Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Take on Rifts

Note: this is the genesis of what would eventually become my Rifts:2112 setting. Some details here are superceded by later posts in the series. To see all posts so far, click on the "2112" tag at the bottom of this post.

In keeping with my gaming resolutions for '09, here's another one of those projects I've been meaning to share. My take on Rifts, both from a setting standpoint, and as far using BRP to run the setting. In the latter sense I'm forced to remain fairly vague so as not to bring down certain defenders of certain IPs upon my head, so the bulk of this post will be concerned with my alternate take on the Rifts setting.

As a long-time Rifts fan, and like most such fans, I've developed some pretty strong opinions on what parts of the setting I like and what parts I dislike. My early thoughts are outlined in this post. From there, I further defined some objectives: I wanted to really emphasize the post-apocalyptic feel of the setting (crank the "Mad Max" factor up to 11, as it were); I wanted to introduce overt Lovecraftian elements (since I'm using BRP, plundering Call of Cthulhu is a no-brainer); I wanted to punch up the "Gamma World" feel of the world (lots more alien and weird elements for a world transformed by much more than mere radiation--I always thought Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was the best Rifts movie ever made;) and I wanted to trim back the setting bloat that's come with all the supplements that had to justify their existence (with loads new spells, magic systems, character classes, settlements, weapons, mecha, and on and on).

My first step was to come up with an alternate timeline that integrated Lovecraftian cosmology and magic into the Rifts backstory and moved the Great Cataclysm back to the very near future:
At 12:01 am (CST), December 21st, 2012, the stars came right...and all Hell broke loose.

The long-anticipated dawning of a new cosmological era that the Mayans called the Fifth Age was heralded by the rising of the sunken city of R'lyeh deep in the South Pacific--and the dreaded coming of nuclear apocalypse across the rest of the globe. The events of that fateful Solstice remain obscure to even the most erudite scholars in Lazlo, Chi-Town, or Tolkeen. Perhaps the rising of the Dreaming City of Mu, as R'lyeh is also called today, spooked the commander of a nuclear sub. Perhaps the dreams of world leaders sent them into a sort of frenzied madness that ended with pushing "the button". What is known for certain is that the nukes started flying. It wasn't all of the world's stockpile, but it caused enough death and destruction to trigger events that would make nuclear warfare seem like a tender mercy. Ah, but we're getting ahead of ourselves...

Long, long ago, Earth was inhabited by entities that the later Atlantean civilization would refer to as "the Ancients". The empires of the Elder Things, the Great Race, and Cthulhu and his Spawn eventually crumbled beneath the irresistable forces of time and cosmic realignment. All that was left were the ruins of their once-mighty civilizations--and their many Gates. It was during this First Age that Earth was to experience its initial incarnation as a dimensional crossroads. The science of the Ancients was such that time, space, and even dimension held no real meaning, and Gates were constructed at various propitious sites around the planet that allowed for travel to points both relatively near and unimaginably far.

With the passing of the First Age, the Gates fell into disuse and were eventually forgotten. Earth was plunged into a savage dark age, an Age of Reptiles and the Serpent-Man Empire of Valusia. This age was cut short by an asteroid impact 65 million years ago, and the so-called Third Age began.

This Age was dominated by the rise of the Atlanteans, aided by their rediscovery of the lost secrets of the Ancients. Gates long neglected during the Second Age, their power much reduced by the shifting of the stars, were uncovered and reactivated by the Atlanteans, who mastered them to the extents possible, along with the study of magic, which they managed to shape into something somewhat less inimical to life than it had been during the time of the Ancients and the Serpent-Men. The resulting Golden Age of Atlantis was long and glorious, but was cut short by disaster 24,000 years ago. That was when the Splugorth, an evil inter-dimensional race of slavers and conquerors, invaded Atlantis proper through the great Gate located in the center of the continent. Seeing that only desperate action could stop the alien menace, Atlantean mages determined to dimensionally "shift" the continent off the planet. It would be the end of their civilization, but it would spare Earth the depredations of the Splugorth. Unfortunately, the sudden disappearance of a continent caused massive geological upheaval, including the sinking of Lyonesse and Lemuria.

The few Atlanteans who were scattered across different points of the planet found themselves stranded in a world plunged once again into darkness. Forswearing their accumulated magical lore, they became scions of the emergent human civilizations, helping to raise the species up from neolithic barbarism. Thus the Fourth Age was born, a time of great cyclical chaos in which one mighty civilization after another--the Hyperborians, the Hyborians, Modern Man--would build great empires only to destroy itself from within.

It had been hoped by those few descendents who still carried the occult lore of the ancient Atlanteans that the coming of the Fifth Age would bring an end to the chaos--and perhaps in time that will indeed be the case--but in the short term things are worse than ever. Again, the details remain unclear, but it appears that the coming of nuclear war and the simultaneous deaths of millions of people occuring at the precise instance of the shifting of the heavens acted as the sort of massive sacrifice necessary to reactivate the Ancients' long-forgotten network of Gates. Furthermore, the realignment of the stars has made conditions on Earth more propitious for the channeling of magical energies than it has been for hundreds of millions of years. Atlantis was gated back to its home dimension (quite unintentionally), and Lemuria and Lyonesse all rose from the waves again, drowning thousands of miles of coastline and causing long-dormant volcanoes to erupt all along Earth's fault lines. Untold millions more perished in the months following the Cataclysm.

It is as if death on such a massive scale as this warped the very fabric of reality. The opening of Gates, once achievable only with the most powerful magical rituals, can now be accomplished by even a lone neophyte. Furthermore, Gates began to constantly and spontaneously open by themselves. Most last for mere nanoseconds and go unnoticed, but a significant minority stay open long enough to allow travel between worlds and times. Some are so massive that they've stood open since the night of the Great Cataclysm. Some of these gates connect to worlds where fundamental laws of physics are different from our own--and those warped realities are now spilling over, changing the landscape around them into something wholly alien, such as in the great Fungus Forests of the Pacific Northwest.

With all this increased Gate activity, Earth is once again a dimensional cross-roads. The return of Atlantis has brought the threat of the Splugorth back to reality, but it has also returned the Atlanteans from their long dimensional exile. Thier knowledge of magic and runes proved instrumental to humanity's survival in the early years following the Cataclysm.

In the century since the Cataclysm, humanity has managed to reestablish itself in several locations around the planet. But things have changed irrevocably, and mankind is no longer the master of his world. Gates are no longer spontaneously opening with quite the frequency they did 100 years ago, and it is clear that in time things will return to a level of stasis. It remains to be seen who will be left in the world to enjoy those calmer times.
From that starting point, here are the differences I've come up with:

First, obviously magic is being treated somewhat differently. Ley lines are out. Magical "energy" instead comes from the alignment of the stars and other celestial bodies. Call it a convergence of neutrinos and gravitonic forces or some other pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo. In effect, magic is Vancian in that it could just as easily be really advanced science. We simply don't know. What is known is that magic is largely not compatible with biological life--therefore the use of Power Points to fuel magic represents the caster's willpower overcoming the damage and pain (physical, mental, or both) that magic causes. 

Gates now substitute for Rifts. There are two types of Gate: ephemeral and permanent. Ephemeral Gates can form or be formed just about anywhere with the proper conditions (a spell or random shifts in local magical conditions, as the case may be), but only Gates formed within a physical "door" structure have the chance to become permanent. The Devil's Gate in St. Louis is probably the best example of a randomly forming Gate that became permanent, thanks to being located within the Arch. In effect, Gates need a physical boundary to "latch on to".

There are two types of magic that are widely known. Wizardry, the first, is the original magic, that developed by the Ancients, Serpent-Men, and various generations of insane sorcerers. It deals with modification of the very stuff of reality, and as such is almost completely inimical to human life. Learning wizardry warps the mind, and using it is even more dangerous. Atlantean magic, often called rune magic, is much more benign in its effects on the user's health. In BRP terms, wizardry uses the spell system and list from Call of Cthulhu; rune magic uses the Sorcery system and list from BRP; it can be spoken or embedded in runes or tattoos.

Other types of magic certainly exist. Techno-wizardry is one notable example. These lesser-known systems can be adapted using the Magic system outlined in BRP. For TW, for example, a techno-wizard's skill with a spell represents his ability to successfully cast a spell into an item (which should be assembled using a separate Craft skill). Once the item is empowered with the spell in question, it can cast the spell automatically but still requires Power expenditure equal to the original cost of the spell.

Magic has been toned down, and so has technology. Obviously, with no "Golden Age of Mankind" in the timeline, tech is a little closer to what we know today. Way more chemical slug-throwers, for example. Because nothing beats the sheer post-apocalyptic splendor of a .50-cal machinegun mounted on the back of a beat-up truck. But there are still lasers, high-impact body armor, suits of power armor, and giant robots. How? Well, we're still looking at a century of weapons development here. The centers of civilization, although battered, never truly lost the thread of pre-Rifts technology, or were able to reaccess it fairly quickly. Add in the inevitable reverse-engineering from samples captured from high-tech D-Bees, and presto!

Of course, this means high technology is in the hands of the nation-states, but that's as it should be. Small islands of advanced tech surrounded by howling, barbarous wilderness. Check out the Appleseed movie for an example of this in action--the opening scene amidst the rubble of previous civilization, then the transition to a rebuilt "utopia". As for technology, things should be limited to the weapons, mechs, and tech found in the Core Book (with the exception of the Glitter Boy--I'm now thinking the Glitter Boy could be a recent appearance, some sort of mysterious alien tech or somesuch), Sourcebook I, and Mercenaries, at least for North America. Some tech, like cybernetics and bionics are based on technology reverse engineered from captured alien samples, while the rougher sorts of tech, like M.O.M. and Juicer conversions, were developed in early desperate years as a means of enhancing humans to fight supernatural foes.

I've kept my world overview in outline form for now. I can always go back and pencil in details as needed. The biggest changes are to Europe, Japan, Britain, and South America.

North America:
* Coalition States largely as described.
- Chi-Town founded on Champaign-Urbana, IL, location of a University of Chicago advanced research lab that had access to lasers and advanced technology
- Lone Star founded on secret government genetics testing lab; use Dog Boys and such as written 
- New West: As Chi-Town and other CS states become more authoritarian, settlers move into the "wilderness" of the West. Several independent states have managed to survive and various forts exist out in the untamed lands. Native Americans, surviving the Cataclysm better than most thanks to their location out on isolated reservations, have largely returned to their traditional lifestyles and once again find themselves coming up against a wave of settlers from the East.
- Tolkeen centered on Lake Geneva, WI; turns out there was a pretty major Gate to a Tolkienesque fantasy world located under Gary Gygax's house--the area is now heavily populated with elves, dwarves, orcs, and so forth.
 
Mexico:
* As written
* Vampires handled slightly differently: Use BRP Vampires as "masters"--"wild" vampires are actually ghouls in the V:tM sense. Ditch Secondary vampires entirely. Master vampires are created after blood is drained and then dripped back into mouth. If blood is simply drained, a ghoul is the result. Vampirism only takes effect if victim is killed--merely feeding on a victim does not create a vampire. However, for every third time a victim is fed from, reduce effective POW for resistance rolls vs. vampiric dominance by 1 point (this explains herds of domesticated humans used as feeding stock in Mexico).

Europe:
* Germany is a loose "Empire" of feudal-corporate barons; territory includes Germany, eastern France
* Other human kingdoms: Tarnow in southern Poland, Lyon and Lengadoc in France, Basque in northern Spain, New Camelot (see below), scavenger settlements in North Sea Archipelago
* Monster kingdoms: Dwarven kingdom under the Alps, ogre kingdom in Bulgaria, vampires in Romania, Gargoyle kingdom in Switzerland/Slovakia, Brodkil empire in Poland
* Other factions: Blood Druids in France; British Isles and Western Europe overrun with magical creatures
* Technology slightly less advanced than North America
- Germany center of tech; British Isles largely magic-based (although TW has yet to reach Europe)
- German tech tends to center on suits of power armor (super steam-powered perhaps?) made to look like old-fashioned suits of armor (use the Tarnow tech but apply to Germany as well)

Lost Worlds:
* Atlantis as described
* Lyonesse: off coast of Cornwall and Brittany; has been taken over by enchanted Fae-type creatures and is the locus of the new Arthurian kingdom that dominates British Archipelago, Brittany, and Atlantic coast of France (use Mutants in Avalon background?)
* Mu: Southern Pacific; location of R'lyeh
* Lemuria: island chain between India and Africa

Pacific:
* Empire of Mu (Deep Ones and degenerate humans) controls Pacific Islands as well as sections of California coast, Indonesia and Southeast Asia
* Mutant kingdom based out of Tasmania (ala Mutants Down Under)
* Japan survived by being whisked to a pocket dimension (most of the island, rather than a small part as written); highest tech level in the world (transplant most of the NGR mechs here--this is Mechaland!) but isolated from the rest of the world by hostile empires

Asia:
* China and India fall under demon-haunted influence of Leng Plateau
* China ruled by demonic Yama Kings; India by Hindu pantheon (benevolent?) in the south, Leng Empire in the north. Both China and Leng locked in struggle against Empire of Mu, with Japan as a highly coveted prize by all three demonic super-powers
* Russia as written

Africa:
* Phoenix Empire ruled by the Mummy King Nyarlathotep; otherwise largely as written

South America:
* Ditch most of it as written
* Resurgent Inca Empire ala that described for the world of Castle Falkenstein
 
As for BRP notes, this is what I've sketched out so far:
 
Hit points=CON+SIZ.

Divide MDC armor ratings by a factor of 10 to get the BRP value. All MDC armor is rated as "Advanced," and as such protects fully against lasers and other Futuristic weapons.

M.O.M. and Juicer powers can be simulated with the use of a new power limitation. I'm playing with the "Crazy" limitation being something like "reduce max SAN by 1 per month" per each power taken; Juicer powers can be taken with a cumulative percentage chance per power that a roll on the Aging Table will have to be made each month.

Any character may roll once for a random Mutation if so desired. Characters should also use the table in Rifts to roll for presence of random psychic powers, then use the BRP table to see what those might be.

To increase variety a bit, add the following spells to the Magic list (taken from this thread):

AnimateGrant ambulation to an inanimate object
AcidRanged, does 1D6 points of acid damage per level
Alter RealityCreate something out of nothing
AuguryDivine the outcome of a future event
CharmForce an opponent to see you as friends, or allies as enemies
CureFight the effects of disease or poison
DiscorporateSpirit leaves the body and travels elsewhere
EmotionAlter a person's emotional state, such as Fear, Fanaticism or Confusion
FistCreates a spectral force that can injure, grasp, or impede movement
IllusionCreate false perceptions of any of the 5 senses
IncompetenceDecrease skill by 5% per level
MasteryIncrease skill by 5% per level
Raise DeadBring the dead back to life
SlowDecrease MOV rate by 1 point per level
SpeedIncrease MOV rate by 1 point per level
WeatherCreate, increase, or reduce weather phenomena
WebSpews a sticky barrier that restrains those it captures


In the process of brainstorming, I scoured the web for some cool inspirational art. This is what I found. In some cases I got an immediate idea of what the picture represented. Other times, the inspiration is more vague, waiting to be uncovered at some point in the future...

Chi-town and some of the more developed 'Burbs.

A Coalition pilot knocking off at the end of the day.

Old World ruins: great peril, great reward.

A demon from the Gates.

Another view of Chi-Town.

The island fortresses of Free Quebec.

A hallmark of good post-apocalpyse is the blending of future tech with the archaic. I can definitely imagine rail travel making a comeback in the more settled regions of Rifts Earth.

I'm a sucker for crab-like mech designs. Judging from the relatively intact nature of the surrounding terrain, I'm guessing this is a patrol mech in a rundown neighborhood of the 'Burbs.

A glimpse inside the Lone Star genetic labs?

A D-Bee mother shows her brood the outside world for the first time.

A view of Downtown Los Angeles on the day of the Great Cataclysm.

New castles on the Rhine.

Splynn dimensional market, of course!

A fortress somewhere in the south of France.

Most of the British Isles were submerged beneath the waves; colonies of surviors have established themselves on the remaining archipelagos and reefs.

Taming a dragon.

Security checkpoint outside the ruins of Old Chicago.

The ruins of Paris, shunned by all but the insane Blood Druids.

War still rages among the ruins of the Old World.

The fortress-colony of Arzno, established on the rim of the Grand Canyon, the border of Vampire country. Whatever my next Rifts game, I'll be setting it in Arzno as a starting location in all likelihood.

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