Scholar's Review 20: Rifts World Book 15: Spirit West
Updated: Jan 4
Author: Wayne Breaux Jr
Release Date: 1997
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.
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.
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. Some really interesting entries, including the Man Monsters, Plumed Serpents and the beast from the cover, the Teepowka. There were several lines in the description of the Man Eagles that likely were excessive.
The Spirits. A good series of entries describing the lesser animal spirits and plant spirits.
Greater Spirits. The Kachina “Doll Spirits,” Nunnehi and the Ondi Thunderbirds, Animal Spirits, Tree Spirits and others.
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.
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.
Continue to Scholar's Review #21 (World Book #16: Federation of Magic) (forthcoming)
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