a play idea for Apocalypse World: Burned Over inspired by Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, Roadmarks, and the Amber series.
By Ralph Lovegrove
The Mission and the Convoy
The play group is the Convoy of vehicles.
PCs have been seconded by the Nation of California to take the serum to Boston, which is in dire need combatting the Plague. The PCs are all miscreants with past lives that are at odds with civilised society. They all have reasons they are prepared to take the deal offered by the Constable of California, a pardon in exchange for escorting the serum to the East Coast.
At character generation, each character will have a past that forms part of their reason for being on the mission. Answer some of these questions:
- what did you do that means you can’t be part of society any more?
- what do you miss about being part of society?
- what will you do with your freedom?
The Road is a straight line between the Nation of California and Boston. This forms the basis for the journey. West is the Past, East is the Future, North and South are two alternate timelines. Branches from the Road move to other timelines in which characters may exist for a time and then rejoin the Road.
Branches off the Road, sometimes called Off-Ramps or Junctions, lead to other timelines. There are two competing realities: North and South.
North and South are the Hard Zones in this setting. They are static and eternal. They exist in many different times. The group (or MC) need to decide how the portals between the Road and the Hard Zones appear.
If you like, have individual characters or even the whole party deviate off the Road via a Branch and then rejoin later. This can be a mechanism for managing player absence.
Wells along the Road are the places that the Convoy needs to stop to replenish resources. They are the potential for the characters to meet settlements along the way, with associated Threats. Wells are (must be) resources that the Convoy needs.
A Well may have
- a resource that the Convoy needs to acquire
- a crisis/conflict that needs to be resolved in order to get that resource
- opportunities for interaction with locals
- a Landscape Threat
The Terrain (including weather) is a significant Threat, and a legacy from the Event. Threaten the party with the Terrain at least once per session.
The Nation matters. Even though boundaries have been erased by the disaster, there are people who are still old enough to have lived through the event, or direct descendants whose family have clung to the old divisions and borders.
Everyone has a relationship with the Nation, from zero (the former nation means nothing) to some positive value (geography, geopolitics, pre-Event history are significant).
The Nation has a language. The ancient cipher can be used to unlock deep held sentiments, forgotten truths, and painful truths depending on who you talk to.
In play the Nation is a Threat (Institution).
All characters start with Hx for The Nation, used in the moves Charm Someone, Read Someone, Read a Situation, Augury. This works if you can work in some element of the Nation into the conversation or the situation. In this case, replace the current stat with Hx.
At the MC’s option, use negative Hx in these situations to represent a person’s bias.
Some MC moves
Threaten with weather
Poison a Well
Up to the play group when things end. It may end after a few sessions with a defined arc. Or the game may end before ever reaching the destination, even after season after season. As MC you may choose to cancel the campaign before anything is really resolved, after many sessions of endless roads, diversions into other dimensions, returning PCs who may be imposters, clones, or alternate timeline versions of themselves. Prepare for backlash.