The Bazaar #31: OCC Overview – Shifter
General. At its core, Rifts is based on the premise of rips in the fabric of space and time that allowed various and numerous creatures and big nasties to come to Earth and cause no end of problems and proverbial devaluation of the neighbourhood property value. Would it surprise you to learn of a magic class that specializes in the manipulation and creation of these magical portals? Yeah, me neither…. In amongst the other class under Practitioners of Magic, the Shifter stands out as a relatively niche approach to spell casting, mostly concerned with dimensional travel and the summoning/control of supernatural beings. With a reputation of being irrational or evil, given the historical results of opening rifts, it certainly stands to reason. This isn’t a universal law, so let’s see what differentiates them from your bog-standard Ley Line Walker.
Type of Characters. As a Practitioner of Magic, this class brings a certain difference to their approach to magic than the more ubiquitous Ley Line Walkers. Instead of a walking battery of mystical power, the Shifter manipulates the ambient energies to activate and control dimensional portals. There are a number of ways to draw on this power: drawing from a cooperative/captive supernatural being, or through blood sacrifice. So yeah, we’re into some inherently evil aspects of the OCC, with a slight chicken-before-the-egg paradox: you need the ambient power from a supernatural being to open a rift to summon a supernatural being, so that you can control them to provide the ambient power to open a rift. My head hurts already. The Shifter begins with a decent and immediately applicable list of spells, although the Dimensional Portal spell is a *bit* of a stretch (a measly 1000 PPE). Their spell progression is typically geared towards to summoning, controlling or influencing. That type of character *can* be a bonus to the party, with some very useful and niche spells; also makes for a great villain.
Key Characteristics of the Shifter. Much like the Ley Line Walkers, the Shifter starts with a slew of class abilities (mostly casting-related). That said, strap yourself in for a bit of a read, because they have more pages devoted to abilities than most OCCs have for their entire entry. Initial spells and progression are decent, but also comes with a unique sensing and influencing ability in relation to summoning portals and rifts in general. The key ability though, is they are capable of expending PPE to create a one-way portal, communicate through a micro-rift, and the ability to teleport themselves (and only themselves) back home in a jiffy – I can’t see an enterprising Shifter not keeping enough PPE to activate this in a pinch as needed. In case the evil vibes were not enough, the Shifter can create a familiar link with a small innocuous animal. The meat of things though comes when we start reading about Summoning, which includes the lengthy “battle of the wills” phase to see if the summoned supernatural being will actually obey. The start with a hefty enough Base PPE and some serious bonuses to HF and possession (color me surprised), and the option to start linked to a supernatural entity, which comes with some hefty bonuses (and sorts out a bit of my previous headache). As one can imagine, this is not a skill monkey of an OCC, relying on their magic to do the heavy lifting. Otherwise, the remainder of the OCC rounds out as most other Practitioners of Magic.
Relevant Books with Updates. Aside from the healthy updates and clarification on OCC abilities, there are several books that provide some additional play-worthy information.
Rifts: Dark Conversions. Presents an interim updated version of the OCC; has one foot in both the RMB and RUE versions. Reprints some truncated entries of the Rifts and Random Tables from the Adventure Guide.
Dimension Book 7: Megaverse Builder. Provides some alien familiars for the more intrepid dimension-hopping Shifters, as well as some additional entities to link to.
Rifts Adventure Guide. The full-monty on rolling for dimensional portals.
Book of Magic. Pretty much a gimme’ for any Practitioner of Magic, but this OCC also has access in certain circumstances to ‘other than Invocation’ magic that can be best reviewed from this source.
How I Would Play This OCC. To be honest, unless playing a specific type of campaign or with a particular kind of player group, I’d have a hard time giving over my character’s freedom and committing to the Link to the Supernatural. Otherwise, I’ve always seen these guys as the Crazy of the Practitioners of Magic, dabbling with the powers that caused the Earth’s current state, and dancing with the devil (no pun intended) while trying to summon and control other entities. That ability may come in handy in some encounters, but the majority of my play time with this character would be as a spell slinger supporting the group and supporting some exploratory high-jinks across the Megaverse; there is definitely a place for this class in the Minion War that could become quite heroic too.
The Shifter in Context
All Human. As a Practitioner of Magic, the caster can have some meaningful impact at pretty much any level. Relying on their magic to assist the party, some of the spells they have access to are entirely out of reach for a low-level PC. That said, they have access to several spells (both kinetic and non-kinetic) that are more common selections. Depending on the character generation path the PC chose, and the comfort level of the rest of the group with their possible ‘alliance,’ the Shifter can be a key member. Those dimensional portal abilities can pretty much be the key to success for the party, or how they get from Point A to Point B. I wouldn’t necessarily make this guy the party spokesperson, particularly anywhere in the vicinity of the CS; ironically I would imagine they are much better served in the Federation of Magic or someplace like Atlantis/Phoenix Empire where they can do their master’s bidding with perhaps a modicum of respect (even if begrudgingly bestowed). They can definitely leverage their OCC’s reputation among other ‘human’ and non-MDC beings.
With the Big Boss(es). When we talk about heavy hitters, we see the Shifter become more of a niche player. The spells they cast can support most any party mix, but they certainly aren’t the most powerful version of spell slingers, nor would you expect them to be dealing the majority of damage in a battle. Depending on the character generation selection though, certain options provide some very clutch capabilities (looking at the Link to Supernatural options). We certainly can’t forget about their ability to sense, manipulate and rip open tears in the fabric of space and time (which sounds so much cooler than opening a rift to go from Point A to Point B). The PC can perhaps leverage the reputation of their OCC, but in this crowd, we start seeing a more balanced respect for the other PC’s capabilities.
With the Demi-Gods. A squishy SDC character that likely doesn’t bother with MDC armour, running around with giant stompy robots, dragons and demi-gods certainly makes them the odd-man out. Unless the Shifter is leveraging some supernatural entity’s mojo, if this is the guy just opening the proverbial door, it makes him more the party valet than anything else. Most of the other PCs likely have massive spell casting abilities, and in any cases, the ability to open or exploit rifts and dimension hopping abilities. I would imagine the Shifter would have some decent to high level of experience, which allows them to start tapping into the more heavy-hitting and influential spells, perhaps with the assistance of their more ‘godly’ characters with a much higher battery of PPE to draw upon.
Rifts Main Book (RMB, or Grey Book) to Rifts Ultimate Edition (RUE). Despite the starting spells and those available as the caster advances were updated with the addition of spells throughout the Rifts library, the greatest changes to affect the Shifter come from the OCC entry in RUE. Oddly enough though, the first entry is a downgrade in the save to HF, whereas the RMB starts with a flat +7, the RUE starting at +4 and incrementally improving. The remainder of the powers benefit for some greater clarity and definition on the how, bonuses, and negatives. The entries for Dimensional Travel, Summoning, and the Link to the Supernatural options are *much* better. Somewhat surprising was the increased number of very applicable OCC skills were added, along with some welcome category bonuses.
Final Thoughts on the Shifter. As a class that specializes in opening portals to other dimensions and, in some cases trying to summon and control supernatural beings, one can easily imagine this to be a villainous group of slightly-to-very unhinged folks. This obviously is not necessarily the case, as group that wishes to travel the Megaverse will require someone to effectively “open the door” to let the party through. As a specific style of spell caster, they are the poster-child for the CS and likely several other regions/nation-states for drawing in the evil that caused much of the strife in the PA-calendar times. Adding one of these to the group pretty much excludes a number of regions on the map (e.g. CS), but opens up certain others (e.g. Atlantis, Phoenix Empire). It’s an interesting OCC concept, literally walking one foot on either side of the line, and a supernatural force tugging on one arm. In the context of the Minion War, the Shifter can become quite a powerful hero (or villain). It is an interesting class, one that presents a certain level of recklessness and risk of the very actions that define the class, coming back to bite them in the ass. There are some prime role-playing opportunities with this OCC, but not something that will draw many. For that reason, I doubt many players would select this OCC, but I imagine many GMs would happily throw one out there as a villain. In that dynamic, it makes the OCC a solid hit, with some and rather unique class abilities.
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