Scholar’s Review #42: Black Market (Sourcebook for Rifts)
Author: Matthew Clements, Kevin Siembieda & Carmen Bellaire
Release Date: August 2012
General. The Black Market, a sub-culture and secondary economy that is effectively the lifeblood for many of the struggling villages and towns on the outskirts of humanity; alternatively, they are the scourge and criminal underbelly for the bastions of humanity. This book covers a vast expanse of ground in its scope, but provides a scale of detail that any GM or player will appreciate. It outlines the five major factions of the North American Black Market, and we get a deep-dive into the seedy criminal enterprise, along with a way to play a Black Marketeer, or how to dovetail the Black Market into any current campaign. For the gun-nuts and techno-junkies, a series of weapons, power armour and robots are thrown in for good measure.
The Black Market. An overview of what activities the Black Market does, including sale of contraband, criminal enterprises, and smuggling. There are towns entirely funded and organized by them, with a Black Market contact table presented. An overview of the major operations across the various regions of Rifts Earth is portrayed, as well as the major methods of transporting goods. Of note, this is the first time we see any clear definition on The Green Scarf Sect from China, something mentioned but never detailed in either China Book.
Black Market Factions. The five major factions of the North American Black Market that have developed a relative equilibrium and become the clearly dominant actors in their respective territories and functions. Make no mistake, none of these groups are out to help each other, some of them at odds to the point of outright war.
Bandito Arms. Based in the old American Air Force base in Area 51, produces and manufactures most of the goods they sell. Additionally, they operate a major trading route hub at Nellis Air Force Base, in the vicinity of the ruins of Las Vegas; the ruins are given a wide berth due to haunting mirages and Entities. CEO NPC, Turner Collins is presented, as well as Diablo Joe, a pre-Rifts combat cyborg they discovered in stasis, providing Bandito Arms a dearth of information from the pre-Rifts era.
Chicago Network. The biggest of the Five Factions, they essentially run most everything within the CS out of their base in Chi-Town. Discusses some of their key activities, including specific direction how to handle smuggling people (read: players) into the fortress city intent on assassination (read: it's a hard no). Some clarification on what parts of CS territory are controlled by the Chicago Network and what is left for other groups. The Executive Board is covered, crime boss for each CS territory detailed.
El Oculta. Arguably the most violent, they control the American Southwest and northern Mexico, which means they have vampire issues, both fighting against and infiltrating their operations. Feral Dog Boys and vampire sensing D-Bees abound, as well as Simvan supply trains to avoid the CS. The mobile shanty-town of Mercado, and the El Oculta hidden stronghold of La Guarida is discussed. We are introduced to The Black Widow, head of El Oculta, and her younger sisters that help run the operation.
The Immaterial Hand. Birthed by the mages the CS ousted in their early conflicts with the Federation of Magic, they are based extensively in the Magic Zone and use magic and ley lines to move magic and Techno-Wizardry items. Currently experiencing a boom of trade due to the Siege of Tolkeen, there is a major demand for items to get into Tolkeen, as well as items to get smuggled out/stolen using nexus hubs, portal and dimensional magic. The only one of the Five not run by a family or single crime boss, a trio of practitioners of magic run the show.
Le Marche Noir. Based out of Free Quebec, they have a flare to be different from the others of the Five, just as FQ is with the CS. Working a lot out of Old Bones, ironically a front for the FQ government, they started a turf war with the Chicago Network in Iron Heart, and gained a lot of attention by selling Triax and Glitter Boy weapons, parts and munitions. Run by a Royal Frilled Dragon of all things, he is exploiting the FQ-CS conflict for personal gain.
Black Market Internal Structure. Operating very much like the organized crime of pre-Rifts era Earth, they are in it for long-term profit; nothing comes for free, and favours are the costliest of them all. Discussion on Black Market etiquette and hierarchy, security within the Black Market, dealing with authorities (e.g. check points), and law enforcement encounter tables.
The Coalition States. An encounter table for BM operations in the CS, based on how urban or rural the setting of the encounter, as well as BM activities most likely found within the CS, and a series of jobs the BM persona may conduct in support of their criminal overlords.
Playing a Black Marketeer. Notes on how players could create and play a PC working directly for the BM or joining the BM, as well as a series of benefits and bonuses. Obvious upside, you get to pretend to play someone from the Godfather; downside, you got the CS/ISS chasing after you. Better or worse than D-Bees or monsters out in the wilderness? You take your pick.
Black Market Specialist OCCs. Ten new OCCs for your viewing pleasure, including ones like the BM Banker, Case Man, Con Man, Enforcer, Expediter, Information Broker, Merchant, Raider, Refurbisher and Rift Runner. Mostly Adventurer types.
Black Market Sales Outfits. Some random tables for generating a start-up travelling Black Market outfit, a Black Market retail outfit, a Black Market town, bar generation table, and one for creating a body chop-shop.
100 Random Black Market Contraband Items. Exactly as marketed on the tin; everything from chicken and other livestock, to coal, honey and other raw materials, to weapons and ultimately power armour/robots, a plethora of magic items, as well as slaves (D-Bee or human types). Any GM could generate an idea or two from here and build a scenario around it.
Travelling Show Generation Rules. A reprint of the rules for the same, from World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms. Somewhat topical, so I can forgive the page-space used.
Bandito Arms. A series of technological/weaponry offerings from the business production side of this major Black Market entity. For you gun-nuts, lots of “Big Bore” weapons (including a “Baby Boom Gun”), lasers and plasma weapons.
Notable Vehicles. A series of Black Market-specific vehicles offered by any of the major factions or market towns. The All-Terrain Tumbler looks a little too slick for Rifts wilderness adventuring, while the Big Wheel Unicycle is interesting if completely impractical. The remainder are a series of wheeled, hover and aerial vehicles that would prove useful to most adventurers. Well, except for the Walker-Bike….. (somehow Pilot: Motorcycle allows the user to pilot effectively an underpowered and under armoured robot).
Black Market Power Armour and Robots. A couple of suits of environmental armour leads into something I call an absolute travesty… a stealth Glitter Boy suit (painted black, half the MDC) with “Baby Boom Gun” and updated forearm weapons. Other robots lead into the robot animals and (ugh…) dinosaurs, as well as steeds (with requisite robot unicorn….), the ever useful Pegasus (and of course “mega” Armoured Pegasus), the robot Raptor (because, Jurassic Park), and the truly head scratcher entry, the Seahorse – from a company base in the desert….
Magic Contraband. A series of magical items for sale. Includes some TW entries, and the entry that made me almost throw my pdf copy against the wall, a TW Glitter Boy…. with a main weapon the fires a single shot per melee round doing middling damage, but mostly knocking targets around with penalties, some built-in spells for use, and hey, regeneration (ugh…). Oh yeah, a TW SAMAS too. So how many magic OCCs even allow Pilot: Robots & Power Armour, let alone Robot Combat? SMH. There is a minor entry discussing “enchanting other antique technology,” where NEMA arsenal has been “enchanted from original form to allow mages to use.
Initial Assessment (7/10). So, this was one of my more recent acquisitions, and one I was hesitant about the contents. The result of a detailed read through and writing this overview certainly changed my opinion. A couple of sections provides a nice overview of the five major factions and goes into detail on how North American Black Market culture and operations work, including numerous trades, OCCs and how to play a Black Market character, “Black Market culture,” as well as random tables to help shape any particular setting the GM presents; there is a lot of information to exploit here. The Bandito Arms section expands the selection of weapons manufactured by that Black Market faction, followed with (quite frankly) some of the most dubious entries for vehicles, power armour and robots I’ve reviewed yet (i.e. that Walker-Bike and Seahorse power armour). Otherwise, using a baseball metaphor: I though the “stealth GB” was a ‘swing and miss,’ until I read the TW GB, which I equate to the batter chasing after the mascot. The artwork throughout supports the subject matter well, though nothing really ‘stood out’ for me; well, except for the dubious reprinting of some portions of the image from page 27, to include on page 8 (three foreground characters reversed, background removed). I’ll be honest, the cover art really deviated away from the norm I expected from Palladium Books. One of the few books that spans the entirety of North America in its scale, it still maintains the scope of detail a GM can easily use to create a campaign adventure, or expand on a current one. There is a lot of useful information here that folds incredibly easily into any setting; with some minor adjustments you could easily apply the material to any other Rifts setting. This would have been an 8, but the significant detraction from the Notable Vehicles entries onward that simply deviated too far off-course for the Rifts aesthetic for me; still useful, but not the cover-to-cover hit I was hoping for.
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