Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/21/tabletop-review-the-rif
Rifts is a bit of a sore subject for some people, and I have seen instant dismay upon its mention, to the point where I am actually quite intrigued by the reasons why people are so opposed to Palladium. Without going into all of the reasons here (and yes, I’ve heard about the various reasons why), I will say that I sort of came to know Palladium after a lot of the “drama” had unfolded (though it is ongoing), and so I never had invested in Palladium as a game company I relied on and trusted. I guess what I’m saying is that I feel like an observer looking at Palladium’s games on one side and the community that detests them on the other, trying to decide for myself whether that gulf is deserved or not. I do have quite a few Palladium books myself, and I will say that the base die-rolling mechanic is one that I like: I roll a d20 to hit you with a sword, if you want to block it, you have to roll higher than me. Simple and logical. Also the fact that it really isn’t hard to hit someone with a weapon when you are at arm’s length is another thing I think they got right. If you roll above a 5 on a d20 (or somewhere around there) you are going to hit, it’s just a matter of whether your blow is blocked or dodged or whatever. I don’t think anyone could argue effectively that those are not simple and effective dice mechanics.
So, this brings us to me reviewing The Rifter #51, an installment of Palladium’s magazine for their products as well as role-playing in general. Please note that this issue came out in Summer of 2010, and focuses on Rifts as the general theme since it is celebrating 20 years since the game’s introduction.
This issue is a bit of a window into game industry past, as Kevin Siembieda’s section contains him commenting on such items as the conflict with the (then forthcoming) MMORPG Rift, Palladium’s intense financial struggles, and of course upcoming titles. The News section makes Palladium look like they want to expand into all sorts of other spheres: Facebook games, movies, computer games, comics…all this in the wake of near-catastrophe. I don’t even know if any of that stuff actually happened.
After the News and the schedule of book releases (a lot of books!) we get to the first article: playing role-playing games with kids up to the mid-teens or so, but mostly focused on the pre-teen years. The article contains a lot of great suggestions that deal with everything from kids’ schedules to discipline to dealing with very immature behavior. As for me, just reading the article brings back memories of gaming as a kid, and I’m glad that I had older people run the game who tolerated me. I don’t even know if I could stand to game with anyone under 24, let alone under 14!
Splicers and Metamorphs
The next article is for Splicers and introduces the Metamorph: a person who has the power to transform into some other type of lifeform. The idea is that the human (or whatever race) is given the power to wrap themselves in a cocoon and emerge some time later as this new being. First the article explains the background of the class, and then gives the basic stats for the class before giving a list of possible forms that can be transformed into. The different forms include such things as “Digger Form” which kind of looks like a cross between a giant centipede and a ferret; the “Angel Flying” form which looks, well, like an angel; “Aquatic Form”, which is like a combination Komodo dragon/salamander/seal… crazy stuff. The forms are designed (in the Splicers universe) to be used for specific purposes, so to travel safely through water you would use the aquatic form, and then once you got there to kick some ass you would transform into something like “Heavy Assault Form”, which looks like the cyberdemon from Doom had a love-child with the queen from Aliens.
The article concludes with the “Swarm Lord O.C.C.” which is basically a guy wearing “hive armor” which has some sort of hive on the back of it that essentially shoots little genetically-engineered missile/bullet insect swarms. There are a few more pages with rules for swarm attacks and the different kinds of bugs that might inhabit the hive armor with stats and descriptions. There’s a ton of material in here! This article is a really great resource and, I think, has a lot of interesting ideas laid out in it, not to mention the awesome art (the Swarm Lord art is insane).
Beyond the Supernatural – Investigation and Armor
The next section is quite long and deals with two subjects directed primarily at Beyond the Supernatural, a horror/thriller setting for the Palladium system. The first part discusses investigations and the types of people that might be investigating things like crime or supernatural activity, but it tries to include more long-term investigators like anthropologists and archaeologists, which is interesting. It offers the Anthropologist occupation, and then the Forensic Scientist occupation, as well as a few new skills related to each like fingerprinting, linguistics, etc.
There are two pages dedicated to discussing skepticism and using stage magic, of all things, to help determine what is paranormal activity and what is not. The next several pages deal with team-making in Beyond the Supernatural and then with rules for various types of armor like using sports gear or standard modern armor.
The Vager – or “wolf people”
The “Wolf Blood” article contains some source material for Rifts in the form of a race of people called The Vager, who are essentially tribal wolf people, or people who live with wolves (or people who dance with wolves?). The article explains who The Vager are and what their tribal hierarchy is, as well as noting the largest clans and such and introducing the Vulbund occupation, which is the name for a Vager and the wolf that accompanies them (because it is a bond, you see).
This article is great except for one section where it mentions that Vager beliefs are “a mixture of Native American and Norse beliefs” and then goes on to describe how they worship Fenrir as a great wolf. What if my game doesn’t have Native Americans or Norse people in the world? What if I don’t like cribbing religion from any cultures on Earth and I think it’s infinitely more interesting, if you’re going to go ahead and make your own race, to at least pretend that their spirituality stems from something original about that culture instead of making it this arbitrary and bald-faced mix of two well-known cultures that I don’t want in my game?! Whew, and here I thought I would get through this article without a rant.
Weapons for Triax 2
This article is essentially a list of weapons and stat blocks. You have such things as a rotary grenade launcher, pulse laser, and a few others. There are attachments listed as well, one of which is basically a double-barrel, pump-action shotgun. Yes folks, you can attach a shotgun to your…gun. You also have some more weapons for the Jaeger, like shoulder-mounted mortars and a melee kit which includes some nasty things like vibro-blades and a neural mace (whatever that is!). Other support includes turrets sentries, and some new Triax cyborgs: a “Glitter Borg” and the “Bombardier Borg”.
To me, this article is like going to an art gallery and entering a room with halogen lights flashing and bright red sirens going off: it’s too much. This is the part of Palladium games I don’t really care for, the massive, over-the-top firepower and damage and whatnot. I mean, where is the role-playing in this stuff? I can only assume that at the beginning of the session the players agree to go blow something up and then spend the next two hours rolling dice to hit and damage. If I wanted to play Warhammer 40,000, I would. Dang, I’m up to two mini-rants now.
Rifts vehicle construction rules – part deux
Part 1 is in The Rifter #50, so you’re going to have to go back and check that out if you want to read it. This is Part 2. This article is a lot like the Triax article in that it is basically just listing cool stuff to put on a vehicle. Want linked weapons? Sure, go ahead. Oversize tires? Fire ‘em up yeah! You can attach such things as loudspeakers, backhoes, and…wait for it…fuzzy dice. You can also outfit the inside with things like a laboratory or give the vehicle a magnetic field.
I can just imagine sitting around a table, spending hours picking through the list and building this awesome vehicle that your group can go blow stuff up in. Good for some laughs, but seriously, I would keep this article as far away from my game group as possible. Want to play a role-playing game? Ok, let’s play. Want to build a really cool vehicle? Take this article and do it on your own time. The funniest part about the article is that in the last paragraph the author mentions that Rifts actually has no vehicle combat rules, but there are some in Heroes Unlimited
Story time and 2010 open house
Next up is a story called “Roman Holiday”, which involves two characters and some crazy mishap with Greek gods and various other interlopers. I’ll spoil part of it for you: Herakles and Hercules get in a fight. Then there are a few pages dedicated to the Palladium open house in 2010, which seemed like a fun event for all of the Palladium fans who attended.
What Do I Think?
Well, The Rifter is basically an ongoing sourcebook, so that is pretty cool. This issue contains diverse things, from Triax to gaming with kids, and I appreciate that. As you might have noticed, I’m not too into the cyborgs and massive weaponry stuff, so that didn’t strike any chords with me. I thought the most interesting article was the Beyond the Supernatural one about investigators and such things. The article about Splicers was pretty cool as well, but again it’s more about capability and power than really role-playing anything (and yes, I’m using my own proprietary definition of role-playing here, you might have another one).
On the whole, I would pick this up if I were an ardent Rifts fan, but I’m only an observant collector. Therefore, I would have to see what articles are inside for me to really be interested. Still, for $6 you get a lot of sourcebook action here!