A bit over ten years ago, my gaming group had a brief and painful foray into a Rifts campaign. We had been stuck in a loop of ‘What do you want to play?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you want to play?’ so one of the guys offered to run Rifts. He was the only one that had ever played it, but the world sounded cool (if over the top), so we said what the hell. The campaign, if you can call it that, lasted for all of two sessions before collapsing beneath our collective irritation with the game’s mechanics.
So why am I excited about the Rifts character I will be playing this weekend in a new mini-campaign? Savage Rifts, that’s why.
When my group gave the game a try, it proved to me that it was possible to have a bad game experience with good players and a good GM. This was simply a system I did not enjoy. Even though I trusted the GM and had played and loved his campaigns before, I couldn’t get past the problems with the game’s mechanics. For me, when there is a significant gap between the narrative intent of the players and the things they can actually achieve, there’s a problem. Sure, there are times when player expectations don’t match the intent of the game, but those problems usually even out after the first session. During our brief attempt at Rifts in 2006, we kept hitting a wall where we’d state our intentions or goals and realize we had no chance of doing that based on the roll we’d have to make.
We quickly realized the game was dead in the water, so we discussed trying to bring the characters into another system, specifically GURPs. While this is a touchy subject with old-school Rifts, we all liked our characters and were intrigued by the game world, but it was obvious the system wasn’t one we enjoyed. Unfortunately, it would have been too much work to try and translate and balance the characters in another system, so the campaign was allowed to die an ignoble and early death.
Fast forward ten years and Savage Rifts has burst onto the scene. Pinnacle Entertainment  achieved what had been considered impossible and got permission to translate Rifts into another system. It was announced last Fall and a wildly successful Kickstarter this past spring proved how interested people were in diving back into the game world using different mechanics. An interest evidenced by the $438,076 raised by the backers.
Suddenly, a game world I was curious about is available to play in a game system I like. Savage Worlds, while not my number one favorite game system, is one I know, enjoy and have played extensively at various conventions. I’ve even run it a couple of times. Thing is, I couldn’t quite bring myself to back the Kickstarter. I knew a couple of the guys in my gaming group had, so I would eventually get to see it, but frustration with that original campaign tainted my opinion and held me back.
Two weeks ago, we wrapped up the current chapter of our 5th edition D&D game. It was a spectacular season finale to a great game we all look forward to revisiting next year. Next up is my Eberron game (using Pathfinder because we started this campaign back in 2011), but we all agreed we needed a palette cleanser of some kind in between heavy fantasy games. The same GM that ran that failed campaign back in 2006 announced he had gotten his Savage Rifts pdfs and he would be willing to run a mini-campaign in that. Everyone agreed. I hid my hesitation and went along with the group’s consensus.
I worried about that same frustration rising up again. What if it was no different? What if the problem really was the setting and not just the system? Then my friend let me read some of the book. Specifically the ‘Tomorrow Legion’s Player’s Guide ‘. So many of my concerns were addressed right in the opening of the book. And character creation? Suddenly my skill monkey archaeologist girl could stand a chance at being useful surrounded by Glitter Boys and Dragon Hatchlings. The more I read, the more excited I got. I spent an entire evening fiddling and tweaking with the skills and edges to get my Rogue Scholar right where I want her. This is going to be fun and I can’t wait until we play on Saturday.
System Matters. It’s a statement I’ve heard quite often and it’s true. It’s not the only ingredient that goes into making a good game, but a system that doesn’t fit your tastes can only take a great group of players and an awesome GM so far. Back in 2006, I had that awesome GM and great players, and we still got a bad game. Palladium’s Rifts was not for me, but Savage Rifts might just be the portal (ha!) that I need to enjoy this particular over-the-top post-apocalyptic mishmash of crazy.
Have you ever switched systems to keep playing in a particular setting? Or even tried the same setting in two different systems to get different experiences? Heck, are you planning on a Savage Rifts game any time soon? Tell me about your Glitter Boy or your Ley Line Walker.