Scholar’s Review #40: RIFTS Siege on Tolkeen – Chapter 5 (Shadows of Evil)
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: February 2001
The continuation of the series, detailing the going-on during the Coalition’s Siege of Tolkeen. Set shortly after the Sorceror’s Revenge, the force of Tolkeen are drunk with a major victory over the Coalition States, whose armies were driven back over 100 kilometers, over the Mississippi to the pre-war boundaries. This book covers this scenario, as the lull in offensive operations by the Coalition States has many of the Tolkeen volunteers and mercenaries looking elsewhere for employment and get out while the getting is good. Still fielding one of the more potent military forces in North America, this book takes a closer look at the state of Missouri. We examine the outskirts of the City of Tolkeen proper, examining the various Baronies that make up the surround landscape and how the post-Sorceror’s Revenge setting leads to upcoming events.
The Coming Storm. After the massive success of the Sorceror’s Revenge, much of the significant portion of the mercenary fighters and half the volunteers are gone, despite the Coalition *not* having recognized Tolkeen’s right to exist. The evil and supernatural ranks of the army swell, giving less incentive for many to stick around. The Coalition States has been dealing with the loss of General Jericho Holmes and over 400,000 soldiers from the Tolkeen counter-offensive, as well as re-establishing the front lines along the Mississippi.
The Kingdom of Tolkeen. We start to get more details about the various regions surrounding and making up the overall Kingdom, giving some locations of note.
Mizereen Barony. To the southeast and where the majority of the battles have taken place. Hundreds of defensive positions (spikes of stone to slow the CS advance, earth bunkers in ambush positions, giant flat-topped mounds for assembly areas, towers of stone as elevated guard posts), the Skelebot Graveyards (with really neat little salvage tables and monster encounter tables), lake and river danger zones (encounter tables) as well as CS encounter tables. Mad Town and Salvation, two key cities are detailed as the new hub of activity for Tolkeen forces to the front, are extensively detailed, giving GMs a plethora of information to play with.
Rivereen Barony. The other barony that borders CS Iowa, it has seen constant pressure from the CS. They have applied concentration of power against any CS manoeuvre, giving the impression that there are significant Tolkeen defenders along the border. A few specific sites and personnel are detailed, including a defensive bastion commanded by a 15th level Warlock.
Tolkeen POW Camps. Details are given on how Tolkeen handles prisoners of war. The system is commanded by a Cyber-Knight, so definitely a different vibe than the CS death camps (duh), but they are providing only the bare essentials. There is some thought on prison life, which could provide a GM with a great segue into the camps as a story-telling device. Typical camp layouts are provided in the same manner that Palladium does for most towns.
Freebooters. A collection of mercenary groups that Tolkeen has sanctioned.
The White Knights. Not your stereotypical good guys; really a nasty bunch of folks following a fallen Cyber-Knight that goes by the name “Lady White the Merciful” and is pretty much given free reign by Tolkeen to do whatever, however she wants. A motley crew of evil alignment characters.
Hounds of Hell. A former mayor of a town decimated by the Coalition, and one of the chief architects for the Sorceror’s Revenge, this Mind Melter leads a number of other like-minded miscreants in a vendetta against the CS. They hunt, they capture and they kill, no prisoners unless you are valuable enough to mind wipe and turn against their former masters.
Jack’s Hacks – Cyber-Snatchers. Bushwhacking crew of D-Bees led by a maniacal Brodkil that targets CS squads and outposts in order to ‘recycle’ the cybernetics/ bionic components. Their targets don’t necessarily need to be dead either, incapacitated suits them just fine. Targets mostly Coalition States’ squads, but any Tolkeen allies with flashy bionics will do just fine too.
Markeen Barony. Largely decimated after a prolonged Coalition offensive; any city or town was razed to the ground, farmland utterly destroyed. Pretty much a wasteland and wilderness rife with possibility for encounters of the CS or Tolkeen type.
Wildwoods Barony. Basically the backyard barony to the Kingdom of Tolkeen; mostly wilderness, plains and little in the way of population centres or industry. The New Wilmar Defense Force is given some detail.
Initial Assessment (4/10). I remember getting this book and wondering what the point of it was. It wasn’t that it felt more like a filler between the shock and awe that had been the Sorceror’s Revenge and the inevitable counter-assault by the Coalition States, but the short length of this book certainly reinforced the thought. It finally provided some key details on the Kingdom of Tolkeen, concentrating on the outer Baronies before the obvious final book to the series. There was an interesting collection of NPCs, but it was more a continued collection of despicable rogues. The encounter tables and POW camps were pretty much the primary draw I took from this book back in the day. Otherwise, it pretty much kept its place on my shelf. The cover art was a huge draw, drawing obvious inspiration from the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial). The artwork within seemed to lack the impact and punch that many of the other books in the Siege of Tolkeen series had, largely relying on regional maps and schematics for buildings and POW sites, or character sketches.
Current Assessment (5/10). Decades later, I am unfortunately left with very much the same impressions as before. A very short book, that didn’t really add much to the meta-plot, it suffers from what I believe as a book that collected much of the material that either could not fit into Book 6, or was not thought to fit properly with previous publications. Whereas Book 4 took a tangent to speak specifically about the Cyber-Knights, it at least presented this in the context of the series as a whole. This book could best be described as an adventure module sourcebook for a GM, with a series of regions that are effectively the gap between both front lines and the myriad encounters that could be enacted throughout. From that perspective, it does give a GM some nuggets, but little else. The NPC groups pretty much seemed to be there for the sole purpose of demonstrating that Tolkeen’s mercenaries are just as evil and pernicious as anything the Coalition States would field; okay fine, I get it, there are mean bad guys on both sides. There are a number of interesting pieces, but the artwork still really didn’t do much for me. As far as a source for GMs and players, unless you are looking for Siege-specific information on the regions just surrounding the City of Tolkeen, it really is not worth your time or money. For GMs running a Siege campaign, I can say this book will provide plenty of adventure ideas.
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