So, I’ve mentioned in a previous post that when I was a kid, Rifts was *The* alternate game in my circles if we weren’t playing D&D. It only narrowly beat out Heavy Gear because while we played that more intensely when we played it, in retrospect we played Rifts more often. Rifts wasn’t without its own issues though, as I discussed briefly in that post as well.  Even with those issues though, I still get excited when certain things get released, like Triax 2, or the more recent Rifts Worldbooks, Northern Gun 1 and Northern Gun 2, so lets take a look at what we got!
- The third largest power in North America finally gets fleshed out!
- The art is, for the most part, phenomenal.
- There is a lot of creativity in the vehicle, robot, and power armour designs.
- Again, not a lot of diversity in the pictures of people without face covering armour.
- Foreshadowing techniques at large!
So, I’ll cover the diversity angle right off of the hop. Ishpeming, the nation that is synonymous with the arms manufacturing giant Northern Gun (NG) in the world of Rifts is based in what was real world Michigan. As of 2013, Michigan has a population demographic of 80% white and 20% various minorities, with African Americans being 14% of the total population.  Current estimates see the population of the USA being more diverse as time increases, with whites becoming the largest minority population by 2050.  By 2098, the date given for the apocalypse that ushered Earth into the new era of magic and mayhem, that’s roughly two generations past that, which would indicate an even more diverse population. While Ishpeming is predominantly white (97% now), the major cities and county areas in the immediate area (Milwaukee, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Chicago) have POC populations between roughly 20% and 80%. Unless POC and other minorities are just predisposed to dying in apocalypses (which seems to be a thing), a lot of these people would head to a place offering the safety and security. Of the interior artwork between both books, there are 45 images of humans where their ethnicity can be inferred. Of the 45, 89% are whites (40/45), 9% are visibly identifiable minorities (4/40, 1x First Nations/Native American, 2x POC, 1x Asian), and 2% are unknown (1/45). This is another case of racism by omission and tokenism from Palladium, which is, sadly, nothing new.
Moving away from that, Charles Walton did an outstanding job as the main artist of both books. His art is detailed, smooth, and moves Northern Gun manufactured equipment into its own unique esthetic. Northern Gun matures in these books into something immediately identifiable as being from Northern Gun, as opposed to looking like every other non-Coalition States piece of equipment. The only way I can think of to have made these books better artistically (aside from a better ethnic spread), would have been to have Charles Walton redo all the vehicle and armour images that were recycled from older books, and to have had weapons artist Brian Manning redo the recycled equipment images from other books. I understand that Palladium has developed a stable of artists, but artist consistency is important, especially in books as technologically driven as these ones were.
Contents in these books is very straight forward, but the layout and flow are not good. NG1 focuses on the political situation, history, current activities of, and area around Ishpeming/NG. It is also the robot and small arms catalogue, and contains the NG specific occupational character classes (OCCs). The second book, NG2, focuses on the robot combat sports popular in the area, and has all of the non-robot vehicles, personal body armour, and power armour. My main complaint here is a lack of natural flow in the layout. The history, culture, and politics of Ishpeming, in my opinion, should have been in one book, with Ishpeming OCCs, then the personal gear, vehicles, and small arms. Book two should have been the Northern Gun specific culture and politics, followed by NG OCCs, and then all the robots and power armour.
Story wise, Palladium has dipped its toes in larger plot lines with mixed success. Their first attempt in Rifts was with the invasion of the Four Horsemen in Africa, which was never actually fleshed out in any way, shape, or form past “They’re here!”, followed by “They’re dead!” The second was with the Mechanoid Invasion, which again, was poorly fleshed out. Prior to the Juicer Uprising book (which actually detailed a chronology of events and official resolution), everything was half-arsed at best. The Tolkien War was their first concerted effort at telling a story, and it was pretty good as far as it went. With NG1 and NG2, they appear to be building a Carthage/Rome type of story in North America between the two major American powers. The Coalition States (CS) are the Romans, and Ishpeming/Northern Gun are the Carthaginians in this dynamic. I say this because the CS is a technological powerhouse that depends on its technical superiority to retain its place of power over other nations, and the weapons merchants of NG are straying into their territory. The CS also maintains a full military service to support its expansionist and suppressive needs. Like Carthage, Ishpeming/NG are mercantile and rely mostly on mercenaries for defence. With their industrial base and technological development, its only a matter of time before their willingness to sell to CS enemies like Lazlo and New Lazlo is used as an excuse to conquer and then annex them as a prelude the next big conflict.
As alluded to in the title to this post, the main offering of these books is technology. Lots, and lots of technology to fuel the dreams of all the technophile gamers out there. By far the most important introduction in these books though is the Solid Oxide Power Cell (SOPC) as an alternate to nuclear reactors for powering vehicles, robots, and power armour. This has been an issue for me for years, since it always struck me as being unfeasible to build miniature nuclear reactors or power units for literally everything. Not only was it a sketchy idea maintenance wise in the post-apocalypse, but any major battle resulting in the destruction of a vehicle, robot, or suit of power armour would leak radiation for long periods of time. Damaged systems posed a risk to users and innocents alike. SOPC partially solves this by providing an alternative source that isn’t a radioactive nightmare waiting to happen. SOPC also adds an element of immediacy to the game, where characters no longer have years worth of power, but only weeks or at best months before they need a resupply. This will feature heavily in my Revise writings for Rifts, I can tell already.
In summation, Rifts Worldbooks 33 and 34, Northern Gun 1 and 2 respectively, are long overdue entries into the setting. They give technology oriented players access to some great tech, and build on the more intimate setting of the Great Lakes and surrounding areas as adventure locations. As per with many Palladium products, there are some serious diversity issues that stand out, there were flow issues, and the artistic continuity could have been better as well. And just to reiterate, Charles Walton and Brian Manning knocked it out of the park art wise. In the end I give these books collectively 7.5/10 Definitely Worth It.