RIFTS Ultimate Edition – Just my two cents

When I today opened my mailbox I found an US airmail envelope with the RIFTS Ultimate Edition inside it. I ordered it some time ago after writing about my favorite post-apocalyptic settings. The first thing that surprised me was the hardcover format. I’ve owned a few Palladium Book titles in the past and they all have been softcover books and this is a welcome change. My original RIFTS book is already on the verge of falling and the hardcover book looks much sturdier.

But I was not surprised to see that the look and layout of RIFTS hasn’t changed much. Kevin Siembieda still uses the same font throughout the book he always used and the layout is still the two-column layout we all have seen so many times in all these years. So, even if the cover is brand new, the insides are all the same. Or is there still a glimpse of hope?

There is actually quite some new material and the organisation of the chapters has changed a bit. The book now starts with the information on the setting, followed by the O.C.C.s (Occupational Character Classes) and R.C.C.s (Racial Character Classes). A bit strange is the detail, that Siembieda gives details on Magic etc. before explaining the rules and some background information on Chi-Town is thrown in somewhere between magic and equipment.  But if you have successfully run a RIFTS campaign before you know what I mean.

The book is mainly black and white on normal paper with some color pages on glossy paper thrown in. There is some new art (at least I haven’t seen it), but there is a lot of art that has been used in the original RIFTS book. When you are used to roleplaying rulebooks like the more recent D&D 4E books you will be surely disappointed by this book. My copy is from the Third Printing dated July 2008 and it looks like from 20 years ago.

The rules are old-school as well. RIFTS contains quite a large number of tables and every class has it’s own levelling chart. If you are a friend of modern and streamlined rules systems you should avoid RIFTS (and every other Palladium Books game) like the plague. Especially the combat rules still are broken in my opinion. And it’s totally beyond me, why they forgot to include a character record sheet.

Ok, when you’ve read this post to this point, you obviously think that I hate RIFTS to the bottom of my heart. But that’s not true. I just LOVE the setting. The RIFTS Earth is a great place to do campaigns in and some of my most fond roleplaying memories are connected to RIFTS. I just can’t understand why Palladium Books is still clinging to these broken rules and why their books still look like they were layouted by an amateur during the late 80s. When I look at this book I get the feeling Kevin Siembieda was sitting at his desk with scissors and glue tinkering the book together. 

Another thing that annoys me is the fact that they never forget to put all that legal mumbo-jumpo all over the text. It’s just no fun to read an O.C.C.s description when there are (C), (R), and TMs all over the text. I understand that a company has to defend it’s intellectual property, but Palladium Books is just going to far.

I think that the Ultimate Edition looks better than the original RIFTS book but it’s far from being a perfect product. The over 375 pages long book is still worth it’s money if you can live with the subpar looks and the Palladium rules system. The setting has some very cool elements and opens up an endless playground for a creative GM.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “RIFTS Ultimate Edition – Just my two cents”

  1. At least I know that I'm not the only one. I really do love the setting and have a fondness for the game. I have bought several Rifts books and enjoyed every one of them. I just have a hard time dealing with the problems inherent in the system.

    People complain that WotC is a money hungry monster, I've been guilty of this in the past, but the Palladium way seems to be all about selling. I know that sounds dumb as all companies are about selling goods/services, but Palladium shoves it down your throat. Every product you buy is pretty much an ad or at least contains ads littered through out the books(s)for other Palladium products, i.e. the catalog in place of a character sheet.

    The game itself is set up in such a manner that you really do need to buy more books to play. Like I said in my post, you can do it with just R:UE, but that gets confusing and frustrating on a level I can't begin to describe.

    I also feel the game mechanics are a bit antiquated, as do many others it would seem. Palladium has been so adamant about not changing the system, I think it will eventually be the death of the game. The Palladium system needs to be revised and streamlined. Those clunky mechanics were great in the 70's-early 90's, but now they distract from a very good, possibly one of the best, settings on the market. Most new players don't want a system that is as cumbersome and complicated as Rifts.

    I know that d20 is a foul word for Mr. Siembieda, but the system needs a reboot/revision in some way. It is just too convoluted. If they refuse to go the d20 route then maybe they could look at other systems and see if there is anything they could borrow from them. I for one, don't really understand the d20 hate, because there are great things that can be done with it. Just look at Mutants & Masterminds a good system to play a Rifts setting. If the problem is with WotC then that is another matter. They could use their own system and just revise it for a new generation of gamers. I know a lot of old schoolers will whine about this being the sissy way of doing it, but to be honest all of us older are just SOL. RPGs have too many other things to compete with in order to survive, such as CCGs and video games. As much as we may not like it the games have to evolve and appease the younger gamers, and we need to adjust to the new way, or else the RPG hobby will eventually die off. With the natural exception of the companies/gamers that evolve along with demand. Why would a kid want to pick up some unnecessarily complicated, convoluted book to learn rules when they can pick up a CCG or video game with almost no learning curve?

    Nostalgia is great, see my post about FLGS, but despite the fact we liked the way things were, that just isn't how they can remain.

    There is some hope however. I was on the Palladium boards and got it first hand from a freelancer that he (I think it was a he) was working on a Palladium/Rifts lite, especially for newbies. I know my group would be more receptive if the rules were less complicated and I look forward to grabbing a copy.

    Overall I pretty much agree with everything you said. It is odd that we both decided to review the same older product so close together. Good post though.

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  2. Rifts is a unique story in RPG history. The rich and well-crafted setting is supported in part by the game mechanics, which lend themselves well to power comparisons and the chaotic nature of a post-apocalyptic world.

    However, I agree with both of you that the system (and the product line) is very dated. Palladium, for good or ill, is run like a paranoid dictatorship by Kevin Siembieda. Palladium's approach to the Rifts intellectual property is the polar opposite of WotC's OGL, and this is unfortunate. I've seen a number of excellent online fan productions for Rifts get thumped hard for not jumping at Palladium's command. Rifts would do very well with a d20 version, but that will never be the case while Kevin retains control of Palladium.

    That said, Kevin and co. have crafted a wonderful game setting that I have yet to find an equal to, and for that alone the entire Rifts line is worth purchasing.

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  3. Well put. I think the fact Rifts is such a rich setting is why I am so fond of it, despite my issues with the mechanics. Like I said I enjoy just reading the books.

    I also agree with your assessment of the Palladium situation.

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