Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In Praise (??) of Rifts World Books

Did I mention the whole “Love-Hate” relationship I have with Palladium?

I’m sure I did. Of course I did. How could I not? They make me positively seethe with rage and frustration simply by dint of their regular B.S. that passes for “business as usual” in their game books. And yet, and yet…

How can I not be totally enthralled with the little gems found amongst the kilos of dross found betwixt the covers of their books? And while I’m not a huge fan of ALL their art (Mr. Long often leaves me saying “eh…so what?”) I find many of their glossy covers are positively inspiring.

Here is a list of the Rifts books I once possessed:


Rifts Sourcebook One

Rifts World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms

Rifts Conversion Book

Rifts World Book 2: Atlantis

Rifts Sourcebook 2: The Mechanoids

Rifts World Book 3: England

Rifts World Book 4: Africa

Rifts Dimension Book 1: Wormwood

Rifts World Book 5: Triax and the New German Republic (NGR)

Rifts Conversion Book 2: Pantheons of the Megaverse

Rifts World Book 10: Juicer Uprising

Rifts World Book 14: New West

I did in fact use almost all of these at one point or another…up through the Conversion Book 2 I purchased every single item offered in the Rifts line. But shortly after that I played my last game of Rifts. Wow…a long time ago.

Later, I picked up the Juicer Uprising and the New West simply because I was looking to get back into Rifts and while I didn’t have the money to purchase EVERYTHING I’d missed, I wanted to make sure I’d at least get the stuff that really interested me…Juicers and (of course) the Western supplement.

I think that Juicers are probably my favorite, favorite character type of the Rifts game, though it’s difficult to say for sure (there’s just so many cool characters one can play). But I love the Faustian nature of the class…sell your soul for a half dozen years of drug enhanced power before burning out a lifeless, crippled husk? Simply awesome. It’s not “with great power comes great responsibility,” it’s instead “great power comes with a humongous price tag.”

Juicer Uprising has quite a number of cool ideas (dragon juicers, combat chainsaws) and quite a few lame ones (mega-juicers, undead juicers). It’s also a juicer twink’s wet dream…and I hate anything that can be labeled a “twink’s wet dream.”

If the New West had come out when I was still playing Rifts, my campaigns might have gone on for a looong time. I love the western (observe my interest in Boot Hill, Deadlands, Clockwork, etc.). I love the return to the Old West feel of Rifts.

Unfortunately, not everything in the New West book comes out guns and roses. The OCCs, setting material, and half the critters (I especially like worm ones) are cool. But the “western look” gear is lame, and the gunfighting rules are hampered by Palladium’s own sorry combat system.

Like Warlords of Russia, the New West could be a pretty much stand alone game world…use the basic book and everything found in the World Book and you could run a helluva’ campaign. This is the great strength of the Rifts World Books. Along with the basic book “chassis” each one is its own vehicle to adventure. Whether fighting the forces of Darkness in Wormwood, the Vampire Kingdoms of Mexico, or riding the countryside as a knight of New Camelot, each World Book provides ample material for a short or long term campaign.

And yet they don’t say this, and consequently the temptation (especially among young gamers, as I once was) is to use EVERYTHING under the sun…one giant published game system. Ugh! I’m not sure if that’s how Mr. Siembieda runs his own game campaign (somehow it wouldn’t surprise me), but I’d guess even if he did NOT, he’d encourage folks to do so.

And frankly that’s the point, right? Palladium wants you to buy EVERY GODDAMN BOOK they publish: currently up to 29 World Books, 12 Dimension Books, probably half-a-dozen+ Source books (they stopped numbering after 4), and close to the same number of Conversion books, not to mention another 6 books in the “Coalition Wars” series and around about 50 editions of the Rifter. They advertise their books within their books and they reference you to other books for information in the book you’re reading.

Ugh! How about a couple stand alone books, huh?

And so what began as a rave turns into a rant… I sold ALL these books back to the Game Shop eventually (with the exception of a book or two that were inexplicably “lost”…perhaps to one of my gaming buddies) and vowed never to re-purchase another Rifts book ever again…a vow I just broke last weekend. Actually, I may have vowed never to purchase another Palladium book ever again, and I broke that last year when I picked up a copy of Heroes Unlimited 2 at Barnes & Noble (I was just so tickled to see HU at Barnes & Noble that I thumbed through it…with the usual result).

But now, an older and wiser consumer (if not still a completionist/collector) I find myself considering which books I’d purchase again given the chance. I already have Rifts and the Bionics Sourcebook (and, man, am I glad I was able to find a copy of the original game…I want NO part of “Rifts Ultimate Edition”). Here’s what else I’d love to have back in my grubby mitts:

The Vampire Kingdoms, Atlantis, and Wormwood: these are fantastic settings for a specific campaign. Very well detailed, plenty of adventure ideas, plenty of inspiring material and A LOT of opportunity for heroic conflict (this ain’t OD&D, folks); interestingly, none of these were available on the shelf of my local game shop (even though other older volumes were).

Warlords of Russia, Australia, Canada: while I’ve never owned these books, I’ve read good reviews that lead me to believe they’d also make excellent stand-alone settings. Of the three, Russia is the first one I intend to get as I see a ton of potential. I would hope Canada is specific to the Pacific Northwest, but I’m a sucker for snow and Sasquatch anyway.

I’d consider picking up England, though I remember thinking it a little “soft” (a little too fantasy, not enough post-apocalypse). I’m not very interested in having Triax again, but it may be the only source for Triax gear now that the original Sourcebook 1 is out-of-print. I’d be tempted to get the New West only for the gunslinger OCCs and artwork.

Nothing else on the product list really interests me, with the possible exceptions of the Coalition War Campaign or Mystic Russia, though solely as resources for the other books. The Conversion Book #1 and Sourcebook #1 were both exceptionally useful, but they’re no longer available except in “revised editions” and there ain’t no way I plan on purchasing RUE, so I’m not certain of their usefulness.

Hey, my birthday’s coming up! Don’t I deserve a “wish list?”

; )


  1. You are intriguing me. But I don't want angsty love/hater. What am I to do?

  2. Hmm...not sure if this is a rhetorical question or if you're looking for advice.

    Regarding Palladium: that's a whole different post topic.

    Regarding me and my blog: sorry if I seem angsty!

  3. Yes indeed, Rifts is more useful as a source of material for one's own campaign than something you could play as-is...

    While I do have some ideas as to house-ruling the Palladium system into something simpler, faster, and easier to play, I'm thinking I might be better off running certain other game systems "in the privacy of my own campaign", and drawing on Palladium/Rifts as required.

    The irony being, the Palladium system strikes me as someone's bloated and unwieldy set of house rules for OD&D/BX ;)

  4. Sorry, for being unclear. And the typo did not help.

    First, love the blog.

    I've read some Palladium, just flavor/setting stuff not the rules.

    Your recent articles are making me interested in Palladium. But am wary of going through the love/hate you have, (the angsty bit). I was sort of asking for (more) advice, Palladium articles and saying I liked this series.

  5. Yeah, I feel you on this one, very muchly. I think I stopped buying Rifts books sight-unseen after Triax/NGR came out. Subsequently sold 'em all off, and swore off Palladium for good. Or so I thought. Now I've got a shelf with the "core essentials" (Main Book, Bionics book, GM Guide, Book of Magic, Aftermath, D-Bees of North America, a couple selected world books) that were bought back within the last year or so (helps that one of my friendly local game stores was having a 50% off sale on Palladium books--and boy did that make me feel old...the kids don't play Rifts no more?).

    Vampire Kingdoms and Atlantis are probably my two all-time favorite Rifts sourcebooks. Good point on certain books being settings in their own right. Warlords of Russia, yeah! And yes, I was guilty at 14-15 of trying to fold in every Rifts sourcebook as it came out.

    Both the England and Triax sourcebooks left much to be desired, as far as I was concerned. I completely reimagined Europe for my own Rifts campaign.

    I haven't tried these out in play yet, but I recently ran across a VERY intriguing set of house rules for the Palladium system. It strips out the core mechanics, replacing the d20s and percentile rolls with a dice pool mechanic, while preserving everything else as written. Pretty simple and elegant.

  6. @myrystyr: your analysis of the origin of Palladium mimics my own thought. It's the sheer depth and complexity of imagination (especially regarding the Rifts series) and the sheer bull-headed determination to "do it MY way" that I find so intriguing. Well...and those other things I've already mentioned (gritty superheroes and 'borgs out the ears).

    @sirL: thanks for the link! I downloaded it but have only managed to read the first half...what I've read so far is interesting. It looks a wee bit more complex than I was thinking, but I'm reserving judgment until I've finished it.

    @Norm: Thanks for the love. I'll probably be sending up more articles of Palladium because a) I've got a bit of experience with it (though, crap, I have ten times as much with Vampire...ugh!), and b) since I've been reinvesting in it over the last year, I've got a true interest in "making it work."

    As far as avoiding the angst...man, it's tough. That deserves its own post, I'm afraid.