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


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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.
And I'll reiterate mine - old RPGs tended to assume players would work things out for themselves, either before play when reading the rules, or during play as a form of emergent discovery - they learn something important about the game universe. That they also require the GM to have spotted these things and allowed for them in their game for the game world to remain consistent is perhaps unfortunate (and GMs not foreseeing certain 'broken' possibilities is the course of many old tales of campaigns going badly off the rails).


Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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That they also require the GM to have spotted these things and allowed for them in their game for the game world to remain consistent is perhaps unfortunate (and GMs not foreseeing certain 'broken' possibilities is the course of many old tales of campaigns going badly off the rails).
That 'unfortunate' part reads to me an awful lot like inadequate playtesting. But that's not a distinctive feature of 'old school' games.


Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Weapon Proficiencies are seventeen skills which each give bonuses to strike (ie hit with the weapon in melee), throw (ie hit when throwing the weapon at a distant opponent) and parry for melee weapons and throwing weapons. Missile weapons get bonuses to hit and multiple shots a minute instead. Just in case there’s anyone reading this who isn’t familiar with the Palladium Books house system, it’s worth pointing out that a character can freely use any weapon without a proficiency: the weapon proficiencies literally just provide the bonuses mentioned above. They are available to the following classes (weapon proficiencies never have class bonuses in this book).

Most of the weapon proficiencies are available as elective skills to all arms classes, the exceptions being
  • lance (only a class skill for knight and palladin: not available to any other class)
  • longbow (a class skill for longbowman and only available as an elective to ranger: not available to any other class)
  • small shield (which is a class skill for mercenary and soldier and an elective for all other arms classes, as well as a class skill for squire and an elective for all other classes except peasant and merchant)
  • large shield (a class skill for knight and palladin: not available to any non-arms class except noble).
For the non-arms classes, availability is a bit more spotty (apart from squire and small shield, there are no class-skill weapon proficiencies for non-arms classes):
  • throwing axe is available to everyone except scholar, merchant, warlock and druid
  • battle axe is not available to optional classes (except noble), wizard and diabolist among the magic classes or druid among the clergy (druid can take ‘W.P. Axe (stone)’ but there is no listing for that skill unless you count the 1988 supplement to a different Palladium Books game, Mutants Down Under; the one stone axe listed in the weapons list on pp45-46 is very similar to the oncin pick also listed under axes, so presumably covered by WP battle axe)
  • ball and chain is only available to noble
  • blunt and knives are available to every class
  • polearms is only available to priest
  • spears/forks is available to squire, all magic classes except wizard and mind mage, and all clergy
  • short sword is available to all classes except druid
  • large sword is available to merchant, noble, all magic classes except wizard and diabolist, and all clergy except druid
  • staves is available to all classes except summoner
  • sling is available to all classes except squire, scholar and merchant
  • shortbow is available to squire, noble, warlock and all clergy
  • crossbow is available to all classes except peasant.

So weapon proficiencies, like the horsemanship and hand-to-hand skills, seem to fall somewhere in between skills proper and class features. A couple (lance and longbow) are basically class features, while some are available to every class (blunt and knives) or unavailable only to one class (short sword, staves, crossbow). A couple are available to only one non-arms class (ball and chain and polearms). The rest are available to a smattering of non-arms classes.


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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.
More fur minutiae: I have information on fur prices in early fifteenth-century Venice, from Phillippe Dollinger's The German Hansa.

Sable was 82 ducats per 100 skins.
Marten was 30 ducats/100.
Beaver varied from 12-14 ducats/100.
"Choice grey squirrel" was 6-7 ducats/100.
Lynx was 5.5 ducats/100.
Otter or weasel was 5 ducats/100.
Squirrel was 3-4 ducats/100.

It's implied that rabbit was around the same 3-4 ducat price as low-grade squirrel.

Erik Sieurin

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Being over-pedantic: the high-priced "grey" squirrel was red squirrels with winter fur, so it's what you get as a trapper during the right time of the year. The actual grey squirrel is native to north America, and was unknown to hunters there, of course...

...something that probbly doesn't apply to the Palladium world, since I assume the wilderness will be more inspired by the author's home country, besides being fantasy.


Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Bonuses to strike. Most weapon proficiencies give +1 at first level, the exceptions being throwing axe, knives (which both give a bonus to throw at first level: see below) and the two shield proficiencies; small and large shield are the last to get a strike bonus, at third level. The strike bonuses top out at between +5 (throwing axe and knives) and +8 (lance). There is a typo in the table for staves: ninth and tenth level both introduce a +4 strike bonus. Looking at the pattern of bonuses for this and other tables, I think the tenth level bonus should be +4 to parry, which would make the staves parry bonuses identical to the polearms parry bonuses (I’m assuming that interpretation here and below). The overall strike bonuses are, from best to worst,
  1. lance
  2. battle axe, ball and chain and blunt (which all share the same strike bonus progression)
  3. polearms, spears/forks, small and large swords and staves (which all share a progression)
  4. small and large shield (which have the same progression)
  5. throwing axe and knives (which share a progression).
The damage done by the various weapons lines up with the strike bonuses quite well, with the best damage coming from polearms, large swords and ball and chain. (A knight or palladin on horseback would do more damage with a goupillon flail or a flamberge than a lance.) So the restrictions on who can have the ‘best’ weapon proficiencies for attacking is a real difference between classes: wizard, diabolist and druid are barred from the best attack proficiencies with the most damaging weapons.

Bonuses to parry. Most weapon proficiencies give nothing at first level, the exceptions being spears/forks, short sword and small shield (which all start at +1) and large shield (which starts at +2). The other proficiencies catch up eventually, with the last to get a parry bonus (at fourth level) being throwing axe and ball and chain. Parry bonuses top out at between +4 (ball and chain) and +9 (both shields). The overall parry bonuses are, from best to worst (and with a note listing which weapon proficiencies give a better strike bonus overall than the parry bonus),
  1. large shield – none of the weapon proficiencies give strike bonuses better overall than large shield’s parry bonus
  2. small shield – none
  3. large sword – lance
  4. spears/forks – lance
  5. polearms and staves (which share the same parry bonus progression) – lance, battle axe, ball and chain, blunt, polearms, spears/forks, short and large sword, small and large shield
  6. short sword – all
  7. blunt – all
  8. battle axe, knives and lance (which share a progression) – all
  9. throwing axe – all
  10. ball and chain – all.
Large sword edges out ball and chain and polearms in terms of utility here, since the most damaging weapons in all three categories are two-handed, precluding the use of a shield. A more defensively-minded fighter might wish to use a shield and settle for a (less damaging) one-handed weapon, such as a mace and chain or even a one-handed battle axe.
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Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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The basic strike-and-parry procedure (see below) is, of course, that each side rolls 1d20 (plus any relevant bonuses) and the attack hits if that is the higher roll (and if it’s over the – usually low – threshhold to hit at all). So, if the total strike bonus and total parry bonus are equal, it’s not quite fifty-fifty since the defender wins ties: there’s just under a 48% chance of the attacker succeeding. But, if the defender has a better parry bonus than the attacker’s strike bonus, that chance drops to
  • under 43% (for a one-point difference)
  • under 39% (for a two-point difference)
  • 34% (for a three-point difference)
  • 30% (for a four-point difference).
A parry bonus four points higher than the attacker’s strike bonus can happen with weapon proficiencies at the same level if it’s an attacker using a throwing axe or knife in melee and a defender with a shield. Otherwise, that and greater differences imply a defender with a higher-level proficiency than the attacker.

(That’s looking at the weapon proficiencies only. Including the bonuses from hand-to-hand combat skills, parry bonuses are hugely greater overall: the average parry bonus across nine hand-to-hand skills is around three-quarters, overall, of the average across thirteen melee weapon proficiencies. The average strike bonus across nine hand-to-hand skills is about a tenth the size of the average parry bonus and less than 7% of the average strike bonus across thirteen melee weapon proficiencies. In terms of points of bonus, that means hand-to-hand training, averaged across fifteen levels and nine skills, gives parry bonuses about two points better than strike bonuses. So even the weapon proficiencies with the less good parry bonuses are pretty good, and you’re probably looking at a best (or worst) case scenario for proficiencies at the same level of a 26% or 23% chance to land a blow, that is, one chance in four rather than one chance in three.)

The rules for shields (which treat them as just another type of weapon, although the book does say a shield will need to be replaced every one-to-three months of use, depending on what it’s made of, unlike any other weapon) imply that a character can wield a weapon in one hand and wear a shield on the other arm in combat. I suppose this, in turn, implies that a character could wield two one-handed weapons. The most obvious reason to do this would be to benefit from the best available strike bonus and the best available parry bonus – which would mean, for all classes except peasant and merchant, you’d be better off with a weapon and a shield – but you could also do it to take advantage of two different special weapons. For instance, if you had a dwarven mace and chain with a +5 damage bonus and a cutlass that shoots fireballs, you could wield both in the same combat and use either freely. (Book III: Adventures on the High Seas – which was the third supplement for this game, first published in 1987 – introduces more weapon proficiencies, notably the weapon proficiency ‘Paired Weapons’. This skill enables a character to strike and/or parry with two weapons – or a weapon and a shield or, presumably, two shields – simultaneously. This replaces the ‘free’ parry hand-to-hand combat skills, or possibly certain classes – see below – provide.)
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Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
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Bonuses to throw and missile weapon bonuses to strike: no ranges for thrown weapons are given anywhere in this book but Book III gives thrown weapon ranges on p11 (there are still no ranges given for thrown shields or lances, though: I’d be inclined to say thirty feet but the fifty foot range given for polearms makes me think that maybe Siembieda would have shields fly around like frisbees, comics fan that he is). Using that information, the ranges for missile and thrown weapons are, from longest to shortest:
  1. longbow (800’ – minimum attribute score to close or escape in one minute is Spd 14)
  2. crossbow (700’ – Spd 12)
  3. shortbow (480’ – Spd 8)
  4. sling (300’ – Spd 5)
  5. spears/forks (120’ – Spd 2); javelin is given a range of 200’ – Spd 4
  6. throwing axe (80’ – Spd 2)
  7. knives (60’ – Spd 1)
  8. polearms (50’)
  9. ½ lb rocks (20-40’)
    • blunt (30’)
    • dart (30’)
    • short sword (30’)
  10. staves (20’)
  11. large sword (15’)
  12. ball and chain (12’)
(Book III also introduces ‘W.P. Targeting’, which gives an additional to-hit bonus and extra range for the seven top weapons on the above list, plus improved range – but no throw bonus – for darts.)

The different ranges definitely suggest a divide between missile weapons (with ranges of at least a hundred yards) and thrown weapons (with ranges of up to forty-plus yards but a median and modal range of ten yards). But (see the combat rules below) there aren’t any tactical movement rules in this book and the assumption seems to be that the game is played without maps or miniatures, so weapon ranges are more about the shared imagined space than definite measurements. The minimum Spd scores listed above illustrate that the main explicit mechanical difference here is that a slow character may be caught in range of a missile weapon and be unable to close – or get out of range – before being shot.

(Nearly 85% of troglodytes and nealy 56% of wolfen have a Spd score of 14 or more, which presumably would mean it would usually come down to the initiative roll between a troglodyte or a wolfen and an archer with a longbow – see the combat rules below. The majority of races, rolling three dice for Spd, have just over a 16% chance of longbow speed, nearly a 38% chance of crossbow speed, nearly an 84% chance of shortbow speed and over a 98% chance of sling speed. The slow races – dwarves, trolls, changelings and gnomes – have only a 2% chance of longbow speed but still have over an 83% chance of sling speed.)

So, in summary, I think it’s worth comparing the bonuses for throwing melee (and specialised throwing) weapons alongside the bonuses for slings and bows. (I suppose the main tactical reason for throwing a sword or whatever instead of using a javelin or even a bow would be to take advantage of some special property of the weapon.)
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