View From The Rifts: Looking At Palladium's Rifts Role-Playing Game
  • View From The Rifts: Looking At Palladium's Rifts Role-Playing Game


    Every Palladium fan probably knows the story behind 1990's Rifts—following a "small" nuclear war, the world is plunged into over 200 years of utter chaos. Then, dimensional rifts rupture the planet. All over the earth, strange creatures, inter-dimensional beings (D-Bees), cyborgs and aliens walk among men. After that, things get interesting.


    The game starts off strong, introducing the great cataclysm, establishing post-apocalyptic earth as new member of the Palladium Megaverse, the setting in which all Palladium RPGs—including TMNT and Other Strangeness—take place. Players of other games will see some familiar elements here, including alignments and stats.

    One of my favorite concepts from other Palladium RPGs—Structural Damage Capacity (SDC)—shows up here as well, with the bonus of mega damage becoming a possibility during game play, mostly because of the insane weaponry available to players in Rifts.

    The book details the extreme amount of character classes players may choose from and explains the concept of rifts—portals from other parts of the Megaverse—along with key organizations, politics, weaponry and mechanics for the game.

    The rifts themselves are based on the concept of ley lines—straight lines connecting three or more prehistoric or ancient sites, associated with lines of energy and other paranormal phenomena, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In the game, the rifts are the crossing of two ley lines and the stuff that comes out of these things is insane. As the series progresses, things become even more overpowered and amazing.

    World monuments such as Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines in Peru contain their own rifts. In this game, the lost continent of Atlantis returns to earth and each part of the world has its own dystopian existence. It's quite interesting and fun to read about, even if one doesn't get the opportunity to play.

    Rifts is complicated, both to GM and play. There is a plethora of character classes from which to choose—from Bio-Wizards to Cyborgs, Dimensional Beings, Psionicist, Dog Boys, Grunts, Juicers, and many more—and character creation takes a long time. To help with this, Palladium released a superb character sheet and a short guide to game mastering, RIFTS Primer – How to Play RIFTS and Create Adventures. Personally, I don't mind the system too much—my GM style plays fast and loose with the rules, for the most part—but to each their own, I suppose.

    The classes and concepts are interesting and I particularly like the concept of Techno-Wizardry, which bridges the gap between magic and technology. Separating the myriad of classes into occupations such as Men at Arms, Coalition, Adventurers and Scholars and Practitioners of Magic does make things a bit easier, but it's still quite complicated at its core.

    After the core book, Palladium released the first RIFTS Sourcebook, which provided further detail about the world of the post cataclysm earth. It's relatively easy to find, inexpensive and worth picking up for the illustrations alone.

    No discussion of Rifts is complete without mentioning the Glitter Boy mech armor. Despite its silly name, the mech armor is one of the few intact pieces of technology that existed before the great cataclysm. In what seems to be a battle suit straight out of the wonderful Robotech RPG and TV series, the suit has a killer giant gun and some unique explanations for its use. The suit even has its own detailed, slightly checkered past, which you can read about in the sourcebook.

    Ever the sucker for a massive piece of Mech Armor—I adored Gundam, MechWarrior, Robotech and Teknoman as a kid—the Glitter Boy armor was always one of my favorite things about Rifts. The one and only campaign I ever participated in saw my character playing around with one of these things, only to be horribly swarmed and killed by a gang of ruthless vampires in the Yucatan. Rifts is fun, but brutal.

    If you're planning to get into Rifts anytime soon, the Rifts: Ultimate Edition is probably as good a place as any to start. It's the most recently updated and expanded version of the game, readily available at online retailers or directly from Palladium.

    Contributed by David J Buck
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      One thing you have to say about Rifts is that despite it being the ultimate kitchen sink with everything you can think off being thrown together it works more or less.
    1. rodegoat2000's Avatar
      rodegoat2000 -
      I cannot speak to the Palladium release but the Savage Worlds version is quite good. If you find the Palladium mechanics burdensome that may be something for one to look at.
    1. God -
      Yeah, the original books are great for setting information but, by all that’s holy, don’t inflict the Palladium rules on yourself. Savage Rifts all the way.
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      One of the biggest sleeper hits, and biggest guilty pleasures no doubt, of the 1990s.

      I couldn't ever get into it, to be honest, but the kitchen sink appeal does have merits. It's the same essential appeal for games like GURPS or Mage: The Ascension, but for different reasons.
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      Quote Originally Posted by God View Post
      Yeah, the original books are great for setting information but, by all that’s holy, don’t inflict the Palladium rules on yourself. Savage Rifts all the way.
      Sadly Savage World has quite a different tone than the Palladium version. Creadible threats in Palladium become just another mook in in SW. It is also not able to support some of the concepts like psionics different from magic or some of the more crazy stuff like teleportation.
      While many critizise Palladium Rifts as unbalanced, which it certainly is, I think Savage World has overdone it with the balancing which destroys some of the flair.
      Also, I think the claims of unbalance are exaggerated as many GMs expect that everything is balanced with everything like (supposedly) in D&D while Rifts assumes that the GM allows and disallows classes based on the type of campaign he wants to run.
      The handling of Megadamage I find better in SW though so that it is possible to play a game with mainly normal damage encounters and a foe that requires MD becomes a big obstacle.
    1. Tyranthraxus's Avatar
      Tyranthraxus -
      I remember some crazyness of mixing Heroes Unlimited in with Rifts and Robotech. Good times.....
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by God View Post
      Yeah, the original books are great for setting information but, by all that’s holy, don’t inflict the Palladium rules on yourself. Savage Rifts all the way.
      Palladium's rules aren't really all that bad...
      ... they're just "not great"...
      For the era when the system was developed (per Mechanoids,1979-1981), it was a logical extrapolation from D&D+Sup I. It's applying the concept of thief skills to all skills. The combat is likewise a streamlining - but with a reasonable switch to ascending AC. Not unlike so many new retroclones.

      The class approach is often stifling, and characters are pretty much almost identical by class & level. Not unusual for the early 80's.
      The lack of social skills is to some a bug, to others a feature.
      Damages are calibrated in reference to HP and no personal SDC, but most classes now have at least some pSDC.
      the original AR system was pretty good... a roll of 5-AR hits the SDC of the armor, and >AR hits the hit points. A nat 1 always misses.
      The dodge/parry/roll defenses are cinematic... but simple to implement in play, and fun, even if they do make combats take longer.
      All skills raising whether used or not is a logical flaw, but a simplification used by several other games, like The Arcanum.
      Personal SDC is one of those "Feed the Munchkin Impulse"... so is MegaDamage armor, MegaDamage character classes, and classes with inherent access to Mecha without an associated burden of duty to an organization...
    1. Guang's Avatar
      Guang -
      The Rifts setting always looked fascinating, but so very complicated. Is there some kind of Great-Wheel-type explanation or chart on how all the places in the supplements fits together?
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Guang View Post
      The Rifts setting always looked fascinating, but so very complicated. Is there some kind of Great-Wheel-type explanation or chart on how all the places in the supplements fits together?
      If you're interested just get an original Rifts book (cheaper usually) or Ultimate Rifts (more up to date) and they cover the breadth of the setting pretty well. Most later books are either regional guides like Germany or Japan or Australia or metaplot updates like the war updates. I'd say you'll either love or hate the game after reading just the main book and the supplements will just reinforce your initial feelings.

      "Every Palladium fan probably knows the story behind 1990's Rifts—following a "small" nuclear war, the world is plunged into over 200 years of utter chaos. Then, dimensional rifts rupture the planet. All over the earth, strange creatures, inter-dimensional beings (D-Bees), cyborgs and aliens walk among men. After that, things get interesting."

      Er, not exactly. The nuclear war rapidly expands and during this same war as people die en masse in seconds large amounts of psychic energy are released - large enough to flood the old ley lines criss-crossing the earth and the energy is so great that anywhere they cross a rift tears open and lots of horrible things come swarming through. Death giving large amounts of this energy is a core concept of the setting, from the origin story to why bad guys like to sacrifice living intelligent beings. Super-technology directly causes the introduction of the supernatural and civilization is wrecked almost completely.


      "One of my favorite concepts from other Palladium RPGs—Structural Damage Capacity (SDC)—shows up here as well, with the bonus of mega damage becoming a possibility during game play, mostly because of the insane weaponry available to players in Rifts."


      SDC plays a pretty small role in most Rifts campaigns. Pretty much every character starts with MDC weapons and armor and can rather easily acquire more once the game begins. MDC is not a bonus or a possibility - it's the standard in every Rifts game I've ever run, played, seen, or heard of, with the exception of one game that started inside Chi-Town.


      "Rifts is complicated, both to GM and play."

      I would disagree. The game itself is not that complicated, being roughly comparable to second edition D&D. The fact that it has a large number of character options really doesn't matter once you start playing as it doesn't really do multiclassing nor does it have a feat or advantage type system so you're pretty much just running down the list of levels as you advance. Skills are a straight-up percentage chance to do something so there are not a lot of complicating factors there either. By the book, Rifts is pretty straightforward.

      If you try to fight the rules, if you try to make them make sense, if you try to turn them into a unified mechanics type of game, then it gets tricky real fast. A lot of us tried to do this over the years and if you can get to something that makes you and your players happy then it can be fun but the simplest answer may be to just let go and stick with the rules as written and only make an adjustment when there is no clear simple answer.

      If you really want a coherent ruleset then the Savage Worlds version is defintiely worth a look.

      "After the core book, Palladium released the first RIFTS Sourcebook, which provided further detail about the world of the post cataclysm earth. It's relatively easy to find, inexpensive and worth picking up for the illustrations alone."


      I don't understand this comment - they released a whole bunch of sourcebooks which cover the main world, other worlds, other dimensions, and even other time periods. There are at least 70 supporting books for Rifts. They even revised and updated that first sourcebook a few years back into a much stronger book. There's a lot of interesting, inspiring art in pretty much any Rifts book.



      "If you're planning to get into Rifts anytime soon, the Rifts: Ultimate Edition is probably as good a place as any to start. It's the most recently updated and expanded version of the game, readily available at online retailers or directly from Palladium."

      Well it is the current main rulebook for the game so yes. It was published more than a decade ago though which seems like a long time for a core book these days. There's also Rifts for Savage Worlds which was the subject of a pretty big kickstarter in 2016 so we might mention that as well.


      This whole article seems like its written by someone who hasn't actually done much with the game

      "The one and only campaign I ever participated in saw my character playing around with one of these things, only to be horribly swarmed and killed by a gang of ruthless vampires in the Yucatan. Rifts is fun, but brutal."

      Ah - there it is.

      The main attractions of Rifts are:

      - The setting - which gives a coherent and internally consistent background for an anything-goes campaign (which is probably closest to "post-apocalyptic superheroes" if I had to boil it down to one phrase)

      - the character options - which cover just about anything you could think of from dragon hatchling to cyborg to Jedi to superhero to ninja turtle to fireball-tossing fantasy wizard.

      What it really takes is a GM that is inspired by the source material to create a game people want to play, probably by focusing in on one aspect of the world:

      - You can run it as a location-based campaign of exploring a region and defending your home town.
      - You can run an epic quest game with a journey across a world full of hostile and not-so hostile creatures.
      - You can run it as a mercenary game where you're just trying to get by and make some money in a world gone mad.
      - You can run strangers in a strange land where none of your PC's are actually from Rifts Earth as it is now.
      - You can run a war campaign fighting against (or with) the Coalition states or the Vampires of Mexico or Triax and the NGR against the gargoyles.

      Deciding what part of the setting you want to explore first can be the toughest choice. North America alone has threats like the Coalition, ARCHIE, the Xiticix, the Splugorth, the Vampires, the Kingdom of Magic, and probably a half dozen-others I am forgetting. Or you can get some power armor and go fight dinosaurs in what's left of Florida.

      The rules are not the reason to play the game but they work well enough with some tweaks to suit your group.

      I would reiterate that in my experience Rifts either inspires you or repulses you. If you're at all interested then pick up a copy of one of the main rule books and see where you fall. The game's been continuously in print for 27 years with minimal edition changes. That's not luck or an accident. Now with the SW edition out there is a whole 'nother set of options for playing in the Rifts universe.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      Different rules for different folks. I once tweaked Marvel Saga Superheroes to Rift. Combat were epic and quick, but my players hated it. They loved building their characters and then seeing all those bonuses in action.

      Dog boys were my favorite, but we always talked about doing demonically possessed mutant animals running around in power armor and the havoc that'd cause.
    1. Guang's Avatar
      Guang -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      they released a whole bunch of sourcebooks which cover the main world, other worlds, other dimensions, and even other time periods. There are at least 70 supporting books for Rifts.
      This is exactly what my question is about. I've run into a few of those books over the years, and they always left me puzzled as to the underlying structure of Reality According to Rifts. Is there some kind of chart, or even a several-page explanation somewhere that would tie all of these worlds, dimensions, and time periods together into some kind of averarching multiversal structure?
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      Quote Originally Posted by Guang View Post
      This is exactly what my question is about. I've run into a few of those books over the years, and they always left me puzzled as to the underlying structure of Reality According to Rifts. Is there some kind of chart, or even a several-page explanation somewhere that would tie all of these worlds, dimensions, and time periods together into some kind of averarching multiversal structure?
      I dont think it is that complicated.
      You have Rifts earth wvich has portals to basically every other Palladium setting. In space above Rifts earth is the Mutants in Orbit setting.
      For Rifts earth North America is the main setting. But there are setting books for other parts of the world, too like for Germany or Japan. Basically everything declared as World Book is located on earth.
      Then you have established links to other dimensions. Wormwood is a strange gunposder level dimension and 3 Galaxies is a full blown SciFi setting. Especially 3 Galaxies got their own line of sourcebooks and can be played without mentioning Rifts earth at all. But those are just 2 of uncountable dimensions and basically elements from every Palladium setting can appear anywhere. You can have Robotech mechs in Rifts or a SciFi exploration party from 3 Galaxies in Palladium fantasy.

      The only exception (partially) is Chaos Earth. This setting plays in the past of Rifts earth during the downfall of the original civilization. But no one would really complain if you add time travel into it to have Rifts characters appear in Chaos Earth. And just because the Rifts have just opened it doesnt mean that one doesnt lead to 3 Galaxies for example.

      Each setting can be played as standalone or it can be connected to the multiverse.
      Currently there is a setting spanning metaplot going on as the war between Demons and Devils spills over into every dimension and thus every setting.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      "Rifts is complicated, both to GM and play."

      I would disagree. The game itself is not that complicated, being roughly comparable to second edition D&D. The fact that it has a large number of character options really doesn't matter once you start playing as it doesn't really do multiclassing nor does it have a feat or advantage type system so you're pretty much just running down the list of levels as you advance. Skills are a straight-up percentage chance to do something so there are not a lot of complicating factors there either. By the book, Rifts is pretty straightforward.
      FAR simpler than AD&D, either edition.

      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      If you try to fight the rules, if you try to make them make sense, if you try to turn them into a unified mechanics type of game, then it gets tricky real fast. A lot of us tried to do this over the years and if you can get to something that makes you and your players happy then it can be fun but the simplest answer may be to just let go and stick with the rules as written and only make an adjustment when there is no clear simple answer.
      Really, I can (but won't) sum up the mechanics on a single page of outline; the mechanics have barely changed since 1984. Sure, lot of new OCCs and RCCs... and a variety of combat skills, and more skills per character... but how those get used? Same. (I really should have my wife sell my originals of The Mechanoids trilogy...)

      And, really, as long as you accept that Mr. Siembieda won't mechanically resolve interpersonal actions, saying "talk them out"...

      There's: no balance; no interpersonal skills nor rules; great art; lousy layouts; incredible world building; very poor translation of setting to mechanics; and much, much gonzo.

      Oh, and Mr. Siembieda is apparently one of the most micromanaging nutjobs in the industry.

      Savage Rifts is the first time he's let anyone play with his toys... and from friends, I hear it's a great adaptation... said friends have now sword off Palladium's books for Savage Worlds...
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      Quote Originally Posted by Guang View Post
      This is exactly what my question is about. I've run into a few of those books over the years, and they always left me puzzled as to the underlying structure of Reality According to Rifts. Is there some kind of chart, or even a several-page explanation somewhere that would tie all of these worlds, dimensions, and time periods together into some kind of averarching multiversal structure?
      Honestly, not really. It's almost as if you had Doctor Who without the time travel while also having the ley lines as the TARDIS. The further away you get from Earth, and former NATO countries in particular, the more things go gonzo.

      And even then, the status quo is a glut of dimensional portals that allow for more magic and demons to terrorize a post-apocalyptic land filled with high-tech and psionic leftovers. For North Amnerica, ther are nazi's in the center, alien bugs up north and somewhere there is a city where everybody gets along, human and alien, magic and science.
    1. Dannyalcatraz's Avatar
      Dannyalcatraz -
      RIFTS: great setting, lousy mechanics. Fun.

      That whole gonzo, balance be damned aspect left a lasting mark on how I view systems to this day. Indeed, while I think it is mechanically superior, 4Ed’s fetishized balance was so annoying to me in no small part due to the fun I had playing & GMing RIFTS, warts and all.
    1. Benjamin Nydegger's Avatar
      Benjamin Nydegger -
      Rifts took balance and erased it from the dictionary. Then assumes a bunch of teenagers would be able to negotiate the process of limiting the variety of classes and not get into hours long arguments as Siembieda left loop hole after loop hole allowing a character to break the GM restrictions. Oh and don’t even calculate your Hit Points and SDC. If your and SDC creature just assume you die if your hit outside of armor. If you focus a lot of effort in maxing out your SDC and HP you might survive being hit by a MD pistol and only if they roll 1 damage.

      There is no point to leveling because unless your a mage or psychic you don’t gain anything significant as you level. Classes are completely front loaded. And the bonuses from leveling amount to starting with around +2 to something and maxing level with +5.

      There is no AC system. Who ever said that is wrong. It is a flat 8 to punch something and 12 to shoot something. Period. Your superfast character can waste one of his actions to dodge but anytime you make yourself harder to hit you don’t get to attack. The system is essentially a damage trading system. Who ever can through the most damage first wins.

      Once you throw out the rules the wold is seeded with lots of fun ideas and concepts and the just plain unexpected.

      My favorite and least favorite game ever.
    1. Dan Gill's Avatar
      Dan Gill -
      I love Rifts tabletop games, While he gets a lot of grief from tabletop players As it's mentioned many many times in all the books just because it's in a book doesn't mean you have to included in your campaign the game's basic setting is fantastic and includes many genres that work well together
    1. Michael Silverbane -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dan Gill View Post
      I love Rifts tabletop games, While he gets a lot of grief from tabletop players As it's mentioned many many times in all the books just because it's in a book doesn't mean you have to included in your campaign the game's basic setting is fantastic and includes many genres that work well together
      The problem isn't so much that a thing is included in the book. The problem occurs when the thing is included in the book and *some* but not *all* of the players want the thing included in the campaign.

      If *none* of the players want the thing included in the campaign, that is fine. If *all* of the players want the thing included in the campaign, that is fine.

      Otherwise, some sort of discussion, in which *all* of the players need to be satisfied as to the nature of the campaign and which bits are and are not to be included must occur. This isn't just a problem for Rifts.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      I do have to thank that Siembieda got the word out one of the more important Rifts questions.

      The answer is "Dead."

      The question is "What happens when a Crazy pulls the trigger on his own skull."

      Establishing that the GM could ignore hit points when it came to common sense, allowed for cyborgs to speak nicely to Dog Boys who could sneak up and put a vibroblade in their neck joints. The problem is that I don't think Siembieda ever got around to making an essay of this attitude in his core books.
    1. raleel's Avatar
      raleel -
      Quote Originally Posted by Von Ether View Post
      Different rules for different folks. I once tweaked Marvel Saga Superheroes to Rift. Combat were epic and quick, but my players hated it. They loved building their characters and then seeing all those bonuses in action.

      Dog boys were my favorite, but we always talked about doing demonically possessed mutant animals running around in power armor and the havoc that'd cause.
      For the last couple of years, I've considered a Rifts game, but i would use Marvel Heroic or some mutation of Cortex Plus/Prime. I feel it's one of the best systems out there to allow Dragons to run with Rogue Scholars and have both matter.

      still one of my favorite settings. I really enjoyed the Atlantis book deeply. Great art.
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