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.

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?"