Retrospective Thursday Presents: Rifts

Originally posted 2015-06-25 15:38:26.


Title: Rifts

Developer: Palladium Books

Platform(s): Tabletop RPG

Release Date(s):1990 – Present

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Players: As many as a GM can emotionally handle.

Kid Friendly Rating: Perhaps 10, if rules are kept light and the appropriate setting is used. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and After the Bomb could be a fun setting considering the relevance of the characters even today.

Personal Rating: The game as a whole, 8/10. Some variants and World Books are better than others.


Rifts is a game setting that has been present in the gaming community for over 20 years. In and of itself Rifts first hit the table top in 1990, and quickly found its way into gaming legend.

Rifts is a game setting that literally encompasses all of space time across the entire Megaverse. This means that one could play an elemental summoning warlock alongside a power armor pilot within a spacefaring plot that could span a link of time and history from well before the Greco Roman era until far into the future. While unlikely that your characters will survive that long it is entirely possible as jumping into a rift, a portal into another dimension of space time, is something that players do on a frequent basis. When faced with the possibility of jumping into a rift most players do the wrong thing and immediately bail on a game masters plot and dive headlong into the unknown. This is one of the things that I found most intriguing about the game system. The fact that you are never tied down to a single place short of your own imagination and the game masters willingness to allow you to go somewhere else is incredible.

The rules are fairly simple and have remained nearly the same since the initial Rift books hit the market in 1990. Since the beginning, a d20 has been used for initiative much like many tabletop games. However from that point on a players character aspect really comes into play. Maybe you are a former soldier with minor cybernetics and an advanced skill set that give you a decent bonus to that initiative. You roll a d20 land on a 15, and with your bonuses perhaps come out with a 22 total. Good for you! That’s a great number but maybe you are fighting with gun slinger from the new West, a place infested with gamblers criminals and dinosaurs, and maybe that gunslinger has some fairly advanced cybernetic implants meaning that he rolled a 14 but with her bonuses that comes out to a 26.

The gunfight begins with little fanfare and just some high initiative rolls. The thing is you’re going to hold that initiative, and maybe that gunslinger has three melees… Maybe you, the soldier, have 5. The gunslinger shoots then you shoot, the gunslinger shoots then you shoot, the gunslinger shoots then you shoot again and again and again. You just had two extra turns because you are a different character and because each character is unique. The problem is the juicer that you never saw in the shadows! He saw his friend, the gunslinger, just get sauced and now he’s pissed. Initiatives are rolled again and maybe the results are the same except this time the juicer has 6 turns to your 5 in considering the level of drugs being pumped into his system via an implant and containment pouch on his chest. He is now faster and more fluid than anything you could hope to be. Sure he’s going to suffer from juicer burnout in 4-5 years and literally just blow an aneurysm and die but until then he’s going to dodge nearly every bullet you shoot at him and he’s going to do so while closing the distance to you and cutting you to ribbons with a vibro katana. And, really, that is only about the first 1 minute of combat.

Almost everybody that is human has similar stats to Dungeons and Dragons where you roll 3d6 for each attribute. But there are aliens and Godlings and everything in between that have their own individual stats. Anything from perhaps a 1d4 strength to a 5d6 + 4 intelligence. Not to mention all of the potential magical, cybernetic, or Bionic implants that are abound in the megaverse that will assist with an individual’s attributes and skill stats.

Skills are just as varied and percentage based. This leads to a very high level of character customization that allows the player to do as he or she sees fit. Do you want to play a monster hunting cyborg that has been tracking down a village burning dragon through the Allegheny National Forest? Or how about you are the cyborgs friend and pilot a suit of glitter boy power armor that fires the most powerful shotgun in the world at more than four times the speed of sound? Perhaps as the pilot you yourself have a penchant for gems, there’s a skill for that. Does your character like to fish? There’s a skill for that. Does he or she like to act, do they have varying weapon tastes, do they study the occult, or perhaps have a farming history and are great at animal husbandry…? There are skills for all of those and then literally hundreds more.

As of now there are currently 124 rifts books for sale on the Palladium Books webpage. There are also dozens of other variants and other palladium game books that can be easily interspersed through the Rifts universe. One of the greatest things about rifts is that when the hype hit about changing versions for all tabletop RPGs several years ago, the worst they did was created the ultimate edition as they named it, and it’s simply allowed you and easier conversion between their own systems. It is literally nothing to play a Hulk type superhero in a hero’s unlimited system that has had a rift tear open into the world of palladium where mages and other spell casters are commonplace.

There is very little negative that I have to say about this system, of course it is not perfect, but I really feel that it is well done and very enjoyable. I would recommend this game system to anyone of any skill level and any experience level with tabletop games.

Does anyone out there have any rifts experience? Any stories you would like to tell?