Monday, October 1, 2012


When talking about most RPGs via the internet, players generally focus on the RAW or Rules As Written. Since every game table is different, focusing on the one thing all players share, the rulebooks, makes a lot of sense.

The Palladium system is a bit different. Because nobody truly plays with the Rules As Written. In some cases, it's because the mechanics are broken, poorly explained, or both. In other cases, the rules and setting don't mesh as neatly as they should. And then there are the times when the books are oddly silent on certain subjects.

What you get instead is a lot of IMC, or In My Campaign. For those times when the books don't have an answer, individual GMs and players step up to the challenge. Sometimes it's simple tweaks or filling in minor details. Other times, entirely new races, occupations, or even subsystems emerge at the table.

I've been wrestling with this mostly as I try to understand the economy of Rifts Earth. You see, the prices in every Rifts book I own are given in credits. So my assumption is that this is a standard currency throughout the setting. But every time I get into a discussion with Rifts players on the topic, they tell me how silly that assumption is.

And they're right. It's a silly assumption. A balkanized world like Rifts Earth would not have such a unified economy that a single currency would be accepted everywhere. But nowhere in the RAW (at least what I've seen) is this contradicted. So individual GMs have stepped up and devised their own currencies and conversions.

Gold and other precious metals work rather well as "universal currency" in fantasy games. Unlike paper (or electronic) money, gold is valuable in itself. It doesn't matter whose face is stamped on the coin, as long as it's gold. Without that intrinsic value, the only thing that gives paper money worth is the face printed on it. And that only goes as far as people trust that face.

The other issue I find is that there are very few mundane prices. I know Rifts is about having awesome adventures and dialing everything up to ELEVEN!, but giving me an idea of what it means to be a normal person in this setting is valuable. For one thing, it helps me be aware of exactly how awesome I am. When I have a million credits, is that equivalent to having a million dollars or a million yen?

It also opens up other campaign options. Rather than assuming that the PCs are a party of wandering adventurers, let's say I want to do a stationary campaign. The party is a band of locals who protect a small town from the predations of the Coalition and/or the Xiticix, or maybe it's near a nexus and Rifts spill out trouble like a bar at closing time. Or maybe my game is "D-Bee Hospital" and the party is made up of Cyber-Docs and Body Fixers who treat anyone who comes through their doors.

Suddenly, the PCs aren't foraging to survive, but are drawing steady paychecks for their labor. They have bills to pay. A GM who wants to run that sort of campaign doesn't have a lot to go on. Now Rifts GMs are notoriously industrious (and mad props for that!), but it would be nice if the game were better able to support them.

The big question is: How did things get to be this way? A few things jump out at me.

Excessive familiarity with the material. If you've been playing a game for a long time, there comes a point where you know the rulebook by heart. If you've been publishing and writing for the same system for a long time, your eyes glaze over as the rules pass before your eyes. You become less critical of critical portions of the rulebook because it's all stuff you've seen a million times already. So stuff slips by.

Gamer elitism. RPGs, especially in the old-school era, had a reputation for being obtusely written. Gamers took special pride in being able to decode the rulebooks. (One letter to Dragon magazine during the development of 2e D&D urged the designers to retain THAC0 and descending AC to ensure that only smart people would be able to play it.) If some of that decoding required filling in some blanks, so be it.

And none of this is to say that Palladium games are unplayable. Many people do play them and have fun doing so.

I think a big chunk of the reason that there will never be a proper Rifts 2e is that the community surrounding the game is as balkanized as Rifts Earth. Everyone is basically playing their own version of the game. And they've been doing it their way for so long that they don't want a serious revision telling them that they're doing it wrong. (Because they're not.) Those who do want a serious revision are similarly stymied as they try and decide which revisions to make. So many players want their tweaks and revisions to become canon that it can be difficult to choose.

Comments are open.