Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mailbag: Alternatives To Rifts

Hey, kids, we have mail today! Actually, this letter is from a couple of weeks ago, but I just heard back from the reader to ensure it was ok to use.

Hi Zach,

I just wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job with the website. I am a regular reader, and appreciate the scope of your coverage (not just D&D or a certain edition of something).

I had a question I was hoping you could field for me. For a crazy post-apocalypse game, do you still recommend Rifts (you’re one of the few bloggers who actually discusses that game these days!), or is there something better for that style of game? I’d really like to try it out, but am not sold on the Rifts rules.

Thanks again, and don’t stop the blogging!

Wayne Rossiter
Trenton, NJ

First off, thank you again for your letter, Wayne, and thanks for allowing me to use it on the website.

Post-apocalyptic games run the gamut, from kitchen-sink gaming such as Rifts to less fantastic-style games such as Twilight 2000. If you’re looking for that kitchen-sink game in the vein of Rifts, well, Rifts itself is still in print and still supported by Palladium Books. Now, a lot of people feel Palladium’s rules (the Megaversal System) hasn’t aged well. I get that, and if you’re looking for Rifts without the rules of Rifts, let me suggest a couple different courses of action:

-Look at keeping the setting and basic idea of Rifts, but gut the system and replace it with your own. A lot of the Rifts Main Book is fluff, so it should be easy to port those ideas into another system. The problem with many systems when it comes to Rifts is that it simply doesn’t scale properly. I would look at a system like Mini Six, which I believe has a simple, effective way to handle scale between large and small opponents.

-Keep the Megaversal System, but make a couple tweaks to make it run a bit smoother. Standardize attacks per round and start skill percentages/increments (say 30% +5%/level). Use roll-over dice for skill checks—I’ve found a lot of people find it more intuitive than the capped roll-under method. But realize that at its heart, no matter what you do to the system, it isn’t going to be balanced. Any balance in Rifts comes from the GM’s seat, not from the rules as written. You’re going to have a guy in power armor next to a rogue scientist with a missile launcher next to a glorified hobo. It’s your job to work it all in. The Justice League isn’t all equal (right, Booster Gold?), and Rifts damn sure isn’t, either. But everyone’s got a role to play.

-Find a game that does the madness of Rifts fairly well. Many people find Atomic Highway a great alternative. There’s also Jared Sorenson’s OctaNe (no, that’s not a typo), which is a little lighter and less traditional in structure, but gets generally good reviews. TORG has a small but dedicated fanbase, and at one point was probably Rifts' biggest competitor within the genre. Honestly the campaign I played that was closest in feel to Rifts without being Rifts was TORG.

Here's a few other options: The Morrow Project is highly esteemed, but is nowhere near Rifts in tone or attitude. Of course, Gamma World remains the most high-profile alternative; if you aren’t a fan of the newest WotC iteration, consider kindred games such as Mutant Future. And, of course, there’s always Encounter Critical, the game that never was. Bottom line, if the Megaverse isn't doing it for you, there's a multiverse of options out there.


Emmett said...

We used to play Rifts all the time, in fact we used to play a lot of Palladium games but of all the gaming groups I was involved with, none used the Palladium system. At most they used the damage system and even that was occasionally modified.

I was frequently told that it wasn't possible to play the Palladium rules as written.

Those were fun times.

Siskoid said...

I like to kitbash my own Rift/Torg worlds using systems that support a variety of settings, like GURPS and Savage Worlds.

Just say the settings clash on the same terrain and you're good to go.

clash bowley said...


I've played TMNTaOS as written quite a bit without any problem. The system at base is certainly playable. Rifts uses the same system - as do all Palladium games - and would be just as playable. The problems come with groups not allowing for the scaling inherent in Rifts. As Zach said, the GM needs to actively balance what is inherently unstable.

Being unstable does *not* make a game unplayable - consider that current fighter planes are always designed to be inherently unstable because it makes them more nimble. They *want* to move in odd directions! it's the computer on board that allows them to fly straight. The GM is that flight computer in Rifts.


VictorVonDave said...

I ask this question all the time. I used to play a lot of Rifts in highschool (in the dark ages of the 90's) but haven't picked up the books in a long time (I guess I'm one of those 'love the setting hate the system' guys). I was hoping the newest version of Gamma World might substitute but you've given me some other systems to check out as well - thanks.

Emmett said...

Hey Clash,

Yeah we played TMNT, Robotech, Rifts and probably a few others that I can't remember since it was more than fifteen years ago.

I'm not saying the system isn't playable, just that I was told that it wasn't. I guess I'm trying to say that plenty of people that I knew just made up their own rules for the game. I supported Palladium when they were in trouble a while back so It's not like I'm against them or anything.

clash bowley said...

Hi Emmett!

I'm not exactly a Palladium fan, either. I just think people give it a bad rap which it doesn't deserve. There's nothing wrong with folks making up their own rules if they like, either, so long as it isn't *necessary* to play the game.

I think Zach's attitude is the right one for GMing this kind of game. :D


Marshall Smith said...

I will say that the Rifts system does not play well as written. The biggest reason? The main book is half copy-pasted from other Palladium products, with zero editing. Robotech rules sit next to TMNT rules that are tacked onto Beyond the Supernatural rules. Many of these rules do not fit together well.

That said, the system is not unplayable. But, you are pretty much forced to homebrew it to some extent.

I highly recommend the new Gamma World as an alternative to Rifts. In fact, I am working on re-tooling GW to use the Rifts OCCs and RCCs instead of the standard origins.