Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Resigning Yourself To Rifts

After Carter's query about converting more modules to B/X and JM's post about C2: The Ghost Tower of Iverness, I considered converting my HackMaster version of C2 (I don't own the original)...but then I actually bothered to read the thing and it's a train wreck. And rather than unraveling THAT I might as well take the time to explore a similar mess: breaking into Palladium.

To me, I find it surprising that there are people (especially anyone who's been playing for 20+ years) that have NOT played and/or owned a Palladium game. I mean, for all its well publicized foibles and flaws, it's just so damn ubiquitous.

Of course, I'm sure some people find it strange that I have never played, owned, or read a copy of Champions. And while I made one character for GURPS (a long time ago in a quiet moment during evening of Speech practice), I never played nor owned GURPS nor any of its many supplements...and to this day have no desire to do so.

So sure there are probably people out there who have been gaming nearly as long (or longer) than myself but who have never picked up or played Rifts, Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, Palladium Fantasy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and its add-ons), Ninjas and Superspies, Advanced Recon, etc., etc. After seeing the evolution of Dungeons and Dragons the last few years, nothing really surprises me in gaming anymore.

So as Norm was asking for advice, feeling "wary" of ending up all angst-ridden as myself should he step onto the Palladium road and pick up one of these little gems. Let me tell you, brother: "angst" is the LEAST of your worries should you go down that path!

Understand first off that I am 35 years old (36 in 9 days) and have been playing RPGs since I turned 8. I first played a Palladium game circa 1985 or 1986. I got into Heroes Unlimited around 1988 or so, and Rifts when it first came out (around 1990). WHEN I was a young, undiscerning, too-smart-for-my-own-good kid, I had the time and inclination to pore over these books for hours making sense of them and how to play them (at least, how to play them for MY purposes, which were pretty simplistic back then).

I pick up one of these doozies now, and I'm like WHOA...if I didn't already know how to play, I'm not sure I'd have the patience to learn from the rule book!

No, it's not quite as bad as the World of Synnibar, but Palladium's right up there.

The books (and here I refer to Rifts and Heroes Unlimited, having them both right at my disposal) aren't arranged in anything fitting the sensibility of a 21st century RPG consumer. Hell, they aren't even as nicely arranged as, say, Tom Moldvay's Basic set, with clear chapters in a step-by-step logical progression. The rules, while scant, are strewn haphazardly through the first 50 or so pages, mixed in with snatches of background and/or gaming advice for the particular genre being played.

The bulk of each game book is composed of the character classes and their cool powers.

This is why I rant that even though the game COULD be used for something other than drawn-out over-the-top combats it doesn't do a very good job of explaining WHAT those "other things" might be. The rules (such as they are) generally tell you how to make a character and how to fight. Boy, howdy, that sure seems to be promoting something, right?

Siembieda's language and writing is fairly clear and casual in most places (especially in the core books); it's simply trying to FIND anything that can be tricksy. Once out where everything is, you'll be rewarded in knowing what to look for in most every other book...until recently they were all laid out in pretty much the same way: character ability scores, SDC/hit points, healing, insanity, alignment, experience, combat, robot combat, and skills, followed by character classes and powers, and ending with equipment...pretty much in that order. Sprinkled throughout will be background material and "GM advice."

Now I DID check out Rifts Chaos the other day (again, a very cool idea...playing Rifts during the time of the Apolcalypse rather than a hundred years afterward), and I saw that K.S. had actually, purposefully changed the "organization" of the game rules (even stating up front that this particular core book was laid out differently from past books); however, it still seemed like a bit of a mess to me. However, I didn't purchase it so I can't give you fully skinny...nor can I say anything about Rifts Ultimate Edition ("RUE") though what I've read in reviews and such does not endear me to it.

Prior to RUE, the game SYSTEM was ugly (oh so ugly) but serviceable, and the its "universal" nature becomes quite a strength as characters and rules from various games can easily be 'ported from one to another. If you want Nega-Psychers from Beyond the Supernatural to be hunting down anthropmorphic ninja animals while driving a Zaentradi battle pod...well, you can do it. This isn't "twinking;" this is genre-crossing and dimension-hopping. Yes, it can be ridiculous if left without restraint, but it's the only way to really do some of the cool comics of the 1980's.

Like what? How about Camelot 3000? How about A Distant Soil? How about the Dungeons and Dragon cartoon that routinely crossed genre...heck, even Thundarr the Barbarian for some post-apocalyptic fun! Rifts can do this well...World Book 1:The Vampire Kingdoms is an excellent example (look at the NPC hero groups).


  1. As a true-blue member of the Kitchen Sink Coalition, RIFTS holds a dear place in my heart. Though at only 31, I have wondered if running RIFTS, like some professional sports, is a game for the young.

    Despite the flaws (IMO some accurate, some less so), I ran the game pretty handily for the early part of my college years in a memorable campaign that still has my group nagging me (good naturedly) for a repeat performance. Nowadays though, I pick up my copy of RIFTS, and sigh wearily. I can't imagine how I managed to run that game, as extemporaneously as I did, for as long as I did with only a few changes to the rules. I honestly think my brain was somehow more fit then.

    Can't wait to see where you're going with this.

  2. OOh, look! A Tentacle Monster with three curvaceous, scantily-dressed babes!

    Sorry, what were we talking about? ;)

  3. Sorry, what were we talking about? ;)

    How there could be more lasers on that hover platform! It's really lacking in firepower.

    And those skulls better be able to shoot beams out their eyes.

  4. @ James: it wouldn't be Rifts if the skulls DIDN'T shoot lasers.

    Interesting thought...Rifts might indeed be a game for the young. But how old is Kevin Siembieda, anyway?

  5. RIFTS is a lot of fun and a great game, with player parameters set from the start. The problems only really begin with MDC players and/or super weapons. Keeping it lowkey and gritty makes the game a lot more fun than running with the kitchen sink approach.

  6. > it's just so damn ubiquitous.

    Wow, this much be a regional thing or something. I've never seen anyone play it. I can't recall ever even seeing someone have the books. I don't remember it every listed as a game at a con (could have easily overlooked it though). I've only met a handful who admit to playing Palladium (and they instantly went into how awesome their one character was wankfest).

    I've seen so little Palladium I've often wondered how they stay in business. I must just not mingle in the right circles.

    I'm 39, btw.

  7. @ Norm: I know...I've been reading your blog.

    By the way, folks I just added the link for part 2 or this post...neglected that earlier.