Things I Don't Have Time For At the Moment

Between my actual-play podcast and various ongoing writing projects, I've got...oh, about five big items on my docket right now.

Of course, this means my brain keeps throwing ideas at me for yet more things to work on, all of which would just be silly little free fan projects. So consider this post a temporary storage bin that I may exorcise the demons and focus on the stuff in front of me. I'll come back to you, ideas—I promise!

One idea I've had kicking around for a while which has recently been reasserting itself is to do a PbtA adaptation of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld stories. It would, naturally, be called River World. See what I did there?

I realized a gaming goal of long standing a few years ago when I ran a GURPS Riverworld campaign, a mere 20 years after first picking up the book. It was a fun game, but I have to say that I found GURPS was almost too much for the setting. Ultimately, the gameplay experience came down to two things: building stuff and interacting with NPCs. Those are tasks that PbtA could handle really well, with a variety of interesting Moves to reflect social interaction and technological experimentation and development. Plus, the playbooks just write themselves.

Speaking of custom classes, I blogged last year about doing some write-ups on adapting S. John Ross's world of Uresia to The Black Hack. Shortly after that I went to Gen Con and came home with a bunch of projects—the kind that actually pay money—and so my "Uresia Hack" project has sadly remained on the back burner since then. But I will to it! In fact, one of the money-making projects I'm working on right now has more than a bit of Black Hack DNA in it, so I've had an opportunity to further familiarize myself with the system. I should really prioritize this once things open up a bit, as I bet I could crank out a PDF over a few evenings' worth of work.

The latest demon to come and torment me is courtesy of my cooling interest in Savage Rifts. Although I admire the job that the SR team did in adapting the rules, after running the game last year I've come to the conclusion that it just doesn't hit the notes I'm looking for. "My" version of Rifts is idiosyncratic to the extent that I don't think I can rely on anyone else to capture it; if you want something done right...

I know I'm not the only one to feel this way. My good e-buddy Paul Vermeren (of Dungeonskull Mountain) comes from a similar demographic/gaming background as I, and his interest in developing a version of "his" Rifts ineluctably led to a completely new vision of his own post-apocalyptic genre-mashup, the brilliant GRIDSHOCK (which I'll be promoting the hell out of when it comes out, because it's the retro-anime-superhero-post-apocalyptic mashup RPG you never knew you needed until now).

I was texting with my good buddy Alex (with whom I discovered Rifts way back when) about how I might go about scratching my own peculiar itch, and he quite helpfully suggested doing a sort of "neo-clone" using the wide variety of OSR rules out there. I actually blogged about this some years ago on my old blog, and I think, if anything, the available palette of hackable rules systems has only multiplied exponentially since then.

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. If I went with the former, I suppose I'd have to keep things fairly generic (as far as released/posted material goes) to avoid that dreaded Palladium C&D letter! So maybe I'm better off just going my own way anyway?

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...

[Savage Rifts] Journey's End

A couple weeks back I wrote about my Savage RIFTS game taking an unexpected turn and sort of accidentally stumbling into a pretty decent setup for picaresque adventures.

Last week I ran the first installment in that new framework. Sadly, and by mutual agreement with my group, it looks like that will be the final installment for the foreseeable future.

I can't really place my finger on it, but things just never really gelled for me. I'll need to give some thought as to why this may be. It might have been the fact I haven't run RIFTS for over 20 years. It might've been the fact that I went with a region that holds no familiarity or nostalgic attachment from the days when I did run RIFTS. It might've been a poor choice of scenarios that didn't match my preferred play-style. There was also the learning curve of running Savage Worlds at a power-level I was unfamiliar with, which proved draining. I got to the point of familiarity I needed to be at, but by that point my enthusiasm was largely shot.

Not helping matters is the fact that I'm currently running one of the most satisfying games I've run in a long time, so it only highlighted my dissatisfaction with this one.

I definitely want to return to Savage RIFTS. I think that next time around, I'll go with a setting and framework that feels more comfortable, familiar, and engaging, and I'll write my own material. (Due to a confluence of writing deadlines, I was pretty much forced to go with pre-written material this time around.)

On a positive note, I did quite enjoy the experience that Savage RIFTS offers—it felt like RIFTS should feel. Also, my Chiang-ku conversion felt just about right, being neither to over- or under-powered, so I'll go ahead and pat myself on the back for a job well-done there.

With Savage RIFTS going gentle into that good night, we decided to run horror-themed one-shots all the month of October—I get to play "The Derelict" next week! And Cryptworld on Halloween weekend!—after which I'll be indulging my new-old love of old World of Darkness and starting up a Vampire: the Dark Ages chronicle. I'll be posting more about that in coming weeks, I'm sure.

[Savage Rifts] Actual-Play Analysis

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

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

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


Issue Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can shapeshift?” she asked it.

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

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

And so they walked.


Issue One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Issue Two

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

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

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

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Ramon Perez

Art by Ramon Perez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Kevin Siembieda

Art by Kevin Siembieda

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

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

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


Issue Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Newton Ewell

Art by Newton Ewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Issue Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Keith Parkinson

Art by Keith Parkinson

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

…and the blade bounced right off his forearm bracer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Savage Rifts] Expanded M.A.R.S. Fortune & Glory Table

Savage RIFTS, like all good and decent gaming products, comes packed with tons of tables for players and GMs alike. The Mercenary, Adventurers, Rogues, and Scholars (M.A.R.S.) Iconic Framework gets a table all its own, the "Fortune & Glory" table. M.A.R.S. characters, thanks to not being the total powerhouses represented by other Iconic Frameworks, get to roll several times on said table.

But, as it's just a d12 table, the range of options may soon seem limited, particularly if you've got a group with a propensity for playing M.A.R.S. characters (or are intentionally doing an all-M.A.R.S. campaign, such as a game centering around City Rats in the 'Burbs of Chi-Town).

I'm not the only one who has marked this out as a potential issue, and recently regular reader Reese Flory sent me his expanded Fortune & Glory Table. With his kind permission, I am reproducing it here.

Expanded M.A.R.S. Fortune & Glory Table
d20
Result
1 Up Close and Personal: Add one die type to the Fighting skill. Your hero may choose any single weapon from the Close Combat —Personal sections. You may gain the Trademark Weapon Edge for one of your starting melee weapons instead of the weapon.
2 Reach Out and Touch Someone: Add one die type to the Shooting skill. Your hero may choose any single weapon from the Ranged Weapons—Personal section. You may gain the Trademark Weapon Edge for one of your starting ranged weapons instead of the weapon.
3 A Strong Suit of Armor: Your hero may choose any one suit of Body Armor and add two of the modifiers listed under Body Armor in the Hero’s Journey section. They must be two different modifiers, not the same one twice.
4 A Way to Get Around: Your hero begins with a d6 in either Driving or Piloting. She also starts with any one vehicle of her choice.
5 Agile and Dexterous: Your hero adds one die type to Agility and begins with either the Ambidextrous or Quick Edge.
6 Smart and Learned: Your hero adds one die type to Smarts and begins with a d6 in any three Smarts-linked skills.
7 Spiritual and Determined: Your hero adds one type to Spirit and begins with the Strong Willed Edge.
8 Strong and Powerful: Your hero adds one die type to Strength and begins with the Brawny Edge.
9 Vigorous and Tough: You hero adds one die type to Vigor and begins with the Nerves of Steel Edge.
10 Wealthy and Connected: You hero begins with the Rich Edge and the Connections Edge with two factions.
11 Charming and Well-Traveled: Your hero begins with the Charismatic and I Know a Guy Edges.
12 Fortune Favors the Bold: Your hero begins with the Brave Edge. He also begins each session with one additional Benny.
13 Dabbler in the Arcane: Your hero has somehow picked up spellcasting along the way, adding the Arcane Background (Magic) Edge and a d6 in Spellcasting. They select three powers as limited by the Ley Line Walker. Otherwise, your character may roll a total of two times on the Enchanted Items & Mystic Gadgets and/or Magic & Mysticism tables.
14 Latent Psychic: Your hero has unlocked their psionic potential over the course of their experiences, adding the Arcane Background (Psychic) Edge and a d6 in Psionics. They select three powers as limited by the Mind Melter. Otherwise, your character may roll a total of two times on the Enchanted Items & Mystic Gadgets and/or Psionics tables.
15 Four-Legged Friends: Your hero has developed an incredible affinity with animals, gaining the Beast Bond and Beast Master Edges and two trained Earthly animal companions, or one trained interdimensional creature of animal intelligence.
16 My Young Apprentice: You hero has inspired a follower, gaining the Sidekick Edge. The sidekick is a standard Savage Worlds Novice character (no Iconic Framework to start), but roll once on Experience & Wisdom, Training, or Underworld & Black Ops table; your hero and sidekick both gain the result, reflecting a shared experience.
17 A Bard's Tale: Your hero has devoted a great deal of time to one of the rare pastimes on Rifts Earth: entertainment. Add the Attractive and Talented* Edges, begin with a Perform specialization at d6, and start with a high-quality musical intrument or other such medium. Your hero may perform at venues for pay.
18 Follow Me: Your hero has proven himself as a combat leader, earning the Command and Team Leader** Edges, and a Knowledge (Battle) skill at d6.
19 I'm a Survivor: Your hero regularly survives encounters that would break tougher adventurers. Add the Hard to Kill and Brave Edges.
20 Choose Your Fate: Select any other result on this table, or gain two rolls on any two Hero’s Journey tables of your choice.
*See Deadlands Noir
**See Supers Companion

[Savage Rifts] Mapping Dinosaur Swamp: Georgia

As I wrote about last week, I'll be running my inaugural Savage RIFTS campaign in the Dinosaur Swamp region, specifically in and around the former state of Georgia.

As I'm entering final preparations for the campaign, I figured I should probably put together a regional map, both because I find the maps in the Dinosaur Swamp sourcebook sorely lacking and because, with the 100-meter sea level rise I apply to "my" version of RiftsWorld, the coastline is substantially changed from canon.

I spent a couple hours noodling around in Photoshop yesterday, and here's what I came up with:

I might have gotten a little carried away...

I put in the old state boundaries mostly just for my own reference--they'd be meaningless to anyone other than a Rogue Scholar or such in-game. I didn't worry too much about reproducing the course of rivers exactly, as the Cataclysm would have certainly reshaped riverbeds.

I should probably brighten up the hexes just a bit for better readability, but in all honesty I'm not even sure how much utility they'll be in actual play. I mean, a 5-mile hex doesn't mean much if you can fly right through it! They're there mostly to give me a sense of scale. On the other hand, I'm thinking about using the old "Random Ruins and Relics" table from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set to generate, well, ruins and relics in the swamp, so there might actually be some room for hex-crawling in this campaign!

At the end of the day, this map may not be of much utility at all, but it's certainly evocative to me at least, and I think my players will dig it too.

Next up on the cartographical agenda is a rough map of the ruins of Atlanta. If I produce something other than random scribbles, I'll be sure to post it here.

[Savage Rifts] Chiang-Ku Dragon Hatchling

I met with my mid-week group to discuss Savage RIFTS. We’re all on board with it, and I took them through the three frameworks I worked up a few weeks back.

The “Top Gun Manistique” idea held much appeal, but we decided to put that one on hold—it’s been ages since we played RIFTS, and the consensus was that a more generalized framework would work better for our inaugural outing.

So we decided on a campaign of Atlantean freedom fighters and their allies operating out of the MARTA tunnels under the ruins of Atlanta, plotting the downfall of the Splugorth. One of my players had already pitched a concept of a runaway Blind Warrior Woman who underwent Juicer modification to better help her in her quest to kill her former Slaver and liberate her sisters from bondage, and that concept fits in perfectly with this framework.

My other player, who is far less well-versed in RiftsLore, went through several different ideas before settling on a Dragon Hatchling. Considering the campaign is going to be heavy on Atlantean and Splugorthian themes, I suggested he consider a Chiang-Ku as his species, to which he agreed wholeheartedly.

Which means it's time to do another conversion. In the process, I'm going to rewrite the Chiang-Ku backstory ever so slightly. As with my previous effort, this went pretty smoothly, and I think I'm in the ballpark as far as balancing with a more "normal" dragon like the Flame Wind.

Chiang-Ku Dragon Hatchling

The creatures called Chiang-Ku Dragons first came to Earth over 10,000 years ago. Experienced dimensional travelers, they took a liking to this little backwater and its single sentient species. Disguised as humans or operating openly in their full serpentine glory, the Chiang-Ku taught the people of Africa, Atlantis, East Asia, and Mesoamerica the secrets of stone magic and geomancy, kickstarting human civilization in the process.

The fall of Atlantis marked the end of serious Chiang-ku presence on Earth. Untold numbers of dragons died alongside their Atlantean allies as the continent vanished from the planet’s surface, and many more fled through dimensional portals as magic began draining from the atmosphere. Those very few that remained, by choice or otherwise, went into hiding and, by the time of the Great Cataclysm, all had met their doom one way or another.

Atlantis’ end also marked the beginning of the end for the Chiang-Ku on a broader scale. Masters of the esoteric arts of tattoo magic and alchemy, their knowledge was much sought-after by the Splugorth Empire, who hunted the dragons to the brink of extinction. In the process, the Splugorth stole the Chiang-Ku’s arcane powers and turned them to evil. The Chiang-Ku are now widely believed by most Atlanteans and Splugorth alike to be extinct.

They very nearly are. In the whole of the Multiverse, only a few score Chiang-Ku yet live. Of that tiny number, two dozen are on Earth even now, pursuing various ends both noble and nefarious. Many, like the inscrutable lord of the Phoenix Empire, are wholly turned to evil and ally openly with those who once drove their kind to the brink of oblivion. Meanwhile, the Chiang-Ku who wish to further the noble deeds of their forebears must operate in secret, usually assuming some form of disguise so that their true nature is not discovered.

To say the least, Chiang-Ku hatchlings are very few and far between. Such creatures, should they be discovered, find themselves the immediate target of the Splugorth, the Coalition, and evil Chiang-Ku, all of whom will wish to turn the young dragon to their own will and agenda or else destroy it. To be a Chiang-Ku is to be hunted, but also to possess great powers and abilities, perhaps moreso than any other dragon on Earth.

Appearance: Chiang-Ku are long and lithe, sporting three pairs of legs, each ending in prehensile five-toed claws. Their triangular scales are always some shade of green, usually emerald. The tail portion of their body is somewhat shorter and stubbier than a typical dragon’s, but their mouths are filled with razor-sharp fangs, giving them a mighty bite. Whiskers grow around their mouths, and a horned crest rings their head.

Due to their shape-shifting abilities, few ever see the Chiang-Ku in this form, however. Although they can assume practically any shape, most develop a “go-to” look for their human guise so that they may be recognized by allies and enemies alike.

Abilities & Bonuses

  • Major Psionic: Chiang-Ku are born with an inherent mastery of psionics. They begin play with the Arcane Background: Psionics Edge and four powers, as well as the Major Psionic Edge. They have 15 ISP and a d6 Psionics skill, and may choose their powers from the Mind Melter’s list.
  • Alchemy: The Chiang-Ku are unequaled potion masters. At Seasoned level or any point thereafter, a Chiang-Ku Hatchling may take the Arcane Background: Alchemy Edge (see Shaintar: Legends Arise for details). A Chiang-Ku with this background may concoct the legendary Elixir of Power and Deceit (subject of a future conversion post…).
  • Tattoo Magic: The Chiang-Ku invented tattoo magic and remain masters of the form, such that all Chiang-Ku hatchlings are born already magically imprinted with the Marks of Heritage (see below). At Veteran level, a Chiang-Ku Hatchling may take the Arcane Background: T-Man Edge.
  • Armored Hide: As if in compensation for their dwindling numbers, Chiang-Ku are able to take titanic levels of punishment—the Hatchling has M.D.C. armor of +12.
  • Claws/Bite: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Fast Regeneration: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Fear: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Infravision: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Inherently Magical: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Low-Light Vision: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Marks of Heritage: All Chiang-Ku are born already mystically-imbued with two magic tattoos (the “Marks of Heritage”), one on each for their forelegs.
    • The Eye of Knowledge: Grants the ability to understand, speak, read, and write any language, as per the speak language power (see Super Powers Companion). Use of this ability requires activation and lasts for one hour at a time.
    • The Flaming Sword: Activating this tattoo conjures a glowing, flame-wreathed sword out of thin air (Str+2d6 damage, AP 2, Mega-Damage). The sword lasts for one hour before dissipating.
  • Metamorphosis: Chiang-Ku lack many of the abilities of their draconic brethren (flight, teleportation, breath attacks), but are unparalleled in their ability to shapeshift. Chiang-Ku Hatchlings needn’t wait for Veteran level to attain unlimited metamorphic powers; they begin play with the full metamorphisis ability as described in The Tomorrow Legion Player’s Guide (p. 45). In addition to the guidelines given there, Chiang-Ku may assume a mist form. (See the intangibility power in the Super Powers Companion for guidelines on how this works.)
  • Mighty: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Nigh-Immortality: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Resistance: All forms of cold- and fire-based damaged are resisted at +4 Toughness/+4 to opposed rolls, as appropriate.
  • Size +6: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Size Increase: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Slow Regeneration: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.

Complications

  • Cybernetics: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Enemies: As detailed above, the Chiang-Ku are a hunted species. Hunted by the Splugorth, they are also targeted by the Coalition States (who hate all dragons on principle) and other evil Chiang-Ku and sorcerers.
  • Large: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Outsider: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Untested: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.
  • Very Young: As per the Flame Wind Dragon Hatchling.

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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.

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!

[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!

[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!

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.