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.

Review: First Edition Feats/1E Heroic Abilities

In the rush of new products some older products that are clearly OSR material but “predate” the movement have gotten lost in the shuffle. Today we’ll look at two of the from the same publisher and author: First Edition Feats and 1E Heroic Abilitiesby Malcolm Shepard at Mob United Media. Both supplements are PDFs available at RPGNow.com for $2.99 and $1.50 respectively.

First Edition Feats is an eleven page PDF two of which are taken up by a full color cover and the OGL. The contents are just what you would expect. It adds a feat system, except it calls its feats combat proficiencies, to 1st Edition AD&D and OSRIC. It should be easily adaptable to other versions of D&D with no or little work. The biggest issue for D&D as opposed to AD&D is it is based on the weapons proficiency system. Adopting it to the BECMI/RC weapons mastery system would be easy and either of those could be grafted onto the rest of the family.

The rules on combat proficiencies take about two pages of rules including design notes. It allows a character to substitute one of the combat proficiencies for a weapon proficiency. Each combat proficiency can be taken twice for two levels of effect. The rules require a character to take at least one weapon proficiency and prohibit the doubling of a combat proficiency at level one. The system recommends that monsters of at least low intelligence have access to the system at up to one combat proficiency per 2HD and requiring at least average intelligence to take a double proficiency. I can imagine an orge or orc shaman with a couple of these spicing up a combat.

The rest of material describes twenty-one combat proficiencies. Each has a name, one sentence description, prerequisite, class, single proficiency benefit, and double proficiency benefit. The prerequisites are generally ability score values or weapon proficiencies although there is one alignment prerequisite. Most of the abilities provide a small bonus under certain circumstances. For example, the Two Handed Weapon proficiency adds +1 to damage when using a two handed weapon. Shield Bash allows you to sacrifice you shield’s AC bonus and use your shield as an off hand weapon. The only magic-user allowed proficiency allows magic-users to use a single type of magical weapon where the weapon type is not normally allowed but unable to use the magical abilities unless they take the double proficiency.

The proficiencies occasionally have two additional entries. Special gives notes outside of the above. For example the special section on the Archery proficiency notes you can use more than one slot on the double bonus, which is bow type specific, to use it with another bow type. The second section is called Normal. This to me is what makes this a true old school product. A common complaint against feats and skills in the OSR is they are limiting. If your character lacks feat X then they can’t try to do that. While a valid complaint I think this is only half the story. As I’ve written before old school characters are made out of what they’re good at doing. By supplying a normal rule for proficiencies which don’t have rules already in place this supplement emphasizes the fact they are about what you’re good at doing and not “permission” to do something.

While I have some quibbles, such as not opening up the special staff abilities to magic-users, in general I think this was worth the cost. I bought it for a proposed 2nd edition game and would probably use it with everything from that to Labrynth Lord. It is low impact in terms of time added to character creation and game play. It helps provide mechanical differentiation to the one class in older versions of D&D that really needs it, fighters. In fact, if you’re in an older game with a dozen different fighter types you might be able to prune it some if you’d like. Finally, it provides a good outline to Dungeon Masters and players wanting to add their own unique abilities. If the publisher were to revisit it the one thing I’d like to see is a single page summary chart of the combat proficiencies.

I’m not as enthused about 1E Heroic Abilities. It is a mere six pages, again two used by the full color cover and OGL, and provides three related expansions to ability scores. First, for each class it defines certain abilities as having secondary ability scores. These are decimal scores identical to and generated in the same manner as exceptional strength. Roll percentiles for three ability scores for your class and list them in the traditional format: XX/yy. Once per day per level a character may roll percentiles against a given scores secondary ability and success allows you to treat it as the next highest value. You cannot use this to raise hit points or gain bonus spells.

The second usage is when the character has a base 18 in their prime requisite. For those characters it provides tables for 18/xx bonuses for the three ability scores which are prime requisites and don’t 18/xx bonuses in the core rules. Dexterity adds to thief skills. Intelligence add languages and increases the chance to know spells and save versus illusions. Wisdom provides spells, additional magical attack saves, and magic resistance.

The final usage is to increase ability scores. At each level a character gets three dices pools of 3d10, 2d10, and 1d10 to add to there secondary ability scores. One must be assigned to each of the abilities for the class. If the total exceeds 100 you subtract 100 from the secondary abilities and increase the primary score by one.

This system isn’t that different from those common in ‘zines back in the day or even that in Hackmaster 4th edition. It’s not as unique or compelling as First Edition Feats. I wouldn’t recommend it as a separate purchase although if the two products were folded together and the price set at about four dollars I would recommend the combined product.