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Entry updated 5 March 2017. Tagged: Game.

Role Playing Game (1990). Palladium Books (PB). Designed by Kevin Siembieda.

Rifts is less a game of Science and Sorcery than it is one of Superscience and Supersorcery. The game's milieu is derived from a somewhat unlikely Future History, which begins with the destruction of a twenty-first-century scientific utopia by a devastating nuclear war. The psychic shock caused by the resulting megadeaths rips open the eponymous tears in space-time, portals which lead to the past, the future, alien stars and Parallel Worlds. This mystical apocalypse also energizes Earth's network of ley lines, making the hidden power of Magic far easier to use than it is in the modern world, and causes Atlantis to rise again. Several hundred years later the American continent is a vast wilderness inhabited by scattered agricultural communities, refugees from alien dimensions, wandering mutants, supernatural predators and the crypto-fascist human supremacists who represent technological civilization. This is the time in which the game is set – a colourful, fragmented world of clashing tropes and pulp fiction dreams.

Both the original game and the 2005 Ultimate Edition allow players to use characters and creatures taken from all of the various Role Playing Games created by Palladium, even when their genres would normally be thought incompatible. Thus Rifts can draw upon the contemporary adventures of Ninjas and Superspies (1988 PB) designed by Erick Wujcik, the Sword and Sorcery of the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game (1983 PB; rev 1990; rev 1998) designed by Kevin Siembieda, Erick Wujcik, the ghost hunting of Beyond the Supernatural (1988 PB; rev 2005) designed by Randy McCall, Kevin Siembieda, Erick Wujcik and the Superheroes of Heroes Unlimited (1984 PB; rev 2000) designed by Kevin Siembieda, amongst others. The overall effect is similar to that of Torg (1990) and its many supplements, but rather less sophisticated and coherent in its use of such disparate elements. Combining the systems of all these different, if related, games has probably also contributed to a certain Heath-Robinsonian quality in Rifts' mechanics. The end result, while functional, is somewhat contorted, as well as being dominated by combat and by design decisions inherited from early versions of Dungeons and Dragons (1974 Tactical Studies Rules) designed by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson. Available player character types are both extremely varied and highly specific; examples include Cyborgs, Psionic knights, Mecha pilots, chemically augmented humans, ley line magicians, Uplifted dog handlers and techno-wizards. Arguably, however, the numerous options are poorly balanced, with some choices being too clearly superior to the rest (see Worlds in Balance). Ultimately, Rifts is something of a feast of enablements, in which every player has the chance to design the superpowered character of their fantasies and equip them with the biggest gun they can find. This is not an ethos which lends itself to aesthetic subtlety or moral ambiguity.

Related works: Rifts: Chaos Earth (2003 PB) designed by Kevin Siembieda is another Role Playing Game, set in the immediate aftermath of the holocaust which created the world of the original work. Rifts: Promise of Power (2005 Backbone Entertainment, Phone) is a turn-based "tactical RPG" (see Computer Wargames) designed by Kevin Siembieda, Trent Ward and displayed in an Isometric three-dimensional view; reviews were generally enthusiastic. RIFTS Collectible Card Game (2001 Precedence Entertainment) designed by Kevin Tewart, Mike Hummel is a Collectible Card Game in which each player adopts the role of a Post-Holocaust nation.

Adam Chilson has written a trilogy of spinoff novels: Sonic Boom (1999), Deception's Web (1999) and Treacherous Awakenings (2000). Tales of the Chi-Town 'Burbs (anth 2008) edited by Kevin Siembieda collects short fiction. Machinations of Doom (graph 2007) is a Graphic Novel by Ramón Pérez which also includes some role-playing information. Path of the Storm (2011) contains the screenplay for an unmade Rifts film, written by Matthew Clements. [NT]


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