Interspersed through the rest of the year, I’m going to look at a couple of core rulebooks to see how they are laid out. With pros, cons and some critique about the game based purely on the layout, and the things presented in the rules. I'm doing this because I'm interested in the way different games present their systems and settings, in the hope that I'll be able to learn something from them and get things right with the games released by Vulpinoid Studios.
RIFTS (typical of most Palladium stuff)
Page 1 – Disclaimer about the supernatural
Pages 2 to 6 – Credits, Contents and Quick Find Table
Pages 7 and a bit at the top of 8 – A bit of a designer note and a glossary of terms.
The Rest of 8 to 10 – Start of character generation
Page 11 – Optional Damage rules (WTF? Why here?)
Pages 12 through to most of 15 – The next bit of character generation
The last bit of 15 to 17 – The experience system
Page 18 – Optional rules for rounding out your character
Pages 19 through to the top of 22 – Rules for character insanity
Most of the rest of 22 – Information about who the characters are and what they do
The last bit of 22 through to 24 – What are skills, how to use them and a general list of them
Pages 25 through to most of 33 – A list of what the skills actually do
The bottom of 33 through to the top of 38 – Pretty much everything you need to know about basic combat (including a glossary of terms, combat procedure, details on the combat styles and a brief bit about psychic combat)
The rest of 38 through to 46 – How the combat system is different when you’re in a vehicle or armoured suit
Pages 47 to the top bit of 97 – Occupational Character Classes: it’s implied you can only have one of these. Some classes get a single page, others are spread out over a few pages (like the Technowizard who gets an 8 page spread)
The rest of 97 through to the top of 113 – Racial Character Classes: Again it’s implied that you have either one occupational class OR one racial class (later sourcebooks confuse this issue dramatically), psychics are considered separate from “normal” humans, except that normal humans can have psychic power.
The rest of 113 through to 127 – Descriptions of Psychic Powers
Page 128 – Overview of the world before the setting came into effect
Pages 129 to 136 – Evocative colour plates depicting the world
Pages 137 to 152 – Descriptions of places across the new transformed world (where 13 of the pages basically describe the USA, 1 describes Canada and 2 describe the rest of the world)
Pages 153 to 160 – Further colour plates including four maps (2 of the Americas, 1 of the USA specifically, and a small one of the United Kingdom)
Pages 161 to the top of 166 – A description of how magic works in the setting
The rest of 166 – An alphabetical index of spells
Page 167 – A listing of spells by level (this becomes irrelevant in later sourcebooks as different types of magic user can access various spells at different levels)
Pages 168 to 190 – A complete listing of spells, costs and effects in order by level as shown on page 167.
Page 191 – A background on the dominant power in the USA, the Coalition
Pages 192 (full page image) through to a chunk of 205 – High tech equipment, armour and vehicles of the Coalition
The rest of 205 through to a chunk of 209 – The workings of the black market
The rest of 209 through to the top of 248 – Other weapons and equipment found in North America (including 14 pages of cybernetics and bionics)
The rest of 248 through to the end (Page 256) – The 8 page GM section, including 4 pages of charts on how to roll up a supernatural antagonist, 2 pages describing a few specific supernatural monsters and a page at the end for human antagonists.
Total page count – 256
Table of Contents – Yes
Index – No (it has a quick find table, but this only lists the combat character classes, combat rules, weapons, armour and cybernetic combat enhancements…do you think this tells you something about the game?)
Steps to create a character – Seven pages of basic rules spread over two section (split by damage rules), then a separate section for character classes, another section for equipment/weapons/armour, and finally a magic or psionics section if the character is that way inclined. These are scattered throughout the book.
The way skills work – Half a page
The way combat works – Thirteen pages (five for personal combat, eight for combat in vehicles/power-armour)
World setting – Sixteen pages
What do the characters do? – One page (with scatterings of character motivations hidden in flavour text occasionally mentioned in certain types of character classes, but certainly not all of them)
What do the players do? – Nothing specific, not even the common “What is a roleplaying game?” section found in many games of the era.
What does the GM do? – A page and a half (scattered as half a page in the GM section, half a page in the experience section, a few paragraphs ad sentences here-and-there and the bit in the glossary describing the GM as “the person who controls the game world”.)
I use to love RIFTS. Its author, Kevin Siembieda, described it as “a thinking man’s game” (yes, he used the masculine noun, because at that point in time the notion of female gamers was a novelty…they existed, but I guess they were considered in much the same way that DC comics currently treats female comic readers now).
Looking back on the book now, it’s a mess.
To create a basic character you often need to cross reference at three parts of the book (and that’s before you get to quirky characters that you generate using sourcebooks).
It really doesn’t tell you what the game is about. It’s a tool kit for play, providing you with combat systems and combat equipment, and a few basic percentile skills that use a completely simplistic system so that they don’t get in the way of a good combat.
I guess that a quick breakdown of the numbers, does tell us what the game is truly about…256 pages, (13 pages on combat rules, 61 pages for combat items and combat vehicles, 20 pages of combat oriented character classes, a page of optional damage rules, a quick-find table that only shows where the combat stuff is). And that’s just mundane combat stuff. Once you break down the spells and psychic powers it compounds the effects. There are 58 base psionic powers, and maybe eight of them don’t have an immediate combat effect to cause, prevent or heal damage (but even these eight could be used creatively in combat if the right situation arose). There are 146 spells, and over two thirds of them can be used to cause, prevent or heal harm in some way, and many of the rest are great tools to move you from one combat to another by circumventing distance or puzzles that prevent you from getting to the next combat scene. Over half of the book describes ways to fight in some way.
Even at the time, this game was a throwback to the wargames from 2 decades earlier.
It’s little wonder that most of the people I know who played RIFTS had a very similar play experience from the game…Scene 1: Combat against villain A, Scene 2: Combat against villain B, Scene 3: Use magic to do some healing or find someone to repair your armour, Scene 4: Combat against villain C…repeat ad infinitum.
The only thing that really stops a player from getting into combat is the sheer frustration and time involved in creating a new character if they should happen to die.