RIFTS Main Rule Book
This review is for the original
RIFTS RPG and will be followed by a review of Ultimate Edition. As I look at the cover I see some kind of
visor wearing, dolphin headed, tentacle man accompanied by some scantily clad pretty ladies in 90’s sunglasses!
I will be honest the picture really didn’t inspire me. Worse still we never do find out who Mr. Dolphin head and
his ladies are until we buy later source books!
Still a hideous cover does not make for
a hideous game! Not only that but some of the artwork contained within in is full colour and looks
So what is RIFTS? Sometime in Earths
golden age (21st century) WW3 kicked off and billions perished. The energy released by the billions of
souls caused RIFTS that would tear open the very fabric of nature. These RIFTS became the doorways to a million
worlds and from these worlds came creatures both good and evil. The RIFTS also brought magic back into the
Earth now is a place where man is
stalked by supernatural predators like demons and dragons in the ruins of the old world. The coalition of
Chi-Town (old Chicago) are all that stand in the way of our annihilation from the evils that have appeared on
our world, at least that’s what they say, for the Coalition also target and attack any good creatures and beings
that have arrived too.
Wearing Deaths Head armour and carrying
super powerful weapons many see the Coalition as the greatest evil, the storm troopers of the future who are
blinded by ignorance and hatred they mercilessly kill in the name of humanity and their own twisted idea of the
Yet there are still heroes out there in
the wastelands, you may well play such a character. Will you stand up to evil, protect the weak and make the
world a better place? Will you use a giant robot to crush your foes or will you use magic to blast your
opponents to oblivion?
What kind of character can I
Well this is where RIFTS really begins
to shine! There are 31 OCC’s or classes available to choose from.
10 are men at arms, these range from
the BORG who has sacrificed his body and some say humanity to combat the evils from beyond the RIFTS to the
CRAZY who has sacrificed his sanity to fight back against post-apocalypse earths new horrors! Then there is the
noble CYBER-KNIGHT a kind of futuristic version of the knights of old who follows a new code of chivalry. We
also have the offspring of heroes of old who power golden age suits of armour known as the GLITTERBOY. The
Glitterboy is probably THE most iconic RTFTS character, in fact Kevin Siembieda was originally thinking of
calling this game “Boomers” after the legendary super rail-gun that the Glitterboy carries!
8 are Scholars and Adventurers; we have
the ROGUE SCHOLAR who wants to know what happened to Earth in the past and wishes to educate the people of the
future (something the evil coalition won’t allow). There are CYBER-DOC’s who can fix you up with some bionics or
cybernetics and last but not least the lowly VAGABOND. There are also OPERATORS who can fix up you robot/power
armour and CITY RATS who are the eyes and ears of the streets.
4 Classes for the practitioners of
magic! The LEY-LINE WALKER is the archetypal wizard but with a few extra neat tricks, he can travel along the
Ley-Lines that criss-cross the planet and supplement his power by drawing energy from
them. The SHIFTER communicates with dark creatures from beyond the RIFTS and is a master of
dimensional travel. The MYSTIC is a psychic/magic hybrid and the TECHNO-WIZARD fuses magic with technology (how
about a flying motor bike?).
5 Psychic classes include the
Firestarter-esque BURSTER and the Scanners like MIND MELTER. Then we have the PSI-STAKER a human-mutant who
feeds off the mystic energies of his supernatural foes!
Then we have 4 racial classes THE
DRAGONS and this is where I got really excited. The first time I read this book I just couldn’t believe I could
play as a DRAGON!
So you think because you have picked a
class that’s it? Wrong! Each class gets a set of skills by default, so a man at arms would get weapons skills
and men of magic would get lore skills but it doesn’t end there, the player than gets to pick in the region of
20 skills themselves. This means that your Ley-Line Walker (wizard) could be a dab hand at martial arts and
lethal with a sword. That head-hunter you just rolled might have a softer side and be able to sing, sew, cook
and ballroom dance! The Combat Cyborg you have made might well be an avid anthropologist with a love for
This is fantastic because your
characters feel more like real people with a myriad of skills some useful some seemingly not (you will be amazed
at how often those seemingly useless skills get used for role-play purposes). This gives the players plenty of
opportunity make diverse character even if they do pick the same class, one mage might pick skills like prowl
and lock picking whilst the other picks pilot jet pack and bodybuilding!
Like I say I am used to the Palladium
system so about an hour later, a hell of a lot of head scratching and Crotong the Great Horned Dragon Hatchling
was ready! With his friends Crack the BORG and Fecklar the Cyber Knight it was time for
Luckily for me I had already played
Heroes Unlimited and Palladium Fantasy RPG before I picked this game up. This meant that I could jump into the
game pretty much straight away. Our GM had also read the book back to back several times and so could tell us
any new rules pretty quick with minimum fuss.
HOWEVER new players to this game would
find themselves very and I mean very frustrated. The rules are literally spread out all over the book seemingly
at random. There is no real sense that this book has been put together by anyone with even an iota of common
sense let alone any organisational ability! Making a new character as a new player in this game could take
hours; in fact I reckon your first game session will be spent doing just that.
Personally I encourage you to persevere
because once mastered this is truly one of the best games out there, it really is a case of the more you put in
the more you get out!
I also need to bring up MDC or Mega
damage. 1 point of MDC = 100 SDC (or what some might view as Hitpoints if you are familiar with other games) of
damage. At the beginning of the book it explains where this idea came from, if you stand punching and kicking a
tank all day you won’t make a scratch, the tank is an MDC object, if the tank hits you back…….. I am sure you
can guess the outcome.
In this harsh future you will be in
need of MDC weapons and armour if you are going to survive the apocalypse!
Without these things you are a squishy.
Now that’s not such a bad thing because MDC weapons and armour are not allowed to be carried into some towns.
This means you can have a different kind of adventure, it also makes some people much more deadly, for instance
a Robot pilot without his suit is just an ordinary guy but the mage is a different kettle of fish altogether, he
is capable of not only atomising the pilot but the whole building he is stood in too! This is one of the reasons
magic is so feared in the world of RIFTS, that ordinary old man in the corner of the bar can suddenly be clad in
invincible armour shooting death beams from his eyes! In this scenario we are gonna
need a robot or a tank to deal with this old fella!
Combat is handled with the usual dice
and in the same way most other Palladium systems games are played. The D20 will be used for parrying, attacking
and dodging as well as saving versus magic, psionics and horror.
One thing to note is that RIFTS doesn’t
mess about with something as silly as balance. If you honestly think your Rogue Scholar should be able to face a
Dragon Hatchling in a fist fight leave now because this game isn’t for you. I like this way of doing
things, I can understand why characters in some games need to be balanced but this isn’t one of
As a GM this lack of balance might be
difficult to handle at first therefore I would suggest that the first time you GM you should guide your players
into picking characters from a similar power bracket as it will make your life easier. A Glitterboy, Borg and
Vagabond group will probably see the Vagabond blown to bits in the first fight! Unless he is a Psychic Vagabond
with an MDC force field but that’s another story.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a
group like the above because you can, it’s just it might be a bit hard to handle for your first few games. After
you have gained experience you could easily handle the above group.
Magic and Psionics
The variety of magic spell and psionic
abilities in this game is mind blowing. One of RIFTS (and Palladiums games in general) strongest features is the
sheer number of clever, useful and unique abilities your characters can have.
Being a Wizard might not be all about
shooting fireballs from your finger tips although it is a big part of the fun! You could make a wizard thief
with climbing and invisibility spells. A wizard assassin may have magic armour and superhuman strength. Walls of
stone, hurricanes, horrific illusions! They are all here.
A Mind Melter might not be all about
dominating the minds of others; he could just as easily summon a lethal sword made from pure psychic energy or
throw a car at his enemies with a glance!
This book is packed until bursting
point with weapons, armour, robots, bionics, cybernetics, magic, psionics, character classes and history. If you
put the effort in then this game is one of the finest games you will ever play. There are endless possibilities
for adventure in this book alone HOWEVER I would strongly recommend buying The Book of Magic, The Games Master
Guide and Psyscape as these three book cover the trinity of power which is Magic, Technology and Psychic powers.
I will probably give each of these books their own review at some point but for now if you love RIFTS then you
will love these books. Oh you might want the Atlantis source book too so that you can find out who that dolphin
headed fellow on the front cover is!
My friends and I love this game and
have played it for many years so from that perspective this game comes Highly Recommended.
I will add that unless you have an
eidetic memory or supernatural strength (to remember all the rules or carry all of the books) this isn’t the
sort of game you will be playing half way up a mountain side in your tent!
You may also like to
try another system?