View Full Version : [Brainstorming] Tips/ideas/quests for an apocalyptic setting

2008-12-13, 06:00 PM
As per thread title. Let's brainstorm some tips, ideas, quest ideas and so on for an apocalyptic setting. The setting can be modern or fantasy.

2008-12-13, 06:13 PM
The most basic - and, fortunately, most varied - one is "We need X."

This can be anything, and usually flows naturally from the state of the game and the wishes of the players.

- It can be a physical need: Medicine, weapons, ammunition, food, transportation, shelter, spare parts, specialized equipment, natural resources...
- It can be a need for people: Farmers, physicians, engineers, specialists, warriors, laborers, slaves, mechanics...
- It can be a less tangible need: Comfort, relaxation, training, allies, respect, influence...

There's a huge difference between a need for some AAA batteries and a need for an oil refinery and an oil field, or the need for a semi-permanent shelter and a need for enough stills, generators, and food production to support a community of a hundred.

A lot of the time, a simple, immediate need can be expanded. Right now, they need some ammunition for their weapons - but long-term, they're going to keep needing it, so they're going to require the many tools and materials necessary to make new bullets, and a gunsmith to go with them. This will expand to the need for a forge, a blacksmith, a smelting oven, a source of ore or metal... and so on and so on.

My favorite kind of survival game, conceptually, is one focused simply on the survival, and you can build an interesting, deep, and challenging game simply based around this. "We need something."

These simple tasks can be expanded in endless ways.
- We have to scavenge for something we need - in hostile or dangerous territory. On someone else's turf, near a radioactive crater, in a flooded subway tunnel, in an area overrun by dangerous animals, a boobytrapped house...
- We have to trade for something we need. Let's hope we don't get price-gouged ("Medicine, huh? Sure, we'll sell you a bottle of antibiotics for all your firearms"), betrayed, robbed, blackmailed... and let's hope we don't have to go on another separate "we need something" quest to find what they want in trade!
- We have to make something ourselves. That's means we need a whole lot of somethings!

2008-12-13, 06:25 PM
I've been working on a modern post-apoc setting, set a year or so after an economic collapse and massive flu epidemic in the United States that leaves the rest of the world mostly intact. So let's see what I've got in my notes so far. Infodump time!

General ideas on running the game
Craft skills are very important – if you want something, you probably have to make it yourself.
In formerly inhabited areas, Search is very important for salvaging.
Talk to each of the the players before the game to tell them how much they know about what's happened to the world. How much they know depends on the area their character came from, the area they start in, and a series of Gather Information and Knowledge checks (in Knowledge skills that they have ranks in) that they make before the game starts.
Characters have to periodically make Fortitude saves against disease, expecially in areas with a lot of inhabitants and little sanitation, or near plague victims (either alive or corpses).
There should be a lot of downtime outside of combat – time for crafting, time for survival and navigation checks, time for disease symptoms to manifest, etc.
Random encounters for the win. Make one encounter table each for urban, suburban, and rural areas. Have flexible categories of encounter in the table (e.g. “Military squad,” not “U.N. peacekeeping force” or “Former army squad”).
Hunger, thirst, and disease should be real threats.
There are a number of locations the characters could start in, because it's unlikely that they'd all just bump into each other while wandering around. A refugee camp, or a relatively intact city, would work well.

Dangers by area
Cities – relatively large numbers of people, often can find useful items of many types, but is very little food available (most already taken), more potential enemies
Suburbs – food available by Search, by Survival with more difficulty, lower but notable risk of hostile encounters, basic tools and such often available, shelter and firewood easy to get (lots of wooden houses)
Rural areas – food easily available IF good at Survival, need to make own shelter, tools available are whatever you can make out of wood.

Rural areas are, of course, better off than cities
Areas between cities are usually ravaged, quiet, seem depopulated. Sometimes refugee camps there. Ambushes are very probable in suburbs, because there are so many abandoned houses, and because there are still a fair amount of people still there, running out of food. Hunting works pretty well – fewer animals than in forests, but much less cover and concealment for them.

Remote communication
The national communications system should be very badly damaged. No phone service in most areas, definitely not in rural areas. Landlines might work in cities, cell phones might work in suburbs. Most of the Internet is down. However, some people (a major technology firm, the CIA, military bases, very rich and well-prepared investors) still run local nets – detecting a Wifi signal is basically a tip-off that some very powerful organization is nearby. One or more organizations (probably tech firm) downloaded basically the entire Internet before it went down. Other organizations (probably CIA looking for evidence of conspiracy/ other roots of collapse) want this information – quest to buy or steal it, quest to transport it back (carload of DVDs, lose part of reward for any data lost). Some radio stations still broadcast – mostly under the control of cults or gangs. Radio is best way to communicate and get long-range information, but won’t always get people, and having your signal triangulated by someone malevolent is very bad.

The monetary system
In rural areas, has switched entirely to barter and gold. In urban areas, varies.
The collapse caused at least partly by a collapse in the value of the dollar. The dollar is still often used in refugee camps because, even though everyone knows that it technically doesn’t have any real value, it’s easier to use than trading and they have more experience with it. Prices in dollars are mostly like those before the collapse. Use of the dollar is encouraged in government-run enclaves. Whether or not any given character actually accepts dollars as payment will vary. There will, of course, be people burning piles of dollars for warmth in areas where they aren’t commonly used, because that is a great image.
Characters can make Knowledge (Business) checks and/or Diplomacy and Appraise checks in bartering. Appraise lets you know if the trade is roughly fair, Diplomacy and Knowledge (Business) let you tilt the deal in your favor.
Ships from abroad are the only source of food in port cities, which are consequently the only sustainably populated cities. How you can pay for the food varies. Favors for the crew (e.g., find parts needed for repair so they aren’t stranded in a crippled country, get them waterway maps, bring a shipment of food to an inland enclave they have an arrangement with, etc.) are one option. Valuable materials (gold, jewelry, cars, weapons, etc.) may also work. Some crews may be slavers, and accept defeated enemies as payment. The crowds that come to get the food are often huge and dangerous, especially if the food is being given out free (such as by the U.N. or the Red Cross). You have to fight your way up to the ship if you want to get any food; Strength checks and bull rushes will be necessary.

What's the country like now?
New England – there are a lot of people trying to get across the border to Canada, with varying success. The Canadian government is trying to stem flow of refugees, especially because of risk of flu epidemic spreading. Combat against the Canadian army and/or border patrol is very possible, and the Canadian army may attack refugee camps set up too close to the border. A scene with a refugee camp being bombed with no idea that they were in any danger would be a great setpiece, and using Navigate checks to find the way out of the camp, Constitution checks to keep running, and Hide checks (plus Reflex saves) to avoid being strafed would work well.
Boston – anarchy. Food is brought directly to the port by Canadian ships, which tend to charge exorbitant prices. Go to the docks, and you WILL get robbed, very quickly. Various gangs/organizations fight for control of the food supply. On the plus side, the huge number of college kids means that a lot of technology still works – electricity is on in much of the city, you can get good doctors if pay enough, you can get experimental weapons and such. Gangs here are not stupid – they recruited lots of bright college kids, and can out-scheme you and usually outnumber you, and are in good physical shape.
New York – New York City is occupied by U.N. peacekeepers who are still struggling to keep the people fed, put down rioting – is relatively safe compared to others cities, b/c is port and can bring in food and there are peacekeepers, but still not a great place. The higher you go uptown, the more dangerous it is. Regular U.N. patrols are only in Manhattan and the rivers, so outer boroughs are much less controlled. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether the party can come across as local and/or desirable. An Army contingent operating from West Point resists U.N. control, and tries to provoke an uprising against them via radio communiqués and raids. Helping one side crush the other would be good long quest. Local hostility to the U.N. means that there are a lot of quests available – raids to seize weapons and plotters on behalf of the U.N., assassinating diplomats or ambushing patrols or blowing up buildings for the rebels. There are frequent U.N. actions throughout rest of state to secure or distribute supplies, save individuals, or attack people believed to be plotting against them. The U.N. also intervenes in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts. All these states are in pretty much the same boat as New York – high population density, so they are dangerous and there is a high demand for food. It's safest near the coast due to shipping, fishing, and U.N. ships; gets increasingly dangerous due to lack of food and presence of hungry people the further inland you go.
Pennsylvania – limited U.N. intervention occurs. Food can be gotten – farms are often plundered, though. As a result, farms that are still intact are often viciously defended, and trespassers tend to be shot without warning. High population density, so not too safe. Lots of people from cities and suburbs have spread out through the state trying to get food.
Philadelphia – much of the city is controlled by warring gangs, though parts of it either way outside or deep inside gang territory are relatively stable for the inhabitants. Access to food through port and airports is pretty good, though gangs will often launch mass attacks on people trying to buy food, both to take the food and to recruit new members. When multiple rival gangs attack simultaneously, degenerates into free-for-all between gangs, civilians, and ship crews.
Washington D.C. – why not take the easy way out and say that it's a smoking crater? That way you don't have to justify the central government's ineffectiveness.
Georgia – food isn’t too dire, because of widespread agriculture. Still, price-gouging occurs and stealing produce is dangerous. Lots of military bases, which contribute to stability – occasionally the bases launch patrols to try to stabilize area and to get food. Low on gas for vehicles, so usually held in reserve – though having the party face an approaching line of tanks would be a great moment. Stopping a corrupted base commander from plundering/ massacring local people would be good quest. Very desirable technology and equipment available at bases, but getting it is hard – assaulting the base is extremely dangerous, security is very good because there is nothing else for the soldiers to do, and the base commander is unlikely to sell you anything unless you get the base something very desirable in return. Returning a base commander’s wife or child kidnapped by a cult would be good quest.
Atlanta – Atlanta has always been a highly religious city, and as the collapse worsened many violent cults sprang up. Various religious groups fight for control of the city, and because they have pretty good weapons most of the city is in ruins. Hunger is severe for civilians, because the cults have taken most of the available food. A few churches give charity food, but people are leery of it because cultists poisoned charity food a few times. Cults used to give out drugged food to get recruits; most people have since wised up. Food is available from the Caribbean and South America by ship, but ships tend to avoid the city unless radioed very good offers. This is because some of the cultists have artillery and do not want foreigners around. The ships said cultists sunk make navigation hazardous.
Florida – not safe. Tons of wild animals, including a fair amount of dangerous snakes, cougars, and alligators. Food is easily available through hunting and from abandoned orange groves. Disease is epidemic, especially malaria. Survivors are heavily armed and often organized. Supplies are available from the Caribbean, and a lot of people have tried to flee to Caribbean islands. The seas south of Florida are jammed with boats (some with survivors in them, many without). Have a hurricane occur while the group is there, decimating what’s left of the state.
Jacksonville – run by the army. All citizens have been put to work by them, and there are patrols to make sure no one escapes the city. Fortunately, many of the soldiers are often going through the countryside gathering food, so there are sometimes holes in the patrols.
Cape Canaveral Space Center is a heavily guarded technological enclave; they are trying to bring U.S. space shuttle crew back, but so far either the ocean has been too dangerous for the splashdown (multiple hurricanes) or moving the crew inland seemed too dangerous. This is a good quest for the party – get the crew in exchange for nice high-tech equipment. Good weapons, medical supplies, advanced vehicles (e.g. helicopters), maybe even powered armor. Allied with Cape Canaveral aerospace centers, which are the easiest way to get flown out of the country.
New Orleans – levees bombed, much of the city is now traversed mainly by boat. Mostly depopulated at the moment. People subsist by fishing. The city has a feel that’s somewhere between Venice and the Old West. A lot of people want to be there because it is stable but there is no law enforcement left, and the traditional entertainment industries are very much intact. A mafia-like coalition of business owners runs the city.

Where is it safe? Where should the party try to go?
Sufficiently isolated rural areas in the U.S., especially ones where there is self-sufficient community that you can settle into. Parts of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and much of the far west fit the bill.
Canada is pretty safe, if you can get across the border, and find a place to stay, and don’t get deported or imprisoned as an illegal immigrant, and the flu epidemic doesn’t follow you.
Caribbean islands and South America are relatively stable – won’t welcome Americans, but if you can afford to and the government and locals let you, you can live there. Mexico isn’t stable, as the flu epidemic has spread there and there is a civil war between a coalition of drug gangs and the government,.
Europe – if you can fly or get onto a ship to go there, and aren’t deported because of the flu epidemic risk, it's a great place to live. There are few cargo ships coming from Europe to the U.S.; most of the food supply ships are from South America. Your best bet for European ships is around New York, because of the U.N. supply ships. All ships that are bringing food to the U.S. are heavily guarded due to risk of piracy and attacks on shore, flu and other diseases being spread, theft of food. If can get on a ship, hiding from the crew until get close enough to shore to disembark will work. Won’t be able to convince any crew to let you get on board and go back to their country with them, no matter what you roll for Diplomacy, unless do quite a lot for them.

2008-12-13, 06:36 PM
The kind of apocalyptic setting will greatly influence the style of game.

Fantasy will be different from a modern-day or Sci-Fi.
Was the apocalypse brought about by war, famine, disease, economic reason, or if it's fantasy was it magical, or divine or whatever.

Any more info on what kind of apocalypse has befallen?

2008-12-13, 06:45 PM
For a more fantasy based setting I would suggest Scarred Lands or Dark Sun both great fantasy settings. If your looking for a more Fallout feel d20 apocalyptic is really cool and has some nifty ideas.

Quest wise it really depends on which direction you go with it. In a fantasy post end of the world type game the party could be in search of a evil ancient epic level mages tome who was a master of chronomancy.

Or for a more modern feel you could focus on basic survival in the harsh wasteland that was once a thriving ecosystem. A town building game in a post apocalyptic setting would be interesting and present a great deal of plot hooks for you to work in.