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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

The Bazaar #35: Rifts Renaissance (Combat Redux)

Updated: Jan 5


So, to recap, we’ve started a discussion on the Palladium Books rules, specifically the individual components that make up the Core Rules Set. The Rifts Renaissance series of posts will touch on each of these components, with a series of suggestions to upgrade and refresh, but also normalize them into as more cohesive framework. Because it bears repeating, this isn’t something that looks to change or retcon the various World Books and history of the settings, nor does it endeavour to replicate anything from the d20 system or One D&D.

Caveat/Disclaimer: Reiterating the point, I’m very much not tapped into Palladium Books any more than most. I have zero visibility on internal business matters, planned or current projects that may actively counter my suggestion, or their strategy for the way forward (either rules-wise or thematically). This is all a shot in the dark.

The aim of this series can be found in the initial post, Skill Redux. It also provides the First Principles Review framework that applies to this and subsequent posts.

Active Defence System. The Palladium Books system is an Active Defence system, whereby the Attacker rolls to score a hit, and then the Defender has options on what to do in order to mitigate or dodge the hit. Many other systems, including d20, are Passive Defence, whereby the Attacker rolls against a target number in order to score a hit and the deals damage. I have zero intention of recommending any changes to the Active Defence system.

Ultimately, the following is the goal: An updated/formalized Core Rules System that is universally applied across all PB games. Imagine that.


There are a multitude of posts that bemoan the ‘chunkiness’ of combat, and the fact the system is wrought with too many details, the rolls taking too long. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the options arguments (there are a few), this is more so to the point that things need a serious reformat to make it clear what those options are. Included in this refresh are a few phrases to clearly define rules interactions, with serious consideration to the “less is more” approach.

Key Tenets. Something I always found when either playing or as a GM, the following was nearly universal: technology reigned supreme and players could overwhelmingly leverage technology against all targets. Magic and psionics needed a boost; technology needed something to temper it, even against other technological targets. Too often, a party of non-munchkin characters would overpower robots and the like. A UAR-1 Enforcer, with a Main Body of 350 M.D.C. did not seem to stand up so well after a single combat, most certainly not after two. Sure, you could repair it, but its lack of durability/survivability seemed to be sidelined; the idea should be that a big stompy robot is a threat.

Combat Terms. I would seriously condense these entries, with reliance on Keywords to normalize their intent throughout the rules. Removal of terms already stated in other parts of Close Combat or Ranged Combat, as well as Back Flip (Attack) as it contravenes the very rules on Dodging and Striking. Includes specific rules for:

  • Sneak Attack. Because "loss of Initiative" is vague and can be applied mid-melee, how does this play out? I suggest that the Attacker gets a +6 Initiative benefit, the Defender suffers -6 to Initiative and cannot perform a Basic Combat Action against the first attacker's Combat Action directed at them.

  • Long Range Attack. Basically a ranged Sneak Attack.

  • Back Flip. Replaces a Basic Combat Action (Dodge) but only benefits from P.P. Attribute Modifiers (no benefits from other Combat Action Modifiers, but negatives apply). Success means avoiding the attack. Failure and suffer damage roll without any chance to Roll with Impact. Prerequisite: Gymnastics or Acrobatics.

  • Back Flip (Escape). Better defined.

  • Back Flip (Attack). Just... gone. Too many internal contradictions to other rules.

  • Body Block/Tackle. Better defined to specify what negatives and lost attacks occur for success or failure.

  • Critical Strike. Leverages Key Words and Vulnerability Table (below) to better translate from dice rolls to effect.

  • Death Blow. Better defined and leverages Key Words, Vulnerability Table (below) and new S.D.C.-M.D.C. interaction.

  • Disarm. Moved to Basic Combat Action: Entangle.

  • Holds. Moved to Basic Combat Action: Entangle.

  • Initiative. Motherhood statement as it is already defined in the 6 Steps of Combat....

  • Knockdown. More clearly defined.

  • Resistance/Vulnerability. Described below; one of three significant changes recommended.

  • Simultaneous Attack. More clearly defined.

  • Stun. More clearly defined.

Action Modifier Chart. A comprehensive table presenting bonuses and negatives for various items for both Close Combat and Ranged Combat Actions: Aimed Shot, Called Shot, Shooting Blind, Being Blinded, Target is Moving, Dodging within X feet, etc. A single table, so more hunting for the description elsewhere!

Saving Throws. Gets its own section and is reinforced from entries currently found in the Psionics and Magic section to make a single source reference for any save required. Includes specific references to Attribute Modifiers, Action Modifiers, or Skill Modifiers that apply.

Close Combat

6 Steps. This remains relatively unchanged, just dramatically reduced for fluff text and examples. There are specific terms laced throughout that come to play with other segments of the re-write. Rolling to Strike is now identified as a Basic Action. One of the specific Keywords is Basic Action Challenge, which mirrors the Skill Challenge function from the Skills Redux post. Basic Action Challenges are now specified as options for all characters and beasts: Parry, Dodge and Entangle. Clear definition on parrying multiple attackers, and parrying weapons bare-handed for both S.D.C. (suffer full damage to limb) and M.D.C. (takes the damage, but with a level of Resistance). Various holds wrapped into the Entangle paragraph (no pun intended). Whereas I would give Scholars and Adventurers a bonus to Skill Challenges, I would provide Men-at-Arms with a slightly benefit to Basic Action Challenges, thus giving another differentiation to the Occupations.

Basic Combat Damage Table. A table that defines Normal Strength damage (read: Humans) for various attacks, such as punch, kick, leap kick, pull punch, power punch, power kick. Table applies a simplified formula to determine increased damage and number of attacks dependent on the attack chosen.

Hand-to-Hand Skills. In the same theme as before, HtH: None, Basic, Expert and Martial appear on a single page, with Assassin and Commando on the flip side. More a formatting thing but an easy win.

Dragon Combat. Honestly, not something I expected to take a two full pages; boiled down to a single table, like the HtH Skills.

Ancient Weapon Proficiencies. This is a (very) long segment that is begging to be rebranded. The actual W.P. skill description is boiled down to the basic requirements; a line or two at most. The bonuses are then also normalized across the board into a single table. I suggest characters get a +1 to Strike at levels 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13. Like, everything, every single weapon is normalized. The few that have other functions, like Parry or # Shots, are defined at the same rate as the bonus to Strike or somehow tied to that rate of advancement. All shows up in a single table for reference, so no more hunting for the skill description to get specific bonuses.

Ranged Combat

6 Steps. Presented in almost the same way as Close Combat, but with specific rules for ranged combat summarized and presented herein; no more searching! This includes the Basic Actions and Basic Action Challenges.

Modern Weapon Proficiencies. A single table with a defined scheme for advancement in these W.P. that is equal across the board (flamethrower the one exception). All advance at +1 to Strike at levels 1, 3, 6, 9, 12 and 15; or something like this. Frankly, they should ALL advance at the same pace. Includes a section on persons without an applicable W.P. and what that means.

Missile Combat. Whoo-boy. This one. First off, currently it takes four pages of text in RUE. I have it boiled down to one. The biggest issue was taking long paragraphs and distilling down to the (typically) two sentences actually required – Keywords went a long way. And yes, four or more missiles is a thing, but I included something to at least provide some real-world basis for the reasoning; we have swarm weapon delivery systems, so not too hard to do the same with guided missiles. And no, mini-missiles are NOT guided.

Other Rules

Horror Factor. Gets pulled from the Psychic Combat section (of all places, why is it nested there?). More definition on the roll as an Action Challenge, failure imposing a new definition for Sneak Attack rules. There is also an option to include impacts for massive damage or deaths of comrades to impact PC/NPC performance through in-combat HF. As a grunt in a trench, a Boom Gun shell blasting through a trench wall and pasting my trench buddy should be a thing that rattles my nerves, if not my teeth. Getting charged by a UAR Enforcer? Should be a thing. About to be run over by a tank? Should be a thing. Just saying.

Perception. Another pulled from Psychic Combat section. Currently presented as a d20 roll, I suggest it becomes a d100 roll as it directly allows Skill Challenges using the Perception ability. I’d have it starting low as well, somewhere in the 20-25% range, with Men-at-Arms getting a bonus due their Role and Occupations having additional bonuses (e.g. Mystic, Mutant Animals, Psi-Stalkers and the like would get a big boost).

Surviving an Aircraft Crash-Landing. Not something I thought needed to be a thing, but there it was in RUE. So, edit-pen applied and made into a single paragraph.

Robot Combat Damage Tables. Tables with side-effects for suffering major damage on a single location (50% or more of the M.D.C. in a single hit) to the head, arms, legs or main body. Another would be presented for traditional land vehicles (cars, hover vehicles, tanks and APCs).

Mega-Damage Armour Rating (M.A.R.). A new mechanic I would introduce that will go over like a lead brick for some, no doubt. Hey, them’s the breaks, this is my blog, LOL. Just so you know, there are multifaceted applications that cross over to magic and psionics, and answers the issue of four PCs with rifles being a viable challenge for something like a UAR Enforcer; big, stompy robots really should be much more impactful. It also addresses the Cyber-Knight armour (ugh....). Similar to the Armour Rating for S.D.C., the M.A.R. adds a layer of protection to M.D.C. beings and constructs, based on a simple formula: M.A.R. is calculated as 10 plus the Main Body M.D.C. divided by 100 (rounded down), with a maximum of 16. Any Total Dice Roll that exceeds the M.A.R. will cause full damage; any hit that is less than or equal to the M.A.R., the damage roll suffers a level of Resistance (typically a Half-Damage Roll, explained further below). A few examples below:

  • Example 1: The Glitter Boy has an M.A.R. of 16 (Main Body of 770 divided by 100, rounded down). Since the calculation exceeds the maximum M.A.R., it caps at 16.

  • Example 2: Crusader Full Body Environmental Armour has an M.A.R. of 10 (Main Body 95 divided by 100, rounded down).

Vulnerabilities/Resistance. Basically formalize the issue of Vulnerabilities and Resistances into the damage dealing part of combat. It’s a simple slide-chart, whereby the GM checks what effects are in play and adjusts the damage rolls to reflect.

  • Example 1: The Glitter Boy has Resistance: Lasers, thus most lasers will suffer a level of Resistance. If the player rolls a Critical Dice Roll, the damage gains a level of Vulnerability (nullifying the Resistance), the damage roll reverts back to Normal.

  • Example 2: The same Glitter Boy is hit with a laser shot, but the roll doesn’t exceed the M.A.R. Because the Glitter Boy has Resistance: Lasers, the damage suffers a Resistance. Because the M.A.R. was not exceeded, it suffers yet another level of Resistance, meaning the laser simply bounces off the armour, doing no damage!

  • Example 3: A Plant Elemental has Vulnerability: Fire and is attacked by a CS soldier bearing a plasma rifle. Because of this Vulnerability, the CS soldier’s damage roll benefits from a level of Vulnerability. If the CS player rolls a Critical Dice Roll, it benefits from another level of Vulnerability, the damage roll now multiplied by four.

  • Example 4: Vampires have Resistance 2: Technological Mega-Damage. They would have Vulnerabilities defined by their specific entries in World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms.

S.D.C. versus M.D.C. Something of an issue with players of multiple camps, there are myriad house rules on this topic. Not the first augmentation to the rule to be suggested, for sure. The significant difference is the interaction this rule would have in combination with M.A.R. and the Vulnerability/Resistance table. This provides some context for why in Rifts a society without massive M.D. weapons *may* have put up a fight, but more importantly provides some better dovetailing of S.D.C. worlds into M.D.C. worlds, and vice-versa. Summarized as follows:

  • M.D.C. is S.D.C. x 10. Vice the current x 100 (sacrilege, some are already surely saying; wait for it).

  • S.D.C. CAN Damage M.D.C. I’m suggesting that S.D.C. CAN impact an M.D.C. target, but suffers the following negative modifiers:

    • S.D.C. damage against anything with an M.A.R. is divided by 10 (rounded down) Example 1: S.D.C. rifle with 4D6 damage, does maximum 24 S.D.C. damage (now 2 M.D.). So yes, anything inflicting less than 10 S.D.C. damage means the attack fails to qualify for anything other than a paint scratch/bounces off the hull. The classic pistol against the tank example.

    • Anything with an M.A.R. has Resistance: S.D.C. Damage Example 1: That same rifle that did 24 S.D.C. is now reducing the converted 2 M.D. down to 1 M.D. Here’s the kicker, if the attacker failed to exceed the M.A.R., the target benefits from another level of Resistance, making this adjusted 1 M.D. into zero damage. It doesn’t even chip the paint.

    • S.D.C. Special Effects. Finally, S.D.C. damage never benefits from any Critical Strike/Stun/Death Blow special effects. This basically wraps up RUE rules for S.D.C. effects on M.D. targets anyways.

  • M.D. attacks against S.D.C.

    • Vulnerability: S.D.C. suffers Vulnerability 3: Mega-Damage Attacks Example 2: A rifle doing 4D6 M.D. rolling 24 M.D. will convert to inflict 240 S.D.C. (M.D. x 10)

    • Critical Hit. An attacker rolling a Critical Hit with an M.D. weapon against an S.D.C. target gains another level or Vulnerability, now inflicting Vulnerability 4 Example 2: That same rifle doing a converted 240 S.D.C. is now inflicting 2,400 S.D.C. damage.

    • S.D.C. Armour Rating. M.D. attacks ignore it (just punches through).

Psychic and Magic in Combat. Drawing on a variety of sources to specifically define how psionic powers/magic spells can be used in combat, and various affects that can boost or dampen those powers. Of note, psionic powers/magic spells that deal direct damage are not affected by M.A.R., their esoteric and mystical nature piercing the layer of defense - so long as the Basic Combat Action to Strike rolls high enough to hit and is not countered by a Combat Action Challenge, the damage roll does not suffer any Resistance.

One Pagers. Ultimately, the idea is to ensure all these segments can be either presented as-is on a one-pager (a panel for a GM Screen), or condensed to do the same. Close Combat with Ancient Weapon Proficiencies, Hand-to-Hand Combat tables, Power Armour and Robot Combat tables, Ranged Combat and Modern Weapon Proficiencies, Combat Terminology and Other Rules should all be capable of being done on a single reference sheet.


So, for the most part, I'm not espousing radical change to the Palladium Books combat rules, more so a reset with a hard edit on the formatting and the justification for the amount of text used to describe effects. Key words would go a long way to normalizing the text and making the rules cinch together more easily. This would allow for several one-pager references and make referencing the rules more user-friendly than currently done. The only changes I would proposed that have any meaningful change would be the following points:

  • Vulnerability/Resistance Table. Allows clear indication how damage increases or is mitigated.

  • M.A.R. and interactions with Psionics/Magic and the Vulnerability/Resistance Table.

  • Adjust S.D.C. to M.D.C. interaction.

To be clear, those three points come part-in-parcel, so basically all wrapped up together. Remembering the First Principles statements from the Skill Redux post, there isn't anything here that negates previous books or forces revisions of previous releases. I'm looking for impactful adjustments that improves the players' experiences, and allows the GM to still deliver compelling plot and adventures through the combat system. Are they necessarily the ideal Palladium Books may be looking for? Who knows? I'll tell you though, they are at least paying attention.

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