Friday, October 21, 2016

My Life as a Gamer: Making a Better RIFTS

Palladium Books' flagship line is RIFTS, first published in 1990. Since then it's grown to have three distinct sub-settings, and make up the majority of the company's publishing efforts. This is not surprising considering that the game is based around a future Earth that's post-apocalyptic due to a magic-related global catastrophy. Magic, science, horror- it's a kitchen sink, and would be a superhero setting if not for a subtle difference in tone between it and its Heroes Unlimited line.

As written and presented, it's the greatest tabletop RPG if you were an American boy on the cusp of adolescence in the late 1980s or early 1990s. There is so much wasted potential within this property that I cannot help but to suggest how someone wanting to make a better RIFTS could do so and do so with ease. First, you're going to do what I did with cloning Robotech and use a stripped-down d20 System as your chassis. Second, you're going to get your hands on all things to do with Conspiracy World: David Icke, Zeitgeist, Hal Lindsey, all of the Ancient Aliens crew, Art Bell and his successors, and so on. Long before you start making shit up, go through all of the stuff out of that world; you need not make much shit up because what they present, straight-faced, is far better fiction material than ANYTHING you can make up. So don't even try; you're just going to start tying this together into a coherent hole, like what Carl Macek did to create Robotech, only you won't suck at it.

Let's strip down RIFTS to its essentials:

  • There was a global cataclysm that destroyed the world we live in now.
  • That cataclysm returned obvious sorcery to the world, and with it supernatural inhuman entities returned in force.
  • Remnants of the old world held technologies to make superhumans of various sorts, and using this technology built successor states.
  • Players can access, by default, many superhuman technologies or supernatural powers.
  • Players can access means to travel far beyond Earth, both in space and in time.
  • Asmovian levels of supertech exists. (Where the fantasy/science fiction lines blur, as Asimov's Law states.)
  • Power levels between player-characters can vary more than in the roster of Dragonball Z, and this asymmetry applies to threats; one man's horror scenario is another's heroic challenge and a third's curbstomp.

So, what does Crazytown give us:

  • More source material that Palladium could ever publish, increasingly for free online.
  • A coherent model of how the universe works that allows for space travel, star travel, and time travel by multiple means.
  • A metaphysical unity that is not only playable, but also sufficiently grey that you can emphasize subsets without missing anything.

You think I joke? Let's just stick with the presence of the Sumerian mythos influence on Crazytown, presenting a unified antediluvian world paradigm that includes Atantis, Lemuria, Mu, and other legendary lost civilizations. (The last time someone in tabletop RPGs tried this sort of thing, it was the unified HERO Games timeline, and even they succumbed to the Dumb here and there when fidelity to Crazytown would've produced a more compelling series of settings.)

The days of having to sit at your table or desk inventing this shit is DONE. You've got racks upon racks of books, decades of magazines, and years of video about the very topics that RIFTS uses for its setting fodder- all of it presented with an earnest quality that makes the adaptation of it to fiction appealing and easy to do. (Don't say it hasn't been done; it has- "Ancient Aliens" alone has about a dozen now, two of which are Battlestar Galactica, and Battlefield: Earth is another.) I'll need to read my notes or watch a few videos again for something specific to give an example with any depth, but you can start with what I'm embedding below and run with that.

Remember: Passio's serious here. You don't have to accept what he's saying is true; you just want to follow his line of argument so you can make it work as a framework for gaming, and that's where the magic lies. This a very interesting story to work with, which is why I think this is a better foundation for a better RIFTS than whatever Siembieda implies. Instead of wasting time making up shit that's never going to be as fantastic as what the real theorists devise, focus on making their stuff into playable content.

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