So today I’m going to talk about the MMORPG Rift and why you, as a tabletop gamer, might want to consider playing it. For the curious, you can get it at this link; it’s free to play to level 65, which covers everything but the most recent expansion, and provides access to plenty of the reasons I’ll be talking about.
First and foremost among my reasons why you should try Rift out is the storytelling; while the original game area isn’t quite as enthralling as the latter expansions, everything has a well-written and well-connected story. The original region of Mathosia holds the first conflict of the game, with your character either restored from the dead (again) or returning from a ruined future to fight the Dragon God of Death, depending on which faction you choose. Each step through these zones has a story attached to it; your fight to defeat the six elemental dragon cults is front and center, with game lore imparted fairly smoothly. In Freemarch, you learn about the Endless Court and their attempts to resurrect a tyrant as an undead thrall of the death god; in Silverwood you face off against rogue elves in service to the dragon god of life and their attempt to free that god.
By the time you reach the last zone of the original area, you’ve repeatedly thwarted the dragon cults, possibly slain some of the captive dragons yourself, and disrupted the events that brought the Defiant faction back in time. You’ll also have found yourself taking part in some of the Sagas of the game – stories that run alongside the main content, focusing on a particular enemy faction. The Abyssal saga, on the Defiant side, tells the story of the Faceless Man, a cultist turned ally; the interactions are poignant when he sends you to rescue a family member, and your victory over your opponents is satisfying. (And you get a riding crocodile.)
The story, from there, picks up with Storm Legion, and the stories there are a magnitude improved from the original content; the continents of Brevane and Dusken are fantastic sources of environmental storytelling in their own respect, from the flesh-twisted nightmare landscape of Seratos and Morban to the visible conflict between the wilderness of the life-touched regions of the Dendrome and the earth-touched deserts ruled by the Architects. Everywhere you look, you see the story of a civilization that died to a cataclysm that dwarfs anything back in Mathosia. The actual storylines match this compelling aspect; each NPC you interact with has a personality and tone that brings them to life, from the benevolent Caretakers of the Necropolis to the back-and-forth between yourself and Crucia, the Storm Queen.
More to the point, they bring the world to life with these quests; in Necropolis, you have a sequence of quests where you help one of the Caretakers try to win the affection of his love interest. It’s comical to some degree, but it also drives home exactly how alarmingly strange and nightmarish life in their death-twisted land is. Similarly, in the Dendrome, there’s a storyline for the fae town of Hailol where you might a knight named Sir Tasuil the Brave, who travels with you and cheerfully chatters about the excitement of being on an adventure alongside you. As the events play out, you come to know him rather well, and become an integral part of his story; he exists not as an NPC quest-giver, but as a fellow adventurer and hero.
In the Plane of Water, the entire storyline across all the zones ties strongly into your actions, helping a skelf (shark-like humanoid native to the plane of water) free from his egg, and helping raise him to defy all the traditions and prophecies that define him. Each step of the way keeps you in contact with him, all the way to your confrontation with the greatest dangers of the Plane of Water when the skelf army/nation comes to your aid and fights alongside you to save the cosmos from horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in the Mythos.
Each step through these zones – and those I haven’t mentioned, such as Ember Isle and the Planetouched Wilds – is a beautifully interwoven work of fiction. There are ample portions of foreshadowing and callbacks to earlier events. Each individual story often has spots when other stories reference it, all of which is something that GMs and PCs alike can learn from.
Speaking of NPCs, this is another spot where Rift shines; from your early interactions with faction-related characters where you learn the unique personalities of the major players to the bickering between allies in later areas and the interactions between yourself and foes such as Crucia and Lord Arak, the personalities of Rift’s NPCs are well-developed. Any GM could take lessons from the progression of a NPC such as Orphiel or the growth and development of Finric the Skelf; even players could get ideas on how to make their characters more well-developed. From the self-righteous arrogance of Cyril of the Guardians to the stoic calm of Rahn among the Defiants or the enthusiastic heroism of Tasuil, you can find any number of well-developed characters waiting to be met and learned from.
Lastly, you can learn to season scenes with conflicting emotional themes from how well Rift handles some of these characters and stories. Betrayal, when it happens, tends to really sting because you’ve become invested in the characters involved. Success in building alliances feels like a genuine achievement, because the characters are often those you’ve come to known and like. Jolts of levity in otherwise dead-serious situations have the timing managed, in most cases, in ways that any number of novelists I’ve read could learn from. It often pays to hang around groups of NPCs, as they’ll tend to have dialogue that they’ll spout in ongoing conversations. These often count as an infodump – but they way they’re delivered obscures that, masking it in banter and sass.
Also, the lore of the game world is amazing; from what you learn from the quests and conversations to the lore hidden in collectible books around the game’s world, the lore is deep, rich, and something that I wish all tabletop RPGs offered. I could literally spend days going through the available lore; someday I may well run a game set in Telara, simply to share the joy of the lore on offer.
So you should give Rift a try, if you can. It’s worth the investment of your time, and can provide a great deal for your tabletop play.