Monday, November 2, 2009

How to present a world - the old way

Having been really ill for a while, I'm still not sure I'm on the home stretch yet, but let's hope so. I have started to comment on some blogs in boredom, and now when I can string text together again I'll try to get posting going here again.

So, since I had nothing better to do, I grabbed my copy of Palladium off the shelf. Having read the Rifts rules and chuckled at the over the top silliness, I wasn't sure what level of gonzo to expect. Frankly I was pleasantly surprised by the welcome lack of gonzo. I'm talking about revised 1st ed, if that matters for the details further on.

The first time I really became interested in Palladium was when a friend answered the question about what imaginary world he would like to live in with "Palladium fantasy". I thought it sounded a little bit to adventurous, but at least now I know a little bit more about the place.

Contrary to some newer games where you get a section on the world with just rambling text on the world, totally separated from the rules, you here get it mixed in. I looked in the table of contents and saw that there was a section on the Palladium world, but when I looked I was surprised. Sure, there was a map of the world, and there were short descriptions of all the regions of the world. But, the descriptions were, like, ten lines at the maximum. While I can see the use of that in a product which covers a country or something similar, we here get ten lines describing a major part of the continent!

Those of you who have read older games might want to argue that there are always setting information in the rules. Even the sparse and terse Men & Magic thus can be said to contain "setting". Personally I never liked that. I have always skimmed rules, learnt enough how to roll the dice and get to the fun part. Seeing what is hidden, implied and factored in just isn't something I'm good at or enjoy. Postulating a 200 page tome where 100 of those pages are just text to digest a bout some imaginary lands as the other end of the spectrum, I can clearly see why that isn't popular either. Palladium did something in between, surprising me.

So, not only are there a short section on areas of the continent. There are also in the description of monsters, creatures and playable races a lot of short descriptions and referencing to things like an elven-dwarven war, dead cultures, lost artifacts and just descriptions of how and where these creatures live. It sure works in unison so create a patchwork of images, adding up to a fully imagined world without getting drowned in pages upon pages of dry prose.

Dozens of readers while now, maybe, howl with laughter and say that is not something new, is it. Well, maybe it isn't. But, take a look at AD&D. It's monster book is a separate volume, and maybe (probably) your DM wont even let you open it. Other games from the elder days sometimes also is very heavy on the rules and nothing else. While you might argue that that makes it easier to use the rules as generic rules and the world as something you build yourself, it is an argument that forgets that even those rules have setting ideas in them like I mentioned before.

I no longer own any edition of Runequest, but now I've become curious about how much of Glorantha there actually was in those rules I once read. Tunnels & Trolls is another old game, and one that I think would have benefited from the Palladium approach.

If rules and setting should be tightly coupled or not have been argued to death before. For me this is not a new revelation in that respect, but it was amazing to see how the rules opened up for me, becoming "common sense" and somehow fitting the more the world opened up beneath my eyes. I really didn't expect to like Palladium fantasy as much as I did. I still haven't read it all, we'll see if there are more gems hidden there!


  1. After cutting my teeth on D&D in junior high school and then getting back into gaming in college, one of my favorite memories was of a campaign we played using the Palladium Fantasy rules (1st ed) in conjunction with the Temple of Elemental Evil... It was a great system that didn't really need to be tweaked to use PPE and all the other psionic stuff that came from the Rifts world, but oh well. I still pick up the old Palladium Fantasy books and thumb through them for inspiration from time to time. It's nice to see that other folks do the same now and then. :)


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