Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musings on Serial Campaigns during the Zombie Apocalypse

Overview

This is a concept inspired by a conversation with a friend quite some time ago. It's still in the ideation phase.

The idea is to have a campaign structure that would enable pick-up games and introduce certain thematic concepts such as resource management. This becomes the basis for Serial Campaign game structures, of which Exploration Campaigns are a sub-type.

This campaign structure can be adapted to any setting that can benefit negotiating terrain and making decisions about growing a troupe [ Assembly ] and hoarding equipment. So, it should fit pretty well with the Survival Horror genre.

Zombies are ever popular and they are a perfect fit for this genre. A zombie apocalypse is the typical implementation of what will be described here. The working title, using our naming standard, is currently "Of Zombie Hordes and Riot Gear".

Background

The genre's default setting is a hybrid of Dawn of the Dead plus 28 Days Later plus Resident Evil. Basically the campaign should have a long-term arc with some aggressive zombies, and some crazy military sci-fi aspects.

Each game session is played across battlefield which is at least two or three board lengths each 48 x 48 MU. The idea here is that the players control Assemblies of Survivors and these are always migrating. Within the campaign, they'll be migrating from city to city looking for supplies, recruits, and in general trying to locate a safer place to finally put up a sheltered enclave to retire. In game terms, each city becomes a short campaign within a larger arc of several campaigns which then lead to a grand finale battle.

More Detail
The setting has a small campaign arc with 4 campaigns each being of variable length. These campaigns end when a specific Mission within each is completed to success.
  1. First Week. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 day. 5-8 Missions. Most of the action takes place within a single City and the idea is to get to safety. The Survivors will encounter standard Zombies, Militia, Law Enforcement, Opportunists, Military, Stragglers, Thugs and a few other types. 
  2. First Month. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 Week. 3-5 Missions. The Survivors have established a base of operations in a township near their starting city. Here they'll start making forays for supplies and then start encountering modified Zombies and augmented Military.
  3. First Quarter. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 Months. 2-4 Missions. The Survivors have learned of a military base along the coast that has been recruiting survivors and has promised food, shelter, and medicine. On the way through the wilderness they'll encounter Militia and Opportunists. Zombies are a rare sight but quite different and frightening.
  4. First Year. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 3 Months. 3-5 Missions. The Survivors have a credible network of contacts up and down the coast. Missions will be fought between hordes of controlled Zombies and their Weapons Research Council controllers. The Military will support the WRC, and many ex-Military will have filled the ranks of the local Militia groups.
Risky Decisions
Within each city, what the Survivor player encounters will be driven by needs as well as by chance. Maybe the player decides to go on a supply run for food or ammo, or maybe the player want to take a short-cut to a safe-haven, or maybe go looking for vehicles or recruits.  Going into the deeper parts of the city an Assembly will find more zombies but also more supplies. Go out further into the wilderness, and there will be fewer zombies but also fewer supplies.

City Zone Effects
The City Zone in which a Survivor Assembly finds itself will affect what it may encounter during each Mission.

CZ   Zone            Zombies  Supplies  Recruits  Survivor
1    City              +4        +5       -3         +4
2+   Town              +3        +3       -2         +2
4+   Outskirts         +2        +2       -1         +1
6+   Rural             +1        +0       -1         +0
8+   Wilderness        +0        -3       +0         +0

The chart is fairly rough but the idea is that the chance to encounter Zombies, to find Supplies, and locate Survivors is higher in the City and less in the Wilderness. The inverse is true for Recruits; there's more in the Wilderness and fewer in the City. These would be skewed towards Militia groups and other Survivors.

Layouts

Geomorphic blueprints for typical layouts are available in the Layout Matrix which assist quick configuration of each board upon the battlefield.  Here's a link to the Layout Matrix which elaborates on what follows below.

So when a board is exited it will be quick to reconfigure a board for the next section. As a player's Assembly leaves one board, it is cleared and reconfigured to show the next layout. The models are then placed again at their owner's friendly edge.

The first 3 City Zones in the Layout Matrix

Arrangement

The most terrain encountered within this genre will be roads, buildings, and trees.  When the Campaign begins, the Survivors are in City Zone 2; the Main City. This zone has mostly buildings and few trees.
  1. Players note their current City Zone somewhere for each Turn of the campaign. 
  2. Then, when a new Mission is started, the Survivor player rolls and scores the successes for 2 Modifier dice, adding 1.  This is how long the Battlefield for the Mission will be; how many boards in length before the Mission ends.
  3. The layout for the board begins with a single die roll; shown in the images above in a black circle.  Layouts are are 2 by 2 sections, each 24 x 24 MU. 
  4. Grove icons show how many Groves to place in that section of the board. The standard is 8 individual trees to a single grove icon.  
  5. If a black rectangle appears; it is a single building. Urban and City City Zones have lots of buildings. The standard here is that 1 Large building is worth 2 Medium buildings or 4 Small buildings. It works both ways. If the layout shows 8 Small buildings; those can be replaced with just 2 Large buildings.
  6. Decorative terrain elements such as non-functional vehicles, billboard signs, and street-lights are optional. They are not necessary for game-play but sure make the game-play area look very nice.

Buildings

Mechanically, buildings are meant to channel movement of the Survivor Assembly down constricted areas of the battlefield. In additional what a building looks like and what it represents can be different things from Mission to Mission. What does matter is that most buildings should be traversable; at least the bottom floor to allow for the placement of rooms, doors, and perhaps caches and traps. The more buildings there are, the greater the chance for finding supplies or recruits.

Time

To put pressure upon the players, each mission begins during the day and there are 12 hours during Summer of light but 6 hours during Winter.  So the start-time may vary according to the season and can be set by the Survivor player, but defaults to sunrise or 6:00 AM.

In game-time is must also be tracked between the boards of each Mission. Traveling between boards consumes 1 to 6 multiples of 15 minutes depending on foot, on horse-back or bicycle, or if traveling by vehicle.  During game-play it will also be possible to get lost which consumes another 1-3 hours and randomizes the appearance of the next City Zone. All of this presumes the normal behavior during travel is caution.

Days will pass between early Campaigns, and then weeks will pass in the later campaigns. This represents the amount of cunning and safety the Survivor Assembly have gained.  However, during all of this passage of time, supplies will always be a critical factor. Lastly, there will be random events which can occur "off-board" that are intended to randomly benefit or penalize the Survivor Assembly.