Saturday, December 20, 2014

Administration: End of 2014

Boring admin post this week. Look, long and short: traffic is still good enough to make keeping this blog going worthwhile, so I'll post on Saturdays when I am able starting on the first Saturday of January and as close to weekly as my life allows thereafter.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Verisimlitude, Pt. 2

Verisimilitude is not limited to inflicting injuries and recovering from them. It includes a lot of things, many of which are not consciously considered in actual play, and (again) it is not strict simulation of the real world (in large part due to things like magic and superpowers) but rather using the real world as default and accommodating unreal things (like giant humanoid robots as viable war machines) as required.

Regarding the unreal, one must think of them as one would the creation of a tool or application. You start with the desired result. Then you work backwards to find the path that best accomplishes that result. This is the essence of competent design in general, especially so in gaming, and as such you should sear that into your memory and remember it always.

So, let's talk house rules and the unreal.

RIFTS has a lot of unreal elements. However, much of what is unreal has a basis in real world esoterica (and, frankly, is much improved when you modify it to better adhere to said sources- something Siembieda is loathe to do) and it is best that you become aware with this esoterica and how these real world unrealities are said to work before you start on the rule-crafting process. Ley-Lines, auspicious days and times, the use of mana to power magic, secret super-technologies, hidden worlds, false histories (in other words, what you usually see on History and H2 these days)- all good stuff to get familiar with when you're getting into messing with the unreal elements of the game.

While I covered playing various forms of unreal characters previously (and thus won't repeat myself here), I did not address becoming some form of unreal character. In practice, this usually means an otherwise ordinary character that is already in play changing into one that is not due to the integration of invasive cybertechnology or bionics such that it would trigger an Occupation change. However, this can also incorporate assumption of superhuman or supernatural power.

So, ruling.

In this case, the rule should be something obvious: "The assumption of sufficient augmentative power--magic, technology, etc.--shall prompt the change of that character's Occupation to conform to their new state of being."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Verisimlitude, Pt. 1

Verisimlitude is the quality of seeming to conform to the norms of reality. Put simply, it is the quality where a fictional context nonetheless is--barring explicit callouts, such as supernatural power or hypothetical technology--things that happen in that context conform (more or less) to the way they do in the real world. Gravity works as expected, injury and recovery works as expected, computers work as expected, societies work as one expects and so on.

With regards to role-playing games, this is a tricky thing. The first problem is that there is, alas, a wide variation in the knowledge base of the gamer population. Ignorance of basic facts in computer science, ballistics, metallurgy, psychology, and many other arts and sciences with direct and immediate application to the common scenarios and experiences found in RIFTS make expectations of outcomes and consequences differ a lot and as a result what an individual believes is a norm of reality is not necessary what is a norm. While this nescience and ignorance can be remedied--and I urge you to do so--what this means for your table is that maintaining verisimlitude means dealing with a moving target.

The remedy is to fix the target. You fix the target by laying out, in clear and explicit terms, what a player can expect at your table. While that may seem silly in the context of RIFTS, it is not; by establishing a clear and explicit set of expectations you also establish a basis for all of the house rules that you issue which address concerns of verisimlitude, which makes it far more likely that players will accept your rules with no complaints. By showing your logic, you make buy-in easier and therefore avoid needless drama.

So, let's talk about a common issue in verisimlitude: getting hurt.

The game, as most tabletop RPGs do, presumes that a character is Human or something close enough for Human norms to apply. This means that the game assumes that Human norms of physiology and psychology also apply by default, which means that it assumes that what is normal for Humans when they get thrown off cliffs, shot, stabbed, etc. applies to near-Humans as well (with some variances).

First, now that YouTube is a thing, I recommend that you go there and watch as many videos as you can regarding the testing of ballistic armor and contemporary ammunition as you can find- especially those that take the time to explain terminology or link to definitions, as you're likely to be new to the topic and thus not up on the lingo. Then do the same for pre-modern arms and armor testing, videos on injury and recovery, etc. You will benefit in your everyday life, as well as at the table, by acquiring basic familiarity with how the body reacts to injurious force and how it recovers from it. (Yes, you're likely to hear a lot of opinions you may not like; that's the price of your self-education.) This has a point: to inform you as to what the norms of the real world are about the subject, which gives you a foundation for sound rulings thereafter.

Second, take a little time to look over how the Palladium ruleset operates. Think of it as a machine or a program, and you're inspecting how the parts or the code interacts with itself as it operates. You want to create a ruling that doesn't unduly complicate or monkeywrench the machine, so some active engagement with the mathematics (such as it is) of Palladium's game engine goes a long way towards creating a ruling that not only will players not find objectionable but stands up to the rigors of actual play.

Finally, do two series of tests. The first is your "white room" testing that you see often online in gaming forum discussions. These focus on the mathematics and ensure that the mechanics work as intended. The second is actual play testing, which ensures that the rules function in the field (as it were) as intended. Repeat until you achieve the desired results.

So, let's talk injury and recovery.

The basic paradigm is sound. Some injuries merely bruise, and while painful they are not necessarily serious and recovery from them goes quickly compared to those that draw blood or damage bone. This is what S.D.C. is intended to handle, and so long as that premise is kept in mind it will work. Serious injuries are what Hit Points represent. (Compare with Stun and Hits in HERO, or Bashing and Lethal in Exalted.) Massive damage of a nature inherently beyond what the body can handle is a matter of scale, which is where Mega-Damage works as intended. It is only execution that is lacking.

So, let's try a rule: "All kinetic damage stopped by personal armor also inflicts equal damage to the target's S.D.C. score." The intention is for damage sources relying upon kinetic force for its damage--firearms, primarily, in a RIFTS context, and similar weapons such as railguns and explosives relying on concussive force or shrapnel--to be able to injure a target even if it is suitably armored. It produces play results suitably similiar to real life: someone wearing personal armor who gets shot is still likely to be hurt, and even taken out of the fight, but will not only survive the hit but be back in action in days if not hours.

The cost here is that you need to define what weapons or powers are subject to this rule, and then to what degree. You need not do this up front; you can--and if you are in a reasonable group of people, you should--make this decision on the spot as required. Take your knowledge and apply it as you go. The tabletop role-playing game medium cannot work as intended any other way.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Content Curation Pt. 2

The reason for the House Rule in last week's post will become increasingly clear as I go on about the curation process.

This week, we're going to look at what curation in RIFTS means. RIFTS is a game with a lot of sub-settings, much like HERO has its various genre books that sub-divide into major variations of those genres and then go on to address specific iterations and how the tropes and themes work. RIFTS deals with the same concept by marking out space in a given section of the setting and reserving it for that sort of genre or sub-genre. (E.g. "Cosmic Heroes" and "Space Opera" are the realm of the Three Galaxies sub-setting.)

Curation, therefore, must be done first to answer what sort of campaign you want to run. Take all that you own, and cut away every last bit that does not fit what you want. A campaign built around being Coalition Grunts slogging through yet another military campaign has no place for options and content that said Grunts will not encounter. Players should not access anything that doesn't fit that campaign's intention- not species or races, not Occupations, not gear, not powers, nothing at all.

So, the rule: "Players may not access options or content contrary to the campaign's premise."

This is, again, about pairing down all of the massive amount of stuff out there into something that you can easily and readily manage at the table; if you're playing the command crew of a specific starship, then you don't need to allow options to be or use anything else.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

House Rules & RIFTS: Managing the Game - Content Curation Pt. 1

Look, RIFTS is huge. Rifts Earth alone has, what, a dozen sub-settings spread throughout the post-apocalyptic globe? The Lunar Sphere (i.e. Orbit) and the Solar System add a few more, then there's the other dimensions and the cosmic sub-settings. Of all Palladium's games, this one truly is a kitchen-sink play-anything product line. That's a lot of stuff, and without care taken you can end up with an undesireable mess that's no fun.

You need to curate. That means sorting through the stuff and choosing what to allow and what to cut out, with the result of forming a collection of stuff that adheres to a theme or motif which binds the collection together into a greater whole.

In terms of house rules, it's this simple: "Players may not access any content that the Game Master does not own."

No races, no Occupations, no gear, no locations, no powers- not one damned thing can be had unless the Game Master owns the stuff that such a thing comes from. Loaned books and free PDFs do not count; only physical copies count. This makes the curation process easier; the GM only has to work with what he actually has on-hand, and not deal with requests from players to be whatever.

Friday, November 7, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: The Fundamental Rolls - Damage

As with rolling Attributes, rolling for Damage is something that can seriously bog down a game. I recommend doing the same sort of short-cut creation here as you would there; figure out what the averages, and just use that instead of rolling when dealing with insignificant NPCs. Save the rolling of the dice for when it's someone that matters dealing with someone else that matters; "mook rules" are popular for a reason.

The scheme is the same: figure the average of a given roll of the dice, use that as a static number instead, and adjust it if you see a need to show what someone more or less proficient than average would do. The catch here is that you can play with some dice schemes (like 3d4x10) to get a better sense of what the average would be. (e.g. 3d4x10 is better averaged as 6d4x5; 2d4 averages to 5, multipled by 3 is 15, and then by 5 is 75)

If you go so far as to make static numbers of insignificant NPCs' Attack and Defense rolls (which you do by adding 10 to their relevant bonuses, noting the auto-fail for a natural 1 and auto-hit for a natural 20) so that the players do all of the dice-rolling, then you've automated NPCs to the point where you can focus on just the rolls of significant characters (the PCs and those NPCs important enough to merit individual attention) and thereby devote your attention accordingly.

Mull it over. This won't work for all of you, but for some of you this will be a great house rule to adopt. I shift depending on what I want out of the gameplay experience, and so--I advise--should you.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: The Fundamental Rolls - Attributes

RIFTS is still rooted in the traditional tabletop RPG paradigm of yesteryear, and nothing shows this more obvious in the procedure used to generate new characters. Playable races/species, monsters, and so on are often given ranges of possible attribute scores given in the number of six-sided dice (d6) you're expected to roll. This isn't always to the liking of a given user, and it isn't always practical either to roll, so I'll talk about a very common house rule meant to speed this step up.

The idea is to skip rolling. The way to do this is to comprehend some basics about probability. The average roll of two six-sided dice (2d6) is 7; this is also expressed as "7:2", meaning "seven Foo for ever two Bar", and how it works is that the first part give you 4 and the second 3 due to the fact that half of 7 is 3.5 and you round up when you hit X.5.

For Humans (and those statistically indistinguishable from Humans in a given attribute), you roll 3d6; the average is 10.5. As there are eight such attributes in Palladium's games, a wholly average Human will have four attributes at 11 and four at 10. At 2d6, it's 7 across the board; at 4d6 it's 14 across the board; at 5d6 it's half at 18 and half at 17. The pattern extends down (though, in practice, you stop at 1d6) and up (though, for practicality reasons, you rarely pass 6d6) accordingly.

The end result is that you can use these averages as shorthand and create templates. The templates can then be used as-is for NPCs not important enough to merit individual attention, and they can also be used as the base model from which individuation can be applied as needed (and to the degree needed) when you require something notably better or worse than the baseline of a thing. However, there is one more step that some of you should consider: simplifying PC generation through making the process template-driven entirely, cutting out dice roles and other clutter.

This is not out of line. Specific Occupations have requirements, and those requirements favor certain traits; those that don't measure up don't go into that Occupation, or stay in it long if they slip under them. You can simplify the generations of Player-Characters by creating average score templates, merging them with Occupational templates (which is what those published are, really), and then tweaking to suite your taste. (In fact, this is how World of Warcraft does it; the baseline scores are generated by race, modified by class, and then modified further by level and gear- but is it one's race that provides the foundation upon which the rest build upon.)

You can eliminate all chances of a non-viable character by doing this, so I recommend that you consider it for your own usage in your games. I find that what gets people to actually playing the game faster tends to find favor with them, especially new players, so I would not dismiss it out of hand; you can also alter what templates are allowed to suit the specific wants and needs at your table, so this is a very customizable tool. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: The Fundamental Rolls - d20 & d%

RIFTS uses two options for most of its rolls. One of them is to roll 1d20, add all appropriate modifiers, sometimes compare against another roll or a static number, and then declare success or failure- always roll high. The other is to roll d%, do as with the 1d20 roll, but always roll low.

Let's work with this. You usually do the d20 High roll for combat/saves, and the d% Low for skills. That indicates a trend; when there is a known or bounded range of probability, you use the d% because Roll Low works for when there's a known boundary of probability and when there isn't you go with the Role High option. (Yes, you could convert the game to go entirely one way or the other, but if that's what you wanted you'd be using a d20 System or Basic Roleplay product and not Palladium.) Look, I'm not going to get into the math of that--experts in statistics are welcome to throw in their pair of pennies below in the Comments--but I think you get where I'm going with this.

We have Saving Throws and Horror Factor checks on the d20 Role High schedule. While the Target Numbers are static, what makes them unknown is what the character subject to them can add to the roll, and by putting them on the d20 schedule it also means that automatic success and failure no matter the odds is on the table at all times. We like these features when we want either that possibility of success or failure no matter what, or we have one side being partially or wholly unknown in their probability.

We have skill checks on the d% Roll Low schedule. Here we have a character operating within a specific realm of expertise, with a known degree of proficiency, and the checks are really checks to see if that character can properly apply their expertise to the situation before them. As is so common, this general principle is not applied uniformly, but it is still very much the case. We want to go this route whenever similar conditions arise.

So, here's the suggested House Rule: if your man can't act knowing all the variables at hand, then roll the d20 and go high and let the GM figure out if he passes or fails; if your man does, then have the GM declare the odds as a percentage, roll d% and go low.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

House Rules and RIFTS: Introduction - Making This Your Game

Palladium Books, as a matter of publisher and editorial intent, is a strong advocate for taking the rules and content that they publish and making it into something that you are willing to run and your players be willing to play. In short, Palladium Books' policy is friendly towards using all the house rules that you desire. However, Palladium also has a history of being skittish about sharing the home-brewed stuff due to a fear of law suits over conversions of properties that they neither own nor have a license to use. There shall be no such things in this series of posts.

Instead, I will talk about something more fundamental, and that is making the rules of RIFTS conform to what results you and yours want them to produce. I will start with the most fundamental rule mechanics, and then I will slowly wind my way out from that core towards subsystems like Magic and Psionics. I will talk about making sense of the gear creation (lack of a) system, inter-system dependency (and when you should use it), and other things of this nature- all with an eye towards keeping the results of your home-brewing on target with your intended objectives.

In doing this, I will explore the whole of Palladium's published corpus of rules and content (with a focus on RIFTS, of course). We'll take a good look at what Palladium offers, and see how these things work when run as-written, so we have something to compare our house rules against- and I expect that we may find that some of you will be satisfied with what already exists in some respects (or even across the board). This should be a fun and useful series, and I hope that you get a great deal of value out of it.

Next week, we will take a look at the core mechanics--and there is more than one--at the heart of Palladium's games and how they are applied. This will prove to be illuminating. See you then.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Administration: Time To Shift Gears

I can only dance around Palladium's rules so long. I've run out of moves. Starting next week, I'm talking rules and rulings and how to make them do what you want them to do to get the results you want at your table. That is all.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Intrigue Campaign

Let me be clear and honest up front: Palladium Books' role-playing games are terrible choices for campaigns of political intrigue, and especially so with RIFTS. They are derivative of Dungeons & Dragons, and that is a game build around exploration and high adventure- political intrigue was the endgame, not the game's default mode of play. With that kept in mind, we can make it work- but it won't be easy.

Cloak & Dagger play allows for players to choose to play characters of less-powerful (or less obviously powerful) Occupations and have that mean something. It is a campaign paradigm that favors social skills, interpersonal networks, and other things that Palladium's game engine doesn't do very well. Whether you're taking inspiration from The Godfather, Homeland, Three Days of the Condor, or even Ghost in the Shell (which, for this game, should be the go-to example) you're talking less about payloads and MDC ratings and more about connections and clues. Hell, you might even bother with tools and weapons that don't do Mega-Damage at all.

Because Palladium's game engine is a D&D derivative, your intrigue campaign is best handled as a blend of tense character interaction punctuated by sudden, fierce, and brutal explosions of violence. (Sort of like being on a U-boat during wartime, so go watch Das Boat and you'll get the feel we're after here.) The GM will have to be careful to ensure that attacks vs. defenses are not balanced, but clearly in favor of attacks; the whole idea is that pulling a blaster means You Done Fucked Up up to the moment when shooting is actually a necessary and vital part of the plan (as this sort of campaign does include examples inspired by classics such as Where Eagles Dare and The Eagle Has Landed, as well as the James Bond series).

You will have to account for magic and psychic powers, in addition to real-world tradecraft as applied via speculative technologies. Finding ways to thwart or divert supernatural means to acquire intelligence and properly process it is a thing in a RIFTS campaign, and those who fail to do so lose--and hard--to those who do. (Which, of course, is Yet Another Reason for why the Coalition can't beat Tolkeen as-written.) Making this a major part of a campaign is a very viable initial objective, and should be the go-to option for institutions facing potent supernatural threats of any sort. Plundering real-world tradecraft manuals, existing spy games, and all of the spy fiction (however mundane or fantastic) is necessary for a GM with any serious intention of making this work.

There is another option. This is the Lame Bond Movie option, where you play your bog-standard action/adventure game and just add intrigue bits as plot coupons; add together enough and exchange them for a campaign-shifting event where the players go up against the targeted NPC. You may well be better off doing it this way instead.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Exploration Campaign

Five-year missions, expeditions into the unknown, seeking the Northwest Passage- these are stories of exploration and RIFTS has plenty of room for those who seek to make known what is unknown.

The core of a campaign focused upon exploration is that the players assume the roles of individuals who are either trained for exploration, or they are specialists of a different--but necessary--sort assigned to such a task. The specific venue varies widely--overland, oversea, undersea, space, planar, etc.--but the format is the same: a team of explorers forms to investigate what, if anything, lies beyond a given threshold. This can be a mountain range or other significant terrain feature, space itself- you get the idea. Adventures are built around penetrating this threshold and then seeing what is there; making first contact with locals, mapping the territory explored, and preserving this information long enough to report back to their patron(s) so follow-up expeditions can be made with the benefit of that knowledge.

Exploration campaigns, therefore, are mixtures of diplomacy and adventure on a dangerous and unknown frontier. Players should be working with low amounts of information, dealing with material scarcity due to being at the tail end of a long logistical train (so they can't operate at optimal efficiency or effectiveness most of the time; this is "count your rations and arrows" territory), and have to deal with constraints that players in other campaigns either don't have to worry about or never even realize exist. Figuring out how to compensate for these scarcity issues, often by interacting with the locals and learning their methods, is part-and-parcel of a properly-executed exploration campaign.

The other issue with an exploration campaign is that what often follows is either exploitation of natural resources, or population movements into colonial settlements, and either development not only strains extant relations with the locals but--unless reversed--inevitably pushes back the frontier as Civilization (i.e. whom the explorers represent) comes in to fill the void that a frontier represents. You can either end a campaign when this phase of exploration arrives, or you can roll with the punches and take the opportunity to shift the campaign in a different direction; each primary exploration expedition, each first contact situation, each push into the unknown presents an opportunity to find something heretofore unseen and unknown to the players. New mysteries to solve, new cultures to interact with, new lands to investigate- this is the feature that keeps it fresh for years on end. Exploit this feature whenever things start to flag.

Exploration campaigns are best done the old-fashioned way: the sandbox. The GM should decide on the region to explore, and set up initial sets of circumstances (including what Occupations, technologies, etc. are allowed to players), and then let them interact without any concern for narrative logic of any sort- the players will, without fail, fill in all such voids with their own notions and thereby succeed or fail without so much as a word out of the GM's mouth. (And that is the other side to all of this: expeditions fail, often disastrously. If they want to be the Donner Party, let them.)

This is a model where your Men-at-Arms will not be so heavily represented, and your Men-of-Magic/Psychics will be likewise reduced in prominence, in favor of Adventurers and Scholars. You need Wilderness Scouts, first and foremost, and then Scholars and Scientists (including medical experts and technicians) with focuses on field operations (which is done by skill selection and equipment choices; someone that needs a big-city lab is not the sort to send on such things, unless it's based out of something like a starship, and that likely means such an individual will be a NPC). Generalists will be more prized members, speaking of Armsmen and Magicians/Psychics, over specialists and time-limited augmented individuals like Juicers are bad choices- as are those tied to logistical trains (Cyborgs) or already unstable (Crazies). (This, again, is where the magical sorts have an advantage so long as magical power is in sufficient abundance.) Problems are better solved by talking or fixing than by fighting, most of the time, and running is not a bad idea- players cannot presume that whatever they face they can handle.

Exploration campaigns are also easily transitioned into and out of because the core of the campaign's paradigm is inherently unstable, and thus temporary, so you can use an exploration phase as a change-of-pace for another campaign when you see the need for such a thing. If you start as exploration, but the players are not interested anymore, it is not hard to let the frontier shift away from them and let them take up positions in the emerging post-exploration communities that arise in the wake of successful exploration expeditions. When devising what to do with a game of RIFTS, don't count exploration out; even as just a temporary phase, you can really get to the heart of what makes tabletop RPGs special by returning to the origin of the hobby- exploration of the unknown, be it for gold, for glory, or for getting away from where they came from.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Starship Campaign

This is the sort of thing you'll see in a Three Galaxies setup, usually, though a Earth System version ("Spaceship" instead of "Starship" due to the lack of FTL technologies) does happen. You've seen this in other media in many variations--Firefly, Star Trek, Star Wars, Outlaw Star, Angel Links, Space Battleship Yamato, etc.--so it's not a hard one to figure out here. The players assume the role of a ship's captain and crew, and the campaign focuses upon their activities. Other tabletop RPGs, such as the venerable Traveller, are all about this sort of thing.

You've got three major variations of this campaign archetype.
  • The Tramp Freighter: The ship is a working commercial vessel of some sort (usually a small-scale cargo or passenger vessel, working as a for-hire charter vessel or along adjunct lines tied to major commerce lanes). The scope of the campaign is often "local" (in space-faring terms; working within a solar system is the lowest end, within a small stellar region or zone the typical end, w/ greater scope being very rare). Common gameplay activities revolve around keeping the vessel operational, keeping themselves in good health, and keeping their difficulties away. Players assume the roles of characters with little or no augmentation, supernatural power, or out-of-the-ordinary technologies. (So, we're looking as the sort of table where being a City Rat is not out of line, and being a Vagabond is a viable option; ordinary military personnel in their ordinary capacities are a significant challenge, and better outwitted than outfought.)
  • The Exploration Expedition: The ship is a public or private vessel configured for (if not purpose-built for) long-term, and often long-range, exploration. The scope of the campaign is often very far-ranging, and both the crew and the vessel will be trained and equipped to operate in a self-sufficient manner. First Contact is a common gameplay activity, and with it the potential to engaging in a wide variety of diplomatic and economic negotiations (and their intrigues) with heretofore unknown parties. While the nigh-platonic form is classic Star Trek and it's Five-Year Mission, taking inspiration from real-life histories of exploration expedition is a good idea. Players assume the role of key officers, and often take up alts of lower status who are more likely to engage in shore expeditions or otherwise do stuff that matters away from the ship. As with the Tramp Freighter, the characters are unlikely to be superhuman or super-powered (in relative terms, if not absolute ones) and the same will be--for the most part--true of the technology at their disposal at any time.
  • The Warship Campaign: The ship is a warship, engaged in warfare operations. In this respect it's a shipborne variant of the Mercenary or Military Campaign, but as with the others the ship as both homebase and focal point is part of the paradigm. Campaigns of this sort take their cues from Space Battleship Yamato, various Age of Sail series, and the real-life accounts of ships such as the Enterprise in World War II. Their activities focus around military operations, so there is an overall objectives to keep in sight, and there is a determined opposition out to stop them by means of blowing them out of the sea of stars. Combat--fleet and personal--is a common occurrence, but this need not be a series of fights; real warfare is about objectives, not slugfests, so it's about getting yours before the other side gets theirs. Players also assume the roles of key officers, and should take up alts that do stuff the key officers wouldn't do.
In addition, you're going to have the following traits in common:
  • The Ship: Whatever form it takes, the ship is a character unto itself and should be treated like one. Even if the stats for it enter play as any other of its class, that specific vessel is specific to that captain and crew and should be individuated accordingly. ("There are many like it, but this one is ours.") Players should value the ship as the expensive, mission-critical thing that it is and not be cavalier about its welfare. The ship is homebase for the characters. It's the focus of their operations. It's the center of their lives, without which they're unable to carry on at all.
  • The Travelling: It's not a starship campaign if you're not sailing the sea of stars. It's a naval game, so get out of port and out in space. You should be visiting new ports of call on a regular basis, with only a few locations being seen frequently; regular visits to a known friendly port is something that depends on the specific set up of your starfaring campaign (tramp freighters and exploration vessels will visit on very different rates of regularity and frequency). Being that this is RIFTS, it's going to be more Space Opera than Hard SF, so you've got that going for you; don't be shy about the planets and what's there.
  • The Other Starfarers: Your opposition is very likely to be as spaceborne as your allies are. This means that you and your players need to figure out how your table wants to handle ship-to-ship interactions (combat and otherwise) to ensure that the players aren't bored when time comes for the crew to make the ship happen. This will differ depending upon the ship; tramp freighters with some guns attached are not the same as a naval dreadnaught in command of a squadron or even a massive fleet. (Yes, you can get your Legend of the Galactic Heroes on here, so go for it.)
The rest is your bog-standard figure-that-shit-out-at-your-table stuff. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Superhero Campaign

RIFTS, being a multi-genre campaign, can support entire genres if (and only if) your group buys into that voluntarily. Superheroes do work well enough, and you need not have Heroes Unlimited to make this work, but some commentary with regards to melding the usual superhero tropes with RIFTS is in order.

I am not talking about someone with superpowers in a colorful costume. That can, and does, cover plenty of Occupations in this game and therefore does not make one a superhero. (Or a supervillain for that matter.) I am talking about taking a campaign that would be normative for something like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds (or, of course, Heroes Unlimited) and using it in the environment of RIFTS. This is all about the tropes and not the numbers or the gameplay options.

A superhero game in RIFTS can handle the same range of power level--from the streets and backwoods of mostly-mundane characters to the cosmic levels of Lensmen and their inspirations (Green Lantern and Nova Corps)--so that is not the issue. The issue is that such a campaign will not be the Comics Code Authority sort of castrated content; this doesn't automatically make it an Iron Age (to use comic culture terminology) setting, but it does mean that you are not making the most of what's available in RIFTS if you sanitize things.

By necessity, you should be using some form of team as your campaign template. The trick is to pick the right team for your table's needs; if you have a group that can reliably fulfill a regular commitment to show up and play for four to six hours a week playing the same characters, then you want to use a group like The Fantastic Four or one of the many Japanese tokukatsu shows (or their animated counterparts, Magical Girls and Martial Boys). For a group with a rotating attendance, you want to use a larger organization where members come and go routinely for this or that reason, such as the Legion of Superheroes or the various Avengers lineups. This also means choosing team templates means choosing gameplay templates; committed single-character groups can better exploit serial drama tropes and premises than looser groups who either lack commitment or play multiple characters, who (in turn) can better exploit episode structures and tropes.

So, that said, here's a list of things you need to do to make it work in RIFTS:
  • Choose a Scope & Scale: On Earth, you're best being a City Defender sort of team, even if it's not strictly a city-centric team. Tolkeen is very good for a Magical Girl/Martial Boy team, using magical armors and powers with a common theme. The Coalition would do a super-elite team in the fashion of Suicide Squad or Doom Patrol, using some varieties of Juicer and Crazy that are otherwise ridiculously powerful but burns them out really fast- faster than what is the norm for Juicers. Smaller cities would work better for smaller groups, or even motivated solo players, but should also range somewhat afield to make up for the small city space.
    Out in the Three Galaxies, go cosmic. Characters should have technology or magic equal to that of starships, if not star fleets. They should be concerned about large-scale threats; planet-specific parties should be irrelevant nuisances if they are not on planets of strategic importance, and those that are not irrelevant should make the power but lack the scope of operation for some reason or another in order to prevent "Why are they not major players themselves?"

  • Cull Your Corpus: You, the GM, needs to sit down beforehand and sift through everything that is available and cut away everything that does not fit the specific superhero experience that you want. This means both what players can access as well as what the NPCs--friendly, neutral, and hostile alike--can access. By definition, a superhero is an individual whose capacities exceed the norm for his environment; if the standard soldiers or gendarmes are augmented in some fashion then being similarly augmented generally doesn't cut it- the superhero possesses an advantage of quality over the far superior quantity of the NPCs. This means that power differential is both relative and necessary to quality as "super"; Batman is super over most of what he deals with, but ordinary versus what Superman can and does contend with (which is why Batman has to rely on Writer Bias to prevail), so don't think that you can blindly employ what's in the books.

  • : Get the players on the same page. You're playing a campaign that doesn't necessarily jive with RIFTS as-presented. Ensure that your players see things your way and agree with that before you start chucking dice. If this means house rules, do it. Square that away now, before any issues arise.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Military Campaign

If the mercenary campaign is the default, then the military campaign is one step removed.

The difference is that a military campaign concerns itself with the formal armed forces of a specific state, and as such character autonomy is constrained. The players do not have control over where they go or what their objectives are when they get there, which makes this a fine option for those players who are not the active sort who prefer to set their own goals or pursue their own ambitions; a military structure is excellent for the passive player who shows up with an attitude of "entertain me". The range of character options are likewise constrained, as the players' characters are all members of the same unit and therefore are going to be variations on a niche instead of a broad range of options cooperating as part of an umbrella organization.

In practice, a military campaign will have these features:
  • You are soldiers in an army akin to that of a real-world, First World army: By default that means playing a Coalition, Free Quebec, or New German Republic soldier. Your man is indoctrinated into that state's dogma, trained in their doctrine, forced to specialize into a narrow set of applicable skills, and organized into an equally specialized unit with a specific function to fulfill as part of a larger military operation that your man likely cannot perceive as the flag officers in command can. Your man is part of a hierarchy, with one character in command over the rest of the players' characters, and the range of playable activities is as narrow as your man's area of competency.
  • You are playing in a procedural campaign: The sort of unit your man is part of dictates the sort of gameplay activities that you have. Contrary to one infamous example, fighter pilots don't do ground-pounding line infantry actions. Tankers don't do hotshot mechajock action. Line infantry aren't involved in fleet battles unless and until (a) they are marines and (b) boarding actions are a thing- neither of which are common at all. By choosing what sort of military unit you want to play, you also choose what kind of game structure you want to explore. Choose carefully.
  • Your campaign is married to the political and economic conflicts of the state: Military forces are used to further a state's political and economic interests. That means that your unit can be, and if applicable will be, deployed to advance or defend those interests. Campaigns that fail this fundamental reality of what militaries are for are also campaigns that fall apart because the bullshit cannot be ignored.
This means that a military campaign is a wargame campaign, be that wargame component that of an open or covert war, or a cold or hot war, and you'll be far more satisfied with your gameplay experience when you embrace this reality and make it work for you.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Common Campaigns in RIFTS: The Mercenary Company

RIFTS is a tabletop role-playing game that has its roots in the early days of the hobby. For all of the kitchen-sink approach that RIFTS is famous for, it remains a game that--like the better editions of Dungeons & Dragons--plays to the strengths of the tabletop RPG medium. RIFTS remains very close to the tabletop wargame medium from which tabletop RPGs derived from, Specifically from Dave Wesely's "Braunstein" wargame scenario format, married to the West Marches paradigm of campaign creation and management. It is no surprise, therefore, to see that one of the most common campaigns in RIFTS is built around a group of mercenaries.

What makes for a commercially-viable tabletop RPG is now a well-known fact, and this fact also applies to the use of a tabletop RPG to create and run a successful and entertaining campaign with that tabletop RPG. Building a campaign around the conceit that the players assume the role of a group of mercenaries engaging in their bloody trade, for whatever reason, hits all of those linked elements dead-center of the bullseye. It's popular enough that some assume that it is the default campaign paradigm.

Let us be clear about what a mercenary is: a combatant-for-hire, often specializing in a specific method of operation, who renders services related to combat or warfare as an independent contractor to clients in return for compensation on a contractual basis. A magic-user can be a mercenary, as can a psychic, or anyone else whose Occupational Character Class does not explicitly call itself a mercenary; it is the case, however, that most of the mercenary operators will be Men-At-Arms and often pursue the mercenary career as part of a family business (or something similar) and that will be reflected in the formal name of a character's O.C.C. (i.e. this is where your Headhunters, Glitter Boys, etc. come from) simply because warfare is a mundane and ordinary suite of skills that anyone can pursue and master.

So, banish from your mind any one-to-one association of mercenaries with specific Occupations.

Now, that said, a successful mercenary campaign has a few elements that cannot be ignored:
  • An environment (milieu) full of potential armed conflict. The specific region wherein you intend to run your campaign must have two or more distinct groups that are already into conflict, but has yet to break out into any serious combat encounters; no side has yet to do violence to another, but the tension preceding such a watershed event is present. Mercenaries thrive on war, and without potential clients there is no need for mercenaries to maintain a presence. Furthermore, these conflicts must be solvable, and solvable on a lasting--if not permanent--basis.
  • An environment wherein the conflicting powers lack the means to handle all of their dirty work themselves. This constraint not only is one where material resources, specifically manpower, is too scarce to handle all of the conflicts before them. It also includes political means, so as to deflect or negate undesirable political or economic consequences for acting under their own flag. Mercenaries operate in the liminal spaces wherein these conditions exist; when these conditions fade, so does the space for mercenaries.
  • An environment wherein the mercenaries are free to avoid bothersome entanglements, in favor of pursuing their own goals. Mercenaries have their own ambitions, and that means that players playing mercenaries should also come to the table with a long-term goal in mind. They will be wise to stick to that plan, which means actively and regularly reviewing relationships with clients; they need to know when to cut someone off, when to change allegiances, when to quit the field altogether, and when to go all-in. Mercenaries are businessmen, and playing a campaign cannot avoid dealing in the business side of being a mercenary.
  • An environment wherein there are other objectives to pursue that are not actors in the environment per se, but may contribute to it in some fashion. This is where your treasure troves, caches of pre-Rifts artifacts, your ley lines and nexus points (especially ones where a reliable or controlable rift exists), or other site that possesses strategic or logistical significance in the region comes into play. If there is no contract on offer, or one worth doing, something like this will be pursued by a savvy mercenary group seeking additional revenue streams or capital for fueling company operations. Furthermore, companies seeking to transition into socio-political players want to find sites like this to take, hold, and build a power base upon. They are ripe opportunities for adventure, and therefore for conflict; have plenty of them in your game.
This is considered the default mode of gameplay in RIFTS because it is damn near the default mode of tabletop RPG gameplay regardless of what the specific tabletop RPG is, and because it remains a mode that requires players to know nothing at all before hitting the table it is still the most dominant method to organizing and sustaining a RIFTS campaign. Other modes, to varying degrees, are modifications of this master model. If you have no other idea as to what to do with RIFTS, then this is your go-to format to run with; just be careful with what you allow players to access, and everyone will have a fun time.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 10: Putting It Together

By now, you know what kind of psychic your psychic man is. You've gotten into your man's head, so you know where he's coming from and how his thinks. Now, how does your man deal with others?

Good question.

First, a simple and pragmatic matter: you are playing a team-based game, wherein you cooperate to accomplish objectives and deal with scenarios put before you- either self-generated or encountered via emergent gameplay, so it behooves you (and the others at the table) to play well with others, part of which being making a man who does so.

Now, on with it.

Regardless of your man's abilities and level of power, your man is still a psychic and therefore has a unique perspective on things that non-psychics do not share. Exactly what that perspective is will vary--see the previous Archetype posts--but magic-users and mundanes cannot see things as your man does; what your man does, and especially how your man does it, is beyond their capacity to comprehend and as such your man bring a vital asset to any team that your man joins.

Telepaths and Sensitives are good at facilitating communication and unit cohesion amongst a team, either directly through psychic mind-to-mind contact or by facilitating mundane leadership and management skills to get desired results faster. Psycho-Kinetics are able to augment a team's firepower and work as a force-multiplier. Gishes have their own well-defined niches, and Hybrids suggest their own engagement within a team by what they blend together. When making your man, it's a good idea to talk with the others at the table to establish these team relations before you start throwing the dice around; the sooner that everyone is on the same page, the better everyone's gameplay experience will be and the faster that all of you can get to the good stuff and maximize your fun and entertainment.

That last part is a matter that is specific to your table, so I really can't get too specific in advice; what I can do is recommend that you look into non-fiction books about making the most of teamwork environments, and take notes as to how well your man either conforms to or contradicts the proven methods and techniques for successful integration into such environments so that you can play your man accordingly- and, if possible, do this with your fellow players. Even for the most powerful of psychics, the ability to do well with others makes succeeding at your goals far easier and more common than those who lack such social faculties.

And next week, I'll move on to something else altogether: a shift to the sorts of common campaigns in RIFTS.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 9: Hybrids

If a Gish is a psychic whose powers synergize with a mundane occupational suite to create a superior whole from the parts, then a Hybrid is a psychic who also wields a second power source with equal power. In RIFTS, this is most obvious with the Mystic, which I covered in the Magic-User series previously. There are variations on this in other books, which I leave to you to review at your leisure.

While the Mystic is a hybrid psychic and magic-user, focusing upon sensitive psychic powers and basic spell-casting, both derived from a strong connection to the unseen cosmic forces via their intuition, the archetype in general can cast its net much wider than that. Therefore, what makes the mind of a Hybrid is not the nature of their powers, but rather that they have two or more sources of power at equal (roughly) levels and therefore have to split their attention (and develop their consciousness) between them. This is how a Hybrid's perspective enables them to become capable of seeing multiple points of view, making them capable diplomats and mediators due to this cognitive bias that comes out of their development.

The price, predictably, is that a Hybrid is never fully able to assimilate their sense of identity into either of their sources of power; the blended power perspective grants diversity and breadth at the cost of specialization and depth. Therefore they tend to seek out others like themselves, with varying levels of success, if they seek a community of their own at all. (Mystics, for example, tend towards a level of self-reliance otherwise seen only in the Telepaths and Psychokinetics.) For the player, this means that your man will always be in a liminal mind and social space where things are unclear and one's existence is more of a frontier (even in the middle of a highly-civilized place).

This makes Hybrids good for your usual gameplay scenarios. Even if they prefer to operate above-board at all times, they will still be in that liminal space and therefore be open to the sort of scenarios that are typical in RIFTS. Their ability to operate in two distinct environments (literally or otherwise) give them something other than their powers to bring to the table, and due to Hybrids being sufficiently different amongst themselves due to what powers they blend together you can have multiples of this type and not end up with carbon-copies. Distinctiveness of character is quite possible with Hybrids.

A character's personality writes itself when keeping the archetype's major traits in mind. Individuality comes at the edges, where specific encounters and experiences can color the specific manifestation in different direction. When making a Hybrid, this is your space for customization of his persona, so exploit it; you'll come up with a sufficient background in the process, and still able to put it all on a 3x5 card. Simple, quick, easy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Playing a Psychic is RIFTS, Part 8: Sensitives

We've got our Telepaths. Sensitives are a step down from Telepaths in that they aren't literal mind-readers, and most of what the Sensitive is sensitive to stems from a thinking entity of some sort. The rest of what they sense is environmental presences that, usually, are the result of thinking entities' activities. If Professor X is a good Telepath example, then Counselor Troi is the cut-rate version that typifies Sensitives.

Playing a Sensitive usually means that your psychic man is not a power-player; for truly powerful psychics, Sensitive powers are secondary abilities that logically follow from their primary power(s). (Mind Melters always develop useful Sensitive powers, and are often logically derivative of Telepathic or Telekinetic ability, for example.) They usually aren't Gishes either, but instead take up the third (and, statistically, most common) approach to the practical employment of psychic power: as Augmentation to ordinary professional development.

So, your Empath is likely to also been a skilled negotiator, counselor, mediator or other strong interpersonal profession or role due where being an Empath greatly facilitates the development of such skills and easily integrates into such practices. One that can Detect Evil/Magic/Psi is often found as an investigator, tracker, bounty hunter, etc. and specialize in dealing with what they detect (e.g. Psi Stalker, Dog Boy). You can see the pattern: the powers point to useful practical occupations wherein the powers can be best employed.

In larger terms, Sensitives--as with Telepaths--are very likely to be found in some form of Intelligence or Military position, often as an asset run by a trained operative instead of being one themselves (unlike Telepaths; they're valued as operatives, and as a class always rise to the top of any society wherein they exist given time and no effective opposition). They're equally valued on both sides of the Great Game, and often concealing as best they can their true nature (even in the Coalition or similar hostile states), as they become targets for removal when an opposing operation makes its move; Sensitives suddenly breaking contact are a reliable signal to savvy operations that an enemy attack has come.

So, playing one means that--while you are often considered to be better than the common man--you're on the level of a soldier with some basic augmentation, or at best on the level of a well-built Cyborg, or a Juicer or Crazy; far more common is a status akin to a Headhunter, in that a Sensitive possesses relevant skills and complimentary powers that augment performance significantly, but are not themselves a big game-changing presence in and of themselves (as Telepaths, Psycho-Kinetics, or certain Gishes can be). You're not a super-hero level presence, but instead a solid pillar of a team whose collective performance can approximate such individuals.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 7: Gishes

Taken from the Githyanki of Dungeons & Dragons, a Gish is an individual who blends some form of supernatural power usage with a mundane professional skillset to create a hybrid professional archetype. In RIFTS, we see this most obviously in the form of the Cyber-Knight and less so with the Operator (and an argument can be made for the Crazy, since so many are psychic), but the pattern holds: these Occupations blend psychic powers and professional skills into a hybrid that exploits the synergies between the two. To return to comparisons to Marvel or DC characters, we're now looking at characters such as Cable, Deadpool, Deathstroke, and others that are often supersoldiers; rarely, alas, do we get further than that in the comic world.

The way to approach a Gish is to remember that the whole is superior to the parts, and that means that a Gish is someone who spent considerable time prior to entering gameplay undergoing some form of training or apprenticeship wherein he not only learned both of these parts, but blended them together into a coherent and synergetic paradigm. Like the Psychokinetics and Telepaths, Gishes come to build their identity around their abilities; unlike those two, Gishes are made, not born, and therefore enjoy a stronger resilience psychologically when something happens to nullify one of those parts. A Cyber-Knight without his Psi-Sword and Sixth Sense is still a skilled warrior; he can pick up a Vibro-Sword and still make use of his swordsmanship skill, and technology (along with deep mastery of mundane skill) can compensate for his lost Sixth Sense. (Ditto with Psi-Warriors, Crazies, etc.) An Operator is still a competent engineer, mechanic, technician, and tinkerer without his Tele-Mechanics powers- other examples exist.

This means that you're playing someone who finds mundane people relatable, sometimes in a paternalistic manner and sometimes not, but rarely are we dealing with the disconnection of empathy that often happens with Psychokinetics and Telepaths. Yes, even if your man is Selfish or Evil, he still finds ordinary people relatable; he may regard them poorly, and see them as suckers to be fleeced or cattle to be herded or culled as needed, but the God Complex issue is rarely a problem because he remains fundamentally tied to ordinary people in a way that Psychokinetics, Telepaths, and other similarly-powerful archetypes often lack.

The other thing is that Gishes, due their training/apprenticeship background, appreciate the value of cooperation and teamwork due to having multiple perspectives built into that process. While they can, and some prefer, to work alone they rarely insist upon it as a routine matter; evil Selfish and Evil Gishes will cooperate with others to accomplish their goals, and appreciate deferred gratification sufficiently to think beyond right now and instead prioritize objectives such that they can delay or avoid betraying today's allies (Why do that? It reduces or eliminates needless complications; if you don't need to stab in the back to get your way, then don't- effective villains are not the proverbial Scorpion.)

So, if you want a more humanistic psychic character, look into playing some form of Gish. Ditto that if you want a psychic character who isn't wholly dependent upon his powers to be effective. The Cyber-Knight and Operator have their fans for very sound reasons, reasons that extend to all characters who blend power and prowess as they do. If you haven't, try one next time.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 6: Telepaths (and Related Folks)

The Mind Melter (and its Mind Mage counterpart in the fantasy game) are the most powerful psychics in the game, and they are so noted because they are powerful telepaths. In other media, the most obvious examples are Charles Xavier (X-Men) and Kimball Kinneson (Lensman). Other telepaths are not so potent, but often compensate with skill in application to make the most of more modest capability. In any event, telepaths (and similar sensitives) pose a challenge to any RIFTS campaign and this is a known issue with the game.

Playing a telepath means that your man possesses the power to violate the fundamental privacy of any individual entity, and likely the power to resist the same happening to your man. (Not assured, but you're a fool to not take some form of mind shielding if you can.) These powers, as usual, came in early- maybe even in utero. They're part of his perception of the environment around him, and as natural as his mundane senses (the "cocophony of voices" trope is bullshit; we easily learn to tune out background noise, which is what lots of people talking is, so telepaths will easily do the same with mental ones).

He'll reflexively use them by default, regardless of Alignment, and exploit the benefits gained by doing so: appear to be a genius, always able to manipulate social environments with ease, glad-hand anyone not psychic (or a savvy magic-user) with aplomb, and know what to do/say before it's needed. The first time he runs into someone able to block him, it'll be a defining moment in his life and you should note what that moment was (if it's happened before play begins; not guaranteed for the top-tier talents). Because there is no obvious power display for telepathy, telepaths can exist quietly within a community for years- even their entire lives. Their powers allow those with even a modicum of ambition to easily move into whatever position they desire, so long as there is nothing to oppose their doing so. Therefore, the Coalition propaganda against psychics is readily justified; it's also why the Inner Elite are where they are- that's how they got there.

What does this mean? It means that keeping information away from a telepath is nigh-impossible. The powerful ones can rummage through the minds of mundanes at range, with no obvious display of power, and acquire whatever information that they desire while the weaker ones incorporate varying degrees of mundane scamming skills to fill the gap; want passwords, blackmail material, confirmation of your suspicions, etc. well it's easy (if not trivial) to get it as a telepath. GMs need to work with this reality; the Coalition does it with a combination of very strict information control and active searching for unauthorized telepaths (i.e. not the Inner Elite or their approved lapdogs), Psyscape with a culture of shielding minds by default, and so on- with those that cannot or will not taking measures to protect themselves being easy prey for telepathic intrusion. (So most folks are helpless, and only proper nescience or ignorance will save them.)

It's hard to be a Xavier or Kinneson; you really do need to hone your discipline and carefully act upon what you learn. Being a more selfish or evil character is so much easier, but even good telepaths tend towards paternalism with regard to non-psychics; their powers are the norm of their frame of reference, so lacking the ability seems like being infantilized to a certain degree and the good ones act accordingly.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 5: Psychokinetics

In the core rulebook for RIFTS, we have the Burster. He is a psychokinetic Master Psychic that specializes in the control of and over fire. As we know from issue #19 of The Rifter, there are other psychokinetic manifestations; while these are all variations of the Burster, that's not relevant. What is relevant is that once you have one form of psychokinesis you're soon to have all of them.

A psychokinetic is a psychic whose powers involve the direct application of will to control and manipulate physical forces- and yes, fire counts. These powers are always at the upper tier of what Psychics are capable of, so they usually manifest early in life (e.g. Firestarter). Due the power involved, unless these youths have some adult guidance on hand (and that guidance isn't useless) those manifestation episodes often produce traumatic episodes which greatly shape the lives and fortunes (and personalities) of the emerging psychics.

Playing a psychokinetic, therefore, should account for that emergence episode; untreated trauma routinely opens the door for psychological damage and related issues which (in Palladium terms) often translate to Selfish and Evil Alignments. A Good-aligned psychokinetic can be counted upon to have the necessary nurturing and support at that critical time, allowing them to mature into a healthy individual without letting their power distort their perspective (as being a psychokinetic, while putting one well above ordinary men, hardly makes one a truly god-like entity).

Because psychokinetics come into their powers so early in life, and their powers are so potent and applicable, psychokinetics are people whose identity builds around their powers. Their self of who and what they are, their worth as individuals, is built upon being a psychokinetic much like a Cyber-Knight's identity is built around being a Cyber-Knight. Losing their very specific quality of being a psychokinetic, which they developed and honed at the cost of developing a mundane skillset, often results in severe loss of self-worth that can escalate into full-on collapse until either the powers are restored or a suitable substitute is found (and that is not easy for someone so potent as a psychokinetic).

So, putting it together, playing this sort of psychic is akin to being one of the more potent X-Men: your life, from the get-go, is about being psychic in a very specific manner. You think in terms of your powers, you identify in terms of your powers, and you've worked with them so much for so long that you don't have much in the way of mundane skills should you lose those powers. Such very narrow, but deep, expression of top-tier psychic powers that focus on the control and manipulation of physical phenomena creates an individual akin to Storm, Magneto, or others like them- regardless of Alignment, they will never see themselves as ordinary people, but instead as something else, and act accordingly.

(Note: While much of this can apply to Mind Melters, their breadth of powers seriously changes how they relate to and perceive their environment, and merits a separate post.)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 4: The Coming Psychic Archetype Series

Psychics, as with magic-users and other power-wielders, fall into a set of archetypes. This is due to the usefulness that these arrangements have compared to other possible arrangements; in short, both game design as well as logical natural selection trends would result in psychics manifesting along predictable patterns because those are the ones that do best over time within the many and various environments wherein psychics exist.

What will come in the next few weeks will be, as with the magic-users, an exploration of these archetypes. I will not be spending posts on entire Occupations, but rather making mention of them as they relate to the archetype of which they are an expression, so (learning from the magic-user series) I expect that this will be a much shorter series that is nonetheless more comprehensive in its scope and no less useful.

I will not arrange them along the minor-major-master array. They will be arranged in terms of notability. More than that strays into spoiler territory. See you next week.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Playing a Psychic in RIFTS, Part 3: Not All Psychics Are Equal

Last week I talked about the importance of getting into your man's head. This week I'm going to expand on that by showing a very basic application of that concept.

RIFTS assumes that there are three grades of psychics: minor, major, and master. Master psychics are those whose powers are strong enough to become Occupations in their own right (Burster, Mind Melter, et al). Major psychics possess notable power in depth or breadth, but not both; many of them blend their powers with a suite of mundane professional skills and acumen and thus become strong through a form of hybrid vigor, as their powers allow them to fill gaps that mundane capability cannot fill (stronger Cyber-Knights, Operators, etc.). Minor psychics use their powers as augmentations to an otherwise ordinary professional training; they lack depth and breadth, but what powers they do possess often allow them to operate better at their professions than would be the case otherwise.

In the lived experience of these characters, how they experience their powers and how they incorporate their powers into the rest of their lives will inevitably result in a very different perception of what their place in the world is and how they relate to it.
  • A minor psychic's few and shallow powers means that they will see psychic abilities, by and large, as an adjunct to everyday life that they are privileged to possess and enjoy. It is unlikely that their powers will allow them to so dominate their surroundings that they cease to see non-psychics as not that different (and certainly capable of beating them, should they wish to be a threat); this is the way that even highly-skilled soldiers and security experts see themselves with regard to others and the world in general, if they are honest with themselves- they have a distinct edge, and that can (and does) make a significant difference, but nothing more, so don't disrespect others lest you find that edge negated when you need it.
  • A major psychic's powers can possess enough breadth or depth to, at the least, put them well past what competent ordinary folk can do with the same training; they have to possess augmentation of some sort to keep up. Major psychics routinely create a very distinct perception of themselves and their place in the world through their hybridization of their powers and their professions; being a grunt with Sixth Sense is just another grunt with a useful trick that can be overwhelmed like any other, but a Cyber-Knight is an elite warrior whose powers--blended with his martial training--put him on par with Crazies, Juicers, and Full Conversion Cyborgs. He's special, a clear step up from the norm, and he knows it.
  • A master psychic is someone whose entire identity stems from their powers. They self-identify as, and perceive life through the status being, a psychic. They see that they are not ordinary folk, and their powers easily put them on par with powerful magicians or highly-augmented soldiers despite no need for formal training or external apparati. God Complexes are not uncommon for a lot of such figures, especially if they did not grow up in a psychic community or come under the mentorship of an equal in psychic ability, and once that takes hold it is often self-reinforcing (and therefore difficult to break); it is a very clear mark of a well-disciplined, well-trained, and mature personality who resists such narsistic and egotistical tendencies in favor of maintaining the true view of individuals as just that regardless of a lack of powers.
Next week, I'll begin breaking down the psychic into a set of archetypes (as I did with magic-users), with these power categories as guidelines.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Playing a Psychic in Rifts, Part 2: Getting Into Your Man's Head

A key thing to comprehend, with regard to playing your character, is that you need to get into your character's head and perceive the environment from his perspective. This includes the experience of using your character's abilities, so you need to imagine the physicality he exhibits when he uses certain abilities. Once you can do that, you will find that your perception of how your man thinks will become far more lifelike and therefore your performance will greatly improve.

While this is applicable to any character in any role-playing game, for a psychic it is very significant due to the interaction of his powers with his body and his environment. The game reflects that the use of psychic powers taxes the user's endurance by the use of Inner Strength Points, which means that the usage of psychic powers is very much a usage of power channeled through the user's body- something that is finite within a given interval of time, but extendable with experience as it reflects conditioning gained as a byproduct of earning that experience.

So, take a moment to imagine how your psychic experiences his powers. He's always had them, even if they didn't manifest until his adolescence or adulthood, so there was always some telltale sign of their presence; he heard things, saw things, felt things, etc. that others did not--or, at least, others not psychic--and these signs grew until his latent powers manifested and blossomed into full expression. Depending on what powers you choose, your character's early life and experiences with his powers just about tell you the story for you because they won't happen any other way.

On a related note, take a moment to imagine what it feels like when your psychic uses his powers. From some point in his brain, a thought resonates at just the right frequency to become the right effect. He will instinctively use his body, as necessary, to guide the use of this power and employ it to the desired end; a Mind Melter or Psi Warrior will, without thought, form one hand into a firm grip upon the Psi Sword that he wills into existence while a Burster will scan with his eyes the place where he'll ignite a fire a moment before willing it to spark and flare into existing. Telekinetics will gesture with hands or similar limbs as if they were either manipulating it by touch or conducting it into place. While most of these instinctual gestures are actually not needed (and therefore can be trained out of practice), the psychic's experience of the flow of power from his brain, through his body, and then out into the environment to create the effect is often unchecked by training--Mystics actively avoid it, in harmony with their own belief in emergence and intuitive cognition, for example--often correlates bodily movement (great and small alike) to effective use of power, making psychics and magic-users seem to overlap far more than is actually the case.

You will know a learned, trained, and veteran psychic (therefore) by how often he omits such tells in the use of his powers, but this means that he has to somehow deal with the fact that the instinctual displays also naturally discharge any excess energy (and I mean that in the real-world sense, not a game mechanic sense) that the use of such powers naturally produces. Psychics who are telekinetics (or other psychokinetics, such as Bursters) flail their arms about because it is a very natural method to direct and expel such energies; psychics who deal in their powers otherwise have to find other manners to cope with discharging the adrenal rush that comes with using those powers.

A savvy observer can learn how to read body language to find these tells, and other psychics are very good at learning to do this quicky due to their own psychic ability, making psychics most effective at sensing their own- this is one of the reasons for why Psi Stalkers and Dog Boys are so very effective. There are some natural tells that can't be avoided (usually associated with powers like Psi Sword/Shield and those like it), but most--across all categories--can be omitted with discipline and practice, and replaced with far more subtle ones that allow them to escape the notice of observers. Psychics with a past in organizations (great or small) whose presence persists will do this with their members; this, by the way, is one of the many reasons for why the Coalition States' inner elite of telepaths and other psychics remains well-hidden. (More on this later in the series.)

So, get into your psychic's head. Get into his body. Imagine how it feels to use those powers, and you will go a long way towards comprehending your man's mind and perspective- which will, in turn, make playing your man a far more satisfying play experience.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Playing a Psychic in Rifts, Part 1: The Basics

Welcome to the next series at Stabilizing Rifts. After spending so much time on magic and magic-users, it seemed natural to go a step to the side and talk about psychics.

I'm going to follow much the same pattern as I did before, with this post and a few others covering the basics and establishing the foundation for the rest of my posts on this topic. Then I will cover the broad archetypes for psychic characters, followed by the posts on specific Psychic types. Instead of "P.C.C.", I will use "Psychic"; "Occupation" will be used where relevant, as I did with the magic-user posts.

That said, the basics.

  • Psychics are born, not made, barring a few exceptions throughout the Megaverse. Magic can be taught; psychic powers are inherent from birth, though they may be latent in expression until a triggering event is had. How they manifest varies greatly, but they tend to conform to a series of archetypes that are commonplace (with variation) across the Megaverse.
  • Psychics do not manifest obvious displays of power use, in the way that magic-users do, when using their powers. They can be still, silent, and display no audio or visual effects by default. While many psychics do make gestures, etc., it is not required; the mark of a disciplined psychic is one that ruthlessly exploits this fact to his benefit and the detriment of his opposition. (Specific powers, on the other hand, can and do make such displays; it's hard to ignore a Psi-Sword suddenly manifesting in a user's hands.)
  • Psychic are much in the same boat as magic-users who don't truly understand their powers; they can, and do, acquire a body of practical techniques but true comprehension of what their powers are and how they work remains beyond most psychics' grasp- and it cannot be taught, as such. Psychic training is, therefore, akin to martial arts training is that the process is intended to be a controlled stress environment wherein senior psychics oversee juniors and guide them in how to make the best use of their powers. (Think X-Men, Xavier's school for mutants.)
  • Psychics, like mundanes, are diverse in both depth and breadth of power. All psychics are not equal, and as with mundanes they are going to fall into a hierarchy built upon that disparity of power as an emergent and persistent property of their existence- there is no "all men are equal" here.
There, we have some pillars to build upon for next week. See you then.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in Rifts, Part 20: Epilogue

We're at the end.

Going over the way magic works, and the useful examples of how magic-use manifests, in RIFTS has proven quite instructive and beneficial to me over these past few months. Most of what I wrote about here can be applied to other RPGs, be they tabletop games (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) or video games of various genres (e.g. World of Warcraft, Dragon Age: Origins), so I do hope that you keep them in mind. Furthermore, because I applied some real-world occultism (*gasp!*) to bring order to the usual Palladium mess of concepts and conceits, you can look over at the New Age and Occult shelves at the bookstore for sources to fill the gaps that Palladium's amateurism and incompetent approach leaves in the material.

So, let's review the core of magic in this game:
  • Magic can be taught. At first it's by supernatural entities striking deals with ordinary mortals for the former's reasons, but in time it always turns into a wholly secular pursuit no different to how real-world science and engineering works: a body of lore on how the universe works, then applied as useful tools to solve practical problems and open new avenues of interaction.
  • Magic is both science and technology; the use of spell and ritual is how the science is applied as technology. Since both are internal to the user, this makes the knowledge into the tool and not just a means to get to a tool; this is why magic is considered dangerous- it doesn't give people bombs, it makes people into autonomous bomb-throwing bomb factories.
  • Magic is natural. It's powered by infinitely-renewable, clean (by default), naturally-occurring energy and the core of all use of magic is the ability to tap into this energy and transmute it into whatever form the desired effect takes. "Unnatural" magical energies, therefore, are caused by pollution into these natural clean flows by other entities. A magic-using civilization is one of the most environmentally-friendly ones possible, and it is always one that is post-scarcity so long as that magic energy remains available.
  • Magic-using civilizations are, without fail, always going to become stronger and tougher than those that eschew it; you can't be a Megaversal power-player if you are not a magic-user. This is why magic-use is a leveling thing, restricted where it is used by those in power and outright persecuted by those that don't; this includes those civilizations who have access to powers akin to (but are not) magic, for all intents and purposes.

Magic, contrary to what most think, is Promethean. It is how a simple boy born in the middle of nowhere in a backwater world as the son of an utterly ordinary man can become a godlike being contending successfully with Megaversal powers on their own terms; other routes to that destination require qualities that cannot be taught, require transformation of one's body or mind, or have some other random element or external constraint forever freezing out people out and keeping down those let in. Magic alone has no such constraints; the limits to a magic-user's scale and scope of power is entirely dependent on the will, imagination, and drive of the user- and those already at that point are well-aware of this fact, which is why they act as they do (out of either fear or love) with regard to magic and magic-users. Magic is what makes mortals and gods into equals, and the gods never forget that fact- and neither do powerful mortals made powerful through the use of magic. Remember this in your games and characters to come.

Next week, I begin "Playing a Psychic".

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 19: An Overview of the Megaverse

Aside from the core of North America (i.e. Coalition territory) and a few places with similar attitudes, magic-use is a far more complex socio-political matter and its going to leave its mark wherever it goes.

  • The magical societies of the entire Megaverse, let alone Rifts Earth, are tied together by groups of Ley-Line Walkers (and those with the same power; this is an Atlantean-dominated group) and supplemented by Shifters (and similar practitioners). Massive levels of conspiratorial and operational capability requires their involvement; this is one of the reason for why "major power" and "institutional magic-use" go hand-in-hand, because non-users cannot operate on this level.
  • This includes the dimensions where demons, devils, angels, etc. reside; cross-dimensional schemes require command over ley lines and dimensional rifts, something that only magic-use reliably provides. Because these entities are the top-tier powers in the whole of the Megaverse, their conflicts will encompass and subsume everything else; they operate on scopes and scales that make even the long-term perspectives of god-like intelligences seem somehow subpar- but their motivations are hardly beyond mortal comprehension.
  • Magical societies of any significant maturity will be aware as to the existence of other dimensions. Fully mature societies will possess a mostly-accurate comprehension of what the dimensional connections binding the Megaverse together are, and how they interact; this includes the critical matter of mana flows (i.e. very powerful such as Rifts Earth, moderate such as Palladium, or weak-as-shit like some other dimensions; the latter ones are avoided and treated as useless backwaters, sometimes exploited as a place to dump dissidents and criminals).
  • The gods and similar powers are very powerful, and from a mortal and gameplay point of view might as well be omnipotent, but they are not truly alien in their mentality and not truly omnipotent either; when working at a Megaversal scope and scale, we'll see comprehensible motivations and actions coming out of these godlike beings. The illusion comes from the limited perspective that most beings possess relative to that of the greatest powers in the Megaverse; this means that perspective, knowledge, and paying attention are keys being a successful magic-user regardless of Occupation- it's how magic-users born as humble, ordinary mortals can become viable competition to the most god-like of entities.
  • Operating at this level means that maintaining awareness, and quickly getting up to speed on local conditions, is vital; your man need to be as much a competent scholar and intelligence operator as you are a magic-user (which, given the real world history of occulism and occulist overlap with espionage and intelligence operations, is hardly unusual). Gandalf, returning to a well-known example, was as much a handler and operative as he was a wielder of knowledge often hidden and employed in equally hidden ways (in addition to actual supernatural powers). (There is also the examples of Jack Parsons, for those wanting inspiration for a Techno-Wizard angle, and John Dee for a more old-school example.)
  • Operating at the Megaversal level means that your fiction inspiration starts with the Lensman series and those that it inspired: The Green Lantern Corps, the Nova Corps, and (inside the game) Cosmo-Knights. That doesn't necessarily mean that your man wields such power, but that your man does possess the capability to think and operate on that level and therefore may acquire that degree of power- but it's not strictly necessary to be effective.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 18: An Overview of the Three Galaxies

As noted in the Interlude, I'm bringing this series to a close as its useful life has run out.

This week, as an end-cap, I'm going to bring some notes about playing a Magic-User away from the core milieu of the game and bring my notes instead on the wider Megaverse over the next few weeks.

  • The Three Galaxies has a norm of institutional magic use, such that de facto techno-wizardry is the norm (and by that, I mean that is it normal to view magic and science as separate, but complimentary, disciplines). Magic-users are core parts of all of the agencies of the Three galaxies, either as full agents or as associates/auxiliaries. Each of the major powers (and, by extension, many minor ones) recognize the power and advantage that magic use grants to those that employ it, so anti-magic sentiment is rare out of institutions and almost as rare out of populations. The sentiment of the Coalition States, therefore, is one of the things that would mark it as a minor power (if recognized at all) in the wider scheme of things.
  • Institutional magic use also means institutional magic development and refinement. Unlike most of Rifts Earth, magic-users in the wider Three Galaxies are far more likely (regardless of the form of their magic) to enjoy the benefits (and pay the costs) of a formalized and systematized pedagogy. There will be "Harvard men", "Oxford men", etc. because institutions leave their marks upon those that pass through them and those marks become tells to those who are aware of them. Relationships between educational and training institutions and various agencies of Megaversal powers will form and normalize, much as they do in real life between our universities and governments or corporations. (e.g. The Consortium of Confederated Worlds' service academies will include magic-users, and those magic-users who come out of those academies will go on to join the CCW Fleet, and then those who survive will go on to political or corporate positions- and the potential for being a skilled magic-user will be one of the paths out of poverty for CCW residents seeking to better themselves using socially-accepted means.)
  • Institutional magic use also means institutional awareness of the power that magic provides, and that it can be taught/bestowed upon others, so therefore magic will be treated like any other science or technology which poses a probable threat to a government: it will be regulated, restricted, confined, controlled, and otherwise fettered to minimize that threat while maximizing its benefit to the government. (Or, in actual anarchies, the nation.) Magic use outside of the boundaries set by the government will be like political groups outside such boundaries: they will go underground, act in secret, and operate in a conspiratorial manner. (Much like being a magician or psychic in Coalition territory.)
  • Magic use in the Three Galaxies, while diverse in an absolute sense, will be homogenized in actual play due to players being in regular contact with the major institutions and their institutional cultures- which, as noted above, will include their magic societies. Local variations will not vary much, if at all, from examples found on Rifts Earth; it's going to be different sets of trappings, but the substance (and therefore the mechanics) will be the same. Shaman are Shaman are Shaman, as it were- and it is still quitely likely that the Kreegor will brutally exterminate them with superior magical prowess coupled to overwhelming conventional firepower should they decide to do so (which further homogenizes the Three Galaxies' magical community).
  • The minor players, where not already given useful examples in the product chain (e.g. Splugorth), will conform to varying degrees to the examples of the major powers because it is necessary to do so to maintain some form of autonomy apart from them; if they are not lost colonies, auxiliary or vassal states, or otherwise derive their origin from a major power then they will do so because--admitted or not--the example of the major powers is better than their own development and they adapt to survive.
  • One consequence is that magic-users, in general, will be encountered more often. The bulk of these encounters will be with the tradesmen or technicians of the magical community; their skills and knowledge are narrowly focused, and shallow in depth, but often honed to a professional grade of competency because they--despite being magic-users--are still ensconced in the same level of socio-economic reality as the mundane population. The magic that they work is the means by which they make their living, and as such they either the ambition or the ability to fully manifest the potential that magic-use in general permits to mortal users. This is the realm of NPCs. The technician who oversees the Rift Drive on a United World of Warlocks starship is a magic-using engineeer specialized in the practical aspects of Rifts and dimensional magic theory; he's, at best, Scotty- and not at all Saruman.
  • Another consequence is that non-users will not take magic as seriously as they should most of the time because the users that they encounter do not wield world-smashing powers, or even city-smashing powers, or have the potential for such; no one worries that the dude making custom bikes in a workshop out of the way of the main street in town is going to unleash nuclear forces that can't be handled- that's what the magic-using technicians and tradesmen are at. As a consequence, the perception of difference between magic and science is somewhat blurred; the conditions for full and proper techno-wizardry are there, but the breakthrough cognitive thought just hasn't happened yet. (Not unusual in real history; the Greeks has steam and hydralic technology, but did not think to use it to do real labor due to the massive slave and servant population.)
  • Warfare, therefore, will account for what the known norms of magical practice allow for and will--in all competent actors--be planned for as best as that actor's resources allow. As with warfare, so with personal combat; if you're in an environment where your opposition can freely move at short-range with portal mechanics, you're going to train to deal with that and have counters ready to go.
  • The Three Galaxies is a setting where magic-use is open, wide-spread, and institutionalized magic makes possible. Play accordingly.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS: Interlude

While there are plenty more magic-using Occupations in the game, those that remain are now variations on the Archetypes that I put down early on in this series. It is not a useful employment of this space to go over such details, so I won't spend this entry or future ones doing that.

So, wrapping up this series will be some posts on magic-users away from RIFTS Earth, focusing on the other major milieu of the game (i.e. the Three Galaxies), and then--for you tinkers, designers, and others who're inclined to mess with mechanics--some posts on my opinions regarding the strengths and weaknesses of playing a magic-user, and how to exploit the former while fixing the latter.

After that, I'm putting this series on the shelf for a while and shifting gears to another pillar of power in the game: Psychics.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 17: The Shaman

Palladium, for some reason that I think is not too hard to understand, seems to think that shamanism is an American phenomenon that is confined to the First Nations of that hemisphere. Furthermore, this seems to be confined to North American First Nations (due to Central America being overrun by vampires and South America being overrun with alien invaders of other sorts), so when one picks up RIFTS: Spirit West it is not surprising to see that the various Shaman Occupations are built on the assumptions that those Shaman are going to be First Nations (specifically, from the various Great Plains and Southwest nations or remnants originally from elsewhere that nonetheless relocated there). There is no concept extant that Shaman can arise in any other context, so there is no consideration given to any other variation thereof; this greatly limits the scope and scale of the Shaman Occupations in this book. Spirit West, therefore, is far more about making the mysticism of the 19th century Old West playable in a monster, mutants, and massive machines milieu than anything else.

That said, let's take a look at what's on offer.

The book has two Occupations that are not magic-users; these are two of the Warrior Occupations (Tribal and Mystic, respectively; the former is purely mundane, the second is a psychic.). The rest, be they labelled as Warrior or Shaman, are shaman variations; the variations are in emphasis and specialization, but otherwise they conform to the Shaman archetype of an individual chosen by the spirits to become a bridge of some sort between the ordinary and supernatural world. Totem and Spirit Warriors are Magic Knights; they trade some portion of mundane existence for a magical augmentation to their martial capacities, at the cost of some degree of behavior restriction (and an ongoing relationship with the source of their powers, which needs to be kept happy). The Shaman are, for our purposes, primary magic-users; they make the same sort of bargain, but are more about using their powers to aide the tribe and afflict hostiles using those powers themselves instead of in additional martial arts. These split by focus or source of their powers (Animal, Plant, Fetish/Mask, Elemental, Paradox, Healing), but otherwise are similar enough that one can generally grok one another's abilities and restrictions.

Okay, now, to extrapolate without resorting to outright mechanical revisions.

They chose you. Shaman are chosen, neither born nor made; senior shaman can, and do, foster their juniors (and societies of shaman chosen by a given spirit or spirits are very much a thing; priesthoods form out of them, should the circumstances allow it) but this is not necessary. The spirits are more than capable of teaching their chosen shaman how to do what they wish from him on their own; more formal priesthoods lack this they-call-you provision, which is a clear mark of distinction between these traditions.

Your powers are gifts from them, that come at a very palpable price. You are not an ordinary man anymore; you are taken up and adopted into the spirit world, to a certain extent, and you are expected to abide by the conditions that come with those powers, period. Your spirit patron comes first, always, and your duty to your people is--in large part--to keep them in harmony with the spirit world as your patron shows it to you. This can, and will, lead to conflicts between shaman societies when their spirit patrons' interests conflict. (Deer societies and Wolf societies are not friends.) A hippy you are NOT.

Your people expect you to represent them to the spirits. Bridges are two-way affairs, and the spirits expect you to be the one who relays between ordinary and supernatural. When the people are in distress, and are unable to handle things as they usually do, they will expect you to contact your spirit patrons and consult with them about the matter as best you (and they) can.

Now, that in mind, you're going to play a character that's not a self-serving loner. You're part of a community, part of a culture, and being a Shaman (any sort) means that you're participating in that situation--in that environment--and therefore you are part of both that tribal society as well as your shaman society. Keep that in mind when you chuck those dice and see that you can opt to play some form of Shaman; you're not a free agent, so if you don't want to deal in that sort of relationship work then I suggest you choose another Occupation.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Playing a Magic-User in RIFTS, Part 16: The Necromancer

Palladium's take on the Necromancer first appeared in RIFTS: Africa, and like everything else in that underwhelming product, this Occupation is a disappointment that does not fulfill player expectations and reveals that quality control at Palladium was (and remains) something that is akin to that of Taurus firearms: when good, great; when bad, horrible (and when good, often built upon another's framework). To play a Necromancer, as shown here, is to have one of those lemons and be in need of a juicer.

The player expectation for a Necromancer is not just that he be able to gather useful information through contacting the dead, but to call them forth from the grave and bind them through his will to be his slaves--his immortal, unyielding agents--and execute his orders. Furthermore, the player expectation includes the ability to manipulate the minds and flesh of living targets as well as all of the dead. In terms now relevant to talk of gaming design, a Necromancer is expected to be a primary-spellcaster that also has one or more pets to manage (some temporary, some permanent); in other words, they expect an undead-themed version of the Warlock class from World of Warcraft (which is, quite frankly, a very good iteration of a playable Necromancer) or the Avatar class from Green Ronin's (now out-of-print) The Avatar's Handbook. The former, to an extent, is met. The latter is lacking.

The Occupation has all of the expected look and feel, but lacks the substance. The Occupation's spell-list looks good on paper, but in practice the targets of the spells can either work around non-crippling effects or ignore them entirely. It lacks direct damage, and the pets that it creates are completely irrelevant to the expected quality of opposition in RIFTS; it doesn't matter if your NPC pets can reform after being blown to bits if you can't do any harm to them whatsoever because those you reliably control are too week, and those that are not cannot be reliably controlled- and that is the case with undead a Necromancer creates. Those who would want to play a Necromancer, therefore, must change how they employ the powers of this Occupation.

In short, a Necromancer is not a tactical threat. It is not primarily a strategic threat. It is primarily a threat on a logistical scale, and logistical threats are NPCs. When your man is someone who's ability to contribute at the table might as well be that of a Rogue Scholar or Scientist with some supernatural benefits and pets because properly leveraging what your powers can do and making the most of your Occupation's assets means that you're playing a different game from everyone else, you've got a problem. Working around this problem means changing your table to something that spends a hell of a lot more time and attention at the logistical and strategic levels, which means that you're playing a wargame or an economy simulation and not a true and proper adventure game (which is what a proper TRPG is). If that works for you, go for it; otherwise, your options are to cut it out from player access or to change the Occupation into something that works for you. Given how Palladium rolls, make some shit up that you think would be fun; you're unlikely to fuck it up any worse than it already is.