Rifts is a roleplaying game made by the Palladium Books publishing company. Rifts takes place on earth about 300 years after a nuclear holocaust caused a magical reawakening and killed over two thirds of humanity. In the course of the apocalypse many things changed in the world, Atlantis rose out of the ocean which flooded most Atlantic coastlines (killing even more people), the four horsemen appeared in Africa (where they killed more people), the Lord of the Deep was awakened (He didn't kill anyone at the time), and most importantly Rifts began to open up which let numerous alien races spill out into the world. Where many of them were and are still being killed. Rifts, for which the game is named, are what makes Rifts Earth so incredibly crazy. These Rifts allow for dimensional travel and allow everything from friendly fluff balls to malevolent alien gods out for a stroll onto Earth. So all the while the people who thought their lives couldn't get any worse now have to compete with displaced extra-dimensional beings trapped here. Those not content with just being friends with everybody chose to fight even the nicest of D-Bee's (Slang term for dimensional beings). Thus the Coalition was formed. Made up of a bunch of pricks who managed to take control of ancient super-city/fortresses wage constant war against Aliens, supernatural beings and magic users. Meanwhile all kinds of other horrible things go on all across Rifts Earth. This is a really shitty place to live.
- 1 Disclaimer
- 2 Character Classes
- 3 Setting(s)
- 4 Criticisms
Every Rifts book begins with a disclaimer that warns that the book contains violence, war, magic and the supernatural. Which is redundant since every cover of every source book contains an image that shows at least one, or more commonly all four of them. The disclaimer is often accompanied by some artwork that depicts some violence or one of the other four as well. This disclaimer was a response to the wave of anti-RPG hysteria in the 80s and early 90s, and its inclusion in saner times is one of many things that shows the game's age.
Rifts has a huge selection of character classes, almost as many as it does playable races. Usually a half-dozen or more with nearly every book. Some are basic Occupational Character Classes, others are Racial Character Classes that are tied to the character's race. Any attempt to list them all will inevitably be spun off into it's own page, but some of the more notable are:
- Borg: A 'Borg is a warrior who has given up their squishy human body for one of Mega-Damage alloys, becoming a twenty-four hour war machine.
- Burster: A psychic with a focus on pyrokinesis. A burster can shoot fire, control fire, and sheathe themselves in a firey aura. For those who want to watch the world burn, or put it out.
- Coalition RPA Pilot: The elite Mecha and Power Armor pilots of the Coalition States.
- Cosmo-Knight: One of the game's more infamous classes, these are basically Paladins gone Silver Surfer. Called to serve by an engine of creation known as the Cosmic Forge, Cosmo-Knights can fly through space and fight small space fleets.
- Crazy: One of the many forms of Human Augmentation developed before the Great Cataclysm, The Mind Over Matter system manipulates the recipient's brain to improve their reflexes and let them push their bodies to their limits. Unfortunately, it also drives them crazy. Like, Deadpool-crazy. Looney Tunes crazy.
- Cyber-Knight: A cross between a Paladin and a Jedi. Cyber-Knights are defenders of the weak and innocent. At first, they were known by their cybernetically-implanted armor and psychic energy swords, a later sourcebook gave them additional powers, notably a force-like ability to know when any technological device was turned against them.
- Dog Boy: Mutant dogs created by the Coalition to hunt magic-users, Dog Boys can sense the presence of magic-users and supernatural beings like a hunting dog sniffing out prey.
- Dolphin/Orca/Humpback Whale: Yes, the game lets you play as a fucking whale. Dolphins have innate magic, while all three know various abilities they can use on Ley Lines. Some seaborne Human kingdoms will even outfit friendly Dolphins and Orcas with special underwater Power Armor just for them.
- Dragon Hatchling: Yes, you can play a Dragon, albeit one only up to just over a month old. Dragon Hatchings have innate magical abilities, a body that can go toe-to-toe with a suit of power armor and stand a good chance of winning, and a number of other (super)natural abilities depending on their individual species.
- Glitter Boy: Rarely has a class been so defined by it's equipment. The Glitter Boy is the pilot of a suit of power-armor of the same name, a ten-foot-tall beast wrapped in gleaming laser-resistant armor and carrying a powerful railgun that can core a modern battle tank in a single shot.
- Headhunter: This started out as he basic Fighter of the game, i.e. "Dude with a gun". Over time however, the class evolved into a bionically-augmented warrior and monster slayer.
- Juicer: Juicers use a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs to push their bodies past the human limit. Unfortunately, this burns their body out and kills them in five to seven years. Since then, people have refined the formula, tweaking the transformation for faster speed, more muscle mass(and metal to lace the skeleton enough to carry all that), and even supernatural strength and toughness(but when you burn out, you literally burn out, eventually exploding like a small bomb).
- Ley Line Walker: Rifts' fancy way of saying Wizard. But they do come with a lot of abilities that deal with manipulating the energy from Ley Lines, including the ability to float or walk in the air along them. So at least the class earns its name.
- Psi-Slinger: An Old West-style gunslinger(yes, they have those too) who augments his shooting abilities with psionic power, such as firing energy bolts from his fingers and altering the power of energy attacks that hit him.
- Tattooed Man: Also known as a T-Man, this is a warrior whose body is covered in magic tattoos, which can create weapons or attack creatures among other effects. Most T-Men are servants or slaves of the Splugorth.
- Psi-Stalker: A mutant human subspecies that feeds on psychic energy used to power magic and supernatural beings.
- Techno-Wizard: A spellcaster-mechanic who combines magic and technology to make magic weapons. These can range from a flaming sword to magic-powered mecha.
- Warlock: A spellcaster who makes a connection with beings from the classical Elemental Planes (Air, Earth, Fire, Water) Their spells are often powerful, but naturally limited by their focus.
As noted before, the primary setting of the world is Earth, specifically North America(mostly Eastern-to-Middle America and Canada). A few other dimensions got looked into from time to time as well. On top of that, compatibility between Palladium systems means that every other game, from Heroes Unlimited and Ninjas and Superspies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Robotech are also part of the Palladium Megaverse, copyright permitting on those last two.
One of the most important new old features of the transformed Earth are the Ley Lines, line crisscrossing the Earth that act as a network of magical energy. In the supercharged magic levels of Rifts' Earth, Ley Lines appear as huge walls of energy miles long, and half a mile wide, that glow blue-white in the night. Where two ley lines meet, they form a Nexus, a powerful font of magic power that sometimes open into Rifts leading to other dimensions, where monsters and peoples can enter the world, sometimes whether they want to or not. Where three ley lines crisscross each other like a triangle, things get even weirder. Bermuda Triangle-weird.
Coalition States(North America)
The former United States is completely broken, with a few new kingdoms and empires clawing their way out of the Post-Apocalypse. The largest of these is the Coalition States, a Nazi-like state that keeps its people illiterate, lies about history, and is genocidally vehement against Magic and non-human beings. If you didn't get the memo about them being bad guys before, their soldiers also wear all-black Stormtrooper armor with a skeleton motif, and they like putting skulls on the front of their vehicles and mechs whenever possible. The Coalition States are:
- Chi-Town: Claiming Iowa and parts of Illinois,. Chi-Town is a massive fortress-city near the haunted ruins of actual Chicago that is the capital of the CS.
- Missouri: Located in the eponymous state. Mostly farm and empty land earmarked for future development.
- Iron Heart: In southern Canada immediately north of Lake Huron. An industrialized state that cozies up to Chi-Town actively.
- Arkansas/El Dorado: Most of Arkansas is forest wilderness, with scattered Human and D-Bee towns. The primary exception is the City-State of El Dorado, which was friendly with the Coalition for years, ultimately joining during the Tolkeen war.
- Lone Star: While the CS claims the entirety of the Lone Star State, in truth they only run the Panhandle and some the area south of it. The main reason they do so is the Tex-Am Complex, a Pre-Rifts compound of Genetic Engineering labs, where the CS clones their army of Dog Boys. The man running the place, a Doctor Desmond Bradford, is a bit of a Mad Scientist.
- Free Quebec: Laying claim to the Canadian state with a legion of Glitter Boys. Quebec is... well, it's Quebec. Very French and very arrogant, they eventually split off from the Coalition, sparking a civil war.
In the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the mega-corp Cyberworks created a powerful A.I. called A.R.C.H.I.E. Three. This A.I. was moved to the supreme headquarters of NEMA, an oragnization tasked with defending North America. On the bright side, the world ended before he went Skynet on us, on the down side, that didn't stop him from going crazy anyway. Archie has decided that the only way to make sense of this crazy world is to take it over, and he has command of a surprisingly well-preserved robot factory to do it. But rather than march across the country with an unending tide of tireless death machines, Archie has decided to be more subtle, starting with an army of hot robot warrior women riding mechanical dinosaurs as his front.
But Archie has a few disadvantages. He has trouble coming up with ideas of his own, and as such needs a Human "Idea Man" to link up and help him come up with new plots and minions.
One such idea was the hire a Shifter to help them exploit the possibilities of other dimensions. Unfortunately, the very first portal he opened up led directly to The Mechanoids, a genocidal race of cyborgs with a mad on against Humanoid life(Basically Daleks Lite, and not all that Lite). A small force of them managed to come thought the rift before one of them killed the Human shifter and thus closed the door. The Mechanoids took over Archie's factory and set about retooling it with their technology and cloning facilities to make more of themselves, triggering the first large-scale crisis on Rifts' Earth. For his part, Archie feigned compliance and sent out his Idea Man, Hagan, to resist the Mechanoids and to gather heroes to destroy them. Needless to say, they succeeded.
Federation of Magic
The eastern banks of the Mississippi River across from Missouri and Arkansas, encompassing all of Kentucky, and most of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio and parts of Tennessee is an area crisscrossed by ley lines and saturated in magic energies. This it is known as the Magic Zone.
When the Rifts opened, one big one opened right inside the Gatway Arch in St. Loius. This rift fused with the gate, rendering it indestructible, and never closed. The Coalition occupied the area around the gate(leaving the rest of the city in ruin), and use it as a Headquarters for the Rift Control Study Group, a military division that seeks scientific means to control and close rifts.
Elsewhere in the Magic Zone is a loose confederation of Magic-using states referred to as the Federation of Magic. The most dangerous of which are Dwemer, a mysterious city-state ruled by three God-like beings, Stormspire, a city devoted to the creation and sale of Techno-Wizard equipment, and the so-called True Federation, a cult-like force that consorts with demons, shadow-beasts and worse, led by the maniacle Alistair Dunscon, lord of the City of Brass.
Where the city of Toronto once stood is now the city of Lazlo, a self-styled City of Learning. Named after a pre-Rifts scholar who theorized the existence of Ley Lines and other supernatural phenomenon that later turned out to have been right all along, Lazlo is one of the birthplaces of Techno-Wizardry, and one of the unquestionably "Good" places on Rifts' Earth. It is also home to adventurer Erin Tarn.
New York City got pretty much wiped off the map during the Great Cataclysm. Sometime during this, Manhattan Island itself somehow got slammed into the mainland, making it into a peninsula. The ruins, only lightly overgrown despite the centuries, are haunted by spirits, madness, and mutants.
Northern Gun/Manistique Imperium
In that part of the northern half of the state of Michigan that kinda looks like a gun(get it?), The former Kingdom, now Republic, of Ishpeming is pretty much the bitch of the manufacturing giant Northern Gun. NG makes everything from tools and vehicles to guns, missiles, and giant robots, and is one of the biggest provider of weapons to adventurers on the continent.
Right next to Ishpeming is the Manistique Imperium. At the tip of Michigan's "gun", The Imperium is a friendly neighbor to Ishpeming, but has recently entered the manufacturing market as well with Wellington Industries. Fortunately for Northern Gun, WI focuses more on projectile weapons and explosives rather than lasers and other energy weapons, which is NG's stock in trade.
The Coalition says they own all of Texas, but these guys are the reason why that's not true. The "Empire" is really several small armies of bandits and independent states run by a variety of leaders, from a giant to a wannabe Mafia Don to the actual, real-life Sundance Kid(as in, "Butch Cassidy and the").
A community of powerful psychic warriors somewhere in the Ohio Valley. Their main city exists partially within the Astral Plane, with the physical part anchored by a living Ley Line Nexus known as Psynex.
Another center of Techno-Wizardry located in Minnesota. Tolkeen was a place of acceptance and magic much like Lazlo, but found itself way too close to the Coalition States. This inevitably led to war, which took Tolkeen's leaders down a dark path that ultimately failed to save it. After Tolkieen's destruction, hundreds to thousands of refugees fled west
Mexico is almost entirely overrun by Vampires, who have established their own kingdoms where Humans and D-Bees are either willing vassals or cattle.
The New German Republic
Germany was one of the few nations of Earth not to fall in the Great Cataclysm, mostly due to the manufacturing might of the Industrial giant Triax. Arguably the most powerful Human nation on the planet, the NGR primarily struggles with the Gargoyle Empire that has laid claim to much of Western and Southern Europe. So yeah, for once having Germans roll over western Europe in an unstoppable tide of steel is a good thing. Somewhat Human supremacist, but more Apartheid than Genocide. Don't really give a damn about magic.
The Gargoyle Empire
Gargoyles in this game are a type of sub-demon that comes in five types:
- Your average Gargoyle stands about fifteen feet tall and is as tough as a suit of power armor.
- Gurgoyles(note the "u") are slightly shorter(about twelve feet) and wingless.
- Gargoyle Lords are the leaders of the flock, bigger, tougher, and have the ability to turn their bodies into living stone.
- Gargoyle Mages know some Earth Elemental magic, like a low-key Warlock. They can also turn to stone.
- Gargoylites are small(three feet) creatures that are surprisingly tough. Can also get stoned.
While most Gargoyles across the Megaverse(like those in Hades, for example) usually serve more powerful demons or mages, the Gargoyles of Europe have formed their own kingdom, stretching from the West of Germany(Belgium and Eastern France) and around the south (Austria and Northern Italy stretching down into the Balkans). They have also learned to use high-tech weapons and even manufacture their own mechs and power armor, which, along with a fast breeding rate, is why the Germans aren't anywhere near steamrolling them.
The Brodkil Empire
Another race of sub-demons who have carved out a territory in the south of Poland. The Brodkil are mostly helped by Mindwerks, a Pre-Rifts company that still sees itself as the main rival to Triax, and developed the Mind Over Matter conversion that makes Crazies. Their leader is an insane Cyborg researcher calling herself the Angel of Death. Once close allies to the Gargoyles due to their shared enemy, they recently broke ties after the Brodkil started getting a big head.
- Every now and then the fluff makes you feel like you stopped reading the book and started smoking a joint rolled from one of the pages. Some material is really weird. Like vampires with feet on their arms and hands on their legs. There's a mix of awesome, dumb, and awesome-dumb throughout.
- There is no balance between Races or Character Classes. NONE. You can literally have one player playing a demigod and another a hobo, with all the power disparity that implies.
- The system is notorious for constantly one-upping itself. Every source book seems dedicated to making the weapons in the last source book look like a bunch of kitten launchers. It's not really a linear progression so much as up-and-down, but considering the books your players are most likely to pull out it's reputation for escalation is not unwarranted. Beware most of the books written by C.J. Carella.
- It's very grimdark. Not as much as 40k- there's both good factions and hope around, some heroes would fit in well with Noblebright settings- but pretty much every continent has it's own extinction level threat or two, and the biggest power block on the planet by far is the Splugorth of Atlantis, who's leader Splynncryth is the answer to the question of "what if Cthulhu was a capitalist?". Having a continent-sized nation of interdimensional slave trading monsters under an eldritch abomination sounds like about as bad as things can get, but at least they don't want to rule everything (just raid it for live stock occasionally), and their presence discourages even worse eldritch abominations and supernatural hordes from descending on the planet en mass. They still descend upon the planet of course, just with more subtlety so they don't have to take the armies of Atlantis straight off.
- MOAR MEGADAMAGE! An infamous feature of the Palladium engine is the idea of Mega-Damage. Essentially Damage Reduction on steroids, it was originally designed for Robotech to reflect the idea of how conventional weapons are almost always useless against the gear of alien invaders, but the new/prototype weapons of the heroes work just fine. The gist of it is that every point of Mega-Damage(MDC) equals a hundred points of normal Structural Damage/Hitpoints(SDC). In short, traditional guns don't scratch an MDC being/mecha unless they go straight to anti-tank weaponry, while an MDC being can punch through a tank. Rifts takes this and fucking runs with it. Even basic arms and armor inflicts Mega-Damage, with the books explicitly stating that a man in body armor and carrying a laser rifle packs the toughness and firepower of a modern Main Battle Tank. Then Rifts stacks power armor, giant robots, and tanks on top of that, plus monsters tough enough to be a threat to all of those.
- "I just spent 10 hours making a character. Oh, shit it's 4AM. When are we going to play? Never? OK then."
- TRADEMARK ALL THE THINGS!
- While it is about complex as DnD 3.5, the layout makes it seem more complicated than it actually is.
- There is a Savage Worlds edition now, in case you want a modern ruleset.