With Savage Worlds Rifts a real thing now I thought I would share the three ways I have started and run a Rifts campaign. It's a post-apocalyptic game, but one where there is some organized technological /magical society and industry (unlike Twilight 2000 and most Gamma World campaigns) and most of the world has been covered at some point so I know it can be tricky trying to decide how to start a game in a way that makes sense.
Option 1: The North America opening - This is how my last campaign started. The idea is to limit the character types and the setting to the core rulebook and let things expand from there. The starting line from my email to the group that last time: Welcome to Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas, 2400 A.D. No flying cars, and not much indoor plumbing either. It was a backwater town with some local problems where the PC's were drawn in and things gradually expanded from there. It's a classic "bullseye" type campaign where you have a fairly high level of detail for the town, some detail on the surrounding area (say a day or two of travel for normal folks), and a general idea of what's outside of that. The main premise here is that it's easier to add things to the game than it is to take things away from the game. It's easier on the GM and it's easier on the players too. Plus it makes no assumptions about where the campaign is going - it's just a starting point and once the party finds their feet it could go anywhere. Maybe they end up headed for Tolkeen. Maybe they become heavily invested in the town and the local NPCs and become local champions and defenders. Maybe they take it over and rule. It's wide open once things get rolling and it's largely player-driven at that point.
Specifics: I liked Arkansas as it was near parts of the Coalition, Texas (and so vampires), the Federation of Magic, and it's not all that far from Florida and Dinosaur Swamp. I prefer an area that's not in the middle of some heavily detailed region or plotline but is close enough that the party could dive into those if they wanted to. Parts of Texas, Iowa, and Pennsylvania would work well here too.
Option 2: The Epic Quest - I used this for my longest-running campaign. The concept goes back to everything from Jason and the Argonauts to Sinbad to Lord of the Rings. Heroes from all over gather when a call goes out to join an expedition into mysterious territory. In my case a wealthy patron wanted to travel across half of North America from Arkansas to the ruins of Detroit to retrieve some legendary artifacts. You can read more about it here. The thing to keep in mind is that just because the Rifts allow instant travel to other places you don't always know where they go or how long they will last. People are still going to travel the hard way and the epic quest is based on doing just that.
This opens things up for the players to bring in almost any character type as a "wandering adventurer" with any motivation from a worthy goal to revenge to a simple payday. It keeps the GM sane though as you're not required to explain why all of these disparate characters are working together - it's built into the concept and it's up to the players to explain why they are joining up! So if you end up with a juicer from Texas, a Triax full conversion borg, a Japanese cyber-samurai, and a Venezuelan anti-monster, that's perfectly fine. Maybe they traveled by ship, maybe they came through a Rift, maybe they want to get home, or maybe they don't remember how they got here - it all works! It gives all of you time to discover the backstory of each character if you want to without having to know everything up front.
For the GM it puts the "why" on the players and let's you focus on developing the "where". You have a major quest goal that is the long term focus of the campaign but while everyone is traveling there you can have impromptu side adventures. It also puts a definite end point to the campaign when the quest is achieved. After that you can reset the campaign with a new situation and some or all new characters as desired. If you think of your game as having "seasons" like a TV show then this would be a great way to start and finish a coherent storyline or season. It's also a good way to explore another area of the world if you have veteran Rifts players. Maybe North America is something you've all played before and you want to go somewhere different - the quest for the heart of Africa (meet the Egyptian gods? Take on the Four Horsemen?) is a definite change up. The team could outfit in NA in relative peace, then board a ship (or a fleet) which would utilize Rifts Undersea/Coalition Navy for some adventures along the way/ once they land in Africa there's a whole support book plus material online and something besides Coalition Troopers to bash.
- "Expedition to Africa" as described above
- "To the End of the World" - NA expedition to Antarctica via South America. Could take a ship down the coast, could take a giant robot over land - either one could be interesting.
- "Transcontinental Transport" - it doesn't always have to be a one-way traveling quest. What if someone gets an idea to rebuild a transport network across the continent? Part of the campaign would be talking to locals and working out deals along the way to extend the line, and part of it would be defending what you've already built. This could be a crazy back and forth campaign and could easily accommodate multiple groups of players and characters if you're fortunate enough to have multiple groups. It gives them a chance to change the landscape of the world in a notable way and gives them plenty of diplomacy and combat as well. Keep in mind it doesn't have to go east-west either - maybe Northern Gun wants to ship products to Mexico - or Chile!
- "Moonshot!" - Mutants in Orbit gave us details about what's going on up on Luna. It's kind of a wasted book if no one goes there, right? Maybe someone on Rifts Earth is convinced that pre-Rifts civilization survives on the moon and thinks humanity's last hope is to establish contact with them and get some help. This could be a 3-stage quest: First, getting to Florida to what was North America's major spaceport. Second, taking control of the facility and figuring out how to get to space. Third, launching for the moon, landing, and finding out what's there. If all goes well then you might have set up your next campaign: "Red Planet".
Option 3: Slave Ship - All of the characters begin the game on an Atlantean slaver. First session it comes under attack, the players break out, get to land, and begin exploring the area. There are some similarities to both of the previous options.
- Player character choices are wide open. The Splugorth trade and raid across the multiverse, so if it's in a Rifts book (or any Palladium book really) you can justify it showing up here. Bring on your Robotech characters and Ninja Turtles! Characters from prior campaigns could even appear in this one with nothing more than "I passed out in a bar and then I woke up here".
- The GM gets to pick the setting - I used this kickoff to explore those shiny new South America books back when they were shiny and new. Want to run around Russia or Australia or Japan for a while? Here's a great way to do it. You can assume your players will be spending a fair amount of time at the beginning just figuring out where they are and what they want to do so you can dive into that area of Rifts earth that interests you but has never made sense to include in your previous games.
- ...but the players drive the campaign forward - once they have their bearings what do they want to do? Take over? Help the locals against those oppressive jerks from the kingdom next door? Find their way home? Pay back Atlantis for what they have done? It's totally wide open at this point and it's mainly up to them. Sure, the GM can plant interesting rumors about a pre-Rifts city that's intact up in the mountains, or a powerful magic item hidden in a tomb in the desert, or a really nasty monster that dominates a local region, but the direction of the campaign is all about what the players want to do.
Specifics: Pick a book! Any non-North America book, or any book that doesn't cover a region you've already played through. Talk to your players in advance about what areas of Rifts Earth they are interested in - veteran players will probably have some ideas. I don't know that I would open this way with a group of players totally new to Rifts but for vets it should be a blast.
So there are 3 ideas to help get a Rifts campaign organized and off the ground. They all worked for me when I tried them out so I believe they can work for other people too. It's hard to predict where a campaign will go most of the time so these are mainly focused on "how do I get started?" After that, hopefully, you won't need much help. If you do try some version of them out, let me know how it goes!