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[RPG Blog II] It Doesn't Have To Be Perfect

There was an interesting thread the other day on theRPGsite, asking Game Masters to describe their worst campaign as a GM. My thoughts immediately went back to a HARP campaign I ran a few years back, where I wasn't happy with my effort, the lack of screening I did with the group, or the missed sessions that ultimately doomed the campaign within the first month. Of course, that's not the only game that I've failed at, but it's probably the most memorable, as everything that could have gone wrong did so.

Whether you're a Game Master new to the trade, or a more experienced GM frustrated with their results thus far, I think it's very easy to get discouraged when you hear of all the other amazing campaigns folks are running out there. Of course you're hearing about them: those are the successful ones. For every amazing campaign with an impressive website, enthused players, and brilliant ideas, there are a half-dozen campaigns that are trying to get some traction, or struggling to continue.

I'll be honest--I consider myself a good Game Master, but I've had some absolute stinkers when it comes to my campaigns. Sometimes, you hit a home run, and sometimes, you strike out. The important thing is that you're learning, trying, and not getting too down when it doesn't work out. The most brilliant ideas sometimes just don't jive with the group, or unforeseen scheduling issues doom everything, or perhaps the timing isn't right. Sometimes, we act like GMing is something that can be carried out 100% perfectly, each time every time. That's just not the case.

Your campaigns don't have to be perfect, and neither does your track record. Whether you're running your first session or your fortieth, there's going to be trial and error. If you're hesitant at trying your hand at Gamemastery because you don't want to fail, or if you're hesitant to give it another go because the last campaign didn't work out so well, don't be! The best way to become a better Game Master is to get out there and run games. Yes, every year I do a GM's seminar, and spend some time checking out the ideas of other Game Masters and Referees, but that doesn't do any good if it all stays theoretical. If you're paying attention, you learn more from an hour running a game than twenty outside the game reading up on GM tips (although the latter doesn't hurt!).

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're reading this, and you want to Game Master, get out there and do it. If you're worried or intimidated, don't be. We've all been there. Start small if you want, start with something you know, but above all, just start. No one is going to remember the hesitations or the wonky bits. They will remember when everything clicks, the players buy in, and the awesome stuff happens. As a Game Master, that's the sort of fun you live for, and why you do it. Don't worry about the bumps in the road getting there--because you most definitely aren't alone.
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[RPG Blog II] 10 Underrated Palladium Books

I'm gearing up for another Rifts campaign later this year, and along with that, I've been filling some holes in my collection, and rereading a few old titles. A lot of gamers don't realize just how many books Palladium has put out over the year, or how many titles they've kept in print; a good estimation of that number can be gained here. With that in mind, here are 10 underrated Palladium game books that deserve at least another look:

10) Northern Hinterlands (Palladium Fantasy)
Players don't always think of heading to a snowy waste as too much of a challenge, but Northern Hinterlands not only makes it perilous, but it fills the Great Northern Wilderness with colonies, trappers, strange treasures, lost gods, and untold treasures. This is a region that is perfect for long-term sandbox play, and it seems like there's an idea for an encounter or quest on every page. Of the later Palladium Fantasy titles, Northern Hinterlands stands easily with the earlier, more well-known books.

9) Beyond the Supernatural, 1st Edition
Many gamers today never had any experience with the first iteration of BTS, which was a fun, creepy game that was a favorite of players that wanted to go "monster hunting"...only to often find themselves hunted in return. The Victim class was absolutely brilliant, and "got" horror gaming in a really fantastic way. This game really worked--not just for paranormal investigated or hunting monsters, but for playing games in which you were just trying to survive. Beyond the Supernatural 2nd Edition is still somewhat of an incomplete game for now (awaiting dedicated monsters and magic supplements), but if you can find a copy of BTS 1e, it is well worth the effort. The going rate for a decent used copy is about $7-8, which is a great bang for the buck (you can also find it over at RPGNow).

8) Deluxe Revised RECON
A bit of an odd duck in that it does not use Palladium's Megaversal system, Deluxe Revised Recon is a retooling of Joe Martin's original Vietnam-era combat game. Written by Erick Wujcik, it takes what many gamers might find a limited or unappealing genre, and manages to turn it into a pretty interesting take on Vietnam War soldiers and combat characters in general. Then again, what else would you expect from the late, great Erick Wujcik?

7) Splicers RPG
Carmen Bellaire and Kevin Siembieda did fine work on the world of Splicers, set in a future where a terrible nano-virus forces humans to turn to organic technology to combat the relentless, exterminating machine overlords. To date, the Splicers, has only seen the main book released, though there's absolutely plenty of fertile ground for more development. There's enough in here to use easily with games like Rifts or Heroes Unlimited, and some of the tech described rivals the coolest games like Rifts have to offer.

6) Rifts: England
Sometimes panned for its portrayal of New Camelot (Merlyn, or Myrrlyn, as an Alien Intelligence?), World Book 3: England doesn't boast the power level of many books even released around the same time. That's part of why I love it. Rifts: England speaks to a sparser, wilder, more mystic Rifts Earth, where there are very few major powers, and a good old basic laser pistol from the old Main Book could serve you well. Reading England again, it's a place primed for adventure, and probably deserves a higher level of esteem than it usually garners.

5) Baalgor Wastelands (Palladium Fantasy)
Set in a part of the Palladium Fantasy world that is often overlooked, Baalgor Wastelands is a fantastic book that offers some unique looks at challenges and culture in a desert wasteland environment. The descriptions of the Wasteland's perils make it clear this is not an area for the faint of heart, and the races and cultures in the book lend everything a unique cast while still making the region seem a living, breathing mix of enemies, animals, and a relentless, daunting struggle to survive.

4) Systems Failure RPG
Released in 1999 at the height of the Y2K scare, Systems Failure describes a world invaded by Bugs, who invade this alternate Earth at the end of the century. They are capable of traveling through power and phone lines, and soon reduce humanity to a group of survivors, desperately fighting back against this dire threat. This is a surprisingly tight little RPG, although it was essentially released as a one-and-done line, with some official add-ons coming by way of the Rifter. No longer in print, it's available at various places online for $5-6, and is definitely worth a look. With any luck, Palladium will consider adding it to DriveThruRPG one day soon.

3) Rifts: Mystic Russia
Mystic Russia seems to be often overlooked by Rifts fans, and that's a shame, because the magic in this book is some of the more unique and evocative arcana of the entire Rifts line. The Old Believer and Fire Sorcerer aren't mega-powered classes, but they have a sort of utility about them that makes them a great addition to any party. The woodland spirits, necromancy, and the awesome Mystic Kuznya class (essentially an arcane blacksmith) are not to be missed. I've always considered this one of Kevin Siembieda's best works in terms of Rifts titles.

2) Gramercy Island (Heroes Unlimited)
Heroes Unlimited gets two big nods on this list, with the first being Gramercy Island, a sourcebook detailing a max-security special prison set up for super villains and criminal masterminds. If you want a host of bad guys to use in your game, this book is a fantastic resource. The baddies in here can stop even the toughest hero in their tracks, and there's something to attack just about any sort of vulnerability. This is a fine sourcebook for inspiration, regardless of your Supers RPG of choice.

1) Century Station (Heroes Unlimited)
I have perhaps used no Palladium product with other games as much as I have used Century Station. This packed sourcebook details a massive city setting, complete with districts, local personalities, industry, entertainment, and an array of heroes and villains to round everything out. I consider it perhaps the best superhero RPG sourcebook of all time. Bill Coffin's writing here was top-notch, and the entire book is an absolute idea factory.
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Just a quick reminder, the Breachworld Kickstarter is due to finish up on Sunday. I love post-apocalyptic kitchen-sink settings, and I think Mini Six is a fantastic iteration of the d6 system, so there's really nothing here for me not to love. The art and stretch goals Jason Richards has put together look awesome, and I can't wait to see how the finished product looks.

In any case, if you're also a fan of good art, good kitchen sink post-apocalyptic settings, and a good d6 system, make sure to check out Breachworld before the final gun sounds on this Kickstarter.
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[RPG Blog II] The Breachworld Kickstarter

Jason Richards has been one of my favorite Palladium authors for a long time now. He's one of the best "kitchen-sink" writers I know of, and he's now struck out on his own on an exciting new project. Called Breachworld, this is another take on a post-apocalyptic, kitchen-sink setting. It's using the Mini Six system, and it's really great to see some more d6 goodness out there--especially of the post-apocalyptic variety!

Anyhow, you'll want to check out this Kickstarter. The game is just about complete, the art is ordered, and it seems like a pretty solid risk calculation. Also, the funding tiers seem reasonable, as do the add-ons. I'm definitely in for one of the early bird spots (which means Jason will pick up the shipping). The art and ideas make this one to at least take the time to review.
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[RPG Blog II] About That Palladium Podcast...

There was a pretty nice reaction from the first episode of Radio Free Palladium (thanks!), so I went ahead and tried an Episode 2 (it can't be any worse than when George Lucas had the same idea). This one deals with some common NPC issues in Palladium games (and games in general, I suppose).

Thanks to everyone who checked it out and provided feedback. Please, keep it up! I think some of the discussion in the show is good for gaming in general, but there are also some more Rifts and Palladium Fantasy-specific topics in the hopper. I guess we'll see where it all leads!

Check out Radio Free Palladium Episode 2 here.
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So, here's the deal. There are plenty of discussions over the relative power levels of this Rifts book or that. For a long time, I've wanted to see which books really are the most popular, where the perceived "power curve" starts, ebbs, or ends, and just what Palladium gamers really think are the most quality Rifts books out there.

If you're a Rifts Game Master or player, please take 10-15 minutes to fill out the form below. I'd really like to garner over 100 responses, and chart just where a survey of fans places each Rifts World Book in terms of quality and power level. I want to see what patterns we might discern, and if there's any sort of consensus on which books truly are of the best quality or highest power level.

This is not a debate (though it likely might lead to a few); it is simply your opinion. You are simply considering each book as it compares to the line as a whole. In other words, you don't need to show your math; just rate each with your impression. If you have no experience with a particular listed book or books, skip them and move on.

The link to the quiz is here. Please share with other Rifts fans--the more quality responses I can obtain the better. No, I'm not a professional pollster (obviously), but I am curious to see what the results are! Here is the link to the form:


I will keep the survey live for two weeks, after which time I will share the data here with what we find out. Thanks very much for your participation. I know this isn't 100% (or even 60%) scientific, but hopefully we get some good participation. I'm hoping we get some good data we can cover and dissect on a future episode.

(Please note I did not include Dimension Books and Conversion Books in this survey--one, because I needed to make it manageable, and two, I wanted to compare how different parts of Rifts Earth themselves were covered, so I'm sticking with World Books for this study).

Thanks for your help!
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I've been toying with the idea of doing a short podcast, and I figured I should probably start with something I know. That (short) list includes Palladium Books, and that's how I landed on doing the Radio Free Palladium Podcast.

I'm still not sure how often I'll do these, or what the final format will be, but it's starting off life as a half-hour (or so) show dedicated to Palladium Books, Rifts, Palladium Fantasy, Heroes Unlimited, and other Palladium titles. I'll be doing news, listener comments, and 1-2 reviews or topics per episode. I know there are some Palladium fans out there, so I hope you'll give it a listen. I'm not sure what the reception will be, or just how far this will go, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Episode 1 consists of an introduction, thoughts on game balance, and a closer look at the Rogue Scholar from Rifts. You can check it out at, or you can find the mp3 download direct link here. Thanks for checking out, and I'll apologize in advance for my limited capabilities.
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[RPG Blog II] Merry Christmas!

Here's hoping that everyone out there has an amazing Christmas and/or holiday season. Thanks for reading my semi-recurring scribbles, and I look forward to see where gaming takes us all in the year to come.

I found this below on Project Gutenberg, as part of this story. After all, it's Christmas for goblins, too.

Luke 2:10
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By now, I'm sure many of you have seen the news that D&D Next will be released Summer of 2014, very possibly at or around Gen Con. It wouldn't be surprising to see an intro adventure product released beforehand, but I guess we'll have to see what strategy D&D goes with.

As for me, I haven't looked at the more recent documents for D&D Next, though I've tried to look in on its development. I appreciate that D&D is in an almost impossible position--they have legions of fans engaged with Pathfinder and older versions of D&D, and others that still love 4e. They're trying hard to allow for backward compatibility, but it's hard to see just how the game will be received. It could be a decent hit in the wake of 4e, but it has a lot of work to do to reunite a hobby that's as fractured in terms of game play as ever before.

In a sense, that's probably the biggest challenge 5e/Next faces. This isn't 2000, where the scale of print on demand and gaming pdf sales were in their infancy, and more people probably still had land lines than the internet. It isn't even 2008, where there wasn't an OGL and a burgeoning 3.75/previous edition movement. It's 2013, and we have more RPGs than ever before, with more ways to have them released than ever before. The OGL has become a fact of life for multiple game systems, and anyone with a great idea and the ability to sell their concept can have their gaming project funded. Social media networks are full of RPG channels and contacts. In short, it's hard to see how any RPG is going to unify the hobby under a single banner. Present technology, open licenses, and a growing desire not to "settle" for a game when self-publishing has become easier, would seem to work against it. It's chaotic, unpredictable, occasionally frustrating (crowd-funding is dicey), but it's also a lot of fun to see.

On the other hand, Dungeons and Dragons still has something, and there's a chummy crowd that will play whatever WotC puts out, for the sake of being "official". That's not to say that's the motive for everyone who will play Next, but it is a factor, and something Wizards of the Coast has on their side. But I just don't know if that's enough, or even what their benchmarks for success will be when the suits start counting sales.

I'll probably play Next a couple of times, just to check it out. But there's a long line of games I want to run. I'm still going strong on RuneQuest 6, there's a Palladium Fantasy (1e) campaign I've been kicking around, StarCluster 3, my yet-to-be-named Supers campaign for late next year, and a couple other items I'll probably tinker with, but never get around to. The fact of the matter is, Next is going to have to get in line. There's too much other good stuff going on right now.
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One of the things about going back to school and working multiple jobs is
it doesn't always leave much room for updating the ol' website as much as
I'd like. I have some articles and reviews I'm working on, but haven't had
time to really get anything out there. With that in mind, I thought it
might be a good time for a “State of My Gaming” updates, highlighting some
of the items I'm working on and that have my interest.

My Current Campaign
Our RuneQuest 6 campaign has been awesome. The system is fantastic, and
makes me sorry I wasn't better acquainted with RQ years earlier. The skill
rolls and adjudication are simple, the combat system grimly lethal, the
Combat Effects system fantastic at turning a fight on its ear (and making
the character alternately triumph and sweat it out), and it's pretty easy
to run, too. The game is known as being at least rules-medium in
complexity, but it's well-written and easy to comprehend.

The actual setting itself (our Middle Isles campaign) has been so much fun.
The players have gone out in several unexpected directions, and have had
some of the craziest dice luck I've ever seen. Our Greek Myth/Viking
Saga/Earthsea matchup saw them earn the right to represent their nation in
defending an allied city-state against a sort of Proto-Roman Empire, and
they managed to absolutely DESTROY the enemy's hidden supply fleet.
Meanwhile, most of the players are really getting into their characters,
having their loyalties tested, and have been well-challenged throughout the
campaign. They've been a joy to Game Master for, and I can't wait to see
where the campaign goes next.

Shiny New Stuff
My RuneQuest 6 hardcover came in last month. It was worth the wait, and I'm
pleased overall with the crowdfunding effort from the Design Mechanism.
There were some slight delays (only about a month total, I think), during
which the lines of communication remained nicely open. I would definitely
pledge another Design Mechanism project tomorrow.

Stark City was a project I waited a bit long for, but it looks really nice.
There are some really nice ideas here and inspiration for creating a city
for a superhero campaign (more on that in a few). I'm not a big fan of the
cover art (not bad, but doesn't really grab me), but I can say the project
overall was worth the wait.

Obsidian Portal
For the most part, I'm liking the changes that have been made to Obsidian
Portal. My banner is messed up, but I just need to find time to resize it.
It's been really useful for scheduling and keeping copies of the characters
updated for our RQ6 game (even with a few bugs here and there).

One Shots
I've also participated in a few online one-shots, which have met with
varying degrees of success:

Numenera: I sat through discussions of this game, watched some online
sessions of folks playing, and had a go at it myself. I can't say I was
blown away. I just don't like the basic system, and I don't like exerting
attributes for a better shot at succeeding (when couple along with damage,
players tend to “hoard”). GM Intervention didn't really click with our
group, and all in all, it just left us a bit flat. It's a pretty product, I
don't see where it's doing anything particularly well. On the plus side,
I'd probably play in it again as a short-notice pickup game, and the
setting has some really neat bits. So while Numenera isn't the best game
out there, it wasn't completely horrid, either.

StarCluster 3: Still just a fantastic game. With as much as this game has
going on, you think it would be poor for one shots, but I've run a sort of
Interplanetary CSI and Private Investigator game with it that's worked
really well. You need to do your prep work, but I've really enjoyed the
characters we've had for our sci-fi space adventures.

Basic Dungeons and Dragons (Holmes): Hard to go wrong with this. Played a
fighter who succumbed to a bugbear in a nameless dungeon corridor. Oh, but
what a ride it was until then...

Looking Ahead
I plan on staying with my RuneQuest 6 campaign through most of 2014, but
when that's over, I think I'll be returning to a superhero game. I've been
working on my Cromwell City setting for some time, and it's something I've
worked on a bit with my daughter (we like to make heroes and villains with
HeroMachine 3). I'm definitely not a fan of the Iron Age of comics,
preferring the Silver Age, or probably more properly, the more lighthearted
nature of the neo-Silver Age (Justice League Unlimited, Avengers, and some
recent reboots). Shows and titles in that vein brought back a lot of the
enjoyment of comic book characters that I had lost during the
“ultra-gritty, everything is mature and tortured and we're going to destroy
your fond childhood memories” era. While in my comics I hate my iconic
characters being messed with (Peter Parker IS Spiderman, Bruce Wayne IS
Batman), it's a blank slate when it comes to my own supers game.

The tricky thing is, I'm still torn on which system to use. Should I go
with the old tried-and-true Marvel FASERIP? What about Truth & Justice, the
old standby? Do I go back to ICONS, Hearts & Souls, or perhaps go with my
most recent read, Triumphant! from Beyond Belief Games? Every system offers
something different, and it's tough to choose just now. I really just need
to grab a system and stick with it. It paid off with RuneQuest 6, so I need
to stop dithering (a free action in RQ6, by the way), and go with it. The
system needs to ensure it can have a character on the level of the Flash or
Green Lantern alongside a Crimson Avenger or Green Arrow, which would seem
to lean towards something like Triumphant!, but I'm keeping an open mind.
I'm also welcome to suggestions.

So, that's where I'm at now with my gaming. Hopefully, I'll be able to send
along some more articles soon.
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