Early in my first year at the University of Colorado — it may have even been the first day of classes — I boarded the bus that shuttled students between the campus and my off-campus dorm. There I spotted another student wearing a tee shirt advertising a tabletop roleplaying game called Rifts. I was a gamer myself, but having grown up in a stiflingly small town, I had a hard time finding other players. So I was excited to meet someone with similar interests. I awkwardly struck up a conversation with this tall stranger, one thing led to another, and twenty-six years later, we’re making comics together.
Rifts was a huge hit in the 90s, and it still has a dedicated following today. That kind of long-term success is rare in the RPG industry, and in Rifts’ case, it’s likely due to its setting. In any description of Rifts’ setting, you’re likely to encounter the words “kitchen sink” and “gonzo,” and it’s easy to see why. This setting has a little bit of everything: post apocalyptic science fiction, high fantasy, cyberpunk, horror, super heroes, you name it. In fact, by its very nature, the setting makes literally anything possible. You could bring any concept into your game, and it would be right at home.
The backstory began when a long-forgotten world war brought death on a massive scale. The psychic energy unleashed by the billions of deaths coalesced into ley lines that criss-crossed the earth. Where these lines converged, the titular rifts sometimes open, allowing all manor of beings to cross over from other dimensions — other realities — into our own. Many decades later, the world is a very different place. Magic exists, and there are those who have mastered it. Dimensional beings, or d-bees, walk the earth, sometimes coexisting with humans, and sometimes warring with them. A totalitarian regime called the Coalition rules much of North America with an iron fist, officially at odds with all d-bees and users of magic.
Best of all, this crazy variety was reflected in player character options. While many of Rifts’ contemporaries had you playing your typical warriors, wizards, and thieves, Rifts allowed you to play as combat cyborgs, cyber-knights, powerful mages called ley line walkers, mutant dog men, supersoldiers whose power came from drugs (juicers) or brain implants (crazies), way-cooler-than-they-sound mech pilots called Glitter Boys, or even honest-to-god dragons! It was really unlike anything that had come before. It was big, it was weird, it was loud, and it was a hulluvalotta fun. But…
Unfortunately, the rules were showing their age even in 1990. The publisher, Palladium Books, had been using these rules for all of their games for years. Their creator, Kevin Siembieda, was as protective of his creation as he was resistant to change, and though Rifts is published to this day, the rules have barely changed. Until now…
Enter Sean Patrick Fannon, a veteran game designer, who has (much to the surprise of the gaming community) been granted the opportunity to translate Rifts into the immensely popular Savage Worlds rules. Savage Worlds, created by Shane Hensley, is branded as “Fast, Furious, and Fun,” and it lives up to this slogan admirably. It’s designed with low GM preparation and fast-paced cinematic action in mind. In many ways, it’s the exact opposite of Palladium’s system. While Palladium uses a rather rigid class-and-level system of character creation and advancement, Savage Worlds is skill-based and flexible. Where Palladium’s combat often involves slowly chipping away at an opponent’s hit points, Savage Worlds’s combat system is simple and extremely fast, while still being detailed enough to allow deep tactical choices. (I recently ran a Specialists game at a local convention using Savage Worlds, and it worked great!)
So, if these two systems are so different, how good could a translation possibly be? Pretty damn great, as it turns out. I was recently surprised to discover that Mr. Fannon lives just a couple of suburbs away from me, and I was lucky enough to join in a Savage Rifts campaign he was running at a local game shop. From what I’ve seen, this really is the best of both worlds. It has all the larger-than-life, anything-goes awesomeness of Rifts combined with the fast-paced elegance of Savage Worlds. This is partially a testament to the flexibility of Savage Worlds, but also to the blood, sweat, and tears that Sean has poured into it. He says that this has been the most challenging game design effort of his long career, and I can believe it, but it’s also an unqualified success.
Fans of Savage Worlds will love this expansive and exciting new setting. Fans of Rifts will love the well-oiled machine of the Savage Worlds rules (and don’t worry; many of the signature concepts of the Palladium system, like Mega-Damage, Potential Psychic Energy, and Inner Strength Points have equivalents in the Savage Worlds version). If you’ve never played either, then now’s your chance to get on board. These are two great games that game great together.
As I write this, there’s over a week left in the Kickstarter campaign, which has already cleared a couple dozen stretch goals, resulting in the addition of tons of extra content. If you’re a gamer, check it out. It’s going to be huge, and this is just the beginning!