Rifts was the very first RPG I learned to play, before D&D, Star Wars or anything else. A friend in middle school first showed me the book, and as I began reading about this new form of gaming I was hooked. There’s been a lot of criticism over the years concerning Rifts, Palladium Books, Kevin Siembieda etc. but that won’t be addressed here. Personally I haven’t played Rifts in years (though I recently purchased another copy of the book on eBay), but there’s no doubt I may have never gotten into RPGs at all if it wasn’t for this game.
When reading Rifts for the first time, what I immediately noticed was the disclaimer that this was a game, a work of fiction, and that it didn’t encourage violence, drug use, etc. Again, as a teenaged boy it was fascinating to read this. As I looked later, D&D never had such a notice. Like the lyric advisory warning label on a Slayer CD, this was the sign for a teenaged boy: “This is gonna be awesome! And my parents will hate it!”. In a small way it’s a preview for the gonzo world and attitude of Rifts.
Rifts starts with a brief intro, sprinkled with references to other games from Palladium Books. Next is a very short glossary. I don’t think this is really necessary, as the terms could certainly be explained in their respective sections. The section on character creation isn’t very long page-wise, but there’s alot of info packed into this section: SDC vs. MDC damage, psionics, alignments and insanity. It’s alot to take in up-front, and I can’t imagine that most players new to RPGs would enjoy it. Immediately after is both skills/skill descriptions and combat rules. The latter should have been put in the Gamemaster section, or at least the combat should have come after character creation. Players would have to skip all of that to even get to the OCC/RCC descriptions. Organization is not the name of the game for this RPG.
There’s alot to choose from when a player in Rifts is deciding what to play. From a simple vagabond to a Glitter Boy, there’s a wide variety. There’s also magic users and members of the Coalition. A Gamemaster may have restrictions depending on what kind of adventure/campaign they’re planning to run, so it’d be good for them to clearly communicate to players up-front what to expect.
Following is a section giving a brief overview of the history of pre-Rifts Earth as well as a general world overview. I wish at least the history was at the beginning of the book, as it’s the perfect way for newcomers to learn about this world and game, and would certainly encourage readers to continue and then move into learning the rules of the game. After this is the listing of magic spells. I don’t know why this didn’t follow the magic/RCC classes. Personally I didn’t use magic in my Rifts games, and while the world certainly allows it I think it could be better balanced.
Next is the information and listings for equipment, weapons and cybernetics. There’s a lot of info here, but again the organization could be better. There’s alot of Coalition-specific weapons, power armor and vehicles available, and again the gamemaster may not want a lot of that available, regardless if the players could actually afford it.
At the end is a very grief gamemaster section, with a few tables for monster creation and information about the Xiticix. Once again, this could have been integrated into the information about the world. Rifts, even at this early stage of just the core rulebook, could have benefited from a more comprehensive monster/adversary listing, of both monsters from the rifts as well as Coalition, criminal and other human(oid) figures.
The best phrase to use for Rifts is “wild variety”. It applies to the organization of the books, SDC vs. MDC damage, the power levels of all the player classes as well as opponents, and as well as the world of Rifts itself. There’s alot in this book to get up and running. When I played Rifts there were very few world books released, and I was free to make up a large part of the world, whether it had much in it or not. Today there are dozens of world books available, and dozens more of other books. Hardly anyone would have or want all of these books, but each player and gamemaster would need to decide what to utilize to create their own special version of this unique world. A game that is wild, gonzo and outrageous, there’s no doubt that those who come to the game with an open mind and a little patience will be rewarded greatly.