Sunday, July 2, 2023

The Culture: The Game That Could Have Topped AD&D But The Designer Couldn't Be Bothered

I usually talk about RPG campaign play in the context of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition.

Let's shift over to another popular game to see how the exact same approach achieves the same result: Palladium's RIFTS.

1:1 Timekeeping

Characters in RIFTS need to spend time to recover spent power (PPE for magic-users, ISP for psychics, Chi for martial artists if using Ninjas & Superspies, etc.) as as well to recover from injuries and to repair damaged gear/vehicles and replenish spent consumables (e.g. ammunition).

Characters have to spend time in transit and in negotiating encounters- combat or otherwise. All of that adds up. While RIFTS has no mandatory downtime for training to level up, recovery time is still present as is certain time costs for learning new abilities (varying a lot). This can easily take a character out of action for some time, or put him in a position of not using his preferred gear/vehicles/powers due to that mandatory downtime. (The Glitter Boy pilot ain't taking the field in his pilot suit.)

Furthermore, some abilities impose considerable time costs just to use them (e.g. summoning rituals) or are on a mandatory cooldown timer after use- both of these also need to be accounted for and tracked. Others are enhanced or penalized under certain time-determined conditions (time of day, time of year, etc.) with similar requirements.

Just as AD&D1e's timekeeping forces players to bench characters and play others, so it will be in RIFTS; send the Full Conversion Cyborg into the meatgrinder and he's going to be in the shop for a while or (if he's savvy and rich enough) forced to swap bodies to return to action sooner (at the cost of putting that spare into downtime once damaged or expended).

Faction Play

RIFTS is stuffed full of playable factions at all levels of campaign play. The Grand RIFTS Campaign has everyone from literal gods to bandit warlords in backwater wastelands as faction leaders, all of which can (in theory) interact due to how easy it is for those capable of using leylines to go wherever (and, with some effort, when).

That you could run a generations-long campaign in full on Kriegspeil manner with regular (and, with help, frequent) Braunstein episodes just on this level should tell you how much of a wargame RIFTS really is.

And, while the formal structure of AD&D1e is missing, the presumptions are still evident; you could start play with a squad or more of minions at your command, building up from there. Combined with the strict timekeeping above and you could easily have one week where your Imperial Admiral's massive fleet of tens of thousands of capital ships go into battle over a planet and the following week you're playing a team of third parties attempting to slip past both sides to steal the battle's objective out from under them all.

Multiple Referees

You'd have to if you wanted to do more than a small region on a single part of a single world, and given the relative easy of long-distance travel it is best that you do have them.

Always On

Again, easy-peasy to do once strict timekeeping is in place. Everything you'd do for an AD&D1e campaign works here.

Rules As Written

Here is where you're going to run into problems. Uncle Kevin, unlike Gary and Dave, was neither a good technical writer nor their equal as a rules designer. Palladium is notorious for terrible rules design and technical writing, to the point where the procedure for Character Generations can contradict itself at least twice before a user has a clue as to what to do or how.

The other big problem is that Palladium has always presumed some familiarity with D&D and uses that presumed familiarity to explain how it is alike and different to justify itself. While AD&D1e can be, is now, and has been run strictly by the rules to fantastic and amazing results that cannot be said of RIFTS and Uncle Kevin was a Rule Zero Enjoyer well before that term was employed- and he was one of the earliest proponents of it, with the evidence being the tofu dreg quality of the game's design.

You will find yourself resort to that AD&D1e DMG a lot, and then supplementing it with Gamma World, in order to do what Kevin--in that Boomer way--refused to bother doing for all these years and turning vague statements into proper procedures. (Remember, this is a 1990 game; he had no excuse then and certain does not now.)

If the OSR crowd wanted to stop doing B/X clones, then they ought to start cloning RIFTS. Then they could honestly claim to be producing superior versions.


If you just can't get away from rules tinkering, but otherwise you're on board with the #BROSR, then I challenge you to unfuck RIFTS. I took a shot at it a while back.

Next Sunday, I'll do this with TORG.


  1. Has anyone attempted to clone Rifts or Torg?

    1. Give it time. RIFTS is easier than it seems, and you don't even need the OGL to do it.

      TORG is harder due to its gimmicks being wired into the core of the mechanical design, but it can be done.


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