Thursday, September 8, 2011

If I Revamped Rifts....

Okay, the other day, I found this awesome image on Deviant Art, and I figured I’d fantasize a bit, as I often do, what I would do with the license if I were working on RIFTS. Seriously, I would kill to covert Rifts over to an updated D20 Modern, or even just modernize it into a stand-alone system.

So what would I do with it? First off, I’d change up the organization slightly. As with the Ultimate Edition, Erin Tarn’s overview of North America would begin on page one, and only after the fiction’s done do we start in with character generation.

I would like to include about ten playable races in the revised Rifts core book, and I’d do away with the whole concept of Racial Character Classes. You pick a race, then a class and then some feats and gear. That’s it, simple and done. However, I’d take a cue from 1st and 2nd Edition D&D (which is appropriate, since D&D 2nd was a major inspiration for the Palladium house system in the first place) and restrict specific classes to specific races.

The core player races would represent the most common races in North America, and unlike the original, gloriously unbalanced Rifts book, would have a bit more level power curve. So there’d be no Dragon Hatchlings as a player race in the revised corebook. Save that for the first sourcebook.

Humans (probally pumped up with some kind of enhanced action point/drama point mechanic to keep them competitive and effective in mixed race parties)

Dog Boys (a bit restricted in terms of occupation: can only choose soldier/fighter style classes, and maybe juicer)

Full Conversion Cyborgs (I treated FCBs as a race in Otherverse America, and it seems to work pretty well; since Rifts is a major inspiration, why not port that concept to the setting. They’d be restricted to mostly military occupations, but maybe there’d be a feat or variant character class that allows them to become Techno-Wizards.

I’ve always wanted to include cyborg mages, even if the original flavor text forbids it. I figure if as Crowley says, magic is causing change in accordance with the will, who would better able to effect such changes then someone who had the will to surgically change their entire body? As an aside, that’s one of the reasons I love Grant Morrison’s character Lord Fanny- probably the only likable character in the entire Invisibles roster.)

Psi-Stalkers (they’d be restricted to stealthy/predatory classes or psychic classes)

On the D-Bee front, I’d make the Brodakill, Simvan Monster Riders, Quickflex Aliens and those big guys with the sword-hands as core races. I’d also include an option, similar to my upcoming Space Cases PDF, about rolling up a random D-Bee refugee or explorer stranded on Rifts Earth.

The more powerful races, like True Atlantean, Dragon Hatchlings, Titans, Vampires and more powerful D-Bee and demonic races would be in the first sourcebook.

I would convert the various classes into D20 compatible Base Classes, but I would probably keep Palladium’s unique 15 level class format, and for the spell-casters, I’d change the spell progression so a 15th level caster could cast 9th level spells. That not only emphasizes that Rifts Earth is a ridiculously magic-rich setting, and the mages there can do things effortlessly that are epic feats elsewhere in the multiverse, but also encourages multiclassing. In an expected 20 level character progression, on Rifts Earth, primary spellcasters can take a few levels in other classes, expand their capabilities and still have access to 9th level, capstone spells. It makes mages on Rifts Earth a bit tougher, and emphasizes how deadly the world is: to survive, even the mages have had to learn to fight and shoot.

The core classes would remain mostly as found in the original core rulebook, though I wouldn’t bother much with the Mystic, just covert over the Pathfinder RPG sorcerer and give him a bit more ‘hippy’ flavor text. The one problem with Rifts classes is they’re super frontloaded- most classes give you all your cool abilities at 1st level, and nothing but skill boosts for the other 14 levels. The Lord Magus from the FoM sourcebook, with its new spell-like abilities at every level, has the most Pathfinder-like progression in the game, giving a cool ability at every level.

I would also like to give a greater sense of history to the Glitter Boys- an elite caste of warriors piloting armor handed down and lovingly maintained since before the coming of Rifts. They’d be somewhat like the Cavilers in the PFRPG Advanced Player’s Guide, but with a supersonic rail gun (Another thing I’d change- most of the fiction in Rifts uses rail guns as a futuristic substitute for mini-guns like the one Jesse Ventura carried in Predator. I’d change that so rail guns work more like sniper rifles, and leave the heavy machine gun role to some other form of MDC weapon).

Other than that, most of the classes would be unchanged, you’d still have Cyber-Knights, Ley Line Walkers, Juicers, Crazies, Techno-Wizards, Shifters, Wilderness Scouts/Rangers and so forth, though I would probably consolidate the Rogue Scientist/Rogue Scholar and Cyber Doc into a single “expert” class with more balanced and useful abilities. The vagabond OCC would disappear forever, and I don’t think any Rifts player would shed a single tear. I’d love to pull the Ecto-Hunter class from one of the Russian sourcebooks into the corebook, because they were just damn cool, and filled a neat niche- the high-tech monster hunter. Core book Psychic classes would include a generic psychic warrior class, Mind Melter, Burster, Operator (which would be purely psychic to differentiate it from the Rogue Scientist), the Nega-Psychic from Psiscape, and maybe one or two others. I would also like to include a dedicated Healer class of some kind in the game.

One thing I would love to do is streamline the various Coalition and NGR military occupations into a single Soldier class (and the Headhunter would be more of a bounty hunter/slaver variant on this class). It would free up tons of page space, and consolidate classes with only minor differences in skill selections and equipment packages into a single class. Various modular class abilities would let the players build up different kind of soldier: a field medic package, a sniper package, an officer package, a combat engineer, an infantry grunt, saboteur, whatever. There’d of course be a minor skill mod for Coalition soldiers, one long time fans would expect: they’re all illiterate.

That’s one thing I would definitely play up. The Coalition bans literacy, but they’ve got this crazy-advanced, high tech military. Now, I did my four in the Navy, and everything had a procedures manual… .I would love to know exactly how a military conveys this info to its troops without the written word. I figure all of their gear comes with a little hologram projector that projects a CS Drill Sergeant explaining how to use it, and they have to be huge into symbols and info-graphics. Anyway, I’ve never seen much on the daily life and civilian culture of the Coalition, and would love to see more about that. Hell, I’d love to write that.

I’d pull some of the info found in Sourcebook One and the Federation of Magic sourcebooks into the core book. Archie-3 is a fucking AMAZING villain, and I’d love to see more on him. I love the idea that he’s this total wildcard, this secret power that the other great American powers (the Coalition States, the Federation of Magic, the Vampire Kingdoms) have to deal with the repercussions of, all without realizing that he exists. I’d also like to include an allegiance type system, and make who the PCs allies are count more. An adventuring or exploratory unit backed by Tolkien (renamed from the slightly too cutesy Tolkeen) or Lazlo would feel different than a FoM or Coalition group, obviously.

One thing I would absolutely not touch is the setting’s lethality and the ridiculously over powered nature of the weapons. One shot from even the crappiest MPC pistol should be able to mist an unarmored human- I’ve got no problem with hand weapons of this era being deadlier than artillery from an earlier era. (Though I might change the history a bit so that when the apocalypse happened, humanity still only had cyberpunk-level, SDC weapons and nukes…. They boostrapped their technology, developing juicers, ‘borgs and mecha from recovered tech they scavenged from whatever poor D-bees fell into Rifts Earth and died there. That also explains why, in some ways, Rifts-tech is inferior to our own.)

When I first started playing Rifts, I was also reading Mark Silvestri and Jim Lee’s run on Uncanny X-Men and so the concept of MDC was a natural one for me- Colossus is an MDC creature in armored form, adamantium is an MDC alloy, Cyclops and Havok fire MDC energy blasts, and so on. I’ve never understood fans who complain that MDC is too over the top- playing Rifts with non-MDC weapons or MDC that’s been nerfed so one MD=10 HP or some similar ratio seems to be missing the point. Uncontrolled, unstoppable power in the hands of unworthy people is the central theme of Rifts- playing Rifts without MDC is like playing Dungeons & Dragons without any dragons, and without ever setting foot into a dungeon. Hell, it’s more fundamental then that, because I’ve run in plenty of campaigns like that- it’s like playing D&D without SWORDS.

However, with MDC armor, we need some kind of kinetic damage or traumatic brain injury mechanic. That way, even SDC peasants have a chance to kill MDC thugs and oppressors if they fight dirty and fight clever; shaking them to death inside their armor with high explosives or roadside bombs, breaking their bones by ramming them with a truck doing 70+ MPH, killing grunts walking through the forests with one ton log falls and so on.

One thing I would love to include is some kind of political mechanic. To me, Rifts adventures should include convincing a dozen small wilderness towns to ally against an invading CS army, jockeying for position within the Coalition Military and eventually leading a military coup against the Prosek regime, backstabbing your betters in the Federation of Magic and so on. I’d love to have actual rules support for building alliances, screwing over your allies, breaking or keeping treaties and so on.

Anyway, just some thoughts I had.

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