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Ode to Rifts

The Grim Tidings Podcast recently wrote an article lauding D&D as an inspiration for many of their grimdark guests (which I hope to join the ranks of some day). And while I played me some D&D (usually as a mage/ thief, because I was obviously not popular in high school), the great RPG influencer in my sordid life story is the Palladium system RIFTS.

If you weren’t a 90s nerd, Rifts is a post apocalypse Earth where 90% of the population died, the psychic deluge of their deaths opening the eponymous rifts through space and time and ushering magic and monsters into the world in equal amounts. What Rifts was (is?) was an intentional mish-mash/ mixtape of every genre out there, combining cyberpunk with psionics, mutants with monsters, and high-technology with high-magic.

I really do think this cover sums it up perfectly.

You want to play an infant, shapeshifting dragon? No problem. How about a mutant bloodhound raised by an American neo-Nazi nation intent on exterminating all magic? Done. What about a roided-out warrior with a ticking time bomb for a heart and laser chainsaw for a weapon? Cool.

And that was just in the first book, of which I think there are 80 of now. Just off the top of my head, I know I owned the first two sourcebooks (Mechanoids, yo), England (favorite by far), Africa, Oceans, Europe, Vampires, South America, Wormwood, New West, Atlantis (probably second favorite), the Conversion book, and… well, I forgot the one out in space (not Mutants in Orbit, mind you), but I had those two too.

And though I haven’t seen any of those books in probably ten years, I could still probably find the stats on a Millennium Tree or a Splugorth Slaver (pictured above) in seconds. And the damage for the three-shot burst of the Wilks 457 is forever etched into my memory as 1d6x10 MDC.

But all these books’ effect was much greater than this.

I’ve mentioned before that to me genres are Traditional Martial Arts and I live in a Mixed Martial Arts world where I pick and choose techniques from each of the traditions for what works at the time while discarding the rest. Because of this, I am not beholden to any one genre convention and I firmly believe that Rifts’ mixing and matching of genres had a lot to do with establishing this mindset.

Perhaps equally as important, it was through Rifts that I first tried my hand at GMing, which was how I spent 99% of my Palladium gaming experiences. As all GMs know, a campaign does not exist in a vacuum, instead requiring hours of preparation to pick out a plot, design a fitting setting, and populate it with NPCs. And I didn’t fool around with any of these aspects either; filling notebooks and notebooks full of NPCs with not just stats, but backstories, and the regions with their own religions and cultures.

Because, to me, the game was never about how many monsters the players killed, but the story that unfolded along the way.

Though I was unaware of it at the time, these GMing sessions and pre-game preparations helped me as an aspiring author later by teaching me to invest the time into really make the world feel lived in and characters well-rounded. How well I’ve pulled this off remains in question, but because of Rifts I always put in the effort.

Over last Christmas, my parents made me go through all the piles of stuff I left at their house, and I found a box full of Rifts books. These were the last in my collection that has dwindled over the years, and I made sure they got a good home instead of deserting them to either the trash or a used books store. Because these books not only provided me hours upon hours of entertainment over the years, but helped forge me into the writer I am today, and for that they deserved at least a mention here on the site.


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MD Presley is a screenwriter, blogger and occasional novelist… which basically means he’s a layabout.  He has written two books on fantasy worldbuilding, and teaches worldbuilding techniques, tricks, and tips at Forging Fantasy Realms once a week on YouTube. 

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