Scholar’s Review #37: RIFTS Siege on Tolkeen – Chapter 3 (Sorceror’s Revenge)
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: August 2000
The continuation of the series that details events of the Coalition States’ Siege of Tolkeen. This book primarily covers the Tolkeen defenders’ stance, as well as some of the more notable personalities trying to stop the Coalition States’ inexorable advance into Minnesota. Through it, we see how Tolkeen has changed over the course of the war, slowly turning to meet and match the character of their would-be invaders; making deals with demons, monsters and creatures of massive power, not all of which are as altruistic as they may seem. The Juggernauts are rounded out with more entries, and before we get to slide down the timeline and see what Tolkeen accomplished in their massive counter-offensives, we get some really nicely done Random Adventure Generation Tables.
Introductory Vignettes. Not an official section title, but a couple of vignettes demonstrate the Coalition’s response to the Tolkeen defenders’ gumption for stalling the advance. We get an idea of the toll this stubborn defence is taking from a soldier’s perspective, as well as the vague and peremptory downplaying of the magic kingdom’s forces.
Tolkeen’s Heroes. There is electricity in the air, a vibe that reinforces the Tolkeen defenders and thwarts the massive war machine of Prosek et al. We see a selection of new D-Bees presented, and as a counter-point to the CS Overkill NPC entries, we get Tolkeen’s Most Notorious, a group of various NPCs that a GM could leverage for their campaign.
New D-Bees. Several new RCCs presented for use.
Auto-G. Your basic super-changeling that can even adapt to a creature’s natural powers when they change to that form, right down to the DNA. Caught and killed by the CS before, subject to extreme measures on notice.
D’norr Devilmen. Humanoids with a multitude of hors and protrusions across the head. Your natural diplomats, less the demonic visage.
Larmac. Big, beefy, horned lizards/toads first illustrated in World Book 12: Psyscape with some real role-playing potential. A big, lazy, freeloading type who can be really good in a brawl, if you can motivate them.
Tolkeen’s Most Notorious. Several noteworthy groups of volunteers the CS has branded with bounties.
1st Calgary Volunteers. Led by a Noli Cyber-Knight who has thrown his lot all-in with Tolkeen, possibly the most eclectic group of D-Bee warriors of the entire group. Primarily deployed on reconnaissance and retribution missions.
Caliber Street Irregulars. After having caused a racket in the ‘Burbs that inadvertently killed an official from Chi-Town High Command, this crew of D-Bees fled while they could and hired themselves out to Tolkeen in order to continue the fight. Another eclectic group of NPCs.
Vultures of Tolkeen. A band of two-dozen Simvan and their monstrous beasts, they ride their mounts (Fury Beetle, Rhino-Buffalos and Ostrasaurus) and attack Coalition supply depots and lines of communications. If things keep going well, he has the remainder of his tribe, over 200 more Simvan (and their mounts) that may end up fully committing to harassing anything with a CS symbol across the region.
The Jorukeva. Four quadruplet brothers, each the master of an Elemental magic. The collective name is simply the first two letters of their first names. All four are 9th level, which basically means they have access to the most lethal and effective elemental spells of their particular element.
Kado & Co. Led by Jara Kado, she has learned the CS is chasing after intact contact codes in a hidden bunker to control a killer satellite apparently still operational in orbit. She and her companions fight the CS while trying to locate this mythical weapon. Not necessarily well received or respected by the Tolkeen forces who consider the satellite a myth; she in turn doesn't trust Tolkeen to not use the weapon if ever the control bunker was discovered.
The Dark Cabal. Taking advantage of the fact that the Tolkeen leadership is busy managing a war, these three renegades from the Federation of Magic have come in search of artifacts and mystical treasures. The Coalition States and their invading armies just happen the be in the way/co-located in the region they are treasure hunting in. If they ever find one particular item, it’ll be war amongst their own for ownership! No real loyalty to Tolkeen.
The Vanguard. This ancient group of magic-users, fighting on behalf of the Coalition States, are conducting raids and sabotage against Tolkeen. Much of this entry will be repeated and expanded upon in a future supplement.
Warhawk. A barrel-chested hulking version of a flying juggernaut with massive close combat capabilities and a few ranged capabilities. Resembles a giant Super-SAMAS (and can easily dispatch a pair of those on its own). Carries around a giant polearm. Can cast a variety of spells.
Iron-Dragonfly. Considered Tolkeen’s answer to the Super-SAMAS; really more like a flying tank with scythed arms. Only ranged weapons are a limited number of mini-missiles, but does provide some interesting anti-missile spells selections and their effects that could be leveraged by any spell caster. Can cast Air elemental spells.
Sea Viper. An aquatic juggernaut of comparatively small size created to exploit the massive numbers of lakes and rivers in the region (including Mississippi River). Mostly close combat oriented. Can cast Water Elemental spells.
Earthwake. A hulking brute of an amphibious nature with some ranged capabilities; your basic linebacker robot that, rather ironically, has one of the better ranged capabilities by firing lava bolts from its fingertips. Can cast Earth Elemental spells.
Adventure Generation Tables. Some broad tables a GM can roll to help develop conflict or campaign ideas. Based around Search and Rescue missions (1. Who; 2. Last Seen; and, 3. What Happened), with the What Happened divided into four tables (1. Kidnapping; 2. Incident; 3. Random Villain; and 4. Foul Play), and random discovery tables. Random villain encounter tables have one for Tolkeen soldiers, supernatural creatures, and another for CS troops. Also has a random Missing In Action table. Followed with an HLS adventure module.
Blitzkrieg. The campaign plan for Tolkeen was to essentially execute a Battle of the Bulge style effort and counter-punch the Coalition States’ grinding offensive. Detailed over several pages, the Epilogue provides the aftermath of the (largely) successful strategy; this section provides the context for the publication’s title. I have to admit, up until this point, likely most readers (myself included) would have justifiably wondered why. I honestly found it perplexing that from a formatting perspective, this section would have been somehow justified to a near-final entry in the book. It also explains the new magical concept of Shadow Dragons (depicted on the cover), that only select adult and ancient dragons who have been taught this secret power, can exercise. A nice addition to the dragons writ-large that makes them a little more unique in a sense, with some hefty consequences if they were to lose one of their shadows.
Initial Assessment (5/10). I remember my initial impression about the book as ‘vaguely disappointed.’ I don’t recall exactly what it was that didn’t sit well with me, but I remember it pretty much carried space on my book shelf until this review. The Juggernauts were not all that impressive to me, aside from a (very) hefty amount of MDC, with mostly D-Bees and NPCs filling the middle space; despite the rather interesting storylines behind each, I wasn’t really taken with them, to be honest, and could have completely done without the groan-worthy Jorukeva. I had completely forgotten about the tables and the final few pages recounting the big Tolkeen push against the CS and the devastating losses each side suffered. I remember really enjoying the art for this one, not a piece failing to deliver on the promise of this book’s theme – dark and foreboding. Overall though, I was not really impressed by this addition when I first read it, back in the day.
Current Assessment (7/10). This book initially left me wondering ‘where the heck is it going,’ and ‘what was it trying to accomplish?’ It started off well enough with the vignettes, portraying the character of the battle space, followed by a column of text about the ‘vibe’ and excitement of the Tolkeen defenders….. and then it switched gears into D-Bees. This buzzkill carried on through the copious NPCs under Tolkeen’s Most Notorious, and continued through the Juggernauts. While the flavour text of these NPCs starts to give an indication of the overall nature of the Tolkeen defenders’ motivations and mental space, I never really found it something worth utilizing. What really turned my opinion around, quite frankly, was the surprising utility of the Random Adventure Generation Tables segment. This is incredibly useful for any GM out there, even if not running a campaign linked directly to the Siege of Tolkeen; one could easily adapt these tables to any locale and enemy type. Finally, we have a summation of the battle plans for Tolkeen, looking to launch a massive counter-strike against the Coalition States’ invasion forces. The results are played out fairly succinctly, but it does provide a bit of a script to work from. A GM could easily incorporate their campaign’s adventures into the overall narrative. I felt this piece could have been the driving theme, templated and fleshed out throughout the entire book, as opposed to nearly hidden at the end. You know what was missing? Maps and indications on where major battles occurred and how far back Tolkeen was able to push the line; where are the major pockets of conflict and battle, major forward encampments of Tolkeen forces, or indications what Tolkeen units are doing along the Mississippi River? As far as the artwork is concerned, this was another great success! That cover painting is audacious, and the interior art holds its own superbly - Breaux provides much of the content and delivers some truly superlative work throughout. For those looking to continue the Siege, this book is a pretty good buy, though there was a number of missed opportunities. For GMs, those Random Tables closer to the end are absolutely golden, hence the bump in my score.
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