• Francois DesRochers

Scholar's Review #50: Baseline Publications for New GMs

Updated: Mar 29

INTRODUCTION


General. There are a great many books supporting the Rifts RPG, which makes the barrier to entry, even just skimming the library on their web store, fairly daunting. There are definitely a few gems in there, but if you are planning to run a campaign set in Russia or Europe, there is a swath of books that have little bearing to the conduct of your campaign. So, in order to simplify things, I’ve compiled a list of setting-specific recommendations for beginning GMs, or those that want a palate cleanser from their current campaign into another part of Rifts Earth. I wouldn't go so far as to call this a Buyer's Guide, but the following segments are presented as Baseline (Required, or should be considered just shy of Required), and then Setting-based with Recommended or Optional books. For each of them, links to my reviews will be embedded.


Presentation Schema. To provide some definition on the method of how this information in presented, the books are ranked as described below. They are largely broken apart into regional blocks to demonstrate what books would be really pertinent to different parts of Rifts Earth. If you plan on spending most of your time in one region, the books I've mentioned are pretty solid bets. In each case, a short phrase gives you an indication on what the book provides; I've also, where they exist, linked to the Scholar's Review of the pertinent books.

  • Required. Pretty self-explanatory. This product is the bedrock to what you are looking to accomplish or gives the keystone information on a region. Consider these as a must-buy.

  • Recommended. Very heavily influences the region or the character classes being played. In some cases they provide the GM or players with excellent of vital background that will really add to the campaign.

  • Optional. These books give you something worth examining. In some cases these may give you some very crucial niche pieces of information for the campaign, or supports the Players and their characters in a specific way.

BASELINE

General. I use the term Baseline fairly often as a means of demonstrating what products you really should be getting in order to best support your efforts as a new GM, or a player group looking to perhaps collectively purchase your books. Essentially these are the *must have* books that will allow all players *and* the GM to effectively dive into this wild and wonderful setting. They apply equally well to any of the Settings presented afterwards.

  • (Required) Rifts Unlimited Edition. So, yeah. You need the rule book. No great surprises here, right? Right. At its core, you could successfully run a campaign with just the information presented herein.

  • (Required) Rifts Adventure Guide. Something of a hidden gem, this is a goldmine of information and ideas for GMs of all caliber. I recently purchased and reviewed this book and cannot say enough good things about it. This really should have been the one labelled as the GM Guide.

  • (Required) Conversion Book 1. Literally hundreds of different ideas can be drawn from the wide variety of beasts and monsters this book presents. Everything from Elves and Dwarves to adult dragons and various demons.

  • (Recommended) Rifts Book of Magic. For the practitioner of magic in your group or as an NPC, a compiled book of all spell types and spells. Review forthcoming.

  • (Recommended) Sourcebook 5: Bionics. For the full/partial cyborg conversion or your cybernetically inclined players, a compiled book of bionic and cybernetics options. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) Merc Ops. A pretty key baseline product for running mercenary operations in any North American setting. Provides a great series of campaign ideas, key antagonists and a great deal of technological gadgets.

  • (Optional) Mercenaries. Somewhat overtaken by the inclusion of the Adventure Guide and Merc Ops, the OCCs give a variety to the player group. A good start point for any mercenary-based campaign.

  • (Optional) World Book 30: D-Bees of North America. Giving a new GM and player group several dozens of different D-Bees to use in their adventures. Given the nature of Rifts, not much restricts these entries to North America, right?

  • (Optional) Rifts Bestiary: Volume 1. A collection of all the beasts and monsters presented in the World Books for North America, with updates, there are also additional entries. Given the nature of Rifts, not much restricts these entries to North America, right? Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) Rifts Bestiary: Volume 2. A continuation of the Bestiary: Volume 1, more beasts and monsters from the North American setting. Given the nature of Rifts, not much restricts these entries to North America, right? Review forthcoming.

SETTINGS

North America (General/Midwest). Easily the one with the most publications supporting it, this also makes it the most daunting prospect for a GM and player group to overcome. Short of winning the lottery, there are simply too many books to purchase all at once; I *still* don’t own all the books set in North America. For the most part, players and GMs will not require the totality of books for any North American adventures either. That said, there are a number of them that really give a GM a solid start point:

  • (Recommended) World Book 11: Coalition War Campaign. This really gives you a solid book with loads of additional CS OCCs, war gear, vehicles, robots and power armour, as well as some decent background on the Coalition. Great for use either as a player group or as a sourcebook for the bad guys.

  • (Recommended) World Book 16: Federation of Magic. Essentially the flip side of the coin to WB 11, the Federation of Magic provides magic users with a bit of a boost, several additional OCCs, and a lot of background that essentially got us from early PA calendar to today.

  • (Recommended) World Book 30: D-Bees of North America. My review assumes a group has all the previous books. As a starting GM, this book can give players a great variety of selection for a non-human character. Still wondering why this is considered a World Book.

  • (Optional) Rifts Black Market. A sourcebook with a singular focus, the criminal underbelly of North American society. There are a good deal of adventure ideas, including running a party of Black Marketeers.

  • (Optional) MercTown. Essentially a city with detailed entries presented in one of the most hotly contested regions of North America. Makes a great base of operations for GM campaigns, allowing them to dovetail into almost anything across the continent.

  • (Optional) World Book 10: Juicer Uprising. For any player wanting to play a Juicer variant, this is definitely a go-to book; otherwise not necessarily required.

  • (Optional) World Book 12: Psyscape. Set within the Magic Zone, this city and the entries are unique to the region. There are a number of Psychic classes that could be of interest.

North America (Eastern Seaboard). This region of the North American continent was just ravaged by the Apocalypse; quite literally shaken to the ground by massive earthquakes and swept clean by massive tsunamis. What remains is a vast and dangerous regrown wilderness, bordered by several major players, and ridden adventure hooks and ideas for a GM to exploit. This is a very easy setting to start with and then branch out into the other North American settings with very little effort.

  • (Recommended) Sourcebook 1. The first publication to support the Rifts RPG, introduced Hagan and ARCHIE-03, a long-running character that spans many of the future publications. Also includes a great introduction adventure.

  • (Recommended) Sourcebook 2: The Mechanoids. A conversion book of the original RPG that started Palladium Books. The adventure material provides a great way to introduce the Mechanoids, suffering from an insane obsession for death and destruction of all humanoids; also gives more ARCHIE-03 information.

  • (Recommended) World Book 2: Atlantis. Given the Splugorth bases in Atlantic Canada and the slave raids along the coastline, you may wish to fold them into your campaign. The Atlanteans may have a reason for a presence along the coast as well.

  • (Optional) Sourcebook 4: Coalition Navy. The CS has both a both a naval base in region of the Halifax ruins, as well as a ‘brown water fleet’ that could leveraged.

  • (Optional) Shemarian Nations. A bit of a deep-dive into the Shemarian presence along the Eastern Seaboard, their "culture," their grudge against the forces of the Splugorth, and even more information on ARCHIE-03. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 15: Spirit West. Whereas the Indian Reserves and their powers play a role in influencing the region, this may or may not be something that plays into the GM's campaign.

  • (Optional) World Book 20: Canada. Gives several new Wilderness Scout and Headhunter OCCs, as well as an overview of the Canadian wilderness.

  • (Optional) World Book 21: Splynn Dimensional Market. A follow-up to WB 2, it gives further motivations to the Splugorth base of operations, in particular what they are doing across the Eastern Seaboard.

  • (Optional) World Book 22: Free Quebec. This is a niche book that would play well for a campaign set in the northeastern corner of North America, or within the context of a Coalition civil war. That, and Glitter Boys galore. What’s not to love!

  • (Optional) World Book 29: Madhaven. The ruins of New York, and the insanity-inducing after-effects of the apocalypse. A unique setting unlike anything else.

North America (Siege on Tolkeen). This six book series provides a swath of detail for a GM to run a very long and cinematically engaging campaign. You can choose to play as the CS aggressors, the Tolkeen defenders, or perhaps a more neutral third party doing its own thing/supporting one side or the other. There are some books that definitely provide the GM with more and better presented information, but as a whole, there is no want for ideas.

  • (Recommended) Siege on Tolkeen 1 – Sedition. Sets up the campaign and gives some of the overall motivations for both sides. Fair warning, it doesn’t give you the whole set-up and fails to deliver the world building you might expect.

  • (Recommended) Siege on Tolkeen 2 – Coalition Overkill. Really kicks things into high gear with tactics for both sides and fleshes out what Book 1 failed to do.

  • (Recommended) Siege on Tolkeen 3 – Sorceror’s Revenge. The plot line gets moved along, with a massive surge of magic might against the CS invaders (hence the title, duh). Some real gold mines of information, not the least of which is the Random Adventure Generation Table!

  • (Recommended) Siege on Tolkeen 6 – Final Siege. We finally get an overview of Tolkeen and their key infrastructure, personnel and plans for the final defense. The set narrative is finalized, deus ex machina and all on display. A GM could just as easily change the setting by skewing results another way to let Tolkeen limp along or stand tall.

  • (Optional) Siege on Tolkeen 4 – Cyber-Knights. Unless you have a Cyber-Knight player or key NPC, I would probably not recommend this as a must have. The information on the titular class could just as easily be applied outside the Siege setting.

  • (Optional) Siege on Tolkeen 5 – Shadows of Evil. Great cover, complete lack of motivation for the material within. Honestly there is little in this book to recommend outside of the templated CS prisoner of war camp to stage a jail heist portion of the adventure.

  • (Optional) Sourcebook 4: Coalition Navy. The CS has a ‘brown water fleet’ that would be heavily invested in the Siege. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 23: Xiticix Invasion. A major influencer in the region and a rising threat, this book plays a part in the overall plotline for the Siege, and could easily play a larger role.

North America (Chi-Town/The ‘Burbs). Adventuring in this setting provides a unique flavour to the campaign that you might not be able to replicate elsewhere. An urban sprawl with multitudes of cities within squalor surrounding a mega-city. In addition to the Adventure Sourcebook, which begin to look at the ‘Burbs:

  • (Required) Adventure Sourcebook 1 – Chi-Town ‘Burbs. Provides a template to model various types of ‘Burbs for the campaign. An example ‘Burb presented. Review forthcoming.

  • (Required) Adventure Sourcebook 2 – Tolkeen Crisis. Set shortly after the final siege, provides more information on the example ‘Burb and the context of Tolkeen fighters now coming to Chi-Town to continue the fight. Review forthcoming.

  • (Required) Adventure Sourcebook 4 – The Vanguard. The secretive society of mages that support the CS. Interesting background and finalizes the example ‘Burb setting. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) Adventure Sourcebook 3 – Black Vault. A series of magical items squirreled away by the CS in a deep, dark, black vault. Think the last scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 30: D-Bees of North America. Nothing better than a single source for dozens of different races to expand your campaign. Basically begging you to recreate the Cantina at Mos Eisley.

North America (Southern States and New West). There is the option to play in North America with little to no involvement with the CS. Despite the chances of this are getting increasingly difficult in a post-Siege era of PA 109, they still exist. For the most part this means you will be in the Deep South of Mexico our in the New West.

  • (Recommended) World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms. The first of the World Books, it got a revised edition. Vampires in Rifts are tough; I mean scary tough. GMs, make sure you outfit them properly or find yourself with a TPK pretty handily.

  • (Recommended) World Book 13: Lone Star. Details the Pecos Empire and the various monsters and D-Bees that make-up the vast region claimed by the CS but very much not controlled outside of the secret military base.

  • (Recommended) World Book 14: New West. Starts off as a bit of an homage to spaghetti westerns, but you certainly aren’t limited to that style. One great big wilderness as your GM sandbox with loads of OCCs and world building information.

  • (Optional) World Book 15: Spirit West. A bit of a misnomer, this book applies across North America to give a start state for involving indigenous (Indian) groups into your setting. I actually really liked this book, but it is clearly guilty of homogenization of traditions; behooves a little cultural research in addition to the information presented.

  • (Optional) World Book 26: Dinosaur Swamp. Mega-damage monster dinosaurs and a swamp environment where its not just the fauna looking to make a meal out of you - the flora are just as ravenous! Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 27: Adventures in Dinosaur Swamp. A continuation on its predecessors, more dinosaurs, more adventure ideas. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 28: Arzno. A sort of follow-up to WB 1, the City of Arzno in Arizona as great basecamp for adventuring, or a waypoint in the PCs travels.

Europe (England). The next setting with the most publications backing it up is the Old Country. The expansive setting presents a different play experience than you’ll likely find in North America. The island of England, which is a setting of intrigue and invasion by a supernatural intelligence in an Arthurian vibe, as well as a Splugorth base of operations where London used to be.

  • (Required) World Book 3: England. It goes without saying, you want to play in England, get the England WB. It does present a twist to the Arthurian legend, with heavy emphasis on Fairie Folk. There is also Splugorth.

  • (Recommended) World Book 2: Atlantis. Given the Splugorth base and what they are up to, you may wish to fold them into your campaign. The Atlanteans may have a reason for a presence on the isles as well.

  • (Recommended) World Book 21: Splynn Dimensional Market. A follow-up to WB 2, it gives further motivations to the Splugorth base of operations and their interaction with the Fairie Folk of the isle.

  • (Optional) World Book 7: Underseas. Primarily for the added sea monsters for supporting Dolphin/Whale OCCs, Captain Nemo and the New Navy, and especially the Horune Pirates, who work with/for the Splugorth.

  • (Optional) Dimension Book 15: Secrets of the Atlanteans. A follow-up to WB 2, we get a more in-depth view of the Atlantean clans and how they might play a role in the England setting. Review forthcoming.

Europe (Germany). The NGR is the bastion of humanity that largely escaped the ravages of the Apocalypse. They are now fighting a protracted siege effort from the Gargoyle Kingdom, the Brodkil, and the various other demons and monsters that surround them. Despite being another bastion of humanity, they have different approaches to their politics and handling of D-Bees and magic.

  • (Required) World Book 5: Triax & the NGR. The book that started it all, it gives a great overview of the history leading to the NGR as it stood back in 102 PA. Loads of technology and world building presented.

  • (Recommended) Sourcebook 3: Mindwerks. Building upon WB 5, this feels like a series of entries that didn’t make the cut for WB 5. That doesn’t mean the information isn’t as solid as they come! Great expansion and world building.

  • (Recommended) World Book 31: Triax 2. Set in the 109 PA timeframe, this book cultivates the siege storyline of Germany, with several key advancements and developments. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) World Book 4: Africa. As the Phoenix Empire supports the Gargoyle Empire, the section that develops that entity could be leveraged for supporting adventure ideas.

  • (Optional) World Book 7: Underseas. Primarily for the added sea monsters for supporting Dolphin/Whale OCCs, Captain Nemo and the New Navy, and especially the Horune Pirates, who work with/for the Splugorth.

Russia. In the frozen expanses of Eurasia, the people of Russia suffered brutally under the post-apocalyptic winter that consumed their land. In the aftermath, with the advent of heavy reliance on bionic and cybernetics, warlords have taken over the land, the majority of the people otherwise living in stoic hardship and poverty. A very different vibe to this region than in North America.

  • (Required) World Book 17: Warlords of Russia. The book that sets the table for a vast expanse of geography the players can explore and adventure. There are various warlords reigning over huge expanses, most with few allies but a list of enemies. Their warriors eke out their existence serving their masters.

  • (Recommended) World Book 18: Mystic Russia. The counter-point to WB 17, this one is all about the mystics and practitioners of magic of the area. It also provides some unique demons and monsters and additional cultural information.

  • (Recommended) World Book 36: The Sovietski. I suppose this counts as the third of the Eurasia trilogy, we see the triumphant return of the “Communist” party and how the forces of the Sovietski now interact with the Warlords and the Brodkil threat to the West. Review forthcoming.

  • (Optional) Sourcebook 3: Mindwerks. Primarily concerned with how the Mindwerks villains and their Brodkil minions impact the Eurasian sphere.

  • (Optional) Sourcebook 5: Book of Bionics. For the full/partial cyborg conversion or your cybernetically inclined players, a compiled book of bionic and cybernetics options. Review forthcoming.

South America. The apocalypse has ravaged the continent, the amazon region flooded into a million islands, and a multitude of powers (both human and non-human) vie to control their slice of the landscape, all the while dealing with Splugorth forces and their allies.

  • (Required) World Book 6: South America. The northern half of the continent is developed within the context of nearby Atlantis. Covers the region from Columbia across to and including Brazil.

  • (Required) World Book 9: South America 2. Covers the remainder of the continent, in particular the regions of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Strong mix of both magic, technology, new D-bees and aliens, as well as the return of many indigenous cultures and their gods.

  • (Optional) World Book 2: Atlantis. Given the Splugorth influence on the Atlantic as a whole, and specifically to certain regions of South America, you may wish to fold them into your campaign. The Atlanteans may have a reason for a presence as well.

  • (Optional) World Book 7: Underseas. Primarily for the added sea monsters for supporting Dolphin/Whale OCCs, Captain Nemo and the New Navy, and especially the Horune Pirates, who work with/for the Splugorth.

  • (Optional) World Book: Lemuria. Review forthcoming.

Asia/Pacific Rim. Adventures in the Orient and the region take players into what could almost be considered otherworldly cultures. The region is a bastion for demons and monsters, providing a plethora of adventure opportunities and protagonists. With demons ruining China, Japan rife with conflict, Australia in upheaval, and the Lord of the Deep’s forces causing havoc throughout the oceans, what’s not the admire for a setting?

  • (Recommended) World Book 8: Japan. Leverages ancient Japanese culture and modern economic norms. Cyborgs, samurai, dragons, all integrated into the greater whole of the region.

  • (Recommended) World Book 19: Australia. Review forthcoming.

  • (Recommended) World Book 24: China 1 – The Yama Kings. The depraved demons that now control the region of China, making it a perpetual landscape of suffering and hardship.

  • (Recommended) World Book 25: China 2 – Heroes of the Celestial Court. The forces of good and their martial arts forms that form the basis of their abilities, as well as the pre-Rifts survivors, the Geo-Front.

  • (Optional) World Book 7: Underseas. Primarily for the added sea monsters for supporting Dolphin/Whale OCCs, Captain Nemo and the New Navy, and especially the City of Tritonia and the Lord of the Deep.

  • (Optional) World Book: Lemuria. Review forthcoming.

Africa. This continent spans great swaths of land, and dozens of cultures. The tragedy here is that there is just the one book to provide a continent’s worth of details. The adventure ideas that the one book provides are largely based around the Four Horsemen, the remainder on the demonic Phoenix Empire and the pantheon of Egyptian gods. The additional adventure outlets provided in the Optional books could provide a GM something to work with.

  • (Required) World Book 4: Africa. Provides the geographical data required to get an idea of what is where, the background on the Phoenix Empire, and of course, the Four Horsemen.

  • (Recommended) World Book 2: Atlantis. Given the Splugorth influence across Africa enslaving multitudes of beings and supporting the Phoenix Empire, you may wish to fold them into your campaign. The Four Horsemen would certainly provide Atlanteans a reason for a presence as well.

  • (Recommended) World Book 21: Splynn Dimensional Market. A follow-up to WB 2, it gives further motivations to the Splugorth and allies’ operations across Africa.

  • (Optional) World Book 7: Underseas. Primarily for the added sea monsters for supporting Dolphin/Whale OCCs, Captain Nemo and the New Navy, and especially the Horune Pirates, who work with/for the Splugorth.

  • (Optional) Dimension Book 15: Secrets of the Atlanteans. A follow-up to WB 2, we get a more in-depth view of the Atlantean clans and how they might play a role in the African setting. Review forthcoming.

CONCLUSION


This has always been one those aspirational posts since the beginning of the Scholar's Review series. The culmination of the totality of reviews, sub-divided by setting to provide new GMs and players alike a solid baseline for what books I would suggest they actually *need* to start playing, and which others are only applicable if they move elsewhere in the world. There are still a few reviews to come, but this post will be updated with them as they are published. For now though, based on a couple of recent posts on the Palladium Books forum and on Facebook, I thought I would put this together now. For existing GMs/players, this is for your perusal and discussion/debate. For newer GMs and players, a bit of a buyer's guide if you will, bearing in mind that the rule of cool certainly applies to any and all of your purchases.


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