Rifts is a sci-fi RPG put out by Palladium. Due to a nuclear war, a lot of people's spiritual energy was released, which opened a large series of rifts, which act as inter-dimensional portals. This let large numbers of aliens onto the planet, bringing with them new technology. Magic also started working, Atlantis re-appeared, and some creatures which were previously regarded as legends showed up too. It's almost a meta-RPG, in that you can do almost anything in it, but GURPS is better if you're trying to do something weird.

RIFTS is a roleplaying game put out by Palladium Books, beginning in the late 1980s-early 1990s, following on the success of their earlier Robotech gaming line. RIFTS takes ideas from that and from most of Palladium's other earlier games--Palladium FRP, Ninjas and Superspies, Beyond the Supernatural, Heroes Unlimited, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/After the Bomb, Mechanoids, and so on--and combines them into one gigantic post-apocalyptic conglomeration that subsequently produced sourcebook after sourcebook and just kept on going. It still seems to sell quite well, although many so-called "real roleplayers" will not touch it with a ten-foot pole; the supposition is that it is bought mostly by teenagers new to gaming.

RIFTS is the ultimate development of the Palladium roleplaying game engine, a complicated system that involves mostly D6, D20, and percentile dice, that some have decried as "an inferior ripoff of D&D." To a certain extent, this may be true; the original Palladium FRP system strongly resembled D&D, right down to rolling 3D6 for character attribute values. It is certainly complicated (perhaps overcomplicated), lacking a unified mechanic for tying attributes to ability scores of the sort that Feng Shui or White Wolf's Storyteller system have. Combat is resolved using a D20, while skill checks are performed in percentile. Skill bonuses increase uniformly with levelling up, meaning that all of a character's skills improve even if he does not actually use them.

But by far the most criticized aspect of RIFTS is the so-called "megadamage" system (first seen in the earlier Robotech RPG). Megadamage is, like Mekton Zeta's "kills," an attempt to address the problems of scale between giant robots and human beings: An ordinary human-sized weapon will do little more than scratch the paint on a giant robot, whereas a giant robot has to do relatively little to kill a person. Thus, 1 megadamage point = 100 S.D.C., or "structural damage capacity" points (i.e. hit points), but anything < 100 S.D.C. points = 0 megadamage.

When applied to human-scaled items, such as suits of power armor or even body armor, and personal laser weapons, megadamage becomes a trifle ridiculous--the world is rife with people wearing armor shells tougher than a 20th-century tank, carrying pistols from which one shot can vaporize an unprotected person or knock down a house (like Men in Black's "noisy cricket," only taken seriously). This may actually be what the game's writers intended, as they allude to it several times within the books; however, in terms of the real world, it fails to take into account other factors--such as hydrostatic shock from being hit by such a destructive force, that would ordinarily frappe the human within, armor shell or no. Add to this the fact that certain magical creatures available as starting characters--such as dragons or werejaguars--have megadamage hit points, and things start to get just plain silly.

The megadamage system tends to promote powergaming, and the RIFTS selection of character types and vehicles only bolsters this trend. For a time, it was almost a running gag that each new RIFTS book was more munchkin than the last. For instance, the first rulebook introduced the Glitter Boy power armor suit, a tank-like powersuit which had the most armor for its size of anything in the game, as well as a shoulder-mounted cannon that did the most damage for its size of anything in the game. However, a subsequent book, Mutants in Orbit, provided a similar suit which not only had more armor and a more powerful weapon, but more maneuverability as well!

These flaws aside, the RIFTS setting does have some things to recommend it. Though some of the concepts, such as the neo-neo-neo-Nazi "racial purity" Coalition, are as old and hackneyed as they come, the overall setting has a wonderfully epic feel, and there are some great ideas lurking amidst the munchkinism. In some cases, Palladium even researched the specific mythologies of particular real-world settings for incorporation into the game. There are an immense number of different locations in which to set a game, with associated sourcebooks--from North America itself to pocket universes like Wormwood to the greater galactic society--and an astounding number of potential plot hooks. (The very nature of the setting makes it easy to cross over with almost any other game, genre, or story.) The artwork is usually quite good, and sometimes phenomenal. And if there are so many racial and occupational character classes as to cause potential confusion (and lead one to wonder why they did not simply make up a custom character class design system), at least they offer a wide range of possibilities from which players can choose.

Largely thanks to RIFTS, Palladium is one of few gaming companies that is still alive and well years after roleplaying gaming receded to its current niche hobby status. For all that the "real" gamers may sneer at RIFTS as eye candy for the kiddie market, it continues to sell well enough to support its publisher and justify its continued expansion.

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