The big buzz on RPG.net this past week is that due to some problems with theft and embezzlement, Palladium Books is in dire financial trouble. The main RPG.net thread on the topic (it’s spawned like 10 others) is over 100 pages now, covering the usual range of reactions to things Palladium-related (though somehow the thread hasn’t been locked).
I suspect my range of reactions to Palladium is typical.
In middle school and especially high school they were the RPG publisher, accept no substitutes. We played mainly Rifts and Robotech, with a little Heroes Unlimited and TMNT and Nightspawn (screw you, MacFarlane) thrown in for good measure. One of my friends back then whom I don’t really talk to anymore had a way of saying memorable stuff and then not remembering it himself, and then if you brought it up in conversation looking at you like you were crazy so hard that other people started to believe him. One of those quotes was with regard to my experimenting with other systems — both stuff like playing GURPS and making my own games from scratch: “But the Palladium system is, like, perfect. You’re the only one who has to be a deviant and make your own systems.” My memory is tricky, and full of holes, but certain things stick really well (too well), and I’m pretty sure that that is a verbatim quote, or very close to one. Today that quote represents a hilarious display of naivete — and the same guy later became primarily a White Wolf gamer after all — but in high school it summed up the general consensus pretty well. No one saw any real flaws in the game, or any reason to switch to anything else. Part of that, I’m sure, was a result of the fact that none of us really had ready access to other games in the first place. I had Toon (which the aforementioned friend totally missed the point of and called “lame,” though my other friends enjoyed it), and we did Paranoia one-shots now and then, but the only store with any substantial RPG selection was the one that to this day puts all the books in shrink-wrap, and anyway very few of us had money to spend on unknown games.
When I first started college, I was starting to really see the glaring flaws in the system, and from then on we never quite settled on any one game. The games we played significantly were Mage, Fading Suns, Thrash, and Mekton Z. On online forums I was sometimes disdainful and critical of Palladium’s games to the point of being an immature fucktard at times. Analyzing it now, I would say that the thing is the enjoyment of roleplaying can be relatively independent of the system — that is, Rifts is fun, but it wouldn’t be made less fun by a sensibly chosen alternate system — so the system should at least have some kind of utility. At that point one of the more fun campaigns I’d run had been all free-form, so there really wasn’t any excuse for having to put up with the Palladium system’s quirks. In spite of that, it was also around this time that I took all of the stuff I wrote for Rifts through high school — and there was a lot (I ought to look through it again some time) — and submitted it to the Rifter, though only one section (on “Space Magic”) got published, with illustrations by Wayne Breaux no less. So not only was Palladium my first source of RPGs, but they’re responsible for the first time I got published. (My first full RPG book is due out from Battlefield Press some time this summer).
I’m still in college (but that has more to do with me taking so damn long to figure out what I really wanted to major in), but I matured a bit over time, and took a different attitude towards Palladium. I went from the feeling betrayed stage to the nostalgic, “if only my high school memories of awesomeness could be brought back with a better system” stage. I would read through RPG.net threads on Palladium for amusement (actually I still do sometimes), and nod along with the criticisms (this review of Robotech is especially entertaining, particularly when Bill Coffin, who from what I’ve seen is generally a cool, level-headed guy online, tries to mix it up). Once or twice I tried to come up with Rifts conversions, before Palladium’s policies put me off the idea of even doing it just for use among my friends. (The GURPS conversion was going really well, right up until I tried to do vehicles).
Now I find myself feeling pretty emphatically indifferent. Online, some people report places where Palladium’s products are selling well, but in my neck of the woods, and from what the majority of people are saying, their stuff is now selling poorly if at all, and stores are ordering less and less. The way my group roleplays has shifted a lot over time, and that has something to do with it. It’s been quite a while since we last used a pre-packaged RPG setting of any kind. There was that Planescape campaign I did during our flirtation with D&D3e (and the group’s consensus was that the worst adventures were always the ones I got from published modules), but since then we did Macross (an adaptation of the later anime and games, using Mekton Z), Star Sorcerer (original, powered by Fudge), and Truth & Justice (though in spite of the wealth of published superhero characters that could be adapted, our entire setting has consisted of original stuff).
I’m an odd person in that I can’t get a proper hate-on going unless I have really strongly negative, intensely personal experiences with something. Having played and run D&D3e a decent amount, I find d20-hate to be just plain silly. For me the worst of it is that it takes some extra work on the DM’s part to run the game. And since since I have a solid and close-knit group that so seldom does anything with published in what passes for mainstream in the RPG industry, I don’t have any reason to get worked up over what’s going on with all that. It gets doubly absurd when we talk about games. If other people want to blow shit up in a post-apocalyptic future or kill things and take their stuff in a dungeon, more power to them. Obviously I think the kind of roleplaying I do is neat and I think it’d be cool to introduce other people to it, but claiming that it’s better is kind of like telling people they should give up pop music and listen to punk instead.
I don’t know that it reflects positively on me, but Palladium’s financial woes strike me as being someone else’s problem. If Palladium went under (at this point it seems like it’s going to survive) it’s entirely possible that it could hurt the industry as a whole, but nothing along those lines could kill it off for my group. Of course, this is my perspective. I’m someone who has never moved to a new town and searched in vain for a new roleplaying group, or been frustrated by a lack of non-D&D groups seeking members, etc. The overlap between the people I hang out with on a weekly basis and the people I game with has always been almost total, and I agree with the sentiment mentioned somewhere or other that if I wouldn’t want to just hang out with someone, then I wouldn’t want to game with them either. This is partly because a certain portion of a gaming session is going to be spent on what amounts to hanging out anyway. (As the Shooting Dice guy mentioned in a recent post, the “20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of gaming” thing is more like “20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of another kind of fun.”)
For better or for worse, I think I’ve not only outgrown Palladium, but outgrown resenting Palladium too. Palladium is one of those friends from high school I’ve lost touch with and never worked up any particular desire to see again.
But you know, if by some miracle a new edition of Rifts came out with a substantially improved system (original, licensed, or whatever) I would at a minimum buy the book in a heartbeat.