Friday, February 21, 2014
If I Were King
I think big fans of pretty much any property eventually find themselves fantasizing about being in charge of whatever it is that they're into. Most people probably do it for their favorite sports team. I'm a big nerd, so I do it for things like comics and RPGs.
It's virtually impossible that I would ever find myself running Palladium Books. It's literally impossible that I would find myself doing so with unlimited funds. But let's suppose I did. What would I do?
Revise the Palladium System. Note that I didn't say I'd do away with Palladium's much-derided house system. I'd revise it -- clean it up, reorganize it, streamline it, speed up play, make it more logical and consistent -- all of those things, but I wouldn't switch to an entirely new system. I'd want at least a semblance of backward compatibility, because there's a massive amount of material using that system, and there's next to no chance of being able to revise and republish all of it.
Encourage fan-made material and conversions. Palladium already have their own print magazine, The Rifter, in which they publish fan submissions as well as "official" material. However, they have the most restrictive online policy in the industry, and aggressively threaten those that publish anything that converts Palladium material to other game systems or vice versa with legal action. I'd reverse that stance. I'd also encourage people to post conversion guidelines for whatever system they like and to make them widely available, with the hope that if these conversions are available, people will be more likely to pick up Palladium products and run them with the system of their choice.
Focus on Rifts. Rifts is almost certainly the most popular of Palladium's RPGs, so I'd devote most of the company's energy to it. Play up its central role in the Megaverse. The other games, like Heroes Unlimited, Palladium Fantasy, Dead Reign, and the rest would get updated to the new system as well, but I'd place a lower priority on reissuing every single supplement for those games. Make sure that characters from those games are usable in Rifts with as little fuss as possible, without just powering them up to Rifts' level. Include easter eggs from those other games in Rifts' setting, and (maybe) vice versa. Edit: On second thought, I'm not so sure about this. Palladium tried something like it with Palladium Fantasy, 2nd edition, and it ended up being inferior to the original in almost every way.
Take Rifts seriously. I don't mean that I want a grim, hard sci-fi take on Rifts. It's a "gonzo" game in many ways, and that's okay. But it's also okay to think about the hows and whys of the setting, and to try to suspend disbelief within the constraints of that setting. I know it's a game where giant mecha can throw down with dragons and gods, but that doesn't explain how the New German Republic is able to deliver goods across the Atlantic to North America in a demon-infested world with no infrastructure (for one example).
Stop the EPCOT approach. Early on, Rifts was a game with some truly wild ideas, like Mexico being ruled by vampires, or a re-arisen Atlantis being a base of operations for an interdimensional slave trade. Subsequent books took a lazier approach -- too often, they took a region of the world (Japan), took the most superficial/stereotypical aspects of it (ninjas), and slapped some Rifts trappings onto them (resulting in Ninja Juicers and Ninja Glitter Boys). If there isn't a compelling, original idea for a part of the world, wait until there is one. Don't rush Rifts Greenland into print just because it's a blank spot on the map. Loosen editorial control and get more talented freelancers with distinct voices working on the game.
Make nicer-looking products. Palladium Books has a long track record, only recently interrupted, of having some of the coolest artwork in the industry. Unfortunately, the layout and graphic design is uninspiring, or worse. I'd like to see Palladium continue to publish primarily black-and-white, softcover books, since they have a lower price point, but that doesn't mean they can't have attractive, modern interior layouts and cover designs. Re-use only the best older artwork for the new versions of the games, invite some of the best artists that Palladium has worked with in the past to contribute new pieces, and track down fresh new artists. There are tons of them online looking for work.
Get into other media. The most successful thing Palladium has been involved in recently was the Robotech Tactics minis game on Kickstarter. A Rifts game along the same lines seems worth pursuing. Also, give up on the Rifts movie and instead try to start an animated series -- something that might appeal to the adolescents that were once Palladium's core audience, but that would be smart enough to interest adults as well. Robotech did it in the 80s, and shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender have pulled it off more recently.
Is all of this stuff possible, or even a good idea? Probably not. At the end of the day, most of this is just fanboy ramblings. But I like to think that at least some of it makes sense.