Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Quick Reviews: Tales of the Chi-Town 'Burbs

While I have my issues with the Palladium system I think Rifts is one of the best settings around. Even though I have only played a few times I am definitely a Rifts fan. Rifts is a world of literally endless possibilities and one of the few systems where I actually enjoy reading the various supplements. So when I heard about the short story collection "Tales of the Chi-Town 'Burbs" I had to have a copy.

A dozen or so writers, including Kevin Siembieda, contribute stories to the book, all centering around life in the 'Burbs just outside of the Coalition City of Chi-Town. In case you are not familiar with Rifts, Chi-Town is basically the largest, most powerful human city/state left after the "rifts" opened, devastated and completely changed the face of the Earth. The Coalition is one part Nazi and one part Bush administration where educaiton is basically forbidden and only the rich elite are educated. The Coalition uses fear, through televised propaganda, of the alien beings, monsters and magic users that now populate a large portion Earth to control its citizens and promote patriotism. People who are lucky enough to be accepted into Chi_Town can live a good life, but this book isn't about them.

The folks that live in the 'Burbs are generally poor, uneducated and waiting, by the millions, to be accepted as citizens into the walled city that looms above them. According to some of the stories in the book it may take several generations for a family to be accepted into Chi-Town, if at all. Most people build their homes in the 'Burbs surrounding the city hoping for a better life for their children or grandchildren, becuase it is unlikely they will be accepted themselves. The 'Burbs are a dangerous place filled with mercs, crooked officials, criminals and monsters that prey on the hopeful. They are basically the ghettos of Chi-Town, a place the law cares little about.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book is the fact it is about the ordinary people in this extraordinary place. From a game point of view these people are the NPCs your group would encounter if they traveled through the 'Burbs. The bar owner, and the former Coalition soldier that would give aid or shelter to your group are the characters in these short stories. The people we often overlook in our games, yet the very same people the PCs are trying to protect or serve brought to life and made real.

Make no mistake this books suffers from the same problems as most Palladium products, grammatical and spelling errors, but those are easy to overlook. While this book will never make the bestsellers list it has quickly become one of my favorite pieces of RPG fiction. The writing may not be on par with Weiss, Greenwood, Tolkein, or Jordan, but the writers do a great job of brining these characters to life. The best way I can think of to describe this book is truly great NPC backgrounds by really good DMs. That is what it reminds me of.

So even if you are not a fan of Palladium or the Rifts setting, I think this book is definitely worth checking out. If for no other reason than as a source of ideas for your own campaigns.

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