Masada's Redoubt, part five — prepping to run

I've talked to 3 out of four potential players, our podcast is going to add a new cast member so I'll wait and talk to them to see if they want in as the fourth player, I've put together a spreadsheet to track all the things I've been talking about in this series, and I've put together an outline for what I want to happen in the first session. Oh, and I even have the first session scheduled! For February. Because we schedule one month ahead. Thank goodness.

Hopefully my players aren't going to read this particular post, or if they do they're bad at meta-gaming, because I'm going to talk about this first session I'm planning. 

Since the campaign is really about setting up the enclave, I don't want to do an enclave creation session, which would traditionally be the first session. So what I'm planning is to start the players out at the end of Operation Utility in the last site they were working to shut down. They'll have a certain amount of resources left (NPCs, vehicles, and other materiel) and then Gnat's Whisper comes down and they should realize they're all fucked. At least in terms of getting back to the Recession. 

If the players immediately move to 'we have to find somewhere and hole up,' I can just proceed forward. Otherwise time for Masada to walk in and give a speech. I should probably write that out, or at least write the first paragraph and outline the rest — if I don't, I'll have a hard time improvising in the moment. Knowing myself. Also at this point, I'll have to see if they choose to loot the retro-virology lab I'm starting them in and, if they do, whether they go for short-term medical supplies or long-term laboratory supplies. The specific supplies  won't affect the rest of this session but is all about what happens in future sessions. How long they spend looting will affect this session though, which I'll get into later.

Then a Red Markets Leg — loot a hardware store, loot a grocery store, or skip? The plan is that loot from the hardware store will improve the odds of the future enclave having enough housing and a working dock for fishing vessels. The grocery store will allow the enclave to feed itself for a little bit. Either option takes time. I'm thinking the hardware store could be looted in the next session without too much of the potential Haul going bad. The grocery store on the other hand... well it has been about two months since the Crash started, so the perishables have all perished. I guess the canned foods would still be good and the potential total Haul should stay the same... Oh! Hardware stores have garden centers — I should let the enclave get vegetable gardening going off of loot from the hardware store. Actually, I should make the players choose between what they're looting: tools, lumber, or gardening supplies.

And then we're on to the main meat of the scenario, in my mind—the docks. This is where how long players have spent looting is going to matter. The set up is that there about 200 civilians on the docks and they players have to choose how they're going to deal with them: 1) fuck off to the island they've chosen to set up an enclave on and tell people to meet them there, 2) split the party with half staying to check the civilians for bites then evacuating them and half going ahead to the island, or 3) hold the docks for the checks for bites and evacuation. What the players shouldn't know is that there's been a countdown timer ticking down based on how long they've spent looting and when it reaches zero, an attack of Vectors at the docks. If they're smart, they'll have someone on watch and see it coming. But any rate, the options:

Option one gets them an easier time clearing the island of zombies—I'll have everything on the island have dropped into torpor so they can walk through, coup de gracing everything without using ammunition. But very few people are going to make it off the docks with few boats to actually populate the enclave. Well, not everyone died on the docks, I'll have a few boats floating in the area where everyone died from someone going Vector on the boat. That will give me a vignette or two plus maybe a job for the players to deal with those consequences: a boat running aground on their island or having to board and clear to get the boat for the enclave fishing fleet before it does run aground. 

Option two has two sub-options: the players hold the docks and the NPCs clear the island or vice versa. Either way, the zombies on the island will come out of Torpor during the push to clear the island. If the players clear the island, they'll have to clear as many zombies as possible and then fight the ones that come out of Torpor, the NPCs at the docks will loose 4 people and get about half the boats and population available evacuated. If the NPCs clear the island, I'll have the team loose 2 NPCs while the number of civilians and boats that make it to the island is determined by how long the players hold the docks. I'll give them a couple rounds to set up barricade, X number of civilians get onto boats per round, and the question is, what do they do and how long do they hold the docks. I think this will be the nastiest Vector attack.

Option three gets the most people evacuated before the Vector attack and they'll need to hold the docks for the fewest rounds to get everyone evacuated. But then they have to immediately go into the fight to clear the island and get the fewest rounds with the zombies in Torpor. Although theoretically they should have the largest number of NPCs as support.

Here's hoping I can keep this session appropriately bleak and tense. You know, my biggest weaknesses as a GM—and why I'm challenging myself this way.

Masada's Redoubt, part four — economy

A friend on Facebook had a really useful comment (thanks David!)  to my first post in this series, namely that it sounded like I wanted a reputational economy. I certainly do now. 

First, I know I want this tied to politics and players' rank. Second, I think I need to leave this in the background rather than an explicit system that the players know about. My thinking here is that this will all be occurring in a society where there's been a massive decrease in technology. The information web doesn't exist to track all the interactions that go into an explicit system like the one seen in Eclipse Phase. So the reputational economy in Masada's Redoubt is more informal and small town-esque. Which means run on gossip, really.

So I think I need to track the general attitude towards my players' characters, given them bonus or penalties in the background to persuasion checks when they argue for doing one job over another and other such enclave business, and make sure to give them rep spots (an already existing mechanic for reputation outside of enclaves) when warranted.

Really, it's time for me to sit down and build a spreadsheet to do my math / tracking of the enclave building subsystems I've outlined in the previous posts. Before I start loosing information from my head.  

Masada's Redoubt, part three — location

First of all, I owe an apology to all my readers on the West Coast. In my first post, I said I remember there being a bunch of islands off the coast near Portland. Portland is not on the coast. I was thinking of Seattle (or should have been). At least my memory of Puget Sound being on the West Coast was correct...

From cruising around Google Maps a bit now, I think I'll start the campaign here:

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There's a bunch of small islands to start on (small being easier to clear off) which should, if I recall my climate science correctly, be sheltered from the worst of ocean weather by the honking huge island known as Vancouver Island to the west and relatively easy access to the Pacific fishing grounds with that strait between the western part of Washington state and Vancouver Island.

Plus, if the enclave does well and gets ambitious, they can work on clearing all the casualties off all of Vancouver Island for living or agriculture area. Also, to the southeast are the connected (ish?) islands of Fidalgo, Whidbey, and Camano, all of which are in fact islands (or will be when the roads wash out) but easily connectable to the mainland. Good staging ground raids on the mainland or beginning to clear it out.

Also, given the proximity to the part of Canada that didn't get nuked, I think I'll be able to work in some interesting things mixing up the population between Americans and Canadians. Plus the politics between American and Canadian enclaves.

Masada's Redoubt, part two

Infrastructure! The word I couldn't for the life of me remember on that list of things I needed to keep track of was infrastructure. Sheesh.  

So time to walk through that Food stat I said I would last post. My initial thoughts came in bullet point format, which I'll just reproduce here:

  • Short-Term Supplies
  • Industries: Farming, gardening, fishing, foraging, preserving
    • necessary infrastructure
    • how much adds to:
      • human resources required
      • supplies generated per month
  • Effect on
    • morale
    • health
    • imports required
    • exports generated

Except, picture these hand written, less organized, and with little arrows between things. Keep in mind that I'm not sure how much of this is actually going to be conveyed to players and how often I'm just going to say things like "the enclave's supplies of food are getting low. You've got enough for a month or two, but if the fish harvest is low or there's a problem in preservation, you're gonna be in trouble."  

On to specifics. My thinking is that short-term supplies should just tick down by a set amount per X number (probably 100) of people in the enclave per month. Each industry should have two stats: the number of people working the industry and how much it adds to the short-term supply per month. Huh, maybe I should just rename 'short-term supply ' to 'supply' and fold the preserving industry into all of the others—you have to preserve the food (as appropriate to the food type) for it to add to supply. Obviously I need to have the players bring in the appropriate supplies (preservation, tools, or other wise) to improve the industry, but after that, I should probably leave it as flavor. 'Necessary infrastructure' is what the industry needs the players to bring in from outside because, for one reason or another, the enclave doesn't have access otherwise. I think I should rename this to 'Needs and Wants' and keep in mind that it can be materials, information (how-to particularly), and/or people (trained or untrained). And, to keep from having the same term refer to a subset under Food and a section all on its own, I'll rename Industries here to sectors.

On the effects section, I think these are derived stats and probably not anything the players need to see. I might let them, if they're interested, but given the over the internet set-up of our games/campaigns, I don't expect them to want to. It's just harder to share or peruse extra materials in the online set-up (in my experience). My thinking on morale and health was that the same food, day in and day out, isn't great from a nutritional or life-enjoyment stand point. Not to mention the hit to morale that starving to death is. I'm thinking that if the players keep the various industries in a reasonable balance, there shouldn't be any hits to morale or health from Food. Meanwhile, bringing home unexpected luxuries (like a score of sugar, some protein that the enclave doesn't usually see, or the material to start a new venture within the agriculture sector [why are chickens the first thing I think of?!]) should provide a temporary boost to morale. Imports, to the Food sector, should be something nutritionally missing from the enclave (and ought to provide the players ideas, if I'm GMing right) while exports could be any individual industry producing more supply per month than consumed. I am definitely going to have to keep an eye on the enclave population.

So after thinking through stuff as part of this post, the redone list of things under 'Food' looks like this:

  • Supplies
  • Sectors: Farming, gardening, fishing, foraging
    • needs and wants
    • manpower required
    • supplies generated per month
    • exports generated
  • Imports required
  • Effect on
    • morale
    • health

And that's more or less what the behind the scenes stats for the enclave I'm planning to keep are going to look like. I'll make a post about all of them once I think through everything and talk about how I'm planning to have them interact with each other, but the next post will be about location.

Project Development: getting my GM on

As if I don't have enough projects on my plate, active or waiting in the wings, I have an idea for a campaign I really want to run on my podcast. So in the interests of actually trying to get this idea into the light and make it happen, I'm going to chronicle my developing it on this blog. At least for a few posts. I don't know how many posts it will take me to get it where I need to actually start testing it with people / running the game. Or far enough along that I wouldn't want my players to get some insider knowledge. Or I hit the point where I really need their input.

Wow, I'm babbling a bit. Eh, this post at least is going to be stream of consciousness-esque.

Okay, so I want to run a Black Math game in Red Markets, but with a bit of a twist. First, Black Math in RM is a type of cult who's main ethos is that for humanity to survive some people need to take on the burden of killing as many zombies as possible. Because every human who dies is potentially a zombie who will kill more people and bringing in reinforcements to the human side takes at least fifteen years. If you're willing to put kids on the zombie killing line. Basically, it's a cult about upping your Kills to Death (K/D) ratio. A Black Math game would be a campaign where all the players are members of Black Math.

The twist I want to play with is that the leader of this particular branch of Black Math is all about the long-term. None of this going out in a blaze of glory with "a significant subtraction" — it's your duty to last as long as you can in order to build a sustainable community which can methodically eliminate zombies, reclaim territory, and survive against the American Recession government whenever the T-Minus Never comes.

First, I developed the leader of this group, bouncing ideas off of Partner and here's what we came up with. This person is an IDF soldier who was over in Colorado training American troops as part of an exchange program when the Crash went down. They were swept up into Operation Utility, in a company pushing west from Colorado, securing a variety of sites and moving on to the next. When Gnat's Whisper went out, the company was down to a couple squads, they were in command through attrition and knowing what the heck they were doing, and were going by the name Masada. Masada's reaction to the Whisper was basically a 'no shit, what else were you idiots expecting? Come on, we have another site to secure.'

Second, I figured that after surviving Operation Utility, they'd want somewhere very defensible. I remembered that there's a bunch of islands off of the West Coast, near Portland and figured an island would fit the bill nicely. So, I'm going to need to site down with Google Maps at some point soonish and pick out an island I think you could fit 500 (ish) people to live on. Not necessarily grow crops for 500 people on, just shove them all on the island.

Third, what did I want this campaign to be about? Well, I want it to be about building this long-term plan for the community. Which is slightly off from the ethos of RM, so there's going to have to be a lot of hacks / sub-system I build on-top of the current system to make this game. Which is going to be the majority of what I'll end up writing about in these blog posts, I expect. There's already rules in Red Markets for long-term investments, small businesses, and group retirements, so I don't think this is directly contrary to the assumptions of the game. But I do think I need to really think things through before we get to the table.

I also know I want to start the game from year one, basically right as the Crash is happening and you need to scramble to keep build your enclave. So I know I'm going to need to think through what sort of loot is available for the players to bring back to the enclave and how that changes over time.

I need to figure out the set of things the enclave needs to develop to become self-sufficient. The things that need to happen so everyone doesn't die in the short-term and how those help or hinder setting up long-term solutions. I'm planning on having the players be Takers in the original sense of the word in game, so they aren't going to be making bounty to upkeep their gear — which means I need a system in place to represent how much the community can put towards keeping them and their gear in functional order (whatever I set up for this, I'm going to call this 'stat' Support).

My initial list of things I'll need to track are:

  • Defense
  • Housing
  • Food
  • Industry
  • Support
  • Morale
  • Internal social structures

I'll walk through an example for Food next post (hopefully Monday), because I think that's going to be the easiest way to think through and illustrate how I currently think things will work. But before I go I do have some thoughts on the internal economy of Masada's Redoubt (because obviously that's what it named itself in my head) — a cross between a kibbutz and American military socialism. Don't argue with me, the American military, internally anyway, is fairly hierarchically socialist. Your housing, food, shelter, and medical care are supposed to be provided by the state actor (the military) plus you have an assigned job according to your abilities and training. What else is an IDF soldier commanding American troops going to use as a governmental model? Yes, military training to the point of self-defense (as well as defending any other civilians, particularly children) is mandatory for citizenship. I think I may need to dig into how Israel and Switzerland do compulsory military service. And I blame having read Starship Troopers at a semi-formative age. Heinlein's always blamable :P