Scholar’s Review #34: Coalition Wars: Siege on Tolkeen – Chapter 1 (Sedition)
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: June 2000
We all knew this book was in the making, and had been hoping something like this would occur since the original Rifts RPG book came out. From the very beginning, the RPG labelled Minnesota "a place under siege;" a classic titanic clash between the love-to-hate technological protagonist and the uppity mystic and magical might of Tolkeen. This book sets the stage, providing players and GMs a bit of history, and fleshing out the forces and tactics from either side. The Coalition has a slew of dirty tricks, while the Tolkeen forces are not without their own arsenal and methods to bloody Prosek’s nose (so to speak). The first in a series of six books to delve into this massive, plot-changing event that will have repercussions for decades and publications for years to come.
Magic versus Technology. We start examining the differences between the two. The section ‘The Great Equalizer’ speaks to some of this, followed by a series of Rift & Ley Line Magic spells available to Ley Line Walkers, Temporal Raiders, Wizards and Shifters. CS Countermeasures to magic covers a number of assets (Dog Boys, Psi-Stalkers, CS Psychics, Skelebots), as well as Anti-Magic Tactics (containment, cybernetic measures and other equipment), some of which one could imagine as truly horrific and invasive to any captured mage.
The Magic Weapons of Tolkeen. Some Legendary Artifacts, like the Book of Ten (10 spells of legend), Poor Yorick (magic skull with cryptic prognostications), Ironbane (giant William Wallace sword that packs a punch), the Founder’s Stone (uber Warlock artefact), the Nine Rings of Elder (groan… Tolkeen, a human nation with nine rings), The Mobius (your basic Infinity Stones level of power wrapped into a single object), followed by a *massive* series of TW weapons, devices, and vehicles (several reprinted from other sources); nearly 30 pages of TW items.
Tolkeen’s Machines of Destruction. The Iron Juggernauts are Tolkeen’s answer to the armoured might of the Coalition States, these massive constructs leverage the use of elementals to power them. Most are the size of an IAR-2 or IAR-3. There are hints of the nefarious methods used to create these behemoths, something akin to the vile Bio-Wizardry practiced by the Splugorth in Atlantis. It doesn't go out of its way to say it is, but Atlantis and the Federation of Magic are extremely keen to gain the technology. Boatload of PPE for each of them to cast spells... like, a LOT.
Blazing Iron Juggernaut. This thing is a close combat juggernaut, with next to no ranged capabilities. Can cast Fire Elemental spells; some interesting options to mess with an enemy, yet given the number of attacks that action consumes, likely just going to keep punching with its base 6 attacks.
Thundering Iron Juggernaut. Bigger brother to the former, it does have several ranged attacks, but nothing extravagant. Can cast Air Elemental spells; some very interesting options (Invisibility?!), yet given the number of attacks that action consumes, likely just going to keep slashing with its base 9 (nine!) attacks.
Fury Iron Juggernaut. More a tank with a robot upper body instead of a turret. Lots of MDC, lots of strength and power, teeny-tiny guns. Can cast Earth and Air elemental spells; some interesting options to mess with an enemy, yet given the number of attacks that action consumes, likely just going to keep punching with its base 6 attacks.
Ram Rocket Wagon. A type of towed artillery piece with some very respectable range and middling damage as a cannon, massive potential fired as a missile. A battery of these things would mess up any Coalition formation. No word on how this thing would be aimed when launched from up to 100 miles (160 kms) away though! Up to the GM to figure out, though I have my own personal thoughts on this.
Tolkeen. An overview of the city-state, with a brief history before launching into the leadership and their roles; King Robert Leonard Creed support by the Circle of Twelve, and a *very* brief introduction to Freehold, City of Dragons.
Crisis Timeline. Gives a nicely detailed and well-presented background to the conflict between the CS and Tolkeen – more or less the ‘why’ and ‘how’ we got to where we are. There is a lot of information to unpack in there, a lot of which can be leveraged by a savvy GM for their campaigns. I suspect many who have placed Tolkeen on the pedestal as a bastion for good and inclusivity will be disappointed.
The Fringes of Tolkeen. Some great details provided on the surrounding landscape, and key stakeholders to this conflict, state by state. Starts with the CS sympathizers and then gives some nice details on several towns, several locales in ruin, as well as the Great Skelebot Graveyard and significant NPCs. This section really is a gold mine of information for campaign creation and how to tie in your current or newly formed group of PCs into the conflict, either before or during the war. There is even a section on how to dovetail players into the campaign setting. A brief overview ensues with the Allies of Tolkeen, be that as they are; includes remnants of the Juicer Uprisings, Simvan and D-Bees aplenty, as well as sub-demons like the Black Faerie, Brodkil, Neuron Beasts, Thornhead Demons, and Witchlings, all presented in detail. The Daemonix are the only ones not presented.
Notable Tolkeen Combat Formations. A nicely done series of tables that a GM can use for random or specific encounters in and around Tolkeen. Several maps are included that give a nice overview of things.
Rifts Spell List. A complete and comprehensive list of spells of each type, with book and page reference. Not necessary, but nice to have.
Initial Assessment (6/10). When this book came out, there was a lot of hype to see the meta-plot carry forward, with the massive technological war machine of the Coalition States versus the mystical might of Tolkeen; two side of the same coin facing off. As impressed as I was that Palladium was launching this series, there were things that left me stumped. I was very happy to see them address the magic versus technology elephant in the room; in a post RUE-dynamic, some of this likely will be overtaken by that publication's update to casting magic. From my perspective, I felt they didn’t really make a valid effort to support the magical side of the conflict; the spells of legend are way too expensive in PPE cost for what they accomplish, juggernauts are not all they are cracked up to be, and many of the TW devices seemed to pale in comparison to the CS countermeasures. I had a hard time, despite this only being the initial book, to get a sense that Tolkeen was established in a way to make a dent in the CS forces arrayed against them. The adventure hooks and HLS they provided were a welcome piece of the puzzle, but something that only barely whet my appetite for more.
Current Assessment (5/10). Okay, so looking back at this book twenty years later, it left me feeling that it was incomplete, cobbled together in bits and pieces given the planning for future releases. I haven’t read the next book(s) as of this writing, and I doubt Kevin had a senior officer in the military to help him with campaign planning. I wouldn’t expect that level of detail, but I would have much preferred a book that adequately set-up the scene from both sides of the coin, with further publications expanding on events and new tech/magic being brought to bear. The massive gap between tech and magic was only more pronounced after re-reading; despite the ‘great equalizer’ that it is claimed to be, perhaps it just wasn’t given enough of a chance herein. I would have loved to see the juggernauts given more space and imagination; I truly would have expected the device’s destruction to release the elementals into a rage, weakened but with a percentile chance that the warlock/mages could influence their destructive forces against the CS , otherwise it fights back against Tolkeen (further demonstrating their desperation); perhaps a random chance the elementals stick around and wreak havoc for a few melees. The artwork, superb; the Freddie Williams and Ramon Perez stuff was on point, in particular the anti-magic pictures, and Breaux did some real yeoman’s service on the juggerauts! As a standalone book, I found it gave me neither the world building I was expecting, nor the insight into the magical might of Tolkeen. It established some political setting baselines, which includes the position of Tolkeen's leadership in the face of this battle, which I am sure pro-Tolkeen players will likely balk at. The adventure aspects near the end were possibly the best aspects of this book, as well as the Notable Tolkeen Combat Formations to give a GM a sort of campaign-specific encounter table. Overall thought, this fell pretty flat for me.
Addendum: Something I felt the need to specify here, this is a review of the book itself within the context of the other Scholar's Review blog posts. In parallel to these reviews, there will be a separate series of posts within the The Bazaar that will deal with the various analyses I am drafting to discuss the more GM-oriented pieces of the Siege on Tolkeen series, such as using this series as vector for adventures or campaigns.
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