M's Reviews > Rifts Ultimate Edition

Rifts Ultimate Edition by David  Martin
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Apr 09, 2017

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction, roleplaying
Read from March 22 to April 08, 2017

This is effectively the 15th anniversary edition of Rifts, and is much more of a version 1.5 or even 1.25 than a proper second edition. In comparison to the original 1990 edition, this book is over 100 pages longer, though it honestly doesn't add too much new information. Instead, the focus is largely on updating and revising the core material. There are a few new classes and major options, including the rather underwhelming and generic robot pilot and mercenary classes and the much cooler Elemental Fusionist (think Avatar the Last Airbender). The setting material is updated to 109 PA, to put the core book in line with various metaplot changes, and most of the old classes have been given new skill lists and some new abilities to bring them in line with the myriad sourcebooks that have been published for Rifts. Probably the most significant update is clarifying the Headhunter as a partial cyborg character, but it's nice to give the scholar classes small boosts (even if they still kinda suck) and have revised skill lists for everyone.

Rifts in general is a big mess of different concepts and characters and ideas. Over three hundred years after a nuclear/magic catastrophe ended the Golden Age of Humanity, we're only slowly clawing our way back into civilized shape. And thanks to holes in reality, the titular Rifts, Earth is filled with elves, dwarves, vampires, dragons, gods, and all sorts of other sci-fi and fantasy beasties. The game is designed not only to provide rules for all sorts of setting and genre elements, but to put them together into one world. In North America alone, you can do Star Wars style fighting against the evil empire of the fascist Coalition States, wander into a horror film courtesy of tons of vampires in Mexico, have fantasy adventures in the wilderness, and do cyberpunk type stuff in the handful of megacities that have sprung up.
There's a nice variety of character concepts and classes, ranging from rogue historians to knights in shining hypertech armor to basically Jedi to wizards that blend magic and technology. The classes aren't balanced too well, though I think if you go off of just this book, the fighters are likely to come out ahead of the wizards, which is a nice change from much of D&D. And, really, the system is a lot like old-school D&D with some improvements. Armor reduces damage rather than making it harder to hit, all attack rolls are sensibly about rolling high, there's a percentile skill system, and magic points instead of spells per day.

Admittedly I worry that combat might end up dragging, especially since the guys that don't go down in one hit have a lot of HP, and the attacks per round kinda stack up. However, the combat system is kinda cool and manages to have some neat bits to it. Plus, while the system has definite warts and flaws, that's what you get from something that hasn't changed much since the 90s. And, more importantly, there's more than enough flavor in the setting that I can forgive the potential clunkiness of the mechanics. If there's one flaw with reading this book it's that all the references to different parts of the world and setting make me want to go out and buy lots more Rifts books. Unfortunately, some of this is almost necessary, as key useful stats and spells have been left out, clearly to sell more books. Still, if you're willing to make stuff up, or just stick to a campaign of fighting raiders and future Nazis, you could do a fun game with just this core book. I feel like the original gray softcover was a bit more complete in some ways, but the Ultimate Edition of Rifts is a pretty good book for a wonderfully gonzo campaign world and definitely worth getting if you want to give Rifts a go. I know I certainly want to get a game going after having read this.
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