In fact, I can see them fitting in as an odd remnant tech or a post-Scream evolution of AI tech in Stars Without Number. This is probably the most generally useful article in the issue.

The three Rifts articles cover familiars, expand techno-wizardry, and fan fiction. The familiar article has a few rules, some spells, a variety of creatures, and a character class of magic users who work mostly with familiars. While the rules might be adaptable too many of the creatures are either Rifts specific or a bit silly for my taste (baby Cthulthu as a familiar anyone or an air elemental in essentially a bong). The Techno-Wizard rules focus on device creation which ties them strongly to Rifts. Some of the notes and ideas might be useful to Mage: The Ascension players who are members of the Sons of Ether but I’m iffy on that idea. The fan fiction is chapter 21 of The Hammer of the Forge, a Phase World novel that ran through issue 54. I have a soft spot for it but it’s fan fiction.

The fantasy article (as opposed to the catalog) is the beginning of an adventure path (called an adventure campaign) built around the quest of the Mighty Hammer of Ra. It takes up nearly half the pages and includes multiple adventure setups, setting details, and some additional adventure ideas. The individual adventures are pretty spare compared to a Pathfinder adventure path providing a few npcs, a goal, and maybe some items or a map. The setting detail provides some connective tissue. Finally, the additional adventure ideas are in hook, line, and sinker format. Thinking about it this is closer to a Savage Worlds plot point campaign than a Pathfinder adventure path. It could be adapted to non-Palladium setting and rules.

The big feature of this issue, though, is the general Palladium rules article called PPE Channeling . Palladium uses a magic-point system for casting spells. The points are called Potential Psychic Energy or PPE for short. In a classic Palladium move psychic/psionic powers also use a point system but those points are called Inner Strength Points (ISP). Spell level drives the casting times expressed in melee rounds despite the system using spell points. By contrast each psychic attack uses one melee attack. GMs interpreted this to mean that a caster declares his spells when his initiative comes around and they don’t take affect until the end of the round (or a later round for higher level spells).

A combat where three characters of level 4 and 5 got the drop on a level 10 magic user inspired the article. Because casting times were in melee round regardless of level a caster got no better at casting spells. With even lower spells taking a full melee round (technically two could be cast but there were no timing rules) and the fact that merely dodging an attack would disrupt casting magic-users without a fighter wall really could not cast during combat. His solution was to set casting time in melee actions with a certain amount of PPE per action. This made some high level spells after than their low level counterparts but made nearly all spells faster.

This was a pretty big rule at the time and was even included in The Best of the Rifter. With Rifts Ultimate Edition casting times were revised to be stated in melee attacks but still tied to spell level arguably making the article obsolete. I consider it an interesting variant and was planning on using it until I started reading Rifts Ultimate Edition. I’m now torn between using it or the RUE version. I suspect they work out similarly but how many actions/attacks a given spell take changing here and there. I still think it is worth reading especially for Palladium players who don’t have RUE but one of the rule sets still using the melee round rules.

So, while perhaps not the most generally applicable issue of The Rifter I think for Palladium GMs playing anything other than RUE this is a must read if your magic-users are not doing well in combat.

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.

Lost post: Okay, another project to not get around to…

In looking for links I found this draft which I thought I’d actually posted. It’s the genesis of the never really followed through which means the title was very accurate. Still, I figured it was worth posting as I have yet to see anyone discuss the kinds of books I brought up. Plus, Diadem of the Stars has been staring at me as I get ready to run Stars without Numbers at the D&D Meetup.

Over at Grognardia the wonderful Mr. Maliszewski asked for review suggestions.

Inspired by having recently purchased Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery I suggested reviews of fantasy contemporary to the early editions of D&D because it became incestuous with fantasy fiction. There were, after, a lot of fantasy writers active in the 70s and early 80s who wrote neither pulp fantasy (which was the primary D&D inspiration) or Tolkien pastiche. Some fine examples are Bradley with her Darkover novels, Andre Norton who wrote a great number of Witch World books in the 70s, McCaffrey’s Pern, the afore mentioned Clayton and her numerous series (Diadem from the Stars (Diadem, Bk. 1)
was first published in 1977), the Deryni books, LeGuin’s Earthsea (and her excellent “The Language of the Night”, essays on fantasy writing well worth reading), Xanth, and the entire Ballentine Adult fantasy line (some of which did influence D&D).

The reason I asked is one thing I’ve realized in getting into the old school movement (and I remarked on this when discussing why “Swords of the Red Sun” failed) is my D&D experience wasn’t fueled by Conan et al. The more important realization was my inspiration comes from another line of fantasy (excluding my love of John Carter and his descendants) but something different. When I first got my basic set I read mostly sci-fi and looked for fantasy to fill the gaps. As currently hot I read lots of Pern, Darkover, Witchworld, and so on. While some might argue romantic fantasy owes its roots to these authors I’m disinclined to put them in that school.

Regardless, there are an equally valid influence for old school gaming in the sense that those of us who played back then read them. James said it would be a useful project but passed on it saying he lacked the knowledge (and, although he didn’t say as much, I suspect interest in acquiring it).

Buried Treasures: Old School RPG Magazines and Fanzines

Because I can’t keep track I thought I’d create a list of RPG fanzines and magazines dedicated to pre-3.x D&D, clones of it, and T&T. Images are the most current issue. The order is not meant to be a comment, but just reflects the order I remembered them.

If I missed your magazine or you’d like the link or thumbnail changed please drop me a line. I’m only interested in those still being actively produced (I’m unsure of the status of Green Devil Face so I didn’t list it).

Buried Treasures: Hellpits of Nightfang

If I was going to give a new Dungeon Master of any edition of D&D, yes even 4th edition, a module to say “hey, here’s how it is done” I have to admit it wouldn’t be from TSR. In fact, it wouldn’t even be a D&D module but a Runequest one. I’d hand him Hellpits of Nightfang by Paul Jaquays and published by The Judges Guild. Fortunately it is available as a PDF for under $3.


Hellpits of Nightfang details a three limestone sinkholes as well as the caves and tombs attached to them. The pits are the home of a pair of vampires, a pack of wolves and other assorted creatures. It has fifteen numbered locations. They are all named as well for added character. While the entire module is thirty-six pages long much of that is white spaced with lines for notes. Major characters (the two vampires and one wolf) each take about a page for stat blocks with note space while minor creatures run as many as five to a page. A very brief history of the two vampires as well as a hero’s tomb in the sinkholes is provided.

What makes Hellpits of Nightfang an ideal model for a new Dungeon Master? First, it is a quintessential location adventure. It has absolutely no plot. In fact, I can summarize the entire background in four sentences. Nightfang is a vampire so old his real name is forgotten even by local villagers. In life he was a priest of a death cult and sacrifices his victims to his god meaning he rarely creates vampires. The one exception was the ugly daughter of a local farmer he has turned and who is now his companion. The sinkholes also include the tomb of a local hero that floods now that the climate is wetter. That’s it. The only mention of anything beyond the pits is a local populace including at one farmer now short an ugly daughter. It is a prime example of creating something and let the player’s action define the story.

Second, Jaquays uses a standard format used previously in Snakepipe Hollow. It creates a much more open feeling than many TSR modules from the same time period. It demonstrates the difference between designed set pieces and more dynamic locations. While some might object to the amount of detail of this key format for a beginner I think adopting this format would be a huge help. It is a prime example of expert created rules that might stifle experts forced to use them but that provide a marked advantage for beginners.

Finally, the adventure has some interesting set pieces. Without giving too much away Nightfang has some interesting items and ways of using them you might not consider. The flooded tomb has a very interesting pool. There are also some interesting traps of a type I’ve yet to see in many OSR discussions.

All in all, this is an excellent adventure. While a classic location adventure it provides a lot of contrast to many modules. It is small enough to wrap your head around the whole thing and see how it is put together. I think it is an excellent first adventures for a new dungeon master, especially of the old school.

Buried Treasures: Mechanoid Invasion

400-The-Mechanoid-Invasion-TriologyWhen I went home for Christmas I looked through my games collection that still resides at my parents’ house. Among the items I found in boxes that I was very glad I still had was the first roleplaying game Palladium Publishing produced, The Mechanoid Invasion and it’s two sequels.

For those not familiar the series of three games/supplements describes the destruction of a human colony by the Mechanoids. They Mechaniods are an evil, insane, race of cyborgs. Think of the Borg but created while on a peyote trip after reading a decade of Rom: Spaceknight comics. In the first book, The Mechanoid Invasion the colonists are trying to fight off the Mechanoids. In the second book, The Journey, finding out that military assistance will be month’s too late as the Mechanoids are tearing apart the planet for resources the colonist become the rats in the walls of the Mechanoid’s asteriod sized mothership. Interestingly, this book is the only one that is isn’t a stand alone game. Finally, in Homeworld, we reach the Mechanoid homeworld. The last is the longest book at 192 digest pages. The combined reprint is in normal RPG sized is about 200 pages.

Today Palladium has become the butt of jokes for most of the community for their gun porn, power creep, and recycling material. There is truth to that. In fact, if you get the original The Mechanoid Invasion you’ll find material in the newest Palladium games word for word. Even in the third book you get material for the first repeats. The Balrog Destroyer super tank from The Journey is the first instance of the power creep and lack of internal logic that would characterize Rifts material.

However, ever good thing that people would say about Palladium in the next thirty years is in here too. The engine, which is an early D&D derivative, is functional for the game in place. Given the modern view that the Palladium engine is fine for fantasy but broken for modern systems people should look back. The gonzo imagination of Kevin Siembieda is on display. The various kinds of Mechanoids is creative as is the entire idea of the second book. At the time most people expected what we’d later see in Rifts with the Federation showing up with big ships and a power scale up. Instead we got microbe created magic and the ultimate reverse dungeon in space.
After the original digest books went out of print Palladium created a third stand alone game called The Mechanoids set between the first and third book of the original trilogy. While not quite as exciting it isn’t a bad game. A decade later the Mechanoids would appear with mega-damage as yet another Rifts supplement. This is the least enjoyable version in my opinion but for several years was the easiest to find. However, about a decade ago the original books were gathered into a single volume pretty much intact. This big book is one of Palladium’s first e-products and is available at RPGNow. The preview has a complete table of contents if you’re considering any version of the reprint.
With the growing interest in science-fantasy this is truly a buried treasure. If you are using Mutant Future including Mechanoids in a variety of forms is an option. They’d fit well into Encounter Critical. I’m not sure they’d be too great for most science fantasy but I’d encourage someone using Jeff Rient’s Alchemical Proposal to think about making it one supplement. In fact, if you want to do an OSR science fantasy game more from the science side than the fantasy side it it could be a good base game. Regardless, this is one game worth overcoming the post Rifts Palladium prejudices to take a look at.

Buried Treasures: Big Rubble, The Deadly City

The BIG RUBBLE is the perfect hunting ground for both prospective and veteran adventurers. From the relative safety of the frontier town of New Pavis, exploration parties may venture forth into the Rubble to once again tap the treasures and magics buried in its ruins. They will be aided and hindered by the guards and bureaucrats of the occupying Lunar empire.

Recently there was considerable discussion in the OSR about the ability to publish a mega-dungeon. Some, such as James Maliszewski over at Grognarda, didn’t think it could be done. Other disagreed including Michael Curtis over at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope who published his Stonehell soon after. One constant in all the discussion, however, was the conclusion the attempts at publishing one of the classic mega-dungeons like Blackmoor or Greyhawk had all failed. While that might be true at least one early structure that should qualify as a mega-dungeon did see the light of day. In fact, it had two published boxed sets cover it and the associated city which still garner high prices on eBay and were reprinted as one massive book in the 1990s. That mega-dungeon is the Big Rubble, the ruins of the city of Old Pavis in Glorantha.

For those who are wondering why you have never heard of Pavis or The Big Rubble along side the Slaver, Giants, and Drow modules the answer is simplicity and fate. Pavis: Gateway to Adventure and Big Rubble: The Deadly City were published not by TSR but by Chaosium. They are not for D&D but for Runequest. I find it ironic that the game that in its day was considered the anti-D&D published the most successful mega-dungeon of the period. Both boxed sets were among a series of supplements, mostly boxed sets but some booklets, that represented the golden age of Runequest and, in my mind, of Glorantha as a game setting. Anyone interested in early campaign styles that started to add loose plotting to great sandbox settings should look at most of these sets.

What is the Big Rubble? It is a the ruins of two cities the later of which was about sacked about 400 years earlier. The first city was founded about 900 years before the supplement begins by a culture of evil magicians to capture magical cradles carrying giant babies to the sea to join in the battles of Glorantha’s mythological age. It only lasted twenty or so years before being destroyed by a giant and his allies who included a minor god. They built the towering walls (80 feet plus in height) of Old Pavis to use as a fortification. About thirty years later a man named Pavis, whose city was sacked by the same minor god’s followers, lead a giant, faceless statue and some nomads to take the fortifications. After the battle the statue was used to build the interior buildings. Pavis himself would later become the city’s patron deity but the city would be sacked by trolls around 400 years after its founding.

A game master opening the Big Rubble boxed set could look forward to “thousands of acres of ruin and destruction now remain, full of robbers, outcasts, and inhuman monsters.” To get an idea of the scale consider the image to the left superimposing both the old (larger) and new (smaller) city on modern London (the original source has one imposed on Manhattan as well). The white area outlines medieval London contrast. No attempt was made to detail all of this area. Instead a 48 page “Rubble Guide” details some highlights of the area. Nine scenarios detail such a maze-like canal built for seemingly no purpose to a troll town hiding a magical artifact and everything in between. Plenty of notes are provided to help the game master build his own sections of the city. Finally, some forms used by officials in the new city to control exit from the rubble to the new city are included.

So, you can publish what amounts to a mega-dungeon. You can especially publish an adventurous, mostly above ground, one rooted in unique mythology. You can even create one of our hobby’s forgotten masterpieces in the process.