Friday, February 28, 2014
Fistful of Creds
I've written at some length about the complex nature of Rifts Earth as a setting. Rifts has elements of the cyberpunk, fantasy and superhero genres, but doesn't fall neatly into any of those categories. It has a "points of light" setup and takes place after an apocalyptic event, but it's not a post-apocalyptic game in the traditional sense -- especially because the setting has a number of assumptions that don't fit into the standard post-apocalyptic framework.
No doubt, many people will shake their heads when I say that I take Rifts relatively seriously as a setting. This is a world where a mutant ninja flamingo in a suit of power armor can stab the Greek god Zeus with a soul-drinking magic sword. An extreme case, to be sure, but given that my example is completely possible in the game (though probably a bad idea), "making sense out of Rifts" sounds like an exercise in futility. When I say that I take it seriously, I mean that I like to think about how the setting works. Obviously, Rifts Earth contains a vast number of concepts that are impossible or outlandish, especially when combined without restraint, like in my earlier example. Still, I find it fun to try and figure out the hows and whys of all of these disparate elements within the fictional confines of that setting.
It's usually enjoyable for me, but there are some questions that I find maddening. I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept the basic premise of Rifts: a far-future world trying to rebuild itself in the wake of an apocalypse that tore the fabric of reality. I get frustrated, though, when I come across things that still don't make sense even after accepting that wild idea. Here are a few of those things:
Universal Credits. Like a lot of other far-future RPGs, Rifts has "credits" as a standard currency that is accepted pretty much anywhere you go. In most of those games, that's not a completely crazy idea, because there's some sort of organized infrastructure in place, whether that's an interstellar empire or a global banking system. In Rifts, there's no such thing. Sure, there are the Coalition States (which is really more like a network of city-states) and a few other small "nations", but most of the continent is still a wilderness crisscrossed by magical ley lines and infested with monsters, dinosaurs, dragons, and worse. Palladium Books' official line is that credits are a debit card-based banking system based in the Coalition States, with competing credit systems offered by the Manistique Imperium and the Black Market, but it's tough for me to believe that such a system would be possible in demon-infested North America. There can't be a continent-wide computer network with monsters stomping any place that isn't a city or fortified town to dust, and satellite-based communications are impossible (see Mutants in Orbit). Even if there was a way to set up a banking network, why would your Coalition or Manistique credits be of any worth to the interdimensional alien slave traders in Atlantis? Why would they be usable in another dimension (like Phase World), for that matter? I understand the need to suspend disbelief sometimes, but the explanation Palladium has belatedly advanced is pretty weak.
Intercontinental Trade. Triax, an arms manufacturer based in the New German Republic, is somehow able to transport its goods to North America. Keep in mind that the oceans and skies are (presumably) as full of monsters as the land, that the NGR is fighting a prolonged, full-scale war against an empire of gargoyles, and that there is now an entire continent full of evil alien slave traders in between Europe and North America. I have a hard enough time understanding how one could get items from one part of North America to another, let alone across the planet (though they did introduce armed hovertrains in the recent Northern Gun supplement). Rifts is a game where a lot of crazy things are possible, and there's probably a way that this kind of cross-Atlantic arms trading could conceivably happen, but if it's ever been explained, I haven't heard about it.
Precision Manufacturing. There are multiple corporations churning out ultra-high-technology items. Things like giant mecha, artificially intelligent robots, laser rifles, cybernetic implants, and portable computers would (presumably) require large-scale manufacturing facilities, not to mention precious limited resources like rare earth minerals. Are there assembly lines where these things are being put together? Where are they getting the raw materials, considering that intercontinental shipping is now incredibly difficult? Is it all scavenged and recycled from salvaged pre-apocalyptic wreckage? What if your Samson power armor needs repairs and you're hundreds of miles away from the lone city-state where it was manufactured (which is exceedingly likely)? Remember, this is a "points of light" setting. Maybe small-town Operators have something like a 3-D printer that can make a new servomotor for your busted mecha or bionic arm? There are interesting possibilities here, but there has been no attempt to explore them, to my knowledge.
Other Infrastructure Stuff. Most of my headaches stem from the basic lack of any plausible sort of infrastructure on Rifts Earth. For example, you can get classic "headjack" cybernetic implants that allow man-machine interface with computer networks, but I can't see how those networks would exist, except for maybe within a single well-developed city or settlement. In North America, there are "Black Market" criminal organizations that have spread their influence across the continent, but given that travel is incredibly perilous -- monsters and ghosts and evil wizards all over the place, remember? -- I can't for the life of me imagine how. (To be fair, there's a Black Market sourcebook I've never read that might answer these questions.)
There's more, much more, but I can't remember it all right now. Have I allowed any of this stuff to bother me to the point where I don't enjoy the game? Hell, no. But these are the little things that bug me when I'm otherwise having a nice time daydreaming about one of my favorite imaginary places. I'd like to figure out solutions, so if you have ideas, comment below.