Dead... and Back is a survival horror Role Playing Game. The Anarchy Zones is its official setting - aliens, reanimates, and the ruins of 2055 America.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Getting Around: 2 if by Sea, Pi if by Air

Aquatic Transit
Watercraft are easier to retrofit to alternate propulsion than cars. While the width of roadways is rather fixed, ships can be built with a greater beam or deeper drafts could be built to accommodate battery cells and other alternate propulsion means - up to and including nuclear reactors in many larger military craft. Sail power for personal craft is common, but most commercial loads would be impractical for standard sails. However tethered "kites" that hold wind turbines in the slipstream several hundred meters above the ship can provide plenty of electricity.

Despite the efficiency and available power, the use of boats and ships is highly situational in the US anarchy zones. On one hand, many of the cites were built near major bodies of water as a legacy of being settled before the construction of the interstate system. However the many sets of river locks, levies, and other products of the civil engineering corps that contributed to the ease of navigation along the waters have degraded.

Large ships require a lot of dockyard maintenance for everything from rest prevention to the multi-ton engine gears. No transit and limited manufacturing mean that most large ships are stuck where they are moored. However, this has been turned into a boon, as a an old cruise ship can make for a very nice and defensible base of operations, with several miles of ocean separating it from reanimates.

Reanimates have been observed swimming to cross obstacles. Their unusual biology should allow them to survive being underwater for several minuets longer than a human could. However, they are often reluctant to enter water.  Kappas/Epsilon types have far too many integrated pieces of metal to be buoyant, type ones lack the coordination to do much more than dog paddle, and alphas have too much a sense of self preservation to enter dangerous situations from the water. Twos and Betas on the other hand, love to ambush from the water like crocodiles.

Reanimates are not the only danger at the water's edge. The populations of alligators, aquatic snakes, bears, crocodiles, and other predators have exploded in recent years. Previously, Human activity was a major check on populations as they either competed for prey split up habitats with construction, accidentally killed large numbers of animals with pollution and occasionally actively destroyed the large predators. Without the regular spraying of pesticides, disease carrying pests like mosquitoes have also become a much larger problem near water.

Europe has a slightly different problem with aquatic transit. Most notably, the Baltic, North Sea, and occasionally the English channel are patrolled by members of the Kola Command Authority. In turn, anything larger than a rowboat risks being run down by a nuclear powered cruiser or ambushed by fuel cell equipped diesel-electric submarine, and held for ransom. Major rivers might occasionally see an ekranoplan or missile hydrofoil representing the KCA, but are much safer, if not leading quite as far.

The disposition of the world's navies will be discussed in a later article.

Taking to the Air
Ultralite aircraft are a popular choice for long distance travel and exploration. While the necessary power to weight ratios require liquid fueled engines, once the appropriate supply has been manufactured or obtained they can bypass many roadblocks. Many craft in this style are easy to maintain, and to disassemble which has become even more important. After-all, its the best way to keep such a valuable piece of equipment safe - either keep it in the shelter with you, or remove a few key parts to prevent others from absconding with it.

Long stretches of abandoned highway have made for plenty of stopping points for civil aircraft. However, the requirements for maintaining them means that there are thousands of planes that are simply rotting away in hangers and on tarmacs. Much the same applies to agile but fuel hungry helicopters may be agile, and multi-surface inflatable skirt hovercraft.

However, two seemingly dead aviation technologies have witnessed a renaissance.

Zeppelins made a rather surprising comeback in the mid 2030s. Although lighter than air craft often rather slow, they are more efficient fuel wise than jet aircraft, and can hover in one place longer than helicopters while maintaining higher altitudes. They are used for long range patrols, mobile cranes, or in the role of cruise liners for multinational trips. Despite the Hindenburg disaster that ended the first era of airships, many modern zeppelins  use hydrogen - its cheaper than Helium, has a greater buoyancy, and can be manufactured on site, while modern materials and safety systems mitigate its flammability risk. Several dirigibles are still airworthy because their main requirement can be easily manufactured, and their low speeds allow for simpler and more robust engines. Of course booking passage on one these days is more likely to invoke a quest of Tolkien-esq proportions than booking with a local agent.

Wing in ground effect vehicles - also known as ekranoplans - became rather popular means of transit for situations where higher speeds were required. The infamous 550 ton Caspian sea monster was able to travel at high speeds low over the water with 1960s technology. Modern composites, better engines, and computer aided design coupled with the efficiency of flying in ground effect made them quite desirable when oil shortages rendered conventional jumbo-jets exceedingly expensive to use. Furthermore, these low flying boats needed to a body of water, rather than expanding already overburdened airports.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Internal vs External Games

There are two main ways of running a game in the Anarchy Zone setting, and. these styles are mirrored opposites of each other. Internal games focus on the population of a single city state, while the outside is on the areas outside.

Internal games are usually fairly close to the standard zombie apocalypse scenario. Beyond the walls of your home settlement or city state, is a wasteland full of things that want to eat you, and human scum that is probably worse. Instead, you must build alliances amongst your fellow survivors, quell the rumbles of unrest, and try to rebuild as best as possible.

Sometimes this involves investigating a murderer when the culprit is hiding in the miles of NEST maintainece halls. Other times its helping lead the rebellion against the Birmingham Theocracy, only to turn on your so called comrades and show you were an Inquisitor and in the right all along. Considering that many of the city states have been running under absolute authority for several years now, just getting elections to run smoothly could involve risking your life and protecting others at the polls.

It may be necessary to leave the walls and find some supply to help with the long term survival of the state. If its possible to make someone else go, all the better.

External games are about exploration and freedom, dodging reanimates along the way. There are places with a population of several thousand, running water, and restored sphere access. However, they are merely grasping at the former grandeur, and maintaining them through draconian measures. Leaders are willing to exile or execute anyone who doesn't wave the tattered old flag of nationalism. Every last one of those residents is willing to kill their bretheren to keep just a little more of the bones of the past to themselves.

Games on the external model focus more on the beauty and opportunities of the anarchy zones. This is a time for pioneers, not all that worse than the nineteenth century. Aliens  have replaced cholera, reanimates indians, and a nano tech factory is the new comstock lode. Make your own legend in the wastes, and help others along the way if you can. With a sudden population crash, an invasion wiping out old nations, its a chance to have the world new again - there is space and resources enugh for everyone if they put a little work into it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cruel as Wagner

Its Vivaldi. An electronic reproduction lacking in nuance, from some sup-par speakers, I'm afraid. These are truly brutal times. But that is no excuse for bad manners. You're my guest, is there a composer you would prefer?


Don't look so surprised. One simply can't be a raider in this day and age, without an appreciation for the baroque era of classical music. Natural selection - those who didn't are now dead. Well, not so much natural as guided - if I spoke of the "Will to Power" would I need to repeat myself?

Of Course. Nietzsche is a little bit advanced when you don't have the sphere. I'll try to explain it less philosophically, though if I am reduced to monosyllabic grunts, I will have to take you outside and put a bullet in your cranium.

Polite society did not fare well in the days following the arrival of our extraterrestrial guests. A large portion of the clerical grid went down, and government resources to deal with the scenario were rather thinly stretched. Quite a few took this time to rationalize their anti-social behaviors. Some justified it as protecting their family, and others felt that this lack of oversight meant some stumbling block had been removed from their path to becoming an ubermensch and dictating their own morals. A horrid perversion of the concept, mind you, the true superman rejects limits on creativity and living to the fullest, but does not fall to destruction.

That is the key. So many out to prove their dominance, to take what they feel is theirs. But you can only demonstrate your power over the windows of the local liquor store so many times. Filling bottles with a mixture of dish-soap and gasoline will not build fear or good protection.

Control is so much more. It is knowledge! Maintaining supplies of arms, knowing where convoys are going, knowing how far to push, without razing it all to the ground.

The raiders and brigands today are not the violent youths that grabbed as much as they could carry and ran off in the early days. Its the ones with keen minds and the ability to think in the long term. Knowing about Zugzwang in chess is as as necessary as the use of guns - though I will admit, if you learned to play chess while serving time in San Quentin - you have the best of both worlds.

We just about never hit a convoy directly. We harass from afar, leave some trees in their path, and put holes in one or two of the drivers every now and then. Just enough to let the towns along the way understand we could sever their life lines. In turn, they are willing to give us tributes to prevent this scenario.

Better to be the tax collector than toe cutter. The benefits of recurring business over a single raid is quite self evident. Indeed, we lose far more recruits in skirmishes with other outlaws than broaching the walls a settlement. It is to our benefit to make sure the areas under our - protection - remain viable an paying unto us.

Sometimes it is necessary to exert a bit more force. It would be dishonest to say I'm sorry that your caravan happened to bare the brunt of that occurrence. But flexibility and recognizing opportunity are important personal traits, and this is your time. My men were quite impressed by your performance protecting your wares.

You could do very well if you cultivated an appreciation for Stravinsky and signed on with our organization.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lone Star Architecture

Not all arcologies are singular giant towers - most are more spread out, but still pack the population of a large town in a dozen buildings. There are in fact dozens of plans for the concept, and the NEST project was a notable aberration in being of standardized form. Arcology is a portmanteau of "Architecture and Ecology" and the true constant between all the designs is an attempt at minimal ecological foot prints and harmony with the surrounding environment.

Lone Star is a sample of a planned community built into a few dozen buildings. It was scheduled to be finished in time for the 220th anniversary of the battle of the Alamo (Spring 2056) though delays would probably mean the ceremonials would occur several years later than intended.  This would also be the time where it received its proper name. Technically Lone Star is only the name of the construction project - the actually name of the arco was to be put to a vote and be chosen by its new inhabitants at the opening. Population was expected to be between 50 and 80 thousand residents, plus a seasonal influx of several thousand more for its university campus.

The primary structure was officially the "Tri-part Globe" but is often jokingly called the crippled spider. Three legs in canted at 30 degrees from vertical stretch up about 25 stories, and then form a platform. Extending eight stories both above and below this point are large geodesic domes offering an excellent view of the surrounding areas as none of the other structures in the complex go above thirty meters.

As with the massive bases of the NEST, this was to be mostly a commercial and shopping destination to attract investments. Much of the central sphere would have been hydroponic farms for exotic plants destined to become special dishes at five star restaurants.

Spreading out in a radial pattern came a trio of curved habitation blocks, each representing a large rectangular apartment building, though only numbers one and two (North and Southeast) were complete, with the Southwest block just a foundation and a few walls. These are fairly low, but wide structures and often derisively compared to the appearance of housing projects from the 60's and 70s. However, their interiors are surprisingly open, the apartments quite a bit larger than old "efficiency" units (comparable at least to high-end hotel suites in many cases) and include a number of internal community areas, such as libraries, gyms, and a swimming facility.

(Actual layout of these buildings subject to change if I find some interesting buildings to model them on. My sister might be an architect, but I'm certainly not.)

A second ring consisted of three more buildings at opposite points (ie South, Northeast, and Northwest) for industrial purposes. Amongst the plans were fiberglass fabrication shops, ceramic kilns, and a medical supply factory - though these were subject to change, and for the most part, these are a series of large open spaces waiting to be partitioned and have their plumbing completed.

Further from the complex are the beginnings of some of the other planned elements of the community. A local college and technical school was the first order of business, and short of desks, the building is ready for use. An amusement park was also completed by 2050 in a push to monetize the project as soon as possible. Further expansion of the facilities to include casinos or additional living space could begin as soon as the original complex began to reach capacity.

The utilities system of the complex is quite unusual. Most arcologies were built in concert with alternative energy plants like solar towers, wave generators, or thermal taps. However, due to other projects in the area, the need for expansion, and the presence of a nearby military facility that would need a large amount of power, the planners justified the construction of a three unit nuclear fission plant. (Efficient fusion continuing to elude scientists despite earlier claims). Even more unusual about this choice, was rather than the now standard fluidized bed or pebble bed reactor of most civilian facilities, the design would instead be based on the smaller and more energy dense type of reactor used aboard submarines and aircraft carriers. In turn, this meant that one reprocessing facility could handle both the civilian and military fuel, as well as survey as a training facility for naval technicians, and allow for parts commonalty between the shipyard - as well as  get military financing for some of the arco's features. Although there is are reasons these style plants are not built elsewhere, there was surprisingly little protest, and two reactors were online by 2050, while the third was scheduled for fueling in 2052.

Each reactor was rated at approximately 1.2 MW, with a 15 month working cycle at high out-put. Aside from some stress tests, the plant has  never needed to be used at their full capacity, ensuring that there is enough fuel on hand for at least a decade of further operations. The current residents of the Lone Star Facilities find that electricity is one of the few resources they have in abundance.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Entrance Examinations Part One

In a world with reanimates, alien war machines, and the occasional raider, security is of the utmost importance. The facade and portals a settlement shows to the world can go a long way to telling how friendly or desperate an area might be. Its unlikely that any settlement will have a shoot on site policy, except for the occasional criminal they have exiled.

General Ideas for Fortification
Due to the lack of coordination on behalf of the most common reanimate types, (One, Alpha, Two, and Three) simple walls of debris or uneven landscaping can slow them down enough for a warning to be issued and armed personnel to thin their numbers. Many small settlements don't go much farther than this, preferring to be able to relocate citizens quickly, over attempting to build barriers sufficient to sop they types that can leap six meters or smash reinforced concrete.

More permanent areas will usually have at least low walls of sand bags and wood to keep out humans as well as creatures, and perhaps provide elevated firing platforms. Using the remains of a nearby building or a newly erected tower are common means of keeping an eye on the surrounding area.

Those who can get their hand on old shipping containers, box cars, or semi-trailers are fond of using them as parts of the walls. Some truly paranoid communities will often set up "killer hallways". One common scheme for this is to have a pair of heavy shipping containers in an L shape, with a machine gun at the end of one leg, waiting for the people to blindly turn the corner. Another is to have the targets pass though a lightly built trailer, and simply shoot through the walls with a heavy caliber weapon after blocking the exit.

Generally speaking, most people like their entrance doors to be based on a dropping gate. Its a form of fail-safe - loosen the clasp, and gravity should take care of the rest. Sliding or conventional swinging doors can be hard to secure things are attempting to force their way in.

Megastructure arcologies are best thought of as "fortresses constructed from a sieve".

The bases of these huge buildings are giant shopping mall and entertainment complex, originally meant to help attract outside commerce. Thus ground level has dozens of doors, plate glass show windows, while further complications pop up in trying to secure the many underground access points - sewer access, subways stations, parking garages, and the loading docks.

However, the buildings were made to withstand fire, riots, and acts of terror - in addition to the normal security gratings and locks one expects on commercial ventures. National guard presence and a high population has also allowed these places to become heavily fortified. Many of the above ground entrances have been welded shut, then have old cars lifted over the concrete vehicle stopping blocks and placed in front of them. Others can have safety gates shut quickly, and are kept under armed watch at all hours. Even should the outer walls be breached, reinforced metal doors designed to contain jet fuel driven high-rise fires can corral opponents into predetermined kill zones.

New Birmingham
The truly surprising element about NB is how seemingly unsecured it is.

While most of the other city states tend to cluster around a centralized area seeking with strong walls and barricades,  this one is set up more like a series of suburbs. Each small area is easier to lock down in case of a breach, and puts fewer people at risk. Each six to ten square block area surrounded by a double chain-link fence, all but the portal areas with razor wire strung between. Towers, or simply standing on flat roofs gives excellent visibility, and  its often possible to shoot right through the fence at invaders and patch it later.

Some buildings are reinforced, and given murals to stand out from the rest.  These are secondary evacuation sites, for people to escape to until rescue arrives. Armed guards are usually posted at these buildings to make sure no one attempts to steal any of the emergency supplies kept within. Most of the churches also have reinforced panic rooms to protect the faithful.

Las Vegas
No outside problems are likely to get into Vegas, thus making it quite likely inside problems can get out.

With over four battalions of soldiers and much of their equipment, situated in a desert with clear lines of sight, noting unliving or alien is likely to approach within five miles of the former resort town. Its unlikely any traveler - presidential cabinet members including - to mover over two blocks without a check point asking to see their ID cards and inquiring bout their reasons.

Unfortunately, much of this is simply rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The patrols are far less about crime, and  a desire for the mil-gov to run a junta. Indeed, they tend to hate the busy work, but keeping the soldiers on patrol helps sideline the tensions that might otherwise flare up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Orders and Vocorders

Hobbes was standing on a large rock, while the alien machine had its feet planted in a dry river bed, and yet he still only came up to the middle of its chest. Still, he was amazingly nonchalant about the encounter, opposed to the soundman De Zufingia who kept throwing furtive glances at the the two other machines. 
   "...battery at 95 per-cent, directional mics are hot - whenever the two of your are ready."
   "Thank you, no time like the present. Hello listners, we're live with...
   "Boss we're recording - you can edit in the intro later, and we shouldn't keep armored people with laers waiting. I'm sure they had other plans for today beffore we showed up."
   "Plans, thats as good a starting point as any. Question one my good man, er being - the one all my listeners, and myself - and probably Deiego are wondering - what are you doing here on Earth, and what are you planning to do?"

The machine dropped its elbows to its waist, then scissored its forearms, holding the palms upward, left hand over right.
"OK, and what does that mean? and if I might remind you, this is audio only."
It repeated the motion, then the translation device kicked in with its usual mechanical stutter. "When you do not know or disMis the poss Ibil Ity"
   "So its the the alien equivalent of a shrug?" Hobbes raised his shoulders, then dropped them to demonstrate.
   "How can you come billions of light years, and not know what you're doing here?"
   "TechNIcal problem with ships. I am not a [SQUEEL] [pause] repAir indIviduAl. I don't know deTAils. I just folLow ordErs."
  "Was that noise the untranslated version of spaceship enginereer."
   "Close Enough"  
"Do you agree with those orders?"
   "No Opinion. Not my place."
   "Surely you must have some thoughts on the issue. You must have come exceptionally far to just trust what everyone else says."
   "Home World is place of many [Squeel] famIliEs and [squeel] close workIng groups. Many wars damAge planet a lot. New group trys to [squeel]...[squeel] [alien shrug] talk out probLEms. Puts war sciENce to good use to show good will by doing imPOsIble - sent citIzens to all three moons. Now helps most of home world"
   "So your planet is run by a combination united nations and NASA - space program and world government."
  "They just help. Still DisagREements.Some of all factiONs on each colOny fleet. Small amount of REsources on each ship. CaptAIn full comANd to avoid waste and inFIghtINg."
"This is only one of many fleets?"
"SevRAl others. Most CloSEr to home. We are a little lost."
"Understatement of the year. But if you're just lost, why did you attack, rather than ask for help?"
"CaptAIn murdERed. Some think this is good sign this plaNEt belOng to us. Others belIEve we should avoid you. FightINg within fleet."
"So you're as lacking in unity as we are?"
"I take it since we're talking - and you listen to my show - that you personally don't mind humans?"
"Would you go so far as to help us rebuild?"
"Is something wrong?"
"The othErs with me might disAgree with my answer."
"Ah, that divisive, huh? Well, I'll try to ask less pointed questions then. I prefer not to be in the middle of weapon backed arguments."
"I agree"
"Ok, well... damn it! So eager to start I overlooked the basics. Sorry. Should we need a follow up interview, what is you name?"
"[six note signiture whistle]"
"Is there a good way to find you?"
"We'll be here."
"Thank you."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prequel Enviroment

I'm aware that some people find the topics of Global Climate Change and Peak Oil controversial. Generally, the science I've read supports these theories - and frankly, it can't hurt to address them as problems. What is the worst that can happen? "Oh no, we made the world a better place for no good reason! The water is too clean, we must dump more sludge in it for the children! Curse you James Lovelock and your Gian hypothesis."

Such rants aside, these two elements are a fairly major factor in the back story of the Anarchy Zones, and how the world came to have a very cyberpunk milieu before the events of 2050.

Doubling and doubling again of oil prices between 2020 and 2030 effectively mandates the creation of more nuclear power plants, dams, wave energy, and wind turbines. It also serves to limit travel, encourage armies to downsize (Tanks get an economy of one to three gallons of fuel to the mile!),or focus on multi-fuel vehicles.

Altered climate changes migration patterns of humans and other creatures.With more people moving, new virus resiviours opened up, and urbanization brought them together. Nana-vaccine was not so much a medical breakthrough as a much needed counterstrike in the war against new diseases.

These elements combined make super expensive projects like the NEST arcologies feasible. As expensive as a 150 story city in a bottle is, that removes potentially thousands or cars from the roads, places the inhabitants in one place to monitor for disease and quarantine pandemic, and high standards in construction reduce future resource requirements.

This also placed more emphasis on telecommuting and centralizing resources.  Even in America, long beholden to its cars, High Speed trains like the French TVG began to appear. Dirigibles and blimps made a surprising comeback due to their ability to transport large loads with decent fuel economy, and VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) meant they could bring supplies right to the factories rather than hubs.

Nano-factories and micro-facs began to sprout up as transportation costs prohibited the ease of accepting international manufacture.

These new migrations and the importance of augmented reality over physically being there led to new social groups, and a belief that old national borders may be obsolete. These sentiments would lead to the free city of Tesla in the "present day" of the setting.

Before 2050, the setting would be ripe for a cyber-punk game, and indeed, perhaps a decade from now I'll write that prequel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Zone Depictied

Its not easy explaining the zone to the friends I leave behind when I set out scavenging. I blame Hollywood.

The easiest way to depict an apocalypse after all, is to just scatter around some trash and add a sepia filter. Or set everything in a rusty old warehouse, and add some comment about how its too dangerous to venture outside because of the radiation, mutants, or whatever. Plus its cheap, and the sets can be reused by other productions. Then of course, video games trying to evoke similar feelings copy movies. No reason too, its not like they have to pay to set up sets and hire FX workers to make it rain, but no the boss feels that my art direction will be too "unfamiliar" to our target audience and thinks we should tone down the philosophy angel because people play these games for the action not the story and.... and...

Wait there's two dozen reanimates wandering in the river bed not ten meters from here - why am I ranting about work?

Oh, right. Anyway, In turn, lacking contact with the outside world, the people remaining in the tower fill in images from their imagination.

Its better thought of as ruined, but not destroyed. Its, just creepy really - more so than the reanimates. Everything is mostly where you remember it, but never just quite how you remember it. Things are both cleaner than usual without the litter and foot tragic of people, and yet dirtier because no one is there to clean up after the storms.

As things go, it was a pretty soft apocalypse. No rain of meteors, no mushroom clouds over every city bigger than a tourist trap, nor thousand food tidal waves. More like people yanked the fuses than ran out without locking the doors and leaving the windows open to the rain.

It began with a big electromagnetic pulse - the government setting off high altitude nukes to deal with the alien ships from what I heard. Idiots. Isn't this why they banned high altitude tests and weapons in space a century ago? We don't even know the if aliens meant to hurt us, they could of been peaceful. but people just assumed they were a threat from all the movies they've seen. Damn you Hollywood.

Most things just shot down at that point - you know, this amazing cutting edge technology from the 19th century called a circuit breaker - no computer consoles blowing up in your face. Some looting and a couple fire maybe, but the national guard and police were able to get a surprisingly quick grasp on that.

Then the reanimates came. Everyone was a bit stretched to the limits, traffic wasn't flowing right, and now you add what is both a virulent disease, and legitimately terrifying. Even if it was a normal pandemic, things would have been bad. Well, there was panic, evacuations, and with the hospitals full and workers abandoning their posts, power tended not to get restored, complicating recovery, and then without medicines and refrigerated food other diseases kicked in...

Well you should know this already. Five years have passed, and the human population is about 5% of what it once was.

Right, that is the history lesson for the day, oh, but I started with geography didn't I? Well, lets see.

You don't have thousands of cars a day going down the roads, but no one is patching the potholes either. Graffiti has been worn off and isn't getting replaced, but neither is the usual paint that keeps things nice. Buildings aren't just falling down or shattered by a blast-front, yet when a window beaks, water and wind get in, strewing things apart.  Mold spores, and unfiltered water flooding basements - turning subterranean areas into unexpected rivers - are probably a bigger threat than the neighbors or aliens most of the time. That and feral dogs, but we've gotten off topic enough already, haven't we?

Fires don't start spontaneously, but lightning strikes are unaddressed. Its a bit odd actually, Most of what remains is public spaces built to high standards in the last few decades, or century plus buildings that were made to last and did so because they were in fortunate non-disaster prone locations.

There is a definite unclean bathroom smell in a lot of places – but you're generally not going to find rotting bodies – scavengers and other natural mechanisms have at the very least gotten beyond the stage of stink, if not dragged them out entirely.

Silly thing is, cheap plastic toys have probably held out just fine, while the expensive durable goods like wooden dining tables and antique furniture have been compromised by worms and wetness. But we can speak more of what to find in scavenger hide outs later. Those things are getting a bit too close. Here, follow me...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Academic Honesty

"This is insane!" Diego shouted "These things have radiation cannons that will turn your bones to dust before the brain dies enough to stop the pain."
   He paused for a moment to savor the rapt attention of the other patrons in ramshackle bar. To draw the tension out further, he took another sip of beer. Not the best home brew, but it was the second free one he had earned with is stories, and certainly head and shoulders above the mass market piss he used to drink. Diego proudly thought he had learned an important survival skill.
   "But Hobbes wouldn't listen to that. He just told me - honest truth just like this 'We would be doing our listeners a disservice if we didn't cover all sides of the issue, and that means talking to the opposition.' Gotta love that attitude. He is dedicated. He was a surgeon before the invasion you know, broadcasting and ham radios were just a hobby. When we came across an old tower and a still working transmitter - he was like a kid in a candy store.
   We live in a deserted subway station, get maybe a half dozen visitors every few months, and ninety-nine point nine percent of the people who pick up the transmission aren't going to give a rats ass about our academic credentials, but he was set on this. Of this meant that I was set on this, since you just can't leave the good doctor alone with a loaded weapon. Can suture the smallest artery, but can't hit the broadside of a barn with a shotgun. (not really true, but Hobbes wasn't here to complain)
   Of course, its not particularly easy to find to the aliens if they aren't around. You can't just walk up to one of their laser towers you know. Thing chirps a warning when you get within a few hundred meters, and if you keep going - ZAP! Crispy Critter. So you just have to walk back and forth near the towers, or perhaps in a nearby town and hope that the alien equivalent of an anthropologist is sifting though some old garbage to learn about humans.
   We got lucky - for some very odd definition of the term lucky anyway - and found a patrol pretty quick. More they found us, really. You would think that something fourteen feet tall couldn't sneak up on ya, but these things apparently have some pretty damn good sensors and they can track you like a hound. A Saluki sight hound anyway - I don't think they can smell us.
   Now the usual description of of the alien encounter suits is not unlike the depiction of Baphomet made famous by Eliphas Lévi..." Deigo noticed the blank stares " know, a goat headed humanoid demon." The patrons of the bar began nodding in agreement. "But ugly doesn't really begin to describe them, they're painted up in this zig-zag high-gloss scheme, which seems like a bad camouflage, but in the light its very hard to look right at it without getting a bit blinded, and even in shadow, your eyes are pulled every which way - its like a jar of migraine.
   So now there are three of these things - they like to travel in trios mind you - and the three of them are pointing guns longer than I am tall in our direction, Missiles are perched on the one's shoulder and pointing right at us, another's got a circular saw with a blade the size of truck tire. Yes really - they do a lot of utility work with those suits, they're more of the alien equivalent of a forklift all points considered. A bad ass forklift that can take on takes mind you."
   Diego finished the last of his beer.
   "So then what happened asked a patron," trying to hurry along the dramatic pause.
   "They opened fire and killed us both." More blank stares, not one of the better crowds. "OK, OK, didn't think you'd by that. No you see, the doc lays down his weapon, puts his hands up, tells me to do the same, and then walks right towards the closest encounter suit. Now we've been told that these things have tried to communicate before, that the aliens have even cobbled together vocorders and translation software to make it simpler. But I doubt that these particular machines had ever met a human or tried to talk to one. It might not have been first contact, but it was definitely 'Dr. Livingston I presume'
   'My name is Thomas Hobbes, I mean you no harm - yes, yes he really said that, they're the ones with anti-tank lasers and he's apologizing for being the forward one -'I would like a chance to speak with you, to learn why you are here, so that I can broadcast this knowledge and teach others about you."
   Maybe a full minuet passes, possibly more, they're just standing there, unmoving guns still trained on us.Then one steps foward, nods a bit, and the stattaco speaker kicks in.
   "We have been listening to your transmissions for some time now. It is an honor to finaly meet you Thomas Hobbes."
   Like magic, another lager appeared in front of Diego, free of charge.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Happens in the Zone

Dead and Back by itself is just the rules portion of the game, implacable to any number of scenarios. The Anarchy Zones setting is mostly set up to be a post-cyberpunk - post-zombie apocalypse "sandbox" open to exploration. A number of elements are intentionally left open to interpretation to whatever stories the GM wishes to tell. Certain trends exist that influence the politics of the zones and city states but there isn't much a meta-plot or defined direction.

One such ambiguity is of course the long term plans of the aliens. The "planetary citizens" are at least as intelligent as humans and are divided over politics, rather than the monolithic bugs of a summer action movie. Some think that the infinitesimally small chance of a FTL drive malfunction bringing them to a lush world like Earth is a divine indication that they should take it for themselves. Others see it as a grave sin to wipe out the indigenous inhabitants and want to either simply leave, or actively help the humans rebuild.GMs are free to have the aliens as a dangerous enemy, a strange ally, or or a force for rebuilding that is being systematically destroyed by humans that believe they're invaders - it depends on how much action or tragedy is desired in the game.

The exact cause of reanimates is left open as well. Was it an accident of the nano-vac reacting to alien biology, or an intentional alien weapon to thin our numbers? On the other hand, perhaps its simply the nanobots themselves malfunctioning without outside influence due to the EMP, or in a more sinister twist, it was a human designed nanotech weapon that is causing all this. Thus one could run a game as a resistance movement against  the aliens and their undead lackeys, or trying to investigate a human conspiracy to conquer the world narrowly averted by the untimely arrival of visitors from outer space.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, is the five year gap between the actual incident that kicks off the zombie apocalypse and the present game time. Stocks of perishables are running low, farming has returned, those who couldn't cope are probably gone, and the focus is no longer on immediate survival. The easy pickings for criminals have mostly disappeared, so there are either very strong bandit groups, or otherwise they have gone legit.

Instead it is a lot more about securing industrial jigs and seed bank materials to assist long term rebuilding, while exploring the newly depopulated frontier.

Common activities in the Zone:
  • Escorting Caravans
  • Bounty Hunters
  • Delivering Messages (The Postman is a major influence on the setting)
  • Rebuilding Infrastructure - power lines, cell towers etc.
  • Spying on other city-states
  • Recovering parts from old factories - blueprints are especially valuable.
  • Searching for non-perishable medical items (cybernetics, tools etc.)
  • Salvaging old vehicles, reactors, military gear, or farm equipment for long term city state goals.
  • Seeking trade goods like old movies and recordings to satisfy people's need for leisure.
  • Running contraband.
  • Seek and Destroy (Reanimates/saboteurs/squatters/aliens/etc.)
Caravan or retrieval missions are an excellent way to introduce new characters to the zone. To prevent people from running off with the goods and going elsewhere, agents of the contracting party (ie several NPCs) will accompany the seekers. These can serve as guides and cannon fodder to illustrate the dangers of the area or otherwise help keep the game on track.

In the longer term, there are a number of social issues to address. For one, the legal term of the president has expired, and even with emergency powers, there is a legitimate question as to if the US government still controls the country. New Birmingham wants to create their own sphere of influence and is rapidly seeking to militarize.

My main goal is to deliver a lot of details to help envision the world as it is nearly half a century from now. Its up to the individual game master to lead their group through it. However, if there is an outcry for more meta-plot, I'll try to accommodate the need.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Proposed Attribute Revisions

Dead and Back features only five stats - Aim, Strength, Quick Tech and Wits, and each is rated from one to five in turn. However, this has the unintended drawback of making characters all too similar, and limiting the types of creatures that can be modeled. Thus it may be necessary to change some of the numbers, and possibly even add more attributes.

While I rather like the system as it is now, I see three main strikes against it. Characters show very similar abilities by the numbers, despite

Starting Theories

Dead and Back began with a simple combat system and was originally going to be a more action and adventure sort of game. The idea of zombies being the preferred target then morphed it into the darker form it is now, with the deadening and lucidity traits added for that effect. This is also when I codified the idea of a minimum number of traits to define a character. As PC could be replaced in five minuets rather than an hour, the game could allow for fairly high body counts amongst players.

A notable feature in all my games is that I try to avoid "dump stats" and and overpowered attributes. In D&B this is managed by having all the vital statistics preform useful functions, and most are averaged together to produce the derived abilities like "up-rise" and "animus."

Aim was a central component of how the new combat system worked. To offset its great importance, and thus discourage simply maxing it out, this does not feed into the derived attributes.

The Problems

Dog sized aliens we not originally part of the setting, nor in particular wildlife. My first idea was more of a steampunk zerust, with reanimated corpses fulfilling the role we see industrial in today. However there is apparently a deadworld for the game All Flesh Must Be Eaten with this idea ("Frankenstein 1935" from the Worlds of the Dead source book), and the game "Unhallowed Metropolis" goes this route as well. Hence I changed to my other idea, a more futuristic world with zombies.

The German Sheppard sized "Planetary Citizens" don't fit so well on a "One Child /Three Average adult /Five-Olympic" scale. Nor does this really work for other non-human threats like feral dogs or resurgent large predators.

While the averaged abilities do limit min-maxing, it presents an opposing problem instead. Strengths and weaknesses are a bit too even, and on paper characters look very similar. A highly technical character may be able to carry more stuff than a strong one.
The original intent of that, by the way, was its more a matter of efficient using your carrying capacity - and a smarter person keeps things more aces-able or optimizes what they need. However, its all interpreted as kilograms of weight to keep things simple - encumbrance is often one of the first rules overlooked in most games anyway.
Only one aim attribute means one character is as good with knives as they are with guns. Furthermore, a scrawny and slow character who shifted points from  quick and strength to boost aim is still a master martial-artist.


The seemingly simplest concept would be to make the statistics rated from one to seven, with an average of four. This would allow one to be a subhuman/child level for animals, and a seven for things only a bit stronger than humans. (Though some other modification would be necessary for even greater strength.) 

The possibility of having a much higher aim stat may mean that a new limit must be placed upon it. One option would be to make the attributes bought from a pool, rather than shifting around a pre-set number. Another is to make two Aim stats - one for close combat, and one for handling ranged weapons. This second option would also allow for more combat specialization without using up valuable skill or Special Ability slots. 

A more radical concept would be to remake resolution along the lines of the combat system. That is you compare the attribute ranking to the difficulty, which in turn determines the type of dice you roll in the pool. However, while this would streamline the game to one core mechanic, it would mean re-evaluating the methods behind everything else in the game, which for the time being seems to be an unnecessary amount of work.

Perhaps the original range can be retained, but new dice substituted as the scales change. Sub-human attributes could be based on rolling a 4 on a d4 (25%) which is a slight step down from 5-6 of a d6 (about 33%) or some range of numbers on a d8 (6-8: 37.5%, 7/8 = 25% etc.) The reverse can also be done for larger creatures, say on a d8 five to seven is one success, and an eight two.

A variation on the above - make d8s the default dice for most rolls.

Some more focus on personal details, and a battery of personality test style questions may help as well. It won't change numbers, but it will make manners more distinct. Specialized or personalized equipment of some type may also help make characters unique - and give the GM some control via the distribution of parts.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Weapons Wedenday

"Good afternoon listens, its Weapons Wednesday! The leader for today's discussion group is our very own technician and former national guardsman, Diego de Zúñiga."
   "Thank You. Though I should point out, I was in the air-force reserve. The only weapons I was allowed to touch were the kinds that blow up a tank, or building. Usually multiple tanks and buildings. Small arms were not really part of the training.  No drone operators would get within 500 kilometers of the target area."
   "You seem pretty proficient with them anyway - I've seen you get head shots, at half a mile or so."
   "The army might not have taught me to shoot, but Pappa did, with zeal."

   "Any interesting stores about going out with your dad?
Diego hit the mute button. "I would rather not discuss my relationship with pappa, why we had several dozen guns in our home, nor how we could afford so many."
"Oh, oh..." the color drained from Thomas's face "I see. I'm sorry, you never mentioned him before and I was... I'll drop it."
"So, Mr. Zúñiga, enlighten our listeners on modern small arms"
   "The first thing to know goes all the way back to the bible. "There is nothing new under the sun. That pretty much sums up all the kinds of firearms you're going to find. Not all that much has changed in the world of handguns.

   There were futurists and firearm makers who thought that by now caseless firearms would be the mainstay. The bullets would be lighter, cheaper, a higher rate of fire with no extraction, and shaped to allow more rounds in the same sized clip. However, these never came into widespread use. The problems of propellant shattering and waterproofing were never fully fixed. More importantly,  brass serves an important function in guns - it acts as a heat-sink, so the rate of fire would probably be lower than the proven tech. Furthermore, keeping the cases allows for hand-loading. This both saves money for the consumers, and many types of new cartridges began their lives as so called "wildcat cartridges" - including the famous .357 magnum, which began as a plus powered .38 special.
   Similarly, polymer and steal continue to be the materials of choice for the frames and barrels. Nano-breed diamond alloys and nano-tube composites are simply too expensive to replace the old standbys, and a number of these materials don't handle high heat so well anyway.

   Although some militaries, including our own, adopted electromagnetic guns in the forties, Gauss rifles have a host of limitations. I believe KC brought those up one of the times he was here.
   "We're still getting letters about that episode."
   "Speaking of which, we've gotten a lot of mail from hopeful inventors who want us to tell the wasteland about their new zombie killer. Now neither I nor Mister Hobbes want to discourage feedback - or limit people's defenses - but please! Some of these inventions have been downright dangerous to the user, and effective by blind luck alone. We don't need any more blueprints for a saw blade cannon - those blades are more valuable as tools. Most of the pneumatic guns leaked, or failed to get sufficient pressure, and were far to bulky compared to normal stuff - never mind the difficulty in finding parts."
    "All too true, Diego. And another thing -we are Not - I repeat - Not - going to broadcast recipes for explosives or toxins. Some might be effective, but they are far too dangerous for our untrained listeners."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Zombie Picaresque

Most zombie media has a pretty set formula. A group of people are accosted by the undead, or at least reports of them. They try to find shelter whether it be a house (night of the living dead), mall (dawn of the dead), research facility (day of the dead), funeral home (Return of the living dead)... and so on. However, not all is well in this little holiday from the rest of the world as there is internal division, limited supplies, or someone infected and ready to turn complicating maters.

I tried to make the Anarchy Zones a bit different from all of this. My theory was to try and create a world that lent itself more towards exploration than entrenchment. Varying reanimates and intelligent enemies in the form of aliens prevent it from becoming just a shooting gallery or too safe once the walls were built. Amazing bits of technology like partly-operational nano-factories or the chance of finding working internet nodes is another draw out of the bunker.

The supposedly safe areas are possibly the most dangerous. NEST arcos are in urban areas (surrounded by the dead), are probably partially overrun themselves, with a few fire doors and security isolation mechanisms separating the functioning areas from the others. New Birmingham is a repressive theocracy with a long term plan of conquest. Las Vegas might be safe from aliens and have effectively no reanimates remaining, but there is a notable lack of food, water, and material. he only thing in abundance is military units ready to stat a civil war and generals who are contemplating the use of nuclear weapons to eliminate what little remains of the other nations.

Resident Evil and The Postman may have been major sources of inspiration, but ideally the game should have definite shades of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" as well. Stopping leads to strife, and movement is one of the keys to happiness.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Currency in the Zone

What is the value of a five dollar bill? Its not per say, one koku of rice (ie enough to feed a peasant for a year in imperial Japan), or or equal a defined wattage of power used to produce something. Its value is based on the stability of government, what the banks say, and the people's willingness to accept these in exchange. Without a stable central government and banking system, a dollar bill is worth about as much as toilet paper. Quite possibly less, given that the durable non-shredding nature of bank notes could lead to clogged septic systems.

There are plenty of people who want to see the reemergence of the old governments, but until that time, old money is pretty well useless. This is not helped by the fact there are some groups who actively don't want to see the nation return. (Notably NB believes "in god we trust" on bills was a bald faced lie, and the Free City of Tesla sees it as an anachronism)

A few groups have local currencies -
  • NEST citizens trade energy credits and kilowatt hours for bringing the technological relics still available running.
  • Vegas claims to honor US dollars, but in practice uses stamped pay-chits since its all to easy to rob a bank in the wasteland and ride in with millions.
  • New Birmingham has a provisional currency as well, in theory based on hours of effort.
However, there really isn't a currency accepted within the zone itself, nor an exchange rate between the government controlled areas.  Thus it becomes a matter of personal value and need, which is a lot harder to enumerate than a simple equipment list with prices.

First and foremost, I advocate turning any shopping trip into a role-playing experience. The players should state what they want, and why, and really try to bargain. NPCs should give a counter, and if the argument gets a bit heated, so much the better. Remember that the black market doe not have fast food style menu-boards of prices and products.

I'm considering a couple of ways to explain value in the game. One is to run with the NB idea above - base things on a labor/added value economy. At its base, a few hours of work tilling fields or mending buildings earns two or three meals, and some shelter. More complex or difficult work is worth more, (ie fewer hours get the same entitlement to rest and food) - and from there we come up with an arbitrary number that equals one labor unit/minimum wage.

Another possibility would be to create some sort of matrix cross referencing settlement size versus level of desire. To an individual or small homestead a tractor represents too many hassles in the form of maintenance and fuel to be worth anything, while are larger town could really use one. Conversely a single person might need weapons for defense, but a group is more likely to already have these things.

In turn this lead to an idea based on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The smaller the group, the lower on the pyramid trade needs to be. Individuals want safety and shelter, groups are focused on being comfortable and long term goals, while the city states are seeking machinery and old technology to become nations in their own right.

Ultimately, this should be up to the GM to help establish the mood of the zone. If weapons are at a premium, hen simply getting a gauss rifle or two is a reason to go on a dangerous mission into some ruins. Should the focus of the game be more on avoiding direct conflict and exploration, then perhaps weapons are not in much demand at all, while good quality maps and navigation systems are practically worth killing for.

I'll admit this is a temporary solution, and I'll need a more established price system eventually. However, I'd feel better about its design with a bit of feedback. Its a pretty tall order to figure out the value of things in 2050, and then factor in the changes since then.