Rifts is a deeply developed world in which to play. It has an involved, rich backstory that spans centuries into Earth’s future. It is a setting torn apart by war, bursting with all manner of magic and dimensions, and enduring a slow rebuilding process (and all the complications that rebuilding entails.)
As a story and backdrop, it has no equal. It is flush with everything that could draw you in: rich fantasy, post-apocalyptic world, great enemies (Coalition), technology, and magic. You name it, you can find it in Rifts. Can’t find it in Rifts? There is a system to convert any other Palladium worlds to bring them into Rifts. (Editor’s Note, and if you don’t like Rifts, there is now a Savage Worlds version of Rifts as well. Options upon options!)
As a role-playing system… we may have some issues. Here is what I found when I created my first character for Rifts.
1) Rich and Full O.C.C.s (Occupational Character Classes)
Jump into any Rifts O.C.C. and you will be drawn in and fall in love. My first was the Cyber-Knight O.C.C, which influenced me forevermore. Each O.C.C. (and there is a metric shit-ton of them) begins with the classes beginnings, truths, myths, and stories of the class which make an excellent read and draws in those story-telling role-players. In the Rifts Ultimate Edition, they break these into groupings of Men at Arms, Adventurers and Scholars, Practitioners of Magic, Psychic, Racial Character Class, and Coalition Soldiers O.C.C. There is very little that they hadn’t thought of when making these classes. They have probably thought of your ideal character and written an expanded piece on who they are and where they came from and then added that into a book. Their library is huge. The Ultimate Edition boasts nearly 400 pages of information to get you started, which leads to a problem.
2) A Behemoth Corebook
With Rifts being a deep simulationist style role-playing game, you always need to know more. You are referring the the books far more than you probably want to during a game. This would be taxing even in ideal circumstances, but it is not nearly as simple as knowing a couple key parts of the book. With Rifts, comes a notoriously poorly laid out format. The table of contents at the beginning of the book is immediately followed by a “quick” mini-index. Together these are 4 full pages long. For example, you roll into any type of combat, there is usually a lull because (without completely house-gaming the entire thing) there is a specific rule for everything that happens within combat.
3) Making a Character
Most games I’ve played in have been able to get the characters created, have some session zero where you talk about world and goals, crack ridiculous jokes about the last time you played, and leaf through a rule book so you have some understanding of what is going on for the next 4 hours. If this sounds like a great time, it is. Sometimes the slog through character creation within Rifts makes you daydream of easier days. These characters can take multiple sessions or messages during your off time to players ready to go. (And if you die during a session, there is not a quick “in” to get back to the action.) It starts innocuously enough with eight simple attributes like intelligence and physical strength. But after that, you can explore what happens if your stats aren’t average…. For the next five and a half pages.
Rifts then launches you into different types of damage, hit points, S.D.C. and M.D.C. The two former being what humans would be able to take and the latter being what a tank could take, to try and simplify a multi-page rule explanation. Then you determine if you have any psionics, pick your O.C.C. (and everything that entails), alignment, and skills (O.C.C. skills, O.C.C. Related skills, and Secondary Skills.) It’s a process. It’s a long process. It’s a long process that does not end after the initial creation, because eventually you will level up.
4) Combat Explanations
I love options when role-playing, but when there are so many combat situations with percentage dice attached and at least a paragraph to explain how it works… I get frustrated.
For example, if you took the skill, Weapon Proficiency Targeting, it means you are good with thrown weapons. When I look that up, I am told in the first paragraph about bonuses to hit at different levels and about the different ways you could lose your bonuses. Then I can look at the chart for the thirteen thrown weapons, their distances, and damages, which is pretty normal.
If I want to throw something not on that list, then there is the throwing awkward things rules in the paragraph below. Or look at heavy things in the next three paragraphs. Oh, but a called shot looks great because I want to aim the knife at the enemy's hand where he has a gun…. But then that might be disarming (which I can do) but I will have to look up the rules for that in hand to hand combat.
That is only a taste of what you can do, because there are legitimately rules and damage for everything. If you want to strike some surly guy in the bar with your fist these are your different hand strikes: Backhand (average), Backhand (martial arts), Body Flip, Punch, Martial Arts Punch, Elbow/forearm strike, and Power Punch. The section on Combat Terms and Moves is over 5 pages long and it only includes hand to hand fighting. It doesn’t include the power armour, vehicles, guns, missiles, psychic combat, piloting, or anything including your Mega-Damage.
None of this should suggest that I don’t have fun when playing Rifts. My first character was memorable and honourable (often to the detriment of my group) and I had a wonderful time playing her. I guess my suggestion would be; when playing Palladium Rifts, everyone should have a core rule book. It cuts down on the time spent waiting for a book so you know what you can do. That alone doesn’t solve the problems I have with this system, but I am sure other people have realized this as well. I look forward to trying out the great setting with perhaps a better ruleset; I am looking at you Savage Worlds Rifts.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches middle school science, math, art, and other random subjects. She loves new teenagers in action. They make her laugh and shake her head and her world is much better with laughter. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa
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