Sunday, June 26, 2016

Savage Rifts Review

Savage Worlds & Rifts: Different, New, Nostalgic

Savage Worlds? Palladium Rifts? Savage Rifts?!? You betchya. The Savage Rifts Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide was released in PDF form. It was a resounding success on Kickstarter, raising over $400,000. Once it was released, the Pinnacle Site curled into a ball, crying, begging for rabid fans to stop. Even the DriveThruRPG site experienced problems due to the Savage Rifts release. Really, this should have been expected, and—even though I deal with websites and keeping them up—I can’t blame these teams. That was a massive influx of traffic coming for a highly anticipated product. Things got worked out quickly as we all got our books and quickly started going through and reading them. Many of us were excited to play and run our first Savage Rifts game. Others were looking for ways to pull it apart and make it their own. Still others were looking to find fault with a product that garnered such attention.

I am going to take a quick aside, if you don’t mind. I have always prided myself on being mostly objective in my reviews. Granted, I can’t help but being somewhat subjective and admit when something I like or don’t like may not be for everyone. Hey, I absolutely hate coconut. Other people love coconut. It doesn’t mean they are wrong, we just have different tastes. Other RPG reviewers have warned me to be careful what I say. They have told me if I have negative things to say, I should probably either not say them or not do the review. Only once have I followed that advice, because it was a product put out by a friend and there were so many people to blame for its awfulness, I would’ve made some enemies that day. Other times, I have always been able to find some redeeming qualities, but been upfront and honest about what I didn’t like. Here, with Savage Rifts, I am not going to pull any punches, but I know that I may be a bit more subjective and favorable, because they carried through with what I saw as one of their key goals—or, at least, one of the key things I wanted to see come from the product. They reignited a flame that had been ignited in my 14-year-old self so many years ago. They made Rifts new and fun again. So, here’s my disclaimer. These are my personal opinions. I fully enjoy both Rifts and Savage Worlds. And, overall, I think they did a tremendous job. Just like with those late night weight loss commercials, individual experiences may vary.

What’s in the Savage Rifts Book?

One of the first things you’ll notice with the Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide is that it’s not that thick. At 198 pages, it’s thinner than most Palladium Rifts books, maybe about as thick as some of the smaller supplements Palladium put out. So, how much can they really cover? It turns out, a lot, actually. The main Savage Worlds book—the one I am looking at Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorer’s Guide—is 192 pages and has been used to run virtually any game of any genre. By the way, you’ll need the Savage Worlds core book to be able to make use of Savage Rifts. Right off the bat, we’re introduced briefly to the Tomorrow Legion and all characters are expected to be a part of the Tomorrow Legion. “Hey, you’re the good guys and you’re working together,” the book tells us. The old Rifts never made any such assumptions. Like other RPGs, we were told what the world was like and then given carte blanche—you figure the rest out. I wasn’t quite expecting that, but it makes a little bit of sense. They wanted to cover the topic of Rifts in such a small amount of space, narrowing the focus could totally help. Another part of this is the addition of the Hero’s Journey table. This is a table each player is supposed to roll on to get an idea of how they came to be part of the Tomorrow Legion and/or why they are adventuring. It’s not a horrible idea, especially for newer players.

Frameworks, Iconic and Otherwise

Next, we’re given the framework with which to make a character. And, framework means more than one thing here. It covers briefly the rules of creating a character in Savage Worlds, but also introduces what they call Iconic Frameworks. Iconic Frameworks are like archetypes from the main SW book, but also akin to classes from other role-playing games. I know this is going to rub at least some people the wrong way. But, those familiar with Cyber-Knights, ‘Borgs, City Rats, and other classic Occupational Character Classes (O.C.C.s) and Racial Character Classes (R.C.C.s) from the original Rifts are looking for them in this new version of the game. Those who are totally new to the game probably wouldn’t know where to start. These aren’t the same as what others might expect from other RPG classes. There’s actually a good amount of flexibility in creating the character and making them mathematically or mechanically different from others, not just relying on character quirks, stories, personalities, etc. Yes, Savage Rifts gives players the ability to play pyrokinetic Bursters, mecha jock aces, cyber-docs, Psi-Stalkers. and even dragons.

Once you have selected an Iconic Framework for your character, before you assign attributes, skills, or anything else, you are supposed to visit the back of the book. Right after the Hero’s Journey table—the one that helps give a bit of a backstory—there are a numbers of additional tables. These additional tables are called Hero’s Journey Benefits Tables. They are separated out into categories including Body Armor, Ranged Weapons, Magic & Mysticism, Experience & Wisdom, and others. Characters typically get 5 rolls on these tables. Some get more rolls; some get fewer rolls. These tables can grant you character additional skill points, edges, improved equipment, and other cool benefits.

Hindrances & Edges

There are a couple of new Hindrances for you to select for your character here and a few new or modified Edges, but the majority of the are still to be found in the Savage Worlds Core Book. One big difference is the addition of Iconic Edges. These edges require your character belong to one of the Iconic Frameworks laid out earlier in the book. There are a number of these. They are mainly based on powers and abilities specific to those Iconic Frameworks. You might choose an Edge to make a Cyber-Knight’s Psi-Sword more powerful, allow your character to take more cybernetic enhancements, make your Juicer even more powerful (I know, right?), or grant the Burster even more destructive capability. The addition of so many edges was a good idea, and I’ll get into why soon.

Traits: Attributes & Skills

The attributes remainly mostly the same for this new version of Savage Worlds. There is one new addition: Strain. Strain indicates how many Cybernetics your character can have. For characters who use magic or psionics, cybernetics can negatively impact those roles—typically 1 Strain equals -1 to the roll. So, 3 Strain means you’re taking a minimum -3 anytime you try using a magic or psionic ability. There are a number of characters—based on Iconic Framework and Race who simply cannot take any cybernetics while there are others who specialize in upgrading their bodies. Speaking of magic and psionics, Power Points remain the same except in name. Those who use magic call their power points P.P.E., short for Potential Psychic Energy. Psychics make use of Inner Strength Points, or I.S.P. Few characters can use both, but there are some exceptions. There are also some new skills, specific Knowledge skills that fit the setting. They also call how they expect the Language skill to work and make some clarification to the Survival skill.


I could sit here and write a book on just these three things—maybe a separate book for each. The Savage Rifts team provides a lot of gear right out of the gate. I think they have done an excellent job where gear actually makes a difference. As Jerrod Gunning from the Savage Worlds GM Hangout has pointed out more than once, take the Savage Worlds Core Book, take a black marker, and scratch out all of the guns that have different stats than the other guns. You’ll be surprised to see how many guns are different in name only. That is most certainly not the case in Savage Rifts. (Sorry, Jerrod, I forgot to see if there is a cost for a scope in this one).

Savage Rifts has a lot of gear from armor to melee and ranged weapons, power armor, vehicles, and even Techno-Wizards (TW) conversions. There are 32 pages of that. Gear definitely matters in Savage Rifts. I’m kind of starting to feel like my characters should make a lot of credits or scavenge all of their fallen foes. I imagine we’ll soon be seeing other renditions of equipment, weapons, armor, and vehicle coming out based on things from the old Palladium Rifts books or from others’ homebrew Rifts games. Make sure you read the sidebar near the beginning of the Gear chapter to understand how your character’s TW gear works. The end of the chapter has a section that explains how to build it. I have to go back and look at the old Palladium rules, but these new Savaged TW rules sure seem a lot easier to me than it used to be.

The Cybernetics section talks about the difference between cybernetics and bionics and how to have them installed. Again, the rules are a lot sleeker and faster than I remember them being in the original game. I wonder how much was lost in this condensed version. I’m also curious if people are going to be looking at the old Palladium books as well as Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun books to pull more stuff over. The question is whether they would need to. So much is simply trappings. I’ll have to read this section closer and play around a bit before I fully make a decision. So far, so good.


Well, what kind of Rifts game would it be without power psychics and masterful mages? There is a relatively small section on Powers here. Why small? After all, the spell lists from Palladium was pretty damn huge and there were separate lists for psychic abilities and spells. Well, in Savage Worlds, it all comes down to trappings. There are a few new powers. Who knows? More might be added over time. There are a lot of powers contained in the main Savage World book. Remember, Savage Rifts is not made to replace that main book—you need the main book to make use of the second book. So, why reprint the Powers. Here’s where the difference is, though—Mega versions of the powers. I know, I’ve been holding off using that word for awhile. Mega powers can do Mega Damage or protect from Mega Damage. Mega Powers can do more than that. The Mega Power version of Beast Friend, for example, extends to magical and mythical beats. The Mega Version of Confusion has an effect on twice as many targets as normal. One of the best parts of Mega Powers is that you don’t need to buy additional Powers. Instead, if you have the ability to use Mega Powers, having the regular version of the powers means you have the Mega version as well.

The World of Rifts

Now, here’s a shocker. The team behind Savage Rifts has touched on little bits of history throughout the book. They have done it in describing races and iconic frameworks and a little bit in the introduction. At the end of the book, though, they dedicate three pages to the setting—the world and the history. It’s a broad overview that may make people want to go back and read over Palladium’s original books, but is also enough to get people started without worrying too much about the overarching meta-plot.

Oh, What About S.D.C. and M.D.C.?

Yup, they dealt with it. S.D.C. is really just normal damage the same way Savage Worlds normally handles it. Mega-Damage is carried out by weapons that have the Heavy Weapon quality and Mega-Damage Capacity is taken care of with Heavy Armor.

So, Initial Impressions?

I have to be honest. I said it early on. I enjoy what the team has done here. I am looking forward to running and playing Savage Worlds. Part of that is definitely because I loved this game when I was younger and this new version reminds me of that fact. It’s also using the Savage Worlds rule set, which I enjoy. It is over the top action and throws balance out the window. There is no better person to have helmed this project than Sean Patrick Fannon. That’s a compliment, not an insult. Sean knows these rules inside and out and has had great success before with his Shiantar game. But, Shiantar wasn’t for everyone. It took Savage World and dialed the power levels up to 11 and the curve down to 3 or 4. This game—Savage Rifts—breaks Shiantar, taking the dial up to 12 or 13. But, that’s okay. Not everyone wants to start out with a handful or less of abilities and a number of relatively low skills. A lot of people want to kick ass right out of the fate. Savage Rifts certainly allows that.

There are a few major differences between Savage Worlds and Savage Rifts. The premise of Savage Worlds is “Fast, Furious, and Fun.” It may be falling a bit short in the Fast portion. Character creation took me longer than a typical Savage Worlds character. I can fit the standard Savage Worlds character on a 3 x 5 index card and have plenty of room left over. This isn’t the case with my Savage Rifts character. My Savage Rifts character takes more time to create and is more powerful right out of the gate. The creators tell us that they are more powerful right in the beginning of the book and even warn about bringing another character from another Savage Worlds RPG straight over; they’ll be at a serious disadvantage.

Have a look at this Savage Worlds character I created, using only the Core Book, trying my best to emulate a Cyber-Knight:

Duncan, the Rakashan Cyber-Knight

Agility d8
Smarts d4
Strength d8
Spirit d6
Vigor d6

Pace d6 (d6 run die)
Parry 6
Toughness 5

Power Points 10

Fighting d8
Intimidation d4
Knowledge (Battle) d4
Notice d4
Shooting d8
Stealth d6
Survival d4
Throwing d6
Tracking d4

Claws (Str + d6, +2 Climbing)
Low Light Vision
Arcane Background: Psionics

Code of Honor
Pacifist (minor)
Habit (minor) (Talks too much, too fast)
Racial Enemy (CS)

Other Abilities/Characteristics/Powers:
Boost/Lower Trait


Now, have a look at this Savage Rifts Cyber-Knight I created, using the Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide:

Quick Flex Cyber Knight

Agility d10
Smarts d4
Strength d6
Spirit d8
Vigor d8

Pace 10 (d12 run)
Parry 9
Toughness 6 (+2 Cyber-Armor, +1 Medium Cyber Knight Armor)

ISP 10

Climbing d6
Fighting d12
Healing d4
Intimidation d6
Knowledge (Battle) d8
Notice d4
Persuasion d4
Psionics d6
Shooting d8
Stealth d8
Survival d6
Throwing d4
Tracking d4

Arcane Background - Psionics
Giant Killer
Tricky Fighter - Agility
Sidekick (Jay-Ayche)

Code of Honor
Pacifist (minor)
Habit (minor) (Talks too much, too fast)

Other Abilities/Characteristics/Powers:
Strong Psychic Presence (2 Persuasion, Intimidation, and Fear Power)
Cyber-Armor (Free Action) +2 Toughness
All Tech-Based attacks suffer -2 to hit
Smite (free action, self only)
Boost Trait (free action, self only)
Psi-Sword (dual whips, free action, Strength + Spirit x 2) Damage AP 2
-4 Charisma to CS and D-Bee Haters
+2 Charisma to those who know and reverse Cyber Knights
Cybernetic Strain negatively impacts Psionics rolls
No PPE powers, paths, etc.
-1 to all Smarts rolls

Cyber Knight Medium Armor with Healing Power
Wilk's 320 Laser Pistol
NG-L5 Laser Rifle
NG-S2 Survival Pack
Silver Cross
Wood Stake x 6
1,000 Credits

Jay-AycheYoung flame wind dragon, bonded to Ed-ghar

Agility d6
Smarts d6
Strength d12 + 4
Spirit d6
Vigor d8

Pace 6 (d6 run) Fly 12 pace, 0 climb
Parry 5
Toughness 12

ISP 30
PPE 20

Fighting d6
Knowledge (Math) d4
Knowledge (Science) d6
Notice d6
Shooting d6
Psionics d6
Sorcery d6

Arcane Background (Psionics)
Arcane Background (Magic)

All Thumbs

Other Abilities/Characteristics/Powers:
Natural Armor MDC + 4
Dragon Teeth and Claws Str + d6 MD
Fear Check while in Natural form
Flame Breath
- Bolts 12/24/48 4d6 MD
- Cone 2d10 MD
Impervious to Fire
Naturally Magic
Limited Metamorphosis
Size + 6
Slow Regeneration
Tail Lash
No Cybernetics
Enemy Illegal and terrifying most hate and hunt dragons

Boost/Lower Trait (Psychic)
Healing (Psychic)
Invisibility (Psychic)

Blind (Magic)
Burst (Magic)
Deflection (Magic)


Here’s the thing: I don’t really care. I could easily and happily play either of these characters. However, the Savage Rifts character is going to kick a lot of ass where the standard won’t. Now, here’s the other downside of the Savage Rifts character. There are a lot of modifiers, Edges, etc. to keep track of—even for me, an experienced player. That’s too much to put on the GM. Like with other, option laden RPGs, the player is going to be responsible for knowing their character’s abilities and when they might come up. For new players, that could be difficult, particularly for new players to Savage Rules. If they’re trying to learn a system and there are a lot of variables right off the bat, that can be an added challenge. It could detract from the “Fast. Furious. Fun.” Manifesto.

There is another issue here as well. Imagine coming in and starting off with that character from Savage Rifts. That’s your first Savage Worlds character. Now, imagine going from that to any other Savage Worlds game. If you were used to things like the Savage Rifts Cyber-Knight above and suddenly were asked to play the Savage Worlds Cyber-Knight, you could feel seriously cheated. Now, that won’t always happen, but it could and knowing that it could is problematic. Then again, you can play Savage Rifts for many years to come and not need to ever play a standard Savage Worlds game.

For players new to Savage Worlds who are coming over to just play Savage Rifts, I would probably recommend making some pre-gens or helping players make their own character for standard Savage Worlds core. Go nuts. Have fun. Learn the rules in a simpler setting. Then, when you’re all ready, move over to Savage Rifts. It is a fun, kick ass game, but is a far stretch from Savage Worlds core.

Overall Impressions of Savage Rifts

Look, it’s a fun game. Make sure you have the Savage Worlds Core book to go along with it. Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide does not reprint rules you need from the core Savage Worlds book, but it has a lot of awesome ideas that will let you play with the awesome Savage Worlds system in the fantastic world of Rifts. A friend asked me, if I used a 5-star rating, what would I rate Savage Rift? Probably about 4.5. That’s what I’d rate it at. I’m no fool, though, and know others might rate it lower. It’s a well put together book, well written, excellently laid out, some great art, and it gives us some great characters who are most certainly larger than life. Want to go out and take on a 25 or taller mech bare-handed? Savage Rifts, man. Want to start with a character who can kick the hell out of a max level D&D character? Savage Rifts, man. Want to start with an everyman, see if they survive and to which heights they can grow? Hmmmm….maybe something else. But, for me, I am totally looking forward to running and playing this game.