Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tommy's Take on the Savage Rifts Player's Guide

So to my surprise, I had an email waiting for me, with the Savage Rifts Player's Guide (part of the Savage Rifts Kickstarter, coming Tuesday) inside.


Intrigued, I opted to take a look...

Look, we're gonna be honest here: Rifts is a pretty controversial game. Not really because of the content, but because Palladium (the publisher of Rifts) and its creator are pretty polarizing entities in the industry. Palladium has a track record for keeping a TIGHT leash on the Rifts IP, so the announcement of a Savage Worlds conversion shocked more than a few people.

I love Savage Worlds. Most anyone who has read this blog knows that. I've never really gotten into Rifts (ran it once), and am not a fan of the Palladium house system. So to say I was underwhelmed with the Rifts announcement would be an understatement. That said, people were clearly excited (both in Pinnacle and out of it), so more power to them, right?

I put this out there just so you understand where I'm approaching this review from. Savage Worlds fanboy? Yes. Rifts fanboy? No.

The format of the Player's Guide will be very familiar for people who have been following Savage Worlds the last few years. 96 pages, full color, lots of character creation options, a little bit of setting information with most of the juicy info saved for the presumed GM book.

So let's talk about that.

First off, character creation gets one huge change, in which you now pick an Iconic Framework, which is a whole package of gear, Edges, Hindrances and special abilities. This means that a Rifts character is going to be MUCH more "loaded" right out of the gate than a Savage Worlds character in most other games. This is reminiscent of Archetypes from Streets of Bedlam, allowing you to pull together all of the various elements that are part and parcel of a given character type, not unlike picking a character class (though your advancement options are still wide open after that). I won't profess to know what are considered essential options for Rifts, as my last experience with it was decades ago, but I recognized a lot of the choices here:
  • Glitterboy
  • Juicer
  • Crazy
  • Cyber-Knight
  • Burster
  • Mind Melters
  • Ley-Line Walkers
  • Mystics
  • Techno-Wizard
  • Combat Cyborg
  • M.A.R.S. - Which is kind of a big package meant to replicate Occupational Character Classes from Rifts. These characters also begin as Seasoned, gaining four advances.
Another huge deviation for Savage Worlds are the random charts you roll on when making a character. Yep, you read that right! Randomized elements in your character creation. There are a number of charts to roll on called Benefits Tables, such as Combat Armor, Cybernetics, Enchanted Items & Mystic Gadgets, Experience & Wisdom and more. Sometimes your Framework tells you exactly which tables you get to roll on. Sometimes it tells you to pick a number of tables to roll on. For instance, rolling on Education may give you Knowledge (Politics) d8 and +2 to Persuasion rolls. The Ranged Weapons table may let you start with a Portable Rocket Launcher. Underworld & Black Ops may grant you the Assassin Edge, as well as a +2 bonus to Fighting, Shooting and Throwing rolls, only applicable to countering Called Shot penalties. M.A.R.S. characters have an additional table to roll on called Fortune & Glory, which can grant Edges, equipment or skills.

The next thing worth noting is terminology. M.D.C. (the high level damage from Rifts) is emulated here with Heavy Damage/Armor/Weapons from Savage Worlds, though it keeps the M.D.C. terminology. Similarly, Power Points are replaced with ISP (Inner Strength Points) and PPE (Potential Psychic Energy). If you're coming from a Savage Worlds background, make note of the changes in terminology. I suspect this is partially to make those who may be coming from Rift feel right at home, and I can't argue with that. I suspect there will be a complaint about Heavy Damage not feeling strong enough. In my Savage Worlds supers games, this felt like an issue...but there we're talking rolling 2d6 with a Heavy Weapon modifier, not shooting a Heavy Weapon with 4d10+4 damage, which hurts me just to think about it.


There is a slew of Rifts specific gear, including a wide selection of cybernetics. This uses the Strain system from the Sci-Fi companion, meaning there is only so much you can slap in the human body before it begins rejecting it.

Magic, like most other things in Savage Rifts, gets a giant kick in the pants. When near Ley Lines, those who use PPE can channel the power from the Ley Lines to fuel their abilities, giving them the ability to lay down some impressive firepower and effects above and beyond their own relatively limited pool. Additionally, Psionics can use Master Psionics, which lets a psychic take a normal psychic power and amp it up, such as turning Intangibility into Astral Form, Environmental Protection into Life Support, Darksight into Psychic Omni-Sight (which not only eliminates all vision penalties, but eliminates gang up bonuses as well) and so on. Arcane users are not left out, gaining Mega Trappings such as Banish the Horde, which can zap a whole group of demons back to their home, Onslaught (which can dump either a brutal Bolt down on your opponents for 6d6 damage OR fire 2d6 Bolts), an Exalted Burst (for 2d12+2 damage), or even Resurrection if you have Greater Healing! Honestly, this stuff right here is worth stealing for anyone who has ever thought that the power level of the default Savage Worlds powers is too weak.

Edges and Hindrances are always fun, and a bunch of new Edges (and a few Hindrances) made it into the book. Right off the bat, I love the I Know A Guy Edge, which means you pretty much always "know a guy" wherever you go, though that guy may not always be on great terms with you. Master of Magic grants you access to the Mega Trappings mentioned above, while the Master Psionic version grants access to the Master Psionics mentioned above. As well, most of the Iconic Frameworks gain a number options for Edges specific to their Framework.

The last thing I want to talk about are the Setting Rules.

The Setting Rules are f'n Gold.

Blood & Guts, Born a Hero, Joker's Wild and Critical Failures are used from the Savage Worlds core rules, as well as new chart (Death & Defeat) that characters roll on upon dying, reducing the chances of actual death significantly, though the rolls on the table have a number of interesting effects (including waking up from the attack with nothing but superficial injuries, setting up a plot hook for the player and GM to work out). Similar to Deadlands Fate chips, you can spend a benny to add a d6 to a die roll, and - my personal favorite - you can go out in a Blaze of Glory. Get Incapacitated? You can choose to end it on your terms, removing the Wounds from the last attack, gaining three bennies and going nuts in one last scene...though, when that scene is over, that's it, kaput, the end. A very cool rule that I'll gladly lift for other games (when appropriate).

My final impression? They ain't playing it safe with this one. Pinnacle is stepping outside the bounds of their own system and pushing the envelope to attempt to capture the over the top power level and action of Rifts, in the Savage Worlds framework. In doing so, they lay a blueprint of what the Savage World system can be made to do if one is willing to work outside of the conservative conversion and setting advice that has been something of a sacred cow for the last several years. My gut says that if a third party licensee tried to go this far afield, the reception would be much more conscious. As a fan, I hope that Pinnacle showing this level of commitment to breaking this kind of ground expands the horizons for fans, products and licensees alike.

In the end, this promises to be the most compelling Savage Worlds release, from a mechanical perspective, since Accursed and its Witchmarks.

Look for the Kickstarter on Tuesday the 26th. I suspect Pinnacle's website will have a link when it goes live.