Rifts (1990)

By popular request, here is Rifts!

While Palladium Games has a long history before Rifts (which we’ll get to later in the week), this is the game that made them the #3 RPG maker for over a decade. Released in 1990, it presented an Earth beset by multidimensional tears that warp the world we know into a variety of strange and dangerous lands. (For example, back in October, I covered Vampire Kingdoms, which turned Central America into an undead paradise.) There must have been something in the air, because West End Games’ TORG has the same premise (and is better executed – sorry Rifts fans!).

Rifts is bonkers, pure and simple. It caters to players who want to fight deranged giant robots and demons with the biggest explosions possible. Its (extremely arcane) rules system is built for bombastic, over-powered play, so it is no surprise that Rifts initial audience was found among teenagers who had never previously played RPGs. In fact, creator Kevin Siembieda started his career as an illustrator and would-be comic book artist. Perhaps because of this, Rifts books were a staple on shelves in local comic shops in the early 90s (or, at least, my local comic shops).

There is something about Rifts that seems unbound (or unleashed, or unhinged), like it is the product of a never-ending brain storming session where everything gets increasingly bigger and badder and, generally, covered in skulls. Artist Kevin Long does a great job making all these disparate things seem super cool (god, his art style is frickin’ amazing) but it always seemed a little much to me. There’s magic and tech and high tech and super-high-tech and psionics and animal people and faction after faction. And so many skulls!

Take me with a grain of salt: I’ve never played Rifts. The rules are too dense and my tastes just run toward more plausible settings. That said, I still love it after a fashion. It delivers the gonzo promise of those long ago ads in Dragon Magazine in spades and captures the anything-goes attitude of 90s RPGs.

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