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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I Find Your Lack of Achivement... Disturbing

I can't help but feel its been a disappointing year, and that I should apologize to my loyal readers. What has been accomplished seems small compared to the grand plan I had for the time between January 2010 and now.

It always seems close. Topics of discussion are often self-evident - more about internal conflicts, government structures, power sources, the SPHERE, and other establishing the Planetary Citizen Factions. With so many tags, making a collection and editing shouldn't be that hard, right? Nor should it be so difficult to actually go through the text released back in February to pick out errors, revise samples, and check understandability.

Being a moderator for a game design forum lends itself to actually finishing games, yes? Apparently not.

Yet it appears that fairly little of what I set out to do this year got done. No new games, no artist, fairly little feedback, no new books. Struggling with simply sitting down and writing made me change the update schedule to only twice a week, and I probably still need to do a five or eight post make-up marathon.

Really, if anything - my focus on trying to come up with some new rules for vehicles has set me further behind as I consider new options like scale modifiers so ships don't end up with several dozen animus columns.

Victory, such as it is...
There have been some small victories. Another 129 posts have been added to the story of the Anarchy Zones and the development of "Dead... and Back". That brings the total entries on this site to over two hundred. Twenty-five have been ideas for new rules or entirely new settings. I've also released the FFS edition, containing numerous changes to the rules.

And onwards?
I can tell you now, the first post of the new year will be a long list of topics. My current notebook lists fifty-five subjects to address, and at least a few of these are open to multiple posts. Producing another supplement or edition by February (the anniversary of FFS MK1) or late spring ("April is the cruelest month..." after all) seems feasible with a bit of motivation.

Beyond that, its a ongoing mystery. "Dead and Back" is going to rise from the virtual grave to haunt actual bookshelves one of these days. The question is only one of how decayed will the author be by that time.

Enjoy your new year, be safe, thanks for reading, and don't use fire - the undead may be flammable, but so are you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

So, What About... Magic?

The Anarchy Zones is based on hard science, well crunchy at least - it gets soggy if you leave it in milk too long. But not all horror settings are that way, and D&B is supposed to handle suspense in general, even if the blog is mostly for the AZ.

To keep things simple, there are three main concepts for the magic system.  First, is to keep things simple - rather than adding another attribute or pool to look after, D&B magic uses the resources already on hand. Secondly, it is based on the idea that like affects like. And finally, magic is an extension of the caster.

These ideas are untested prototypes, so use at your own risk - then tell me about it.

The First and Second Ideas

Casting magic and fighting the will of the universe is fatiguing, so the basic currency of supernatural abilities is Deadening. However, like affects like, and if you want to affect a living thing - blood and Animus must be spent. Anything that is going to last more than a few moments is a mighty contest of the character's will against the universe, so spending lucidity increases the duration.

Magic tends to be at the same scale of its cater - so a magic attack is probably not going to destroy a tank, but an illusion will fool the crew. Attempts to use strength at a distance will simply mirror the magician's muscles. Lucidity can be spent to increase the power - but that is limited.

In more concrete terms, spending a point of deadening will let you affect some inanimate object at a distance, for a few seconds. Spending multiple points will add to the effect, but don't affect duration. To harm or heal a person, a point of animus is spent (wounding the caster) and with additional animus spent adding two extra dice to the roll. (Drawing from you own body is powerful stuff!) Either way, the effect occurs for only a short period of time - about a combat round. Lucidity can be spent to successively increase the duration by a factor of four. (10-40-160 (two min+) - 640 (ten min+) and so forth) At the tenth iteration, the effect simply becomes permanent, though the caster is probably gibbering insane by that point - since all of it needs to be spent at once.

Circles and wards have a place in this system as well. An area consecrated to the user, and set up symbolically of its purpose allows a magician to combine the attributes of multiple people. For example, a room set up to look a bit like a surgical theater with overhead lights, some metal trays, and something that looks like an anesthetic canister and the appropriate symbols would allow a medically inclined mage to preform healing spells drawing on the animus of others without loosing an excessive amount of blood after the first two patients. This combined effort ability also means that a coterie is the far more sane (literally and figuratively) way to permanently enchant an item.

The Third Idea
Although no relation to Anderi Shakharov's Third Idea (ie the Teller-Ulam device at the core of Hydrogen Bombs), it is a a great power not to be underestimated.

From a mechanics point of view, a characters attributes are the base skill for using a type of magic. Exerting force at a distance - use Strength, Wits is used to create an illusion use Wits, and Technique to preform surgery without tools.

Perhaps more important is the affect on role play. No two casters magic can take the same form, there is no generic "magic missile" or "cure light wounds". They can do the same thing but never the same way. Perhaps one person sings songs that command bones to heal and the other has little men jump from their hand to stitch the wounds together.

So for example, Dominic wants to make a lethal guardian to block an entrance-way. To harm living things, it takes animus, and since he wants this extra dangerous, he spends two instead of the only one required. Drawing from the depths of his will and sanity to fight the universe, he spends five lucidity to have it last for (10x4x4x4x4x4 =10,240 seconds/170 min) just under three hours. Being a big and physical guy, the apparition is formed from strength and appears as an angry poltergeist - light and motion banging about the corridor waiting for anyone to enter and be attacked by and attack equal to three dice of aim. (At d8 for human scale, since its a human casting.)

Gregory is trying to get a small passenger aircraft repaired quickly. He reaches for his guitar and sings a song about flight and freedom, the refrain begging the spirits of air to assist. Two others join hands and sing along. Spending a point of lucidity to work on the scale of the aircraft, he then borrows four more - two  from the each of the others in the circle for more time, and two points of deadening. Little faeries spring into existence. They work together for about three hours (the same as Dominic's poltergeist, but with less drain on the individual) with a profeciency equal to Gregory's tech plus two. However, they need the proper parts to work with - actually wishing a replacement engine into existence would've taken at least twice as much lucidity.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The New Range

"We have met soldiers, wanderers, police officers, and even the occasional alien. Today, is the first time we have an actual cowboy in our studio. Welcome to 104.3 Mr. Steven Light."
   "I'm as amazed as you are Thomas. I though this whole ting about a zone wide radio was joke. People can fake recordings, and the call number is all wrong - 104.3 isn't an AM frequency and W is a call letter for East of the Mississippi."
   "Smart man. I know its misleading, but well, its a tribute to a radio station I used to listen to. Furthermore, just calling it "Hobbes on the Radio" would be self-serving and unprofessional. As the old broken window theory goes - if people see order, they act more orderly, and when they see transgressions they excuse their own more frequently."
   "You some kind of doctor before The Event?"
   "Yes actually. OB, Pre- and post- natal care. How about you?"
   "Physical Therapist - a lot of it centered around nature and animal therapy with horses and dogs. I would've much liked to help all the people hurt by The Event. But that wouldn't have been too likely to put food on the family's table. Catching some wild longhorns, or roping up wild bison - that helped the family and bunches of others, more than one on one sessions."
   "Wonderful to meet a philanthropist."
   "Thank you"
   "Its got to be a lot of hard work though."
   "'Pends on the animal really. Emu aren't native to the area and need a lot of watching to keep alive. Bison  are large enough to take care of themselves really. Actually, with the exception of birds, everything is too {bleep] independent...?"
   "That was another reason I didn't believe this was real - you really bother with that? Well. anyhow, the short version is, we're dealing with wild stock here. None of it has had the stringiness or ill temper bread out of it.Domestic cattle is pretty much gone. Yeah, the rumors about some sort of conspiracy of cow reanimates are d... really persistent. Simpler explanation is that you can't have packed to the gills factory farms without nano-vac and antibiotics to stop a burning pandemic in a cow tinderbox. No people, no computers - and very quickly - no cows.
   "Well, the flip side is - we have a goodly bit of attrition in our herds from natural causes, and are hard pressed to do much about disease besides quarantine or culling. Another big problem is the unnatural causes. For the record - this group of aliens doesn't seem to be big on abductions and mutilating cattle. But there are humans who will. Some are just raiders out to steal a moving food supply. Others might well be our competition trying to get a leg up on us. So long as there are two dollars to go around, someone is going to try and get both of 'em."
   "So, how has ranching changed?"
   "It hasn't - that would be the problem."
   "Seems like a pattern these days. Only the things you want to change stay constant."
   "Amen brother. We don't have radio tags, we don't have barbed wire in most places - its pre-civil war life really. Of all things, its rope that proves to be the biggest hurdle. I'm not sure is Sisal grows in the country - and most people are probably using the land for food crops and those who aren't are too busy to braid anyway."
  "Another problem of our age. Everybody things about water, food, and bullets. No one considers the worn out gears, sprockets and bearings that aren't being replaced."
   "To add to that Mr. Hobbes - I practiced what I preached about joint and bone health. I was in pretty good shape for The Event. But I'm certainly feeling it. I'm worried we might lapse into some sort of able bodied only society."
   "Fighting reanimates isn't much of a desk job, is it?"
   "How do you get away with running a studio and interviewing people in bars?"
   "The music is all pre-recorded, so if I'm not actually hosting a show - it runs independently like your bison, and I'm weeding in the hot house. Deigo and I take turns driving the old jeep to local towns. I help with medicine, and he is genius with machines and irrigation."
   "Where does the name DeZufingia come from anyway - the only other person I've heard of with a name like that..."
   "I assure you he has no ties to that organization. Of course, that is off topic, so lets take a break and get our questions back in order."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Diego's Father

It was a bit hard not to laugh. A barely four foot tall semi-arthopod like alien standing with its arms crossed and tapping its front right foot. Its small stature and inability to replicate human facial expressions making it seem like either a child poorly mimicking a parent, or a cartoon character. Almost cute, though Diego would be loathe to admit the alien had grown on him, and Sing-Sing did not like being viewed as less than serious.
   "Is something bothering you?" Diego asked.
   "Its been a long time."
   "A long time since what?"
   "You said you would be more willing to talk about your family at a later date. I've been quite cooperative talking about my clan - why not you?"
   "Mostly because I've really hoped that if I just ignore them, they'll go away."
   "Is this common with human families?"
   "My family is anything but common. I'd also be rather reluctant to call my father - human."
   "There are other sentient species here?"
   "Plenty - but if you're looking for the word sapient, then no, we're the only ones. What I mean is that he is not someone I'd use as an example of a good person."

Hobbes looked up from his book. "So, you really are related to Emilo DeZufingia?"
   "A-hem - I seem to be missing something here" the alien shouted.
   "I know that the Citizens drink methanol, and really love potato chips - but you've never mentioned if there is much of a drug abuse problem - hallucinogens, uppers, downers, whatever. Probably something you're not allowed to talk to us about, though I'd imagine that being stuck here surrounded by hostile natives has driven more than a few to unhealthy escapism. Well, for various reasons, a lot of humans abused drugs and those who controlled the markets, the smuggling, and the security of such would end up rich men indeed.
   My father, even before the event, was the de fato ruler of Mexico through a combination of military force and money. He couldn't have won an outright war with the federals, but but he'd destroy enough infrastructure and assassinate enough politicians that there wouldn't be a nation left for the army to defend afterwords. There was a joke - 'how do you identify an honest politician? He says please and thank-you when receiving his payments from Honcho DeZufingia.'
   Well, I do exaggerate some - but he was a force. Everybody worried about warming and crop failures in the USA and Europe, but a nation farther south that already had water problems - too many people who were willing to turn to a non-government authority to find some escape. Made himself out to be a new Zapitista - though it is a grave dishonor to that man to compare them, especially when you consider the great man of the nineteen twenties fought against serfdom and haciendas, while Emilo owned ones larger than small towns."
   "Sap-pie what? How senda?"
   "Not important at the moment. What is, is that I didn't want to be a spoiled rich kid living on the money papa gave him, because the father was too busy profiting from suffering to notice the boy existed. I would've had a nice house - several - all the chauffeured cars I wanted, whatever. Hell, with the collapse of the government following your arrival, I'd probably be a literal king ruling a fiefdom in Monterrey. 
   But I came across writings of people like the Buddha, and decided this wasn't right. I took u odd jobs after leaving the house, joined the US national guard in exchange for citizenship, and haven't looked back."

   Hobbes shot an aside glace. "You walked away from all that so easily? Just a religious awakening? Amazing!"
   "Well, the fact that I literally had thirty brothers, sisters, and mothers killed in various trade related violence was a bit of incentive too. And that is just blood relatives! Nano-vac can counter a lot more than just the flue and tropical diseases if you know what I mean, and Papa took full advantage of that."
   "Wow, and all the US news about how he was a murderous psychopath painted such a kind picture of him."
   "I'm not going to talk about that part. Ever."
   "Won't hold that against you."
   "Satisfied Sing Sing?"
   "I would like to know more about this Mexico place, but I will respect your desire to remain silent."
   "Thank you."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lost SEC Part One

With the rise of the Brazilian nuclear navy, Argentina and Chile beginning massive armament programs, drug enforcement issues, and climate recovery operations gaining ever more urgency, and the need to safeguard the few remaining productive oil platforms - a new naval base in the gulf of Mexico was desperately needed.

Hence a new Naval base was built in Southern Texas to cover the gulf with greater force than ever before.  Once completed, it would be capable of maintaining multiple atomic powered cruisers, submarines, and carriers.It was even built in concert with an archaeology complex further inland which would provide housing for off base families, education, and recreation. The new complex would also receive power from naval style reactors, allowing for training of technicians, and fuel reprocessing.

Construction proceeded slowly, partly due to the plans grandeur, and mostly due to lobbying. Many felt that current bases could maintain capital ships, which could move to the gulf on their own power, while small coastal patrol vessels didn't require a massive base the Lone Star Sea Enforcement Complex was turning into. In an attempt to limit funding cuts, the largest parts of the project - including satellite hide shelters for carriers and a dry-dock capable of holding a Nixon class carrier - were built first. By that point, the firms responsible hoped, that people would either accept it as a sunk coast and continue, or that the facilities could be used for other large projects like oil rig recovery should the base deal fall through.

Although the project would not be canceled, these huge berths never got the chance to host a carrier either. The most it ever played host to was a half dozen Morton class destroyers, while the largest was the USS Green Bay of the San Antonio Cruiser class.

The citizens did not attack the base during The Event. Ironically, the lack of warships present apparently had them misidentify it as a non-military port, and thus of low targeting priority. Once the alien fleet began to suffer from power loss and in-fighting, the base became a haven for a few of the remaining units of the Atlantic fleet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Posible Revised AP System

Almost all role playing games have an experience point system - players like to see their avatars change and grow as the game progresses. "Dead... And Back" tries to add a new twist to this concept by giving the players a hard choice on how to use Advancement Points - to heal a character, or to save up and advance someone else - thus balancing short and long term goals, as well as matters of trust. However, the schedule of the reward remains unexplained, and I think there are few permutations that could help modify the game experience as the GM sees fit.

Option: Temporary AP (Last Second Saves)
Most games hand out AP at the end of the session, or at least don't allow it to be used until either the end of the night's gaming, or until a chapter break where the characters have down time to train. This is the general model I've envisioned for D&B. However, at the expense of a little extra bookkeeping, AP can take on a new use, and become another critical resource.

Under this concept, AP is given out on the fly, and is tracked with tokens or a different part of the sheet. These points may be spent at any time, for things like:
  • Healing a point of damage
  • Adding a die to a roll 
  • Negating the -1 penalty modifier
  • Improving odds of a scarcity Roll
Points not used before the end of a session are written down as normal, and can be used for healing (two points per), recovering lucidity/deadening, and advancing characters.

Option: Group AP Pool (Settlement Advancement)
Long term games, especially those in the Anarchy Zone setting, involve trying to (re)establish some form of society or secure area. Of course, much of this depends on what the players are able to find through innovation, and who they recruit through role-play. But it may be ideal to introduce a point buy system for upgrading a homestead, giving players a choice between working on personal improvement, healing, or granting their time and labor to communal projects.

In this variation, at the end of a session, the players may spend AP as normal, or place them in a group pool. This mutual bank can in turn be used to acquire upgrades to facilities, vehicles, or equipment used by everyone. "Town Stats Part One" gives an overview of what might be involved - Required attributes like population start cheap, but go up exponentially (recruiting a half dozen people easy, a few hundred - less so). Helpful ones have a more linear progression in cost, but are caped by the required attributes. (You can't have more soldiers than total population after-all.) Advanced settlement attributes would be quite expensive, but could pay some sort of dividend over time.

Reinforcement Schedules
So how often are AP to be handed out, and for what? It depends on if any of the above options are used, and how long the campaign should last. One constant, however, is that points should be handed out for actions of the players, not the characters. AP are a reward for quick thinking or good acting, not luck in rolling.

As stated in the rules, a new skill costs three points, and advancing a skill costs twice the next level (ie two to three is six, three to four is eight). Three or four points a session is going to be rather slow advancement, especially if there is a focus on healing over advancement, but scarcity is the name of the game. Giving about six points a session gives a bit more breathing room. If either or both of the rules above are used, eight or ten points might be advisable to keep players leveling up with some regularity. Conversely, five to six points can keep them struggling for a while.

Generally, it is the game master that hands out AP, but they should be open to suggestions from the players. If the others appreciate the plan, or respect the depth of role-playing, then they can certainly recommend their comrade for recognition.