This Damned Nation: Player Notes

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Apocalypse World: Burned Over (like most PbtA) has its own lexicon regarding playbooks which may affect impressions of what that character does.

This is further complicated by this scenario, which is very prescriptive in what the PCs do.

Players are expected to pick playbooks and work to fit them into the scenario and potential situations. Some playbooks will be a drop in, but others will take a bit of creative thinking to make work. There are some comments below on how to make the different playbooks work.

Managing Expectations

This game is slightly different from (my experience of) typical AW games, which are usually centred around a stronghold or other central location. In Burned Over this would be the game’s Hard Zone.

This scenario uses the variant play of Burned Over with two Hard Zones, which are North and South of the Road that the players will be travelling on. Furthermore the characters will be constantly in motion, travelling from location to location and not returning to static locations. The characters are also on a mission to deliver serum to Boston; this means that they are against the clock, and every stop and diversion means lives lost.

I can see these consequences:

  1. Less opportunity for pursuing social interactions.
  2. A character with a big following will be difficult to make work, unless they’re travelling with them. An entourage that slows the convoy down could be disastrous.
  3. Similarly resources or wealth concentrated in a place won’t work, unless that place is mobile.

That leaves three ways of managing characters with people and other resources on their playbook.

The first is to have those resources in a vehicle.

The second option is to have the resources in caches along the road. If they’re people, they’re settlements that display some kind of affiliation to the character. If they’re resources, they’re dead drops, strongboxes, bunkers or other caches that the character can gain access to. In that case the character should use those to expand on their own affiliations and how these resources illustrate them — are they part of a secret society, federation, pre-collapse nation?

The third is to make use of the two Hard Zones. This is trickier but these may still be accessed along the Road via Off-Ramps. They represent different states of reality, two opposing forces, competing timelines and ethereal states; it’s effectively a ghost or spirit world, a representation of the psychic maelstrom. Specific characters are more likely to interact with them briefly (e.g. the Gearcutter) but they could serve as static places “owned” by those characters with such resources, to be visited on occasion. However this may still present a logistical problem because the time any character can spend in these places will still be limited owing to the mission constraints. If the playgroup and player can make this work then go for it; otherwise I’d limit the concept to the other two options above.

Vehicles and Driving

The Nation of California provides a vehicle suitable for transporting the serum called a Landmaster. This is an eight-wheeled all terrain vehicle with radiation cladding, armour and various armaments. It’s assumed all characters can drive the vehicle, especially if there are no environmental challenges (and they will need to share the burden of driving).

Some playbooks own vehicles, or have abilities that could be interpreted as a vehicle. If the players agree, the Landmaster could be “owned” by one character. If the Medic is in play for example, the Landmaster could be their Refuge. If there’s a Weaponized, they could be the Landmaster.

Otherwise, the other vehicles can be outriders or support vehicles doing duty to protect the Landmaster, which is carrying the vital serum to Boston.

The Hard Zones

AW: Burned Over assumes 1 or at most 2 Hard Zones. If there’s a single Zone it’s where the PCs are; if there are 2, the PCs walk the border between the two.

By default The Road is the game’s Hard Zone. It’s the physical landscape the characters are going to cross on their journey between the Nation of California and Boston. Locations include:

  • Wells, places that can provide resources essential to the journey
  • Off-ramps, deviations from the Road into the Other places
  • Storm ranges, natural threats that will affect progress

There are some notes below on how each Playbook fits into the setting, but in general interactions with a Hard Zone will be spots along the Road, and the party will only visit these spaces once.

If you want to run with 2 Hard Zones instead, make the Road the border between the two. This could be a physical border (for example between warring groups North and South of the Road) or a metaphysical one (the Road connects the Now with the Past, other timelines or dimensions).

Fitting the Playbooks

Brain Picker

This character tends to be a loner and can probably slot in as-is.

Note that this character is potentially very disruptive to both communities and the environment; also they need time up close to use their powers, even if that time is short, which will be limited to when people are outside their vehicles. But otherwise no real restrictions and no tweaking needed for play.

Gearcutter

A great playbook for a mechanic type, and really good fit for the game. Does some interesting psychic stuff.

Note their Salvage Grounds. Assume that they have a collection of stuff in the Landmaster or their personal vehicle.

When they’re going into dangerous territory to salvage, they’re probably going Off Ramp into one of the Hard Zones, which are weird alternate spaces where they can find things not normally found in the primary world.

Lawmaker

This is probably the hardest playbook to integrate as it often revolves around a Holding which is by default static and has NPCs coming to it.

One way to make the Lawmaker fit is to make them an extension of either the Nation of California, or the old pre-collapse USA. In this case their law is synonymous with THE law. This would make them more like a Judge crossing the Cursed Earth, but it could work. This would still allow them to proclaim their Laws. Their 20-strong Gang might be other lawmakers roving the wilds and similarly dispensing justice, and their Holding could be stations along the way that still uphold the Old Laws.

An alternative way to play could be to make this character an antagonist pursuing the convoy with bikes and other vehicles, for whatever reason. This is the role of the biker gang lead by Big Brother in the final pages of Damnation Alley. Managing this would mean you have to cut between the Convoy and their stronghold, but in this case it could work. One of their Laws should be something that directly opposes the Mission. Their Holding might be a roving gang, or it could be one of the two Hard Zones accessed by Off-Ramps.

Medic

If the Medic is in play, suggest that their Refuge is the Landmaster.

Monarch

Like the Lawmaker, this playbook implies some kind of static group of people, but it’s a bit more flexible. If the Monarch’s People are choppers it’s easy to make them a support group riding with the Landmaster.

Another interpretation could focus on the affiliation the character has, rather than assuming an entourage that’s always there. Like the Lawmaker variant, their people might be found in pockets of civilisation along the way, connected to this character by fame, a shared ideal, a national identity, etc. In this way the Monarch may be some kind of navigator or official that facilitates the convoy’s journey. Perhaps there are numerous checkpoints, tolls, or ports along the way and the Monarch is not just useful, but essential in getting safe passage through or resources. That would make them a kind of “fixer”.

If you’re taking this alternate option, be careful that you don’t overlap too strongly with the Operator and make one or the other redundant.

Operator

A pretty good fit with the scenario as-is. The Operator’s Ports of Call will be places along the Road, and their Ear to the Ground move should similarly be focused on places they’re going to travel through on the Road. They have their own vehicle.

Undaunted

Really interesting character focused on Aggro, with links to the Maelstrom.

The Children should be encountered along the Road. Some of them are created as Threats (I guess either antagonists or causing trouble).

Rather than have these turn up as recurring characters (not really possible) consider foreshadowing these characters with some inevitable meeting happeing somewhere down the Road.

Vigilant

This is actually a pretty good fit already as the character isn’t tied down to a location. The exception is the Bolthole move. This could be a vehicle, or it could be a network of bunkers that the character somehow has access to, or other safe locations. Perhaps they have a secret map of the Old Nation. Hiding out for any length of time won’t work with the setting, so it may be simpler to prohibit this move.

Volatile

Not a particularly subtle character, but should be no problem to integrate into the setting with no ties to any location.

Weaponised

Similar to the Volatile, a no-nonsense character that should be straightforward to integrate.

One option for this character could be to make them one of the vehicles, possibly the Landmaster itself. This could be tricky to build into the narrative with constraints on where the character can go, but it could be a fun option.

80: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

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80: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
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Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Show Notes

Intro 00:07 // Synopsis 02:29 // Themes and Games 09:12 // Magic and Technology 09:28 // Sabriel 09:53 // Trollbabe 15:11 // Tidally locked worlds 16:37 // concepts of day and night; no astronomers or astrologers // idea for setting between two singularities 20:56 // Further reading 26:07 (City in the Middle of the Night, Inverted World, Arktos)

Further Reading

Life on a Tidally Locked Planet by Ashok K. Singal
City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Inverted World by Christopher Priest
Arktos by Jocelyn Goodwin

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

79: The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock (Tale of the Eternal Champion vol. 2)

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79: The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock (Tale of the Eternal Champion vol. 2)
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The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock

Millenium edition, 1992 HB ISBN 1 85798 026 3

Show Notes

Intro 00:07 // The Cover 00:39 // Foreword 01:15 // Summaries 02:18 (The Eternal Champion, Phoenix in Obsidian, The Dragon in the Sword) // Favorite bits 19:10 (Arrival of Erekose, The Good One, no good deaths, endings) // 31:48 This volume in sequence // Mirenburg FC (thanks John Hagan) 34:27

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

75: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

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75: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
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Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Show Notes

Intro 00:07 (anniversaries of sorts) // Synopsis 05:06 // Themes 19:02 // Motives // Tools 24:14 (language, media, propaganda, surveillance, revisionism, war) // Other Reading 38:52 // George Floyd // Dystopia as aesthetic // confusing Dystopia and Post-Apocalypse // Dystopocalypse

Other book references:

The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe
The Watchtowers from The Voices of Time by J G Ballard
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Children of Morrow by H M Hoover
Silo Trilogy by Hugh Howey

Music Credits

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

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

Episode 71: Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip (fantasy cities pt. 3)

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Episode 71: Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip (fantasy cities pt. 3)
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Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

Show Notes

Intro 00:07 // Synopsis 02:21 // Commentary 12:39 // Modelling the shadow city 13:00 // Crossing between worlds 14:55 // Mapping 22:53 // Further Reading 30:50

Links

Corpathium (lastgaspgrimoire.com)

Other fiction mentioned in the episode

Neverwhere and Sandman: World’s End by Neil Gaiman The City and The City by China Mieville Wanted by Mark Millar The Invisibles (and Marvel Boy) by Grant Morrison The films Night Watch and Day Watch

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 // “I don’t know where I’d be without it” and “Another version of you” from Thoughtless

Episode 62: Interview with Tod Foley

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Episode 62: Interview with Tod Foley
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Fractopia

Interview with Tod Foley, leader of this is Fractopia and editor of Ubiquicity, author of Day Trippers RPG and Cyberspace.

Show Notes

Sample topics, in approximate order:

  • What is Fractopia?
  • Hierarchical vs. Anarchistic Frameworks (Day-trippers vs The Strange)
  • Daytrippers, an open-ended, multidimensional system
  • Who buys the games? Socialist overtones of the early indie RPGs
  • Why Tod isn’t into Cyberpunk
  • Snowcrash and postmodernism
  • Capitalist realism
  • Fractopian principles
  • Curated worlds
  • Digital and reputation economies
  • Fractopian podcast
  • Cyberpunk as “what we should avoid”
  • 50 things that made the modern economy
  • PC Character Sheets, 25 dollars and 5 cubic meters
  • Golden Age Adventures
  • Where to get it

Realistic Capitalism

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

Episode 51: fiction within fiction, part 1 (The Magicians, When the Dark is Gone)

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Episode 51: fiction within fiction, part 1 (The Magicians, When the Dark is Gone)
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This is the first of a series looking at secondary worlds that exist as known fiction inside a primary, fictional world. In this episode Ralph tackles Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and talks to Becky Annison about her game When the Dark is Gone.

Show Notes

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
When the Dark is Gone, a game by Becky Annison, part of the Seven Wonders anthology

Synopsis 00:56 // Themes and remarks 05:38 // When the Dark is Gone with Becky Annison 14:00 // end bit 44:05

Music Credits

All of the music in this podcast was composed and performed by Chris Zabriskie (chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive). This episode included Is That You Or Are You You? from Reappear, Cylinder Three, Cylinder Four and Cylinder Nine from Cylinders, and Another Version Of You from Thoughtless.

4.03: The Last Policeman, Hard Sun, The Three Body Problem

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4.03: The Last Policeman, Hard Sun, The Three Body Problem
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Ralph briefly discusses three pre-apocalyptic novels, with the conclusion that all that matters is how much time you’ve got left.

Show Notes

Links

  1. This episode is partially inspired by the thread Nihilism: Gaming in a Hard Sun world on the UKRoleplayers forum.
  2. Here’s a fun stackexchange thread) on Hard Sun’s possible extinction event.

Music Credits

“Cylinder Nine” from Cylinders by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive

Episode 4.02: Excession by Iain M. Banks

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Episode 4.02: Excession by Iain M. Banks
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Rhi and Paul join Ralph to talk about Iain M. Banks’ Excession and The Culture. Post-scarcity, intelligent starships, body modification and first contact.

Show Notes

Excession (and other Culture novels) by Iain M. Banks

Rhiannon Lassiter, Paul Mitchener and Ralph Lovegrove

  • Overview of The Culture 00:50
  • Synopsis of Excession 05:40
  • Themes 12:05
    • Diverging human cultures
    • What do utopians do with their free time?
    • Benevolent interference in other civilisations
    • The edge of ascension
    • Contact and Special Circumstances
    • Sex positive
    • Transhumanism before it was famous
    • Death
  • Aside:The Player of Games 32:50
  • RPGs 38:30
    • Mindjammer by Sarah Newton
    • Flotsam (Josh Fox, based on Dream Askew by Avery Alder)
    • Microscope and Kingdom by Ben Robbins
    • Dramasystem by Robin D. Laws
  • First Contact scenarios 48:05
    • Event Horizon
    • Unto Leviathan by Richard Paul Russo
    • Eon by Greg Bear
    • 2001 and 2010
    • The Fifth Element

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 302: Interview with Roz Morris

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Episode 302: Interview with Roz Morris
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Interview with Roz Morris, author of Not Quite Lost, Lifeform Three and My Memories Of A Future Life

Show Notes

  • Introduction to Roz Morris 00:35
  • Literary inspiration 01:25
  • Genre 04:40
    • The Bridge by Iain Banks
    • Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    • Blindness by Jose Saramago (note: the film I was struggling to remember is Perfect Sense, starring Eva Green and Ewan McGregor and scored by Max Richter)
    • Night Work by Thomas Glavinic
    • Eclipse of the Century by Jan Mark
    • The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
    • On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  • Worldbuilding 13:50
    • Where do you start?
    • The process
    • Other player input
    • Other starting points
    • Light of Other Days by Bob Shaw
  • Pony books 36:05
    • Authors: Mary Gervaise, Ruby Ferguson, Christine, Josephine and Diana Pullein-Thompson
    • Pony Action RPG
  • Self-publishing 50:20
    • Editing
    • Attitudes to self-publishing
    • Getting reviewed
    • Social media
  • Not Quite Lost 60:50

Music Credits

“Cylinder 9” from Cylinders by Chris Zabriskie

“Pick Up A Convict On Alcatraz” from Stunt Island by Chris Zabriskie

chriszabriskie.com // bandcamp // free music archive