This Damned Nation

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

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

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

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

Terrain

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

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
Expose resentment
Spoil resources
Create off-ramp
Poison a Well

The End

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.

81: Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

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81: Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny
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Damnation Alley by Roger Zelazny

Show Notes

Intro 00:07
Synopsis 00:56
Themes and Games 12:00 (Ribbon Drive, Witch: Road to Lindisfarne, Ultraviolet Grasslands, Deluge, Station Eleven, American Gods)
Further reading 24:33 (the movie, Annihilation, Roadside Picnic, Into the Badlands, Kiteworld)

Other links

Fear of a Black Dragon’s episode on the Ultraviolet Grasslands
Andy Bartlett’s blog post on America and D&D

Music Credits

Music is by Chris Zabriskie: chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Samples: “Is that you or are you you?” from Reappear // “Another version of you” from Thoughtless

Episdode 70: Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle (cities pt. 2)

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Episdode 70: Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle (cities pt. 2)
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Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle

Rats and Gargoyles by Mary Gentle

Show Notes

Intro 00:07 // Synopsis 05:30 // Commentary 36:05 // Bleed 36:05 // Magic 39:09 // Magicians, Runequest and Mage: The Ascension 41:01 // Dialect 47:14 // Resources 53:45 (Yates, Agrippa, Authentic Thaumaturgy)

Music Credits

Music is by Chris Zabriskie: chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Samples: “Is that you or are you you?” from Reappear // “Cylinder Nine” from Cylinders // “Take off and shoot a Zero” from Stunt Island // “Another version of you” from Thoughtless

Episode 66: The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

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Episode 66: The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
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The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman

Show Notes

Plot and Setting 01:18 (viral learning, accelerated childhood, photosynthesis, viral augmented reality, living history, communism, living history, viral empaths) // Themes 15:04 (utopia and distopia, invading thoughts in the gestalt, J G Ballard, Anne Leckie, the bigger picture, Big Questions, Cyberpunk cheats death, constrained by time, death and transcendence, editing the soul) // The Roleplaying Bit 29:38 (two experience tracks, Brexit, countdown to apocalypse, local and global collapse, the Village)

Music Credits

Music is by Chris Zabriskie: chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Samples: “Is that you or are you you?” from Reappear // “But enough about me Bill Paxton” from Direct to Video // “Cylinder four” from Cylinders // “I can’t imagine where I’d be without it” and “Another version of you” from Thoughtless

Episode 4.00 Annihilation Redux

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Episode 4.00 Annihilation Redux
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Ralph talks about running Cthulhu Dark: Annihilation at Concrete Cow, the differences between Jeff Vandermeer’s book and Alex Garland’s film, and managing player expectations in one-shots and beyond.

Show Notes

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer // Annihilation by Alex Garland

Planning Cthulhu Dark: Annihilation

Annihilation the movie 00:45 // Differences between novel and film 03:15 // What you might change going from book to RPG 07:10 // Available technology, communicating with the outside, appeals to authority 11:20 // Party cohesion 13:25 // Cthulhu Dark: Annihilation at Concrete Cow 15:30 // The Cthulhu Dark formula (and the Colour out of Space) 18:15 // Over prepping 21:15 // Setting expectations for con games 24:40

Music Credits

“Is That You Or Are You You?” from Reappear by Chris Zabriskie

“But Enough About Me, Bill Paxton” from Direct To Video by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Episode 308: return to the Southern Reach

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Episode 308: return to the Southern Reach
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Ralph briefly returns to Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy.

Show Notes

The Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance) by Jeff Vandermeer.

  • Annihilation episode recap 01:05
  • Authority 04:35
  • Acceptance 08:40
  • RPG bit (Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark and Lovecraftesque) 11:45

Music credits

“Cylinder Three“ from Cylinders by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Episode 303: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Episode 303: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
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We discuss Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Content warning: themes of abuse, rape and infertility.

Show Notes

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Becky Annison, Elizabeth Lovegrove, Ralph Lovegrove

  • Synopsis 2:00
  • Themes 13:50
    • Children of Men (PD James)
    • Apocalypse: scarcity
    • Dystopia: control of information
  • RPG bit 32:45
    • Rise and Fall
    • The Academics

Music Credits

“Is That You Or Are You You?” from Reappear by Chris Zabriskie

“But Enough About Me, Bill Paxton” from Direct To Video by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Special: Don’t Wake The Bear, Hare!

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Special: Don't Wake The Bear, Hare!
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It’s one year since we released our first episode! We talk about the coming season 3, plus our son’s favourite book…

Show Notes

Liz and Ralph with some pre-Season 3 ramblings, plus Don’t Wake The Bear, Hare! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Season 3 ideas 02:10 // Synopsis 07:50 // Themes 09:45 // Liz’s game 14:50 // Dread 18:05 // Ralph’s game 18:55 // Before the Storm 21:55

Music credits

“Cylinder Nine” from Cylinders by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Episode 12: More Short Stories

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Episode 12: More Short Stories
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It’s National World Short Story Novel Mustache Reading Writing Knitting Month, so we’re doing more short stories — this time from Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury and Cory Doctorow. Also, Rod Steiger, Charlie Brooker and the Sandman!

Show Notes

The Evening, The Morning and The Night by Octavia Butler, curated in the Sisters of the Revolution anthology by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

When Sysadmins Ruled The Earth by Cory Doctorow

Fever Dream (from The Day It Rained Forever) and The Veldt (from The Illustrated Man) by Ray Bradbury

Elizabeth and Ralph Lovegrove, with Rowan on percussion

Octavia Butler 00:40 // Cory Doctorow 06:33 // Ray Bradbury 09:22 // Themes 10:55 // Games 17:27 // Microbes, HP Blavatsky, Nazis 18:49 // Modified Werewolf Game 26:12 // The Veldt 27:22 // Rod Steiger 29:17 // Charlie Brooker 31:27 // Framing Devices 31:57 // World’s End 32:12

Music credits

“Is That You Or Are You You?” from Reappear by Chris Zabriskie

“But Enough About Me, Bill Paxton” from Direct To Video by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive