101 Days of Rifts: Rules IV

One of my trouble spots with Rifts, probably the biggest after MDC, is the untrained combat system in the Game Master’s Guide and RUE. The actions versus attacks system doesn’t work very well. It’s clunky and didn’t make much sense. If two actions for an untrained character is one attack why isn’t one attack for a trained character two actions. It would be easier to just ignore the additions and go back to the original Rifts method which is common in most Palladium games and just have attacks. The problem with this method is now that four attacks for breathing is the standard for trained characters untrained characters, especially mages, are at a serious disadvantage.

The problem is spells consume a certain number of attacks based on their level. It will take a full combat round for a mage to cast even a spell at levels one to three until sixth level. In that time someone focused on hand to hand combat can cross the intervening space and attack the mage or simply fire a weapon at them. Even if they miss the spell the attack spoils the spell.. It was precisely this issue the article “PPE Channeling” in The Rifter #21 addressed. Of course, that system relied on the Game Master’s Guide actions system to work. Also, as I pointed out in my earlier discussion, the shift from spells casting per turn to per attack in RUE provides the same value if in a slightly different form.

In looking for a substitute I’ve had a couple of ideas. One was to adopt a Champions or Star Fleet Battles like system for staggering attacks. You break the turn up into segments based on the largest number of attacks. The character with the largest number acts every segment and those with smaller numbers acts on segments such that their actions spread evenly over the turn . I’ve rejected this as too complex even though I’ve played my fair share of Hero System (I’m a backer for Hero Fantasy Complete) and Starfleet Battles. I also rejected it as alien to Palladium because I want a solution I can use in all my Palladium games.

A more recent thought has been to use the actual seconds system used in Hackmaster Basic. This is alien to Palladium but not as much as the staggered segments system. Also, it’s pretty straight forward. For those not familiar with the system characters have speeds to reflect how quickly they can reset after using melee weapon or how fast they can fire a ranged weapon or cast a spell with lower speeds indicating faster reset. The initiative roll determines how many seconds you have to wait before your first action. The GM starts the count at 1 second. On a second you can act you can move one second’s movement, take a second long action, begin a longer action, or attack. Longer actions and attacks prevent you from acting until their length (for attacks your speed with the weapon) passes. The biggest issue is it would require a lot of conversion work to figure speeds for each combatant type. Movement would be speed divided by five. You could simplify speed for all weapons to fifteen divided by attacks. It’s a lot of work and could get futzy.

However, about the same time I was think about the Hackmaster system I was re-reading Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looking for material for my first demo scenario (a HU game) and found my answer. This shouldn’t surprise me as before I’ve contended that TMNT was one of the best generic RPGs if you had the core book, TTMNT, and TMNT: Guide to the Universe. The answer it has is the Wizard Combat Table on page 42. This provided a combat skill which gave castings per melee. It had a handy note on how castings interact with attacks; each casting uses up a melee attack but if the wizard still has castings after he’s out of melee attacks he can keep casting. In the rare case of a caster having more attacks than castings I’d use the alternate. Essentially your total castings much be less than or equal to castings and attacks equal or less than attacks. If one of the two is higher than the other the total of castings and attacks cannot exceed the higher one. It also gives save bonuses to the wizard and penalties to his targets as his level increases. The biggest issue is Transdimensional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is long out of print. However, the same table is present in Heroes Unlimited: Revised Edition on page 93. That game is available in pdf. It may be in Palladium Fantasy Roleplaying First Edition which is also available in pdf but I don’t have my copy handy to check.

Combining castings with the attacks used by spell level in RUE should give mages some flexibility in combat and uses Palladium rules only. I think this will also work better for a consistent rule across games where often everyone gets the two attacks for breathing being heroes but no advancement unless they take a combat skill such as Heroes Unlimited.

101 Days of Rifts: Rules II

I am going to use MDC by the book.

When I planned a rules post about MDC that was not what I intended to write. I was going to use a Monday Pointers to survey all kinds of MDC house rules. Then, on Thursday I was going to walk through several of these alternatives. Finally, I was going to discuss Jim Stoner’s alternative which I intended to use.

What changed? Three things changed my mind. Two things I found in my research and one classic OSR post combined to change my mind.

The first thing I discovered was MDC to SDC: taking out MDC on the Palladium Forums. Two points in the thread impressed me. While technically the second of the two points in reading the first to make a large impacts was so a LAW rocket which does 1d6*100 SDC will do 1d6 MD (pst by Nekira Sudacne). While at the time I thought it wasn’t true because SDC can never damage MDC I did find the damage amount interesting. With the MDC:SDC ratio set at 100:1 in theory you could house rule a 1d6*100 SDC weapon into an 1d6 MDC weapon. More importantly it gives some perspective on what MDC means both for armor and for magical creatures. In the movies we are okay with rifle fire never harming Godzilla but we expect an anti-tank rocket to get his attention. If we convert a LAW rocket to MDC (because SDC can never harm MDC) that works like we expect. Now, the hand-held MDC pistols are shrunken LAWs in terms of damage just as a LAW is a shrunken cannon. I can’t say KS used this logic back in the 80s to setup MDC but it’s reasonable.

Right before that line the post says in the rifts main book, it says that while a culmination of SDC attacks will never harm MDC (like a 9mm. handgun) a single massive SDC attack will. any explosion or attack that does 100 SDC will do 1 MD. the formula works in reverse. This I knew was not true. Oh, it’s a common house rule that is usually combined with dropping the MDC:SDC ratio to 20:1 or 10:1. However, the Rifts main book specifically says To damage a Mega-Damage Capacity (M.D.C.) structure you must use something that inflicts MegaDamage (M.D.) (pg 38) and Normal weapons do absolutely no damage to mega-structures (M.D.C.), even if the combined total damage is over 100 S.D.C (pg 40). That seems pretty clear-cut that SDC never does MDC. As I said, letting the LAW do 1d6 MDC was a common house rule and is possibly implied in the MDC example which calls a bazooka a mega-damage weapon.

However, what if Nekira Sudacne was referring to Rifts: Ultimate Edition which came out the same year as the thread? Yes, the dates are a little off but maybe some previews were released. In its MDC section it says Only S.D.C. weapons that inflict 100 or more S.D.C points of damage can hurt MDC armor. All other SDC attacks (1-99 points of damage) bounce off the armor like bullets bouncing off Superman. I’m not sure this was a clarification and we’d spent the 90s playing it incorrectly or Palladium had endorsed the house rule. Going back and reading Robotech where MDC was first introduced is no help as it could go either way although I’d still lean towards no SDC attack, even one that does 100+ points of SDC, do not affect MDC.

It is hard to underestimate the affects of allowing single 100+ point SDC attacks to do SDC/100 round down MDC. For one thing, conventional explosives now become useful on Rifts Earth. For that matter, boulders and gravity are now viable. When asked about what is the point of classes not arrayed with MDC weapons and armor in Rifts KS has long emphasized planning and stealth. When large-scale conventional attacks can work this makes more sense. Under the classic interpretation of MDC the two Ewok log pendulums would leave the Imperial walker undamaged. Now, the results could be straight out of The Empire Strikes Back.

Referencing KS’s discussion of how to use low powered classes in Rifts brings me to the third thing to change my mind. In one of the classics of the OSR Trollsmyth riffed on an earlier earlier James Maliszewski writing and argued we should analyze early editions of D&D through the idea that “D&D is always right”. The idea isn’t that the game is flawless but that the game does what it does for a reason. The reason may not even have been conscious and may have evolved in play but it does it for a reason. I decided to try “Rifts is always right.”

So, when the campaign starts we will use MDC as written. If the group doesn’t like how that works out we’ll experiment but for now we will play “Rifts is always right” at least when it comes to MDC.

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.

Researching Spells: They have to be new

So, I wandered back to an excellent discussion of B/X spellbook limits at Ode to Black Dougal.

Looking at my comment I think I left an important idea out but researched spells, which I allowed to exceed the spellbook limitations, CANNOT be spells in the B/X rulesbooks or that you can be taught by other magic-users. Basically, the idea is there is a common legacy of magic, the spells TSR provided, that make up the limited spells. To become more than a copyist of others you much research your own.

I didn’t have this in mind back then, but I think it is a crucial addition. In fact, I could swear this exact limitation (spell research means spell creation) was in the original Dungeon Master’s Guide in conjunction with the Intelligence limits on spell (which I believe research allowed you to exceed). Maybe it is in some other early book but I could swear I read it back in the day (maybe one of Gary’s rants in The Dragon).

Regardless, I think if you’re going to allow Magic-Users to exceed whatever limit your rules set offers (as do all versions up to second edition where it became optional) you should only allow it by researching of entirely new spells.

2d6 Expldding on Doubles

What are the odds of scoring any value three through 20 on 2d6 if they explode on doubles? This, is of course, the same as saying “what are the odds on a T&T Saving Roll?” Because I’d like to convert the thief’s skills to T&T style talents I needed to come up with values for levels one through 20. I’d have to look up the math to do an exact probability calculation so I wrote a Perl script to do 1,000,000,000 simulations instead. The results for those who are interested:

Roll Odds Odds <= Odds =>
3 8.0% 8% 100%
4 8.0% 16% 92%
5 16% 32% 84%
6 16% 48% 68%
7 17% 65% 52%
8 9.0% 74% 35%
9 9.7% 83.3% 26%
10 1.3% 84.6% 15.4%
11 2.0% 86.6% 13.4%
12 1.4% 88% 12%
13 2.1% 90.1% 9.9%
14 1.4% 91.5% 8.5%
15 1.9% 93.4% 6.6%
16 1.2% 94.6% 5.4%
17 1.3% 95.9% 4.1%
18 0.1% 96.9% 3.1%
19 0.1% 97% 3%

Twenty was under a tenth of a percent even rounded so I excluded it.