Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

A Quick Look at the Palladium Robotech RPG (1986) — Introduction

The Palladium system takes a lot of flak. I’m not quite sure that it’s fair, really. I mean, the number of people that are playing games that are little more than hacked versions of classic D&D rule sets right now is pretty crazy. Why should anyone fault Kevin Siembieda for doing pretty much the same thing?

Just for me personally, I can say that I got a lot more play out of this line than some of its competition. My friends and I just didn’t get terribly far with either Twilight 2000, FASA Doctor Who, or GURPS Second Edition. And whatever faults the line might have, you’ve got to give credit where credit’s due: everything from GURPS Third Edition to Labyrinth Lord is sold in a perfect bound format that Palladium was pushing out way before everybody else.

So I thought I’d look back at this game just to see what was actually there, what could conceivably be done with it, and what was liable to happen to a group that seriously took it up. I do remember a friend of mine had most of this along with Star Frontiers and Battletech. Truth be told, Battletech took the lion’s share of our tabletop gaming. Granted, we weren’t really hard core roleplayers. Still, we spent a lot of time pouring over the Robotech books because they gave the canonical data on the “real” versions of our favorite Battlemechs. The fact that these giant robots were not faithfully adapted to FASA’s system really got under our skin. We actually spent a lot of time overhauling the system just so it could get them right!

Anyway, I’m going to start this off by taking a look at just the introduction. Just this one section is loaded, too. I’m amazed at how much is packed in here.

  • Palladium had access to not just the whole series, but also to Japanese books on the source material and to Carl Macek as well. In a pre-internet world, this was a huge deal. Just as with FASA Doctor Who, an RPG book like this was about the only easy way for a kid to get more information about their favorite TV shows.
  • Palladium promises to go beyond the TV show and interpolate new future history into the gaps of the TV show’s continuity… with the results influenced by and blessed by Carl Macek. This point would have gone right past me when I was a kid, but now I think it’s awesome.
  • However, Palladium will emphasize (I think) the period just after the end of the Macross series, a time period that “will place characters in a pretty freewheeling situation with a lot of obvious adventure possibilities in this post-holocaust world.” That’s really wild… and it’s right up my alley… but I’ve got to say, this is not what most people would expect to play in a Robotech game. My first thought for that would be Veritech fighter pilots stationed on the SDF-1 as it bums around the solar system battling with Zentradi. Of course, he points out that you can play it any way you want… but having the default setting be something so off the wall is just kind of mind blowing.
  • I love this part, though: “Role-playing games are really just an advanced form of regular board games. In fact, they are so advanced that they no longer need a board.” I think this really is the key to the Palladium system. It is first and foremost oriented to a “theater of the mind” style of play. If you read the rules and feel like something is missing, it may be because you haven’t embraced this assumption that the game is built on!
  • The example of play features Rick Hunter verses a micronized Zentradi in a hostage crisis type situation. Rick is put in a position where his player will have to make a quick decision based on the sort of thing that is not covered by the rules at all. The first time I read this passage, I know I tuned it out. Mainly, I haven’t watched enough episodes to even know what a micronized Zentradi would want to be doing– but also, the scene had nothing to do with Mecha shooting at each other! I think Keven Siembieda is again tipping us off to a critical aspect of the game’s default mode of play.
  • You get to the end of the sample play passage and he reveals that what he has been doing is game mastering for you. This says to me that role-playing is so complicated, you just can’t explain it. Not without scaring a new player off. Keven Siembieda chooses to deal with that by giving you a brief glimpse and then turning you loose. Well… I don’t think I really got it when I was a kid. As an adult, however, I find his irrepressible enthusiasm to be refreshing. He really does act like the whole idea of role-playing games is just the best thing ever.

Just going by this one page, this game is completely, mind-numbingly insane. I mean, if I was going to make this game… it is absolutely unlike anything I would think to do. That this made sense at one time does not make sense. I love it!


11 responses to “A Quick Look at the Palladium Robotech RPG (1986) — Introduction

  1. MishaBurnett July 23, 2015 at 6:10 am

    I vaguely recall doing character creation for this game once. It was one of those campaigns that never got off the ground, for one reason or another. (The gaming group was mostly composed of people with retail and food service jobs and I think that changing work schedules made setting a regular evening impossible.)

    If I remember correctly, we had four or five players–one of whom was familiar with the system–and a GM. We had one copy of the rulebook and a couple of copies of character sheets which we used as templates to write our own on lined notebook paper.

    Mostly I remember a lot of confusion, passing the rulebook back and forth and paging through it looking for particular sections. In fact, I’m not entirely certain that we all managed to finish making characters, despite spending several hours on it.

    I’d like to look over the book again to see if it’s really as conterintuatively complicated as I remember it.

  2. Charlie Warren July 23, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Great post! I had this game and you brought back some great memories. I’m thinking of picking up the new version because my original copy disappeared during my time in the Army. Your thoughts on Palladium are spot on. I know some people like to bash them and their system but Robotech and Palladium Fantasy are great games.

    • jeffro July 23, 2015 at 10:01 am

      I would totally run Palladium Fantasy. I think it’s a great fit for a convention game.

      • Charlie Warren July 23, 2015 at 6:14 pm

        Oh Hell YES! Palladium Fantasy is probably my favorite fantasy game. It struck a powerful chord with my group back in the day. Other fantasy games might serve as a minor distraction BUT Palladium Fantasy grabbed ahold of our imaginations and had us put our D&D/AD&D games in hold so we could devote more time to it. I really think Palladium Fantasy doesn’t get the attention or support it should. I would pick up a nice hardbound anniversary reprint of the original edition in an instant!

    • jeffro July 23, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      Do you have strong feelings with regard to the various editions of Palladium Fantasy…?

      • Charlie Warren July 23, 2015 at 7:01 pm

        I’ve only played and/or owned the original. I never bought the revised first edition or the second edition. Simply put, no strong feelings in regards to the various editions. I keep meaning to pick up second edition but I just have not yet. I know a few of the posters on the official boards have some strong opinions regarding one or the other. Honestly, I’ve been somewhat leary because I don’t want to tarnish my memories of the old games and campaigns. Any input or particular insights? Your opinion ranks very high with me so I’m all ears…

    • jeffro July 23, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      I’m leaning towards the edition with the red dragon on the black cover– that’s the one I wanted to buy when I was a kid.

  3. JC Locke July 23, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Ive been collecting and playing his line of books for years. His Robotech line, is in my mind the real and only set where his rules tend to make the most sense. Barring Fantasy, anything else with a Sci Fi slant tends to be over powered, and unbalanced.

    But, I will say this. Given his old style/old school rpg rulesets whichhe still sells today, his source material for anything he has ever done is brilliant. For example, his bread and butter RIFTS, is pure gold when it comes to the setting. Love the settings, Love the concepts, Love the ideas, but the rules set, not so much. He almost got it right with Rifts Ultimate, a few years back but failed to streamline them as much as he could have. IMO.

    But the Robotech line, works pretty much bang on…. here, he got it right.

    • jeffro July 23, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      That’s a minority opinion judging from comments elsewhere, but the system looks like OD&D trying really hard to become GURPS. All those genres with a low-complexity ruleset– I’m not surprised there were a yard of Palladium books at game stores for multiple decades.

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