[Savage RIFTS] Musings on North America, Pt. I

After zooming down to mess with Texas last week, I'm back to looking at the bigger picture as I continue to refine my approach to running Savage RIFTS.

This week, I'm thinking about the major players in Rifts North America: the Coalition States, the Federation of Magic, and Tolkeen. There are, of course, other states and groups in North America, some of whom are actually even more politically and/or militarily powerful than Tolkeen or the Federation, and I'll return to them in a forthcoming post, but these are, narratively-speaking, the "big three," in my opinion.

A Disclaimer

In case I haven't made it clear in earlier posts, my springboard for all things RIFTS remains the 1990 rulebook. A lot of great material has come out in the subsequent 26 years, obviously, and the timeline and metaplot has advanced from what's presented in that venerable tome, but the original rulebook remains my platonic ideal of Rifts Earth. It was a time before all the blanks on the map started getting filled in, and beginning with that open world allows me to bring in stuff from the later books bit by bit so I can fine tune the setting to just the level I like.

Thus, I'm going to make a lot of references to how things are presented in the original rulebook. I know Savage RIFTS is set a few years further in the future (basically in the world presented in the supplement Aftermath), but it shouldn't be too difficult to dial things back to good ol' 102 P.A.

The Coalition States

Any RIFTS campaign set in North America needs to address the issue of the Coalition States. I played around with the CS quite a bit for my Rifts:2112 project and had a lot of fun with that, but this time out I'm going to go pretty much with the vision of the Coalition presented in the 1990 rulebook and Supplement One.

The main tweak I'll be making is to double down on the Coalition's awfulness. Bradford C. Walker's excellent posts on his Stabilizing Rifts blog serve as my guide. He's got some great ideas on how society and culture would be warped by a national government that's a sort of hideous love-child of contemporary North Korea and the Terran Federation from Starship Troopers. I'm lifting wholesale the ideas on the different levels of upper-echelon government, the family structure and gender roles enforced among Coalition citizenry, land grants for veterans, iconographic and memetic learning techniques--the whole lot.

One of the appeals of 102 P.A. for me is that the Coalition is poised at such an interesting turning point in its history: border wars with Tolkeen are ramping up, but the potential war remains some years in the future; El Dorado is considering joining while Quebec is looking like it's about to jump ship. There's a lot of potential there for world-building and for player-character actions to influence future events.

Oh, one element I will be porting over from my Rifts:2112 version of the Coalition is the idea that only the highest echelons of CS citizenry (the Inner and Outer Elite, in the words of Stabilizing Rifts) actually live inside the arcology-fortresses of the big Coalition cities. The arcologies, as a result, are much smaller in scale than what's depicted in the art and lore.

I made this choice for two reasons: first, it presents a very real physical representation of the separation between the ruling elite and the vast majority of the actual citizenry of the Coalition; second, it opens up the possibilities of a City Rat campaign, with the edge-running heroes doing their thing out in the rain-soaked streets and alleyways of Chi Town and the 'Burbs.


The Coalition's immediate opposition will be the city Tolkeen, that stands on the bones of the pre-rifts city, Minneapolis. Without question, Tolkeen is the largest and most powerful city in the area . It has good industry and a formidable magic community composed of technowizards, line walkers, psychics and other mystics. To my limited knowledge, it is second only to Lazlo in mystic knowledge and scholarly pursuits. The city's greatest strength is that it rests on the shoulders of an incredibly powerful ley line nexus (at old Minneapolis) and is surrounded by a network of nearly 100 ley lines. Despite this, I fear Tolkeen has no hope for survival against an all-out siege by the CS.

Fun fact: the city-state of Tolkeen merits barely a mention in the 1990 rulebook. It gets a paragraph (a whole 116 words, quoted above) in the gazetteer section, and a couple other mentions here and there (including an interesting reference to "Tolkeen scientists" in the section discussing Outer Space), and that's about it.

Stabilizing Rifts did a series on Tolkeen as well, but unlike the Coalition posts I wasn't quite as moved by these. The society and science-magic Mr. Walker presents is of the sort I always ascribed to Lazlo and New Lazlo: a more academically rigorous approach to magic, synthesizing magic and rationality in a vein similar to the original Golden Dawn (and carrying on the work of the cities' namesake, the fictional occultist Victor Lazlo).

What I did quite like about those posts was the Atlantean connection. I like the idea that Tolkeen owes its existence to some exiled Atlanteans who helped the people of the Twin Cities survive and then thrive under the glow of 100 intersecting ley lines.

Thanks to all those ley lines and the Atlantean presence, I see Tolkeen as being more focused on dimensional magic: shifting, temporal magic, ley line communication and manipulation, and so forth. Despite the rulebook's references to scientists and scholars, I see Tolkeen as being much more about "old-fashioned" magic than Lazlo. Outside of Splynn, Tolkeen would be the most cosmopolitan city in the Western Hemisphere thanks to the constant interdimensional traffic coming and going. I'm picturing the streets of Tolkeen as looking not unlike the city of Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy.

What I like about this is that it gives the Coalition a legitimate beef (in their twisted view); Tolkeen really is a city full of "demon" summoners and witches!

The Federation of Magic

The Federation is another interesting case of a region/polity that gets not a whole lot of coverage in the original rulebook only to get significantly expanded in later supplements.

In its original description, the "Federation" is really a loose conglomerate of individual mad wizards, the shattered remains of the Coalition state of Chi-Town's first real enemy. In Erin Tarn's words, "[i]f they could stop their petty squabbling and work together, they could make the world tremble at their feet. Fortunately, they are far too selfish, paranoid, and envious to work together."

The rulebook goes on to talk about the two major settlements in the region: Dunscon and Psyscape; the former being the remaining holdout of resistance and antagonism towards the Coalition, the latter being a refuge for psychics.

The Federation of Magic sourcebook expands on this and adds other settlements (such as Dweomer, which functions much as Psyscape but for wizard-types). It also renames Dunscon as the City of Brass and locates it in Kentucky's Mammoth Caves complex.

I like that last bit a lot, and will be keeping it, along with the expanded descriptions of Lord Dunscon and his confederates. I won't be bringing in Dweomer or some of the other expanded details from the sourcebook, but nor will I be going whole-heartedly with the description of the Federation presented in the 1990 rulebook.

Instead, my approach to the Federation is to look at it as a failed state not unlike Afghanistan in the late 1990s. It's canon that the forces of Lord Dunscon conduct terroristic attacks on Coalition settlements and bases, and I'm going to dial that up, with Dunscon's operation functioning as an organized terror group with cells across the Coalition. Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State but with access to magic, if you will. Pretty chilling stuff.

Not every wizard or psychic in the old Federation is aligned with Dunscon, of course. Many are trying to build their own bases of power, while some are more willing to look at international alliances or just want to be let alone (again, not unlike Afghanistan).

Looks like I've prattled on long enough. Next week I'll wrap up this overview with some words on the northern states, the New West, the Lazlos, and everyone's favorite bugman empire, the Xiticix hives.