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Rifts at a Convention

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This is a cross post from the Forge. As can be seen on the interview, Ron dared me to write an actual play for Rifts. I still think this is interesting to the RPG Site, too.

Situation: Odyssee Con is a unique Convention in Berlin, Germany, where DSA, D&D and Shadowrun are banned from being played. The mission used to be to promote and play niche or unknown systems (to the german market, that is). As times changed, so did Odyssee's focus: now it's mostly independent german systems (most of which are Adventure Roleplying Games on the Story-heavy side) with a growing dose of Forge nascent thematic rolplaying games also presented.

Intention: My intention was to get use out of my dormant huge Rifts collection, and to show people how great Rifts can be. I wanted them to get to know:

- the diverse background
- the conflicts in North America
- the ugly face of racism

I wanted them to experience:

- wonder
- excitement
- feeling of being clever
- sense of accomplishment
- Rifts style awesomeness in action scenes

My limiting factors where mostly:

- time
- plausability

That is to say, I wouldn't dole out the experiences, but make them earn them.

Preparation: I chose Canada, more precisely Old Bones (City of Quebec) as the setting. I read up a lot on the published material for the area, as well as read the wikipedia articles on the landscapes and citys involved. I started making myself comfortable with the rules:  Rifts has a crude Version of D20 as its core rules, so I had to re-organize the looking up the modifiers for combat and saving throws. Once I re-organized Kevin Siembiedas dreadful :" and +1 at levels 1,3,5,7,8,10,14" lines into easy-on-the eye tables, the system was as playable as any other d20 style D&D derivate. With this top-down view on the modifiers, errors were easy to spot, and easily corrected. I also very quickly made my mind up in regards to dodge: the dreaded -10 malus was to be omitted, as only a dodge with a chance for success is dodge wrth taking. And I wanted the combat to be about the tactical decision of foregoing an action or not. More on that later.
Whence the rules were clear, I took a deep look at the equipment, as there is much talk about how there is a power creep involved. i made a short spreadsheet, wherein I checked the damage averages of weapons against their costs, as well as checking Power Armour and Body Armour. In a nutshell, it basically works out. I was amazed, but the most equipment can be used: as is. So only when something looks too powerful I make a quick comparison to the spreadsheet values and can see wheterh it has to be nerfed or not. I did not have to nerf anything for the sessions played at the con.
While looking at the equipment, I already got a good impression, backed up by data on how much power a certain amount of soldiers in a certain amount of equipment meant. To totally grok North American politics, I also had to make myself acustomed with the powers of the magic kingdoms, therefore I had to read all Spells, Psionic Powers and Character Class (O.C.C.) descriptions. Interestingly, the description of political goings on Rifts Earth are very plausible in regards to the rules. That is, the world basically obeys to the RAW, which I liked a lot.
So I was loaded with world data, the workings of the game world and the balance of power in Canada. Now I could create the adventure situation. When I prepare Adventures, I basically use a thing called "Story Engine", which is a formalized graph of the involved parties, their objectives and theri ressources as well as their lines of influence. I assume there is no emotional attachement to the Rifts setting in many a reader here, so I try to  be as abstract as possible or provide explanations. I'll also omit the allotted ressources:

Lazlo (Good Magic City State) wants escaped chimpanzee scientist with superweapon, that would kill all non-humans, to kill evil Insect Invader who treaten Lazlo and Earth and to prevent exctinction of all non-humans

Chi-Town (Fascist Bad City State) wants escaped chimpanzee scientist with superweapon, that would kill all non-humans, to kill all non-humans

Free Quebec (Racist Bad City State, at war with Chi Town) wants independence, thusly to damage Chi Town. Secretely controlls everything in Old Bones

Splugorth of Atlantis (Ultra Evil Cthuloid Slavers) want scientist to trade to other dimensions for huge profit and blackmail all mutants/D-Bees on Earth

Island Kingdom of Montreal (Anarchic Corrupt City State): Bribed by Chi-Town to fight against Free Quebec.

Old Bones (Casablanca/Mos Eysley Crossover), secretely controlled by Free Quebec with agents of all powers

Knights of Jean D'Arc (Ultraviolent Racist Hillbilly Militia of Free Quebec): Want to drive out all D-Bees, and punish those who associate with them through murder, rape, torture and plundering.  

Mr. Bingles (Chimpanzee Mutant Scientist), who escaped and wants to leave America for Europe and the NGR. Conspired with the mutant underground railway and Psiscape (Good Psionic City State) to flee. Carrier of the superweapon, it's in his brains, he developed it and destroyed all records.

My plan was to GM two sessions: The first would be for the Lazlo (Good) sponsored expedition to retrieve Mr. Bingles alive, the second one for the Chi-Town (Fascist/Bad) intervention force, following on the heels of the Lazlo expedition.

First Session, the Lazlo experience:

In a matter of seconds after inscription was possible,  I had six player sitting at the table. At earlier Odyssees I had problems getting enough people for playing Traveller or 2300 AD, so this is worth mentioning.

I had prepared the characters to save time, but left some skill points (I.Q.*10 in percent) to customize the characters, so everybody would have some feeling of "owning" the character. The mix was:

Rogue Scientist (think Indiana Jones with a computer)
Burster (think "the Flame")
Juicer (think "the Flash")
Mining Cyborg (think Robocop with a motordrill)
Ley Line Walker (think Wizard)
City Rat (think Rogue with Psionics)

The session started with me plastering the table with printed illustrations to introduce newbies into the settings, I also explained a lot verbally in sort of a power ride. Then I let the players decide wther they were totally loayal Lazlo-dwellers or hired mercenaries. I made a big speech as the Dragon Plato, head of Lazlo, to generate a sense of urgency and establish the mission goal for the players. As expected, some players were awed by the apparition of a huge white dragon, others were jaded and took pleasure in bein cool headed professionals who asked the right questions no matter whom they were talking to.
The hints this group had were very sketchy, as they only relied on some mystical visions the Master Seer of Lazlo had had. So They travelled towards Montreal. They avoided all distractions I had come up with, so they kept quiet and on the timetable. That was a smart move on the players side, which paid out later. Some more illustrations were shown and quick descriptions uttered to set the scene.
At the entry of the St. Lawrence River, they had to deal with their first problem: A drunken pilot, whom they needed for navigating them through dangerous waters. They decided to stay for the night, which lost them eight hours. Still the group as very smart in hiding their mutant and sorcerous parts in the boat, while the other characters caught up on gosipp and found out about the Knights of Jean D'Arc. Some nice in character play was also possible for some members. Luckily, the players not interested into playing the chit-chat were on the boat, so everybody was served. on a sidenote, several players grew angry and disgusted at the Knights of Jean D'Arc when they had to listen to their drunken boasting. So actually some players already cared. Others chose to keep a cool and professional stance, which they enjoyed once again.
The next encounter was the Island Kingdom of Montreal where the City Rat player took great enjoyment out of bribing officials with drugs. The other players were making a spectacular entry by driving their magic monster truck off the boat to impress and frighten the fishermen and would-be privateers. Quickly they bribed and impressed all information they wanted out of the small town, albeit leaving quite a trace. They had made the strategic decison of favoring speed over clandestinity, so that was intended. I hope.
They knew the Chimpanzee was taken away in a "purple yacht" to Old Bones, so they lost no time to get there.

Cut to Old Bones

After arrival, they quickly searched the "purple yacht" and through clever use of their different abilities (PSI, social, clever in character talk) found out who the owner was. In the course of that they split up the group to explore the city and follow the lead more thoroughly. They had several sense of wonder moments, when they found out about the workings of the city. They also explored some more of the undrlying racist conflicts.
Still they moved with urgency and quickly came up with a plan: Storm the party where the Chimpanzee was going to be shown around as a party joke.
Waht they didn' find out was the plot of the Splugorth: From their base in the city, they manipulated and instigated the Knights of Jean D'Arc to blow the party as a diversion. A Splugorth Slave Barge (Famous illustration on the old Rifts main Book Cover) was sent to snatch the Chimpanzee during the ensuing chaos.
As the players moved quick, the Splugorth didn't find out about them, so this was a classical two sided surprise. The Knights of Jean D'Arc were killed easily by the group with a clever combination of spells and powers (Carpet of Adhesion and Burster Fire Wall), the party security guys shot the juicer, who had no Megadamage armour at that moment, and failed his Autododge. He was toast.
I let the player play the Slpugroth Slave barge from that on, which filled him with great delight!
What follows now was a collection of great action scenes, a techno-wizard monster truck breezing through the narrow streets followed by the nightmarishly powerful and ugly Slaver Barge! The Slaver Player pulled no punches so this was even more deadly. As a GM, one oftentimes plays the opponents sub-optimal out of the many tasks involved. But especially an enemy like the Slaver has so many special abilities, that the assigned player was a great help!

Quick sidenote: Looking things up in Rifts Sourcebooks is painful. Only the continued use of the index and bookmarks kept the game moving at cinematic pace.
The fight climaxed with the 'Borg player jumping unto the barge after the shields collapsed, thereby buying enough time for the others for escape  with the chimpanzee (without consent from the 'Borg player! Great moment of decision making)!
Luckily for the 'Borg player (he held out long enough and I rolled low enough for the time of reinforcement arrival), who had fully counted on being killed, Free Quebec forces arrived which the Slaver flew from. he could take another boat and follow the others into the sunset...

Stay tuned for the summary of the second session.

I love the 'Story Engine' approach you outline!

What books were you using to put all this together?

Zachary The First:
Fantastic work!

Hey, I have a favor:  could you cross-post this on the Megaversal Ambassador forum over at Palladium?  

I look forward to the second session, and I'll save my questions/comments until then. :bow:

Second session:

Starting some hours behind the first group, the Chi-Town Intelligence Chief Col. Lyboc intercepted the notice of escape from Lone Star. Lyboc sees his chance to get really powerful, so he tries to seize Mr. Bingles and present him to the Emperor, before the loss is even noticed. He wants to discredit and replace the leader of Lone Star to gain control of that vital installation himself.
He sends for some troops and sends them:

Special Forces 1st Lt. (Leader)
SAMAS Flight Officer
Technical Sergeant (Mechanic/Demolitions)
Psi Stalker Sergeant
Dog Boy Cpl.
Soldier Cpl.

quickly after the Chimpanzee. He tells them they were last seen in Montreal, and gives them access to a fast boat. They didn't ask many questions and don't request heavier weaponry and start their hunt (big mistake, I'd say).
When they arrived at the pilots house at the outlet of the St. Lawrence, they bungle their way through the conversation with the drunken Militiamen and Pilots. The Lt. is very indecisive and doesn't want to travel at night with a drunken pilot. His subordinates where all bickering and secretly confering what is about to be done about hte Lt.s inaction. Finally the Flight Officer steps up to him and presses for a decision, as well as reminding the LT. of the harsh time limit they are under.
THe Lt. remains indecisive and orders the tech sergeant to "steal" a drunken sleeping pilot, but that proves impractical. All in all the Lt. started showing being a very bad adventure gamer, he makes himself a fool by "knocking on the pilot's house, but silently!" even after asking back, he insisted on knocking at the door "loud enough to wake the sleeping drunken pilots, but  very quiet!".
After quite a stall in the game, which some characters used for acquiring infos on the Knights of Jean D'arc and some local clothing, the Lt. can be ushered to actually decide. After this shameful episode, the humbled Chi-Town soldiers close on to their quarry as they actually travel all through the night up to Montreal.
In Montreal the Lt. is indecisive again and starts a dangerous discussion with the Chi-Town sponsored pirate-fishermen. He insists on paying no toll, by blowing their cover and waving around with his military I.D. Meanwhile the Dog Boy socializes with the natives and basically single handedly finds all the clues the previous party left. As the rumbled into the city and took no precautions, the locals can tell them quite some story. Especially the Dog Boy player keeps asking to find out about the enemy's group members, to adjust tactics (smart dog!).
Then they usher the Lt. to "decide" for a quick leave, w/o further investigation to catch up on the competing party.

Cut to Old Bones

The group is trying to collect as much information as possible in short time, and therefore splits. They basically collect all the info left by the other group, as they were not very cautious. They are only several hours behind them, but the crucial time saver was when the tech sergeant and the psi stalker went to a random pimp to check up on underworld rumours:

They enter the pimps "lair".
They talk to him.
He is uncooperative.
They threaten him.
He activates alarm button.
They get angry.
Bodyguard Octoman Mr. Slithers (meanest bounty hunter in anvil galaxy, think boba fett with eight arms) arrives.
Tech sergeant thinks he is smart and threatens Octoman with explosive device.
Octoman laughs and attacks.
Tech sergeant presses button

Player: Rolls dice AND MULTIPLIES WITH TEN for  ninety MD!
GM: "Holy cow! I thought you only had some kind of grenade."
Player: "Fusion block. And we aren't even harmed."
GM: "He fires back."
Both Players:" He isn't dead!?"

After a quick firefight with MD weapons, that leaves the neighbourhood leveled and the pimp and octoman dead, the players emerge victorious. Bystanders proclaim them to be the new "Kings of the 'Hood". The players take this role to order everybody around to gather information about the Chimpanzee and the other group.

Back with the others a strategy discussion ensues, after all facts had been collected. Here, the Lt. wants to sell the rare alien Octoman artifact weapons in order to buy a large grenade launcher. (Which he could have applied for at the start of the adventure...)
The others discourage him from doing that. Strangely the line that settled his concerns was: "Stun grenades don't work on environmentally sealed people."

I thought: He wanted a friggin awesome auto-grenade launcher (oodles of Megadamage x10) to shoot Stun Grenades?!

Anyhow, they make their plan w/o Auto-Grenade Launcher and follow the other group. They pinpointed their location by clever use of their new underground minions and hefty bribes to farmers in the river area. During the strategy discussion a lot of flipping through sourcebooks was done by the players, and they enjoyed and revelled in thinking about tactics and the neccessary tools/weapons for the task.

That's were the session ended.

One player quickly came towards me and expressed his total satisfaction with the session, and that he totally liked my way of GMing. Especially the way I fast forwarded the unimportant and zoomed in to the important parts was a pleasure for him.
All in all, I was very surpised that noone was bored to "just" follow in the footsteps of another group. The players thought it to be very cool, as they could actually picture the events much better, and were sure they could actually get somwhere with reasoning. They really had to and could outsmart someone.

Stay tuned for the final encounter, wherein both groups confront each other to decide the fate of Rifts Earth...


--- Quote --- What books were you using to put all this together?
--- End quote ---

Rifts Main book
Gamemaster Companion
Free Quebec
Sourcebook One
Final Siege


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