Friday, May 28, 2010

The Coming of the Rifts: A Review of the Most Fundamental Setting Premises

The post-apocalypse setting of Rifts Earth turns on an event called "The Coming of the Rifts", written in the rulebook to occur in 2098 at the fall of a so-called "Golden Age". After a military skirmish in South America, there was a nuclear exchange that occurred at a magically-auspicious moment and the massive death--acting as a ritual sacrifice--opened the world-wide network of magical ley lines; the resulting energies wrecked Civilization and brought the end of the Golden Age about.

Okay, first thing first: change the date. The setting works far, far better if we set the Coming to occur on December 21st, 2012. This change allows us to easily exploit all of the readily-available material regarding various fringe authors, etc. writing books and making videoes about UFO, the occult and all that stuff. If you really want to get that specific--and there is not much benefit for doing so--pick one of the various occult conspiracies/paradigms and use the local time of the relevant location of power wherein the Rifts erupt.

Now, after that, you get the usual ruined world-Dark Age-fragile recovery scenario. In North America, this covered a combined period of about 300 years (as of Year 101 of the Post-Apocalypse calendar). In the start date of the original rulebook, it is P.A. 101 and the Coalition States are starting to invade Minnesota. Those three centuries make for a lot of time, time in which survivors can again not only recover to the old world's previous apex but eclipse it and go further; in our real history, this is the fact of European history between Rome's fall and the emergence of the Middle Ages- by the time of the Italian Renaissance, post-Western Rome had easily caught up to Rome's remnant in the east (Byzantium) and began eclipsing it.

I say that, due to many of the world's major states having Continuity of Government plans in place for a cataclysmic event, the recovery phase of technological survivors can be accelerated--can be, because those survivors can fail due to external attack or internal collapse--significantly. It is this accelerated recovery that I say is what allows the Coalition States (as well as Triax/New German Republic and other such states in the setting) to not only recover as fast as they do, but to pass the former apex and move into new areas of advancement and deployment.

Now, the other big change that comes is that magic and other supernatural forces aren't so weak as to be immaterial most of the time anymore. They're obvious, and they're so wide-spread as to be omni-present in certain places. In North America, this includes my home town of Minneapolis and St. Paul--nexus of 100 ley lines--as it becomes the Magical Kingdom of Tolkeen. (Yes, I will post my own take on this, and it's going to make the most of this ridiculous name.) Making use of existing real world conspiracy theory regarding Continuity of Government, we can say that many parts of the world do not escape the Coming and get scoured by the energies bursting forth from the Rifts. This is what allows many of the magic-based states to establish themselves; the Coming wiped clean the sites, killed most of the people and warped the rest, and the new magic-active sites arise from a combination of native survivors (acclimated to supernatural power) and magic-using/magic-native aliens moving in to colonize the ruins.

Next time, we'll talk about the baseline rules for magic and the supernatural, and then transition into the Coalition because without this background many of the posts about the Coalition won't seem to be much more than misery porn. Good setting work does not do that, so we're laying our foundation accordingly.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Author Displays His Intentions

Palladium Books first published its flagship tabletop role-playing game, Rifts in 1990. Of the many tabletop role-playing games published in the history of the hobby, few of them (that are not Dungeons & Dragons) can boast being not only around but active and vigorously alive for as long as Rifts can. Regardless of what one thinks of the game, the company or the owner (Kevin Siembieda), this is a success story that cannot be denied.

It is my opinion that one of the strongest factors in favor of the game's success is the setting. A significant faction of the game's fans--including myself--do not like, and do not want to use, the Palladium ruleset for reasons that vary widely. However, that setting remains compelling enough to maintain interest, and interest in tabletop RPGs inevitably leads to sales, and that is good enough.

It is also my opinion that another of the strongest factors in favor of the game's success is that it remains open, as a matter of editorial policy, to people making of it what they want. To a certain extent, published support does facilitate this desire; unofficial support goes far beyond that official support, leading to conflicts driven in part due to third parties complaining about Intellectual Property violations and in part due to paranoia about such concerns between the publisher and the fans. I mention this because I intend, here and now, to make clear what this 'blog is about.

This 'blog is about the opinions of one man--me--regarding the setting of Rifts and how I think it would be improved if interpreted and presented different from what is the case at this time. The reason for why I opted to flag this 'blog as Adult Content is that I will talk about things such as gender-based oppression, slavery, drug abuse, social control mechanisms, etc. in no unclear or uncertain terms. Thus, it is adult in the same way that writing about Female Genital Mutilation is adult, or that writing about using rape as a weapon of terror is adult, or how political dogma can produce personality cults that justify Crimes Against Humanity is adult, and not as a euphemism for pornography or other prurient content.

This is not a light-hearted 'blog. It is not a casual thought 'blog. This is about thinking through the premise of the game's setting, and then figuring out how to make that useful in terms of playing at the table. You won't find mechanical expression of anything, in any ruleset, here; if you're reading this, chances are that you already have your own preferences on that matter, so you need no such advice from me. This is about the other half of the hobby, the role-playing half, the part that provides that context necessary for all of the dice-rolling and resource management to actually be any fun (and not an exercise in mental masturbation).

I'm going to start with the focal element of the core North American setting of the game: the Coalition States. This is a dystopia that I think Kevin Siembieda doesn't use to its fullest effect, in part because I don't see evidence that he understands either its explicit inspiration--Nazi Germany--or the traditions that this infamous historical example built upon. In short, I intend to display a Coalition States that is far more in keeping with its premise and not just an excuse for ridiculous artwork; the Coalition I present will actually creep people out and provide that vital visceral reaction that any proper horrific villain ought to provoke from readers and players. Free Quebec will follow quickly due to its close relationship, but Triax and the New German Republic will be a while due to its location in Europe.

I hope that you appreciate and enjoy what's to come, and that it inspires you to take up the game--regardless of what ruleset you use--and play it how you like it.