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.

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