Wednesday, May 20, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Magic

It took a while to get here, but here we are. The last anticipated major post in my Rifts:2112 series. I'll definitely keep throwing out ideas as they occur to me, but I feel like with technology, the major players, a rough overview of world geography, and now magic, I've got all I need to start doing conversion work.

So on to magic.

Let's start by looking at this Ramon Perez piece. I didn't post it with my Perez retrospective because I was saving it specifically for this post. Like much of Perez's work, this is a perfect summation of how I want things, in this case magic, in Rifts:2112 to look and feel. As you'll recall, one of the major elements I'm integrating into my world is the Cthulhu Mythos. I love how Perez's spell-casters generally have this look about them like they're as much alien as human; you get the feeling some of them actually need those wicked helmets just to stay alive!

(Before we go any further, perhaps a note on how I'm approaching Lovecraftian magic and the Mythos in general is in order. The Trail of Cthulhu RPG introduces the concept of Mythos campaigns existing along a continuum running from Purist to Pulpy. In case it hasn't been blindingly obvious, I'm on the Pulpy side of the continuum, to put it mildly. If the continuum was on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being Pulpier Than Organic Orange Juice...well, you know. So I apologize in advance to all the Lovecraft purists out there, but I'm about to commodify Mythos magic. If I didn't, I'd just be treading old ground anyway, since I think Geoffrey McKinney's Carcosa did a great job of taking a purist approach to the Mythos in a fantasy setting.)

After reading through the highly-recommended Mythos Magic monograph, I now have a firm grip on how I want to systematize magic in the world of Rifts:2112. As I've written before, I'm largely jettisoning the various magical traditions put forth for the world of Rifts as written. This includes making the eponymous "rifts" actually "Gates"--although, for the sake of brand recognition and the fact that it's a cool word, I'm still having most non-spell-casters refer to Gates as Rifts. Originally, this included jettisoning ley lines entirely, making Gates independent entities. I've since come back around, although I'm still not totally bringing back ley lines as they were presented in the original world.

I jettisoned ley lines because I've always found them rather cumbersome in practice. Palladium has never produced a satisfactory map of Earth's ley lines, which wouldn't be so much of an issue except for the fact that several rather central character classes have the ability to fly, communicate, or even teleport themselves along ley lines! At that point it becomes pretty important to know where ley lines are and other such details, which always put a bit of the burden on a GM's (my) shoulders.

That's just nit-picking, really though. The main thing I didn't like about ley lines was how they were implemented, as these rather undtidy chicken scratches that started and stopped at random. No thanks. The one image of ley lines I've always found totally arresting is the old color piece Kevin Long did for the original Main Book, the image of the dark side of Earth criss-crossed by the "most powerful" ley lines. So in my world, the most powerful ley lines are the only ley lines.





The ley line network that appeared after the Cataclysm is an ancient artefact of a long-forgotten civilization. Most scholars believe it was constructed by the Atlanteans as a means of regulating magical energy between the most potent and powerful of the ancient Gates, like some sort of magical power grid. Whoever constructed it, and for whatever purpose, when the stars shifted and magic left Earth for a time, the network, along with its Gates, "powered down."

(And a note to clarify, Gates can still be opened, or can open on their own, pretty much anywhere--the ley lines merely connect the most powerful and peristent Gates.)

Newly reactivated, the ley lines serve as powerful batteries of energy; the Gates that reopened at their nexus points are some of the largest and most powerful: the Calgary Rift (#8 on the map) is one example. Atlantis gated in through nexus point 19, and Cthulhu's sunken city of R'lyeh, now christened the Island Kingdom of Mu, rose up under nexus point 47. I'll probably go through those maps at some point in the future and figure out what's going on with each of those points. (Edit: thanks for doing my work for me Internet!)

From a game system perspective, I intend to leave the rules for using ley lines (drawing Power and so forth) as written, even though BRP magic tends to use fewer Power Points that Palladium's. This creates a pretty compelling incentive to travel to ley lines and nexus points on propitious dates--the ability to siphon dozens or hundreds of Power Points has truly epic implications for BRP magic, a concept I like very much.

On to magic systems, then. There are three main ones, all based on the magic described in Call of Cthulhu and its supplements. There are also four "minor" systems, called minor not for their power level, but for the fact that they're not as widespread globally, for various reasons.

The Major Magic Systems: Evocation, Enchantment, and Invocation

As outlined in Mythos Magic, Mythos-based sorcery can be broken down into four systems: Evocation, Invocation, Enchantment, and Divination. I'm largely ignoring Divination, as I feel it's not really "in character" for the world, although of course there would be various traveling fortune tellers and mysterious hermit-augurs. The other three comprise the three most commonly encountered spell-casters in the world:
  • Those who rely primarily on on Evocation (aka Summon/Bind spells) are referred to as Summoners or Shifters. This sort usually knows the Gate spell as well, all the better for realizing their interdimensional aspirations.
  • Those who deal primarily with Invocation (aka Contact spells) are commonly called Shamans. Mythos Magic actually has a whole chapter expanding the role and powers of the Shaman, and I'll be taking full advantage of that. To my mind, the Shaman is probably the most common and widely-distributed spell-caster of all, from the village witch doctor who uses his good relations with the local spirits to ensure a healthy harvest and even healthier children to the mad High Priests of Mu, dancing about Great Cthulhu's throne far away on that sanity-blasting Isle.
  • Those who prefer to use magic to further their own ends rather than treating with gods use Enchantment magice (aka everything else in the Grimoire). Enchantment magic, despite its threats to sanity, can be used for good ends as well as ill, thanks to Atlantean contributions to magical practice and theory (more on that below).
The Minor Magic Systems: Rune Magic, Techno-Wizardry, Alchemy, and Necromancy

The Atlanteans were once masters of a magical lore inherited from the Elder Races after the fall of the Serpent Men. Atlantean sorcerers--liking their sanity very much, thank you--devised ways of mitigating the inimical nature of pure Magic. Creating the ley line network was quite possibly one of these methods. Two others were developing the concept of Gnosis and creating their own magic, Rune Magic.
  • Rune Magic is the magic of symbols, which can either be carved into objects, written down, or scribed in skin. From a game system perspective, I'll be using the Rune Magic system outlined in the Elric! supplement, The Bronze Grimoire.
  • Gnosis is a concept introduced in Mythos Magic. In essence, it is a meditative practice (that can vary from caster to caster and spell to spell) in which the spell-caster enters a highly focused state, one which allows them to disconnect from the magical effects they are generating. In game terms, Gnosis serves as a mitigator of Sanity loss due to magic. As with D&D-style magic, however, Gnosis is fragile and can be interrupted. A wizard knocked out of Gnosis stands the very real risk of suddenly feeling all that SAN loss he had previously been avoiding. Love it!
Techno-wizardry actually grew out of early experiments with Gnosis among human spell-casters after the Cataclysm. It was found that it was possible to duplicate the effects of Gnosis using electric generators, batteries, and an array of Frankensteinian equipment. From there, groups and lone innovators began to develop and refine their own approach to magic, infusing machines and tools with the raw stuff of the Arcane, creating a wholly new style of magic in the process. Obviously, Techo-Wizardry shows great potential, but it is also a tremendous threat to the already well-entrenched sorcerous Powrs That Be...not to mention to the virulently anti-magic Coalition. This mistrust and repression, combined with the snail-slow dissemination of information that plagues the post-Cataclysm world, has kept Techno-Wizardry largely confined to the Americas, and even then it's not terribly common in the great centers of power. Techno-Wizards revel in their outlaw rebel status, and many adopt the mannerisms of wizardly rock stars (just look at that Techno-Wizard's cocky expression in the Perez illo above), purposely tweaking the collective nose of the Magical Establishment.
  • Techno-Wizards use the Sorcery Power and spell list as presented in the Basic Roleplaying Core Book; their devices are constructed and used as per the Sorcerous Items rules on p.240.
Although Techno-Wizardry is all but unknown in Europe, a similar role is filled by Alchemists. Starting in the Kingdom of Tarnow, alchemy rapidly spread to Germany and the other outposts of civilization, particularly after the first Philosopher's Stone was created. Not only could the Stones transmute base metals into gold (which actually devalued gold considerably, leading to the proliferation of the "gold piece" as Europe's main bit of hard currency), but it was found that the Stone could make iron and steel as tough and resilient as the most advanced ceramite armors. Since it's considerably easier and cheaper to produce old-fashioned plate and chain armor and transmute the metal using an available Philosopher's Stone, most warriors in Europe--when they're not clanking around in their Dampfritter Power Armor--can be found suited up like knights of old.
  • In effect, the transmuted armor no longer functions as Ancient but as Advanced, therefore giving it full armor protection against Advanced weapons.
  • More alchemical effects can be found in this handy download.
Lastly, there is Necromancy, relatively rare in the Americas but a scourge in Europe and especially Africa. The Blood Druids of Europe are inveterate Necromancers (when they're not busy Evoking horrible monstrosities from Beyond--including, quite possibly, the "gargoyles" who constantly menace the New German Republic) and have helped give magic in general a bad name in the NGR and elsewhere.
  • Mythos Magic, again, gives a great overview of Necromancy from a Lovecraftian perspective. I might also pad the system out using the Necromancy rules described in The Bronze Grimoire.
And that's about it. Other systems of magic or magical side effects, from ley line phasing and communication (representing a character who has decoded the keys to the ancient ley line network) to species-specific magic (like Cloud Magic) can be easily represened using the Super Powers system from BRP.

Post-script: As should be obvious by now, the Mythos Magic monograph was indispensible in helping me fill in the corners of magic in Rifts:2112. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in using CoC/Lovecraftian magic in their games, whether canonically or not-so-much. Unfortunately, at this point it seems to only be available in dead tree edition. Hopefully Chaosium will make it available as a PDF at some point in the future.

Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Art Post IV

This will be the last of my art posts for the time being. Instead of focusing on particular artists as in the last two, this will be more of a general miscellany and roundup, analogous to my first art post.

OK, this is just about the perfect Lovecraftian Rifts image. If I produce a little document for my personal use, this will absolutely be the cover!


Although a bit out of period--note the clipper ship about to get swallowed--this is another monster I'll be adapting.

A still from Ghost in the Shell. My vision of Rifts Japan is straight out of 80s & 90s anime like Ghost, Akira, and even Tank Police.


A couple stills from a wonderfully cheesy 80s science-fantasy film. I forget the name, but once I remember it I'll be tracking it down for inspiration. I mean, just check out this villain:

Even he can't believe how awesome he is!

Lastly, a few pieces from the original Rifts rulebook. Aside from Perez, these are the sorts of pieces I'm drawing upon and re-emphasizing.

Kevin Long's Dead Boys are, to me, all-time classics. The "re-design" after Palladium dumped Long has, to put it mildly, never sat well with me. Classic Dead Boys all the way in my campaign!

This might be my favorite Kevin Long illo from the old Main Book. Nicely sums up the pure undiluted awesome of the setting.

One of the forgotten gems from the old Main Book is the work of Larry MacDougall. The man clearly saw the setting for its true post-apocalyptic self, and for that I salute him.

So that's it for art for now.

Next up: a post summarizing how I'm going to adapt and change Magic in the world of Rifts:2112, once I finish reading the excellent monograph, Mythos Magic (highly recommended for any Call of Cthulhu players out there, BTW).

And after that...I don't know. It's getting to the point where I feel like I've gotten most of my "broad stroke" ideas down and it's time to sit down with a few books and start making lists and doing conversions. And unfortunately, dear reader, that's not really something I'm at liberty to share. I'll probably end up sharing general progress notes, ideas, etc. For example, right now I'm trying to decide how best to approach dragons, both as foes and as PCs. I found a pretty decent dragon work-up over on BRP Central...but then I'm also considering adapting dragons from the d20 SRD, since I've always liked d20 dragon age progressions. We'll see.

Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

[Rifts:2112] Art Post III

I recently became aware of the work of Zdzisław Beksiński and I immediately became a fan. His work is a perfect evocation, as opposed to a direct inspiration in the case of the other art I've posted, of the feel I'm going for. In particular, it evokes an idea I picked up from an entry in the Rifts Adventure Guide, that the reality of alien worlds is slowly leaking through various Gates and changing the physical and metaphysical laws of reality in the areas around them.




The image below, incidentally, is exactly how I envision a stable Gate.




Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Monday, May 18, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Art Post II

Since my last brainstorming-art post was such a success, I thought I'd do a few more.

First up, we have the one Rifts artist whose art, despite his strange fetish for tribal tattoos, I'm really keyed in on in terms of inspiration for the vibe I'm going for: Ramon Perez. Veteran Rifts players will recognize these from various World Books and such, but I'm looking at these images on their own merits. These are folks, aliens, monsters, and scenes I can imagine occuring in the Chi-Town 'Burbs, the Colorado Baronies, wherever.


Perez's vision of sorcerers and spellcasters fits in perfectly with the Lovecraftian-style magic I'll be implementing in Rifts:2112.
I love the patchwork nature of this guy's outfit. Very Mad Max.
An iconic City Rat if I ever saw one.
Perez's take on the classic (and very Lovecraftian) Black Faerie.
I think I've found my archetypal Techno-Wizard.
These speeders from New West are probably my favorite Rifts vehicle.
Perez's use of partial pieces of armor is visually compelling, and put the final nail in the coffin of any compunction I may have had of maintaining the RAW approach of full suits of armor being the only survivable option for Rifts characters.
That runic tattoo didn't inspire me to adapt Elric!'s rune magic system, but it didn't hurt either.
Another fantastic wizard.
This is pretty much how I imagine most factories and facilities operating in the post-Cataclysm world.
One of the things that made Warlords of Russia such an inspiration was Perez's mechs. To my mind, most mechs around the world should have this industrial, patchwork aspect.
And I don't think this sort of imagery should be strictly limited to the New West either.
The first Rifts campaign I ever ran featured an Atlantean Undead Slayer. This would have been his portrait if the art had existed at the time.
Amidst all my Mad Maxing and Lovecraftiness, sometimes it's important to remember that any take on Rifts, no matter how heterodox, can benefit from freaky, sky-surfing aliens.

I'll leave off with some great little character vignettes (one of which snuck in from a Rifter Beyond the Supernatural article--shh!). These would all make terrific PCs or NPCs and nicely sum up my vision of the imagery I want to focus on and evoke.


(Incidentally, check out those chemical slug-throwers she's armed with; this is why I want a preponderance of 'em--they just look cool!)
Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Europe

Okay, here we go with my long-delayed post on Europe.

I've been giving this a lot of thought, actually, because Eurpope is probably the one area of my take on the worlds of Rifts that will see the most changes setting-wise. In short, I think the ball was really dropped with the "Old World" setting books--England, Africa, Triax & the NGR. The latter book, in particular, was a huge disappointment for me when it came out, and largely marked the end of my fanboyish purchase of whatever Rifts book came out, sight unseen.

My problems with Triax & the NGR, in setting terms, were severalfold. I'll address them here briefly if only to give some context to the changes I've made with my own version of the world. 

One of the problems I had with the concept of Triax, as first introduced back in Sourcebook One, was of it being this international arms dealer. That just made zero sense to me; here we have a post-apocalyptic world inundated by monsters, magic, interdimensional storms, and alien technology, and a country, the New German Republic, literally besieged on nearly all sides by hostile enemies. Yet somehow, with these sub-stratospheric planes, they have the resources and means to transport weapons and giant robots to markets overseas. It's not a concept I'd be likely to keep if I was running Rifts RAW, and it's definitely out the window with my more explicitly post-apocalyptic take on the setting. I do, however, like the idea of itinerant weapons dealers, so I'm going to keep the "Triax" brand name, but meld it with Naruni Enterprises. In effect, Triax is the brand name Naruni sells their weapons under, like how Nissan used to sell their cars as Datsuns in the states. The Triax-brand goods in Sourcebook One will be manufactured by the Naruni and the Naruni-brand goods in Mercenaries will be sold under the Triax brand.

The second problem I had with Triax and with the NGR in general is that it seemed like basically a clone of the Coalition: a techno-centric bastion of humanity, fighting the good fight against inimically monstrous forces. Even worse, the NGR lacked the Coalition's delicious little moral conundrum of "what price humanity?" In effect, it was sort of like a Munchkin's Coalition--all of the cool stuff with none of the moral angst.

The third problem I had with the books was the lack of proper European flavo(u)r in the books. Some of the other worldbooks managed to capture the flavor of their respective regions, if perhaps a bit cartoonily at times (::cough::New West::cough::). But from the cover of Triax featuring a robot with "NGR" (as opposed to "NDR"--how "New German Republic" would be rendered in German) stenciled on its front, there's a definite lack of Eurocentrism. Again, we're back to the "Coalition Lite" syndrome. My goal is to have my Rifts:2112 Europe to drip with its own distinctive flavor.

I'm certainly not knocking the "cool stuff" factor of the NGR sourcebook, and I intend to keep most if not all of it. I'm just shifting it over to Japan, which, let's face it, should be the home of giant robots and tons of cool mechs.

So where does that leave the New German Republic, and the rest of Europe for that matter? Let's take a look at the map I worked up in the same style as my North America map.



As you can see, I've kept political boundaries largely the same as in the world as-written. Coastlines are, of course, different due to my increased level of sea-level rise. The British Isles are moreso islands than ever, including the risen land of Lyonesse. The most changes I made, politically, are in the lands outside the core NGR/Gargoyle/Brodkil regions. But let's go through the various place names before getting into specificities.

Avalon is what I'm taking from Rifts England--the conceit of a returned Arthurian kingdom. However, I'm also taking advantage of the fact that Mutants in Avalon is available in PDF (finally!) and running with that. So my Camelot Reborn is populated with mutant animals; I've always liked the imagery of medieval animals. It's a call-back to actual manuscript illuminations, and recalls modern works such as Redwall and Mouse Guard, of which I'm an enthusiastic, if casual, fan.

Lyonesse is the center of the returned Fae realms (as opposed to Scotland, as in Rifts England).

Ys is actually Brittany, turned into an island by the rising waters. I'm envisioning that as a sort of half-Fae, half-human land, menaced by the necromantic Blood Druids of the mainlands, almost a faerie tale kingdom. Great setting for a bog-standard fantasy campaign.


The rest of the British Archipelago I'm envisioning a sort of Sea Gypsy setting, mainly inspired by one of the pictures from my initial idea post. I love the double-decker bus being used as an ad-hoc tram/gondola. I'm picturing the survivors fleeing to the sea to get the hell away from lands now swarming with mutant knights and malicious fae, living off the ocean using water power and steam (more on steam tech shortly).

A good homeland for itinerant adventurers, perhaps.

I've mentioned the Blood Druids, and I'll talk more about them in my post on Magic. Suffice for now to say that they're necromancers and summoners and tend to give magic a bad name inside of the NGR, much like the Federation of Magic does for the Coalition.

Vasconia, Langedoc, and Burgundy are independant feudal kingdoms, slightly more advanced and structured than the Sea Gypsies and residents of Ys, but not quite as much as the NGR. Vasconia is the Basque nation, happily independent and insular. The other two are polyglot gatherings pulled together by survival.

Italy is home to a series of Dwarven Citadels built atop the peninsula's many hilltops, in the manner of old Renaissance city-states. Aside from the areas around Tolkeen in North America, I want Europe to be the center of traditional fantasy-type races. I like dwarves, so they're getting lots of space. It's not marked on the map, but I'm also envisioning a smattering of citadels and strongholds in Norway and elsewhere; I'm picturing Bergen as a sort of dwarf-human trading post.

I'm picturing for the Ogre Kingdoms of Bulgaria a more-or-less straight lift of the Ogre Kingdoms from the Warhammer Fantasy world, one of the relatively recent Game Workshop ideas I really dig, particularly the Leadbelchers. Fits in really well with my sort of steampunk-fantasy vibe I'm feeling for Europe.

If I recall, Vampire kingdoms in Romania are canonical, and I'll happily port that over no questions asked. And the same goes for the Russian Warlords, one of the Rifts worldbooks that I feel got things right on take one for the most part.

Now to the bigger polities.

The "monster empires" are largely unchanged, particularly the Brodkil Empire. For BRP purposes, I'll be using Orcs for Brodkil stats. I really have no problems or issues with the Brodkil as a species, society, or bad-guy empire. Nor do I have a problem with the Gargoyle Empire, although, in keeping with my amping up of Lovecraftian elements, I'm thinking that "Gargoyles" will be more of a term applied by human enemies to describe something wholly alien...


I'll use Star-spawn in various sizes to represnt the different types of Gargoyle described in Triax. I will, however, be dropping most of the "gear" that the Gargoyles use. The Brodkil are the tech-junkies. The Gargoyles should be alien and magical, perhaps occassional allies with the Blood Druids and themselves worshippers of Great Cthulhu and other Things.

And at last we come to the New German Republic.

As I wrote about in my technology post, I see the NGR being a much more steampunk or clockpunk setting as opposed to North America's more cyberpunk/dieselpunkish vibe. I'm picturing the NGR as a loose coalition of city-states and independent baronies, fortified strongpoints that support each other in holding the line against Gargoyles and Brodkil but remain extremely protective of their autonomy. In effect, I see the NGR as a return to the model of the Holy Roman Empire, which is why I've marked the major cities of the NGR as "Imperial Cities"--they are the primary electors of the NGR's legislative body, which in turn directs national defense and levies war taxes.

Germany, like the rest of Europe, was scoured by the Cataclysm, reducing most of its major cities to ruin and rubble and temporarily casting its people into nearly Neolithic living standards. Due mostly to blind luck, Germany was largely spared being overrun initially by Creatures from Beyond. Building on half-remembered scientific knowledge and ad-hoc technology salvaged from the pre-Cataclysm ruins, the people of the NGR have managed to improvise a semblance of technological sophistication, using mostly steam power and alchemy in place of electricity and nuclear power.

I'll write more about alchemy in my post on Magic, but in Europe alchemy occupies much the same status as techno-wizardry does in North America, although it's more widely accepted by the Powers That Be than T-W is. As for steam power, steam turbines are used to generate electricity, and a small network of steam locomotives connects cities across the NGR. But what we're concerned with here, I'm sure you'll agree, is steam-powered mechs!

Although I'm jettisoning most of the Triax mechs, I'm not arguing with the idea that to fight alien Gargoyles and rampaging Brodkil, some serious armor is needed. I'm picturing the biggest mechs in the NGR being equivalent to the Black Knight--modified a bit to be more steam-punky, of course.

(Thinking about weapons systems, I'm picturing an even stronger emphasis on chemical slug-throwers--using depleted-uranium rounds, as per the canonical setting--and mini-missiles than we'd see in the vanguard of North American systems. What energy weapons there are would be mostly primitive plasma guns, reverse-engineered from alien technology.)

The vast majority of power armor in the NGR is smaller in scale, effectively throwbacks to medieval armor that provide a measure of protection and strength but retain mobility and the means for the user to utilize a weapon of their choice, usually a missile launcher, rail gun, or chain gun firing D-U rounds. The suits are even called Dampfritter, or steam knights. My visual inspiration comes from the uneven yet visually stunning Steamboy anime.


I'm lifting that tank, too, and calling it the Dampfspinner, or "steam spider".

One thing I liked about the NGR cities as written is that they've been self-consciously built to emulate the classic European town architecture of old. In my version, only the city cores have that look. The outlying areas and the lower levels of the high-rise, high population districts are much more crowded and dirty (see the pic with the locomotive above or the City of Lost Children stills in my Technology post).

I'll do some more thinking on the political and social makeup of the NGR, so there might be a further post on that subject in the future.

Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Monday, May 11, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Allegiences

I've decided to incorporate the optional Allengience rules from the BRP core book into my Rifts:2112 setting. I think the rules nicely retain the flavor both of the Palladium alignment system (which I always preferred to D&D's) and the idea of "alien intelligences" exerting their influence over the world (which I've turned up to 11 by porting in the Cthulhu Mythos).

Here's what I came up with for Allegiences:

Law

"The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law." --Aristotle

"Slaves would be tyrants, were the chance theirs." --Victor Hugo

Those allied with law are primarily concerned with restoring and maintaining order and justice. Note that an Allegience to Law does not necessarily imply a character of "good" morals. Emperor Prosek of the Coalition has a very high Law Allegience, yet few of the CS's opponents would support the proposition that the state Prosek has helped build is a benevolent force for the greater good of humanity.

Benefits of a Lawful Allegience:
The player character can use up to 1/5 (20%) of his or her current allegiance score as temporary Hit Points, once per game session. These hit points are expended before the player character’s normal hit points, and are not regenerated or restored in any way if lost. At the end of the session, any hit points in excess of the player character’s regular hit points total disappear. If the player character uses these extra hit points, he or she must undergo an allegiance check at the end of the adventure. The allegiance points do not change with this benefit.
Chaos

"The more laws, the less justice." --Cicero

"Advance and attack! Attack and destroy! Destroy and rejoice!" --Dalek, Doctor Who: The Chase

Allies of Chaos favor entropy, anarchy, and/or freedom from the old system. Wizards and sorcerers are frequently allies of Chaos as well, for magic is the raw material of Chaos. As with Law and good, Chaos does not necessarily equate to evil. However, those with a high Allegience to Chaos tend to operate with a rather elastic moral code at best, and as such their actions, no matter how well justified, might be seen by outside observers as self-serving or immoral.

Benefits of a Chaotic Allegience:
Once the player character’s power points are expended, he or she may use up to 1/10 (10%) of his or her current allegiance score as an extra reserve of Power points. These power points must be drawn immediately after the last of the player character’s normal power points are spent, otherwise the player character will fall unconscious. This can be done up to three times during the course of a game session. When the player character has used these power points, he
or she must undergo an allegiance check at the end of the adventure. The allegiance points do not change with this benefit.
Rationalism

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that's clear
I will choose freewill.

--Rush, "Freewill"

"I don't believe in God, I believe in SCIENCE!!" --Esqueleto, Nacho Libre

The Allegience of the individualist, Rationalists are not concerned by questions of social or political structure or the "greater good", only the power of the mind to affect changes on a singular basis. The potentialities of science and technology, or the unplumbed depths of the sub-conscious, are where Rationalists think humanity's salvation lies. Scientists, rogue scholars, and psionicists tend to have high Allegience with Rationalism.

Benefits of a Rationalist Allegience:
The player character can use up to his or her entire current allegiance score as a reservoir of extra skill points that can be added to existing skill points for specific rolls. This can be done up to three times per session. The player can choose which skills to add these points to, and how many points to add. The increases to these skill points must be declared before dice are rolled, and the adjusted numbers are utilized if determining special successes, etc. These points can only be used for skill checks, and not checks on the resistance table or characteristic checks. Allegiance points do not change with this benefit. These bonus points cannot be used for an allegiance check, and any skills that these points augment are not allowed for experience checks, unless the skill was used in an unmodified fashion before or after the use of the allegiance skill points. When using these extra skill points, the player character must undergo an allegiance check at the end of the adventure.
Basic Roleplaying is copyright ©1981, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2004, 2008 by Chaosium Inc.; all rights reserved. Basic Roleplaying® is the registered trademark of Chaosium Inc. All Basic Roleplaying material referred to in this post is copywright Chaosium Inc.

Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copywright its respective artist.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Castle Falkenstein Campaign in 25 Words

I didn't hop on the "campaign in 25 words" bandwagon when it first started rolling a couple months back, but by gar it's never too late, right?

I'm getting set to fire up my first-ever Castle Falkenstein "Adventure Entertainment" in the next week or so (this despite having owned the blasted game since it came out in 1994) and thought I'd see what I could come up with as a bit of a thought exercise. So here goes:
Girl Genius meets The X-files meets Wild Wild West. Colonel Alcibiades DeBlanc. Suffragettes. Clockwork golems, Voodoo Queens, dirigible pirates. Masonic conspiracies, Tammany Hall, Dead Rabbits.
Oh yeah, this is going to be good.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Misdirected Mark

I really don't intend to write a whole bunch more about my 4e experiences on this blog--or turn this into an anti-4e soapbox; these are just my honest, initial reactions to the system--but I just thought I'd share a bit from my second session of the 4e campaign I'm playing in. Last week it was Vicious Mockery that soundly burst my suspension of disbelief bubble; this week it was another bardic power, Misdirected Mark.

We had a chance to do some actual RPing in the town of Winterhaven. I started up a riddling contest the local inn that escalated nicely. Of course, this being 4e, everything was resolved with dice rolls, but the dice were on my side--the rolls went against me at first, thus bringing in more rubes, then I started rolling hot and raking in the cash, finally defeating the lord of the town and earning his goodwill, which in turn led to a contract to go root out some pesky kobolds.

During the subsequent encounter with a group of kobold bandits, I was standing by, ready with a couple hundred "yo mamma" insults culled from the Internet, the better to zazz up my Vicious Mockery. Alas, I only got the chance to get off one zinger ("Yo mama so fat, when she tried to join an eating contest they said, 'Sorry, no professionals.'") before we started getting our asses handed to us.

Things turned around when the party mage cast Sleep and took out most of the kobolds. And here's where things turned south for me again. I was in a position to start finishing off the slumbering kobolds while the rest of the party took care of the remainder, so I looked up the Coup-de-Grace rules.

"OK, I get to use any attack power. If I roll a successful hit, it's automatically a critical. If I do damage equal to the creature's Bloodied score, the creature is killed outright."

(First, what happened to auto-killing a Sleeping monster? That's a staple of low-level D&D tactics! This would be a prime example of what people mean when they say, "Tis a fine game, but sure tis no D&D, English.")

Looking at my available attack powers (including my scimitar, which I have yet to actually use in combat), I see that Misdirected Mark gives me the best damage total potential. But...how the hell, exactly, am I using this power to kill sleeping kobolds? The "fluff" part of the power description says I use my "arcane powers" to fool my enemy into thinking that an attack was coming from somewhere else. (How does that even do damage in the first place? The abstracted nature of 4e's damage system makes earlier editions look like simulationist exercises worthy of Phoenix Command.)

We decided (with much chuckling and laughter) that I was whispering in the kobold's ears, turning their dreams into terrifying nightmares, Freddie Krueger-style. A fine solution, I suppose, but one that, again, left me with a weird taste in my mouth. I wasn't the only one: Alex, the DM, even said at one point, "Fourth edition is turning my D&D worldview upside-down!" 

In the end, we all agreed that, whatever the weirdnesses, 4e seems to guarantee epic and exciting combats, and you really can't fault that it does what it set out to do, and it does it well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

[Rifts:2112] Technology

I thought I'd write out a few of my thoughts on how I'm envisioning technology for my take on the world of Rifts.

In the setting as written, high technology is mostly either derived from alien science or reverse-engineered (sometimes rather poorly) from pre-Rifts tech ("the Golden Age of Technology").

I have no qualms keeping the alien tech unchanged (although I'm going to file off a few serial numbers--namely, combining the "Triax" brand name with Naruni Enterprises...more details forthcoming in my post on Europe). But since I've eliminated the Golden Age of Technology, I had to do some serious thinking ("I assume he meant serious drinking") about the whys and wherefores of post-Cataclysm technological development. As I pointed out in my first musings on what became the 2112 setting, a century of development from where we stand now is more than enough time, given even scant resources, to allow for some pretty crazy tech innovations. In short, the high tech stuff (lasers, cybernetics and bionics, giant robots, advanced body armor, M.O.M. implants and Juicer rigs) came about thanks to continued research in isolated pockets of the world. I shifted Chi Town's location to Champaign-Urbana for a reason: the University of Illinois is a pretty major research center. I think it's more than plausible that, given a century of wartime research (necessity...mother of invention and all that), the boys at UIUC (and their sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons) could have come up with some pretty wild stuff. Of course, in limiting existing tech to what's in the Main Book, Sourcebook 1, and Mercenaries, I'm curtailing the extent of their research somewhat, but that's only as it should be. A century may be a long time, but I want the tech to feel like it's still emergent rather than well-established.

(This also creates the interesting side effect of making things like Juicer and Crazy mods into experimental, brand-new technology, rather than imperfect copies or retro-clones. One thing I absolutely hated about the Rifts Ultimate Edition was the retcon of having the Crazies' distinctive head bolts be a stylistic element rather than necessary to the actual functioning of the technology. How silly is that? If you're going to have huge bolts coming out of your head, they better actually be there for a reason, dammit!)

In keeping with my general theme, things are a bit more post-apocalyptic, a bit darker. The general idea remains the same as the original setting: the vast majority of people and creatures on the planet do not have access to high technology. A small town out in the wilderness would be lucky to have access to one or two laser rifles (especially given my mod to laser ammo, below), the remainder of the militia wielding rifles and machine guns (at best). But, much as I did with the CS military, I'm going to introduce a graduated series of technological access to the "civilized" realms as well.

For the Coalition, I figure that the really advanced stuff (full body armor, heavy laser weaponry, giant robots, computers with micro-processors, cybernetics, and so forth) would officially only be available to the crème de la crème of CS elites residing in the fortress-arcologies at the center of each CS town and the CS Army (but not the Guard). The vast majority of CS citizenry, meanwhile--largely illiterate and brainwashed--are kept in a state of sterile passivity at a sort of "dieselpunk" tech level. My touchstone for this image is Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Lots of mainframe computers, ducts, bundles of wires, and so forth.


A family of contented CS citizens sits down for another Xmas in the year 100 PA.

Of course, there'd be a bit of inevitable cross-fertilization of technology, both coming from the outside and from black market goods smuggled out of the arcologies. But that's the fun of it all, isn't it? And, with cybernetics as absolutely cutting-edge tech, it certainly makes cyber-snatching a much more lucrative and understandable vocation. It also implies that any cybernetics or bionics acquired by PCs was forcibly ripped from some other poor shlub. Ah, moral dillemmas! Of course, all bets are off out in the wilderness. Who knows where the latest tech is coming from out there in the Badlands?

In point of fact, although I originally considered dropping the Glitter Boy armored suit--I've never been a big fan, and eliminating the Golden Age of Technology eliminated the Glitter Boy's raison d'être--I've settled on the idea of the Glitter Boy being a piece of never-before-seen alien technology given by mysterious benefactors to certain worthy individuals across the globe. Most excellent! Post-apocalyptic superhero, right there.

The most significant change I'm implementing comes from a suggestion made by Bill Coffin over on RPG.net:
While I always appreciated ammo depletion as a problem to contend with in any post-apoc game, I always wondered if it would be better for all energy weapons to basically have limitless ammo. Thus, the difficulty wouldn't be in reloading your gun, but in finding one in the first place and hanging on to it. Also, limitless ammo would also explain why human settlements smaller than Chi-Town could survive in a world overrun with mutants and demons. Sort of like that line in Star Wars, where Luke remarks how his Uncle Owen can hold off a sandpeople incursion by himself. Well, yeah...he's got limitless ammo, that's why. If you're some suckhole village in the middle of nowhere, the six guys with scoped energy rifles will do a lot to keep the creepy crawlies far enough away for you to have a town worth living in.
I love it. Makes perfect sense to me, and re-elevates laser weaponry, after taking away their "mega-damage capacity," to a place of supreme desirability. I'll write more on techno-wizard weapons in my post on Magic, but I've decided that TW weapons will share a similar unlimited ammo capacity.

To sum up, then: I'm leaving technology largely unchanged, albeit somewhat more limited in scope. My main changes are to availability and commonality and, most importantly, appearance

Let's look at some visual inspiration, shall we?


An example of a Coalition mainframe terminal.


More highly-advanced technology is most evident in the form of security apparatus.


The totalitarian bureaucracy is largely alien and unknown farther out in the anarchic 'Burbs, creating significant culture shock for new arrivals coming into the heart of the CS cities for the first time.


Inside the labyrinthine arcology-fortress of Chi-Town.

Outside of North America, the only other centers of high technology are Europe and Japan. For Japan, I envision a "proper" level of what we'd expect 22nd-century tech to look like (99% of the goodies in the Triax and the NGR worldbook are getting shifted to Japan in my world). For Europe, namely the New German Republic--upon which I'll be expounding further in my coming posts--I'll just share some images from my other cinematic touchstone, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children. As you can see, if the Coalition is "dieselpunk," then I envision the NGR as being much closer to proper "steampunk."


I like this image for the juxtaposition of the throwback tramp steamer being observed through a pair of "modern" binoculars. Sums up what I want to do with the NGR quite neatly.


How friggin' German do these guys look? Like something out of a Florian Schneider's wet dreams, that's how German! I love the clunky cybernetic eye effect too. Definitely stealing that.


Like cybernetics, I imagine the Germans also lag behind in development of things like M.O.M. conversions. This image pretty much screams (pun intended) to be the model for a European Crazy.



Rifts®, The Rifter®, RECON®, Splicers®, Palladium Books®, Phase World®, The Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game®, Megaverse®, Nightbane®, The Mechanoids®, The Mechanoid Invasion®, Coalition Wars® and After the Bomb® are Registered Trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. Heroes Unlimited, Beyond the Supernatural, and other published book titles, names, slogans and likenesses are trademarks of Palladium Books Inc. and Kevin Siembieda.

All art is copyright its respective artist.
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