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 13, 2014

Rifts Misadventures: Session 3

OC - Rebecka by FrothTheStargazer
We got our Rifts on last weekend. The previous session is here if you need a recap.

The Roster

Arisis Solstice, female titan Cyber-Knight, played by Felix

Max Parkinson, male human Mystic, played by me

Valerie Cain, female Praxian Headhunter, played by Kent

Session Recap

Once La Fantasma gets underway, Max asks Captain Ramos to ensure that he is not disturbed for the next several minutes. The team retires below deck and Max sets about using his gift of prophecy, using the rhythm of the waves crashing against the ship's hull to send himself into a clairvoyant trance. Arisis tries using her own psychic powers to interpret and guide his progress, as Valerie stays well back, still somewhat unnerved by the young man's willingness to open himself to the supernatural.

Max relays his semi-surreal vision to his comrades, in which the twins they seek are dragged to Havana and beyond by an entity that appears as a vaguely humanoid mass of lashing, electrified neurons. Max pursues the being, having traveled across a series of islands and into a jungle, where it disappears into a circle of small, squat buildings. When Max attempts to follow, the circle transforms into a great toothy maw and encloses him in its bite. Abruptly, the Mystic's vantage point shifts, and he is watching himself watch a television set. A dancehall music video plays on the screen, with himself, Valerie, and Arisis appearing in it. The lyrics are exclusively in Spanish (but subtitled in American). Max gets the impression that the lyrics are giving him clues to the location of Nysa's twin sisters (who also appear in the video, apparently in some faraway mountains). Max watches himself rise from his seat and dive into the television. He flies past his comrades and over the mountains, where he sees a vast shallow sea filled with islands and archipelagos. His trance state ends.

As La Fantasma escorts the cargo container ship Big Rusty through the mangrove forests that have covered what was once New Orleans, Max considers the implications of the images he's conjured up. Arisis heads back to the upper deck and takes the opportunity to engage in one of her favorite pastimes: fishing. The patient titan is able to hook a prodigious catch of red snapper -- and, once the ships reach deeper water, a giant swordfish -- all of which is taken to the ship's galley and served to an enthusiastic and grateful crew.

After a short and uneventful sea voyage, the ships reach their first stop, the port of Havana. As containers of goods are unloaded from the Big Rusty, the group, which has been granted shore leave and rooms in a local hotel, heads ashore to explore Havana proper. The city is half dilapidated ruin, half vibrant, Techno-Wizardry-powered metropolis.

When it turns out that there is a sizable Havanan goblin population, Max decides to see if he can find some information that might clarify the details of his vision. He engages some of the locals in their native tongue of Gobblely and manages to greatly impress a group of young goblin women with his easy mastery of the language. (Max grew up speaking Gobblely as well as American in his hometown, the Barony of New Bizantium, where numerous immigrants from the Palladium world reside.) After Max asks about the Grey Bones and the ogre pirates that crewed the ship, a surprisingly attractive goblin named Gia offers to introduce the group to the only ogre inhabitant of Havana if they can make it worth her while. Max offers Gia a pair of pre-cataclysmic basketball shoes (child-sized and still in the shrink wrap, naturally), which she enthusiastically accepts.

The ogre in question, a Shifter called Arim, seems to have taken up residence in a local restaurant's enormous humidor, in which he and several other giant D-Bees are lounging (and smoking). Arim extends considerable hospitality to the team, and Max again impresses the locals (I was rolling really well for Streetwise checks that night) by ordering a traditional goblin dish heavy on the grubs and black fungus. After greasing Arim's palms to the tune of 1500 credits, the ogre provides the group with a good amount of intelligence regarding ogre pirates, even though he is unfamiliar with the Grey Bones or any pirate band associating with the Coalition. He indicates that most of the pirates hail from the lawless island of Hispaniola, and also maintain ports on the southern coast of Puerto Rico. (Puerto Rico is also the home base of a dangerous mercenary company dubbed "Wild Hurricane", he says.) Arim warns Max that most of the ogres in the Caribbean are not from the Palladium world, but are born sailors from another planet entirely -- one that is almost entirely ocean. Max's familiarity with the customs of Palladium's so-called "subhumans" will not earn him any favors with these ogres, Arim says.

Arim's offer to smoke a few cigars with the group is cut short by a series of explosions outside. The trio races toward the disturbance (but Max briefly doubles back to tell Gia how much he enjoyed her company, then promptly vomits up his earlier repast of larvae and mushrooms). The city is under attack by raiders in strange flying harnesses, who are setting fire to buildings and generally terrorizing the populace. Havanan law enforcement, despite being equipped with TW bicycles that transform into fan-powered flying machines, are badly outgunned. After they commandeer a truck (which Max pilots with considerable aplomb -- my dice were on fire, people) the team heads back to their hotel to grab their gear, only to find the structure in flames. They nevertheless plunge inside and, with a helpful boost from the giant Arisis, manage to rescue their equipment from their second-story lodgings and escape largely unharmed.

The team heads for the docks area, where they see a helicopter stealing cargo containers loaded with Samson power armor from Northern Gun, which the Big Rusty had unloaded earlier in the day. Arisis, with her ability to see the invisible, spies a gargoyle mage riding on a flying boulder, apparently protecting the chopper, and opens fire with her Starfire Cannon. Before any of the trio can take further action, the gargoyle swoops down and casts a Thunderclap spell, badly disorienting them (everybody failed their saving throws). The demonic creature then vanishes, teleporting out of sight. After firing a few rounds in protest, Arisis and her friends can do little more than watch helplessly as the helicopter escapes into the sunset with its ill-begotten cargo.

A good deal of this session was taken up by the three of us getting caught up. All of us have been living fairly eventful lives recently, so I'm happy we were able to do that. I had fun even though I felt like we could probably have accomplished more (and despite realizing in retrospect that I probably hogged the spotlight during this session). Afterwards we discussed making some rules changes that I think might help us move things along more quickly, and possibly even switching systems to something a bit more modern, both of which I think are potentially exciting moves.

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.