Normally I wouldn’t bother writing a post-mortem for a “campaign” that only lasted one session, but as I put a fair amount of work into setting this thing up, and as we as a group put a fair amount of thought into the decision to shut things down so quickly, I thought I should say a few words. Plus, I want this here as a reminder to myself should I ever think of running a Palladium game again…
We came into this off a wildly successful AD&D 2e campaign that lasted a good six months or so before we ended it. Indeed, we may yet return to it one day, so I marked that campaign as “On Hiatus” rather than call it finished for good. But we had started that campaign somewhat skeptical that we’d be able to make 2e work for us again—we played the hell out of it as teenagers, but had a lot of issues with the system and weren’t sorry to see it go when 3e came along.
So our success in revisiting an old problematic favorite like 2e gave us hope that we could do the same for Rifts (and the Palladium system in general). Two-thirds of our little group nurture exceedingly fond memories of many hours spent playing Palladium games, and although I recognized the many mechanical and organizational faults contained therein, I thought I could mitigate those faults enough for us to once again make a triumphant return to an old system.
I drafted up a set of house rules and began the process of indexing and organizing the material I wanted to use. All in all, it took me probably 20-30 hours of work just to get to the point of being ready for character creation.
Then it turned out that chargen, even with my house rules simplifying certain elements of the game, turned out to be, as always, an exercise in frustration due to the dispersal of critical information across pages and pages of information; my indices helped, but did not completely streamline the process.
At last, I set about doing some adventure design. Lo and behold, even after all that work, I found I still had a ton more to do. There were virtually no existing stat blocks; everything had to be generated from scratch. Information was patchy where it needed to be explicit, and over-written where just a few words would’ve done. I quickly lost any trace of momentum I’d built up during the run-up to the campaign.
Consulting even my limited number of Rifts sourcebooks left me feeling like a rabbi or other Biblical scholar, poring over a multitude of esoteric texts and extracting new meaning and import even from familiar passages. Granted, there’s a certain thrill in that process of uncovering new interpretations or insights, but it’s not what I’m looking for as a GM nowadays. I want at least a certain level of plug-and-play. Honestly, with the amount of work I was putting in to getting this campaign off the ground, I may as well have been designing my own system.
Palladium games remain rich as sources of inspiration; they have a certain ineffible something that transcends the dreck of the creaky mechanics and piss-poor information architecture. I will continue to mine them for ideas. But I can’t see myself running a Palladium game ever again. There are too many other equally awesome games out there that don’t make me work like a dog just to play them.
(How we ever managed back in the day, I don’t even know. I think it was probably a combination of lower expectations—most games were organized for shit 20 years ago, and creaky mechanics much more common—as well as youthful enthusiasm and a certain tendency to just instictively ignore huge swaths of the game that didn’t work for us.)
I’ll leave things off with this observation: I’ve read in a few places over the years that Kevin Siembieda doesn’t use the rules as written when he runs his games, that his style is largely improvisational and seat-of-the-pants. I now believe these stories whole-heartedly, because if he did actually ever crack open one of his own games and try to design adventures and run it as written, he would’ve overhauled every single Palladium rulebook years ago.
And so, regretfully, we ride off into the sunset…