The Palladium System

Oh, here is one of the biggest points of dislike and conflict in the real world over Rifts. This system has a lot said about it. I have issues with it, but this is going to try and focus on what is positive about the system. Let me start by saying that as someone who appreciates simple streamlined RPG systems, this is not that. But, at the core there are a few simple familiar mechanics that most gamers will pick up on quickly and keeping them simple in Palladium can be helpful. The two elements that are dominant in the system are skills and combat.

Combat is D20 based. You roll a 20-sided die and try to roll high enough to hit. Often this is not done to a static number but can be opposed through parry and dodge by the opponent you are trying to hit with an opposed D20 roll. That means instead of a base AC of 10 like many editions of D&D the base sort of becomes the opposed roll with the bonuses added to it. Now, it gets more nuance than that, but this is essentially the bare bones of the mechanic.

Skills are also a familiar mechanic for many long-time gamers as they are percentile based. In Palladium you get a lot of skills, and you get a base percentage for those skills. You will roll a D100 or roll percentile, essentially rolling two ten-sided dice with one assigned to represent tens and the other to represent ones and they are read as a percentage number of one to one hundred based on that. To succeed at a skill check in a Palladium game you simply roll under the percentage of the skill that you are checking. I strongly encourage you to only use skill checks where there is something on the line, not for every time a character attempts to do a thing. Situations of combat or where the task might be more difficult, and a reasonable expectation of failure would impact the game are times you would make a skill check.

If you can nail down those two base mechanics most of the rest of the game falls into place by adding various nuances. Armor class can also confuse some as it can be handled differently in different games, and it can also be handles differently in the same game when you introduce elements such as Mega Damage. Mega Damage Capacity or MDC is one element of the game I hear a great deal of negative talk from people who do not like Rifts or the Palladium system. Mega Damage is how Palladium confronts combat in a world where literal nuclear weapons are coming into combat. As I take the MDC rules, they become a little less complicated than the normal SCD combat system.

One of the unique elements of the D20 combat in Palladium is that as you are being attacked you also roll a D20 to defend. With elements of Parry and Dodge being bonuses to your die roll, a simple roll over the AC like in D&D is not the approach it takes. The game assumes you are fighting back in combat and as combat takes place you get to take more of an active role with a roll of the dice to defend which can be a lot of fun instead of sitting waiting to be told if you were hit or not.

The game also uses other relative familiar mechanics such as savings throws. A game master who is familiar with running various editions of Dungeons & Dragons or other Role-Playing games will know what to do with a lot of these elements in the game. If you are new to Role-Playing games I will be honest. There might be easier games to start running, but the challenge and the ability to kind of come up with your own way of doing things can be rewarding.

One thing about the Palladium system is that it approaches the game with a rulings not rules attitude. Some of you who play and talk about Role Playing Games may be familiar with this whole discussion. It is assumed that you as a gamer will have your own way to run things that works for your group, and there is not really a solid rule of law given in the book. Lots of updates and clarifications in various books directly conflicts things in other books. If you are used to games that have codified rules and a specific way it should be done then this might drive you crazy. If you are like me and have always tended to go with what works for you and not worried as much about doing things by the book you will have a much easier time with this. This is also a reason given for not updating the system to new editions. There are rules updates that occur between Palladium games and editions and revisions in books.

Most of the Palladium book catalogue is kept in print. Some of those books have seen revisions over the years. The perfect example is the First Rifts Conversion Book. The Rifts Conversion Book One came out in 1991 and was made to convert things from the other Palladium games like the Palladium Fantasy RPG and Heroes Unlimited to Rifts. All of those books had very similar elements with the system and the rules were often explained differently. Some things change from game to game. As the years went on and other games came out or got revised and second editions new revised editions of the Conversion Book came out. So there are multiple editions of the same book that have different content in them. The most recent versions have been split into two books both the Conversion Book and Dark Conversions. In the books new rules and variants of the rules are also printed. Having all the rules in one place might be nice but understanding that the game is not really set up to have some cannon set of rules might be helpful in understanding the approach to the game.

Now, I have played a lot of Role-Playing games in over 30 years of gaming. I can appreciate a great deal of diverse styles and I can see why some might prefer certain games over others. I think that really streamlined simple systems are great. I can see some cool things in games that are way more complex as well. I tend to prefer the simplistic style of game. Old School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry for example are such great versions of the game in my opinion because they give you a lot of freedom and a stripped-down bare bones mechanic of the game that it makes so many other editions just seem complicated. That is great for running a game. It makes the DM’s job so much easier. With Palladium you can create one of the most complex games you have ever ran with the rules. On the other hand, you do not have to make such a complex game. You can veer away form more complex elements and try to just keep it simple. To me one of the most complex parts is the character creation. It is not quick and easy and often things will be overlooked. But if you are planning on a long-term campaign this can be well worth it. I would not suggest Palladium or rifts for one shot games. I would look more to S&W, OSE or one of the many simpler streamlined systems out there.

If you are like me and tend to read all sort of rule books before running a game and you tend to be looking for ways to run your game that is not always a by the book rules restrictive manner, then Palladium might just be one of the best games for you to try. With so much put out and so many options across the many books it can present a great deal to work with, adjust and create a game that suits your needs and the needs of your game group.

As a basis for the rules I strongly suggest looking at the Rifts Ultimate Edition and maybe picking up and reading through and using the Palladium Fantasy RPG. I have found that the Palladium Fantasy RPG is a great book to read through to get a basic idea of how things work in the game while Rifts Ultimate Edition has a lot more elements because it has a lot more options it can be a bit more involved to start with. The beauty of it is that if you want to run Rifts though, the main book is the only one you need, the same is true of the Palladium Fantasy RPG.