Friday, April 25, 2014

Brain Scraper Death Dive

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.


  1. I like to think humanity would put aside issues of discrimination based on skin color and eye shape if Earth was invaded by extra-dimensional terrors, particularly after 400 years. Like you say, D-Bees seem to have replaced that as far as discrimination goes.

    As for phenotypes, I'm pretty sure there's a high-ranking Coalition dude in the Lone Star book that's illustrated as an African-American, and of course Erin Tarn's cyber-knight buddy is Native American and so forth. But yeah, I tend to agree that your sort of "average" North American in Rifts world would probably be a bit more darkly-complected as a general rule and there would likely be few recognizable (to us) ethnicities except in isolated regions.

    I've thought about the complete absence of modern religions in Rifts before. Obviously it's an attempt to not court controversy, as you say, but if anything I'd say religion would be even more prominent on Rifts Earth since there are demonstrable powers and magic going on all around. Whether those religions would in any way resemble our own is probably a fun opportunity for individual world-building.

    However, there is one glaring example of real-world religions showing up in Rifts in the form of vampires' aversion to the crucifix! Of course, the why is never explained (maybe vampires just don't like the shape?), but it's one of those charmingly kooky incongruities that should bug me but doesn't. (Personally, I'm much more irritated that the spelling of Arkansas hasn't changed in 400 years--unless you pronounce it to rhyme with Kansas in "American"?)

    I think the official religion of Chi-Town (if not the whole of the CS) would definitely be a "dear leader" type of cult of personality. Goddamn Illinois Commie-Nazis.

    1. There are actually quite a few non-Caucasian-looking characters in Rifts books, particularly in more recent books. (There are plenty of African-American people in the Ultimate Edition rulebook, possibly because Palladium's current artist roster includes a lot of African-Americans.) I like that, but I also like the idea of a general "mixed" North American phenotype (and isolated pockets of more distinct groups, as you say).

      It's implied that vampires avoid the crucifix because it's a magical rune. They probably never mentioned it in Rifts, possibly because they again didn't want to court controversy, but the cross shows up in a big chart of rune symbols in the original Palladium Fantasy book. It represents "protection". I thought that was a kind of clever workaround.

      I haven't read Arzno but assumed the name was supposed to be the future "Americanized" form of "Arizona". I actually dislike this kind of Gamma World-esque naming convention, but I can't really give you a good reason why. Just a matter of taste, I guess.

  2. Organic Circuitry. Interesting idea. I'll have to think about that for my campaign, if I ever get back to it.

    Ethnicity and Race. Racism I believe is derived from "tribalism", us vs them mentality. And in Rifts there are plenty of other "thems" without having to create artificial ones based on race. Biologically speaking race does not exist. We are all one race.

    Old Time Religion. Here I have to agree with the quote "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful" attributed to Seneca. I can definitely see governments (CS) using religion to control the populous.