The Big Massive Guide to Rifts

Way back in the day, I used to run a game review website called The Time-Waster’s Guide. We covered games of every kind, from board games to card games to roleplaying games and everything in between, and we counted among our contributors such luminaries as a pre-publication Brandon Sanderson (who wrote under the pen name Evil Undead Overlord, or EUOL). With the current Kickstarter campaign for Savage Worlds Rifts, I’ve been thinking a lot about this old site, because I am a Rifts FANATIC. It’s not my favorite roleplaying system, but it is my favorite roleplaying setting, hands down, no questions asked. I love Rifts, and I want everyone to love it, so I’m reprinting (and slightly updating) some of my old articles about it. This article will serve as the central tentpole, with links to the others: it’s a big massive guide to everything Rifts, including what it is, what it includes, and how to break down the grand abundance of available books (82, at current count) into good entry points and playable subsets. If you’ve ever wanted to know what Rifts is, or if you’ve bought into the Savage Rifts Kickstarter and want to know what other resources are available, this is the article for you.

(Please note that I don’t always group things the same way Palladium does, so if something is called, say, a World Book, but is obviously a sourcebook, I’ll put it with the sourcebooks.)

Table of Contents
Core Books
Sourcebooks
Conversion Books
World Books
Dimension Books
Adventure Supplements
Getting Started

Core Books

Savage RiftsKickstarter
This is a new edition of the game that adapts the stories, ideas, and world info into the (way more accessible and playable) Savage Worlds ruleset; if they pull it off, it will be the best of both worlds. Definitely pick this up, and then even with a different ruleset you can pick up any of the original Rifts books and use their copious amounts of brilliant storytelling in your game, with a little adaptation and elbow grease of your own.

Rifts Roleplaying Game Ultimate Edition
My review of the first edition, and my review of the Ultimate edition, which is a huge improvement. If you’re going the Savage Rifts route you technically dont need this, or really any of the Core Books, but they’re beautiful and I recommend them highly.

Rifts Gamemaster Guide
A compilation of almost every skill, map, vehicle, robot, psychic power, and piece of equipment ever printed in a Rifts book. You don’t need it to play, but you’ll want it.

Rifts Book of Magic
Does for magic what the Gamemaster Guide does for everything else. Any campaign that includes magic (and a good Rifts campaign should) will make heavy use of this book.

Rifts Bionics Sourcebook
The third of the compilations: all of the bionics and cybernetics from previous Rifts books, reprinted in a single volume. There’s also a fantastic update of the cyberpunkish City Rat character class. Not as sweepingly useful as the others Core Books, but much cheaper.

Rifts Adventure Guide
The first half contains some of the best GM information I’ve ever read, with specific and useful tips on how to build NPCs, adventures, and campaigns. The second half is not quite as good, but very handy for someone new to the setting–they go into a lot of world detail for North America, and give a lot of adventure ideas.

Rifts Aftermath
Though intended as a capstone to the Coalition Wars series (which we’ll get to later), Aftermath has a much wider use. It updates all of the world info to incorporate the events that unfolded in prior books–in other words, it gives a comprehensive overview of the politics and conditions of the known world, all in one book. If you’re going to travel around and don’t want to buy a huge pile of world books, get this one. Also: there is virtually no rules-based info in here, just pure story and background, so Savage Rifts players can use it with zero conversion necessary.

Sourcebooks

Rifts Sourcebook One, Revised
When Rifts first came out, this was a great follow-up full of juicy little bits of unrelated rules and monsters and world info; today, it’s mostly obsolete. The only can’t-miss section of the book is ARCHIE, an important and compelling AI villain, and you can arguably get all the info you need on him (maybe, kind of) from Shemarrian Nation. Everything else you can mostly get from the Gamemaster Guide.

Shemarrian Nation
A hyper-detailed look at a major villain force in eastern North America. Fantastic if you’re playing in that part of the world, skippable otherwise.

Rifts Sourcebook 3: Mindwerks
A companion to the mainland Europe world book, this book details the evil organization known as Mindwerks and gives some good stats for cyber-psionic devices. Get it if you’re playing in Europe, otherwise you can do without it.

Rifts Sourcebook 4: Coalition Navy
The Coalition is the biggest faction in North America–a group of technologically superior human supremacists. This is their navy. If you plan to do a lot of ocean-based adventures this is fairly useful, but if not then forget it.

Rifts Mercenaries
I’ve never seen a use for this book–it doesn’t add to the storyline, give any significant world info, or present anything important enough to be referenced in other books. Spend your money on cooler stuff.

MercTown
An incredibly detailed description of a bustling frontier town that has a little bit of everything. A fantastic hub from which to base a campaign, in relatively easy reach of all the major movers and shakers in North America.

MercOps
The companion to MercTown: that book has all the setting info, and this one has the story info.

Rifts Vampires
A closer look at one of Rifts’ most popular villain group. If you want to play in a vampire campaign, Vampire Kingdoms and Arzno should both come first, and then maybe New West. After that, if you’re still looking for more, this book’s got your back.

Rifts Black Market
The Black Market in Rifts Earth is not just a way to buy things illegally, it’s an actual organization, which is weird but there you go. This book goes a long way toward fleshing it out, but it doesn’t really scream Buy Me Now.

D-Bees of North America
“D-Bee” is shorthand for “Dimensional Being,” and refers to pretty much anyone non-human. This book is kind of like a monster manual for player races. Flavorful and cool, but potentially unbalancing. If someone wanted to play a non-human, this is the first place I’d send them.

Conversion Books

Rifts Conversion Book One, Revised
Primarily useful only to Palladium superfans who want to bring characters and powers from other Palladium games (Palladium Fantasy, Robotech, Heroes Unlimited, etc.) into the world of Rifts. Most games would be better off without this book to complicate things for them, but the races are pretty handy and the variety is excellent for people who really want it. If all you need is player races I’d get D-Bees of North America first.

Rifts Dark Conversions
Demons, witches, monsters, Nightbane (another Palladium game), etc., etc. Just like the above, but focusing on monsters and bad guys. The Nightbane section presents an intriguing alternate setting for Rifts Earth, if you want to blow your players’ minds.

Pantheons of the Megaverse
A handful of good ideas and a truckful of wacky crap you’ll never use. Even if you want to use gods in your campaign, you can do better than this.

World Books

Vampire Kingdoms
A unique look at vampires, especially given that they live in northern Mexico. If you don’t want vampires in your game, leave this book on the shelf. It does have some excellent city descriptions, though, and it’s absolutely overflowing with cool vampire hunting ideas and options. A foundational touchstone to the game as a whole.

Atlantis
Still one of the best world books, Atlantis has info on the Splugorth and their many minions: interdimensional slavers out to take over the megaverse. Definitely a weird book (take a gander at the Metzla, for example), but it has a lot of great villains and evil henchmen, and the section on bio-wizardry is very cool. Probably worth buying for the magic tattoos alone.

England
A weak entry in the line. The druids and the mystic herbology is neat, but the actual world info is pretty lame–combine what you know about Rifts (alien intelligences control everything) with what you know about British legend (King Arthur is cool), and you’ve got the unimaginative premise of this book. I need say nothing further.

Africa
Almost universally considered the worst world book in the game. To be fair: what’s here is good, but most of the info is about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and almost none of it is about Africa itself. It’s criminal to reduce the entire continent to one book of unrelated stuff. Think of it as an adventure supplement and you’ll like it more.

Triax and the New German Republic
Practically a second main book, with all of the classes and equipment and world info to play a game based in mainland Europe. Very tech-heavy, but combined with Mindwerks it makes a great setting.

South America 1
A little on the wacky side, this book is a bit unfocused and suffers from too much power creep. Given the level of detail in other parts of the world, there’s not much reason to go here.

Underseas
One of my favorites, but considered by many to be one of the least useful. The sheer amount of info in here is staggering, and the concepts are very original and intriguing, but if you’re not going to play an ocean-based game then it’s almost completely useless. One of the only game settings I know of where you can play a Humpback Whale with magical whale songs.

Japan
This one always felt a little rushed, but it does manage to present a lot of great ideas. The character classes are incredibly cool, the cybernetics are neat, and the various nations provide a pretty good setting for adventure. This part of the world needs more information (the China books help), but it’s playable as it is and very cool.

South America 2
More power creep, but this time in the company of some interesting ideas. You could do worse, but you could still do a whole lot better.

Coalition War Campaign
A highly detailed new look at the Coalition, the number one villain/hero/nation in North America, who continue to be a very interesting villain as well as a fascinating player character option. Plenty of gadgets for the tech-head, and a good book overall if you’re playing in North America.

Psyscape
Focused enough that it’s almost an adventure book. Has some good ideas and some cool new psychic options, but not one I’d go out of my way to pick up.

Lone Star
Lone Star is the Coalition lab situated in what used to be Texas. The book is full of useful info on mutants, experiments, Coalition plans, and the massive non-Coalition area known as the Pecos Empire. Not bad.

New West
What do you know? The western U.S. in Rifts Earth is pretty much like the western U.S. in the mid-1860s, only with more monsters and cybernetics. A well-balanced book, all things considered.

Spirit West
The mystical (read: Native American) half of the New West. Not nearly as cool as it ought to be, and largely unnecessary. Probably offensive to many Native Americans as well, now that I think back on it. Oops.

The Federation of Magic
Details on the magic-intense part of North America known as the Magic Zone. Some cool new factions, some very cool new classes, and a lot of neat spells. If you already have the Rifts Book of Magic and you’re not using the North American setting, you don’t need this. The world info is pretty cool, though, and it’s one of my favorite covers in the series.

The Warlords of Russia
Another personal favorite. Russia is a feudal land ruled by clashing warlords and their bionic armies. The politics of the various warlords are pretty detailed and suggest a lot of great stories, though the area is of admittedly narrow use (if you don’t want to tangle with the warlords, there’s not much else to do).

Mystic Russia
The magical aspects of Russia. Not as good as its companion, but it’s nice to have both if you want to run a campaign in the region.

Australia
Australia is practically cut off from the rest of the world, which makes it hard to visit but gave the writers a chance to counteract some of the power creep in the rest of the series. It’s an interesting environment for a stand-alone campaign, but hard to work into a larger one.

Canada
You kind of get the impression that they made this book just because Canada didn’t have one yet. Aside from some forgettable rules about cold weather effects, and some very nice bionic classes, there’s nothing in here worth the trouble.

Splynn Dimensional Market
Splynn is the main city on Atlantis, and the marketplace is said to be the wildest in the megaverse. The book does a pretty good job of capturing the spirit and intrigue of a place where everything you could possibly imagine is bought and sold.

Xiticix Invasion
The Xiticix are yet another faction in the turbulent politics of North America, this time in the form of insectile alien invaders. A pretty good book, all things considered, though in truth it mostly functions as a limited Monster Manual for the western great lakes area.

China One
The Ten Hells of the Yama Kings have been rifted straight into China, and the warring factions of Chinese mythology have brought their battles and intrigues to Earth. Focusing solely on the bad guys, China One is not much use without the good guys in China Two.

China Two
With a fantastic selection of wise monks, powerful spirits, and mystic martial arts, China Two is truly the Rifts-ification of your favorite Kung Fu movies. For some excellent bonus Chinese mysticism see Mystic China, a Palladium non-Rifts book.

Dinosaur Swamp
The southeastern pocket of the former US has been destroyed and reclaimed by nature, including carnivorous plants and the titular dinosaurs. Mankind is just one more link in the food chain, and most people live in barbarian tribes or overgrown ruins. A cool place to visit, if you can think of a reason to do so.

Adventures in Dinosaur Swamp
Two whole books and its still not a super compelling setting. It’s a fun place to visit, but lacks any of the major nations or settlements that would make it viable as a long term hub for a major campaign.

Arzno
Another entry in the “American southwest vampires” region, this has become one of my favorite places to set a campaign, tied with MercTown. Super detailed and brimming with story and character.

Madhaven
Like the Dinosaur Swamp, the Manhattan region is fun to visit but will probably never work as a long-term setting. Even setting foot here drives people slowly and inevitably insane, so it’s kind of hard to use for more than a one-shot.

Triax 2
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Lemuria
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Northern Gun One
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Northern Gun Two
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Mutants in Orbit
This is only *kind of* a Rifts book, as it was originally intended as a supplement for a separate game line called After the Bomb, but it does include some conversion notes and represents the “canonical” depiction of near orbit around Rifts Earth. And it’s good stuff, it’s just purposefully difficult to cross paths with in any kind of standard Rifts campaign.

Dimension Books

Wormwood
A fascinating setting that is brilliantly–but only partially–conceived. A living planet with a dark medieval society and a parasite-based magic system. It’s so restrictive that you either have to play it as a standalone or change a lot of the background…most of the other Rifts books choose the latter whenever they reference it.

Skraypers
Kind of like a Rifts/aliens/outer space version of Heroes Unlimited, which means it’s redundant on multiple counts. Unlike Wormwood, no one ever references this one.

Phase World
Rifts in space. With sixexcellent companion books, Phase World is one of the better-supported settings in the Rifts line, probably second only to the eastern US. The same kind of stuff you get in normal Rifts (magic and technology interacting on a grand scale), but done as a space opera instead of a single planet.

Phase World Sourcebook
Some new aliens and equipment and stuff. Hardly necessary, even for a Phase World campaign, but pretty cool.

Anvil Galaxy
Some really good adventure hooks and world (er…I mean galaxy) info. Not quite as cool as the sourcebook, but slightly more useful.

Three Galaxies
A great source of adventure ideas and bad guys–probably the number two purchase for any Phase World campaign, right after the Phase World core book.

Megaverse Builder
A cool concept that doesn’t quite deliver: a system designed to create your own planets and dimensions. Still, it can be a valuable resource for the right campaign.

Naruni Wave 2
A catalog of weapons that are way too powerful, mixed with a bit of world info that, in the end, probably doesn’t justify buying the book.

Fleets of the Three Galaxies
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Thundercloud Galaxy
Alas, this is one of the few books I don’t own and can’t comment on. Sorry.

Heroes of the Megaverse
This book is more of a fundraising boondoggle than anything else: an employee stole a bunch of money, the company was going under, and fans could pay money to save Palladium and get themselves put into a book. If you’re in here, you probably already have a copy, and if you’re not, this book will hold no interest for you.

Adventure Supplements
Heads up: I’m not really big on adventure supplements in general, so I’m probably rating a lot of these lower than they deserve.

Rifts Game Shield and Adventures
The game shield is handy if you like game shields, and the adventure info is pretty good.

Rifts Index and Adventures Volume 2
The adventure stuff is okay, but the index is woefully out of date. I’d skip it.

Rifts Adventure Sourcebook 1: Forbidden Knowledge
A bargain for some pretty impressive adventure hooks and info. The setting is the Chi-Town Burbs, which makes the decision easy: if you play in the burbs and need some cool ideas, here you go.

Rifts Adventure Sourcebook 2: Tolkeen Crisis
More expensive and not as good as the first one, but still fun. Skippable.

Rifts Adventure Sourcebook 3: The Black Vault
My least favorite of the four.

Rifts Adventure Sourcebook 4: The Vanguard
The Vanguard are one of my favorite organizations in the game. Great stuff.

Merc Adventure Sourcebook
Get MercTown and/or MercOps first. This one’s okay but unnecessary.

Mechanoids
Though officially classified as a sourcebook, this is an adventure supplement through and through. The Mechanoids make pretty cool bad guys, and the stats and tables are all easy to use. For such a small supplement, it has a pretty epic feel.

Juicer Uprising
Some new world info (it’s technically a world book, but we’re not fooled), and a heap of variants for the Juicer, one of Rifts’ signature classes. The brunt of the book is a series of adventures that take place in North America. Pretty good stuff, on the whole, and more specific than a lot of their adventure books.

Coalition Wars
The Coalition Wars series was basically a super-size adventure supplement, taking the characters through a giant war from start to finish and giving them enough info for a truly immense campaign. The war was waged between the Coalition, a group of high-tech human supremacists, and the city of Tolkeen, a magical metropolis that got a little too big for the Coalition’s liking. I’m not especially fond of this storyline, as I feel it’s too restrictive for the characters to really let loose and do epic deeds, but it has some very good ideas and could provide your group with enough information for years of adventures. The books are very similar to each other, mostly NPCs and adventure hooks, so I won’t go through each one.
* Free Quebec
Though technically a world book, this book is mostly designed as an intro to the Coalition Wars series. Much of what it established was altered by the war itself, so unless you plan to play through the war you’re probably fine just getting the updated info from Aftermath.
* Coalition Wars 1: Sedition
* Coalition Wars 2: CS Overkill
* Coalition Wars 3: The Sorcerer’s Revenge
* Coalition Wars 4: Cyber-Knights
* Coalition Wars 5: Shadows of Evil
* Coalition Wars 6: The Final Siege

The Minion War
These comprise another multi-book adventure supplement, chronicling a big pan-dimensional campaign in which the denizens of hell rise up and try to take over the megaverse. They only really function well if you’re a Palladium completionist, as they tie in almost all of the company’s other games into a single world-hopping storyline. I never really got into them, but that doesn’t make them bad.
* Hades: Pits of Hell
* Dyval: Hell Unleashed
* Dimensional Outbreak
* Megaverse in Flames

Getting Started

Wow! That’s a lot of books: 82, in fact, not counting the three new ones just announced for Savage Rifts. It can be incredibly daunting to try to figure out where to start, or how to condense all of that stuff down into a useable campaign, so I’ve made you a guide. Most of the books described above make an interesting setting to adventure in, but some of them work together to form larger, more cohesive settings ideal for big campaigns. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to get you started. Consider all of these suggestions to be completely optional, and feel free to mix and match at will.

The Indispensables
Rifts Roleplaying Game: Ultimate Edition
Rifts Gamemaster Guide
Rifts Book of Magic
(optional: Aftermath, the Bionics Sourcebook, D-Bees of North America, the Rifts Adventure Guide)

I want to play a…

North American Campaign
Rifts Adventure Guide
Coalition War Campaign
Lone Star
Federation of Magic
Rifts Bionics Sourcebook
Rifts Adventure Sourcebook 1: Forbidden Knowledge
(optional: Mechanoids, Xiticix Invasion, D-Bees of North America, Dinosaur Swamp)

Coalition War Campaign
Coalition War Campaign
Free Quebec
Coalition War series
Federation of Magic
(optional: Xiticix Invasion, D-Bees of North America)

Western Campaign
Vampire Kingdoms
Arzno
New West
Lone Star
(optional: Spirit West, Vampire Sourcebook, D-Bees of North America)

European Campaign
Triax and the NGR
Mindwerks
Rifts Bionics Sourcebook
(optional: combine it with the Russian campaign for a larger view of Eurasia)

Atlantis Campaign
Atlantis
Splynn Dimensional Market
Rifts Conversion Book One Revised
Rifts Dark Conversions
(optional: Underseas, Phase World)

Seafaring Campaign
Underseas
Lemuria
Rifts Sourcebook 4: Coalition Navy
(optional: Atlantis, Japan, China Two, or really any book you think looks fun to visit)

Russian Campaign
Warlords of Russia
Mystic Russia
Rifts Bionics Sourcebook
(optional: Mindwerks)

Asian Campaign
Japan
China One
China Two
(optional: Underseas)

Traveling/’Bit of Everything’ Campaign
Atlantis
Vampire Kingdoms
Aftermath
Triax and the NGR
China Two
Underseas
(optional: any specific book that strikes your fancy)

Dimension Hopping Campaign
Phase World
Atlantis
Wormwood
Rifts Conversion Books
Megaverse Builder
(optional: just about any other Palladium book ever printed)

Phase World/Space Fantasy Campaign
Phase World
Phase World Sourcebook
Anvil Galaxy
Three Galaxies
(optional: Atlantis, Rifts Conversion Books, Megaverse Builder)

One Response to “The Big Massive Guide to Rifts”

  1. Jeff Diamond says:

    Boy, do we ever need to get together.

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