Hey there everyone
So while I have reviewed multiple products from Palladium Books before, and I know that in the last year there have been a lot more blow outs regarding the company and its owner Kevin Siembieda. I am not going to rehash that at all though. This post is about the first edition of the most ambitious setting I have ever seen. Rifts.
So let me say I first found this game the year it came out. I was interested right off the bat because after Shadowrun came out the year before, and in my mind blew the doors off of putting Fantasy and Cyberpunk together into a single setting, I wanted to see what one of my favorite publishers, the folks who had brought me Heroes Unlimited, TMNT and other Strangeness and Robotech could do with a setting that essentially mixed… everything… together in one place.
I wanted to be tough on them, to really put the pressure on to make sure they kept up the quality of settings I had seen them do, and license. I gave up on that completely when I got to the RCC (Racial Character Class) section and found that you could start the game playing a dragon. And that while dragons generally preferred not to get cybered up, you could. And they had natural magic. And… well yeah… so…
Anyway they had a ton of other interesting classes. The original book had humans, dragons, psychics and ‘dog boys’ as the races you could play. And if you were human you could pick an OCC (Occupational Character Class) to go with your race.
Your initial setting is on a post apocalypse Earth. Where things had gone high tech. There was a lot of cool gear and toys. Humans got stupid and went WW3 on each other. Massive death toll on just the right time pulled all the psychic energy into the worlds ley lines and they went nuts. Magic returned to the world, the ley lines turned into Rifts bringing things from multiple different dimensions and worlds to Earth. Death toll rises. Things lock into place and humanity has been shattered. Three hundred years or so later a small human empire is up and running in the midwest using Nazi like tactics to get folks under their thumb. And in the setting at the moment the first book came out you could either be a part of the empire, our choose to be outside it.
Later books would expand things, a lot… no really… a lot. I wont go into detail but add in books about parts of Earth, other dimensions, lists of deities (yeah they are wandering around too), alien parts salesmen and all sorts of other stuff and the whole thing gets freakin’ huge. Unfortunately all that growth comes with an epidemic of power creep. However that is not the point of this review.
One of the things that really drew me in was that fact that this setting was in the same rules as every other Palladium Books game I had played. And they stated right in the book that they were going to put out a supplemental book that would tell you how to bring over every other type of character and make it work. So of course the first thing that I did with a game group was to put together a mission in which the TMNT stole the SDF-1 and tried to raid the capitol of that burgeoning new human empire with the assistance of a few super humans and more than a few cybernetic spies. Yeahhh. Thats the kinda stuff this setting lets you get away with.
Now the game itself is far from perfect. My current copy of the original rule book is eighth printing and it still has a ton of editorial errors. The art is the usual Palladium mixed batch where you may have one or two artists that are pretty good, but the cover is the only art really worth drooling over (save for licensed titles and some of the most recent books they have done when they finally got new art teams and the owner quit trying his hand at art from time to time).
My biggest issue with the game is that the leveling system calls back to original D&D, with that poor elf who does elf things. And the fact that you cannot change classes at any point other than to just clear everything you have learned and take on a new roll. So you start at ground level all over again despite how ever long you have been playing. This type of level system does have its benefits, and it can keep a player from over reaching and trying to become a dragon with a borg aspect who pilots giant robots and has made magical pacts to become… ohhhh you get it. If the rules wont let you do it it stops things from getting too far out of control unless you make exceptions and get into power creep (cough cough later books). Even though it would be ten years before we would see D&D 3rd edition and get a really solid look at what you can do slipping between classes ‘officially’, there have been examples for years of a controlled method of mixing rolls so that players can build what they can imagine without getting too far out of control.
Even with its built in imperfections this game has been an inspiration to me for a long time. I love the potential in crossing genres. And while there were other game engines like the Hero System and GURPS that set you up to be able to do EVERYTHING in one game engine. This is the first setting that I became aware of that actually put EVERYTHING in one place from the beginning.
Ok so lets look at the numbers…
Overall Fluff 4/5 – There is enough background info here and in both editorial and character voices that the setting really comes to life. The art helps a little when it can avoid being distracting. There are so many bread crumbs dropped that ties this setting into everything else that Palladium Books published that you cant help but feel things coming together are you read.
Overall Crunch 4/5 – Standard Palladium Books rules. It is a good system if you accept its limits and the things that it wont let you do. If you take it on its own the rules are comprehensive and cover just about anything you can imagine.
Overall Mod 3/5 – Adding things and subtracting things is about the best you can hope for. However that adding and subtracting allows for bringing in things from so many other settings it is kind of hard not to say you can mod it.
Overall Fun 4/5 – I enjoy it a lot. I occasionally have moments where I want to mix classes and it frustrates the crud out of me until I remember where I put my house rules to blend OCC and even RCC. But then I have to find it again and the realize I can do enough with the character I have and … then I am back to having fun 🙂
Total Score 15/20 – Not a bad score overall. If you can get past all the current hullabaloo about the company and the owner/author then you might want to consider this game if you like the mixing of genre. If you do I would recommend going first ed over the later versions due to the fact the book changed to try and compensate for the power creep in its other books and made some changes that hampered some of the choices you could make regarding the character types you could play.
Ok so thats it… my thoughts and opinions. Run with it or dont its up to you 🙂
Now gimme the dice, I gotta see how much more power creep we can work with… hmmm how did a 924 get on my d20…