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.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another PC Interview

The incubus sat on a large rock outcropping, its bird like feet in the stream, and the laser cannon leaning on a nearby tree. Combined with the bright grin like mesh on the front of its head, the image was oddly like a lazy private slacking off from a field march.

Diego and Thomas sat in the afternoon shade on the other side, packing up the remains of lunch and giving their recording equipment a final once over. The sound man gave his thumbs up sign, and the interviewer started immediately.

"Last time we met, you mentioned that your race was somewhat divided on the issues regarding humans."

"Race? We're not running any where."
"You people, the Planetary citizens, the [short whistle]"
"I appre see ate the attempt, but humans can't use our language."
"Religious reasons?"
"No, but accor ding to our scientists, it con tains tones you can not hear, so you will never pro nounce correctly"
"How do you know what tones we can or can't hear?"
"I would guess cutting them apart? Hope fully no one you know."
"I hope so too. Diego! Leave the grenade launcher alone!
"Its ok, its ok, just checking to see if I left the "no-dissecting-me-today" switch on?
"If it wanted to hurt us it would have done so already. They're trying to be friendly - the vocorder has been adjusted to less screechy for one."
"Only three nails on a chalkboard rather than five. If it really wants to be friendly, why doesn't it get out of the robot?"
"you're bigger than me"
"What?" Hobbes asked
"You're bigger than me. And there are two of you."
"Just how tall is a planetary citizen?"
"About half your height"
"Gee and with the size of that robot and gun, they must be really compensating for something.." Diego started
"I'm female by the way"
"How did you pick up that meaning? not from cutting people apart I hope?"
There you go Diego, joke with it, er sorry, her. Though we should probably move back into our planned topic. Is it common for females to pilot these things?"
"Families and guilds divIded, genders not so."
"How do you tell a male from a female citizen?"
"It comes naturally, we have been doing it for thousands of years"
"I meant how can a human tell?"
"Number of antenna segMEnts, tail flared or strAIght, slight color difference, shape of genital slots"
[I didn't need to know that last one whispered Diego." Nor I Hobbes added]
"There is that clans and guilds again, can you explain any better?
"Like minded extended famIL-ies come together, purchAse expertISE from guilds, become self sufficIEnt, begin to fight with other families. just like humans do."
"Are there many of these families on Earth?"
"Representatives from many families, but none abandon home entirely.
"So what is it like to belong to a family?"
"Families vote on family business, most able in an area represent in larger negotiations... don't humans have families?"
"Not as a basis of political representation, not in most places at least."
 "Are humans politics very complex?
"That would be the understatement of the year."
"And you expect ours to be any diffERent?"
"Would the fact that there is roughly a even split between the chances of a Citizen helping, hurting, or ignoring a human be due to these politics?"
"Yes. And Religion. And VengeANce..."
"The other great understatement of the year - our first contact and greeting did not go too well. Perhaps you can tell us where you were during that even?"
"I was... "F--K!"

The incbus sprang to its feet, grabbed the laser cannon, and bolted north It had gotten almost 20 meters before it paused and turned around. "Sorry to cut this short, but I am needed" It then turned and continued sprinting away.
"How did that word make it into the translator's dictionary?"
"I don't know, Diego, but I'm sure it will make for a good story in the next interview."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Directory Assistance

Welcome to NEST Zero Three. You are currently in Level Two, Tiger, Chicago - Five, Concourse. For navigation assistance, please chose your destination from the map.

You have chosen: Directory Location Help.

The ground footprint of North Eastern Seaboard Transfiguration Megastructure number Three is approximately one point two two million square feet (just over 28 acres). For convince it is divided into four sectors named for big cats - Lion, Panther, Tiger, and Cheetah. Each sector is divided into 100 zones, numbered one through ten on the East-West Axis, and named for an alphabetical progression of cities North South. The cities are:

Albany, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Evansville, Frankfurt, Gainesville, Huston, Independence, Jacksonville

Level numbers range from Negative 20 for sub basements, to maximum height of 186. Five digit address numbers can identify a specific shop or apartment within a sector.

Do you require further location help?

Welcome to NEST Zero Three. You are currently in Level Two, Tiger, Chicago - Five, Concourse. For navigation assistance, please chose your destination from the map.

You have chosen Level Fifty Seven Independence One. National Guard Outpost. These areas are not open to the public, please make another selection.

You have chosen Level Thirty Three Panther Evansville Eight. These Luxury Apartments are currently under lock down, please make another selection.

You have chosen Level Negative Five Lion Baltimore Two. Subsurface high speed rail lines. Do you require Travel Itinerary, Booking Assistance, or Temporary Lodgings?


"You're just going to walk past it?"
"Do you know how many thousand reanimates are in this place? Kill one and you'll bring ten more in. Its not like the buildings outside where you might be able to safe a couple of corridors. Besides, I think that ones special."
"Special? How so?"
"Every time I come in, one of them is at a directory assistance terminal, pressing buttons. Not necessarily the same one mind you - last time it was female.  But there is always one."
"What, are they holding some sort of vigil?"
"That works for the lack of a better explanation. I don't know. Anyway, lets turn here. Cut through a restaurant to the freezer, from there you can get to the maintenance access ways. Fewer people used those than the main halls, so you're pretty safe once you're behind the scenes."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Observations on Ocupations

I've noticed an interesting pattern in my discussions with people. It hasn't been even a quarter generation since the event, but everyone treats it as different epoch of history, and a nigh mythological one at that. Most are disinclined to speak of their prior jobs in the same way no one speaks of a former life as a priest of Apollo or a Mayan elder.

The only time it ever seems to come up is when they are complaining. No one introduces themselves as "I'm Bill, I was an accountant before the event." But get William hot under the collar while under siege and you'll get an off hand comment like "these things are worse than people asking for refunds on April 15" or some other oddly inappropriate comment.

Perhaps its becasue they don't want to face the past. They had a family, friends, home life and virtual realities back in the same time they have a job. Now... not so much. Even the doctors and surgeons don't tend to mention their expertise up front. Not that I blame them - they were hit the hardest. Physically from being on the front lines trying to figure out what was going on. Inside, well all doctors feel it when they lose a patient, and most of them lost a few thousand...

Of course, for all the nostalgia, it wasn't that great. Infection raters were on the rise as were sea levels. A lot of people were displaced, and when you got a refugee problem like that, people turn. And don't get me even started on that f-ing war down in South America. The closest actual military people were 200 kilometers from any given firefight, and civilian casualties still went through the roof. Use only drones, pull apart the infrastructure, let it collapse, then waltz in. But when its decentralized and the utilities are buying power back from citizens with green energy what do you do? Suddenly, every hacienda with photovoltaics and hotel with windmills is part of the war effort.

And they wonder why tranquilizers sell so well.

Of course, it would be more ghoulish than anything walking around out there to say things have made a turn for the better after the event. There are some enclaves of people who think so, but I'd prefer to give them a wide berth. No, its much, much worse. But its a second chance. A bad second chance is better than none at all.

Prison records, work records, the slate has been wiped clean. And there aren't really the old jobs that let one fall back into the old complacent standards. Some of the people up in one of the NESTS or eeking out in some other arco might try. So long as people have hair, there's going to be barbers, con men to fleece them, and bankers to play off both sides. ha. But most of use are thinking it over.

Even though they've gotten their second chance, its still stuck doing the same ol' same old. It might be digging potatoes rather than data mining - but everyone is still stuck in tasks that don't have individual meaning. It might put food on your plate overall, but that one potato right there or the one left of it - doesn't matter which you pull up first.

I've been going for Keruac's "On the Road" or Walt's "Pioneers O' Pioneers".

My mission is to draw people on out here. We all got to eat, so I can't take every farmer of course, and well some people just have the temperament for it wand wouldn't take to me. But this is the one chance everyone has to be an explorer, to see everything old like new. Five, ten years top things are going to be running like before. Don't you doubt it, people can do some great things when they work together. But I want them to have a taste of the real life beforehand.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Playable Minimalism

I'm writing the anarchy zones setting, because it appeals to me. Future things, like arcologies, nano-tech, planned environments, power-armor - all quite fascinating.

Not so much the lack of government aspects, nor the back to nature angle. Given the medical history of my family and myself, none of use would be alive without 20th/21st century tech.

Unfortunately, all this interest has lead to rather unnecessary levels of detail. I can outline how internal nano works, for how long, and even the fact its pink - but is this really what the players need? My notes contain an outline on how the US army reacted to fuel shortages, and the revised Tables of Organization and Equipment - including powered personal armor. However, why should the TO&E matter when the military is largely non-existent, and finding a cache of equipment could derail a game?

So I'll be attempting every now and then to give a "just the facts" entry to the game. I started a discussion on the forums (Detail required for a setting) to help focus my efforts. Please let me know if presentations of this sort are helpful, or if I should continue my information overload style.

Nanotechnology Medicine
  • Two types exist SVIA and STAIN - nano vaccine and nano surgeons respectively
  • SVIA (Semi-Volitional Internal Agent) prevents infection, stops minor internal bleeding (bruises, not hemorrhaging)
    • 500 cc bags of bubblegum pink goo
    • Allows characters to generally ignore colds, parasites - though still best to not consume spoiled food or tainted water.
    • Supposed to last over a year, and then fairly gradually taper off protection, but constant use reduces it to only 6-8 months before another IV is needed.
    • Valuable trade item, and allows players to avoid taking penalties for illness (a slight skill or initiative penalty depending on the disease)
  • STAIN (Specific Treatment Active Internal Nanomachines) is for repairing major internal problems.
    • 1000 cc "dusty pink" with oil like sheen
    • Needs an outside control center to work, unlike pre-programmed vaccine
    • An IV bag or two can set and mend bones, remove tumors,  repair organs - generally act as a competent surgeon for most problems.
    • A good commodity for those with access to proper hospital facilities, or a reward from a city state agency - it will restore a PC to full health regardless of their prior condition in about six hours. 
    • However, those who don't know the difference between nano- surgeons and nano-vac can be accused of using counterfeit product, or or very disappointed to find they are not interchangeable. 

Powered Armor
  • Three main types exist in the USA, each named after a WWII general officer
    • In theory made up around a quarter of most regiments - three suits in a squad of twelve
    • Suffered heavily against PC forces as even the strongest are still below the alien "Incubus" armor in capability.  
    • Complicated repair and a lack of spares also prevents them from being too common.
    •  None make the user superhuman - the mechanics are more towards limiting fatigue and absorbing heavy loads. A PA soldier can't lift a motorcycle, but can march six hours with a 80 kilogram (172 lb) pack and still feel rested.
    • Data-links, air-conditioning, and a sensor suite also help combat effectiveness. 
  • William Donovan is a stealth unit for special forces
    • Numerous built in sensors, automatic temperature control, IR/Radar camouflage
    • Actual protection is only on par with a flack vest, and no built in weapons
    • Very rare, and generally meant for scouts and forward weapon targeting.
    • Some have the Electronic Visual Emulation and Nullification System (EVaNS) system built in - providing adaptive visual camouflage.
  • MacArthur (Mighty Mac) is an assault armor
    •  Highest level of protection, built in missile launcher on the shoulder, or cylinder fed breech loading motor (looks like a revolver firing artillery shells) on the back, often uses auto-cannons as a rifle, and an over-sized entrenching tool as a melee weapon (and engineering device as intended)
    • More piloted than worn, thus less intuitive to use than others.
    • Notably larger and heavier than other models (about 3 meters/10 feet) rather than 2m/7 feet for the other suits - making it rather less capable in certain terrain and quite conspicuous. 
    • Quite often the first target due to size and threat, thus many prefer to leave it in the rear as fire support than use in the attack. 
  • Eisenhower (Ike) is a general purpose unit
    •  Most common, looks much like riot gear, but with an opaque helmet and volumetric (accordion like) joints to allow for ease of movement despite internal overpressure (keeps out chemical/biological weapons)
    • Although no weapons are built in, its cargo capacity means its often carrying automatic grenade launchers, motors, or ATGM systems for the rest of the squad. 
Micro Factories
  • Its not likely that the PCs by themselves can run or repair an entire factory. 
  • All of the city-states desire these structures for long term production and material wealth.
    • Many jobs a player might receive revolve around these facilities
    • Escorting caravans traveling too and from a facility makes for a good introductory level session
    • Finding replacement parts or retrieving production templates are all likely jobs for players
    • Securing the area for another settlement, and sabotage are missions for those who become really embroiled in city-state warfare.
    • Finding ones lost from the grid or setting up a small colony are another focus.
  • Even broken down, there can be quite a bit of good salvage - raw materials, welding gases, computer parts, old transports

Monday, September 20, 2010

Second Oppionon

Austin remembered having better facilities even when he was in in the most backwards depths of China and Africa during the drive to bring nanotechnolgical vaccine to the entire planet. In those times they had self-inflating army surgical tents, portable solar panels, and decent sleeping bags. Here they had the basement of a half burned firehouse, finicky generator running on methanol, and some old blankets. At least it was kind of nice next to the fire.

"How are you holding up?"
"Wah... oh, hello Clarice. Good, bad, indifferent. Better than Jeff and James at least. How are they?"
"J number one is sleeping, but still running a pretty high fever. The second has disappeared again, I was hoping he was with you."
"What the hell is his problem. You'd think after the fifth trip to the outhouse he'd figure something isn't right."
"He's got enough nano remaining in his system to take the edge off, and well, these are third world diseases thought to be extinct in this country. He simply doesn't know how bad it is."
"Wrong answer, you're supposed to agree with the doctor he is an ignorant bastard."
 They both laughed. It was a pretty hollow sound.
"I also came out here to tell you, our two scavengers just radioed in. They go the goods and should be arriving presently."
"Thank god. It should help the J's and give the rest of a real boost. When you put the stuff to heavy use, it lasts maybe half the listed time before it meets its half-life."


"We go the goods, pulled them right out of the campus nano-lab. Place was pretty clean, and there weren't more than a few dozen reanimates to sneak past. If we can get a couple more rifles, we might be able to move to better digs."
"One thing at a time boys, lets just get this to our..."
Austin stared at the 1000 cc IV bag like he had never observed one before. The fluid was a dusty pink, with a slight oily iridescent sheen glinting under the flashlight. A white label simply read "Oncology - #222973 - 10/23/49"
Austin threw it as hard as he could against the side of the farmhouse. "F--!"
"What the hell? Do you know how much trouble we went through for that?"
"Dammit, its the wrong stuff! Its Stain! F--."
"And you throw priceless "stained" nanotech away because? Isn't it supposed to be pink - some sort of shelf life indication?"
"Bubblegum pink, 500cc is disease fighting nano-vac. One Liter bags are Specific Treatment Active Internal Nanotech."
"So use it to treat our friends specifically!"
"Thats not how it works. STAIN needs specific direction, from a computer hooked up to an MRI machine. It won't work on its own. If we had a f--ing hospital scanner we could cure them. We could remove brain tumors, suture a punctured lung, mend bones, rebuild a heart valve and separate conjoined twins while were at it! But right now it is useless!"
"So think of something that makes it not useless"

Austin opened his mouth, then closed it again, dropping his shoulders. "I don't think we've got much choice. We don't have much juice remaining in the truck, but if we take the batteries out of the other vehicle we can get most everyone to the school. If they were experimenting, they might have the scanners."
"So its either enough power to get the medicine, or leave our friends behind and make the rendevous."
"pretty much."
"What are we waiting for? Those new guns might have been nice, but a good group with old stuff is still better."
"Of course, we need them now to clear the campus"
"I thought it was only experience that showed up after you needed it."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Former Actor on Former People

Back when I was in college, I'd hang around the movie lots on weekends or holidays. Some guy in a blue work shirt would come out carrying a clipboard and say we need "ten walkers, five sitters, and three reaction" or something like that. Show him a picture ID, sign your name, and you'd get to be an extra for the day. Get a T-shirt, or some tchotkie, twenty or so dollars, just for walking back and forth or sitting in a fake cafe pretending to eat.

The Zombie movies were a bit different though, and always the best. Those you got to be more active, sometimes the camera even focused on you, if ya hammed it up a little. Plus the fun of getting all the make up and some actual costume. But the best part was you always got a better brand of people at those ones. No one really thinks about them being the hero on the train, or the gladiator in Rome, but somehow everyone likes to buy into the undead mythos. We'd talk about what would happen, where we would hide from them - those of us who owed guns would boast about our shooting skills (even when we had none...). Of all the odd situations that could crop up in the movies, from aliens to werewolves - it seemed like zombies were the one thing you could handle in real life.

Which is why everyone is so insistent that these things are reanimates. They simply don't behave like they're supposed to.

In the early days, there were absolute tons of them, there were true sieges, waves of former humans crashing upon the malls and army bases, flowing through cities. But ever so quickly, they seemed to get smarter and smarter. Even the dumb ones don't just charge across open fields or walk into flames. Now they seem to stalk us.

I swear its just like combined arms teams sometimes. One of those cybernetic ones will smash through like a tank, others moving alongside to draw fire and flush out ambushes, even acting like polish mine detectors for the traps. Those horrid betas are like commandos, getting behind you in all the commotion. A lot of us are saying someone's "beta'd" instead of died cause thats what it is. Disemboweled by a claw from behind, or dragged up and out from a dark rafter. You lose more from any angle but the front... there are fistfights about who gets to be on the firing line rather than rearguard - because those taking the creatures head on are more likely to survive.

You can dodge them, you can deal with a few. But there are always more. If you don't absolutely destroy the body, it'll probably be the same ones again as well.

They never speak.

Funny fact. You probably know this by now, but it bears repeating. Most of your senses shut off when you sleep. The eyes are off even if someone pries open the lids, smell goes away, even touch - ever notice how hard you need to rock someone to wake them. The only warning that really works is sound - why we have alarm clocks and not shakers in the morning.

Reanimates don't make noise, you need to count on someone staying up all night, keeping an eye open all night and scanning everywhere. The same person that morning you got into a fistfight with over whether they'd be the ones you leave to the betas.

I feel like I'm an extra again. In one of those movies where only one of the principal cast survives the final reel, and I'm not the chaste brunette.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Zone Demographics and Lifestyle

So far I haven't given as much thought to absolute population numbers and named leaders as I should. Actual population mechanics is pretty difficult, and just making up numbers feels unscientific and may come back to haunt me later. I've seen games that come up with some very hard to explain numbers - including one where:
  • Advanced front line troops with no support made up 50% of the population
  • Only 10% of the people could read in a high tech society
  • None of the listed city populations added up meshed with the listed state demographics
  • The armory listed enough flying power armors to give everyone in the country two and a half suits.
Furthermore, the question comes as to what exactly are reasonable numbers, and what makes for a good story. On one hand, the idea that even the G-zones are undermanned and desperate is a fitting touch to the genre, but on the other hand, keeping them large means more conflict between them, more oppression to hold together such population, and prevents the frontier from seeming so heavily inhabited.

My base assumption for the world is that the casualty rate between 2050 and 2055 is 90%. Nano-Vac was invented because epidemics were getting worse due to weather shifts, moving populations, and opening up virus reservoirs. So when electricity and most of modern medicine goes down, there are going to be problems. Add to that the inevitable looting, military actions against PCs with orbital bombardment tech, and of course the walking dead - and 10% survival almost seems generous.

Most of the remaining population, from 60-90% will be living in the Anarchy Zones. Most populations are clustered around some form of resource extraction - for a rather inclusive definition of resources. An auto manufacturing plant that can provide parts to return vehicles to working order is a more likely option than a mine. Functional hospitals, university labs that can produce nano-vac, nuclear power plants - "Boom towns" form around old technology rather than silver lodes.

Depending on the risk or the resources, the size of a settlement can vary wildly. A few dozen people might fortify parts of an old skyscraper in the infested Chicago Loop and seek out data files. A less over run area might have a few hundred or even thousand people people starting a commune or restoring an old farming town to agrarian society. Rarely is any non-government area going to run much larger than a town however.

The AZ is not open desert or radioactive wasteland like a nuclear holocaust film, but is overgrown and unmaintained. There are a few places, however, where containment breaches at chemical or nuclear handling facilities have made areas dangerous - but its like the Chernobyl exclusion zone, not B-movie mutants. Its more the absence of state or national level government that defines an A-Zone.

The 1850s are a good metaphor when you think about it. The remaining G-zones are much like the colonial empires of the time (France, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, the USA to a lesser extent). There is a search for coaling stations and other resources, while considering themselves part of something greater and bringing unity to the world. A-zone settlements are more like western homesteads, boom towns, or far flung colonies.

As to some actual numbers, which may be subject to change:
  • NEST was a sequence of ten arcologies, at 500,000 apiece.  Presuming three totally lost, and an average of 50% attrition at the others (more like some got through fairly unscathed, while others are 300,000 reanimates separated from 50,000 survivors by a few fire doors and elevators): 4.25 million people - spread across the east coast between Main and Virgina.
  • The LasVegas metropolitan area had a population of 1,865,746 in 2010, with about a third in the city proper. I would expect the post crisis numbers to be a little lower than this, but still a problem because the city is obviously not all that independent.
  • Central Gulf/Lone Star is an incomplete project, and but is also close to what was once a major facility for refitting nuclear caries and cruisers in the Gulf of Mexico 
  • Ruby Ridge and The Free City of Tesla are rather outliers for G-zones, having somewhere around 300,000 combined numbers.
  • New Birmingham might have over 2.5 million

All together, the G-zones might account for 8-10 million people in the United States of America. The estimated population of the country in 2050 would is forecast to be around 440 million, so that means 36 million people are in the non government recognized areas.

Moving to matters of life style, things are probably at a 1940's level. There may be central frozen food stocks, but individual refrigerators are rare, and electricity is generally rationed or limited to certain uses. Computers are still rather ubiquitous - low energy requirements of modern machines (remember, they are woven into clothes now and charged by walking or induction from a closet rack) means they are easy to keep charged. Long distance communication, requiring high-powered microwave transmitters or satellites is of course not possible even with wireless networks still running in some places.

Frankly, there isn't so much a danger of society collapsing into "Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdrome" Territory, as there is a standing question of will institutions like the USA return, or will new nations take its place. The machines of industry will run again, but who is at the helm is an open debate.

Caravans might connect villages, but leaving is hardly a casual thing. Most places are still run by what is effectively a provisional government or emergency council. Some are elected, and others have had elections canceled by more despotic leaders.

Food grown in the commune is generally safe.  Civil water systems are only running in the G-zones however, so one needs to be careful about quenching their thirst. Nano-Vac is good against pathogens, whether they be parasites, fungi, prions, virus, or bacteria - but can't really do much about toxins or radiation. Without a boost at some point in the last few years, the average secondary immune system is at 25-30% effectiveness, so even that might be in question.

Life is  not up to the level of leisure expected in the late 20th century industrialized world, and certainly not the mid 21st century. However, there is a general unease about what will come, and political ideas can become uncivilized very quickly. Most places in the AZ are not constantly under siege, and those that are have a reason for it (ie outposts in old cites looking for valuable artifacts)

This is something that is going to need a lot of work in the coming weeks.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Necropoints and Experimental Combat Concepts

Necropoints have been a slightly confusing issue in Dead and Back, because they're treated in two different manners.I've been wavering between how to use them for a while.

One interpretation is that NP are simply like hit points for creatures in any other game.  Reanimates take hits until the number is reduced to zero, and then they are gone. The big difference from Human attribute is that there is no speed reduction for damage. Even a very though foe can be whittled down with hit and run from weak strikes. This system has the advantage of familiarity (like any other game), ease of scaling encounters (more HP is a linear increase in difficulty)

The other possibility is that NP is a threshold for damage. A creature with three NP doesn't take three hits, but rather can ignore any attack that does only one or two. Hordes explicitly work this way, but it was at times my intent to make everything like this.

Easier book keeping and greater terror are the the main draws of the second version. A GM needs only to have a list of creatures (say Betas One through Four) ignore shots that don't meet the threshold, place a check if the number is exactly right (meaning they might get up later) or cross off the name if the threshold is exceeded. Creatures as much more fearsome opponents, as every additional NP makes them exponentially harder to kill. In turn, players are more likely to need to use burst fire (thus invoking rolls to run out of precious ammo) or be forced to spend lucidity for better effect.

Unfortunately, this leads to a lot of potential problems with the players. People with low aim scores may be completely unable to do any harm to a creature with enough necropoints. Even those who do, might have trouble rolling enough successes to have any effect. Since each high roll in combat is supposed to be a telling hit, yet aside from cosmetic damage aren't really doing anything, this can be hard to describe, and be more frustrating for players than scary. It also encourages flat characters with high aim attributes and big guns to deal with threats rather than tactics or avoidance.

I would rather like to use both systems, perhaps by separating the concepts into Life Points and Necropoints. Unfortunately, I don't know if this would bring unnecessary complication to the game or lead to arguments amongst gamers about if the creature in question is an LP or NP type. Once again my lack of a stable gaming group presents an issue with finalizing elements of the game.

However, this trails on some other potential combat changes. Namely, whether there should be two aim attributes, (for close and long range combat), if stats in general should go up to seven, and a new way of reading hit dice. Since everything else is based on the top two numbers of the dice (5/6 on a d6 for normal skill checks, 7/8 means an SMG runs out of bullets after firing a burst) should damage rolls do so as well? This would unify the mechanics - but it would also increase the danger a great deal. While fast combat and character creation are ideal, high attrition rates are somewhat less so. This also seems a bit odd from a genre perspective, as the rate of getting a head shot or otherwise disabling a creature with an adequate weapon is now 25% of the time. (1 in 8 chance is kind of high too, but a bit more acceptable)

Since it may have confuse some, there two good reasons why aim is separate from the other attributes. First, its more of a gestalt of everything - coolness under fire, eyesight, raw strength etcetera - than identifiably derived from one area. Its a well know phenomenon for a small and fast, yet not particularly strong person to be a better martial artist than bigger people, and depending on which style is used, other factors come into play as well. The second reason is simple matters of game design - no dump stats.

Other notes about combat should appear in a supplement that should be released by the end of the month.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Planetary Citizen Military Tech Preview

By far the most captivating piece of Citizen technology is of course their space ships and faster than light drive. However, almost no humans have been aboard one of the ships, and even most of the PCs are at a loss to explain the discontinuity system. However, what has been revealed is that the units are known to be unreliable, and thus the ships travel in convoys and are configured to allow for extended slow-boat voyages if necessary. A consequence of this is the massive size of any given vessel - approximately

Contrary to the usual depiction of aliens using only a handful of war machines, 

Most people in the zones recognize the alien "power-armor" - code named "Incubus". Of course, they are more of small piloted robots than strength enhancing exo-suits, but the misnomer has stuck. These are not particularly common overall, but their great utility means they are the most seen.

The PCs operate several varieties of aircraft, which due to the nature of aerodynamics, look surprisingly like human models. However, they tend to use electric-arc jets for most propulsion needs, with liquid fuel rocket boosters standing in for afterburners. Thus under normal power, they tend to have fairly low performance compared to early 21st century fighters - however they are usually equal to the lower performance yet more efficient models introduced in the 40s. Two main variates of combat units are seen:

NATO Designation "Pancake", alien name "Aalledji" (A led gee)
Appearance: blended delta, similar to the 1950s Avro Vulcan
Purpose:  Multi-role fighter bomber
Size: similar to an F-14 Tomcat
Range: Unknown
War load: 2x Internal bays 6x Hard points, 2x Cannon, total tonnage unknown

NATO Designation "Paladin", Alien name "
Appearance: Canard Delta - very similar to a SAAB Gripen

Purpose:  Multi-role fighter bomber
Size: P-38 Lightning
Range: Unknown
War load: 6x Hard points, 1x Cannon, total tonnage unknown

Alien watercraft are occasionally seen, but tend to be small non-ocean going catamarans. It has been noted that they tend to use a few anti-ship missiles, and a laser close in defense system (CIDS) but do not mount large lasers or other cannons. It has been speculated this may arise from a lack of power, or because salt-water degrades the large phase arrays too quickly to make such installations feasible.

A trend of citizens stripping old human military units has been notices. They may be attempting to reverse engineer vehicles more suited for earth based combat, or seeking dissimilar combat training. It is advised that steps be taken to prevent this from happening.

PC technology has allowed for very small yet powerful energy cells, however, the smaller size of a Citizen reduces the size of personal weapon considerably. Hence their most common small arms are projectile based, but not necessarily conventional. Rather than cased nitrocellulose rounds, the projectiles are tiny spin-stabilized rockets, like a mature version of the 1960s "Gyrojet" weapons. Unlike the human weapons, these feature a small propellant charge in a concavity before the main rockets for initial acceleration, eliminating the dead-zones in velocity. The use of large caliber (15-22mm) rounds with at least some explosive in the warhead also compensates.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Entrance Examinations Part Two

More General Notes
 Tools and materials are readily available to those who want to look. However, the problem is the use of labor energy, and time. The most common reanimates have a sense of self preservation and thus can be actually scared off by sufficient resistance. Others are capable of probing and bypassing all the but the most stringent defenses, or even smashing right through them in the case of lambdas. Although the Planetary Citizens usually avoid picking fights, they have functioning armies if they so desire an area. Thus flexibility often wins over fortification.

Vermin patrol is a fact of life.  The reduction in human exterminators, pesticides, and abandoned food stocks have lead to a explosion in their population, and the predators are still playing catch-up. In fact, quite often stores of supplies and food are better protected than the living areas. People can run away, and return when its safe again, but perishables can not.

Reanimates are not quite as brainless as zombies. Even the type ones have limited senses of self preservation and futility - they will avoid obvious traps, fire, and give up if it takes more than a few days to get to the target. Other types are smart enough to avoid laying siege all-together, waiting for the inhabitants to sally forth. Some Betas will wait for the defenders to be distracted with other problems, and actually sneak in if possible, or simply make a dash amongst other reanimates during a bigger swarm.

Ruby Ridge
Seen from the air, the settlement looks like a humongous spider-web. Taking a cue from the VietCong in Cu Chi, they have covered walkways, bolt holes, and underground tunnels connecting most structures. Rather than hoping to weather an assault until it breaks, they actively encourage hit and run and active counter attack.

Lone Star
Not all arcologies are singular giant towers - some are more spread out, but still pack the population of a large town in a dozen buildings. The LS city state has reinforced a few of its structures against attack, and most of the others have turned the first floor into a series of ambush points, while constructing gates to block off access to higher levels. Thus in an emergency, most of the populace can be locked down while others form rescue teams to clear the problem.

Free City of Tesla
The city itself  spirals around a hill, giving it the appearance of a ziggurat with buildings, wind turbines, and fluorescent tubes sticking out at odd angles. At the bottom is a steel-reinforced concrete wall, fronted by a deep trench crossed by retractable drawbridges. This is the closest any city-state comes to being an actual fortress, and part of this comes from the fact that much of the city is underground to deal with temperature extremes naturally.

Planetary Citizens
The PC's settlements tend not be militarized, and are instead arranged in radial patterns out from a central military base. However, their territory in general is ringed with automated defense emplacements. The most visible of elements of such are the two variates of laser towers, though these are protected by missile batteries stationed somewhere behind them as a means to ward off attacks from a range beyond the laser's.

The Smaller of the two laser tower designs has five 1.5 meter (approx. 5 feet) kite shaped petals about the top, and can fire quite quickly and accurately. Its mostly specialized for anti-personal, light targets, or downing incoming ordinance. Its larger sibling has only three petals, but each is a bit over three meters in length, and can produce beams capable of searing aircraft aluminum from over a hundred kilometers with line of sight, and may be capable of intercepting orbital targets. Meanwhile, the missile batteries are some variety of vertical launch system with two stage missiles capable of rapidly reaching altitude, gliding to extend horizontal range, and then dropping the booster for maneuverability in the kill stage. It is at least equal to any variety humans deployed.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Even at a time of augmented reality and Internet access provided by the very clothes they wore, most people didn't really understand what a micro-factory was. Most assumed they were some sort of  universal constructor, taking in blocks of raw material, and spitting out whatever the client asked for. This idea is nowhere near correct, but at the same time, not wholly wrong.

Microfactories are meant to increase the gestalt efficiency of society. While an arcology brings people together to reduce transit energy needs, Micros centralize component manufacture. One factory can produce car bodies, art deco furniture, or staplers - all it needs is the correct template and a supply of material. Although a single unit the size of a three story office building might not produce much, multiple units can be brought together.

Nanotechnology Fabrication Laboratory
(NFLab, Nano-Factory, Nanofac, Grey Goo Cauldron)

Nanofactories use nearly microscopic robots to work on ultra-small scale components. This variety can create new materials, computer components, specialized power cells, certain medicines, high quality lenses, and many other objects that require exacting detail of workmanship.

Generally speaking, a nanofac doesn't produce things much larger than a paperback book. For all of its utility, nanorobtics doesn't function that well for most things. Imagine trying to construct a toothpick from specks of sawdust instead of turning a log into veneer and then slicing into thin bits, and the bottleneck becomes obvious.

NFLabs are are quite rare, despite being the general publics' image of small scale fabrication. They are extremely expensive to run as the miniature robots must be kept in sterile, temperature controlled facilities, constantly monitored, and the throughput is not particularly high. Specialized feedstock must be imported, due to the danger of universal deconstructors.

Deconstructors are possible, and used to prepare the feed stock for more general factories. However, these units are kept well guarded, and generally not advertised. Something that can reduce just about anything to its component molecules is obviously best kept secure.

Automated Limited Materials Working Facility
(ALM-Fac, Work Box, Micro-Fac) 

These are the far more common type of micro-factory. The inside of each house sized structure is a combination three dimensional printer, fabrication shop, and deathray. Plastics and epoxies are set down in layers and melted together  in intricate patters, while lathes and grinders shape other materials.

The key piece of technology in these types of factories is not  tiny robots, but giant lasers. Depending on how they are focused, these can cut, weld, heat, or etch, and yet never need sharpening. Except in specialized cases, this means that one tool can work with any material within, a series of mirrors shunting the beam to where its needed.

MicroFacs are specialized, but can work near miracles within expertise. For example, a fabric work box can make chemical agent resistant battle dress uniforms, silk evening gowns, and silk evening gowns, and bullet proof vests, more or less concurrently. Metals, wood, and organic based plastics are some of the more common types, though almost anything can be created. There are indeed liquid chemical handling factories that can produce pesticides, shampoo, or any number of other products. Furthermore, multiple work boxes can be strung together with automated conveyors to let them share products and work in stages.

Although there are access ways, most of these units are not designed to have humans on the manufacturing lines. A control center and break room are present for the people to oversee the operation, and affect the occasional repairs.

The true key to all of these factories are heavily encrypted Computer Aided Design files. As stated several times before, the microfacs are designed around materials, not the end product. 

Security and encryption are paramount, given that a factory could easily be re-purposed for weapons manufacture or other malicious deeds. The designs are stored their own programing language on special disks that are required as a dongle. These units often have manufacturing caps or other built in limitations to protect intellectual properties and prevent copying. 

Post event, it is often the templates that are harder to find than the factories themselves. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Flower Children

A few more clicks on the old binoculars and the object came into focus. It was the sandy red color of fired clay, stood about twelve meters tall, and an appeared a bit like an oversize lotus. At the bottom root like metal conduit sunk into the ground, while the top folded out and back on itself forming five meter and a half long petals spaced equidistantly apart. Beneath the flower was sequence of vertically aligned half meter cylinders in a single line about the two meter circumference of the trunk.
"Is that some sort of alien plant?" asked the younger sister. She was about eight and this was the furtherst by far she had ever been from their home.

"No" replied her twelve year old brother, "Its one of their laser towers. I think those kite like flaps at the top are where the beams come from."
   "What makes you think that?"
"Well, they cleared out all the trees an' other plants, except for right near the bottom. And that's what dad's papers say. Call it a "phased array" though I don't see how that could be. When you phase in a video game, it means you walk through walls - but that thing doesn't move at all."
   "I don't think you should be reading dad's reports Joe. They might contain clasified inforatmion or something."
"Classified from who? I'm sure the aliens know how the towers work, and for the town's safety we should know as well."
   "Well they could send a remote controlled robot to see it. now I'm cold, and I want to go home, and we're not supposed to be out here anyway."
"Sending drones didn't work - the tower can shoot down anything that comes in too low and looks armed. If they send it up high, there is a missile battery somewhere behind the tower that knocks those down too. But you're just a little kid without a gun. so you can walk right up to it because you're not dangerous.
   "No way! Nu-ihnh, I'm not going to near it."
"But you have too! We're in deep trouble for leaving without telling anyone. But dad can't be mad if we help him with his research."
   "No I'm not going to do it, I'm cold and hungry, and I want to go home"
"And we can go as soon as you run up to the tower and touch it. Is it metal? Plastic? Chitton like bugs? The aliens are giant bugs, maybe its like a giant termite hill. With lasers!"
   "No, I'm not going to do it! No no no no!" Lucy dropped to the ground and began thrashing about in a full-temper tantrum. Or at least a good show - Joe wasn't going to drag her around either way.
"All right, all right, you don't have to touch it, I will just stop making a scene that man over there is getting anoyed and is heading this way."
   "I wont do it I wont do I... a man? where? There aren't supposed to be other people out this way."
"That old guy over there at the edge of the forest."
"Eww, he looks kind of old and dirty and he's walking all funny. I wonder if he hurt himself?"
"Probably been walking a long time, there aren't many cars these days. Hey Mister! Over here! There is a town not far from here if you want a shower!"
   "That isn't nice Joe, you should say he smells to his face."
"I didn't say he smells, and look he is happy about the offer, he is coming this way faster now."
   "Well should he have said thank you or something? How do we know he isn't sick or something?
"Look behind him, he has friends. If he was really sick, he would be laying down and the others would be helping him."
   "We shouldn't be talking to strangers, or to aliens, lets just go."
"Quit being a worry wort, nothing is going to hurt..."

They saw the reddish mist erupt from the reanimate's arm before they heard the fire cracker pop. Before the severed limb could hit the ground, another invisible bolt lanced out, burning away flesh across the creature's thighs.  Instinctively turning towards the attack's source, the reanimate was was greeted by a changed emission pattern - small pulses flashing across its chest, flash boiling fluids into steam, producing more little explosions across its chest like machine gun burst.. Simultaneously another petal array radar ranged the other reanimates, then then shifted its micro-diodes across the emission spectrum and sent another type of radiation their way, scorching them as well.

The siblings looks at the tower, each other, and the creature lying on the ground that had been half charred away by several hundred kilowatts without making so much as a grunt. Then, they ran, forgetting about both their bikes and the pair of binoculars, seeking only to get as far as possible.

Behind them, the petals rotated to place fresh faces in the direction of new potential targets, and blueish vaporized coolant wafted out the top. On board computers noted the human manually powered conveyances and optical systems in its short range band, and logged a maintenance request to have the next patrol move them.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nano-Vac Search

The first thing that comes to mind when one finds a store of unused nano-vac is "Its Pink!"

A moment is needed to stand back and acknowledge the ramifications of uncounted millions of tiny machines under command from outside swimming through your blood stream.

But noticing the color is easy. Unadulterated, the machines suspended in a saline solution would have the silvery appearance of mercury, with a bit of multi-colored iridescence from the way light is bouncing off thousands of tiny surfaces. However, having metallic sludge pumped into your arm would be a rather scary experience, and and such an opaque fluid could be adulterated with other elements (like actual Mercury) by the unscrupulous to con the unsuspecting. Thus in non-bulk form, a bubblegum pink dye is added to make it "friendlier" to the consumer.

Furthermore, the colorant indicates the viability of the machines. It breaks down under exposure to the same sorts of things that can ruin a batch of nano - high heat, UV, and intense radiation of the alpha, beta, X, and gamma variates. (Visible light, most types of radar, and EMP have are generally not a problem.) Provided the stuff isn't exposed to one of the above destructive energies, its inorganic and thus doesn't rot - allowing them to last almost forever.

Inside the body the useful life is generally quoted as fourteen to twenty months. It will actually work for several years longer than that, but each new injection introduces new upgrades and compensates for units lost through wear and accidental excretion. (While the body can't really notice the micro machines, they do get everywhere and thus can end up expelled in everyday occurrences like sweat)

Finding the stuff isn't too easy, as the obvious places - hospitals and mobile labs - have been looted already. Fortunately, the stuff is rather ubiquitous.

A good amount would be in transit at any given time, so all one has to do is find the right truck or shipping container. Given that this is a needle in a hay-stack approach - finding an old shipping manifest would be a great help - either check hospital inventories insurance agencies (both because they watch HMOs and insure the transit of such valuable materials) or a university to find one of those.

Government buildings or military bases might have a cache on hand for emergencies. 

Technical or medical schools might have the means to produce more, though that is a big if. After all, its not like a bunch of tiny yellow robotic arms are putting together even tinier cars. Instead its a chemical process in a clean room - so you need power, know how, a hermetic environment, and the right precursors at the right time. Still, there may be a small supply on hand waiting to be shipped out.

Dosage varies by age and build, though its generally around 350mg/per kg (about 23 grams fro a 65kg/140lb individual) higher for children or elderly, and is administered in a fairly dilute form via IV over twenty to thirty minuets. In the barter economy a single dose is valued at over a week of labor, or a good weapon, a few dozen could acquire a vehicle if one is available. Of course, this is all highly dependant on what the community needs. There are in fact, those who won't accept the stuff since its one of the possible causes behind the reanimate phenomenon.