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, April 30, 2013

Zone Law Rambling

One of the advantages to democracy no one really talks about, is that it is inefficient. You think that is a strange thing to praise - but look at the alternative - a despot that can pass any law they want at any time and make an entire class of people "unpersons"between Tuesday and Wednesday. In a congressional system, not only would many people have to sign off, but they'd be adding riders and ajoinders, and pork programs, and if it got passed at all, it would be sure to include funds earmarked for the dairy industry, May fourth would be light-sabre day, and the language would be far more politically correct...

Well, the upshot of all this is that most laws in the zone are based on the laws current before the event, and most of those laws were similar to what they were in the early twenty-first century. Its practically stupid how closely we follow those times, even as we ignore all property rights and strip resources from abandoned buildings.

I was a Representative helping debate one of the state trials on new drunk driving laws. Seems simple enough - if machines are now capable of adopting the autodrive system, these is no excuse for operating a vehicle while inebriated and penalties for DUI should be all the harsher - right? But some would argue that is a tax on people who can't afford cars with the new system, or that the laws are harsh enough and enforcement is better spent elsewhere, or that taking away a license doesn't matter since the machine drives itself without checking an ID anyway (Don't even get me started on the argument over making the driver's license a smart card and scan-able.)

Not that I'm accusing anyone of drunk driving in the zone. Things like reanimates do tend to encourage alertness. But a lot of places simply say the law is like it was before and have avoided putting to much thought into it. Some of the city states are trying to create their own society, and that is proving to be a source of division. The slowness of democracy is also why a lot of the smaller outposts, towns, or mini-city-states you run into are going to be dictatorships or juntas rather than Representative. Time spent debating rather than time spent gathering supplies and shooting reanimates ins not time well spent in the eyes of many.

That is probably not a healthy attitude, and I don't say that just because I'd be out of a job. Life is beautiful, the inside of a monster's stomach is not, and all that jazz. But in the end, its not just living, but a life that is worth living, and for that you need freedom and freedom is usually secured with measured governance, and that in turn means debate and rule by republic. A lot of wandering do-gooders are going to find jobs restoring rightful rule, and just as many will find work putting down rebellions that are going on at an inconvenient time. Hopefully they can tell which is which.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Doesn't start with the Dead

Survival Horror is often designed to begin "In Media Reis". Often the characters begin running for their lives, and then work backwards to find some safety so they have time to figure out why. In other cases, they don't even bother to ask - zombies want to eat you, what more reason do you need to shoot them? The unknown is a powerful tool for horror, and doesn't matter in an action fest.

There is a place for starting slow, however. A normal day or two of the character's lives can make the player's more attached to what what is otherwise a collection of numbers and dice rolls. Some challenges that are not life and death matters can get new comers familiar with the system. This is also a chance to earn some altruism points -which can make the characters more unique than the average starting numbers and allow for greater danger later because they're tougher than beginners.

Dead and Back's Unit "2552" setting has many different ways to slowly bring in characters. If you begin in the 1970s, perhaps all the players are new conscripts going through basic training. This introduces them to the background characters, life in the army, and the somewhat disturbing procedures of the chemical augmentation process (Don't worry - the heart stopping every now and then is perfectly normal! Just not this long usually.) In a post 90s game, it can begin with normal police investigation and help familiarize players with the setting. (Gun laws are very different from the US for one, so the acquisition of gear is not going to be quite the same.) This can be a time of investigation and simply learning that there was a unit 2552 a revelation and a lead in to the next part. Hematavores don't usually spread the sickness, so the world is less apocalypse, and more "Jason Vorhees goes to Moscow".

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Moods and Modes

One of the biggest changes still to be made in the rules, is the "Evolve" Chapter. Most of the other stuff is elements of technical editing, or deciding how many blog post stories to include to flesh out the settings. There are incomplete tables, but the basic rules are generally playable. (Some combat maneuvers need a bit more testing).

Partly, this is an unwillingness to throw much away.

I would like to think, however, that this is less my laziness, and more because zombies mean different things to different people.
  • For some, these creatures are emblematic of a pessimistic world view - the only thing that could unify humanity, is some existential threat like the undead, and there would still be some hold-outs. 
  • Conversely, its an optimistic thing - in the face of such an impossible supernatural event, people can find shelter, and fight back. 
  • Its an adventure! Most monsters over match people by far - that is part of  what defines them as such. Not much can be done about cthlulu, and a dragon is a tough fight, but hey, zombies you can deal with personally, which is a novel experience.
  • Zombies teach the lesson that the most important survival trait is not firearms training, but how to deal with A-holes, and work in a group.
  • Zombies are a chance to forget all those social mores about dealing with A-holes and shoot their shambling corpses instead.
  • The undead are a symbol of nature and man's inability to truely control the world
  • The undead are a symbol of man and its pervasive corruption of the world.
In short, its my rules for your horror game, not a script for one specific scenario. The Anarchy Zone setting is made to have more exploration and less hiding than a Romero or Russo styled movie. 2552 is about uncovering conspiracies, or unofficially working to make sure dead things stay buried.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Urban Encounter Thoughts

"The cities are aliiivveee with the sound of music..."

Oh come on, I know I can't sing - its a joke - for the love of - fine! Some people just think you need to be serious about these things. Most people, really. But the big things about the cities, is that you absolutely must be flexible in your expectations, because there can be almost anything, and always something.

Even the deadest city is very much alive. Its just too convenient a location to ignore. From the standpoint of just about any any animal, human, rat, or feral dog - there are plenty of places to hide from predators, or at least escape bad weather for a while. A lot of the formerly domestic ones are simply used to the area, and others have learned about all the neat ambush locations the alleyways provide. The overhangs and tunnels are great for bats, parks for forest critters, and many escaped zoo animals haven't wandered that far from where they were contained.

On top of that, there are still going to be people. You might not see them everyday, but that is because they're intentionally hiding from you - and if you're smart, you'll hide from them. There are resource collectors of course, outlaws, survivor outposts that have taken over factories, and transients who think a brick facade is safer than a tent. Some cities are even almost repopulated - not metropolises, but you'll see trade, or gangs holding territory, and bazaars, and even some concentrated efforts to take and hold buildings of cultural importance - it takes a lot of work to keep a museum safe. (Wouldn't you just love to camp with the dinosaurs in the natural history museum? Really - who wouldn't?)

Of course, cites also seem to be the default habitat of reanimates. You're not likely to see advanced type threes in the middle of nowhere, but stick around the city long enough, and chances are you'll be killed by one. No, I don't mean encounter one - killed is the operative word here. Those things know how to navigate the city too, weather it means popping out of the old subway station, or leaping from the third story of an office building onto your head, or beating you to death with a stop sign out in the open - they can and will use the streets to your disadvantage.

Returning to the opening chorus - its the signs of life that are the worst part. Towns might be totally depopulated and creepy because of that. Old factories can have tetanus and toxins all about. Bandits may or may not be lying around the next bend of the road. In the city, you know there is something out there that bears ill will, its just a matter of time, and no amount of caution or medicine is really going to prevent that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dark Woods Week: Mr Saxon, Mr. Celt

Mr. Saxon

Fresh air, old growth trees, physical exorcise - they say nature does a body good. Damned lie, thats what it is - nature does terrible things to bodies, almost enough to make you glad they were dead first. You've had far too much experience with what the wilderness will do to bodies over the past few months.

All the evidence says its just one careful and methodical person. If you could classify it as human - after dismembered body thirty five, its really hard to pin that title on the culprit.

The trail has gone cold as those women dug out of the ravine, and its really gotten to you. So bad, the boss had to force this vacation on you, suggested an old site out of state he recalled from his childhood. It is a nice enough place, but Hawaii wouldn't get this out of your head, much less here.

Strength 4
Quick 4
Tech 4
Wits 4
Range 3
Close Combat 3

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

Stunt Driving
SA: Rank/Society: Police Officer

Equipment of note:
Mr. Saxon has his back-up .38 revolver and a police radio in his civilian car, but  as this is a vacation, most of his equipment is miles away in the station.

Mr. Celt

 Heh, he,he, he Yes! Its so nice to take a vacation, to get your mind off of work. So many harlots, so little time, but for each the cleaver shall sing its song.

Strength 3
Quick 5
Tech 5
Wits 2
Range 4
Close Combat 3

Lucidity: 7
Deadening: 5
Up-Rise: 8 ( kg in backpack)
Pack: 7 ( slots/ kg on hand)

Animal Handling
SA: Surgeon

Equipment of note:
Lucky foot (not rabbit...), good machete, really good cleaver, naughty cleaver, doctor's scrubs, assorted medications, basic doctor's kit (stethoscope, small lights, blood pressure cuff), hemp rope,

Dark Woods Week: Alpha and Omega and Something Inbetween

Mr. A (Create your own Alias)

Mr. A is a kindly looking old man who smiles as he recounts the simple pleasures of his youth growing up on a farm. Then, with the very same smile, he can gouge out a man's eyes with his thumb.

Win, lose, draw - bah! He is not the one who plays the games, or determines the winner of the great international games. Mr. A receives an order, someone dies, he returns for the next one. If the autocrats once claimed to be communist, and are now claiming to be democratic - they're still autocrats, and he still does the job. More of them are foreigners these days, but it goes in cycles.

Today, it is an officer from a foreign intelligence service. Perhaps he will like to hear about how Mr. A's grandson is graduating as an engineer before having a hammer shatter the skull. Maybe he will learn about granddaughter's wedding before the screwdriver punctures the aorta. It is a good day with much to be happy about!

Strength 6
Quick  3
Tech 4
Wits  2
Range 2
Close Combat 5

Animus: 11
Lucidity: 5
Deadening: 8
Up-Rise: 10  (60 kg in backpack)
Pack: 6 ( slots/12 kg on hand)

Wood Working
Special Ability: Martial Arts (+1 DR in close combat)

Equipment of note:
A well stocked tool chest is in the back of his seemingly beaten up truck, meticulously organized into the metric tools for fixing the Japanese made vehicle, and the Imperial measure tools for mutilating people. (Even individual sockets are lethal in his hands). There are some sundries like maps of the area, bottled water, pre-packed food, and a sharpened military entrenching tool as well. Unlike most fifteen year old trucks, inside the cab is almost factory fresh, a testament to MR. A's semi-neurotic desire for neat and tidy surroundings.


Mr. Z (Create your own Alias)

Cold war? We won! Terror? We're winning! Its great to be a new part of the old game of nations, especially now that it can all be solved. None of this old tech torture, cloak, and dagger stuff - you see what they're doing from space, confirm with drones, and then shut down their networks with a few mouse clicks. Real spies don't get dirty.

There are some nuts out there, and it is more than a nine to five job. Indeed, you've been warned that there is a foreign agent around here, and a brutal one. These days it probably just means he doesn't want sugar in his coffee while talking about bribes, but it pays to be careful.

Strength 3
Quick 3
Tech 5
Wits 5
Range 4
Close Combat 2

Animus: 8
Lucidity: 8
Deadening: 8
Up-Rise: 8 (48 kg in backpack)
Pack: 10 ( 10slots/20 kg on hand)
Access (Free running and climbing)

Swimming and SCUBA

Equipment of note:
Mr. Z. is actually here for a camping trip, (who would have expected that) and has the necessary gear for rock climbing as well. He also has a small nine millimeter pistol an two reloads in a concealed holster.


Capricorn Five (Create your own Alias)

Spies, they're everywhere. Killing your cats, reading your e-mail, genetically modifying your food, and turning your boss against you. You might need a wheel chair to get around most of the time, thanks to that failed attempt to assassinate you (DUI - ha! You barely touched anything that night!) but no one is going to finish that job anytime soon.

Out here in the woods, you've got cover from the satellites and no cell towers to scramble your thoughts. An no one ever notices your stockpile of gelignite and fuel oil. If they cross you, they'll learn about it in the worst way possible, but for now its all safe and legal.

Better yet, nothing much around here is electrical, so when the EMP shuts down the country, it will be like nothing happened to you.

But who are all these people showing up today? No one ever comes here, unless they have some ulterior motive. Sure, the old couple that runs this place are clean (that shifty eyed handyman on the other hand...) Do they know something about the plots and the plan to shut down the power grid? Perhaps they want your land and your supplies for the coming civil war. Well, its all yours, and they aren't going to get it!

Strength 2
Quick  2
Tech 6
Wits 6
Range 5
Close Combat 1

Animus: 6
Lucidity: 12
Deadening: 8
Up-Rise: 8  (48 kg in backpack)
Pack: 12 (12 slots/ 24kg on hand)

Organic Chemistry
SA: Blasting and Explosives

Equipment of note:
Twenty sticks of dynamite, two .45 caliber handguns,  a semi-automatic .22 rifle, a foil lined van with wheelchair lift, two year supply of slightly dented canned food, five year supply of toilet paper, HAM radio, old camera, proof Lee Harvey Oswald was innocent, thirty-seven teddy-bears.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dark Woods Week: Mr. Rook and Mr. Crow

Mr. Rook

Damn It! It was all going so well. A young wife you hate to be away from and a job to keep fulfilled - isn't that all anyone could want? Oh how life can be so cruel. You come home early once, with good news about a bonus, and find another man in your bed.

It is not the place for police to be involved in such affairs, it is a personal matter. We shall go to the woods, give the man a day or two to make his peace, and then make sure such a slight never happens again. Accidents do happen, after all.

Strength 3
Quick 3
Tech 6
Wits 6
Range 2
Close Combat 2

Animus: 8
Lucidity: 9
Deadening: 9
Up-Rise: 9 (45 kg in backpack)
Pack: 12 (12 slots/24 kg on hand)

Equipment of note:
Mr. Rook has recently purchased a .30-06 bolt action hunting rifle and a box of twenty bullets, though he is quite unfamiliar with its use. Despite the pretense of a camping trip, he has brought almost no other gear - if asked, its because the lodge should provide sufficient facilities.

Mr. Crow

Damn It! It was all going so well. A young wife to keep fulfilled, and a job her husband hates to be away from - isn't that all anyone could want?

Its great that Mr. Rook hasn't called the police, most people would take this rather personally. Instead he has offered to go on a trip to the woods, and who knows - maybe after a day or two we'll make our peace. Accidents happen, no slight intended - though this does have me a little worried.

Strength 6
Quick 6
Tech 3
Wits 3
Range 2
Close Combat 2

Animus: 14
Lucidity: 9
Deadening: 9
Up-Rise: 9
Pack : 6

Equipment of note:
Mr. Crow has recently acquired a 12 gauge pump action shotgun  with two dozen slug rounds, as well as miscellaneous camping gear, (Tent, sleeping bag, portable stove, bug spray, matches) since his partner has graciously provided the ride suggested the place. Of course, the fact that Mr. Rook has forgotten to bring orange vests, and that rifles are not allowed in this part of the season is quite odd.

While all characters in the Dark Woods scenario come with equipment and a motive, the players should be allowed to come up with a physical description and demeanor themselves - after-all, what fun is an RPG if they don't have personal investment or creative control?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dark Woods Week: Harriet's Outlook

Harriet's Outlook campgrounds has it all - ski slopes, hunting, white water rafting, nature trails, rock climbing, fine fishing lakes, and home cooked meals. The only thing its lacking is a fresh coat of paint. And staff. And fixtures built after 1972. And phone lines. And boats. And maintenance...

OK, time to be honest - Aside from the lodge, hotel, and the old house, there is pretty much nothing but old growth forest.

Harriet's Outlook was established in the late fifties/early sixties back to nature and camping boom. In its time, it was a very impressive place. However, it didn't always meet the bills and rarely kept apace with the times, and now it is staffed mostly by the indeterminately old Harriet, her equally ancient husband, Lawrence, and Scotty, the grandson of the original handyman. Since the land is now a national park, their buildings are grandfathered in, but any big changes would be a forest of paperwork to accommodate guests unlikely to visit.

Still they try their best, and every year they greet a select few guests who truly enjoy their seclusion. This time around, they have three couples seeking this out of the way destination, a church youth group, and a few things that would not exist in a merciful world.

The Dark Woods is a horror scenario meant for one Game master and between two and seven players.  Details of the NPCs and creatures will be released over the course of the week. Those interested in playing, may wish to avoid reading the blog entries for the next few days to avoid spoiling any of the surprises.

It all begins simple enough. All the characters have their reasons to go camping, when a bad storm washes out the old trails, stranding them at the main lodging of the campground.

There are four building of note in the main area. They are laid out in a rough pentagon - house to the north, and then the motel, the main road, the maintenance barn, and finally the lodge.

The Motel is your fairly standard double level L shaped series of tiny rooms.  The floors are peeling linoleum, the hot water doesn't work, and there are no TVs since there is no reception this far out (Cellular service doesn't work either).

Next is the Hunting Lodge - more a very large converted barn, but what a conversion. Rustic on the outside, the interior boasts a hardwood dance floor, full length bar, TV lounge (Still no reception, but a large selection of VCR tapes), and through the back entrance - a studio for cleaning and mounting game. Lawrence can be found here most of the day, although he claims to not be able to mix anything more complicated than a bottle of beer, he does in fact prove to be a good bartender who can knock back white lightning like water.

Just about anything you could need can be found in the maintenance barn, or in the various lean-too structures built onto its sides. Finding it though, that is another issue. Over fifty years of broken equipment, obsolete parts, nonstandard tools, and even a few misplaced pieces of SCUBA gear is crammed into a space that leaves barely a single path through.

Compared to the rest, the house is in immaculate condition. Its an old greyish ranch style home, with a cellar containing home made preserves and a small moonshine still.

A ways farther back is what appears to be a log cabin with a steeple - an old church barely larger than the main house, well kept if a bit drafty.

Somewhere out there is a boathouse as well, provided it hasn't collapsed. The same goes for the warming shelter near the rusted ski lift, but that is far more than a long walk away.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Writing from the Zone

I'm drawing a blank, and there are fifteen minutes left in the day. It probably shouldn't bother me. Tomorrow will be pretty much the same, and not all that many people are relying on these messages anyway. Who knows, maybe I've run out of stuff to write about. Perhaps that is what annoys me.

But that is the way the zone plays tricks on you. It lulls you into a sense of sameness, and unimportance. You slow down, you don't look as hard, you miss updates. Then you miss reanimates. Food caches, warning signs, traveler's sigels.

The zone is chasing you, stay a step ahead, stay alert. Its no longer a game about getting out of one building and dodging the freshly risen undead as society falls apart. That is almost cliche. Now its about escaping every building, or at least your home. Now its a struggle to keep going. Sometimes you wonder if you're a real person, if what you're doing has meaning. We all have to ask that in the long view of things, but for now, keep it up, try to get a week uninterrupted. Seek the book within.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Smells Like Trouble

Shaving soap may save your life.

Nobody is quite sure what keeps a reanimate moving, and why they aren't just rotting piles of meat. They're perfectly intact, and will even heal wounds over time. Nothing like those half gone grey skinned creatures from old movies. More impressively, this oddly good health is in spite of having next to no sense of hygiene. Far as we can tell, they don't bathe, and change clothes only when what they're wearing has ripper or rotted completely off, if that much. Death be not proud and all that. (Though I don't think that is what the poet meant...) If you have a good nose and aren't too ripe yourself, you can smell them on the wind sometimes.

Dogs, of course, are a more reliable warning system though you have to be careful. To start, barking and whining can reveal your position. Furthermore, you will probably get a lot of false alarms. What few tests have been conducted seem to show that an animals aversion to reanimates is just based on them seeming like humans'. A wild horse can't tell the difference between a not quite alive person and a not yet dead one - it just doesn't like people. So the dog that barks at reanimates, is really just barking at any person that isn't you.

It might seem like a vanity, but keeping your hair nicely styled and getting rid of that matted beard is a good way to avoid getting shot due to mis-identification. If you're shot because they can tell who you are, well that is your own damn fault, not mine.