Rifts has long been a love hate affair for me as a gamer and as a GM. On one hand, I love the endless parade of crazy technology, the variety of enemies and challenges, and the vague meta plots that lay around for ages before someone does something about them. On the other hand, the world is broken as all hell, consistency is spotty at best, and the world mechanics of the entire thing leave a lot to be desired. So, what to do about it? Well, make it make sense!
The main problem is that the actual world of Rifts Earth doesn’t “work”, and by that I mean that it’s all show with no guts to power it. It’s a fancy shell of an exterior over a very barebones chassis with a few engine parts and a circuit board taped together under the hood. Major industrial centres operate without the material supply chains that spanned the globe in the Pre-Rifts era. Humanity hasn’t been wiped out by extra-dimensional plagues. Somehow, isolated villages without significant magic or technology survive in a world packed with angry Mega Damage creatures and raiders who are unaffected by the hunting rifles and ancient military rifles they might have. Also problematic is that everything is “the world as seen through the eyes of midwestern America” issue, and some racism to boot.
Now, as per the books, the post-apocalypse is pretty hairy, with a nearly 200 year long Dark Age, where humanity struggles just to stay alive. To have the world make sense, we need to dial it back a bit. Monsters aren’t as common, magic is less terrifying to encounter, and humanity adapts faster. I’d go as far as to say that there should be about a 60 year Dark age, and then a 140 year Reconstruction Age. The 60 years is long enough to lose a lot of knowledge and for some weird cultural shifts to occur, then the following 140 years is a good period for humanity to regroup, reorganize, and repopulate while they rebuild their shattered infrastructure. This way, coming into the P.A. calendar is less of a shock, and more of smooth transition.
Technology and Trade:
To start to fix this, we need to go back to pre-2098. The world needs to be a lot more technologically advanced. Nuclear energy technologies are way ahead of where we’re on route to, electronics are at levels we can still only imagine, and synthetic alloys and materials are driving industry like crazy. But to feed the need, we need something to produce materials. So, lets call it the Complex Matter Generation System (CMGS). I see it as a massive, fusion powered behemoth of a system that can strip matter down to its component protons and electrons, then rearrange it into the desired elements, ores, and alloys needed to produce the components and parts for futuristic machinery, devices, armour, and weapons. Lets say the first ones came online in 2046, and that they were a global must have by 2050.
This also solves another longstanding issue with Rifts Earth, namely, why everyone was ready to go to war in 2098. Between advanced 3D printing and assembly techniques and the CMGS, a lot of jobs would go away very quickly. Compounding a sudden drop in employment, a huge number of developing nations would suddenly see their main sources of income all but dry up. The world is suddenly a very unsure place. Domestic and foreign terrorism attacks, as well as a parade of brushfire wars, has the world tense. Several Cold War style rivalries would no doubt emerge as well, with more nations being nuclear capable than ever before. After the Guada Marda Incident, it’s a swift downhill race to nuclear conflict.
The final component is the invention of limited and unlimited Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is important because it establishes ARCHIE III, but also explains how things continued to run during the Dark Ages following the Coming of the Rifts. Limited AIs would be the standard by which major industrial centres, nuclear power stations, resource extraction centres, and CMGS installations would have to be run. I say that in the sense that they would have to be done this way to safeguard them for plot purposes in the game. This way, after the rifts rip everything apart, and the world is dealing with mass casualties, monsters, and magic, these facilities would progressively slow or shut down productions, going dormant until they could be reactivated. These AI run plants would become the core of Rifts Earth industrial giants like Triax, Northern Gun, The Coalition States, and so on.
When the calendar ticks over to 1 P.A., the world is in better shape. There are several major nations, and well established, if still risky trade routes. In reality, things are probably going to be closer to a city state system, with large tracks or uncontrolled land, frontier areas, and water between “nations”. Owing to destruction during and after the apocalypse, trade is a necessary evil again, so routes are maintained, with trading centres and hubs existing perilously between larger states. Radiating out from these places would be smaller independent enclaves and fortified villages. For humans living in the world of Rifts Earth, living in fortified homesteads, villages, towns, and even cities would be the norm once again. Open settlements, like those we know today, would be a thing relegated to history books. With the number of physical threats and constant threat of attack, having an unfortified settlement would be tantamount to suicide. The further from a major centre, the heavier and more proactive the defences.
All that done, it’s time to revamp the powers that be and settings. There needs to be a reduction in the America-centric nature of the game. It’s fine and cool that the base book is in the USA, that’s fine, it’s an American game company publishing for a mostly American audience. But after that, lets get real and use a few research skills that aren’t looking up a few supernatural monsters and then slapping together a quick stereotype or no real description nation. More details, more options, less regional stereotypes (Ireland = Faerie Land, China = Dragon Communists, Australia = Mad Max). A final note on this one would be on indigenous peoples. Palladium has a nasty tendency of having indigenous people revert to pre-contact status the second that the apocalypse happens, with very few exceptions. This is pretty lazy, so I’d go for a more thought out approach that actually makes them viable communities in a post apocalyptic world, same as the rest of the nations and populations.
Next we have to deal with Mega Damage and Mega Damage Capacity (MDC) Originally introduced with Robotech, it was a way to differentiate the giant mecha and regular people. It worked there, more or less, because it was very limited access wise. Only a few groups had access to it, and generally use dit sparingly. Mega Damage is a serious hazard though. A section or squad level firefight could potentially produce a modern battalion’s worth of damage, not to mention uncontrolled forest fires sparked by the use of energy weapons. To deal with this, I’d dial almost everything back a few notches. “Light” MDC creatures would just be really tough Structural Damage Capacity (SDC) creatures, albeit with an Armour Rating (AR) to reflect how they shrug off weapons fire. Frankly, I’d go this route for most organic, non-supernatural creatures. I’d leave the supernatural ones as MDC creatures, but adjusted for their threat.
For weapons and armour, a revamp of the whole works is in order. Armoured fighting vehicles, power armour, robots, giant robots, and so on would retain their MDC. They need to be terrifying. Personal body armour would be severely reduced in its protective abilities. A foot soldier shouldn’t be able to suck up a anti-tank hit. Further, I’d switch the main weapons from lasers to high powered projectile weapons. Ammo would be in a few varieties, but largely known to people globally as “practice” (FMJ Ball, SDC), “hunting” (soft point, SDC), and “fighting” (armour piercing high velocity, MDC). Anti-Armour and Anti-Monster weapons would be huge too, with lots of variety ranging from under-barrel to shoulder to crew served. Railguns and coilguns (guass weapons!) would replace most energy weapons for practical purposes militarily for militaries, mercenaries, and adventurers able to afford them. This also lowers the damage capability of individuals, to keep in line with lessened body armour, but allows them a fighting chance against supernatural threats. Lasers and other energy weapons would still be around, but be very expensive and be the bailiwick of special forces, special purpose troops, and high end niche mercenaries.
Magic is literally everywhere in the world of Rifts Earth, and psychic powers are a only a stutter step behind that. People are nothing if not resourceful, and quick to make use of resources. For settlements that don’t have easy access to technology, magic and psionics are going to be huge. Some areas might shun them for various reasons, and suffer a lower standard of living and safety accordingly, but most areas would probably accept these resources after three centuries. I wouldn’t change anything in the mechanics or power dynamics about magic, but I would definitely make it more prevalent put it into more common usage.
For independent settlements to small cities, magic would be a fantastic resource. Technowizard items would probably not be too popular with non-psychics or non-magic users, but things like Biomancy, and especially Stone Magic, would become instantly popular and widespread. Shamanic practices would probably become widespread as well, particularly outside of technological areas. As an added twist, you’d see a lot of variation in practitioners as well, as magically inclined members of the community would come under local influences as a safety measure. This might come across as a cultural appropriation issue, but I’d put forward that in a world where magic and psychic powers exist, for the sake of keeping the community safe, whoever is in the area would probably need to take people under their guidance regardless of their ethnic background.
A serious issue to address here would be, for lack of a better term, dimensional sanitation. 300 odd years of interdimensional arrivals has a very high possibility of bringing through flora and fauna that would ravage Earth’s unprepared ecosystem. There aren;t really too many ways to play it, not without massive, sweeping changes to the Earth. So here, I’d simply state that bacteria, viruses, and so on that the a planet cannot adapt to are “lost in transition” or otherwise changed by passing through a rift. This means you can still have plagues, alien plants, and all that good stuff, but without the risk of all of humanity succumbing to an alien virus or something along those lines.
Socially Uncomfortable Things:
Rifts tries to dabble a bit in culturally uncomfortable themes. Slavery and prostitution are the usual suspects, although other things are occasionally touched on, like torture and rape. Unfortunately, all of these things and more would be facets of a post apocalyptic life. Racism is the most frequent theme though, usually with “D-Bees” (dimensional beings) subbing in for modern minorities and with them being placed in scenarios and situations that modern minority populations are in. Frankly, I’d cut most of this out. It’s ham-handed, degrades and dehumanizes actual people in that situation, and doesn’t really address racism in an effective way. I’d retain that many areas are hostile towards D-Bees, but the themes of migrant camps full of them trying to citizenship in pro-human nations, and them as a massive underclass I would largely drop.
Review of Concept:
So, to make Rifts make sense, I’ve created basic infrastructure of ideas to make the setting more viable and functional. These aren’t too “out there” as far as ideas go, and with a bit more fleshing out, would probably make for an excellent alternate setting. Bear in mind that this is just a bare bones outline of how I would add some much needed meat to the bare bones of the Rifts RPG.