• Francois DesRochers

Scholar’s Review #56: Game Master’s Guide

Author: Kevin Siembieda and Bill Coffin

Additional Writers: A long list of those that contributed to several World Books.

(I’ll be honest, I was genuinely surprised to see my name listed, LOL)

Compiled by: Bill Coffin


General. As with most Table-Top RPGs (TTRPGs), there is a market and desire to provide their player base with a Game Master Guide, normally targeted to GMs with information, tips and tricks for running their campaigns. The Rifts GM Guide does provide some input for GMs, but the big draw is the indexed lists and the summarized entries of the vast collection of power armour, robots and vehicles from across the World Books and Sourcebooks. Published prior to the release of Rifts Ultimate Edition, this book reprints much of what is found in previous World Books and Sourcebooks, and strives to give GMs and Players alike a solid, quick to reference book to find the entries they may be hunting for.


The Ultimate Rifts Reference. There is something to be said about having a single book with reams of equipment, weapons, vehicles, power armour and robots available in a single tome. That said, there is a LOT of information to try and cram into this book, so compromises had to be made in what was included and how it was presented. This leads into a few pages of lexicon for those that are newer to the game.

Designer Notes. Kevin Siembieda spends some time discussing his design philosophy, for laying the groundwork of an adventure, including group size, dynamics, and creating, enduring, epic adventures.

Game Mechanics. Several snippets on topics such as Experience Points and their use, alignments, and game balance.

Physical Combat

  • Attribute Chart. Reprinted for reference.

  • Attributes Above 30. Previously published material on bonuses for attributes above 30.

  • Strength. The various types of ‘Strength” (e.g. robotic, supernatural) and its impact on weight and movement are explored.

  • Combat Terms. Revisited with a little bit of clarification on what some of them mean, in order to create a baseline, as well as a bit of an FAQ on how close combat works. I’ll be honest, the majority of this information (less the FAQ portion) could have been presented in tabular format that would have saved *loads* of space. What’s more, this could be done on a single sheet (double-sided) for GM/Player reference.

  • SDC Combat. Some optional rules for blood loss and pain penalties I feel should be included as a baseline; they could realistically apply just as well to MDC creatures.

  • New Ranged Combat Rules. Some points on the infamous -10 to Dodge ranged weapons, followed by points on Weapon Proficiencies and some new W.P. bonus schemes. This is another element that I would strongly lobby for a tabular format. We then get into a modification of the Penalties and Dodging Energy at ranges further out. Personally I would have at LEAST doubled the ranges involved at each penalty level. I'll note that the information presented herein is not the same as in RUE. <frustrated sigh>

  • Side Effects of Damage by Location. Another optional rule, applies to robots and power armour taking damage. Personally I really like these kinds of impacts as it adds more of a storytelling aspect the the GM than a simple accounting exercise of damage and remaining MDC.

  • Hand to Hand Combat. We have a table for characters with no HtH Skill, as well as reprints of the standard ones, followed by a series of specific ‘martial arts’ forms (e.g. aikido, judo).

Skill Compendium. Pretty much exactly what it says. All skills and applicable upgrades from World Books and Sourcebooks are compiled herein. Once again, I’m going to jump onto the tabular formatting soapbox; there should be the entirety of the skills listed, with bonuses and those identified as Secondary Skills clearly marked, for reference on a single page (double-sided). Oddly enough, there is no mention of the Secondary Skills restrictions. Otherwise the skills described could be expanded to include some definition for adapting a skill to apply to a specific situation; there likely is not a skill in this list that cannot be adapted (with perhaps a subsequent penalty) to accomplish any task you can think of. There is also a need to clarify skill interactions (e.g. Concealment vs Detect Concealment) and update some inter-skill synergies. I’d also like to see something whereby certain skills (perhaps Secondary Skills) could be performed by *any* character, but perhaps only at a Baseline level (e.g. basic electronics to work out a T.V. that isn’t functioning properly due to wonky settings or cables; NOT how to replace a screen or solder a new microcircuitry panel).

Psionic Powers. A few words of clarification on Mind Control powers leads into a reprint of the library of Psionic Powers by category. Useful, but I doubt there is much here the bearer of a copy of the RUE won't already have.

Personal Weaponry. As most Rifts players will have noted, most books come with a plethora of weapons. On the element of availability, this is ultimately up to the GM, but most ideas of a global market economy should likely be a non-starter, the vast majority of choices pretty limited to domestic manufacturing (e.g. NG/Wilk’s may dominate North American markets, but have little to no presence in Europe, Asia, Africa or South America). There are a few salient points on availability in rural settings (e.g. “available locally” may mean the next town 100 miles away), trading for items in non-credit economies, and placing limitations on availability for other reasons. An interesting note from Kevin regarding both South America World Books, and some penalties he recommends to the weapon profiles to make them more balanced. We then close this *huge* section (pages 113-180) out with a listing of pretty much every weapon manufacturer on Rifts Earth and their published entries in all the World Books and Sourcebooks to date. I'll be honest, there are *massive* gains in page count to be realized by listing this in tabular format.

Equipment. Another chunky entry in the book, we have a plethora of equipment, by category, with associated cost in credits. Everything from adventuring/camping, medical, optics, and gun scopes. There is a lot packed in here (pages 181-190).

Body Armour. Every suit of body armour by manufacturer (pages 191-202). Another section that could be dramatically improved on by some relatively simple formatting changes. Best example is the Mobility penalties. Each entry uses two lines to describe the penalty applies to "prowl, gymnastics, acrobatics, and other such physical skills," which could be summarized in a Note either before or after the table, explaining the skills impacted. Otherwise, a useful section.

Power Armour. All entries of power armour listed, with World Book reference for the complete item description, which is nice (pages 191-220). These entries gives the reader the bare-bones basics, such as the MDC (Main Body only), key stats (running/flight speeds), and summary of weapon systems with MD characteristics. Probably the most useful element is the indexing reference to the book it is completely published within.

Robots. Well, after listing all the power armour, skimping on this would have been criminal. As per the power armour, truncated entries only (pages 220-233).

Vehicles. From your aircraft, to boats, APCs and a host of other military grade vehicles, hover vehicles, and civilian model entries (pages 234-267). Once again, all entries are truncated.

Bionics. We start by discussing the bionic character, recovery from surgery and other character develop points. This is followed by an index of all bionic entries and relevant World Book to find them (pages 268-275). To be honest, with the advent of Sourcebook 5: Bionics, which would have been in the works at the same period as this publication, it beggars the question: why this was included?

Character Compendium. Begins with a self-admitted issue with the number of OCCs/RCCs and trying to find them to refer to. Like previous segments, alphabetically lists the OCCs/RCCs and gives the World Books or Sourcebook reference to find them in (pages 276-288).

  • RANT: Okay, so I’ve made my position well known on the OCC bloat in the Bazaar #26 (OCC Rationalization) and Bazaar #27 (OCC Rationalization - A Follow-Up). What was originally a mechanic for world building has long-since reached a point of being more of a detriment to the game. There are over 200 Men-At-Arms OCCs alone, and most of those are simply slight variations on a theme, with little to no appreciable differences. I’ve broken them down and, leveraging the MOS system Palladium Books already has in place, getting Men-At-Arms down to twelve OCCs, with subordinate MOS selections. Throw in some regional specific skills and/or benefits and, voila, save yourself reams of printing paper with Classes that can be reasonably played across any Rifts setting, not just regionally. The fact this section of the GM Guide begins with a self-proclaimed frustration by Palladium Books personnel about tracking down an OCC is proof-positive on the need to rationalize the OCCs.

Monster Index. Before the advent of the Bestiaries, this gives an alphabetical listing of demons & monsters across the Rifts library (pages 289-292). <Sigh> .....okay.

Experience Tables. Pages of reprinted experience tables for most (not all) OCCs/RCCs (pages 293-316). I'm utterly stunned this was included; the books referenced with the OCCs would have the relevant table.

Running the Game. Some Game Mastering advice from Bill Coffin, centered around an easy to remember Seven Deadly Sins (skimmed over below), along with a series of other small segments addressing several other topics. This leads into a series of tips and tricks for adventures and campaigns, which culminates in 100 adventure ideas for adventures, broken down across the major regions of Rifts Earth, including the orbital setting.

  • Pride. Railroading your players in order to satisfy your agenda as GM.

  • Envy. Stealing the show with super-duper-snazzy NPCs.

  • Gluttony. Unjust rewards; be it XPs or loot.

  • Lust. Loving details to death by overpowering the session with minutiae.

  • Wrath. Don’t be adversarial with your players and vice-versa with the GM.

  • Greed. Don’t force the narrative and let players decide on the epic’s direction.

  • Sloth. Blind obedience to the rules; don’t be beardy!

Mini-Atlas. Pretty much most of the regional maps from the World Books and Sourcebooks are recreated here for your viewing pleasure (pages 332-352).


Initial Assessment (2/10). I’ll be honest, this book did not do anything for me and in several cases were more a frustration than a help – let me explain why. Admittedly I own the majority of the Rifts library, but the fact much of the GM Guide is reprinted material is definitively not the issue. Designer Notes and the Game Mechanics segment were fine, but mostly get folded into Rifts Ultimate Edition; same for much of the Physical Combat segment. The Skill Compendium suffers from being overtaken by newer publications that added a few more skills, but also fails to address some of the more systemic issues with regards to the skills and how they are employed. Psionic Powers was fine for those looking for them. Personal Weapons probably starts to make sense, with a laundry list of weapons and some points on availability that, ultimately, the GM can simply ignore. Equipment section and the Body Armour were good, for what it’s worth, but this gets supplanted by the disappointment readers may likely experience noting that all the power armour, robots, and vehicles are only listed with Main Body MDC, a few pertinent characteristics and weapon systems. Bionics and the Monster Compendium are simply indexes with arguable merit considering Sourcebook 5: Bionics and the Bestiary books. The Character Compendium and pages devoted to Experience Points tables simply illustrates another major systemic issue Palladium Books needs to address with OCC bloat and questionable decisions to include in the first place. There are some serious quality products that GMs/Players could sink their teeth into, if we could start using tabular formatting, which could be packaged separately as a GM/Player Pack of hard card printed material (e.g. a GM Screen). Bill Coffin’s contribution at the end (and the adventure ideas) provides some useful information for the GM out there, which scans given the book’s title; much of this is handled more succinctly and in better depth in the Adventure Guide that I would argue is a much better nominee for the term "GM Guide." Ultimately though, there is little here for me to recommend, which is a disappointment. Purchasing RUE gets most of what you need from this book, and the Adventure Guide truly helps prepare the Game Master for what lies ahead. This is likely one of the few (if only) books that I could strongly state is of little value for most GMs and Player groups.

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