Monday, September 24, 2007

Societal Collapse

One of the primary motivators of the “Back To Nature” types in the early Seventies was the belief that Western Civilization was going to collapse under its own weight. Society was hitting near-Roman levels of decadence and fans of Edward Gibbons were certain that Welfare & Prime Time were the new Bread & Circuses. A subset of this crowd was mindful of the original Rome’s Visigoth problem, added some modern-day pilums to their preparations, and became the first “survivalists”. Doesn’t seem like much of a game setting, though. How can the machine grinding slowly to a stop make for thrilling adventures? Sounds pretty boring, right?

“On the roads, it was a White Line Nightmare…”

Mel Gibson’s bank accounts would politely beg to disagree. The movie “Mad Max” was set near the tail end of just such a collapse. The courts were useless, the citizens were apathetic, and the cops were becoming little more than leather-clad vigilantes. With no law enforcement, the economy began to grind to a halt as interstate shipping was choked off by the gangs. This can be transplanted to any comparatively desolate location that has access to some nearby city to base the PCs out of. The Texas Panhandle. The Jersey Barrens. Tony Hillerman fans could run such a game with the PCs operating out of Shiprock having the Navajo Tribal Police in the role of The Bronze, with Joe Leaphorn as FiFi and Jim Chee as Max.

Another way of working this would be to have the PCs to be down on their luck in a dying city. As Jerry Pournelle will tell you, no country is more than three meals from a revolution. A modern city has little in the way of food reserves. If the grain trains don’t roll, then people get hungry. Unlike the Economic Collapse scenario where the PC might not have the money to buy food, in this case there’s no food to buy with that money. (A much nastier situation…) At full population, a typical American city has about a 2-3 day supply of food on store shelves and in warehouses. Perhaps a bit less nowadays, given the use of “just in time” shipping. This sort of consideration is the basis of the open road scenarios in Car Wars. “You have to get these trailers full of canned goods to Cincinnati, or folks are going to starve!” Or the PCs could be in Cinci the day when only half the trucks make it, causing food riots to break out.

This is another setting that you can use to torture gun-bunnies. With supply-chain disruptions like this, ammo that has to be special ordered is going to evaporate pretty quickly. In generic terms, special ammo types (match grade, hot loads, frangible bullets, AP, uncommon calibers) just aren’t going to be available very often and either hollowpoints (for handguns & military calibers) or FMJ (for hunting rifle calibers) are going to be scarce. They won’t be irreplaceable, as things haven’t gotten that bad yet, but they’ll have to think hard before just opening up on folks with their preferred wonder-weapon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Unlike a great many of the SHTF scenarios I’m listing as potential game settings, this one has hit in living memory as the Great Depression. Currently, we’re used to unemployment rates of < 5%, minimal inflation, and obesity being the primary dietary health problem amongst the poorest Americans. Real hunger, as in “Haven’t eaten in days, and not sure when I’ll eat again” as opposed to “I skipped lunch & the vending machine didn’t have my favorite brand of chips”, is almost unknown. Folks would be screaming bloody murder if the economy went back to what it was in the 1970s with > 10% unemployment and double-digit inflation. In the US during the Great Depression, those were more along the lines of 25% or more unemployment. As bad as that was, in Weimar Germany the unemployment rate was 20% combined with inflation that was such that it made the late 1980s Mexican Peso or the post-Soviet Ruble look good by comparison. This can be considered the wimpiest of the Whimper scenarios as it’s unlikely to cause ETOTWAWKI. It’s a SHTF scenario which leaves the forces of law & order more or less intact. Corrupt and extraordinarily brutal, but intact. Loyalty to the powers which be is what keeps their children fed, after all, and shifty vagrants and other ne’er do wells (aka the PCs) threaten that. Take the “Haven’t eaten in days” example of hunger & apply it to your kids, then consider what you’d be willing to do under color of authority to prevent that from happening…

Gonna take my .32-20, boy, an’ cut her half in two.
– Robert Johnson, “.32-20 Blues”

Gamers tend to be gun nerds. They have a habit of equipping their characters with flashy (.50 Desert Eagle) or rare (Medusa multi-caliber revolver) guns, or ones that provide special bonuses (FN Five-seveN with armor piercing ammo). Here’s the chance to watch your gun-bunny players squirm as they try to scrape up enough cash to arm their characters with a High Point 9mm and a milsurp SKS. (About $350 for the combo at current prices) The .32-20 round mentioned in the song quote is marginal at best for deer hunting, but was widely used for that purpose in the Depression-era South because it was cheap, available, and could also be used in pistols. The PCs can be forced into using sub-optimal or even inadequate guns because that’s all they can find. Think of “Neuromancer” where the main character arms himself with a Vietnamese made knock-off of a Walther PPK clone in .22 Long Rifle because he’s being tailed.

Since society hasn’t utterly collapsed in this setting, the suggested skill-set for the PCs is a bit different. Stuff is still being made in factories, after all, it’s just that you can’t afford it. Maintenance and Scrounging become more important than being able to make the tools to make the tools. Less re-inventing the wheel than patching the existing wheel up to get a few more hundred miles out of it to reach California.

One nifty thing about this scenario is that you can transplant it to any setting with a stock market. The original 1930s. Modern day. Pre-terraforming Martian colonies. The Third Imperium. Any of these can be turned into “interesting times” by having prices shooting up like a Saturn V at the same time as your characters are thrown out of work. It also works as recent back-history, say in a lower-tech version of a Cyberpunk 2020 Nomads type game.

It's the end of the world as we know it (and I rolled a crit)

A whimper or a bang?

(This somewhat rehashes one of my “World Creation Made Easy” columns in the now defunct e-zine “The RPG Times”)

Post Apocalypse settings have long been popular with gamers. At the time that RPGs were beginning, Survivalism was quite the hot topic. Originally, the bugbear was societal, economic, and/or environmental collapse. (Decline & Fall, Stagflation, & Silent Spring) Then in the 1980s & ‘90s, thoughts turned to nuclear war and pandemics. (WWIII & Achoo!) By the late ‘90s, technological collapse came into fashion, along with concern over a few celestial near misses. (Y2K & ELE) Now we seem to have come full circle, with post 2000 election shenanigans, new environmental concerns, and terrorism combined with nuclear proliferation. (2nd US Civil War, Global Warming, & Binny-Boy’s Got The Bomb) Natural disasters have long been a “rational” explanation for preparations (Katrina), but very few of those qualify for ETOTWAWKI. (A Yellowstone Eruption or New Madrid Quake could do it, though) Some possible disaster scenarios are too outrĂ© or too controversial for polite discussion. If you’re planning to survive Zombies, the return of the Great Old Ones, or invaders from Mars, folks will think you’re even more of a nut. If you’ve based your planning around what to do the day the Welfare checks bounce, you’re probably a racist nut. (Braiiins!, Fhtagn!, Ulla!, & Helter Skelter!)

The main question for the GM is did things end with a whimper or a bang. Take a look around your PA setting. Is the scenery mainly plies of scorched rubble and heaps of skulls? Then things ended with a bang. If things are more-or-less intact, then it ended with a whimper. Bang is the default for this sort of thing. It has the advantage (from the GM’s point of view) of scarcity. If the local Wal-Mart is a pile of twisted rubble, then the players can’t just stroll around picking up batteries, common types of ammo, and cheap hiking boots. Of course the slower “Whimper” settings will result in the stores having been picked clean before The End, but that just relocates the goods to hundreds of smaller caches instead of it being concentrated. With a Bang, those goods are far scarcer and a brick of .22 Long Rifle ammo is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Some supplies, such as ammo, pharmaceuticals, & canned goods, are going to be used up very quickly. They are consumables, useful, and are mostly out of production after The End. Several of them have pretty finite shelf lives even under good conditions. In the case of ammo, there might be some low-level production from folks with reloading gear, but you can only get so many uses out of the brass casings, and the supply of primers will also be a limiting factor. Some calibers which are very common now will become rather scarce as they aren’t made in a format that’s reloadable. The .22 & .17 rimfires cannot be reloaded due to the rimfire priming system, nor can the Russian-made 7.62x39mm ammo which has been flooding the market the last decade due to their beridan primed steel cases. Ironically, the AR-15 may outlast the much more rugged AK-47 clones because we use boxer primed brass cases for our 5.56x45mm ammo. The AK may be in better working order, but that doesn’t mean much without any ammo for it… The stereotype of crossbow wielding maniacs might not be too far fetched, though the mohawks & ass-less chaps are strictly optional.

As the mood strikes, I’ll be expanding on the particular settings named in the parentheticals above. As a general guideline, though, here’s how they break down as to Whimper vs. Bang.

Decline & Fall
Silent Spring
Global Warming

2nd US Civil War
Yellowstone Eruption

New Madrid Quake

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Movie meme from Grim

Found this over at Grim's & decided not to take up a huge chunk of space in his comments.

1. Name a movie you've seen more than 10 times.
Red Dawn. Conan the Barbarian. Starwars. Casablanca. RHPS. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

2. Name a movie you've seen multiple times in the theater.
Fellowship Of The Ring

3. Name an actor who would make you more inclined to see a movie.
Rutger Hauer, John Wayne, Bogie, Vin Diesel.

4. Name an actor who would make you less likely to see a movie.
Sean Penn, Alec Baldwinn, John Travolta, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Leo DiCaprio

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.
RHPS. Conan the Barbarian. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Princess Bride.

6. Name a movie musical, to which you know all the lyrics to all of the songs.
RHPS (♪Science fiction... double feature/Dr. X... will build a creature♪)

7. Name a movie with which you've been known to sing along.
Does calling responses in RHPS count?

8. Name a movie you would recommend everyone see.

9. Name a movie you own.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.
Ol' Blue Eyes impressed the heck out of me in "The Manchurian Candidate"

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids

12. Ever made out in a movie?
Nope. Hell, I've never even been in a movie, much less got a love scene in one. Or do you mean at the theater?

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it..

14. Ever walked out of a movie?
No, but had I been one of the ones driving when we went to see "Dead Ringers" back in college...

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.
My eyes might have gotten a bit damp during "We Were Soldiers" as they cut back & forth between the fighting & the notification teams. (Not that I'll admit it...)

16. Popcorn?
With tons of that artery-clogging fake butter, please!

17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?
Pretty rarely, actually.

18. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?
Been awile. Some sci-fi or action flick, no doubt.

19. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?
Sci-Fi, Action, Spook work or caper flicks are a plus assuming they aren't insulting my intelligence. (Oceans 1X series, I'm looking at you!)

20. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?
Something to do with folks looking for Bigfoot.

21. What movie do you wish you had never seen?
Seven Dwarfs To The Rescue. Roller Boogie. (Those two were at least seen via NOWFF) Dead Ringers

22. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

23. What is the scariest movie you've seen?
The Haunting (The bits with the cherubs was both subtle and freaky!)

24. What is the funniest movie you've seen?
Plan 9 From Outer Space

Cassandra's questions:

What was the last movie you saw at home?
Either Firefly or Blackhawk Down

If you had to name your top ten favorite movies of all time, what would they be? And why are they your favorites?
10 "xXx", a great pastiche of the Bond films, and a big tough guy who uses his brain more than his pecs.

9 "Pitch Black", again, a tough guy who uses his brains.

8 "Blackhawk Down", 'nuff said.

7 "13th Warrior", c'mon, you know the main characters were PCs... ("Right, we're playing GURPS Vikings and do a non-supernatural retelling of Beowulf." "My character is going to wear roman gladiator armor!" "So? Mine's going to have a Maximillian curaiss!" "I'm going to play an Arab poet!")

6 "Roman Polanski's Pirates" Very dry humor.

5 "Hitchhiker's Guide", true to the radio shows & the books in that it was different from both.

4 "Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow", wonderful visuals of 1930's alternatech.

3 "The Manchurian Candidate", wonderful Cold-War paranoia and Dr. Lo was a hoot.

2 "The Princess Bride", fun AND a good date flick.

1 "Casablanca", because it's just that good. Citizen Kane is overrated.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Modern dwelling maps

This evening your player's SWAT team are going to kick in the door of a crack house, or their cyberpunks are hitting a CEO in his house, or their counter-terrorist team is about to storm the apartment that Committee for the Use of Natural Terrain for Spiritualism is using as a safehouse to hide their hostage, and you realize that you haven't drawn up a map. Oh, bugger. And they'll be here in 15 minutes or so. Now, if you're lucky enough to have a copy of the Millennium's End GM's Companion, you've got an assortment of maps, but there's only so many in one book, and not all cities look like Miami. If only there were some webpage online that had an assortment of floorplans available, preferably one that takes regional building preferences into account... Oh, look! Here's one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pick Three Random Books...

A quick idea for a one-shot. Reach into your book-bag or gaming library and pick three titles at random, then base an adventure on it. Works best if your collection is varied without being too eclectic. My gaming group tried this once, and then abandoned the concept entirely the same night we came up with it after I pulled Cthulhupunk, Bio-Tech, and Bunnies & Burrows from the depths of my bookbag. (In my defense, I'd just picked up B&B earlier that day from a shop which didn't know what they had on their discount table...)