[Savage Rifts] Actual-Play Analysis

Last week I wrapped up a four-session arc of Savage Rifts, played with my two oldest friends, one of whom had gotten into Rifts along with me way back in early 90s. So there was some personal history with the setting, to say the least.

Of the three of us, I was by far the most familiar with the Savage Worlds system, but even I found myself taken somewhat by surprise in the way that Savage Rifts plays. It operates at a level far above what, for me, is "typical" SW game play, which is only fitting for the setting. It's pretty much the same difference between Ninjas & Superspies or even Heroes Unlimited and Rifts in the original Palladium system. This speaks well of what a great job the Pinnacle/Evil Beagle team did in bringing the setting over to Savage Worlds, but it did necessitate something of a learning curve for me.

Below is the "post-mortem" writeup I did after our final session. It's a bit of a lengthy read, but if you're curious how Savage Rifts played out for one little group over the course of a month of gaming, read on...

Issue Zero

The backstory begins with Aurys, an Altaran warrior woman who escaped from her Splugorth masters after being assigned to guard the cell of a captured Atlantean freedom fighter by the name of Oxric. He conversed with her telepathically from within his cell—and as he did so, she began to think the unthinkable: of insurrection, rebellion, escape. Whether these were Aurys’s own buried feelings being brought to the forefront by Oxric’s psychic surgery, or whether the Atlantean was planting the ideas in her head, she never knew. But shortly thereafter Oxric escaped; one of his last messages to her was to look for him in the wilds of Dinosaur Swamp if she wished to fight for freedom.

Aurys didn’t stick around very long. On her next mission to the mainland on the barge of her master Golga Sabbal, Aurys slipped away in the night. She wandered for a time until she found the first big settlement, a town by the name of Kingsdale.

There she fell in with the Society of Sages, who offered free Juicer conversions in exchange for two years of service. Aurys signed up right away, a plan forming in her head: she would return one day to Atlantis and kill Golga Sabbal and free her enslaved sisters!

For two years, Aurys did as the Sages bade. She killed. She stole. This wasn’t much different than what she did for the Splugorth. But she never crossed the line to enslavement—until they asked her to retrieve a dragon’s egg.

Cagliostro Smith, the leader of the Sages, sent Aurys on this mission personally, telling her it was “of the utmost importance to the Society.” He dispatched his second-in-command, a techno-wizard of some repute by the name of Morphicles, to accompany her.

They retrieved the egg—never mind how or from whom, it’s far too bloody to get into here—and loaded the massive thing onto the back of a hover-truck. But on the way back the egg began hatching!

Stopping the truck, Aurys and Morphicles got out and began bickering about what to do; Aurys never could stand the arrogant, loud-mouthed techno-wizard. And as they did so the egg kept cracking and splitting, until a giant serpentine body suddenly unfurled like a holiday cracker. Its massive tail landed squarely on Morphicles, killing him instantly.

Aurys, whose Juicer-enhanced reflexes had saved her from a similar fate, stood off, her JA-9 laser rifle raised and poised to take a shot at the hatchling’s head. But then she heard its mewling cries, its evident distress at having crushed Morphicles. Aurys knew why she'd been sent to retrieve this creature: enslavement and experimentation, eventual death, but only after untold days and weeks of suffering. Her heart melted.

“You can shapeshift?” she asked it.

“Y-yes,” it stammered, trying out language for the first time.

Aurys showed the dragon Morphicles’ corpse. “Can you look like him?” A second later, “Morphicles” stood before her. She stripped the dead Morphicles of his clothes and armor and gave them to the dragon-Morphicles. “Come,” she said once the dragon had donned the gear.

And so they walked.

Issue One

They traversed many miles, crossing the mighty Appalachians and descending into the Georgian Piedmont. Not that these names meant anything to either one of them; they were both fantastically naïve in the ways of the world, the newborn hatchling and the former slave. But from time to time they met a friendly wilderness scout or trapper who would keep them on the right track. For they had a destination in mind—or at least Aurys did: Atlanta.

They spotted the kudzu-covered spires that marked the ruins of Atlanta on a warm and humid spring afternoon. Shortly after, they encountered an encampment: a group of professional dino-hunters who had paused in their travels to sell some of their captured specimens to interested locals. A band of Simvan Monster Riders checked out a willful Ironhoof. Some dark-skinned barbarians had come up from their home in the old city, wearing the skins of giant rats and carrying old STOP signs as shields.

Aurys and Morphicles poked around, finding little of interest. Then Aurys heard a chorus of pitiful cries from near one of the dealer tents. In three cages sat a family of Frilled Swamp Runners, calling out to each other and begging for release. Aurys couldn’t stand the sound. Too much like the old slave pens.

She paid for the lot, and threw in a generous tip besides. This encouraged a friendly word from the head of the expedition, a big game hunter who styled himself “The Body”. Aurys had been having visions of a giant copper fish ever since setting off for Georgia. The Body said that there was such a monument inside the ruins, and that the local barbarians worshipped it. He pointed Aurys and Morphicles in the right direction and wished them luck.

They set out at dawn the next day. Their journey was interrupted by a rain shower. What fell from the sky wasn’t drops of water but rather wriggling, live, pink-skinned mollusks. Taking shelter in the ruins of a gas station forecourt, they watched as the ground became carpeted with the disgusting things. Soon the shower passed, and scavenger animals began descending on the helpless, still-writhing meals.

Aurys advised Morphicles to hold on for a bit; the hatchling wished to go and sniff and nibble the mollusks too. As they waited, the bank of ferns behind them rustled and a terrible saurian face emerged!

The crisis was short-lived, however. Cooly, Aurys spun and snapped off a shot from her rifle. The Raptor fell at her feet. They decided to move on before more showed up…

[Editorial Note: I'd forgotten how quickly Extras can be dispatched in Savage Worlds. This was a sort of "testing the waters" encounter and I desperately wanted to avoid a TPK...but sort of got the opposite with a very anti-climactic encounter! Quite different from how it would've gone in Palladium Rifts, where I'm sure the PCs would've still emerged victorious but not without a 30-minute attritional slog of a combat...]

When the duo entered the ruins of Atlanta later that day, they immediately felt like they were being watched. Following the directions provided by The Body, in an overgrown clearing they found what they’d been seeking: a massive copper fish some 30 feet high, sculpted to look like it was breaching the water. As they stepped into the clearing, they were quickly surrounded by more of the dark-skinned barbarians they’d seen at the dino-hunters’ camp. From amidst their ranks emerged a young man, slight of build and chalky of complexion—an albino! He introduced himself as Chief Porter.

Aurys told Chief Porter why they’d come to Atlanta. She spoke of Oxric and the Atlanteans, of her visions of the great copper fish. Porter nodded. “Truly, the god Kopar has willed that you come here for some great task. Follow me.”

He led them down into the earth via a bank of stalled escalators and into the home of the Kopar tribe—Atlanta’s former Underground shopping district. As they walked, Chief Porter spoke of his enmity with the “rat-people” and of the goodness of someone called Lyxander and his Atlantean friends who lived in the tunnels beneath the city. Nevertheless, it was clear that the Atlanteans represented a recent arrival in the region and were still regarded as something of a wild card.

Soon they came to a grand set of stairs leading further underground. An old plastic sign marked “MARTA” hung over the stairs. “Down there. Follow the tunnel on your right and you will come to them eventually.”

Aurys and Morphicles did as they were told. They found a terminal station at the bottom of the stairs, and massive tubes leading off in two directions. They began walking.

After some minutes, they both sensed some people lurking ahead in the darkness. They froze up, just as a call came from the darkness. “No further! Hands up and no fast moves. We’re sending someone out.”

Out of the darkness came a man in military garb, rifle raised and ready to fire. “You’ve got about six more trained on you back there,” he said. “Who are you? What business do you have in the tunnels?”

Aurys told him they were searching for Oxric, that he told her to look for him. The solder asked them to disarm, and they obliged, Aurys taking a rather long time in doing so as she was essentially a walking arsenal.

More soldiers came out and collected the gear, and they set out deeper into the tunnel. They passed another checkpoint, this one fortified with an old subway car laid perpendicular across the tracks, two rail guns positioned to cover the approaches. Then they reached another terminal platform, but this was far from deserted.

An encampment covered the platform and stretched a ways down the tunnel. Around a dozen or so men, women, and D-bees sat about, engaged in various tasks or simply conversing. Morphicles saw his first “cactus man” here, along with two mutant Dog Boys and a wild Psi-Stalker, all of whom began sniffing the air curiously as the shape-shifted dragon drew near.

A tall man, his skin bronzed and hair flaxen gold, garbed in scarlet armor with gold trimmings, came bounding up. “My men radioed ahead. You seek Oxric? He is a good friend of mine. I am called Lyxander.”

He was a True Atlantean, and looked every inch the part. He had a winning smile, a warm laugh, and an easy-going air about him; he possessed the body of a Greek god and looked like he’d snapped more than a few necks in his time.

Oxric was sent for and soon emerged from the gloom of a tent. He was Lyxander’s opposite: pale, almost serpent-like, with strange golden eyes and a disturbing unearthly air. When he saw Auris, he smiled. “Ah, so you decided to find me, did you? And you brought…a dragon-friend?” he asked, holding a finger to his temple.

Morphicles revealed his true form to the astonished assemblage. Both the Atlanteans immediately bowed before him. “A Chiang-Ku! And a hatchling, no less!” breathed Lyxander. “This must be a sign of the gods’ favor!”

Just then, one of the soldiers ran up to Lyxander. “Reports coming in of a disturbance not far from here, Lyxander.” He handed the Atlantean an earpiece, and Lyxander’s brow furrowed as he listened.

“Our drone scouts are reporting demonic activity just a few miles south of here,” he said, his voice suddenly hard and flinty. He looked at Aurys. “You came to fight? Now’s your chance.”

Issue Two

Aurys and Morphicles (in his human form once again) set out right away with Oxric and another Atlantean named Falcone. This one was much more like Lyxander in overall appearance, but favored blue armor and styled his pale hair into a faux-hawk. At his sides hung two ion pistols, slung low. Six soldiers accompanied the group, loaded up with laser rifles and plasma grenades. The strike team took a service elevator to the surface, emerging into the oppressive heat from the cool, dark underground.

They walked for some time, but their destination was clear from the start: columns of smoke rose up into the muggy air, signaling the source of the problem. Soon they slowed their progress, picking their way carefully through the verdant ruins. The sound of shouts and laser blasts could be heard up ahead…

Peering through a thicket of ferns, the group could make out a pack of demonic Brodkil rampaging through a barbarian village, setting buildings on fire and shooting down the few survivors who were attempting to flee. Overhead buzzed other strangely-carapaced demons that occasionally swept down on a terrified villager the Brodkil had somehow missed.

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Ramon Perez

Art by Ramon Perez

The strike team opened up. Laser beams lanced across the devastated village, grenades flew. Aurys, despite her blindness, calmly picked off one Brodkil after another. All fell under the combined assault.

With heavy hearts, Falcone and his team walked among the burning remains. No villagers remained to tell their sad tale. “Where did the demons come from?” Falcone wondered aloud.

“Um, I think I can answer that. In part, at least.” The voice emerged from behind them. Everyone whirled around and raised their weapons. “Whoa! Hey! Whoa!” It was a human male in his early 20s, and he was standing in a flinching posture, both hands up in submission. “Easy, guys! I come in peace.”

The man introduced himself as Harry Mayborn III. He was a Shifter, and came from a long line of summoners. “I never really had much joy for the work myself,” he admitted, "but Dad wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He raised me to be a Shifter like him and Gramps from before I could even walk.

“So I was up around Char, looking for work, you know? And I met this chick, styled herself Lady Gabrienne. Said she wanted to summon a demon. Well, what was I supposed to say? That’s my line of work. Only I couldn’t bind a demon of the sort she wants to summon. ’Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I have a binding ritual that will do the trick.’

“Great. So we head down here because she says it has to be this particular site. An old penitentiary from before the time of the rifts. Lots of negative psychic resonance there. I think that was where we went wrong. The demon came through all right, but he was strong. If Gabrienne’s binding ritual was even legit, well, it didn’t work here at any rate. That thing came roaring through and I…I legged it.”

He looked down ashamedly. At this point he noticed one of the dead Brodkil. “Um, didn’t summon these guys, though. Um…oh dear.”

“Never mind that!” snapped Falcone. “Where is this penitentiary?”

Mayborn indicated that it was about a mile south of their current position. Falcone dispatched the soldiers, two of whom had been wounded in the fighting, back to the MARTA HQ with instructions to pull more men for backup.

“Listen,” Mayborn said, “I feel bad about all this. Truly. I may not have enough power to bind the demon, but I can certainly send it back from whence it came. I just need to get close enough…”

A quick con-fab ensued in which it was decided to try for a surgical strike on the penitentiary to allow Mayborn the chance to redeem himself.

“It’s pretty likely that the rancorous bastard has been busily summoning more demons and other infernal allies to his side,” Mayborn noted glumly as the group set off. The penitentiary was just as easy to locate as the village; a great roiling black cloud had gathered overhead, slowly twisting widdershins. Above the ruined prison and beneath the black cloud, more of those strange bug-like demons buzzed around…along with a dozen or more giant gargoyles!

Art by Kevin Siembieda

Art by Kevin Siembieda

The demons and gargoyles spotted the group on the ground and dove on them. A desperate battle ensued with Falcone, Oxric, Aurys, and Morphicles attempting to protect Mayborn to the best of their abilities while they weathered the diving attacks of demon and gargoyle alike. Ion and laser blasts sizzled the air, blades both metallic and psionic sliced and diced, and in time the group stood triumphant, the remaining demons and gargoyles fleeing back behind the penitentiary walls. Unfortunately, Harry Mayborn III lay on the ground, his clothes soaked with blood—a lone gargoyle had managed to get a hit in on him in the chaos of battle.

Morphicles and Oxric did their best to stabilize Mayborn with the healing powers of their minds, but his wounds were deep indeed. Nevertheless, he insisted he was able to carry on. And so the heroes stood surveying the cloud-shrouded pen, knowing what awaited them inside…

[Editorial Note: This session was really tough. The scenario is taken from the Savage Foes of North America book, so it's perhaps intended to be especially combat-heavy--something I didn't realize until it was too late. The two combats very quickly degenerated into boiling hells of boring dice-slinging despite our best efforts to keep the narrative patter flowing. Rolling attacks for over two dozen Lesser Demons and Gargoyles while the players sat idly by for five minutes at a time…ugh. This session showed me that running battles of this size in Savage Worlds with just Theater of the Mind—no battle map, no tokens—is a recipe for boring combats. I’m normally exclusively a TotM guy, and have never run SW on this scale before, so my experience this session was pretty demoralizing. But I decided to press on and try out combat with a battle map and tokens next time…]

Issue Three

The heroes entered the penitentiary grounds and were immediately set upon by some of the remaining gargoyles These were dispatched with relative ease. Beyond the yard lay the old prison blocks. Grimly, the group entered.

[Editorial Note: I figured this was going to be the “make or break” session in terms of seeing if these big set-piece battles could be any fun. I purposely structured things like a side-scroller video game, complete with a boss fight at the end.]

On the first floor of the old maximum security block, the group encountered a truly horrifying creature: a massive crab-like demon, scuttling about in the three feet of standing water that covered the ground floor.

Undeterred, Aurys took aim with her trusty JA-9 and dropped the infernal beast with a single shot!

[Editorial Note: Two walk-over combats in a row! I was getting a little worried…]

Morphicles found a crumbling steel staircase in a stairwell, and he and Aurys went up first. (Falcone had shown himself to be a bit of a kill-stealer in the combat outside the prison and they were anxious to get some more kills of their own without his interference.)

As they climbed to the top of the stairs, the last of the gargoyles dropped down on them from the top level.

[Editorial Note: Guess who momentarily forgot how huge Gargoyles are? This guy. ]

Falcone entered the fray (because of course he did) and the three of them dispatched the hideous fiends easily enough. Then Aurys and Morphicles reached the top of the stairs…

Suddenly the space was filled with searing flames! It was as if someone had squeezed off a blast from a flamethrower—but no! A strange demon with the face of a whale lurked outside the stairwell; the flames had come from a metallic rod growing out of one of its rubbery arms.

Both Aurys and Morphicles were badly burnt by the first blast, so they determined not to give it another chance to do the same. The whale-headed demon went down just as quickly as its crab-like compatriot.

But then, in the vast hall beyond, their ultimate goal reposed, the remaining lesser demons buzzing around it. The demon known as Rozarre the Rancorous buzzed angrily as Morphicles and Aurys emerged from the stairwell.

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Newton Ewell

The great demon flew towards the heroes, who were joined in short order by Falcone and the injured Mayborn. Oxric, seeing the great beast, shrank back into the stairwell, from which he would play only a peripheral role in the fight to come.

The hall was capacious enough to allow Morphicles to assume his draconic form, and he did so, growing to about the same size as Rozarre. He, Aurys, and Falcone fought desperately in attempt to distract and hold the demon at bay while Mayborn attempted to summon up his banishment spell.

His first attempt ended in a fit of coughing up blood.

Morphicles took a bad hit from one of Rozarre’s saber-like claws…

Mayborn traced a circle in the air, invoking the words of power. Rozarre’s hideous carapace-like flesh rippled but he did not disappear.

Aurys took a bad hit from one of Rozarre’s tentacles…

Our heroes were on their last legs, every single one sporting two or three wounds. It was now or never. Mayborn cast his spell again, the magic circle he described in the air glowing with a white light. With a screech, Rozarre the Rancorous shrank down to a singularity and winkled out of existence!

[Editorial Note: I gave control of Mayborn to Aurys, so all rolls were coming from the players’ side. The second banishment spell just went off, with both Mayborn and Rozarre Acing their respective rolls but Mayborn only barely scoring the raise he needed to succeed at his banishment. Hugely exciting! The “boss fight” truly lived up to its name, and the PCs very nearly got their asses handed to them. Combat this session went much more smoothly with the battle map and tokens and didn’t feel like nearly such a slog. I was still a bit disturbed by how quickly the Daemonix went down, but then again we’re dealing with a Warrior Woman Juicer—the phrase “combat monster” certainly applies here.]

Issue Four

With the banishment of Rozarre, the black cloud overhead dispersed and the heroes departed in triumph. They met their reinforcements halfway back and so had an escort to the MARTA tunnels to herald their return.

Aurys and Morphicles both headed for the medical tent straight away, where they were tended to by the skilled psychic healers there. Aurys was also reunited with her Frilled Swamp Runner companions, who expressed their delight at seeing her again by knocking over a table of test tubes and retorts. She gave them one of her dehydrated ration bars and they scampered off to divide up the food. Morphicles, meanwhile, had decided to shed his human disguise, adopting a miniaturized version of his true form for the time being.

As the pair lay recuperating in the tent, Aurys opened up to Morphicles about the sins of her past. The killings, the enslavement, the countless actions she now regretted. Her blindness had not saved her from witnessing innumerable crimes against decency and the common good. She spoke of the Slaver she had escaped from, and of her desire to avenge herself upon him. Little did she know that that time was quickly drawing nigh…

The two friends lingered about the camp for the next day. Aurys traded Falcone two of her pre-rifts guns (an Uzi and a 12-gauge shotgun) for one of his silver daggers, which had proved useful in the fight against the demons. They enjoyed the downtime.

This didn’t last long. Lyxander came to them the next day with a request. “Please feel free to say no if you still need to rest, but we’ve lost contact with Fort Hawkins on the coast and need someone to go scout things out, make sure everything’s okay. Neither our wireless set nor the power of magic have been able to raise them.”

Feeling much more their normal selves this day, Aurys and Morphicles agreed. “Just follow the river south,” Lyxander said. And so they did, bringing Aurys’ Swamp Runners along.

On their first day’s journey, they encountered a strange grove of trees knocked down in perfect concentric circles but with no apparent signs of damage, fire, or other sort of violence. Their second day, they followed the sound of screeching Leatherwings to the scene of a Raptor lying on its side, apparently dying. The Leatherwings were waiting to swoop in for the kill when a T-rex came bursting out of the forest and began snacking on the dying Raptor. Aurys and Morphicles withdrew before the Rex caught sight of them as well.

They arrived at Fort Hawkins around dusk. It was a massive fortress complex built around a 20th-century cement reconstruction of an 18th-century fort that had stood on the site that later became Macon, Georgia. Now all that remained of that city was the reproduction tower along with a newer wooden palisade surrounding it.

They were met outside the gates by two gentlemen, each dressed in leathers and capes, their fine flowing hair tied back to reveal long ears and sharp features. Neither Morphicles nor Aurys had met an Elf before, but here were two! The Elves identified themselves as Pennent and Gran, and were happy to welcome the travelers once they explained who they were and from whence they’d come.

The Elves said they were aware that their communication was out, and said it was probably due to an increase in ley line storms over the nearby Ocmulgee Mounds—ancient burial mounds that were now a hotbed of dimensional activity.

“Indeed, that is why we settled here: to keep an eye on the Things that come out of the periodic rifts that open up there. It’s been a while since it’s been this active, though,” the jovial Pennent offered. The heroes were introduced to Gran and Pennent’s Elven wives (and Gran’s newborn son) and given a tour of the grounds, which housed about three-dozen scouts and trappers, all of whom had come to live at Fort Hawkins and train under the Elves, learning their mastery of woodcraft and wilderness survival.

Aurys and Morphicles had a wonderful time at the Fort. The next morning, they accompanied Gran and Penennt out to the Mounds, where they observed a massive nexus of four ley lines converging over the largest mound. As they stood surveying the scene, a small rift began opening at one of the nexus points. Everyone tensed up, ready for whatever might come through. Morphicles used his psionically-enhanced sight to zoom in on the rift, which sat about 500 yards distant.

He was shocked to see four figures come through the mirror-like surface of the rift who looked just like him and his group! After exchanging worried glances, they decided to go down to the rift, approaching the newcomers cautiously. As they got closer, they began observing subtle differences: the newcomers’ clothes were similar but made of nylon and neoprene; “Aurys” wore mirrorshades instead of the blindfold she sported in this reality. “Morphicles” appeared to be a robot, his scales all of chromed metal. The two “elves” appeared to be humans who had received cosmetic surgery to make them appear more elfin.

These mirror-universe doppelgängers were confused and alarmed, and convinced themselves that they were having a bad drug trip or had unwittingly wandered into some sort of VR simulation. The Rifts-universe heroes agreed fervently and convinced them to go back through. (Aurys did consider slaying her double and using the body to fake her own death, but she really was trying to turn over a new leaf these days…) The rift closed 15 minutes later.

[Editor’s Note: The joys of the Random Rift tables! I rolled up a mirror-surfaced rift that connected to a mirror universe (how appropriate!) consisting of an parallel alternate-reality cyberpunk universe with no magic. Wowza!]

With that strange adventure out of the way, the heroes began the trek back to Atlanta, promising to return to Fort Hawkins soon. This was, sadly, never to be.

After a few hours of walking, Aurys heard something that chilled her blood: the sound of a Floating Eye scout from a Splugorth Slaver’s slave barge hovering nearby.

Urgently, she motioned for Morphicles and her three Swamp Runner companions to hide, but alas it was in vain. The Eye caught sight of them! Aurys knew that even now it was beaming the information back to the barge, which wouldn’t be far off. She shot it out of the sky and began to run.

But, sure enough, crashing in over the tree tops came the slave barge. And it wasn’t just any barge; it was that of Golga Sabbal himself! The time had come for Aurys to face her former master.

Art by Keith Parkinson

Art by Keith Parkinson

Morphicles assumed his full dragon form as Aurys, knowing she wouldn’t be able to overcome the barge’s force field with her laser rifle, ran up the side of a leaning palm tree and vaulted onto the barge itself! She sailed right over her Altaran sisters who crouched behind their blast shields and came down right on top of Golga, her greatsword flashing…

…and the blade bounced right off his forearm bracer.

[Editorial Note: It was such an awesome moment and then Aurys goes and rolls triple-1 for damage. Ouch.]

Morphicles, enraged, lept up, his long sinewy form stretching out, and grabbed hold of the side of the barge. He gave a mighty heave and flung the entire thing towards the river bank. Golga Sabbal just barely managed to right the craft, but the throw did shake off two of the warrior women, who gracefully fell to earth and unsheathed their vibro-knives for some “close-in work.”

Up on the barge the battle raged. Aurys was facing not just Golga, but the two remaining warrior women, who rained down blows upon their former sister, their faces twisted, silent masks of rage at her betrayal.

On the ground, the fight did not go well for Aurys’ Swamp Runner companions, two of whom were slain by the warrior women. Aurys, pressed too hard, vaulted off the barge and took on the ground-based Altarans, killing one of them while Morphicles used his psionics to add to her already-considerable prowess.

Golga, seeing a full-blown Chiang-Ku in the fight, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and began hovering away, sending a telepathic message to Aurys that he would be back for her and her little dragon friend soon enough. As a literal parting shot, he dispatched the last Swamp Runner, the baby of the family, with a blast from his forearm plasma gun!

Well, that did it. Aurys’ Juicer rig went into overtime, reacting to her rage and natural adrenaline response by pumping even more hormones and drugs into her system. She saw red. She heard klaxons. Golga must not escape, even if it meant her own life!

Morphicles once more leapt forward and grabbed the side of the barge before it could rise much further. His weight was enough to stall its ascent. Aurys ran up her dragon-friend’s back and renewed her melee with the Slaver. The warrior women, unable to penetrate the Juicer’s preternaturally-quick defenses, attempted to bum rush her off the side of the barge only to fall 20 feet to their deaths on the rocky river bank below after she side-stepped them. Now it was just Aurys and Golga.

As the Juicer rained down blows on her old master, he fired a blast from the barge’s main gun into Morphicles’ belly. The blaster was set to “stun,” and the dragon lost consciousness when he was hit. His grip faltered and he fell crashing to the ground, sending the barge with Golga and Aurys bobbing up into the air like a cork in water. Aurys did not notice. Her greatsword chipped and nearly ruined, she at last succeeded in cutting clean through Golga Sabbal’s arm, lopping it off. She followed this up with a cross stroke that sent his reeking guts spilling from his belly and all over the barge, which in turn dipped violently as its master died.

Aurys fell. She dropped the 60 or so feet, losing consciousness as soon as she hit the ground. The great barge followed her, crashing down on top of her. She was no more.

[Editorial Note: Wow! All my doubts about the Savage Rifts combat system were completely erased by this fight. Aurys was able to use a combination of Bennies and Burn Points to stay in the game, declaring “Blaze of Glory” at the end after all other options had been exhausted. She wanted that glorious death, she got it. It was an amazing fight—one of the most cinematic duels I’ve ever seen in 25 years of gaming.]

Hours later, Morphicles came to. He saw the flaming wreckage, the dead bodies. He knew that Aurys must be under that barge. He knew he was alone now. With a sigh, he got to his feet and once again began walking—only now, he couldn’t be sure of where he’d end up…

[Editorial Note: We decided to shift the focus of the campaign at this point, turning it into a picaresque journal of Morphicles’ adventures across Rifts Earth (and maybe beyond?). He will encounter other player-character heroes with their own arcs, much like Aurys, but he will remain the anchor point of the campaign. This will be a great way to explore the setting at large and bring in a variety of other character types over time. I'll be chronicling the action as we go, starting with next week's session. If you'd like to follow along, feel free to subscribe over on Obsidian Portal: Onward!]