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Close to the Edit

Of RIFTS and NyQuil

by Ross Winn
Dec 27,2005


Of RIFTS and NyQuil

I apologize for the brevity and lack of cool links in this month's column. I caught the plague last week and have been nursing myself back to health with a steady diet of Nyquil and bottled water. Hopefully next month I will be back to my self, or at least on time and on task.

I was talking to a good friend last week. I have mentioned him before. We were talking about what is wrong with many roleplaying games. Simply put, there is a lot wrong with most RPGs. What I am saying is that if roleplaying games, and roleplaying game writers, tend to make mistakes, they make the same ones all of the time. Here is a heads up to all of the aspiring writers in RPGs. No one cares about your "cool" nonplayer characters. Your elder dragon will not be compelling as president. No one cares if your girlfriend dies. If you have to help the prince elope with his one true love, let one of the players be the prince. Let one of the players be the one true love. This is not rocket science.

If you want to write a story centered game where all of the cool stuff happens to NPCs in the background, then maybe writing roleplaying games is not for you. Go write fiction. Who knows maybe you will actually make a living, because roleplaying games will never support you. Games that pay attention only to metastory, and have most major events unrelated to the characters fail on many levels. The players must be integral to the story. I think Cybergeneration is a great example of this with the way it works character generation into the beginning of the campaign. Of course the game failed on other levels but most games do. Similar to these successes are RIFTS, Cyberpunk 2020, and Dragonlance. I think that the attention to the players is one of the main reasons RIFTS is so popular.

If you have not seen it lately RIFTS is available in a huge new edition. Though there is a metastory (as it were), it is pretty vague and nondescript. The players have always been the center of the RIFTS world, and that is how it should be, Kevin and company have spent the better part of thirty years as a very player centered company. While there are things about the game that I find lacking, movement rules and the absolute randomness of the character generation system in particular, they capture their market and hold it far longer than most other companies hold in the RPG industry. Only D&D has more brand loyalty than RIFTS in my completely unscientific study.

Rifts players are different. They do not play D&D, they do not play anything else. They play RIFTS and all other games can go hang. If they want to play fantasy they have that, they also have almost every other genre to play in. It is similarly true that most roleplayers just don't get RIFTS. Even more so is the summary derision of the game by people who work in and around game design. They just don't understand.

Increasingly I think that as much of a cheerleader as I am for the idea, that I don't get it either. I am too contaminated by other ideas. I actually envy those who are not. Trying to write a new game you find yourself constantly second guessing. Thinking you want to do character generation one way and realizing it has already been done in X, Y, or Z.

I think we miss a lot of innovation by too much comparison. Wanting to be different for its own sake rather than thinking that one idea or another can be incrementally improved. If you improve an idea slowly over time eventually you may stumble upon innovation. Toothbrush design over the last twenty years is an excellent example of this. Twenty years ago there wasn't much in the way of toothbrush design. Now you see these things that look like alien cooking utensils.

Every day over the last twenty years or so Kevin and company have attempted to make the hobby better for their customers; no matter the opinions of the disintelligentsia (among whose number am I) they seem to be succeeding. Palladium plans to release a straight SF game sometime in the next year. Undoubtedly it will have ties to the Rifts multiverse, but also able to be played alone. When it comes out it will receive little press and a few reviews. No one will be talking about it in "the trade". Palladium will just sell a metric assload of them.

Maybe people should pay attention.

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What do you think?

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