One of the things Palladium Books has tried in earnest to do in their World Books, and in some cases Sourcebooks, is provide a topical and thematic review of the regions across Rifts Earth. In many cases, this is accomplished through the world building, as expressed through review of the post-Apocalyptic events that lead to the 100 to 109 P.A. calendar timeframe. This is the ‘who,’ ‘when,’ and ‘how’ that provides context for a GM and player to get a sense of what post-apocalyptic life might be like in those regions. Aside from this, the artwork, supporting the regions with depictions of people, places, equipment and key elements further drive the effect.
The other way this is expressed is through the creation of OCCs. Most prominently done in the original Rifts RPG, this gave us a baseline for the theme of the game, a post-apocalypse mash-up of magic, psionics, technology, and the demonic or “other” that has found itself, by choice or by chance, here on Earth. As other books came out, more OCCs attempted to shape the narrative. In some cases these accomplished their aim brilliantly, while others fell flat and were strictly speaking, derivative. Below is the method and the madness that came about this project, first demonstrated in The Bazaar #22: Fixing OCCs - An Example (Wilderness Scout – Redux).
General. Tackling this project was no small task, something I underestimated from the start and continually reinforced the more I dived into it. First off, there are hundreds of OCC entries across the Rifts RPG, and I’ve placed a few limitations on this project in order to keep it manageable. What I found at the end essentially confirmed my hypothesis: Rifts RPG version 3.0 needs an OCC rationalization due to rampant duplication. And make no mistake, this is done with a view to showing what Rifts 3.0 needs to consider moving forward. The following are a few methodology points:
Limitations. For now, I’ve strictly kept to the Rifts World Books and Sourcebooks. At a later date, it certainly could be expanded to include the Dimension Books, but I feel they may have certain setting specific rules that make the comparison a little disingenuous.
No Favorites. To be honest, I went at this with all brutality; very few that escaped in some way shape or form.
Criteria. There were a number of things used to compare.
OCC Type. Without putting too fine a point on it, is it a Man-At-Arms, Psionic, Practitioner of Magic, or an RCC?
Aim. What is the aim of the OCC? Is it a formal military or mercenary OCC? Is it more likely just an individual adventurer? Does the OCC concentrate on a specific skill or ability that can be sourced to one of the original OCCs in RUE?
Villains & NPC Classes. Both were immediately discounted from this comparison if they met this criteria.
The Work. Well, this one took some time. More from the perspective that, as daunting a task as it was, I did this in my down time.
Phase 1 (Preparation). I grabbed Rifts Ultimate Edition and started listing the OCCs in the various OCC Type tabs on a spreadsheet (e.g. Men-At-Arms, Psionics, Practitioners of Magic, or RCC). I then simply went book after book (after book…) and grouped OCCs with relatively similar characteristics (e.g. all OCCs that involved the piloting any sort of a power armour or robot got lumped together). This followed suite through all the current World Books and Sourcebooks.
Phase 2 (Comparison). This was the scrub down of the OCCs in comparison to their original grouping. In many cases this was fairly easy to confirm, while others (particularly from older books) took a little more effort to validate. The first step was examining OCC special abilities; many times these similarities were too hard to miss. Next was the line-by-line comparison of OCC Skills to confirm they meshed enough to remove due to duplication, or qualified as a legitimate MOS under an OCC. Not surprising, several cases showed the discrepancy was as pedantic as single skill. With maybe four or five physical books and a couple of e-book tabs open, a fair number of low-hanging fruit appeared.
Phase 3 (Analysis). For lack of a better term, a trend analysis and projection of what an OCC rationalization for the Men-at-Arms could look like in the future. Hence why this was done in Excel (Pivot Tables are a thing). At the end, I identified a number of issues, presented below.
ANALYSIS – MEN-AT-ARMS
General. Phew-boy, there are few things to cover. First off, this is by-and-far the largest portion of the OCCs to be covered; one of the reasons why I tackled it first.
Raw Numbers. With almost 200 OCCs entries, including MOS selections (e.g. Merc Soldier MOS specializations), grouping them into similar roles showed some clear duplication in roles (e.g. MOS Communications across no less than 6 OCCs); filtering these out brought it down to 181 individual line entries. Of this list, sixty-two (62!) were designated as duplicates for removal, with another dozen eligible for the chop. By way of example the Merc Soldier and the Military Technical Officer (formerly the CS Technical Officer) consolidated twenty-five (25) various MOS line-entries from 13 separate OCCs, now filtered down and presented in only two (2) specific OCCs.
World Book Specialization. There were a few cases where there simply were too many differences to allow any kind of grouping. Specifically from World Book 8 – Japan and World Book 25 – China 2, these definitely presented absolutely unique OCCs with non-transferable special abilities. I’ve grouped them together under the tag “Oriental Warriors,” maintaining each as a distinct OCC.
Geo-Front. I found this one really frustrating. Literally listed as “same as CS Military Specialist” or whatever OCC was applicable, they added on a few bonus powers and different gear. The entire Geo-Front OCC segment should be replaced with a list of references to Baseline OCCs, with a section on the very minor additions for the Mystic Martial Arts and various gear. Lazy wasn’t the first word that came to mind, but it’s the one I’ve settled on.
Massive MOS Duplication. There were copious examples of OCCs that included duplicate MOS specializations; skill lists were close enough to basically be a cut-and-paste jobs. Grouping them together, we essentially had two versions of the same: the Mercenary Soldier for smaller outfits and lesser kingdoms, and the Military Technical Officer (formerly the CS Technical Officer) for nation-state sized military forces like the CS, NGR and Geo-Front. Both essentially become a Baseline OCC, with a series of MOS specializations drawn from across the books, allowing twelve (12!) OCCs to be dropped. The MOS specializations should pretty much be standard to both, bonuses and abilities specific to one or the other.
Power Armour and Robot Pilots. With the introduction of the PA/Robot Pilot OCC in RUE, this group came a close second for duplication; ten out of sixteen OCCs basically did the same thing. All that differentiated them were slight variations to skills and bonuses. Sure, there were a few exceptions, but for the most part they all came down to piloting Power Armour or Robots.
Cyborgs. Worst entry for duplication, 9 of 14 classes were removed for duplication. In just about each case, you had a full conversion ‘Borg with a limited skill set and loads of bionics/cybernetics. The only real stand-out was the Megaversal Destroyer, and this due to technological differences, and the division of the Warlord Cyborg Machines into separate OCCs, all of which could arguably be cut as well.
Juicers. After removing a couple of duplicates, we essentially have the ones presented in WB 11 – Juicer Uprising and the Baseline from RUE. I divided the class into Standard Conversion (Baseline and CS/Military Juicers) or any Alternate Conversion (e.g. Titan, Mega-Juicer). Essentially the Baseline would have more skills to compensate for the ‘standard’ conversion bonuses. The CS/Military Juicer would be limited to the standard conversion and get a special skill selection, while the alternate conversions develop the differences of their unique conversion bonuses with a more targeted MOS Skill list.
Military Grunt. This class basically needs to disappear. It essentially is the Merc Soldier or Military Technical Officer with the “Pigman” specialization on weapons. The two other OCCs remaining could then disappear as they default to something else.
Military Specialists/Special Forces. A number of OCCs simply fell by the wayside. I would suggest that both of these groups be combined into a single OCC. The class could then have a series of MOS specializations that meet the multitude of streams they could cover; very much like the Spetsnaz found in World Book 36: Sovietski, adding in things like the Nautical Speicalists, etc. I’d suggest they make it two generic classes: one that could then be applied across the CS/NGR/Geo-front/Sovietski, another stream for the smaller outfits and lesser kingdoms (much like Merc Soldier and Military Technical Specialist dynamic), with MOS specializations to cover the major themes.
Mercenary. A bit of a catch-all grouping, this one allows for a number of the less combat-oriented Men-At-Arms to be captured. This includes many of the OCCs presented in Rifts: Mercenaries and the majority of in Rifts: Black Market. The Black Market Rift Runner got lumped in with Ley Line Walker, while the Mercenary’s version of the Bounty Hunter was simply deleted in favor of the New West version.
HOW IT WOULD ALL WORK
Baseline OCC & MOS. Essentially, the current list of OCCs would be smashed, reset and re-aligned with a Baseline OCC as the primary start point. The crux of this OCC design is that the Baseline (read: generic) OCC would have an MOS that presents the generic abilities, bonuses and special skills that would be common to all MOS entries, as well as giving a more expansive list of MOS skills, making them the jack-of-all-trades version of the class. The classes should be written in a way that allows a player to start in North America, Europe, Africa, China, wherever.
Subordinate MOS. The specific subordinate MOS would then have a unique list of bonuses and skills, developing discrete differences to the Baseline, essentially specializing in one aspect, or taking the OCC somewhere new entirely. Certain Baseline abilities get “swapped out” for more targeted abilities that make them more unique and distinctive.
OCC Related Skills & Secondary Skills. I would suggest that both the Baseline and subordinate MOS share the same starting list of OCC Related Skills and Secondary Skills. The MOS could certainly open things up, but in limited fashion (e.g. Merc Soldier: MOS Communications may have a better percentage bonus to Communications skills than other MOS entries).
Regional Differences. There are a number of regionally based OCCs that I’ve suggested be removed due to duplication, while others who did not get caught need to be clarified on how regional setting may changes things for OCC & MOS selection. The best example I can give is comparing any of the Coalition States OCC/MOS with those of their closest counterpart, Triax & the NGR. Languages and literacy, and the different models of power armour and robots stand out. A list of baseline languages and other skills, as well as kit and equipment, would be dependent on where in Rifts Earth your character originates. By drafting the class to include Language: Native Tongue, and then add in a few choices for other Languages as appropriate.
OCC Re-Design. The last point, this isn’t necessarily what I would suggest as the end-result. There are a number of OCCs grouped together that did not get removed for duplication, but realistically should not remain as they are presented. The Mutant Animals OCC should have a holistic re-write, to allow all mutants to follow a similar in nature character creation; we’ve spoken to a number of others already. Essentially, Palladium Books needs to completely wipe the slate clean and re-write the classes; I suggest normalizing Baseline OCC and subordinate MOS to allow reflection of the regional variances, and prepare them to receive the changes to a new Rifts rules set.
For an example of how this could work, I refer you to the post I did at The Bazaar #22: Fixing OCCs - An Example (Wilderness Scout – Redux).
So there we have it, the Men-At-Arms scrubbed down and then disassembled in order to present what I suggest is a much more manageable system for any future rules-revisions. Rationalize the OCCs, re-write the rules and adapt the OCCs to reflect. The intent of this exercise is, hopefully, demonstrate to Palladium Books a few key takeaways:
They have some serious OCC bloat to handle in any new edition;
Rewrite the concept of Baseline OCCs in order to better represent what they hope to achieve throughout the Megaversal setting is sorely needed; and,
Rationalization would significantly lessen the burden of arranging the impact for any new rules.
By streamlining across fewer Baseline OCCs, one could ensure the MOS abilities are handled properly, with the least amount of ambiguity. If there are to be a new set of rules for the long-awaited 3rd edition, it makes sense to take the time to realign the Baseline OCCs and dovetail them into the new dynamic. Looking forward to a possible Rifts 3rd Edition, essentially, it means Palladium Books might need to have a whole book devoted to presenting the new OCCs with the new rules (no World Book style development, gear or equipment) to ensure players and GMs alike have a fresh set of OCCs written specifically to match new rules; as opposed to putting out a convoluted conversion book.