Friday, February 28, 2014

[Rifts:2112] Thinking Out Loud About a Shakedown and Rebuild

On December 21, 2008, I made my first post of what would eventually turn out to be my Rifts:2112 project. At the time, I'd been running a RAW Rifts game, and its internal setting inconsistencies, coupled with continuing frustrations with that particular iteration of the Palladium system, led me to decide to put things on pause and retool a bit.

So here we are, over five years later, and that pause button is still pressed. This is largely because, like picking at a loose flap of wallpaper, the more I pulled, the more came off, and the more I wanted to keep pulling. Pretty soon, I was engaging in fairly wholesale world-building, a still-ongoing process.

Then there were system conversion issues. Which system to use? How much to try to convert the spirit of the setting, and how much to try and maintain some level of fidelity? And how much material to include? (At this point, I think Rifts has to occupy some fairly high level in the pantheon of setting bloat.)

Early on, I decided to limit myself to just a handful of books, all of which were published in the early years of the line's run. But I still found myself with a mountain of gear, monsters, and setting information, only a small percentage of which actually resonated with or inspired me. As I've worked on my 2112 notes since, I've found myself coming back, again and again, to just a few core elements of the world. I've found myself discarding increasingly larger and larger chunks of the setting, and drastically re-imagining even those elements that I do keep.

Over at Dungeonskull Mountain, Blizack has been doing his own series of posts on Rifts of late. Like me, there's a lot about the setting that bugs him. But rather than trying to turn the setting into something it's not, he's looking instead for a way to make the setting a bit more his own, and have it make a bit more sense internally, while, if anything, turning up the saturation on the colors that make up the core Rifts experience. Bradford Walker is doing similar yeoman's work over at Stabilizing Rifts. Both of these blogs have actually increased my own interest in playing Rifts more or less by-the-book, incidentally. But I also love what I've worked up through my 2112 posts.

So at this point, I'm seriously considering just taking "Rifts" out of the equation entirely. There will still be broad, thematically similar elements, of course. In essence, it would be a sort of fantasy heartbreaker version of Rifts. The actual IP elements would get their serial numbers filed off, but the core elements that I like so much would be retained.

So I was thinking along these lines and I realized that the major stumbling block is that once you remove the actual Rifts IP, what does that leave you with?

Allow me to digress for a moment. My understanding is that much of what we consider to be core setting elements of Rifts had their genesis in the work of the game's artists. I may be mistaken on this, but as far as I know Keith Parkinson's iconic cover inspired the Splugorth slaver and not the other way around. Kevin Long's famous color illustration of two 'borgs stalking through pre-rifts ruins was later ret-conned into a line of official Triax 'borgs. And so forth.

So why not take a page from that process, I thought to myself. I've already done that to a certain extent with art collected from around the web that's not necessarily related to the Rifts setting. But what about stuff like weapons, armor, and gear - the bread and butter of most Rifts gamers' experience? Well, I reasoned, there are tons and tons of cool sci-fi/post-apocalyptic miniatures available right now. Even though I don't use miniatures for my RPG gaming, there's nothing to prevent me from taking visual inspiration from those figures. I started looking around and found some cool stuff out there. Let's take a tour...

The Coalition proved to be pretty easy, actually. There are quite a few quasi-Dead Boy miniatures out there to choose from. In the end, I liked the sci-fi Nazi vibe of DreamForge's Eisenkern Stormtroopers:

From this figure alone, I've already got a suit of environmental body armor and some sort of nifty assault weapon (clearly modeled on an MG42) to stat up.

Very nice. How about power armor? West Wind's Secrets of the Third Reich line offers some excellent choices that continue the sci-fi Nazi vibe:

Again, these are being used strictly visual inspiration, so I'm not necessarily going to name that first suit of power armor a Wolverine, but it does seem like the sort of suit of protective power armor my cod-Coalition might put in the field. And that Drop Trooper might just make a fine substitute for the SAMAS and/or Sky Cycle.

The same minis line even provides a nice stand-in for a UAR-1 Enforcer-type mech:

Thanks to Bronze Age Miniatures and Copplestone Castings, I even found some nice stand-ins for Dog Boys and Skelebots, respectively:

Again, it's a matter of taking Rifts as a jumping-off point but statting things up in my system of choice (see below) based more on the visuals of the miniatures themselves. The weapons on those suits of power armor and mechs - what are their names? How much damage do they do? Same goes for the carbine that the "Dog Boy" is carrying or the rifles in the hands of the "skelebots" and so forth.

Nonetheless, these selection track pretty closely to their Rifts inspirations. How about something a little further afield? Well, in my last 2112 post, I speculated about moving the fantasy-steampunk vibe that I'd developed for the New German Republic over to Tolkeen by way of Privateer Press's Warmachine line. (In many ways, that speculation was the germ of this new direction, actually.)

Checking out the Warmachine minis, I settled on the "Convergence of Cyyriss" figures for "Tolkeen's" mechs and power armor, and a combination of suitable figures to represent that nation's mix of fantasy races:

Every one of those figures is loaded with weapons, armor, and gear to stat up, to say nothing of implied cultural and personal backgrounds, all of which can be developed as I see fit.

Northern Gun and the Manistique Imperium have always been one of my favorite elements of Rifts North America, an independent and relatively neutral antidote to the Coalition's depressing Orwellianism and a reliable source of weapons and gear for PCs. So I definitely wanted to include an analog in my still-nascent setting. Once again, West Wind comes through in the vehicle department, allowing me to indulge my love for spider-legged mecha, which can be a signature element of the Northern Gun-analog's mech designs:

For "typical" Northern Gun troops, Pig Iron Productions provides some excellent sculpts in the form of their Kolony Militia figures:

Although, this being northern Michigan, I'd want to do a head swap for the winter cap variants:

I could definitely see taking those Kolony Militia rifles and developing them as the AK-47 of the 2112 world.

On a related note, there's a roaring trade of third-party makers of "futuristic" weaponry in 28mm. Folks like Anvil Industry and their "Amoury" line become a sort of equivalent of a typical Rifts catalog of new and shiny weapons, but this time allowing me to pick and choose as I like without feeling beholden to any sort of pre-existing canon.

One of the earliest points of departure for me in my modding of Rifts was a desire to make the setting more overtly post-apocalyptic. Thanks in part to Blizack's posts, I've since come back around on that point of view, acknowledging that Rifts, despite its own billing, is avowedly not a post-apocalyptic setting except in the broadest sense. (It's a bit like running a game set in the Carolingian Empire and insisting on calling it a "post-Rome" game.) All the more reason to strike out on my own IP-free path, as I quite like having some overt post-apoc in my science-fantasy kitchen sink, thanks. Once again, Pig Iron comes through, as do Copplestone Castings and Lead Adventure, all of which provide some truly excellent generic post-apocalyptic types for the small city-states and the nuclear ruins and points in between the points of light:

Another setting element I definitely want to port over/file serial numbers off of is the idea of advanced technology being peddled by interdimensional traders. To that end, Infinity serves up options in spades:

A nice "terrain hopping" suit of power armor, eh?

Oh man, I can't wait to stat up each and every one of those suckers. You may also note that pretty much every one of those humanoid figures would make an excellent candidate for a PC or NPC. That's another thing I really like about this concept: with a kitchen sink setting inspired by Rifts, you can make use of a whole myriad of inspirational figures, from Infinity to Reaper to...whatever, really, not just in the service of world-building but also in the service of character creation. And you'll note I haven't even really touched on monsters, because that's such a diverse topic in and of itself. Definitely fodder for another post along these lines.

I think the next step, then, is to start working up a precis on the setting, synthesizing the non-IP elements and inspirational visuals of past Rifts:2112 posts with some of the new directional thoughts. I also want to settle on a system. I've sort of ping-ponged back and forth between BRP and Savage Worlds in the past, but I think with this new direction (and the possibility of actually buying some of these minis, bank account willing), Savage Worlds might be the way to go, especially now that their long-awaited Science Fiction Companion is out.

Much to think about here...
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