Revised RIFTS Combat Rules

By Edward A. May

      Palladium Books have long heard the complaint, from consumers and retailers alike, but little has been said about a revision to correct the malady within the game. What malady is this? Simple, it is called mega-damage.

      A halfhearted accommodation was made in the Conversion Book, the first edition, but it was hardly sufficient. It suggested converting all of the high tech stuff straight over to S.D.C. equivalents - one for one. That was hardly enough, because everyone believed that this stuff should still do/have more than conventional weapons and armor.

      We will begin by exploring where this error in game design began, and explore a possible solution to the problem.

Game History

S.D.C. & Hit Points

      With the original Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Palladium differentiated between damage capacities with a system of S.D.C. and Hit Points. Hit Points were used for things that were living, S.D.C. was used for things that were inanimate. Armor and weapons had S.D.C. and characters had Hit Points.

      With the introduction of later games, suddenly characters had S.D.C., representing the ability of a character to absorb non-life threatening damage. A novel approach, BUT, it was made without any reference to damage inflicted by firearms or bladed weapons that should have been inflicted straight to hit points - in fact doing this was, as a rule, strictly forbidden. Meanwhile inanimate objects remained S.D.C., without any difference between structure and armor strength. Armor Rating was merely a system of deciding how much of the body it protected - and a good roll always seemed to somehow bypass the armor.

The Advent of Mega-Damage

      Mega-Damage was brought into play first with the Robotech RPG, as a way of best fitting the setting. Suddenly super high-tech war machines were impervious to conventional small arms and explosives. No complaints, that I am aware of, were ever made against mega-damage in this setting. It accurately portrayed the Robotech setting from the popular Macross Anime series.

      With the introduction of RIFTS in the early '90s, many die hard Palladium fans, were shocked to see Mega-Damage appear as a dominating factor in the new game. Since then it has become loved by some, but abhorred by many others. Some gamers actually refuse to play RIFTS owing to this one factor.

The Solution

      The only solution I could surmise is a complete dissolution of the old system in favor of a new system. I cannot possibly expect Palladium to address this issue professionally, because the sheer logistics of reprinting of all of their books with revised rules would hamstring Palladium financially. Perhaps if the problem would have been addressed with an early revision, then the new books could have been printed otherwise. Thus, I as a long time game master for RIFTS and other Palladium games have taken it upon myself to create a revised version of this matter in game mechanics. You may like it, you may not, but I fully intend to use it to great effect in the future in all of the RRVGG games.

Damage Capacity

      You may call them hit points, others may call them hit dice, and others may call it what ever they will. For simplicity's sake, I've chosen the neutral name of Damage Capacity, D.C., or D. Cap. This is the factor that will rule over all others, hit points, S.D.C., and M.D.C. alike. (Though these archaic terms will be used in converting the system to this new, more realistic, and more deadly system.)

      A character begins with the equivalent of his P.E., plus 1D6 per level, in D.Cap, in addition to any (previously S.D.C.) added from his/her O.C.C. - for a total Damage Capacity. With experience, this amount will continue to climb. New physical skills will also contribute to this total.

Absorbing Damage

      A character can absorb certain types of damage fairly well, including falls, punches, kicks, and blunt attacks. Others cannot. To determine how much damage can be absorbed by a character, per attack, figure that 1/5 of their total Damage Capacity, can be absorbed in every attack of this type. Thus a character with a total of 30 D.Cap. can absorb up to 6 points of damage for every physical punch/kick attack made against them. This means that a character with a PS of 3-15, striking a character with 30 S.D.C. with any regular punch, most likely will not do much against this character, unless a critical strike is rolled. Now, power punches, trained kick attacks, and super strong characters have a much better chance of doing some real damage.

      Attacks with bladed weapons, energy weapons, bullets, and similar - cannot be absorbed, in fact, these are extremely serious wounds that will continue to bleed additional damage capacity after the attack has been inflicted.

      Note that supernatural creature's attacks bypass this ability. Thus, you cannot absorb damage inflicted by a supernatural creature in this fashion.

Blood Loss

      After an attack has been made by blade, bullet, or anything else that punctures the skin and causes blood loss, the wound continues to bleed, inflicting 1D4 damage to the character per point of penetration value past the limitations of their armor, if applicable, per minute. If a weapon has a penetration value of four, and its target is not wearing any armor at all, it inflicts the initial damage PLUS 4D4 damage in blood loss for every minute thereafter. (Naturally paramedic/first aid rolls can be used to staunch blood flow.)

Penetration Resistance

      This is a rating that rules how resistant an object or individual is to penetration, as it's name suggests. This value essentially rates how hard of impacts it can take, thanks to armor protection, before the structure takes damage.

      Modern body armor, Kevlar and the like, have a penetration resistance of between one and five, meaning that it can resist most assault weapon attacks, but anything heavier still stands a good chance of making penetration. A good way to rate high tech body armor in RIFTS is simply to make it 1/10 of the armor's damage capacity, rounding up.

      This means that a man wearing CA-1 Body Armor can be pummeled with hundreds of 7.65 mm rounds from an AK-47, since their penetration value is only a 6, though jostled and bounced around, the armor takes virtually no damage - aside from scuffing up the paint job. If a jeep with a .50 caliber machine gun in the back pulls up though, the man wearing the CA-1 had better take cover, because it's going to eventually punch it's way through his armor.

Here are some common examples;

Plastic Man - 4
Huntsman - 5
Urban Warrior - 6
Bushman - 6
Gladiator - 7
CA-2 - 5
CA-1 - 8

      This system makes Plastic Man a roughly good quality suit of body armor that can resist most light damaging attacks, and has the added benefit of providing environmental protection. Essentially a hard-NBC suit. Meanwhile true combat types like CA-1 are efficient at stopping anything short of a 50 caliber full metal jacket round. However true this may be, a rail gun would chew up most anything on a battlefield - armored or not. Using an RG-14 Boom Gun against armored infantry would be massive overkill, like using a tank cannon on infantry.

      Extending this system over to heavier forms of armor would be appropriate as well, especially in the case of armored vehicles, armored robot vehicles, and similar. We take it for granted that they are armored to their fullest extent for their structure.

      Vehicles not specifically designed as armored vehicles, however, like cars, trucks, semi-trucks, hover-vehicles, aircraft, etc. have 1/8 the normal penetration resistance. Meaning that a Nightwing with 450 M.D.C., would have a penetration resistance of 6. This means that an AK-47 loaded with full metal jacket rounds could pepper that thing with damage. A vehicle with this sort of protection, if it is described with a reinforced pilot's compartment, however, has full armored protection of that area. Thus that same Nightwing with its 150 M.D.C. reinforced pilot's compartment has a penetration resistance of 15 in those areas.

      Creatures with supernatural attributes are another matter to consider. One must take a couple of factors into account - their M.D.C. and the nature of this M.D.C. protection. Creatures that are soft skinned like a very human like, but nonetheless supernatural, creature will have 1/25 their M.D.C. in Penetration Resistance. Thus a creature with 100 M.D.C. now has a Penetration Resistance of 4. This means that they are impervious to most small arms fire, all the way up to a .45 Caliber round fired at point blank range. Meanwhile a creature with 1,000 M.D.C. has a Penetration Resistance of 40, which is impervious to most support and infantry level weapons. However, if a Glitterboy with an RG-14 walks up, or a tank drives up that creature could be in danger. That covers creatures with soft flesh. Then you have to consider creatures with hard protective features, like a dragon with their legendary scaly hide, or a Fury Beetle's tough carapace. Treat this sort of protection the same way you would treat an armored vehicle - 1/10 the M.D.C. With a Hatchling Dragon that winds up with 250 M.D.C., then you wind up with a Penetration Resistance of 25. Once that same Hatchling reaches maturity in 600 years, guessing that it becomes 2,500 - penetration resistance becomes 250! There is very little in the books that would phase a dragon of this power, let alone the most powerful Great Horned Dragon possible with 8,000 M.D.C., which would have a P.R. of 800.

M.D.C./S.D.C. Conversions

      M.D.C. Conversions are relatively straightforward and simple, take the amount that already exists, and multiply it by 5. Here are the new Damage Capacities for various structures in RIFTS;

Plastic Man Body Armor - 175.
Urban Warrior - 250.
Bushman - 300.
CA-1 - 400.
SAMAS Power Armor - 1,250.
Enforcer Robot Vehicle - 1,750.
Nightwing Attack Jet - 2,250.

      S.D.C. Conversions are even simpler - convert them straight across 1 S.D.C. per one Damage. Thus a GAW-F14 with 1,800 S.D.C. now has 1,800 D. Cap. Comparing the F-14 to the Nightwing then, you wind up with a new age jet slightly tougher than its pre-cataclysm stable-mate, thanks to new technologies.

      Some objects in RIFTS are inappropriately rated for this system, however, and are perhaps poorly rated even for the RIFTS game with the existing rules set. After all, a battleship with a dozen serious strikes can sink, even though it hasn't been blown completely out of the water. Thus ships like the Ticonderoga with 20,000 M.D.C., that would give them 100,000 D. Cap, and a P.R. of 2,000. This means that the armor is so thick that you would essentially need a full-scale nuke to do any damage to it. A better system would involve a damage capacity per area. An example;


Upper Hull - Above waterline (Per 10'x10' section) - 1,250 D. Cap. (P.R. - 25.)
Lower Hull - Below waterline (Per 10'x10' section) - 1,750 D. Cap. (P.R. - 35.)
Lower Hull - Belly (Per 10'x10' section) - 1,000 D. Cap. (P.R. - 20.)
Deck - (Per 10'x10' section) - 2,500 D. Cap. (P.R. - 50.)

      Weapon turrets, screws, and similar can all have fixed amounts of damage, but these areas should be labeled in this fashion so that it makes it apparent that although the vessel is massive, it is not a super armored juggernaut. Carriers were never meant to duke it out with an enemy point blank, they were meant to stand off and strike with their aircraft. A carrier would yield like tissue paper against missiles and large caliber cannons. In addition to this, create a table of damages that can be inflicted or just use some common sense in the matter. If the vessel is struck in the aft lower hull - then assume that one of the engine rooms are now flooding. Give it a number of compartments that can flood without causing adverse effects, and go with it. It makes it a lot more dramatic and realistic. Naturally, as a combat vessel, it will have provisions for pumping, repair, and such - so don't make it unrealistically low either. I would say about two dozen good hits below the water line (12 10x10 foot areas) will send her to the Davie Jones locker. A dozen on one side could cause her to roll. For a total damage capacity, I would go ahead and use the 100,000 D. Cap its converted M.D.C. would provide, but use the P.R.s for each separate area. Just rule that once that much damage has been inflicted, the vessel is in serious trouble of structural failure, fires are popping up faster than damage control can counter them, and the vessel is essentially doomed. Don't count stuff like turrets, screws, and similar against this total - just stuff regarding the hull's integrity itself.

      Converting supernatural creatures over is a simple conversion, just multiply the M.D.C. by five, and that becomes their D. Cap.

Penetration Value

      All weapons have some measure of penetration value, but not all weapons are created equally in terms of their ability to penetrate armor. Lasers are notoriously poor armor penetrators. Rail Guns are good armor penetrators due to their velocity, but AP weapons are still better. Plasma is good for cooking a soldier in body armor, but is poor at penetrating the armor plate of an armored vehicle. Here are some rules of thumb to go by when determining penetration value. These factors will be determined by how much M.D. the weapon inflicted prior to the conversion to the new system;

Lasers: 1/3 the Max. Damage of the weapon. (Thus a laser that inflicts 24 M.D. (4D6) will have a Penetration Value of 8; Roughly equivalent to pre-cataclysm assault rifles using A.P. rounds.) Note that ion weapons are classified within this same variety.) Pulse lasers are a different entity entirely. Pulse lasers space their beams by microseconds to counter the diffusion that typically hampers high powered lasers as a result of vaporized material on the target - thus treat any bursts from a pulse laser weapon as having a penetration value based on the total burst damage. Thus an L-20 or CP-40, has a P.V. of 12!
Plasma: 1/5 the Max. Damage of the weapon. (Thus a plasma blast that inflicts 60 M.D. (1D6x10) will have a Penetration Value of 12; Roughly equivalent to pre-cataclysm white phosphorus, if not a little better.)
Rail Guns: 1/2 the Max. Damage of the weapon. (Thus a Rail Gun that inflicts 40 M.D. (1D4x10) will have a Penetration Value of 20! Using this same formula for the RG-14 Boom Gun that inflicts 180 M.D. (3D6x10) you wind up with a Penetration Value of 90, making it a true anti-armor weapon.)
Armor Piercing Explosives: These are specifically designed as armor penetrators, thus they have a 1 for 1 penetration value versus mega-damage. An AP Mini-Missile has a P.V. of 40, since it inflicts 1D4x10 M.D. Meanwhile a 200 mm H.E.A.T. round that does 3D6x10 M.D. has a P.V. of 180! This illustrates the use of having a 7 ton cannon in a heavily armored turret, versus just having a 700+ Lb. RG-14 Boom Gun. It also shows the AP Mini-Missile to be an effective weapon against lightly armored vehicles like APCs and similar, but not much use against a main battle tank. Meanwhile a 16 inch cannon on a battleship, with a maximum damage of 3D6x100 M.D. has a P.V. of 1,800 - basically showing that it can inflict damage to just about anything it is pointed at, just as it should be.
Particle Beams: 1/2 the Max. Damage of the weapon. (Thus a particle beam that inflicts 40 M.D. (1D4x10) will have a penetration value of 14, when rounding up.) Particle Beams are a different entity from loose plasma cloud explosive blasts, they are focused and directed at a target at speeds approaching the speed of light, and do not suffer the diffusion problems lasers do. As a result their penetration values are far superior.
Vibro-Weapons: 1/2 the Max. Damage of the weapon. (Thus a vibro-sword that inflicts 12 M.D. (2D6) will have a Penetration Value of 6.)
Magic Blades: Equal to the Max. Damage of the weapon. Magic weapons specific to demons, monsters, dragons, good, evil, etc. - all have the normal penetration value mentioned here against other opponents, but against the specific target type they specialize in, ignore the penetration resistance of that target! Thus a point of tanks with 200 mm cannons can hammer on a 4,000 M.D. dragon all day long with H.E.A.T. rounds without doing much more than pissing it off. A lone hero, however, with a dragon slayer sword, however, can engage and potentially defeat the beast.
Conventional Weapons: Here is a list of conventional weapons calibers with their approximate penetration values and damages:
.22 Cal Pistol P.V. 1 (1D6)
.22 Cal Rifle P.V. 2 (1D8)
.223 Cal (5.56 mm) Rifle P.V. 5 (3D6)
7.62 Pistol P.V. 2 (1D8)
7.62 Rifle (30.06 Cal) P.V. 6 (5D6)
7.65 Pistol P.V. 3 (1D10)
7.65 Rifle P.V. 6 (5D6)
.38 Cal Pistol (Special) P.V. 3 (2D6)
9 mm Pistol P.V. 4 (2D6)
.357 Cal Pistol (Magnum) P.V. 5 (4D6)
10 mm Pistol P.V. 4 (4D6)
.44 Cal Pistol (Magnum) P.V. 6 (5D6)
.45 Cal Pistol P.V. 4 (4D6)
.50 Cal Pistol P.V. 6 (5D6)
.50 Cal Rifle P.V. 7 (1D4x10)
.60 Cal Rifle P.V. 9 (1D6x10)
.729 Cal/12 Gauge P.V. 4/5 (4D6/5D6)
.775 Cal/10 Gauge P.V. 5/6 (5D6/6D6)
.787 Cal/20 mm Cannon P.V. 9 (AP) (2D4x10)
.835 Cal/8 Gauge P.V. 6/7 (6D6/1D4x10)
1.18 Cal/30 mm Cannon P.V. 18 (AP) (3D6x10)

Note: Frangible rounds reduce the penetration value to 1, regardless of caliber, but doubles the damage to soft targets - like unarmored humans. Full metal jacket variants increase the penetration value by 2.

Supernatural Creatures: Attacks from these creatures are the big X-Factor in setting up this system. Assume that the penetration value of the hand to hand attacks made by a supernatural creature are equal to his/her penetration resistance. This means that a Great Horned Dragon Hatchling, with 450 M.D.C prior to conversion, has a P.V. to all of his/her hand to hand attacks of 45! Meanwhile an adult ice dragon with 4,000 M.D.C. prior to conversion has a P.V. to all of his/her hand to hand attacks of 400! This effect is purely mystical, and does not mean that the attacks do any more damage than the listed conversion, it's just that it somehow effects much stronger armor than it technically should. This is actually a system that makes sense, as supernatural creatures often have hierarchies that are based around the strongest/toughest member of a group, as is the case with Gargoyles. Hatchling dragons will NEVER in their right mind attempt to tangle with an adult. Demons tend to be extremely subservient to greater demons. This all explains those reasons quite well - with the M.D.C. system as it was previously, if a lesser demon got really lucky, it could essentially defeat a much tougher demon. With this system an Alu Demon would never even consider bucking up against a Gallu Demon Bull, because he'd mop the floor with him and come out - basically, unscathed.

M.D. Weapon Conversion Table:

      This system is fairly simple to convert;

1D4 M.D. = 5D4 Dmg.
1D6 M.D. = 5D6 Dmg.
2D4 M.D. = 1D4x10 Dmg.
2D6 M.D. = 1D6x10 Dmg.
4D4 M.D. = 2D4x10 Dmg.
3D6 M.D. = 2D4x10+10 Dmg.
5D4 M.D. = 1D10x10 Dmg. (or 2D4x10+20)
4D6 M.D. = 2D6x10 Dmg.
5D6 M.D. = 4D4x10 Dmg.
6D6 M.D. = 3D6x10 Dmg.
1D4x10 M.D. = 5D4x10 Dmg.
1D6x10 M.D. = 5D6x10 Dmg.
2D4x10 M.D. = 1D4x100 Dmg.
2D6x10 M.D. = 1D6x100 Dmg.
4D4x10 M.D. = 2D4x100 Dmg.
3D6x10 M.D. = 2D4x100+100 Dmg.
5D4x10 M.D. = 1D10x100 Dmg.
4D6x10 M.D. = 2D6x100 Dmg.
5D6x10 M.D. = 4D4x100 Dmg.
6D6x10 M.D. = 3D6x100 Dmg.
1D4x100 M.D. = 5D4x1,000 Dmg.
1D6x100 M.D. = 5D6x1,000 Dmg.

Supernatural Damage Conversion Table:

      The damages listed in the GMG had to be adjusted somewhat to fit the new system a bit more adequately.

PS: 15 or Less: Restrained Punch: 2D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 4D6, Power Punch: 1D4x10.
PS: 16-20: Restrained Punch: 3D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 5D6, Power Punch: 1D6x10.
PS: 21-25: Restrained Punch: 3D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 1D6x10, Power Punch: 2D4x10.
PS: 26-30: Restrained Punch: 4D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 2D4x10+10, Power Punch: 4D4x10+20.
PS: 31-35: Restrained Punch: 5D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 2D6x10, Power Punch: 4D6x10.
PS: 36-40: Restrained Punch: 6D6, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 4D4x10, Power Punch: 5D6x10+20.
PS: 41-50: Restrained Punch: 1D4x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 3D6x10, Power Punch: 6D6x10.
PS: 51-60: Restrained Punch: 1D6x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 5D6x10, Power Punch: 1D6x100.
PS: 61-70: Restrained Punch: 2D4x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 1D4x100, Power Punch: 2D4x100.
PS: 71-80: Restrained Punch: 2D6x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 1D6x100, Power Punch: 2D6x100.
PS: 81-90: Restrained Punch: 3D6x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 2D4x100, Power Punch: 4D4x100.
PS: 91-100: Restrained Punch: 4D6x10, Full Strength Punch/Kick: 2D4x100+100, Power Punch: 4D4x100+200.


      This new system of modifications will allow RIFTS to have a more balanced feel to it, so that tanks cannot be taken out by infantrymen leveling a platoon sized barrage of laser fire against it, in less than five seconds. Tactics might allow them to disable a tank tread, dump a grenade down a cannon barrel, or even to blast through the hatches leading to the soft and fleshy crew inside - but that takes serious work and strategy, something seen far too infrequently than it should be in any game. It also makes it so that supernatural creatures of immense power are indeed something to be feared.

      What I liked about the weapon's conversions was that it made it so that an infantryman could take out another infantryman relatively well, with the right equipment, but against a suit of power armor - he would be next to powerless. I also like how the penetration values of certain weapons begin to illustrate their purposes a little better than the previous system. An AP Mini-Missile was about the most redundant example I could think of in the previous system. I know my players ALWAYS opted for plasma mini-missiles if given the option. Now, you see that plasma is good for certain things, but not so good for others. It can fry a guy in body armor, and it will utterly annihilate anything that is poorly armored, yet against armored vehicles it's just an expensive pyrotechnic show. Meanwhile the AP Mini sucks for anti-infantry operations, given its small blast radius, yet against armor it can put serious hurt on these.

      According to Spirit West, the C-40R was a lightweight and less expensive alternative to the USA-M31, the rail gun intended for the SAMAS by the US Government. This rule shows the C-40R to be excellent as an anti-infantry weapon, but a piece of junk when bucking up against real armor. It show's the SAMAS's entire purpose as being a heavyweight bruiser meant to support infantry against infantry, rather than as a high speed and agile armor-busting dynamo. Heavy combat calls for heavy weaponry - plain and simple. The USA-M31 described in Spirit West does 1D6x10 M.D. which would give it a P.V. of 30, more than enough to effect a suit of armor like the SAMAS, which was the standard for the time. There again, it fits the setting, yet against even something like the APC V - it is not enough to really do more than scuff up the paint job.

      What I also like about this system is that it makes it easier to support the idea of energy weapons in addition to conventional firearms. Conventional firearms have long been complained about, in RIFTS, as useless. They have GREAT value in this system, because they are cheap, easy to produce, and the true assault models with the right accessories/ammunition are reasonably effective against all but the heaviest armored infantry.

      While this system will prove to be a challenge to integrate at first, it will probably improve the combat setting all around to have a lot more shell shock value to it that was strongly lacking in the RIFTS system. At last - characters will avoid diving into a pitched battle against powerful adversaries, and even if they do, they will have to work for every inch they might gain.

Written by Edward A. May, RRVGG©, 2005, based upon the RIFTS® RPG, produced by Palladium Books®.

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