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.)
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.