The Allspark’s Savage Rifts Player’s Guide Preview-Review!

The last time I posted about Savage Rifts was to bring up awareness of the Kickstarter campaign that was shattering records by being funded in just a few minutes. I also mentioned that once I got the books I’d review them. Well, my calls were heard across the Megaverse and Pinnacle answered them by providing me with a preview copy of the Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide which is the catch all for the basic player’s handbook and everything you’ll need as a player to get started. There are two other books on the horizon though — The GM’s Guide, which will cover the Game Mastering side of things as well as the Rifts Savage Foes book so you’re characters will have plenty to keep them busy (and frankly tons of other stuff through various Kickstarter levels and stretch goals — check out the Kickstarter for more details). For now, onto the review…
I think it bears mentioning that the first thing you encounter by opening this book may not seem like a big deal. Many books have them, after all. I’m talking about the foreword. But this foreword is of particular import because it’s from none other than the creator of Rifts himself, Kevin Siembieda, the creator of Rifts. Kevin has been notably picky over the years about how and where his intellectual properties from Palladium Books are used and licensed out. Especially Rifts. One of the big questions I’ve seen people buzzing with was “What’s Palladium’s take on this?” or “What does Kevin think about all this?” – some were afraid he wasn’t going to be involved or give his blessing and some were afraid he’s be involved TOO much. The fact is though, it’s probably somewhere in the middle. He obviously signed off on this project for it to come to life in the first place, but he also, through his foreword, gives his seal of approval. As a long time fan of Rifts, that’s a pretty big deal.
The setting has most of what you’d expect in terms of classes, known as Iconic Frameworks in the Savage Worlds system, to give the flavor of the Rifts Earth. (Note: I’ll probably end up using the terms classes and frameworks interchangably. This isn’t necessarily intentional, but old habits die hard. Generally, if you see one thing or the other, they both refer to the formal Iconic Frameworks designation.) The frameworks themselves are broken up into four categories:
Masters of War – These represent the heavy hitters on Rifts earth including Combat Cyborg (also known as the Full Conversion ‘Borg), Crazy, Cyber-Knight, Glitter Boy, and Juicer. If power and front line fighting is the name of your game, these guys each deliver in their own way.
M.A.R.S – Which stands for Mercenaries, Adventurers, Rogues and Scholars. These are your everyman (or everywoman) type classes that allow players to pick and choose desired skillsets to tailor a character with specific abilities and traits that excel in areas other than combat such as diplomacy, repair, knowledge and healing. You may not be able to take a Boom Gun to the face, but you can probably fix up your fellow party members who had that unfortunate circumstance befall them. You can develop your own package or pick from one of the pre-built selections including Body-Fixer/Cyber-Doc, City Rat, Cybernetic Techno Warrior (aka Headhunter), Merc Soldier, Operator, Power Armor Soldier, Psi-Operator, Robot Armor Pilot, Rogue Scholar, Vagabond, and Wilderness Scout.
Psychic Powerhouses – Many on Rifts Earth have psionics but the two classes presented in this category excel at them. Both the Burster and the iconic Mind-Melter are available.
Master of Magic – It goes without saying that in the ley line empowered world of Rifts Earth magic is a force to be reckoned with. These notable frameworks include the Ley Line Walker, Mystic, and Techno-Wizard.
So, if you’re keeping count, that’s almost two dozen distinct and playable classes/frameworks to get you started. And from what I’ve read they’ve all had a lot of thought put into them to make them unique not only between each other, but also within each framework depending on what your Hero’s Journey options are (This is a part of character creation that gives each class its own special flavors to roll or choose from offering additional perks and narratives).
Also, in keeping with the themes from the original game, there is a system in place for Mega Damage (or MDC) for robots, power armor and some weapons. As with many aspects of this translation, this isn’t an exact conversion (and frankly, if you’re looking for an exact replica of Palladium’s Rifts rules, might as well stick with that if it’s working for you) but rather a theme that lets player’s experience raw power and defense. It’s been a while since I read my original Rifts books, but I seem to recall an example of the author explaining why anyone in the world would want to use or own an SDC weapon (A weapon that does normal damage in Palladium’s system) when MDC weapons are readily available. The example given was that if you were out hunting game, while on one hand you’d want something to defend yourself from the monsters that roam the world, you don’t really want to shoot a deer with a mega damage weapon. Otherwise, your dinner would end up little more than a red misty smear on the ground.
Savage Worlds has taken this to the next level so that even ordinary meatbag humans don’t have to feel like they can’t step out of the house without getting atomized in the crossfire of some shoot out.
Basically, if it’s big and powerful like a tank, or a walking tank in the case of power armor, it has the Savage Worlds Heavy Armor quality meaning that no amount of damage from a mundane weapon can so much as scratch it. On the same token, if you have a Heavy Weapon you CAN do damage to the Heavy Armored opponent normally. It’s just that when you use your Heavy Weapon on normal targets, it also does regular damage. Most Heavy Weapons (Which are still called Mega Damage Weapons in Savage Rifts) do a lot of damage anyway, so it won’t seem unbalanced at all.
And as with all Savage Worlds games, you’ll find some unique aspects of the normal rules such as a chart for Super Strength that covers robot and supernatural creators (And a list of things they can throw at you like trees and cars), skills, edges and hindrances.
For casters, there’s a solid system for PPE and ISP (Which, while interchangeable with the Savage Worlds term Power Points, offer a unique experience for psionics and magic users) that will the benefits of being augmented by proximity to ley lines and nexuses for PPE users. There’s also a loose guideline of GM’s being able to decide if a ley line is nearby or not, so only the most powerful nexus points are ‘hard coded’ onto maps and things.
There’s also a surprising amount of familiar gear listed in the equipment section. Familiar names such as Wilk’s, Triax, NGR and others make their return in everything from weapons, armor, power armor and giant robots that can hold an entire crew, as well as a wide variety of ordinary ground vehicles.
Suffice to say, if anyone had any fears of there not being enough stuff packed into this 96 page guide, rest assured. The Rifts setting is a big place and there are many things likely in store for us, but this is more than enough to get your feet wet and have many exciting adventures.
So what’s missing? Well, there are a few player classes missing from the line up such as the Shifter. Hints from Sean Patrick Fannon have indicated that the Iconic Framework for the Shifter (and perhaps a few others) will show up in the foes book.
There’s also the stark absence of almost anything related to the Coalition States with the exception of a few footnotes in the history. Yes, they will show up in the GM’s Guide and in the Foes book — but this one actually bugs me because one of the things about the factions in Rifts is that morally, it’s all pretty grey. The Coalition being singled out as the villains of the story diminishes the every day struggles of the average CS citizen and many of its foot soldiers. As with any nation, the population and the armed forces are made up of a variety of hearts and souls and the corruption is from the top down. But, I digress.
Lastly, there’s the introduction of the new faction of The Tomorrow Legion. Created explicitly to give characters a heroic starting place and context in the crazy, messed up world, the Tomorrow Legion has a variety of in game tools to set players on an adventure path. Personally, I feel this will probably be more beneficial to Savage Worlds players than current of former Rifts players, but ultimately every GM is going to run their game the way that suits them and their group.
As an aside, I’ll probably stick to the smaller scope adventures of survival and exploration starting out. I last ran a Rifts game in 2012 and as I recall the meat of the story revolved around a Mind Melter and a Borg who were essentially dirt farmers in Kentucky. Their mom sent them to the local trading post to mail a package. When they got there, the post master said he’d mail it for free if they did him the favor of traveling south (Through the magic zone) to find out what happened to his courier who hasn’t returned in 3 weeks. Something.. something.. got lost.. something something.. got to a town that had been taken over by changelings.. something something.. had to stop the Shifter from sacrificing all the townsfolk and opening a Rift to bring thousands of changelings to Earth… etc.
Anyway… I’m very excited about this game because it really does seem to do almost everything right. There’s possibly a few things that might get house ruled, but I figure I better just wait and see on both the final edits of the guide (after all, this IS a beta preview).