So, real life has been intruding on my (and my friends') ability to play Rifts lately. This is a familiar story, I suspect, to most people that are into RPGs these days, so I won't dwell on it. Suffice it to say that with any luck, we'll get to play a second session soon.
However, I did hang out with a good friend who happens to be the GM of that Rifts campaign last weekend. Among the topics discussed:
Organic Circuitry. One of the things that has recently bugged me about Rifts is the juxtaposition of ultra-high-tech with a "points of light" infrastructure (or lack thereof). If you assume that there's something like advanced 3-D printing in use, those fiefdoms' ability to manufacture precision technology is a little bit easier to swallow. Still, you'd need access to rare earth minerals for some technology, which I previously said was difficult to imagine in a world without intercontinental shipping. But my buddy suggested something that is probably completely pseudoscientific, but still sounds reasonable enough for me to suspend my disbelief: organic circuitry. Even before the apocalypse happened, scientists had apparently mastered cybernetics, bionics, genetic manipulation, and cloning. They had even learned to artificially induce psionic abilities with the use of implanted technology. So maybe rather than using the rare earth-dependent processors (shut up, I don't know what this stuff is really called) we use today, Rifts Earth's engineers rely on ones made of organic materials. I'm not suggesting that all of the high-tech stuff in Rifts is "bio-tech" in the sense that the term is often used in popular science fiction -- it's not really "alive" -- just that it's organic in nature. (Though if you wanted to posit that this bio-circuitry creates a subtle man-machine interface effect like the alien plant-derived "protoculture" fuel source in Robotech, explaining why your character can use her physical skills and hand-to-hand training when piloting mecha, I wouldn't object.)
Ethnicity and Race. To his credit, Siembieda rarely mentions these things in Rifts publications. There's an offhand reference to some parts of the Chi-Town 'Burbs being less ethnically diverse than others, but that's about it, to my knowledge. But would the concepts of race and ethnicity even really hold much meaning to people in this setting? It's roughly 400 years in the future, and there's been an apocalypse that has destroyed virtually every nation-state in existence. North America has been (more or less) cut off from the rest of the planet for centuries. I like to think that survival probably trumped prejudice in the wake of the Coming of the Rifts (at least, until anti-psychic, anti-magic, and anti-mutoid prejudice emerged). Even the fascist Coalition would probably encourage all humans to recognize each other as kin when faced with literal inhuman monsters from other worlds running around. In North America, at least, racial distinctions would probably have largely broken down by the time in which the original core rulebook is set. There might even be a distinctive North American appearance that is effectively -- though I strongly dislike this term -- a "mixed-race" look. To me it seems likely that the "American" language described in the rules isn't strictly the American English we speak today, but a version that incorporates other tongues.
Old Time Religion. This actually isn't a topic we covered during our weekend rambling, but it's been on my mind lately nonetheless. Real-world religions, as far as I know, are practically never mentioned in Rifts products (likely an extension of the company's aversion to any potential controversy). Still, I've always wondered what religions might be practiced in the future post-apocalyptic world of Rifts Earth. Christianity, presumably, would still be around, but would likely have taken on a somewhat medieval character, considering the quasi-feudal state of affairs in much of North America and the fact that most people are illiterate. Would Islam have spread or shrank? (The Hajj would be a literal impossibility for the faithful.) Judaism, I'm sure, would survive and recover, as always. Religions that had their origins in Asia, like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism would possibly be more widespread. Certainly new religions, including fantastical ones based on the worship of demons, dragons, and the like, would have sprung up, and old, near-forgotten ones would begin to be reinstated with the return of ancient gods. Would new faiths that emerged in the time between our present and the Coming of the Rifts have managed to survive the apocalypse? And what of the Coalition States, who actively enforce illiteracy and obedience to the Imperial family? Would there be a North Korea-esque state of affairs, with an official "state philosophy" based around a pro-Prosek hagiography? I could easily see them encouraging a quasi-deified personality cult of "Prosekism", and closely monitoring other faiths, even censuring them for skirting too closely to "encouraging the spread of occultism".
Heavy stuff? Pointless blather? Offensive drivel? You decide.