Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Business: The Problem With Palladium

This past week Jeffro began digging into RIFTS and Palladium, as did JD Sauvage.

They are now experiencing the issues that I've long had with Palladium, and are having that "Great ideas, but man that execution" feeling I've dealt with for decades.

I won't go over what a good manual needs--I did that last Sunday--but I will spell out things Palladium's ruleset is missing.

Not Even Half A Game

It is no surprise, if you followed my recent series, that Palladium's products are not even half-finished.

Palladium's games miss any procedures for strategic or tactical movement or manuever, have jack all for economics, don't even try to model interactions with NPCs, give no thought to what that skill list is supposed to do (or how), and dumps all such questions back on the Referee to solve with "Figure it out" as if he bought a box of mismatched parts instead of a complete product.

If the AD&D1e manuals did not exist, this would not be viable; Palladium's business relies on "that 12 year old boy enthusiasm" and user familiarity with D&D to be as dysfunctional as it is, instead of non-functional. Palladium relies entirely on sizzle, with sweet fuck-all for steak.

What you get are some stat tables, a skill list that might as well not exist, a combat system (with Initiative-By-Actor, not By-Side) that only handles fist-fights between individuals well, and a character progression system that might as well not exist because everything is front-loaded. This squares with every single Actual Play report given about how Kevin runs his own game, including ignoring his own rules because it's inconvenient.

That Silver Age Comics grounding really does show through when you put it all in context.

But It IS Part Of A Game

Bad as it is, at least it's a framework. It can become a full and proper product, but the reality is that this can't happen until Kevin is gone and the Boomer can't Boomer it up anymore.

You'd have to tear the not-half-a-game down to its components and redesign the core of the game from scratch into a full, complete, and competently-made hobby game product.

You'd have to take the risk of letting product lines slowly go fallow as you work on this new product framework, because you're not going to get away with using someone else's game engine (as sensible as that may seem to some) and maintain the in-built Palladium audience.

You'd have to compensate with an open design process, where you keep that audience on-side by letting them test variations of the core design and get feedback--which you, being the cat-herder, have to spell out in autistically-specific terms as to what you want feedback on, how, and why--and you'd have to start that process with a very limited play array.

That array is "Ordinary Man Doing Extraordinary Things", in the form of the classic hero adventures of old. No supernatural powers to wield, no fantastic technologies to use, not even ordinary vehicles or mounts at first, and nothing that smacks of Narrative logic. You're starting with a core wargame design and play experience, and you expand on the ruleset as you nail down each core element in turn.

No, this won't be done swiftly unless you're using an existing ruleset and moving straight to product-specific subsystems (i.e. generating Mutant Animals for a new After The Bomb edition, or scale mechanics for a new RIFTS edition).

And Now The Game Is Complete

You know the problem is solved when Bob playing Major Merlin can take his man across the ocean to a table at a game convention and play without anyone having to waste time on house rules or options.

The #BROSR can already do this with AD&D1e. The Bros are now looking at other games to see which ones meet that same standard. Palladium--not one product--does not meet it, and never has, and eventually one gets tired of having to put a working product together out of that box of parts Kevin still sells after 40 years, no matter how appealing the styling of the product may be.

I don't piece together a hammer when I buy one. I damn well don't need to be piecing together a game when I buy one either. This is why, as much as I like the settings, I can't promote Palladium products to people who want a complete product that Just Fucking Works (i.e. "turnkey-ready"). Palladium's products are akin to corrupt shithole country bureaucracies: incomplete, incompetently run, incompetently done, contradictory and God help you if you complain about it. If you just want to get on with it, buy something else.

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