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.