The Bazaar #15: Thoughts on Palladium Books’ “Big GenCon 2021 Announcement”
General. So, for anyone that did not attend the GenCon long-form blog interview/discussion between Kevin Siembieda (Palladium Books, founder and president) and Sean Roberson (Rifts product line manager at Pinnacle Entertainment Group), the essence of the discussion revolved around a ‘big announcement.’ This announcement, of course, was the introduction of Sean as a business partner and Creative Director for Palladium Books moving forward.
My Gaming History. To give some context, I have played various system; D&D, AD&D, the D6 Star Wars system, GURPS, Vampire the Masquerade (without the LARPing), Warhammer RPG, Legend of the Five Rings (Alderac version), among others. I took a long-standing hiatus due to work, the birth and rearing of two lovely daughters, which limited my hobby time. For a while, I was playing Warhammer 40k, took a break from the craziness of 40k 6th and 7th editions to play Warmachine, then returned back to 40k after 8th edition. During this most recent period, I got back into role-playing, joining a group that very much enjoyed the Palladium Books system. I came back and once again fell in love with the Rifts, which spawned this blog and my newfound love for the system. Despite some of these having superb IP and TTRPG systems, I’ve always come back to Palladium Books, specifically Rifts.
My Rifts Contribution. For those not in the know, I’m that ‘other guy’ listed on Rifts World Book 22: Free Quebec. Back in the day (20-some years ago, phew), Palladium Books was in the process of accepting unsolicited manuscripts for possible inclusion into their IP. At the time I was playing with a local group, going through university to get my undergraduate degree. Since I knew Free Quebec would eventually be addressed as a World Book, I felt it deserved to have someone who had lived in the province and still had deep ties to the region as a key contributor to the manuscript. I submitted a proposal, earned the go ahead and submitted my manuscript a shade over the deadline; sorry Kev, but the manuscript lost out in priority to my undergraduate dissertation. Like any fan and player of Rifts and Palladium Books' products, I have a vested interest in their IP and the success of Palladium Books as a whole. As one that has benefitted from the opportunity to contribute to the game I love, I would hope to be able to have the opportunity to do so again in the future.
Kevin Siembieda. Founder and creative driver at Palladium Books for decades now. From the perspective of many, his direction has been dogged by a history of production deadlines; for a time, hostility with the online community; a few stories of unsavoury interactions with freelance writers; Robotech Tactics (‘nuff said); suffered a major business embezzlement; and, game system malaise versus newer games with more modern game theory. There is a laundry list of issues potential gamers may be wary of, but name me company that hasn’t, at one point or another. Look, over 30 years it's very easy to pick on the negative instances. That said, has been the kernel to several very well-developed game lines, and has openly benefitted gamers by allowing them to submit their own ideas to be part of the game (e.g. The Rifter, Unsolicited Manuscript). Finally, moving forward, he has gone forth and signed on a business partner who will be Creative Director.
Sean Roberson. Admittedly, form my perspective, a less known factor to the announcement. A former Air Force veteran analyst/translator (assuming Signals or Intelligence), he demonstrated some of his fluency in what I assume is Mandarin. He spoke about using his G.I. Bill to go to college and learn game design, which led to his eventual position at Pinnacle Entertainment Group (PEG) and their eventual licensing of Rifts. Still a part of the Savage Worlds Rifts line at PEG, it begs the question on how that will be handled, or what that means for splitting time from one to the other. That said, from my engagements with him online, he has demonstrated himself to be enthusiastic and engaging with other gamers and fan base alike.
Fears about Palladium. PB is an ongoing concern, which in business terms means that there is still money coming in and attention to the business being conducted (e.g. writing, publishing, distribution, customer engagement). What has worried me has been the to-and-fro of announcements for upcoming products and events that initially received much fanfare and publicity, to a quiet yet somber message of cancellation of postponement. I escaped the Robotech Tactics debacle (outside looking in as I completely missed out on this debacle - sorry, only term I could think of), while the latest releases (for Rifts in any case) have largely been hardbound re-releases. This has often led me to wonder what laid in their future and where they were going. The licensing to PEG may bring in some cash, but not enough, I believe, to maintain Palladium Books as an ongoing concern.
Nay-sayers. To which there are aplenty, I say that this is a cautious reason for celebration. For most of them, Kevin’s directorial style and apparent failure to commit and keep production schedules on time has long been the source of angst, while the Robotech Tactics RPG caused much gnashing of teeth. To the latter, there is little positivity I could bring; nor from my position at the periphery would I deign to even attempt. To the former, this is the answer to the kernel of your complaints. I’ve never been a sycophant for Kevin, and am certainly willing to critique things that I Fresh blood injected into the development of products will undoubtedly provide a fresh perspective to things.
My Predictions/Hopes Moving Forward. Let’s all look into our crystal ball, shall we? “Reply Hazy, Try Again.” Whoops, not the Magic Eight Ball.
Development Plan & Direction. Sean announced what amounts to a three-year plan for development and release, along with what I consider a clutch document, a ‘writing convention and style guide’ for writers, be they in-house or freelance authors. As a guy writing several pieces of short-story fiction, a couple of possible novellas or novels, as well as some other gaming-related submissions, I welcome the direction and the new blood into the Creative side of the house.
Rifts Third Edition. I get the impression they are looking to make a ‘Third Edition’ of Rifts, something I would highly recommend as a functionally decisive start point. Like scores of GMs out there, I have my opinion on I too have taken a crack at re-writing the Rifts core rules; something I called the Storyteller’s Edition, whereby I clarified, simplified and codified the rules into a more free-flowing game that did not invalidate any of the World Books, Dimension Books or Sourcebooks, including dealing with the copious OCCs into a more manageable set (i.e. base OCC with MOS Specialization, vice 16 various versions of the same). If Sean can take the Rifts rules-set and apply more modern game design theory to it and “clean it up,” I truly believe they can make a big splash in the gaming industry anew; not to scale with Wizards and the 5th Edition AD&D, but enough to get on assuredly solid ground.
Novels and Fiction. Kevin basically stated novelists would have to submit a ‘labour of love’ and not likely get paid what market rates would provide for stand-along publications with an original IP. Point taken, and quite frankly, a bit of a motherhood statement (blindingly obvious). That said, novels are a great way to market to internal stakeholders (gamers and fans of Rifts) as well as a gateway for external stakeholder (gamers not yet into Rifts). I would greatly welcome the opportunity to submit works for their review, if they were to announce more committed attention to that product stream. I suppose if they take a pass on it, I can always post here on the blog! ;)
Reaction and Summary. To be honest, I was a little late to the webcast, but quickly caught up to the crux of their announcement: Sean Roberson is now Creative Director at Palladium Books and ‘business partner’ with Kevin. To be expected, there are details largely left unexplained; for the most part they are the product of my MBA education and questions relating to business best-practices neither relevant for that forum nor this one. Partly influenced by both Kevin and Sean’s exuberance, my overall impression is very positive. Kevin is (apparently and finally) allowing the essentials of creative design to be handled by someone solely dedicated to this part of the business. The influx of new blood in creative direction side of the house, bodes well in my book (no pun intended). I welcome the change and look forward, with bated breath, on what the future for Palladium Books holds for us as players, GMs, and the odd-time, contributors.
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