I don't know if this would be an attempt to convert Rifts qua Rifts to an OSR-style system, or if I'd take a page from GRIDSHOCK and attempt to do my own thing that's merely in the same general wheelhouse as Rifts...but it's sure fun to contemplate. Sadly, contemplation is a luxury I can't afford right now, so into the file it goes, along with these other worthy contenders. Maybe I'll check back in around the holidays, when snow lies sparsely on the ground and one searches for ways to while away the long nights...
So spake I two months ago in my last post and, in a twist no one saw coming, I correctly guesstimated when I'd get back to this project. I now find myself moving into the holiday season and indeed ready to put some time and focus towards this project.
I decided to plump for the second option outlined above. As exciting as Rifts once was for me, there’s too much baggage now to really enjoy the setting anymore, I think. This was ironically brought home to me last year when I ran Savage Rifts and found, with a solid mechanical structure at last underlying the experience, I didn’t really care about the setting. But the idea of a post-apocalyptic setting that mixes magic, mysticism, rubber science, and ultra-technology still very much appeals, and so I sat down and started making a list of what I like about Rifts and what I don’t really care for.
In addition to the aforementioned blend of mecha, mysticism, and monsters, I reflected that I always loved Rifts' attempt to ride the coattails of the 80s cyberpunk craze, the general late-Cold-War vibe of the setting (especially when it came to pre-rifts artifacts and weapons, which frequently seemed to date from the 80s), the post-apocalyptic notes in the art (despite being wildly inappropriate for the setting as actually presented), and the clash of alien cultures thrown together and forced to find a way to get along with each other. (In fact, I wish Rifts had taken the implications of its xenobiology to even greater lengths, particularly in regards to alien plant life.)
In spite of that last point, I realized (in part thanks to watching Season 3 of Rick and Morty) that the thing I least cared about in regards to Rifts is the interdimensional nature of the setting. Back in the day, my Rifts games were aggressively Earth-centric; no one ever played a Shifter, no one ever jumped through a rift. Rifts were simply monster dispensers and ley line storms were simply a way to transport the party to a new location on the planet (often corresponding to whichever world book had just come out); neither was ever used to travel to another dimension, Phase World, or a pocket world or whatever. As should be clear to those who followed my Rifts:2112 project, the grittier, cyberpunkier aspects of the setting were what drew me in; much less so the four-color superhero and anime influences. (Having said that, Robotech and the Palladium RPG of the same name loomed large in my imagination as I worked up my notes below.)
Much like I did when I was starting my Rifts:2112 project, I once again sat down and wrote out a treatment of the setting, laying down a thumbnail sketch of a world three generations removed from a nuclear holocaust, a world which has suffered through two alien invasions (I told you Robotech loomed large!), and which is still coming to terms with the massive biological, geological, and metaphysical changes those events wrought.
Future posts in this series will drill down into various parts of the world. Nothing is yet set in stone, and details are likely to change as I discover what this setting has to show me. I also intend to post game-mechanical details, of course—this is not intended to be a system-neutral setting. Indeed, I'm hoping that when all is said and done, I can collate everything and put it out as a proper li'l game in its own right.
Currently I’m trying to decide between an OSR-style stew (using White Star as a tasty base) versus Open D6. Both have much to recommend them, as well as plenty of open source material to steal, er, modify.
And now, without further ado, the setting treatment as it currently stands...
According to the Gregorian calendar, the year is 2048, but many still alive today only count the years since Doomsday—65 years ago now.
September, 1983: The nukes started flying, and to this day no one knows why. It is generally agreed by everyone outside the Sino-Sov Empire that the Russkies struck first. The retaliation from NATO was swift and decisive enough; the MAD Doctrine bore its bitter, radioactive fruit in the form of hundreds of millions of lives cut short and incinerated in the blink of an eye. Billions more would perish in the famines, increased volcanic activity, and nuclear winter that followed.
The “Long Winter” lasted six years; even today, under red-orange ash-choked skies that dim the sun’s warming rays across the planet, the advancing polar caps and glaciers remain thick with ice, sufficient to soak up enough water to lower global sea levels by 100 feet and maintain a new Ice Age.
By ten years after Doomsday, radiation reached tolerable levels and temperatures stabilized across much of the planet. The Wastes of North America and Europe were ruled by rad-zombies, mutoids, and nomad packs, but in places that were largely spared from the nuclear destruction (South China, Japan, South Africa, Brazil), humankind set about the arduous task of rebuilding. And that’s when the Colony crash-landed…
A massive alien generation ship, the Colony was already inbound towards Earth when the nukes began flying in ‘83. The colonists, a psychically-sensitive race known as the Uru, who lived aboard the ship were stunned by the shockwave of death and misery unleashed into the cosmos by Doomsday. The ship’s Nav-Brain actually exploded inside its capsule, so overloaded was it by the empathic wave. The ship drifted, rudderless, for ten years, slowly descending towards Earth in a lazy orbit before crashing not far from the ruins of Ulaanbaatar.
Explorers and scientists from the nascent Sino-Sov Empire were the first to reach the Colony. There they found an alien ecosystem, complete with animals, plants, and sentient residents. It took three months to reach the crash site, by which time many of the ship’s animals and plant spores had scattered to the four winds. So too had many of the Uru colonists; those who remained would come to rue their decision, for they were quickly rounded up by the Sino-Sovs and taken off for “further study” in underground labs scattered across Manchuria and Siberia, the beginning of the Sino-Sov dominance of psy-tech.
No matter where they went, the Uru bore a dire warning: they were only the first. Their generation ship was launched in an effort to escape the grasping tendrils of the ever-expansive Galaxian Empire, a multi-system conglomeration made up of scores of enslaved species from innumerable conquered planets, all under the collective thumb of the grasping, venal Galaxians, a gestalt race of air-breathing, helium-filled jellyfish, possessed of neither morality nor ethics and masters of genetic and biological manipulation.
The particularly bad news was that the Uru ship’s departure was noted and tracked by the Galaxians, who were soon hot in pursuit, drawing their attention to this previously quiet little corner of the galaxy. Their arrival on Earth was anticipated to come just a few years after the Uru.
In the years following the arrival of the highly-psychic Uru, a change began to come over the planet. Starting in Central Asia, then spreading out to eventually encompass the whole world, extra-sensory abilities began to manifest in men, women, and children from all walks of life. Telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, psychic healing… Psionic abilities blossomed more or less at random and at differing levels of power, with some folk transforming into master psychics practically overnight—a process that left many little more than drooling vegetables, their brains fried by the experience. For those who survived, however, came power undreamed-of. Other strange effects, like increased poltergeist activity and even ghostly manifestations and strange phenomena, were noted. Most remarkably, the entire continent of Australia seemed to disappear into a parallel dimension—although it is still visible from space, it is impossible to contact by any means, and so far no one who has ventured there has yet returned.
None can yet say with certainty what caused the Awakening, as some call it, to occur. Was it the mere presence of the psychically-advanced Uru? Was it strange spores released from some of the xenoflora aboard their crashed Colony ship? Or perhaps the Uru are merely coincidental players, and the Awakening was owed to the subtle effects of radiation from the wars?
Forty years had passed since Doomsday, 30 years since the arrival of the Uru. Things would never be like they were, but there was a sense of increasing stability here and there in certain pockets. And then the Moon exploded.
The Galaxian invasion craft, a massive battle fortress called Nemesis, announced its arrival in the most spectacular way possible. In a twinkling, the Moon was no more, reduced to billions of micro-satellites that quickly settled into a silver ring around the planet. The larger chunks from the explosion rained down on the planet, initiating a new round of destruction. Worse, without Luna’s gravitational pull, the oceans rose up in surging tsunami across the globe as the tides equalized. Whole swaths of tough-as-nails survivors who had persevered through four decades of post-nuclear chaos were wiped out by the rising waves. Even those coastal cities that weathered the Lunar Explosion, such as Hong Kong and Rio, lost millions of lives.
As the waters receded and the meteor strikes abated, humanity looked up to see a new sort of moon in the skies overhead, just barely visible orbiting outside the new Lunar Ring. This was, of course, Nemesis. One month after the Lunar explosion, the first Galaxians descended from their orbital base, touching down in the city of Brasilia in the in the Corporate States of Brazil.
Although spared the holocaust of nuclear fire, Brazil, like much of the world, had suffered greatly from the ensuing global nuclear winter, breakdown in infrastructure, famines, and floods. In the immediate aftermath of Doomsday, most of the country was controlled by petty warlords and their bands of former miners and foresters, or else had reverted to jungle; only the three metropolises of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia clung to any semblance of order and civilization, and even then only under the autocratic rule of the United Corporations: a conglomeration of the country’s 20 most powerful business syndicates.
The technology offered by the Galaxians allowed the Corporate States to begin rebuilding in earnest. Gengineered symbiotes and parasites helped cure endemic diseases; Galaxian slave labor began clearing the jungles and driving the Miner-lords to ground, or else into the arms of the Anden-Nazi-Reich, a small insurgent mountain state led by ayahuasca-sipping refugees of the Third Reich and their native allies. The Corporate States happily allied with the alien invaders, selling out their souls in the process.
On the other side of the globe, other centers of power emerged—some more than willing to fight against the Galaxians, others remaining steadfastly neutral for now, waiting to see which side could offer the best inducements. Let us take a tour of the rest of the world as it stands in the year 65 PD (Post-Doomsday):
The former NATO nations are wastelands. In Europe, small conclaves (most notably the the fortress-monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia) represent the most advanced states, but even these are limited to just a few thousand souls each and largely rely on pre-Doomsday tech. Caught between the chill descending from advancing glaciers to the north and an expanding Sahara across the sea to the south which sends searing, dust-choked winds their way, their future looks grim.
North America, too, is a howling wilderness dominated by nomadic packs of irradiated mutants and cannibals. Six decades on from Doomsday, the last of the “OldTech” is being used up; vehicles run dry of guzzolene, and there are no more bullets for guns. Slowly, the American mutoid packs are reverting to a Neolithic tech level, their once-exalted superpower past now but a distant memory and the stuff of myth-making.
Death comes swiftly to those foolish enough to venture to the Wastes of America and Europe, yet many do, intent on scouring the ruins for pre-Doomsday artifacts and gear, which then commands outrageous prices among wealthy collectors in Hong Kong, Beijing, Sun City, and Rio. Only the heavily-fortified dry moat that is the Panama Canal Zone, manned by CSB soldiers, prevents the madness of the nomads and mutoids from spreading further south.
Doomsday cored out the Soviet Union just as surely as the NATO member nations, but thanks to the fact that the Russians struck first, theirs was not a total holocaust. Eastern Siberia and northern China both caught their share of nukes in the madness of Doomsday, but fared better than the West. In the rebuilding since the Long Winter, the survivors have combined to form the icy, totalitarian Sino-Sov Empire. A Maoist-Stalinist state, it is by far the most expansive and powerful of all human nations on the planet, projecting its strength over the former states of Amur, Irkutsk, Buryatiya, Zabaykalye, Primorye, Khabarovsk, Sakhalin, Kamchatka, all of Mongolia, the old regions of North and Northeast China, and the two Koreas, as well as the Japanese island of Hokkaido. The beneficiaries of Uru psy-tech, extracted slowly and painfully from their alien captives, the powerful Sino-Sov authorities eye the Galaxian invasion with open hostility, particularly in light of the alien empire’s open alliance with the capitalist stooges of the Corporate States. The Sino-Sovs are busily preparing for what they see as another global confrontation not long in the future. Despite its ruthless totalitarian structure, the Sino-Sov Empire might just represent humanity’s best hope in the face of the would-be Galaxian conquerors.
South China, like much of the world, has fallen to lawlessness. It is the Sino-Sov Empire’s number-one military target ahead of the anticipated Fourth World War, but this reconquest will not come easily, as this part of China is overrun today with warlords and their private armies. The warlords have formed an uneasy peace in the face of Sino-Sov aggression, creating an ad-hoc Bandit Empire to call their own.
Off the coast of China sit two great island nations. The first is Japan, surely the most singular of all the planet’s countries. A leader in technology prior to Doomsday, the Japanese, largely spared the destructive rain of nuclear fire, were able to leverage stolen Uru xenotech after the Colony’s crash in the year 10 PD. Advances in cybernetics and bionics came thick and fast, and Japan found ready buyers in the Sino-Sov Empire and the Bandit Kingdoms alike. With technology increasing by leaps and bounds every year, Japanese cybertech is everywhere, spreading as far as South Africa and Brazil.
The greatest irony of Japan’s success is that it has come at the cost of its own humanity. The first artificial intelligences came online 22 years after Doomsday, and the first self-aware robots walked the streets of Neo-Kyō not long after that. In a twisted parody of mankind’s fears of mechanized automation, the new robot caste quickly assumed power, forming an elite caste of nobles and warriors who keep paternalistic watch over Japan’s “meat-population” of unskilled tech-laborers, who are kept docile and entertained with the very gadgets and VR rigs that they helped to invent and develop.
Although the Sino-Sovs conquered Hokkaido 30 years ago, they have been unable to make further military progress in the face of Japan’s fearsome robo-samurai and an uneasy truce now exists between the two nations. The Sino-Sovs have grown too dependent on Japanese tech to risk destroying it all in a futile invasion, and the growing proliferation of a new virtual currency system (called “Digi-Credits”) recently introduced by the banks of Neo-Kyō is yet another guarantor of Japan’s continuing independence.
To the south, in the temperate zones beyond the Bandit Empire, the city-state of Hong Kong glitters like a jewel in the South China Sea. The last true outpost of the British Commonwealth, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic, multi-national free city of spies, mercenaries, black marketeers, and Taoist mystics. Agents of the Sino-Sovs and Corporate States move unnoticed amongst teeming crowds, past stands peddling the latest in smuggled Uru-tech, Japanese wetware, and Galaxian bio-mods. After the floods following the Moon’s explosion, the whole island was enclosed in massive cement walls to prevent a similar disaster in the future. Now the citizens of Hong Kong are building up rather than out, creating a hive-like mountain rising up over the surrounding waters. This great walled island-city offers anything and everything to those daring enough to reach for it—if they don’t get their hands cut off in the process.
Thanks to collateral nuclear damage, increasing desertification, and an unfortunate meteor strike that stretched from Pakistan to Azerbaijan, much of the Middle East and India is today largely uninhabited, their cities long since reclaimed by jungles and deserts, the graves of billions resting below the radioactive loam. Rumors persist, however, of reclusive kingdoms in the lower reaches of the Himalayas, beneath the great Tibetan glaciers. The most outrageous of these rumors insist that strange monstrous beasts rule their petty shangri-las, leading some to jokingly call these polities the “Yeti Kingdoms.”
Sub-saharan Africa has fared better than the north, and it is here that we find perhaps the most unusual of the major human powers: in the wake of Doomsday, the white minority government of South Africa collapsed, and the native amaZulu peoples and their allies established self-governance. Only in the resort community of Sun City did the old order still hold sway, the former getaway destination transformed into a fortified city-state. Eighteen years ago, the Afrikaners of Sun City reemerged, backed by terrible forces. None can say definitively what gives them their powers, though many claim it to be nothing less than a deal with the Devil himself, but the “Witch-Kings of Sun City,” as they are called, quickly overran the various Zulu states and reasserted their dominance. Naturally, this did not sit well with the amaZulu peoples, and South Africa is currently torn by an ongoing civil war between the Witch-Kings and the Zulu Resistance.
Earth is no longer humanity’s domain. The Uru, and the many races of the Galaxian Empire, represent the first competing sentient species on the planet in 30,000 years. Alien flora and fauna introduced by the Colony ship and bio-engineered creatures unleashed by Galaxian scientists now proliferate across the globe, as do Galaxian servitor-races, displacing native species that have no defenses against these new threats; some native species, spurred by radiation-induced mutations, have quickly evolved into new, alien plants and animals in their own right. Psychic vampires hunt down the most powerful mystics, intent on feasting on their brains. Rad-zombies roam in all-consuming hordes across the Americas and Eurasia, like terrible shambling locust swarms, devouring all in their path. And, for the first time since Doomsday, the planet is threatened by global war. The Sino-Sovs prepare to move against the Bandit Empire and the Galaxians plot in the glittering penthouse offices of their slimy human allies, planning a sweeping offensive—only where they will strike remains to be seen. Their ultimate objective is clear, however: total conquest of the planet.
The view from Hong Kong Walled City is a bleak one, yet not entirely without hope. Earth may have changed forever, but it’s still worth fighting for...isn’t it?