That title probably sounds a little strange but in any post-apocalyptic game the nature of the apocalypse plays at least a small role in shaping the setting. Most of them are the typical Nuclear/Biological/Chemical war, the traditional late 20th century end of the world scenario. Lately the zombie thing has made a strong showing. Rifts is different though.
The Rifts background is that sometime in the future, when technology is quite a bit more advanced than now an age of enlightenment ends in a series of short skirmishes that escalates quickly into a massive worldwide war that is over in a very short time. Thousands, then millions, of people are killed almost instantly. One of Rifts conceits is that psychic energy is doubled when something dies. The psychic energy released by this massive slaughter is so tremendous that the old ley lines, currents of magical energy from a prior age when the earth was a magical place, are reawakened and become more than just a current, they become torrents of psychic energy, rushing around the globe in a flood of power. Anywhere two or more lines cross is a nexus point, and at times of high energy these nexus points can tear open gateways into other dimensions. With this kind of energy unleashed, pretty much all of the nexus points around the globe rip open and stay open, and a ton of bad things come through, adding even more carnage to the apocalypse. Large areas of the land phase in and out, trading places with other dimensions, the old continent of Atlantis is pulled back into the world, and the earth is now a supercharged magical dimensional nexus point.
The reasons this stands out to me are these:
- The apocalypse sets up and shapes the game world in interesting ways, both with the backstory and mechanically with ley lines, magic, and psionics.
- It gives the GM a great starting point to put anything into the campaign that they think is interesting. "Thousands of dimensional gateways" is wide open for exploration in a campaign.
- It gives players a reason to go places - "we're following a ley line", "We're headed for a nexus point that we believe opens up to the plane of shadows every new moon.
- Lots of ruined cities (one of the staples of a post-apoc campaign) and they may not even be human cities.
- It provides a nice reason for widely varying conditions and terrain anywhere in the world. "Sure, Kansas is still flat. Well, except for that triangle shaped chunk just west of Wichita that's full of mountains now."
It pushes the apocalypse to be more than your standard nuclear war scenario. It explains both the end of the world and the re-entry of magic into the world at the same time. It sets up the ley lines and nexus points that are a fairly significant feature of the setting. I'll touch more on this in a future post.
One possibly overlooked aspect of the coming of the rifts is that it is considered tragic by most of the humans of earth, something to be "fixed", not some great blessing to be appreciated. Humanity used to own the planet (and some of the solar system) and that's no longer the case. Of course there are differing views but the biggest human powers view the time before rifts as normality, and the time since as a continuing war for the survival of humanity against an invasion of alien monsters. This coloring of viewpoints leads to some interesting shades of grey when it comes to non-humans who were born on earth and consider it home. That is, if you choose to explore it. Like many of the elements of Rifts, you can choose to ignore it and run a straight up shoot-and-loot campaign or you can let some of those differences play out between PCs and NPCs or even within the party. It's a nice little extra element that pushes things into more complicated territory than good vs. evil.
So that's the first element that caught my eye with Rifts and one that should remain interesting regardless of the system used for the setting.