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, 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..."