Post-Apocalyptic Timelines

One of the things that Better Dead Than Zed does much better than the original All Things Zombie is to give me an emotional connection to the Star and his group of companions; partly because it starts on Day One of the outbreak, not two years afterwards, and partly because you are encouraged to play Day One as if it were actually happening to you.

As background for the 28 Months Later campaign, I wanted to understand better what would still be available to survivors over time once civilisation had collapsed. (Wargaming is very educational, and takes you off in all sorts of strange research directions.)

I originally planned to work this out myself, but then thought: It’s so obvious a topic that someone else must already have done it. And indeed they have; you can find timelines in increasing levels of detail here, here, and here. Since civilisation in ATZ collapses over roughly a one month period, you may want to adjust the timelines for the first year or so to reflect that.

Shelf Life

One of the things that struck me as implausible when reading Earth Abides was that decades after the collapse of civilisation, the protagonists were still eating food out of cans they scavenged from old warehouses. “That can’t be right,” I thought. Yesterday and today, though, I did some research – this was driven by my starting to play All Things Zombie again, finally catching a repeat of Life After People on TV, and wondering how long our preserved food would last before completely non-survivalist types such as myself would have to learn farming.

It turns out that Earth Abides is correct, much to my surprise. The US Army is cited on a number of websites as studying this sort of thing, and determining that canned food is still good after 46 years in some cases – the record seems to be tinned veal from 1824, still edible when opened in 1938. The limiting factor seems to be that it starts to taste funny, and the testers begin to comment that they wouldn’t eat it even in an emergency, despite the fact that medical analysis shows it still to be nutritious (although vitamins A and C are lost after a few years).

Dried goods last nearly as long; things like rice, pasta, and flour are good for 25-30 years if stored properly, and salt, sugar and honey seem to last literally forever. (Or in my cupboards, until the ants find a way in.)

With the exception of some anti-malaria drugs, which fail stability tests after a few years, drugs seem to last a long time too.

Admittedly, these sites are secondary sources; the original reports are supposedly buried somewhere in the US DoD and DFA websites – I can’t find them, but since this is idle curiousity rather than life or death, I’ve given up after a few hours’ cursory search.

So now, apart from the obvious manufacturing need to have a steady throughput of products rather than one bulk order every decade, I wonder why we have such short shelf lives on most products?

28 Months Later – Day One

It’s late in the evening after Encounter Two, and the new girl, Brown, can’t sleep. She wanders over to Reed and sits nearby while he’s on watch.

“Mind if I smoke?” she asks.

“Don’t strike the match where I can see it.” Seeing her put away her lighter and cigarettes, he explains. “No, I mean that literally. I don’t want to lose my night vision.” She takes them out and lights up, carefully, where he can’t see the flare.

“You’re Reed, right?”

“That’s what they call me,” he says, neutrally.

“So, where were you when it happened? Day One?”

“Most of us did things we don’t like to talk about.”

“I need more than that. I need to know what kind of people you are. You’re in charge; they’ll take their lead from you. What did you do, personally?”

“I went to get my daughter…”

* * * * *

So, I finally cracked and got All Things Zombie: Better Dead Than Zed, which is ATZ updated to the Chain Reaction 3.0 rules and with other changes, chief amongst which is that it starts on Day One, the day of the outbreak, rather than two years later. I’m thinking, what was Reed doing? Well, Reed represents me on the table, so what will I be doing on the day of the outbreak? You’ll recall that I set this according to the currently-popular Mayan end of the world thing, which makes it either 21st or 23rd December, 2012. Probably I will be at home getting ready for Christmas. My wife and kids will be too, there’ll be a fair amount of food and drink to hand, and in honesty at this stage I wouldn’t see the need for firearms, so why would I go out looking for trouble?

Aha. One of my daughters will almost certainly be at a party. So, into the car to recover her. Let’s assume I start as a Rep 3 civilian, but let me assure you, if I’m expecting enough trouble to go get her, there will be improvised melee weapons in the boot of the car. I’ve got a garden shed full of spades and edging tools; they’ll do. I’ll treat this as “spouse’s workplace” for game purposes. I look through the other list of locations on p. 64 and decide my second, and final, location for Day One would be home. The date rules out workplaces and schools, and the other locations don’t have anything I’d risk my life for on Day One – in reality, I think I’d stay home for a couple of days and try to ride it out. About Day Five, when we start running out of food, or whenever hordes of zombies start moaning “Brains…” outside the door, we’d wake up and smell the coffee…

I shall take Born Leader and Brawler as attributes, which retcons Reed a little, but so what. I base this on all the leadership courses employers have sent me on over the years, my 30 years leading teams, and my former martial arts hobby. (I plan to run some co-op ATZ with the family over Christmas, so their attributes will follow. Giulia ought to have Athlete, because she is very fast; and her mother is a great driver, so will get Transporter. More of that later.)

2d6 vs Rep 3 on the getting there table on p. 64: 5, 5. So I arrive one location later; my first location counts as location 2. There are 2d6 = 7 terrified civilians on the table who I must fight my way past. To represent fighting my way through the crowd, I must fight them in melee, one after the other. I’m a gentle soul, so this early in the outbreak I am probably just shoving rather than laying into people with a spade; however, they roll 2d6 in melee and I roll 4d6, as a Rep 3 Brawler, so it should still be workable.

I can’t figure out how to do the Zed or No Zed test – there being no zeds on the table yet – so I decide to skip it in the interests of speed.

Civilian 1: I roll for his Rep on the Civilian List (p. 9) and get a 2. Activation 1, 2 so we both activate. I roll higher so I go first and charge (as a Star, I can choose my result for this one.) C1 takes the Being Charged test; 2d6 vs 2: 5, 4 so pass 0d6 – he halts and may not fire (not that he has a gun anyway). He rolls 2d6 vs 3: 3, 4 = 1 success. I roll 4d6 vs 3: 2, 5, 5, 6 = 1 success. We each discard scores of 4+ and reroll. C1 rolls 6 = 0 successes. I roll 2 = 1 success. As I have one more success than my opponent, he is Out Of the Fight, which in this situation means he runs past me.

Civilian 2 is Rep 4 – fortunately he only rolls 2d6 in this fight. Activation 1, 3 so we both activate and again I go first. I auto-pass wanting to charge, he passes 1d6 on the being charged table so melees normally: 2d6 vs 3: 2, 6. 1 success. I roll 4d6 vs 3: 2, 5, 5, 6. 1 success. We each reroll 1d6. C2 rolls a 2, I roll a 5, and since he has one more success I am OOF and rendered unconscious. This location is over.

I wake up an unknown time later. The crowd has gone. No sign of my daughter. There is nothing to say the crowd has taken my keys, so I limp back to my car and head home. We’ll assume the mobile phone network is down as it became overloaded with calls; that’s what happened on 7/7 when I was in London. Staying here isn’t helping, so off to my second choice. A roll on the table on p.64 is now needed. 2d6 vs Rep: 1, 2 = pass 2d6. I arrive there normally, but I was late to the first location so it counts as location 3. There are no panicked civilians here, and the activation dice are kind, so I reach the house before anything untoward happens.

Hmm. Did my daughter arrive back? I decide to roll for her on the travel table as she will probably have had her own car with her – she usually does – and has no other locations to visit. She rolls 2, 5 vs Rep 3 = 1 success. Her Rep is greater than the location number so she reaches home while I’m still en route to the party house.

No matter, we’re all back home safe and can hunker down for the night. What would we do next? So far we’ve seen no zombies, so probably we’d go with the stay put option for the moment. Looking at the timeline on p. 53 for the first stage of the outbreak, sometime around day 10-14 we’d head out into the countryside. By about day 25 or so, we’d be living rough somewhere and looking for a safe area to use as a base. So, our first encounter of the campaign proper will be a Take Back encounter, in a rural area, during the daytime. Wish us luck.

Laptops and PDFs

From a gaming perspective, these two go together for me. I don’t use computers for in-game assistance – I did use DMGenie for a while, and jolly good it was too, but I eventually decided that any game I couldn’t run without computer assistance was too complex. (D&D 3.5, I’m lookin’ at you.) I do use character management software like MetaCreator (for Savage Worlds) and the D&D 4e Character Builder, but that’s as far as I go; I don’t like the screen between my players and I.

However, I’m a huge fan of PDFs. They have a number of benefits:

  • Once you have the computer, the PDFs don’t weigh any more, or take up any extra space. Running out of shelf space isn’t a problem. Carrying a major part of my gaming library with me when I travel isn’t a problem, since I generally have a laptop with me. Up to a year ago, I would have said this was the main advantage.
  • They are (mostly) searchable. Can’t remember where that pesky table is? Can’t remember the monster stats? Enter a keyword or two in Acrobat, hit search, and you’re there, much more quickly than skim-reading. These days, I’d say this is the main advantage.
  • It’s easy to print out parts that you need – usually character sheets or quick reference sheets – without damaging your rulebook.
  • Short products, or those with a weird page count, are viable in PDF even when they aren’t as a published book.
  • The PDF doesn’t get dog-eared, coffee-stained, or lost. I still have it for as long as I have something that can read the PDF format, and it’s still pristine.
  • I can magnify pages. This is starting to get important as my eyes get older.
  • I can have multiple instances of the same, or different, PDFs open in different windows, and flip between them more easily than if I had the actual books laid out around me. This is useful because I do a lot of crossovers, with the setting of one game and the rules of another.

If you follow sites like ICv2, you will see game shop owners – and sometimes publishers – complaining about PDFs hurting their sales. Maybe that’s true; I can’t say, I don’t work in a games shop any more. There’s another side to this story, though.

Firstly, I am more prepared to take a risk on a PDF product. Let’s face it, most of the game materials I buy are read a few times, then languish on the shelf forever. I’m more reluctant to do that with hard copy.

Secondly, the argument against PDFs assumes it is cheaper for me to buy a PDF and print it off than it is to buy the rulebook. Not so; the PDF is often the same price, most schools and businesses frown on people who print out 200+ page full-colour books, and if you trot along to the copy shop, it generally costs more than buying a hard copy, besides being bigger and less professional in appearance.

Thirdly, the argument assumes that a PDF bought is a hard copy sale lost. As per my first point, most of the PDFs I buy are things I wouldn’t buy if they were only available in print. Further, I use the PDF to evaluate a game, and for travel use afterwards; if it’s a game I am actually going to play, I generally buy a hard copy as well, and often multiple copies so that everyone in my gaming group has access to the core rules (they make great presents for fellow gamers). I am possibly not typical in this regard, but I suspect I am not unique, either.

Let’s look at True20 and Savage Worlds as examples of this. In both cases, I downloaded the free quickstart rules to evaluate. I was intrigued enough to buy the full PDF rules. Those I liked well enough to start a campaign, which led to me buying a hard copy for myself as GM, and later several more for the players. Then I started buying the supplements as well. (I point out to my wife that, as vices go, my gaming habit is fairly benign and not that expensive. But I digress.)

When I do buy hard copies, I try to do so from a Friendly Local Games Shop. This is because I want them to stay in business. Hard copies may (or may not) be more expensive than PDFs, but I consider any extra cost to be a kind of subscription. The FLGS doesn’t only offer games, it offers a place where I can meet other gamers, chat about games, get advice, and sometimes play as well – personally I think that’s worth paying a little over what Amazon or RPGNow would charge.