Most appropriate header image ever?
Lots of great discussion here in yesterday's Rethinking Rifts. Many of you shared your thoughts about the need for some changes to this classic, revered system, and I agree. What, exactly, you do to modify the system for your type of game will vary from group to group, and there are no wrong answers. For what it's worth, here are some of my suggested solutions for a number of common problems.
Problem: I want a grittier, more dangerous feel for my combat.
Rather than using the standard 1 M.D.C. = 100 S.D.C. ratio, make it 1 M.D.C. = 10 S.D.C. Further, give environmental body armor an Armor Rating of 18 against S.D.C. weapons, so that any strike roll (after bonuses) of 18 or lower impacts the armor and not the wearer. Make similar adjustments to magic/psychic/supernatural abilities.
Keep weapon damages the same as listed for both S.D.C. and Mega-Damage weapons. The end result is that adventurers and soldiers in full body armor maintain a sense of invulnerability, as a punk with a handgun is still not too much of a threat, but a well-trained sniper, explosives, squad-operated weapons, or even a prolonged shootout provide enough incentive for an armored soldier to seek some cover when confronted with conventional weapons rather than stand and trade blows as tends to happen in many Rifts sessions.
Further, maintain this same A.R. against Mega-Damage weapons. Most strike rolls will deliver their damage to the body of the armor, but a sufficiently high strike roll will bypass the protection of the armor and deal damage directly to the character. At the 10:1 ratio noted above, damage from an energy rifle should be bad, but not the instant death that is normally is. Even in the event that a character take a shot through a gap in the armor, I wouldn't go so far as to instantly kill such a character struck by a Mega-Damage weapon, but losing limbs or suffering severe trauma are real threats, and cybernetic prosthetics suddenly make a lot more sense within the structure of the game..
An interesting benefit of this system is the sudden utility of a combat medic of some sort, a post totally unmanned in traditional Rifts games. This could be the party Body Fixer, C.S. Technical Officer with a Medical M.O.S., or just a character that has spent the necessary skills to keep the party alive. Check out the Field Surgery skill for emergency medicine procedures for victims of Mega-Damage wounds, and be sure to award healthy XP for these life-saving characters..
Problem: Military combat vehicles are too weak.
Play Rifts long enough, and you'll run across a 20-foot long cannon that does half the damage of a human-scale laser rifle. While you can try to justify that in any number of ways, the truth is that the scales are out of whack. For many adventuring parties, it never really comes up, but if involved against the Coalition or swept into the Tolkeen war, it becomes an issue.
Some vehicles and their armaments are better-scaled than others, but on the whole I would recommend doubling the Main Body M.D.C. of anything classified as larger than a suit of power armor, so basically giant robots, APCs, tanks, mobile guns, and any vehicle designed for modern warfare on a large scale. If it requires infantry support, has a large primary weapon, and seats more than two people, chances are it qualifies. Further, I would recommend multiplying the damage of the vehicle's primary weapon, plus all guided missiles (not mini-missiles) by a factor of 10.
These modifiers, together, more or less ensure that the primary weapon of any vehicle will kill, or at least incapacitate, any infantry in its crosshairs. It also pretty much guarantees that a single shot from a primary weapon won't destroy another similarly armored vehicle. This isn't reality, but a sacrifice in the name of game play; one shot, one kill isn't generally optimal for role-playing, as it allows no response by one of the parties involved in the conflict.
Problem: M.D.C. makes combat too slow and/or boring.
With weapons doing so little damage compared to the amount of protection provided by armor, combat in Rifts can devolve quickly into slug-it-out, simultaneous attacks back and forth until somebody gives. In addition to the proposed "grittier" solution, above, add impact effects to energy weapons. Whether or not this makes sense in the actual physics, I feel it's justifiable that a laser, ion, particle beam, or supernatural blast that does as much damage as a 21st century tank should pack a punch. Make those taking a hit roll percentile dice over the amount of damage to avoid being momentarily stunned (lose initiative and one attack) by the impact of an energy blast, and make an explosion, rail gun, or large slug have double the likelihood of creating a momentary stun. This will certainly result in more dodges and running for cover, since losing initiative and an attack only gives an opponent more and more chances to pour it on, potentially keeping the character off balance for the entire round.
But wait, doesn't making characters dodge and seek cover prolong combat? Not necessarily. Cover and other strategic defensive actions allow for one side or the other to regroup to implement changes in strategy, or even to fall back and abandon the fight, for now. These short interludes give us time for more role-playing, rather than having characters standing opposite one another, seeing how fast each can pull the trigger.
Something else you can do is to use only Main Body M.D.C. for personal body armor. Hit locations do make some sense, but in the end you only end up extending combat as some damage goes to the head, others hit the Main Body, etc. If your players want to take head shots, let it do double damage to the Main Body if successful.
Something else that you can do that isn't directly related to Mega-Damage, but will help immensely, is to remove two attacks per melee from every character, and revoke the extra attack granted by the Boxing skill (or at least make it only apply in hand to hand combat). This will create new initiative situations more frequently, and enhances the attack-advantage of robots, power armor, Juicers, Crazies, and others.
I think that any of us could make a pretty substantial list of issue with scaling and Mega-Damage in Rifts, but I think these are the three biggest issues that I've run across in my playing days, and what I've done to mitigate them.
Let's keep the ball rolling! What do you think?