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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

If I Were King

I think big fans of pretty much any property eventually find themselves fantasizing about being in charge of whatever it is that they're into. Most people probably do it for their favorite sports team. I'm a big nerd, so I do it for things like comics and RPGs.

It's virtually impossible that I would ever find myself running Palladium Books. It's literally impossible that I would find myself doing so with unlimited funds. But let's suppose I did. What would I do?

Revise the Palladium System. Note that I didn't say I'd do away with Palladium's much-derided house system. I'd revise it -- clean it up, reorganize it, streamline it, speed up play, make it more logical and consistent -- all of those things, but I wouldn't switch to an entirely new system. I'd want at least a semblance of backward compatibility, because there's a massive amount of material using that system, and there's next to no chance of being able to revise and republish all of it.

Encourage fan-made material and conversions. Palladium already have their own print magazine, The Rifter, in which they publish fan submissions as well as "official" material. However, they have the most restrictive online policy in the industry, and aggressively threaten those that publish anything that converts Palladium material to other game systems or vice versa with legal action. I'd reverse that stance. I'd also encourage people to post conversion guidelines for whatever system they like and to make them widely available, with the hope that if these conversions are available, people will be more likely to pick up Palladium products and run them with the system of their choice.

Focus on Rifts. Rifts is almost certainly the most popular of Palladium's RPGs, so I'd devote most of the company's energy to it. Play up its central role in the Megaverse. The other games, like Heroes Unlimited, Palladium Fantasy, Dead Reign, and the rest would get updated to the new system as well, but I'd place a lower priority on reissuing every single supplement for those games. Make sure that characters from those games are usable in Rifts with as little fuss as possible, without just powering them up to Rifts' level. Include easter eggs from those other games in Rifts' setting, and (maybe) vice versa. Edit: On second thought, I'm not so sure about this. Palladium tried something like it with Palladium Fantasy, 2nd edition, and it ended up being inferior to the original in almost every way.

Take Rifts seriously. I don't mean that I want a grim, hard sci-fi take on Rifts. It's a "gonzo" game in many ways, and that's okay. But it's also okay to think about the hows and whys of the setting, and to try to suspend disbelief within the constraints of that setting. I know it's a game where giant mecha can throw down with dragons and gods, but that doesn't explain how the New German Republic is able to deliver goods across the Atlantic to North America in a demon-infested world with no infrastructure (for one example).

Stop the EPCOT approach. Early on, Rifts was a game with some truly wild ideas, like Mexico being ruled by vampires, or a re-arisen Atlantis being a base of operations for an interdimensional slave trade. Subsequent books took a lazier approach -- too often, they took a region of the world (Japan), took the most superficial/stereotypical aspects of it (ninjas), and slapped some Rifts trappings onto them (resulting in Ninja Juicers and Ninja Glitter Boys). If there isn't a compelling, original idea for a part of the world, wait until there is one. Don't rush Rifts Greenland into print just because it's a blank spot on the map. Loosen editorial control and get more talented freelancers with distinct voices working on the game.

Make nicer-looking products. Palladium Books has a long track record, only recently interrupted, of having some of the coolest artwork in the industry. Unfortunately, the layout and graphic design is uninspiring, or worse. I'd like to see Palladium continue to publish primarily black-and-white, softcover books, since they have a lower price point, but that doesn't mean they can't have attractive, modern interior layouts and cover designs. Re-use only the best older artwork for the new versions of the games, invite some of the best artists that Palladium has worked with in the past to contribute new pieces, and track down fresh new artists. There are tons of them online looking for work.

Get into other media. The most successful thing Palladium has been involved in recently was the Robotech Tactics minis game on Kickstarter. A Rifts game along the same lines seems worth pursuing. Also, give up on the Rifts movie and instead try to start an animated series -- something that might appeal to the adolescents that were once Palladium's core audience, but that would be smart enough to interest adults as well. Robotech did it in the 80s, and shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender have pulled it off more recently.

Is all of this stuff possible, or even a good idea? Probably not. At the end of the day, most of this is just fanboy ramblings. But I like to think that at least some of it makes sense.

Friday, February 14, 2014

d30 Rifts Mutations

The original Rifts core rulebook included an optional table where one could roll up their "family origin". A high roll would result in your character being an "Earth Mutant", a D-Bee (extradimensional being), or an alien.

"Earth Mutants", also referred to as "mutoids" (which I much prefer) are supposed to humans that were changed by the weird energies of the rifts -- and possibly by other means as well. Mutoids have largely been ignored in the game other than a few mentions here and there in early sourcebooks. (I'm told that the Dinosaur Swamp and Mad Haven books include mutoids, but I haven't read them.) The Rifts Ultimate Edition rulebook doesn't mention them at all, though this was supposedly an oversight.

D-Bees got the most attention in later books, with numerous new PC races introduced to the game in nearly every supplement. These races are usually quite different from humans, though, rolling different numbers of dice for attributes and possessing other special abilities. I kind of miss having characters of extradimensional origin that are pretty close to human.

Aliens were never really mentioned again, and it was fairly quickly established that Rifts Earth was effectively sealed off from outer space. Once, I thought it was a bad idea to limit the game in that way, but I'm actually okay with it now.

The table in the original Rifts rules is fun, but pretty abbreviated. I thought I'd try my hand at an expanded table. Like the original, this table can also be used to generate mutoids or humanlike D-Bees whose differences from normal humans are primarily cosmetic. I've tried to avoid anything that duplicates powers or races found elsewhere in the game.

Roll 1D4 times on the following table, re-rolling redundant or contradictory results. (Note that results which grant skill bonuses give a base skill rating at the percentage listed if the character lacks training in the skill.)

01 Has a long tail, similar to that of a (roll 1D8): 1 cat, 2 dog, 3 horse, 4 lizard, 5 rat, 6 monkey, 7 devil, 8 kangaroo. Tail is 2+1D4 feet long. +10% to Sense of Balance.

02 No body hair. 50% chance of no hair on the head, either.

03 Body is covered in (roll 1D8): 1 short fur, 2 long hair, 3 scales, 4 loose skin, 5 wrinkles, 6 blotches, 7 stripes, 8 sticky substance. 50% chance of unusual color*. 25% chance of being limited to a particular area or part of the body (e.g. forearms, lower legs, back, face, etc.)

04 Has armored skin. Texture is (roll 1D8): 1 chitinous, 2 leathery, 3 lumpy, 4 metallic, 5 rocky, 6 rubbery, 7 scaly, 8 woody. Add 3D6 to S.D.C. 50% chance of unusual color*.

05 Body is unusually (roll 1D6): 1-2 short and squat (reduce height by 1D6+10 inches), 3-4 tall and thin (increase height by 1D6+10 inches), 5-6 broad and stocky (increase width by 1D6+10 inches).

06 Has an animal-like lower face or snout, similar to that of a (roll 1D10): 1 bat, 2 bird, 3 cat, 4 dog, 5 insect, 6 lizard, 7 monkey, 8 pig, 9 rabbit, 10 rat. Can bite for 1D6 S.D.C. damage.

07 Has animal-like eyes, similar to those of a (roll 1D6): 1 cat, 2 frog, 3 insect, 4 gecko, 5 owl, 6 rat. Has 60ft nightvision.

08 Has animal-like ears, similar to those of a (roll 1D8): 1 bat, 2 cat, 3 cow, 4 dog, 5 horse, 6 pig, 7 rabbit, 8 rat. +1 to initiative.

09 Has ornamental growths on the head, namely (roll 1D10): 1 antennae, 2 feathers, 3 knobs, 4 ridges, 5 scales, 6 small horn(s), 7 leaves, 8 quills, 9 tendrils, 10 long spikes. 75% chance of lacking hair on the head. 50% chance of ornamentation continuing down the shoulders and/or back.

10 Has a horn, horns, or antlers that can be used in combat, similar to those of a (roll 1D6): 1 bull, 2 deer, 3 goat, 4 ram, 5 rhinoceros, 6 unicorn. Can gore for 1D8 S.D.C. damage.

11 Cranium is unusually (roll 1D8): 1 angular, 2 broad, 3 flat, 4 oblong, 5 pointed, 6 spherical, 7 squarish, 8 tall.

12 Has facial features (roll 1D4): 1 eyes, 2 nose, 3 mouth, 4 ears of an unusual size (roll 1D4): 1-2 half normal size, 3-4 twice normal size. 50% chance of unusual color* for eyes.

13 Has digitigrade legs. Add 3 feet to all jumping distances. 50% chance of feet terminating in hooves.

14 Has unusually shaped ears (roll 1D6): 1-2 small and pointed, 3-4 long and pointed, 5-6 webbed/fan-shaped.

15 Unusual number of digits on each hand (roll 1D6): 1-2 1D2 additional fingers, 3-4 additional thumb, 5-6 1D2 less fingers. 75% chance of same number of digits on the feet (if "additional thumb" is rolled for the feet, character is capable of manipulating objects with the feet).

16 Has pigmentation of an unusual color* in the (roll 1D6): 1-2 hair, 3-4 eyes, 5-6 skin. 25% chance of a pattern/mix of two colors. 25% chance of luminosity.

17 Has 1D4 features similar to those of a primitive hominid (roll 1D4 to determine how many primitive features, then roll 1D4 again for the type, re-rolling duplicate results): 1 brow ridge/sloping forehead, 2 prognathous face, 3 bowed legs, 4 stooped shoulders/long arms.

18 Has unusually (roll 1D4): 1-2 short, 3-4 long body parts (roll 1D6): 1 fingers, 2 arms, 3 legs, 4 toes, 5 torso, 6 neck. Increase or reduce length of the body part(s) by 50%.

19 Has a long, extendible, sticky tongue, similar to that of a (roll 1D4): 1-2 anteater, 3-4 frog.

20 Has redundant "backup" organs. Add 2D6 to hit points.

21 Has an anomalous brain structure. +2 to save vs. psionics. 25% chance the brain is visible.

22 Has the outward appearance of an individual (roll 1D6): 1-2 much older, 3-4 much younger, 5-6 of the opposite sex.

23 Face apparently lacks one or more of following (roll 1D4 times to determine how many features are missing, then roll 1D4 again to see which features are missing, re-rolling duplicate results): 1 eyes, 2 nose, 3 mouth, 4 ears. The character inexplicably functions as a normal human in all ways.

24 Has claws (rather than nails) on fingertips, capable of inflicting 1D6 S.D.C. damage in combat. 50% chance of being retractable.

25 Hands and feet have (roll 1D4): 1 small claws, 2 fine scales, 3 tiny hairs, 4 suction pads that assist in climbing. +10% to Climbing skill for non-sheer surfaces.

26 Has hyperflexible joints. +10% to Escape Artist.

27 Exudes pheromones that are effective on most humanoids. +10% to invoke trust, charm, Seduction skill, etc.

28 Has an unusual number of eyes (roll 1D6): 1-2 cyclops, 3-4 triclops, 5-6 four eyes. 50% chance of unusual color*.

29 Has a voice with an unusual quality (roll 1D6): 1 reverberating, 2 shrill, 3 guttural, 4 musical, 5 monotone, 6 scraping.

30 Has webbed digits on the hands and feet. +10% to Swimming skill.

*Unusual color (roll 1D8): 1 white, 2 red, 3 orange, 4 yellow, 5 green, 6 blue, 7 violet, 8 black.

Friday, February 7, 2014

d10 Rifts Active Rifts

Perhaps the most hazardous aspect of nexus points is the likelihood of there being an active dimensional rift in such a place. Rifts are not merely doorways -- they are rips in the fabric of space-time itself, and who can predict what might occur?

01 A demon, supernatural intelligence, malevolent god, or other monstrous entity is attempting to emerge from the rift, but is stuck or otherwise unable to break through fully. Perhaps it is out of phase with our reality, or ancient wards placed on the nexus point might prevent its crossing the threshold, or perhaps it is simply too large to fit. At any rate, it is displeased, and will lash out (physically, psychically, magically, or otherwise) at anything in view or reach.

02 Shifters have cast a powerful enemy through the rift and are trying to close it before they can re-enter our world. GM's choice whether the Shifters are good or bad, and whether who- or whatever it was they're trying to seal off deserved it.

03 A seasoned, well-equipped Coalition force has known about this rift for some time, and has set up a sort of base nearby. They will attack anything emerging from the rift, and will likely do the same to anyone trying to enter or otherwise interact with it.

04 This malformed rift constantly expels weird mutagenic energies into the surrounding area. Anyone exposing themselves to it must roll for strange effects. GMs, pick your favorite mutation or insanity tables (or both).

05 Gateway to Hell.

06 Raw magical energy spews forth from this rift at certain times -- if there is a pattern, no one has yet been able to discern it. At any given time, there is a 20% chance that a bolt of pure magical energy will surge forth, granting whomever it strikes 5d100 points of P.P.E. (determine target randomly). However, there are potential side effects, including (at the GM's option) physical damage, insanity, mutation, etc.

07 Time rift! A twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop, or other temporal disturbance. These have an unfortunate tendency to lead back to the time when the first rifts were triggered -- in other words, the dawn of the Apocalypse itself.

08 A stable rift that leads to the world of another role-playing game (or other fictional property, if you're feeling daring), possibly beyond the Megaverse itself. Pick something from your collection.

09 This rift leads to a "mirror universe" version of Rifts Earth, where bad is good (baby) and vice versa. 100% chance of the player characters encountering bizarro versions of themselves.

10 Not technically a rift, but a dimensional vortex that actually sucks in and swallows bits of the surrounding reality until some sort of threshold point is reached, at which point it vomits forth chunks of another dimension entirely. There is a high likelihood of this extradimensional binge and purge having gone on for some time, which means the surrounding environs will be a jigsaw puzzle of otherworldly elements.