Robotech: Managing Multiple Attacks in the Palladium System

When somebody picks up a book titled Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles Roleplaying Game or RIFTS Ultimate Edition, they are looking for one thing and one thing only: a pile of action! Managing the large number of actions available to Palladium characters isn’t an easy task, however, and these games grant characters a truly large pile of actionS.

You could rub a hole through your character sheet with your eraser as you tick off attacks, dodges, Martial Arts maneuvers, M.D.C. points, and so on, or you can think ahead and come up with a much cleaner, much more elegant way of tracking those actions.

Here’s some advice I’ve cooked up for Robotech, but it’s applicable to every game in the Palladium Books roster.

Robotech: Battlecry screenshot

Robotech: because we love missiles!

Understanding Actions

Characters receive a number of actions (often referred to with the misnomer “melee attacks”) per round, and carry them out in a back-and-forth round-robin of turns until they are used up, in an order based on initiative rolls.

For the purposes of further discussion, we’re going to refer to these as “actions” and not “melee attacks.” It will hopefully help clarify exactly what we’re talking about, but feel free to substitute “actions” with “melee attacks” or “attacks per round.” Additionally, remember that a “turn” is one character’s action, and a “round” (sometimes “melee round”) is the sum total of all characters’ actions being completely resolved.

How Many Actions?

Your character’s Hand-to-Hand skill (or lack thereof) tells you how many actions you have available. It usually starts at about 2-ish, but increases fairly rapidly as characters level up.

While piloting mecha of any kind, trained characters also get additional attacks due to Mecha Combat training. There are times when you might have less actions, such as when you’re suffering from penalties due to electronic warfare attacks.

Typical actions might be:

  • An attack by hand, with a melee weapon, or with a ranged weapon. This uses up one action.
  • Some maneuvers — Power Punch, Leap attacks, long or sustained burst fire — use up two actions (sometimes even more).
  • A character can take one of two defensive actions, Parry or Dodge. Parry is an automatic action, and therefore doesn’t use up an action. Dodge is usually the only defense against ranged attacks, but it can also be used against pretty much any other form of attack if you wish, and it uses up one action.
  • In lieu of a defensive action, the defender may choose Simultaneous Attack. This works like a normal attack, uses up one action (or multiple if it’s a special maneuver like a Power Punch), but both characters do not have any opportunity to Parry or Dodge (since all it takes is a 5+ to hit with an undefended attack, chances are that both characters are taking some damage!).

There’s a few other options in lieu of defending (Entangle) and dozens of possible attack-like actions (Disarm, Pulling a Punch), but they pretty much all use up one action.

Types of Actions

Offensive Actions

There are dozens of types of hand-to-hand attacks, and of course a gazillion weapons you can employ for melee or ranged weapon attacks. You can also try to Entangle or Disarm your opponent, Pull a Punch in order to grandstand without killing the poor bastard, and numerous other options as mentioned previously. It pretty much boils down to most maneuvers using up one action, or rarely two actions (and super-duper rarely, more than two actions).

Robotech Destroids in battle

How’s this for an Offensive Action?

Defensive Actions

When being targeted by an attack, the defending character must choose whether to Parry (hand-to-hand or melee weapon attacks) or Dodge (just about any attack); you can’t do both!

There are other options, too, but all of them preclude any others: you can Entangle, but you can’t Parry or Dodge. You can choose Simultaneous Attack, but that means you can’t Parry, Dodge, or Entangle. The only one that’s automatic — that doesn’t use up one of your actions — is Parry.

Dodging and Actions in the Next Round. Dodging uses up actions, but unlike attacks and most other actions, you can chew into the actions available on your next round if you run out this round and still want to dodge. You start the subsequent round with less actions to attack with, which might be problematic, but sometimes a good defense is the way to go. The rules do seem to limit you to only pulling from the immediate next round, and not future rounds beyond that:

HOWEVER, each of these extra dodges uses up one melee attack from the next melee round! (Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles RPG manga p. 227 and deluxe p. 153)

Auto-Actions and Others

There are only a few “auto” actions: activities that don’t use up an action. They are Parry, Roll with Impact, and Auto-dodge. The first two are only useful in certain situations, and the last is a fairly rare ability only seen in higher-level, highly skilled hand-to-hand combatants, or in especially fast and agile mecha (usually only in certain modes, too, such as Veritech and Alpha Fighters having Auto-dodge while in jet fighter mode).

There’s never — at least in Robotech — a type of defensive action that pulls from its own pool of actions. In other words, things either cost an action, or not. There’s no “you can Ultra-Defend twice per round regardless of how many melee attacks per round you have” or something. There might be other abilities gained from skills, magic, or psychic abilities from other Palladium RPGs that have a limit on them, so you’ll want to keep track of them separate from your “melee attacks per round” actions, should you come across any.

Non-Combat Actions

Referring to the section on No Hand to Hand Combat Skill, non-combat actions are defined as:

…some activity other than fighting (operating a machine, driving, locking a door, running, hiding, helping others, etc.).

How this applies to other Hand to Hand Combat skills is not exactly explicit: do such things not cost an action for a trained combatant? If they did, suddenly trained fighters have less overall actions in some cases than untrained characters, so that can’t be right.

Yet drawing a weapon and reloading a weapon are specifically called out as using actions (see Using up Melee Attacks, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles RPG manga p. 228 and deluxe p. 153-154). A Melee Round is about 15 seconds, so it’s sort of up to you to determine what can be done in 15 seconds, amid all the normal attack and defend actions.

Robotech: Invasion screenshot

Looks like SOMEBODY can Parry ranged attacks…

Representing Actions

Some people are visual learners, and other folks just love using their eraser and slowly but inevitably creating wastage that will ruin our environment. /tree-hugging-hippy

You can keep track of actions with pen & paper, white boards, magnets, counters, and more. However you want to keep track of all these actions there’s some “Action Theory” to keep in mind.

The Theory

First off, individualize the experience to your character, otherwise you’re just taking up space, whether it’s on notepad paper, glass bead counters, or whatever. Some characters have special limited actions, or special auto-actions (like Auto-Dodge), so you’ll want to keep track of this stuff in a way that makes sense to your character’s capabilities.

Secondly, remember that Dodges not only cost actions, but can “pull” from your actions in the next round…and is something that every character can do. Therefore, it’s never as simple as tracking your actions in a single round: you have to be looking ahead. Consider dividing your action-tracking tools into two areas, one for the current round and one for the subsequent round.

Finally, when taking a look at your special actions, consider how they affect your not-as-special actions, with an eye towards tracking them differently if necessary. Maybe you have some limited resource action, so you’ll need a separate set of counters of a different type or color. Or maybe you’ll want to create a notecard or even playing card-style reference sheet that contains the rules for that specific thing, so you don’t have to get distracted by a bunch of page-flipping to find the rules in whatever sourcebook you’ve picked up. (Check out some Blank Playing Cards at Amazon; their uses are many and varied.)

Physical Reality

Use the following ideas to inspire how you track actions in the format that works best for you.

White Board. You can make a cheap version of the Paizo Combat Pad by hitting up your local 99Cents Store or Big Lots and snagging a magnetic white board and a few magnets or markers and simply using tick boxes or whatever to track your actions. Don’t forget what I already mentioned about tracking current and next round actions!

Cork Board and Push Pins. Similar to the white board idea, and also easy to source at cheap stores is a cork board with colored push pins. The advantage here is that there’s no erasing at all, assuming you just use the colored pins to denote different types of actions, or perhaps to track actions in the current round vs. the subsequent round (say red for current and blue for next).

Index Card. Index cards are great for pretty much everything to do with gaming ever, and that’s a scientific fact! Tracking actions of multiple types or from multiple melee rounds is as simple as drawing a line down the card and separating everything into their own boxes. You’ve probably got room left over, so why get your character sheet all uglied up with eraser marks when you can track your Hit Points, S.D.C., M.D.C., and whatever other points you got going on?

Counters. Colored glass beads. Pennies. Buttons. Q-tips (unused, preferably). Those specialty dice you aren’t ever going to roll because no one can read them anyway (why did you buy those, again?). There’s plenty of options for using physical gewgaws to represent actions. You can combine this option for using counters with the others — white board or index card — to create a “playmat” on which you draw separate boxes for tracking different things, and place the counters within those boxes so you can keep everything separated properly. The only issue is if the thing gets jostled about or that one dummy spills his Big Gulp on the table…consider using magnetic counters, or maybe those bookmark-style, colored, small post-it notes so they aren’t so easily “divested of their home,” if you will.

So, how do you keep track of your ridiculous number of melee attacks per round when playing Robotech, RIFTS, or any of the other Palladium Books roleplaying games?

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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