As far as tabletop, good old pen and paper gaming goes, everyone recognizes Wizards of the Coast‘s epic Dungeons and Dragons adventures. Whether they be miniatures, pre-generated short campaigns, core books, or otherwise, the “D&D” acronym is widely known and beloved.
One lesser recognized, though still cherished, brand of tabletop gaming is Palladium Book‘s RIFTS, a game that flaunts its nearly endless possibilities for character creation and campaign development. With a flexible Dungeon Master and enough snacks and time, anyone can jump in to the RIFTS story, from any point in time, and with any character for hours of fun! The best summation of RIFTS which I have ever heard come from my long-time Dungeon Master Father, “It’s like D&D, but with more customization capability and in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic setting where you can do anything and be anything!”
As a gamer, I actually took my first, tentative steps into the bottom less pit of role playing with RIFTS. Since then, I have played many other systems and “brand names”, if you will, though none can compare to the sheer amount of creative freedoms I enjoy when engaged in a RIFTS campaign setting. Many players would be put off by the complexity of character generation and the volumes of literature that are available for a RIFTS setting, but you need only a core rulebook, a set of dice, and an open imagination to dive into this diverse world, as intimidating as initial character setup may be.
For many first time players, the RIFTS core book (RIFTS: Ultimate Edition, or RUE, for short is the most recent expansion upon the original edition) is difficult to navigate and simply too large and text-based to easily digest. However, when compared to many other tabletop RPGs, the complexity only lends to the remarkable depths of character and plot development that dedicated and experienced role players strive for. To quote Kevin Siembieda, the head game designer of the RUE and many other RIFTS books, in said core book, “A lot of choices means it takes time to create a RIFTS character. Heck, just jotting down all your character’s skills and other stats is a pain in the neck, but, ah, it’s worth it in the end. When the character is finished, it feels good, solid, fleshed out, and individual. After a few game sessions, the character starts to take on a life of his or her own. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.” (page 43 in RIFTS: Ultimate Edition)
You can even take old characters from other role playing games and, with DM discretion and assistance, convert them into RIFTS Occupational Character Classes (or O.C.C.’s), or create your own O.C.C.’s (often based on mixtures of O.C.C.’s.) You want to be a Dwarven Fighter from D&D? No problem. A cyborg with a chainsaw arm? Sure! A sentient dinosaur? Absolutely. There are too many possibilities to name, and Palladium is continually writing up new Dimension, World, and Conversion Books with even more O.C.C.’s, specialized skills, items and more!
Now that you’ve read my droning on and on about how wonderful the game is, here’s a brief introduction to the wide world of RIFTS!
CHARACTER CLASS TYPES
There are five different types of character classes, with a great number of specific O.C.C.’s in between. Each released World, Dimension, Chaos Earth, Sourcebook, RIFTer and Conversion Book presents even more campaign ideas and brand new character classes.
- Men at Arms O.C.C.’s – Among this class category you will find a great variety of specific O.C.C.’s, including the Combat Cyborg, Crazy, Cyber-Knight, Glitter Boy, Headhunter, Juicer, Merc Soldier, Robot Pilot, as well as many Coalition State O.C.C.’s. Any character who focuses primarily on physical capability or weapon use can be created here. In some World Books, such as RIFTS World Book 14: New West, you can even find specialized O.C.C.’s such as the Gunslinger, a cowboy/bandit-type that is, to quote the text directly, “‘the only thing meaner, deadlier and lower than a rattlesnake is a Gunslinger.’” (page 92 in RIFTS World Book 14)
- Adventurer and Scholar O.C.C.’s – Within this category, you shall find those characters who focus more on utilizing their intelligence, or the well traveled, streetwise types. From the RUE, you can find the Body Fixer (Doctor), City Rat (a Streetwise Teen Adventurer), Cyber-Doc (M.D. in Cybernetics), Operator (Mechanical and Electrical Engineer/Mechanic), Rogue Scholar, Rogue Scientist, Vagabond (Jack-of-Many Trades, Master of None), and Wilderness Scout. I once had an Operator, she was a wicked-smart Feral Dog-Boy that utilized her skills with technology and Psionics to take down a whole army of gigantic Coalition robots! Cool, huh?
- Psychic O.C.C.’s – Telekinesis, mind readers, near replicas of Fantastic Four’s the Human Torch! These are powerful O.C.C.’s that may not be as brainy or strong as other characters, but they’ll find the cracks in their foes’ minds, and, in turn, their armor. In the RUE, the listed Psychic O.C.C.’s are the Burster (Pyrokinesis), Dog-Boys (Coalition Dog Pack – Mutant Canines – also recognized as an R.C.C.), Psi-Stalkers (Mutant Humans), and the Mind Melter (Master Psychic). Many characters may have psionics, but that does not always classify them as a Psychic O.C.C., such as the Operator.
- Racial Character Classes (R.C.C.’s) – In the RUE, the only R.C.C. listed is the Dragon Hatchling R.C.C., and yes, that does mean you can play a Dragon in this game (at your DM’s allowance, of course!) They are incredibly powerful, and while they do not learn very many skills, most of them have a plethora of psionic or magic spells – on top of being a creature of legend, that is. The RUE provides with many O.C.C.’s, but not so many R.C.C.’s. This is where the other World and Dimension Books come in handy! Take RIFTS World Book 30: D-Bees of North America, for example. This book introduces 35 brand new D-Bees (short for “Dimensional Beings”, which is basically anything that isn’t human), and updates/re-introduces many other R.C.C.’s previously found only in various World Books. Some such R.C.C.’s are Fenodi Nomads (like deer humanoids), Grackletooth (think big, crocodile/iguana people with an affinity for chain guns, and have a gander at the image to the right), Mastodonoids (mastodon humanoids that often practice magic, of course), Obsedai (gigantic, obsidian stone people), Sasquatch (yes, I said Sasquatch), and many, many more!
- Practitioner of Magic O.C.C.’s – Ah, what is more fantastical than magic users? Not a whole lot, really (well, maybe Dragons, but we already covered those.) The RUE gives you several broad aspects for Practitioners of Magic, and other World and Dimension Books give you many more options and spells to choose from (like the core book, RIFTS: Book of Magic.) The listed Magic O.C.C.’s are the Elemental Fusionist (pictured above), Ley Line Walker, Ley Line Rifter, Mystic (a Psychic and Mage class), Shifter (a Dimensional Traveler and Summoner), and the Techno-Wizard (a class that melds Magic and Technology into one.) I’ve played an Elemental Fusionist before, Earth/Air, to be exact. She could turn her body to stone, summon flying boulders from the ground, produce air hammers that knock enemies right out of town, and turn a city street into quicksand with the touch of her hand! As you could imagine, the last ability was both problematic and incredibly fun.
SETTING: POST-APOCALYPTIC EARTH?!
That’s exactly right, this is set on Planet Earth! Not now, of course, but the story begins roughly one hundred years in the future. The Human race has lived happily in a Golden Age of prosperity, in which we’ve increased our lifespans by utilizing technology and science by two hundred years, and constructed cities and contraptions of metal and wiring that make our lives luxurious and grand. And then the whole deal comes to a screeching, screaming, catastrophic halt with the appearance of Rifts and, more importantly, the monsters that come with them.
According to Humankind at the time, this is a certifiable end of the world.
Ley Lines are crashing up out of the Earth, tearing space and time while pumping magic back into the world! Strange aliens are appearing overnight, mutations spreading like the Black Plague, ancient Gods claiming lands as their own, seemingly normal people utilizing magic and psychic powers, monsters leaping out of what appears to be the pits of Hell, and creatures just as terrified as us emerging from these Rifts, just as unsure of how to handle the chaos around them as we are.
Three hundred years later, things have calmed down a bit. There is still chaos all over the Planet, but now Earth is a patchwork quilt of alien cultures, magic, psionics, and all races (human or otherwise) clawing at survival with everything that they’re worth, all the while surrounded by a veritable highway of portals to infinite worlds, some appearing and disappearing at random (though this has slowed from its once daily occurrence.) RIFTS Earth has become, to quote the RUE, “A bus stop where dragons, gods, and dimensional travelers come to find or create a dimensional door to wherever it is they want to go. A nexus to the Megaverse like RIFTS Earth is a rarity. So rare that the god-like powers and galaxy conquerors have all, unofficially, taken a hands-off policy, leaving humans and other displaced alien people to fend for themselves.” (page 9 in RIFTS: Ultimate Edition)
All of these races are populating a completely changed landscape, as well. On one side of the road you travel upon, you may see a rainforest, and on the other, a barren wasteland. Climates are rearranged and the species have adapted, however, and so communities, governments, and political figureheads have sprung to life once more.
Among these are the Coalition States (or C.S.), Erin Tarn, and the Federation of Magic, all of which have shaped the post-apocalyptic world with their views and actions, whether they be good or bad.
EMPEROR PROSEK AND THE COALITION
I suppose the most recognizable figurehead is Emperor Karl Prosek, chairman-elect of Chi-Town (formerly known as Chicago) and head of the Coalition Government. He is often seen as a “20th Century dictator/madman” and the main “villain” on RIFTS Earth. However, the Coalition States(and players that choose to be a part of their ranks) can either be forces of evil or forces of justice and peace. More often than not, the C.S. are the bad guys of a campaign, but there is no denying that they are the driving force behind humankind’s survival through the Coming of the Rifts, fending off great monsters and calamity, all in an effort to save the human race. They have done many great deeds, but are also responsible for the ending of countless, innocent lives.
The Coalition States are of the belief that any nonhuman creature is an invader and a threat to human life. Sometimes, this is a very true fact, but others, they are just D-Bees looking to settle peacefully into a new life. Alien technology is alluring and extremely dangerous and any C.S. Soldier is to destroy it or ship it off to High Command immediately. In regards to magic, all soldiers are taught that it is evil and dangerous – an unpredictable alien energy that is partly responsible for the destruction of human civilization during the Coming of the Rifts. The Coalition is also the driving force behind the illiteracy rate on RIFTS Earth.
As close minded and harsh as the beliefs and actions of the C.S. can be, there are many shades of grey to this military. They have both saved and destroyed communities and lives, and can be bigots while still being the good guy. Any community that accepts the Coalition’s way of life (and is not utilizing magic or an abundance of D-Bees), is under it’s protection, which is a great force to be reckoned with.
The main character of all of this, the largest influence on this world, however, is you.
To use the words of the great Mr. Siembieda once more, “…your character is a key force in the game. From moment to moment, with every spoken word and deed he or she performs, your character’s actions (or inaction) change the scope of the game. Your character can save a friend, save the day, or save the world one minute, and endanger the entire player group or be the fool the next. …How your character conducts himself, the path he chooses, where he goes, what he does, whether the player group may triumph over adversity and how the character deals with failure and triumph, are all up to you, and you’re not limited by technology or medical game constraints, just logic and story continuity. Play in character, be a hero, work with the other players, and cut loose.” (page 9 in RIFTS: Ultimate Edition)
So if you’re up for a truly limitless role playing experience, the only thing missing from a RIFTS campaign is your character and your dice. Keep rolling, friends!