Review: Savage RIFTS SWADE Updates

The finalized versions of the new Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWADE)-compatible Savage RIFTS books just dropped, so I thought I’d give my impressions. The current Savage RIFTS campaign running on the Happy MonsterCast started with homebrew adaptations, but as soon as the playtest documents dropped, I started using those.

Updates to Existing Material

Of course, many changes to the existing books are designed to align with SWADE. While the Adventure edition didn’t make major changes to Savage Worlds mechanics, it made a LOT of minor ones. For example, Charisma was eliminated, Streetwise was changed from a skill to an Edge, and the quickness and speed powers were combined. More significant changes like power modifiers also needed inclusion. The result was a lot of minor changes to the existing content in the RIFTS books. In the Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide, Cyber Knights, who formerly had a Charisma bonus, now has a +1 to social checks and Reactions start 1 level higher than normal. Quickness is no longer on the powers list for any framework, obviously, and the MARS City Rat now has the new Streetwise Edge.

The updates to the existing RIFTS books aren’t limited to SWADE compatibility. Rather than specific gear for each Framework, there’s a standard set of starting gear with substitutions to fit specific Frameworks (like adding a Wilk’s Laser Torch and Field Repair Kit for the MARS Operator). Other small changes are littered throughout the books. One notable change is that the Glitter Boy Boom Gun is no longer an area effect weapons. The MBT characteristic was removed – but the damage dealt by this fearsome weapon also increased, and it has the same Innocent Bystanders risk as a shotgun. It’s not completely clear, but it seems like Pinnacle put in a number of changes to promote play balance and likely included feedback from playtesters not limited to the SWADE changes.

New Material

Kickstarter backers for the SWADE edition also received four new books: Blood and Banes, Arcana and Mysticism, Empires of Humanity, and the Tomorrow Legion Field Manual. Arcana and Mysticism provides more detail about the mystics of the New West (including Native American nations), the Federation of Magic, the legendary city of Psyscape, and the dragon-dominated city of Lazlo, the Legion’s strongest ally. Traditional fantasy races like Dwarves and Elves are re-statted for RIFTS, and new races like the truly weird Cactus People and Psi-Ghosts are added. Arcana and Mysticism also adds four new Iconic Frameworks (Dragon Juicer, Elemental Fusionist, Nega-Psychic, and Zapper) as well as 9 new MARS options like the Psi-Slinger, master of psionic gunplay. For each major area, the book includes a short adventure as well as recommendations for encounters when traveling in the region. A mini-Plot Point Campaign is also provided with five adventures themed around Psyscape and their struggle against a mysterious entity from another dimension.

Blood and Banes dives deep into three of the biggest threats to RIFTS North America – the Vampire Kingdoms of Mexico, the alien hive warriors of the Xiticix, and the Calgary Monster Kingdom. The mutant lands of Madhaven (formerly Manhattan) and the Dinosaur Swamp of the Southeast are also covered. (Disney fans will recognize the mysterious Jungle Castle in former Florida!) Like Arcana and Mysticism, each area has an adventure and a mini campaign is included. New Iconic Frameworks include the noble Knights of the White Rose, Necromancers (good for villains or dark heroes), Shifters, Heroic Vampires, and Werecats. Four new MARS options are also included, as well as the Centaur and Sasquatch races. Because who doesn’t want to play a Bigfoot pyrokinetic?

Empires of Humanity goes deep into the Coalition States and their allies, as well as the human denizens of the New West. Much of this material was missing from the earlier Coalition Field Manual, and is a welcome addition for campaigns venturing into the repressive dictatorship. Empires of Humanity also discusses how to run a Coalition-centric campaign as an alternative to the normal Tomorrow Legion setting. As is appropriate for the gearhead Coalition, this book has the largest section of new gear, but it also includes MARS options for Coalition soldiers and Western cowboys, and two new Iconic Frameworks – the Intelligent Construct and the demon-hunting Momano Headhunters. Mutant Animals and Psi-X Aliens (think Close Encounters) are also included as new races.

The last book, the Tomorrow Legion Field Manual, is more of a resource book. It provides new options for both players and GMs. Four new variant dragon hatchling breeds, new Edges, new MARS options, and more gear choices are there for the players, while the GM gets new rules for journeys and barter, as well as some additional bestiary entries. Last but not least, stand-alone adventures released under the previous edition like Murderthon or A Fine Solution are updated for SWADE.

Overall Reaction

Clearly a lot of work went into this conversion; the layout and art are beautiful, and there’s a ton of new content. I can’t speak to the faithfulness to Palladium RIFTS lore, but the SWADE team are clearly making an attempt to include as much as possible. The transition for my Savage RIFTS game has been fairly seamless; I’ve already been able to incorporate material from Arcana and Mystricism, and Empires of Humanity is next on the docket.

My only negative is that Edges are spread through several books now, which makes it that much harder to weigh options for character creation and advancement. I’d love to see a consolidated Edges document to make it easier on both player and GM.

If you like over-the-top gameplay in a world where anything from giant mechs to balrogs goes, Savage RIFTS is a must-buy.

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