The Setting; or Why There Are Extra-Dimensional Alien Bugs Occupying Detroit
It's 100 years in the future. Humankind has enjoyed a Golden Age of peace, prosperity and advancement. WE've conquered most diseases, bottled the fountain of youth, extendd our life spans to 200+ years and our toys are nano-technology and the genetic code. Our cities look like something out of a science fiction novel complete with robots, androids and flying cars. Our future appears grand... then it all comes to a crashing stop.
Imagine the end of the world. The movie Day After Tomorrow meets Nightmare on Elm Street.
In addition to the mass destruction and total chaos, lines of blue energy appear across the world. Where two or more lines meet, tears in space and time occur. From these Rifts emerge strange, alien beings. Some seem as mortal, scared and confused as you. Others are demons from the very pits of hell. At other places along the lines, weird and alien wildlife appear overnight. People start to manifest magical and psychic powers, ancient gods appear to claim portions of the land, titans clash and the landscape changes. It is pure and utter madness.
Fast forward 300 years.
And that's where we join our heroes. Or villains. Or psychic cat people piloting power armor and setting mind controlled alien zombies on fire with magic.
Rifts was (is?) the flagship series from Palladium Books. It combines post-apocalyptia with pulpy sci fi, outlandish fantasy, action movie theatrics and not a small amount of existential horror. Humans are an endangered species, aliens/monsters/dragons roam the earth. Magic is real, as are ley lines, geomancy and astral projection. Humanity is defended by a genetically engineered race of psychic humanoid dogs. Vampires rule Mexico. This is the world now.
The human race is hanging on by a thread. Most of us have gone back to something approaching the agrarian existence of settlers in the American West. Others are hunters or gatherers, or actively raid settlements for food and goods. The more enterprising among us make expeditions into ancient cities and complexes to search for technology from our Golden Age.
Mind Over Matter Technology; All the psionics and twitchiness, without any of that pesky sanity.
For those who want more protection than their squishy fleshbag of a body can provide, there are options, many of them left over from the technology we had before the fall. Bionics, mechanical replacements and reinforcements of limbs and skeletal structure are relatively common, with some going so far as to fully "convert" into terminator-esque cyborgs. Mind Over Matter brain implants give the subjects psychic powers, streamline reaction times and can even program in entire skillsets, with the only downside being eventual and inevitable insanity. Juicer chemical augmentation pumps a cocktail of adrenalin, pain killers and other drugs into the patient's system, making them incredibly strong, fast and tough. It also causes their heart to explode after 5-7 years, but them's the breaks.
Sure, the uniform is stylish, but the retirement plan is terrible
If mechanizing yourself is too drastic a step, there is always power armor. Man-sized suits of mega-damage (yeah, we'll get to that), servo-enhanced protection that have their own air, water and food stores and enough armaments to level what's left of any city on the eastern seaboard. Most suits can run at upwards of 60 mph and have strength levels on par with superheroes, and many of them can fly. They are the jet fighters of the setting, and they're priced like it.
The Palladium Verse; or Why That Kung Fu Dragon Has A Bionic Arm
The only limit is your Imagination!
With their *cough* "unified" *cough* rules across their surprisingly wide array of games, Rifts "benefited" from tons of already existant source material that could be dropped directly into the setting. Does your post-apocalyptic wasteland seem less awesome than it maybe could be? Try adding ninja mutant animals or Veritech fighters. Feel like your campaign could use a little more Cthulhu? There's an entire pantheon of dead/sleeping cosmic horrors that would love a shot at your squishy, tasty humanoid brains and/or souls. Tired of augmentation as the only route to human dominance? There's an entire book out there with the means to turn your Bruce Lee rip off into a supernatural megadamage ass kicker who can take a missile to the chest and still roundhouse the head off a glitter boy.
Oh, what's that? Why is Smruce Smee kicking the head off of a particularly sparkly rave participant? That's the other thing about Siembieda and his cohorts; they're not great with the names.
This is a real life glitter boy;
This is the Rifts
You may notice some subtle differences.
Other notable examples are the Cyber Knight (complete with PSYCHIC combat powers, a PSYCHIC energy blade and a PSYCHIC energy shield), Rogue Scholars (whose glut of 14 free range skill selections never failed to turn them into an acrobatic martial arts master with every weapon proficiency in the book) and the Shifter (who had no shapechanging powers whatsoever and instead focused on summoning unspeakables from the great beyond).
Mega Damage; or Why I'm Invulnerable To Your Puny Attacks
Ever feel like you need to do more damage? Like, if I'm doing damage now, I should be doing Better Damage. No, that's not superlative enough. Super Damage? That's more like it, but still not quite right. We need something more... Mega. Mega Damage. Yeah, that's the civilization leveling ticket.
Regular weapons do Structural Damage. It's roughly equivalent to hit point damage from any number of other systems, including D&D. In fact, most characters will have an amount of S.D.C. (Structural Damage Capacity) that represents their durability and a second pool that is actually called "hit points" that correspond to actually taking wounds and such. It's kind of like the 4E Bloodied system, only completely random and even more pointless. Weapons that do S.D.C damage do hit point damage on a 1:1 ratio. They're the same thing, essentially. Punches, knives, falling, these all do Structural Damage.
But really, punching is for pleebs anyway (unless you're supernaturally strong, obviously). The advent of energy weapons, rail guns, supercharged pyrokinesis and a hundred other means of wiping entire settlements off the map with a stray thought required an extra tier of damage statement. That's where Mega Damage comes in. One point of Mega Damage is equivalent to 100 points of Structural Damage. One Hundred Points. That means that this;
is roughly the damage equivalent of this;
It also means that going out without a suit of this;
is basically suicide. Because if you don't encase yourself in Mega Damage materials you'll be pink vapor pretty quickly. Which basically made all that stuff about SDC and Hit Points completely pointless unless you spent your campaigns fighting unarmed villagers.
But then again, moderation and restraint was never really a strength for Rifts.
The System; or How To Rule The World With One Suit Of Power Armor
The very basics of combat will be familiar to anyone who frequents this forum. Roll d20 to attack, add bonuses, if hit occurs roll dice to determine damage. Some key differences are that everything has an effective Armor Class of 8, Weapon Proficiencies add incremental bonuses to your attack rolls (starting at +1 at first level and going up from there) and unless you're wearing armor a single attack will likely vaporize you.
If you don't like the idea of taking the hit (with potential subsequent vaporization) you can use your next action to instead attempt to dodge the attack. You make a roll, the attacker makes a roll and high roll wins. You either dodge and take no damage or he hits and you accomplished nothing. Did I mention this takes the place of your next combat action? Your choices are to stand there and take the extremely high percentage attack (1d20 + 1 vs your 8 AC is a 65% hit at first level) in order to get a counter attack or try to dodge and do nothing in return.
Unless, of course, you're wielding two pistols, in which case you can dodge and give up only one of your attacks (since you get two per action). Because holding two guns makes you faster, I guess.
Combat in Rifts tended to turn into slugfests, with each side dumping high damage attacks (3d6 mega damage is pretty typical) into the other to try and beat down their 70-90 Mega Damage Capacity armor. Moving took up your combat action, so combatants tend to stand and shoot rather than do anything dynamic.
The only saving grace (if you want to think of it that way) is that some people got upwards of twice as many attacks as others. Combat was divided into "Melees" which were 15 second time increments. Most people started with two attacks. Evil people tended to start with 3. Unless they were in a Man At Arms class, then they got 5. Or 7 in Power Armor, or with a Juicer conversion. Basically what I'm saying is that sometimes you got to go twice while the Dickhead Juicer Assassin in massive power armor got to go 7-9 times. Those were not good times.
Outside of combat the system wasn't much better. There are around 300 skills in 18 different categories, each with a different base level of proficiency that has nothing to do with your character other than being trained in the skill. If you're not trained, you can't try it, if you are trained in it you're just as good (or bad) as everyone else who is trained. Period. Don't have Prowl trained? Apparently you just clomp everywhere and loudly announce your presence every time you enter a room. Have Surgery but not First Aid? I hope your buddy needs a kidney transplant and not a tourniquet. Having Pilot: Military Aircraft but not Sensory Equipment meant you had no idea how to read the dials in your cockpit. Apparently you are some kind of piloting savant.
The class system, very similar in a lot of ways to 2nd Edition D&D, is 7 separate kinds of lopsided. A lot of blame for this falls on option bloat, what with 50+ books introducing new classes and new options for old classes. The initial book doesn't even pay lip service to balance, though. This was a system crafted in the dark recesses of the late 80's and the simulationism renaissance. The fact that one character can start with the ability to read minds and throw Mega Damage fireballs while another has no skills and can fit all his possessions in his bindle is considered a feature, not a bug.
The Appeal; or Why In The Hell Would Anyone Play This Mess?
Did I mention the cyborgs, power armor and psychic dog people? This is a setting where the Rule of Cool is stitched straight into the fabric of the universe. There's a class whose primary ability is mind controlling mutant psychic mega damage dinosaurs and riding them into battle wielding a plasma lance. And that is the sort of thing that will captivate your inner 12 year old for hours on end, let me tell you.
For those (like myself) who have matured somewhat in their RPG tastes, the setting has other things to offer. The post apocalyptic nature alone is a substantial draw for some. For others, the constant overtones of human augmentation hold the seeds of compelling stories. There are tons of points of conflict and it's a game that is literally built around the idea that every single genre of fiction can coexist in some form.
And when you just get down to playing it, it can be damn fun. It's Road Warrior, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Blade Runner all thrown into one pot and stirred vigorously. It's like being a chemically enhanced ninja assassin fighting vampires in the burned out husk of Mexico City while your buddy tries to open a rift in space time to a hell dimension full of demonic insect people. Really.
It's like this;
And that's why I love it.