A few days ago a draft copy of the upcoming Rifts Savage Worlds Players Guide made its way into my inbox from Pinnacle Entertainment. As a fan of the Rifts game from Palladium Games, I have been following the development of this game with interest. After having a couple of days to read through the PDF, I can talk about some of my early impressions of Savage Rifts.
UPDATE: The Kickstarter has launched and funded in under a minute. Looks like a record contender!
Unfortunately, this is going to be an incomplete look at Savage Rifts as a whole, because I have not yet seen the Gamemaster’s Guide or the adventure book. I think that these two books will be important in showing whether or not Savage Rifts will fire on all cylinders or not. So far, I am impressed with what I have seen, but I will really need to see how the game handles D-Bees before I can make a complete decision.
I am a fan of Rifts, and of Palladium games in general. My entry into all things Palladium was via their underappreciated Ninjas and Superspies game, which to this day remains one of my favorite martial arts games. Class and level games are not typically my thing, but there is something about the way that Palladium games are structured that makes me enjoy them a lot more. I’m not sure what that is because, at its heart, the Palladium system is really a heavily houseruled version of AD&D with rules to handle things like super-powers and mecha bolted on to it.
Rifts gets a lot of grief for having a lot of “crunch” to it, but in play I have found that most of that crunch is front loaded into the character creation, and fades as play continues. Making a Rifts character is probably one of the more time consuming character creation processes in gaming, but once you get over that hill the “crunch” fades to a more medium level of detail that really isn’t that different from games like AD&D. Unlike games like those in the D&D family, a Palladium game shoves a lot more flavor into their classes, really connecting characters to the worlds in which they play. I think, for me, that is a big part of what makes a Palladium game so much more interesting.
When word started to leak that Pinnacle Entertainment had acquired a license to make a Savage Worlds version of Rifts, I admit that I thought two things. First, I thought that the world was about to end because Palladium was letting someone else redo their game without their system. Second, I thought that it couldn’t work because, despite a lot of people not liking the Palladium system, I felt that it was tied up with the settings with such a Gordian knot that one would not be able to work without the other.
The designers managed to find a way to bring the structure of Rifts’ O.C.C.s (that’s Occupational Character Classes) to Savage Worlds in a way that not only simulates the sometimes staggering power levels of a Rifts game, but at the same time does it in a way that feels like Savage Worlds. A lot of the times when someone converts a game setting from one ruleset to another they tend to kludge systems from one game into another, often in ways that don’t work. The designers of Savage Rifts managed to avoid this trap with package deals that they call Iconic Frameworks. These Frameworks are built around the concepts of Rifts classes like Glitter Boys, Bursters, Cyber Knights, Juicers and other unique Rifts character classes, but they are conceptualized in Savage Worlds terminology.
Savage Worlds rules concepts like power points are given the Rifts names of P.P.E. (Potential Psychic Energy) and I.S.P. (Inner Strength Points) in these rules, to better fit the Rifts experience. Mega-Damage and M.D.C. (Mega-Damage Capacity) are alive and well in Savage Rifts.
There is an added “let’s be part of a team” to Savage Rifts that I like. Rifts can be the ultimate in sandbox campaigns, because with the existence of the Rifts your games can literally go anywhere and do anything. My last Rifts campaign started on Atlantis, shifted to deep space and the Phase Worlds before ending up on contemporary (non-Rifts) Earth. With all of time, space and alternate dimensions at your command, settling on a cohesive group concept can be difficult. Savage Rifts helps that with the idea that characters are all a part of a group known as The Tomorrow Legion. With the post-Tolkeen Rifts Earth as the base setting, the Tomorrow Legion is organized by one of the important NPCs of Rifts Earth, the historian Erin Tarn, along with Lord Coake, founder of the Cyber Knights. These people are organizing the Tomorrow Legion against the villainy of the Coalition. For a long time, the Coalition was seen as a necessary evil in the harsh world of Rifts Earth, protecting humanity from D-Bees and demonic forces, but the destruction of the city of Tolkeen has made a lot of people realize that the Coalition isn’t as necessary as they thought, and this is where Savage Rifts branches off.
Most of what I just said may not make any bloody sense to those without some grounding in the Rifts setting, but that’s okay. You don’t need to have a creaking bookshelf filled with Rifts books to play Savage Rifts. You get a lot of the idea of the world and its background from the Savage Worlds Rifts Player’s Guide, and I would imagine that the Game Masters Guide will expand that information even more.
Another problem that many have had with Rifts is that of character “balance.” The amount of power creep in Rifts supplements is pretty steady, with later books introducing classes and monsters that could overwhelm a lot of the concepts from the core book. Savage Rifts attempts to put characters of varying power levels on a more even keel with what they call the Heroic Journey tables. These are a series of random tables that can be rolled upon to give characters perks and equipment, with the more powerful character concepts getting fewer rolls than the less. I think this is a great idea, and looks like it will provide a nice bit of power level balance between characters. The only real problem with the tables is that, with only six options per table, characters will start to look alike. If I were running a Savage Rifts game, one of the first things that I would probably do would be to blow out these table to ten or twelve options each. The Heroic Journey tables are broken out into topics like Education, Close Combat Weapons, Magic & Mysticism, Cybernetics and others. In the descriptions of each Framework it tells you how many Heroic Journey rolls you can make for a character, and on which of the tables.
Savage Rifts is going to be a solid game that gives you the experience of playing in one of the great settings of tabletop gaming, using the Savage Worlds rules as its foundation. One of the things that makes Rifts fun is that you can literally toss anything from any Palladium book into a Rifts campaign, and they will more or less fit into your campaign. Savage Worlds allows for the same sort of “blender” approach to campaign creation. Anything should fit into a Savage Rifts game with that same ease. Bring in villains from your Deadlands games. Characters from licensed settings like Lankhmar or Sixth Gun or the upcoming Flash Gordon can slide into Rifts Earth for a while, before heading back to their own worlds. Yes, you may have to rejigger a few things to make characters work in Savage Rifts, but that is part of the work of a GM for these sorts of campaigns.
For people who have wanted “Rifts but in a ‘modern’ ruleset,” Savage Rifts should fit that bill. Savage Rifts captures all of the excitement and adventure of the original Palladium version of Rifts while staying faithful to the Savage Worlds rules.