Q&A: 'Systems Failure' post-apocalyptic RPG
We chatted with Kevin Siembieda of Palladium Books about the company's post-apocalyptic tabletop role-playing game 'Systems Failure' -- a mash-up of James Cameron's 'Aliens' and George Romero's zombie films. Simbieda discussed the events that inspired the game's design and its future.
Q: Is it fair to assume the Y2K scare prompted the original publication of the game?
A: Bingo! That’s absolutely correct. We marveled at the number of people who seemed genuinely worried about it. It had something to do with the end of the Mayan calendar. According to some interpretations, the end of the Mayan calendar was supposed to signify the end of the world. Or something like that. We would joke about it all the time. And the more I joked about it, the more seeds for a game took hold.
One day, I mentioned my desire to create the Systems Failure game to freelance writer Bill Coffin. I told him my ideas for it and how I wanted to release it as a one-shot, standalone game six months or a year before the New Millennium. I just didn’t know if I could squeeze it into my schedule. Bill went wild over the idea and loved the name, Systems Failure. He excitedly proclaimed he would be happy to try his hand at writing it, if I would give him the opportunity. I sent Bill my notes. We talk about it a bunch, and something like eight weeks later, I had his manuscript in my hands. I retooled some of it, made some additions and fine tuned the rules, got John Zeleznik to do the cover, one of my favorites, and got some great interior illustrations from Mike Wilson and Scott Johnson. The RPG hit store shelves the summer of 1999.
Q: Could you describe the premise?
A: Sure. Some people believed or feared the first year of the New Millennium, or “Y2K,” was supposedly the end of human civilization and technology. So I came up with the idea that strange bug-like alien invaders that fed upon electrical energy, and could turn into energy to travel through our cables and electrical wires, would bring about the end of human civilization. There was no stopping these creatures because they could appear wherever there was electricity and electrical conduits. No military base or home was safe. These classic, “bug-eyed monsters” slaughtered humans and toppled civilization. The player characters are, as it says on the back cover of the book, “off-color, off-kilter and sometimes just plain crazy. But they are all heroes willing to take a stand.” That’s the basic premise.
Q: How was it received?
A: It was very well received. If memory serves me correctly, I believe we sold something like 5,000 or 6,000 copies before Y2K and another couple thousand over the next year or two. It was fun, because it’s a very straightforward, in your face, action and survival game with wonky but memorable character types. You rescue and protect fellow survivors and you kill “the Bugs.” You could play it serious or with humor and irony.
Q: Do you think the game still holds appeal to gamers?
A: I do, because we have people ask about it on a regular basis. The Systems Failure RPG is dated because of the Y2K references, but yeah, it is a lot of fun to play, especially as a night or two of blood and guts action and heroics, or as a short campaign run. My mandate for all Palladium games is that they be fun and challenge the imagination.
Q: What is the current status of the game?
A: We will be making it available as a PDF title and as a Print on Demand book available from DriveThruRPG.com sometime this fall. Other than that, there are currently no plans to do much more with it. Of course, if the demand is there, that could change and you could see some new supplements for it, but there is nothing planned for this RPG.