By The Numbers

Before I drill too much into individual worlds, let’s make a few assumptions and see what we can deduce from the map and the SWN world generation rules. Quite a bit, as it turns out…

NEW WORLDS AND NEW CIVILISATIONS

Now that I’ve reinstated the double stars, there are 59 systems on the map; 2 Homeworlds, 8 Primary (naturally habitable), 39 Secondary and 10 Tertiary. For this first pass I assign Homeworlds a population of billions, Primary millions, Secondary hundreds of thousands and Tertiary no population at all.

Statistically in SWN, one would expect 59 systems to include 3.28 with populations of billions, 11.47 with millions, 26.22 with hundreds of thousands, 11.47 with tens of thousands, 1.64 with alien civilisations, and 4.92 with either outposts or failed colonies. So we’re a bit light on high population worlds and a bit heavy on uninhabited ones, but not unbelievably so. About a third of the Secondary systems should have populations in the tens of thousands, but as you’ll see it makes very little difference at the sector level.

Meanwhile, I already know that I want to use rakashans and saurians as well as humans in this campaign, and statistically that is already slightly too many alien races for this many worlds, so that’s all I need.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I derived the cultures for the systems by looking up the world names in Google and selecting the closest culture in SWN for the world concerned – you’ll see the details of that reasoning later as I look at each area of the map in turn, but for now we get the following:

  • Arabic culture: 8 worlds, 1,002,500,000 inhabitants (49.84% of the total).
  • Chinese culture: 3 worlds, 300,000 inhabitants (0.01%).
  • English culture: 15 worlds, 700,000 inhabitants (0.03%). Six of these worlds are N1-N6 in the Dark Nebula, and another two are tertiary systems outside the Nebula; perhaps those should not be counted.
  • Indian culture: 5 worlds, 1,400,000 inhabitants (0.07%).
  • Japanese culture: 2 worlds, 1,000,000,000 inhabitants (49.71%). One of these is a tertiary system with no inhabitants.
  • Nigerian culture: 7 worlds, 1,500,000 inhabitants (0.07%). Again, one is a tertiary system.
  • Russian culture: 11 worlds, 3,600,000 inhabitants (0.18%). Two of these are tertiary systems.
  • Spanish culture: 8 worlds, 1,600,000 inhabitants (0.08%). One of these is tertiary.

The only inhabited world with a definitely Japanese name is Kuzu, and we already know that is inhabited by aslan – errm, sorry, rakashans. So it’s tempting to do what I did with my last 2300AD campaign and have the aslan – sorry, rakashans – be a life-form genetically engineered from human and feline DNA by Japanese scientists. That would explain them having a vaguely Japanese culture and let me use the Japanese name tables, because no other worlds will need them.

You can see from the table that over 99% of the sector’s population is concentrated in the regional hegemons.

LANGUAGES

It’s actually quite hard to find out how many speakers a language has in a given country, so I assumed an even split between them by culture. This gives me the following, in descending order of speaker base:

  • Arabic: 1,002,500,000 speakers.
  • Japanese (or whatever the rakashans actually speak): 1,000,000,000 speakers.
  • English: 3,600,000 speakers, of whom 81% speak it as a second language.
  • Russian: 3,600,000 speakers, as many as English but more concentrated.
  • Spanish: 1,600,000 speakers.
  • Hindi: 1,400,000 speakers, most of them on Gazzain so this may be an overstatement as that’s where I’m going to park the saurians.
  • Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba: 233,333 speakers each.
  • Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese: 150,000 speakers each.

SWN states that all PCs speak English, certainly all the players do, and there is a long tradition of English as the language of air traffic control which it seems reasonable to extend to space travel as well. So the idea occurs to me that a disproportionate fraction of ship crews are English-speaking people, with enclaves at most starports; this gives the players a reason to work together, as they are members of an ethnic minority, much like gypsies or Sephardic Jews.

GIMME THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION

It’s always a bit risky including actual religions in games – one reason most of them don’t do it – as you may offend potential players; but made-up ones have never felt right to me in science-fiction games, especially if I’m using real-world cultures.

So I assumed religions in the sector are split roughly along cultural lines, again with an even mix in cultures that have multiple religions, as finding the actual numbers of worshippers is more work than I want to do. This gives me the following:

  • Islam: 1,003,310,000 worshippers.
  • Buddhism: 500,410,000 worshippers, of which 500,000 are rakashans on Kuzu. Maybe they picked it up from Japanese genetic engineers, maybe I apply a trapping to make it less obviously human.
  • Shinto: 500,000,000 worshippers, all on Kuzu. Same comments.
  • Christianity: 6,560,000 worshippers.
  • Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism: 350,000 worshippers each.
  • Traditional Nigerian religions (assorted): 150,000 worshippers.
  • Confucianism, Taoism: 60,000 worshippers each.

REFLECTIONS

It’s amazing how much the campaign unpacks itself just from the map and the names, no?

Space Travel, Trade and Encounters

In the same way that the default D&D campaign was about plundering an underground complex, the default Traveller campaign was about a small starship trading from world to world and getting into trouble while it did so; and that seems like as good a spine as any to hang a Savage Worlds SF game on.

The Science Fiction Companion is easily understandable when it comes to ship construction and combat, less so for travel, trade and encounters. Let’s look at each of those in turn before we start rolling dice, shall we?

TRAVEL

On first checking the rules for travel and upkeep in the Science Fiction Companion, it seemed it was always cheaper in the long run to burn extra fuel to arrive on the day of the hyperjump, because the cost of the crew’s wages is more than the cost of fuel. Experimentation showed this was wrong, for two reasons; first, you pay your crew once per month, but you have to replace fuel more often than that if you burn extra. Second, the cost of the extra fuel has to be less than the profit you expect to make on your cargo, or you will go broke within a few months. You’re likely to do that anyway, as you’ll see in the next section, although it takes longer if you don’t pay your crew.

It also seemed that the Knowledge (Astrogation) roll to make the hyperjump was dramatically uninteresting, because all failure does is delay the jump by a few minutes, and unless you’re being pursued by rakashan pirates or about to be eaten by a giant mutant star goat, it’s not worth rolling. Again, that’s not quite right; it matters how much you eventually succeed by, as raises on the astrogation roll reduce transit time and hence operating costs.

You need a good pilot to survive and prevail in combat, but you need a good astrogator to make a profit. Since presumably you want the astrogator to be better than the ship’s AI, he or she will likely have Scholar and the prerequisite d8 skill.

TRADE

The intriguing thing about Savage Worlds trading (SFC p. 28) is that it has nothing to do with the characters or the planet they’re on. This makes it extremely portable; it’s a subset of rules with no connection to anything else at all.

After trying a few dozen trading voyages off-camera, I came to the conclusion that this also means that you go broke fast unless you have a number of possible destinations and know what the prices are going to be at at each one; if you don’t, on average luck over a long period you break even on the trading rolls, but it costs you money to move the ship around, so you make a loss overall.

Therefore, co-operation between trader ships is advantageous; they will share prices in some way. A government might operate subsidised ships of its own, or might pay for pricing information which it then shares on a Commodity Board at the starport, to encourage trade and thus boost its economy. A merchant’s guild might jealously guard the information, only sharing it between members. A large trading corporation might have the resources to do this itself, so the co-operation might be entirely internal to the organisation.

Whatever form the organisation takes, one of its primary functions is to collect price data from nearby worlds on a monthly basis (the prices change each month) and share them. This is limited to worlds within one jump of home, though, as by the time the typical ship has gone two jumps, collected local prices and returned, loaded up the best cargo and jumped back, the prices have changed, so there’s no point.

The organisation therefore has at least one ship per neighbouring world that basically does nothing but carry mail and news between the homeworld and its neighbours, and an extra one or two undergoing maintenance or repairs. These ships are as small as possible, since this minimises their operating costs on all fronts. Since there are ships (probably armed) scuttling around neighbouring systems on a regular basis, those systems count as "patrolled" for purposes of random encounters – see below for more on that.

Each ship trots out to an adjacent world at the beginning of the month, carrying something it hopes it can sell at a markup, then comes back. They share information, and then all make the most profitable run they can for the rest of the month; if there’s enough money to be made, the ships may burn extra fuel to reduce transit time, so that they can make more runs before the prices change.

Now, while it’s logical for these little ships to trade and thus offset their operating costs, they can’t be expected to make a profit, for the reasons stated above. So, like Traveller’s subsidised merchants, each ship has an Operating Cost Position – essentially, an amount the organisation will tolerate it losing. I reason this would cover fuel for daily operations and two hyperjumps per month (one out, one back), provisions, and crew salaries, but not additional hyperjumps or burning extra fuel to reduce transit time. Crews which lose less than their OCP are considered good; crews that consistently lose more than their OCP are replaced.

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS

The SFC doesn’t cover these at all, although Savage Worlds itself calls for drawing a card if travelling through an area that isn’t patrolled. If one were using random encounters, the logical point at which to check is on arrival in a new system.

By the above reasoning, any world acting as a trade hub effectively patrols all its neighbouring worlds (those within one hyperspace jump), so there are no space encounters there.

Beyond that, hostile encounters are possible; my thinking is that in most cases the setting will tell you what PCs should encounter; raiders, over-zealous patrol ships, pirates and so on, according to where the GM has placed those; my instinct is that consistency in this will be more useful in the long run than creating complex tables. ("Let’s not go to Tortuga, we always get hit by pirates there.")

REFLECTIONS

I can see I’m not going to want to track this in detail in the face to face game; while the characters spend a lot of time obsessing about trade goods and markets, the players neither need to nor should.

However, whether you call them scouts, couriers or trade pioneers, you could easily construct a campaign around one of the small price-checking starships, with the PCs as the crew. Start at the base world, visit one of its neighbours and have an adventure, come back and tell your patron what the prices are like there. If you make a profit, so much the better.

Faction Turn 1: January 3200

In turn one, all factions build Surveyors, as they are the only unit which can (a) move without costing their faction more money, (b) move two hexes on the starmap, and (c) require a low attribute to buy – the other alternatives don’t have all those advantages. Smugglers, for example, are cheaper to buy and have a similar range and attribute requirement, but you have to pay FacCreds to move them.

The Hierate builds its surveyors at Panas, the Confederation at Gazzain, and Mizah on Mizah (as it has no other choice).

Hierate: Income 7, spend 4, balance 3. Goal: Expand Influence on Valka; that’s the nearest primary system with good land to grab.

Confederation: Income 7, spend 4, balance 3. Goal: Expand Influence on Hasara; the Hierate is coming for Solomani land, and this is the most distant system where Confed can guarantee to set up a Base of Influence before the Hierate can, thus hopefully blocking their movement. Confed will then work its way back along the Hasara Chain building up influence on all worlds, with a view to their eventual absorption.

Mizah: Income 4, spend 4, balance 0. Goal: Expand Influence on Hasara; Mizah sees the Hasara Chain and Triangular Route as its pre-eminent sphere of influence, and correctly divining Confed’s plan, intends to get there first.

How does this manifest itself for the PCs? Well, they’re on Mizah, so it will be at least February before they can learn of the Confed surveyors, and March before they know about the Hierate ones. However, this is playing on the holovid in the corner of the bar where they hang out between scenarios:

“Preceptor Adept Aisha Tabari of the Great Archive announced today at a news conference in Sinqit that President Jibril Shadi has agreed to the proposed massive expansion of the Mizah Survey Service, allowing the Archive to carry its advice and services to worlds along the Hasara Chain and Triangular Route. The MSS is now acquiring a number of ships for this purpose and hiring crews at Sinqit Starport.”

B&B Hero Construction Set

A couple of years ago I bought the Beasts & Barbarians Hero Construction Set from Okumarts; I don’t normally do standees, but I like David Okum’s artistic style so I do have a few of his 2D figure sets. Last weekend, with the family still occupied elsewhere, I finally got around to building a set as an experiment. They look like this:

20140601

Left to right: Valk, Cairnlander, Gladiator, Barbarian, some chick with a dagger, Amazon, Ivory Savannah tribesman, Tricarnian, Jademan Monk, creepy sorceror dude, Alchemist, Red Desert tribesman.

So how did it work out? Well, firstly, the speed is a big improvement. It’s only taken me two years to get these ready for the tabletop, whereas my last batch of metal figures took eight years. In hindsight, it was a huge mistake getting rid of the figures I painted while I was in college, because I have not had the time since I started working and raising a family to replace them.

Secondly, they are surprisingly robust and stable. I was really dubious about the recommended basing technique (cutting a slot in a piece of foamcore), but it does work very well, once I learned not to press the figures into the foam board too hard – they bend at the ankles if you do that, although since I printed them on 160 gsm card (which folds up to 320 gsm) they recover quite well from that.

Thirdly, I need a thinner permanent marker. Running a black marker around the edge of the figure makes a surprising difference to how good it looks, but trying to force the chisel-tipped one I have into the little nooks and crannies around weapons means it often slips off and leaves ugly black marks on the figures. You can’t really see the mistakes from arm’s length, but I know they’re there, and it bugs me.

Fourthly – and this is important given my almost total lack of artistic and craft skills – there’s a lot less frustration and swearing involved, because if I ruin one of these figures I can replace it very quickly and easily.

Finally, though, this bills itself as a hero construction set, and that’s what it is. This set gives you a good range of Beasts & Barbarians heroes, but no mooks; if you want a couple of dozen Valk as opposition, say, you’re either going to print off loads of copies of this set, or find something else to proxy for them. (If I were to do that and stick with the same artistic style, I’d use Okum Arts’ hobgoblins.)

CONCLUSION

These little guys are not as nice-looking as a well-painted mini, but they are a lot cheaper, much faster to prepare, I get a lot less angry when one of them gets taken out by a passing elbow and I’m a big fan of the artistic style. So I can see myself using Okumarts’ standees for future games.

The range includes Wild West, classic fantasy and (obviously) Beasts & Barbarians, retro SF and Chinese martial arts figures. I can get zombies from the megaset “Katana Schoolgirls vs Zombie Furries”, but there are no modern or near-future figures unless you count the kilted highlanders in the Spot of Bother set. More moderns, please!

I wonder how long it will be before I can buy 3D printer files for minis and print them out at a local copy shop? If they came pre-coloured so that I didn’t have to paint them, that would be the best of all worlds.

Movers and Shakers

"Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"
"Same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!"
- Pinky and the Brain

Before I kick off the Dark Nebula campaign in earnest, I need a view of the local factions.

It’s tempting to make up all kinds of custom factions, but at this stage I want to move quickly into actual play without worrying about whether the factions are sensibly designed or not, so I pick three template factions from SWN p. 127; the Aslanic Hierate (Regional Hegemon), the Solomani Confederation (Regional Hegemon) and the planetary government of Mizah (Backwater Planet). The Regional Hegemons each begin the game with the Planetary Government tag for all the worlds in their pocket empire.

I want the Dark Nebula system type for a world to be reflected in its government faction, and the simplest way to do this is to say that homeworlds are Regional Hegemons, primary systems are Backwater Planets, and secondary systems are Colony Worlds. Tertiary systems have no worlds, therefore no populations and hence no factions. For the most part, the planetary government factions will just sit there, waiting to provide opposition to the three active factions.

WHY MEN FIGHT

I now need to know the factions’ motivations, since that will both determine their goals and actions in game terms, and make them seem more real to the players.

Aslanic Hierate: Landgrab

In line with Classic Traveller canon, aslan are obsessed with owning land. If there is unoccupied land, preferably on a primary world, they will occupy it. If the only decent land they can get at is already occupied, they will fight for it. Aslan expansion therefore consists of creating Bases of Influence anywhere they can, starting with the primary worlds. The cheapest way to do this is to build Surveyors and send them to each world in turn to Expand Influence there. Once that’s done, they will happily spend their FacCreds upgrading the Bases, representing the expansion of aslan clanholds on the world.

Solomani Confederation: Reunify

As the spiritual heir to the Celestial Empire in my earlier campaigns, the Confederation seeks to restore the lost glories of the Terran Mandate, reuniting humanity under a single banner – this time, theirs. Their long-term aim is therefore Planetary Seizure of every system on the map. It’s faster and cheaper in most cases to do this by building Surveyors, using them to create Bases of Influence, and then building other assets for conquest at those Bases – otherwise they would have to spend faction turns and FacCreds just moving military units into place. Seizing control of systems is neatly Difficulty 3 for a homeworld or primary system, 2 for a secondary, and 1 for a tertiary.

Government of Mizah: Spread the Word

Mizah is comfortable with the status quo, thank you very much; it has a nice home, a comfortable income, and an honourable and altruistic purpose. To pursue its objective of sharing knowledge with its neighbours, it will also plant Bases of Influence offworld, and again the cheapest way over three or more turns is a unit of Surveyors. In philosophy, Mizah is closer to the Confederation, but its methods are closer to those of the Hierate. Its ambitions are also limited to a specific group of worlds, whereas the other two factions both want to dominate the entire map.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

It’s expensive both in FacCreds and actions to move assets around, so they need to be placed sensibly to begin with.

Mizah

  • Everything starts on Mizah. There’s no other option.

The Hegemons

  • Space Marines: Panas (Hierate) and Gazzain (Confed). They have to start inside the faction’s home turf, but they’re strike units, they’re no good at home.
  • Planetary Defences: On the homeworlds, Kuzu and Maadin. These need to be defended, and there are too many potential routes to the homeworlds to block with the available units.
  • Blockade Fleet: Gazzain and Bors. These are a bit of a white elephant really, they need to be refitted into something that can move two hexes.
  • Extended Theatre: These need to begin on the faction’s borders, and quickly move up to a transport nexus nearby but on the outside. The Hierate would be best served if theirs were at Dno, the Confederation needs theirs to be at Bulan until they have pacified that area; so the Extended Theatre units start at Panas and Kamat.
  • Pretech Manufactory: Maadin and Kuzu. These are probably a big part of why the Hegemons are Hegemons.
  • Shipping Combine: Wherever the Extended Theatre went, the Shipping Combine needs to be on the other main route out of faction territory. That puts the Hierate one at Bors, and the Confed one at Gazzain.
  • Tripwire Cells: These may as well stay at home to defend against stealthed infiltration units.
  • Cyberninjas: Panas and Gazzain. I’m not quite sure what to do with these, but those locations give the most options.

We can see from this that the biggest naval base in the region is at Gazzain, and the second-biggest at Panas.

REFLECTIONS

I’ve tried running macro-level wargames or boardgames to provide setting background before, and the game has always collapsed under the weight of record-keeping required. However, I think SWN factions will be different, as they can only do one thing each per turn, so record-keeping is fairly basic – at most three assets per turn move, usually less.

If the factions were merely level grinding, they’d all go for the nearest system and set up a Base of Influence for a quick experience point; but these moves seem more aligned to their known mindsets.

Finally, notice that I don’t need to know anything about the worlds to pick factions and set them at each other’s throats.

Mizah

After rereading the rules for my various science fiction RPGs, and experimenting a little off camera, I came to the conclusion that for the kind of game I want to run, SWN world generation, faction rules, and setting background will give me the most fun for the least effort. There is almost no mechanical interaction between those and the PC-level rules, so Savage Worlds PCs and SWN worlds and factions can co-exist peacefully without requiring any complex rules interfaces.

The PCs’ home world is going to be Mizah, and I have a very clear idea of what I want to do with it; so I move directly to assigning stats without worrying about dice rolls.

WHY MIZAH?

  • It’s naturally habitable.
  • It has routes to six other systems, making it the best-connected primary system on the map and making offworld travel simple when the PCs start to do that. This is also why it’s a trade hub.
  • It isn’t aligned to either the Hierate or the Confederation, but would be a valuable ally to either. Enter intrigue and espionage, stage left, but with the PCs having a free hand as to which faction they support. This is the “offworld faction trying to seize control complication for the trade hub” tag in action.
  • It’s only a few weeks’ travel away from either the insectoid Hive of space bugs (off-map past Simba) or the mysteries of the Dark Nebula itself.

MIZAH

Atmosphere: Breathable mix. Temperature: Temperate. Biosphere: Human-miscible, dominated by giant beetle analogues (the players told me this, during Back in Black). Population: Millions. Tech Level: 4. Tags: Preceptor Archive, Trade Hub. Culture: Arabic (“Mizah” means “joke” in Turkish, and the closest culture to Turkish in baseline SWN is Arabic).

Mizah’s government is a representative democracy; the current president is Jibril Shadi. (As recommended by SWN, the base world gets a representative democracy because how it works will be instinctively familiar to the likely players. President Shadi’s name is courtesy of a couple of dice rolls on the Arabic names table in SWN.)

When the Scream came, Mizah managed somehow to hold things together, thanks to the joint efforts of the Great Archive outpost and the planetary government. During the Silence, the Mizah Survey Service worked closely with the Archive to keep the flame of civilisation burning, however weakly, along the Hasara Chain and the Triangular Route, acting as a cultural bridge and provider of news and technical (especially medical) advice. Local populations therefore look on it fondly for the most part, although of course there are those who infer sinister conspiracies.

  • Hasara Chain: Hasara, Tangga, Salia, Kov, Mizah.
  • Triangular Route: Mizah, Simba, Omaro, Umuru.

These worlds will all have Tech Level 4, as a result of the Great Archive’s “missionary” work along those routes.

Places to Visit

  • Sinqit starport, whose wide, open plazas bustle with activity.
  • Charshi Market, a raucous bazaar on the edge of the starport whose coffee-houses are frequented by ship’s crews on shore leave and adventurers on the make.
  • The Great Archive lecture hall in the centre of Sinqit City and its quasi-religious ceremonies.

REFLECTIONS

The campaign is likely to develop over three phases. In the first phase, the PCs will be limited to Mizah, since they have no ship and no shipboard skills. In phase two, they will escape into local space, which effectively means the Hasara Chain (Hasara-Tangga-Salia-Kov-Mizah) and the Triangular Route (Simba-Omaro/Umuru-Mizah); the Hive of space bugs can turn them back at Simba, the Solomani military can stop them going past Gazzain, there’s nothing to do in the Nebula so far as they know and Daanarni can have a flare or something if they try to go that way. In phase three, all bets are off and they can go anywhere on the map.

So, I needed to know what Mizah is like right away, and should soon have some idea about eight other worlds; the other fifty-odd star systems may never come into play from the PCs’ perspective, although Maadin and Kuzu cast long shadows and are easy enough to generate, as the fact of being a Regional Hegemon dictates most of a world’s statistics.

You’ll note I’ve swerved from the CT Long Night as the historical background to the SWN Scream and Silence. Dramatically, these are much the same – worlds re-emerging into space 600 years after a great human empire collapsed – and experience teaches me the players will neither notice nor care, so I may as well go with the path of least effort, which means the SWN world and faction rules claimed the background followed them home and asked if they could keep it.

Flack, Z+199: The Only Easy Day

"The only easy day was yesterday." – US Navy SEALs.

With my other half out of the country and my boy studying hard for exams next month, I had a little extra time this weekend just gone; and how better to use it than killing zombies?

7th July, 2013. The boys are back in town, looking for supplies but expecting to find zeds. Flack is bringing along Hardcase, Wannabe and Pugh; Wannabe needs to start earning his keep, and the other two are reliable enough. That leaves the other Pugh and Dibble guarding the land rover off-map.

SETUP

This is a Take Back scenario in daylight, in an urban area (ER 5). Take Back is risky as I have to clear the board to win, but I figure if the group is staying in town for a month, an early priority would be to secure a base of operations. As it’s a new area, I check for available supplies using the rules on p. 57; this area has 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, and 41 Weapons.

The team move 8" onto the board and I place zombies and PEFs (dice on their own in the middle of sections, see picture below). In an urban area, there are 1d6+1 zeds per human, so 4d6+4 against the group today; we roll well, and there are only 14 of them, 4 at 4 o’clock, 2 at 6 o’clock, 2 at 8 o’clock, 2 at 10 o’clock, 4 at 12 o’clock.

You’ll see I’m using my shiny new City Deck and Risks & Rewards Deck for this game, and pawns from the Zombies!!! boardgame. Flack is Red, the Rep 4 Pugh is blue, Hardcase is green and Wannabe is yellow.

FZ199-01

TURN 1

Activation: Flack 4, Zeds 2.

Firstly, Flack can see the PEF in section 4, so I resolve it. I roll 5, 3 and given the ER of the area is 5, we’ve found something and I go to the contact tables to find out what. It turns out to be three more zeds.

Flack & Co. fast move into the Bar None. (They don’t need the extra movement, but it does make them harder to hit if anyone shoots, so I do it habitually now.) Well, what else are you gonna do in the Zombie Apocalypse?  You certainly need a drink by this stage.

I don’t bother drawing a card from the Risks & Rewards deck because initial placement put two zeds inside. We take the Charge into Melee test; Flack passes 2d6, Pugh 2d6, Hardcase 2d6, and Wannabe 0d6. Wannabe panics and opens fire with his machine pistol, missing with all three shots (not hard if you’re a fast-moving Rep 2) and generating two more zeds.

"If you fire that thing again," Pugh says, "I’m going to make you eat it."

"Can I kill him, boss?" Hardcase wants to know.

But there’s no time for that. The rest of them are attacking the zeds in melee, giving them +1 success, and the zeds are at -1d6 because of the excellent rolls from the team. Flack kills his outright, and the other fights Hardcase to a standstill until Pugh takes it Out Of the Fight which is the same as dead for a zed.

While this is going on, the two PEFs both pass 2d6 and move up two zones. The zeds move one zone, which brings three of them into contact, barging into the Bar None behind our Heroes. Oops, I should have seen that coming. More melee, and the team is at -2d6 on the Charge Into Melee test because they’re hit from behind. As we’re rolling 2d6 + 1d6 (Survivors) – 2d6 (hit from behind), all open fire. I really do have to take that MP off Wannabe, it’s physically impossible for him to hit with his Rep, all he can do is draw more zeds. The rest of them fare a little better; Flack kills one, Pugh knocks one down, and Hardcase embarrasses himself by missing everything. Four more zeds rock up, drawn by the gunfire.

The rest of the zeds march to the sound of the guns, creating a target-rich environment.

FZ199-02

TURN 2

Activation: Flack 5, zeds 4. This means only the zeds who can see humans will move; that’s basically the ones in front of the Bar None.

On the basis that there are more zeds in front of the bar than behind it, Flack leads the crew out the back door, fast-moving, and behind the Cornerstone Coffee House. This will leave them facing five zeds, but the alternatives are (a) facing 17 zeds, or (b) barricading themselves inside the Bar None and watching hopelessly as every zed on the table moves up and batters at the doors. No thanks.

More melee? Well, if you insist… Everyone except Wannabe passes 2d6, so opens fire, but Wannabe only gets one shot. Of course he misses, although I still roll in the vain hope that he runs out of ammo, but luckily no more zeds appear. That’s a small mercy, as the remaining 16 zeds now know where we are. Flack knocks two down, Pugh kills two, Hardcase kills one. Good enough. All that gunfire draws six more zeds; we have to stop doing that, but unfortunately you don’t always get a choice.

FZ199-03

TURN 3

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 2. Time to get the hell out of Dodge. The crew zip into the side entrace for Downtown Parking at a fast-move, Wannabe trailing as he passes 0d6. What’s inside? I draw a card from the R&R deck and discover it’s a brace of Casters. I’m not using those – they’re from High Rise to Hell, which I don’t have yet – and not knowing how many there are in the deck, I decide to treat them as no encounter and drive on. We’re not stopping to loot with that many zeds on our tail, so that ends the team’s activation.

The zeds move to wherever they think we might be, and the PEFs close up as far as they can without breaking cover.

At this point I check the time and discover I’m just under an hour in, halfway through the target time for the encounter. Even allowing for my being rusty, it looks like the full 16 cards is going to be too many for a typical game for me. Let’s see how things go.

FZ199-04

TURN 4

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 1. The team fast-move across the street (fortunately the zed in the road is facing the other way) and into Gilligan’s Tavern, where they find – three vampires?!? More High Rise to Hell stuff, and this time I decide to redraw and get four zeds.

Naturally, Wannabe panics and fires, drawing two more zeds. Flack kicks one zombie OOF, Hardcase kills another, the third knocks down Pugh who rolls boxcars on his Recover From Knock Down test and is Obviously Dead. Oh no! Continuing the roll of extreme luck, Wannabe kills the final zed.

The team takes a Man Down test as they react to the loss of Pugh. Flack, as a star, can choose his result and passes 2d6. The rest get the benefit of Flack’s leader die; Hardcase rolls 2, 3, 3 and passes 2d6; he carries on. Wannabe rolls 5, 4, 3 and Runs Away, so he is removed from the table.

FZ199-05

TURN 5

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 4. Only the zed in Gilligan’s activates, as none of the others can see a human. It’s already in melee, and Flack kills again, clubbing it viciously with his rifle until Hardcase pulls him off.

"He’s gone, Captain. He’s gone."

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Flack composes himself. Scanning the area, he can see, or knows of, over 20 zombies, and there’s only him and Hardcase left. Time to go.

"Right," Flack says, with the merest hint of a catch in his voice. "Follow me," and the pair of them fast-move off the board.

AFTERMATH

Wannabe rolls 3, 3 vs Rep 2 for After The Battle recovery; he never makes it back to camp. The team never find out what happened to him, but given his flaky Rep it’s not likely to be anything good.

Hardcase and Flack roll to see if they lose Rep as a result of failure, but neither does. They have both lost men before, and no doubt will lose them again.

The rest of the crew reflect on whether to stay with Flack once he breaks the news about Wannabe and Pugh; not his best day in command ever. Flack himself is rolling 5d6 for Rep, an additional 1d6 as he is a Born Leader, but -1d6 as he lost a man this trip. He scores 4 successes (rolls of 1-3).

Dibble is not rolling to leave the group any more. Hardcase rolls 5d6, -2d6 because he has been with Flack for over 6 months now, for a total of 3d6; he rolls no successes and is no longer rolling to leave the group. Pugh rolls similarly and gets 2 successes; again Flack has at least twice as many successes, so Pugh becomes a permanent member.

REFLECTIONS

That was a big, ugly failure. I used 26 zombies and 4 humans, and the game lasted about 90 minutes. The tactical lesson is not to shoot at zeds if you can possibly avoid it, but you can’t always, especially if you have a low Rep team member.

The two card decks work very well; the risks and rewards deck in particular saves a lot of time, and now I want to use it for Savage Worlds as well (it was the vampires and casters wot dun it, officer).

Based on the movement ratings, the recommended board layout is equivalent to a board around 40" x 48", and based on my progress in this game would take me 3-4 hours to clear, which is more than I have available in a typical session; I shall switch to one card per built-up board section, which is a good match for what I get when using terrain, and see how that goes – I can always add more cards later. (As an aside, I personally think a ground scale of one inch to six feet is about right for ATZ, in which case to scale my local coffee shop is about 4” by 6”, my usual office is around 8” by 10” and a typical house is probably 4” by 4”, so the city deck is about right, actually; a couple of buildings per board section in a built-up area.)

Considering they are little plastic men and lists of numbers on an index card, I was surprisingly touched when they pulled together more tightly than ever after losing Pugh.

It’s all about the story.

STATUS AT Z+200

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Group: Land Rover, 3 Food, 0 Fuel.
  • Area: 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, 41 Weapons.