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  • Writer's pictureFrancois DesRochers

Scholar's Review 20: Rifts World Book 15: Spirit West

Updated: Jan 7


Author: Wayne Breaux Jr

Release Date: 1997

GENERAL


The Spirit West book is a pretty niche entry into the Rifts library. It doesn’t concentrate on one particular class, one specific region, one specific meta-plot event; it provides a continent-spanning overview of the culture, traditions and worldview for players who wish to play or incorporate Native Indian characters into their campaign. There may be some that may find this book completely useless, others limited use in the world building aspects, while others will embrace this into their gameplay. It provides everything a player or GM could want to flesh out these characters: historical overviews, the four different worldviews, OCCs aplenty, magic and fetishes, as well as monsters, D-Bees and gods.


SECTIONS


The Return. Including the World Around Man, Tribal Backgrounds and Overview of Native America Tribes, this section gives a heady amount of information to absorb. It gets backed up with well-done images and series of maps that clearly indicate tribal regions. It also clarifies the differences between the Modern Native Americans, Traditionalists, Pure Ones/Ancients and Renegades, divisions that really comes out for role-playing opportunities and several special rules later on.


Spirit West OCCs. Several classes with several restrictions based on whether you play a Traditionalist or other sorts. There are four Warrior and seven Shaman classes. I found these were fairly restrictive based on the role-playing aspects, but are well designed and rendered in a manner that really reinforce the worldview and make them truly unique. Some are easily more playable than others, but they all make a great selection for a dedicated player. Some clear winners for me are the Tribal and Spirit Warriors, as well as the Mask Shaman.

  • Warriors

    • Tribal Warrior. Traditional hunter and protector of the tribes. A mix of the Grunt and Wilderness Scout in terms of skill packages.

    • Mystic Warrior. A powerful psychic, essentially a Mystic with combat orientation.

    • Totem Warrior. Capable of assuming supernatural characteristics of their animal totem, they can actually transform into them as well.

    • Spirit Warrior. These guys are combat behemoths, using their latent realms of power to become supernatural beings themselves.

  • Shamans

    • Plant Shaman. A form of druidic communion with plant life, they have several unique and powerful abilities. Also draws some text from World Book 3: England.

    • Animal Shaman. Can heal and communicate with animals, which is a central tenet to the Native American cultures.

    • Mask Shamans. Renowned for their unique Fetishes, including the rules for fabricating fetish masks.

    • Healing Shamans. Your cleric analog for the Native tribes, including some interesting rules for the Medicine Lodges (Legendary Fetish).

    • Paradox Shaman. Very much like the Spirit Warrior is the combat behemoth for the warriors, the Paradox Shaman brings some serious power and magical abilities to bully around enemies of the tribes.

    • Elemental Shamans. Similar to Warlocks, these practitioners of magic are linked to Elemental Spirits, not True Elementals. Each of the elements provides a unique series of abilities and skills.

    • Fetish Shamans. Focusing their arts through the construction of fetishes that bestow powers and abilities to the bearer, they could be thought of as a variation of the Techno-Wizard.


Shamanistic Magic. A description of this style of magic, bad medicine and a laundry list of shaman spells. Also includes a nice take on the Indian fetishes and the powers they imbue, as well as the creation process for making unique pieces.


Totems. A nice little section with descriptions of the various animal totems and how they apply or impact to a character’s disposition. The skills and attribute bonuses are a neat addition, the powers only applicable to the Totem Warriors OCC.


Monsters, Gods and Spirits

  • Monsters

    • Black Winged Monster Men. A bit on the nose, but exactly what they are. Jet black, skeletal demonic humanoids with wings that plague the regions from Calgary down to Arizona.

    • Man-Eagles. Harbingers of death and destruction, they swoop in from pocket dimensions to prey and kidnap, with a penchant for taking away maidens,

    • Man-Monsters. Shamans and mages that abuse the violate the rules of their connections to the spirits are transformed into these loathsome beings. Mutated to take some of the characteristics of their totem (plant, animal or spirit), they are often driven insane by their gruesome fate.

    • Plumed Serpents. Massive beasts that resemble a dragon merged with a vulture. As you can imagine, about as friendly as either; combined they are even worse.

    • Stone Giants. Huge carnivorous humanoids with some interesting attacks.

    • Teepowka. Monstrous, multi-horned and six-legged buffalo with an attitude. Illustrated on the cover.

    • Two-Faced Star People. Extra-dimensional human eating shapeshifters. As one could imagine, they and the Native tribes don't get along.

    • Ukt Water Serpents. Long, snake-like bodies lines with spall spikes and two powerful arms. Equally dextrous on land, leveraging magical vision and smell to hunt. Dark, evil and scheming creatures.

    • Wendigo. Large humanoids covered in hair (e.g. Sasquatch). Master survivalists and woodsmen, they lurk in the woods/background and deal harshly with interlopers and evil creatures alike.

  • The Spirits. A good series of entries describing the lesser animal spirits and plant spirits.

  • Greater Spirits

    • The Kachina “Doll Spirits”

    • Nunnehi

    • Ondi Thunderbirds

    • Animal Spirits

    • Tree Spirits

  • Gods. Several Indian gods, with 5 digits of MDC and high 4 digits of PPE. Aside from the stats, the entries are actually really well done and tie into the remainder of the book really well.

High Technology for Modern Indians. The Uktena robot (a truly bizarre and unrealistic entry, even for Rifts – and that’s saying something), a few SAMAS entries and other power armour entries.


IMPRESSIONS


Upon Release (7/10). Spirit West wasn’t something I ended up using very much, save for the odd beast or monster. I remember using some of the ideas to help launch campaigns and write up some fairly interesting NPCs and background material for a campaign or two, but not much else. The restrictions on playing characters as Traditionalists or Pure Ones/Ancients was a little steep for me, and I was more interested in playing techno-gadget warriors and adventurers. Admittedly, it was a really interesting read and I liked the way they approached the material. It was something I went back to several times just for the enjoyment of reading the differing perspective in the Rifts setting, which is not something many of the books succeeded in accomplishing.


Current Assessment (8/10). This is a niche book. Some readers will really be turned off my that statement, others intrigued, fewer still driven to understand what I mean. If you are not the latter, I hope to convince you to become a voice in support of this World Book. As far as a world building publication, it is one of the rare exceptions to the range; it knocks it out of the park, without succumbing to many of the cliches that are so often the case. It *appears* that a lot of research and attention to the sensitivities of the cultures is there; the irony of a white guy presenting it as thus is not lost on me. It solidly has the appearance that they went far and wide to cover a continent’s worth of culture, while providing a depth to the culture and worldview is a hard thing, and I think this book does so. There are several gods that I find annoying from a stat-block perspective, but at least they feel more real than some of the other entries in previous books. Given our current dynamic, one could be prepared for the calls of cultural appropriation, which is easily accused but harder to make stick; I don’t believe it strays into that territory. Does it suffer from the nationalization of the various Native Indian tribal nations into a more homogenous form? To some extent yes, but it doesn't pigeon-hole a player or GM from weaving in any specific tribal nation's culture into their game. The playability of several classes makes for unique player character dynamics, which a GM may have to wrestle a bit to make work. If the player is committed and the GM willing to give it a go, I have no doubt there are some really rewarding experiences herein. It is also worth mentioning that the artwork throughout is really well done; particular mention to Perez’s clean form and Breaux for some very thematic pieces in support to the material. In my opinion, this rounds out the "Western Trilogy" with a solid entry.


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