Palladium is Dead Long live Rifts

Palladium books has been plagued with problems over the years.  Many of us grew up on their games though. I sure did. While Palladium was not my first RPG, I was playing Palladium games years before I even picked up a Dungeons & Dragons book. The experience of Palladium was quite different than that of what I found when I finally played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The design of the original Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game led to many other games. My primary game that I played was Heroes Unlimited. They put out a lot of other games from Mechanoids, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Robotech, Ninjas & Superspies, Beyond the Supernatural and their most popular game Rifts as well as many others.

The Palladium system was Kevin Siembedia’s house rules for D&D essentially. It differed in many ways. One of the main differences outside of mechanics was that the Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game encouraged players to play the monsters. The idea of the books was to play the most fantastic things out of the Monster Manuals, the outlandish characters that were not normally the heroes. With all the games being based on a similar system they were supposed to create characters that were compatible with each other, despite some of the rule inconsistencies across the books. On top of that, some of the content is really questionable at times, and maybe needs to be revisited or reconsidered.

We ran a campaign of Heroes Unlimited for about a decade. In the 80s & 90s I was really into reading comic books, and at that time role playing games for us was a chance to create our own stories, our own heroes and do things the way we wanted. There was always talks about “what they should do” if I was editor and chief of Marvel I would… well, we did in our games. We would bring to life all our teenage daydreams of superheroes and Palladium Books Heroes Unlimited was the way we would often do it. There were always other games like the MARVEL RPG that TSR put out we occasionally played as well as others, but at the end of the day, Palladium was our go to.

Rules as Written was not our strong point in those days. We pretty much had our own rule set and ran with that. We seldom looked up rules, we often came up with them on the fly. Our games were heavily character and plot based. The idea of dungeon delving was not a thing I grew up doing much of with Role Playing Games.

Then came Rifts. Rifts was a unique post-apocalyptic SciFi setting that really grabbed onto the roots of the earlier Palladium games, and the one that the company would become most known for. The game Rifts is set centuries after an apocalyptic war that devastates earth. Upon the massive slaughter of so many during a nuclear holocaust all the souls and lives of the dead fed the ley lines on earth making them visible and creating at nexus points Rifts to other dimensions and realities. This led to a flood of interdimensional beings crossing over to Rifts earth. What’s the point? Well if you think back Palladium was always about playing the odd characters, unlimited options and combinations to make almost anything you can imagine. Here Rifts decided the point is that everything is available to play from fantasy and scifi characters to giant mech robots and more. Rifts was designed to put mutant animals in the same world as wizards and demons.

At times this would lead to what we called power gaming. The main Rifts book offers Dragons as player characters to start with. Younger players had a field day with this. We could come up with the most outlandish creations, or the most unstoppable villains and heroes. Going to the Heroes Unlimited books and throwing invulnerability onto a character was not unheard of.  Here comes some of the biggest problems of Palladium. It seems that over the last 20 or so years in gaming I have heard a lot more talk about balance in game. Balance was not remotely considered in the decades before that in Palladium games, and never became an issue or thing. I as Game Master pretty much knew how to create that balance while running the game, not in the mechanics or rules. The GM had to do it all. On top of that with the concept of everything being playable all we got were instructions on how to roll up all the monsters and characters. The games never had anything resembling a Monster Manual. Monsters were scattered across countless books, and if you wanted to put one in the game you must roll up a monster. This is time consuming if you are preparing to run a game, and as I grew older and had less free time due to work and family this made Palladium a bit harder to find time to run.

The character creation process is exceptionally long and drawn out compared to a lot of games out there. In my mind, not only could this be an easy fix, but it has always been a missed opportunity. Instead of books of just random things thrown in there, how about a book of stat blocks with monsters or characters you can pull out and run with little to no preparation? I would have bought those. I suspect it might take longer to roll those up than to write an actual book though.

So, with preparation being so time consuming on both the player and Game Master side, the system makes itself not all that friendly to newcomers. The fan base is mostly aging gamers. I could be wrong, but I do not see that many new players rushing to get into the games. The aesthetics of the books are stuck in the 80s and 90s. Which you can argue is good or bad for whatever reasons. They also have mechanics that are not popular in the current gaming climate.

I would suggest a few major changes or advancements. For a few decades I have wanted nothing more than to see another company that puts out strong material put out a new edition of Rifts cleaning up the problems and creating a new system, a 2nd edition or completely reworked system for Rifts. The release of a savage worlds Rifts happened, sure, but I do not see much focus on this, and it kind of exists in a world of it’s own. I would love to see serious consideration to what came before and how it could be used to create a more approachable simplified and easier system. This would mean either selling the property to someone who could do that. Which would have likely been more lucrative if it was done before the company came under some bad press. But even now, after that bad press I can point to many long time Palladium fans who have abandoned the game. It might be time to let someone else take control and do what Dungeons & Dragons did in 2000, just a ground up redesign by capable game designers.

The other thing is that despite it is issues the Palladium system is still dear to me and a lot of others still want to play it. It makes no sense to me why the system is not put into the public with an Open Game License. I would love to pick up books made by fans sold over print to order venders like Lulu or DriveThruRPG. People could publish their own rule sets with house rules in this format and use the system to make even more for the system. If anything would give the existing Palladium system a boost, I feel this would be it. The gaming industry has moved in a direction that community involvement and community content tends to be a place people find themselves interacting in more. Palladium did have some of this through submissions to the Rifter, but it remains under lock. A rising tide raises all ships I have heard said often in relationship to gaming, and I have seen that to be true. Creating an open license out of the Palladium system would only help to create that rising tide.

Now, this is not saying anything that many other fans have not said or heard in a long time. And, from what all seem to say, this falls often on deaf ears over at Palladium. But, the once great Palladium does have potential to become something greater than it currently is, if it changes with the industry. I don’t know if it is too late, but I have a feeling it is not. So much could be done, but it might have to be done by someone not currently at Palladium.

My dream? A new Rifts and line of Rifts RPG related games from another company and the Palladium system in the public with an open game license thriving and getting new life breathed into it.

Thank you, Kevin, for so many years of great gaming. Maybe it is time to see something new.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mark

    Oh man, you put it perfectly. I had the same experience with Rifts, Mechanoids and Palladium Fantasy. I loved it for a time, then started to see the flaws get bigger and bigger with every subsequent Rifts book that came out. The weapons got more powerful, the power armor more beefy..

    Added to that, unfortunately, Kevin isn’t really someone who has an open mind about others approaching his material. I was quite surprised when the Savage Worlds version came out actually. For years Simbieda was kind of making a reputation for sending cease and desist letters to fans who posted conversions to GURPS and other systems.

    I have a lot of fond memories about Palladium and played Rifts for years – and Kevin and his team are great storytellers in my mind.. but eventually the houserules that were needed to make at least some sense of the system got too much.

    It needs a new Rifts, and ideally by someone who really wants to make the effort to set the system up on a pair of stable legs.

    1. Shane

      I do think the best way to give it stable legs is by making it an open system and seeing others dig into it and have the ability and input to change it to something more workable.

      As an organizer, I question if it is possible to put together some sort of larger effort campaign to make a thing like that happen.

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