So I had actually planned to talk about a Bubblegum Crisis 2033 campaign in this space, but after gathering all the proper graphics and editing them to fit, the true moment-to-be-discussed lodged itself in my head. Do excuse me as I restart.
Instead of BGC, we’re going to talk about a RIFTS: Chaos Earth game.
Chaos Earth was a post-9/11 publication for RIFTS that took the setting to the apocalypse that created it. The focus of the narrative within Chaos Earth was to honour the efforts and dedication of heroic firefighters, police officers, and military personnel as they rescued civilians caught in the multi-dimensional firestorm that ultimately destroys modern-day civilisation. Our game of it was played in a quiet corner of the University of Windsor student centre, and despite the American flag on the cover of the book, the story took place in an unnamed part of Ontario-Quebec.
Patriotism, of course, abounds in these kinds of games and swells because we live on the border with Detroit, so everyone else plays a Canadian. I decide otherwise and, to the disgust of my fellow players, take on the role of a genetically augmented and massively large American soldier — Theodore Jefferson Russel, or T.J. Russel for short. He’s there on loan to support the Canadians because America helps its allies. He also cheerfully tells them that at every opportunity. At this point, I’m pretty sure all the other characters (and players) hate him (and me), so spreading the goodwill of AMERICA begins as an uphill battle.
Yes, I even talk like that in character while puffing out my chest and holding my arms out so it looks like my shoulders turn at my elbows. Apple pie. Freedom.
The GM starts my character out with a damaged mech, citing that because of my massive size, parts have become increasingly difficult to come by. T.J.’s never phased by such news, and is more than happy to let existing parts and labour go to other soldiers and pilots who need it. He takes the opportunity to, on the march, talk to absolutely everyone about how great and noble Canada is, and how AMERICA will not let them down. It does mean, however, that our first rescue mission happens with T.J. lacking access to a power suit — but he performs admirably enough by helping the team of PCs rescue some refugees from a collapsing building. Since T.J. is so strong and has the D&D equivalent of a Constitution score of 30 (I’m not even joking because RIFTS), he does this by holding up a collapsed support beam with his back until absolutely everyone gets out. AMERICA.
That’s not even the moment I’m going to talk about, but it is the moment that wins T.J. the trust and support of his Canadian allies. I think it’s also when my hammy performance starts eroding the apprehension of the other players against having an AMERICAN character there. Our technicians fast track repairs on T.J.’s Glitterboy (Powered Armour, also a real name because RIFTS) and even paint an American flag on it just in time for us to meet our first real inter-dimensional conflict — a stolen, rampaging Atlantean spider-mech armed with a nuclear payload!
If I didn’t win my table over with T.J. before this conflict, here’s where I do it. T.J. goes toe-to-toe with the Atlantean spider-mech with the support of the party, but our main efforts are on guiding our refugee column away from the danger zone. The pilots of the spider-mech reveal themselves as escaped slaves of the Atlantean Empire; the spider-mech is their only defense against being recaptured and they don’t trust anyone because brutal slavery has been their whole life. Their priority is getting rid of us fast. They fire a nuclear warhead at us, and T.J. uses his action to pick up the less armoured PC beside him and throw him past the blast radius! The missile hits T.J. at ground zero, we calculate damage. I pray. The dust settles and the blast destroys the mech, but T.J. is still alive to climb out of his suit. It’s him alone, now unarmoured, facing down the alien spider-mech.
All of T.J.’s monster stats are in his Endurance and Strength (he’s seriously probably immune to radiation because RIFTS), but after hearing the aliens’ story, he stops and relies solely on his more human qualities. In the quiet of the explosion, before combat can resume again, he calls out to the aliens and engages them as fellow refugees. Runaways. People seeking safety and a home to belong to. He speaks to them about the Underground Railroad and America’s emancipation of slaves. He recites to them the words written at the base of the Statue of Liberty. He tells them that there exist peoples and nations here dedicated to truth, justice, and freedom. Who stand against tyranny in all its forms. In earnest, as a man who lives and breathes and truly embodies the ideals of America the Good, he invites them not just to join them as companions, but to begin the road to citizenship and the guarantee of equality. I nearly kill my throat maintaining his baritone through this whole spiel of nearly over ten minutes, but it moves everyone at the table so much that the aliens (turns out they were people with pointed ears like most first contact alien cultures), exit their spider-mech and accept the care and hospitality of Canada, America’s most precious ally and stalwart partner in freedom and other AMERICAN ways.
The game ends with us finding our way to the mega-bunker that will protect these people from the worst of the apocalypse. The scenes all close with everyone celebrating Christmas Eve together. T.J., someone tells me when they find that bunker in a separate campaign, although he never does find his way back to AMERICA, becomes so beloved by the settlement that its greatest landmark is his statue at its entrance.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”