Scholar’s Review #46: Rifts Adventure Sourcebook (Chi-Town ‘Burbs: The Black Vault)
Author: Kevin Siembieda
Release Date: August(?) 2003
Continuing the examination of Chi-Town and the ‘Burbs, we take a closer look at the infamous Black Vault. As the Coalition States’ repository for all captured magical artefacts seized over the years, it has become a thing of legend and myth to those seeking some of the rarest items gone missing over the years. In a post-Tolkeen War setting, there are those who seek to profit off the items the CS pilfered from Tolkeen, others seeking them in order to purchase said items, the CS hunting both the items for seizure and those that smuggle/ purchase them for the death penalty they have earned. The site itself, along with several adventure ideas give GMs something to work with. There is also a list of 101 magical items to demonstrate just how expansive the warehouse of seized items is.
Magic in the Coalition States. We get a bit of a background primer on the CS worldview with respect to magic, summarizing much of what could be read in the Federation of Magic and a couple of other sources. The message is simple and clear: magic and those that accept magic as a benign force (D-Bees, Rogue Scholars/Scientists, dissidents) are evil, corrupting, and should be feared and shunned by all good people.
Magic in the ‘Burbs. Old Towns rigidly follow CS dogma against magic and actively help hunt down magic users/items; most New Towns are more open the ideas of free thinkers and feel the CS is mistaken in their interpretation and policy; Shanty Towns and their wildly open considerations are thought of as “cesspools of magic and dens for demons and D-Bees.” The CS response is as brutal as one would expect; mages (especially D-Bees) are shot on sight, if not tortured first, as are those in possession of, or smuggling items/practitioners of magic. The Army, ISS, NTSET and a newly presented Anti-Magic Recovery Squad (AMRS) are the forces that hunt them down. The AMRS special training bonus skills allow players to create and play a character from these squads with only minor adjustments to baseline OCCs.
The Legend of the Black Vault. For decades the CS has seized magic items, and the post-war market for magic items coming out of Tolkeen has spurred their efforts. Naturally one would ponder, where did the CS place all these items? Enter the myth of the Black Vault, which seeks to send treasure hunters on a variety of false leads.
The Black Vault. Existing deep in the bowels of the Chi-Town fortress city, they are primarily concerned with containment over the study of artefacts. This top-secret fortress is exceedingly well protected: psychically conditioned soldiers, as well as robots and power armour, and fixed weapon mounts – and this is all just along the perimeter. The material of the vault is made of laser resistant material, similar to the Glitter Boy (… what?!) with 4,000 MDC per 10 square foot section, main door a whopping 16,000 MDC (so I guess the CS makes doors better than the universe makes supernatural intelligences). Okay, hit me over the head with “not your normal bank vault.”
Finding the Black Vault. Some discussion on how this fabled treasure trove could be folded into a campaign. A few pages on how this could most likely be set-up, as well as what some of the more salient groups would want with the Black Vault (e.g. Federation of Magic, Atlantis, ARCHIE-03).
Game Masters Eyes Only. So now we get to brass tacks. A couple of interesting ‘suspected locations’ are covered, each with interesting adventure links. Neither suspected location is where the group of PCs would find the fabled Black Vault, but it provides GMs great start points for adventure. One could easily make more of these and keep the PCs running from one false lead to another.
101 Magic Items. So no, I’m not going to review all 101 items; there’s over 25 pages of them. Of note, these are just a sample of the myriad items the CS has collected. In my mind, I imagine the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Ark is stored in amongst a massive array of crates. Some notable entries:
TW Danger Cars (03%): A couple of TW-powered light reconnaissance jeeps from sources unknown in the Pecos Empire.
TW Frying Pan (09%): Yeppers, break into the super-secret vault in order to claim your very own TW T-Fal pan! One of a few food preparation entries; more a curio that demonstrates TW magic can be applied to benign matters just as well as weapons.
The Magic Miner (18%): Resembles a light tank mounting a giant drill bit on the front; ironically the drill isn't even needed as it projects a magic force field to do the digging. Brings up the point that magic/TW items do not have to resemble their function; this could have easily been a dish, barrel, heck, a sail, or a flower, for the way this was described. Personally I would have made it a pre-Rifts plastic flamingo.
Nose Ring of Breathing (28%): A rather ingenious device, hidden in plain sight giving the user access to the Breathe Without Air spell. Certainly not game breaking, but an interesting and ingenious way to employ magic.
Medieval Power Armour (43%): A suit of ancient-style plate mail with a variety of randomized powers and a good deal of MDC (4D6x10 + 120!) that regenerates each hour (1D6x10 + 40).
TW Stealth Shadow Aircaft (68%): Originally from Lazlo, this vehicle was left abandoned due to performance issues (lack of speed, relatively low MDC, intermittent failure in cloaking systems, and gremlins – actual Conversion Book gremlins). Lazlo just can’t catch a break! I bet these get “fixed” for the new Lazlo books though, just you watch.
Magic Potions (80% - 101%): Not something we see very much of in Rifts, about two dozen potions and their various effects that do the same thing as casting a spell of the same power.
Initial Assessment (5/10). The fabled vault and treasures it contains can very easily fall victim to just becoming another a massive campaign MacGuffin. Most likely meant to be a plot device, it can make for a great heist-style adventure, but given the level of security, I’d wager most players are unlikely to ever find the real thing, let alone realistically break into the thing. It does give a GM a couple of “fake” locations and adventure ideas that they could very easily exploit without ever actually finding the prize, so to speak. Speaking of prizes, the actual list of “treasures” presented were, ....lacklustre. Understanding that there is indeed a market for TW cookware and utensils, camping gear and surveillance/spy devices, this list essentially made me think these items should have been included elsewhere as a template for just how wide and varied TW and magic devices could be! Imagine going through the motions of adventuring to find, plan and execute a heist, only to grab a TW microwave and a food preserver? Granted, a GM can leave **anything** in the place for PCs to find (Atlantean rune weapons, the secret win conditions to the Kobayashi Maru scenario, how does one actually get to Sesame Street? I digress....) but I expected a more enticing list of loot. Still, as an adventure plot, it provides an enticing framework to play with. The artwork supports but doesn’t really stand out, with the exception of the Perez group illustration on page 5 and the Freddie Williams CS psyker mentally ordering a pair of Dog Boys on page 10. As an adventure sourcebook, it does what it should, giving a GM something to work with in campaign generation, but nothing too spectacular outside of the few tidbits on getting PCs interested and running them through some adventures in the ‘Burbs and Chi-Town proper, which in and of itself is a security barrier that I felt was woefully underdeveloped to this point – it should be nigh impossible to “slip into Chi-town,” but that is the implication. Would have bumped to 6 with more compelling items, 7 or 8 if they have gone into greater depth about Chi-Town security and combined with the two previous Adventure Sourcebooks.
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