Rifts Inspirational Art I

I did not buy into Rifts when it first came out. I was mostly into Gurps at the time. However, when my wife first left me I found myself hanging out at the game shop (the sadly gone Dragon’s Lair in Hartford, Connecticut). I kept looking through their huge selection of used gaming books. One night I started looking through Rifts books and three images captured my imagination. Rifts is the first game I bought because the art struck me. Even now it remains one of the few games where that is true. Off-hand I cannot think of another.


The least among the three is this image of a mystic druid (from Rifts England) clearly not in her native environment. Yes, she looks very 80s fantasy but in a way I found appealing even in the late 90s. She could easily be the sister of Morgaine given the cover of my original paperback of Gate of Iverl.

What is also interesting is that game with giant robots, floating barges, and laser guns also had room from someone from an 80s fantasy movie. It was the first hint that Rifts Earth wasn’t the typical post-apocalyptic setting.



Next up is the picture in my mind when I mentioned snow and forests in yesterday’s post. It is a DeeBee and a CyberKnight although it could easily be any fantasy setting instead of Rifts. The DeeBee could be used as an orc.

Again, this is how Rifts got into my head. At this point I was thinking less of giant mecha games and more of something that could support crossing C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine stories with something like Appleseed for a really wild ride.


It was this last image, though, that sealed the deal. A group of explores with high-tech gear but still using torch in wilderness so barren it was like being back in Wyoming watching a ley line burn in the night. This was something new for me. I hadn’t even had images like this in my mind playing D&D in Greyhawk in the 80s.

I bought a used core book, a used Rifts England due to the mystic druid caption, and because the beginning of the England book mentioned it Wormwood. I’d later realize the last two weren’t related closed just from here to there in a travel journal. I haven’t really looked at Wormwood much since but still, 15 years later, these three images define what I think about when I first think Rifts. Wyoming is a place, based on the brief entries, to make this images what I see during my game.

101 Days of Rifts: Notes and Gamer ADD

This is not the Rifts post for the day, that is already in and scheduled. As was my want back when I last regularly updated it is inspirational art.

In fact, my plan is the Monday through Saturday posts will mostly follow my old schedules:

Monday: pointers to interesting articles
Tuesday: campaign information (not so random campaign ideas)
Wednesday: Inspirational art
Thursday: Rules material
Friday: Buried Treasures (all Palladium for the period)
Saturday: Appendix N

Now, as to how hard this “nothing but Rifts and Palladium I can use in Rifts for 101 days”. Monday the new issue of Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad arrived. Yesterday my huge, heavy, coffee table style Guide to Glorantha books arrived (from the Kickstarter a couple of years back). I have to wait for December to read them.

101 Days of Rifts: Where to Start?

Rifts Earth is the core of the Palladium Megaverse. It is important the same way Earth is in the Marvel Comics universe. While most Marvel Comic RPGs focus on New York City, Rifts Earth has a lot more options. Much of North America, parts of Central America, parts of Europe, Africa, Russia, China, Japan, and Australia have one or more Rifts books. The default setting is arguably the upper Midwest of the US, home of Chi-town, center of the Collation States.

Of course, what kind of Megaverse would be limited to Earth. It has a major outer space option forming a parallel to Marvel’s space empires (now brought to movies with Guardians of the Galaxy) in Phase World and the Three Galaxies presented over six books. Two books feature other planets. Wormwood describes a weird living medieval type world of the same name. Skraypers presents the world of Charizolonf which has a huge superheroes population fighting alien invaders. The last big official Rifts setting still available covers a pair of hell dimensions and their war which spills across the Megaverse over five books. The setting of the game Manhunter by Myrmiddon Press was presented as a Rifts setting in a long out of print book licensed by Palladium*. Finally, any other Palladium setting can connect to Rifts Earth via the titular dimensional rifts. The universe of the Mechanoids is an interesting case as it has both a separate game and a Rifts Sourcebook.

For a long time my stock Rifts setting was the Connecticut River valley. It’s a nice location in terms of potential opponents and society. Free Quebec is both a threat and a trading partner, the Splugoth will be raiding the coastal area, and Archie Three can be a threat without much work. The key thing for New England was realizing you just couldn’t use the population numbers from Rifts Sourcebook or the combined human/DeeBee population would be lower than even the lowest estimate for native North Americans before Columbus by a factor of three. If you do the math (which I will in a future post) there aren’t enough people left to have adventure.

However, I’d like to try something different. I’m a huge fan of Phase World. I’d also like to do something around the place I did most of my growing up, Casper, Wyoming. One place I want to avoid is the original US Upper Midwest of the US setting. I’m not a big fan of the Collation and would rather avoid anything that makes
them the good guys. That’s what is keeping me from doing a Federation of Magic game.

The biggest advantage now of Phase World is I could sell the campaign as a Guardians of the Galaxy style game. I’ve always though of Phase World as
several setting ideas or perhaps just as something that could be expressed in different way. Traditionally I’ve thought of it as the best BESM setting book
for space and mecha games. As a longtime fan of the Legion of Superheroes I’ve also seen Phase Worlds as a super’s setting. The biggest downside of Phase
World is it’s harder to get a tight initial focus. At least, I think it would be.

Casper, Wyoming is actually mentioned in the book Spirit West:

Casper Preserve (Wyoming): This Preserve is built on the ruins of Casper, Wyoming and is manned and controlled by the Cheyenne/Sioux Coalitions. It is one of the best defended of the Preserves in terms of the skill and determination of its warrior, shamans, and spirit allies, but then it needs to be. It is located on the edge of the Black Hill Nexus and is a land besieged by supernatural horrors.

Sounds great except an Indian preserve might be limiting in terms of the types of characters. This is especially true as 90% are Traiditionalist, Native Americans who have rejected tech in the years since the apocalypse.

That said, this conflicts with the original core Rifts book to a degree. It’s entry for Wyoming says:

The American sector once known as Wyoming is a range of grassland and dense forest where faerie folk abound. There is a feeling of magic about the entire place, although there are no apparent mystic or supernatural forces at work.

This brings up one of the great strengths of Rifts for an old school type GM that has hurt Palladium in the contemporary market. Rifts is often a contradictory mess especially over the course of multiple books. For an old school GM the lack of an official answer gives me a lot more freedom to make the game mine.

I’m going to work on a game set in what was Wyoming and western South Dakota. As we’ll see tomorrow forests, snow, and active ley lines are a huge
part of what drew me to Rifts. This seems the perfect place to take advantage of them.

*We’ll have a review of that book somewhere along the line during my Friday Buried Treasures reviews.

101 Days of Rifts: What and Why?

In the past year my RPG life has been nearly non-existent. I was briefly in a B/X game that migrated to AD&D2 and was a bit too railroady for my tastes. My two attempts to get something started, one S&W and one Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (with the Starter Set), were still-born. The second one, coming about the time of the D&D 5th Edition release controversy basically turned me off of even reading about RPGs.

Yet, one of the reasons I agreed to move to the new house is room to regularly game. The living room is essentially setup as a game room with my old kitchen table and a ton of Ikea bookcases. I have a frame and space for my print from the recent version of Orge. I have reserved a space for my Metamorphosis Alpha cover print. Now all I need is a gaming group.

The easy thing would be to offer up the new edition of D&D but it’s still dribbling out. Also, everyone is trying to sell that game. I wanted to do something different but due to my interest and in competing for a group. Lately I’ve been going through my every 18 months love affair with Palladium Books’s games. I have wanted to run Rifts, Nightbane, or one of their other games for quite a while. So, I figured what not offer up some Rifts.

However, when games don’t make immediately I tend to easily give up. I want to avoid that this time around. About a decade ago an RPG.net user started a forum thread 101 Days of Savage Worlds. It became a hot idea for a while there. In fact, my first real notice of James Raggi IV himself was 101 Days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The last one of which I am aware, which is appropriate to note here, is 101 Days of Palladium Fantasy 2nd Edition in 2011.

Grubman declared:

For the next 101 days as a GM I will use nothing but Savage Worlds for all my Game Mastering. That means I will write adventures and run game sessions using nothing but SW despite the genre or setting. I also will not be reading/buying any new games with any intention to read the system (but perhaps the setting) other than WFRP which I refuse to stop “collecting”.

So, starting today (August 25, 2014) and running for 101 days (December 3, 2014) I’m going to limit my GM side RPG thinking, reading, and writing to Rifts and maybe a few other bits from the broader Palladium Megaverse as it would impact my hope to soon be running Rifts game. I will not buy any non-Palladium materials with two exceptions: my already ordered Fifth Edition core books (but my picked up just this past Saturday PHB will remain unread) and two Kickstarters (the Necromancer Games Fifth Edition books and the upcoming Sine Nomine one).

Monday Pointers January 20, 2014

D4: Interesting ideas from the first 15 years of roleplaying (1974 to 1989)
It is good to see people looking at the games of the era that are more obscure now (and even then). What is really interesting is I can only think of one game in the past ten years centered on one of those ideas. Necessary Evil is an explicit “play supervillians” game although even then the tone is different from Super Villians. I’m with Lowell (who writes Age of Ravens) that a retro-Reagan era game designed along the lines of Year of the Phoenix would be a near must buy.

D6: Play On Target
Speaking of Lowell Francis, I’ve been listening to this podcast (where he is one of four hosts) lately. It’s perfectly size for my commute and very interesting. The two genre episodes, for Horror and Supers, were especially interesting.

D8: Geoffrey_of_Monmouth, RPG Designer
Despite being familiar with Geoffrey’s idea of Britain being originally founded by Trojan refugees in his History of the Kings of Britain from my SCA days I never once though, “wow, this is a great idea for a campaign”. You know what, it is. I especially like his separation of adventure which reminds me of fantasy does have reality

Let’s Read Influential Aricles: Believe It or Not, Fantasy Has Reality

The second time I read an article in a gaming magazine that change how I viewed RPGs it was about the reality of fantasy. While it might seem odd today (or maybe not) in the first decade of D&D realism was a large concern. This isn’t surprising in context as board wargaming had a huge realism fetish in the years just prior and D&D culture was still largely part of wargaming culture. Realism was the driving thought behind a lot of games at the time. It was a heated topic in the letters column of The Dragon. Even Gygax wrote columns on the issue.

Into this mix came an article in The Dragon #40 by Douglas Bachmann entitled “Believe It or Not, Fantasy Has Reality”. However, in contrast to most of the realism articles which dealt with sword weights, the problems of the cube-square law for giants (a multiple issue letter war believe it or not), and similar concerns Bachmann addressed a different kind of reality. He advanced adherence to mythic realism instead of the reality of contemporary fantasy novels or pulp greats like Howard. He was more interested in those who inspired Tolkien and the works of Joseph Campbell. In fact, the article was the reason at the tender age of thirteen I tracked down The Hero with a Thousand Faces and tried to read it.

Brief Outline

The article is in ten parts: Introduction, Home Areas & Wyrd Areas, Game Objectives, Honor, Character, Oaths & Vows, Legends & Dooms, The World Pattern, Adapting for AD&D and Concluding Remarks. The introduction stakes out Bachmann’s claim in contrast to Gygax’s recent remark that he did not believe in the “stuff of farie”. He contrasted it to Tolkien’s remarks about fantasy as an objective excessive realtiy. He then moves on to introduce Campbell’s theory of the Hero’s Quest as the pattern for understanding the reality of fantasy. In a brief outline of the steps in the quest he makes a remark which seems prescient of both the second edition’s path and the OSR’s reaction to two decades of it:

It is my contention that we need to incorporate the Quest Pattern into our game playing in order to enrich our games by relating game activity to the objective reality of Faerie. Without the Quest Pattern, we are playing “sword & sorcery” games, with it we may achieve “High Fantasy.” Very briefly restated, the pattern is as follows: 1) The hero leaves his everyday world, 2) successfully encounters a guardian at the crossing into the World of the Dark, 3) journeys through a strange land and has strange encounters or tests, 4) undergoes a supreme ordeal, 5) wins a reward, 6) journeys back to the everyday world, 7) recrosses the threshold, and 8) brings a boon which restores the world. The object of this Quest Pattern is twofold. The first object is the transformation of character in the hero, and the second is the restoration of life in the hero’s world

The emphasis is in the original. The path the rest of article took, however, is much more a path not taken by later games than a forecast of more quest oriented D&D.

Home areas and wyrd areas is about the division of the world into the everyday world and the strange world of adventure. It is the cornerstone of the first and last parts of the quest pattern. He argues for a clear division both of the areas and of the kinds of games played them. The former is a land of governments, law and order, crops, and other mundane items. He argues it is essentially the place for a historical style game. The later is the land of mystery and wonder. It is the site of a magical quest game. The last paragraph provides rules for only gaining experience while leaving the wyrd and provides a short chart on possible loss of earned experience based on being on horseback, having an escort, being in flight, and plan old luck.

Game Objectives is about exactly what it says. It contrasts the objective of the quest game, the transition of a youth into a hero and the fulfillment of epic destinies. To this effect he provides three goals: gaining power, popular acclaim, and transformation. He then provides uses for experience: gaining powering in the form of levels, gaining popular acclaim in the form of honor, and gaining inner transformation in the form of character. He briefly touches on the usage of experience in Chivalry & Sorcery to gain each pointing out the uses are mutually exclusive.

Honor and Character provide more details on the gaining (and losing) of each (leaving levels to the game system). Honor represents the ability to resolve problems in home areas non-violently through leadership. It provides a simple, fairy tale like class structure for birth and methods for advancing into the Lesser Nobility which consists of the normal forms of Barons, Dukes, and Kings. A key point is the non-feudal structure because, Bachmann aruges, “nor is the essence of Faerie feudal”. Nobility is something earned not gained by birth. Character, by contrast affects inner characteristics and provides for experience modifiers, encounter modifiers, and the possibility of a destiny. It also aids in the ability to enter the Great Nobility of “the Brave”, “the Faithful”, “the Just”, and so on. Interestingly, disposition of treasure as charity enhances Character but dings Honor in a 1 to 6 ratio.

Oaths and Vows provides a system obligations for characters. It ties relief of the penalties to completing Quests and Geas. The difference in Oaths and Vows is Lesser Oaths affect honor while Greater Oaths and the fulfillment of Vows affect character.

Legends & Dooms are a system of backgrounds and hooks. Legends describe stories told in the world that are believed to be true. They are meant to guide player actions and choices. The story behind that sword driven through an anvil into a stone would be a legend. Dooms are things people are waiting to happen such as the appearance of a King to restore the land. Based on the character stat a character might become attached to a Doom with modifies for moving towards it (positive) or away from it (negative). Finally, a doomed character may only have a quest spell cast on him that matches his doom.

To reflect the attachment of the characters and their action to the world, The World Pattern is introduced. It’s a track of order in the world which, if upset, causes comets, bad weather, famile, and so on. Character actions such as war, spells, theft, and others can move the world to disorder. It naturally moves towards order.

Adapting for AD&D is what it says on the tin. The rules in the article are meant for C&S and this section suggests versions for AD&D. One amusing comment at thirty years distance is “AD&D has a very different feel as one plays, and seems to be amuch tighter, more rigid game system.”

The concluding remarks begin with a restatement of the thesis. Bachmann also points out the honor, character, and world pattern systems can be adjusted to reflect different perceptions of morality. The goal is not to prohibit any action but to create consequences for actions taken.

Fantasy Has Reality Today

As I said, this changed how I thought about gaming. For much of the 80s I tried to implement the ideas in the article with little success. First, I really didn’t get them at the time although I was excited by them. Second, I didn’t have players who would have enjoyed them as a high school and college student. After dropping out of college and joining the Navy I tended to see more traditional realism in the likes of GURPS.

However, this was still the first article I read when I got my CD-ROMs of The Dragon and even today it carries weight. While some games have covered much of the same ground, most notability Pendragon five years later, it hasn’t gotten much attention. The quest focus second edition was more mundane for the most part and provided mostly for the gain of power and to a small degree honor but nothing on character. It also didn’t make them choices so that Rurik the fighter would wind up choosing to become Duke Rurik while his friend Otto the cleric became Otto the Wise and their friend Timon the magic-user become Timon the Enchanter would have experienced the same adventures but gotten different results by choosing honor, character, and power.

Recently when thinking about a set of ideas I’ve called “Fantasy Nouveau” this article kept coming to mind. Fantasy Nouveau is a campaign idea for OD&D centered around late Victorian and Edwardian literature and art such as Lang’s Fairy books, Pyle’s books of Arthur, and Pre-Raphealite painting. I think those inspirations almost demand the inclusion of Bachmann’s ideas or a close relative. I think they could be added to OD&D (in the pure, supplemented, or cloned form) to create a recognizable but still unique game. Based on its sources, I might consider the recently released Seven Voyages of Zylarthen might be a good starting point.

Also, other ideas could be adapted. The later Gloranthian trend to “all myths are true, even contradictory ones” could be added. What if the world pattern and honor systems of a pseudo-historical Europe of 1100 and Middle East of 1100 both worked in their respective areas? Imagine a crusader game where much of the Islam world is wyrd for the crusaders while the kingdoms of Outremer were wyrd for Muslims. Perhaps Outremer would be wyrd for both with the founding of the Kingdoms being conversion from wyrd to home areas (which Bachmann discusses). Missionary success could move the current ruling side’s word pattern negatively and the other’s positively with conversion of the area occurring when they cross.

I think this article is worth tracking down and reading today. Maybe it won’t change your game but it will given many people new ideas on the directions they can go instead of just following what the RPG mainstream is doing.

Monday Pointers January 6, 2014

D4 The Other Side kicks over 40 Years Coverage
For me at some point in the past week I hit 36 years of D&D. I bought my first copy of Holmes along with a Gamma World first edition box to get the dice with Christmas money from 1977 at Toys by Roy. They had sold out of the boxed set of Holmes and separate dice during the Christmas rush (huge wargaming culture there). Given my dad drove me to the Parkdale mall in Beaumont, Tx for them it must have been a Saturday (Texas blues laws kept it closed on Sunday back then) unless he was on vacation. That makes my educated guess for my first book on 1977.12.31 and my first game the first week of 1978.

D6: Alternate Undead for Death Frost Doom
Alternate versions are always good to have in your pocket. I just recently started reading Billy Goes to Mordor and suspect it’s going to be in the pointers a bit the next few weeks.

D8: Guitar: the Shredding
Doug at Blue Boxer Rebellion is getting ready to do an interesting playtest. While the setup reminds me quite a bit of Starchildren (not Star Child as I commented) right down to the playing card interface. However, at least from the description, it seems more arena rock than punk (the cover and title were glam but I remember it as feeling punk) and doesn’t have the strong Reagan/Tipper Gore imagery of Starchildren (which seemed a bit out of place in the early aughts anyway).

D10: Imagine We Skin Giant Beavers
Alexis at The Tao of D&D has some interesting thoughts on the potential of the fantastic in an economic system. Given the extensive system he has build (and which I’ve been trying to wrap my head around and implement a reduced version myself) this will be interesting to watch.

D12: Encyclopedic Knowledge
Speaking of implementing an economic system it lead to find you can get the entirety of the fabled eleventh edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica in multiple forms online. Is it out of date? Yes. Is it problematic in some areas, especially to modern sensibilities? Yes. Do those two faults make it the perfect source for real world info to help create locations, cultures, and individuals for your fantasy games? Yes. I have downloaded the entire thing in PDF and text (the later is great for searching for things like how many times the word gold is used).

Monday Pointers, December 16, 2013

D4:Strange Stones Finds Inspiration
Lots of great stuff is at archive.org and Strange Stones has some links.

D6:Off to Venus
Swords & Stitchery and it’s sister blog Dark Corners Of Role Playing also links to inspiration from archive.org but as single items with notes in using them in OSR games.

D8:Obsolete Simulations Roundup
Savage After World is hosting a blog hop for obscure RPGs of any era at the end of the month. You could sign up to talk about your favorite lost RPG.