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.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the clown show has been put on hiatus for retooling.

No sooner had I pronounced that I needed to find something to fill the gap until Pinnacle started releasing Savage Rifts PDFs, Pinnacle started releasing Savage Rifts PDFs.

I have to admit, I've learned to set my bar pretty low when it comes to anticipating releases in the wake of a Kickstarter. Pinnacle have not just cleared that bar, they've sailed high overhead.

This means my planned Thrilling Tales campaign is likely to go on the back burner after all. I'm going to take the weekend to read through the Tomorrow Legion Player's Guide and will be back next week with more RIFTSthoughts...

::steps into ley line and winkles out of existence::

Building a Campaign: Thrilling Tales

I've been lucky enough to be a member of two weekly gaming groups for the last few years. There's my Sunday group, which is face-to-face (and recorded and disseminated to the rest of the world...); then there's my Wednesday "group," which is an online affair and consists of me and my two close friends from high school--the guys with whom I originally got into this whole gaming thing.

Because of the smaller group size and our nearly quarter-century of personal history, the Wednesday group tends to be a bit more loose and informal than the Sunday group in terms of how we approach gaming. This is both good and bad. The good is that the bar is much lower than with my Sunday group, which makes Wednesdays more like a relaxed hang-out. The bad is that we tend to flit from system to system and campaign to campaign and tend not to go on epic runs like I do with my Sunday group.

Recently, we decided to conduct a little experiment in correcting this oft-frustrating tendency: rotating GM slots. For 16 weeks at a time, one person takes the helm to run games. Furthermore, they will run only one system. There may be multiple games contained within this four-month period--for example, two eight-week campaigns, or maybe a 12-week campaign and a couple one-shots--but they all have to use the same system. A TPK doesn't mean the end of the GM's tenure, either. You keep running until your time is up.

Our first iteration of this plan was with D&D 5e and it went really well. I got to be a player (a rare treat in and of itself) and we weathered three restarts successfully. (In the past, after the first iteration of Alex's game fell apart that would've meant it was time for someone else--i.e. me--to run something.) We ended up with an all-magic-user group, with me playing an emo Tiefling Warlock and Tim playing an amoral Human Necromancer. It was lots of fun, and recalled our anarchic high school games. We got up to about 3rd level before Alex's time ran out. When it's his turn again, we're planning to pick up the campaign again right where we left off, sort of like a new TV show's season premiere.

We timed things nicely so that Alex's turn as GM ended right before he headed off to the UK for a month-long vacation (how's that for luxury?), which left me, the next designated GM, to cogitate about what I'm going to run.

I know the system will be Savage Worlds. At first, I thought I'd be able to run Savage RIFTS right out of the gate, but with the expanded PDFs now not due to drop until mid-July, I figured I should run something else in the interim.

After exchanging some emails and talking about options prior to Alex's departure, I settled on Thrilling Tales. We're all big fans of the "pulp" genre (as it's understood in RPG circles, at least), and Thrilling Tales was actually the first Savage Worlds product I ever bought after picking up the core book.

Alex is particularly excited about playing Thrilling Tales, and so I asked him what sort of characters he's thinking about. Here's his reply:

I was leaning towards a Man of Mystery, Captain Satan-type character.  Either that or a Mesmerist (basically a pulp version of Phloyd [a Gnome Illusionist from an AD&D campaign I ran a couple years ago]).  Actually if Tim and I did a combo Man of Mystery + Mesmerist I think that would be pretty cool.  Doctor Karma and his crime-fighting associate Floyd the Unfathomable. 

So in other words, he wants to do low-powered pulp supers, which I can totally get behind. In Thrilling Tales terms, this falls under the "Crimefighting" genre framework.

Clearly, then, I'll need to develop a city in which to set our crimefighting adventures. In my next post, I'll outline the process of narrowing down the location and beginning the process of turning it into a pulp campaign location.

It's T-Shirt Season

(Here in the Northern Hemisphere at least.)

I know I said I was going to start posting about my upcoming Thrilling Tales campaign today, but I'm still mulling over some stuff and have decided to put things off to next week. In the meantime, please stay tuned for the following commercial message:

Spreadshirt inform me they are running a sale on t-shirts from the 15th to the 21st of this month. So if you've been holding off on buying a swanky Esoteric Order of Roleplayers t-shirt (or have been thinking about buying another one), put your orders in now and save 15 percent! Woo!

To claim your savings, just enter the discount code TSHIRT16 at checkout.

A Rifts Miscellany

With the recent preview of the Savage RIFTS tables of contents released to Kickstarter backers, we got our first glimpse of the structure of the GM's and player's books. The GM's Guide preview was particularly welcome; I had a pretty good general idea of what was in the Player's Guide, but up until now the GM's Guide had remained something of a mystery.

And let me just say that it was simultaneously surprising and gratifying to see such a big chunk of the book devoted to just the sort of thing I've been rambling about in recent posts: namely, the process of setting up a RIFTS campaign--something that RIFTS GMs have, in the past, largely been left to figure out on their own.

(I also appreciated the chapter headings for the book's first section, which nicely reflect the fact that RIFTS as well as all Palladium games are at their best, in my opinion, when they reflect a certain late-Cold-War aesthetic.)

At any rate, seeing that preview, combined with the fact that I've got the broad strokes filled in on my own version of North America and have a couple pretty exciting campaign frameworks in the hopper, convinced me to put any further prep work on hold until I've had a chance to read through the Savage RIFTS PDFs, which we'll hopefully be seeing in about a month or so.

Before I press the Pause button, though, a few final loose ends need tying up...

Credits

I'll be interested to see how Savage RIFTS addresses one of my personal setting bugbears, the Universal Credit system. Canonically, the economy in RIFTS revolves around a digitized money system called Universal Credits (not unlike futuristic Bitcoin, I suppose)--a fairly standard sci-fi trope, but one that's fairly ludicrous given the setting's other base assumptions. Universal Credits make sense for citizens of the Coalition and other major settlements like Tolkeen and Lazlo, but even then I imagine each would have its own "universal" system that wouldn't necessarily mesh with the other. There's a fine line between verisimilitude and ease of play, though, and I don't want to get too far down into the weeds with constructing a credible post-post-apocalyptic economy. All other things being equal, here's how I plan to address the cash economy in my campaigns:

  • "Credsticks" and Universal Credits are a privilege of citizenship for CS residents and tend to be found among the upper echelons of Lazlo and Tolkeen residents. Credsticks only work in outlets that are wired into a central grid, meaning that usually you're only going to be able to use them inside city limits and at military bases. Using a credstick from one state's grid to pay on another state's grid may cause issues--sometimes there is a 10-20 percent "conversion fee," while other times (say, rolling a 1 on 1d12 whenever a transaction is attempted) the system simply doesn't work at all. Credits can still be transferred directly between sticks, and there are brokers and pawn shops that will exchange credits for precious metals and gems for a 10 percent fee.
  • Speaking of precious items, outside of the cities the most common method of trade is, of course, bartering. The most valuable items are also the most useful: e-clips and other ammunition, canned food, potable water. After that come pre-rifts artifacts (which may be more valuable than even food or ammo to the right person). Then come metals and gems, including strange, heretofore-unknown minerals from other dimensions. An arbitrary "credit" value may be assigned to these items (or taken from the item's description, if it has a write-up), but ultimately the transaction comes down to an opposed Persuasion roll (modified appropriately for situational variables).
  • Finally, some areas have developed abstract cash economies of their own. The Pecos Empire, for example, does not use Universal Credits, but does have a cash economy based on bullets, with one 7.62mm round equalling one-tenth of a Universal Credit. These local economies will be fleshed out on an as-needed basis.

Hovercycles

In my last Savage RIFTS post, I wondered about new hovercycles in the two Northern Gun books. Well, friends, I'm here to tell you that those books have got new hovercyles in spades. Particularly Northern Gun II, which gives us multiple new hovercycle designs and even a variety of "racer" armor for hovercycle jockeys! Lots of fun.

Having said all that, if I do end up going with my "Manistique Air Force" idea, I think I'll have my guys mounted in Sky Kings for the most part.

Rifts & Morty

Lastly, a bit of fluff.

If you're at all a RIFTS fan and you haven't checked out Rick & Morty, you really owe it to yourself to do so. The show does an amazing job of constructing a multiverse that's about as close to what you find in RIFTS as anything I've yet seen. Rick even uses a sort of portable "rift generator" which would make a pretty cool item in a RIFTS campaign.

There's no magic or psionics, per se, but there's plenty of super-science, weird tech, and alien monsters; the show is a never-ending source of D-bee inspiration. In fact, every time I watch the show I can't help but think about stuff to steal from Rick & Morty for my RIFTS games, starting with the dynamic between the titular characters themselves, which makes me think irresistibly of the dynamic between a Temporal Raider and his Temporal Warrior or Wizard disciple: a blend of contempt, cynical manipulation, gradual corruption, and maybe just a little bit of affection and loyalty.

Then there's Krombopulous Michael, a model for all Juicer assassins from now until the end of time...

So that's about it for now. Until Savage RIFTS drops, I'll be workshopping some ideas for a Thrilling Tales campaign that I'll be running this summer, starting with a new entry in the Digital Shoebox on Thursday. Until then!

How to Subscribe

Soon after I launched this blog, I had a couple readers of my old blog ask how they could subscribe to this one.

As much as I'm enjoying this new blogging platform, I will admit that it doesn't make subscriptions very intuitive. But it's easier than it first appears.

According to the admin FAQ, there should be an RSS feed embedded automatically in this blog's URL (http://www.sirlarkins.com/blog). Simply copy that URL and paste it into your reader of choice. Here are a couple examples:

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If, for whatever reason, the blog's URL isn't working with your reader of choice, you can always try pasting in the RSS feed directly:

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Thanks for reading--and thanks for following!

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

After tackling the Big Three last week, I'd intended to write a few words each on the other major polities of North America for this week's entry. But, as I reviewed the 1990 rulebook as well as a couple other sourcebooks, I realized that I'm mostly content at this point to leave things for now largely as they are described in the books.

This doesn't mean I won't be changing elements down the road, or fleshing out some other areas myself. But, unlike with the states in last week's entry, there's nothing left that I want to make drastic thematic or material changes to; modifications to a given area will likely emerge through play, and only as needed. I don't want to get into the weeds of re-inventing the proverbial wheel just for the sake of saying I did it.

Instead, what I've been thinking about is which part of North America to set my inaugural Savage RIFTS campaign in, along with themes or plot structures that I want to explore. Here's my short list:

  • My go-to (and still most likely candidate for first campaign) is something set around the fringes between the Coalition state of Lone Star, the Pecos Empire, and the Vampire Kingdoms. Specific frameworks might include mutant animal refugees from the Lone Star complex, piracy on the Gulf of Mexico, city-rat action in Juarez, exploring pre-rifts ruins in New Mexico (specifically the old government bases/labs at White Sands, Sandia, Los Alamos, and Dulce), or community-building/homesteading in the forests of east Texas.
    • A "proper" vampire-hunting campaign, either based out of Arzno (and with a professional vampire-hunter vibe), or more picaresque "monster of the week" style, ranging between El Paso and Monterrey initially. (Dare I use "Mr. Drak's Traveling Circus" as the tentpole framework for the latter?)
  • A "north country" campaign centered on the Manistique Imperium and ranging between Tolkeen and Lazlo. Player-characters could be mercenaries in the classic mold, arms dealers, wizards, or diplomats. This could be your classic "mercs and mages" framework, but could also easily accommodate political intrigue and alliance-building, corporate or sorcerous espionage, smuggling, etc.
    • A variation on this framework would be a Top Gun homage, with the PCs serving as hot-shot members of the Imperium's air force flying patrols over the lakes and along the borders of Xiticix territory. There'd be a lot of emphasis on intra-organizational rivalries (and homoerotic sexual tension) between the quaffed aces wearing leather jackets and aviator shades, mixed up with bug hunts against the, well, Bugs and tense standoffs with Coalition Sky Cycle patrols. I'd have to get the Northern Gun sourcebooks to find the right sort of aircraft to place with our 'jocks--aside from the venerable Sky King, do the NG books feature a Sky Cycle knockoff?
  • I picked up Dinosaur Swamp recently and was really taken with the opportunities presented in the write-up on the ruins of Atlanta. I particularly liked the Elytherian Atlantean faction, and now kind of want to run a Splugorth-facing, all-Atlantean freedom-fighter/insurgent campaign centered on Atlanta and the southeast.
  • Lastly, I would absolutely love to run something in Paul V.'s North Cascades Combine. He did a fantastic job of taking a blank section of the map and turning it into an interesting little corner of the RIFTS world. Lots of fun factions, including mutant beavers, sasquatch, feudalistic city-states, and weirdo aliens. I'm reserving this one for a nice "change of pace" outing after running some stuff in the "classic" regions of North America.

I'd love to hear about other folks' ideas for North American campaign frameworks, if you care to share. After all, one can never have too many ideas!

[Call of Cthulhu] Jacob Ruppert

It's time for another installment of Digital Shoebox, the series where I post a complete, usable character, both for my own archives and so that you, dear reader, might take it and make of it what you will.

Past entries have featured characters intended for use by players, but this week's entry is presented instead as a resource for game masters. Specifically Keepers, as we venture into the realms of Call of Cthulhu with a most unusual potential patron...

Our man is Jacob Ruppert, the real-life owner of the New York Yankees from 1915 to 1939. (Technically, he was co-owner of the team from 1915 to 1922 with the intriguingly-named Tillinghast L'Hommedieu Huston.) 

Baseball aficionados will know that Ruppert is one of the most significant owners in the game's professional history, taking a marginal also-ran team and building it into an unstoppable franchise, inaugurating a tradition of excellence that continues to this day. It was Ruppert who acquired Babe Ruth for the team, who built Yankees Stadium, who oversaw the developments of the "Murderer's Row" and "Bronx Bombers" lineups.

What people may not be aware of are Ruppert's singular personal eccentricities.

Born in 1867, Ruppert was the grandson of German immigrants. In spite of the fact that he was raised in New York City, Ruppert spoke with a thick German accent his entire life. (It is often remarked that pronounced Babe Ruth's name as "Root," for example--he addressed everyone by their last names.) His father ran the massive Ruppert Brewery, located in Manhattan's Upper East Side and sprawling over three city blocks, from which Ruppert inherited his millions. He served in the National Guard, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel, and was elected by the Tammany Hall machine as a Democratic Congressman for four terms (1899-1907), but otherwise devoted his life to beer and baseball.

A great collector of ephemera and exotica, the unmarried Ruppert filled his massive mansion with books and art, particularly jade carvings, as well as animals: dogs, horses, and what was called "America's finest collection of small monkeys," in the words of Harvey Frommer.

Ruppert maintained a second home, a 400-acre estate, in Garrison, New York (on the Hudson across from West Point). Within the stony walls of that stately home, Ruppert set up a room--a shrine, really--devoted to his dear, departed Mutti, Anna, after she died in 1924. The room was kept stocked with everything Anna Ruppert would need in the event she came back to life.

So there's that.

Also of note is Ruppert's deep interest in exploration. He helped bankroll Richard Byrd's 1933 Antarctic expedition, providing one of the steamships (modestly christened the Jacob Ruppert) that took the expedition to the chilly shores of that icy continent.

Ruppert has obvious utility as a patron for player-characters interested in expeditions to foreign lands; in particular, he will be interested in acquiring rare and valuable jade relics. He may be inserted as a direct or associated sponsor for any published campaign expedition (including the infamous Carlisle Expedition), or as an interested party.

Then there is the matter of his maternal shrine in Garrison. What books sit lowering in the darker recesses of Ruppert's library? Perhaps works on necromancy and re-animation of the dead? Or is the shrine merely the sign of a lonely man isolated by his wealth and perennial bachelorhood? Ruppert could equally make for an unlikely sorcerous villain for New York-based campaigns or a fun, innocently eccentric red herring for any baseball fans in your group.

And, lastly, just what on Earth did Ruppert need all those small monkeys for?

Statistics

JACOB RUPPERT, Eccentric Millionaire

STR 55 CON 60 SIZ 75 DEX 40 INT 85
APP 40 POW 80 EDU 73 SAN 80* HP 13

* Lower if Ruppert is indeed a sorcerer.

Damage bonus +1D4 Build 1 Move 4

Fighting (Brawl) 45%, damage 1D3+1D4
Firearms (Rifle/Shotgun) 60%
Firearms (Handgun) 50%
Dodge 40%
Armor: None.

Skills: Accounting 65%, Animal Handling 40%, Appraise 50%, Archaeology 20%, Credit Rating 95%, Fast Talk 25%, History 30%, Intimidate 35%, Language (English) 35%, Language (German) 70%, Law 30%, Library Use 30%, Mechanical Repair 20%, Natural World 35%, Occult 25%, Persuade 80%, Psychology 55%, Ride 40%, Spot Hidden 50%.

  • Keepers who so wish could make room on Ruppert's library shelves for one or two books of Mythos or occult lore. Suitable choices include The Emerald TabletThe Golden Bough, The Key of SolomonMalleus MaleficarumThaumaturgical Prodigies in the New-England CanonTrue Magick, and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.
  • If Ruppert is a necromancer, he should also own a copy of Cultes des Goules, although he will not keep it in a publicly-accessible place. He will also be limited by his lack of proficiency with the French language. Presumably, the book sits near a French-German or French-English dictionary and a dog-eared notebook. Keepers should feel free to give him as many or as few spells from that dark tome as they feel is reasonable for his years of diligent translation.

[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.

Tolkeen

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.

[Savage RIFTS] Messin' with Texas

I'm continuing to scheme and postulate regarding how I'm going to present "my" version of the world of RIFTS when the Savage Worlds version drops (in PDF form) this summer.

In my last post, I started big by discussing my take on the Megaverse and promised a follow-up post detailing an overview of the situation in North America. I'm going to push that particular post to next week, however, and instead dial things even further down to just talking about a region of North America. Specifically: where I'm planning on setting my initial campaigns.

But first, a short digression...

A few years ago, I ventured to produce my own North America map, showing the more radical sea-level rise I feature in my world (I mean, you can't have a whole new continent show up in the middle of the Atlantic and only expect to lose parts of Louisiana and Florida...). Going back to that map, however, I was disappointed to see that I kept some of the idiosyncracies of the original Rifts maps in terms of political boundaries.

Specifically, I'm looking at the Lone Star and Pecos Empire borders. After a 300-year Dark Age, massive geophysical upheaval, and the rise of brand-new political entities, there is simply no way the Texas Panhandle border would've remained intact.

This was of particular concern to me in the here-and-now because Texas is going to form the locus of my campaign region: you've got the Coalition State of Lone Star (and all those lovely mutant animals!), you've got the bandit kingdom of Pecos and the Free Lands promising some lovely Mad Max-style action, you've got the Gulf Coast if you want to bring in some Horune Pirates...and, of course, just over the Rio Grande, you've got the Vampire Kingdoms.

Thus, I sat down with a Rand-McNally map of Texas that helpfully included all those surrounding regions (and a bit more!) and started re-working coastlines and borders. I had two main goals in mind:

1) Have the political borders conform to more "natural" boundaries; things like rivers, the edges of mountain ranges and plateaux, even old Interstates (which will be long-gone by now but would have been around long enough to leave their mark, as it were). I wanted to avoid artificial, "surveyed" borders as much as possible, as it just doesn't seem in keeping with the rough-and-tumble post-post-apocalyptic world of Rifts.

2) Incorporate New Mexico into the region! In addition to the plain old illogical nature of the old west Texas borders remaining intact, as a New Mexico resident I'm somewhat irked that yet again my beloved state gets overlooked. The world of Rifts has write-ups for states and locations in Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, but apparently New Mexico is nothing but howling wilderness. I'm not buying it.

With those goals in mind, here's what I came up with as a "good enough for rock & roll" draft sufficient to get me grounded in where things are in relation to each other:

The Pecos Empire (the big red blob) is now worthy of its name, stretching from the rowdy biker town of San Antonio all the way up along the stretch of land between the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers and terminating at the frontier town of Burque. This forms a nice buffer zone for the State of Lone Star from the depredations of the wild vampires of Mexico, adding a nice gloss to the relationship between the two states.

And speaking of Lone Star (the purple blob), I've kept the state's central axis (running from Amarillo to the Lone Star Complex itself), but shifted the borders west, so that the state essentially sits upon the Llano Estacado ("Staked Plains"--a nice little pun for a region so close to vampire territory!). Having driven through eastern New Mexico and west Texas plenty of times, I can attest that this region is very much its own holistic entity, regardless of the artificial state boundary that currently bisects it on maps.

Other fun details have emerged as I've gone over the original road map and compared it to the new boundaries: Houston lies beneath the waves, and Nacogdoches is practically a seaside town! There was room to place the CS State of El Dorado (the blue blob) on the map, and so I did, centering the eponymous settlement on the former site of a pre-rifts town called Hope...

As I said, this is the roughest of maps, and I'll likely be working up something with a bit more polish to use in my games. But this is a good jumping-off point for now, and gives me a solid base to talk about North America in general next week (I promise!).

[Savage Rifts] Gregor the Crazy

It's time for another Digital Shoebox entry! This is the series where I post a complete, usable character, both for my own archives and so that you, dear reader, might take it and make of it what you will.

Today's entry is a bit of a departure from the usual model. Although Gregor is "my" character, I did not make him. This is because whenever Sean Patrick Fannon runs a demo of Savage Rifts, he lets his players keep their sheets with the explicit understanding that these are now persistent characters in his campaign world; should the player ever sit down to play in another of Fannon's games, the player can bring that character back in. And, with his kind permission, I'm posting a transcription of the sheet here.

(This idea strikes me as a fun ode to the earliest days of the hobby--or, more recently, FLAILSNAILS--when players could take their favorite D&D characters from one DM's table to another, amassing items and experience that counted for all future games.)

I showed up at the session right before it was due to start after receiving a summons from Sean Tait Bircher of the Wine and Savages blog, so the other players had already made their selections from a pile of pre-generated characters. I was pleased to see that a Crazy was still available, as it has always been one of my favorite O.C.C.s while also being one of those most in need of fixing--I was quite curious to see how Crazies would play in Savage Rifts.

I'm happy to report that I think a sweet spot was located. Gregor complemented the party's Juicer, Rod Gritt, while still maintaining his own distinctive niche (gotta love those grenades!) and personality.

GREGOR, Crazy

Novice (0 points*)

* I received 5 Experience Points at the end of the session, but am waiting to make my Advance until after the Savage Rifts PDFs come out.

Agility d10
Smarts d6
Spirit d6
Strength d10
Vigor d10

Climbing d6+2
Fighting d10
Investigation d4
Notice d6+2
Psionics d6
Shooting d8
Stealth d6
Streetwise d8
Taunt d6
Throwing d8
Tracking d4

Charisma: 0
Pace: 12"
Parry: 8(7*)
Toughness: 12(5)
I.S.P: 10

* Gregor is at -1 to Parry when using his Chainsword.

Hindrances
Unstable Psyche (Delusional, Major)
Heroic
Loyal
Stubborn

Edges
Acrobat (+2 related Agility)
Arcane Background (Psionics)
Frenzy (2 melee attacks @ -2)
Gun Nut (Can use guns while Losing It, +2 Shooting)
Quick

Powers
Confusion
Deflection
Telepathy

Wilk's 447 Rifle, Wilk's 237 Pistol, Chain Greatsword, SFD Huntsman Armor, NG-S2 Survival Pack, 4 AP Grenades, 6 Frag Grenades, 4 HE Grenades, 2 Plasma Grenades, 700 Credits

Heroic Journey Rolls

Narrative Hook: Siege of Tolkeen
Psionics: Spend a Bennie to substitute Spirit for any Trait roll
Weapons: Grenades--always start a session with 1d4 Frag Grenades
Training: 1 Combat Edge (Frenzy)
Close Combat Weapons: Great Chainsword
Underworld & Black Ops: Streetwise d8, Forgery (Common Knowledge +2)

Other Notes

  • Losing It:  Go Berserk (+2 Fighting, Damage, Toughness; -2 to Parry; Ignore Wound Levels) at will as an Action. Also Fearless for duration.
  • Getting It Together: Shake off "Losing It" condition; Smarts roll at -2. All Trait rolls suffer a -2 (due to wracking guilt, depression, fears, delusions, etc.) for a duration dependant on the outcome of the Smarts roll: 24 hours (Critical Failure), 1d6 hours (Failure), 1d10x10 minutes (Success), 1d6 minutes (Raise).
  • Bio-Regeneration: Natural healing roll once per day.
  • Enhanced Speed: Pace is doubled (factored in).
  • Enhanced Strength: Increase Strength by two die types (factored in). No maximum.
  • Heightened Senses: Investigation, Notice, and Tracking rolls are at +2. Ignore the first two points of Range Penalties (no penalty at Medium, -2 at Long).
  • Minor Psychic: Factored in.
  • Super Endurance: Increase Vigor by two die types (factored in). No maximum. Only half-normal amount of sleep required. All Fatigue resistance rolls are at +4.
  • Super Reflexes: Increase Agility by two die types (factored in). No maximum. Uncanny Refelxes (-2 to be hit in combat). Quick Edge (factored in).
  • Distinctive Appearance: M.O.M. implants, tattoos, piercings, etc.
  • Needs Action: During "slow" times, make a Spirit roll. Failure means -2 Charisma and -1 all Trait rolls (presumably until things pick up again).

Analysis

Playing Gregor was a lot of fun, and I can see how getting to play a Crazy over the course of a campaign would be even more interesting and rewarding.

The name "Gregor" just popped in my head, so I went with it. I gave him a comical Russian accent based on his having seen pre-Rifts footage of the wrestler Nikolai Volkoff--I figure Gregor is actually just a run-of-the-mill farmboy from Iowa, but he thinks he's actually a Soviet soldier.

Every Crazy starts with a Major Delusion, and Gregor's strange personality was how I represented it. Sean said that he had one play tester decide that his Crazy saw the whole world like a Disney cartoon. You can't really beat that!

This iteration of Crazies reminds me a lot of the "boosted vets" in the Underground RPG, and I love that (particularly since I always wanted to play Underground but could never get into the Mayfair house system).

I decided that when Gregor is "getting it together," his natural Loyal and Heroic Hindrances are magnified, turning him into something of a mother hen who dotes on his companions and tries to solve everyone's problems. Fun stuff.

And this was all coming out of making stuff up on the fly on an empty stomach. There's a lot of potential for fun with Delusions and Losing It with a bit more thought, I'm sure.

(An interesting note on Losing It: it's pretty much in the Crazy's best interest to indulge every combat. Combined with "Getting It Together" penalties afterwards, this means the Crazy is going to be swinging wildly between hyper-competence in combat and crippling penalties outside. It'll be a rare time, I'm sure, that a Crazy isn't under the effects of some sort of bonus or penalty!)

Astute readers will have noted the "Heroic Journey" section. This is one of the elements of Savage Rifts I'm most excited about. Not only do you get some instant baked-in background ("Siege on Tolkeen"--interesting!) but you also get a suite of randomly-determined equipment and other goodies that have a real mechanical effect on your character. I can't wait to pore over all the tables and write some additional entries of my own.

All in all, a most satisfying treatment of one of my favorite classes!

[Con Report] Chupacabracon III

Okay. After driving 22 hours and 1,400 miles over a 72-hour period, I have returned from Austin's own Chupacabracon and am here to provide the gory details.

(Actually, the con was thankfully quite gore-free, being instead filled with lots of gaming and talk of gaming and more gaming.)

This was only the second gaming con I've ever attended (Gen Con 2015 being my first) and was my first "regional" con. The scale proved quite the contrast to Gen Con's monolithic excess. For one thing, I was actually able to stay on site at the con, a trip from the convention hall to my room taking, at most, five minutes. What a concept! I was able to easily drop in on games and seminars alike. Hell, even the Celebrity Game Professionals in attendance dropped in on things; Ken Hite showed up in the audience at one panel to just hang out and occasionally heckle the folks at the front of the room. This was the same panel that John Wick, wandering past the open door to the room, decided to "crash" (his words) as a panel member while he finished up a plate of grits and bacon.

If this implies a certain level of loose accessibility, then you are picking up what I'm putting down. I had brief but productive conversations with Mr. Wick himself, Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing, Jodi Black of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Sean Patrick Fannon, late of the Savage Rifts project/behemoth.

The panels, too, were more like upper-division college seminars, with audience numbers being only slightly greater than the number of panelists! There was a nice level of back-and-forth interaction with the audience, and a very loose and open approach to running the seminars. I think my favorite was the "Inclusivity and Diversity" panel, which was thoughtfully moderated by Kevin G. Nunn; the only frustrating element there was the fact that, at only an hour in length, there was really only enough time to merely touch on the changing face of the gaming hobby and bring up some important talking points to take home and muse about.

The highlight of the con for me, though, was finally getting to participate in some actual convention gaming. I sat in on two games, neither of which I knew I was playing in until about 10 minutes before they started.

The first--and boy, what a baptism of fire to the world of con gaming!--was a Savage Rifts game run for me and eight other folks by Sean Patrick Fannon himself. Not only that, but that particular game was filmed by a professional camera crew, presumably for editing and release to the masses of Kickstarter backers!

(Photo by Shane Hensley. The guy in the near foreground sitting with his back to Mr. Hensley is yours truly.)

(Photo by Shane Hensley. The guy in the near foreground sitting with his back to Mr. Hensley is yours truly.)

So yes, I've finally gotten a chance to find out directly how this whole Savage Rifts thing is coming together, and I have to say: believe the hype. This was the most fun I've had playing in the Rifts universe in more than 20 years, and the game very much felt like Rifts while still running like Savage Worlds. Fannon and company keyed in on the secret behind the setting: that it's basically post-post-apocalyptic superheroes, and our nine-person team really had that "superhero team-up" vibe going on, with various powers and abilities nicely complimenting each other.

Highlights from that game include:

  • My character (a Crazy) and the team's Juicer raiding a Coalition camp and, with a combination of sheer bravado and liberal grenade-lobbing, getting the entire company to chase us back up the road, where an ambush was lying in wait. (This sequence also featured a preview of an exciting new rule that's slated for inclusion in the next printing of the Savage Worlds core rules...)
  • The Glitter Boy, with help from the Wilderness Scout, getting camouflaged with mud and a net, lying in wait, then taking a shot at the UAR-1 Enforcer as it came into view--and taking down the Enforcer with a single well-placed shot!
  • The Cyber-knight just wading into combat and absolutely owning a succession of skelebots, Dead Boys, and Dog Boys.
  • The Juicer ("Rod Grit"), his death wish in full effect, standing at the foot of a bridge with a chainsword in hand, staring down an entire platoon of grunts, daring the Coalition forces to come at him, underlit by surrounding flames summoned by the team's Burster. A wonderfully, heroically hellish vision.

My inclusion in that game was so last-minute, I didn't even have dice or a pencil or my Savage Worlds rulebook with me; even worse, it meant I had to skip lunch, so I was a little subdued from hunger. Yes, I am a convention newb and am still having trouble managing my time and resources. Nevertheless, I had a total blast playing Gregor the Crazy (and yeah, Crazies in Savage Rifts definitely seem more balanced with Juicers now and get to be properly delusional right out the gate), got a few laughs, and didn't make too many rules oversights, so all was well in the end.

The other game I played was an adventure for Sean Tait Bircher and Robin English-Bircher's The King Is Dead setting for Savage Worlds. This is a setting I've been tracking with interest ever since the Birchers first started working on it, and I'm looking forward to them Kickstarting the setting this autumn. In the meantime, you can get a feel for the setting--a horror-fantasy mashup centered on bringing down a ruling caste of (literally) vampiric aristocrats in an 18th century that never was--via their recently-released adventure, VARGR, which is being sold as a Pay What You Want product.

Both Sean and Robin were running TKID events all weekend, but due to the constraints of my schedule I only managed one game with Robin. She revealed after the session that this was something like only the second or third time she'd ever run a game, to which I say: this woman has a very bright future ahead of her as a GM! She did a phenomenal job, especially considering the rather hectic and distracted environment that was the main gaming hall on that "Savage Saturday Night".

That is, of course, one of the potential issues with con gaming: the constant background noise. I found that my hearing's not quite what it used to be, and it was tough at times to separate what was being said at the table from the general roar of a dozen gaming tables all around us (including two Savage Rifts games!). Not much to be done about that, I'm afraid. And in the end, I still had an absolutely fantastic time (quite literally "fantastic," as I was basically playing an Age of Reason X-man and the adventure culminated with my character, who was something of a mashup of Beast and Mystique, in disguise as a half-vampire princess, jumping from the basket of a hot air balloon and falling into the river below, transforming into a giant fish at the last possible moment...).

Other highlights:

  • Being seven minutes away from an In-N-Out! As a former 20-year resident of California, I miss my In-N-Out experience something awful, so it was great to indulge in that particular peccadillo.
  • Having John Wick enthusiastically compliment my Esoteric Order t-shirt and tell me he'd pay me $25 for such a shirt; guess it's time to finally start looking into merch options...
  • Seeing the inimitable Rob Schwalb and Greg Stolze prognosticate; those men both have, in their own ways, extremely entertaining ways with words.
  • The lovely drive from Santa Fe to Austin and back. I had some harrowing experiences out on the road (particularly on the return leg) and I do believe I'll fly out next time, but, having returned in one piece, I can say I'm really happy I had that experience.
  • Making some excellent networking connections and talking excitedly about certain upcoming projects I'm not quite at liberty to post about just yet.

My main complaint was the hotel itself, which was pretty funky. My room smelled rather strongly of the wacky tobaccy when I checked in; there were no towels in the bathroom; the bath tub was never cleaned to my level of comfort (there were still droplets of someone else's shampoo visible around the edges, for example) and the tub's faucet handle was half-broken; the fact that when I called down about the lack of towels, they told me that I'd have to come down and get them since they were short-staffed that night; the oily stain on one of couch cushions (and the two stains on the flip side of the same cushion). Not the worst hotel experience I've ever had, but pretty bad. If I hadn't gotten a good convention rate, I would've been even more miffed.

Will I be going back next year? If at all possible, that's a big ol' YES. I'll try and not make my schedule so tight, either, so that I have time to go enjoy some local cuisine, hit up some Austin book stores and game stores, and just generally be a little more relaxed. Hopefully they'll have it at a different hotel, but if they don't I'll even put up with another weedy, grease-stained hotel room.

ETA: And the video footage of the Savage Rifts game is up!

Posting Schedule and Blogging Agenda

One of my objectives with setting up sirlarkins.com was to get back on the blogging horse. I started my old blog, The RPG Corner, more or less on a whim back in 2008 (back when I was known to go by the nom de Internet of "shiro") and never really had any theme or plan when it came to posting. At the time, I had enough stuff bouncing around in my head that it all just flowed out quite of its own accord.

But, as the steady decline in posting frequency over there indicates, that lack of focus and schedule eventually took its toll. Thus, I'm hitting the reset button and starting fresh with this blog.

And, well, I've been at this for a couple-three weeks now and have got a few posts under my belt, so I think I can go ahead and formalize my posting schedule plans and have a reasonable expectation that I'll be able to stick to them (for the most part).

  • Tuesdays are earmarked for posts in which I muse about things relating to RPGs and tabletop gaming. Games I'm excited about, campaign plans, agendas, and so forth. I will also use Tuesdays as my platform for announcing upcoming projects and publications, and perhaps posting excerpts, designer's notes, or other additional information from said works.
  • Thursdays are my day for posting game-mechanical crunch (characters, monsters, and so forth) or otherwise making general administrative announcements (as with this post).

I'm excited to be blogging again--writing on The RPG Corner really was the beginning of the journey that ultimately led to me deciding to get into the gaming industry on a professional footing--and the schedule is so far proving an excellent way of maintaining focus. I've got a nice little backlog of drafts queued up, and lots of stuff to share.

Here's to many more posts to come!

One last note: I'm planning on attending Chupacabracon in Austin, Texas this weekend. I'll be driving in on Friday and driving back Sunday afternoon, so it'll be a bit of a whirlwind trip, but I'm hoping to play in a Savage RIFTS game as well as a session of Sean and Robin Bircher's "The King is Dead" setting.

If you see me, feel free to say hi--I'll be the guy wearing the Esoteric Order of Roleplayers shirt (yes, I have one for each day...).

Workin' on Savage RIFTS, Pt. I

Back on my old blog, and a dog's age ago, I started musing about the world of RIFTS. That ended up turning into a whole other project, one that eventually took me away from the world of RIFTS entirely (as can often happen).

With the impending release of Savage RIFTS, I've decided to make an effort to return to the baseline RAW ("RIFTS-as-Writtten") world, or as close to it as I feel comfortable. My Rifts:2112 project did provide me with tons of food for thought and insights into the setting, however, and I intend to port over at least some of those ideas into my own Savage RIFTS campaign.

As such, this is the first in a small series of posts in which I lay the groundwork for how I envision "my" Rifts-world.

Let's start with the big picture: the Megaverse.

Now, call me an unimaginative fuddy-duddy, but the prospect of being able to connect the world of RIFTS to other intellectual properties (be it Robotech or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or My Little Pony or whatever) has never appealed to me in the slightest. I had a Destroid Monster mecha show up back in my adolescent RIFTS campaign and even then felt slightly dirty about it.

My vision of the Megaverse is one that is contained more or less to our own time-space continuum. Considering how inconceivably huge the universe is, this is hardly limiting things! I make allowances for "pocket dimensions"--stuff like elemental planes, wizard's towers, and the like where the laws of physics and time may be different--but otherwise stepping through a rift is going to take you to a world that exists in the same universe in the same time continuum.

That being said, if a player wanted to bring in a mechanic or piece of equipment from an existing game line, I'd have no problem with that. For example, if someone wanted to use Huckster magic from Deadlands, I'd tell them to go nuts. According to Hoyle could just as easily be a magical tome in the world of RIFTS, after all. Or that Destroid Monster? Just put it down as the latest creation of the Northern Gun engineering team and move on.

(I might also consider that certain worlds or properties that aren't explicitly set on Earth might be part of our actual universe: the worlds of Shaintar or Hellfrost, for example.)

And speaking of the space-time continuum, I'll close off this entry with some thoughts about the timeline.

I've decided to keep my Rifts:2112 idea and have the Cataclysm occur on December 21st, 2012. However, I will keep the RAW conceit that there has been a dark age of 300 years or so.

Hell, our world today already has most of the tech that we see in RIFTS, even if it is oftentimes in extremely embryonic form. Because we know that there are parts of the world that manage to maintain a continuity of civilization and technological development, 300 years is more than enough time for us to see the emergence of super-tech such as power armor, plasma guns, cyborgs, and so forth--particularly when you consider that aliens coming through the rifts are often bringing their own higher technology, which could have been captured and reverse-engineered!

(It also maintains the Rifts:2112 idea of having things like juicer rigs and M.O.M. implants as emergent tech, nicely explaining the many bugs and deficiencies in those systems.)

But why set the Cataclysm in the early 21st century to begin with?

First of all, the conceit that the Cataclysm occurs circa 2098 posits a world that, nearly a century hence, is still pretty much like our own world but with cooler toys. I'm no big booster of the Singularity, but I think it's pretty clear at this point that, for good or ill, the world 80 years from now will resemble our own in but a very few ways. So by setting the Cataclysm back to our own time, the zeitgeist of the pre-rifts world remains relatable, just as it's presented in the game books.

Secondly, and on that note, I've noticed that, with very few exceptions, whenever "pre-rifts artifacts" are discussed or depicted in the canon, they're almost always from the late 20th century (unless, of course, they're some sort of super-weapon). This makes a lot of sense, of course: it's nearly impossible to depict mundane artifacts of daily life in a future decades ahead of us; also, depicting artifacts from our own time ("A boxed set of video discs marked 'Star Wars'...") increases the pathos and the sense of a lost world, a golden age of yesteryear. By having the Cataclysm occur in 2012, we can feature those late-20th/early-21st century artifacts without any loss of verisimilitude.

Next time: some thoughts on North America, including the Coalition, Tolkeen, and the Federation of Magic!

[Savage Worlds] Alternate Vampires for RIFTS

I'm still mulling over how I want to approach running Savage RIFTS (and will be posting my thoughts in greater detail next week), but I figured I should at the very least stat up cihuatateos and chupacabras for Savage Worlds in case I opt to go with my alternate take on the Vampire Kingdoms--or even simply to offer a couple variant vampire-types alongside the classic RIFTS vamps.

As befits the tone of Savage RIFTS, this version of the cihuateteo is bit less overtly horrifying and a bit more Satanico Pandemonium...

(That clip, incidentally, is a perfect demonstration of the difference between the female cihuateteo and the male chupacabra.)

Cihuateteo

Attributes: Agility d10; Smarts d6; Spirit d8; Strength d12, Vigor d8

Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Stealth d10, Tracking d8

Pace: 6 (walking), 10 (flying); Parry: 5; Toughness: 8

Special Abilities

  • Claws: Str+4
  • Change Form: As an action, a cihuateteo can change into a rattlesnake with a Smarts roll at -2. Changing back into a humanoid requires a Smarts roll.
  • Charm: Cihuateteo can use the Puppet power on the opposite sex using their Smarts as their arcane skill. The power may be maintained indefinitely, but may only be cast on a single subject at a time.
  • Drain Life: The creature may make a Touch Attack instead of a regular attack. Victims must make a Vigor roll opposed by the cihuateteo's Spirit. Failure causes the victim Fatigue and gives the cihuateteo the Hardy ability (and heals a wound if it’s a Wild Card). The victim’s Fatigue can cause death. Victims who survive the attack heal one level of Fatigue every 8 hours.
  • Fearless: Immune to Fear and Intimidation.
  • Flight: Cihuateteo may take to the air and fly with no visible means of propulsion. Flying Pace 10, Climb of 3.
  • Infravision: Halve penalties for dark lighting against living targets (round down).
  • Invulnerability: Cihuateteo are immune to all forms of damage save fire. They can be Shaken by other attacks, but never suffer a wound.
  • Seduction: Human male characters wishing to attack a cihuateteo do so at -2.
  • Shadow: In their natural state, cihuateteo are insubstantial beings. They may materialize with a Smarts roll at -2, and must do so to attack or drain life. They may dematerialize with a Smarts roll. While in their shadow-form, cihuateteo are treated as Ethereal creatures.
  • Sire: Adult male victims killed by the cihuateteo's Drain Life ability have a 50% chance of coming back as chupacabra (see below) in 1d4 days; women so killed may rise as cihuateteo themselves (25% chance) in 1d4 days. (Women who die in childbirth and aren't cremated have a 75% chance of rising as a cihuateteo within 24 hours if there is a cihuateteo within 20 miles.)
  • Undead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken; called shots do no extra damage; half-damage from piercing weapons; immune to disease and poison.

Weaknesses

  • Weakness (Bloodlust): Although they do not need it to survive, cihuateteo crave the blood of the living. If a pint of blood is thrown over the creature (requires a successful Throwing attack), it must make a Spirit roll or be Shaken as it licks up the blood.
  • Weakness (Infanticide): Cihuateteo are driven into hateful frenzy at the sight of human young and pregnant women. If a cihuateteo sees an infant, toddler, or visibly pregnant woman, it must make a Spirit roll or focus its actions for the following round on going after that target, suffering a -2 to Parry and -2 to Notice rolls while doing so. It must make this roll every round the target is present.
  • Weakness (Fire)Cihuateteo suffer full damage from fire-based attacks.
  • Weakness (Stake Through the Heart): A materialized cihuateteo hit by a piercing weapon with a called shot to the heart (–6) must make a Vigor roll versus the damage. A failed roll paralyzes the creature, and it quickly begins to decompose. If the stake is ever removed, the cihuateteo reforms in 1d4 rounds.
  • Weakness (Sunlight): Cihuateteo suffer a cumulative 1d6 damage per minute spent in direct sunlight (1d6 the first minute, 2d6 the second, etc.)--clothing and armor do not protect.

Chupacabra

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d4, Strength d6, Vigor d6

Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Stealth d6, Tracking d6

Pace: 8; Parry: 5; Toughness: 7

Special Abilities

  • Bite/Claw: Str+1
  • Fearless: Immune to Fear and Intimidation.
  • Infravision: Halve penalties for dark lighting against living targets (round down).
  • Half-dead: +2 Toughness; +2 to recover from being Shaken.
  • Vampiric Bite: When a chupacabra gets a raise on a Fighting roll, it sinks its teeth into the victim's flesh and begins drinking its blood. This causes the victim Fatigue and gives the chupacabra the Hardy ability (and heals a wound if it’s a Wild Card). The victim’s Fatigue can cause death. Victims who survive a chupacabra attack heal one level of Fatigue every 8 hours.

Eine kleine RIFTSmusik...

I've known about the impending release of Savage RIFTS for about a year now, but I have to confess that I purposely kept my enthusiasm on a low boil until the Kickstarter launched. Having finally gotten a glimpse at what Sean Patrick Fannon, Ross Watson, et al., have done, well, suffice to say I'm pretty excited.

What better way to celebrate that enthusiasm than by putting together a mix of sweet tunes that address and highlight the facets of the RIFTS setting that most engage me? I'll be posting further thoughts on that topic next week, but for now just sit back and enjoy the soundtrack that will follow me on what I'm sure will be many campaigns over the coming years...

Digital Shoebox: "Ten Dogs" Tse, Demon Hunter (Savage Worlds)

For my first Digital Shoebox character, I thought it would be fun to do an ad-hoc Savage Worlds conversion of the Demon Hunter O.C.C. (Occupational Character Class) from Palladium's Mystic China sourcebook. As with any SW conversion, I'm aiming to capture the feel of the source material rather than do a line-for-line conversion. This character will also give me a chance to see how SW handles martial arts, always of perennial interest to me in an RPG system. (To that end, I'll be referencing the Deadlands Player's Guide--and the free "Player's Guide to the Flood" PDF--for extra options beyond those presented in the Savage Worlds Deluxe core rules.)

As usual for a Palladium product, my read-through of Mystic China has been marked by equal parts frustration and inspiration. The inspiration for this character came from the O.C.C. write-up:

If there was a job posting for a Demon Hunter, it would look something like this:
Wanted: Loud-Mouthed Big-Muscled Jerk. In need of someone who takes risks, bets against the odds, and is a good loser. Must be obnoxious, capable of blustering and/or pleading for mercy but also charming and fast-talking. 
Criminal record of gambling, drunkenness, vandalism and carousing required; skill with confidence games (i.e. "Con Artist") a plus. Please, no one with moral or ethical compunctions need apply, yet applicant must be ultimately honest in outlook and practice, and completely resistant to threats, bribery, coercion or blackmail. No job security, unpleasant travelling conditions, and very little hope of monetary compensation.
Of course there are no such advertisements. Demon Hunters hunt demons because they love doing it. It's the ultimate challenge, putting mountain-climbing, bungee-jumping, and alligator-wrestling to shame.

Fantastic! I'm always a fan of Bruce-Campbell-style characters. But what really sold me on the character concept was this bit:

Demon Hunter Finances: Overall, the Demon Hunter's finances waver somewhere between disaster and calamity. No matter how much they make, it seems like they're always spending/losing more. The fact that Demon Hunters don't really live for the future means they have a nasty habit of borrowing money from loan sharks.
[...]
Income: None. If worse comes to worst and no work is available, the Demon Hunter can always fall back on dish washing in a restaurant for $250 per week.

I immediately pictured this character at the start of a campaign as working in the steamy, blistering confines of a tiny kitchen in a dim sum palace in Hong Kong or San Francisco, annoying the bejeezus out of his coworkers as he talked a constant stream of shit from behind his pile of dirty dishes. Little do his irate colleagues realize that this guy is merely killing time while he waits to hear of the latest morsels of demonic activity in his local area. Or perhaps this is where the other PCs find him as they go about "getting the band back together" to take down a Yama King?

With this vision in mind, I sat down to make the character...

SHI GOU ("Ten Dogs") TSE, Demon Hunter

Veteran (50 Experience Points)

Agility d8
Smarts d8
Spirit d8
Strength d6
Vigor d6

Fighting d8
Gambling d6
Guts d8
Intimidation d6
Investigation d6
Knowledge (Occult) d6
Notice d6
Streetwise d6
Taunt d8

Charisma: 0
Pace: 6"
Parry: 6
Toughness: 5
Power Points: 20

Hindrances
Arrogant (Major)
Big Mouth (Minor)
Poverty (Minor)

Edges
Martial Artist
Arcane Background (Chi Mastery)
Feet of Fury (Spin Kick)

Powers
Demon Snare (Entangle) d8
I-Ching Mirror (Banish) d8

Lion's Head Sword ($200) Str+d6, Bedroll and Normal Clothes, $5 cash

Analysis

I used the random Chinese name generator in Mystic China to come up with Ten Dogs' name. It seemed quite fitting, considering the somewhat dodgy aspect of his concept.

I also decided to make Ten Dogs a Veteran so that I could play around with his Edges and Powers a little. Seasoned would've worked as well, but I really wanted that "Feet of Fury" Edge, and it's Veterans only!

For such a loud-mouth braggart, it's interesting that his Charisma is still 0. I considered taking something that would give a Charisma penalty, but at the end of the day I still wanted him to be ultimately likable.

The Powers granted by Chi Mastery nicely reflect the equipment effects given in the original O.C.C. write-up. Speaking of which, the bulk of the text there is advice on how to permanently defeat demons through subterfuge and trickery: challenging them to a gambling contest, outwitting their egos, or simply tickling them into submission(!). So I made sure to give Ten Dogs a nice selection of skills to support that type of "demon hunting"--stuff like Gambling, Intimidation, and Taunt. I also included the optional Guts skill, as I figured any campaign revolving around demons would (and should!) feature it.

I elected not to give Ten Dogs a formal martial arts style, as the O.C.C. specifically mentions Demon Hunters being too intractable and distractible to master a single form, instead developing their own, magpie-like, by borrowing from a bunch of different styles.

Making a Savage Worlds character, even at Veteran level, is always an exercise in compromise and resource management. All in all, I'm extremely happy with how Ten Dogs turned out, and would love to play him in a Big Trouble in Little China-style campaign!

Old Habits

I love gaming with folks who are new to the hobby.

Not only is it a lot of fun to vicariously experience their thrill of discovering this new thing that they love doing, but it often serves as an interesting reminder of how I was when I was first starting out. This includes old habits that perhaps were unfairly allowed to lapse.

I've got a player in my Sunday group who loves making characters. For example, during our run of the Great Pendragon Campaign, she spent a day while she was sick in bed simply rolling up all the knights in her extended family. (This had the practical benefit of providing her with a pool of backup characters that lasted the rest of the campaign.)

As enjoyable as it's been to see her enthusiasm on display from afar, it's also reminded me that I used to be just like her. I used to roll up or design characters just for the fun of it. I even developed a filing system (of sorts), keeping them in an old shoebox that eventually turned into a general archive of papers from campaigns of my youth (and which I still have to this day!).

Making characters for fun isn't just a great way to spend a sick day, either. It teaches you the system. It provides you with a stock collection of characters to use either as a player or GM. It familiarizes you with the setting. It fires creativity.

In the spirit of reconnecting with old habits, I'm going to start making characters just for the fun of it and posting them here on this blog, my very own "digital shoebox." (Please feel free to steal said characters and use them as you wish.)

Another old habit I'm trying to reconnect with, inspired by recent musings on Palladium's Mystic China sourcebook, is reading gaming books with no ulterior motive. This is something else I used to do all the time, and something that fell by the wayside as busy adulthood asserted itself. But I once again find myself with a compelling reason to read widely of gaming books: as a professional creator, it's important for me to examine what other people are writing, and how they write it.

This part may not translate into blog posts quite as clearly as my character creation project, but I imagine I will occasionally be inspired to write about something or other based on stuff that I read.

Stay tuned!