Jeffro Johnson (@johnsonjeffro) started talking about RIFTS from Palladium Games on Xitter a few months ago, examining what was exciting about the system, attempting to solo play within it, and hyping the game up in general. He gets REALLY excited about a thing from time to time and when he does, his energy is pretty contagious. This led to JD Sauvage (@jdsauvage), a talented writer and gamer, to start lore posting with tidbits about the different factions in RIFTS and how he perceived them with tons of influence from video games, anime, and 80s cartoons.
I watched this with some trepidation. I want to play in all the games with all the bros. This spreads me pretty thin through the week and at any given time I'm active in 4-6 games. I didn't really want to get into another one but they were making it sound so COOL. When JD started actively recruiting for session play, I resisted. When the #Riftsbros started feeding it, I resisted. When it actually looked like there were going to be sessions, I couldn't help it. I had to at least see what was going on.
I downloaded some books and rolled up a character. This took a while. There are a ton of skills to choose from and many that modify other abilities. One of JD's posted factions was from Fallout which I've never played, but it sounded cool. I ended up with Captain Jim Hook of the Order of Steel. Captain Hook was the obvious name when my random black market item was a cage of fairies (Tinkerbells). We hammered out what the Order was actually like in-world and JD dropped a starter hook for my PC to chase. I was in the game.
JD is a "yes, and" type of DM. If your idea is cool and he can riff off of it, then he's going to say yes and add to it. This leads to an amazing always-on atmosphere with the DM generating hooks and running small ops with various players throughout the week that lead up to the sessions where someone puts forth an idea for something to be tackled as a group. This is where it got rough for me to watch as a player and I couldn't even imagine DMing. Huge props to the man for keeping his head straight.
There are no procedures to randomly generate anything. Everything has to be handcrafted for the session or event, or some Frankenstein'ing of systems has to happen to give you some tools to work with. JD went with the latter, stealing whatever he could from other systems to give him something to work with in terms of generating within the world to actually interact with.
Furthermore, the combat mechanics are clunky. It took us a long time to adjudicate relatively simple combats early on. Even with adjustments made and more experience with the system, combats just take forever due to how much rolling has to happen to fire, dodge, parry, multiple attacks per entity, etc. Add in a large party with many henchmen and it's a drag.
Finally, the XP system is subjective, which I absolutely hate. I prefer a tangible value per GP earned, or monster killed, or idk, something. But the advancement is contingent on several subjective criteria like how tough you think a monster was or how smart you think your idea was. It's a terrible mechanic mitigated only by JD's open-handed DMing style. I can only imagine the frustration players would experience begging for xp with a more control-freak style DM.
We had a lot of fun generating our different factions and getting into the setting. We ended up with an Adeptus Mechanicus wannabe, Spuds McKenzie of classic beer commercial fame, a Veritech pilot, an Astartes wannabe, a psyker sekrit agent man, a few spec ops dudes, a dwarven ranger, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others. There were a lot of us.
It was a powerful party with a lot of resources at our disposal which made our success rate pretty stellar. It was also an insane mix of different power levels and source material that felt like playing with your action figures as a kid. GI Joe riding the TRex to stomp out the Lego base vibes.
We led a task force to neutralize bug alien hives, we nuked a demon tree with mouths by delivering the payload inside, we rescued a princess from vampires, and several other wild schemes. What became apparent in a high tech setting over the classic medieval fantasy setting is that with time to recon, plan an op, and acquire resources, most tasks or objectives become essentially trivial. We had all the toys and the dudes in our group knew how to use them.
I've really enjoyed the deviation from the standard fantasy setting, despite my first love always lying that way. I think I've gotten everything I wanted to out of RIFTS and can't appreciate enough the group of amazing players that I've gotten to game with. I learn something new every day from them and that's a blessing for sure. I wouldn't play RIFTS again unless I got caught up in another swell of enthusiasm from the bros. It requires too much DM fiat and has too few tools to support him.