Rifts RPG Review

This article is taken from my previous RPG blog. I will be slowly translating my old articles over in an effort to consolidate all the information in one place.  


I have a personal goal of reviewing at least a small amount of books that I have sitting on my shelf. I am known to some of my friends as a Palladium Fan-boy so this review may seem someone biased but I will try to remain objective.


I first started playing rifts as one of my first RPG when I was around 14 years old, having previously learnt about role-playing from the Palladium Fantasy game and have since collected a large collection of its various expansions and spin-off books some of which can be seen in the photo below.


Rifts is a multiple genre role-playing game created by Kevin Simbieda in August 1990 and published continuously by Palladium Books since then. Rifts takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, deriving elements from cyberpunk, Sci-Fi, fantasy and many other genres. It is often referred to the kitchen sink of genres.

The Setting

The foundations for the Rifts world was originally developed in Beyond the Supernatural, which uses Lovecraft storytelling techniques for a role-playing experience based on horror fiction.

The Rifts world is Earth, but hundreds of years into the future. Magic energy exists and is called potential psychic energy (PPE). PPE can be found in certain places, objects, and animals, but one of its greatest sources is human beings. While this has a variety of applications, upon a human’s death, the energy is doubled, and then released into the surrounding environment. Ley Lines, lines of magic energy, intersect the earth forming supernatural areas such as the Bermuda Triangle.


In Rifts, points where ley lines intersect, called a nexus, are places of powerful magic, such as the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. If a ley line nexus grows very strong, the very fabric of space and time can be torn thus creating a rift, a hole in space-time leading to another place, time or a new or parallel dimension. Ley Lines are normally invisible, but in the magic-saturated world of Rifts Earth, they become visible at night as massive bands of blue-white energy half a mile wide and stretching for many miles. If the PPE nearby is extremely strong the Ley Lines could be seen during the day too.

Rifts history first begins with, that there will be a golden age of humanity with tremendous advances in science, technology, military, and society. Humanity as a whole will get along as a majority of Earth’s nations decide to stop a world war and begin to share ideas and technology freely. Much of the solar system will be conquered, humanity’s wars will end, and harmony will reign.

Second, this golden age will be followed by an apocalyptic nuclear war that starts with a border incursion by NEMA (North American Economic Military Alliance, comprising Canada, The U.S., and Mexico) forces in South America during the year 2098. The special circumstances of Earth’s mystic position in the Universe at that changes what would “normally” be the deaths of a few million living beings into a psychic energy flood that triggers the eruption of ley lines and triggering natural disasters across the world and also causes the return of Atlantis which raised the water levels causing even more death. The additional deaths, in turn, releases even more mystic energy in a vicious cycle.

Ultimately, the psychic energy of billions of human beings dying nearly simultaneously, multiplied by the mystic alignments mentioned earlier, energized the ley line networks crisscrossing the globe and caused many rifts to open, both on Earth and throughout the Megaverse – while simultaneously ripping untold numbers of alien beings from their own homeworlds and alerting the Great Powers of the Megaverse of a new planet to conquer.


Many creatures, both mythical beasts and alien beings, come through the Rifts – some of them now permanently opened – to wreak havoc.

The old world is gone, a new dark age has dawned and humanity’s shrinking population is reduced, due to catastrophe and domestic failure, immeasurably.

Rifts gameplay takes place roughly 300 years after this event, described as 103 P.A., or “Post-Apocalypse”, a calendar established at the formation of the Coalition States.

This is equivalent to the year 2389, according to the New German Republic. Although different storylines may begin before or after, such as with the invasion of Chi-Town by the Federation of Magic (before) or as the Four Horsemen appear in Africa (after), most of the series “World Books” are described with a kind of snapshot of 103-109 P.A. In the latest World Books, the current date is around 110 P.A. (2396).

By this time, most of the disasters have quieted down, though Earth is still bathed in the released PPE. The planet’s mystical energy has added untold numbers of alien beings from other dimensions, who continue to arrive through the Rifts both accidentally and deliberately. These creatures include humanoid Dimensional Beings (called D-Bees).

Some are familiar fantasy races, such as elves and dwarfs, others have never before been seen before. Also now sharing the planet are monstrous creatures and mystical demons with hides as strong as tank armour.  The most powerful is the Alien Intelligence’s Lovecraftian, living mountains of flesh, lidless eyes and wriggling tentacles with great supernatural powers. In some rare cases, even the ancient gods of mythology have returned to reclaim their former lands.

To cope with these natural, supernatural, and alien menaces, the human race has tried to change in a variety of ways, many of them borrowed from the technological developments of the lost Golden Age.

Augmentation of the human body has become common with three basic categories: the “Juicers” do it chemically, the “Borgs” do it mechanically, and the “Crazies” make use of performance-enhancing brain implants.

Another popular theme used by humans to combat the dangers of Rifts Earth are powered armour suits, and giant robot vehicles or Mechs.

Some turn to other means to become “more” than human. Magic abounds on Rifts Earth, and many people turn to the magical arts. Others form pacts with alien intelligence’s or deities in exchange for great magical knowledge, almost always becoming pawns of the beings they dared turn to for power.

Still, others discover that they have great psionic potential, and dedicate their lives to discovering the abilities of their own minds.

The Book

There are numerous editions; the one I currently looking at is, 256page, double column typical of Palladium Books, very well perfect bound that has taken years of abuse without pages falling out.

It has a  table of contents but no index.

The black and white art is excellent and is often cited as the reason some people buy these books. There are also some full-colour plates which have a couple of very nice examples by Kevin Parkinson. who also illustrated the famous cover.

The organisation of the book and unfortunately a lot of other rifts books is haphazard and clunky organization; it starts off sensibly enough with character generation, but then moves into skills and combat before character classes. Psionic and magical abilities are described after setting information.


Character Creation

Character gen is familiar to anyone who has played any other Palladium game.  Roll 3d6 for 8 attributes; if you roll a 16, 17, or 18, roll another 1d6. This can lead to some very unbalanced parties, however, this can lead to some interesting character concepts.

Hit points are directly derived from Physical Endurance, plus 1d6 per level. In addition, to hit points there is Structural Damage Capacity (SDC), which ranges from 3d6 to 1d4*10 depending on character class. Damage is applied to SDC before hit points;

In Rifts, most weapons do mega-damage, where 1 MDC is the equivalent of 100 SDC.

In most games, I have played it is extremely rare to see an SDC based character using MDC armour and weapons is the only level that a character has any chance of staying alive.

This is a class-based system, specifically “Racial Character Classes” and “Occupational Character Classes”, one per character. This includes a range of cyborgs, juicers, various magic-using professions, and perhaps the most iconic class the Glitter Boy.

The classes range from Terminator-style cyborgs to Ray Mears Wilderness survival guys.

The System

Rifts presents us with a huge list of skills, split into the groups of Communications, Domestic, Electrical, Espionage, Mechanical, Medical, Military, Pilot, Rogue, Science, Technical, Weapon Proficiency and Wilderness. With a roll-under percentage system for resolution

The skill choices available are suited to the setting however the skills themselves can sometimes seem to be placed in the wrong grouping which can lead to some searching back and forth through the book during character creation.

The combat system in Rifts is based on rounds, with a d20 roll for initiative, and a to-hit roll versus the armour rating (AR) of the opponent, with a 1-4 representing a clean miss. The defender may respond with a parry, dodge, or entangle.

If the defender fails the attacker rolls damage, with critical strikes (natural 20) doing double damage.

The Magic

There are a huge list psionic powers which cost ISP (Inner Strength Points) to activate. ISPs are recovered by sleep and meditation.  In addition to psionics, there are 150 spells, differentiated by class level (one to fifteen). Spells are powered by Potential Psychic Energy, which can be derived from ley lines, living creatures.

The End

Overall, there is much to like Rifts. The system is known as clunky at times and the most game will involve some serious amount of house ruling. The setting is by far my favourite of all the games I own and can lead to some very interesting games. The system itself is compatible with what would probably amount to hundreds of book and is compatible with all the other Palladium line up which means you can Have your Glitter boy rubbing noses with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or battling a Super-Powered Villains from Heroes Unlimited. The list is truly endless.

The writing in this book certainly shows a lot of passion from Kevin a style which is evident in all his books, however, there is a multitude of typos and errata. This can lead to frustrating read, but in the end, it will be well worth the work being able to play with this amazing setting and you will enjoy some truly unforgettable games.