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From the Future


Starforged: The Whole Truth(s)

Published May 24, 2023
Ironsworn Starforged Observation Deck

Part of the brilliance of Ironsworn: Starforged is that it walks you through a session zero experience you might otherwise overlook when playing solo. (Hopefully those you playing in the cooperative or guided modes are doing a session zero?) I’ve read too many accounts of solo players who created a character and then were left stuck as to what to do next. Had they done the prep a GM would typically do with a group through a session zero the options to move forward would have been much clearer. Of all the things Ironsworn does well, I think this is probably the most brilliant one.

The activity that does most of the session zero” heavy lifting is called Choose Your Truths.” Going through the truths exercise will help you clearly say this is in” and this is out.” It establishes all kinds of fiction” that is critically important in a game that leans heavily on you knowing the fictional state of the game world inside and out.

Many players I see seem to jump right into the 14 categories that you are intended to interact with:

  • Cataclysm
  • Exodus
  • Communities
  • Iron
  • Laws
  • Religion
  • Magic
  • Communication and Data
  • Medicine
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • War
  • Lifeforms
  • Precursors
  • Horrors


What concerns me is how little discussion I see of the default truths” and many of these are doozies when it comes to your game world. In some ways it is great that Starforged wears these on its sleeve in a this is the universe of The Forge, take it or leave it.” For many of us though, we are wanting to use Starforged to emulate a popular media property or even have different ideas of what, to steal a Traveller community phrase, In My Forge” means. I think the back of the book should have had a supplemental exercise to help you set the default assumptions” or dials of the setting.

Let’s review the Default Assumptions (Page 81) and better understand what they imply for your game world:

This is a perilous future. Two centuries ago, your people fled a cataclysm and settled a distant galaxy they call the Forge. This is a chaotic place full of dangers and mysteries.

I understand that this is the schtick of Ironsworn setting as well but what if you want to play in the world of Mindjammer? There’s been no cataclysm or mass migration event - instead humans have been slowly and methodically expanding and exploring the space further and further out from the core. A cataclysm implies a certain set of post-apocalyptical tropes that you may not be interested in exploring at all.

This is a lonely future. With some possible exceptions (that you’ll identify as part of your own truths), humans are the only known intelligent life in this galaxy. Others once lived here, but only mysterious and perilous vaults remain to mark their legacy.

This assumption rules out thriving sentient aliens that your PCs will interact with. I think it is a curious omission for a game that already features an extensive set of oracles for effectively generating aliens (“creatures”) that could be just as diverse as those in Farscape, Star Trek, or Star Wars.

This is a diverse future. There is a vibrant mix of people and cultures among the humans of the Forge.

This is pretty standard science-fiction fare with the exception of some very dark science-fiction that explores what happens when bioengineering sexists/racists/fascists get their way. You might want to grapple with those problems in your universe though and again it feels like something that should have a dial.

This is a far-flung future. Settlements lie scattered and often isolated from one another. Your starship can travel at faster-than-light speeds, but it’s ponderously slow at a cosmic scale.

We’re tossing highly-populated sci-fi settings out the window here: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Mindjammer, Star Wars, etc. We’re also introducing FTL which can be problematic if you want the far-flung nature of The Expanse but without the jump-drives.

This is an unexplored future. Discoveries await. Even in settled regions, much of the Forge is unknown and uncharted.

This assumption seems to be result of the cataclysm - civilization migrated here with the shirts on their back and not much else. It would have been nice to have a dial between everything is a scouting mission” and well there’s the unknown regions over there if you want to go exploring but I’m going to stay right here on my planet with over 1 billion humans living on it because there’s plenty of challenging work to be found.”

This is a wondrous future. The Forge is a galaxy of ancient mysteries, spacefaring creatures, startling phenomenon, and other marvels.

Pretty standard this is space operatic sci-fi” assumptions. You might want to de-emphasize this assumption if your game is more about *punk (cyber, solar, noir, etc) themes.

This is a retro-future. Envision the technology you wield as only slightly advanced over today’s real-world technologies—or even a step back in many ways. Resources are scarce, and the people of the Forge must cobble together what they can.

I think the popular media term for this is Cassette Futurism and I’m all-in but someone might prefer the technology mind-fuck that is Mindjamemr where even your gun may have strong feelings about whether or not they’d like to engage in combat.

This is an unjust future. Those in power hoard resources, control technologies, and impose their will on others through force or cunning. Others must stand against these forces of imperialism and oppression.

A mostly universal sci-fi trope, even across a wide variety of settings I’m aware of. What happens when you use good” technology for bad.” There is certainly sci-fi that plays down this trope but even the utopia of Star Trek is challenged every few episodes or so.

This is a hopeful future. Despite these challenges, hope remains. Fulfilling your sworn vows is a realization of that hope.

While I love this truth I feel like whoever wrote it must have been playing on a day where the dice were uncharacteristically in their favor. Still I’m thankful Starforged didn’t ship as yet-another-“grimdark” RPG even if The Forge is trying very, very hard to be all dark and edgy” (cataclysms, chaos, emptiness, voids) like your best friend in High School.

If you are going to customize the Truth’s exercise (and thus The Forge”) you have to start with peeling these default assumptions back because they feed into every one of the 14 Truths you will pick in the next phase (and many of the assets and oracles.)

I personally wish Starforged had shipped with those tools out-of-the-box because the default setting of The Forge is so highly opinionated that I imagine it alienates some players who were hoping to explore other sci-fi themes. To be fair to the game, it is often very easy to re-flavor many of these assumptions (“FTL) into something that works better for your setting. Some though, like the lonely, human-centric future” are harder because the concepts are built directly into settlement generation oracles. I don’t think it is impossible to re-skin Starforged but providing a small chapter or section on things to consider would have been most welcome.

Upheaval, "Let's go Bowling!", Episode 4

Published April 13, 2023
Episodes THW All Things Zombie Campaigns Upheaval

Catherine grabs a backpack, one she used to use for day hiking but is now only interested cramming whatever loot they can find from the bowling alley, drug outlet, pet supply, clothing store, and taco joint at the Harmony Plaza.

Douglas checks over his gear and hands a baseball bat to Catherine. The less we shoot, the better I think.” Catherine reluctantly takes the bat because she knows that this means getting in close to the horrible things they’ve seen. She shoves the bat into the bag, with the knob sticking out. Then she eyes the assault rifle slung over Douglas’ back The less we shoot, huh?”

It is a windy day in the area around Harmony and dust is being kicked up around the edges of Route 68, the road that leads to east towards the Plaza.

Pop, Pop, Pop Pop Pop”

Douglas and Catherine look at each other and then their surroundings. The Plaza is further down the road and there’s little cover where they are.

That gunfire is coming from up the road, probably the Plaza.” says Douglas as he indicates with his hands that they should start running.

They kneel down and find some cover along short wall that surrounds the Plaza’s parking lot. There’s a pair of people with machine pistols ducking in and out from the drug store. Another is kneeling down behind a car that has the windows busted out, doors mostly ajar, and the trunk wide open. On the opposite end of the parking lot is a group of three behind various bits of cover, two of which have assault rifles pointed back at the drug store.

Douglas peeks over the wall again and ducks back down. I recognize the group at the drug store with the orange armbands. Roman’s bike gang.”

Bad news?”

Roman is not good at playing with others.”

Should we go help the other side out?”

Yes but I think we should stay on this side - put fire on them from both directions.”

Douglas waits for the drug store men to shoot again and as they do he puts three rounds into a figure by the doorway. Catherine shots at the one by the car, misses, but it forces them to run for cover. The folks wielding assault rifles sieze the opportunity and drop another gang member by the door. The last gang member makes a run for it.

Catherine and Douglas crawl around to the other side and meet up with the people they’ve aided. Before any pleasantries can be exchanged two groans of two zombies are heard crossing the road nearby. Douglas makes quick work of one with his knife while another man bashes the head of the other zed in with the butt of his assault rifle.

Nice shooting earlier, appreciate the help.”

You fought with Roman’s gang before?”

Nah, we showed up looking to loot and they were here first. I tried to talk to them but they insisted on shooting. Dumb.” he motions at the dead zeds The shooting just attracts them.”

Douglas looks over the group of three, two assault rifles and shotgun between them. You are rather geared up for a fight.”

It is becoming harder and harder to find stuff out here, people gettin’ nasty.”

Catherine moves into the conversation. Anyone else here when you showed up?” She looks around the parking lot for Gray & Thomas’ truck but doesn’t see it.

No one in the bowling alley, there’s not much left in there. We were getting ready to cross over to the other stores when those folks started shooting. One of them did yell at us they were always willing to take more captives.”

Catherine shoots a concerned look at Douglas. Douglas puts his knife away, slings the assault rifle over his back, and readies his pistol. I think we’ll check the drug store for our friends. We can share any meds that are left.” The group of survivors nod in agreement and they move on to loot the clothing store.

The glass doors and windows are shot out entirely from the drug store. Much of the broken glass is on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.

Doug peers inside and sees a lone remaning orange arm band gang member towards the back of the store. They are shakily holding a gun up and behind them are Gray & Thomas, you’ve had their mouths and hands duct-taped.

Don’t come any closer!” shouts a wary looking figure, who looks to be in their teens.

Ok, ok. Calm down. No one else needs to die today, kid. Let’s say you and me make deal.”

The teenager looks around, angling to get look over Douglas shoulder. Behind Douglas, Catherine has a pistol trained on the teen, and behind her one of the assault rifle folks from before has come to check out the disturbance. Yeah… yeah we can do that.”

I’ve got a nice bottle of whiskey here, it can be all yours. Go back to your friends, split it, and maybe you’ll get the better of me next time.”

Two more of the survivors show up in the back and the teen eagerly nods his head. He approaches the ground in front of Doug carefully, where Doug has taken the bottle of whiskey out from Catherine’s backpack and set it down. He grabs the bottle and looks around before hastily exiting the store.

Catherine runs over to Gray & Thomas and works to remove the duct-tape. We were worried about you!”

We’ve been hunkered down at home but Thomas needed to refill his prescription. I didn’t realize things had gotten so dire.”

Thomas picks up a couple bottles of pills from the ground and shakes them Got my refill though.”

The four of them hug and gather their things. Douglas and Catherine head behind the counter and find some common antibiotics to take. They thank the other survivors again for their help and head out to the parking lot.

So, I hate to ask but where’s your truck?” ask Douglas

Taken from us the moment we pulled up into the parking lot. There were too many guns pointed in my face to say no.” says Gray.

Douglas nods in understand. I lost my car a few days ago, same way.”

Think anyone might have left their dirt bikes at the Redwood Lights Track?” asks Catherine.

Doug holsters his pistol and looks out in the direction of the track. The hill with the radio station is between them and the track. In Douglas head there are flashes of gun fire, the sound of a knife stabbing through flesh, and the steady growling and scratching sounds of the undead. Could have. Worth a look.”

GM Notes

Another Find Encounter today. The first PEF rolled up as our PCs coming upon a Confrontation already in-progress between two other groups. ATZ: Evolution doesn’t have met before?” test from 5150 New Beginnings but it is painless to bring it over. The Survivors and Gangers had never met each other before, our PCs had never met the Survivors, but Douglas had met the Gangers before (having either worked with them or against them in his past criminal life.)

While this part of the map is pretty rural, I upped the level of this place to suburban for the encounter rules. Too many stores and too high of chance that the drug store would not have prized loot. Given all of the multi-shot weapons play it is lucky all of the gunfire didn’t spawn more than two zeds.

Because our PCs helped out the survivors this gave them an Interaction bonus which I was able to leverage into Further Interaction and thus another clue. Each time you get a clue you take a test to see if you can roll equal to or lower than the number of clues you have - if you do then you’ve found what you are looking for. I rolled equal to the number of clues gathered at that point and the next table told me that the NPC(s) I was looking for could be found by completing a Raid Encounter. I ended up rolling a lone Ganger that Douglas had met before so it seemed pretty likely this was the same group from before and all of the facts” led me to the idea that they had been holed up in the drug store, probably took the neighbors hostage early on, and were in the process of finishing their looting when the Survivors showed up.

The instructions for the Raid Encounter don’t say I have to use violence to solve so I had Douglas interact with the Ganger - offering to barter the Luxury good he was carrying with him for the return of his neighbors. That worked and Douglas convinced the Ganger to scram after that by letting them know just how badly outnumbered they were.

I’m thinking about spinning up a 5150 New Beginnings campaign and so I’ll be alternating between 5150 and ATZ recaps going forward.

Upheaval, "Howdy Neighbor!", Episode 3

Published April 7, 2023
Episodes THW All Things Zombie Campaigns Upheaval

You seen Gray & Thomas this morning?” asks Catherine who is peeking through the blinds at their neighbor’s trailer.

Douglas, barely paying attention, continues reassembling his recently cleaned pistol. Nope.”

We should check on them, they’ve always been kind to us.”

Fine” says Douglas after loading a fresh magazine into his pistol.

Catherine and Douglas step out of their trailer and walk around to their neighbor’s unit. The door is ajar and the two look at each other with concern.

Douglas readies his pistol and silently walks up the cinder block stairs into the trailer. He can hear sounds of a disturbance in the back room but it does not sound like their neighbor’s voices. He stays still with his gun drawn on the hallway that leads towards the rear of the trailer. Catherine has readied her pistol and is behind Doug’s right shoulder.

Two people appear, they’ve got automatic rifles slung over their backs along with heavy camping backpacks. They are wearing helmets like the ones you might find at military surplus store and generally look much more prepared that anyone else Catherine & Douglas have run into over the last 48 hours. They also look very surprised to see Douglas aiming a pistol at them.

Douglas charges forward and slugs one in the face who immediately falls to the ground. Catherine fires a shot that not only narrowly misses the second person but also Doug. The second individual shoves Doug and runs past Catherine out the front door. Catherine lean back around the door. He’s gone.”

Douglas ties up the other individual and waits for them to regain consciousness.

Where’s Gray & Thomas?”

Hell if I know. Just looting, same as anyone else.”

Douglas paces for a moment and then shoots the individual in their head.

Catherine gasps. Doug… why? Are we just going to kill everyone we meet?”

Look babe, we can’t trust anyone anymore.” says Douglas as he takes the assault rifle from the dead body.

Don’t babe me. You are going to have to learn to make some friends. Otherwise we are not going to make it out here.”

Douglas frowns. He’s spent his last few years behind a screen and interacting with faceless names over text messages. He prefers the quiet solitude after his stint in the Army.

Catherine & Douglas look around the place. There are plates in the sink, like Gray & Thomas had eaten breakfast that morning.

Douglas notices Gray’s favorite coffee cup next to the sink. It is mostly empty but what’s left inside the cup looks fresh. Maybe they went out for supplies?” Douglas removes the body from the house and cleans up the mess. You almost can’t tell someone died there.

Catherine and Douglas check the other two nearby trailers. Casey, a young woman who is a pre-school teacher, tells them she saw Gary & Thomas this morning loading up their truck. The other local resident, Jay, is clearly drunk and hasn’t seen a thing.

Doug puts his hands on his hips and looks around the trailer park. Maybe we should head over to the Plaza… the bowling alley? Those two loved that place. Perhaps they hoped to find some loot there?”

Catherine nods and goes back to the house to prepare.

GM Notes

I decided it made sense our PCs would check on their neighbors. Mythic told me that Catherine was into it but Douglas not so much. I figured this was a Find encounter - the goal is to find Gray & Thomas. I rolled up those names randomly and in my head this is a same-sex couple that lives next door. Mythic tells me that they’ve been friendly with our PCs.

There would be 3 PEFs” in our Find Encounter. THW has it is own bizarre language for things. PEFs, or Possible Enemy Forces, are kinda like wandering monsters” in a dungeon and Encounters are like like mini-missions with their own set of rules for the victory conditions.” PEFs can easily turn out to be casual interactions or dangerous combats. If you squint, you can generally paint over the various Encounter types with your own spin on things.

The first PEF would be a confrontation, per the rules, and I rolled up two Survivors loaded with assault rifles. Survivors are formally Citizens who have seen some shit and decided to make a stand. They are technically the good guys” in the All Things Zombie lore with Gangers” being the folks are way less than reasonable. I figure it is early though and Douglas doesn’t really know friend from foe yet.

Catherine & Douglas won the Action order and Douglas does what he does best, rush into Melee. Probably a good plan because a shooting match with two assault rifles would’ve been a terrible idea. Douglas easily won the Melee sending the first NPC out of the fight.” Catherine’s shot missed but forced the other NPC to duck back.” This triggered the end of the round and a Will to Fight test which the NPCs failed and caused the remaining person to leave the battle. I ran the noise checks for two shots, but no Zombies wanted to come and play.

Douglas is a Citizen interacting with a Survivor so he’s at a -1 dice penalty. I used his Extraordinary Effort to add a dice back in. He only managed to pass the same number of dice as the NPC though which is an NPC ignores you” result. I thought about what Douglas would do with the NPC and letting him go” just didn’t seem realistic so I had Douglas execute them. It is cruel and somewhat panicky but I think it fits the profile of the type person Douglas is for now.

Mythic told me that neighbors had been there recently with an Extreme Yes” result. I also made Doug pass a Challenge test to clean up his mess, which he passed with doubles 1s. I rolled several double 1s in this session which was odd.

The last two PEFs resolved as Sheeple with low Reps. I decided these were just harmless neighbors. One of the PEFs gave up a Clue, part of THWs mini-game for Finding” things. At the end of this Find Encounter though, there weren’t enough Clues found to resolve matters. Next session we will run another Find encounter at the Plaza - which is a typical American strip mall. Possibly a chance to score some more loot but also likely to be either already looted or contested.

One thing I’m using from the back of ATZ: Evolution is a Resource system. For each named” location there’s a table you create that shows how much of the different kinds of loot (Food, Luxury Items, Meds, Weapons) are still available. I like the idea that stuff starts running out. It will force our PCs to have to leave the relative safety of their current Rural area.

Upheaval, "Radio, Radio", Episode 2

Published March 31, 2023
Episodes THW All Things Zombie Campaigns Upheaval

Catherine sits at a table in a tiny kitchen, all the cabinets are open, drawers exposed, and there is a meager collection of supplies in a box.

Douglas looks over their situation. That’s it, huh?”

Haven’t been the store, was waiting for my paycheck to hit.”

Douglas, aware that his hacking skills haven’t been paying the bills lately, turns to stare out the window. It is quiet out there. We should try to get out and grab what we can.”

Catherine glances at the empty spot where the car keys use to hang.

Douglas tries to change the subject. You know the Rebel Radio building is close…”

Catherine walks over to the radio and tunes the dial. The only sound is static. She looks at Douglas and tilts her head in a why not” motion.

The pair cross Route 68 and walk down a dirt road towards a candy-striped tower. It is eerily quiet, there’s little wind, and the two can hear the hum of the nearby powerlines. Douglas has a pistol drawn and surveys an empty parking lot.

No cars.” says Catherine.

Douglas senses Catherine might be disappointed by this fact. Might mean it is empty, let’s check it out.”

The double front doors are closed with a chain looped through the handles and a keyed lock. Douglas hands the gun to Catherine and pulls a hairpin out of her hair. Watch our backs.” After several minutes Douglas hears a satisfying click and removes the lock and chain. He takes the pistol back from Catherine and hands her the chain. Might come in handy.”

Douglas is first in and the only sound is twangy county music coming from a set of speakers in the ceiling. Weird. They must think they are still broadcasting.”

Catherine sifts through a lobby desk. Nothing useful here.”

Douglas motions down a hallway Let’s find the control room. Folks work late hours here and there must be some food.”

Douglas turns down the dimly hallway and a shot whizzes past his ear. Get down!” Douglas charges forward screaming like maniac, grabs the shooter, and bashes their head with the pistol. Another shooter ducks out of a doorway and pops off a shot that misses. Catherine screams in the background. Douglas pushes the limp body he was holding down and sprints to the doorway. This catches the shooter off-gurd and Douglas uses the moment to lodge his foot into their groin. The assailant is now writhing around on the ground moaning and manages to work out an aww, fuck man” as Douglas unsheathes his knife. There’s no hesitation as Douglas plunges the knife into the man’s head. Douglas looks behind him Catherine? You ok?”

Jesus, Doug.” says a visibly shaken Catherine.

Douglas is pushing past her. Let’s clear the other floors.”

The pair carefully work through the remaining rooms and floors. As they reach the top floor, there’s a low moaning and scratching sound coming from a room at the end of a hallway.

Catherine, now holding a large pistol taken from the downstairs man, is looking over Douglas’s shoulder. Think someone is locked up in there?”

Douglas shrugs. Hello? You should know that we’re armed. There’s more of us than you.” Douglas hopes the last statement is true.

The moaning and scratching sounds continue.

Douglas walks up to the door and motions for Catherine to stand on the other side. He does a countdown with his fingers and then opens the door.

A lone, barely human looking, individual is standing on the other side. They bare their teeth and make a low guttural scream. Anyone present can see that this individual is missing most of their torso but still able to amble forward.

What the shit…” says Douglas as he waste no time plunging the knife into the moaning individual’s skull.

Catherine throws up and coughs.

I guess that’s why our boys downstairs were jumpy.” notes Douglas, who seems unfazed by the horror before them pulls his knife out from the creature. He steps over the body and peers into the room. Clear.” Looking around he sees a shelf with some boil in bag” foods.

Catherine, recomposing herself, comes to collect the food into her backpack. Is this why we have to stay indoors? What the hell was that?”

Didn’t see anything like that downtown yesterday, just a lot of chaos.”

The pair explore a rooftop and find some booze next to a folding chair. They make their way back down to the parking lot and the walk back into Harmony where it is unsettling empty once again.

GM Notes

With the Day One scenario I was able to build out a backstory for my two primary characters and assign them a basic Rep score & weapons. To start a campaign proper I also wanted to assign them some attributes. As I noted in the last recap, All Things Zombie: Evolution is oddly lacking attributes. Every other version of ATZ, besides the forthcoming End of Days: Quick Play, has attributes so I’m unclear whether this omission was intentional or not.

Campaign play in ATZ: Evolution also defines a few other character bits: class, age, the ever useless gender, and an inventory limit equal to your Rep. 

After working through character creation I’ve got the following profiles to work with (updated to include their session-based looting):

Douglas Collins, Star, Rep 5/4/5, G, Citizen
Food-1, Weapon-2 (BAP-2, P-1), Meds-1, Lux-1
IRD-0, DRD-0

  • RAGE: Counts a +1d6 bonus if in Melee.
  • STEALTHY: Opponent counts its Rep at 1 point lower than actual when rolling on the Action Table if the Stealthy Character is alone.

Catherine Watson, Grunt, Rep 3/3/2, G, Citizen
Food-1, Weapon-1 (BAP-2), Meds-0, Lux-1
IRD-0, DRD-0

  • RESILIENT: Will treat its first Out of the Fight result as a Carry On instead.

I’m not counting IRD/DRD at this point because after talking with ATZs creator, Ed Teixeira, I made a house rule change. Typically in a THW campaign game you have two encounters per-month. Problem is, I wanted to play out the first thirty days of the game which will require many more encounters in a month. Ed mentioned an alternative system and suggested only counting IRD/DRD in the last encounter. This has some meta-gaming implications I’m not sure how I feel about but I figured it was worth a try.

I’m not going to post all of the gameplay inline, as I have in the past. It is the same THW mechanics you know and love - roll 2d6 under a number, count the dice that pass, look up the result on a table. This was an involuntary confrontation” encounter with a type of Wrong place at the wrong time” I rolled up. Zozer’s SOLO has taught me the benefit of just making the rolls and reverse engineering what the roleplaying was. I do try to always factor in what is cinematically playing out in my head as I go but I tend to go back in and fill in the details with the effect” of the rolls - how close were the results, how far from a miss or success were they, etc.

There were two NPCs in the confrontation encounter who won the action order but both missed their shots which gave Douglas a chance to leverage his RAGE attribute in a melee charge. The shots fired didn’t attract any Zombies initially, but as I was clearing the floors and rolling for PEFs I came up with a Zombie result. I decided that narratively this must have meant they were in a closed room, unable to actively react to the shooting. The radio station building is in the middle of nowhere and largely soundproof so I ignored checking for the Police to respond. (The police were in route to yesterday’s grocery store fire but before their rounds to arrive” counter was up, the robbery was done, and Douglas had left the scene.)

Not a bad haul of loot from this building. Enough food to get by. Booze can be traded or cashed in for Increasing Rep dice. Everyone now has a pistol at least. Douglas passed his ZED OR NO ZED test with flying colors. Oh and Doug’s apparent calm and knowledge of clearing a building comes from his previous, if limited, military experience I rolled up during his backstory creation. Catherine may be lacking in military background but I’ve met a few theater stage mangers in real life and they are not to be messed with. The show must go on” as they say and if the dice are kind Catherine can play a huge role in this game.

Upheaval, Day One, Episode 1

Published March 30, 2023
Episodes THW All Things Zombie Campaigns Upheaval

Douglas Collins looks up from his laptop at a muted television broadcast. There’s a red banner at the bottom of the screen and the text scrolling past says Los Santos Police instruct citizens to say indoors.” Douglas sighs, grabs the TV remote, and mutters now what.”

Moments after unmuting the TV, Douglas is shoving a .45 pistol into a boot holster and picking up a sheathed knife. He picks up his cell phone and notices the no signal” warning in the top corner. Damn.” He grabs a set of keys hanging by the door and heads outside to a car generously described as a beater.”

Douglas drives towards the Sisyphus Theater where Catherine works. There’s little traffic on the rural mountain roads in between their rented trailer in Harmony and the outdoor amphitheater where Catherine works as a stage manager. Douglas pulls up at the theater and parks. Two staff members push past him as he walks into the front office.

Where’s Catherine?” Douglas ask a unaware receptionist whom Douglas has momentarily forgotten their name.

Oh, Doug. Hi.” they pop their head up from packing a bag. You must have just missed her. She got a ride home with Judy.”

Of course. Phones aren’t working.” Douglas waves his phone in the air. You, uh, need a ride anywhere?”

No, thank you. I’m headed out myself, going to try to get some food before it is all gone.”

Food. Douglas remembered how quickly food shelves had emptied out during the COVID pandemic lockdown. He nods his head at the receptionist and heads back to his car. He racks his brain for the route to the closest supermarket without the benefit of his phone’s mapping software.

Douglas frowns as he drives down from the Foothills pass and nears the 24/7 Supermarket in Vinewood. The building is on fire and there’s a chaotic mess of people and cars. He pauses to think about his next steps but before he gather his thoughts two people are on either side of his vehicle.

Get out.” says one, pointed a gun at him.

Douglas thinks about reaching for his gun but it is no use, he raises his hands instead. Alright, no need for trouble.”

The individual on the other side comes around and opens the door and motions for Douglas to exit the vehicle. Douglas complies and the person closer to the door gets in. The other, keeping the gun trained on Douglas, moves around to the passenger side.

Half-hour later, Douglas is on the 760 Los Santos Transit bus that drops him off at the edge of Vinewood Park. It takes over two hours to walk the rest of the way back to Harmony but Douglas is relived to find Catherine back at home. The two embrace while the sun sets.

GM Notes

I was doing some research to play a post post-apocalyptic solo game and I became enthralled with All Things Zombie: Evolution from Two Hour Wargames. The book links to an interesting starter scenario called Day One” which walks you through a series of questions to develop the backstory of your main character. I used the Mythic Gamemaster Emulator to answer those questions and ended up with our protagonist Douglas Collins.” Doug is a Clean Criminal” which I took to mean a computer hacker who scored an Exceptional Yes” to the have you ever fired a gun?” backstory question. Doug also got a Exceptional No” to do you live in a house?” which I took to mean that Doug was renting a run-down trailer. Details such having a significant other” (but no kids) turned into Doug’s partner Catherine.

For the setting I wanted something modern day, familiar, but self-contained. Video games often provide such settings and it occurred to me that the fictional world of Grand Theft Auto Vs Los Santos would be perfect.

The Day One” starter scenario next has you play through a mini-game where you try to get back together with your family (if you have one), take stock of your supplies, and maybe pickup a few extras in those first few chaotic hours.

Douglas bombed a bunch of rolls which ended up with things like just missing Catherine at her place of work, arriving to a burned out grocery store, and having their car stolen from them. Still they have some food at home and Doug is armed.

ATZ: Evolution lacks the Attributes” that I’m used to seeing in other THW titles but they are present in the previous (Final Fade Out) and newer (End of Days) versions of the game. I originally thought I might start with End of Days, the newest version, but I found it was lacking in several rules that existed in previous versions. Evolution seems to have the right balance of streamlining and rules as my base set. As with all THW titles, you can lift and drop-in just about any sub-system from another title. I’ll likely pull things in from After the Horseman (their zombie-less post-apocalyptic game) and even things like cold weather” effects from the Nuts! Compendium. This is the strength, and weakness, of the THW line - there’s a lot of it, it is confusing to figure out which version has what, and is most up-to-date. Once you cobble it all together it runs very smoothly for solitaire play.

Tales From the Forgotten Moon, Season 1: Building a Place with Stellar Adventures

What makes a Place?

Previously we designed a galactic sector and examined one star system in detail using the generator tools in Stellar Adventures. Today we will build a Place” using the procedures that start on page 99.

Places are built similarly to characters in that they have Characteristics and Specifics” that act like Special Skills. Unlike character building, this is not a point-buy system but it is closer to how Traveller randomly generates a world. Place Characteristics are values from 1-12 and cover the areas of:

  • Size: represents the people, buildings and general infrastructure”
  • Tech: measures the technological advancement of the Place”
  • Trade: represents the extent and reach of the exploited trade routes and the facilities to assist said trade.”
  • Society: the level and organisation of government, laws, social institutions, police force, healthcare”
  • Military: measures the defensive and offensive capabilities”
  • Resources: measures access to natural and local resources”

It is suggested that the Director (“Gamemaster”) either assign values that make fictional sense or use a random roll of either 2d6 or 1d6 + a base number. There’s no suggestion that a high number in one Characteristic (say Size) should carry over a modifier to another. The Director is encouraged to use the Characteristic values to form the basis of tests, for example, Tech could be tested to see if a starship module is available in the starport.”

Places can also have Specifics but there’s no fixed set of these instead some are suggested but it is clear the list is not meant to be exhaustive:

  • Alien
  • Artefacts
  • Computing
  • Culture
  • Food
  • Gems
  • Industry
  • Law
  • Metals
  • Robotics
  • Science
  • Starships

I had to scratch my head at Law being a Specific Skill rather than a Characteristic. I understand that the Society Characteristic covers a mix of Culture, Government, and Law but it is a bit too much bundling for my tastes. I’ll probably just add a Law Characteristic and move on.

Unlike Sectors and Systems, there are no tools to visualize” a map of a Place. That said, if you wanted such a thing, then you could turn to the Advanced Fighting Fantasy supplement Blacksand which includes… yes, a die-drop method of laying out a village, town, or city. Eyeballing the results should allow you to sufficiently reskin the fantasy” elements into something more sci-fi friendly.

Finally, some guidance is given on using a Place in play, both for opposed and unopposed tests. The next section of the book covers Trade, with more detail and procedures than Places but it is curious to note that the Trade procedures are built around tests involving combinations of a Place’s Characteristics and the suggested Specifics. It is a good way to get a handle on how you might use the Place concept in your own game. Stellar Adventures is a toolkit book more than anything else, it does not come with a setting and there’s not even a strongly implied setting. One could run anything from Alien to Cyberpunk to Star Trek to Star Wars using what is in the book. Being a toolkit person, this is why Stellar Adventures has long appealed to me.

Building a Place

I’ve sketched out a character I might use in this game (there’s no lifepath” Character building in Stellar Adventures so I ended up using Traveller Supplement 04, Citizens of the Imperium to build the character’s backstory.) In doing so I’ve uncovered that they’ve come from Enlid-1 one of the twin ice planets that are orbiting the star of Rylin. On Enlid-1 there’s a surface outpost” which I’ve given the name Enciso Town. I scratched my head for a bit on the best way to randomly roll up the place Characteristics and ultimately decided on throwing 2d6-1 for each. Sure that rules out a 12 but then again it works much better with the roll-under nature of Fighting Fantasy. I considered building a cascading system of Characteristic modifiers similar to Traveller but eventually determined it was more trouble than it was worth.

After throwing 2d6 seven times (remember, I added a Law Characteristic) I end up with the following Traveller-style Universal Place Profile” (UPP) hex sequence for Enciso Town: A363884 or in English”: an outpost with a large population with unimportant tech, average trading conditions, a working-class society, above average military presence, above average resources, and a fairly low law presence.

At face value what we have generated so far has the trapping of a standard mining outpost and I could probably work this as-is. Instead, I wanted a bit more detail, so I turned to Distant Lights: Creating Borderworld Outposts for Your Campaign by Kevin Crawford. I did not use all of the random tables in this book because there are too many and several did not thematically fit with the galactic profile shaping in my head. Picking a few random tables throughout the book has built out the additional bit of background for Enciso Town:

  • Enciso Town is made up of bright white domes and multi-level geodesic structures that house a population that has started to outgrow the available infrastructure. Power outages and water shortages are not uncommon.
  • Enlid & Enciso” were a pair of explorers who initially charted the Rylin sector ages ago. Enlid was mostly interested in astronomic anomalies, such as twin planets, whereas Enciso was interested in planetary surveys. The Enciso family has the mining rights to many locations throughout the galaxy, including the mining outpost on Enlid-1. Enlid & Enciso Mapping Services (EEMPS) also provides all of the major star navigation charts and stellar traffic control systems throughout the galactic sector.
  • Enciso Town is currently run by Enciso Mining Enterprises Vice President Kayla Ninnr. They are corrupt, deeply involved in smuggling operations, and maintain control over the local population because they also operate the facilities on Enlid-1 that can filter out the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and methane from the planet’s ice resources.
  • A form of dangerous and high-speed grav-bobsled racing is extremely popular on Enlid-1.

These last details paint a much more evocative picture of a place. They required more time investment though so every time you look at a GM resource like this you have to ask yourself am I going to use this?” In this case, I envision this as the starting location for our game so it was a valuable world-building exercise. We’ve got our major corporate overlords, a corrupt executive that can serve as a patron, local conflict, and a splashy sport that helps me understand why a character I generated through Traveller happens to have a high skill in vehicle driving.

Next time we’ll take a peek at how to use Traveller character lifepath generation to inform your Stellar Adventure characters. Hint: Troika shows us the way.

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