Do you want to know how it all began? Whether your interest is in the development of role-playing game publishers, game systems, or specifically in Palladium Books and their 'multiverse' ruleset that culminated in Rifts, there is a treat here for you. Back in the mists of time (well, 1981) Palladium Books published its very first game, The Mechanoid Invasion, which not only got them off to a flying start but also laid the groundwork for what was to become their house ruleset. Here, some 17 years later (this book came out in 1998), that book and its two sequels are presented in updated form, now fully-compatable with the entire Rifts megaverse and with an added bonus of some historical notes as well.
The book opens with some of those historical notes, a fascinating insight to those long-ago one-man-band efforts which over the course of time, inspiration and hard work grew into the company that we know today. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, when a lot of gamers wrote or modified systems to suit their tastes, Siembieda went a step beyond: when attempting to sell his idea to existing game companies, his gaming group talked him into going into business as a publisher for himself. Having already worked in publishing, he was aware of a new and cheaper production method, the 'perfect-bound' trade paperback, as large as other game books but not as expensive to make as hardbacks or full boxed sets; but even that was more costly than he could manage at the outset (Palladium claim the first game books in that format, but not until 1983). The discussion of production is interwoven with the game design choices that made that first product be a science-fiction epic rather than the fantasy that Siembieda mostly played, and yet the seeds were set for what developed into the entire megaverse.
The original plotline was simple, elegant and innovative. In the distant future, a remote colony of Earth settlers get attacked by overwhelming numbers of aliens, bent on eradicating these pesky bipeds. They're too far from the nearest military support to get help, so whatever they do to survive is up to them. Some did survive, against the odds, as the second book The Journey covers their solution: to hide out on their attackers' mother ship, rat-style behind panels and in access shafts... and this worked, given that the final volume Homeworld gives a glimpse of where the aliens came from, and showed that they too had problems, unconnected with pesky bipeds. That has not changed, indeed as you leaf through, the original books have been presented much as first written - although the spelling and proof-reading have improved. Notes are also provided to convert the material herein so that it may be used with other Rifts or Robotech books that you might have. Otherwise the compilation pretty much gives the effect of the original three books stuck together, rather than a major re-edit into a single coherent whole.
And so, on to that very first book, The Mechanoid Invasion. Straight in to possibly the most important part of a game mechanic, at least one with lots of combat: how do you determine how much damage a character can take before he takes a dirt nap? So here Armour Resistance, Structural Damage Capacity and Hit Points are explained in detail... and that's even before I'm told how to create a character to apply this all to! It's only after combat has been outlined that you get to find out the attributes that your character will have and how to roll them, followed by a discussion of the various Occupational Character Classes (OCCs) available - yes, the standard Palladium system of OOC and individual percentage-based skills derived from the one that you choose but developed separately is already there! However, those available are very combat-oriented, with a note commenting that although others had been considered, it did not seem likely that they would be playable given the situation... however, if heavy combat is anticipated, I think a team medic might come in handy - there's only a basic field medic-type skill given as an 'elective' (skills you can choose in addition to your main OCC 'trade' skills).
Next comes an interesting discussion of the role of experience points... even then, most available games concentrated on rewarding combat rather than planning or good role-playing, and the system proposed seeks to redress this, although it is - perhaps always will be - a more subjective exercise. With a note about how 'alignment' kept being left out of successive volumes as the original trilogy was published - perhaps it just wasn't that important! - the discussion moves on to psionic powers. Then comes a run-down on weapons and vehicles available - with the note that they are limited due to Gideon E being a 'peaceful colonisation project' (OK, so why so many combat-oriented OCCs?). This is followed by an introduction to Gideon E itself. It is a basically Earth-like planet, although hotter and with a thick atmosphere that causes irritation (at best) to anyone breathing it without a filter mask. While there are some biological notes on native species, it appears that invading Mechanoids have already defoliated much of the planet and many species have not survived. This section rounds off with some maps of Gideon E.
Then comes a chronological sequence of the Mechanoid invasion. The game is intended to start when the position of the human colonists is already desperate, hiding out in tunnels and preparing a last-ditch defense. Just to muddy the waters, we then hear that Gideon E is home to an alien race, the Rovers, who are a bunch of thieves and by and large hostile to the human colonists... at least, they rarely kill given that you cannot rob a dead mark again! Oddly, despite their primitive tribal scavenging lifestyle, they are not indigenous, although where they came from, when or how is unknown. Details of the main tribes are given, along with a few notable NPCs and details of how to generate a Rover character, should more adventurous players wish to play one.
Next comes an extensive section on the Mechanoids. Appearing as metallic constructs, each shell contains living as well as mechanical components. Here, basic information is given, that which more astute human colonists have discovered (many still think they are robotic in nature). More extensive information is contained in the Game Master's section, but characters should only discover such details during the course of the game. They are all well-designed and functional - and mostly downright unpleasant. It's not difficult to imagining loathing and hating them, even when they are not busy destroying all that you hold dear.
Next, straight on to the Game Master's Section, with all the inside information needed to run the Mechanoids... and what is a surprisingly moving summary of their origins and motivations for being what they have become. But there are more secrets to reveal, not least of which are the Ancients, the original inhabitants of Gideon E, who left a vast tunnel system behind them. There's a fair bit of detail about how these tunnels operate as a planet-wide transit system, but that's it. The end of the first book. It is up to the Game Master to take these tools provided and create from them exciting adventures, beyond the basic setting of 'Mechanoids invade Gideon E' there is nothing... and that's how I like it, no constraints, each game will be unique.
So, on to the second book, The Journey, which opens with a summary of information on game mechanics that was expounded on more fully in the first volume. This moves swiftly on to an updated timeline of the Mechanoid invasion. Things have been going from bad to worse and it appears that the Mechanoid's intent is to carve the planet into bits - literally. It's time to leave. Thus the plan to get aboard the Mechanoid mother ship is formulated.
Before they go, however, the human colonists have a few nasty surprises for the Mechanoids. Conveniently, some battle machines have turned up mislabelled as 'Agricultural Irrigation Pumps' - but these devices, called Balrog Destroyers, distribute death and destruction rather than water. Possibly too little, too late, but satisfying for the humans nonetheless. Oh, and the last remaining Ancient One popped up to lend a hand.
Next comes further information on the Mechanoids, again presented in two parts: one being what the characters might by now have discovered about them and the later part being additional information for the GM. The player Mechanoid section is followed by information and rules on new psionics, these being abilities of Level 4 which characters may well be ready to learn by now.
Back now to 'story' material in a section titled The Journey, looking at why such a desperate plan was hatched and what the characters might find when they finally penetrate the mother ship. Are they the only lifeforms scampering around like mice in the pipework? This is followed by extensive plans and specifications for the mother ship, the humans will have plenty of time during the journey to explore. There's also an interesting idea, of using a team in cold sleep whose capsules malfunctioned so that they were frozen for 200 years rather than the intended five, who wake up to find the descendants of the other humans who entered the mothership awake... could prove an interesting campaign concept, or intriguing opposition if still wishing to carry out their original mission to destroy the mother ship whatever it takes and regardless of anyone else's survival! There are also various mutants and survivors from the Rover alien race - and whoever else the GM pleases to add - to ally with or fight against, or indeed to play. Plenty of scope here... there's even a truly wierd race of energy beings who have taught some humans and Rovers to wield magic. Interestingly, this early magic system was drawn from the then unpublished Palladium RPG, and it has been modified out of all recognition since. Finally a Game Master section rounds out this second volume, with the low-down on the Mechanoids and how they interact with one another. There's also details of their computer system and other information, things characters may discover.
Straight on to the third part of the trilogy, Homeworld. Stating that some of the 'how to play' information originally presented has been omitted given that it's repeated from The Mechanoid Invasion, a selection of races which may be played is given. Mutants (from The Journey) or Rovers may also be played in this part of the game. And at last, there's finally a discussion of Alignment, which has been mentioned in passing earlier but never detailed properly! So here is the by-now well-known Palladium system based on how the individual comports himself in various situations. This is followed by some rules for insanity which comfortingly include those for curing it, when possible. Next comes a range of OCCs to chose from, along with all necessary information about skills, experience levels and so on.
The next section is titled 'Nightmare' and explains the background and current situation. After rampaging through known space, destroying humanity wherever they could find it for far too long, the Mechanoids have ceased to exist in less than a minute. Nobody knows why, or how. But some want to find out, and the place to do that is on their homeworld. No hard answers are given here: it is for each Game Master to determine, and for his players to find out. Beautifully open, again making each and every game unique.
Moving on to the starting point of this game, we meet the Nigelian Confederacy (and so discover why the races given earlier are the ones available for play!). This group, not well-regarded amongst other sentients, have placed the Mechanoid homeworld under their protection; hence they see it as their responsibility to investigate it and to this end they're hiring... and this is where the characters come in. More detail on available races, psionic abilities, starships and all manner of other equipment follow.
Finally, the Game Master section which introduces the Dionii - man-sized intelligent insects with as vicious an attitude towards humanoid life as had any Mechanoid. There's also more on the Mechanoids, and what they may have left behind them... including the explanation of what happened to them. And then it's over to you: create your adventure!
So what is presented is a sweeping epic in three parts spanning several hundred years or more. You'll need different characters for each of the three phases, and a clever Game Master will interlace connections which may not become apparent until the final die has been rolled. Here's a framework for memorable adventures, that has stood the test of time well.
[5 of 5 Stars!]