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

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
We have to agree to disagree, then. I think further discussion would just muck up your thread, Let's get back to your let's read!
You are certainly right that dysfunctional play can involve using skills the way you describe. I'm trying though, in this thread, to read the book sympathetically, which means assuming and imagining rewarding play informed by the text at hand.

...there is no penalty for failure....
Penalty for failure can mean several things, of course. You could well have a game where the character suffers a penalty for failing a skill roll but the player experiences it as an enrichment of the play experience. Or vice versa, of course.
 
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Erik Sieurin

Translemurist
RPGnet Member
Validated User
You are certainly right that dysfunctional play can involve using skills the way you describe. I'm trying though, in this thread, to read the book sympathetically, which means assuming and imagining rewarding play related to the text at hand.
You have done so admiringly - I'm just providing curmudgeonly commentary!
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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There is no listing for the cost of most animal skins or carcases in the general price list on pp44-50, only in the ‘animals’ section on pp238-243, which makes me think the amounts are supposed to be the money you can get selling these pelts and carcases rather than what you would pay for them. The listing in the price list for a ‘whole’ rabbit or squirrel is eight gold, while the bestiary says that a squirrel is worth fifteen gold for the fur and ten for the meat, while a rabbit is the reverse. (This does rather call into question the possibility of playing a merchant character.) Bear skins range from two hundred to six hundred gold in value, depending on species. (The meat is worth between one hundred and fifty and four hundred). Wolf skins are worth between forty and sixty, deer skins are worth two hundred (venison is given no monetary value in the bestiary but the price list puts it at thirty gold for just a leg: maybe the merchants use the high buying price on squirrels to get the trappers in the door then rip them off on the price of deer). Interestingly, there is no discussion anywhere in this book of the commercial possibilities of trapping and skinning people, despite all the detailed figures on the prevalence of cannibalism. I might assume that this is due to the author not wanting games to go to those sorts of places except there are prices given for body parts of dragons, faeries, demons, devils, unicorns, elves, angels, gods, godlings, goblins, wolfen and wizards, all of which are intelligent (sapient, whatever) beings.

Book II p16 also specifies that it takes about five minutes to set a trap and rolling successfully against the relevant skill percentage means it is set properly.The random game animal table is then rolled on once for every eight hours. If a small animal is caught in a small animal trap or a large animal is caught in a large animal trap, it’s a success: no more details of the process are mentioned.

If a large animal is caught in a small animal trap, there is a percentile table to roll on, with an 80% chance the trap is damaged or gone and a 5% chance the animal is caught ‘and extremely hostile’, which raises a question about whether animals in the appropriate sorts of traps might also be hostile: squirrels and mink have combat stats in this game.

If a small animal is caught in a large animal trap, there is a different percentile table to roll on, with an 18% chance the trap is sprung and empty, a 30% chance the bait is gone and an 11% chance the animal is dead (and has a damaged pelt).

So, for practical purposes, it seems like you need to roll the appropriate sort of animal for your trap before you roll the wrong sort, unless your large animal trap gets a small animal but the trap is unaffected. The random game animal tables are different for different terrain and they are specifically for Timiro and the Old Kingdom but, assuming they are all typical for trapping in general, there is a mean 27% chance of rolling ‘none’, a mean 31% chance of rolling large game and a mean 39% chance of rolling small game (there are a couple of results on the mountain table that aren’t either type of game).

Crunching the numbers, that gives a probability of success in the first eight hours with trap/skin small animals for a ranger of 16% at the first level they take the skill, rising to 41% by ninth level and topping out at 45%. The ranger has a probability of their trap being wrecked of 72% at the first level, dropping to 50% at fifth level and bottoming out at 20%. They have a probability of the trap still being intact and unsprung after eight hours of 11% at the first level, rising to 31% at the fifteenth. (Obviously these figures are rounded to the nearest percentage point but there is also a chance of something that I don’t think the rules cover, such as a giant spider or a cockatrice.)

The comparable figures for trap/skin large animals are somewhat similar: a ranger has a probability of catching a large animal in eight hours of 9% at the first level they have the skill, rising to 33% by the fifteenth; a probability of the trap being wrecked (or the bait being lost) of 77% at the first level, dropping to 17% by the fifteenth; and a probability of the trap being still set after eight hours of 13% at the first level, rising to 46% by the fifteenth.

These numbers make casual trapping pretty unappealling but a first level peasant could use their fifty starting gold to buy five small animal traps and set them to catch rabbits or whatever every night. Five chances at a probability of 12% each means you could expect to catch 60% of a rabbit on average, earning nine gold for the meat (which you could then use to buy a dead rabbit to eat and have one gold in change) and earning a mean of one gold for the pelt (taking into account the probability of failing to properly preserve the pelt). You’d have to get bait from somewhere, though.

There aren’t really any spells or abilities that substitute for the trap/skin animals skills: there are spells that create food and can ensnare animals but the whole set a trap, leave it overnight, come back to skin an animal and sell the pelt cycle is a bit longer-term than most of the magic in this game.
 

Rupert

Active member
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You shouldn't need to bait rabbit traps. Set snares on a rabbit run, and let them just run into and trigger them. You might get other animals as well, but the odd rat (worth very little) should be balanced by the occasional mustelid.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
You shouldn't need to bait rabbit traps. Set snares on a rabbit run, and let them just run into and trigger them. You might get other animals as well, but the odd rat (worth very little) should be balanced by the occasional mustelid.
Good to know. So the trap/skin small animals skill is (apart from the price discrepancy) potentially a reasonable way to make a living by the book.
 

Erik Sieurin

Translemurist
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Ridiculous minutae: Red squirrel fur gets nicely silver gray during winter and was an important export article from the Baltic region in medieval times. (It was one of the foundations for Gotland's status as a big trading hub in Northern Europe). I guess the fur merchants made the main dough off it, but it's not strange a trapper can get more for squirrel fur than rabbit, if the furriers in Palladium World have similar aesthetics as in medieval Europe. And IRL most hunters made their traps out of basic material in the forest, and bait may be plucked from the wilds (squirrels like mushrooms, bird eggs and berries, besides nuts and pinecones, for instance). Though by Palladium standards that's probably another skill roll, come to think of it.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Ridiculous minutae: Red squirrel fur gets nicely silver gray during winter and was an important export article from the Baltic region in medieval times. (It was one of the foundations for Gotland's status as a big trading hub in Northern Europe). I guess the fur merchants made the main dough off it, but it's not strange a trapper can get more for squirrel fur than rabbit, if the furriers in Palladium World have similar aesthetics as in medieval Europe. And IRL most hunters made their traps out of basic material in the forest, and bait may be plucked from the wilds (squirrels like mushrooms, bird eggs and berries, besides nuts and pinecones, for instance). Though by Palladium standards that's probably another skill roll, come to think of it.
That's great information to have. I suppose you could call for an identify plants/fruit skill roll but I'd be more inclined to say it's covered by the trap/skin small animals skill roll.

Thinking about IRL and the setting of this game, this is one of those things that I think is very rarely made explicit in games influenced by D&D: the setting is usually informed by medieval europe but also other things (notably, in D&D itself, 'wild west' fiction about frontiers and so on). Using real life historical information can be very enriching but I think there needs to be a certain amount of anachronism for that authentic 'dungeon fantasy' tone.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Use poison is available as an elective to all arms classes except mercenary, longbowman and palladin, all magic classes except wizard and all clergy classes (of the optional classes, it’s only available to scholar). Assassin gets +15%, scholar and priest of gods of darkness get +10%, priest of gods of light gets +8%, summoner +6%, witch, diabolist and healer +4%. The skill gives one percentage, which is the chance of ‘inflicting’ any poison or toxin. A failed roll gives the character a 30% probability of ‘having inflicted himself’. The percentage starts at 8%, rises to 56% by seventh level and is over 90% by thirteenth. Those are quite small probabilities and the 30% chance of a character poisoning themselves if they fail a skill roll is pretty high: at first level, it means an overall 28% chance of poisoning oneself, dropping below the chance of actually succeeding in the skill roll by third level but not falling to less than 10% till ninth level. With the assassin class bonus, the overall chance of poisoning oneself starts at 23% – equal to the chance of using poison successfully – but still doesn’t fall below 10% until seventh level.and doesn’t fall to less than 1% until tenth level.

There are some detailed descriptions of poisons on p138, which are divided into two sections: ingestive poisons, which must be fed to the target and take 2d4 minutes to work, and other poisons, which must either be introduced through ‘a cut, wound or injection’ or work on contact (only one of the listed poisons works on contact). All the listed poisons are subject to the standard poison saving throw of 14 (with a bonus for exceptional PE). Nothing is said about coating arrowheads or blades or whatever with poison so I suppose it’s just a question of rolling against this skill.

The book says ‘most’ ingesitve poisons are ‘colorless or nearly colorless’ and ‘all are quite deadly’. Nothing is said about how easy they are to mix into food or drink: I assume that means you just have to roll a success with this skill. Nothing is said, either, about how many doses can possibly be put into one goblet of wine or dish of stew: I suppose the ‘quite deadly’ evaluation is for one dose. The ingestive poisons described (with effect and cost for one dose) are
  • hemlock: has a ‘heavy, sweet odor and taste’, does 4d8+10 damage (mean 28), costs 100 gold (nearly 3.6 gold per hit point)
  • nightshade: has a ‘slight taste, virtually no odor’, 5d8+10 damage (mean 32.5), 200 gold (nearly 6.2 gold per hit point)
  • mandrake: has a ‘bitter taste, virtually no odor’, 4d8 damage (mean 18), 100 gold (nearly 5.6 gold per hit point)
  • dragon’s venom: has a ‘slight after taste and no odor’, 8d8+10 damage (mean 46), 300 gold (over 6.5 gold per hit point)
  • viper (this is viper venom, I assume): has a ‘slight tart taste, slight odor’, 6d8 damage (mean 27), 150 gold (nearly 5.6 gold per hit point)
All of the notes about taste and odour are fun – I like how there are poisons that taste sweet, tart and bitter – but the (secondary) recognise poison skill (see below) makes no distinction between the difficulty of recognising a poison that has a ‘heavy’ taste and odour and recognising one that has a ‘slight’ aftertaste and no odour.

As for the assertion that ‘all are quite deadly’, an average changeling would survive an average poisoning with one dose of mandrake from fourth level upwards, with viper from sixth level, with hemlock from seventh, with nightshade from eighth and with dragon’s venom from twelfth. An average human, elf, (hob-)goblin, orc, troglodyte or wolfen would be one level ahead of the changeling (eg surviving an average poisoning with one dose of mandrake from third level) and an average dwarf, kobold, ogre, troll or gnome would be one level ahead of that. So these poisons are all pretty deadly to ordinary people (without class levels) but, once you start levelling up, only some of them represent probable death from one dose, and that’s ignoring the possibility of the victim succeeding on their saving throw.

Humans, elves, (hob-)goblins, orcs, troglodytes, changelings and wolfen have a mean bonus to save against poison of very close to zero but dwarves, kobolds, ogres, trolls and gnomes have a mean bonus of nearer +1. Obviously, an individual character with an extreme exceptional PE score will save relatively easily: a character with PE 24 will have a 60% chance to save against poison. But the mean probabilities are closer to 38% for the races that roll four dice for PE and 35% – the basic chance of rolling the target number of 14 – for the other races. So a character making their save against poison is a significant possibility but, unless they’re extremely tough – with a PE score of 22 or more – it’s still less than an even chance and for characters in general it’s just over one chance in three.

Factoring in the probability of a successful save against poison, we find that a changeling, on average, would survive being poisoned with one dose of mandrake from second level, with one dose of viper or hemlock from fourth level, nightshade from fifth level and dragon's venom from seventh. A human, elf, (hob-)goblin, orc, troglodyte or wolfen would (on average) survive a dose of mandrake from first level, viper from second, hemlock or nightshade from third and dragon's venom from sixth. A dwarf, kobold, ogre, troll or gnome would survive a dose of mandrake, viper or hemlock from first level, nightshade from second and dragon's venom from fifth.
 
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Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
The ‘other’ poisons listed (all except witch bane – which is a contact poison – must be injected or introduced through a cut or wound) are
  • scorpion’s blood (not really scorpion’s blood but a mixture of venoms): ‘yellow/green color’, does 4d8 damage (mean 18), costs 120 gold (nearly 6.7 gold per hit point)
  • witch bane: 4d8+4 damage (mean 22), 150 gold (over 6.8 gold per hit point)
  • basilisk’s eye: 3d8 damage (mean 13.5) plus paralysis for 1d4x10 minutes with a 15% chance of permanent paralysis leading to death in 2d4 days, 100 gold (over 7.4 gold per hit point, not counting the value of the paralysis which, depending on circumstance and rolls, could mean instant death)
  • dragon’s breath: 6d8+6 damage (mean 33), 200 gold (nearly 6.1 gold per hit point)
It seems like a couple of these are outstanding for practical purposes. The contact poison would be ideal for tricks like smearing poison on a door handle to kill (or hurt) someone coming through the door, or even (if the GM allows it) smearing it on a glove to hurt or kill people by just touching them. But, assuming the usual trick is to coat weapons with poison to do extra harm with them, basilisk’s eye, with its ten-to-forty-minute paralysis, is much more effective than, well, any of the others. And it’s as cheap as any poison listed.

If you decide your seventh level assassin coats the tips of their crossbow bolts with some basilisk’s eye to shoot a lucrative target, they have a 71% chance of successfully using the poison but a 9% chance of accidentally poisoning themselves (maybe they scratch themselves with one of the poisoned bolts or get some poison on an open cut). They then have, on average, a 62-65% chance of failing their save against the basilisk’s eye, which means an overall chance of nearly 6% (at the outset) of failing the skill roll, poisoning themselves and failing the save. That’s 3d8 damage, which a seventh level character can laugh off (after about five days’ medical care) but also ten-to-forty minutes of paralysis, which might be awkward or worse, and a 15% chance of permanent paralysis and a lingering death. So, in conclusion, a seventh level assassin (one of the most accomplished poisoners it’s practical to actually play in this game), has nearly a 1% chance of poisoning themselves to death each time they use basilisk’s eye poison.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
I like the idea that even the best poisoners are actually risking killing themselves when using the most effective poisons. It does raise questions about the place of poisons in play, however: balancing extreme effectiveness with high probabilities of catastrophic failure isn’t terribly elegant game design because
  1. It disproportionately penalises player characters: if an NPC assassin dies while preparing to murder someone, the most extreme possible effect is that the GM decides the target just got lucky and nothing happens. If the GM has the assassin resurrected or another NPC come and try to do what the first one failed to, it devalues the death as a penalty against the GM that balances the effectiveness of poison. If, on the other hand, a player character assassin dies while preparing to murder someone, it leads to, at best, all the expense and effort for the players of getting the assassin resurrected. You can’t just roll up another assassin, even to replace a first level one, because of the low probability of a given character qualifying for the class.
  2. Some players will go for it regardless of the risk and either succeed in an extremely effective tactic (which may be disruptive to play) or fail catastrophically (which may also be disruptive to play).
I’m not suggesting that these rules should have been written differently: I quite like the idea that daring players will use risky tactics and disrupt situtations in the setting. But I do think the book would have benefitted from a little discussion of what the rules mean, even at the level of, ‘Using poisons is risky but extremely effective.’ I suppose it comes back to my refrain while reading this book: the intended meat of the game is not represented in the book, it’s assumed by the book. The book is supplemental in character.

Use poison is another skill, of course, for which priest of gods of darkness gets a (slightly) higher class bonus than priest of gods of light. Looking at the aggregate figures for which classes line up with gods of darkness and which with gods of light skill-wise we have only palladin and peasant on the extreme light end of the scale and thief, witch, mind mage and shaman on the extreme dark end. (Merchant is just as unskilled in gods-of-darkness skills as palladin and peasant but is still the only class that can’t take a skill which priest of gods of light is better at than priest of gods of darkness.) The second rank of good comprises longbowman, ranger, knight, squire, scholar, noble, wizard and druid while the second rank of evil comprises mercenary, soldier, assassin, warlock, diabolist, summoner and healer.

  • ‘Miasma’ (a second level air warlock spell also available on the main list), ‘Purple Mist’ (a first level water warlock spell), ‘Toxic Mist’ (a fifth level water warlock spell) and ‘Mist of Death’ (a sixth level air warlock spell) all create poisonous clouds; ‘Purple Mist’ has a 39% chance (once they’ve failed the saving throw) of knocking people out for 1d6 minutes. ‘Foul Water’ (a second level water warlock spell) makes water and other drinks mildly poisonous (one hit point of damage per ‘full glass of water’ plus a 27% chance of nausea and diarrhea). None of these seems like a close substitute for poisoning people in a mundane way, though.
  • ‘Curse/Boils’ (a seventh level spell off the main list) and ‘Curse/Fever’ (an eighth level spell off the main list) are both closer substitutes, to my mind, as they lead to disabling illness lasting days or weeks, but the thirty foot range makes them potentially less than subtle, unless you can arrange for a distraction while you cast them.
  • The curse class ability of priest of gods of darkness seems like a really close substitute for mundane poisoning: an object or place may be cursed, meaning anyone (up to two people per curse) ‘using’ the object or place suffers the effects. The curse must be spoken loudly but, since it will last 1d6 months per level of the priest, you can speak it when no-one’s around.
  • Wards of various kinds could also be used, of course, to hurt or kill people who touch certain objects. These are the gold standard in poison-subsitute magic, in my view, although the effects do scale with the level of the creator: they can inflict various effects, in sequence, and named people – as well as the creator – can be excluded. But I’ll get into detail about wards when I get to the diabolist class.
 
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