d20 and Post-Apocalyptic Mecha-Style Games

Having now got the Eclipse Compiled book and the Practical Enchanter book, and Legends of High Fantasy is on the way to me, I need some guidance.

It’s easy to see how this works with a D20 type campaign. But what I want to use these on is Palladium – most notably Rifts. Any ideas on how the conversion might work?

-Bruce Gray

This varies somewhat depending on if you want to run a Rifts-style game using the Eclipse d20 rules or if you want to translate d20 characters into Rifts or vice-versa – so this initial look is going to be awfully generic.

When you come down to actual play most of the differences between Rifts and the d20 rules set are actually pretty straightforward. That’s really not too surprising given that the Palladium system is ultimately quite derivative of early-edition AD&D and Runequest and has never really been revised or upgraded.

Rifts characters and monsters are essentially invulnerable to minor attacks – to non-magical weapons in d20 terms. d20 characters are, however, far more resistant to major attacks since the d20 damage scale is exponential instead of linear.

  • When you’re considering Rifts and d20 it’s important to remember that the d20 scale starts off with fairly ordinary people (like the Rifts City Rat) and ends up with the power to create and destroy universes – far beyond he upper limits for Rifts characters (or gods).

d20 damage is not linear. For example, as explored HERE, a medium size Mace in d20 hits for 1d8 damage plus strength modifiers – often enough (with either a critical hit or a good strength modifier) to instantly kill a normal (1d4 hit points) person. A Colossal Mace is 12 times as large in any dimension (and so masses almost seven tons) and hits at the same rate – meaning it’s swung 12 times as fast. This comes out to 248,832 times as much kinetic energy to inflict damage. That’s 248,832d8 damage in Rifts linear damage system or 248d8 Megadamage.

Yet a Colossal Mace only does 6d6+Str Mod damage in d20 (the same base damage as a sixth level wizard throwing a Fireball). If we simply consider d20 attacks to be megadamage… we are actually cheating the high-end d20 types out of most of their damage. For example, according to Rifts official FAQ’s, the Tsar Bomba would have a total destruction radius of 10 KM, causes 3d6 x 1000 MD out to 16 KM, and causes 2d6 x 100 MD out to 22.5 KM. In d20… a direct hit with it causes 25d6 damage and some saving throws. A d20 future “Singularity Grenade” sucks all matter and energy within it’s radius into a black hole – tearing matter apart at the subatomic level with infinite forces. It does 15d6 damage.

Similarly, d20 characters are not soft, squishy, mortals to begin with. As covered over HERE, one d20 hit point is roughly equal to a Battlemech (or Megadamage) Hit Point – and the same logic applies given that a City Rat starts off with an average of about forty (27 + PE) SDC and HP while an equivalent d20 character will start with an average of 2-3 HP.

  • Rifts armor protection is ablative rather than constant – which means that repairing and replacing armor is a constant preoccupation for combat-based characters.
  • Rifts has more technical skills, and starts with higher skill bases, but skills develop more slowly and never achieve the kind of inhuman levels that d20 characters can develop – partially because d20 has sliding difficulty levels, while most Rifts skill rolls have fixed targets and few modifiers. What level of the Rifts Acrobatics skill will let you walk on clouds? d20 skills can do things like that.
  • Rifts power-items are usually technologically styled (and lean very heavily towards “bang” as opposed to more subtle abilities). Of course d20 covers this too; both in d20 future and in publications like Dragonstar.
  • Starting Rifts characters are more powerful compared to basic NPC’s than most d20 characters are mostly thanks to that invulnerability to minor attacks – but high-end Rifts characters are far less powerful than high-end d20 characters.
  • Rifts skills can boost attributes and provide special abilities. In d20 you get similar boosts from Feats and Martial Arts Skills. The overall effect is pretty similar.
  • Rifts usually defaults to limiting magic by a characters magical reserves rather than by spell slots, but it’s not like d20 mages can’t be built that way.
  • All d20 characters are automatically trained in combat, often with a very wide variety of weapons. Rifts characters need hand-to-hand combat skills and specific weapon proficiencies.
  • d20 combat is more abstracted than Rifts (parries and such are presumed as a part of AC), but the end result is similar enough; you trade attacks and maneuvers until someone goes down.
  • d20 Saves are considerably better organized, but function in much the same way. The primary difference is, once again, the scaling target numbers.

And that’s about it. There are some game-mechanical differences, such as the difference in characteristic scales – but as long as those remain consistent within the game, the actual numbers only matter when converting characters.

So to run a Post-Apocalypse or “Rifts”-Styled d20 Game:

  • Characters with Adventurer Classes and Monsters with CR 4+ all get DR 8/Magic for free.
  • Player Characters start at Level Four.
  • Magical Weapons, Armor, and Physical Attribute Boosters are all generally technological and are available for one-fifth the normal price. Alternatively, if you wish to go for the “big guns and mecha” feel, use the Federation-Apocalypse gear (Common Gadgets, Small Arms, Effectors and Remotes, Medical Care, Mecha and Power Armor, Core PsitechWeapon Benchmarks, Battlemech Conversions (and a few more d20 Battlemech Conversions), Flit, Orb, and Starship Shields) or the Shadowed Galaxy equipment skills (General Gear and Weapons).
  • When a Character takes damage, their armor or shield is also hit for one-half that damage. It’s hardness, however, applies. Mostly from the SRD…
    • Effective Armor Hardness: 5 (Leather, etc), 10 (Steel), 15 (Special Metals), 20 (Adamant), +2 per +1 bonus
    • Armor Hit Points: 5 x AC Bonus + 10 per +1 bonus or equivalent.
  • There are no magic marts. You’ve got to find stuff – whether by seeking out someone who makes it or by theft or salvage. Low-end stuff is fairly common, high end stuff is rare. Most items are technologically styled; instead of a “wand of healing” you have a healers kit. (Most characters should take the ability to use such things as “technological aptitude” (Item Use).
  • Experience point gains are halved after reaching level six, reduced to one-fourth after reaching level nine, and reduced to one-eighth at levels twelve to fifteen, and so on.

And now your d20 game will play a lot like Rifts (or Deadlands, or a dozen similar settings). Only adventurers with special gear will be able to handle monsters, their armor will need constant maintenance, and it will be extremely slow and difficult to achieve the heights of cosmic power normally available in d20.

Do you want to bring d20 characters into your Rifts game?

  • Double the d20 characters hit points to get their MDC. D20 Armor boosts it’s wearer’s ability to withstand damage rather than having it’s own hits (after all, there is always the classic chainmail bikini, which works just fine in d20). Add standard d20 Armor HP to the user’s MDC. As a magical booster, d20 armor is only destroyed if specifically targeted after the wearer is dead. Alternatively, simply translate things into technologically-styled armor.
  • All d20 magical weapons, magically enhanced attacks, spells, psionic powers, and other special abilities inflict their usual damage as megadamage.
  • Use the d20 characters Fortitude Bonus against Diseases, Poisons, and Drugs, their Will Bonus against Curses, Insanity, Magic, and Psionics, and their Reflex Bonus to Parry, Dodge, and Roll with the Punch. In all cases, normal Rifts target numbers apply.
  • 4) All d20 characters get (BAB/5, rounded up, +2) Attacks at their full BAB since Rifts rounds are fifteen seconds long instead of six.
  • Rifts Speed = (2 x d20 Movement / 3).
  • Take the d20 skills, multiply the bonuses by 10%, and put it into something roughly equivalent Rifts skills. If anything goes over 120%, put the extra into related skills.
  • 7) Forget physical skills. Forget weapon proficiencies. d20 buys that stuff directly, and folds it into generic proficiency sets and BAB. Use BAB as the bonus to attacks.
  • 8) If, for some reason, you want to compare attributes, multiply the d20 attributes by 1.6

Really, everything else is quite compatible enough; sure, there will be some strange mechanics by Rifts standards – but Rifts is full of strange mechanics particular to specific items, creatures, and OCCs.

Do you want to convert Rifts characters to d20? That’s more awkward simply because Rifts has little consistency. There aren’t any simple rules that will cover all the odd cases given that a whale wizard, a cosmo-knight, a demigodling, a cloud-tentacle monster, a doctor, and a dryad will have compatibility problems even in Rifts, much less in translation. The simplest way is to just give the mundane characters big guns and advanced armor (probably using d20 Future or the Federation-Apocalypse gear) and turn the magic-users and psychics into appropriate types – but when the weird stuff comes up it will probably just be easier to use Eclipse to build something equivalent – or just reverse the “convert to d20” quick rules above.


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