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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

The Bazaar #19: Suggested Changes to RIFTS


General. So, there’s a few Facebook posts and a Palladium Books forum thread asking the question: How would you simplify/fix the Palladium Books system? At the heart of it, essentially this is asking license from a GM on what their house rules are, or what players and GMs would collectively like to see updated. Some take the road of umbrage, riling against a series of mechanisms or setting issues they dislike; others have taken to trying to shoe-horn the Palladium Books system to reflect another system that came out more recently or is de rigueur at this time. In both cases, I can understand proponents are passionate about overhauling what they see as broken. Myself, I prefer to keep things close to the spirit of the original Rifts RPG. So, with that, a few of my musings with the Palladium Books rules set and what I would like to see in the future from Kevin Siembieda and his new partner, Sean Roberson.

Baseline Requirements: The following are a series of hard margins that I would “suggest” to Palladium, if Kevin or Sean ever gave me the chance to have this discussion:

  • Protect the Library: Whatever updates are done, I would heavily (I mean, very heavily) bias to a system that preserved the currency of the Palladium Books Rifts publications to date. I have little desire to see Palladium Books go the way of D&D and force a variety of version updates on players, invalidating previous editions because they changed rules enough that they could not be used.

  • Keep it Distinct: Bottom-line Up-Front, this is not D&D or Pathfinder. I have played both, enjoyed them each. That said, I have no interest in Palladium Books morphing Rifts into a post-apocalyptic setting with d20 rules.

  • Advance the Storyline: The last serious publications for Rifts, were shortly after Rifts: Aftermath, which places the timeline at 109 P.A. For all new products, my hard target would be to start at this point in time and use it as a springboard for any new mechanics, supported by updated World Book information and adventures.

  • Formatting: If there is one thing I demand, is that the publication maintain a typeface and font throughout. It irks me to no end to see font types and sizes change throughout the more recent books. With modern publishing technology, this is inexcusable.

  • Tables: Kevin has stated his hatred for them. With all due respect, get over it. Again, modern publication software *greatly* simplifies the process and allows for table formatting to fit within the PB double-column format we know and love. There are a multitude of things that could save space and simplify things with solid table use.


Character Generation. One of the serious issues new players have is the perceived cumbersome character generation process. I don’t necessarily buy that, as I have the same arguments trying to create a Pathfinder character and selecting Feats (oh, the options!). That said, there are some key elements I would suggest:

  • Attributes: Leave them as is. These work fine and additional information on the Low attribute scores in RUE are a welcome addition.

  • OCCs. Phew-boy. Trying not to rant, there are simply too many of them, most just variations on a sliver to a theme. The baseline OCCs in the RMB/RUE should encompass a baseline abilities and MOS skills as a generalist. Specialists should sacrifice certain abilities and MOS skills for a targeted MOS package with individual abilities and skills. Re-baselining would include bonuses to Perception, Horror Factor, etc. This would likely necessitate a whole new book of OCCs. Some examples:

    • Wilderness Scout. MOS: Generalist from RUE, and add various MOS

    • LLW. MOS: Generalist from RUE, and add various MOS

    • City Rat. MOS: Generalist from RUE, and add various MOS

    • Headhunter. MOS: Generalist from RUE, and add various MOS

    • Juicer. MOS: Generalist from RUE, and add various MOS

  • Alignments. Leave them as is. This is one of the elements I much prefer over the flavours of Good-Neutral-Bad from the “other” system.

  • Multi-Class. Already established through a plethora of NPCs, formalize it as a thing, particularly on the non-magic/non-psionic side of things. Psionics and mages, I would suggest, are “stuck” in the stream they chose, leveraging their natural abilities vice technology.

  • ‘Borgs/Juicers/Crazies. Already a thing; Juicers can become ‘Borgs. Each of these are possible as starting OCCs, but there should be options throughout the PC’s experiences to switch to these. A City Rat decides to ‘get Juiced’ in order to pursue a vendetta; a Scholar loses multiple limbs in an accident and becomes a full conversion ‘Borg; someone commits to getting M.O.M. in order to escape the doldrums of their life and earn big coin as an adventurer / mercenary.

Skills. Oh, the skills. This is honestly one of the banes to new players, and to some extent I can fully understand why. Only decades of experience bends this in my favour. I strongly believe the percentile system should remain, but a few points:

  • Table. Make a photocopy-ready double-sided page for skills, sorted by category. List the baseline percentage and increase per level and identify which can be Secondary skills.

  • Specialization. Take certain skills once gives a basic overview of the topic. Select same skill again for a +15% specialization in a specific topic (e.g. Lore: Demons & Monsters (general), then take Lore: Demons & Monsters (Xiticix) to demonstrate a specialization). This could be expanded to things like Horsemanship, Cooking, Pilot: Robots & Power Armour, Science and Technical skills, take your pick. This would allow GMs to create specialist skills to match player needs.

  • Rationalize the Skills. If GMs/Players can choose specializations, there are several skills that could disappear, or at least be absorbed as Specializations (looking at you, Horsemanship).

  • Boxing: No longer gets +1 Attack per Melee (APM)

  • Physical Skill Limitations. Limited to only ever taking one choice from Boxing, Acrobatics, Gymnastics (unless in OCC skills, characters can never take more than one)

  • Skill Interaction. There are certain skills that should be specifically tagged to the other; Concealment, Detect Concealment, Detect Ambush, Prowl as an example. Let’s formalize the interaction between them.

  • Hand to Hand. Let’s get a more defined difference between the Basic, Expert, Martial, Assassin and Commando. Provides a baseline extra Attack-per-Melee (APM) and other various bonuses.

    • Basic: +1 APM at 5th and 10th level; other bonuses as level up.

    • Expert/Martial/Assassin/Commando: +1 APM at 4th, 8th and 12th level; other bonuses as level up.

Combat. Maintaining the 15 second Melee Round:

  • Untrained. No HtH skilled characters limited to 2 APM and may only Dodge or Strike (no Parry) and never gains bonuses outside of PP for close combat Strikes or Dodging.

  • Weapon Proficiencies

    • No WP. Only ever fire Wild (no bonuses to the roll), limited to 2 APM (ranged weapons); only PP bonuses to strike in melee.

    • WP. Fires Aimed and Burst bonuses (ranged weapons) and access to Parry (hand weapons).

  • Trained Characters. Gain +1 APM (2 APM at 1st level); gains Parry and Roll.

  • Men-At-Arms. Gain +1 APM (3 APM at 1st level).

  • Juicers/Crazies. Gain +2 APM (5 APM at 1st level).

  • Cyber-Knights. Fix the intuitive combat mechanism.

  • Practitioners of Magic/Psychics. Create HtH Magic/Psionic Combat for same benefit as Men-At-Arms (3 APM).

    • HtH Magic/Psychic: +1 APM at 4th, 8th and 12th level.

    • Adds to magic/psychic power levels and other abilities as levels up.

    • Differentiates and limits characters to truly mastering natural abilities.

  • Melee Combat. Must roll 8+ to strike (includes PP and applicable WP bonuses).

  • Ranged Combat. Must roll 8+ to strike (includes applicable WP bonuses; no PP bonus).

  • Aimed Shots. Requires 12+ to strike (includes applicable WP bonuses; no PP bonus).

  • Robot/PA Combat

    • Does not include PP bonuses; can never auto-dodge.

    • Robot Combat Basic: +1 APM at 5th and 10th level; other bonuses as level up.

    • Robot Combat (Specialty: <insert specific type>): +1 APM at 4th, 8th and 12th level instead of Robot Combat Basic schema; other bonuses as level up.

  • Initiative

    • Baseline. Roll d20; APM then divided equally from roll down to 1.

    • Trained Characters (HtH for combat, WP for ranged). Never roll less than APM x 2.

    • Juicers/Crazies. Never roll less than APM x 2.

    • NPCs. Straight dice roll regardless their APM.

    • Untrained Characters. Straight roll, no multipliers.

Magic. There are several aspects to magic users I find, underwhelming. Some suggestions:

  • Basic Magic Attack. Give practitioners of magic a baseline magic attack, akin to the Cyber-Knight’s sword. Something like 2D6 MD at level 1, with +1D6 at every third level thereafter (3rd, 6th, 9th, 12 and 15th). Give Ley Line Walkers +1D6 MD.

  • Ignores Armour Rating. Magic ignores all Armour Rating (more on this in a moment).

Mega-Damage Capacity. Ration of 100 SDC to 1 MDC remains. Otherwise, a few tweaks I would propose:

  • Vulnerability. Things designated as such as are impacted with a x2 damage for items listed as vulnerabilities (i.e. Vampires (Vulnerabilities: wood, water, silver, blessed, religious symbols, and sunlight); or, Water Elemental (Vulnerabilities: fire, plasma weapons).

  • Resistance. Things designated as such benefit from half-damage (i.e. Glitter Boy (Resistance: laser weapons); or, Fire Elemental (Resistance: plasma weapons).

  • Anti-Resistance. Weapons designated as such negate Resistance. Some examples:

    • JA-11 Juicer Rifle negates Resistance: laser weapons.

    • Armour-Piercing missiles benefit from a -4 AR modifier.

  • Armour Rating. Mega-Damage Capacity items/creatures have an AR of 8 + Main Body / 100 (rounded down). If you fail to breach the AR on attack role (roll higher), deal half damage. This stacks with Resistance. Some examples:

    • SAMAS AR: 10 (8 + 2) where 2= 250/100 rounded down

    • Glitter Boy AR of 15 (8 + 7) where 7 = 770/100 rounded down; furthermore, takes NO damage from laser weapons failing to breach AR.

  • SDC Weapons. All MDC items/creatures benefit from a natural Resistance (SDC). By extension, this also means that SDC *can* damage MDC.


World Books. There are a number of World Books that are in desperate need of an update or a full refresh. Given the previous statements in the Baseline Requirements, I would strongly suggest several of the following:

  • Rifts Africa. This setting is in dire need of more information and a more sensitive assessment of the source topics. For a continent that is almost a quarter again as large as North America (perhaps a full third of which is sparsely populated, remote arctic tundra), we have a "one book" to "a whole bunch" of books ratio. With the impact that this continent has in both the Four Horsemen (likely a defunct threat by 109 P.A.) and the Phoenix Empire, with deep ties to both Atlantis and the NGR plot lines, Africa deserves a significant amount of attention to better define the setting.

  • Rifts China. Bearing in mind the sensitivities to the author's passing, there was a third book supposedly in the works. Given what I reviewed as an incomplete pair of books for the setting, there is an opportunity to set things right. Perhaps fold in Rifts Japan and reset the setting, folding in some of the details presented in Rifts: Underseas

  • Rifts England. Please, step away from the Arthurian legend..... Refresh in the current context with Splugorth London, what is happening in Scotland and France with respect to the NGR conflict. Maybe even develop the Scandinavian elements hinted in NGR2.

Novels/Fiction. A bugbear for me, I would love to see Palladium Books get more invested into developing the novels and fiction library supporting their product lines. The original trilogy was probably a significant reason for the gun-shy attitude. The Rifts: Anthology: Tales of the Chi-Town 'Burbs, supported by the most recent release of Duty's Edge, both spectacular reads, should be stepping points for future endeavours. That said, I understand the difficulty in getting and editing a novel is serious work, and different from the other remainder of the product line.

Adventure Modules. Something akin to the Novels/Fiction piece, the release of discrete adventure module packs with more detailed regional information would provide a plethora of opportunities. Leveraging both freelance and in-house writers, we could see dozens of smaller releases (along the lines of the Adventure Sourcebooks) that do a very concentrated deep dive to a small region, supported by a specific adventure that GMs could use. No new OCCs, likely no new gear per se, just some regional information, some minor NPCs, tie-ins to current World Books, and possible advancement to the timeline through low-level nudges from the back alleys of one of the cities, or the wilderness that consumes most of Rifts Earth.


So there we have a list of things I would like to see changed with the Rifts baseline rule system and advancing the game in the future, for the future. Some of these are simply formatting and editing issues, while others hint at more formative changes and overhauls to certain parts of the system in order to try and simplify things, increase the speed of combat rounds, and move the storyline forward post 109 P.A. By no means complete, I also feel that these suggestions don’t breach any of the Baseline Requirements I stated at the introduction to this post, with the exception of re-baselining the OCCs into something more current. As always, this is my perspective and suggested solutions. I am sure there are people out there with other great ideas, or an idea to bust my suggestions wide open, LOL. Either way, it's a discussion I hope provides some help to other GMs or players struggling with parts of this fantastic game; in a long-shot sort of way, perhaps getting the attention of Kevin and Sean.

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