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.)


  1. Oh wow, I can't believe it's never occurred to me to assemble an Appendix N for Rifts. Great idea. I'll have to give this some thought.

    You touched on this already, but I think the heart of the print media portion of a Rifts A:N is, tellingly, not books but comic books. Siembieda wanted to be a comic book artist prior to getting into game publishing, and his love of comic book story-framing and imagery comes through in pretty much every Palladium game at least though the 90s. (The extensive use of Mike Gustovich's art in the Conversion Book, as much as I loathed it at the time, really made this link explicit.)

    I think there definitely need to be more Bronze Age comic titles on the list, but I'm not nearly well read enough in that arena to opine on specific titles.

    As for film, at least for Rifts as it was initially presented, I would include some classic 80s post-apocalyptic movies, like Road Warrior and Spacehunter. Maybe even Hell Comes to Frogtown?

    1. This isn't intended so much as "stuff that probably influenced Siembieda when making the game" as "stuff that influenced me when playing it". You're absolutely right that there would need to be a lot more American comics in there if I was going for the former. Maybe somebody needs to make a less personal version?

      I thought about putting The Road Warrior on there, but it seemed too post-apocalyptic. (I've already talked at length about my feelings on Rifts as a straight post-apoc setting.) I guess there's some stuff like that in the Southwest, but I'm not as well-versed in that area since we never went there back in the day.

    2. Yeah, I had meant to ask in my original comment whether this was more of a personal Appendix N, as I suspected it was.

    3. It was intended as a personal one, but a more universal one is probably a good idea.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. And this may be why I can't get into RIFTS.

    I am familiar with all of these references and can not see a world where these all exist and it functions logically. These elements, like RIFTS itself, is an awesome collection of unrelated ideas that would be awesome separately but together just feels messy to me.

    For example, I love Anime and Manga and don't see RIFTS as even remotely related. Sure they used Mecha but so does Battletech and Battletech isn't Anime either.

    Just IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

    1. I don't exactly disagree with you. This is intended to be a personal Appendix N; more than anything, these are just the things that made me want to play Rifts. Much of the stuff I listed really only had one or two minor things that were Rifts-y in them. (Honestly, if I had to pick one thing as the closest in look and feel to Rifts, in my opinion, it would be the Borderlands series of video games, which were released relatively recently.)

      As I hinted in my "Glittering Apocalypse" post a couple of weeks back, Rifts started out making a decent amount of sense, but has become more incoherent as it goes on. However, I would argue that the setting laid out in the initial few books makes as much sense (or more) than the average D&D setting.

      You're right on another point -- Rifts, as published, doesn't have a tremendous amount of influences from anime or manga. It just so happens that I (and my buddies) were very much into that stuff when we were playing the game, and so I think it colored the way we envisioned it.

      I think it also helps to think of it as a superhero setting rather than a science-fiction one. Rifts Earth makes about as much sense as the Marvel Universe, where you have aliens, robots, gods, wizards, mad scientists, mutants, and talking animals, but the world is still mostly like our own. If settings "functioning logically" is a top priority, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.

  3. WOW!!! My first visit here - followed the link from The RPG Corner - and I gotta say I'm digging this big time. I have really gotten in the mood to return to RIFTS lately. I'm now following because I want to see where this goes and check out your other stuff.

  4. Hmmm...

    Were I to run Rifts again, I'd probably use the following as my Appendix N:

    Books & Comic Books
    Judge Dredd
    Planet of the Apes
    The Warlord

    Ark II
    Buck Rogers
    Conan the Adventurer
    G.I. Joe
    He-Man (the original series)
    Logan's Run
    Once Upon a Time
    Planet of the Apes
    Thundarr the Barbarian

    Big Trouble in Little China
    Chronicles of Riddick
    Damnation Alley
    Fist of the Northstar
    Godzilla (series)
    Hell Comes to Frogtown
    Logan's Run
    Mad Max (Trilogy)
    Omega Man
    Planet of the Apes
    Radioactive Dreams
    Steel Dawn
    Teenage Cave Man
    Terminator 2 (Future scenes)
    The Ultimate Warrior

    1. Lots of good stuff here, but in particular I think the future battle scenes in T:2 were my first "Appendix N" moment for Rifts. I remember watching that movie as a teen for the umpteenth time and suddenly realizing that that is what mega-damage combat looks like.

    2. Yep, the lack of T2 on my list was a gross oversight that will have to be corrected.

      Mega-damage gets a bad rap. Most of its applications make sense to me.

    3. Steel Dawn! James, I'd be thrilled to play a Rifts campaign like yours.

    4. Awesome List James! So when are you running this on-line???

  5. Many of the D&D inspirations also hold true for Rifts, even more so. A lot of them are post-apocalyptic fiction.

    Hiero's Journey for instance, IIRC, one of the main characters is a mutant bear. Sign of the Labrys deals with life in a fantastical fallout shelter

    Fred Saberhagen's Sword/Empire of the East novels are a mix of high tech and magic.

    And in addition to that list, Clifford Simak wrote a lot of novels with robots and post apocalyptic settings. Cemetery World and A Heritage of Stars come to mind

    1. I've never read the books you mention, though I've been wanting to find those Saberhagen stories for a while now.

      I read Simak's The Goblin Reservation as a kid and loved it. Thanks for reminding me to find more of his stuff.

  6. The Robotech Macross series for the blasted landscape, powerful mega-damage inflicting robots, and sense of heroism against implacable foes.

    1. I've got MOSPEADA on there, which is more explicitly post-apoc, but sure, Macross should go on there too.

  7. I read The Enigma Variations by John Maddox Roberts for the first time a few months after I bought the Rifts core book (all the way back in 6th grade) and the two gelled in my head.

    Also, the scene in the first Bay Transformers film, where Scorponok chased a group of soldiers through the desert, utterly kicking their ass until they had to call in a tactical air strike to kill it? That's as close as I've ever come to seeing live-action Rifts on film. You've got well trained but terrified soldiers, utterly out of their depth, scrambling desperately for anything that can kill this gigantic mechanical monster they DON"T UNDERSTAND AT ALL and when they do kill it, it's only because they called in a sustained artillery barrage.

    That particular scene, that's what Rifts should be like for a Coalition squad.