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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It Lives

I've been dealing with some non-gaming issues and haven't kept up the blog as I would have liked. Nor have I gotten as much work done on the game itself as hoped. My plans to get a play-test going locally fell through. Spam sites like "Vampirestat" are still the number one source of hits on this page, rather than people who actually read it. About the best thing I can say is that for once "readership" went down when there were no posts so they seem to be tapering off.

There are nearly 400 posts on this blog - if conditions had allowed, I'd be over that number just about now. That is something to be proud of at least. My simple twenty page game I wrote for one Halloween has become my number one project and most developed setting, with more material than almost everything else I've done combined.

Rather than rush out another Dead of Winter edition, I'm going for a bit more of an in depth plan.

First of all, the game is at about eighty pages, so I'm going to shoot for a cap of 100 (possibly 128 like old school folios). This will be five to eight pages each on the two simpler settings - 2552 and Oroborus, while the Anarchy Zone setting will remain mostly an introduction in the main book. Information about GMing, sample locations, and more monsters, sample vehicles, and some equipment will hopefully make an appearance as well.

Secondly, I want to take some photographs of old industrial areas and abandoned buildings around here so as to have some more illustration and get the graphic layout better. A real artist would be nice, but some place holders and planning will help.

More editing of AZ material and collecting it into short story collections will happen at some point.

Finally, I want to open up a pay-pal account and make the document available as "Pay what you want" on publishing sites like DriveThroughRPG. It still feels too incomplete to demand a full price, but the increased visibility and the nice thought of earning something off of it could be a nice motivation.

I also want to start some sort of Podcast or Vlog. It will probably be more general RPG topics than just "Dead... and Back".

D&D has been under revision and evolution for over thirty years. I hope that you can forgive that a one man project is taking a while as well.

Happy new year, and aim for the head.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

10 Things about the Anarchy Zone

  1. Pure Lands
    • Nature has been quick to recover from the absence of humanity. Rivers already look cleaner without discharges, the air lacks haze, and the nights are quiet but full of stars that were normally outshone by electric lights. Many houses are already infiltrated by vines or small plants, weeds and bushes are turning suburbs into tangled jungle already. Animal territories are expanding across the highways.
  2. Corrupt Lands
    • While no one has found a reactor that exploded like Chernobyl yet, many other industrial plants have suffered mechanical failures,  leaking pesticides, industrial solutions, and tailings into the environment.
  3. Hamlets and Villages
    •  In many places, groups of twenty to a hundred people have settled - often starting as one or two families and inviting in a few others. In some places, small communities have reclaimed all or part of suburbs and continue to live in subdivisions of pre-Event towns. The limits of subsistence agriculture limit most of those not used to the work to smaller settlements. Going beyond this stage or finding a patron to assist are major goals of many outside the known city-states.
  4. Unexpected Loot vs Needed Items
    • What  people remembered to take with them, and what they did not can often lead to interesting finds. Hundreds of cameras, watches, tons of silverware and jewelery are all out for the taking, but flashlights and pocket knives are amazingly rare.
  5. 10,000 Guns, Zero Bullets
    • More problematic than what has been lost is what is still being used. While many places have taken to hand-loading when they have the materials, the average person can't make nitrocellulose or mine lead. 
  6. Pockets of Tech
    • How the EMP bounced through the ionosphere was somewhat random, as was the status of many items - whether they were off, on, in a car, or out on a table, plugged in or on battery - all factored into its survival. While most of the subsystems that ran modern society did shut down, or at least popped their breakers temporarily, large areas with working technology still exist.
  7. 1880's All Over Again
    • Communication and delivery are a booming business in the zone. So too is setting up canals or clearing routes between villages. Judges and lawyers ride circuits from town to town, town hall meetings are as much about being social as simple votes. Gas-lamps and kerosene have returned in force. Nothing so fanciful as steampunk, but in many ways it is like the industrial revolution.
  8. Press Gangs and Patrols
    • One of the larger threats in the zone is City-State forces. They are always looking for experienced guides, couriers, or soldiers. Good mechanics and knowledgeable farmers are also in high demand. At best they accept volunteers temporarily. But all too often they will take people away by force as necessary to serve.
  9. Predator Explosion
    • With the end of human extermination campaigns both planned and incidental, the population of vermin and seasonally hunted animals exploded. It takes a few years for the population of predators to catch up, and it often overshoots the mark. Although few are man-eaters or desperate yet, the chance of encountering wolves, bears, coyotes, lions and other creatures is quite high.
  10. New Creatures
    • The most Northern dwelling primate is of course, Human beings, but the second is the Japanese Snow Macaque monkey. You might not find alligators in Chicago, nor polar bears in the deep South, but creatures from another continent can be found here and there, in some exotic places there are even breeding populations. Although rumors abound, the Citizens haven't begun cloning any of their larger fauna, so for the time being, it is only terrestrial creatures of note.

Monday, November 25, 2013

10 Things about Planetary Citizens

  1. Glass and Carbon Without Steel
    • Citizen technology progressed in a different order than human industry. They always had less easily accessible metal and less hydrocarbons. (Rather like Japan, without the stagnation of the Shogunate.) Most of their constructs are far more reliant of materials like ceramics, fiberglass, and carbon composite laminates than on metal or plastic.
  2. Individual Personalities
    • It is hard to get a sense of the individual when they are only encountered in combat situations, but Citizens do show as much variability as humans. Some do mark their vehicles with family, guild, or national marks or other distinct paint patterns, and can easily become reoccurring friends or enemies.
  3. Making Friends
    • There are places where the live and let live mentality goes on to mutual cooperation. Usually this takes the form of Citizens delivering messages, or using their helicopters as sky cranes in recovery and building projects. Mutual defense, scouting, bartering salvage,or hunting bandits are also possibilities.
  4. Start Simple
    • Despite the obvious use of Faster-Than-Light travel to get to Earth, the Planetary Citizens show very little in the way of technology beyond human understanding. Part of it is because the colony was a mostly civilian effort, and thus the most advanced shielding mechanisms were unavailable. Mostly, however, is that there would be no factories waiting for them when they landed, so everything needed to be simple to maintain until an actual infrastructure could be set up.
  5.  Lacking Strongholds
    •  Hard rock mines, power plants, aircraft factories - all of these are long term projects that the citizens have had trouble setting up so far. Human attacks, reanimates, and scattered landing sites continue to push back completion dates.
  6. Parliament by the Numbers
    •  Unlike the various human social experiments throughout the zone, Citizens have maintained a respect for their parliamentary democracy, even with the inefficiency that come with it.
  7. Outnumbered, but no Outgunned
    • The human population is still close to a billion people, PC numbers are barely ten percent of that. On the other hand, they still have aircraft and beam weaponry that requires recharging rather than reloading. Extended conflicts are far more in their favor.
  8. Military Intelligence
    • Citizens have some capability of maintaining satellite surveillance, and have far greater access to aircraft than all but the biggest human factions. The orbiting machines move in predictable patterns, and the flying ones are not up constantly. But generally, they can see everything that isn't painstakingly hidden from them.
  9. Hit and Run
    • Humans have familiarity with the terrain, and anti-armor weapons. A long fight might go their way, but not a big one. Thus they are unwilling to attack large enclaves (and certainly not a city-state) directly.
  10. Separate and Unequal
    • Most zones controlled by the aliens are no larger than a city - ten or twenty square miles of terrain, and patrols or laser towers set up at farther intervals. These territories can be dozens or even hundreds of miles apart, effectively making them states to themselves. Available resources and presence of human civilization mean that actual claimed size and power can vary wildly.

Monday, November 11, 2013

10 Things about Las Vegas

  1. Military HQ
    • There are other places where a company to battalion sized group of soldiers can be found, but rarely do they have much - if any - equipment intact. At least some of them seek to rejoin at Vegas. It is a tough journey, and their units are often separated and reintegrated with others, making for a heartbreaking end. 
  2. No More Area 51
    • Although rumors persist of prototype weapons, secret caches of aircraft, or factories ready to pump out new rifles - no wasteland scav nor the government is going to find them. For now the US has the biggest and most impressive arsenal, but much of it can only be maintained through diligent labor, warehousing until absolutely necessary, or rampant cannibalization. Equipment recovery will often come before personnel, since they can recruit and train new soldiers easily.
  3. The Gun Club
    • This is the rumored cabal in charge of reintegrating settlements into the old United States. Publicly, they are known to offer the olive branch, funding, support, and arms to those who pay tithes to Vegas. Towns that refuse to cooperate tend to see food shortages, coups, raider attacks, plagues, and otherwise disappear...
  4. Civ Gov and Mil Gov
    • The military holds a lot of power in the day to day operations of the city, and some degree of veto power over who can enter or leave the city. (Usually in the form of no un-escorted people can leave, and we can't spare soldiers for such duty). However, the generals only make up a portion of the ruling council, which also includes presidential cabinet members, hospital staff, the city's mayor, and heads of the utility maintenance gangs. 
  5. Experiment Rumors
    • Vegas maintains the best health care and immunization rates of anywhere in the former US. However, the constant medical monitoring and monthly injections have made some people nervous. Tales of type five experimental reanimates, mind control, intentional sterilization and aphrodisiacs to control the next generation - few things are too wild to be dismissed out of hand.
  6. Outside Allies
    • Washington DC is mostly a burnt symbol, and many military centers were hit by orbital bombardment. However, the Planetary Citizens generally chose to hit transportation arteries to tie up supplies and divert attention from war fighting to relief efforts. Many capitals and government facilities remain intact, and at least nominally assisting the effort. Elements of the Canadian and Mexican governments also help where they can.
  7. The Lights are Still On
    • Food supplies can be rough at times, water usage limits constantly imposed, and curfews a way of life. Yet schools, buses, trains, casinos, and shops still run to some extent. Vegas continues to be very metropolitan, while the outlying areas usually exist in a state akin to the early 1940s during the wartime rationing. 
  8. Wasteland Patrol
    • Far more than any other city state, Las Vegas projects beyond its borders, and makes honest attempts at restoring the nation. A primitive postal service, new cellular towers, and traveling circuit judges are available to those who are willing to accept an agreement with the government. They are often rebuffed as relics, outsiders, or power hungry. 
  9. President Grey is on Borrowed Time
    • Legally, Grey is past the end of his second term as president, and while martial law is in effect, he is not a dictator and would like honest elections held soon. 
  10. Old Habits Die Hard
    • Even as the old US lies in ruins, there are still some within the government that longer term plans of how to stop others from rebuilding, and extend their dominion beyond the old national borders. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Biopreparat Location A-112, “Conservatory”

Before I came to this place, it never really occurred to me that goats were edible. Now it seems that the few times we do get much meat, it's always some sort of sheep. Local herders far and wide across Azerbaijan. We get more stuff from as “nearby acquisition” than should be allowed in any modern army. If we could be called that anyway – most of our weapons are the same ones our grandfathers used thrifty-five years ago during the world war! You can get an AK-74 on the Chinese border, but we have PPSh submachineguns?

Someone knows we're here, and ships stuff constantly. Locked box cars and tankers full of unknown chemicals make their way to underground storage facilities.  A pair of An-12s sit in one of the hangers, a half dozen Mi-8s sit in shelters not far from the runway. They rarely move, yet always seem stocked and ready for combat. BMD-1 infantry fighting vehicles are loaded in their retro-rocket cradles ready to be drooped into a fight, and two of the helicopters are equipped with rockets and napalm tanks.  Yet this just a refueling stop airport, not home to a unit of desant nor air-transport. According to the official papers, we're just a border patrol and internal security unit – glorified riot police, subordinate to the KGB, not the army.

Pale scientist looking types occasionally bubble up from somewhere underneath the strip like an artisan spring. They wander around for a bit, sun their livid bodies, and then disappear into the siding where the trains go. I never see the trains leave. I wonder where the exit is.

Perhaps the direct opposites of the scientists are the odd soldiers we see around here. Not part of our group at least. Everyone of them has the stature and movement of an Olympic athlete – prime candidates for spetznaz troops. Yet a second glace makes it seem as if they are somewhere past dead. Their faces are usually dark – almost burned – black veins run close under the skin, eyes red, and every centimeter of their arms show injection scars. They sound like other soldiers, a few are even friendly on the rare chances the airport staff talk to them. Yet they also disappear into the train tunnel.

Overall, this is a pretty easy assignment. Its hot, but a dry heat. You're not going to get a promotion out of this, but you don't have to spit shine your boots daily either. Just keep in mind a few simple rules. Do not ask about what is on the trains. Do not ask what the numeral 2552 means. Do not ask about Biopreparat. And for gods sake – if anyone mentions the term “Manor House” avoid eye contact, do not speak, call attention to yourself, or volunteer!. Those who do go into the train tunnel.

Plenty of worse places to be than Azerbaijan. Very few quite as odd however.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 2013

I haven't been having a great couple of months, and the materiel on this site is thinner that I would hope. Its been harder to keep my commitment to you than I'd like.

To make it up, let me show off some of the other work that I have produced.

A Teenage Texas Road Trip 
While still in draft form, is a longer piece of fiction set in the zone, and deals with a group of teenagers exploring the area outside of the Lone Star arcology. It contains an encounter with both the Planetary Citizens and Type One/Alpha reanimates. I think the story gives a good impression of entering a new town and dealing with the aliens.

The Last of Second Platoon, Charlie Company
This story is a fairly good example of how I want to eventually anthologize the sort of stories on this blog. While some of it should be recognizable from the archives, they are linked fairly well and the last section gives a good feeling for both operating a power armor and fighting Beta reanimates.

On My Way to Birobidzhan
This has no relation whatsoever to Dead... and Back, I just want to show I can write things that aren't related to zombies, and do so pretty well in fact.

Remington, IBM, Smith-Corona, and Underworld Typewriter Repair
Also unrelated to the game, but part of a different demon infested  cosmology I occasionally write about.

Let us not forget - its October 31st. Time for a music video to inspire your games. This time around, its scenes from "Hellsing"

There is no reason you can't replicate vampires in my game, and I certainly hope the above gives some good pointers on how to destroy ghouls with style.

Good luck with your gaming, and aim for the head!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Japan Tourist (Part One)

Japan just sounded like a neat place to visit. For all the energy shortages, social security problems, and rising sea levels there was still something to experience. Somehow it maintained or recreated that image from the late nineties - half samurai mysticism, half neon insanity. It seemed like a parody, like they were trying too hard to hold on to the days when economists talked of the coming war between the great economic powers. (No really, I've got a book "The Coming War With Japan"). You kind of just had to go and see what was real.

Well, I finally managed to find a tour group and uploaded translation software into a brand new set of headphones. It was going well - that perfect mid part of a trip when you're over jet lag, but still have some fresh clothes, and have not yet experienced stomach problems from the big shift in diet and eating street foods.

That is when The Event hit.

Everything in your life suddenly shutting down and states of national emergency are bad enough. When you don't know the language, your computer is wiped clean, outside communication is shut down, and all your currency records are wiped out?

I woke up in a hospital. Apparently it was just a panic attack, but bad enough I couldn't breath and passed out anyway. It didn't go full on movie cliche, fortunately. There was plenty of staff, they took excellent care, and even put me in contact with a girl who spoke fluent English. She's an otaku, but for Dungeons and Dragons of all things. Simply could not ask for a more perfect match.

Reanimates didn't show up immediately in the wake of the Citizens arrival, but things were in rationing and emergency mode pretty quickly. Probably comes from living with tsunamis, and the limited resources of the island. I imagine Israel got through it all pretty well too - albeit for less natural reasons.

I also imagine that the USA fared decently well due to the high per-capita gun ownership when reanimates really did show up. In a place where most of the police don't have firearms - it was hammers, kitchen knives, and table legs - the JSDF at one point was dropping loads of baseball bats and golf clubs onto rooftops to give people they couldn't get too a fighting chance!

The nation changed from the "land of the rising sun", to the "land of only sun". Reanimates have better night vision than humans, even if they can't see as well overall. Everything just shuts down and locks up a bit before sundown. I've been through orthodox Jewish neighborhoods on Friday night, and it still isn't as quiet as this. I swear the fog horn that sounds the all clear each morning is actually the nation's collected farts because they're that unwilling to make noise in the darkness.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Colonel Isaac Bradbury

Isaac felt old well before the The Event occurred. Fifty years as a first firefighter and national guard officer do that to a man. He even looks the part despite nano-medicine, bald, sagging jowls, lined face, and shifted weight. But his mind remains sharp, his will strong, and his sense of duty unshakable. If he could get out of the office long enough to march into hell, the other guardsmen would gladly follow him.

Unfortunately - many of the other residents want to send him there as soon as possible.

Colonel Bradbury maintains absolute devotion to the United States first, and to the NEST VIII outpost second. He does not show any great favor to leaving the NEST, and is cool to the notion of stretching the resources by inviting more in. The colonel stands by the military justice system, rather than the jury rigged one of the complex. This also makes him an impartial party in decisions and gains him a great deal of respect.

On the other hand, this makes him an impartial party in decisions where many of the other complex leaders would like to have support. There have already been a few attempts on his life in order to install a more favorable underling.

While none of the attempts have come particularly close to killing him, Isaac has become somewhat paranoid and withdrawn, avoiding contact with people outside the national guard or his hand-picked RATs. He is still one of the most powerful people in the NEST, however, being in charge of the military, most of the RATs and almost all of the armory. In total, he has nearly three hundred soldiers, a dozen light armored vehicles, and about 100 trained scavengers. (Of course, there are others in the complex to fill needs Bradbury will not commit to.)

Strength 4
Quick 4
Tech 4
Wits 4
Range 2
Close Combat 4

Animus: 10
Lucidity: 8
Deadening: 8
Up-Rise: 8 (16 kg in backpack)
Pack: 8 (8 slots/48 kg on hand)

Investigation (Very good at paperwork and logistics)
Access (Firefighter and Soldier)
SA: Rank/Society: National Guard

Equipment of note:
Col. Bradbury has an M-32 PDW in his office and a 9mm pistol on his belt, both of which he can use proficiently - even if his eyesight isn't what it used to be. His office is full of firefighter memorabilia, and he keeps his old turn out gear in his apartment - thought he acknowledges that its for the best to leave the job to younger people (as of 2055 he is 68).

Role in a Game:
Colonel Isaac Bradbury is a major figure in NEST VIII - and more likely than not, is going to be the player characters' boss. He is in charge of the RATs and Military.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Back to Texas

Adam drained his second canteen, and wiped the sweat from his brow. Dry heat wasn't supposed to be as bad, but everything counts in large amounts. It had been a long time since he was in this part of the country, and needed to acclimate once again. Another few days, and the tacky giant glass disco ball that formed part of the arcology complex would be visible. It contained high class restaurants and five star hotels, yes, but that would never change his opinion of the architecture. None of them would be quite so fancy five years of the apocalypse anyway..

Other feats of engineering were already visible - roads, construction depots, clusters of adobe houses, and metal shelters. Two entire communities popped up around the mega construction project. One was just the workers seeking to avoid commutes and costs by living nearby. Adams father had been one of those. Farther South of the complex was a refugee camp where his mother had lived. It almost seemed like Moses had parted Central America, sending people flying North and South - though sea rise and desertification had more to do with it.

There had been some attempts to make the place more livable than a shanty town. Few of the official actions had amounted to much, but a very large number of women had unofficially become tile layers and painters for the project. Normal union rules didn't apply, since the area had been declared and EDGE special economic zone. The government decided getting things done was more important than being right, and had let private interests take a free hand.

Even now, that was part of the reason why the young man was reluctant to return. There were many people who still held large amounts of the old money and a feeling that they owned the place. Legally that was true, but did those old rules mean they got to be the uncollected de-facto rulers of the complex? A legislative body existed, but the old rich held veto power over all but the biggest majorities. Maybe it was just a bit of low class resentment, but it just didn't seem right that there be kings in America.

Other problems waited there as well. To the East were the holy soldiers of New Birmingham, always eager to assimilate the complex. West and North were a pair of Planetary Citizen - tribes? Swarms? Nations? Groups - and opposed to each other no less. Alternately both sided would cajole or threaten the people of Lone Star to get supplies for their conflict, and none of the humans were really quite sure which to support. Mexico to the South had returned to the semi-feudal Hacienda system, a patchwork of plantations, some owned by the former government, some by independents, and many by former criminals. It was the 1910 revolution all over again, complete with soldier trains and horse cavalry. No brilliant general Obregon to bring it to a close, however.

For now, all that could wait. Only a few hours remained until sundown, and traveling at night was rarely a good idea. Better to stop now and find a residence. Provided they were free of reanimates, the old adobe houses up ahead would be the best accommodation Adam had in months.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hatching a Game in a NEST

A massive hive like structure that can contain and entertain a human for their entire lifespan. Whether its one massive skyscraper, or multiple thirty-story blocks connected by a web of sky-ways, its a construct larger than most towns. It would seem daunting to map all the passageways, to plan out a settlement for thousands of people, and describe a building unlike anything the players have seen.

Yet a NEST - or other arcology megastructure - is probably one of the better places for introducing new players to the world of Dead and Back's Anarchy Zone. Behind the gigantic walls are very familiar settings. Being largely self-contained and decently populated means there are plenty of alliances and conflicts waiting, aside from simply shooting reanimates. People from all walks of life survive inside the halls, so players are free to make characters outside the basic survivalist mold, and can easily replace them as necessary.

While the scale might be huge on the outside, within the NEST is very familiar territory. Medium to small apartments (many of them single room studios), fast food restaurants, school rooms, theaters - it is like any other city, just without sky. Although many places may be dark or dingy after five years of neglect, most of the interior has not fallen to ruin like exposed structures. Interior green spaces look like a mall's atrium or city botanical gardens, just with roof heights of between three and five stories.

A small city is too large for direct democracy, there will be bureaucracy and competition. Should the doors be opened to other survivors, or must some of the current population be expelled due to over crowding? How should the former property of others be divided among the survivors? Leaders will change, either through clever elections or more violent means, and the players can be their to exert influence, either for their bosses, or to gain some power themselves.

Many new stories are possible because many people survived thanks to the buildings inherent disaster isolation elements. Outside, much of the world belongs to raiders, ex-military, survivalists, and the savvy - though the simply lucky make for a good percentage as well. Few people would think of playing "Conan the Barber", cutting hair across the wasteland. But a stylist that maintains their business within a NEST, and over hears the discussions of the powerful because of it, could end up in some political intrigue. A teacher would struggle not for them-self alone, but with the question of what to teach in the new world, and how to keep a classroom as a safe and inspiring place when outside there is so much danger.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Before The Event, Nest VIII was like a Florida retirement community. Pleasant climate, stores, meeting people in open spaces to talk, sports clubs, shuffling about, and at night each retreated to a little box containing little more than a bed, closet, and old TV set. After The Event, it still had that Florida vibe. Now it was the swamps, however. Warm, dark, stagnant. No alligators, but plenty of other predators.

Advertisement spoke of a strangely retro city of tomorrow. Neatly manicured with each person in their place, easy commutes and modern conveniences. Reality was a bit more like a cross between a shopping mall and a prison. Turn out from bed, eat in a cafeteria, walk to work, relax in common area, back to little cell for the night. No parole. The apartment you reserved was generally the one you kept no matter the changes. Overbooked even before construction finished, space to move was lacking.

Not even the dead rising could lessen the crowding. Many apartments now were unowned, but not necessarily unoccupied. If anything, space constraints became tighter with refugees from locked off floors.

Most of the systems that kept the spaces habitable for so many shut down in short order. The great condensers that maintained temperature, the gargantuan banks of lights, and the grand Moloch incinerators that purified organic waste - all silent now.

Residents can't even walk about the floors normally. The once neat layout is in shambles from the haphazard pattern of closed passages. It is a maze of halls and shuttered security doors that separate the dark warrens from the overrun apartment blocks. No one is quite sure how the reanimates remain alive, much less occasionally active even after five years of being locked away. The living inhabitants have set up aquaculture in the fountains and farms in the atrium, but what have the many neighbors been up to?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Freighter Captain

I was at sea when the aliens arrived. Scary as S--. Reanimates, you can do something, hide at least, or shoot them. But all the bombs mankind has ever made don't mean a thing to the Atlantic. All the satellites go down when you're in the Northern waters? Its like war - if you've never been - no mere words quite do it justice.

You might have guessed that I wasn't one of the many that died on the waves. Sure there are aliens wandering about, but lets be reasonable here!

Reanimates don't swim too well, least not to my knowledge. If you're a few miles from shore its pretty safe. Catch is, you do need to eat. Not many places you can call a real port of call. Who operates the cranes and tugs - provided the machines haven't fallen to rust and ruin? Ports tended to attract large populations of business, factories, workers, immigrants - and wherever there were lots of people, now there are lots of reanimates. 

You can send out a jetty, or wait for people to come out to the ship themselves. Neither is a good option - one puts a small number of your people at the mercy of others far from help, and the other allows strangers on your ship. Too small boats meeting sometimes works, buts its hard to transfer much cargo of any type when you have two pitching dhingys. 

There are basically four types of captains these days. 

If you ran an old burner - coal, CNG, oil - your tanks are dry or spoiled, and few places have a few hundred tons of fuel to sell. So in that case, you're just an off-shore island, offering sanctuary or ahem, "social services" (People still got that itch you know, and we are going to have to rebuild the population some how...)

Next we have the two types of Windjammers, both of which are better off. To some extent, at least they can still move. A few brave ones still face the oceans and trade winds, taking month long journeys to keep the world connected. The balance though, just flit up and down the coasts carrying local goods and passengers. Its lucrative, but you meet a lot more people, and some of them just don't have your best interests in mind.

Finally, we have the nuclear cruisers. You can ply the sea-lanes or power an entire city off their atomic piles. A lot less risk when you can make a voyage in weeks rather than months - when whole towns can disappear in a bad winter, being gone for three months means you might never see it again. Port facilities are even harder to find, and finding enough cargo, or the right kind, to by a few hundred kilos of uranium... 

Sometimes my job seems about as bad as a paper dog chasing an asbestos cat through hell. But I'm not at war, and I'm not wondering who is the rightful government - the old law of the land, or the current holders of the territory. I know its just me, god, and the deep blue sea. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life on the Normandy Coast

Its not a bad life here, I'd dare say it might be pretty good. But it is a small life, a boring life and that - and that- and umm...hmmph.

Well, what is your measurement? Each generation tries a little better, and hopes a little greater for those that follow. From let none of our children get eaten or die horribly to own a little plot, to a big one, to be be educated, to not be hungry... there are still some beaches south of here where you see the remains of when we fought for higher ideals. We were at a time, even with all the ecological problems, when most of those were solved, at least here in Europe. Might even be able to say that with the world and Sphere at your fingertips, the struggle was against boredom and callousness.

The world has gotten both smaller and larger after The Event. You live more local, and everything else has moved farther away. For all the pride in French cuisine, sometimes tamales or a gyro sandwich just seems like a nice change of pace. Can't get those spices anymore. Five years ago we had satellites in orbit everywhere, now we have to worry about scurvy during the winter months, since vitamin C rich foods can't be imported easily.

In theory there is still trade with other towns. In theory. Two catches though. First of all, you need to have something worth trading - small villages don't have much, and cites usually don't have the resources to produce. Secondly, the way is broken up and unsafe - so you either hire free companies - which can be very expensive - or you make the run yourself, which is pretty dangerous.

We're pretty lucky actually - rich for the modern age. Fishing in the English channel, farms, sheep a lot of places are worse off. Most of us around here won't even say the capitals name, and cross ourselves if its even whispered - the stories of slaughter by the reanimates... The city of lights has survived a lot, but no true Frenchman would desecrate that grave for a long time to come.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Joy Ride

The Eekaide sang as it powered up, a strange chorus of warnings and status outputs, but humans would call it music if only their ears could hear the high-pitched tones. This particular piece of music was extra special to Shipwright G#G#BCb-8 x'k-LA Ozensosk - known to most humans as "Sing Sing". 

Most of the time, she was afraid. Afraid of other citizens who held vendettas against her family, afraid of citizens with dreams of power and conquest now that they were on a new world, and afraid of the humans that fought back. Mr. Hobbes and Senior Diego were nice enough, but they were giant humans and many of the questions they asked for their radio show couldn't be answered by one like her. In the scheme of things, Sing Sing was just a barely qualified mechanic and laborer only recently old enough to vote.

A single encounter unit wasn't much in the face of a hostile planet and centuries of blood debts either. But it was enough for her. It took a very humorless person to be unsatisfied by a machine that amplified your height six times, your strength several dozen, and allowed almost an order of magnitude more speed. Never mind the projector that could kill targets through armor and the shoulder mounted missile tubes. This was as much power and authority anyone of her status could hope for.

With a final flourish of beeps, the robot's overture ended, and it was ready to go. Sing Sing flexed her upper arms, while the lower left toggled the cameras so she could watch the suits actuators move with her limbs. There was always a delay in reaction, and seeing it for yourself was better than trusting abstract numbers on the readout. Satisfied, she toggled the throttle with the lower right arm, and stomped the steering pedals for a quick side-step. With only a moment's hesitation, the huge machine moved.

Slowly laying on the power, the suit's pace quickened. the insulated cabin reduced the footfalls to merely felt thumps - but it was still loud within. Squeaking hydraulics and the whine of the gyros that kept the machine upright despite missing two legs (at least from a quadruped citizen's point of view), chimes from a dozen different readouts and a crackling radio. It was cluttered, confined, and noisy - an little clearance for antennas mad it uncomfortable as well.

Sing Sing did't care. She was bounding across the terrain at twice her fastest running speed, and stepping over obstacles that would come up to her neck under normal circumstances. For the time being, she was free.

(In case you don't know musical notation, her name is G-sharp, G-sharp, B, C-flat as a "signature whistle"

Friday, September 6, 2013

Drawl on about City States

Gef out of here! Go! Raus! Skedaddle.

Dose hateful dings! Whaf daf man was sayin abouf New Birmingham - Lord have mercy. And de old Govment, I spit whenever I hear dat so called presiden's name.

Mind you, even the devil tells the truf if it suis his own purposes. It be true that all dem NES' folks are a bunch of tieves, don build nofing new adall - jus stell from de dead of all de old cities. And dose army troopers, dey goo de best guns and ello coppers, well skooled - you ain't hear no arguin fro me, dey good. But dey be servn evil people, and we migh no beat 'em in dis life, but de nex don look too good for dem.

'Corse what I hear is dat most de army now be deserters or criminals, given guns and an a license to loof - em and em domain you know.

Now if you wan a good lif, you do never speak of dat Desla Place, now arround her you don. If one ding for a man in powah like the presidn to be empted to sin. Bu dis is a whole cidy up an ouf de-fyien god, dinken deir computers and sy-bear-nef-iks can save 'em de way Jesus can! All sors of sinners line up a de gates, an dey be dold to serve de Desla massers and give up dere children for entry! Be glad dey so far away in de Rocky Monts.

Naw if you lookn for good people closer doo home, you gof Lone Star, alon de Dexas side of de gulf. Dey gof a nuclear powah plan an a half completed arcology, and be good friends wif da men on da naval bass and. I don dink dey in leauge wif de old govermen, but dey don ave much fuel neither, so it be hard to knwo when do go an fight. Dere be a lota aliens around der, like big shrimps wif laser guns! Aliens still gof an army, wi big demon robot and ello coppers dat look like fire breathn catfish. Pray for dem Lone Star folks - won you?

Now some say dat de aliens fight each another, or pay off humans to do it for dem. California be de nastiest bunch of dem around, while udders mig be willn to sit an jaw a while. You imagine dat - talkin to a shrimp? Nah, I jus stay here, nice an safe. Righ Dought folks might be over eager, but Sheppard's Hand is good people. So wa if he calls 'em police and nof an army? We be in a civilized town dat needs police and pastors, not troopahs and dictators. We's got Sunday picnics every week when most in the wasteland would fight each udder for a can o beans. Der be sho-shops and soda pop, dentists and mechanics all about us here, like a good little down - almost as if De Event never happened, alright.

Ah say again, dis be a good place, a righteous place, and fine in de eyes of de Lord. Some covet technology too much, or govermen powah, or try to keep ol ruins alive with bits o de dead. Here we care about people, all the childrens get school, all da wives keep dere homes. Dere be weeds in out gahden, but it bears might fine fruit, while all de udders be twisted or barren. To be po' here is better dan to be rich out der.

(My apologies to anyone who actually is in the Deep South, I'm trying to change up my writing, not mock you.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Working for the Man (Part One)

"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them". - (Quote Act II, Scene V). Twelfth Night, Shakespeare

I guess that is of some comfort. Most people, whether they be in a massive city-state or a tiny commune don't go out hunting reanimates and dodging citizens. There are cock-ups to be sure, but generally action only comes around if you ask for it. In turn, that means signing up for a citizen militia or similar organisation. City defense forces are as varied as the places they represent, I'll run you through a few.

Thieves and cowards with more self-preservation than respect for authority are the Bread and butter of the NEST RAT sandwich. It is strictly bring your own equipment and volunteer work, though some get "volunteered" to repay debts, if you catch my meaning. Rapid Access Technicians put resource recovery far above search and destroy and avoid direct combat when possible. Indirect combat via ambush and booby traps is a hobby for some of them, but the real defense of the arcology towers rests on the remnants of the national guard units stationed within.

New Birmingham's Citizen Militia is more of a police force than an army, and Right Though an ecclesiastical SWAT team. They all work together and have guns - but there is a big difference between breaking up a domestic disturbance and busting up a bunker. I wouldn't want to rob a bank down South - a conscript army is still an army you know - but most are chant bible verse first, shoot second. Heck, their ghouls are better trained than most of the Sheppard's Hand. You hear that right. Take everything you hate about Reanimates and most of what you dislike about being shot at, and you get the holy roller's secret weapon. Only come out for big trouble and only outside the city gates, but what defines "big" or "trouble" is kind of malleable.

If you truly want to be among the military, and the best it has to offer at that, you're looking for Crossbow - the US Government Special Forces Team. They're the ones who make sure that no one messes with old depots or missile silos while the government has its back turned. 'Course, if you're not already a navy SEAL who hiked out to Area 51 with nothing but a K-bar, chances are you won't make the grade. Rumor has it these guys have military cybernetics or other black project gear to aid them. The same has been said about Tesla's "Out Reach" force - but really, who is more likely to have that stuff - army commandos or trans-human geek nut-jobs?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ten Years Before - ICATs Intro

I'm sure you've read a cyberpunk novel before - about how the rich hoard the power and information technology while the poor live off dog food? Where there always seems to be a bold group of heavily armed thugs to fight for the highest bidder, or once in a blue moon - stand up for the little guy?

2045 avoided being like that. Barely.

The signature contracted personnel of the Pre-Event days did carry arms - but it was more because people were out to get them, than for the need to fulfill assassination contracts. ICATs were less "street samurai" and more prohibition era revenuers or Pinkerton Detectives. Independently Contracted Assessment Technician. Sounds like someone to audit taxes or inspect a home for roaches right? Heck, chances are they probably did both of those things. On a really, really, big scale.

I think the idea was more or less established by 2035 - possibly earlier. The wasn't really a single day that the world went down the tubes, more of a series of trends. Deforestation meant new tropical diseases spread faster, crop seasons got all the more unpredictable due to global warming, a disrupted gulf stream meant Europe cooled a good bit despite the desertification of other areas, some big earthquakes and small wars got people migrating... We needed to rethink and redo how people were fed, where they would live, and how to keep them healthy like never before. Comparable to the 70's green revolution, 60's's vaccination programs, 50's atomic power, and post war housing projects, all at once - at least according to some of the more vocal talking heads on the news. Not everywhere was so bad, but where it was, it tended to be terrible.

Good news - nano vaccine and super projects like the NEST arcology buildings really did help. Bad news - they were really, really expensive. With that much money being thrown around, the opportunities for graft, extortion, human trafficking, illicit knock-offs and other ills were simply staggering. No one government could truly focus on it, nor have total trust in its agents, or cut through international red tape.

ICATs were bounty hunters, inspectors, accountants, and spies. They were also incredibly well paid and compensated to lessen the incentive to work for the other side. Some of the top level ones even got a percentage of what they were helping - a decimal point, five zeros and a one - but when your looking at a national GDP scale budget, that is a pretty penny. The danger often matched the reward though. Doctors  sent into Ebola outbreak zones to make sure no one was selling fake cures or trying to weapon the disease would be an example of a safe assignment! For accountants, the death toll was staggering.

Don't get me wrong, there were other people on the fringes, and there were major projects achieved with minimal amounts of law breaking. Possibly even the majority of them. But if you wanted a life like a movie character, signing up to be a government bonded electrician for refugee camps would give you more excitement than the bomb squad.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sorry about the Wasted August

I've been feeling very ill lately, and have have been making preparations to move to Wisconsin for much of the moth. As you may have noticed, this has resulted in almost no posts this month - and for this, I profusely apologize.

Blogger still shows a record number of hits this month, but I think its mostly automated systems phishing for sites and ads, not real people - I'd love to have 700 people visiting  a month, but that seems unlikely.

Although I hope to do complete blocks of stories for make-up weeks, the prose well is a bit dry right now. I've got a few ideas for discussing what the world of 2045 is like, just before the citizens arrive. Perhaps a few more pieces focusing on Europe will appear as well.

Some other projects might take over for a while - I'm about a quarter done with a game called "Rock Star Spies" and there are a few other ideas that deserve attention in my old files.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tesla External Games (Draft)

Tesla is supposed to be the city on the hill, social experiment of total freedom, open up the human race - yes? Yet all we see from outside is preformed concrete walls and guard towers like a prison, and that damned lightning spewing disco ball in the center. They demand tribute for entrance, and focus on their Dr. Moreau Experiments rather than the real human beings outside. Some bright future it is surrounded by shanty-towns.

People come to the "Free City" because they think its safe - few reanimates, some remaining government forces, and over the mountains from Citizen territory. Damned irony is, its not the city that makes it safe, but all the hopefuls. So many of us are around we can have proper patrols, and work gangs fulfilling jobs from sanitation to fortification. A functional city outside the city. It tough to feed that many, and there is no proper sewage yet - but from barbers to X-ray technicians, we have everything else.

Sometimes we think about storming the walls. If they were just people, I'd give us better than a fifty-percent chance of doing it. But we aren't sure if its just people at all. They have military drones by the swarm, and a bunch of other advanced military equipment the actual solders had left behind as too maintenance intensive. Even the citizens know better than taking on tanks! And the... inhuman stuff spoken of in whispers. Some say its cyborg super-solders, some say genetic modification. I even heard that they can reprogram the berserk nano-vac in reanimates - that's why they're so rare around here despite all the people.

Maybe its worse than that. They do trade some food and medicine to outsiders. What if there is controllable vaccine in those things? God, they could turn us against each other with a flip of a switch! I was wary of the damned stuff when it came out and the government had a hand in it - now now its a bunch of crazy techno-wizards with no government supervision and I know it turns people into monsters.

Others are a bit more trusting. They point out the city does trade, provide some health services, and does equip at least some outsiders as a de facto police force, and keeps drones aloft to assist people during resource gathering missions. Might be sincere, might be playing us against each other.

Not much to do about it in the short term I guess. Though I have to wonder why they want so much useless junk. Titanium aircraft components for instance - steel you can reforge easily enough, sections of wing not so much. Industrial wastes, chemicals, coal - they want toxic stuff other city-states would pay you to get rid of. That makes things a lot more dangerous than trading with other towns. A lot of people prefer long term health issues to short term beaten to death by the undead.

You know, maybe this whole city-state thing is overrated. We just need enough people in one area, and not worry about salvaging a power structure That survived the Event. Could work. Doesn't mean we're leaving though - Tower Reversed loves to prey on people emigrating to Tesla. I wonder if they work together, TR gaining wealth and forcing people to stay here. Hmm. You'd think the end of world government would mean less conspiracies, not more huh?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tesla Internal Games (Draft)

To many outside observers, the Free City of Tesla seems less like a state and more like a cult. This is not necessarily a false view. With great fervor, the citizens speak of transcending human conditions, life without want, and remaking society into a more functional paradigm. Nor is it false to say that they have made some progress in these claims. It would be untrue, however, to say they have gotten very far.

Post scarcity is not strictly possible - food may be available to all and electricity easily produced, but some things will always be limited. Unless the venue is infinitely large, there will be only so many tickets to the concert, and the bathrooms or front row seats even more limited. (And from what I've heard, even if the venue was infinite, bathrooms would still be rare). From the viewpoint of Tesla's inhabitants - food and energy are available in both greater amounts and types than in many other city-states but it is still not so abundant as to be free. Materials for their social experiments - whether it be nano-feed-stock, superconductor-magnets, magnetic uranium data-storage drives, or biologically safe materials for implants are all limited and neither minded nor produced in Telsa's facilities. Hence there is always a struggle to validate one project versus another.

Living space is also limited, and without access to large tunnel boring machines - the underground portions are not going to increase anytime soon. Although the lifestyles within Tesla de-emphasize personal space - there are far too many hopeful settlers waiting outside the main security perimeter.

Fortunately, most of the competition has not taken a deadly turn yet. Poetry slams, duels with wooden broken, quiz show challenges, and Go tournaments have helped decide things at times, but shootings and poisonings have been rare. More dangerous competitions is usually preformed by outsiders - groups competing by proxy by making teams of hopeful applicants retrieve materials or machines for Tesla. In turn this leads to one of the bigger resentments of Tesla - the Free City dangles to hope of entry above others heads, and forces them to take risks for the privilege, while those inside remain safe.

It is not just the projects that matter, but who gets to work on the projects. Even as Tesla claims to be working towards a total human society, how to grant citizenship is a troubling issue. Should they only accept children to ensure every citizen understands the technology and ideals - or can adults be allowed for practical skills? How much effort does it take to buy in a single person versus a family? Is the buy in enough - or should there be an IQ test or other qualification, for that mater could the other qualifiers override the need for tribute? Does anyone showing up with gifts get to trade, or only those who go on Tesla approved missions?

Tesla is safe and far less concerned with daily survival than most settlements. However, its ability to expand is limited, and the materials for its long term projects in short supply. Meanwhile more hopefuls show up at their gates every day seeking entrance to the great city under the hill, and dealing with these restless crowds is a confusing issue.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Older Machines

Wearable computers are nice, and some are designed to be fairly durable. Most are not, however, and repeated flexing, washing, or wear will crack or bend internal components. High end versions had removable memory cartridges that act as a back-ups, but most were meant for closet interfaces or wi-fi. Cell-phones and tablets also tended to have a problem with durability - so long as circuits are printed or soldered together, there is a way for them to separate. Crystal disks are an exception, since its all arrayed in the matrix, thus data taking physical form in the block - but you still need something to read that disk.

So the search is on for actual computers, and that is always a bit of a pain. Computers became a part of everyday life quite literally - you computer desk was not a piece of wood you put a CPU on top of, but contained the processor itself. Testing tables in ruins and then dragging out the complete object is an annoying job for movers under good circumstances, much less when reanimates or aliens are about. Stand alone computers still exist, but are more of a specialists tool or gamer's toy.

You could hack something out of multiple game stations and some code - but how many of us are actually engineers versus casual end users? Still easier than working with a computer of Citizen design. The basics are the same, but their code is either undocumented, or the comments are written in the offspring of Braille and musical notation. Someone has probably opened their OSes, but they aren't selling, so what good is it?

Basements are the key. Hospitals, government buildings, factories - those sites have usually been exploited or destroyed. The average attic full of junk might still be useful however. Never underestimate the little scores of suburbia.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dining in the Zone

Nutrition tends to be an all or nothing affair. Sometimes you have nothing but vegetables, and others you eat the fattiest parts of poorly butchered animals because that is all you caught.

Fried foods are common at times because the thermal retention makes it easy to cook a lot of food at once (hence why most fast food restaurants served potato fries) provided you can get the oil. Of course, how many of us know about pressing oil? I know virgin olive oil is more expensive than the kind that slept around, but I don't know how much pressure you'd use, and since the bottle said "cold pressed" I presume there is a hot process. Also, apparently canola oil comes from rape-seed. Bottles of "Rape Oil" were apparently very difficult to market and need some explaining on the grocer's shelves. Oh yeah, you can't forget making the stuff into bio-diesel when you're done with it.

Baking is popular since "put it into the oven and walk away for three hours" lets you spend time doing things other than cooking. Going in the opposite direction - quick cooking via stir-fry is another way to minimize time invested. Low simmering soup is good, but you generally want a bit more calorie density - and less reliance on water is better since you can't always be too sure about quality. Boiling removes living things well enough - but industrial run off from no longer maintained factories and buildings is a bit more problematic.

There are fairly few microwaves in the zone, and we miss them. Mind you, actual ovens are stupidly common - they survived The Event's EMP with great frequency. No surprise really - they're literally built as Faraday cages to maintain the radio-waves from the magnetron so that it doesn't microwave the user or interfere with other consumer products in the kitchen. The horridly rare ubiquitous technology is cell-phones, because no one thought to store them in the microwave for some silly reason. Microwaves are to rare because they have no trade value and are too difficult to carry. It is hard to pack them around, since they have a large minimum size and cant be stacked like pans. We must also consider that it takes a pretty large amount of electricity to run an oven, which in turn has generator, battery, and fuel costs.

Its kind of a 50-50 shot as to if you eat alone or with others. Meal times have always been a social occasion and a lot of cooking is done communally to conserve fuel and limit the number of things to be washed (water clean enough to wash in being somewhat rare). Conversely, its one of the few times you're not at work, and thus not required to be around people, so declining community is not uncommon either.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

R.A.T.s in the NEST (Part Four)

United States. Library of Congress. Beyond the End Volume II: Survivor Story Archive. By Doctor Howard Remington et al. Edition Two. Nevada: Las Vegas Printing Office, June 2072 
Subject: Brian Mixon, subject number 8891-80-10 NEST arcology survivor


So, what was life like when I wasn't out risking my neck? Hot and Sticky. Kind of an eternal - whats the name - Summer of Sam? Zodiac Killer, riot waiting to happen, that kind of stuff.

Electricity might not be free - but before the event, Utility bills were payed for with only a day or two worth of work at an average job, not even that most likely. After the event, power was so limited, that it took most of the month to earn the power credits for running the AC, much less the electric stoves. Yeah, pretty much any apartment that had a kitchen was electric or induction - no contractor was going to run that many miles of vertical gas lines. Most of the cooking ended up communal for that reason. And most of the residents couldn't cook for a damn and would only go insane faster if left to their own devices, though don't complain about the food since that always started a fight or made more work for a RAT...

I'm rambling. Yeah. Um. Electricity. Almost no one was kind enough to remember to turn off the AC and unplug their refrigerators as they were being torn apart by abominations. So every locked off area was drawing a ton of power. There is a pretty big gulf between reduced reliance on the grid, and independence - so yeah, for all the efficiency built into the structure, it was still a struggle. Break into an apartment, hope your're not killed, flip twelve switches, repeat six-thousand times - not a very tenable solution.

No AC, little choice in food, same people day after day, working a job chosen for you rather than what you trained for or enjoyed, surrounded by monsters. Not an impossible situation, not even necessarily as bad as an earlier century. But the people [Sigh] - I don't care if this is going to be a text book - include an otomotopea for that sigh.

People would gamble to pass the time, which lead to cheating and loan sharks. Someone would try to retrieve stuff on their own and compromise security, or pass around bribes to get stuff, which usually came through the chain of command and made our lives harder. Children would get lost in the under-halls and a big search was called. Scavengers would pay no attention to the people living here and break in.

Politics, Polotics, Politics. Do we try to contact the government, should this be a democracy, is it one vote per person, or is there some way to earn multiple votes?

At least in NEST seven, we did have multiple votes - earning extra for various duties or achievements. It turned into a rigged system fairly shortly. RATs got extras, but since our superiors decided if we went on missions at all and what equipment to bring - they held sway over our jobs and possibly lives if we didn't vote their way. They called it a "Roman Patrician" thing, I called it something you're not going to print!

So yeah, gangs, power-blocks, patronage, a mafia even if there wasn't one before (Not that I'll believe there wasn't any organised crime in a project as big as a NEST) - everyone trying to get a little extra for themselves. We usually weren't killing each other like the outside, even Tower Reversed stayed away from our area, and inside you didn't get any aliens. Once we got the irrigation equipment, we were almost set, and the argument came about as to if we should even bother leaving and helping the outside. That was an  - unpleasant - debate. With a few guns involved, if you catch my meaning.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

R.A.T.s in the NEST (Part Three)

United States. Library of Congress. Beyond the End Volume II: Survivor Story Archive. By Doctor Howard Remington et al. Edition Two. Nevada: Las Vegas Printing Office, June 2072
Subject: Brian Mixon, subject number 8891-80-10 NEST arcology survivor


Surviving the event was luck, surviving the aftermath took some skill. Partly what you knew, and a lot of learning. We started off with some really good people, but we scavenged all wrong. It was too easy in the beginning. By the time we knew what to do right, we'd lost some people, and it had gotten a lot harder.

Moving large appliances takes some strength, even with robots to help, and it stands I'm a big guy, and kept in shape with marshal arts. I could use my foot to open doors most people would need a crowbar for.  So lacking a new supply of ovens and water heaters - I stepped up for RAT duty. Besides, volunteering for such a dangerous job would get me a lot of tower credits so my girlfriend and I could leave easy - and of course, the unsaid part about us getting a little extra on the side of what we took from old buildings.

In the beginning, we looked for guns, goods, and gold. Seems right - yeah? Self defense, food stocks, tools, and money for when trade reestablished. But that is all short sighted, and presuming this was going to be a quick thing... interval? Era? Service interruption? Whatever. 

Well, all that stuff is interchangeable. Pretty much any nine-millimeter handgun will fire any nine-millimeter and vice versa. Food is food wherever it comes from. Money was kind of worthless, but also available from a lot of different places. 

It took a while to realize that the priorities were wrong. Go for industrial tools and seeds for long term agriculture, not a few weeks food. Too many guns amongst quarreling people would be a problem, and they weren't the best weapon all the time anyway. Look for personal effects to help keep morale up and make life in the NEST bearable. An old photo-album or stuffed toy could be worth more than a metric ton of gold, you know.

You can find a gun almost anywhere, if there are a lot of reanimates, search somewhere else. There is only one "Mr. Stuffles", you can't present just any picture of an old lady and call it great grandma. Those things are both harder to find, and only in one location. 

By the time we started on the difficult runs, we'd lost a lot of RATs looking for the less important stuff. We were also looking for bigger and harder to transport stuff - medical machines, power tools, military vehicles - which made the man-power troubles worse. And there was a rather hideous policy put in place that forced criminals to work as a RAT in lieu of other sentences. If you're too lazy or untrustworthy in normal situations, and not smart enough to avoid getting caught, you shouldn't be in a scavenger team. I could fill this entire project with stories about people going AWOL, over their head, or trying to double cross the team. Still might.

But yeah, by waiting, a lot of the important stuff ended up already taken, or damaged by the elements, or just plain crawling with reanimates. Other scavengers and treasure hunters were a problem too. Both in the city itself, and in trying to break through the NEST underground to get in. Not only did that take our stuff and damage our equipment, but if reanimates go in behind them - bad news all around. 

Citizens were a bit less of a problem, they didn't go too far into the city. But when you did meet them, watch out! They got really paranoid about the thousands of places one could be ambushed in an unfamiliar city - and were really jumpy with the missiles, artillery barrages, and radiation guns. Reaniamates were bad and all - but having your skin melted off by an X-ray cannon through a wall? Yeah. I have more nightmares about that and the friends killed that way than anything else.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

R.A.T.s in the NEST (Part Two)

United States. Library of Congress. Beyond the End Volume II: Survivor Story Archive. By Doctor Howard Remington et al. Edition Two. Nevada: Las Vegas Printing Office, June 2072

Subject: Brian Mixon, subject number 8891-80-10
NEST arcology survivor

The big three questions they ask is what did you do before The Event, how did you survive, and what did you do afterwards. One and two are easy -  appliance installation and luck. Three is short and complicated - I was a rat, R.A.T.

You could manufacture whatever you wanted in a micro-fac with the proper setup. Getting it to where it was needed and functioning properly once its there, that is another story. Its not a job that requires a lot of education, and certainly not one that gets a lot of accolades. But so long as you need something mechanical put in place, you'll be in dire straits without someone like me. I'd say look what I did there and ask for some checks for free - but chances are none of you listen to the hundred year old music I do. A shame really - there was a lot of experimentation with the medium when music videos first became really popular.

My hobbies might not be on topic, but I've got time to fill, and there really isn't much to say about luck. Other survivors might talk about their great plans or narrow escapes and the brave people who sacrificed themselves so others might live. So far as I'm concerned, its all lies though. You survived because of luck, and nothing else. 

Most of the world was was already F-ed up from the aliens' arrival, the EMP, the war, doomsayers and cultists - civil unrest from the electronic shut down, and already simmering feuds. Reanimates were not the straw that broke the camel's back so much as the jackals that stripped the camel's carcass as it lay there. Little communications, difficult commutes, distracted governments - you can't legitimately claim to have had a plan, you just were in the right place.

My right place was NEST 9 in Pennsylvania. Amazingly uninteresting for a thing as awesome as a city in a bottle. Kind of like how the public lost interest in moonshots and later found space shuttle launches too mundane to interrupt TV broadcasts. Wasn't the first, wasn't the biggest, wasn't some sort of helical architect's mad dream - just a couple of interconnected really big buildings to fix urban sprawl. 

It wasn't even scary when the reanimates invaded. At least not for me. The solution to the problem was terrifying, no doubt, and probably kind of cruel. They just flipped every switch, and locked every partition in place for 24 hours. No rescuing, no trying to separate infected from clean. Just close everyone up, then go bit by bit to see where people were still capable of responding. People in public areas were obviously up in arms, not sure if they were stuck with reanimates or in the clear. I was alone in my apartment when the magnetic locks engaged. Nothing to do by video chat with my girlfriend two floors down or read. Both I and the person I cared about were safe.

A day later only about 20% of the doors unlocked. Something like fifteen percent of the population remained. Not for very long, since we did a lot wrong in the early days - but far better than the 0% of many other places.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

R.A.T.s in the NEST (Part One)

The hand-outs and advertisements are almost all the same. Emphasizing the natural bamboo floors, sun tubes, and green-spaces spanning multiple floors that make an arcology more than a giant concrete box. They also show the community building, and social services, and shopping. Security gets a footnote at some point, usually under aforementioned social services.

Fact is, the NEST is built like a bloody fortress. They try to hide the prison like structure, and only mention the capacity for lock-down in fine print of the EULA renting policy. But just think about it for a moment. Just the need to support a hundred story tall structure, much less resit the wind-shear they experience requires a sturdy build. Then of course, you need a way of containing disaster. There aren't enough helicopters in the world to get everyone out of the top fifty stories in a timely fashion should a fire start on floor forty-nine. Metal doors and fireproof blocks can spring into action at any time. Halon suppression systems are behind every wall - not so good for people - but imagine trying to pump water up that high at a rate equal to a hydrant - just the normal everyday use requires a system of intermediate reiviours and turbine impellers just short of jet engines.

And then there are the anti-terrorism and riot measures... I'll just give you this one example - look for little orange sort of half-moon designs covering Cog shaped holes. Those are quick connects to pump CS tear gas through the vent system.

Silly as it sounds, there really did run a few simulated zombie outbreaks in a few of the megastructures. Partly as an all up test, partly as a way to make humorous public safety instructions, and in at least one case they edited it all together into a full length movie to try to a few bucks out of it. Its doubtful that particular preparation actually helped, but all the other features certainly did.

Any NEST that didn't get completely overrun can still have between five and twenty thousand people inside of it. Five thousand is probably the upper size for most of the other city states. Or so I would guess. That Tesla place is an arcology itself, and the Government has a lot of stuff in Vegas, but the NESTS are still hands down the biggest.

That size is the great strength of the remaining arcos, though a weakness as well. On one hand, the megastructures never lack for labor, expertise, or services. On the other - keeping that many people fed and happy is a daunting task.

"Now see here, this is the problem - you keep going between personal observation and academic disorientation. Pick a voice and keep with it. Furthermore, doesn't everyone know this stuff already?"
   "Stuff like the gas hook-ups - nah. You had to really work in one to know that. Not live, work. Which I did. And in turn I ended up as a Rapid Access Technician pulling old tech and clearing abandoned areas to help expand. If I'm going to tell my story, they need to know these things - right? Its not like everyone is going to search the entire Zone archive every time a new character graces the scene - yes?"
  "Maybe - but if we're going to run the story its got to be new. Nothing is going to compare to when everyone learned what KC actually stood for, but come on - there has to be something new."
  "I can take my story elsewhere."
  "And the government can give it out for free as educational materials, or it can be released on the new sphere. Don't get so snippy, we'll work something out. So - to the beginning..."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Orphan Tribes (Part One)

Being a camp counselor sounds like fun, at least if you have never been one. Fresh air, paid to work with kids, regular meals, simple hours. Ok, so they're simple meals, hours are regular, and the kids get fresh - but its not "work" work - right?  If you're the camp cook keeping 400 people fed, its quite a lot of effort, and safety for that many people isn't easy either.

Yet the daily heroic efforts of our eighteen year old staff members is nothing compared to what awaits them after the zombies rise. Most of the children will no longer have a family to go home too. Where will the food come from?  With boyscouts you're dealing with 14-18 year olds, though as to if ones with an independant streak and teen angst is any better than dealing with a younger crowd is a good question.

Actually, I don't have answers for what this would be like right now. It would certainly make an interesting scenario, depending on the camp.

The boyscout camp I attended had two shooting ranges, replete with a large number of .22 bold action rifles, 20 gauge shotguns, and bows. Not that you'd let the kids themselves hunt zeds, but four or five dozen guns on hand and a couple hundred rounds of ammo isn't a half bad stock. Food service came weekly, and the closest town was a small one about twenty miles away. (Wal-Mart arriving a few years ago was a major event.)  There was a big lake in the middle of camp, and while there certainly wouldn't be much fish - water shouldn't be a problem, nor wood - give its in a Forrest and near an old tree farm. On the other hand, scouts stay in tents, so security would be a big problem if the walkers entered the property.

From what I recall, the child to adult ratio would be somewhere in the 10:1 to 20:1 range. While some would drive, most people come to the camp via bus - there would be no way to migrate the population without outside assistance.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Apocalypse versus Fantasy

Not too long ago, I came across an article on Stargazer's Blog: "Is it just me or is the post-apocalypse much like a fantasy world?" Since many of the stories featured here take place after the fall of human society, its probably a good idea to chime in on this. Its late in the day of course, so excuse the somewhat disjointed format of the essay.

Its a matter of loss, knowledge, and recovery

There are certainly a lot of parallels between the two genres (Or if you want to take the Joesph Campbell approach - between all genres). Digging through ruins for items of great power. Strange creatures or bandits to be wary of, natural hazards to avoid, and most outings are for a quest rather than simply walking because its a nice day. (Would you go jogging every morning if there was a 15% chance of meeting gnolls?) 

In a fantasy world, however, that has always been the case.  Orcs have been around since time immemorial, dragons live centuries, and the goblin problem is a known issue. Either by design or just dint of our books focusing on the interesting parts - fantasy worlds are made for adventure.

We have worked long and hard to make sure the real world is not a place of adventure. Most of the human eating megafauna was killed off thousands of years ago, military might keeps raiders at bay. 

Most PA settings do not take place centuries after the event. As such there are people who still remember the before times. Gunslingers understand that their weapons are machines and not magic - spare parts might be rare, but it can be fixed or replaced. Perhaps even improved upon. There is a sense that what is gone can be recovered.

Conclusively removing the fantasy elements from a fantasy setting is rarely the goal. Sometimes the quest is to actually stop the big bad evil guy from doing that. Meanwhile the goal of a PA setting is to make it less hostile to all life. Fantasy is protecting the status quo, PA is restoring it.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Life 2.0 for Earth 3.1

Genius, is an idea that seems stupid at first, but turns out to change the world. Foolish, is when people think it is a good idea from the beginning.

If you're going to settle a new planet - you're going to bring along bulldozers, tractors, and plows - right? Of course to keep those running you need a supply of fuel, and numerous spare parts, and to quickly begin mining so you can produce ores needed to build replacements, and start with a colony ship big enough to haul around the hundreds of tons steel that make up these things...

Or you could do things the old way and use animals. Feed them with renewable grass, eat them when they break down, produce new ones by just leaving the old ones in a shed together... From the standpoint of mass and ship size, packing some frozen embryos with some artificial wombs, and they take less space than one bulldozer - much less a fleet of dozers and spare parts!

Now you could say there is a bit of a problem with transplanting life like this - humans can put on clothes and adapt technology as they need - getting a spacesuit on a horse is a little more difficult. Most life forms have spent thousands of years adapting to earth, not the "rather like earth" or "just a bit survivable" or "well, at least its not hell or France" exo-solar landing locations.

Enter the brilliant idea "lets make some new organisms - bigger, and tougher, stronger, with eight cup-holders fuel injected V-8s!". B-movie mad scientists have led you astray. It doesn't work like that. We can't just make stuff whole cloth, we can only include other genes that happened to exist before and hope it all works together. They can't customize DNA more than that.

But they can work backwards through the  chain of evolution, to prior animals, from other times, be it the ice age or earlier. Pack Mammoths for cold planets, Haast's Eagles for large pest control, Riding Elephant Birds. Restore what was lost, since at once point that goat was an Andrewsarchus, that turkey a Velociraptor.

And that in a nutshell, is why we are eighty parsecs from Earth and hiding in a cave from dinosaurs.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Damage Level Musing

I've been wondering about including damage scales in Dead & Back for a while. It generally feels right for me to include a damage class for things bigger than humans. However, since this game is a horror and personal level game, for once I'm not too sure. Of course, if included - how would it be implemented?

The first real RPG I played was Rifts, with its infamous "Mega-Damage" (TM) -( they were always very certain to include that TM everywhere!). Rifts is certainly broken in many ways, and a lot of the material seems thrown together haphazardly - however, MD feels right. Tanks, power armor, dragons - some things just are on a different scale than humans and deserve their own damage scale so we don't worry about thousands of hit-points and hundreds of d6s worth of damage. Many of my other games have been Sci-Fi settings with spaceships or power armor, which also demanded this sort of thing.

As it stands, a car or tank doesn't have much more in the way of Animus than a person. A motorcycle has on average less durability than a person. While Sufficient Damage Index does factor in, this looks a little odd when the numbers are placed side by side. Since a starting character only rolls one to seven dice for damage - three is the usual average - simply inflating the numbers isn't going to help, as then combat will take too long. High Damage Rating increases the chance to do damage, not how much is inflicted.

Quite a few things exist in the world that would qualify as tougher than mortal men, and after a societal breakdown like a zombie apocalypse - most of the usual safeguards that keep players away from them will be gone. Some might say that acquiring a bunker buster might not be the best way to escape the undead, but there has to be some gaming group out there that is considering the possibility. The GM can just treat it as a special effect, or let it destroy whatever, no roll necessary at their discretion. I just generally like having a system in place, rather than stopping the game to debate the effect.

Possibly the easiest way of implementing scale in D&B is to have a multiplier after damage is tallied. For example - if you use a 40mm anti-aircraft gun on a person - roll dice as normal, then any damage inflicted is doubled. No successes - well, everyone is allowed a lucky break now and then. This can also go the other way - a handgun against a tank, even with a suitably high DR is going to do only half damage.

A slightly more interesting, if confusing, idea is to have multiple layers per level of the animus track. Powerful weapons can hit multiple layers at once, while weak ones do not. So for example, a main battle tank might look like this:

000   A standard scale weapon would only mark off circles one at a time,
000   left to right, the normal way
000  An actual Anti-Tank Weapon would mark off more than one layer
000  Vertically as well as horizontally.
000  So that level three AT gun only needs three hits to to finish a layer,
000  a weaker weapon nine hits.
000  This leaves a spot for a two hit per success weapon in between for
000  lighter armored things like power suits or Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

Maybe I'll save that one for a project with giant robots or some other war game idea.

An expendable pool that would let players inject more dice or damage into their rolls might work in conjunction with simply increasing animus figures. However, there are enough optional traits and things to spend Altruism Points already.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Raider Types

Ran into some Star Sinister guys a while back. Don't like them at all. They're harder to deal with than independents and Tower Reversed combined.

What - you're surprised by that? Sure, everybody fears the tower, and with good reason. They're the biggest, best armed, and smartest. At the same time, they have a code. You do not disrespect a man of the tower.  Just pay the damn toll, and don't insult their intelligence, and you'll make it out all right. Make a fuss, and they will teach you respect. Its like wolf alphas. Or perhaps like reanimates - something might come along to clean it up and be worthy of praise - but until then, be careful.

Lesser groups of low level adventurers - they're usually a bit desperate. They'll either shy away from a real fight, or make make stupid mistakes and get in over their heads. Either way, its a lot easier to trick, fight off, or escape a small band than evade the Tower for an extended period.

Star Sinister has a size closer to the Tower, but all the cockiness and violence of an independent group. They don't act like gentlemen and avenge their honor. No, getting back at someone who evaded their wrath is just a game and the Star plays to win. The tower isn't above threatening innocents to get the law to come out, but Star Sinister just skips to the burning without the warning.

There is no cure for comic book crazy. That is the big trouble. Sometimes putting the hurt on the Star is enough to drive it off, sometimes it just makes them all the more angry. Individual members will hunt you down even without support because they're just like that. Its a matter of judging people and avoiding the loose cannons. People skills over firepower, regardless of how reprehensible the members singularly and collectively are.

I hate violence, and I'd still prefer a good shoot out to navigating the sick minds of raiders. That is how bad these guys are.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mars - 2053

Mars is a dead planet. We made it that way.

We had atmosphere recyclers, and were working on ways to extract it from the rust rocks all around. But even with supply shots every few weeks sped up by low cost launching, it remained that we were just a few malfunctions away from disaster.

A number of the suicides were caused by people wondering about the what ifs. What if it had been one international effort rather than several nations with separate colonies? What if we had been able to pool every thing immediately? What if a few had just stepped forward to make a sacrifice, or we had drawn lots for it? Would a little bit of dignity and an acceptance of death been enough?

Too late now.

Short version - we turned on each other. Raided the other settlements to ensure we had spares for the oxygen scrubbers. Misappropriated rock hammers and mining lasers to kill each other. Maybe we could have stopped once the population was at a fairly sustainable level, but the esprit de corps, and the call for revenge was too strong. The victims were people we had seen every single day for years, specifically chosen because we couldn't bear to kill them - so of course we couldn't just accept one of our team mates was dead and move on.

There still isn't much word on why all contact was lost, or what those alien ships are - but unless there is an outright zombie apocalypse back there, it can't be worse then living here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

(Prototype) Yagi Transmission

"I have compiled the report on the new series of alien transmissions."
   "Anything new?"
   "Sort of - we have been able to gain the input of a captured specimen, however, its translation unit was inadequate to the task of describing much. It was quite adamant that citizens do not normally broadcast on such a frequency. At least not militarily. Given that the frequency of 500 megahertz is only good for line of site and shows poor propagation under many environmental conditions, it would normally be a poor choice. However, it is a strong signal, and there are a large number of Yagi-Uda style antennas appearing in the latest observation the the nearby settlement."
   "A what style antenna?"
   "Yagi-Uda, its a directional element using an array of di-poles, really quite primitive - we've been using them since the late twenties. Nineteen twenties."
  "Which would be utterly odd for creatures that were at least on par with 2050 communications when the arrived, and suffered far less EMP disruption."
   "Well, I would argue that second point is hard to prove, if anything, their inability to capitalize on the current state of humanity may be..."
   "We have had that debate before. We will have it again. The signals please."

The door opened behind the scientist "Excuse me sirs - I've got an important message."
  "What is it?"
  "Sorry to make the latest report obsolete - but we have figured out what the UHF signal is - its graphical media."
   "Graphical - a new reconnaissance system?"
  "No. Television. Analog signal UHF broadcast TV. given that its a bunch of Citizens sitting around drinking - it may be some sort of sit-com. The prisoner can't translate the jokes, but does find it rather hilarious."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Show Brainstorming

Hobbes took a few thoughtful bites, then set down his toast. "We've given our listeners a number of hints on dealing with citizens, we've never shared with the citizens tips on dealing with humans. Do you think there would be a pay-off if we tried?"
  "I don't know" Diego began "We already have one here, that would be a pretty big pay-off itself. The aliens to the east aren't going to listen, and we can't be too sure any other ones would trust us. What kind of pay-off can you expect? There are truces with small towns and limited fighting - but none of them have tried throwing in with a major city-state, No attempts to replace satellites have gone off without getting shot down. nor are they going to pay us much tribute."
   "Sounds like there is room for improvement then."
   "Hobbes, I was town a few days ago, and found a reclamation specialist who had some cocaine to trade. You do not grow that stuff anywhere near hear. We have all of civilization to save and rebuild, yet someone down south still thinks growing and selling poison to stupid Yankees is a priority. If citizen nature is even half as bad as human nature - its just not going to happen."
   "Well, what can we do then?"
   "I don't subscribe to the 'I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist' junk adage - I'm just a pessimist. I would agree that we are doing a good thing, just not that we are doing all the good things, or even much good things. However, at some point that greed is going to matter. Citizens are going to want potato chips enough to actually trade with or deal with humans to get them in a manner easier than growing an unknown vegetable and an unknown legume to produce oil to fry them in. The trouble is humans need to start their machine, the alien's theirs, and then the two need to find out where the cogs inter-mesh."
  "What if we redefine the metaphor? Argue its a path together, encourage sharing now, not once everyone has factories?"
   "Words have power. Bullets do as well. But really, power is power - all else is just tools. We can describe the world and influence some opinions, but it takes an actual demonstration of ability to influence. The world isn't a quantum state that changes because you look away."
  "Didn't we rule out physics metaphors?"
   "Have we played a devil's advocate yet that hasn't had a few broken rules?"