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[Let's Read] The Palladium Roleplaying Game, AKA Palladium Fantasy First Edition

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Locate secret compartments/doors is available as an elective to mind mage (+10%), shaman (+10%), thief (+6%), priest (+6% for priest of gods of darkness, +3% for priest of gods of light), scholar (+4%), mercenary, witch and healer. It gives a single percentage chance to do exactly what you would expect, starting at 6%, rising steadily to just over evens by ninth level and reaching 90% at fifteenth. It takes fifteen minutes to search ‘a 10ft area’. (There is no indication whether that means an area with a hundred square feet of floor space, a ten foot length of wall, a volume of ten foot radius or what. This is something that Palladium Books never changed, as far as I am aware: their games have always specified areas using linear measurements in a way that, to me at least, is very unclear.) There is a spell which can substitute: ‘Phantom Footman’, a fourth level air warlock spell, summons a minor elemental that has (among other abilities) an 89% chance to locate secret compartments and doors (better than a mind mage or shaman who’s had the skill for thirteen levels).

I didn’t mention this when I was looking at the horsemanship skill but I’m interested by the differential bonuses and availability of skills between priests of good and evil gods: they seem to be a handy indicator of which skills are for heroes and which for villains (which isn’t the same as which are for player characters and which are for NPCs, of course, but I think there is an implicit connection). Horsemanship (general) is available as an elective to priest of gods of light but not to priest of gods of darkness, meaning, presumably, that it’s suitable for good characters more than evil ones. Perhaps horse riding goes with goodness, or perhaps just knowledge and understanding of horses does. Locate secret compartments is available to priest in general but priest of gods of darkness gets twice the class bonus that priest of gods of light does. Perhaps finding hidden doors is a sneaky sort of thing to do? That would seem to imply that mind mage and witch are sneakier sorts than the other magic classes, that druid is the least sneaky of the clergy classes and that thief is the sneakiest of the arms classes. Makes sense to me.

Medical is a class skill for healer (+15%) and available as an elective to every other class except merchant: wizard gets +18%; priest of gods of light and druid get +10%; squire and summoner get +6%; priest of gods of darkness gets +5%; soldier, knight, assassin, scholar, warlock, mind mage and shaman get +4%; palladin and ranger get +2%. The skill gives two percentages, the first to diagnose and the second to treat. The diagnosis chance begins at 28%,rises to 52% at fourth level and reaches 90% at tenth, while the treatment chance begins at 32%, rises to 56% by fourth level and reaches 90% at ninth, but as I touched on above when discussing hit points, you would normally need to roll against both. The probability of succeeding on a diagnosis roll and then a treatment roll without any bonuses starts at 9%, rises to just less than evens by sixth level and tops out at 95%. With the healer class bonus, it starts at 20%, is nearly evens by fourth level and is a sure thing by ninth level. Of course, once a player has succeeded in their diagnosis roll, the GM may decide they don’t need to roll to diagnose again (because the character knows the diagnosis is correct) and they only have to re-roll against the treatment percentage if they fail the first time. But, as noted above, magical healing is much better for restoring hit points: anyone who has been taken down to zero or negative hit points and survived cannot be helped by use of the medical skill unless they have a PE score of 24 and at worst -1 hit points. No timescales are given for medical treatment but it can’t be quicker than the priest’s healing touch, let alone the mind mage’s ‘Heal Others’ power.

The main utility, as far as I can see, of the medical skill, is in dealing with medical problems for which no magical remedy is immediately available. That category would include diseases in most circumstances: although there is an eighth level spell that can cure disease, it costs the caster a point off their PE score.

Priest of gods of light gets double the class bonus of priest of gods of darkness: it makes sense that the medical skill would be a good skill in the good versus evil sense but I’m not sure what that implies about merchant, as the only class unable to take the medical skill.
 
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Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Pick locks is available as an elective to assassin (+7%), thief (+5%), wizard (+3%), mind mage (+2%), mercenary, longbowman, palladin, squire, scholar, merchant, noble, warlock, diabolist and summoner. It gives a single percentage chance, starting at 12%, rising to 50% by sixth level and 89% at fifteenth. Times are given for picking various kinds of locks (presumably, a player can roll again – barring adverse circumstances – but not until the appropriate time has been spent):
  • ‘lock and key’ locks take between one and two minutes
  • ’tumbler’ locks take between four and six minutes
  • ‘Pressure sensitive/tumbler/secret’ locks take eight minutes
  • ‘Trigger/trap’ types take twelve minutes.
I suppose ‘Trigger/trap’ refers to disarming mechanical traps, or maybe to locks with booby traps. A ‘tumbler’ lock is presumably a modern-style lock with tumblers operated by a key so ‘lock and key’, by contrast, must refer to warded locks or other ancient designs.

Pick pockets is available as an elective to all classes except ranger, palladin, scholar, merchant, priest of gods of light and druid. Thief gets +22%, assassin +10%, longbowman +7%, mercenary +5% and wizard +4%. It gives one percentage, which is the chance to ‘remove items from a person's body without the victim being aware of it’, with a note that a failed attempt carries a 67% chance of the target ‘recognizing the intent’. The percentage starts at 10%, reaches 50% at eighth level and ends up at 85%; a thief who takes the skill at first level has a better than even chance of success by fifth level and has a better than 90% chance by twelfth.

Priest of gods of light can’t take the pick pockets skill but priest of gods of darkness can. I suppose that might be because picking pockets, like finding secret compartments, is a sneaky sort of activity. The classes unable to pick pockets don’t line up totally with the ones unable to locate secret compartments/doors. The classes able to take both skills (disregarding priest) are mercenary, thief, witch, mind mage, shaman and healer. Those are our possibly-aligned-with-dark-gods classes, according to my hypothesis. The classes unable to take either are palladin, ranger, merchant and druid. I’m not sure about merchant because it sides with priest of gods of darkness over the medical skill, but I’ll provisionally accept the other three as possibly-aligned-with-gods-of-light classes.

Prowl is a class skill for assassin (+20%) and available as an elective to all other classes except knight, peasant, scholar and healer. Thief gets +15%, druid +8%, mercenary and witch +5%, longbowman, palladin, ranger, wizard, mind mage and priest of gods of darkness +4% and priest of gods of light +2%. The skill gives a single percentage, which is the probability of, well, the write-up hedges a bit but it does say, ‘An unsuccessful prowl means that the person has been spotted or heard.’ Implying that a successful roll against the percentage means remaining un-noticed. The percentage starts at 18%, rises to 54% by seventh level and 90% at thirteenth. An assassin would need to be third level to have an even chance of going undetected and would have a better than 90% chance by tenth level. A thief would need to have the skill for four levels to have an even chance of success. The book explains that a character cannot succeed with a prowl roll if they’re known to be present but they can use a distraction and, rolling their prowl skill successfully, ‘slip away’.

Prowl is, of course, another skill at which priest of gods of darkness is better than priest of gods of light. Looking at the other classes who can and can’t take it, I see that we’ve lost all our possibly-totally-aligned-with-gods-of-light classes but the possibly-mostly-aligned-with-gods-of-light classes are now ranger, knight, palladin, peasant, scholar and druid (ignoring merchant because they evilly can’t take the medical skill), while the top aligned-with-gods-of-darkness classes are now mercenary, thief, witch, mind mage and shaman. So that checks out.

Prowl (and sneaking around in general) can be quite powerful in combat in this game: the combat section says on p41:
Sneak attacks: No initiative roll for the first melee round. When someone sneaks up (prowl or attack from behind) on his opponent he has the initiative. The opponent is unaware that he is about to be attacked and has no time to prepare. The sneak attacker has the first strike. His victim stands totally unaware and does not even get a parry for the first strike. If the opponent survives the first strike he can gather his wits and strike back and/or parry the next strike, but still lacks initiative for that melee.
The text says ‘prowl or attack from behind’ but it seems to me that attacking someone from behind should often necessitate sneaking up on them, unless someone else is attacking them from the other side. If your character is a thief or assassin (or priest of gods of darkness who took the hand-to-hand skill at first level) of at least fourth level, you also get a crit when you attack from behind.
 
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Rupert

Active member
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Priest of gods of light can’t take the pick pockets skill but priest of gods of darkness can. I suppose that might be because picking pockets, like finding secret compartments, is a sneaky sort of activity. The classes unable to pick pockets don’t line up totally with the ones unable to locate secret compartments/doors. The classes able to take both skills (disregarding priest) are mercenary, thief, witch, mind mage, shaman and healer. Those are our possibly-aligned-with-dark-gods classes, according to my hypothesis. The classes unable to take either are palladin, ranger, merchant and druid. I’m not sure about merchant because it sides with priest of gods of darkness over the medical skill, but I’ll provisionally accept the other three as possibly-aligned-with-gods-of-light classes.
I'm amused by palladins being able to pick locks, but not pockets, while knights can pick pockets, but not locks. I'm also not sure why knights can't prowl but every other man of arms, including palladins, can. It seems a bit odd.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
I'm amused by palladins being able to pick locks, but not pockets, while knights can pick pockets, but not locks. I'm also not sure why knights can't prowl but every other man of arms, including palladins, can. It seems a bit odd.
I strongly suspect that Siembieda never sat down and compared the classes skill by skill. I think he probably looked at each class in isolation and went with his instinct as to which skills would be appropriate for that class. I could be completely wrong but that idea of how the classes were written up is what motivates my analysis of which classes have the same skill advantages as priest of gods of light and darkness: I think there is a lot in this book which is expressed purely through allusions and implications, on the understanding that the (implied) reader is familiar with a particular way of playing roleplaying games (which is the way Siembieda used in his 'Palladium of Desires' playtest campaign and probably the only way he experienced at the Detroit Gaming Centre).

Which is, as I've said before, why I'm fascinated by how the changing state of the hobby over the last thirty-five years has changed the meaning of this text.
 
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Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Presumably because of the combat utility of the prowl skill, there are quite detailed rules for prowling in armour (not in the prowl skill write-up but...) As well as a -2% modifier to your prowl percentage for every 40lb of weight carried, ‘chain and metal’ armour, ie all the heavy armour types, impose a -40% modifier to characters of arms classes. Characters from non-arms classes cannot use the prowl skill while in heavy armour, although squire is implied to count as an arms class for this purpose.

That’s according to the armour rules on p43. The wizard class write-up on p56 says that wizards reduce their prowl skill by three quarters while wearing heavy armour except chain mail, which reduces the skill by half (double mail gives the worse penalty). The other magic class write-ups all say they suffer the same armour penalties as wizard. The priest write-up on p142 says that priests who take a hand-to-hand skill are treated as an arms class for armour penalties. According to the druid class write-up, druids never wear armour heavier than a half-suit of chain, but no penalties are mentioned. The shaman and healer class write-ups say that shamans and healers reduce their prowl skill by three quarters while wearing any heavy armour (including chain mail), despite healers not being able to take the prowl skill.

Personally, I like the idea that combat-trained priests get the same armour penalties as arms classes: they are, in some ways, the equivalent to D&D clerics and they can take the same hand-to-hand training as arms classes. I’m not so sure about the other armour penalties detailed in the class write-ups: for one thing, reducing a skill percentage by three quarters is less of a penalty than subtracting 40% unless the original percentage is 53% or more, which means up to sixth level (third level for assassin; fourth for thief; fifth for druid, mercenary and witch). For another, those penalties have slight, fiddly variations: I think I prefer the rules on p43 with the caveat that priests with a hand-to-hand skill get the arms-class penalties.

(The description of magical, noiseless armour on p136 says that it imposes no prowl penalty. It does cost 12,000 gold more, though.)

Several spells and abilities can partially substitute for the prowl skill in one way or another.
  • ‘Shadow Beast’, a fifth level spell from the main list, summons a, well, beast which is invisible in shadow with a prowl percentage of 90% – better than a ninth level assassin – and, although visible in light, still has a 45% prowl – better than a second level assassin (it’s also pretty handy in a fight and can follow a simple instruction to steal something, kill someone or whatever).
  • ‘Shadow Walk/Meld’, another fifth level spell off the main list, makes the caster invisible and mostly invulnerable in shadow, granting a prowl percentage of 70% – better than a sixth level assassin.
  • ‘Silence’, a second level air warlock spell, creates a prowl percentage of 93% – better than a tenth level assassin – for everyone who can fit within a fifteen foot radius of the caster.
  • ‘Darkness’, a third level air warlock spell, adds a bonus of +16% – a boost nearly equivalent to three levels of experience – to the prowl skill of anyone in the darkness it creates.
  • A druid with a rodent totem receives, at second or possibly third level, a 57% prowl percentage – better than a fourth level assassin; a druid with a feline totem receives a prowl percentage of 80% – equal to an eighth level assassin.
Interestingly, none of the invisibility magic in this book mentions the prowl skill, although the skill write-up mentions using it to avoid being seen as well as to move without making a noise. I suppose invisibility is more useful if you can just stand somewhere and wait for someone to come close enough to be stabbed or whatever.
 
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Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Read/write (native language) is a class skill for wizard (+70%), scholar (+70%), noble (+50%), mind mage (+50%), palladin (+40%), diabolist (+40%) and summoner (+30%) and available as an elective to all other classes except peasant. Priest gets +30%, knight and merchant +20%, assassin, squire, warlock and shaman +10% and druid and healer +5%. The skill write-up doesn’t mention success or failure but instead says that ‘[t]he percentile number indicates the approximate degree of literacy.’ So perhaps players aren’t expected to roll against this skill as such. The percentage starts at 20%, rises to 50% by sixth level and 90% by fourteenth, but there is a note indicating that (in addition to any bonus for an exceptional IQ score, I supppose) a character with an IQ of 12 or higher (so nearly 38% of human, elf, dwarf, kobold, ogre, troll, changeling, gnome and wolfen characters and nearly 3% of goblin, hob-goblin, orc and troglodyte characters) gets a +10% bonus to this skill in particular. So all starting wizards and scholars with an IQ score of at least 12 (ie 60% of human, elf, dwarf, &c. wizards, just under 17% of goblin, hob-goblin, &c. wizards and all scholars) have at least 100% in this skill.

One rule worth noting is that any character with a read/write percentage of at least 55% (in the appropriate language) can use a magical scroll. Assuming a scroll written in the character’s native language, that would mean a first level palladin, scholar, noble, wizard, diabolist or mind mage; a second level summoner or priest (assuming the elective skill was taken at first level), a fourth level knight or merchant, a sixth level assassin, squire, warlock, druid, shaman or healer or a seventh level mercenary, soldier, longbowman, ranger, thief or witch. Scrolls are quite straightforward for higher level characters to produce:
  • ‘Scroll Creation’ is a tenth level spell from the main list. It takes ten hours to make a magic scroll using this spell: the scroll must be written on parchment (fifteen gold for a dozen nine-by-twelve-inch sheets: I assume a magic scroll fits on one) in ‘gold ink’ (it’s not clear how much that costs: gold leaf is a hundred gold an ounce but I would imagine ‘gold ink’ would have less actual gold in it). The scroll can be written in any language(s) the creator can write and the spell (which must be one the caster of ‘Scroll Creation’ knows) can have a strength of any level up to the creator’s actual level.
  • Diabolists can create scrolls from first principles (but only of spells they know so they need to have spent some time in a spellcasting class to have any content), and can make the spell’s strength up to sixth level or their spellcasting class level (the book says the character’s wizard level but that ignores the possibility of a warlock-, witch-, priest- or shaman-diabolist). I suppose the parchment, ink and time requirements are the same as for the ‘Scroll Creation’ spell. Incidentally, this would be another reason – apart from the excellent forgery skill bonus – for a high-level spellcaster to take a level in diabolist.
  • Priests of at least sixth level can create scrolls of any spell up to eleventh level (so any but spells of legend) that their deity knows, with a strength of up to twentieth level (subject to the deity’s spellcaster level, I think), using the prayer of intervention: this has a 54% chance of success at sixth level and can be used once a day. The prayer grants the knowledge to make the scroll so I assume the parchment, gold ink and ten hours of time are still needed.
Priests, apparently, do not sell scrolls but will barter them for other goods or services. Other scroll creators (incuding alchemists) sell them for two hundred gold per spell level plus one hundred gold per level of strength. The book says that only spells of first to third level are widely available in scroll form, and only with strengths of up to sixth level (ie scrolls you can just go out and buy will cost up to twelve hundred gold at most, making them a similar price range to magic potions). So a scroll of a first level spell at first level strength would only set you back three hundred gold. That might seem steep but a scroll of ‘Paralysis Bolt’ will (subject to the usual saving throw against magic) put down any one opponent within ninety feet, incapacitating them for six minutes (at first level strength) unless their player rolls a 19 or 20 to dodge. That would be a pretty good trick for a first level scholar, noble, diabolist or mind mage, and might be a better way to equip your palladin than heavy armour, at least in the short term.

Despite the wide availability of the read/write (native language) skill, there is magic which substitutes for it and the secondary read/write (additional language) skill (see below).
  • ‘Decipher Magic’, a first level spell on the main list, allows the caster to read ‘any magic book, scroll, inscription, text, rune or symbol’ for ten minutes per caster level.
  • Witch has a permanently active spell-like ability replicating that spell effect as a class feature.
  • The ‘Knowledge’ ward gives the ability ‘to read, speak and understand all languages’ for five minutes per level of the creator.
  • The ‘Knowledge’ power circle does the same, for fifteen minutes per level of the creator, and also grants the ability to write all languages.
 
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Manitou

Emperor of the Americas
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Hmm, never noticed how great Paralysis Bolt was. That's actually good idea for a scholar/noble/merchant to have.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Hmm, never noticed how great Paralysis Bolt was.
There are several low-level spells that are surprisingly effective. If your party gets the patronage of a church, though, you're really cooking with gas. High-level scrolls, healing and intelligence support all in exchange for services rendered. And the only downside is the church's sudden but inevitable betrayal.
 

Rupert

Active member
Validated User
Paralysis Bolt was the go-to spell for light-side Priests (seeing as they got to choose their spells), as I recall. Fairly effective, and non-lethal so one could safely use it in situations where lethal force might get you in trouble. Wizards had to rely of Cloud of Slumber, which while an AoE had a much shorter duration (and the AoE and continuing effect made it hard to tie up enemies who had been affected by it), until they could find/buy/otherwise obtain something more to their taste.
 
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