TWG Review: Rifts World Book 26: Dinosaur Swamp

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Overall score:

In the complex, chaotic world of Rifts, Dinosaur Swamp is refreshingly simple: there are no alien intelligences, no evil empires, and no convoluted historical recreations. In this sense it gets back to the good old days of the core Rifts book, by defining its corner of the world based on post-apocalyptic speculation instead of stereotyped regional memory. Dinosaur Swamp begins with the simple premise that unchecked nature has reclaimed the southern states, and goes on from there to create a brutal wilderness where human survivors maintain a precarious position in the circle of predators and prey.

Is it cheesy for the whole area to be overrun by dinosaurs? Sure, but no cheesier than anything else in the game, even with the unexplained magical abilities manifested by many of them—some allosaurs, for example, can become invisible as long as they remain motionless. Rifts-era biologists disagree as to whether the dinosaurs have always had such powers, or if they mutated in the magic-rich environment, or if they simply evolved that way through some kind of super-fast genetic defense mechanism. Regardless of their origins, the dinosaurs thrive in the swamps and forests of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas as the dominant species, held back from the rest of North America by the Appalachian mountains.

Everything about the area says “primitive.” Far from the enormous technological empires that dominate so many World Books, Dinosaur Swamp is populated by regressed tribes of barbarians. The largest city in the region, known as Char, is still tiny by Coalition standards and is more of a trading camp than anything else. Even the level of magic technology is low, with very few of the “big” magic OCCs like Shifters and Line Walkers, and a preponderance of Eco-Wizards instead. Eco-Wizardry is an interesting form of Techno-Wizardry in which you enchant the bones and teeth and hides of animals to create weapons and armor. Combine this with some pretty interesting plant-based resources (such as the oddly-capitalized SteelTrees) and you get a culture that can work entirely with caveman-level technology and still manage to go toe-to-toe with giant MDC monsters.

So let’s sum up the book’s good points: it has a solid post-apocalypse base mixed with a lot of cool flavor perfect for a book called Dinosaur Swamp. It avoids some of the bad Riftsclich├ęs while embracing some of the good ones. It offers a unique setting with plenty of new bad guys and fun characters. On those grounds, I would recommend it.

Now for the book’s bad points: what it really lacks, if I may condense the problem into a single word, is urgency. There’s no pressing need to go there—no vital prize to be gained or evil to be destroyed. There are plenty of ruins to explore (the book makes special mention of NASA and Disney World), so you could mount an expedition for purposes of salvage or scientific exploration, but there are no great evils to destroy, nefarious villains to fight, or all-powerful artifacts to recover—just a lot of dinosaurs to hunt and man-eating plants to escape from. This is not to say that such things don’t exist at all in Dinosaur Swamp, merely that the book doesn’t mention them; a GM will have to do a lot of that work himself.

If you do a campaign that starts in Dinosaur Swamp, completely populated by barbarians, the problem gets even stickier. Barbarians have no interest in any of the tech buried in the ruins, and so the games could quickly devolve into dinosaur hunts and tribal wars with no escalating conflict—the book doesn’t contain so much as a war-hungry barbarian chief with dreams of conquest. Once again, all of the heavy lifting will have to be done completely by the GM and he characters.

In short, the book contains a great setting with very little story to back it up; this is bad on one hand because it leaves so much work for the GM, but good on the other hand because it gives GMs a wide-open palette to play with. If you can think of a good reason to visit,Dinosaur Swamp is a wonderful edition to the Rifts line; if you can’t, it’s just an interesting footnote to the rest of the world.

Written by Fellfrosch on September 13th, 2004


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