Scholar's Review 14: Rifts World Book 8: Japan
Updated: Jan 15
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: 1995
The book details what occurred to the island nation of Japan. Ravaged by the coming of the Rifts, there is definitely a plethora of source material to play with, both ancient and modern, something Rifts: Japan certainly doesn’t fail to exploit. The concept of samurai, ninjas, ancient Shinto beliefs and magic, ancient Japanese monsters, demons and dragons, as well as the super-advanced technology are all merged together.
The Japanese Islands. Given the catastrophic impacts of the coming of the Rifts, no big surprise that Japan is a secluded series of islands; largely influenced by the nearby Dragon’s Triangle, surrounded by pirates and sea faring monsters, and the influence of monster-ridden China and Russia.
The New Empire. Massively affected by the waves of the apocalypse, Japan is largely an agrarian society; well, except for Kyoto, with 1.2 million people in a city built around the confluence of the Millenium Tree and the Republic pocket dimension thing – more on that later. After reverting back to bushido principles (and its caste system), they apparently banded together against the common enemy; oni and demon followers. Gives a breakdown of the various provinces and their political leanings. A decent breakdown of the society overall.
New Empire. Largely anti-technology earning the ire of technology based neighbours; obviously relies on magic and “old-school” beliefs.
Republic of Japan. Not much presented, other than they like tech.
Ichto Province. Heavy reliance on tech, ousted many anti-techies from New Empire from their border. Returned from a pocket dimension where they rode out the worst of PA tragedies. Robots and PA nuts rejoice!
Takamatsu. Reasonably modern society; middle of the road, feeling tech and magic can co-exist. Japanese Lazlo?
Otomo Shogunate & H-Brand. Reliant on tech and apparently willing to embrace all manners of technological modification. Super-secret plans™ to infiltrate and become dominant power. H-Brand is the tech powerhouse, not unlike Triax to NGR, only not quite as symbiotic.
Kyoto Millenium Tree. With some reprints from WB3: England, provides some context for the tree and the Shinto priests. Otherwise lots of reprinting with some exceptions for Japanese-styled weapons, as well as rune katana, because Japan. There are some truly interesting magical items though.
New Empire and Traditional OCCs. You couldn’t publish this book without the Samurai and Mystic Ninja OCCs. Nor could you not cover the Code of Bushido. New HTH type for Samurai OCC, with some interesting family background elements. Yes, there are some over-the-top OCCs (Bishamon).
The Republic of Japan. Based on the city of Hiroshima that went into a pocket dimension; 16 million returned after 300 years away; immediately set upon by demons. Truly a people out of time, leveraging extensive technology (borgs, crazies, juicers, etc) to keep the enemies at bay, and accepting the few D-Bees around. Essentially a Ghost In the Shell environment in a Rifts setting. I love GitS, so yeah, cool.
Character Classes. A smorgasbord of new OCCs, like the Cyberoid (City Rat), cyborgs, crazies, juicers and other Main Book military classes with keywords like ninja or samurai tagged to them.
Cyborgs of Japan. A series of entries (some reprints) about creating a cyborg and the options for weapons, gear and equipment, some specific to Japan.
Cybernetics and Bionics. A series of cybernetics and bionics.
High-Tech Weapons. Goes over a series of ArmaTech, H-Brand, Ichto manufactured vehicles, weapons, vehicles, power armour, including some alternate Glitter Boys and body armour.
Japanese Skills. No surprises here, a few skills with the Japan setting and flavour in mind, including a series of martial arts styles.
Mystic Martial Arts. Various chi-powers and spirit powers equating to magic spells.
Monsters of Japan. A neat series of tables for creating random-styled oni and some other greater oni. Several interesting and compelling lesser demon equivalents, followed by some Japanese dragons (colour me surprised).
Upon Release (4/10). Admittedly I never purchased this book because I never had much interest in the setting. I also had the impression this was really just a grab at japanophiles. Shortly after the release I heard several accounts of the over-powered nature of the book and the potential overplay on the Japanese culture that catered to power gamers and those a little to hardcore into anime for my tastes at the time, which wasn’t my “thing” back in the day. It was a hard pass for me, despite the interesting artwork on the cover.
Current Assessment (8/10). In retrospect, this was yet another World Book that I largely overlooked when it first came out. This re-read really impressed me this time around. The presentation of an iconic cultural influence, it certainly draws on the plethora of source material. Ravaged by tidal forces, the Japanese fought back to control their small piece of the world; the pocket dimension return of Hiroshima and surrounding cities to form the Republic of Japan provides an interesting twist to the venue and a great place for players to base their campaigns from. The ability to tie in to surrounding regions and exploit other books (Underseas in particular) give GMs a great amount of latitude. There were a few moments where I found myself put off at the disjointed presentation of information: introduction and overview of each “kingdom” with stats that went into details I would have expected further on with the more locale-specific entries. We can skip over the massive population size for the major population centres as well; well at least Hiroshima can gives a reason. There were definitely a couple of crutch moments: yet another science fiction, futuristic presentation of bushido and the historic martial cultures, ninjas and all. That said, I found myself really liking the overall feel of this book, which, by the way, is really supported by some fantastic artwork; personal favorite is the full-page image on page 25.
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