Friday, January 31, 2014

d10 Rifts Ley Line Nexus Points

Most avoid the places where ley lines cross, for they are a lure to those that practice black arts. What might you stumble across at one of these nexus points, you ask?

01 Shifters in the process of summoning a demonic entity. They haven't managed to open the rift quite yet, and resent any interruptions to their ritual.

02 Due to ley line interference, a squad of Coalition troops has gotten cut off from communications and become hopelessly lost. They've lost a lot of men and supplies, and are essentially looking to commit suicide by demon/monster/wizard/what have you. Intend to launch an attack on the first non-"normal" thing they see.

03 A malign, invisible supernatural presence (possibly a possessing entity) lurks at this nexus, waiting to dominate and inhabit a worthy host.

04 This nexus point is marked with an ancient burial mound, standing stones, toadstool ring, stele of extradimensional origin, or similar. 50% chance of faeries, which likely means trouble for anyone that comes here.

05 Gateway to Hell.*

06 A cadre of Techno-Wizards has set up a station for charging their contraptions. They're willing to recharge TW items or sell Potential Psychic Energy batteries to those who can pay.

07 This nexus point is the hunting ground of a particularly feral pack of wild Psi-Stalkers. They are starving, and will attempt to ambush and drain any psychics or practitioners of magic.

08 A circle of Mystics and new recruits in the midst of hippie-ish initiation rites. May react with hostility, or invite visitors to share herbal substances and talk philosophy for several hours.

09 A cabal of evil mages (possibly from the Federation of Magic, depending on your location) is preparing a rite of human sacrifice. See, this is the kind of crap that gives practitioners of magic a bad name.

10 Active (open) rift. (Tune in next week for d10 Rifts Active Rifts.)

*"You did that last week," you say? Fine. Nothing bad going on at this nexus point. Yet.

Friday, January 24, 2014

d10 Rifts Danger Zones

Nobody that goes there ever comes back. How come?

01 Breeding ground/hatchery for monsters (pick a type - dragons are always a good idea). Adults will likely destroy anything that happens upon the locale.

02 Rift-lost Robotech Expeditionary Force Ikazuchi-class Cruiser starship, badly damaged by a failed space launch attempt. This was a special one that has a working Robotech Factory built in (capable of manufacturing mecha). Commander is spooked and is likely to attack anything unfamiliar.

03 A plague of faeries harass, wreck, and ruin anything that enters their territory. Nymph in faerie mound driven mad by pollutants or bad ley line juju.

04 Village with extremely high mutoid population due to designer gene facility's vats rupturing into fresh water supply during apocalypse. Villagers are even stranger looking than typical mutants, and most are (roll d6): 1-5 psionic, 6 superpowered (see Heroes Unlimited).

05 Gateway to Hell.

06 Splugorth slave-barge way station. Heavily guarded mobile base. Slavers drop off captured humans, D-Bees, and monsters here to be collected for the trip back to Atlantis and eventual sale.

07 Permanent rift hidden underground, with a "tumor" of the planet Wormwood extruding into it. Patches of fleshy, cancerous earth at the surface. Monitored by agents of the Unholy.

08 Evil wizard tower. No lasers, no robots, no cyborgs, just a straight up evil wizard tower.

09 Old mine/sewer/subway/cave system infested with hive-based monsters that capture, store, and eventually kill any living thing they can find. (Xiticix, Invid, maxpary, or good old Aliens would work.)

10 Ley line nexus point. (Tune in next week for d10 Rifts Ley Line Nexus Points.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Marvel Megaverse

Rifts is a game with plenty to poke fun at. I obviously have a great deal of affection for it, but it's rather ludicrous, as others have correctly pointed out. I think the frustration Rifts causes for some is largely derived from a misunderstanding of what kind of game it is: as I've mentioned before, if you're looking for a post-apocalyptic science fiction setting, you're in the wrong place. But if you think of it as a superhero setting, it's fairly tame.

I got into Marvel Comics as an adolescent, a little while after I started with anime and manga. I started playing Rifts around the same time, so my take on the game was essentially a fusion of those influences. The things that seem so ridiculous to many people didn't really faze me: after all, most of it was less crazy than the Marvel Universe. (The DC Universe is even wackier, depending on which version you're talking about.)

In Rifts, much of central North America is under the bootheel of the Coalition, a censorship-happy, human-supremacist fascist state ruled by a guy named Emperor Prosek, who really likes skulls. Practically anything the Coalition manufactures has a big ol' skull on it. To think that most of their citizens believe they're the good guys stretches credibility pretty far. But Marvel's Doctor Doom is similar to Prosek, plus he's a wizard that wears power armor, and who builds things like time machines as a hobby. Prosek has an army of robot skeletons. Doom has as an army of robots that literally look exactly like him. Is Doom silly? Pretty much. Awesome? Well, I think he is.

Almost anything Rifts (or the Palladium Megaverse) has -- dimensional travel, mythological gods walking the Earth, mutants, talking animals, psychic powers, wizards, giant robots -- the Marvel Universe has, but in a more over-the-top fashion. Heck, the Marvel Universe is supposed to be happening in the present day with a largely recognizable modern world, despite the presence of all this crazy shit. I love Marvel, but you've got to admit that at least Rifts has the decency to say "this is in the far future, after an apocalyptic event". Nuff said.

Now, if you don't like superhero stuff either, then yeah, I can see why you'd have a problem with Rifts. (And that's not even getting into the rules.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Toyetic Fantasy

Taking some time away from Dungeons & Dragons has given me a little perspective on why I'm attracted to the game, even though I never stay for very long. For some reason, I'm drawn to the idea of basing a D&D campaign around old, obscure gaming ephemera. My recently abandoned Demon Verge campaign, which was based on a cheap wargame from the 1980s, is a perfect example, but there are others. (Earlier today, I toyed with the idea of a series of adventures based on DFC Toys' D&D-inspired plastic figure playsets.)

At one point, I obsessively collected everything I could find for The New, Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons game, a version of "basic" D&D from the early 90s that featured big, modular, boardgame or playset-style "adventure packs", to the point of purchasing a bunch of shrinkwrapped material from Monte Cook on Ebay. (I also picked up the Thunder Rift series of modules, which were intended for use with the same version of the game.) The setting and the adventures were nothing particularly interesting, presumably since they were meant solely as introductions to the game. For some reason, that modularity and glossy packaging lured me in and made me want to use them -- even though I never did. (In fact, I eventually sold it all off.)

It's a pattern that I've repeated often with D&D. When 4th Edition launched, I dutifully purchased the first year or so's worth of products, with the intention of running the adventure scenarios as-is, in the suggested order. (Again, it didn't work out quite that way.) I've also caught myself wondering what sort of product line the next edition of D&D will launch with; even considering running a low-prep, out-of-the-box game despite my repeated past failures to do exactly that. It's almost like what I want from D&D is a straightforward, programmed, toy-like setup. This is kind of bizarre, because that's not what I want from roleplaying in general.

Either I'm more attached to the toy-like trappings of D&D as a product than I am to running it as an RPG, or I'm a lazy DM. Or both.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Toward a Rifts "Appendix N"

The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide rather famously included a list of inspirational reading for the game, called Appendix N. In recent years it's become fairly common to see people make "Appendix N" lists for their campaigns, often branching out beyond prose media into films, comics, TV series, etc. that are supposed to give insight into the game's setting and mood.

Rifts is a difficult property for which to create such a list, partially because the feel of the game can vary so radically depending on the region of the world in which one's campaign is set, not to mention which elements are emphasized and which are downplayed. I've said this before, and it might sound a little trite, but Rifts is very much what you make it. One could say that about almost any long-running RPG -- Dungeons & Dragons is a blend of practically every conceivable flavor of fantasy at this point, for example -- but as a huge conglomeration of assorted science fiction and fantasy concepts that explicitly encourages the importation of elements from other popular genres, Rifts is particularly mutable. To put it another way, if you're using all of the books, Rifts is like dumping an appetizer sampler, a plastic jack-o-lantern full of Halloween candy, and a pu-pu platter into D&D's Chex mix.

With that having been said, the Rifts campaign in which I participated for years as a teenager had a distinct feel of its own. It was set primarily in the game's original backdrop, North America, which at that point was very much a "points of light" setting. Magic was largely downplayed, even though there were several spellcasting characters (one of which was my longest-running PC). The focus was on high-tech, post-apocalyptic action and heroism. As I've mentioned before, our characters were essentially soldiers of fortune that wandered a dangerous world, tackling powerful foes for money; initially similar to the "runners" of Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020, but increasingly more like a giant superhero team or (even GI Joe) as the campaign went on.

Though I've recently begun to reapproach Rifts as an adult, the fact remains that for most of my experience with the world, I and my friends were adolescents in the 1990s playing a game that was arguably targeted directly at us. The media that makes me say "that's Rifts" is almost always a product of that era. So, unlike Gygax's list, the "Appendix N" for my take on Rifts doesn't include much prose fiction (something in which I still don't partake much, considering my background in English and librarianship). It's mostly comics and animation, particularly the Japanese stuff that had so captured my imagination twenty-plus years ago, when playing Rifts was my favorite pastime. For me, at least, Rifts was basically an "anime RPG" before that came to mean something very un-Rifts-like in style, and that interpretation still colors the way I envision it.

Comics and Manga
Claremont, Chris. Uncanny X-Men series, particularly the Asgardian Wars paperback.
Kishiro, Yukito. Battle Angel Alita.
Macan, Darko. Grendel Tales: Devils and Deaths.
Otomo, Katsuhiro. Akira.
Shirow, Masamune. Appleseed; Orion; et al.
Takada, Yuzo. 3X3 Eyes.
Warren, Adam. Dirty Pair series.

Film & TV
ARTMIC Studio. Genesis Climber MOSPEADA; Genesis Survivor Gaiarth; Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01; Riding Bean; Bubblegum Crisis; M.A.S.K.; et al.
Kawajiri, Yoshiaki. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust; Cyber City Oedo 808; et al.
Kitakubo, Hiroyuki. Black Magic M-66; A Tale of Two Robots.
Oshii, Mamoru. Patlabor series; et al.

Video Games
Gearbox Studios. Borderlands; Borderlands 2.

There are tons of things I've forgotten to include. I should probably come back and add to this as I think of them. (See the comments below for some excellent suggestions for additional material.)