Rifts World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms (Revised Edition)
Vampire Kingdoms is a gothic horror sourcebook for Rifts published by Palladium Books and written by Kevin Siembieda.
By Aaron T. Huss
Vampire Kingdoms is the ultimate sourcebook for incorporating vampires into your Rifts game along with bringing players to Rifts-Mexico, also know as the Vampire Kingdoms. Palladium Books takes a very interest direction concerning the existence of vampires including traditional and new ideas. One can say that the material defines why vampires come into existence for the purpose of making them feel real rather than simple fantasy or horror tales. At the same time, plenty of information is provided to combat the vampires so one does not feel hopeless against these immortal foes. Do not fear, the outlook may be grim, but it is not hopeless.
In addition to the obvious purpose of incorporating the Vampire Kingdoms into Rifts is the fact that all the source material can be used outside of Rifts. Not because it lacks in-game mechanics (quite the opposite actually), rather it is so detailed that you can take this material and apply it elsewhere. Palladium Books are masters at creating sourcebooks and this revision of their first Rifts World Book is amazing! Not only do the vampires within truly come to life, but their entire being is brought to the forefront and filled with depth like I’ve never imagined. When a sourcebook informs the reader that vampires maintain mortal ranches and use the humans as cattle, you know the book isn’t screwing around. This book is all about the lords of the night and doesn’t pull any punches.
Vampires within Vampire Kingdoms are not the traditional ones from centuries of folklore. To start, vampires are described as a plague that spreads throughout the land like a disease, albeit one that is demonic in nature. The undead are made to be demons and not just supernatural. Yes they have all the typical characteristics: vulnerable to sunlight, holy water, and wooden stakes, have superhuman strength, and create new vampires by biting them, but it doesn’t stop there. The first vampire, in what is to become a large community of them, is formed by a willing subject who acquires the essence of his ultimate vampiric master (known as the Vampire Intelligence) which can be thought of as an elder god residing in a different dimension. This first vampire (known as the Master Vampire) spreads this vampiric essence like a disease throughout the land. The end result is an entire community (or rather Kingdom) of vampires who “live” like a similar human community.
The sections dedicated to describing the vampires and their kin in detail contains an introduction to what vampires truly are, a large list of the powers they posses (in game mechanics terminology), the different types of vampires, their protectors, and a bit about how they function. One thing to note is that when you create an entire kingdom of vampires, you cannot sustain life by luring the random investigator or two. These kingdoms are often backed by farms… human farms… where humans are turned into cattle and used to feed the vampires. Yep, cattle! It’s twisted, but would make sense to support an entire kingdom. But of course, no vampire kingdom would be complete without some protectors. Including the Chupacabra, are good list of protectors is included to fill-out your kingdom.
We all know that vampires are virtually impossible to kill, with traditional means that is. When you consider the often-found load-out of a Rifts character, your players may need to completely strip their characters down and find more low-tech means for survival. Vampires are tough, but not completely unstoppable. They all have weaknesses and the first thing a player needs to learn is how to use and exploit those weaknesses. Throughout the sections for hunting vampires includes a detailed description of the various weaknesses of vampires and how to exploit them (this is translated more into combat and weapon mechanics).
A large number of pages is dedicated to describing combat with a vampire. It is critical to understand not only how to fight a vampire, but how to recognize their methods and responses. It is stated numerous times throughout the content (in a narrative format) that to survive an attack against the vampires means fully understanding what to use (weapons and combat styles) and when to use them. Moving on are the actual in-game mechanics that translate all this information into player character terms by giving the players what they need to create the basic type of vampire hunter character.
The Vampire Kingdoms are located in the heart of Rifts-Mexico. However, there’s more to Mexico than lands infested with the vampire plague. The content for Mexico focuses on El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. These are the border cities that offer a “last chance” spot to rest and refill before entering the true Vampire Kingdoms. Although be careful what lurks in the shadows… There are numerous ideas for adventures in either of these cities before entering the Vampire Kingdoms, something of a precursor before the real battle comes. El Paso is detailed as far as the major groups within the city and basic highlights, but not much else. Juarez, however, is very detailed including government, technology, 7 major groups, and a map with a large list of highlighted locations (each one described within). Outside of Juarez, Northern Mexico is a volatile area due to the presence of the Vampire Kingdoms. Instead of detailing further villages, Vampire Kingdoms includes a high number of tool-kits for the Game Master to create their own.
Vampire Kingdoms wouldn’t be complete without a look at the actual Vampire Kingdoms. This includes a look at the bestiary found across Rifts-Mexico and the Vampire Kingdoms, information about the history surrounding the kingdoms, and of course the kingdoms themselves. Only four are detailed here, although the book states there are 6 major kingdoms. Each kingdom is fully detailed including their location(s), composition, and bits and pieces of history surrounding the kingdom. The odd thing is, this part of the book is the shortest. Is that a big deal? Not really, because it’s more important to understand the vampires themselves than to worry about the minute details of what their ranches look like. The true focus of the book is to give the players an understanding of what they’re coming across as the layout of the land probably won’t matter once you’re facing down a group of vampires. Plus Game Masters are given a full look at how these vampires are.
If you want your vampires to be more than the stereotype Dracula-like being who turns into a bat, sleeps in a coffin, lures victims into their home, and simply bites them in the end, then Vampire Kingdoms is for you. It not only breaths life into the ideals of vampires but it creates an entire society filled with depth and history. Entire communities can be created to house your vampire society including their human slaves and henchmen and undead guards. I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to create detailed vampire societies and consider it essential for anyone venturing into Rifts-Mexico.
Publication Quality: 8 out of 10
Being such a detailed sourcebook can have one simple drawback: information overload. One thing that occurs throughout Vampire Kingdoms is content that gets repeated or is simply too wordy. The good news about this is that it doesn’t hinder your ability to read and comprehend the material. It’s better to think “I read that already” than “I don’t understand, something is missing.” I can honestly say that the number of times content repeats itself is completely overshadowed by the amount of valuable material. To coincide with this valuable material is an assortment of wonderful illustrations including some horrific images depicting the demons that vampires are being described as.
The overall layout and presentation and simply and easy-to-follow, although the inserted map of Juarez is less than desirable. A little more detail on that map would be nice. It is worth noting, again, that the illustrations really stand-out from everything, simply because they are not only beautiful but excellent representations of the presented material.
Mechanics: 10 out of 10
Palladium Books has this way about their source material where you’re reading along and it “pops” out at you that the content you just read has mechanics flawlessly incorporated into them. Besides that obvious mechanics of creating vampire NPCs, vampire hunter PCs, weapons, and bestiary, there are mechanics all throughout this book. Most of them are so inconspicuous that you may not realize you’re even reading them. Don’t think that this equates to glossing over the mechanics and neglecting them. Rather, you read the material and translate the mechanics in your head with ease. While you may think the material reads like a research paper, the content is constantly being translated into in-game mechanics thus giving it all purpose.
Value Add: 10 out of 10
The value in Vampire Kingdoms is everywhere. From the mechanics designed for Rifts to the fluff that can be used elsewhere, the book is filled with valuable source material. The part that stands out the most to me is how vampires are given a history that starts with a grand, supernatural being not of this world. Vampires of fiction and mythology are often filled with folklore backgrounds which rarely translate well into role-playing mechanics. Vampire Kingdoms tears down this fictional history by creating a greater being (such as an elder god) whose essence is “planted” into a willing subject, creating the vampire. Considering only this part of the book, you create vampires with a lot more depth than “his body was not properly buried and an undead being arose”.
Remembering that the source material addresses three different areas, there is additional value to the book due to its potential use for both players and Game Masters. The information about vampires is essential for players who wish to become vampire hunters while the information about Mexico and the Vampire Kingdoms is essential for Game Masters who wish to run a series of adventures within the land of the vampires. When you consider the price, this book is worth every single penny!
Overall: 9 out of 10
Vampire Kingdoms is an amazing sourcebook. If your players are ready to take on the horrors within the lands of Rifts-Mexico, they’ll need to be properly equipped. Throw out all their knowledge of combat and consider a more, low-tech approach. You could throw them in their completely blind, but that doesn’t always make for good role-playing. In addition, this material is great for other systems besides Rifts. Yes you will have to tweak some of the mechanics, but when the source material contains such simple mechanics such as “these vampires roam in packs of 2d6+6”, you can translate that into every system. To round all this off is the fact that you are given so many levels within the Vampire Kingdoms (types of vampires, pets, guardians, etc…) that creating a fully fleshed-out kingdom of your own is much easier. Essentially, this book gives you all you should need concerning vampires starting on the very first page.