Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Into the Fire: Tips For Running Rifts

When I first got the idea for doing a Palladium Week here at RPG Blog 2, I wanted to present some advice for running Rifts. My own advice has always been to look at the Megaversal System much like some people look at GURPS or AD&D 1e--only use what you really need. The basic framework of the system isn't difficult, and it's easy enough to houserule to where you want.

There's a few things I do to keep things moving--institute morale/system damage checks, change all skills to a base 30% start +5%/level (unless higher by class), adjust those same skills from a roll-under to a roll-over (just my preference), and a couple of other minor tweaks along the way. But instead of hearing it all from me, I went to the fine posters at Forums of the Megaverse to solicit their advice on running Rifts. Below are some of their best tips, tricks, and ideas on running Rifts.

Some of the advice is more relevant gaming in general, and some of it really only applies to Rifts and the Megaversal System. Take nothing as gospel, but more like a starting point or guideline for your own game.

-One of the key things to remember with Rifts is that there is ALWAYS something bigger and badder than whatever the PC is that is out looking to kick some ass. You always here stories about Rifts games that get ridiculously out of control where PCs destroy Chi-Town and take over the world. That should never happen. In fact, it should be the PCs who fly under the radar: the Ley Line Walkers, the Psychics, the Rogue Scholars, which survive by not drawing attention to themselves. Glitter Boys are just a big, walking challenge to everything out there to come and tear them apart. (Proseksword)

-Rifts is a pretty crazy game. A lot of weird things can happen. It's very easy to die. I allow people to dodge attacks after they run out of actions at full value. It sounds crazy, but it doesn't matter. Most people find ways to kick the bucket anyway. (Balabanto)

- Add whole attributes to every skill, making different levels of natural ability important. (Mark Hall)

-With new players, stick to the basic RUE OCC [Rifts: Ultimate Edition Occupational Character Class], equipment, etc. Rifts is a game that can be a bit overwhelming for a new Rifts player due to the sheer information a lvl1 character could have (abilities, skills, equipment, bonuses, etc.). So, keep it as simple as you can. (mobuttu)

-Plan encounters with a NPC retreat/surrender triggering condition. This will help you smooth combats and give PC some more roleplaying opportunities and verisimilitude (few creatures - enemies fight until its last breath). (mobuttu)

-127.) Game Masters: Never, ever, EVER give players access to Pantheons of the Megaverse.

128.) Players: Never, ever, EVER give the game master access to Pantheons of the Megaverse. (Jason Richards)

-These rules are for quick and simple combat:

34)have a called shot use one action but make the dice roll require a 12 of better with out any modifiers, or they miss.

35) Have an aimed shot only take one action and require a 12 or better with modifiers, or it hits main body and only does half damage.

36) Have a power punch used like a normal punch only it cost two actions. No need to wait till the next turn to roll. (Ninjabunny)

-1) Use a GM screen. I don't recommend the official Rifts screen. Create/build/buy your own and customize it as you see fit. Some suggestions include:
  • Keep important player stats in front of you. Ask yourself "Who can see the invisible? How far? Who has Radar? Sixth Sense? Can anybody see magic energy?" Etc. Auto-detect powers, for psi-stalkers, dog boys, etc, can be a real PitA.
  • I also track lore skill percentages, numbers for historical or pre-rifts knowledge, etc. If Becky the Rogue Scholar has a chance to recognize an object, I'll probably roll for her behind the scenes. If successful, I'll mention something like "Becky, you recognize that device as the shattered remains of a pre-rifts Blender", or "Joe the Mage, you recognize the symbols on the floor as that of an old Protection Circle." Sometimes the GM should pass along information by note. (See below)
  • Optional: Track ammo, group funds, etc with paper and pencil. I recommend PPE and ISP, too. Some characters try to get away with the action-movie effect where their revolver somehow never runs out of bullets. Some players and GMs find this kind of minutae time-consuming and irrelevant. I try to make it quick and painless, but I feel that it's important to keeping a sense of reality in the game. (Rogue_Scientist)
-Find out what your players WANT OUT OF A GAMING EXPERIENCE. If you want to run an all-Coalition game, and your players hate the Coalition, this is a recipe for disaster from the start. (Balabanto)

-Players can get arrogant and the game can get stale because of their personal equipment being too stable, becoming a crotch at times and doing a nice shake up every now and then can bring life back into the game. Having their vehicles, weapons & equipment stolen, lost or destroyed from time to time can come in handy to have them restock with equipment from the area their visiting. Be careful letting a player get a hold of ultra power equipment like a Sword of Atlantis for it can overshadow a character and embarrassed mage players who are offend when another character has a weapon with more spell casting ability then they. (Runebeo)

-Sit down and generate your player's characters with them. It may be a little time consuming but you will start play with an intimate understanding of the PCs with all of the kinks ironed out before your first game. (Anthar)

Start simple and work your way up to more epic adventures. This will familiarize your players not only with the rules but also with the world in which they live. The huge variety of Rifts allows for simple games to be very progressive and open new doors and new experiences as the players (and their characters for that matter) advance. (Falconi)

-...the group has to decide how they want the game to "feel" (gritty and hardscrabble, epic and shiny, terror and fear) and play that up with how the guns, armor, equipment, magic, etc. are available in game (ie., characters have some MDC stuff, characters have lots of MDC stuff, characters have NO MDC stuff but their enemies do...) (slade the sniper)

-If you still don't feel like you're games are rocking hard enough, add more Plasma. Turn that sword into a Plasma Sword. Turn those grenades into Plasma grenades. Tired of that whip? Hey, now it's a Plasma Whip. Seriously, everything in Rifts is better with Plasma added. (Me)

Thanks to all the Megaversal fans out there for their help on this! I'd love to see more advice for our readers in the comments section!


Mike said...

I ran a few Rifts campaigns for the better part of a decade. It's been awhile since I either ran or played the game, but these were two guidelines I remembered.

1) Get rid of MDC. I converted 1 MDC point to 10 SDC points whenever it was used, and gave stuff like the Triax Armors and the Glitter Boy Armor high levels of Armor Ratings. It helped a lot to dampen the power level disparities.

2) When rolling up characters, decide if the campaign is going to be 1) Low-Powered, 2) High-Powered, or 3) Medium-Powered. Have the players collaborate when rolling up characters. That way, you avoid the "how do a make a balanced combat scenario" problem when one person's playing a City Rat and the other's playing a Glitter Boy pilot.

I've lost the list I used to have that defined the various O.C.C.s into the Low/Medium/High categories, but it's something worth making.

3) Decide from the get-go what books will be included in the game, and what aren't. Stick to that list for the length of the campaign.

Josh Cornwell said...

I've had the pleasure of running three Rifts campaigns in my days as a gamer. I'd recommend that the GM:

1) Pay attention to the "shooting wild" rules and enforce them.

2) Find out what opponents the PCs love to hate and give them some opportunities to fight them. Balabanto's last bit of advice makes me want to run an all-Coalition campaign in which the heroes try to assassinate Prosek (or something like that).

3) Use Heroes Unlimited! Use the alien power category and create tons of unique and interesting D-bee races. Sure, Phaseworld and some other sourcebooks have similar alien generation tables, but the ones from Heroes Unlimited will have SUPER POWERS.

4) Stick with a small core of books at first and slowly open up options.

5) If you can't schedule time to do character creation together, create pregenerated characters for your players and then let them create new ones as soon as they feel comfortable doing so. This helps you control the initial power level and also prevents the frustration that new players sometimes feel with character creation.

6) Let your characters use their skills. I sometimes fall into the trap of making combat too central to the game, but your players likely spent quite some time picking their skills and it is a pity to just leave them at that.