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Someone posted this link to a set of "tiers" for D&D 3.5 classes, and it got me thinking.

I haven't played RIFTS in forever, and one of the reasons is the wide disparity in class power and flexibility. Does anyone know of a reference for this? Perhaps something that gives a rough ranking of classes in terms of firepower or variety of abilities?

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4 Answers 4

Several of my friends are "RIFTS Junkies"...

In general, they look at 3 things when picking which classes to allow, in order:

  1. MDC per level, SDC per level, or HP only per level.
  2. Magic or not
  3. Massive skill list or not

Most classes in Palladium's system are HP only per level. Since taking HP damage can be debilitating (optional, but my friends all use it), this means toughness of characters with HP per level is only increasing resistance to death, not injury, and most characters within take the "full physical package" - all the personal SDC (pSDC) boosting skills they can.

HP per level with MDC armor and weapons are still HP based - and even with the full physical package, 2 MDC damage past armor is lethal to even the toughest. Such campaigns, including Robotech RPG play, often result in insta-death...

Those with SDC per level still get HP per level - there aren't that many that I've seen, but boy, they are tough. Often tough enough to take one or two MDC (remembering that SDC beings/structures take 100 SDC/HP per 1 MDC) at first level. They're big, buff, but killable. I've not actually seen the books with these, but I'll note that I've been told about them, and seen the character sheets...

A variation on this second group is the SDC xX model - Zentradi, from Robotech, for example – where pSDC and HP are generated normally, then multiplied. much tougher than normal SDC beings, often capable of taking multiple MDC, they have all the normal limitations once the HP take hits. They don't have climbing SDC, but they have HPx100, so 1d6x100 HP per level means being able to take 1d6 more MDC per level. With optional debilitation if the HP damage option is in use.

Those with MDC per level are another magnitude entirely - only MDC weapons hurt them. They often do MDC damage unarmed. The only things that really threaten them are other such beings, and people in mecha. Squishies need only be hit once by them, and crunchies (MDC armored SDC beings) usually don't survive the armor destruction.

So the secondary consideration is amount of magic/psi in the class. If they have a lot of ISP or PPE, they're more buff than their type of damage capacity might indicate. A mind mage can neutralize an enemy with MDC... even though he's a HP/Level being. In a group, high magic characters of a lower damage capacity type can "hold their own" by careful tactics.

The tertiary consideration is skill lists. Certain classes have wide and flexible skill lists. This makes them suitable for higher level campaigns than their magic and damage capacity might indicate, at least if the other party members are willing to shelter them from direct harm.

But remember also: good party dynamics can overcome the diversity, and many MDC classes become SDC=MDCx(10 to 100) after crossing some rifts.

As an aside: For me, the power creep was just too much. I quit Palladium almost entirely shortly after Rifts was released. I'll run Mechanoids.

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When I play or GM Rifts there are a few things that I need to know. The first is whether the group wants to play a combat, social, or mixed game. The second is whether the group wants a high powered or low powered campaign. From the nature of your question I believe you wish to know how to rank characters in a high powered combat campaign on Rifts Earth which in my experience is the easiest style to rank them.

First thing to know is there are many aspects to combat. Because combat rounds last 15 seconds and many actions happen in that time some kinds of attacks will be much more effective then strait damage. Stunning attacks tend to be more effective at removing enemies from combat sense they tend to last a number of rounds, and any attack that knocks a character down will cost them an action. A stun can be more than enough time for an automatic hit on a called shot to the head in melee/point blank range. Like most game systems defensive capability and offensive capability have to be balanced out. To help with this my group breaks the characters down into three broad categories before ranking them Artillery, Heavy, and Light. I will first explain these categories, then I will give examples of some group tactics, and then I will give a numbered list of character classes by power.

Artillery is any character whose main/preferred combat option is to hang back and pepper the enemy from relative safety. Because of the safety element, this is the default position for non-combat utility characters (buffing/repairing/talking characters). Giant Robots using missiles, invisible/shielded/hidden Mages using ritual magic or summoned creatures, and snipers using stealth and confusion are all examples of Artillery characters. The jobs of this character are to deal as much damage as possible, watch for enemy reinforcement, apply debilitating effects to the enemy, and provide a “safe” fallback position. Giant robots and sometimes Glitter Boys fall into this category because they are expensive to repair and have excellent long range damage. Shifters and similar mages fall into this category because they have low average MDC (35-100) and spells that can totally change the nature of a battle, examples being Summon and Control Entity, Firequake, and Carpet of Adhesion.

A Heavy character is a tank and is expected to deal out solid damage while taking the majority of the enemy’s fire. The two most important aspects of this position are staying power and fire power. Combat Cyborgs with detachable heavy cyborg armor plating, power armor pilots with either good armor or flight capable, Baby Dragons with their MDC bio-regeneration, and Glitter Boys who have invested in a giant MDC shield are all examples of Heavy characters. The jobs of these characters is to be a solid and significant threat to the enemy, and draw enemy attention away from Light and Artillery characters. Power Armor and Cyborgs fall into this because they have solid armor (500-1000), good mobility, and can wield rail guns and other heavy MDC weapons. Baby Dragons and other high MDC creatures are this because they can tank damage without any cost sense it only takes a few minutes for them to completely heal from their wounds. If a Glitter Boy can regularly afford the costs of repairing damage he should be here because he represents a threat the enemy cannot ignore and will draw their attacks. Some creatures that have been summoned by mages will want to act as heavies sense they represent free MDC to the party.

A Light character is anyone who is acting as a normal soldier whether looking to get in close or take cover behind the Heavy you are expected to locate important and dangerous targets and eliminate them. Lights are also still at full strength when fighting in close quarters underground or inside buildings. Melee classes, very basic soldier classes, and most fast classes with auto-dodge fall here. Merc soldiers, who are not sniping, are here because they add attacks to the combat but are not a threat worth dedicating fire to. Melee Cyber Knights, Mind Melters, and other melee classes are expected to charge enemy artillery and stab optics, stun button mage’s heads, drop fusion blocks in the joints of robots or just climb on and cut the pilot out from the safety of their blind spots. Mages that use low level attack spells and buffing spells will often find themselves doing the same job as other Light characters.

As for tactics it is generally important to use the correct level of response to most threats. Unlike D&D where engagements do not cost you anything so long as you survive resources are harder to come by in rifts. So if at all possible pick your fights. A group of bandits on the road are better handled by the party’s Light players and Bio-Regenerators. Lights can more easily replace their armor, and psychic and magic shielding will absorb the bandits low MD to mitigate the cost of such a venture.

If your group has multiple power armor, robots, etc. they are in little danger of being ambushed but will have a very hard time fighting in doors or underground. It is generally best for a party to only have one giant robot, if any as they are expensive to maintain, and power armor pilots should look for suits with detachable wings and missile pods. For power armor I recommend acquiring a giant MDC shield as it is much cheaper to replace/repair. If anyone in the group is willing to play an operator, psi-tech, or specialize themselves as a mechanic/engineer it can go a long way towards cheapening combat for the whole group.

Magic is your friend, use it! Unless the group is decidedly against magic it is best to take advantage of some simple buffs. Invisibility will leave many opponents unable to effectively fight back. Magical Adrenal Rush, Giant, and Speed Weapon can turn your melee characters into monsters with 14 attacks per melee round or 28 if they have paired weapons (5 normal +2 adrenal rush, doubled by speed weapon and doubled again by having paired weapons). Spells like Armor of Ithan, Armor Bizarre, and Impervious to Energy can make your party nice and tanky without costing much. Just remember to read the rules on magic there are allot of ways to get enough PPE to cast two or three big spells per combat, or a dozen of the cheap ones.

Remember that most enemies that are using MD weapons and armor cannot themselves do MD. If one of your players has the psychic power Kinesis it can be useful to disarm your opponents, and if anyone in your group is playing a melee fighter disarming can also be viable for you. Once disarmed, most enemies will have no way to deal damage to your group. Spells that trap enemies, neural maces which can stun your opponent, and anything that knocks you down can have the desired effect of capitalizing on a fight’s action economy. Most opponents will have 4-6 actions per melee round. Things like Horror Factor can remove one action from you at the beginning of each melee round. Remember that the same thing works on your opponent so use it. Knock down effects also remove an action, and require another to stand, but also drop an opponent to the bottom of the initiative.

In my experience the best mix for a group is one or two utility characters and two to three combat characters. If you have a group of five and everyone wants to play a combat character I recommend one Artillery, one or two Heavy, and two or three Light. Psionics are not necessary but it is very helpful for one guy to have Sixth Sense, Presence Sense, and See the Invisible. Magic is recommended for at least one character, or two characters with vastly different styles. This break down allows the group to work well in the open and in close quarters, and also helps to give allot of options.

Power Tiers, from least to most, for High Powered Combat Oriented Rifts Earth Campaigns.

5th Tier (none combat and basic troops): Rogue Scholar, Rogue Scientist, Cyber-Doc, City Rat, Body Fixer, Saloon Bum, Saloon Girl, Vagabond, Wilderness Scout, Merc Soldier, Operator, Dog-Boy, all civilian classes, and any military class that has no special abilities.

4th Tier (elite troops and low MDC creatures): Cyber-Knight, most psychic classes, Combat Magi, Ley-Line Walkers, normal Mystics, most Samurai and Ninjas, Crazies, Juicers, most native americans, lightly armored cyborgs, all western gunmen, most intelligent D-Bees, animal D-Bees with less than 500 MDC, any military footslogger with one or two good special abilities, and tier 5 characters with access to dimension book arms.

3rd Tier (high MDC threats and dangerous magic): Power Armor Pilot, Glitter Boy, Mystic Knights, heavily armored cyborgs, Baby Dragon, Robot Pilot, Shifter, High Magus, Lord Magus, native americans with powerful fetishes, Most D-bees with impressive abilities and high MDC (200-1000), combos between a MDC RCC and a Tier 4 OCC, most characters with super powers, and tier 4 characters with access to dimension book arms.

2nd Tier (the most power any player should have): Godlings, most Adult Dragons, Techno-Wizards (unless they have been reined in or neglected), highly optimized robots, small spacecraft, very high level magic casters, and most creatures with 2.5-5k MDC.

1st Tier (subjective and NPC): anything more powerful.

Be careful with this though. Most classes are not optimized and can jump tiers with a little work. example: a starting Psi-Tech is at the lesser end of tier 4, however if they can get access to power armor pilot elite and a SAMAS they can jump strait to tier 2.

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I played Rifts frequently a bit over a dozen years ago, during my munchkin years. My gaming group enjoyed slinging around large weapons, and as a result, every single combat encounter was with the players in full combat gear; there were no cases of "Glitterboy pilot caught outside his armor" and the like. Due to our inexperience, most of our adventuring was about traveling to various places and killing various things; we hardly used the skill system at all. (We usually created characters and played just a few adventures before dropping the campaign, so we rarely got past first level; most of our skills were quite unreliable.)

As a side note, the Rifts combat system is unfortunately boring: the most damaging weapons are all ranged weapons (with a handful of exceptions involving supernatural creatures' punches), so it encourages players to spend their entire time exchanging shots rather than close-combat blows. There are very few bonuses available to hit or to dodge in ranged combat, so every character in the game hits an MDC target on a 5+ on a D20. (Since MDC weapons do 100x damage when converted to SDC, SDC armor is irrelevant.) There are no significant rules for cover, higher ground, sniper perches, or fast-moving targets in Rifts (the best you can do is to inflict a -2 to hit if you run while dodging and weaving), this means that all combat effectively occurs on a flat, featureless plain and there are almost zero important combat decisions to make.

(On a personal note, due to confusion over the rules, my group did allow characters to dodge bullets. This made the Juicer a higher-tier character than my answer suggests: they may attempt to dodge attacks for free, and typically have an excellent dodge bonus.)

My group's munchkinly tendencies, plus the ranged combat system, plus all of us playing at first level most of the time, produced a very simple tier system: How much damage could you do per round, and how much MDC could you absorb without keeling over?

Thus, the Tiers:

Tier 1: Combat characters with 1000 or more MDC. There are a handful of RCCs like this (usually in the later books, where the power creep was just silly), but they're almost invariably banned by the GM. These characters invariably do 3d6x10 MDC or more per attack.

Tier 2: Combat characters with 500-1000 MDC, dealing 2D6x10 damage or more per attack. This includes the Glitterboy pilot and other high-end robot and power armor pilots. These characters are usually not viable in the long term, due to using up their armor, missiles, and other expendables. There are no real rules in Rifts for repairing armor (aside from GM fiat), so these characters have a limited lifespan. (In most games I played in, rewards were small; the campaign usually ended either just before or just after one pilot ran out of armor.)

Tier 3: Combat characters with 200-500 MDC, and either regular damage of 2D6x10 or access to missiles and other explosives. These are usually low-end robot or power armor pilots.

Tier 4: Mages of most stripes. The magic system of Rifts is not kind to first-level characters. Even worse, magic's range is intentionally reduced to ranges that are "more dramatic," while all weapon ranges are more realistic (and usually an order of magnitude longer). They usually use basic MDC body armor and weapons to supplement their magic, which is only better than regular equipment in niche situations.

Tier 5: Combat characters who only have access to basic MDC body armor (around 50-100 MDC) and weapons (around 1d6x10 MDC, or 4d6 MDC if you have no supplemental books; just about every supplemental book had some kind of ranged weapon that did 1d6x10 damage).

Tier 98: Any character with SDC measured in (a handful of dice) x 100 with no access to MDC armor. An MDC weapon will still kill these characters in one or two shots.

Tier 99: Any "normal" SDC character with no access to MDC armor.

For robot or power armor pilots, nudge them up a tier if they have 100 or more missiles; nudge them down a tier if they have less than 10 (and thus their missiles will shortly become irrelevant).

For all characters, if their MDC armor regenerates, nudge them to the top of their tier, or up a full tier if it's going to be a long-term campaign.

As a final note, the number of combat skills available to the character (and whether they were allowed to take Boxing) will nudge the OCC/RCC up or down within a tier. My group lusted after the physical skills, but in retrospect, only Boxing was truly relevant; the others would, in the final analysis, only help with close combat, which we didn't do.

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I'm going to do my tiers slightly differently. First of all, I’m going to call them Combat tiers, because they represent pure combat, without showing any puzzling or diplomatic ability. Also, because Rifts is so diverse (which is good and bad), you could have a high-level Rogue Scholar who is very physically strong, has a particle pistol, has the potential to go into a berserker rage, and wears heavy MDC Body Armor. Is this guy still a "Non-Combat" Character? No! It's important to look at the equipment, spells/psionics, insanities, weapons and vehicles that a character has before putting them into specific tiers.

Tier 0: Non-Combat Character This is the category for people who don't fight or are not equipped/otherwise able to fight frequently or for a long time. This includes almost all 1st-level Rogue Scholars and Scientists, most cyber-docs and level-1 Psi-Warriors, and most characters with the "Pacifism" insanity. This also includes most Floopers.

Tier 1: Weak Defensive Character Defensive Characters aren't designed/equipped to deal a lot of damage quickly or move offensively. This includes low-level Vagabonds and any character with Pacifism that doesn't fall into Tier 0.

Tier 2: Weak Offensive Character Weak Offensive Characters are usually either lower-level glass cannons or hit-and-runners. Glass cannons, which include most magicians as well as snipers, dish-out relatively large amounts of damage but can take very little. Hit-and-runners deal moderate damage quickly, and can take a little more than but again fall to sustained damage. Most 1st-level NPC fighters will fall into this group.

Tier 3: Soldier This is a character that has the equipment, training, and abilities to be able to take a couple of enemies solo, or hold the line against several with back-up. Soldiers, which include PC Dead Boys, 3rd level Psi-Warriors, or Mercenaries, tend to be good all-rounders that can get very powerful as they reach high levels.

Tiers 1-3S: Special Special characters are characters that would fall into Tiers 1-3, but have some qualifying aspect that makes them more powerful in certain circumstances. This would include, say, the Dead Boy OCC who happens to be able to drive and owns an APC/tank.

Tier 5: Superhuman Tier 5 is the big leap above the human threshold, with walking tanks, super-soldiers, and mages. This includes Bursters, Zappers, 4th-6thth level Psi-Warriors, Headhunters, Cyborgs, Crazies, and 4th+ level Ley-Line Walkers. This is also the broadest tier for human Player Characters, as most rarely go above 5th or 6th tier at low- to mid-level.

Tier 6: Juicer-Level This tier includes the famous Glitterboy and its namesake, the Juicer. Both of these are able to take on tanks single-handedly or in small groups (especially if the Juicer has Juicer Gear such as the FIWS). Basically, these characters are killing machines in combat.

Tier 7: Inhuman The characters in this tier are largely not human, although some exceptions may be made for Giant Robot Pilots, high-level Juicers, and 8th+Level Psi-Warriors. This can also include high-level mind-melters, Ley-line Walkers, and most other magicians as well as Harvesters (although their humanity is debatable.) But, mostly, this tier is populated by creatures like Tharses, Ariel, Dragon Hatchlings, and Gargoyles.

Tier 8: City-killers This tier contains such monstrosities as Deathless Ones, high-level Harvesters, mid-level Dragons, angels, and Gargoyles, and really powerful Ley-Line Walkers/Mind Melters/Fire Warlocks with great stats. It also includes Seraphim (thanks to their River of Lava spell at 1st level). Basically, if you could raze a small city or a village in less than four turns (consistently, and while it was defended by inhabitants), you belong here.

Tier 9: God-like Mostly containing Deities, adult Dragons, high-level angels, and Vampire-Intelligences, this realm is populated by those things that Players don’t usually control, unless they’ve been playing dragons or angels for a really long time.

Tier 9.5: Lord of the Deep This tier is specific to the Lord of the Deep and Nxla, as well as other comparable sub-Old Ones. These are never available for player control, usually having MDC in the millions.

Tier 10: Old One Finally, we arrive at the highest tier of power in the Rifts Universe. Completely unpopulated by Player Characters, tier 10 includes all of the might and fury and billions of MDC had by the Old Ones. It takes a few million angels to beat even three, according to Palladium Dragons and Gods. Basically, if your character could enslave or eradicate a planet in a single turn, and if your GM has completely lost his mind, you belong here.

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You can write them how you like of course, but in the context of this question, tier 1 is best and higher-numbered tiers are worse. (Think of them like race results, military ranks, or travel class ratings.) You might want to swap around the numbering. – SevenSidedDie Nov 17 at 23:56

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