Faith in Savage Rifts

Last week fellow prodigal RIFTS fan Paul V. did whatever the Google Plus equivalent is of a live-tweeting/unboxing of The Tomorrow Legion Player's Guide as he read through the PDF

Paul is new to Savage Worlds, and so had a keen eye for places where the system intersected with the setting in novel ways. One of the things that really caught his attention was the presence of the Arcane Background: Miracles edge and its associated skills and edges (Faith, Adept, Crusader, Holy Warrior).

For those of you less familiar with the world of RIFTS, the inclusion of AB: Miracles is notable because, traditionally, the game never really addressed matters of faith or religion. Certainly there were gods and demi-gods in the setting (hell, they even had whole sourcebooks devoted to them!), but they were always presented as powerful potential foes or allies and very little ink was ever spilled on the topic of the cults or religions that might surround such beings. Out of the dozens and dozens of character classes in the game, only the smallest handful were the equivalent of D&D's "divine" classes.

(Attention RIFTS-heads: I may be way off-base here; I haven't read every single sourcebook out there, not by a long shot.)

Certainly there have been books released that seem to offer a greater focus on the spiritual side of things: Spirit WestMystic Russia, the recent books on the Minion Wars that highlight the dimensions of Hades and Dyval. But, again, these seem to constitute a small amount of information compared to the reams of paper devoted to new gear, monsters, and political entities.

One thing that RIFTS (as far as I know) completely dances around is the state of pre-rifts "Western" religions in the post-rifts world. What became of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam? The books are strangely silent, in spite of the fact that it's established canon that vampires are still repelled by crucifixes. The reason for this is never given, as far as I know.

(Buddhism does get some treatment in RIFTS Japan, and, judging from the sub-titles of the two books, I imagine the RIFTS China volumes touch on Taoism and Confucianism. But, you know, those are "foreign" religions, so it's okay to talk about them, I guess?)

Now let's get back to AB: Miracles. This edge, along with the re-imagined Mystic archetype (now much more explicitly an extension of a Greater Power's will rather than simply an esoteric seeker of knowledge in the Dr. Strange mold), constitutes what is perhaps for the first time in the history of RIFTS a definitive statement on the cosmology of the world: gods and spirits not only exist, but faith in them grants power to the faithful.

Although this might have been an aspect of the setting all along, it is now pushed to the fore and made explicit, which in turn creates some interesting knock-on implications. Although we still don't get any information about the status of organized cults or religions in the world, the existence of capital-F Faith and its beneficiaries would imply that religion must be a powerful force in the world of RIFTS.

Here are some ideas I've had on how to reflect this fact. I'd love to hear more from the readership, if you care to share.

  • Pre-rifts religions probably still exist, but in a much more syncretic fashion. Some have whole-heartedly embraced the new reality of gods and demons, while others cling dogmatically to the old teachings and are every bit as intolerant and human-centric as the Coalition. Lots of room here for interesting post-apocalyptic evolution (the Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Rift) alongside sects that have managed to remain unchanged over the centuries thanks to their strong sense of insular community. The Fallout series' treatment of pre-apocalypse religions would be a good guide here, I think. 
    • (And yes, I realize this is a total minefield and understand why it gets played down in the official books. But hell, Deadlands has Faithful and it's set in a variant of our own 19th century, so there is precedent here for AB: Miracles working for real-world religions.)
    • Greater emphasis would be placed on direct experience with the numinous; priests/rabbis/imams/mullahs gain their station through their ability to demonstrate miracles to their flocks.
    • Perhaps vampires are repelled not by crucifixes but by the Faith of those who wield them? Thus, the crucifix (or any other proffered holy symbol) is merely a "Dumbo's magic feather" for the wielder? This could prove a nasty surprise for anyone without AB: Miracles who tries to repel a vampire with a holy symbol!
  • Speaking of the Fallout series and other such properties, there would of course be plenty of new cults and even whole religions based on resurgent worship of the Old Gods as well as other assorted ultra-powerful beings (dragon cults, cargo cults centered around advanced beings, cults devoted to worshipping a bioroid clone of Elvis, the Splugorth, etc.). Which of these would grant access to Miracles is something I'd largely leave up to players to determine for their own characters and otherwise develop on a case-by-case basis.
  • Interestingly, the core setting's biggest cult is the cult of personality surrounding Emperor Prosek. This leads to an interesting line of thought: does Prosek have a cadre of faithful templars who draw power from his eminence? If this is so, it puts a very interesting gloss on the AB: Miracles edge; since Prosek is not a psychic power beacon or godling or whatever, it would imply that the power of AB: Miracles comes from the faithful, and not the object of worship itself. In effect, it becomes an extremely powerful form of mind over matter. I'll have to think this through some more.
  • Regardless, I also see AB: Miracles as representing access to the spirit world. It's fair to say that the world of RIFTS is a fully animistic world, with spirits inhabiting and personifying trees, rocks, animals, mountains, rivers, etc., etc., in the old shamanistic tradition. A character taking AB: Miracles would have to state at the outset whether their power derived from this spirit world or from their faith in an outside power. This is mostly just a cosmetic trapping, but might have some concrete effects in play.
    • I think it's a reasonable assumption about the setting that the most widely-practiced form of spirituality is shamanic animism. With the great splintering of communication and loss of accumulated knowledge, organized faiths can only project their influence so far, whereas the spirit world is all around at all times, and thus easily accessed, acknowledged, and worshipped.