Rebuilding Rifts 3

Let’s talk about the rules. Palladium Books was once a trendsetter and a genuinely creative force in designing both worlds and rules. During the 1980s mechanics like their revamped alignments, experience point awards for more than just killing things and realistic combat mechanics in games like Recon were outstanding. To this day I vastly prefer Palladium’s alignment system to D&D’s and it’s simplicity makes it great for introducing new players to roleplaying morality in general. Unfortunately, at the height of their success Palladium released Rifts…and that’s when the stagnation set in. Rifts was such a massive bestseller in the RPG market that at some point Kevin Siembieda decided that the Megaversal Palladium rules were the pinnacle and ultimate evolutionary endpoint of RPG mechanics, and decided to never change them again.

Come 2011 and even the most die-hard Palladium fans acknowledge and rant about the shortcomings of the rule system, including but not limited to: basic rules for things like climbing or wilderness trekking scattered across 30 books; 3 different and contradictory mechanics for jumping; an indefinite-and-never-clearly-defined list of over 25 different saving throws; rules for skills, combat and weapon proficiencies that are slightly-different across product lines like Rifts, Splicers or Heroes Unlimited. The rules are simply a mess. That’s not to say they’re bad, as some assume. They have many good points too, mainly in how detailed and exhaustive they can be (for those who prefer such complexity), but also in how set-in-stone they have become over time. Whether you consider it a gross failing ro a massive benefit, the fact is Palladium’s rules have changed very little over the last 20 years. Compare this to D&D, which has changed rulesets quite dramatically 3 times during the same time period. You can pick up a Rifts rulebook from 1991 and have no trouble playing with it using rulebooks from 2011. That kind of inertia is a rare – and double-edged – sword in the RPG industry.

The edge that cuts Palladium’s foes is the one that Mr Siembieda continually trumpets: the Megaversal system is (almost) universal across both time and product lines like TMNT, Robotech, Rifts, etc. The other edge, the one that slices off Palladium’s toes every time it’s brought up, is the extreme age of the rules engine, which definitely looks and feels like something from the 1980s, not the 2000s. With anachronisms like mixed under/over mechanics (roll under skill % and roll over target number on d20), needing a full complement of d4 to d100 dice and racial classes (no templates here), the Megaversal system isn’t going to win any awards for novelty these days. But it does hold the attention of a lot of old-school gamers and people enthralled by Palladium’s worlds rather than their mechanics.

The number of people porting Palladium’s worlds into different systems is huge, but these conversions are invisible online because of PB’s hardline policy of eradicating them through legal means. This blog will not be converting any Palladium property into another system for this very reason. What I will do, however, is present some possible house rules one could use to improve the play experience without significantly altering the mechanics. In a nutshell, here are the tweaks:

  1. Reduce the # of saves to only 3 – Mind, Body, Magic.
  2. Reduce the # of skills from 300+ to 190. Okay, baby steps.
  3. Improve the allocation of bonuses in the Attribute Chart.
  4. Add a Perception (P.N.) attribute.
  5. Add social skills and attribute modifiers for M.A. and P.B.
  6. Simplify some combat rules.
  7. Simplify vehicle and mecha statistics.
  8. Simplify the many Strength types.
  9. Link attributes to skills (if there’s enough time)
  10. Make MDC only applicable to vehicles/mecha/large robots, not personal weapons & armor.
  11. Standardize weapon type damage ratings.

Somewhat ambition but not overwhelming, and maintains compatibility with existing Palladium products. Last thing I’d want to do is convert 50+ books into some custom system; there aren’t enough lifetimes for that.

Next time: nitty-gritty details of the rule tweaks.

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