Wednesday, February 25, 2009

[RPGs] Campaign idea: Necropolis

Once again, my brain is clogged with ideas for campaigns I'd like to run, and I've got to at least type them up here if I'm ever going to be able to think about anything else. So, today, I'd like to show off a concept that's very clearly the result too much Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3.

I'll come right out and say it: This would be a zombie game. I will shout to the goddamned hilltops that zombies are the most overused trope since pirates and ninjas, but dammit, I think cool stuff can still be done with them. And, since the focus of this game ain't really on the zombies themselves, going with something more original might actually be counterproductive.

Anyway, the deal here is that it's two years or so after a plague of zombieism swept across the globe, effectively ending civilization as we know it. Governments and infrastructures fell, countless billions died, etc. You know the drill. I think my zombies will be the result of a macroscopic parasite (something that slithers into a corpse's mouth is a lot more interesting than another invisible virus, in my opinion) of either extraterrestrial, artificial, or antediluvian origins. Infested corpses would become stupid-but-vicious automatons, concerned only with feeding on the fluid contents of any vertebrate life they sense, and then vomiting a black soup of embryonic parasites all over whatever's left. When not in the presence of any acceptable prey, they'd roam for a bit, and eventually fall dormant, waiting. They wouldn't feel fear or pain, and could only be "killed" by the destruction of the parasite within the skull and upper spinal column, but would be (in most cases) somewhat more fragile than a living human, and would assiduously avoid direct sunlight. So what we've got now is a world of dead cities where every shadowy place full of ragged lumps that will immediately lurch to their feet at the slightest sound, chasing down and tearing open any living human they can.

Now, as bad as all this sounds, humanity is still hanging on. Even coming back. The zombies are dangerous--and, worse, staggeringly numerous--but they're extremely limited. And once people know their limitations, it's possible to live with the dead.

This game would center around a survivor community in the middle of a large city who are managing to do exactly that. While old population centers are now teeming with the undead, large buildings are an effective defense against them. So this settlement would be on the upper floors of a skyscraper, with the lower floors devoted largely to a system of barricades. The inhabitants would subsist on produce grown in rooftop gardens and canned food obtained on daytime expeditions through the perilous city below.

Now, the real gimmick here is that the players would actually take on the role of the whole population of the settlement. I'd generate 40 or 50 regular people--including name, sex, age, race, occupation, Myers-Briggs personality type, and simplified Fate system stats--with this insane TableSmith application I've cobbled together, and that would be the whole community. The players would share this whole pool of PCs, playing whoever they want, even controlling multiple characters at once. They could also add to the population by rescuing and incorporating lone survivors and smaller groups.

So, like I mentioned, the zombies won't really take center stage in this game. Really, it'd all be about running and improving the community itself. Managing exhaustible resources (including food, medical supplies, and the population itself), setting up things like farms and generators and plumbing, arming the populace and maintaining the settlement's defenses, dealing with other human communities that might have different ideas about how to survive the apocalypse, etc. The zombies themselves would be more of an environmental threat than actual antagonists. You'll have to fight some when you go out on scavenging runs, but it's what you gain (and potentially lose) on those runs--and what use you put it to!--that really matters.

System wise, I'd use a hacked, slightly simplified Spirit of the Century. There'd be no stress tracks, so every hit a character takes in a conflict would go straight to Consequences. The skill list would be a bit truncated, and each character would start out with a randomly-generated skill pyramid of variable size (customizable by the players in order to make it fit their generated occupation better than it otherwise might). Each character would get just three Aspects, starting with their occupation and personality type, with an open slot for players to define whenever they feel like. There'd be no Stunts at all, so some Stunt effects would just be folded into skills (medicine and tracking come to mind).

Characters wouldn't have Fate Points, but the players would. They'd get a refresh rate of three each. They'd be encouraged to self-compel to pick up Fate Points whenever they can, so saying out of the blue "This guy's an alcoholic, so when he's called to go on this run, he shows up drunk." is a totally legitimate move. What's more, if you voluntarily take a Consequence while attempting an action ("How about this guy twists his angle while climbing through the rubble looking for salvage?"), that'll get you a Fate Point to spend immediately on that same action. Finally, when one of the players' survivor community dies, all players get a Fate Point each.

If you're getting the idea that all of this would encourage the players to play the survivors as a bunch of expendable extras who have lots of problems and get hurt a lot, you're catching on.

Now, since the community itself it the real focus of the game, I'm thinking it might have stats of its own. Not too certain on this one yet. I really love Rob Donoghue's organization rules, but I don't think they're exactly right for this job. A very small post-apocalyptic community should probably be represented much more simply, after all. I'd just need players to roll for stuff like whether or not the barricades are manned properly, or how many people they can muster for a scavenging run. And I'd like to track resources like food, medical supplies, and technical materials, too. Not sure if those should be skills or stress tracks, really.

Another thing I want to try would be something like long-term D&D-style skill challenges to handle big community-improvement projects. The players could assign characters to a jobs, and then make daily skill rolls for them, marking off their successes along some kind of progress track. This could be used for stuff like getting the elevators running, teaching all the able-bodied adults how to shoot, building a bridge out to a neighboring building, researching the causes of the zombie outbreak, searching the city for a specific kind of item, or even establishing a system of government.

I think another big element of this game would be random generation. I'm already dedicated to randomly-generated PCs, so why not randomly-generated zombie encounters, community problems, and scavenge hauls? Maybe. Maybe.

So, anyway, the whole thing is a big, sprawling, unwieldy idea that I'll probably never get to use. But I really love it.


Wood said...

2 years ? Are the zombies actually rotting ? How come they still hold together ? There isn't much left of a corpse, after two year...

Matt Sheridan said...

A very good point! I think the parasite animating the body would have to establish its own immune system throughout the body in order to replace the old one.

Metz said...

I think it'd be great if there was some way to incorporate a "survivor morale" mechanic.

Something you could use to determine if, and how many, suicides/ "I don't wanna build the interstate railway... I'm sad" effects happen on an attempted mission.

Matt Sheridan said...

Yeah, I'm thinking that one of the community stats would be something like "Spirit". Although again I'm not sure if it should be a skill or a stress track. Maybe just a skill that's always in danger of being lowered by things like character deaths and food shortages, and can be raised by things like finishing projects and rescuing people.

gamefiend said...

This could easily be used to run "The Walking Dead" game.

Metz said...

While a stress track seems logical to begin with, I think a skill track is your best bet.

To whit, it isn't really the overall community that you're worried about. It's only the people capable of doing anything to improve (or maintain) your current situation. If you handled it as a penalty to skill tracks, ostensibly derived from a roll to determine overall losses, then you could reflect the loss of people actually capable of effecting the refuge in the long term.