Friday, August 15, 2014

Role & Roll Station: A Tokyo FLGS

Blurry action shot hastily taken while fleeing the store
During my blogging hiatus a couple of months ago, I was traveling in Asia, including Japan. I didn't get a chance to do any gaming while I was there, but I did manage to visit Tokyo's famous Akihabara district. So, here are some brief thoughts on Roll & Role Station, probably one of the best game shops in Tokyo:

There were tons of "replays". These look like manga tankobon (collections or trade paperbacks), complete with glossy covers of cool-looking characters. The interiors are just text recaps of game sessions, more or less similar to the "actual play" session reports I and many others post online. I knew that these replays existed, but had no idea how many were being published. There were dozens and dozens of the things, so obviously somebody is buying them. I found this oddly depressing, in that I wish there was something like these replays available here in the US.

There were D&D Encounters posters (which looked exactly like the US versions, but in Japanese) everywhere, but the most popular games appeared to be Call of Cthulhu, Sword World (an indigenous fantasy RPG) and GURPS. All of the CoC and GURPS stuff seemed to have no stateside equivalent. Most of it looked very impressive.

I didn't notice any Western RPGs for sale other than the ones I just mentioned.

There were many, many Euro boardgames translated into Japanese. Boardgames are not really my thing, but I found it interesting anyway.

There were several tables of people excitedly playing CCGs, boardgames, and RPGs, D&D among them.

About a third (!!) of the customers in the store were female. That's... not how it is here, which I think is a shame.

There were homemade D&D t-shirts that looked really cool and (from what I could understand) seemed to have been made by store regulars. They were monochromatic prints (like white on a blue shirt, etc.) and had anime-style illustrations of each of the four basic classes as well as English explanations of what they were about. I would have loved to have been able to buy them all. They were out of my price range, sadly.

It looks like I will probably visit Japan again in the not-so-distant future. Next time I will do my best to fight off the sensory overload that is Akihabara and get a clearer picture of what was going on there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Let Me Tell You About My Character: A Rifts Timeline

Max (Commission) by Precia-T
I am a fairly obsessive player when I'm engaged, and I'm fully engaged in our current Rifts campaign. As evidence of this, have a look at something I wrote up a few weeks ago: background for my player character, Max (and his family, and the North Cascades Combine a little), written as a timeline.

Do you care? I dunno... maybe?

A lot of things that happened in the original high school campaign have been forgotten (or, more often, thrown out for being dumb). But we've definitely established that our characters were recently part of the so-called Gathering of Heroes against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so I've assumed that the current year in-game is around 103 PA. I'm getting that date from this site.

In the original campaign, each of us ran many more characters than the "core" ones we've chosen to use in the current one. Some secondary characters have made brief cameo appearances in play, and some others are assumed to have worked with the core ones at some point in the past (possibly during the aforementioned Gathering of Heroes). I'm not mentioning any of these characters in this timeline unless we've explicitly established where and when we met up with them.

(Oh, this makes more sense if you read about Max's hometown, the Barony of New Bizantium, first. But probably only a little.)

41
David Feng Parkinson is born in Iron Heart.

59
David joins the recently organized Coalition States military and shows great promise.

62
David begins a secret relationship with one of his superior officers, a Psi-Stalker woman named Millicent Reece.

David begins to experience terrible headaches after coming under psionic attack from a Mystic. He soon manifests powerful surges of psychic abilities. Millicent agrees not to reveal his developing Mind Melter powers to their Coalition superiors.

64
When Millicent becomes pregnant, she and David are forced to go AWOL and into hiding. Shortly thereafter, Millicent gives birth to a daughter, also a Psi-Stalker, but dies during childbirth. David names his daughter Alison Sarah Parkinson and flees Iron Heart with the infant, killing several Coalition soldiers in a botched attempt to sneak over the border.

Artha Kesmai Serris is born in the Barony of New Bizantium.

76
David and Alison arrive in the Barony of New Bizantium after living a bandit’s existence for over a decade. David quickly finds favor as a hired assassin for the Baron, the kobold Chulgrem Shran.

79
David Parkinson is now the Baron’s right-hand man, officially in his employ as his top enforcer. He is given a luxurious home in Hightown.

81
David, now 40, marries Artha Serris, a psionic teenage girl, at the urging of his employer, the Baron, and with the approval of the Serris clan.

Marcus Itomas Parkinson (nicknamed Rex), the first of David and Artha’s children, is born in the Barony of New Bizantium. The spitting image of his father, Rex is a master psionic. He can do no wrong in his father’s eyes.

83
Scott Rowmock Parkinson, the second of David and Artha’s children, is born in the Barony of New Bizantium. Scott possesses minor psionic abilities, but is intellectually disabled and requires constant attention. David begins to physically and mentally abuse Artha, who offers only token resistance despite her powers.

87
Maximillian Arksam Parkinson is born prematurely in the Barony of New Bizantium. He struggles with poor health for most of his childhood and shows no evidence of having inherited his parents’ psychic abilities. David's behavior grows increasingly erratic and violent.

90
David breaks Artha’s leg in a physical altercation. After being threatened by the Serris clan and reprimanded by the Baron, David’s emotional outbursts and physical abuse of Artha largely cease. Artha walks with a cane from this point on.

The Barony of New Bizantium is attacked by mecha from Mount Hood for the first time.

97
With the support of the Serris clan, Artha becomes a Congregat in the Church Tolmeti and is seemingly being primed for the priesthood. The Church reveals to Artha that it engages in the sacrifice of the old and infirm; a fact that disturbs her. Frightened of what the Serris clan will do if she leaves the Church, Artha feels she has little choice but to participate in these rituals.

The Kingdom of Weirminster and the Barony of New Bizantium make a pact of mutual defense against the Pilots of Mount Hood.

98
David Parkinson discovers that the Church Tolmeti is engaged in human sacrifice. He accuses his wife of planning to hand Max over to the Church's clutches and soon resumes his old pattern of abuse.

Artha reads her husband's mind and learns he is plotting against the Baron and the Church.

99
Torn between her loyalties to her family, her clan, and her religion, Artha Serris-Parkinson flees the Barony of New Bizantium for parts unknown. She attempts (but is unable) to bring Max with her. David is enraged.

Realizing that their family home is now completely unstable, Alison escapes into the Barony's Undercity with Max in tow.

100
Chulgrem Shran, the Baron of New Bizantium, dies. David Feng Parkinson, secretly his assassin, becomes the new Baron and immediately enacts a bloody campaign against the Church Tolmeti.

Max and Alison go into hiding in the Undercity, avoiding their father's operatives, who are hunting down Tolmetians and practitioners of magic (and also searching for Max).

Max and Alison are assaulted by Undercity thugs they had believed to be friends. Max is left for dead, but is taken in by Chenoxl, a D-Bee Mystic. Max quickly displays considerable psionic and magic potential. Alison disappears.

101
Max continues to train under Chenoxl's instruction, shielded from his father by his master's magic.

The Kingdom of Weirminster shoots down a Coalition reconnaissance plane.

102
Chenoxl releases Max from his tutelage. Max rides south through the Pecos Empire with an assortment of mercenaries and petty warlords, hoping to find one that will make good use of his powers. (This does not work out well for Max.)

Hathli seizes power on Mount Hood and reaches out to Weirminster and the Barony.

A disillusioned and dejected Max meets Valerie Cain in El Paso. Privately vowing to serve as her advisor, he agrees to travel to Ciudad Juarez (and then further into Mexico) to hunt vampires alongside her.

[Other Max & Val adventures happen]

103
The North Cascades Combine alliance is formally declared.

Smithville requests membership in the NCC, but emissaries from Weirminster find the town obliterated.

Max and Val travel to Atlantis to save a True Atlantean mage's daughter from slavery in Splynn. They join up with Katrina Mansfield and Arisis Solstice in the process. Max receives a magical tattoo (Phoenix Rising From the Flames) as a reward for the successful rescue.

Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis travel to Africa and participate in the Gathering of Heroes, joining other warriors (including Reez and Mian Feng) and destroying the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Sealth Chieftaincy is accepted into the NCC. Shortly thereafter, the Cougar Mountain Holdfast requests membership.

[More adventures with Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis]

As the new Baron's purge continues, Rex Parkinson is killed in action against followers of the Church Tolmeti. His body is never recovered.

["Rifts Misadventures" begin]

Max, Val, Kat, and Arisis arrive in Serendipity. Kat leaves to meet with wild Psi-Stalker tribes. The other three meet Nysa and agree to head to the Caribbean to find her sisters.

Max, Val, and Arisis meet Gia and Arim in Havana.

["Rifts Misadventures" continue...]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mercenary Team Black Fortress

Mercenary Team Black Fortress, more often simply called "Black Fortress", is a travelling company of soldiers of fortune that have recently made Serendipity their base of operations. Unlike some of the city's other mercenary militias, the group is large -- over 100 members strong -- and well-equipped. Black Fortress is widely assumed to have the unofficial backing of important individuals in the Coalition States, or possibly even the CS government itself.

Black Fortress does little to dissuage this perception. Much of their arsenal consists of decommissioned and repainted Coalition weapons, mecha, and vehicles, equipment to which no other mercenary company seems to have as much access. Many Black Fortress troops wear the infamous old-style "Dead Boy" armor of the Coalition States, but even those that opt for the (nominally standard issue) modified Urban Warrior body armor typically personalize it with CS-esque skulls and similar insignia. Though these motifs are never identical to the standards used by the Coalition, they are close enough to make a connection clear, at least in the eyes of Black Fortress' critics.

These critics say that the "Mercenary Team" is little more than a clandestine wing of the CS military, a deniable private army used to carry out black ops missions in which the Coalition cannot be openly involved or implicated. In truth, the situation is slightly more complex: Black Fortress is sponsored by a single powerful Chi-Town family, the Espinozas, who can boast of more than a few Coalition war heroes in their family tree. While not a household name to their nation's general populace, the Espinoza family is well-regarded by the Coalition's upper echelons, who tolerate (and in some cases, even tacitly support) the existence of Black Fortress. This tolerance is dependent on their ignorance of the lengths to which the Espinoza family are willing to go in order to secure what they see as the greater goals of the Coalition, however. Unlike most of the CS elite, Meyer Espinoza, the family's patriarch, is an idealist who believes that the Coalition has lost its way. In his eyes, the Imperial family's drive to take control of a horrendously chaotic situation has slowly ossified into a zeal for totalitarianism. Meyer believes that Emperor Prosek is more concerned with consolidating power for himself and his family than with helping humanity recover from the apocalypse.

Black Fortress never accepts a contract that would work directly against the interests of the Coalition. However, they regularly bend or break rules that would restrict their operations. For example, while they are much more tolerant of psychics and mutoids than any official Coalition organization would ever allow, the company of Black Fortress does not accept non-humans or practitioners of magic into their ranks. However, they have much more nuanced, inclusive policies than the Coalition when it comes to interacting with these groups. In other words, they are willing to work with them when it would advance their objectives (and generally not a second longer). Perhaps most intriguingly -- and dangerously, since the Espinoza family courts treason by condoning it -- among Black Fortress' various subdivisions is a clandestine paranormal research unit dubbed Grey Gate, which works to scientifically study magic and extradimensional phenomena, a practice which was banned by Imperial proclamation decades ago.

Black Fortress' recent relocation to Serendipity has been a cause for unease in the community, and was vociferously opposed by more than one organization (the Quang family among them). Serendipity's D-Bee and mutant animal populations, in particular, are fearful of the company. Thus far, however, Black Fortress' mercs have caused minimal disruptions -- in fact, with a few exceptions, they have behaved with a level of professionalism and restraint that puts the bulk of the city's other militias to shame.

Notable members of Mercenary Team Black Fortress include:

Brigadier Omar Espinoza is the leader of the Black Fortress mercenary company and a former Coalition special forces operative. Once a gifted soldier, Omar was badly injured in an encounter with a Thornhead demon in the ruins of old Chicago, and although ostensibly restored to combat readiness thanks to a full bionic conversion, he seems to have yet to become accustomed to his new body (possibly because of the trauma he experienced). He nevertheless expects the best from those in his command and drives them to excel, tolerating nothing less than excellence and upstanding behavior from those in his employ. Never a strategic genius, Omar takes his marching orders from his his father, Meyer Espinoza, and his trusted advisors in Ivory Tower, Black Fortress' strategic unit. He is curt, guarded and reserved. Omar lacks much of the fiery idealism that drives his father and sister, and while he believes in their objectives, he is secretly uneasy with his role, and increasingly disturbed when asked to order his men to violate the code by which he lived during his military service. He is also displeased that his sister, Quinn, has joined Black Fortress, and firmly believes she does not belong there.

Omar is a heavily modified and customized cyborg whose design is patterned after that of Free Quebec's FX-320C Dervish; a towering, four-armed combat unit. Though he was once regarded as a handsome man, is said that the Brigadier's face is now horribly scarred, and he is never seen in public without his olive drab exterior armor (including a faceplate) in place. He wears oversized military-style formal uniforms or fatigues that fit his cyborg frame.

Specialist Noa Quintanilla Espinoza is a young Rogue Scientist, highly driven but brusque; a transwoman and sister to Omar. Technically the second-in-command of the Grey Gate paranormal research unit, "Quinn", as she prefers to be called, is for all intents and purposes in charge of Grey Gate's research efforts (by dint of her enthusiasm if nothing else). Both fascinated and frightened by the supernatural, Quinn is a major psionic, and possesses the power to sense magic and dimensional disturbances as well as an ability to cloak her own psychic nature from detection -- abilities which she uses to aid her research. Like her father, Meyer, she believes strongly in humanity as the rightful inhabitants of Rifts Earth, and in the core ideals of the Coalition. She is deeply disturbed by the atmosphere of enforced ignorance in which her countrymen live, however, and enamored of the freedom that being away from Chi-Town affords her in her studies. At this point, Quinn would likely be unwilling to return to the CS.

Quinn is tall and thin, a striking young woman with dark skin and hair. She is a child of privilege, with an expensive, if unorthodox, sense of style. Her appearance does not conform to the stereotypical image of the bookish scientist: she has numerous tattoos and is fond of gold jewelry and piercings (even her universal headjack ports are gold). Quinn has a cutting sense of humor many find insulting, and her professional obsession with accuracy carries over into her social interactions. She often comes across as confrontational or overly critical as a result. Despite her annoyance with being assigned a subordinate position in Grey Gate by Omar, she is devoted to her brother, and is concerned that he is not adjusting to his new form.

Master Sergeant Jesse John Ross heads Red Rampart, the military operations wing of Black Fortress, and personally manages the company's battlefield actions as well as training and screening new recruits. An ex-Coalition Psi-Stalker from Lone Star with the Stetson and the drawl to prove it, Ross is rarely seen without the company of his two loyal Dog Boys, Barb (a female Labrador Retriever) and Bree (a female Boston Terrier). Though neither are legally Ross' property in Serendipity, both are extremely subservient to him, and always refer to him as "Master" -- a fact which disturbs many (particularly Serendipity's free mutant animal population), and which Ross relishes.

Ross is perhaps overly fond of food and drink -- things which he barely requires to survive, yet indulges in regularly. He is a paunchy, heavy-set man, something that is highly out of the ordinary for a Psi-Stalker, but has the lightning reflexes, chalk-white skin and pointed ears common to all his kind. A deeply unpleasant individual who finds fulfillment only in violence and excess, and disdains those he perceives as weak, Ross somehow manages to keep his brutal drives and vices in check when in Omar's presence, maintaining a disciplined veneer around him.

Technical Sergeant Kanuka Kladivo is the Operator in charge of The Keep, as Black Fortress' garage and supply division is known. A native of Ishpeming who relocated to Serendipity several years ago and was only recently hired by Black Fortress, Kladivo prefers Northern Gun technology, regularly (and loudly) reminding her superiors that the Coalition surplus that comprises over half of their armaments is "shabby Chi-Town shit". She does her best to keep everything in working order, but isn't above declaring something "unfixable" and procuring a non-CS-manufactured substitute. Kladivo is uncomfortable with Quinn -- especially her research into the supernatural -- but for once hasn't openly voiced her opinion thus far.

Boisterous and brash, the Technical Sergeant of Black Fortress is not an unattractive woman, but seems built for power rather than grace. She has shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair which is generally kept pulled back under a baseball cap, and stunning, piercing blue eyes (not natural, but bionic implants). Kladivo is a mutoid with several redundant internal organs and an anomalous brain structure, but is unaware of this fact. She is also an alcoholic, but insists that she "can control it".

Friday, July 25, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 4

Jellyhead by Kurunya
I mentioned in the last recap that we were considering switching to a newer system with which to run our Rifts campaign. Having realized that the Palladium system was perhaps a bit too time-consuming for the style of play we tend towards these days, we decided to give running Rifts with Fate a spin last session. We're still getting used to the system and probably made many mistakes, but it was good fun regardless. Take a look at the recap of last session if you wish.

The Roster (with Fate "high concept" aspects, followed by traditional Rifts O.C.C.s)

Arisis Solstice, Radiant Daughter of Atlas (female titan Cyber-Knight), played by Felix

Max Parkinson, Runaway Teenage Mystic (male human Mystic), played by me

Valerie Cain, Amazon Cyborg Wildchild (female Praxian Headhunter), played by Kent

Session Recap

Not long after the helicopter that stole the cargo our heroes were hired to help transport escapes into the night sky, Havanan police arrive on the scene and demand that Arisis, Max, and Valerie come with them. They are told that the governor wishes to speak with them. The three acquiesce to la policía's orders, and pile into a police truck in which Captains Ramos and Dixon (of La Fantasma and Big Rusty) are already waiting. Despite an understanding that the mercenaries had been dismissed and told to take shore leave, there is some tension between our heroes and their employer, Captain Ramos.

Max begins to explain to Ramos that he regrets their failure to stop the theft, but Arisis voices her opinion that their time would be better spent putting out the fire that is now spreading across the city. Ramos seems nonplussed, saying that they need to speak with the governor first and leave it to Havana's Techno-Wizard firefighter brigades. Valerie apparently disagrees, as she abruptly blurts out "fuck this" and jumps off the back of the truck (playing to the Wildchild portion of her high concept aspect). Max, who has an aspect called Always There For Val, follows without hesitation. Arisis considers grabbing Ramos and running after her friends, but Ramos' look of exasperation makes her rethink that plan. She leaps after her compatriots regardless, heading towards the center of the conflagration firebomb-hurling raiders started earlier.

Max casts a spell (inspired by two incantations he had in the original Rifts system, Orb of Cold and Wind Rush) that creates a great magical sphere of ice that blasts the burning buildings with freezing winds, transmuting the crackling flames they touch to rapid-forming crystals of ice. His spell works beyond even his own hopes, completely dousing the fires throughout the city and barely straining his own reserves of energy. Cries of confusion and panic turn to cheers of gratitude as the icy orb dissipates and snow falls on the streets of Havana.

Arisis, Valerie and Max don't stop to bask in the appreciation of the Havanan populace. They head for the Governor's palace in haste. Arisis encounters considerable difficulty in squeezing her giant frame into the human-sized palace, which does not endear her to the Governor's personnel. Nevertheless, the trio are led directly to the executive office, where a heated exchange is already underway between Governor Eugenio Milan, his nephew (the city's Fire Chief), Captains Ramos and Dixon, the Chief of Police (a severe-looking woman named Luska), and various other parties. It quickly becomes apparent that a game of "pass the buck" is in progress, where each party blames another for the failure to stop the raid. Max speaks up (in fluent Spanish) and makes a passionate appeal for calm and cooperation, which is largely usurped by a smooth-talking local shaman, presumably an advisor to Governor Milan. The shaman takes the floor and explains that even though Max is very young, there is wisdom in his words --  a backhanded compliment that plays on Max's insecurities. Max retreats, contributing little other than translating for Arisis for the next several minutes. Valerie and the titan Cyber-Knight are able to pick up the slack, however, as they make their case with judiciously applied flirtation and righteousness, respectively.

When a man (somewhat dismissively) introduced as Borega, Prince of Red Moon Water Village, makes his entrance, Max recovers. The Prince claims that the bandits that stole Governor Milan's shipment of power armor were in the employ of a neuron beast. The young mystic realizes that Borega is referring to the creature he saw in his clairvoyant vision aboard La Fantasma -- the demon that carried off Nysa's sisters, Annejah and Asha, in its thrashing tendrils. Max insists that Borega must lead him and his friends to the beast, but Captain Ramos suggests that their responsibility is to recover the lost cargo. Governor Milan, asserting his authority, echoes Ramos' claim, and essentially bullies Ramos into promising that Valerie, Max, and Arisis will return his stolen property intact. Regardless of the Governor's arrogance, the group agree to work to reclaim the lost Samson suits as they track down their quarry.

Borega agrees to lead the trio to his village the following morning, guided by a canny Wilderness Scout named Calvo. Even with the titan Arisis blazing the trail, the journey into Cuba's jungle interior is treacherous, and the group has to navigate numerous threats, including a burial ground haunted by restless ghosts (whom Max convinces to depart for the world beyond). Arisis, for her part, rescues one of Borega's retinue from a mudslide and manages to avoid offending the powerful spirit of an ancient banana tree (!) as she chops her way through the underbrush with her Psi-Sword. Arisis also proves instrumental to the group's success in an attempted ambush: as they prepare to cross a river, Max's Sixth Sense is triggered, and he alerts his friends to impending danger. A band of neo-Taíno painted warriors and lizard men, led by a shaman with a birdlike familiar that appears to be blend of quetzal and phoenix, soon emerge and threaten the party, but Arisis, as the Radiant Daughter of Atlas himself, cows them all with her innate, near-mythical glory, warning them that she has no desire to take their lives, but will if they force the issue. The strange bird-creature takes to the skies, and the tribesmen lay down their weapons and are taken prisoner by Prince Borega and his men.

Late in the night, party arrives at Red Moon Water Village, which has been built around a derelict, inoperable armored personnel carrier. Atop the hulk is a formidable-looking machine gun turret, which Borega explains has been restored to working order and is used to defend against the neuron beast's minions. As the neo-Taínos are detained under guard, Borega ascends to a stilted hut, saying that he must speak with his father, the King. Arisis realizes that the wrecked APC's turret is aimed at the center of the village, and that Borega's men are moving into an attack position: another ambush. As the titan shouts a warning, the three suits of Samson power armor that had been stolen from La Fantasma the evening prior clumsily emerge from their hiding places. Borega reappears and mentally seizes control of the scout, Calvo, commanding him to attack our heroes. To make matters worse, the gargoyle mage that had overseen the raid on Havana bursts forth from a pit in the earth, scorching Valerie with its fiery breath.

As Borega's men open fire on the group with energy weapons, Arisis notices that the inexpertly piloted Samsons have been activated without their sound-dampening equipment being engaged. Taking advantage, she claps her titanic hands directly next to the helmet of one of the power armors, rupturing its pilot's eardrums. In a panic, the pilot ejects from the suit and flees into the night. Max takes Arisis' lead and hexes the audio sensors of a second Samson, filling its pilot's ears with the sound of a demon breathing down his neck (a riff on a fear-causing spell from Rifts called Heavy Breathing). The terrified pilot follows his deafened compatriot, running from the battle. Valerie viciously slashes the gargoyle mage's wings with her mecha's CADS-1 sabers, crippling the demon, as Max dodges laser fire from another of Borega's henchmen.

Suddenly, the bird-creature that the trio had earlier encountered returns, accompanied by a number of neo-Taíno tribesmen, who immediately set about freeing their captured brethren. In the confusion, Max turns his attention to his betrayer, Prince Borega, telepathically penetrating his mental defenses and convincing the Prince that "I am you... you are me." His perception mystically twisted, and now convinced that he is standing in Max's position and vice versa, Borega mentally commands Calvo to fire his crossbow at the young mystic. Calvo, still entranced, has no choice but to obey, and buries a bolt in Borega's neck, killing him. Yet Max does not realize that the attack he dodged earlier was merely a feint to set him up for a clear shot, which Borega's henchman now takes, blasting Max with such force that his TW Mystic Power Armor malfunctions, sending him careening into the dense jungle surrounding the village and knocking him unconscious. Valerie cries out after Max, blocking a bolt of lightning called down from the sky by the gargoyle mage with the energized blades of her Saber Cyclone mecha, then brutally dispatching the demon. The third and final Samson, now having powered on its dampening gear, attempts to grapple Arisis, a course of action which proves ill-advised: the titan breaks the power armor's hold, grasps it by the legs, and "whiplashes" its pilot into unconsciousness. With the neo-Taínos making short work of the remaining resistance, Valerie and Arisis rush to check on Max.

Friday, July 18, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 5: Other Settlements and Hazards

17.06.2014 by Beaver-Skin
CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Fifth:

(The following is a sampling of known settlements and hazardous locales in the greater Cascadian region.)

Ape Canyon and the surrounding volcanic slopes of Mount St. Helens are home to tribes of Sasquatch. Those that have chosen to remain in the canyons and caves, rather than joining the Sealth Chieftaincy, are a reclusive and dour people. They typically avoid contact with visitors, but will drive out those that outstay their welcome.

Devil's Lake, located on what was once the coast of Oregon, is infested with particularly troublesome -- some would say uncharacteristically hostile -- faerie folk that torment anyone foolish enough to dare enter their realm. Rumors persist that they are guarding some sort of invaluable treasure.

The Ochoco Conjunction is an unusual ley line nexus located roughly 20 miles to the northeast of the Barony of New Bizantium. It is unusual in that it is often inactive -- practically nonexistent -- but sputters to life at apparently random intervals. When inactive, the nexus is virtually bereft of psychic energy, undetectable to any but the most sensitive. When active, the nexus always opens a rift, and always to the same dimension: the fantastical world of Palladium. (However, the rift seems to connect to different points on the Palladium world each time it opens.)

The Olympic Rainforests have been colonized by an unknown, technologically advanced race of D-Bees that appear to be using the region as a sort of greenhouse for bizarre, off-world plant species, which apparently can be grown only in a temperate rainforest ecosystem. Very few individuals have interacted with these D-Bees and lived to tell the tale. They are said to be heavily armed and uniformly aggressive, and are thought by some to have some sort of connection to the Splugorth. It has been suggested that their entire operation may be part of an interdimensional, Megaversal drug trade.

The Red Shoulders Horde, a large Simvan tribe, herd dinosaurs and other creatures throughout the Cascades region. Their herds are comprised primarily of grazing animals, such as small ornithopods, which are sold to various Cascades settlements for slaughter or as beasts of burden. The Red Shoulders are considered to be relatively peaceful (for Simvan), but they occasionally raid travelers when they come across them, making sure not to leave any survivors lest they inform potential customers.

Smithville. (Former population: 7,000.) Located in the far northern reaches of the Cascades, in what once was British Columbia, the reclusive settlement of Smithville magically contacted the NCC member state of Weirminster almost immediately after the Combine's formation, practically begging to be accepted into the organization. When King Oswald sent his envoys to Smithville via TW biplane, they found it obliterated -- every single structure completely reduced to ash, with no survivors anywhere in sight. Smithville had a reputation as an out-of-the-way but politically stable and well-protected town. Its ruling Smith family were viewed as somewhat backward and xenophobic, but fair to their citizens. What happened to Smithville is a mystery, and the town's destruction has been kept a secret from most of the NCC's general populace thus far.

Triune Junction. (Population: 1,000.)  A rough-and-tumble place located in what was once southeastern Idaho. Triune Junction serves as a crossroads between the Pacific Northwest proper and neighboring territories, including the Pecos Empire and tribal lands of the Rockies, and is generally regarded as more of a checkpoint or trading post than a full-blown settlement. Under the watchful eye of Boss Hewitt Greene, Triune Junction caters to the tastes of its often rambunctious clientele, with a surprising array of services readily available despite the town's small size. Notable among its businesses (in addition to the expected saloon and gambling house) are a fully operational Body Fixer/Cyber-Doc medical clinic and Operator workshop. Triune Junction is reputed to be the only place for miles around that is capable of Crazy and Juicer conversions.

Ulterior City. Recently, wild stories of "living robots" that have claimed a ruined city somewhere in the Canadian Cascades have begun to circulate. The story says that a group of adventuring mercenaries stumbled across this so-called "Ulterior City" while exploring some ruins, when they were accosted by machines that "talked and acted like people". The mercs' leader, a Glitter Boy pilot, was supposedly challenged to a duel by a robot "General", who told the pilot that he and his "army" would pledge their service to the young human if bested. The story goes on to say that this mechanical General was impervious to harm, and destroyed the pilot and his mecha in seconds, but let the rest of the mercenaries go in peace. Whether there is a nugget of truth to this tall tale, which grows wilder with each retelling, is unknown, but the Mount Hood Banate seems interested in finding out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 4: The Sealth Chieftaincy and the Cougar Mountain Holdfast

CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Fourth:

The Sealth Chieftaincy. (Population: 20,000.) A collection of small settlements rather than a single city, the Sealth Chieftaincy was itself a multi-member polity when it became the latest state to join the North Cascades Combine. Located in the Puget Sound region, most of the villages and towns that make up the Chieftaincy operate at a subsistence level, maintaining small farms and fishing the Salish Sea that they surround. The Sealth Chieftaincy emphasizes an "anti-invasive" policy, meaning that they work to preserve native (non-extradimensional) species and expel or eradicate all others. As a result, the population is almost exclusively human, though not necessarily of Native American descent. Exceptions are made for the small groups of Sasquatch that live in the area, who are seen as a returned "lost tribe" and native species. This emphasis on nature should not be interpreted as an indication that the Seatlh people are low-tech -- their towns are small, but fairly modern, if not especially heavily protected. Though the Sealth communities are nominally each overseen by a chief, each of whom votes on important issues in a Chieftains' Council, the real power rests with the operators of the Vancouver Island fisheries.

In recent months, a new, invasive predatory species of aquatic invertebrate has begun to appear in the fisheries, gorging themselves on salmon and other important stock. These "serpent eels", as they are nicknamed, are relatively easy to kill but are a persistent problem. Soon after the fisheries began concentrated efforts to exterminate the serpent eels, huge flying creatures, dubbed "ramjets" after their habit of crashing into Sealth defenses at high speed, began to attack the fisheries. The ramjets were largely immune to conventional weaponry, and the Chieftaincy lacked the firepower to deal with their attacks. It is this new threat that has forced the Sealth Chieftaincy to apply for NCC membership, which was ratified only after the chiefs agreed to allow Pilots from the Mount Hood Banate to begin excavating and exploring the ruins of Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, and other previously off-limits ruins in search of lost technologies -- a move which the chiefs' Shamans and Mystic advisors have warned will have grave consequences.

The Cougar Mountain Holdfast. (Population: 2,000.) A primarily subterranean community built in what was evidently some sort of underground military installation during the Age of Man, located in the Issaquah Alps. Cougar Mountain is contested territory -- the Sealth Chieftaincy argues that the highlands region is part of the Puget Sound area and thus within their lands, but Kaaltong Sluntch, a gigantes who proclaimed herself "Warrior Queen of Cougar Mountain" over a decade ago, refutes that claim, insisting that "the spineless fish-eaters and their stinking man-animal friends" have yet to defeat her, and that she and her subjects will remain in their "Holdfast" until driven out. Sealth counters that Queen Sluntch and her followers, most of whom are D-Bees and mutoids, have survived by raiding their towns, poaching their hunting grounds, and pillaging their lands. The Warrior Queen has verbally requested membership in the North Cascade Combine for reasons that are not entirely clear. She has offered the NCC access to a supposed "vast arsenal" of pre-Rifts technology if they will accept Cougar Mountain and expel the Sealth Chieftaincy, whom Queen Sluntch insists somehow summoned the so-called "ramjet" monsters to destroy her and her people. Thus far, this request has not been formally considered, but Ban Hathli of Mount Hood has pushed for Queen Sluntch's bid be taken seriously, which has her counterparts from the other member states wondering if there is some truth to the giant's wild claims about the contents of the Cougar Mountain base. But if the mountain is full of relic weapons, why haven't the Holdfast's raiders used them in their attacks?

Friday, July 4, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 3: The Mount Hood Banate

CITY-STATES OF THE NORTH CASCADES COMBINE
Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Third:

The Mount Hood Banate. (Population: 25,000.) Atop this active volcano rests an enormous, geothermal-powered military base and weapons factory constructed from a rift-disrupted spaceship. Over the last decade, the now stranded crew have retrofitted their craft into a combination of fortress and factory which they call Tharna Ulthesse in their native language. Their neighbors, however, simply refer to the base as "Mount Hood" or "Pilot Mountain".

The exact nature of these former soldiers is unclear. They are fully human in appearance, but with some interesting deviations from the norm. They are typically left-handed, and careful examination reveals that their internal organs are in situs inversus; that is, they are located on the opposite side of the body than they would be in a typical human being (with the heart on the right, liver on the left, etc.). Additionally, though there seem to be multiple ethnicities among them, many have combinations of hair, skin, eye color, and other characteristics not seen on Rifts Earth prior to their arrival. Magic and psionics were apparently previously unknown to them, though a majority of them have a least a few cybernetic implants or bionics, which are often intricately crafted, even beautiful. (Indeed, some are known to have implants that are entirely cosmetic.) Their language has thus far proven completely unrecognizable to any inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, as has their culture and religion. They are familiar with the planet's geography, though their detailed maps show several major differences -- Atlantis, for example, is absent from their charts.

That these people originated on a highly divergent parallel Earth seems likely. As is often the case, their arrival on Rifts Earth was an accident. Apparently, in their reality, much of the Earth had been conquered by an invading alien race, and their ship, the Ulthes, was part of an effort to reclaim the planet. Their enemy used an unknown weapon against the expeditionary fleet, which evidently snatched the Ulthes, a mobile base intended to be to planted on the Earth's surface as a sort of staging ground, from orbit (and from their universe entirely). The rift from which their spaceship-base emerged was many miles away from Mount Hood. Disoriented and confused, the Pilots attempted to leave Rifts Earth entirely, but the Ulthes was badly damaged by the orbital satellites and debris field enveloping the planet (something of which they were unaware). They managed to steer their massive craft back to the surface, selecting Mount Hood as the best location for them to regroup, since they would be able to tap into its magma chamber for their energy needs.

The crew found themselves stranded in a familiar world that was nevertheless beyond their understanding: a world where their language was unknown, aliens lived alongside humans, regular attacks by nightmarish creatures were commonplace, and magic, an impossibility, was real. Perhaps understandably, the Pilots reacted to the inhabitants of the region with aggression for several years after their semi-controlled crash landing. Early offensives led against the often-lawless local settlements in an overzealous attempt to "secure the area" and obtain food and basic supplies quickly degenerated into pointless aggression perpetrated by frustrated (and, ultimately, frightened) soldiers who had lost their purpose. Those that lived in the area surrounding Mount Hood were likewise terrified of the sudden appearance of strange-looking mecha, piloted by hostile people that looked human, yet unfamiliar, and shouted at them in an incomprehensible language.

Eventually, the Pilots, as they came to be known, started encountering determined resistance to their attacks, particularly from Weirminster and the Barony of New Bizantium, and even began to lose men and mecha in these military engagements. Soon afterwards, an officer named Hathli managed to convince many of her comrades that their leader, Sevna, had been rendered mentally unstable and unfit for command, and relieved him of duty after a brief and bloody coup. Hathli informed her troops that they were not going to be returning home without aid, and that they would concentrate on building alliances with their neighbors in the hope of doing so in the future. She declared herself Ban (military governor) of Mount Hood and the region around it, and arranged for a meeting with the representatives of the adjacent city-states. With the aid of a Tongues spell cast by a Weirminsterian Techno-Wizard, her overtures of peace were accepted, and the Northern Cascades Combine, an organization that had originally been proposed to defend the city-states of the Pacific Northwest against the Pilots, was officially formed.

In joining the NCC, the Mount Hood Banate (as it is now officially known) agreed to supply its neighbors with aid and weaponry, an obligation which it has begun to fill in recent months. Under the direction of Ban Hathli, the factory portion of the base has been named "Ulthesse Mechatronics" and has started to provide jobs and training to a select few non-Pilots, most of whom are humans that have chosen to live and work among their extra dimensional cousins and communicate with them via Weirminster-manufactured TW translation devices. These men and women live in a swiftly expanding shantytown set up outside of Tharna Ulthesse proper, and are derisively known as "Hood Rats" by those who still hold a grudge against the Pilots. (It is widely believed by their neighbors that Mount Hood was allowed into the NCC as a member state only because the others were either afraid of further conflict, or wanted access to their advanced armaments. Many Pilots, likewise, have not warmed to the idea of "settling down" on Rifts Earth.)

Ulthesse Mechatronics vehicles are large and somewhat ungainly in appearance, but their use of lightweight ceramic armor, supplemented by high-powered force fields, means that they are as agile as any war machines on Rifts Earth. In fact, most UM mecha, even the largest, are capable of short-term powered flight. The "reporting names" the feudalistic Barony of New Bizantium gave these war machines during their conflict with the Pilots have stuck, meaning that most of them have unusual nicknames like "Mantyger", "Yale", "Basilisk", or "Zilant", all derived from fantastical or heraldic beasts. Though they are not mandated to do so by the terms of their NCC membership, Ulthesse Mechatronics is also considering mass-producing and distributing their unique cybernetic implants and bionics.