Saturday, January 18, 2014

Playing a Coalition Campaign: What You're Getting Into (Part 2)

Last week I wrote about playing from the perspective of common Coalition subjects. This week, I write about playing from the perspective of the oligarchy that rules the Coalition States.

The Coalition States' leadership consists of an oligarchy derived from the American end of the Anglo-American Establishment that dominated pre-Rifts world political and economic influence world-wide. This group consisted of a handful of core families (extensively intermarried, within the North American end of the axis as well as across the Atlantic with their British and Continental European counterparts) and a ring of affiliated families engaged in patron-client relationships. After the Coming of the Rifts, protocols introduced when nuclear warfare emerged in the wake of the Second World War ensured that a critical mass of this oligarchy not only survived this cataclysmic event, but possessed the means to immediate reestablish themselves upon emergence from their bunkers. This they accomplished, and the result is the Coalition States is the result.

If you choose to play one of this social class, then your man has a very different perspective on Mankind and its role in the world- something that won't be on your character sheet. First, from as soon as your man could comprehend his elders (and that could be in utero if he's of the Inner Elite, all of whom are telepaths), your elders showed you that you are part of a superior subspecies of Mankind--an emerging breakaway homo superior--and because of your innate superiority of breeding and genetic fitness you deserve to rule over the rest. They are as children or dogs to you, so act like the father/master that they crave and enjoy the benefits of your paternalistic leadership. The more benevolent are the Father To His Men sort, while the cynical or degenerate sorts tends being like Animal House's villain Neidermeyer or the worthless shitheels of the Imperial High Nobility as seen in the first season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

You are an aristocrat in all but name. It is unlikely that either of your parents were not oligarchs, paired up not for love but for the betterment of the oligarchy as a whole (as well as that of your parents' families); if either of your parents were not, it is likely your mother and you are not in any line of inheritance (for the oligarchy most certainly emulates the policies of the SS with regard to procreation). Your career path is planned out even more meticulously than your common man counterpart: you are an officer in the military, and you stay in the military for the whole of your life (and, through the combination of superior medicine, cybernetics, and genetic therapy that can be well over a century). If you're lucky, your elder relatives ensure that your career keeps you away from dead-end jobs or forward positions where your chances of coming home are slim or none, aiming to position you into command posts that end up with your ascension to the High Command. If you somehow earn their ire, you're going to get assigned to all sorts of dead-end posts or suicide positions.

If you want your high-class intrigue, your Game of Thrones with laser and robots, this is your option. You have external enemies, internal rivals, and a population that needs to be kept busy doing the work. If it weren't for the unique power of the Inner Elite, the Coalition's oligarchy would have long ago splintered into warring factions and descended into civil war. Speaking of which...

As I noted above, the Coalition States oligarchy has an Inner and an Outer Elite. If the Outer Elite (comprising the majority of the oligarchy) does the majority of the actual work of reigning and ruling, as aristocrats often do, then the Inner Elite are the royality and other high nobles who actually benefit from all of this and administer it to ensure continued wealth and power. The marker is telepathy; the Inner Elite have it, and the Outer Elite does not. Furthermore, the Inner Elite are continuously linked into a telepathic network--they are, so to speak, online 24/7 and have since conception--and it is this telepathic network that allows this small cadre to utterly dominate so vast a population.

Playing one of these as your man means that you are one of the emerging homo superior, and the odds of you NOT being part of one of these bloodlines is slim to none; you could be an adopted foundling, detected while in utero, and brought into the fold at birth (and otherwise are just like your peers). If the Outer Elite are the majority of the officers and officials, then the Inner Elite moves amongst them as the shadow government (with the exception of the Imperial Family) that keeps them--and, by extension, the rest of Coalition society--in line. (They're based out of the Intelligence sector of the military, which uses the same Inner/Outer structure to shield itself from prying eyes; the Intelligence liason may or may not be one of them and none but other psychics and some magic-users can even tell at all.) Because your man has demonstrable power over his fellow man, your man is very likely to think of the common folk as one would favored pets or livestock and the Outer Elite as children; paternalism, again, is the social norm. However, there are very few of you and you can't be everywhere at once; because you know what you can do, your anxiety over what any enemy could do is far more palpable than it is for any of your subordinates.

The Vanguard: The members of this disavowed Intelligence operation, by and large, are Inner Elite scions who lost the internal argument over the sanctioned use of magic against the inhuman enemy. The families' tell is that they are redheads with green eyes, compared to the Imperial Family and its allies who prefer blond hair and blue eyes; as both otherwise agree on the genocide of all aliens and supernaturals, and so on, and the Vanguard is quite comfortable with being the very deniable asset for Coalition Intelligence and military operations that it currently is, one should not assume any serious animosity between the magic-friendly Inner Elites and those that are not. They co-exist, and cooperate just fine. Yes, they too are all telepaths, and they also recruit other magic-users who are also xenophobic and otherwise support the objective of Earth again being just for Man as a way to keep up numbers and initiate new members to their end of the emerging homo superior breakaway subspecies.

To run any of these subsets means committing to a campaign where you create and sustain an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, for you are running a political campaign first and foremost. While your players may experience warfare on the frontlines, or counter-terrorism in the rear, or jockeying in the halls of Coalition High Command, you are still overlaying those other environments and their specific demands and circumstances over that of a man born into privilege and accustomed to the benefits and responsibilities--the power and vulnerability--that come with it; he has expectations placed on him, like it or not, and therefore duties both social and formal to handle in addition to any ambitions of his own and those expectations are to take precedence over his own aims and desires lest the punishment fall far beyond his own individual existence. The common men need only worry about themselves; the officers are expected to think bigger, and act accordingly, or at least make a good show of it (until an Inner Elite scion decided to do something about it; good luck lying to a telepath) before others. Some of these oligarchs are cynical gloryhounds, and some of you truly care about Mankind and its future as a free species; most fit somewhere between.

Take some time before you commit to doing this sort of campaign; read around, do a little research, and you will ensure that the players who sign on for this do so ready and able to experience this sort of thing. It's not the sort of play experience that everyone is up for; if it's not for you, that's okay- RIFTS has something for everyone, so look elsewhere to find what you're looking to experience instead.

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