Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Discussion: The Best RPG Of The Past 5 Years

Another week recorded in the Great Book of Blogging, and another Friday where the majority of the RPG Bloggers Network descends into a strange malaise, seduced into a drowsy half-slumber by the siren call of the weekend.

Well, here at RPG Blog 2, we aren’t quite ready to call it a week. Fridays are Discussion Days. Nothing too serious, nothing too heavy, just some gamers talking about a single RPG topic.

Today’s topic is a simple one:

What do you think is the best RPG of the past 5 years? If you’re trying to define best, here it means “the one you and your group had the most fun with, or that has inspired you the most”. But like pretty much everything else here, you can make up your own definition, too.

I look forward to the responses below. Have a tremendous weekend!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

On The Success of Savage Worlds

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like there’s been a tremendous surge in discussion about Savage Worlds as of late. Sure, Uncle Bear’s been preaching the Gospel of SavWo for a while now, but it just seems like the already-impressive stable of articles about Savage Worlds has really expanded quickly recently.

I mean, here’s just a few of the SavWo articles of the past week:

The Bone Scroll

The Chatty DM

Gnome Stew

Geek Life Project

allgeektout

I don’t see it all deriving from any one article or movement. I really think what’s happened is that Savage Worlds is really hitting a pretty key (and increasing) demographic. Let’s face it, a lot of us are firmly into the “slammed with work responsibility” or “two kids and a picket fence” phase of our lives. We don’t always have the time to plan our games or learn intricate systems at 29 or 39 like we did when we were 19. You throw a low-prep, affordable, well-supported, "fast, furious, fun" system to folks in that certain range, you're going to get good results.

I think as the hobby gets older, Savage Worlds (along with easy-to-pick up games like one of my favorites, Castles & Crusades) can only go up in terms of interest and popularity. Throw in a price of $10 for the RPG itself, and you have a pretty good incentive to give it a shot. Pinnacle also seems to treat their fans well, which is always a good thing when you want missionaries.

So kudos to Savage Worlds for making a product people truly seem to want. I can’t guess at their market share right now, but I can only guess it’s on its way up. Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Survey Follow-up

Well, we're nearing in on 200 responses to the Sci-Fi RPG Magazine Survey, and I wanted to thank everyone who's offered their input thus far. I'm going to let the poll run a few more days, but I have found a couple items already I feel comfortable in sharing:


-People are all over the map as far as what sci-fi systems like enjoy! The only RPG systems that were close to 40% of respondents or over were Traveller, d6 Star Wars, and Gamma World. But there were lots of games in the 10-15% of respondents range. I'd say that points towards a system-generic (or at least system-lite or system-separate) type of setup, but the jury's still out.

-Some people get really, really upset when you don't include their Favorite Game on a survey. Even when you added the "Other" fill-in-the-blank option for just such a purpose. I am sorry I'd didn't add such favorites as Alternity, but frankly, if I'd have kept going, I'd have had 500 options, and someone still would have complained about not seeing Option 501. Trust me, every single response will be considered!


-People really, really like and want Deckplans! (Me too!) There's also much more interest in Science Fantasy or "Sword and Planet" than I would have suspected. (But you have to admit, it's one cool genre!).


Thanks to everyone who's volunteered to help or is interested in taking the time to find about more about this potential project. I firmly believe the hobby is at its best when we get together and collaborate on projects (like the One Page Dungeon Contest) that combine a sense of legacy with fostering new creativity.

If you know of someone who you think might be interested in this, please steer them this way and to the survey! I'll be keeping everyone updated with more of the survey results (and fate of the project) as they firm up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sci-Fi RPG Magazine Survey!

I'm currently conducting research to see just how viable a quarterly, fan-driven Sci-Fi RPG magazine would be. The responses I've had thus far have been enthusiastic, but if this is going to happen, I need to make sure the audience is there. Please take 2-3 minutes of your day and fill out this survey. The feedback will be invaluable in determining where this project goes. If you can spread the word and get a few of your fellow gamers to fill it out as well, it would be much appreciated.

Here's the direct link, if any of the feeds have trouble:

http://rpgscifi.questionpro.com/

Thanks again, and I promise to report in soon with the results! I really and truly do think this could be such a fun resource and project for all of us gamers out there who love (or want to love!) sci-fi gaming.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Thoughts On A Sci-Fi RPG Mag

As I mentioned during Friday’s discussion, I’ve always wanted to see a magazine concentrating on space and sci-fi settings. Not just Traveller, but all the other wonderful RPGs out there that make that genre such fertile ground. Aside from all the fantastic versions of Traveller, we have Thousand Suns, Fading Suns, Cold Space, StarCluster 2, HardNova 2, Hellas, d6 Space, Nebuleon, Burning Empires, Metamorphosis Alpha, Serenity, Lightspeed, StarSIEGE...and that’s just a few of dozens upon dozens. There’s the influential fiction of Piper, Niven, Pournelle, Bujold, Drake, Bradbury, Asimov, and so many more briliant lights. There's the subgenres of Sci-Fi, from Space Opera and Post-Apocalyptic to Cyberpunk, Military, Time Travel, and Slipstream.

If I ever do ever decide to fully put my mind to making this my RPG venture of choice, I’d want something quarterly, based largely on fan submissions, not unlike Fight On! (which is a tremendous model for exciting, fan-based publishing, in my opinion). I’d also want a lot of interaction with large and small-press publishers alike. But above all, it should be an idea mill, a place where people find really useful ideas and something new every time they reread it.

There’d be a lot to do and to learn, but I think I might be tired of letting the prospect of so much to do scare me off. And I know there have to be others out there who’d love to be part of something like this, who would find it worthwhile and useful in their gaming. I’d just need to make sure that I was doing the best way, to give it the best chance of success. I'll take my time on that.

But above all, it sounds like a tremendously fun project that could really build a sense of community for a genre that's long been an also-ran or afterthought in a lot of ways. I'll be asking for your help with some preliminary surveys soon, to sort of help gauge interest level. Of course, comments and ideas are always welcome, in the comments or via email!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blogging Note

I've updated my blog list (it only shows the most 25 recently updated blogs), but I'm sure I'm missing a couple. If you don't see your blog and you know you've recently updated it, or know of one you think I'd enjoy, drop me a line at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fly Over To I Fly By Night

I'd like to welcome one of my favorite game designers to the blogosphere. Clash Bowley, the mind behind the many wonderful games of Flying Mice, now has a blog. I Fly By Night should prove to be a very good read if it's anything in the vein of clash's normal observations about RPG systems and game design. So hit that subscribe button, add him to your blogroll, and make sure to take the time to welcome him to our happy band!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Discussion: Which RPG Magazines Do You Read?

Another Friday, where you would swear the entire blogosphere had disappeared in one silent breath.

Fridays might be slow for bloggers, but we keep things moving here at RPG Blog 2 with a little discussion every Friday. Nothing too serious, nothing too heavy, just some gamer talk to get us into the weekend.

This Friday's Question: Which RPG magazines do you read or subscribe to? There certainly has been an explosion of them as of late, but I'm interested see which ones you really like.

For me, the main one I currently read is Fight On! , which is a tremendous mag for piecemeal/random ideas and inspiration. I've checked out both Knockspell and Troll Lord's Crusader Magazine, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to make those regulars on my limited gaming budget. With Dragon and Dungeon finished with their non-4e runs, those are of limited utility to me right now. Pathfinder products from Paizo are sort of a case-by-case basis for me. The same for The Rifter, actually.

And man, I wish my gaming budget was a bit larger (currently, I believe it's actually a negative number), because Kobold Quarterly seems really, really cool from the issues and articles I have been able to read. I'd love a regular subscription to that, but right now, I guess it isn't meant to be.

How about you--what's the lay of the land as far as gaming mags go? I'll look forward to your comments and thoughts below!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Support GOLD!

A while back, I asked for suggestions for some free advertising space on my site. There were plenty of good suggestions, including more than a few I’ve stored away for later. But the endeavor I decided to give my space to as of now is the web series GOLD.

For those of you who haven’t seen GOLD, it’s the “web series that does double damage”. Yep, it’s a show about gamers. Gamers getting ready to compete in an international gaming competition between the U.S. and England. In the show, gaming is a spectator sport, but it is a declining one (I like the irony there). The U.S. team is trying to get ready, but internal conflict, injuries, and the uncertainty of the future of their sport threaten to tear them apart. And so help me if that premise doesn’t work.

GOLD is a grassroots, independent production. These are actors and actresses who have put their own time and money on the line to make something for the hobby for others to enjoy—something every small-press garage-based RPG company and every aspiring and struggling RPG writer can identify with. GOLD’s people are our people.

If GOLD were yet another poorly-acted web-based travesty, this might all be moot. But the players of GOLD have brought us a well-acted web series, one that just isn’t over-the-top gamer comedy or a self-hating mockumentary. The writing combines a sensitivity with the feel for the passion we have as gamers. GOLD is unique among most multimedia RPG-themed endeavors in that it actually seems able to tap into that passion. There’s comedy, sure, but there’s also scenes where there’s surprisingly good suspense and drama.

Right now, the folks behind the gamers are looking for financing and sponsorship to bring a 2nd season of this show to us. I hope they find some of that at this year's Gen Con, but in the mean time, I hope we can help out a bit. I’ve put up that banner to support their efforts, and it’s my hope that after viewing the show, it inspires you to do something along those lines as well. Put up a banner, include a link in your message board forum, or donate directly. Let’s take care of our own, and keep a great show on the web!

(For more on GOLD, check out this Tome Show podcast interview with Producer, Actor, Director, etc., David Nett).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Going to Gen Con? Read This!

Gen Con will soon be upon us, a scant few weeks away. This will be an interesting Gen Con Indy in a lot of ways. For one, it will be interesting to see how both attendance and vendor participation do in an economy markedly worse for most folks than it was a year ago.

This is also the first Gen Con after Dave Arneson’s passing. Will he be honored in the same vein as Gary Gygax was last year? Can any product being released capture the starter market or take a chunk out of 4e's market share?

To quote Tennyson, “Tho' much is taken, much abides”. That is, it seems like every year there are a few faces no longer with us at Gen Con—though there are always plenty of new friends as well. But there is still so much history, personality, and legacy that persists at Gen Con. Even as it evolves, you can still touch history. And that becomes a tremendous thing, I think, as we gamers get older and gain a greater sense of what a legacy can bring.

Just a few things I’m looking forward to, from the “G” section (otherwise in no semblance of alphabetical order):

Gen Con Scavenger Hunt (Zack’s): I do a scavenger hunt for my group, one that gets them around the hall, interacting with and visiting booths they may otherwise have overlooked. This year, if you’re looking for something to do, I will be offering the scavenger hunt as a free download on this site! Once it's ready, download it, take it with you, and see if you can find me first to turn it in! I think I’ll be doing some prizes for the top (and bottom) finishers. If you’re interested having your company on there or have a suggestion for an item, let me know at mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com.

Gygax, Return to the Tower of: Yep, it’s back this year. Starting every two hours and running around the clock at the convention, this is perfect for getting a taste of classic gaming with friends. If you find yourself strapped for time, you should still be able to make one of these events. You won't want to miss it!

GM’s Jam 2009: If you haven’t already, make sure to sign up for this one. Game Masters from such sites as this one (that'd be me), Chgowiz’s Old Guy RPG Blog, Stupid Ranger, and RPG Centric are hosting what should be a free, friendly, informal give-and-take for novice and expert Game Masters alike.

GOLD: I just found out some of the guys from the excellent RPG Web Series GOLD will be making the trip to Gen Con this year. GOLD is one of the few shows about gaming to be filled with genuinely funny parts, well-written dialogue, and some nice acting. I'm excited to meet some of the people behind the show--if you haven't seen GOLD yet, do yourself a favor and check it out beforehand.

GameScience: The only dice endorsed by yours truly. If you’re going, look for Lou Zocchi—supposedly, last year was his last Gen Con, but this year he is an industry guest of honor! Find Colonel Lou. Have him give you the Dice Talk. It is a rite of passage, and part of all that is wonderful about Gen Con.

Gaming Paper: It might seem silly to be excited over what seems to be a pretty straightforward product, but I love my Flip Mats, my hex mats, my Tac-Tiles, and so it should come as no surprise I’m looking forward to a roll of nicely graphed gaming paper on a roll. At $4, I can afford to pick up a roll to try it out.

And, of course:

Gaming: Man, oh man, do we have some games to try out. I’m really looking forward to trying out Hackmaster 5e for the first time, I hope to get a good look at Eclipse Phase, and of course, there is the Pathfinder release, which if I’m reading things right, should be an absolute frenzy.

I’m not sure if me and the lads will be able to rock the Castles & Crusades tourney, but I sure hope so. I’m running one Microlite 74 game that’s on the schedule, and if your group needs an emergency short dungeon crawl fix, I may be able to oblige as well. And I know there will be a few new games this year that will just totally surprise me.

This will be my 5th consecutive year of coverage at Gen Con, and I will be liveblogging both here and at theRPGsite (as well as sporadic Twitter and Facebook updates). If you have a booth, product, or event you’d like covered, drop me a line (mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com).

Likewise, if you’re a reader that can’t make it and want something covered, let me know—my team and I even try to get and post pics, so you can feel like you’re right there as well (minus the gamer stench). Our coverage between my personal sites and theRPGsite usually ends up past 10,000 hits (I’m still not sure how), so you can guarantee some eyeballs will land on it. I work hard at our coverage—it’s my hope that every single one of you can make it to Gen Con one day, but until then, I’ll be here, sharing as much as I can with you. And if you’re on the fence and trying to make it affordable, well, I might be able to help with that too, cagey Indianapolis native that I am.

If you are going, one word of advice: PocketMod. I use one for booth numbers, and one for my calendar and contacts. It’s tons better than flipping through your program, and you can recycle it when you’re through.

However you get there, whatever it means to you, I hope to see you at Gen Con this year!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Defining the Kitchen Sink

One of my favorite posts (as well as one that still gets the most hits) is the one in which I name the Kitchen Sink Coalition. This union was united by a single platform of “More Lasers!” (although I’m sure “Bear Cavalry” was in their manifesto as well).

I was going back and forth with a friend this weekend after our Palladium Week, and he asked me who I thought were the original signatories to the Kitchen Sink Coalition. My short inaugural list included the following:

-Rifts
-TORG
-Synnibar
-SenZar
-Encounter Critical

-Arduin

I could see White Plume Mountain (legacy member) and Lords of Creation being on there as well. I was attempting to think of some sort of litmus test for possible participants. Possible questions included:

-Would a dragon who had his eyes replaced with jewels that shot laser beams be out of place in the setting?

-Could any element of the game be reasonably expected to appear as part of a heavy metal album cover?

-Is there at least the possibility of Beast Men with machine guns?

-Does the weapons & equipment section have at least 3 examples of archaic weapons fused with advanced technology?


What do you think? Anyone you would add to this august body? Any conditionals or qualifiers for potential members? I also believe they need a coat of arms, if anyone wants to take a crack at it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Reign of the Tyrannical DM Over? Not Quite!

"A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. ..." -The Declaration of Independence

“As Greece became more powerful and as cities became even wealthier than before, tyrannies were established in nearly all the cities. The result of this was that public revenues increased, shipbuilding flourished, and men began to think of controlling the sea.” -Thucydides

On this past episode of RPG Circus, we had the always gracious and entertaining Chatty DM (aka Phil) on our show. We discussed a lot of topics, but when we got into discussing GM responsibility and the like, he had an interesting viewpoint. He said "the era of the tyrannical GM is over". I didn't get to address it as much as I'd like on the show, but I've really been thinking it over, and I know the Esteemed Gentleman from Canada will not mind if I order my thoughts a bit more on the topic here.

I think some people who talk about tyrannical DMs think about them as analogous to Thomas Paine's portrayal of George III as a tyrant--an uncaring, unfeeling superior force, one that is justified in losing his power because of his excesses. I see tyrants in the more classical sense--in ancient Greece, a tyrant was simply someone who came to power not through birth or rule of law, but by merit of their own ability. I don't know about you, but that defines me pretty well. I didn't inherit my spot as GM, and my RPGA card certainly didn't get me there. I'm Game Master because I was willing to do what was needed, had the imagination and ideas to make it work, and proved it over time to my group. This type of tyrant does not have to be oppressive, but he does need to be effective.

Most roleplaying groups have 1 or 2 "alpha gamers". They're usually a bit more plugged into the RPG scene than the rest of the group, and usually are willing to put a little more sweat and tears into the game itself. In many groups, you also have 1-2 guys who are quieter, who you know likely won't show up with a 5,000 word character backstory, don't learn the system front and back, but also won't cause any bad friction. They aren't all-stars, but that's cool--they're friends, nice folks, and it's fun having them at the table. They have a limited level of participation, but that's what they're cool with.

Point being, few groups have the composition that's going to make greater responsibility all around really work for them. Some do, and that's great. Relieving some pressure off of the DM can be a good thing, depending on your group dynamic. But, aside from too many chefs spoiling the soup, you have some that don't want to cook--they'll just taste it when it's done.

Let's go back to tyranny for a minute, using the "modern" connotation of an unjust or unfair authority. If the rules become the ultimate arbiter, than the abuse continues. No system being perfect, without strong GMs, the strange and unwelcome inhabitants of the Character Optimization board would be free from their ancient prison, gibbering in their loveless black tongue, able to destroy entire campaign arcs with their invincible Level 30 Dragonborn Sorcerer|Swordmage/Academy Master/Demigod.

In the end, I am pleased that most--most--RPGs still include some mention of the DM/GM/Referee as final arbiter of all rules disputes and judgements. I am not for GMs abusing the system any more than I am players doing so. But given the responsibility that comes with GMing, I would much rather have the burden of responsibility on one willing to accept that burden, and I would rather have a strong, centralized power at the table (listening to player input) instead of 4-5 disparate, disorganized voices . Dispose of the "tyrant" if you must--but do not replace Louis XVI with the Reign of Terror.

The Reign of the Tyrannical DM may not be absolute, but neither is it over. Cruel and brutal Game Masters will always exist. And the answer to them is the same as it has always been--not to neuter the GM position, but to dispense with the bad ones and find one who rules justly.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Episode 3 of RPG Circus Now Available!

I'm pleased to announce Episode 3 of RPG Circus is now available for your listening pleasure!

In this episode, we discuss a ton of gaming news, talk about some of my favorite small press companies, examine the place of game balance, and find out about finding adventure in everything we see. Plus, reader comments and our fantastic guest host, the ChattyDM!

Give us a download, and join in the fun, whether it's on your daily commute, your lunch break, or getting that summer yardwork done!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Palladium Week: A Look Back

Thanks to everyone who made Palladium Week work. I hope you enjoyed it, and I wanted to thank everyone who left the time to leave a comment or an email. If you got something out of it, that makes my day.

I wanted to end with something elegant about what Palladium means to our hobby and to the thousands upon thousands of gamers still enjoying their RPGs. But here it is: whatever you might think about their system, presentation, business philosophy, whether you love it or hate it, their games always get me excited about gaming, and I almost always have fun playing them. That's the best testimonial I can give.

On that note, I wanted to share something I wrote back in 2006, when it looked like Palladium was closing its doors forever. I put a plea for my fellow fans to help. I think it's held up pretty well:

I know all too well some of you out there don't share my enthusiasm for Palladium Books. Heavens knows there's been enough internet animosity out there to fill a novel, and I in no way wish to add that. Instead, I would just like those of you out there to patiently listen to a dedicated fan say his piece.

Palladium was my first RPG system.
Robotech, Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, TMNT, Beyond the Supernatural, the whole of the Megaverse...these were the building blocks, my mother's milk, when it came to gaming. In time, I started to play other systems as well, but Palladium always retained a special spot in my heart--the amazing world of Palladium Fantasy, the incredible diversity and craziness of Rifts--these are thing that ignited a kid's imagination and led him to a hobby and kind of entertainment he hadn't known existed.

When I began the program Games For G.I.s, designed to donate games and RPGs to our troops deployed overseas, Palladium Books donated more books than any other company. I had box after box to pick up at the post office. Every time I thought that I had seen the last one, another would arrive. It was an exhibit of generosity that was nothing short of amazing.

Today, we have learned that through some act of theft and embezzlement, Palladium, just at a time when matters could not seem more promising, finds itself in a spot where it may be soon forced to close its doors.

And so, as a last resort, Palladium has called on its supporters, its long-time fans, its adherents, to step up and help save the company. I'll let you read all the details for yourself, but suffice it to say, if you profess any love or goodwill towards this company or any of its products, now is the time to make your stand.

I cannot expect the readers to understand what Palladium has personally meant to me; one's experiences are, in a way, their own, no matter how they share them, and so it likely is with the inspiration and feelings their titles continue to evoke with me. However, I will say this: For 25 years, Palladium has been out there, fighting the good fight. They've always made it a core belief that their books should be cheap, accessible, and fun. Every year, they offer their Holiday Grab Bags, full of personal touches, surprises, and a generous amount of material to their fans. Many might consider their books too kitchen-sink or over-the-top, but I like to think they leave that judgment for the players. There's a pure, old-school feeling of high adventure, the impossible made possible, and of sitting around the table with old friends, Mountain Dew and Doritos in hand, as unlikely groups battle away against amazing odds. There is a beacon at Palladium, one that the gaming world would be darker for were it allowed to go out. Whenever the spirits of creativity, inclusiveness, and adventure are stilled, we are all the poorer for it.

Gamers can be the some of the best people on earth. We'll fight ferociously over rules interpretations, edition changes, or even the proper spelling of "magic". But when it comes to helping each other out and doing what we can, I'm proud to be a part of this hobby. I love Palladium Books. As a personal plea, make me proud one more time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Palladium Alumnus: Bill Coffin

(Today, we're pleased to have Samuel Van Der Wall of RoleplayingPro present a look at one of my favorite Palladium authors--Bill Coffin. Thanks, Samuel! -Zack).

Bill Coffin is a novelist, game designer, and journalist that wrote for Palladium Books primarily in the late 1990s. If you’ve played Palladium Fantasy, Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, or Systems Failure, odds are pretty good that you’ve used one of the books he wrote or contributed to. Many Palladium Books fans consider Bill as one of the best writers in the company’s history.

I had the fortune of talking to Bill Coffin via e-mail long ago when he was writing for Palladium Books. I was running a small website dedicated to Palladium Fantasy adventure ideas. Bill stumbled across my site, liked one of my adventure ideas, and asked me if he could put it in his next sourcebook that he was working on for Palladium Fantasy called The Baal-Gor Wastelands. I, of course, was ecstatic over the idea. The end result was the posting of a short Hook, Line, and Sinker adventure, which I had written called Gorum’s Bridge, in his Baal-Gor Wastelands sourcebook.

Bill was extremely professional with handling the adventure I created. He took the original concept of the adventure, modified it to fit into the Baalgor Wastelands sourcebook, and ramped up the intensity level. The end result was me getting to see my name and adventure in a Palladium book (check out page 210 of the Baalgor Wastelands sourcebook to see the adventure). My old Palladium adventure website is gone now, but that one adventure still lives on.

Bill Coffin & Palladium Books

As a writer, editor, and contributor, Bill Coffin is responsible for over a dozen game and sourcebooks that Palladium Books has to offer. His biggest contributions are with the Palladium Fantasy RPG and Rifts. Bill is credited as an author, editor, or contributor for the following Palladium works:

Heroes Unlimited:

- Century Station

- Gramercy Island

- Heroes Unlimited Galaxy Guide

- Aliens Unlimited Galaxy Guide

Palladium Fantasy:

- The Western Empire

- Baalgor Wastelands

- Mount Nimro, Kingdom of Giants

- The Library of Bletherad

- The Northern Hinterlands

- The Land of the Damned One: Chaos Lands

- Land of the Damned Two: Eternal Torment

- Wolfen Empire Adventure Sourcebook

Systems Failure RPG

Rifts

- World Book 20: Xiticix Invasion (contributing writer)

- World Book 21: Rifts Canada (contributing writer)

- Coalition Wars 2: CS Overkill

- Coalition Wars 3: Sorcerers' Revenge

- Coalition Wars 4: Cyber-Knights

- Coalition Wars 6: Final Siege

- Dimension Book Five: Anvil Galaxy

- Rifts GM's Guide

- Rifts Book of Magic


Septimus

Septimus is a hard-hitting science fiction adventure set in the distant future. It was written by Bill Coffin and initially supposed to be published using West End Games’ D6 System. However, in early 2008 it was reported that West End Games decided to cancel the release of the proposed 400 page, full color book. WEG believed it would be too expensive to produce and unable to create as a profitable game.

However, earlier this year it was announced that West End Games and Bill Coffin came back together and finished an agreement that would see the release of Septimus in August 2009. The major proposed change was that the interior of the book would now be printed in black and white instead of full color. This would reduce the production cost of the book and allow WEG to reduce the price from $50 to $42.

One of the biggest issues with this announcement is that many of the fans who initially preordered for the 2008 release stated they did not receive a refund of their preorder. WEG claims to have fixed the majority of these refunds or exchanges, but the issue has still left a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans. Unfortunately, the failures of WEG may cast a negative light on what is otherwise being looked at as a spectacular game. WEG stated they are going to release the game at GenCon 2009.

What Is Bill Coffin Doing Now?

Bill Coffin left Palladium Books in 2002. He just recently created a new WordPress blog that you can find at billcoffin.com. Hopefully it will be a bit easier to track his current writing projects. His blog lists him currently working in New York as the publisher and editorial director of ‘Risk Management’. He continues to write fiction and has two new books due out within the next year or so, Pax Arcadia (coming in 2009) and Pax Britannia (coming in 2010). As stated earlier, his sci-fi roleplaying game Septimus is to be released in August 2009.


(Zack's Note: Bill Coffin will be at the West End Games booth at Gen Con Indy, signing copies of both Septimus and his Pax Morgana novel).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Welcome back to the continuing saga of Robotech...

(I asked Palladium Staff Writer and all-around good guy Jason Marker if he'd mind contributing a post for Palladium Week on " the Robotech RPG for non-Robotech fans". He responded with the following piece. Enjoy! -Zack)

Imagine, if you will, an event so profound that it changes not only your fundamental views of yourself and your place in the universe, but also alters the course of human history forever. Imagine living in a world much like ours, a world full of too many people and not enough resources. A world that has seen a bloody decade of global armed conflict with no end in sight. Now imagine that one day, it could be any day, you're at work or school or a recruiting center or wherever your day may take you, and it happens. Something huge tears a hole in the sky and comes screaming out of the firmament trailing fire and wreckage. Military satellites turn their cameras eagerly toward it, air forces and navies are scrambled, 24-hour news channels cut into the usual stories of war, starvation and economic collapse with a breaking story, “Something that can only be described as an alien spacecraft has entered Earth's atmosphere and crashed in the South Pacific. Please stay tuned to this network for further details”. There is panic. Police and national paramilitary forces are deployed to keep the peace. Martial law is declared and curfews are enforced. Everyone, you included, is glued to their televisions as the first pictures come in from satellites and reconnaissance aircraft. There it is, just like they said, an alien spacecraft nearly a mile long, steaming, cooling in the ocean air on a tiny island at the bottom of the world. Cease-fires are immediately declared, ambassadors are deployed for the first time in years, and the world takes a collective breath as every man woman and child comes to the same realization,

“We are not alone.”

And then,

“Whoever lost this is going to come looking for it.”

Can you even imagine? Can you imagine your reaction as you sit there in your living room or at the corner bar or wherever, staring at the incontrovertible proof that we are not alone in the universe, and that the neighbors may not be particularly friendly? What would you do? Where would you turn? Would you heed the call to action sent out by a fledgling United Earth Government? Would you gather weapons and food and loved ones and disappear into the hills? Would you turn to science or the bottle or the Lord for some comfort? This is the world of Robotech, a world fundamentally changed by a navigation error, a cosmic scale wrong turn that would raise the Earth out of her bloody conflict and bring her people together as never before, only to plunge them neck deep and screaming into someone else's intergalactic war.

Robotech is an American cartoon developed in the mid 80s by producer and anime pioneer Carl Macek for Harmony Gold U.S. It's a story stitched together from three radically different early 80s anime; The wildly popular Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross (the anime that launched a thousand sequels), the much (and in this author's opinion, unfairly) maligned Super Dimensional Cavalry: Southern Cross and the beautiful and brooding Genesis Climber Mospeada. It tells a sweeping and compelling epic story about heroism, war, love, revenge, loss and survivor's guilt. The finished story, which follows the life and times of three generations of warriors from Earth to the stars and back again over 85 episodes, is full of stunning set pieces, pulse-pounding action, amazing acts of heroism and sacrifice, gut-wrenching loss and even the occasional moment of grace. It is credited with bringing anime into the American mainstream, even more so than shows like Speed Racer and Astro-Boy, and stoked the fires of millions of young imaginations, including that of yours truly, with its compelling story and hard hitting action.

As a Role-Playing Game, Robotech offers a deep, deep pool of inspiration from which to draw. With three distinct time frames to work in, four counting the new Shadow Chronicles, there's something in the setting for everybody. Want to be a flash fighter pilot flying the iconic Valkyrie variable fighter off a space-carrier? Looking to go toe to toe with the implacable Zentraedi and win the hearts of bridge officers and J-pop stars the world over? If that sounds appealing, you should give the Macross Saga a try. Or would you prefer to be a swaggering, two-fisted armored cavalry sergeant, trying to keep the peace during the reconstruction and desperately holding off the decadent and depraved Robotech Masters? That's where Southern Cross comes in. Perhaps you prefer a hardscrabble post-apocalyptic setting, constantly on the run and using second-hand military surplus to fight against an enemy so fundamentally alien that we are to them as ants are to us. If that's the case, then the Invid Invasion is for you. Finally, if the idea of returning from deep space like some intergalactic Prodigal Son, a conquering hero here to release the Homeworld from its alien occupiers only to be betrayed at the eleventh hour by a trusted ally appeals to you, then the Shadow Chronicles is your setting.

Robotech is, at its core, a multi-generational space opera. Within the course of the game players get to pilot transforming robots, fight aliens, chase girls and generally live the life of a professional military, or paramilitary in the case of Invid Invasion, bad-ass. Players and GMs of every persuasion can find a lot to love in Robotech. There's plenty of giant robots and transformable mecha and spaceships and guns for the action oriented guns and gear crowd. For a perhaps more subtle and nuanced game there is plenty of opportunity for intrigue and suspense, especially in the Macross and Shadow Chronicles setting. It can be the basis of a one night beer and pretzels shoot-em-up killfest just as easily as it can be the base for an epic campaign run over years with a whole cast of characters. There's so much rich history and potential for drama and action and pathos in Robotech, that a gamer could get lost for days within its complex story. As a Robotech fan, I heartily support this, and encourage anyone who enjoys science fiction and good storytelling to grab a copy and give it a try.

Jason Marker is a staff writer and Freelancer Liaison at Palladium Books, and is a newcomer to the world of RPG publishing. He is currently carrying the torch of Palladium's new Robotech RPG line. He co-authored Robotech: the Shadow Chronicles and penned both the Robotech: the Macross Saga and Robotech: the Masters Saga sourcebooks. He is currently hard at work on the UEEF Marine Corps sourcebook for Shadow Chronicles and is looking forward to writing his big damn books of spaceships. Jason currently lives in Detroit with his wife Megan, their dog and a couple of cats. When not writing about spaceships and giant robots and lasers and such, he spends his time gaming, cooking, reading and collecting and restoring an ever increasing collection of elderly Japanese motorcycles.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Into the Fire: Tips For Running Rifts

When I first got the idea for doing a Palladium Week here at RPG Blog 2, I wanted to present some advice for running Rifts. My own advice has always been to look at the Megaversal System much like some people look at GURPS or AD&D 1e--only use what you really need. The basic framework of the system isn't difficult, and it's easy enough to houserule to where you want.

There's a few things I do to keep things moving--institute morale/system damage checks, change all skills to a base 30% start +5%/level (unless higher by class), adjust those same skills from a roll-under to a roll-over (just my preference), and a couple of other minor tweaks along the way. But instead of hearing it all from me, I went to the fine posters at Forums of the Megaverse to solicit their advice on running Rifts. Below are some of their best tips, tricks, and ideas on running Rifts.

Some of the advice is more relevant gaming in general, and some of it really only applies to Rifts and the Megaversal System. Take nothing as gospel, but more like a starting point or guideline for your own game.


-One of the key things to remember with Rifts is that there is ALWAYS something bigger and badder than whatever the PC is that is out looking to kick some ass. You always here stories about Rifts games that get ridiculously out of control where PCs destroy Chi-Town and take over the world. That should never happen. In fact, it should be the PCs who fly under the radar: the Ley Line Walkers, the Psychics, the Rogue Scholars, which survive by not drawing attention to themselves. Glitter Boys are just a big, walking challenge to everything out there to come and tear them apart. (Proseksword)

-Rifts is a pretty crazy game. A lot of weird things can happen. It's very easy to die. I allow people to dodge attacks after they run out of actions at full value. It sounds crazy, but it doesn't matter. Most people find ways to kick the bucket anyway. (Balabanto)


- Add whole attributes to every skill, making different levels of natural ability important. (Mark Hall)


-With new players, stick to the basic RUE OCC [Rifts: Ultimate Edition Occupational Character Class], equipment, etc. Rifts is a game that can be a bit overwhelming for a new Rifts player due to the sheer information a lvl1 character could have (abilities, skills, equipment, bonuses, etc.). So, keep it as simple as you can. (mobuttu)

-Plan encounters with a NPC retreat/surrender triggering condition. This will help you smooth combats and give PC some more roleplaying opportunities and verisimilitude (few creatures - enemies fight until its last breath). (mobuttu)


-127.) Game Masters: Never, ever, EVER give players access to Pantheons of the Megaverse.


128.) Players: Never, ever, EVER give the game master access to Pantheons of the Megaverse. (Jason Richards)


-These rules are for quick and simple combat:

34)have a called shot use one action but make the dice roll require a 12 of better with out any modifiers, or they miss.

35) Have an aimed shot only take one action and require a 12 or better with modifiers, or it hits main body and only does half damage.

36) Have a power punch used like a normal punch only it cost two actions. No need to wait till the next turn to roll. (Ninjabunny)


-1) Use a GM screen. I don't recommend the official Rifts screen. Create/build/buy your own and customize it as you see fit. Some suggestions include:
  • Keep important player stats in front of you. Ask yourself "Who can see the invisible? How far? Who has Radar? Sixth Sense? Can anybody see magic energy?" Etc. Auto-detect powers, for psi-stalkers, dog boys, etc, can be a real PitA.
  • I also track lore skill percentages, numbers for historical or pre-rifts knowledge, etc. If Becky the Rogue Scholar has a chance to recognize an object, I'll probably roll for her behind the scenes. If successful, I'll mention something like "Becky, you recognize that device as the shattered remains of a pre-rifts Blender", or "Joe the Mage, you recognize the symbols on the floor as that of an old Protection Circle." Sometimes the GM should pass along information by note. (See below)
  • Optional: Track ammo, group funds, etc with paper and pencil. I recommend PPE and ISP, too. Some characters try to get away with the action-movie effect where their revolver somehow never runs out of bullets. Some players and GMs find this kind of minutae time-consuming and irrelevant. I try to make it quick and painless, but I feel that it's important to keeping a sense of reality in the game. (Rogue_Scientist)
-Find out what your players WANT OUT OF A GAMING EXPERIENCE. If you want to run an all-Coalition game, and your players hate the Coalition, this is a recipe for disaster from the start. (Balabanto)

-Players can get arrogant and the game can get stale because of their personal equipment being too stable, becoming a crotch at times and doing a nice shake up every now and then can bring life back into the game. Having their vehicles, weapons & equipment stolen, lost or destroyed from time to time can come in handy to have them restock with equipment from the area their visiting. Be careful letting a player get a hold of ultra power equipment like a Sword of Atlantis for it can overshadow a character and embarrassed mage players who are offend when another character has a weapon with more spell casting ability then they. (Runebeo)

-Sit down and generate your player's characters with them. It may be a little time consuming but you will start play with an intimate understanding of the PCs with all of the kinks ironed out before your first game. (Anthar)


-
Start simple and work your way up to more epic adventures. This will familiarize your players not only with the rules but also with the world in which they live. The huge variety of Rifts allows for simple games to be very progressive and open new doors and new experiences as the players (and their characters for that matter) advance. (Falconi)

-...the group has to decide how they want the game to "feel" (gritty and hardscrabble, epic and shiny, terror and fear) and play that up with how the guns, armor, equipment, magic, etc. are available in game (ie., characters have some MDC stuff, characters have lots of MDC stuff, characters have NO MDC stuff but their enemies do...) (slade the sniper)


-If you still don't feel like you're games are rocking hard enough, add more Plasma. Turn that sword into a Plasma Sword. Turn those grenades into Plasma grenades. Tired of that whip? Hey, now it's a Plasma Whip. Seriously, everything in Rifts is better with Plasma added. (Me)



Thanks to all the Megaversal fans out there for their help on this! I'd love to see more advice for our readers in the comments section!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Being A Palladium Freelancer: Interview With Jason Richards

I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's kickoff of Palladium Week. We're keeping things rolling today by interviewing someone who actually works as a Palladium Books freelance writer. Jason Richards is the author of Rifts World Book 28: Arnzo--Vampire Incurison, contributor to D-Bees of North America, and also works on the Chaos Earth line. He's also a friend of the site, and was kind enough to answer all our questions regarding his time working with Palladium, writing for a "kitchen sink" setting, and looking for the profound in Rifts:


1) There's been a lot of talk online about the relationship Palladium has with its freelancers. You've worked both on the Chaos Earth and Rifts lines as a freelancer for Palladium. What's it been like for you as a Palladium freelancer? What's the editing process been like?

Freelancing for Palladium is a great experience. Not only do you get to work with such original and amazingly deep source material, but there are very few people that are better to have looking over your shoulder than Kevin Siembieda.

As a freelancer, there isn’t a lot of back and forth in the editing process. If I have questions or things I want to bounce off of Kevin, I certainly do that, but after my proposal is accepted and I’m told to get to work, I basically produce a complete manuscript and then turn it in. I make sure to give it a good edit on my own, and usually turn to other friends or colleagues during the editing process for another set of eyes. Same goes for playtesting.


2) Amongst your contributions to Palladium's Megaverse have been Rifts: Arzno, a part in D-Bees of North America, and have also worked on some Chaos Earth material. Which is your favorite Palladium line, and why?

Chaos Earth has become my one true love in Palladium. I just think that the setting is so dramatic that you can’t help but get great role-playing out of your group. So many games lend themselves to the accumulation of power, wealth, prestige, etc., but Chaos Earth is really just about surviving in a world gone wrong. There’s really no “saving the world” in the conventional gaming sense; the drama is far more personal, which I think makes the struggle that much more epic.


3) Palladium's fans have a reputation for being exceedingly, exceedingly loyal. What do you attribute this to?

The love between the fans and the company is a two-way street. Fans love Palladium and are fiercely loyal, I think, because Palladium is loyal to them. You don’t have to know Kevin too well to get that he really wants to please the people that play his games. He’s always on us to create new, dynamic, and exciting material that won’t just be interesting to read or fill in some little niche here or there. He wants us to write stuff that jumps off the page and make the fans think, “I wanna play THAT!”


4) What's the most profound thing you've seen written in regards to the Rifts setting?

Trick question, right? There’s nothing profound in Rifts!

The first thing that I thought of was the discussion of the Juicer character class in Juicer Uprising. Juicers, being effectively roided-up supermen, were always portrayed as devil-may-care hotshots in the earliest source material, but in Juicer Uprising the conversation was expanded to include things like how once juiced, people often regretted the decision, or started to view life as being far more precious than they once thought. Plus, you have discussion about people making the choice to undergo this procedure with the full knowledge that it will kill them, but they have no other way to support their family. There are a lot of things in Rifts that are like that; they seem very shallow, but you can find some real depth if you’re willing to look.


5) What are the challenges and advantages of writing for a "kitchen sink" setting such as Rifts?

The advantage is the same as the challenge, I think: the versatility. I have a hard time not coming to rely on the “kitchen sink” aspect to solve my design or thematic problems. When looking for a new character background, or a plot point in an adventure, it’s easy to just give up a little bit and say, “It was Rifted in!” or “It’s a new kind of magic!” or whatever else you want to throw at it. There are times when those can be very solid answers to whatever issue I’m trying to resolve, but that can become tired and cliche very, very quickly. If I come up with a story and the best villain is the cybermagical genius from a parallel universe where humanity has evolved into a race of hyperlizards, well that’s available! However, more often than not the answer is somewhere already within the existing canon.


6) OK, you're in charge of Palladium, you have $100K in your pocket to spend, no restrictions or strings to the money. How would you spend it?

I’d love to see some weight lifted from Kevin’s shoulders when it comes to day-to-day operational stuff. I know how hard it is to be creative and write when you have paperwork and administrative things hanging over your head. It would be awesome if he had a personal assistant to take care of paying bills and other minutia of running an office, so that he could have more time to do the creating that he really loves to do. I think $100K would go a long way toward that.


7) What RPG writers do you look up to, and why?

Erick Wujcik was my absolute #1. I had the chance to spend some time with him one-on-one a few years ago and I can’t even begin to describe how brilliant a game designer he was. That shouldn’t be any surprise to Palladium fans, but I was just floored. He was very down to Earth and understated in his approach, but the depth and complexity of his ideas for new projects were just overwhelming. He had the unique gift to create games that were simple and elegant, but perfectly balanced and logical. He is definitely missed.


8) What's the next Palladium project you can tell us about?

As I type this, I have the manuscript for Chaos Earth: First Responders up in the other screen. It will give players and game masters more information on playing characters that aren’t tied to the North American Alliance (or their military/law enforcement arm, NEMA), be they regular Average Joe types, or the types of emergency responders that get swept up in responding to the disasters of the Great Cataclysm. There will be lots of new source material in there for fans of the game that I think will greatly expand the setting. The section I was just writing is called Consumer Transporation – The technology of vehicles of the Golden Age. Hopefully that’s the sort of thing that everyone wants to see.


9) What's your current dream project you'd like to do for Palladium?

I’m looking forward to continuing work on more Chaos Earth titles and really building that game world into something epic and expansive. On the horizon I’ve got Brothers in Arms, which will cover the Golden Age militaries of the North American Alliance, and Psychic Storm, which will outline the first psychic classes of Chaos Earth. Hopefully I can work those up over the next year or so, and follow them with more. Eventually it would be nice to give it the same “Ultimate” treatment that Rifts got a few years ago, and update the ruleset and tweak the setting a bit to bring it in line with the new standards set out in the Rifts Ultimate Edition.


Thank you, Jason! You're always welcome at RPG Blog 2--thanks for being a big part of our Palladium Week!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mega-Interview With Kevin Siembieda

To start off Palladium Week with a bang, I interviewed Kevin Siembieda, owner of Palladium Books, creator of such landmark games as Rifts and Palladium Fantasy, writer of countless best-selling roleplaying products, controversial internet figure, and a good friend to this site. He is, also, in my estimation, the Grand Master of "Kitchen Sink" roleplaying. Kevin was kind and open enough to answer everything we discussed: the creation of Rifts, the development and future of RPG publishing, his thoughts on game balance, the legacy of the late, great Erick Wujcik, and much, much more.

I can say without reservation this is one of the most interesting interviews we've ever had here at RPG Blog 2. It's a bid of a read, but I think you'll agree it's completely worth it. Without further ado, here it is:


An Interview with Kevin Siembieda – July, 2009

Interview by Zachary Houghton

© Copyright 2009, Palladium Books Inc. Used with permission.

1) Rifts® really defines the "kitchen sink" genre for a lot of people. How did the original idea for Rifts® come about?

Kevin Siembieda: I wanted to create the ultimate gaming environment and a very specific, fun world. I wanted Rifts® to be my Star Wars®. A truly unique and original world setting that would wow the readers and take gamers places they had never imagined before. A setting that combined key aspects and elements of every genre possible.

Most people in the “business” those days said it could not be done. I’m highly competitive, so I was inspired by that challenge as well. Ultimately, it was something that had been percolating in the back of my head for years. I worked on the concepts behind Rifts® for three and a half years, and spent almost an entire year – 8 months – working on it non-stop. Once it all came together in my mind I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do from cover to cover. Then it was just a matter of doing it right.

Years later, Thomas Bartold, friend, investor and player in my original Palladium of Desires game, pointed out that all the elements in Rifts® were aspects of my Palladium Fantasy campaign – a vampire kingdom, the blending of magic and technology (Techno-Wizardry), characters of every genre, dimensional travel, a dragon and demon as player characters, etc. As strange as it may sound, I didn’t consciously realize that at the time, but maybe subconsciously I stole the best elements of my Palladium of Desires campaign and repackaged it as Rifts® in a more wild setting. I honestly don’t know.

It’s also possible there was something in the air – or the culture, or I don’t know what – because all of a sudden three major companies (and a couple of small ones if I recall correctly), suddenly had the idea to do a similar type of multi-genre game setting. Talk about parallel development. I was disheartened at first when I heard about them because I had been working on Rifts® as my secret epic game for several years. The next thing I know, FASA releases Shadowrun and West End Games comes out with TORG. Both were similar ideas, though I was relieved to see they were both quite different than what I had in mind.

Even though I was confident Rifts® would be a success, I questioned myself and worried. We pressed 10,000 copies and I told the Palladium team that if we sold out in three months, Rifts would be a bona fide hit. We sold out in three weeks! Sold 45,000 copies in the first 12 months. As big as the Ninja Turtles® and Robotech® role-playing games had been for Palladium, Rifts® was our first mega-hit. We were dancing in the streets. By the way, the only person who was absolutely convinced Rifts® would be an instant smash hit was Kevin Long.

2) Earlier this year, Palladium began to release a number of titles in pdf/electronic format through DriveThruRPG. What's the reaction been like from retailers and fans?

Kevin: Most fans seem happy to see them available. There was a bit of concern by retailers and distributors at first, but since we’re selling mostly out of print and older titles, there’s been no hard feelings that I’m aware of. I’m happy to make the out of print books available to folks who want them.

3) 2006 saw Palladium go through a pretty large crisis due to massive employee theft and deceit, one where it wasn't certain Palladium could weather. It's 2009, and you're still here. Are there still any aftershocks from that incident?

Kevin: Yes, of course. The damage was grievous. We barely survived. We would not have survived if not for the phenomenal fan support, and I mean it. But yeah, Palladium is still paying on several hundred thousand dollars in loans, we still don’t have the operating money we’d like to have to advertise properly, and every setback is a potential slide back into the abyss. The long work hours is another lasting aftershock. I mean, I truly love what I do, but nobody wants to work 12-18 hour days, 6-7 days a week for 4-5 years straight. It takes its toll. Gosh, I would love nothing more than to be able to take 2-3 weeks off and do nothing except sleep, read comic books, go to the movies, get together with friends and goof around. I am soooo tired of worrying about bills and cash flow. I dream of the day when that’s not an issue again, but in the meantime, you do what you have to do. There are a lot of people who count on Palladium Books, and I don’t want to let anybody down.

4) Whether you wanted to or not, you've become a sometimes polarizing figure online, and for every fan there seems to be someone in certain circles of the internet who really wants to unload on you. Is that something you can usually just shake off, or does it bother you?

Kevin: Mostly I just shake it off. Sometimes it’s hilarious. I will never forget the post that said I was worse than Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. And why? Because I published an RPG book this guy didn’t like, or because he chose to believe something I probably never actually said or did. Wow. Talk about over the top. It was so over the top it made me laugh. You have to laugh stuff like that off. Otherwise, you just deal with it as best you can. It’s the price of celebrity.

I try to take it all in stride. It’s human nature. Heck, not only that, it’s physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” You see it all the time, people who decide that they hate a particular actor, musician, writer, artist, etc., often, it seems, just because so many other people seem to like him.

I always felt the people who really knew me, knew the truth and wouldn’t believe the lies, rumors, and negative or crazy, untrue stuff said about me at times, and the rest didn’t really matter. Erick Wujcik and Mike Stackpole made me realize my ‘it ain’t true, so who cares’ attitude was a bit too cavalier and that if I didn’t stand up for myself and clear the air, the rumors and lies would become perceived as truth. It was good advice. As a result, I’ve become more public and outspoken, I do my Murmurs from the Megaverse, podcasts, interviews like this one, and convention appearances where I hope people get to see the “real me.”

5) Where do you see middle and larger-sized RPG companies being in 10 years? What do gaming companies need to do to survive in the time of economic recession and encroaching technology?

Kevin: The principles of Charles Darwin apply: adapt or face extinction. A lot of people misquote Darwin, the classic being ‘only the strongest or smartest survive.’ But that’s not what Darwin wrote at all. He said:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”

Of course, Mr. Darwin is completely right.

You need to be flexible, adaptive to your environment and open to change. That means you need to change the way you do business and even think. Doing things differently, exploring new technologies and new mediums, utilizing the Internet, thinking outside the box and exploring new avenues of not only production and manufacturing, but marketing, advertising, sales and distribution are all important if you are to survive and prosper. You also need to keep your head in tough times and not to respond in desperation or panic, but with innovation, creativity and careful thought.

Where will many of these folks be in 10 years? That depends on what new changes occur in that time period and where each individual owner of the company wants to take it.

At the moment, a lot of company leaders are reacting to the changing landscape with fear. As a result, you see a large number of people running away from role-playing games. That’s not necessarily a bad decision. It’s a tough market. Some folks may be much better off doing other types of games, or going small, or leaving the industry to do videogames or any number of other choices. It really depends on the person and the company. Ultimately, everyone must do what they think is best for them and their people. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but if that trend continues, you will only see 2-3 large RPG companies left in 10 years, maybe not even that.

I think Palladium Books is currently the only mid- or largish sized company that is surviving predominantly on the sale of role-playing games. It’s our niche, we love it, and we’re good at it, so that’s what we are focused on.

However, you’ll see the trend to distance oneself from role-playing games reverse the second there is a ‘new smash hit’ game or resurgence of an old one that recaptures people’s imaginations and spending money. Of course, we’re hoping Palladium will be the company to do that. I’d love nothing more to reinvigorate role-playing games at some point in the next 2-5 years, but I’ll be just as happy if it’s somebody else. It will happen. We’ve seen it in comic books, film, and television, as well as other mediums. The resurgence probably won’t be as big as the initial explosion and it is likely to include other mediums, but a resurgence is likely.

Another trend that is already obvious is the move into digital and electronic mediums. I think you’ll see more and more online and videogames incorporating more and more role-playing story elements, adaptations into the electronic medium and crossover products.

6) If there's one other game out there you'd like to have designed or to be able to take credit for, or that you really admire, which one would it be?

Kevin: Hmm, I think I might claim the 5th on this question, because if I pick someone’s game I’m going to insult 50 others. If I can pick any game, past or present, I think I’d have to go with the Risk board game. It is comparatively simple, fun, and pure genius.

7) For RPG systems, there's an argument of innate attempted system balance vs. G.M. system balance. I would cite 4e as an attempt to provide the former, and Rifts® as a game that requires the latter. When you're designing a new rule or option for the Megaversal system, how much do you take the need for a strong (and fair) G.M. into consideration?

Kevin: Game balance is ALWAYS a concern and a key aspect of every rule, power, weapon and character. It has to be.

You are right, personally, I do not like the 4e approach. I do not think it is the way to go – at least for me. Everyone is NOT created equal. These attempts at ‘game balance’ with characters that are all pretty equal may sound correct, but all they do is create an illusion of balance and fairness that ultimately creates (in my opinion) dull, boring, “cookie cutter” characters that lack personality and excitement, especially in a “storytelling game.” And role-playing games are all about storytelling and characters. Character who must think and be clever, cunning, make bold and daring moves, take chances, face impossible odds sometimes, and pray for a touch of luck via the roll of the dice. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but making all character fundamentally equal is not game balance. Being able to play a huge, diverse range of characters, in a huge, diverse world (or Megaverse®) is game balance. Having rules that are invisible is game balance. And I’m not just talking about Palladium’s RPGs.

Think about it. If we all played Superman, but with a different name, things would get pretty boring and similar after a couple dozen games. Where’s the challenge, the weaknesses, your chance to shine when brawn and raw power are not the answer, that clever idea that saved the day, that moment of desperateness as you face a foe who can chew you up and spit you out, and the challenge to defeat him one way or the other?

As for the Game Master. Storytelling games like RPG are reliant on the G.M. A great G.M. can make any scenario, setting and adventure, wonderful. A bad G.M. will make the best canned adventure or setting or characters one of the most awful experiences on Earth. It’s the nature of the beast. However, I have NEVER written a game book assuming the G.M. is fantastic. On the contrary, you have to assume the G.M. is fair to good and make sure your game is still playable and fun even if the G.M. is not the best. Of course, the G.M. (and players) gets better the more he or she plays, and as his/her confidence grows. Consequently, when I design a game or sourcebook or adventure, I try to consider how the worst G.M. could wreck it or abuse it. I then try to avoid those pitfalls, provide a complete description and enough meat and ideas so that ANY G.M. with good intentions can run a good, competent and fun game. It’s tricky at times.

What irritates me is that some people don’t seem to realize is that just because you, personally, prefer a particular game system or approach, it does not mean it is the only or best one. The beauty of role-playing games is that it is personal. If it works and you like it, you are good to go. That means there are people who like the 4e approach, or Palladium approach, or Role-Master, or GURPS, or Hero Games, and on and on. And ALL of them are valid, playable, fun game systems. One is not inherently better than another, they are just different, and you may – personally – prefer one over another, but that does NOT mean all the rest are bad, no good, junk, antiquated or anything else, they are just different. That’s one of the things I love about role-playing, it is personal. There are many rules variations. In fact, many gamers have variant house rules in addition to their favorite rules. That also means if there is a rule you don’t like, you can change it. Modify it to your own, personal style of play. Awesome.

8) Last year, we lost one of the best RPG designers and writers in history, Erick Wujcik (whose credits included Amber, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and some tremendous contributions to Palladium Fantasy, among a much longer list of others). As his best friend, can you try to put into words what made him such a brilliant designer?

Kevin: Erick always thought big. He never accepted that something was impossible even if everyone around him said otherwise. Erick didn’t think outside the box, he lived outside the box. He was always looking at the infinite possibilities. He and I always took the approach of “that’s cool, but what if . . .”

The “what if” was always how can you make your idea/work different, surprising, new, unconventional, or take it in a new direction. What if you combined X with something nobody every thought of before, or tried a new or different approach or application, or what if you tossed it out completely and tried . . . whatever. He always challenged himself and was never afraid to consider new ideas. And he drew upon ideas from EVERYWHERE, never just role-playing, never the ordinary. We both shared that philosophy which is why we always worked so well together. Our goal was to always find something exciting and challenging about what we were working on. And part of that was to find something that we knew would thrill and challenge the reader.

9) How is the RPG scene different for a RPG publisher trying to establish a foothold different now versus when you were starting out?

Kevin: Geez, nothing is the same. It’s all totally different. In some ways, with print on demand (POD) it’s easier. In other ways, it is much harder.

The hobby is in a slump, there are fewer distributors and retailers, and many are hesitant or are afraid to take a chance on a new company or title. Heck, we even see low initial sales for some of our newer or daring products, such as Dead Reign. Thankfully, our distributors will usually reorder quickly when they see that “unknown” product is selling well. However, the new guy is going to have trouble getting through the door let alone getting the distributor or retailer to carry his new, unknown, unproven product. It better be slick, well packaged, and at a reasonable price point too, or forget about it. It was tough breaking in back in the day, but now, it’s murder.

Likewise, retailers are hesitant. Shelf space is money, so to tie it up on an unknown quantity is a scary proposition, especially in these tough times. Furthermore, some ‘areas’ just don’t have a gaming crowd, so getting your game in a store that doesn’t sell other RPGs or other games, is likely to be a dead-end with few to zero sales. Sadly, the hobby stores dedicated to role-playing games are also a rarity. You’re lucky to have a quality game store with a decent RPG section. The great games stores are true treasures.

Great advertising venues are also gone and there is ever increasing competition from online and videogames, not to mention a zillion other mediums and forms of communication and entertainment. It’s a very tough market and my heart goes out to those brave souls trying to break into it. Don’t give up, be smart, hit at least one big gaming convention like Gen Con, maybe a couple of smaller regional conventions, keep sending the dozen main distributors samples of every new game you release, along with your wholesale rates, offer your product online, be professional, keep at it, cross your fingers, and good luck.

10) I've got to ask this one for my fellow Palladium Fantasy fans: Mysteries of Magic is on its way – what can we expect in regards to delayed projects such as the Old Kingdom books and Land of the Damned?

Kevin: I’d like to seem them all done, but it is a matter of time. As anyone who follows my Murmurs from the Megaverse knows, we are working hideous, long hours as it is, 6 and 7 days a week. Regrettably, writing is a slow, complex process (to do it right), and on top of that, for me at least, I’m also handling the art direction, talent coordination, contracts, bills, advertising/promotion, many aspects of the business, and running the whole kit and caboodle. I laugh when someone says “you need to hire more people.” No kidding, but we don’t have the resources to do that right now, and it’s tough finding the people who have the experience, are willing to learn and don’t freak out when reality hits them. I felt bad for Jason Marker, Palladium’s staff writer, because the learning curve was much steeper than he expected (it always is), and there were times where he looked like he was about to break. However, Jason has stuck it out and is getting into the groove. Now he grumbles about many of the same young writer mistakes that he used to make.

I love Palladium Fantasy. It’s my personal favorite Palladium setting. It’s my goal to support the Fantasy line and all our game lines, but I’m afraid we are only human and can only do so much. I’d love to see the Old Kingdom books and Land of the Damned 3 see print. It won’t be this year, but who knows what 2010 might have to offer.

11) Do you see the world of Palladium Fantasy as primarily an optimistic or pessimistic setting, and why.

Kevin: I see it as optimistic. It is going through a tumultuous period of change. The old races have peaked, warred and are on a downward spiral. It’s the time of Man – humans are the new dominant civilization, but it’s awesome because we still have remnants of the elder races and their cultures. It’s a rich environment.

12) For me, the writing in Palladium's books always seemed to capture a certain enthusiasm about the subject matter at hand. Is that something you consciously look for when you're editing a writer's work?

Kevin: Absolutely. It is totally deliberate and intentional. In fact, it’s one of the hardest aspects for many new writers to capture. But it’s that sense of enthusiasm, energy and wonder that set our books apart. Makes them more exciting and fun. I tell my guys and gals that it is the writer’s ‘job’ to take the ordinary, commonplace and mundane, and breathe new life into it. To make it seem new or at least special, different and exciting. Wow and surprise the reader, keep him guessing, and you have a winning book.

13) Rifts, TMNT, and Palladium Fantasy were the games that a good number of gamers grew up on. For fans who may have gone by the wayside, have been away from gaming, or have been playing other RPGs, do you have any sort of message?

Kevin: Generally speaking, keep an open mind. If you haven’t role-played in a while, you might want to give it a try. It’s funny, but somehow we forget just how much fun role-playing can be. I know a number of gamers who played with me at a convention because I was a guest, or came to the Palladium Open House, and who later reported how they forgot how much fun role-playing was. Or how much fun a particular setting, Heroes Unlimited, Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, etc. were.
Yeah, dust off your old copy of Palladium RPG “X” – give it a once over and maybe run a game. You’ll find that old magic is still there. Or try Dead Reign or Robotech, two game settings that are simpler than some, easy to play and fun, fun, fun.

I know role-playing is more demanding than card games, or board games, and don’t have the splash of videogames, but there is NOTHING like them. Don’t take my word for it. Give it a try and you’ll see.

14) OK, enough with the serious questions: if you had to go with a single character class in Rifts® that kicks the most ass, which one would it be? We're talking pure personal preference for the aforementioned ass-kicking here . . . :)

Kevin: That’s a little easier question than, “Which is your favorite character?” That’s nearly impossible to answer because they are ALL my children, and it’s like asking a parent, ‘Which is your favorite child?”

Hmmm, most kick ass or bad ass Rifts® character, huh? I’ve done some serious damage with Tattooed Men, Juicers, Cyber-Knights, Ley Line Walkers, SAMAS Pilots, Dragon Hatchlings, and even Faeries (if you play ‘em right), but I think I would have to go with the Mind Melter. I love those guys. As a player, I tend to gravitate toward Mind Melters/Mind Mages, practitioners of magic, thieves and assassins.

Thanks again, Kev. Take care – Zack

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Palladium Week Starts Tomorrow!

I hope you're ready, because we have lined up some epic interviews, some great advice, and some really interesting features all-around!



You'll want to make sure to join RPG Blog 2 tomorrow and all week, as we take at Palladium, its games, its staff, and its place in the hobby.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Spawn of Fashan Article

While digging around, I found this article by Kirby Davis, author of Spawn of Fashan. Anyone who remembers the early Dragon Magazine debate on this potential "Worst RPG Ever" candidate might get a kick out of it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Discussion: Poor Editing In RPGs

"Your party is attacked by 2d4 habgoblins".

"See chart on page 141 for more detail". (No chart can be found on that page).

"The spaceport is inhabited by a family of aliensThealiens are friendly but have nothing to trade".

Yep, poor editing and proofreading. It's an epidemic for RPG publishing companies that shows no signs of letting up.

So, that's our discussion for this Friday: How much does poor editing/proofreading impact your RPG purchasing habits?

Examples and anecdotes welcome as always--if you've had a good or bad experience, post about it below.

Random Weekend Event Chart (Roll 1d6)

1: Something breaks in the house. It takes 1d4 hours to be repaired. You're understandably cranky about it.

2: You take an epic nap. Upon waking, you're not sure if it's 7 pm Saturday or 7 am Sunday.

3: You get about halfway through a Forgotten Realms novel before throwing it aside in disgust.

4: You think about stopping by a fireworks store for clearance fireworks, but find they are closed until next year.

5: An old man selling roadside corn gives you a weird look as you drive by. You speed up.

6: You catch a mid-afternoon showing of Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise. You feel strangely fulfilled.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Traveller Followup: Freebies

Per yesterday's discussion of Mongoose Traveller's Book 0: Introduction to Traveller, I am sorry to say that it looks like both the print and the pdf will set you back at least a fiver (unless you were lucky enough to pick it up at 2008 Free RPG Day). That's a shame--I like a good, free quickstart product as much as anyone. Perhaps in the future, they'll offer the pdf for free. I'd be more apt to pick up Mongoose's pdfs in general if the prices came down. (Think Paizo. Think about the fact that I'm a lot more likely to buy the print copy of a book I enjoy in pdf form).

All is not lost, however. Mongoose does have an SRD and Developer Kit you can download (warning: direct zip link) from their downloads page that might give you a bit of an idea of what it's all about. Not as good as a product purely designed for an introduction, but better than a stick in the eye.

Here are a few introductory Traveller products (of differing quality) on DriveThruRPG that are free (none of them for Mongoose Traveller, mind):

-Understanding Traveller: The New Era

-Traveller20 Lite (I still think that's Randy Quaid on the cover)

-DTRPG Guide to MegaTraveller

My advice, no matter what version you choose, is always the same: don't let someone else define your Imperium for you. Traveller is the ultimate space sandbox; take advantage of that. The game you want to run is somewhere in Traveller; you just have to find it.

(Hello to Jon Brazer Enterprises, a company making Traveller products who I just met yesterday!)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Introducing Traveller

The Traveller RPG can be a confusing animal, can’t it? There are multiple versions available, multiple milieus in which to set a campaign, and for every option, there is a healthy dose of partisans and implacable foes, ready to shout down or up any choices you might make.

I wish I could help, but Traveller Grognard (Junior Ranking) I am, I bounce between Traveller editions myself. I really enjoy Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller at the moment, but MegaTraveller, T20, and Traveller: The New Era have their charms as well.

I’m kicking around doing a Traveller game this fall (I’ve been promising this gaming group forever I’d get around to one), and my biggest consideration is going to be learning curve. For that, I think Classic Traveller or Mongoose Traveller would be best. Mongoose Traveller has the edge of being clearly inspired by the original and pretty close to it in a lot of places with a more modern layout. Right now, Mongoose Traveller is the front-runner, but things can change. T20 would be easy for a group that’s played a lot of d20, but I don’t entirely like how combat works in that game, and I fear there’d be some “unlearning” to do. No, best to start fresh, I think.

Besides, I admitted how wrong I was about Riki-Tiki-Traveller. I think I sort of owe it to them, especially since Mongoose has been doing a very un-Mongoosian solid editing job on the line (for the most part). Some of our group also has the Free RPG Day Introduction to Traveller from Mongoose, which should be a nice introduction indeed.

Ready my H. Beam Piper. We're gonna make this happen.


(By the way, do you guys ever visit/read The Zhodani Base? You should, if you dig Traveller).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Warhammer Fantasy 3e Rumors

Dice Pools? Really?

Hat Tip to theRPGsite. Not much info to go off of, I know, but interesting nonetheless. I'll reserve judgment until I hear more.

A Quick Crit Rule

My friends and I usually like games where crits have at least a chance of sudden death. In our worlds, the stable boy needs at least some sort of shot against the Dark Knight, even if it's the slimmest of hopes (call it the Rolemaster School of Crits, I guess).

We've played a lot of games centered around a d20 combat roll (from D&D to Palladium Fantasy) where a crit does 2-3x damage at best. Our quick n' dirty solution in days past was to roll a d6 after any crit to determine the damage multiplier the critical hit did:

Critical d6 Multiplier Roll
1-2: Double Damage
3: Triple Damage
4: Quadruple Damage
5: Quintuple Damage
6: Sextuple Damage

Besides the fun of saying "Quintuple Damage!" at the gaming table (seriously, try it sometime), this often sped combat up, made it more lethal, and added an element of luck to the whole thing that we enjoyed. It let your 1st-level fighter have a snowball's chance against that evil warlord without letting get too hopeful. Just a silly little houserule, but one we enjoyed. If you don't have a critical hit deck, a book of charts, or a system that's doing critical hits how you'd like, but you don't want to put too much thought into it, you might give it a whirl.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Wherein We Ring Up A Near TPK

There was a very-near TPK in my current online game (Castles & Crusades) this weekend. There was a 25% survival rate--3 out of the 4 characters (all 2nd-level) are no more.

This was sort of a unique one, and I'm left wondering if perhaps I didn't broadcast something as clearly as I should have. But then, the players let themselves be tricked into thinking that this Evil NPC had a Dagger of Dragon Slaying, when all he had was a +1 dagger. Without getting it checked out, they went directly to the lair of the local scourge, a Green Dragon, and and attempted to engage him. That right there is likely enough to warrant a TPK, I suppose.

I’ll give them credit, though—for a bunch of 2nd-levels, they didn’t go down without a fight. This was a young dragon, and the fighter and cleric put some hurt on him before dropping. The illusionist really didn’t utilize as I thought she could have, and was an early out regardless (not much HP and acting like a warrior will have that effect). The fighter was perhaps most effective, using the terrain, confounding the dragon, and attempting to make a covered, fighting retreat when things turned south. But he didn’t make it out in time.

The only one to survive was the thief, who bungled the approach to the lair and fled. Not the most popular person at the virtual gaming table right now, I warrant, but the only one with a live character.

I know the players were at fault for so easily believing something is a major artifact without proof or checking it out, but I do think perhaps I should have broadbast the Green Dragon’s danger level a bit more clearly earlier on. Then again, in whatever state of mind they were in, I don’t know that would have helped. A peril (feature?) of sandbox play is you can set out as many warning posts as you want, and nothing short of character death will serve as notice. It's an extreme form of organic boundary, but it happens.