Sunday, April 25, 2010

WoW, I Really Like RoM

Anyone who has ever read my blog knows that, at one time, I was quite obsessed with playing World of Warcraft. I played it daily, for hours at a time for just shy of a year and half. This past January I finally got bored with it and broke my WoW addiction. I found myself months later, kind of jonesing for a MMO fix, but really not wanting to shell out the $15 per month fee to start my WoW account back up. I just wanted to play a couple of nights a week, not get sucked back into the pecking order for raids and heroic dungeons. So, I started searching the internet for free-to-play Massively Multiplayer Online games. My thinking was, if it is free-to-play, then I won't care so much if I don't get to play every day. I mean, part of my WoW addiction was fueled by the thought that I was paying $15 per month (and I usually paid in six month blocks), so I needed to play as much as possible to get my money's worth. Shortly before quitting WoW, I had dabbled a bit in Dungeons & Dragons Online, which had become free-to-play. I really didn't care very much for DDO, mainly because of the leveling limitations for free-to-play subscribers (the level cap was only 4 unless you paid real money to increase it). So, I began searching and found hundreds of free-to-play MMOs, most of which really didn't appeal to me because I've never particularly been a fan of Manga style artwork. One day, while reading one of my favorite webcomics I spotted a banner ad for a game called Runes of Magic, so I clicked the ad. The game looked fairly promsiing, and the most like WoW I had come across, so I decided to give it a try. I have now been playing RoM for a couple of weeks, and while I'll admit that I'm still learning the finer points of certain aspects, I really like it; in fact, I think I like it a bit more than I did WoW. So, here is my somewhat limited comparison of WoW vs. RoM and what I think each does better or worse than the other.

Similarities & Differences

First of all, let me just say that all MMOs have the same basic concept, that being rolling (1) a character and the leveling that character via questing and fighting monsters and other “bad guys”. In this aspect, RoM is no different than WoW. First level characters begin in a “starting zone” where they can accept a battery of quests that will get them to roughly level 10 before being given a final quest that usually involves taking a message to someone in a village or city near by that has another battery of quests available that will take the character to probably around level 20, and so on and so forth until the character reaches the highest level the game offers (called the “level cap”). For example, the current level cap for WoW while RoM's level cap was recently increased to 60 (it had previously been 55).

Many MMOs also allow the character to learn “secondary skills” or “professions” such as blacksmithing or tailoring, to name only two. RoM is no different from WoW in that it offers this aspect, but it differs greatly in that it allows a character to learn all of the various gathering and crafting skills, while WoW limits the character to only two professions (2). By allowing players to learn all of the gathering and crafting skills, RoM allows them to experiment with each before making the decision of which one to gain levels in beyond apprentice.(3)

Like WoW (and pretty much any other MMO), RoM does have Guilds. Guilds are basically groups of players that have banded together for mutual assistance. This assistance can take many forms, from sharing materials from the gathering skills to helping each other with quests, having a ready made group for doing dungeons that require five or more characters to survive, etc. What differs here is that RoM handles guilds more like Guild Wars with the entire guild having a level as group, being able to build a guild castle and being able to enter player-vs-player combat via guild castle sieges. This isn't really my cup of tea, to be honest, so I'm not going to lie to you – I've not researched this at all. I could be totally wrong in my comparison to Guild Wars. I played WoW on a PvP server, which was kind of fun, but I'm really not into the PvP thing anymore. So, you're just going to have to do some Googling on your own for how guilds and guild sieges work in RoM. Sorry.

Where RoM really stands out from WoW, in my opinion, is in item enhancements. Just like in WoW, as a character advances in RoM, he/she is able to equip better and better gear, and also has the chance to enhance that gear through other means. In WoW, item enhancement is done through either enchantments (which requires the abilities of someone who has taken the enchanting profession) or through attaching gems to equipment that has gem slots (but this typically isn't available until level 60 or above). In RoM, items that have rune slots can be enhanced using runes; the nice thing here is, even as low as level 5 I was able to begin finding gear with rune slots and runes to use in those slots. RoM also has other means of equipment enhancement, most notably the Arcane Transmutor, which allows the combining of several runes' statistic bonuses into a single stone. This is available to all characters beginning at level 10. I have to admit, I have yet to use the Transmutor as I'm still trying to figure out how to do so (if RoM fails anywhere, it is in a lack of online guides/documentation to assist new players with figuring out some of the finer points of the game like the Arcane Transmutor). Even though I'm still iffy on how to use this feature in RoM, I still love that it makes the game seem less like a “gear grind”; in WoW it seemed like that's all I ever did was constantly try to find new gear with better stats, and in fact there were add-ons for WoW to determine characters' “gear score” which could affect whether or not you got invited to participate in certain dungeons and raids since only those with the “best” gear had a chance of being successful.

Another aspect of RoM I like over WoW is the ability to use a mount as early as level 1! In WoW, characters are not able to utilize mounts until level 20 (when I first began playing, it was level 30). At level 20, a WoW character has to find a riding trainer, spend gold to learn how to ride, then spend more gold on the mount itself. At higher levels (level 40 I think) the WoW character can learn to ride faster mounts, and eventually even learn to ride flying mounts – but all of these abilities require large amounts of gold (the game's currency) to learn. In RoM, no training is required to ride a mount, you just have to pay the gold to rent the mount. Yes, I said “rent.” That's the one thing about RoM I don't like is that mounts are only rent-able with gold usually for either 15 minutes or 2 hours at a time. There are ways to get mounts that last 7 days, 30 days, or are permanent, but those require the expenditure of RoM's other currency, diamonds. Diamonds are obtained by spending real money (I'll have more to say on that in the pros & cons section).

Pros & Cons
  • RoM doesn't have nearly as much supporting documentation for new players as WoW did/does – lack of fan sites that help in this area as well. I have found two different Wikis for RoM, but wikis tend to have a lot of missing or inaccurate information. WoW, on the other hand has hundreds and hundreds of fansites and guides available just a Google away. Advantage = WoW.
  • RoM has a free client via download and is free-to-play unlimited. WoW costs $20 (WoW) + $30 (Burning Crusade expansion) + $40 (Wrath of the Lich King) + $15/month subscription fee. Advantage = RoM
  • RoM, however, can cost real money, and a lot of it if you're not careful, via gift a card system to buy in game diamonds to be able to purchase special items such as mounts, house furniture, gear enhancements, etc. I still think RoM has an advantage over WoW here though. Most free-to-play MMOs have some type of mini-store system like this. It costs money for them to keep those game servers up and running, and they have to generate that revenue somehow. I mean, hell, look at how many people have gone into real world debt buying crap for Farmville on Facebook for crying out loud. The thing to look for in obtaining RoM diamonds is special offers. For example, last week (April 16-18, 2010), a special promotion was run to give 100% extra diamonds – in short, my $25 gift card that normally would have been worth 600 diamonds, netting me 1200 diamonds. Plus, there are companies that have partnered with RoM to give away free diamonds for doing online surveys or trying their products. So, while it seems scam-ish at first, it's actually not a bad system overall. Just be careful and don't go overboard, else you'd be better off paying that $15 a month to play WoW again. Advantage = neutral.
  • Multi-classing – WoW does not offer multi-classing at all. If you roll a Rogue, then you are a Rogue, period. In RoM, beginning at level 10, a player can multi-class his/her character. Did you roll a Knight, but wish you had access to a Priest's healing spells? No problem, just go to a Priest trainer after you've reached level 10 (or higher) and you can become a level 1 priest, without having to lose you levels in Knight and without having to completely re-roll an entirely new character. While it is true that other MMOs (D&D Online for example) offer multi-classing, I like the way RoM does it better. I like that I can have a character that is Level 60 in both of his classes, as opposed to say, Level 19/Level 1 or some other odd combination (using D&D as an example here – character levl cap is 20 and each time you level you have to decide which class to increase. RoM on the other hand allows to flip-flop which class is primary or secondary so you can level them separately from each other as though they are different characters).

Final Thoughts and Opinions

Ok, so this may not be a complete comparison, mainly because I've been playing RoM for only a couple of weeks versus the year and a half I played WoW. I'm still learning the game. There a lot of in game aspects in RoM that I like much better than in WoW. Basically, RoM's developers seem to have made it easier to level and get around and have included some tools in the base user interface that WoW players have historically had to go install third party add-ons to get.(4) All in all, RoM seems to do more right than wrong compared to WoW. The developers of Runes of Magic obviously did their homework in terms of paying attention to what MMO gamers liked and disliked about various MMOs like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Guild Wars, and tried to incorporate as much as they could of the most popular aspects of those games. The free-to-play aspect makes it much easier to not feel like I have to play everyday. The quick leveling and multi-class system make me want to play often because it keeps the game interesting and moving forward; I don't feel as stuck in one zone or quest chain as much as I did in WoW. The portal ability helps with this as well – bascially, when you learn your secondary class, you are taught two transport spells so that you can go back to one of the starting zones to begin leveling your new class. Being able to transport across the map like that makes it less monotonous when questing because I can easily jump from one side of the world to the other if I'm getting bored with the zone I'm questing in.

No MMO is perfect. RoM has a lot of growing room (how about some flying mounts, eh!) but seems to be trucking along much faster than most MMOs in terms of new content (the game launched March 2009, relased its second expansion September 2009 and its third expansion is due out in May 2010, and in fact is already beginning to be introduced in patches(5)). In short, if I'm going to continue to play an MMO, I'm pretty sure that it's going to be very difficult for anyone to convince me to start paying for WoW again, when RoM is such a superb MMO and is free-to-play. Most free-to-play MMOs look like their free-to-play. RoM looks professional and clean, it plays well and I've actually had less issues with server lag than I ever did playing WoW. Considering that RoM boasts a subscriber base of over 2 million (announced a mere six months after its initial release), I'd say it's a safe bet that it will be around for pretty good while.

Recommended Reading & Resources for Runes of Magic

End Notes
  1. The term “roll a new toon” or “roll a(n) [insert character class]” refers to creating a new character. If I'm not mistaken, referring to it as “rolling” is a nod to tabletop role playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons or Palladium Fantasy RPG, which requires the rolling of dice to determine a character's beginning abilities and health at level 1. In an MMO, these statistics are pre-determined based on the race and class chosen by the player and increase as the character gains additional levels beyond the first. “Toon” is a slang term for an MMO character due to most MMO graphics having a cartoonish look; toon, being short for cartoon.
  2. WoW has three gathering professions (mining, herbalism and skinning) and six crafting professions (blacksmithing, alchemy, leatherworking, tailoring, enchanting and engineering). Since WoW limits characters to only two professions, most players choose one crafting profession and one of the gathering professions that most compliments their creation skill (e.g., a blacksmith would need mining to gather ore). The other option is to select two gathering skills and sell all the materials (“mats”) one gathers to other players either directly or through the Auction House. There are also three secondary skills that all characters can learn in addition to their two professions; they are first aid, cooking and fishing.
  3. The gathering professions in RoM are woodcutting, herbalism, and mining. The crafting professions are blacksmithing, armor crafting, weapon crafting, alchemy, carpentry, cooking and tailoring. Like WoW, you need the gathering skills to get the materials for the crafting skills, but unlike WoW, characters can learn all of these if they so choose, but they can only master one. Go to for more information about how RoM professions are leveled.
  4. Some examples include, a quest log and tracking similar to the WoW add-on “Quest Helper”, transport portals in major cities to make it faster to get from one side of the city to the other quickly, an auto-run feature that allows a player to click on a name or item in the quest log and begin automatically running towards it and I'm sure there are other things I'll uncover as I play more.
  5. When MMOs need to fix bugs or add new content, those changes are downloaded when the game client is started. This is called “patching” and is usually a very small download that introduces new content in stages until the full expansion is released.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today's Blog Is Brought To You By The Letter W and the Number 7

So, a few weeks ago I finally made the decision that it was time to break away from using Windows XP. I had never really heard anything good about Vista, so I never made the switch to that. My fiancee's laptop has Vista (because that's what it came with) but I never really get to use it, so I really have no comment about Vista. But I knew it was time to update my OS. I'm not a developer nor a programmer, and my computer is used mainly for entertainment in the form of games, so I really didn't want to go with a flavor of Linux. So, I thought about getting Windows 7; thought about it for a long time actually. I was reading good things about Windows 7 online, which was interesting considering how much bad I had heard about Vista when it came out. What finally sold me on it was when a buddy of mine from college posted on Facebook about how much he actually liked Windows 7 and how easy the install process was. To put this in perspective, when I was in college, you had basically two choices for browser – Internet Explorer and Netscape; FireFox, Opera, Chrome, etc. didn't exist yet. Sam used Netscape because he hated Microsoft that much; so, to hear him praise Windows 7 kind of sold me the idea that maybe it was a good, stable operating system.

Being a little smarter than the average bear when it comes to computers (I built my last two computers myself, as well as my fiancee's desktop computer), I usually don't buy full copies of an OS if I don't have to. My copy of XP was what is called an OEM edition. When I found that TigerDirect had Windows 7 in OEM, I was very pleased. So you understand – at BestBuy, for example, or anywhere else that sells the retail version of Windows 7 Professional you are going to pay $300. By ordering an OEM edition, I paid half that. OEM stands for Other Equipment Manufacturer. What it means in a nutshell is, I bought the version of Windows that normally is sold to companies like HP, Dell or Compaq. It's the exact same Windows as the retail version except the key code you get doesn't entitle you to any tech support from Microsoft – you're supposed to call whoever built your computer for that. So, in my case, I'm my own tech support since I built the thing myself, but it's worth not having MS's tech support available to me to be able to have paid half what I would have if I had gone to the box store up the street. Besides, is actually pretty good if I get a cryptic error code or something happens I don't quite understand and I need a reference source to tell me how to fix it.

Now, as far as my review, I'm not going to get all techie/geeky on you here. There's enough on the internet already written about Windows 7 vs Vista vs XP vs whatever to keep you busy and entertained for days if you so choose to Google it for yourself. Suffice it to say that I'm very pleased I made the switch. I'm finally able to take advantage of the 64-bit dual core processor, the 3GB of RAM and the 1GB 3D Video Card I put in this thing when I built it. I can notice a difference in speed in terms of how quickly applications load, and to be honest, I didn't find my computer to be all that slow when I was running XP. The graphics are pretty crisp, although at this point I've not had the chance to re-install all my games to get a full comparison going.
Don't get me wrong, I have had a few trip-ups with some older software not wanting to run or install correctly. The interesting thing is, Win7 has a lot of built in help when it detects a compatibility issue. If you've got Professional or Ultimate, you have the option to run things in Vista or XP mode if necessary. I've only had to do that with one application, and it turned out that that wasn't even really the issue (I missed a setting involving telling Ventrilo that I was using a 5.1 surround sound card... oops). When installing drivers, anytime there was a compatibility issue, Windows 7 managed to find the fix on its own (a feat I never had any previous version of Windows accomplish even though it supposedly had the ability to do so). I did have one piece of hardware that Windows 7 just would not recognize because it is to old (a very old NIC card), but I can let that slide as even I have to admit that it's to old to still be trying to use.

So, aside from some very minor issues, and just trying to get used to the new interface, I have to admit that I really dig Windows 7 so far. It gets a thumbs up from me (like my opinion means shit to you). My only real regret is that I probably should have gone ahead and paid the extra $50 to get the Ultimate Edition instead of just Professional.

Until next time,
~ JC

Next week's planned blog: a comparison of Runes of Magic to World of Warcraft and some commentary on overcoming MMO addiction and my subsequent partial relapse.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

All In My Head

This week's blog is kind of a part two to last week's. I am again going to regale you with information and opinions on the world of role playing games (RPGs). Last week I did a very vague comparison of two similar table top gaming systems. It dawned me though, as often as I talk about role playing games and my love for them, I've never really gone into the hows and whys of me playing them.

I think I bought my first role playing game when I was around 12 or 13 years old. It was called “Star Frontiers” and came in a purple box with two rulebooks; one was a 'quick-start' guide, the other was the full game. It also came with a big poster size map and little cardboard pieces with various things on them for use on the map. It also came with two of the oddest dice I had ever seen – the had ten sides instead of the traditional six. Truth be told, I never really got a chance to play “Star Frontiers”. When I mentioned it to my friends, they were like “Oh, it kind of sounds like a science-fiction version of D&D.” “What's D&D?” I asked. And the next thing I knew I was out looking for and buying the 'Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set'. We spent many an after school afternoon, not to mention summer vacations, playing D&D as often as we were able. I pretty much was always playing the fighter, and had a hack-and-slash sort of style of play. As we matured (both in age and as players) we moved to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, with its larger selection of race and class combinations, weapons, armor, spells, etc. Over the past 25 or so years, I've been both a rabid player/Dungeon Master and a vehement opponent of D&D and role playing games. I'm happy to say that now, at 38, I've found a balance in gaming and real life responsibilities. But, that's just a brief history of how I started playing. It doesn't explain much about why I keep playing these games even though I'm almost 40.

So, as I've mentioned before in previous blogs, there are those that do not quite understand RPGs, and there are those that just plain make up a bunch of bullshit about RPGs and call them evil and satanic. I have actually had someone look me in the eye and seriously tell me “You know, the spells in D&D are real, actual spells.” Really? Are people really that frakkin' stupid? Because, yeah, every book on Wicca I ever read contains the spell “Magic Missile” right? Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and the father of all role playing games, said he just made those up off the top of his head. But, I digress. You see, the first reason I play these games is simple; they're fun. If you don't think so, that's fine. I personally don't have the patience to play Xbox and PS3, etc. I'd rather delve into a RPG in which the game master has developed a good story to go with the action and it's not all “kill everything that moves, kill some more, loot that box, then go back to shooting.” Fun for you and fun for me can be two separate things – that's fine. It's call diversity. So, I play RPGs because I personally find them to be fun. Period. End of discussion.

Now, for a second reason I continue to play D&D and the like? Easy – it feeds my creative vent. I've always wanted to write a novel. Alas, I'm not that great at it. I've made a couple of attempts and either only manged to write a few scenes or just plain realized that what I was writing was entirely to much like a combination of several other books I've read (and I really don't want to be sued). By playing a role playing game, I can participate in a sort of consortium of writers all contributing to the same story. We each have a part to play, and therefore a part of the story we are filling in the details about. Other times, when I've been the game master, I've gotten to create a plot and other devices to get the players involved in the story, letting them write the dialogue and actions for their characters. The other half of the creative aspect is making maps. I know, it sounds weird, but I've always had a thing for looking at maps, so in D&D I get to make my own maps. I'm not an artist, so making D&D maps is as close as I've ever gotten to creating a masterpiece work of art.

And finally, I would be remiss if I left out another large portion of what playing role playing games has done for me. This isn't so much a why I play as it is an I'm glad I play because it's helped me in this area. Growing up, I was an A-B student for the most part. The thing is, I hated to read. Getting me to sit and read a book was like trying to get a cat to take a bath. When I started playing D&D, suddenly I began to want to read more – mostly fantasy novels at first, but eventually history, religion and philosophy as well. To be totally honest, my original reasons for reading more was so I could get ideas for the game. The more I read though, the more I gained interest in the subjects I was reading. Role playing games also require a certain amount of math skills (at least basic math) as well cognitive reasoning abilities. Frankly, I feel like if I had not started playing these games, I probably would not have had as much of a love of reading as I do now, nor would I have had any use for wanting to learn about history, philosophy and religion. These games helped me learn how to think. Sorry, but no console based first person shooter that requires nothing more than pushing buttons is going to do that. Sure, today's high tech video games may develop a certain amount of hand-eye coordination, but I've also seen a lot of mindless zombies with no attention span for anything else result in them as well. Sometimes, it's nice to kick it old-school with D&D, or RIFTS or any other table top role playing game. It sort of goes toward showing that I don't need a computer monitor to paint the picture for me; I can use my imagination and let it all be in my head.

~ JC

Potential future topics here at Carlisle's Chaotic Commentary
  • “Lucky 7” (my review/feelings about my switch from Windows XP to Windows 7)
  • “I Need A New Drug” (overcoming my WoW addiction, but still wanting to play an MMORPG)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

This is How I Roll

I've been playing role playing games, of and on, since I was about 13 years old. In that time I've dabbled in a few different gaming systems, the most prevalent of which is the various versions of the classic, and most well known RPG, Dungeons & Dragons. There are still some (mainly fundamentalist, right wing Christians) who think these games, especially those in the fantasy genre, are evil and “of Satan.” The truth is that there is really nothing in any of these games that has every influenced any of my religious beliefs. While it is true that these games, like any fantasy novel, do borrow concepts from many myths and philosophies both ancient and modern, those ideas/beliefs get muddled into a completely fictional setting. Playing D&D and the like, for me, actually caused a development of a love for reading, history, philosophy, et cetera. But today's blog is not about me espousing the virtues or reasons for indulging in role playing games; it is about comparing two such systems, namely Dungeons & Dragons (aka, the D20 System) and Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game.

Several months ago, as we were weaning ourselves off of our World of Warcraft addiction, my best friend and I were discussion how much we missed the old school table top role playing games. The idea of a group of friends sitting around a table, rolling dice and actually immersing ourselves into playing a character versus sitting in front of computer mindlessly pushing buttons sounded pretty good to us. One of the things we had done to try to stop playing WoW was to try out Dungeons & Dragons Online, because it was free to play. It was playing DDO that got us to talking about wanting to play D&D again. The problem was, I live in North Carolina, he lives in Georgia and the rest of the guys we thought might be interested in playing D&D again were spread out across other parts of NC, Texas and Michigan. We were already used to using a program called Ventrilo (“Vent” for short) while playing WoW, which would allow us to speak to each other, but we still needed to be able to see each others' dice rolls, the map and miniatures. That's when we discovered OpenRPG, which is a virtual tabletop program allowing for all that. And so, with a little recruiting and instruction on how to download, install and setup Vent and OpenRPG we were able to begin our project of once again enjoying D&D without having to all be in the same physical place. Not long after we added the game RIFTS to our repertoire of games to play on Saturday nights. Rifts, being a Palladium system game, is what has led us to where we are now; converting our D&D characters to Palladium Fantasy RPG characters.

RIFTS was my first introduction into the Palladium Books system of games. Other than a few other, smaller games (such as Star Frontiers and Top Secret) I had pretty much played D&D exclusively my entire gaming life. There were a lot of similarities between D20 and Palladium, but there are a lot of differences too. As to which is the superior system, well I guess that's subjective but I'm starting to find that the D20 system is to limiting and basic for our tastes. Hence, the decision to convert from D&D to PFRPG for our fantasy genre game. There are, of course, pros and cons to both, and no RPG system is perfect. Our group simply prefers Palladium for it's more realistic combat style and the ability to have a more customized character than is possible in D&D/D20.

I've found forums on which people have complained that Palladium is an archaic gaming system (it was first introduced in the early 1980's). Maybe, but there's an old saying, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” D&D wasn't broken, in my opinion, yet TSR, Inc. decided to launch 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 1989. AD&D 2e was horrible! It took all the flavor out of D&D (certain races and classes were taken out) and introduced “THAC0” as a game mechanic which made the combat rolls more difficult to calculate than simply using the various charts found in the original AD&D. Not long after, TSR, Inc. was bought by Wizards of the Coast, who rescued D&D from oblivion since TSR was on the verge of bankruptcy. Uncer WoTC, D&D was reborn under a 3rd Edition which introduced the “D20 System” and the “Open Gaming License.” This was actually quite brilliant as it opened up the market to development of materials for the game from multiple sources. It remains, in my opinion, the best version of D&D to ever come down the pike (sorry, I'm not interested in 4th edition D&D as I feel it has digressed into being to much of an amalgamation of miniatures and MMO-type combat mechanics). So, while D&D has introduced various editions and changes over the years while Palladium has stuck with its tried and true system since 1983, I still contend that Palladium's system still works just fine.

In both games it is necessary to create, or “roll”, a character before you can begin play. While I'll admit here that D&D has the edge over Palladium on time consumption and simplicity in the character creation process, Palladium seems to allow for more well rounded and unique/customized player characters (Note: since I currently play a Wizard in my group's D&D campaign (and forthcoming conversion to PFRPG) I'll be using that character class as my example later in this blog). The basic process in D&D goes something like this:
  1. Choose a race (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) and class (fighter, wizard, rogue, etc.)
  2. Roll dice to determine ability scores (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma)
  3. Select Skills & Feats
  4. Select Spells (if your class uses them)
  5. Roll dice to determine how much money (gold pieces) the character begins with and buy equipment (armor, weapons, etc.)
The process in Palladium is almost identical (roll for ability scores*, pick skills), but the difference comes in selecting skills (Palladium doesn't use “feats”). In D&D, each class has a set of “class skills” which they can use their skill points on at full value (1 point for 1 rank ratio) and the rest are considered “cross-class skills” which are taken at half value (in order to gain 1 rank, you have to “spend” 2 points). In Palladium, you can pretty much take any skill you want (with some restrictions), but your class gets bonuses for certain categories of skills. What this means is, in D&D a Wizard is pretty much a Wizard, while in Palladium, a Wizard can take weapon proficiencies or other skills that could allow him to have rogue like abilities or even be highly skilled with a sword and become a “War Wizard” if he wants. In short, Palladium isn't as limiting in what the various classes can or cannot do as D&D seems to be. Palladium also assumes a certain amount of starting gear the character already owns, which makes more sense to me than having to go buy it. Admittedly, I can create a D&D character is less than half the time it takes me to create a Palladium character, but part of that is the fact that I'm still learning the Palladium system.

The combat system is probably where I've seen the most criticism of the Palladium system, with claims that it “takes to long” and causes the game to “bog down.” I have to laugh at that, because that's pretty much how my group feels about the D20 combat system, and we find the Palladium system to be both faster and more realistic. This is due to the fact that D&D (especially the 3rd and 4th editions) essentially requires the use of miniatures and a map-grid when engaging in combat. The D20 System of combat (without going into a lot of overt detail) works something like this:

Attacker rolls a 20-sided die, add/subtract any bonuses/penalties to that roll;if the result matches/exceeds the target's “Armor Class, the attack hits; roll
to see how much damage you do based on the weapon you were using; defender
subtracts damage from their “Hit Points”; repeat until until someone quits or is
dead/unconscious (hit points at zero or less).

Sounds simple enough right? Well, it is, but where it fails for me is that because of the whole Armor Class thing, you basically have to stand there and take it when someone rolls a successful hit. Where D20 bogs down in combat is the having to move around miniatures, which becomes tricky with rules like “Attack of Opportunity”, which is a sort of ridiculous rule in my opinion (I won't go into detail about it because it would take to long, but you can click on the link to find out more if you'd like). By comparison, Palladium combat becomes a bit more realistic:

Attacker rolls a 20-sided die adding/subtracting any bonuses/penalties to the
roll; a result greater than 4 is a potential hit; defender can either attempt to
parry or dodge the attack by also rolling a 20-sided die and adding/subtracting
bonuses/penalties; if the Defenders roll matches/exceeds the attacker's roll,
then the attack fails; if the defenders dodge or parry roll fails, then the
attack is successful and attacker rolls for damage; if the damage roll does not
exceed the Armor Rating of the defender's armor, then the defender, nor the
armor take any damage; if the damage roll exceeds the Armor Rating, the the
remainder deals damage to the “SDC” of the armor first until it is destroyed;
once the armor has been broken through, then the defender begins subtracting
damage directly from his hit points; rinse and repeat until someone quits or is
dead/unconscious (hit points at zero or less).

Ok, so Palladium's combat sounds more complex, and it is. But the point is, it's more realistic. The player has the choice to either stand there and take it or try to dodge or parry an attack, while in D&D, your hands are tied – all your abilities to parry or dodge are automatically built in to your Armor Class. If you have a low AC, you are pretty much screwed, but in Palladium, even an unarmored, non-man at arms, character has a chance to either parry or just plain get the hell out of the way. I also like how Palladium uses a combination of damage mitigation (Armor Rating) and the concept that the Armor itself absorbs damage (SDC) before the person does until the armor is destroyed. It also adds the realism that the character will, eventually, have to have his armor repaired or replaced. I can see where some think that Palladium combat can bog down and take to long, but I prefer its realism and flexibility versus D&D's use of miniatures and basically reverting to board game when combat breaks out. Also, D&D combat can bog down much worse than Palladium's when non-standard actions (actions other than simple attacks) such as grappling and tripping are attempted (again, there's just to much information to even attempt to explain it all here).

Where Palladium really shines over the D20 System is the use of magical abilities and spells. Palladium magic works more like the magic seen in movies and fantasy novels. While in D&D, a Wizard for example, has to carry around a spellbook and spend time each morning memorizing the spells he wants to have access to that day. The D&D Wizard is also limited in which spells he is allowed to learn (my Wizard is 5th level, but only has access to spells up to 3rd level in power) and how many of each level he can memorize and cast per day. Palladium, on the other hand, uses an ability called “Potential Psychic Energy” (PPE) which is indicative of how much magical power the Wizard possesses. The Palladium Wizard can also learn spells of any level at any level of experience (e.g., a 1st level Wizard can learn and cast a 9th level spell). Each spell has a PPE cost; as long as the Wizard has enough PPE in reserve and knows the spell, he can cast it at anytime. Rest, sleep or Meditation allows the Wizard to replenish his spent PPE, and as the Wizard gains levels he gains more PPE and therefore becomes more powerful. I love the fact that my Palladium Wizard will never have to say, “Wow, I know a great spell that would be helpful in this situation, but I didn't memorize it today so I can't use it.” versus the D&D Wizard suddenly becoming useless in such a situation because he didn't prepare the “correct” list of spells that day.**

Don't get me wrong – I'm not shitting on D&D. I still think it's a good (if somewhat rudimentary/introductory) role playing system. I just like the Palladium system better, particularly when it comes to skill selection and use of spells and magical abilities. Both systems have strong and weak points. D&D defiantly has the advantage on resources of materials and tools since it allows its fan base to produce and share materials via the internet and other sources. Palladium, without a doubt, needs to ease up on its stance on copyrights and intellectual properties (they've actually gone as far as suing or threatening to sue people for doing fan-sites on the internet). So, in a nut shell, I hate how Palladium the company (particularly the CEO) does business, but I love the gaming system itself. Comparatively, I really love the way Wizards of the Coast markets D&D and allows fan-sites and other publishers to produce materials, but find the system itself to be a little lacking in areas such as realistic combat and character customization.

Whichever system you choose, enjoy and keep those dice rolling!

~ JC

* Note: the ability scores in Palladium (and their approximate D&D equivalent) are Intelligence Quotient (Intelligence), Physical Strength (Strength), Mental Endurance (Wisdom), Mental Affinity (Charisma), Physcial Prowess (Dexterity), Physcal Endurance (Constitution), Physical Beauty (no specific equivalent but Charisma basically covers it), and Speed (no D&D equivalent).

** This is only a small sampling of how the magic systems work in both D&D and Palladium as both systems have several classes that can cast spells, and have different types of spells, not to mention how the two systems handle psychic ability.