Rifts Aftermath Capsule Review by Ralph Dula on 23/09/02
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Rifts Aftermath is supposed to advance the world of Rifts to four years in the future. Unfortunately, the amount of coverage of North America in this book may make it unworthy of purchase by those who set their Rifts campaigns outside of that continent.
Product: Rifts Aftermath
Author: Well, "Kevin Siembieda" is the only name on the cover, but inside you'll find a note that "additional text" was contributed by Carella, Coffin, Kornman, Lucas, Nowak, Sumimoto, and others" When you're the boss of the company I guess you get to decide who gets the cover credit
Page count: 208
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Ralph Dula on 23/09/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Science Fiction Far Future Space Post-apocalyse Vampire
It's been several months since I first saw a copy of Rifts: Aftermath. I only had the opportunity to look at it for a few seconds, but I liked what I saw. It seemed the book was an attempt to update what had been published in the umpteen Rifts books that have been released for the game line, changing Rifts Earth to reflect the fact that several years have passed in the game universe since the release of the main rulebook. I like continuity, and I like it when authors respect what has come before (rather than dumping or ignoring other authors' contributions), so I was very excited to get a copy of Rifts: Aftermath last week. I have to admit that, while I found the book enjoyable, I was disappointed in some portions of it.
One thing I loved throughout the book was the artwork. I will admit that at one time I was less-than-impressed with the majority of artwork to be found in Rifts books. However, the artwork found in Rifts: Aftermath is quality work throughout, though I am not sure how much of it was commissioned especially for this book, and how much is from previously published Rifts books. Still, it's a step above most of the work I've seen in RPG books as of late.
The first thirty-six pages let the reader know what is going on in Tolkeen, following its defeat at the hands of the Coalition army. The year is now 109 PA, as four game years have passed since the first Siege on Tolkeen book was released. This section of the book is very detailed, and I was especially impressed with the way the author covered the tactics the Coalition uses to compensate for the magic wielded by its foes. I only had three real problems with the section. First, on page 14 of the book, the writer speaks about the air supply for Coalition body armor. It's been my understanding that the Dead Boy armor was full-environmental quality, meaning it had a 72-hour oxygen supply. However, on page 14 we're told their air supply is only good for 2D6 10 hours. Not only is this contradicting previously-published books, but on page 27 of this book the comment is made that Coalition troops wear environmental armor can survive for days on end when trapped under tons of rubble, indicating to me that they have a much longer air supply than just 2D6 10 hours. I realize this is a minor bit, but I have a lot of Coalition PCS in my game, so I've had to become very acquainted with their equipment, so this bit stuck out like a sore thumb to me.
My second problem came from a reference to Umbidden, which are apparently one-of-a-kind magical monstrosities, or small groups of unique beings. We're told that a half-dozen were to appear in this book, but were cut to make room for the world overview found later in the book. Given the amount of needless reprinting in that section, which I'll discuss later, I was rather angry that the creatures were not included in this book.
My last problem with this section came with a section on bounty hunting and claiming bounties. In the world of Rifts, if a prisoner escapes the custody of authorities after he has been handed over to them by bounty hunters, it is the responsibility of the BOUNTY HUNTER to recapture the criminal if he escapes the authorities, or else the hunter will lose out on any reward or bounty upon the criminal. Check out page 16 if you don't believe me.
Coverage of the book then focuses upon the Second Juicer Army of Liberation (led by Julian the First from the original Juicer Uprising, who has somehow managed to avoid Last Call) and Larsen's Brigade, with coverage of their post-fall of Tolkeen activities. I was a little confused by the entry on Larsen's Brigade, since it seemed changed somewhat from its description in Rifts Mercenaries, but since my copy of the latter book has disappeared I cannot confirm this. After these two entities are discussed several other previously-established groups are covered.
Following this is what the majority of the book is devoted to, namely "The World of Rifts 109 PA." After a small section of in-game writing that sounds like Palladium is thinking about publishing a new world overview book for Rifts, we get to a look at the shape of things in Rifts in the year 109 PA. Unfortunately, this section is both hit and miss. While I found the writing to be good in most places, several factors made me less-than-impressed with this section.
Starting with the good in this section, I must say I was impressed by the way the author made an effort to give us a look into the views and opinions of the inhabitants of Rifts Earth. Many times Rifts has been accused of short-changing the personalities and lives of the characters in its world, with an over-emphasis on "Kewl" new weapons and character classes. Such an accusation can not be made against this book. The writer made it a point to make the characters and cultures realistic and fully fleshed-out. My favorite example of this occurs in a description of the emperor of the Coalition State. Often portrayed as a single-minded, cardboard cutout villain, in this book we get to see that he does have a human side, as we learn he honestly regrets his war against Free Quebec. This regret comes not from the fact that he lost, but because he loves his fellow humans and is deeply troubled that he went to war against him. It, along with several other incidents, were examples of character depth that I did not suspect I would find in this book.
Another thing I was impressed by in this book was the fact that the author did not take one viewpoint and run with it in his work, instead covering all sides. For example, early on in the book there was very much a "war is bad" opinion in the sections covering Tolkeen's demise, and I feared that those people who had not become involved in the Tolkeen conflict or opposed it would be automatically depicted as wonderful, intelligent beings. I was happily surprised this was not the case. Some of those who refused to get involved in the war were shown to feel guilty for their lack of involvement, while others did not get involve in the war because they saw doing so as a threat to their personal power and/or wealth. My favorite moment was in the discussion of New Lazlo, where the author points out that given their innocence and morality they fail to fully comprehend the horrors of what has happened, or of the threats they bring against themselves by their actions. I've read several gamebooks in recent times where an author lets one viewpoint guide him in his writing, even though doing so contradicts what he is writing about, makes no sense given the characters he is using in his work, or causes him to be unable to understand the game he is writing about, so this ability to look at things from different views was a welcome change.
The author also manages to capture a fantastic element in his work on this book. Rifts is a violent reality, and oftentimes players and writers are so focused on the warrior aspects of the world that they forget that it is also a realm where magic and science can create a lot of non-violent wonders. Several of those wonders show up in this section of book, and I have to admit that once or twice I stopped reading just to say "that's pretty cool."
Getting on to what I found disappointing with this section, let me say this right now: North America receives the lion's share of the update coverage in this section of the book. While given that the events at Tolkeen have changed the status quo on that continent, those people whose campaigns do not focus on that area of the world may feel shortchanged by this book. That feeling will not be helped by the fact that in several of the areas outside North America covered in this section the author has merely summarized information that has appeared in previous worldbooks, without adding ANY new information to reflect the passage of years. It's as though the writer decided that since those area of the world weren't involved in the Siege of Tolkeen nothing of import happened in them in recent times. If that is the case, why bother including the summary information? Why not devote that space to those parts of the world you feel have truly changed in the last four game-years?
Another problem lies with the repetition of information over and over again. In descriptions of various factions I can only read so many times that it's disturbing that Spulgorth Slavers are appearing in North America or that bandits have been seen before I say "Yes, I got that the first time. Everyone is thinking the same thing, so don't keep repeating it in EVERY group description!" It also doesn't help that this information is repeated almost word-for-word every time, as though the author just cut-and-pasted the same sentences over and over again. Several times I put this book down for a while, and when I would return to it I would become confused, as I read the exact same sentence I'd read just three or four pages before. For an example of this, check out pages 85 & 87 with the mention of the crystal recorder.
There's also one or two places where the text suddenly shifts into first-person, with no explanation as to why or who the identity of the speaker/writer is. It feels as though these portions were cut and pasted out of another manuscript. Page 120 is the best example of this.
As for the errors...granted, it's a large book, and when comparing the number of errors to the amount of data in this book it's a small percentage that I have problems with. But they're such glaring problems. For example, on page 154 the Arkhon are referred to as "robot-like aliens." But if you read the South America sourcebook that has them in it, you would know that they are cat-like aliens, a small percentage of whom are full-conversion cyborgs. By that logic, all humans are robot-like, since members of that race become cyborgs.
And then there's good old ARCHIE 3, who were told is now a living being, despite still being a computer; yes, that is what I said. In what appears to be a bit of grand old retconning, ARCHIE is now revealed to be the power behind several arms and robot-building companies. I can accept this, and was even impressed by the fact that the book's author went to the trouble of explaining exactly how ARCHIE moves the items he produces from his secret base in Maryland to selling points in civilized lands in the year 109 PA.
However, there is no explanation of how he was shipping all the items and goods that have shown up in other Rifts books before the year 109 PA. Given the size and quantity of the items, and the apparent lack of a sea route/drop-off point/manufacturing point close to civilization that ARCHIE could use in the years before 109 PA, that's a pretty dang big plot hole. If he was moving it overland it would have been problematic, since on Rifts Earth that portion of the US is pretty much wilderness, and any sort of land or air transport of massive quantities of equipment would have come to the attention of someone; I don't think his secret base would have been much of a secret. Also, there's a comment about his Shemarrian servants and the way they carry off their dead. Ummm...they don't carry off their dead. When they reach 0 M.D.C. they blow up, reducing themselves to tiny bits. It's been that way since they were first introduced, and it's commented on in both the rules text and character views sections of this book. Editor, where are you?
There's some other minor bits of retconning, or suddenly revelations about groups or people that make you go "If such an important event occurred, or such amazing knowledge already existed, why wasn't it mentioned in the original books they appeared in?" Granted, it only occurs a handful of times, and it's probably only going to be picked up by the hard-core of Rifts fanboys, but it still bothered me.
I think this book could have better served the reader if the summarized information from previous books was left out, and the space that would've been saved used to expand upon the update information. I'm sure that some people will say that doing so would have left out those who purchased this book but have yet to buy the Rifts books updated in this volume. While I understand Palladium not wanting to alienate readers by doing so, I'm afraid they alienated long-time Rifts fans who have purchased previous releases, and didn't expect to have to buy reprint/summary information on them in Rifts: Aftermath.
So do I recommend this book? If your campaign involved the Siege of Tolkeen, or if North America is your character's stomping grounds, I could see this book being useful to you. But if you focus your campaign elsewhere you'd be better off saving your money for a future supplement.