Palladium Fantasy: a pleasant return, pt 1

The bulk of my RPG collection is in storage… on the other side of the Earth. Were it not for the not insignificant issues of weight and shipping costs, I would have had it all (or most of it at any rate) sent to me here, long ago. In order to sate a desire most of our group had been having for a sword & sorcery setting, we settled on running a fantasy game using Fudge, and one using Palladium Fantasy.

My opinion on Palladium Fantasy:

I like it. I enjoy the setting, and the way that setting and the ideas within are set up to empower creativity and non-standard approaches to a fairly over-used genre. I like that it does not molly coddle players, and that it contains various elements which are easy to use and actually serve to create excitement in their own right. To name two of my favorites:

  • The combat system’s adversarial approach having the players roll off against their opponents, combined with the simple and interesting method of applying the effectiveness of armour, has always created a lot of good energy during what can often be a tedious chore in other fantasy systems.
  • The sense that all magic is both borrowed, and poorly understood provides a deeper sense of the mystical, the perils of spell-craft, and removes a lot of the empty carbon-copy feel of level-based mystics in other systems.

I do not care an iota about cross-overs. No argument that revolves around mixing and matching Palladium Fantasy characters or settings with Rifts, or any other Palladium game is my concern. I have listened to these concerns over and over again from other players, and I always have the same two reactions:

  • How a game works or does not work is ultimately the province of the GM, so if you are unsure of how to answer cries of ‘The book says-” then you may not be cut out to be a GM.
  • Cross-overs are work.  If you do not want to do the work to make them work, then do not run a cross-over.

I have given a lot of thought to the issues raised about game-balance. I have played systems with no balance, and those which are extremely well-balanced and have enjoyed both. I distinctly remember using the idea of balance to sell my players on the idea of trying a point-buy system the first time, citing the variance in play produced by random trait generation. Ultimately, however, it finally comes down to taste, experience, and trade-offs.

All things have a purpose. If I am in the mood to cater to player wish-fulfillment fantasies, then a balanced system will appeal as it allows for fewer areas of disappointment, and rewards those players who directly invest time in developing an understanding of game play and how best to use the system to their advantage. It also does not penalize players who cannot invest the time to become properly conversant in the game. I tend to choose these systems when I am with busy, casual, or beginning players. (See my posts on Trinity)

If I am able to play with experienced players with the time to develop a good, fully-realized character based on a combination of generated and selected traits, then I will. There are rewards for doing more with less that have nothing to do with the mechanics of a game.

A key distinction that gets lost, I think, is that play balance is only of import if the characters are competing against each other. My point of view is that this is cooperative storytelling – we are all working together to create a great tale. Diversity, and sometimes adversity, are great aids in that aim. Generated traits serve this far better than balanced, point-buy systems.

In a competition, in Battletech, let’s say, there is essentially no advantage to taking a smaller ‘mech unless the player possesses both superior tactical insight and more successful rolls on game night. In a roleplaying game, there are myriad reasons why choosing to pilot a light ‘mech can serve the story, character development, and not ignore in any way the tactics of a given battle. The player who takes a character at a seeming disadvantage to the others in the group is not in competition with them, and has nothing to lose in comparison to them. Each member of the group contributes a piece of the story. How well they play their role, how well they employ their character, and how much they contribute are all primary elements of how much the group enjoys the game.

My opinions on Fudge:

I have less to say about Fudge. In fact, I can sum it up in one sentence.

  • The system seems to promote mediocrity, and thereby my lack of interest, by vastly minimizing the chance of failure.

I digressed.

Returning to Palladium was very pleasant. In  subsequent posts, I will go over how the campaign was built, and report on how it progresses.

7 Responses to “Palladium Fantasy: a pleasant return, pt 1”
  1. J.P. says:

    Hmmm, that’s an unusual criticism of Fudge. Do you have an example maybe? The Fudge scale and die rolling mechanic certainly tend to reduce the randomness of results in that most characters will perform at their trait level most of the time, give or take a little. I’m not sure how this minimizes the chance of failure, unless characters have a lot of free trait levels or Fudge points to work with, but that’s a choice on the GMs part.

    • Runeslinger says:

      I approach things more from the point of view that if I am calling for a roll-to-succeed, that there are elements involved which can produce extreme results. If the task at hand is something at which the character *should* succeed, then calling for a roll is just a waste of everyone’s time.

      In Fudge then, in my limited experience, I found that if I rolled, I got an average success. All the time. So did the other PC character. All the time. The NPCs seemed to do so as well, although I cannot say for certain.

      No matter how cool or interesting the story got – and it was very, very interesting – the dice rolling left me feeling like the energy would have been better spent walking over to the fridge for another coke. It also made me feel like that trip to the fridge, were it to have been undertaken instead of die-rolling, would have had an equivalent effect on the story.

      Games using mechanics like Storyteller have an inverse problem, of course.

  2. J.P. says:

    That’s weird. Is the GM setting difficulty levels for the rolls (i.e. you’ll need a great result or better to succeed) or is he just letting you roll against a trait and interpreting the results? (i.e., Ah, a Mediocre success!) The situation you’re describing sounds like the latter, and yeah, basically everything will be some kind of win.

    Also, if you’re just generally into having fortune play a bigger roll in results, you might try getting rid of the standard Fudge 4dF thing and do 2d6, subtracting one die from the other. This will give you a number from +5 to -5 with a bit of a wilder spread.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Thanks for the tip. Should the campaign be resurrected (and it may, in the near future) I will consider making that suggestion. The GM in question loves to fiddle with things, so he may have already taken all of this into consideration and concocted something else for me to learn in my extreme old age.

  3. “…on the other side of the Earth…” Cryptic!

  4. douglusby says:

    I have similar views about the point-based vs randomly-generated character trait systems. It really seems to depend on what kind of players you have, what kind of game they and you feel like playing at that time, and other such things. The point-based systems have their strengths, but sometimes it has been nice in the past to get a character idea from a bunch of randomly generated traits.

    I find with the latter you can sometimes get something that is not what you were imagining or ‘hoping for’ at first, but something that becomes something you can like and enjoy. Especially if one is in a rut for generating a character (there are people who somehow struggle for days to make a character – don’t ask me how or why) or feels like they are up for playing something different, the results can sometimes produce a very organic roleplaying challenge.

    With point-based systems, I’m more likely to go for my typical favorite character ‘types’, ie: brooding, deadly, man-in-black anti-hero types, or what not. I’ve also made other ‘less commonly played by me types’, but well there are some things I feel drawn to. When left to points, I will typically feel inclined towards leaving an honourable trail of blood with dashes of style.

    With randomly-based systems, I almost never “get what I want”. However, from these sytems I’ve more often played different and more unusual-for-me character types.

    Anyhow, I agree. I see strengths with both sorts of systems.

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