RIFTS Discussion on Complexity

So Ross Watson (a friend of mine and my GM when he was in MD) just posted a response to Kevin Siembieda’s latest “survey” regarding RIFTS and customer satisfaction.

The “market survey” in question suffers greatly from Acquiescence Bias – thus making it completely useless to support his claim that RIFTS is relevant in the gaming community of today.  Everyone questioned in the survey was already a customer of RIFTS.  Surveying only the people you already have as customers is – yes – a great way to know how to please them.  But there are thousands and thousands of potential customers (or past customers who have switched to your competitor) which you also need to survey.

Anyway, those of us who were fans of RIFTS (and other Palladium products) desperately, across the board, desire an updated system.  We’re not talking a complete overhaul.  We don’t want point-buy mechanics,  we don’t want encounter powers, we don’t want chips or bennies or custom dice, and we don’t want to get rid of Mega-Damage.  I <3 MD.

What we want is simple & clear rules.

Things like:

  • Switching from a meaningless percentage-based skill system to a d20 based skill system
  • Separating Race & Class so we can play a Dog-Boy Cyberknight or a Grackel (sp?) Burster.
  • Simplify the combat rules, and make them a bit more tactical or more narrative.
  • Make the combat play like the narrative in the books.
A Justification for the simplification of skills is presented below the jump (at least, it should jump).  It doesn’t look for a new skill list – what it aims to do is speed up character creation and gameplay.

RIFTS’ overly complicated Skill System. (Forgive the formatting, it didn’t copy from Google Docs very well)


RIFTS uses a % system which has largely meaningless differentiation in base % and % increases at each level which, in turn, needlessly complicates the character creation and play.


Of the 199 skills* in RIFTS with %’s I get the following #’s (*skills which have two %, (like 60%/40%) I took the lower, I also did not include physical skills like parallel bars or tight rope)

55 skills w/ base 30%
32 skills w/ base 25%
26 skills w/ base 40%
21 skills w/ base 20%
19 skills w/ base 35%
14 skills w/ base 50%

and the rest are a scattering like some skills at 16%, 32%, or 56%.

All in all, there are:

24 skills w/ base 0-20%
112 skills w/ base 25-35%
61 skills w/ base 40-60%
2 skills w/ base over 60%

The only two skills w/ a base of over 60% are Hovercylces (70%), and Native Language (88%).

Regarding per-level increase, we get the following:
1 w/ +1% per level
1 w/ +2% per level
12 w/ +3% per level
34 w/ +4% per level
151 w/ +5% per level

This is OVERWHELMINGLY in favor of +5% per level, since +4% per level is not significantly different and is generally given to skills with higher base % – meaning all the skills top out at the same % (roughly 100% or more) at level 15.


In addition, since the Class-based bonuses to skills come in either 5, 10, or 15% increments (or follow the % per level described above) it’d be much simpler to just make them all 5%.

What, you’re not going to take my word for it?  You want my math?  You can look it up here (it’s a bit of a mess though).


So, if the per-level increment is approximately 5%, class bonuses in increments of 5%, and the base % for skills falls in 5% increments… there’s no reason to not use a d20 skill system – since the odds will come out the same.

The other thing we’re keen to note base % isn’t all random – there are clear groupings around 20%, 30%, and 50%.  We can infer from this that there are basic, average, and complex skills.  In order to simplify the skill system, we can group the skills into these three categories.  The higher % skills appear to be skills which are simple to learn (require no formal education) whereas the lower % skills appear to be very high risk/high reward skills, or require lots of training and practice.

We can ignore Native Language Skill.  If the user wishes to know rare or complicated terms, roll their skill under the appropriate science, technical, or other skill.  We can assume that the ability to communicate (verbally at a 4th grade level) is a given.

I’m not sure why riding a hovercycle is easier than riding a motorcycle or bicycle, other than it’s a trope of the setting.  Unless there is a strong case against it, we’ll lump it with the 40-60 skills.

So, if we’re going to transition to a d20 skill system, what other d20 rolls are used in RIFTS?  To-Hit rolls.

To-Hit rolls come in three varieties, Melee, Ranged, and Missile.  

Melee to-hit is 5+
Ranged to-hit is 8+
Missile to-hit is 5+

Let’s extend this system:

24 skills w/ base 20% 17+
112 skills w/ base 30% 15+
63 skills w/ base 50%  11+

But those are odd numbers (which aren’t necessarily bad, but hey let’s make them even)

24 skills w/ rolling 18+ (Complex Skills) – C
112 skills w/ rolling 16+ (Advanced Skills) – A
63 skills w/ rolling 12+ (Basic Skills) – B

You make a skill check by rolling a d20, adding your character level, and seeing if it’s over the skill #.  This comes out to the same number, (17, 15, and 11) but it uses a level calculation that doesn’t involve subtraction.


roll a d20, add your level -1, try to get 17+

roll a d20, add your level, try to get 18+

So, now that I’ve set out the new skill system, let’s see how it compares to the old one by comparing how the sheet looks.

Current Method:
Language: Native Tongue (88%+1%)
Literacy: Native (40%+5%) +20% OCC
Radio: Basic (45%+5%) +15% OCC
Gardening (36%+4%) +12% OCC
Basic Electronics (30%+5%) +10% OCC Related
Basic Mechanics (30%+5%) +10% OCC Related
Field Surgery (16%+4%)
First Aid (45%+5%)
Prowl (25%+5%)
Hovercylces (70%+3%)

How you calculate your skill:

  1. Find the skill name (confused with all the %)
  2. Base Skill + OCC Bonus + (level-1)*Increment <– Different for each Skill !!
  3. Roll d100 <= Skill

Calculating the skill for a 4th level character

Gardening: 36 + 12 + 4*4 = 64

What the roll looks like in play
d100 <= 64
Number of different skill #’s required to remember during play:
All of them

Proposed Method:

Skill Name Class Bonus
Language: Native Tongue
Literacy: Native A +4
Radio: Basic B +3
Gardening A +3
Basic Electronics A +2
Basic Mechanics A +2
Field Surgery C
First Aid B
Prowl A
Hovercycles C


How you calculate your skill:

  1. Find the skill name (easily separated)
  2. Only 3 skill classes, 18+, 16+, or 12+.
  3. d20 + level + bonus >= Skill Class #

Calculating the skill for a 4th level character

Gardening: (none)

What the roll looks like in play
d20 + 4 + 3 >= 16
Number of different skill numbers required to remember during play:
Three – 18+, 16+, or 12+

Let’s sum up the benefits of the proposed d20 skill system for RIFTS:

  1. No Math during character creation.
  2. No Math involved in leveling a character
  3. “Extra” Math during play is simple addition (usually #’s less than 10)
  4. Skills share 3 common numbers (like combat shares 2 numbers)
  5. Skills can be distinguished by their complexity
  6. Skills can have split complexity (diagnosis, surgery for example)
  7. Skills can easily be converted over to the new system with little or no math involved.

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