RIFTS Main Rule Book Review


The 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!


RIFTS Main Rule Book


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 fantastic!


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 world!


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 greater good.


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?



Character Creation


What kind of character can I make?


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 carpentry!


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 action!



The System


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 them.


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!

5 Star Rating: Highly Recommended 

You may also like to read:

RIFTS: Ultimate Edition Phase World Dead Reign Dead Reign Civilization Gone

Want to try another system?


World of Darkness Core Book Dark Heresy Savage Worlds Deluxe Radiance