Friday, September 6, 2013

Hug a Jug o' Wine

If you're here for Dungeons & Dragons content, you'll probably want to move on. Today I'm writing about Rifts. A lot.

I have spoken in the past of the Rifts campaign I and my friends played in for years as young adults. Rifts is a game with a lot of warts, but its setting remains one for which I have a lot of affection. We've returned to it once before, in a play-by-post campaign that fizzled out (as they all do eventually). Recently, my good friend Kent has started a private Google+ Community for the old gaming group, and is slowly building a new campaign backdrop: Serendipity, an independent town with a commanding position at the mouth of the Mississippi River, since New Orleans was completely submerged after the apocalypse. Kent asked us to pitch some ideas for neighborhoods in Serendipity, and I obliged.

So, with a tip of the hat to the Borderlands video games and to Neil Hamburger's track of similar name, I give you:


The ramshackle bungalows at the northern edge of Serendipity are home to scrapyard workers, petty operators, and rail laborers. These people unload and process the scrap and excavated technologies taken from the McComb Metal Reclamation Camp, several miles further north. They work hard and drink hard. Sandrine Quang is happy to cater to their needs, and from her sprawling establishment, the Scrap Car Saloon, she effectively rules the neighborhood that has come to be called Jugtown.

The Quang family claims Cajun, Creole, and Vietnamese heritage. They have roots in the area going back to the time before the war, where they helped to operate the Ponchartrain Vineyards once located in the town of Bush (now a half-submerged ruin). The Quangs are still winemakers, growing grapes not far from the Ottley farming operation, but now produce a cheap, easily manufactured variant of the spirit labeled "Rasteau Pardo Tonic Wine". Detractors say that the Quang wine is adulterated with corn syrup, turpentine, and less savory additives. Sandrine Quang insists that it is “fortified”. At any rate, Pardo has been popular with the local workers for generations, and the trademark one-handled glass jugs in which the beverage is sold litter the streets and corners of the neighborhood. It is from these discarded containers that Jugtown takes its name.

The Quang family has its hands in more than making cheap wine. Sandrine's husband, Sullivan, works to ensure that the best pieces recovered from McComb find their way onto the black market. Her sister, Corette Quang, oversees prostitution and drug dealing in Jugtown. And Sandrine’s son, Orson, is directly involved in enforcing the family’s protection racket. (A full-conversion cyborg with the words “BOW DOWN” emblazoned on his chest, Orson Quang is among Serendipity’s least popular residents.) Quang family members are involved in practically all areas of business – and crime – in Jugtown.

Since the residents of the area depend either directly or indirectly on railyard activity for their livelihood, Jugtown's political affairs are largely handled by Serendipity's Rail Guild. However, the Quangs have assembled the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, a militia named after a trade union from the Age of Man, and are aggressively recruiting area toughs to join it.

According to Sandrine Quang, the BMWE (or “Brotherhood”, as it is more commonly known) was formed to voice the unique concerns of Jugtown's workers. More often, they try to strongarm the Rail Guild into paying Sandrine in return for the militia's (and therefore, the workers’) support on the council. The militia is made up of two dozen or so local hardcases loyal to the Quang family, mostly low-level men-at-arms with cheap body armor and weapons. However, the Brotherhood supplies a valuable defense asset to Serendipity in the form of a fully operational Titan Combat Robot, purchased by the Quang family and piloted by the militia's leader, Rachel Bailey. 

Bailey, a former combat pilot, had a history of squabbles with the Rail Guild before joining the Brotherhood. When still a newcomer to Serendipity, she married into the Quang family without fully understanding what she was getting into. A conscientious deserter from Whykin who disliked her homeland's increasingly xenophobic military policies, Bailey found herself pressured back into the pilot's seat and into acting as a figurehead for the BMWE. She has an honest desire to better represent Jugtown’s citizenry, but has found herself alternately manipulated and intimidated into serving Sandrine’s interests by her husband (and Sandrine’s nephew), Denis. As a result, her standing in the community is steadily plummeting.

The Scrap Car Saloon

Sandrine Quang's saloon is, like most of the buildings in Jugtown, a jury-rigged, ramshackle structure, apparently bolted together from the bits of a half-dozen other buildings. Unlike most of the quietly depressing drinking holes in this neighborhood of Serendipity, however, the Scrap Car goes for bombast. Bright orange power cords are strung haphazardly both inside and out. A loudly buzzing neon sign advertises “SCRAP CAR - WINE - GIRLS - WILDE - NTERTAINMENT [sic]” in hot pink letters, and loudspeakers pointed in all directions blast skip-ridden recordings of Vietnamese pop, Cajun zydeco, and Gobblely drum n’ screech (often all at the same time). 

Past an entrance guarded by large, largely disinterested doormen lies a poorly lit, smoky, but slightly less shabby interior. Beyond what one would expect to find in a saloon – i.e., a bar -- the Scrap Car boasts a small stage for live performances (complete with scavenged sound and lighting system, and which can be surrounded with chicken wire at a moment’s notice) as well as an octagonal pit used to host tough-man tournaments, cockfights, dog fights, and the like. (An ill-fated experiment in carnosaur baiting once nearly led to the destruction of the saloon.)

The entire operation is monitored via video camera by Sandrine Quang, who occupies the well-guarded second floor of the establishment with a rotating cast of other Quang family members. While there are nude dancers (Thursday is “D-Bee night”), and plenty of alcohol is available, hard drugs and sexual favors are not offered here. (Customers interested in such services are quietly directed to other venues, also Quang owned and operated.)


A pidgin language composed of bits of half-remembered Vietnamese and Cajun French, mixed with American (and more recently, Gobblely), used exclusively by the Quangs. "Quanglish", as outsiders derisively call it, has allowed effectively coded communication among family members for generations. Individuals not raised in the Quang family -- even those that speak the languages that make up its vocabulary -- find Quanglish incomprehensible, as it also incorporates cross-lingual rhyming slang.


  1. Wow, Rifts AND Neil Hamburger? This is the way it's done.

    1. When I posted this, I was like "I'm gonna get one comment, and it'll be David Larkins". Sure enough...