Age of the Dead
Monsters just beneath her. She collapses into herself, behind the rooftop ledge, hoping they didn’t hear her. Her frail frame shrinks so much that she appears to be nothing but a mound of smelly clothes. She waits. She makes no sound save for her heartbeats punching against the inside of her ribcage. She can deal with the monsters, she can run away from those. It’s the stopping… she hates stopping. In those times, all she can do is remind herself of the path home. The path to the safety of her tribe and the comfort of family.
…You take the utility tunnel to the metro canal, oil up the hinges of the metal grill and open it sloooowly. By now you should be hearing them scream. Hundreds of them behind mob barred doors. Hundreds more climb on top of each other in moaning mountains of what were once considered humanity. At some point, months ago, a monster saw something tasty enter one of these locked buildings. That monster huffed and puffed and drew thousands of its hungry friends, each desperate to crack the brick shell and get at that succulent, bloody morsel inside. Those mountains are still there, ever-persistent and always screaming.
Quick, find a body part, any one will do. Squeeze the fluids all over yourself and try not to wretch. You’ve got their smell now, but you still have to be careful. Their persistence is a double-edged sword. The same undying determination that keeps them mobbing these buildings for weeks on end will be your undoing if just one of them notices easier prey.
Get to high ground and keep to it until you get back to the Tower. Previous runners were courteous enough to set up wooden boards across roofs and between windows, but the footing is unstable at best, treacherous at worst. Best to jump across whenever possible. Best to let those small and light on their feet make these runs….
Her lungs and throat sting from restrained breaths. Her muscles ache for oxygen, but she knows even the tiniest sounds could attract them.
She opens her eyes, shifts the hood of her sweater from her face and peeks over the roof ledge down into the alley. As she gingerly peeks over the edge, a loosened piece of brick from the last jump comes loose. Falls. Made noise. Too much noise. The monsters in the mountain run to investigate, flooding her escape route. At first, they all look straight ahead or down on the ground, but one monster thinks to look up. There, there is the meal. The monster screams in alarm and suddenly an ocean of hungry corpses raise their arms to the sky, grasping at air, driven by their burning hunger.
She’s been seen.
She slumps into herself again, hiding behind ledge that just announcer her position. The building is only three stories tall. Soon they will pile onto each other just as they do around the other buildings. Eventually, one of them will get to the top of the heap and win itself a full belly. She will then join their number and her family won’t have the… what was it Uppers needed again?
She didn’t even bother with the list she brought. She found an old grocery store, piled as many dried goods and canned food she could fit into her bag. Along the way, she gathered some soil and seeds just for good measure. Then she went back to the roofs, where she found herself in the present dilemma. She spills out the contents on the rooftop asphalt.
The food will fill a few bellies and the can openers can be traded for weapons. But now, sitting on the hot tar roof, surrounded by the flesh-and-blood remains of society, the value of these items doesn’t seem that significant.
Weapons can wait, but the zombies aren’t the only ones desperate for something to eat. She ditches the can openers and stuffs the food into her pack.
Momentum is the key. A run should never stop until shelter has been reached, but sometimes it can’t be helped. She walks backwards to the far edge of the roof. She takes a running stance, pauses for a moment to say a prayer…
runrunrunrunrunrunrunrunrunrunrun Jump! runrunrunrunrunrunrunrun Jump!
Laws of the Tower
1. Better that some are safe than all in danger.
A mist blankets earth. Monsters lurk in the vile fog, murmuring, howling, fighting amongst themselves in a horrible mockery of what was once a familiar life cycle. In the vague silhouettes and decrepit structures are the husks of human civilization, each building holding great treasures and greater dangers for those bold enough to seek either. Every night, the monsters become more focused, all choosing a singular target for their berserk fury.
An impossibly high tower rises into the sky, the last refuge of humanity so far as anyone knows or has seen. Each floor is defended fiercely against the horrors by several small tribes, co-existing out of necessity. Tribes in the lower floors, closer to the nightly attacks, must earn themselves passage into the floors above. Of course, it’s crossed everyone’s mind to simply group en masse and take the upper floors by force, but that would leave no one beneath to adequately defend them once the battle is done. The only way to get up is to leave people alive down below. This being the case, a compromise was reached a long time ago and a cold law enforced in the Tower.
The monsters’ nightly assaults have turned the Tower into a fortress. Some nights are worse than others, with the monsters making it several floors before the increasingly tough defenses, comprised of skilled fighters and mechanical traps, throw them back into the mist. When sun rises, the invasion ceases. Though any monsters still in the Tower at daybreak are as ferocious as ever, no new monsters will join in the attack until the sun falls again.
It is in the daytime that the humans send out their own assault: Runners.
The only way for anyone to survive in the Tower is if their gardens and rat farms are supplemented with supplies from down below. This is how a tribe earns its height and its safety, by sending out their fastest, strongest and smartest hunter-gatherers. The runners are called such because too much time in mist can cause horrific mutations in any person, ultimately turning them into the monsters that attack each night. To minimize exposure, runners leap, flip, somersault and, of course, run across through the mist-filled urban ruins, seeking out precious treasures that can buy their tribe a safer height in the Tower.
However, the grim truth is that it is far easier to buy passage for a small tribe than a large clan. Each night brings darker hopes that the monsters will have their fill from one’s own kin so that the rest can be safer for the sacrifice.
Before going into any actual system stuff, some assumptions need to be stated explicitly so that it makes sense in context.
The generations surviving after a apocalyptic zombie infestation are exponentially more skilled at survival, marksmanship, weapons training, and self-sufficiency. As such, it is assumed that every character can make a headshot on a zombie at close range, start a campfire, perform emergency first aid, detect tell-tale signs of an approaching horde, and other tasks that are presently within the ability of a few camping enthusiasts and zombie movie fans. However, years of hard living have left all but the youngest babies and most elderly seniors extremely competent survivalists.
Because the baseline competence of the general populace is so high, one can imagine that Runners, who are considered they consider paragons of cunning, athletics and skill, would be considered nearly superhuman by today’s standards.
If you’ve seen Nike commercials or viral videos online, it’s likely that you’ve seen people performing what is called “Le Parkour.” Originally starting in the suburbs of Paris, the movement has spread across Europe and jumped over the Atlantic into North America.
A mix of cross-country, acrobatics, dance and Jackie Chan stunts, a “free-runner” will run and leap through fixtures of a cityscape with incredible speed. .They are well-practiced at falling from great heights and rolling in such a way as to minimize injury when they land. They can also climb and leap with equal skill. Of particular note is that no matter what happens, no matter how hard a fall or daring a jump, the free-runner’s forward movement is never interrupted. A skilled runner adapts his movement so that any obstacle can be overcome with his body’s abilities
It should be clear how the skills involved in Le Parkour would find new vitality in this world. And herein lies the third assumption: A free-runner of today is a rank amateur in comparison to the runners in the world of Dead Weight. Let your imagination run wild in this regard.
Zombies and Monsters
The primary antagonists of this world are familiar fixtures in horror movies and fiction. Over the years, many variations on the standard zombie template have been made popular. Sometimes the changes have been minor, like zombies being able to speak or having rudimentary intelligence as in the Return of the Living Dead. Other changes have been more dramatic, like the running zombies in the new Dawn of the Dead and actual living zombies in 28 Days Later.
According to purist definitions, these are the ingredients of a Romero-style zombie:
The vast majority of antagonists will follow those rules, but there are a slightly different set of core assumptions when it comes to the living dead in this world.
The term “monster” is used more often than “zombie” partly because of the varieties of the living dead and partly because people sometimes get really hung up on the definition of “zombie.” Further, because people assume th ey know “the rules” of zombies, there isn’t as much of a fear of the unknown. This may seem like pure semantics, but it really just promotes the living dead to their rightful status as unknowable, inhuman monsters.
For ease of reference, characters are written up according to their noteworthy talents and personality traits. These are referred to generally as “Characteristics,” and are explained in further detail in this section. After each Characteristic is introduced, there is brief note on character creation as it relates to the Characteristic that was just discussed. At the end of this section, character creation is summarized as a whole.
Grace is of paramount importance to every runner. More than physical term, Grace takes on religious connotations as it is the one skill that will save your life most often during a run. Strength is valuable, as is a keen eye and a sharp wits, but above all, grace will get you out of an ambush and back to safety. In terms of spirituality, Grace isn’t an entity that is worshiped, but it is revered as an external force, something akin to luck. It is not something that you can practice at or achieve through natural means, you either have it or you don’t. It’s either with you or it isn’t.
Character Creation: All characters begin with 3 points of Grace.
Secondary to Grace are three virtues that runners have established for themselves the three most important characteristics they can possess. Unlike Grace, these are attributes that you can practice and you’re expected to do so, or else you’ll just… dead weight. It should be noted that these virtues are not strictly physical or mental abilities, but a general suite of skills and talents that help embody that virtue.
This represents your aptitude at getting from point A to B in as short a time as possible. Obviously, this involves running, leaping, and climbing, but it also incorporates knowing your surroundings and finding the best short cuts. Haste applies to chasing or being chased, running, acrobatics, and personal combat.
This virtue embodies all of your sensory abilities, plus a more ephemeral instinct for knowing when danger approaches or how to spot the most valuable loot. Cunning is also of particular importance in determining a monster’s weaknesses and habits. Cunning applies to any act of awareness, investigation, or analysis.
Finally, this virtue encompasses all the forceful, aggressive and, well, passionate aspects of a runner’s psyche. In a world where one death ensures the death of countless others, it’s easy to fall into a nihilistic spiral. It is a runner’s passion that sustains her. Passion applies to any act of aggression, violence or courage.
Character Creation: Prioritize the three virtues for your character. The top virtue gets 2 points, the secondary virtue gets 1 point, the least prioritized virtue gets 0 points. These numbers don’t represent literal aptitude within the virtues, simply your character’s personal choices in how he primarily solves his problems and lives as a runner. When you’re making your characters with a group, no character can have the same distribution of points as another character. Every runner team has six members when it goes out for a quest. The characters that don’t have a player are considered side characters. Die characters’ creation ends here.
Finally, your character has noteworthy characteristics, or “tags” that distinguishes her from all the other runners. These can refer to anything from personal appearance (“Lost his right eye in his first run”) to a shady reputation (“Secretly betrayed the last team he was on so he could win all the glory,”) or even a special possession (“Saves a cigar for a very, very special occasion”). Tags should be descriptive of a character’s identity, not what they can do.
Because they are trademark characteristics, they are not changed very often, if at all. When one does change, it is because some aspect of it has been resolved as a result of events in the game. As a general rule, tags are only resolved in life-or-death situations. When all a character’s tags are resolved, he retires from the life of a runner, becoming a defender within the tower or simply seeking rest with his tribe. Using the previous examples:
It should be noted that even if a tag’s description would indicate that it is a disadvantage, this system does not treat it as such. All noteworthy characteristics are measured in terms of subjective drama, not physical accuracy. As such, having one eye is mechanically equal to owning a skateboard, as long as they’re equally important to the character’s identity.
It should also be noted that Tags do NOT refer to talents, skills, abilities or anything else that your character “does.” Those sorts of attributes are governed by the three virtues. The reason for this, as described in “Basic Competence,” is that anyone in this generation of humanity is very well-experienced compared to even the most die-hard survivalists of today. The runners are even more highly skilled than the general populace. Because of this, one skill isn’t weighed against any other on individual merits since all relevant skills are oriented around survival of an individual and their tribe.
Character Creation: Choose three tags for your character. Remember that these need to be descriptive of the character’s identity, not his abilities.
This is an abstract measure of your character’s reputation as a runner. This only becomes relevant during the course of the game, not in character creation, so it will be discussed a little later.
Character Creation: Your Glory begins at zero.
As you spend more time outside of the Tower, you increase your chances of falling victim to one of the many horrors that lurk within its cloudy embrace. However, like glory, this is only relevant during the game, not character creation, and will also be discussed later.
Character Creation: Your Doom begins at zero.
Lastly, the goal of all runs is to gather loot from the ruins of the city. Again, this is gained during the course of the game and will be discussed later.
Character Creation: Your Loot begins at zero.
Character creation does not end at the individual, but also includes the creation of the Tribe. All the players are members of the same tribe, just to keep things simple. Tribe creation is a much more abstract process than character creation, as it applies to a whole community instead of individuals.
The higher up a tribe lives in the tower, the more likely that the floors beneath them will have weakened or killed all the monster before they see a single fang or claw. Higher is safer.
Character Creation: Your tribe always begins with a Height of 1. This does not literally mean your tribe is on the first floor, but that they are the first line of defense during the nightly monster attacks. As your tribe gains more height, they are allowed to live higher and higher in the Tower, thus having the luxury of more and more layers of defense beneath them to keep them safe. Players can sacrifice their Grace points right now to add to their tribe’s height. There is no upper limit to height. This is the only time grace points can be spent in this fashion, so choose to do so wisely.
This is a tribe’s social status among the other tribes that live on the same floor. Status rises when runners of the tribe return from quests with valuable items to give to the floor above them. When status rises to a certain amount, the tribe has enough to buy their way to the next floor, at which point their status returns to zero.
Character Creation: The tribe’s status begins at zero.
Finally, this is how many people are in your tribe. Again, each point of population is not literally one point per person, but rather, a more general sense of the tribe’s size. This is important as the size of a tribe is generally considered to be its “health.” If the monster attacks kill members of the tribe, then the tribe is seen as weak and not worthy of rising to the next floor.
The time span in which this game is played is generally not long enough for population to increase through, ahem, natural means, but population can also increase by members of other tribes being adopted. This is done by spending points of status to earn points of population.
Character Creation: Your tribe’s population begins at 50.
Character Creation Summary
This system does not resolve a finite moment in time, but rather a whole scene. The die rolling is kind of like a more formalized round-robin/storystick/campfire activity where each participant tells a part of the story before passing off authorship to the person next to him. This system divides up everything that happens in the game into Day, Twilight and Night.
Day is when you’re out on a quest. Twilight is when you adjust yours and your tribe’s characteristics depending on the outcome of the quest. Night is when the monsters attack the Tower.
Quests are almost exclusively in the daytime. “Day” This is any time when you and your teammates are outside of the tower for any reason. Quests typically involve gathering specific items form specific locations, but can also include trophy hunts, escorting exiles into the mist, and helping bridge-builders establish pathways across rooftops to make future quests easier for runners.
Establishing the Scene
The GM establishes the scene and the situation. He can introduce dangers, hazards or people in the scene as he wishes at this point. Once he is done, his narrative control must be shared with the rest of the group. This is done by rolling dice, comparing outcomes, and taking turns depending on those outcomes.
Grace, Virtue and Dice
Whoever wants to take over the narrative must do so through their character embodying one of the three virtues: Haste, Cunning or Passion. More than one player may do this at once. All the players who want narrative control roll three dice, plus one die if they have any relevant tags. (NOT one die per relevant tag, just one die for ANY relevant tags.) If any player has Loot points, he removes one die for each point of Loot he currently possesses.
Roll the dice and compare each result to your chosen virtue and to your Grace. This comparison will have various outcomes, as described in the following table.
For each result that is…
Once the outcomes have been determined, players will have some dice and the GM will have some dice. These dice are used to take turns narrating pieces of the scene, usually limited to a small moment in time. Once a part of the scene has been narrated, the narrator (player or GM) loses one die and someone else must narrate the next part of the scene. No one can narrate a part of the scene again unless all other players who still possess dice have already spent a die to do so. In short, everyone gets a turn as long as they have dice left.
Throughout all these turns, players can speak in-character as much as they wish and not have it charged against their collection of dice. However, this does not mean the speaker will have any narrative control, unless what the character says causes the current narrator to change the course of his narration, which could be very interesting in itself.
Actual turn orders and narrative license are agreed upon by the group, so that everyone is in agreement how cinematic or realistic the scene will be. (This assumes a level of trust between the players.) Eventually, one person may be the only person left with any dice. This player closes the scene or continues it, if that is the wish of the rest of the group. This process continues until the group decides that everything interesting that can happen in this scene has already happened, at which point the GM introduces the next scene and the process repeats.
Overall, the best advice in narration is to discuss taboo subjects, mutually agreed upon cool stuff and general likes and dislikes with your fellow players so that when *you* get narrative control, you’re not the one who ruins the scene for everyone else.
When you’re not out on a quest, you’re taking shelter in the tower, in the floor where your tribe has taken residence. While this is an opportune time for general role-play, there are some other important events that can occur. Here are the systems for those events.
When you finally come home from a quest, you’ll have some Loot points as will your team-mates. For each of these loot points, roll a die. Every 1, 2, or 3, your Tribe gains a status point. Re-roll the dice that came up to 4, 5, or 6.
On the second roll, if any dice come up 1, 2, or 3, your tribe earns two status points. Again, 4, 5, and 6, are re-rolled.
On the third roll, any dice that result in 1, 2, or 3 earn the tribe three status points. 4, 5, and 6 are re-rolled. This continues until their are no more dice to roll.
In other words, 4-6 are re-rolled, 1-3 earn the tribe status points equal to the number of times those dice were rolled.
Once you have earned all those status points, subtract a number of them equal to your population. This represents the bare necessities that your tribe must consume from your earnings before any can be saved. It is possible to have negative status.
When you have a particularly good haul, your tribe suddenly looks a lot cooler than it did before. Soon, you’ll have families asking to join your tribe. The new arrivals will put an extra burden on your resources, but they will add to the overall health of the tribe. In game terms, you can spend one status point to gain one population point.
Moving on Up
Your tribe can increase its height once it has earned enough status to do so. To raise your height, you must spend a number of status points equal to 10 x the Height you want to achieve.
Stronger, Faster, Better
The Glory you earn during a quest increases your notoriety within your tribe, turning you into a hero figure. This Glory in turn makes you more confident in your abilities. In game terms, you can spend Glory points to increase your Virtues. The cost is equal to 10 x the new value of the virtue. No virtue can be higher than 5.
The only constant in this world is that nighttime will bring out the monsters. Their rage seems to only be exacerbated when runners have invaded their territory on the daylight. This system represents the army of monsters invading the tower, starting from the bottom floor and progressing higher and higher as they breach each floor’s defenses.
First, check the current height of your Tribe. This will determine when they face the monsters and how many floors will have thinned their number before they get that high.
Tally the number of doom points collected by everyone in the group in the most recent quest. Gather one die for each of the Doom points that the team collected. Each die doesn’t represent a single monster, simply enough monsters to cause a significant dent in the defenses of that floor.
The GM rolls all doom dice. The mechanics work identically to those in the Coming Home section, but the results are much different. When you roll the dice, every die that results in 1, 2, or 3 represents monster(s) that have been successfully killed by the floor’s defenses. Every 4, 5, or 6 kills reduces the population on that floor an equal amount and breaks through to the next highest floor. At this point, those dice are re-rolled and the process is repeated for the new floor. Continue until there are no more dice left.
When the GM makes his first Doom roll, it affects the tribes that live at Height 1. When he makes a second roll, it affects those at Height 2. The third affects Height 3 and so on. So if your tribe was living at Height 3, and the monsters were thinned down to 3 Doom dice, which resulted in a 2, 3, and 6, the 2 and 3 would be removed from the Doom pool. However, the 6 would reduce your tribe’s population by 6 and move on to the next floor. What the monsters do on the floors above your tribe’s isn’t really relevant to you, but the GM may continue rolling just to be thorough.
If your tribe’s population falls to 0, you are without a tribe. It is the end.
This entry was posted on 01/22/06 at 8:32 am and is filed under Live Games, Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
6 Responses to “Dead Weight”
Leave a Reply