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Reconsidering Rifts

SavageRiftsImage1 [1]

Okay, maybe my Rogue Scholar won’t be doing exactly this…

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.

 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. 
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Palladium’s Rifts [6] has a long, fascinating, and sordid history in gaming since its debut in 1990. I really don’t want to dig too deep into the history, but it’s important to point out that the game was built on a lot of the design concepts that were prominent during the late 80’s and early 90’s. It’s been cited as a textbook example of splatbook power creep, where every new book that came out (and there were many over the years) introduced new character archetypes that were more powerful than what came before. Still, the game had a rabidly dedicated fan base avidly playing the game for most of the 90’s and into the 00’s.

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 [7] 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.

Not sure what everyone else will be playing yet. [8]

Not sure what everyone else will be playing yet.

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 [9]‘. 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.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Reconsidering Rifts"

#1 Comment By black campbell On September 30, 2016 @ 9:12 am

I agree — the mechanics can aid, impede, or simply not get in the way of play. Long, long ago, when it had first come out, we had a Top Secret campaign that was fun enough, but the transplants D&D rules didn’t really quite capture the flavor of the Bond movies or action films we liked. When the James Bond system from Victory showed up, we tried it and sparks! It did exactly what we wanted — from crafting your character, to the quality-based damage, it just flew.

In the later 80s, the comic books made their comeback. We tried Champions, but not having a Cray supercomputer on call made character creation a pain in the @$$. The FASTRIP Marvel system was okay, but we rather liked DC Heroes that Mayfair brought out. IT just suited out needs better.

The classic one, for me, was Space: 1889. Great setting, but to say awful mechanics would be a kindness. We stumbled along with that for a while until Castle Falkenstein and its card-based rule came out, but even that had awful combat rules that we fixed by fusing Lace & Steel ideas onto the basic rules. Perfect for the setting, we thought.

Cyberpunk — glitchy, overly busy mechanics, but we rescued the campaign by porting it over into Bond and writing some basic cyberpunk rules for the tech.

And my experience with RIfts was similar to yours — execrable mechanics that actively hindered play. I had the same experience with the 2d20 system, and (everybody get your rage one!) GURPS, particularly for the splatbook arteriosclerosis that builds up on fairly basic mechanic. (But you can just not use those extra rules! You’re right.)

I like Ubquity, which powers Hollow Earth Expedition, but I think it gets busy in strange places (like combat) where it’s sleek and fast the rest of the time; this can impede play if you don’t handwave past some of it.. Fate works well and can really aid play depending on how you run your game, but there’s something to try to mechanize elements of play that naturally occur (the aspect on scene, for instance — most people understand “it’s raining…might the bad guys have a harder time seeing us trying to infiltrate the base? You “involved an aspect” without actually needed rules for an aspect.) that sometimes gets in the way. (Opinion — I may be full of it.) Even Cortex (the old one, not the Fate-ified version) had some serious issues, but it generally aided play, we found.

Mechanics optimized for the setting can aid play. I’ve been surprised that I like what I seeing from 5th ed, and am thinking seriously of running a fantasy game for the first time in a quarter century. Bad rules sets can make play nearly impossible (looking at you Space Opera and the latest mess they made of Traveler.) Often, the best you can hope for is they don’t get in the way of what you’re trying to do.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On September 30, 2016 @ 1:51 pm

Champions was actually my primary system back in the early 90’s. My math skills were better back then, so I didn’t mind working through all the intricate math to stat out a character. That said, ain’t nobody got time for that anymore. 🙂

I once played a con game where a GM tried to use the Ubiquity system for a supers game. Everyone at the table seemed to be having fun, but it seemed like a poor pairing between genre and system. Of course, I may be spoiled by more open ended supers games where I can say, “My powers should be able to do something like this.” and the GM comes up with a way to attempt that or at least make it work if it’s thematically appropriate.

#3 Comment By black campbell On October 1, 2016 @ 8:01 am

I rather liked the Marvel Heroic System from a few years ago. For precisely that reason.

#4 Comment By Akerbakk On September 30, 2016 @ 11:33 am

Hi Angela,

My first post on GS (I think) – and I wanted to share that I had a remarkably similar story to tell about RIFTS that you did. Rifts was actually my first step into role-playing games back in 1997. I loved the setting, I loved the character classes, and of course I loved the tech books and such. But as I matured as a gamer and GM, I found myself with concerns that echoed yours: the system was too disconnected, some classes were “useless”, and of course, the Power Creep.

I made many attempts at fixing the game for me and my group of players, all of us Rifts fans. The first was to houserule the heck out of the palladium system. That proved fruitless as I eventually saw a need to put my two cents into pretty much every aspect of the game: classes, races, skills, gear, powers, combat, and so on.

Come the 00s, I tried translating over to GURPS, then to BRP. It worked well for what I ran (which was mostly low-power city-rat/ espionage/ “human-level” type action). I stayed away from the heavy hitters. However, I wasn’t thrilled. It didn’t feel like Rifts. No boom guns, no high magic, etc. Despite my decade of attempts and collaborations with the aim of fixing Rifts, I put my gaming with Rifts on indefinite hold out of frustration…

Until the announcement that Pinnacle was releasing Savage Rifts and Sean Patrick Fannon would be at the helm of the project!

I was one of the first backers of Savage Rifts. I have run a few sessions of the game. I’ll be the first to admit that I do not have system mastery with Savage Worlds, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my return to the post-post-apoc world we all know and love. There is nothing quite like watching a Glitter Boy player get back up after taking a volley of medium missiles, or seeing a city rat effortlessly talk his way into a deal with the local black market. I’m hoping for more sessions and love what I see.

#5 Comment By Angela Murray On September 30, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

One of the great things about it getting converted into Savage Worlds is that there’s already an established and active Savage Worlds community. If you’ve got questions, just poke around on Google+ or Facebook and you’ll probably find a Savage Worlds group not too far from where you’re located. I know where I live, there’s a Western NY Savages group that does game days at local came stores as well as run at various cons. They’re a great resource if you’ve got questions. Just poke around and you’ll find people willing to help figure out some of the rules. 🙂

#6 Comment By Silveressa On September 30, 2016 @ 1:37 pm

I’ve had the same experience with Pallaidum’s Dead Reign, in finding the rules made an otherwise fun post apoc survival horror setting dead in the water, (If you’ll pardon the pun.) after only a couple sessions.

In my case, the group was willing to work with me and we converted the setting over to Cortex Rules (Using a variation of Cortexe’s now discontinued Supernatural RPG rules) The conversion was a smashing success and the campaign had a solid run and proved to be well worth the time investment.

Rifts however, having played (and GM’d) it heavily in and immediately after high school the 90’s (’96-’99) I remember house ruling was a common practice with the (often conflicting between sourcebooks) rules, and near the end our house rule binder was approaching the thickness of one of their typical sourcebooks when we threw in the towel and moved on to other games.

Unlike D&D, Rifts never really evolved with the times, so their rules feels very clunky, dated, and badly balanced compared to most modern, and even semi modern, gamebooks these days, which (quite rightfully) turns off a lot of potential new players to the setting.

I do wonder if the Savage Worlds conversion will change all that in the years to come, but still cringe at the idea of using a single conversation book to try and convert even a handful of the 40+ books that make up the Rifts setting.

#7 Comment By Angela Murray On September 30, 2016 @ 1:46 pm

Another nice thing about Savage Worlds is that it’s pretty easy to import ideas and rules, just by modeling needed edges or abilities on existing pieces. I suppose those that heavily invested in Rifts back in the day need to look at the new rules as something of a new ground zero. Yeah, there are bits of information in your head that aren’t covered by the new books, but they’ll either get there or you probably don’t need those bits right now.

From what I can tell, the starting books don’t ignore what’s happened in the world, but set things up in such a way that you’re not overwhelming new players with an info dump, but not ignoring what’s come before. It seems like a good balance to bring in both old and new players.

#8 Comment By black campbell On October 1, 2016 @ 8:04 am

Cortex is very stretchy. You can do a lot with it.

#9 Comment By griffon8 On September 30, 2016 @ 5:15 pm

For our gaming group it was Conspiracy X. We were all interested in the mythos of the setting. The rules were just too different for any of us to get a handle on. And this was a group of 10 people!

We made the decision to translate our characters into GURPS. This was long before the official GURPS Conspiracy X book was done, so it was more work. Mostly for me, as I was the one who had to figure out how Influence translated into GURPS.

While we definitely had more fun, the campaign still didn’t last very long.

On a side note about the translation, it was interesting to note that occasionally a disadvantage in one game became an advantage in the other. My most vivid memory of that was Light Sleeper: In one, it meant you were disturbed by the slightest noise and it was difficult to get a full night’s sleep; in the other, it meant you could wake up quickly and fully alert, say if your hotel room was being broken into. I don’t even remember which system had which at this point.

#10 Comment By Angela Murray On October 1, 2016 @ 10:57 am

Heh. Your comment on disadvantages reminds me of a conversation with one of my group mates many years back. He’s known for playing characters along a more chaotic neutral line, so when he decided to play a more knight like character, he complained about having to take a ‘Code of Honor’ as a MAJOR disadvantage. We still tease him about that today.

It is interesting, though, how advantages and disadvantages can shift like that between systems.

#11 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 2, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

I hope this means that other Palladium IPs may be converted over into Savage Worlds soon. Not much of a Rifts fan (it feels like the designers were trying WAY too hard on that one) but some of the other IPs had some bright spots. Particularly would like to see Nightspawn. (No, not Nightbane. Nightspawn.)

#12 Comment By Angela Murray On October 2, 2016 @ 4:23 pm

I’m actually not as familiar with the rest of their catalog. The only other games of theirs I could name off the top of my head would be Robotech and TMNT, and both of those are licensed properties, so have their own can of worms to unravel.

#13 Comment By black campbell On October 6, 2016 @ 8:55 am

One of my friends was supposed to be doing some Robotech work for them. He was not impressed with the system.

#14 Comment By Andy Warcoholic On October 17, 2016 @ 3:07 am

Rifts is one of the easiest systems to run/play! Admittedly, the character creation can lag and be a little too crunchy at times. Sounds more like the lamewad GM didn’t know what the hell he was doing and blamed it all on the system. As far the players go, sounds like it was more a case of that they disagreed with the mechanics instead of actually disliking them or thinking they didn’t work. Lol, noobs.

PS: Savage worlds is garbage.