Welcome to NexusNine.Net -- Click the image to go to the main page.


Quality in Rifts: Remembering Pete Overton

Quality In Rifts: Armor Penetration

By Pete Overton

Last Updated: 04.17.2006


Are you kidding? :)

I suspect if you are a Rifts GM, you have gotten to the point where your players openly mock the appearance of SAMAS, or other kinds of vehicles. Perhaps you hear often, "Let Jim lead, he has the best armor!", or maybe you simply want a little more realism in your game. The problems with Palladium's system are legion, and chief amongst them is that ever so delightful mechanic known as MDC. MDC has caused such a number of open head wounds and outright weeping that if it were a person, it would be charged with a number of crimes against humanity. It's not that it exists, it's that it is handled so inconsistently and irrationally. For a game which encourages stock characters and a strangely hyperrealistic combat round, it is par, but for those of us on the outside looking in, it can be quite distressing.

You might remember the old days when Rifts was a post-apocalyptic game. You'd be hard pressed to recall those heady times these days. The Armor Penetration rules, in short, add a twinge of grim realism and fear back into the combat system, making players have to think a lot more about tactics and combat rather than just slag away until the MDC drops to zero. An attribute for armor called Damage Resistance is added, which mitigates some incoming damage automatically, and the potential for damage spillage in the armor is also introduced. The armor piercing concept is also added, and how to add it to weapons easily. Finally, a brief discussion of how to use these rules and general mindbending over MDC ends the file.

Please Note

As may or may not be obvious, system mechanics are not my thing. In fact, I hear some wits out there already screaming that I have no thing. Those of you who have run into my mechanics before know they are pretty "alpha release" style. These ones I have used (somewhat modified) in my own games, and I am a little more confident about it. However, this is more a discussion and rough outline of a solution using armor penetration, not an entirely encapsulated mechanic. The GM has some work to do with this, but the core seed of it is here for all to see. The basic mechanic I think works fine, you'll just need to tweak the specific DRs of armors and decide what is and isn't armor piercing. But it's about as much as you'll get out of me on this topic. :)

Armor Penetration (v1.2)

The system introduces a new attribute for armor called Damage Resistance, or DR for short. In standard Palladium, damage resistance and capacity are the same thing - which is to say, the new CS standard body armor is 100 MDC on its main body, and whatever hits you applies directly to the armor. With DR, we set an attribute to represent the mitigating factor of how thick the armor is and what materials it is made from and other such things, called damage resistance. Thus the incoming shot must deal with the armor's resistance to it before going on to damage the armor. This is on a PER SHOT basis.

The value of the DR attribute is expressed in a flat percentage, as determined by the GM. This is chosen so that it can patch into the current game system (scary as it is, some people still use it) without much of a problem, and is easily understood at a glance. Setting it is an entirely different issue. You can very quickly determine how grim your game is by how low you set the DR of armor. Typically, anywhere from 1-10 is more than sufficient. By assigning settings or manufacturers within that setting a DR rating, you could quickly set the bar, but that flat rate rarely applies well over everything they do. There are other factors to be considered, such as what the armor is made of and how thick it is (thickness is not as important as it is today, but thinner armor has the potential for more damage spillage). It's a very subjective thing, and lord knows *I* am certainly not the one to write up the nice table for you detailing all of the DRs for everything in the game. Once you field test the mechanic a little, you will get a feel for what works best. I used to use a flat 10% for everything in the oldern days, and that worked pretty well for most of the games I ran, but I added a more "floating point" version this time to allow for different combat ideologies.

As you may have guessed already, with your DR attribute, you merely automatically subtract the amount from incoming shot damage. Let's say Heroic CS Soldier wearing old body armor (80 MDC, DR 10) is shot by Crazy Merc who is using a C-14 Firebreather for 12 MD. Heroic CS Soldier's player figures out his DR by taking his 80 MDC score and his rating (10, always a percent) and figuring out that the armor is resistant to 8 MD. Thus, of the 12 MD that the Firebreather does to him, 8 of it is automatically absorbed by the armor, leaving 4 MD to damage the armor's capacity (leaving him with 76 MD).

The DR is always a percentage, because as the armor capacity drops lower, it resists less. Thus, if Heroic CS Soldier's armor was down to a mere 38 MD, that would make his DR 4 (AR 10, 38 MD = 3.8 = 4 rounded up for PCs ;). So as you take more and more damage, your armor resists less and less. The wise among you have noticed that there are times when a piddley laser pistol couldn't get through some high-end military body armor. That's right. PCs need to come with the right tools for the right job.

Also, there is the concept of damage spillage. Today's body armor stops wimpy bullets, sure, but there is massive bruising and sometimes broken ribs and such from the impact. With MDC materials and energy-based shots, this isn't so dramatic as with kinetic weapons. However, this system postulates that anytime the armor proper takes damage, there will be a minor effect on the character in it. To keep it easy, assume about 10% of the damage that gets by the DR is applied to the character as direct SDC damage. Thus, if the Heroic CS Soldier's armor in the above example took a mere 4 MD, then the character inside of it would take 10% of 4 MD = 0.4 = 0 rounded down for PCs. Thus, the Crazy Merc would have to change weapons (Firebreather = 3d6 MD max) or slam away at the armor, oldschool.

So far, this sounds pretty standard, right? Not a real big change. The fun comes in when you start dealing with power armor and vehicles. What is meant to be a walking tank, the Glitter Boy, has an MD of 770. Assuming a DR of 10, it would absorb 77 MD without even blinking. Plus, any laser attack is doing half-damage even before that is applied (but who is still attacking a Glitter Boy with lasers these days, goodness). Thus, with DR in place, vehicles become a much bigger threat, rather than just events that slow down the game session because you have to hack down 770 MDC on a Glitter Boy, one attack at a time.

So, what's a poor CS squad to do against these retconned hulking behemoths? What soldiers throughout modern history have done - use armor piercing weapons.

Armor Piercing Weapons

Armor piercing is a new tag that can be added onto an assortment of typical weapons. In essence, armor piercing weapons simply ignore damage resistance, applying directly to the armor. As a secondary effect, the damage spillage to the poor guy in the armor is also much higher, since his armor isn't as effective at resisting. The primary reasoning for this rule is to give a sense of scale between firearms (laser rifles et al.) and heavy weapons (particle beam guns et al.). No one attacks a tank with an M-16, so why Rifts characters should attack a SAMAS with a C-14 is beyond me. Damage resistance creates a distinct difference between vehicle and infantry, and armor piercing creates a distinct difference between lighter and heavier weapons.

The far more interesting question is what is and isn't armor piercing. This could fill entire forums with flamewars, if you know the standard Palladium fan. You'll have to use some discretion and common sense, really. I tend to apply armor piercing to certain missiles, demolitions, and main guns of vehicles (which makes things like the laughable Linebacker "tank" in CWC slightly more effective). I've seen arguments for applying it to particle beam weapons as well, which seems to make sense. Lots of artillery is, as well as many (but not all) aircraft munitions. Use some common sense and you'll be fine, as long as it is applied consistently (and remember, this applis to enemies attacking the PCs too :).

This has a happy side effect of negating those huge pools of MDC that Palladium uses to represent advanced ultratech. Instead of giving a hugely advanced starship 200,000 MDC, give it 50,000 and a DR of 10-30. That will scare anyone. Most anything protective can be given a DR and a pool of MDC protection. Something like a force field would not allow any damage spillage obviously, since that is a pure "destroy me before you get to hurt what I protect" scenario.


In case it is not yet hammered in your heads, you should REALLY change the ratio of SDC to MDC. 1:100 is insane and unless you are brand new to Rifts, you should have long since changed it. Typical values run from 1:10 to 1:30 or so, depending on how realistic and grim you want your campaign. I used to run my old games around 1:20 most of the time, which was still a little cinematic, but effective. However, I suspect if you are slapping on AP rules to your game, you probably want to side on the more realistic end of things. It really doesn't matter what you change them to, as long as the default 1:100 is lowered.

As for SDC, the system works fine for it, too. However, obviously, SDC armor is made of SDC materials, so it can't resist MDC damage. Leather Armor resists lasers very badly. Thus, MDC does full damage to SDC armor all of the time. SDC armor penetration rules are for other SDC weapons only.

System Fallout: Using These Rules

As you have likely figured out by now, these rules alter the game a fair deal. I originally came up with them because I was running a lot of Coalition games, and wanted a more realistic, military feel rather than just slagging down armor like it was a nuisance, and some sort of mechanic for people inside armor to be affected by particularly strong shots. Regular Palladium rules are very cinematic indeed, almost painfully so, but when running a CS squad game, I needed something with a little more kick, because I was trying to shape more of a post-post-apocalyptic feel. No, that's not a typo.

The big change comes in how players interact with power armor/robot vehicles/ military vehicles (hereafter all referred to as "vehicles"). You will note that even in its default conception, vehicles become very, very dangerous to infantry. This was done on purpose. These rules fundamentally shift the nature of vehicles in Rifts, because as lesser weapons can't even penetrate the armor of the vehicle, friendly vehicles are thus needed as a response (or armor piercing attacks). This, I felt, added a more realistic touch, such that the squad would either need to get creative or get support. It let them feel like they were actually part of the Army. For less militaristic games, or for games where combat is less important, these rules can be scrapped or mitigated by need. These rules were envisioned for finer combat than default Palladium allows for.

These rules are easily mitigated by setting the DR level and deciding what is and isn't armor piercing. The GM has full control over the DR level of things, and so they can be raised for a more classic Rifts game, or lowered for more of a realistic one where armor doesn't do much. Currently, I feel the weapons vs. armor race is heavily in favor of armor, so these rules somewhat reflect that. However, allowing certain weapons and ammo to be armor piercing negates these rules for certain attacks, which can be very helpful indeed. When coming up with all of this back in the oldern days, I was thinking mostly of the fear that a WW2 squad would get seeing a tank come rumbling down, and the possibility that they could take it out with some bazookas. Armor piercing was decided for just the latter reason, aside from being a real world, currently available ammunition type.

What you have to decide is the level of real threat that Rifts Earth weapons pose, and what the level of defensive technology Rifts Earth armor provides. It is quite possible even in default Rifts rules for a character to die in one shot (Glitter Boy vs. Dead Boy armor, I am thinking here). I don't believe the setting is (or should be) balanced necessarily, and so I think the realization that combat just became that much more dangerous in Rifts Earth can be exciting. It may also cause the players to pause and consider their actions a little more carefully, as they could come out of a brief combat with some SDC damage (sore, aching muscles, etc.). Hopefully this will help stem the "shoot first and never ask questions" mentality of many players, and maybe even get them to up their teamwork. Yeah, it's wishful thinking, but I try. :) Combat is thus treated as a serious matter, not as part of a day's routine.

Anyway, applying these rules is very easy. Expect a few sessions while you get a sense of what works and what doesn't, but otherwise, hopefully the players pick up on the fact that they need to be a lot smarter now, and that it is potentially more lethal than before.

RUE the GI Joe Rule

Oooh, see how witty that title is? ;)

For those of you who don't have Rifts Ultimate Edition yet, there is a rule in there that someone waaaay more awesome than me termed the "GI Joe" rule. In essence, it says that as long as your armor has at least 2 MD left, *ANY* attack of *ANY* amount of MD will *ONLY* destroy your armor, leaving you sitting there naked and scared. This means that if Bob the CS Soldier with 3 MD left gets attacked by a very lucky Glitter Boy who rolls 180 MD damage, Bob loses his armor (it is vaporized) but is otherwise unharmed. If you don't understand why this is called the GI Joe rule, you're too young. ;)

For a game whose creator bemoaned the "high SDC guy jumping on dynamite", he certainly managed to outdo the surreality of that situation with this new rule. You can imagine that reaction to it was strong and negative even amongst the Palladium drones, which was surprising. Part of the reason I sat down to write this file was chatting to someone on IM when this came up, and I was explaining my little patch for it and decided to post it while I am in a good mood.

I know what people will say - "oh, just use common sense." But does it not bother anyone that the game mechanics systemically allow this possibility? Naturally, lest it need to be said, ignore this rule. Seriously. No slamming Palladium, it's just a bad rule.

Revised: 04.17.2006 - made armor piercing weapons its own section, sublty rewrote the base DR to a flat 10% all the time, which still stands up well enough.

This page was last updated on (none).
© 2004-2009 all authors as specified. Duplication of contents with permission only! This means you can't sell it, but feel free to print, modify, or use in anyway for your personal campaign use.
All incidents, situations, institutions, governments and people are fictional and any similarity to characters or persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.