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, May 31, 2012

LASERs and Related Systems

Its been said by people smarter than I, that lasers are a lot like blast-furnaces that happen to release a bit of coherent light. Well, maybe not smarter, but holding engineering degrees at least. But they're probably right about why we haven't used lasers much over the last eighty years as something other than a guidance system. Its like a formula one car - its not all that fuel efficient, and you can't use it on real roads - so why?

Well, because they're good against missiles for one. Missiles became really common on the battlefield - a drone you can barely see can carry a supersonic missile, so you've got all of four seconds to react to a something you can't hear until after its passed. Worse yet, they don't even hit the tank - they explode several meters away and create kinetic-kill explosively formed projectiles to do the hard work. Leaving radar running will probably give away your position, so these systems tend to detect weapons using a combination of LIDAR or sonar (backed by radar once they have a fix on you and stealth doesn't matter, of course).

These hard kill systems tend to be more limited by coolant than than anything else - the emitters heat up rapidly. They also burn some sort of fuel to rapidly produce energy, so they are ammunition limited, but can go for quite some time. In theory, you could make a man portable version, but it would be more akin to a world war two flame thrower than a ray gun.

At least that might work. Things like ions or plasma would rapidly fail due to atmospheric resistance or blooming as a compact but hot ball of gas obeyed the laws of physics. Remember that stuff they teach you in school about how alpha particles only go a few feet in air and are stopped by a sheet of paper and beta radiation is stopped by aluminum foil? Well, since your sci-fi ion cannon is basically a beta-ray gun, well, as the evil overlord rule-book says - if an eight-year-old can explain why your super-weapon doesn't work, try something else.

Why the aliens have lasers, I don't know. Different laboratories, different funding I guess. People have reported seeing white smoke or steam coming from the giant lotus towers after firing, so I'm guessing they have some sort of open-cycle cooling, at least after a major engagement. Those radiation guns are either big X-ray tubes, or lasers on a much smaller wave-length than most. They still use projectiles for personal weapons, so the tech isn't that miniaturized though - just small enough for a 15 foot tall robot suit or a thirty foot tall tower. Are they even that tall - we don't know if they extend underground really.

Yeah, there are some people who are disappointed by our lack of magical ray-guns and flying cars, when they aren't complaining about the actual miracles like arcology mega-structures and nano-vac. However you can shut them up by pointing out we did manage to build a few lasers worthy of a James Bond villain - they're just stuck permanently pointing upwards. For satellites, rather than a rocket, we use a big rail cannon to get the thing into the sky, and then a huge laser to vaporize a fuel element underneath to provide extra thrust - no more big, dumb rockets, and thus a lot less space junk. Actually, the space lasers can be used to ablate the space junk and help bring it down - "laser brooms" as the magazine article called them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Little Place in Germany

Adolf Galland may have shared a name with a famous warrior, but he was no fighter. If anything, he was a little coward that compromised on just about everything to calm those fears. He didn't live in the port city proper because of the pollution, crime, and crowds - but wouldn't move to a little town because of the medical care available in the metropolis. Out of the fear of being stranded, he had his own car, despite the costs involved, and maintained his own bio-fuel reactor to make sure it would always run. He even joined a gun club and acquired a Kleiner Waffenschein. (Firearms carry permit.)

What many before the event would have defined as near mental illness - or at least a bit strange - had made him the center of a little survivors community near Emden. Even then, it was more about fearing the disapproval of his neighbors, than stepping up to save the community from the new scourge.

Even if he was the unofficial leader, he would still take turns along the river with binoculars looking for boats. What he would do if he actually spotted a KCA ship was unknown, but then again - there wasn't much to do. They couldn't very well fight back against an armed warship and actual marines, and a scorched earth policy would leave them worse off than if they just gave the stuff away. Hiring a free company would require having something to trade that couldn't just be looted from the city a few kilometers away.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Zone Extraditon

Stratson took a sip of her whiskey, set it down, and gave the bartender a glare that clearly indicated if he watered down the next one, he would be wearing his ass for a hat. She then turned to her client, who was only slightly less disagreeable.
   "Where is he? I paid you good money three weeks ago, and now your sitting here in my front yard spending it with nothing to show."
   "I assure you, this is money from other jobs I'm spending right now. Yours has become untenable."
   "Excuse me?"
   "You heard me. The SOB is hiding in a New Birmingham Parish. They don't recognize outside jurisdictions, especially not on behalf of female bounty hunters coming after men."
   "So that's it? He hides amongst some bible thumpers, and gets away clean?"
   "Looks, its about a fifty-fifty chance that any given haven of city state will be willing to export a criminal if you say so. Vegas has evidence requirements that are often hard to meet, though they relax a bit if you become bonded and join up with their state. No one gets into Tesla, so its not a problem. NEST doesn't care so long as you don't tear up too much - but trying to hunt someone in one of those places is nigh impossible if you aren't trained for it - which once again, requires a certain degree of citizenship. Random settlements - some like to be on the good side of the law, others feel that can't give up anyone who has seemingly useful skills. I can and will negotiate with those guys. But down South - down South they have their own way. He causes any trouble, it won't be pretty. They have their own hunters group to deal with people who try to duck town. But unless your hamlet agrees to join their for lack of better term - nation - no luck. I even look at one of their citizens the wrong way, and I can get in trouble."
   "And you can't..."
   "We went over that when you hired me. I'm not an assassin - I'm here for justice, not vengeance."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Legally Citizens

"Hey, Sing-Sing - can you tell us anything about the Citizen Legal system?"
  "We have one. I think. Maybe."
  "Mechanic, not lawyer, right. Is there anything you care to talk about today? We haven't interviewer you in a while, and I certainly don't want to lose out on your people's generosity by not upholding our end of the deal."
  "Actually, Mr. Hobbes, I can talk about the law a bit - I know my sarcasm and simply not knowing can run together. The thing is - we have three."
  "A repeat of the guild, family, and nation split loyalty I take it?"
  "Precisely. It is possible to find a situation where you could say murder someone, and be found guilty of a transgression against a family, but not seen as compromising your guild in doing it, and possibly even aiding your nation. Thus you could be fined or arrested, even spend time in prison, but keep your job, and have expenses taken care of by the state. Obviously, not too many people are happy with this system - and there are attempts to reform it to a single system. There is also something akin to your bounty hunters who try to quietly enforce the "justice" other courts won't. And there are of course long running feuds and shadow-wars and reprisals. Basically, I'm on the colonization fleet because my sibling who was supposed to be here was assassinated, and I didn't want to stick around for the next round of murders."
  "Is it common for Citizens to be as disenfranchised with the system as you are?"
  "To borrow a human phrase - I'm a young radical. Things have worked for a long time, and the situation I gave above is an edge case. Once again, the whole colony effort is an attempt to either broker peace between citizens, or get the warring parties separated by enough distance that fighting is impractical. Obviously, there was some progress, or we wouldn't be funding these sorts of things."
  "You have clue as to the scale of the colonization project?"
  "There is more than one colony fleet, but I believe we're the biggest. Citizens reproduce rather fast when they want to. Or when you don't want them too. Same thing really."
  "Something like twelve were planned - enough to be sponsored by each major family, but you're not lucky enough to receive the first, and its unlikely they'll do much more after ours - so I'm on fleet three and will probably never know if they get as far as five."
  "You're sounding pretty depressed by that statement. People back home you still want to see?"
  "Very much so."
  "Lets take five, find a way to turn this into a presentation, and maybe add more later, OK?"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Big Decison

Reanimates don't make much noise - you can cave in their ribcage with a twenty pound sledge and they won't scream - but they sure seem to like it. Gun shots, alarms, big engines - it seems to spark their curiosity. They don't always move that fast, but the more you shoot, the more you will have to shoot.

The key problem is, when do you start. Sure, the ideal would be to go in and out without them noticing, but that kind of restricts what you can carry or grab to pretty small stuff. Sneak on the way in, and then you'll have to go through the same ones on the way out, plus some of their friends. Open up on the first one you see - well, the way will be clear, but the clock is ticking.

In my opinion, shooting first is a good idea. Its hard to tell if you have successfully made your way past without being seen  - as I said before - they don't shout when they spot something or call "who goes there?" if they hear something amiss. Thinking you're safe for now is just a false sense of security. More importantly, the more advanced ones tend to move faster than the simple type ones - so it draws them into the open rather then letting them just hunt you. People will tell you the reanimates can show surprising intelligence sometimes, but they aren't that smart. When aggravated, they don't lay traps, they just attack, and in a fair fight...

You will lose. Fortunately, you weren't planning on making this a fair fight were you? That is the other big decision isn't it - not just when to shoot, but what to shoot at them. Just remember, make your choice, and be prepared to work with the results.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Possible Connection

Something occurred to me the other day. You take apart an alien machine or weapon, and what do you find? Copper wires, dry-cell batteries, coupled-charge devices, Polyvinyl chloride plastic - nothing new under the sun. Physics and chemistry is the same across the universe - its more of a social thing how technology develops - we had gyrojet guns, but the guys designing them took shortcuts and they never worked right.

The one piece of technology we simply can't recreate, is the faster than light drive that brought them to Earth. So far as I'm aware, no alien captured has ever admitted to know how it works.

Now think for a moment - what are the common explanations for the reanimate phenomenon? Well, discounting the spurious supernatural ones anyway - lets be reasonable here. Alien biological weapon, Human bio-weapon we were never meant to know about, nano-vac gone haywire, nano-vac gone horribly right through a government command to turn people into shock-troops, experimental nano let loose in the confusion after The Event.

All of these ideas have a grain of truth behind them. Nano-vac probably did start as a military project, and can keep soldier fighting longer, and even counteract certain special weapons and does require outside oversight. Certain diseases do alter negro-chemistry or induce strange behaviors.

But - all of them also have easy counterarguments. The government isn't that competent, nano isn't that resilient, retroviruses don't rewrite all the DNA.

However, what we don't have an argument against, is the idea that the alien's warp drive did this somehow. I know arguing from ignorance and uncertainty about how it works isn't good rhetoric. But, how can we prove that it didn't?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Still Not Dead

Its the middle of May again, time for another celebratory video.

Its this video that really turned me on to Metallica, and in conjunction with a similar video one based on Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas in Sarajevo" - spurred my interest in the Resident Evil Franchise.

To improve your zombie gaming night, a good session should include at least two scenes from this music video to really keep the players going. Last moment escapes, mad doctors with odd serum, a climatic showdown, doomed supporting characters - its all good for upping the ante in your game.

Now as to improving my game, that is going to be a bit more work.

I am pretty happy with most of the mechanics, but feedback seems to indicate there is still work on that front.
  • Chancing the damage die to be read like the other tests (top two outcomes) will make things a bit more dangerous, and might need to re-balance NP totals a bit. 
  • Initiative might see some new options - allowing hand to hand maneuvers to move characters out of otherwise static turn order. 
  • Skills and Special abilities need new lists, along with more informative descriptions.
  • Altruism Points and leveling up needs to be rewritten, with some new things to buy -like extra deadening, and improved carry weights.
  • A scale system to differentiate between people and armored vehicles might be nice, though this is a game about hunting zombies, not tanks, so that is still under consideration.
  • Finally, a point system or at least a more through guide for creating creatures is going to be required at some time soon.

Fortunately, most of the big work isn't really rules revisions. Most of the titanic struggle is to write up all the stuff the system supports. This post is officially the 240th to be published, so as you can imagine - editing the stories and putting them into a cohesive collection or two is going to be quite a task. Then there is the rather through list of thirty to forty vehicles that need stats (ranging from ultra-light aircraft to alien war-machines), background information on other pieces of technology, and character sheets for various raiders and leaders.

I don't think I'm going to finish this thing anytime soon. But I do know that the final product will be well worth the wait.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Diego and KC

KC knelt down next to Diego and looked over at the tangle of wires. "Everything running again Mr. DeZufingia?
   "Its pronounced... wait - that is how its pronounced."
   "I grew up in Southern California, learned Spanish by default."
   "Did you pick it up from the fine upstanding citizens or the others?"
   "First one, mostly the other."
   "Sounds like you might have had an interesting life before The Event occurred KC.
   "That I did. Though I consider myself a different person back then, I'm not inclined to talk about it on your radio show."
   "Five by five on that. Before we can decide on a government we need to figure out who we are.
   "You sound like a philosopher."
   "I share a last name with one, you have to pick some up. You read any?"
   "I know enough about philosophy to know the ones I disagree with, just not enough to use the words of the other ones to explain why."
   "Good answer."
   "You know who you are Diego?"
   "I for one, maintain that I am the same person I was before. But I also maintain that I was a good person before. My father was a vile man before, and I'm sure he has used current events to feed his depravity rather than use his power to help others."
   "You knew your old man, and how not to be him. That is something at least."
   "I take it you're an insufferable optimist KC?"
   "More, play it as it lays. I don't hold on to the past, and see the future as a pretty good time to be around. At the moment I'm on permanent vacation, traveling the old highways on a multi-fuel turbine powered motorcycle. If it weren't for the event, I'd probably have some wage slave work-a-day job and couldn't afford the insurance for a racing cycle."
   "It is a nice machine, but why turbine?"
   "It will burn just about anything, and runs at really high RPMs, which then gets into some sort of advanced gearbox which can give me amazing flat out speed, or torque to rival most four-by-fours. The one thing it can't do is conserve fuel though. Its supposed to have structural batteries, but aside from switching to a different parking space, those don't do much."
   "Yeah, I know. I lost enough to be pretty sure it was just psychological, but I swear electrics don't race as well as burners."
  "But any bike is better than a car - especially in the wastes. More efficient - unless its mine - quieter, less burden, easier to hide and fit in small spaces. If you have enough stuff to fill a truck, you're doing something wrong, at least in my book. If you need to stand and fight to protect everything rather than accept a loss when you should be running - dying from bad luck, or someone's better planning, OK, but greed? That is just unacceptable."
   "I'd make a toast to hubris, but we're a bit low, and there are no shot-glasses behind this panel. Well, there better not be, the fuse-box is in bad shape as it is."
   "I'll get out of your way then. A lot of people rely on you signals to understand this world we're living in. We should keep it going."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Zone Karma

"It has been quite a while KC, we were beginning to doubt you would return."
   "Thank-you for your concern, Mr. Hobbes. Frankly, I was rather worried too. I've got the feeling that I'm no longer the sole voice of the zone. A lot of people are venturing out to expand living space, to find the dwindling technology, to preserve a bit of the past before nature takes it, or because their city state has grown beyond simple survival. One man on a motorcycle might be a good guide, but he is not a movement."
  "Not even if he's Che Guvera?"
  "What? Me as a revolutionary? Che is ain't so! (laughter) No. No. I'm kind of anything but, really. I intentionally try not to make waves. Its, well...."
   "Bad to make enemies? Dangerous to cut off suppliers? Unhealthy to bait raiders?"
  "I'd say all of the above, but then again, sometimes it might be a good idea to do any one of those, or all three at the same time. The zone doesn't have some multi-axis description of behavior good and bad, it doesn't align one way or another. But there is definitely a sense of karma if nothing else. I'm not a big believer in religion or a wanna-be hippy, however I have a sense that what goes around comes around. A guy with a lot of scars - even money says he was either dumb enough to get them, or smart enough to survive getting them. The woman with just a handgun is either woefully unprepared or knows exactly what she needs, and carries no more than necessary."
  "So you're basically saying that the rules of the zone is don't step on any toes because you can't tell how tough people are or if they have connections?"
  "Not Really."
  "That is what it sounds like."
  "I know. I'm not really the Arcadian rhetoric kind of..."
  "Yeah, that one thank you. Its more, you gotta prepare for the worst, and accept that there will be consequences. But still, do what you feel is right.  Live for the day, but know you're not getting away scot-free. Oh hummp, I'm just spouting meaningless platitudes, and I hate that. Its the kind of thing I always hated in parents and teachers just these per-programmed responses. I should be talking about using motorcycles for transportation or good ways to find mmmo rather than muttering about nice behavior."
  "What was that...

[Diego, is everything OK back there?
 We seem to be having some power problems, that something seems to be shorting again... wrap it up"

"Well, as luck would have it KC, you're getting a chance to think of a better response - we're having some problems and are going to have to cut this short."
  "Gotcha. I hope its nothing I did..."
  "Old Equipment, and improvised spares."
  "Yeah, well thanks for having me, and good luck getting everything running."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rich in the Zone

People still want to be rich. It is a bit of a difficult thing to do with the end of civilization and all, but its a goal none-the-less, and goals keep you going. Not an easy one of course, there is a bit of a currency problem. You can't eat gold, or shoot silver, so despite what the doom and gloom crowd believed before The Event, precious metals are pretty much worthless - old coins even less so since there is a distinct lack of numismatists driving a market. Bills are a bit of a problem - find an old bank or currency exchange, and you've got millions of them.

A lot of city-states reissue their own currency. For most, this just means taking old bills and adding a few extra signatures and embossing.  Actually making your own indestructible bill paper and anti-counter-fitting measures is a bit too hard for most places. However, if you want to amass a collection of bills that are worth something, it seems that both Vegas and New Birmingham have their own now, and Tesla probably does too - though they tend to avoid money altogether, and use electronic means when they can't.

Vegas bills - or more officially "New Issue American Emergency Printed Currency" match the old money pretty well, but have new designs on them. A lot of folks call it "nostalgia notes" since the new theme is great human inventions on one side, presidents on the other - so there is no mistaking it for something produced by people breaking into the old mints. The one is an Apollo Moon landing, the Five is the USS Missouri and the ceremony that ended world war two - the rest I don't quite recall.

As you might expect, everything on "NB bucks" or "Cross checks" is a religious theme, getting more ostentatious as the denominations get up. The One is just some hands and a cross, the two has a little church, five is a big one with wings, ten a cathedral, twenty is supposedly the old Jerusalem temple mount, and while I know there is a fifty, I think it might be a bit blasphemous to mention who is pictured on it.

For those of you who aren't after little slips of paper, there are plenty of other things to be seeking. Cars are a pretty common one. Sure, taxes, insurance, fuel prices and so on tried to ruin the allure - they even built entire city complexes trying to render the personal vehicle obsolete. Never happened. Even with the paucity of spares these days, a collection of cars is a real status symbol. Lots of guns or different types of guns are common collections too, but that is often a considered common sense rather than ostentatious and frivolous investment, so doesn't count as being wealthy to many.

Alien artifacts are a mixed bag. They're perfectly willing to trade art objects, or even small weapons. I've got a citizen made knife myself - get a custom fitted hilt, or everything is child sized. Of course, finding more citizen gyro-jet bullets is difficult, so it fits in the impractical category. Actual alien machines or bigger weapons - those are a lot harder to come by as they're almost always destroyed in the process of getting them away from the original owners. Even intact though, they don't do a human much good - so they're rare, but not valuable.

Probably the biggest draw is preserving historical artifacts. No one is really watching the museums these days, so all sorts of priceless artifacts are either going to ruin or being taken. That is probably why they're featured on the new issue bills, because after this, we might not be able to see them again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The MG Problem

Since the second world war, the wisdom has been "if the tank fires nothing but machine guns - that means they haven't spotted you yet". After all - they're not going to waste very limited and expensive main gun rounds on what might possibly be nothing. Out of forty or fifty rounds, only a dozen are going to be screaming meanies flechette rounds - so make 'em count. Meanwhile, you're gonna have a few hundred to few thousand six millimeter and fifty-cal rounds.

Of course, without the supply-lines of pre-event times, that has changed. A few effective fused rounds are less resource intensive to a microfac than belts of MG bullets, and there is almost no point in carrying non-explosive sabot rounds due to the lack of other tanks and long-rod penetration are downright overkill on anything the aliens have.

So when you hear nothing but machineguns these days, you know the dung has hit the oscillating air distribution unit.

What do you do? There are a couple schools of thought. The obvious one is go in the opposite direction, and avoid whatever trouble is out there. Not a bad idea, but not always the best payoff, and nor always the safest - if it can overrun the tank, it might overrun you.

Doing the Prussian thing and advancing towards the sound of the guns has its benefits. You can see how bad the threat is, if you actually rescue them, you've made friends with people who own a tank. Well, at least people who own a machinegun - this advice applies if you're hearing fire coming from a settlement, outpost, or light vehicle too you know.

The somewhat less scrupulous might stick around and watch the destruction. If the tank crew can't deal with the problem, you're going to get a free tank out of the deal when they abandon it. They will abandon eventually - despite what you think, a tank can't run over an unlimited number of reanimates. Those big wide mobility enhancing tracks lower ground pressure, so even at seventy tons, it doesn't crush as well you might think, and crap stuck in the running gear is going to immobilize the thing eventually. After that, the reanimates aren't that stupid, they will wait around for a beta or type three to show up, and open the thing like a can of sardines. Popping the hatch and running for it is better than waiting to be crushed by a Lambda.

Give it a day or two for the reanimates to disperse, bring some fuel and repair supplies, and a new tank for you. Of course, they're fuel hogs and ammo hogs, and well, kind of a booby prize, which hopefully you'll realize before you end up in the position where you're firing nothing but machineguns...