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I've always loved the world of RIFTS and even the magic system, but MDC and game balance issues make it nearly unplayable in my opinion. What system’s rules would be the best fit for a Rifts game? It would need to blend magic and tech rather well.

The system should allow for quick conversion of source material (the world books), better system for skills and would hopefully have a experience system that isn't level-based. (No "Level 4 Juicer", "Level 10 City Rat" sort of things.)

In short, what I am looking is this: How can I best enjoy the flavor and scope of the rich game world without getting bogged down in Palladium’s challenged playability? I hope there’s a system that would lend itself to this, but the best solution might be trying to write something myself.

In picking a system, I would sacrifice balance for playability. The more I think on it, part of the charm of Rifts is it's lack of balance.

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What do you want to do as characters in your game? –  okeefe May 6 at 3:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have been working on something I call RiDoR (Rifts Done Right) for a few years here and there using Swords & Wizardry White Box. I realize this suggestion goes in a completely different direction than most people arguing GURPS or Hero (if you want a recommendation along those lines I'll toss in EABA with it's Stuff supplement).

My logic is as follows:

  1. Palladium's house system is effectively D&D plus some material from the supplements with plenty of stuff added from Siembieda's imagination.

  2. The core play of Palladium is class/level with a flat power curve and a percentile skill system that doesn't do much beyond add numbers. The real flavor of classes in most Palladium, but especially Rifts, is either in various powers/abilities or the combat skills.

Recreating such ideas in older editions of D&D is relatively straight forward. A Cyberknight, for example, has MDC armor grafted to his body and can psychically create an MDC lightsaber. Sure, there are some other abilities but that's the basics.

So, looking at S&W WB you can say he's a fighter who, based on his level gets an AC bonus due to this MDC armor and can create for some much time a day a mental sword that does damage as a sword. Work up a reasonable schedule for the time per day he can use his psychic sword, how much damage it does, and how "magical" it is (ie, at first level it strikes as a silver weapon, at 5th as a +1 magic weapon, and so on).

This is much more likely to preserve the flavor of the Rifts classes than something heavily mechanical like Hero. This isn't to say those systems are bad but their philosophy is very different than that of Rifts. The Glitterboy isn't cool because he's allocated 53 points to laser reflective armor for his battlesuit that has an active value of 75 pts but has the "can't get spare parts" disadvantage, he's cool because he has this awesome armor no one else does. Getting much more detailed than that destroys certain illusions Rifts requires to work.

Some key issues and how I've solved them.

  1. I use a damage reduction system to simulate MDC. Convert MDC to hit points and assign it robotic, superhuman, or supernatural as a type. Do the same to MDC weapons. Everything else is normal. Normal does half damage to robotic, one quarter to superhuman, and one eighth to supernatural. Robotic does double to normal, half to superhuman, and so on. Criticals move damage type up one degree.

  2. Skills are a simple 1 in 6 system à la finding hidden doors. I consolidate quite a bit and just give classes +1 or +2 (like the elf) as appropriate. You could bring percentages over whole if you'd like.

  3. Get The Mechanoids Trilogy, which is much closer to just a straight D&D variant, to see how to handle large vehicles.

I think you'll find bolting simplified Rifts material onto an older D&D is a much more flavorful Rifts conversion than something more complex. I realize this doesn't meet your "no levels" criteria, but classes are just too key to Rifts to go classless and while there are level-less class systems they are rare. Palladium just maps well to older D&D and you can't beat the price on the clones.

Finally, I have written some of this up on my blog's "RDR" category, including my answers to the Glitterboy, Cyborg, MDC, and Juicer. They have different names given Palladium's online policy about conversations and the fact I'm using a Rifts-like setting instead of Rifts itself, but you'll recognize them.

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GURPS would be my recommendation, based upon your interest in balance in the system and the scaling problems of MDC in Rifts. If available get a copy of the GURPS core rules and also some of the sourcebooks for settings like Robotech, Ultratech, or Mecha, as those settings reflect the MDC Powered Armor in RIFTS. GURPS Magic sourcebook should also offer almost everything you need to convert RIFTS to GURPS.

Balance between players can be maintained by character built points, so that a character who chooses to spend point on high wealth or great equipment has to sacrifice points in skills or stats. Likewise it means the magical characters can spend points where they need to and be as specialized as they need.

There is also no prohibition between skills for classes, and equipment is generally available according to the wealth options chosen by the character during design.

The MegaDamage problem in RIFTS could be converted into the Damage Resistance and Weapon Penetration statistics for armor and weapons in GURPS, so that an MDC weapon behaves in a similar manner to RIFTS, but can be mitigated by how powerful you wish them to be. You may even decide that all MDC armors have a very high DR, and that is the only reason that non-MDC weapon don't affect them.

e.g. Try assigning DR 30 to all MDC armor types, and see how that goes.

I have previously played a port of Shadowrun RPG to GURPS which worked very well, including the psionic and magical aspects, and the setting of Shadowrun is similar to RIFTS - meaning they both combine very high tech and very high fantasy elements together.

There was a free version of GURPS Starter Edition around many years ago, and you don't need to focus on having the latest version as you will end up wit a lot of your own tables after doing a conversion of RIFTS. Also try a google search, as many home-brew games have already done this kind of port from RIFTS to GURPS.

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The current free starter edition of GURPS is GURPS Lite and can be got at that link. There's no need to hunt down the older editions just to get a free taste. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 at 8:22
    
Have you tried any conversion of RIFTS to GURPS? Or have you at least played both RIFTS and GURPS? This is a recommendation question, so answers should be backed by experience. –  Paul Marshall May 6 at 17:57
    
Hi Paul, I've played decades of Rifts and GURPS, with house rules, conversions, etc you name it. I ported the Ultima IV storyline to Palladium's d20 mechanics, then to GURPS because it suited better. Also written my own space + mechs + creatures game in GURPS to know that the system can handle it. So yup, I've played plenty of all these systems enough to feel my opinion is well backed up. –  ironboundtome May 9 at 3:14

I Tried the Hero System, 5th Edition

I made a noble stab years ago at trying to convert Rifts to the Hero System, 5th Edition. Like any generic game, it meets your requirements: (relatively) quick conversion of source material (once active points are established), a better skill system (which is almost any skill system... or even no skill system at all), and an experience system without levels. It can blend magic, psionics, and technology just fine.

I didn't play it. There were... problems, and you're likely to encounter them during any attempt to convert Rifts to another system. Mega-damage wasn't one of them, though--early on, I chose to dispense with that as trying to simulate it was too much of a headache for too little reward. It didn't matter that a weapon used gunpowder to launch projectiles or fired red lasers or spat out bolts of mystic force. The S.D.C./M.D.C. divide was breached, and I didn't care--the goal was to see if characters could be evened out.

They can't. While Hero System, 5th Edition did a fine job of allowing the characters presented in Rifts to exist pretty much as printed, that didn't mean the characters ended up with the same amount of points. In Rifts one player-character can be a illiterate, penniless hobo (with candy!) and the other player-characters can be Professor Challenger, Professor X, Thanos, and Eternity, and unless you establish a vision for your campaign first that forces all the PCs to the same power level (I didn't--it was a thought experiment), there's simply no way to balance the characters.

Were I to attempt it again, I'd do exactly that: I'd determine the campaign first then work on conversions of the material necessary for that campaign, limiting myself to the things I wanted to see rather than the things that are there. I'd tier the classes, pick the ones that worked, and balance them that way, deviating from the source material to allow characters to actually fill niches.

Characters in Rifts are deliberately unbalanced. Some characters are supposed to be better than others. A grunt is worse than a commando. Any system that doesn't allow for that won't feel like Rifts anymore, but maybe that's exactly what you want.


I'm a GURPS and Hero fan, and I wouldn't think of converting Rifts to GURPS, 4th Edition, whose power creation rules are too fiddly even for a gearhead like me. GURPS, 3rd Edition, with its myriad sourcebooks, is more palatable, but converting Rifts vehicles to GURPS Vehicles is a Sisyphian task, and vehicles matter in Rifts. Hero, 5th Edition's vehicles, while imperfect, don't require calculus to create.

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Question (me being only passingly familiar with HERO): is PC balance integral to HERO such that you can't do the RIFTS-style "some PCs are just better/worse" thing, or was it just that balancing PCs was your objective in the experiment? I couldn't tell which from the answer. (I totally agree that "kitchen sink" RIFTS wouldn't feel the same with balanced PCs. Scenario-based RIFTS would be OK with balanced PCs though.) –  SevenSidedDie May 6 at 17:09
    
@SevenSidedDie Hero uses points to measure a character's power and importance, so it's not a lot of fun for players to have characters with vastly different point values at the same table. It can be done--especially if the low-point value character can do something the high-value one can't (like, y'know, read)--, but I doubt it would be pleasant for an entire 18-month campaign, for example. –  Hey I Can Chan May 6 at 17:30
    
Gotcha, so same as GURPS in that regard: doable in theory, but not without the right campaign and mindset. –  SevenSidedDie May 6 at 17:34
    
Exactly. So a 4-hour convention scenario could totally be run with a variety of Rifts ultra-powerful monsters who are new to Rifts Earth and their companion, the hobo--who's familiar Rifts Earth, can read, and has hands that can use a human-sized keyboard. A campaign like that is unlikely, but an animated series would be pretty cool. –  Hey I Can Chan May 6 at 17:45

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