Note: For this blog entry I’m assuming the reader has familiarity with the Rifts setting, because, well, you wouldn’t really be interested in using it for your Gamma World Game if you didn’t.
Last week I mentioned my desire to run a Gamma World game within the setting of Rifts. I’ve thought more about it and I definitely think it can be done with very little modification. I like the setting of the Gamma World game itself, its fun and I especially love the weird interpretations those on Gamma Terra have about the culture (and naming conventions) of the ‘ancients’ (us). But a ‘kitchen sink’ setting like Rifts offers a few advantages, the most important being the easy (and expected) importation of all the cool magical monsters from D&D. On the other side of things, I get to keep a setting I love while ditching a rule set I’ve come to loathe. I’m not the first to do this. Converting Rifts to other game systems is something of an internet wide pastime (which, in my opinion is a good barometer of how great a setting it is and how problematic the rules are). Of the blogs I follow there’s BTR (that’s better than rifts), Outsyder’s Spectrum Shock, the 4e Rifts Earth Saga, heck even Ryan Dancey (the father of open gaming) is on record saying that Rifts needed a d20 version (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). There is such a demand that the forum at Palladium books even has a section detailing why they won’t allow Rifts to be converted to any other system (I’m just going to assume Palladium has enough problems of its own to care what I’m doing in the corner over here).
So how to make it work using Gamma World? The best attempt I’ve seen is here, and it takes the approach of creating new character origins based off of the Rifts O.C.C.s and R.C.C.s (juicers, power armor pilots, mind melters, etc.). The origins are good and it does a great job of directly translating the source material, but that’s not what I think is needed. In Gamma World, the more origins the better (that way there’s less of a chance of duplication within the party), so any approach that limits them to a static set I think is missing out on one of the appealing things about the game (plus it looks like each Gamma World supplement is going to add to the list). Instead, my solution is to have characters add another level of detail, layered on top of their origins, that filters their powers into something that would better fit in the world of Rifts. After all, the character creation process in Gamma World is all about interpreting how those origins interact with one another, the power source just guides that interpretation in a Rifts direction.
Using the table, characters can roll or choose a power source. Each power source gives a label to the character’s powers (Alpha mutation cards). So for example: an Electrokinetic Yeti with the technology power source could be a bionic Dog-boy with a built in neural mace attached to its arm; a Radioactive Gravity Controller with the magic power source could be a Ley-line Walker with ominous glowing eyes, always floating a few inches off the ground; and a Speedster Hypercognitive with the technology power source would be a perfect Juicer.
To continue the example: a bionic Dog-boy with the hostility Alpha card has learned how to short-circuit his neural mace to override a target’s cognition; a Ley-line Walker with the stoke resentment Alpha card casts the ‘wisps of confusion’ spell; and a Juicer with the venomous spurs Alpha card draws a poisoned switchblade (why are these powers always changing? That’s explained in the altered Rifts fluff at the end of the article).
Allowing for broad interpretations fits Gamma World better and I think allows for the kind of infinite possibilities necessary to recreate the tremendous variety of O.C.C.s and R.C.C.s in the Rifts game.
Add Arcana to the skill list (it screws up the symmetry of the skill list, but nothing’s perfect). When importing creatures from D&D add appropriate keywords: dragons, demons, elementals, undead, and goblins make great extradimensional monsters; grell, kruthik, mind flayers, and oozes make great extraterrestrial monsters; carrion crawlers, displacer beasts, owlbear, shambling mounds, and spiders make great terrestrial monsters. Finally add some magically oriented Omega Tech cards (these templates make it easy), like the TK -Machine gun, Cloak of Invisibility, Rune Weapons, and Symbiotes.
A subtle change to the Rifts fluff brings the two games a little closer in line with one another:
“In the ages of the ancients, humanity lived in a golden age of prosperity. It was a time of high technology, human augmentation and fusion powered travel. Sages don’t agree on the causes of the ‘Big Mistake’ that awakened the rifts and brought down the apocalypse. Was it a global war of pride between the kingdoms of the ancients that snuffed out a billion souls whose backlash of psychic energy was too much for the earth’s ley lines to bear? Were the ancients being punished for ignoring the warning of their prophets that the stars would align for the return of the children of the Old Ones? Perhaps it was the hubris of ancient scientists at fabled ‘project arrowhead’ attempting to open a doorway to another world? Perhaps all are true.
Regardless of the cause, the results of the Big Mistake are plain for all to see. Ley lines, pathways of psychic energy that crisscrossed the planet, crackled with overflowing energy. Where these lines intersected the power was so great that rifts to other dimensions were torn through the fabric of space. Magic, once thought to be superstition and sleight of hand, became a powerful force in the world as real as science. Alien intelligences, demons, and creatures from nightmare poured through the rifts to invade our world. Atlantis rose from the ocean, unleashing biblical tsunamis on the world’s coastlines. Civilization ended almost overnight, but not before the ancients unleashed their most powerful weapons of mass destruction.
That was a hundred years ago. The Americas are a wasteland dotted with settlements carved out of the junk of the ancients. People use whatever they can to survive, be it scraps of technology, magical incantation or newfound mutant ability. But nothing is certain in this post apocalyptic age. The chaotic energy of the ley lines affects all things. Guns might stop working just as a machine that’s been dead for years lurches to life. Spells carved into millennia old tablets have random and unpredictable results. Mutants, their DNA forever altered by exposure to radiation and magic spontaneously grow wings and breathe fire.
It is a harsh world we have inherited from the ancients. One filled with monsters and uncertainty.” – from the History of the Wasteland, 101 P.A.