Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/19/tabletop-review-rifts-game-master-kit/
Shortly after I began role playing, I discovered Palladium Books. I started with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Then it was Robotech and Ninjas and Superspies. Shockingly, it wasn’t until much later I got into Palladium’s flagship franchise, Rifts. Rifts is an unique blend of sci-fi and Fantasy that lets magic and technology do battle against each other and/or exist side by side. It’s a rich world with a large library of supplemental material in its twenty-two year existence. With all that material, there is one staple of role playing games that is missing: the GM screen. Palladium Books did release one back in 1996, but that is long out of print. Since that time Rifts has been screenless, so a Rifts Game Master often found themselves flipping through their books, looking for charts or cobbling together a homemade GM Screen. Those days may be over, with the release of the Rifts GM Kit. The Rifts GM Kit provides a slew of forms, charts and character sheets to aid a Rifts game master, as well as including twenty pre-generated characters. At a cost of only five dollars, it’s cheaper than your standard GM screen. The question is how useful is the content? Will spending five dollars greatly help the Rifts GM? Let’s find out as we take a closer look at the Rifts GM Kit.
Two of the most useful items in the Rifts GM Kit, is the Game Master Reference Sheet and the Combat Matrix. The Game Master Reference Sheet is a one page full of the more essential information in running a Rifts game. You have that Attribute Chart listing the various attribute bonuses. A chart detailing magic casting time and casting magic while wearing body armor is also presented. For me, the most important pieces of information, are the details on ranged combat and missile volleys. In the Palladium system, you have many different options during ranged combat: aimed shoots, called shots, shooting bust, and shooting wild among many more. Each has a different modifier to hit and having to reference this information in the game book can bog down combat. Having all this information listing in one place is so convenient and will make any GMs life easier. Also on this sheet is a quick reference list to other information that a GM may need this reference quickly during a game. Be aware, that the page numbers listed are for Rifts Ultimate Edition. So owners of the the 1st Edtion version of Rifts, best ignore this section otherwise you’ll be really confused as you look for page 363 in your 256 page book.
Now the Combat Matrix is a form that allows a GM to easily keep track of combat. In Rifts, in is not uncommon to have four, five, or even six actions in a given combat round. When you you have five players doing combat with five NPCs that can easily sixty different things happening in one round of combat. So keeping track of initiative, and the number of remaining actions a character has is essential. The combat chart allows you to easily keep track of each character’s actions, and have essential information for each NPC at your fingertips. Thanks to the universal nature of the Palladium game system; this chart can be used in any other Palladium game. I will definitely be using this chart next time I run Robotech or Ninjas and Superspies.
The next items involve skills and weapon proficiencies. A quick reference list of all the skills in Rifts and the base percentage and percent increased with level advancement is provided and all I can say is thank you. The skills portion is one of the more time consuming parts of character creation. Because so much time is spent flipping between pages, looking up skills and their success percentage. Having all of this information in a handy sheet is so useful. Now instead of pulling out my game book, I can refer to this sheet. Anything that helps reduce the amount of time looking formation up in a book is a good thing. The same thing applies to the weapon proficiencies well. All are listed out with their level advancements. With these two charts, I can quickly generate an NPC on the fly instead of having to consult the book, to determine what the base skill percentage is for Herding Cattle.
You’ll also find an index of all the spells in the Rifts Books of Magic. All of this information is freely available on the Palladium Books website, but it is nice to have it formatted in a more user friendly format.
The next item is a character sheet for Borg characters. Borgs have a variety of of cybernetics and bionic enhancements that do not easily fit into a standard character sheet. This Borg sheet as an illustration of a borg and separate boxes for each body part that can have an enhancement, as well as a sport for the M.D.C of each body part. Instead of having a slew of notes scribbled on the standard character sheet, this sheet isolates the information on the borgs cybernetics and lets you organize it in a way that’s easy to reference. This is an absolute must for any Borg players. I do question however the need to include three different versions of this sheet in the GM kit. The three sheets are identical, with the only difference being the illustration in the center of the sheet. Perhaps if you’re an anal player and want to use the sheet with the illustration that matches your borg, you’ll find a use for three different sheets. I’m not that type of player, so three borg sheets is a bit overkill for me.
Other character sheets are included as well. You have the standard character sheet, a mutant character sheet, a mercenary company sheet, and a traveling show sheet. And for the GM an experience log is included as well. All of these forms are identical to the ones freely available on the Palladium website. It makes sense to include these in the kit, as having all of these sheets in one PDF is handy. But just like the spell index, they are freely available so you shouldn’t by this kit just to get any of these sheets. And just to clarify the borg sheets are not available of the Palladium website, but all the other character sheets are.
There are also three different flyers for recruiting players and a signup sheet for the Palladium mailing list that you could post on a bulletin board at your local game store. Again this isn’t something I find terribly useful as I have a weekly gaming group, but perhaps some out there may appreciate a nice flyer to post to find other Rifts players at your local game store.
So far we have a variety of useful items included in the Rifts GM Kit, but a good portion of them are freely available. As such, it would hard to recommend the kit at a $5 price point. Fortunately, there is more content included besides some character sheets and reference charts.
The Rifts GM kit also includes twenty pre-generated characters. You will find a variety of OOCs and levels in the pre-generated characters spanning Levels 3-8. So you could use these as pre-generated characters in an adventure for levels 3-4 or 6-7 pretty easily. They would work great in a convention setting where you do not want to take time to created characters when that time would be better spent playing the game.
Whether or not you should purchase the Rifts GM Kits comes down to your opinion on pre-generated characters. With a good portion of the kit available for free on the Palladium website, you are really purchasing a one page reference chart, a combat matrix, a skills a weapon proficiency quick reference, a borg character sheets, some game flyers and twenty NPCs. Remove the NPCs, and the Rifts GM Kit is not worth $5. However once you include them it becomes more appealing. I personally think the kit is worth $5, but if you are the type that would never use pre-generated characters it’s hard to say this kit is a must buy. Overall the Rifts GM Kit does what it sets out to do and makes the game master’s job much easier. However with a $5 price, it comes down to the twenty NPCs. If twenty NPCs would be useful to you, then you absolutely should buy the kit. If not, save the money and pick up a back issue of the Rifter.