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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

Scholar’s Review #57: Sourcebook 5: Bionics

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Creator, Designer and Chief Writer: Kevin Siembieda

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


General. Something of a companion piece to the Book of Magic, this Sourcebook takes on the task of compiling the copious entries of various technology for cybernetic augmentation and bionic conversions (partial or full). The book provides the GM and Players a one-stop-shop for this specialized gear. Not only does it provide a single-source for reference, it also provides some updated material, not the least of which is the updated and redefined City Rats OCC. Unlike many of the other Rifts titles, there are no adventure ideas presented herein. If you are imagining creating a character that leverages any cybernetics or bionics though, this is the book for you.


Why a Bionics Sourcebook. As a follow-up product the Rifts GM Guide, they admit the bionics segment of the aforementioned tome was too much to consider adding. There are also a number of new, additional gizmos. In all reality, it makes sense to combine all these into a single book as the multitude of various upgrades a Player Character can choose are scattered throughout the Rifts library.

Cybernetics of Rifts Earth. A nice historical perspective of cybernetics and bionic conversions, from pre-Rifts era and into the more current setting. Does a great overview of availability of this tech in various parts of the world and gives GMs a nice baseline of knowledge to apply to their campaigns.

Notable Cyber-OCCs. Review of classes with a focus on bionics/cybernetics.

  • Cyber-Doc. Goes without saying, but discusses the term “cyber-doc” and its negative implications. A little extra for the Player on this class's background, but not much else.

  • City Rats – Defined. Perhaps not the first that comes to mind, City Rats definitively leverage cybernetics, or it is a key part of how they finance their gangs. In what is only the second(?) time in Rifts publication, we find rules for changing OCC mid-career, followed by a revisit of the classic OCC from RMB/RUE. This is followed by several variant Archetypes:

  • Hero City Rat. Not much of a change, more a background on City Rat’s with a bent for heroism.

  • Hack Rat. Computer hackers extraordinaire.

  • Maze Rat. Specialists in the delivery of items through the sometime intricate back alleys. Would make *great* pizza delivery guys.

  • Pack Rat. Collecting physical items as well as information, they also congregate in “packs” as a safety thing. So, a triple entendre.

  • Gutter Rat (villain character). The most violent and criminal of the lot. Just your bad-guy counterpoint to the Hero City Rat.

  • Roof Rat (treacherous PC or villain character). Loners who will work for anybody.

  • Cyber-Snatcher (villain character). Remember this RMB Long illustration of those gangers cutting the bionic arm off a dude? These were those guys.

Cybernetics. After a bit describing the relative differences between cybernetics and bionics, we get into the meat of things:

  • Medical Cybernetics. Medical scanner, tools and other sensors, either as a prosthetic or to amplify an ability/skill; includes all sorts of Bio-System replacements for pretty much any bodily function you could imagine.

  • Commercial Cybernetics. Optics systems (eyes) as well as other sensors and tools, including audio, ear and head implants.

  • Cosmetic Cybernetics. Pretty much as indicated. Your futuristic plastic surgeon options.

  • Black Market Cybernetics. Onto something typically more obvious for adventuring PCs, this section discusses availability and, generally, how a Body Chop-Shop might work. Gives a series of spy-craft/assassin-related style cybernetic and bionic options.

  • Countermeasure Cybernetics. Leveraging the Siege of Tolkeen books, a number of grotesque modifications to impose on practitioners of magic to ruin their capacity to cast.

Rare & Foreign Cybernetics

  • Russian Cybernetics. Lists some of the ones originally found in WB 17: Warlords of Russia.

  • Japanese Cybernetics. Get out of here…. Reprinting the entries from WB 8: Japan? Colour me surprised!

  • TW Bionics. Entries from the Momano Assassin originally found in WB 20: Canada.

Bionics. What are bionics, what is entailed in a bionic conversion, and more importantly, who simply cannot receive said conversion. We then get historic: we delve into what I account as the second time in this very book, on the topic of switching OCCs. The conversion of Juicer/Crazy characters converting to a full conversion Cyborg is revisited, which is pretty daunting (3 of 6 save versus coma/death, each at -30%. Woah….) We also get a penalty chart for the Physical Beauty attribute, which always struck me as an amusingly useless attribute to consider when playing a Cyborg. There are some useful tables on Side Effects and Insanity for characters that endure this process.

Cyborg OCC Revisted. Like the City Rat, we redefine the OCC

  • Partial Conversion ‘Borg. Two variants: 1. Headhunter version (redirects to Headhunter OCC), or 2. Adventurer/Mercenary (new OCC).

  • Cyber-Humanoid. Basically a light, full conversion ‘Borg, usually made to look completely human.

  • Heavy Combat Cyborg. The standard Cyborg from RUE with extra options and definition.

  • Slave Cyborg. You got converted and forced into slavery, with heavy restrictions on your statistics.

  • Mining ‘Borg. Reprinted from World Book 14: New West.

  • Cyborg Chassis Index. A listing of the various World Books and the difference variations of body a Player could choose for their Cyborg.

Notable Bionic Systems. Another series of bionic hardware a Player could desire. Includes prosthetics, weapons, tools, body armour, and other features.

  • German Triax Models. Some notes and entries from Triax technology.

  • Russian Bionic Systems. Some notes and entries from Russian technology.

  • Japanese Systems. Some notes and entries from Japanese technology.


Initial Assessment (6/10). I’ll be honest, I was not a fan of Palladium Books’ announcement of a series of books basically compiling information already presented in their library; most notably, my review of World Book 30: D-Bees of North America and the Game Master Guide. Now we come to one that does very much the same thing, but somehow reaches my internal threshold for viability. One of the problems with the Rifts library is the bits of information that can be found scattered throughout. For the most part, not that big a deal, and in the case of cybernetics and bionics, a Player could do well enough with the RUE book and maybe a regional World Book with specific bionics. The City Rat OCCs continue the PB modus operandi of devoting a book to upgrading and revisiting a key baseline OCC; I would argue that there is little new or worth drawing much attention to. Some are interesting, as are the rules for a character exiting this career into a new OCC. The artwork is a mix of old images mixed in with ones I am unfamiliar with; both sets support the book well. Personal favorites are the Perez Merc on page 24 (with shoulder pad ode to Larry MacDougall’s original art for the Merc Soldier), as well as the freakily ghoulish full page Wilson piece on page 6. What we have here surpassed my expectations (after the GM Guide, not a particularly high bar), providing a single source (and a vast one) for character creation that saves a GM & Player from lugging around 5+ books. Is it a great book? Not really. Is it a useful book? For the cybernetically inclined Player, most definitely. As such it won't really meet the needs of every player group, but certainly has enough of a draw to it to justify the purchase if needed.

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Keith Hunt
Keith Hunt

When doing a book like this, that mostly rehashes already printed material, I think Palladium really should commit to commissioning mostly new artwork. In a technical book like this, it would be really cool the see a bunch of schematic style imagery, diagrams, etc. Hell, we're not a bunch of strapped teenagers anymore, if they have to bump up the cover price a bit to pay their contributors, do it already. I personally feel like Palladium's writers and artist need a reward for crafting such a compelling world for us all.

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