Friday, June 27, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 2: The Barony of New Bizantium

Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the Second:

The Barony of New Bizantium. (Population: 80,000.) A large walled city built from the ruins of both the pre-Rifts city of Bend and another settlement called Fulcrum (a border town originally located on the edge of the Palladium Fantasy RPG world's Old Kingdom and the Western Empire), which was dimensionally shifted on top of / into Bend during the apocalypse. A sporadically active rift is located roughly 20 miles east of the city, which when open seems "fixed" to the Palladium world. As a result, over half of the Barony's populace is descended from extradimensional refugees from the Palladium world, many of whom are non-humans. A large percentage of those citizens that do not trace their origins back to Palladium are human mutoids, psychics, practitioners of magic, or other D-Bees. 

Though a far cry from the oppressive, segregated arcologies and "Burbs" of the Coalition States, old prejudices die hard, and some social stratification exists. The Barony's large so-called "subhuman" community, comprised primarily of goblins and orcs, inhabits the Undercity, a cramped, dangerous, yet lively collection of subterranean hovels constructed in the labyrinthine lava tube network that runs beneath what once was Bend. The upper rungs of the Barony's societal ladder, on the other hand, are largely occupied by human families of extradimensional (specifically, Western Empire) descent, who live in the city's pristine Imperial Quarter, better known as Hightown. The most prominent of Hightown's families, the Serris clan, claim a kinship to the Imperial throne and invariably possess psionic abilities; perhaps because of their prestige, psychics have traditionally been held in higher regard than other citizens. 

The early history of the Barony, like much of what happened in the dark ages immediately following the apocalypse, is vague. It was apparently founded by a human of noble origins -- a Palladin or Cyber-Knight, according to some stories -- who hailed from the isles of Bizantium on Palladium; hence the Barony's name. This human's identity is lost to the ages, erased by the legacy of the Baron Chulgrem Shran, a ruthless and paranoid kobold who deposed the city's founder, instituted the worship of a Palladium death goddess named Tolmet as the state religion, and, with the aid of a police force that included evil Priests and pact-bound Witches in its ranks, ruled with an iron fist for more than a century. 

Shran died slightly over one year ago with no heir. His former right-hand man and bodyguard, a Mind Melter named Park Dae-sung, has ascended to the position of Baron. (Unbeknownst to the general citizenry of the Barony, Shran was in fact assassinated by Park.) Park, formerly one of the Coalition State of Iron Heart's most wanted criminals, escaped his native land, made his way to the Barony, and married a Serris clan woman roughly twenty-five years ago. Since assuming his title, the new Baron has joined his city-state to the North Cascades Combine, outlawed the Church Tolmeti, and created a specially equipped task force called ADWAT (Anti-Demon Weapons And Tactics), ostensibly to round up and combat remaining Tolmetian elements. (In reality, the ADWAT operatives seek out and destroy anyone and anything the new Baron sees as a potential threat -- especially practitioners of magic, who are usually "exposed" as Tolmet-worshippers before being executed.)

Baron Parkinson is seen as a harsh but comparatively reasonable and fair ruler by his counterparts in the NCC, though many Bizantines, the Imperial Quarter's families among them, resent his purge of the Church Tolmeti. The Serris clan, in particular, have little love for the new Baron, finding the sudden "disappearance" of Parkinson's wife, Artha Serris, shortly before his ascent to power deeply troubling.

The Barony of New Bizantium's small but relatively powerful military force doubles as law enforcement, and includes well-trained infantry and pilots. The Barony maintains an assortment of weapons, vehicles and power armor acquired from various North American manufacturers -- Northern Gun and Bandito Arms foremost among them, with shipments of Mount Hood armaments beginning to arrive. Citizens with psionic powers are encouraged to join the military police. Baron Park regards most spellcasters with mistrust, seeing little distinction between them and the Priests and Witches his operatives hunt down, but is willing to allow the use of magic weapons as long as their wielders are loyal to him. Leaders of elite units, especially ADWAT operatives, are therefore often equipped with magical items crafted by alchemists in the Palladium tradition (rather than products of Techno-Wizardry). 

Friday, June 20, 2014

City-States of the North Cascades Combine, Part 1: The Kingdom of Weirminster

Being a Series Outlining the Members of the Post-Apocalyptic Pacific Northwest's Preeminent Political Power, Part the First:

The Kingdom of Weirminster. (Population: 65,000.) A vast wooden dam-city built on the north Willamette River, with associated settlements covering the ruins of Portland, Lake Oswego, and (appropriately enough) Beaverton. A significant percentage of Weirminster's populace -- including the Gomperses, its ruling family -- consists of mutant beavers of uncertain origin and with varying levels of humanoid characteristics. (There is also a sizable, somewhat disadvantaged community of mutant otters of similarly unclear pedigree.) The beavers seem to have a knack for Techno-Wizardry, particularly when working with the timber of the wychwood, a type of giant magical tree that grows in the Willamette Valley.

The dam-city of Weirminster proper is a truly immense work of dizzying ingenuity, made almost entirely of wychwood lumber. Weirminster's small military fields similarly innovative war machines, including a variety of mecha, tanks, fan-powered patrol boats, and propellor-driven flying craft, many of which are handcrafted from (or fueled by) this magically-strengthened and enhanced timber. The inner workings of Weirminster-designed vehicles are incredibly complex, and historically most of them required multiple pilots, at least one of which had to be a Techno-Wizard. Recently, Weirminster has begun receiving a small amount of more conventional, nuclear-powered battle vehicles from Mount Hood in the hopes of increasing the city-state's military potential.

Weirminster, perhaps predictably, has an overall reputation as an industrious and harmonious community, though its ruler, King Oswald of Gompers, is a notoriously prickly and cantankerous individual. Weirminster was nevertheless the first city-state to join the North Cascades Combine (NCC) after its formation, as King Oswald's air force has shot down more than one Coalition long-range reconnaissance aircraft in the past several years. Like his neighbors to the Southeast, the Barony of New Bizantium, Oswald fears an eventual full-scale conflict with Chi-Town. Even though Oswald harbors distrust for many of his neighbors -- both Mount Hood and the Barony included -- he is willing to set those concerns aside for the moment.

The King's only child, Princess June, is young, pretty (if one is willing to overlook some castoroid features) and available. She is widely considered one of the region's most eligible bachelorettes, though she has declined the suitors her father has championed. Rumor has it that the Princess is a romantic, and is holding out for a hero.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blowuppability II: The Explodening

I'm back! Let's return to the subject of blowing up giant robots and speeding up combat in Rifts (and other Palladium games), shall we?

Earlier, I complained that in Rifts, power armor, robots, and other big armored things take too long to kill. I was thinking the other day that Dungeons & Dragons 4E had a similar problem, in that combat simply took forever, especially when fighting a big "boss" monster with tons of hit points. I didn't come here today to trash D&D 4E -- in fact, if you look back at some of the earliest posts on this very blog, you'll find some 4E content. But I will say that once we wrapped up our 4E campaign, it was the prospect of more lengthy combats that put the game on permanent hiatus for my group.

The "D&D in all but name" roleplaying game 13th Age isn't always my cup of tea, but it does some interesting things with its 4E-esque system. One of the best (and most easily stolen) ideas is the Escalation Die. The idea is basically that you put a big D6 on the table after the first combat round, with the "1" facing up, and turn it to the next highest number each round after that. The number that is facing up is added to attack rolls (and maybe damage, I can't remember). Oh, and there are some special abilities that are only triggered when the Escalation Die reaches a certain number, too.

I like this idea. It's simple and fun. Just taking it and plopping it into the Palladium system would be easy enough, but I feel like that wouldn't make a big enough difference. For one thing, most characters already have a pretty easy time hitting their opponents -- it's just that the opponents have a good chance of blocking or avoiding the attack with a parry or dodge. The problem isn't hitting stuff as much as making it fall down.

So, I propose making the Palladium Escalation Die a D10, and having it add strictly to damage. Also, the value on the die should be multiplied by 10, so you do +10 damage on the second round, +20 on the third, etc. (This means that those "tens place" percentile dice would work well.) I'm not sure what to do if your fight takes more than 10 combat rounds (where you're shelling out 100 extra damage on a successful attack). I'd advocate either keeping it at +100 until the fight ends or continuing to escalate (time to break out the D30?) because let's face it, by that point, with the number of attacks Rifts characters have, you will probably want that fight to be over ASAP.

Still pretty simple, right? I feel like this might speed combat up in a straightforward, easy-to-handle way, and might even bring out more of the sense of mayhem and "death, destruction, or worse" that I want from Rifts. I hope I will get a chance to try it out sometime.