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Author Topic: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized  (Read 1070 times)

PencilBoy99

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Not a criticism, just a confusion on my part maybe about games that proport to be about exploration but have settings that don't support.

All the parts of the Numenera (Cypher System setting) are focused on exploring the weird and strange. However, the setting is full of large scale, organized civilizations. It seems implausible that no one has checked out that weird tower 3 miles away from civilization. Love the system and setting ideas in general, but this seems odd to me.

Worlds Without Number looks brilliant, but most of its random generation tables are focused on building up civilizations with different properties, and the built in setting is mostly long-standing civilizations. Again, seems weird that no one has left town X to check out that abandoned mine given that both of them have been around for 100 years.

Contrast this with an older game like Gamma World, where it was pretty clear the default was there wasn't any civilization at all, maybe you had a small town or something. Or Forbidden Lands, where the conceit is a killing mist has blanketed the lands for hundreds of years so no one went far from their homes. Or Mutant year Zero, where at best you have a small "ark" and mostly unexplored uncivilized lands (maybe another small village somewhere).

ForgottenF

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2022, 01:13:13 PM »
As far as I understand both Numenera and WWN, their implicit backstories are more about slow civilizational collapse rather than a single catastrophic event. More "fall of the Roman Empire" than nuclear annihilation. Historically, when that sort of thing happens, it leaves an awful lot institutional and infrastructural leftovers hanging on. But even in more traditional post-cataclysmic settings, like the ones you mentioned (or say, Punkapocalyptic or Fallout), there tends to be a decent amount of re-civilization going on, in the form of towns, organizations and settlements.

I would argue this is for reasons of plausibility and practicality. 

Plausibility, because humans can't really survive in anarchy. We're social animals, and we need security and a division of labor to prosper. If there was an apocalyptic event, and humanity failed to re-organize in the aftermath, we would probably go extinct.

Practicality, because the needs of an adventure game usually require a level of civilization. You need shops, safe areas, and most importantly NPCs to make an interesting adventure. I played in a campaign once where most of the map was empty wilderness, and it was really just boring. I'm not going to say you couldn't possibly run a whole game on wilderness survival checks, but having towns, factions, organizations etc. gives you a lot more variety and opportunities for adventure.

ForgottenF

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2022, 01:29:11 PM »
It seems implausible that no one has checked out that weird tower 3 miles away from civilization. Love the system and setting ideas in general, but this seems odd to me.

This is honestly a problem in most RPGs. There's a dungeon full of goblins outside of town, but somehow the baron hasn't sent in a squadron of men-at-arms to clean it out. Ghouls lurk in the sewers of Boston and somehow no one except the players notice. To some extent, it's just part of the willing suspension of disbelief inherent in the game, but it's definitely worsened by a more civilized setting.

PencilBoy99

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #3 on: September 17, 2022, 02:12:39 PM »
All makes sense.

Lurkndog

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2022, 03:05:19 PM »
I think that part of the reason that you have settings with outposts of civilization next to wilderness areas is that the settings were written by Americans, and the concept of a frontier resonates with us.

I think historically, you could make a case that the wilderness areas would be filled in with scattered villages within a few generations. Depending on the culture, those might not be permanent settlements. Migratory hunter/gatherers would tend to pick up shop and move to where the wildlife was more plentiful every decade or so. There would tend to be a conflict between those migratory cultures and ones that built permanent settlements.

Brand55

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2022, 03:05:49 PM »
Along with the suspension of disbelief explanation, I'd say to look at our own world. There are thousands of videos on YouTube of people doing urban exploration or going into caves and abandoned mines. Sure, you might not be the first person to step into a given location, but that doesn't mean there still can't be things to find.

A lot of games don't worry too much about realism. Look at all of the huge dungeons which make no sense. But I've found that most of the time you can tweak things a bit if realism is important to you. Maybe that weird tower just outside of town has an ominous reputation and the last people to go there died under mysterious circumstances, or maybe it was empty for years until someone, or something, moved in recently.

Chris24601

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2022, 05:42:35 PM »
The thing about post-apocalypses is they don’t tend to STAY post-apocalyptic for terribly long. Most settings where it’s a feature usually pick either immediate aftermath where it’s a question of if humanity will even survive -or- at a point where civilization has re-established itself enough for people to start worrying about matters beyond immediate survival (but before it’s become so well established you no longer need people to go find out what’s over that mountain range).

Depending on the severity of the apocalypse that could mean as little as a decade to as long as a couple of centuries.

My own setting was particularly extreme in that the apocalypse involved a 99% die off with another 90% of the survivors dying of secondary causes within the first couple years. New York City goes from 8.8 million people to 8,800 people. My region drops to under 1 person per square mile with the thousand-ish left gathering into a single community for survival and not and not another known settlement within a week’s foot travel from it.

And even with a crappy 2%/year population growth due to monster attacks and no external inputs the isolated village of 1000 still grows into a population of 52,000 after 200 years. You now have a small realm that’s looking to expand and has probably run into neighboring realms who are similarly rebuilding.

Give it a few hundred more years and even my extreme doomsday will be right back to nation states. Even the population lost to the Black Death had been replaced within a century.

The point is… humans are very good at bouncing back after bad things happen and, unlike a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, seem to band together rather easily in bad situations rather than turn into bastards (but bastards are more dramatic for schlock storytelling).

As such, it’s rather realistic you’d find survivors gathering together to form new communities and civilizations even in the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse.

PencilBoy99

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2022, 05:59:53 PM »
Yes it's more that "why has no one explored this thing next door" if there's a functioning civilization right next to it.

jeff37923

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2022, 06:31:28 PM »
Not a criticism, just a confusion on my part maybe about games that proport to be about exploration but have settings that don't support.

All the parts of the Numenera (Cypher System setting) are focused on exploring the weird and strange. However, the setting is full of large scale, organized civilizations. It seems implausible that no one has checked out that weird tower 3 miles away from civilization. Love the system and setting ideas in general, but this seems odd to me.

Worlds Without Number looks brilliant, but most of its random generation tables are focused on building up civilizations with different properties, and the built in setting is mostly long-standing civilizations. Again, seems weird that no one has left town X to check out that abandoned mine given that both of them have been around for 100 years.

Contrast this with an older game like Gamma World, where it was pretty clear the default was there wasn't any civilization at all, maybe you had a small town or something. Or Forbidden Lands, where the conceit is a killing mist has blanketed the lands for hundreds of years so no one went far from their homes. Or Mutant year Zero, where at best you have a small "ark" and mostly unexplored uncivilized lands (maybe another small village somewhere).

This is one of my biggest problem with the Official Traveller Universe.

The Spinward Marches are supposed to be a frontier, but it has been explored and settle for over 800 years by the 3I. I've used the excuse that it was just cursorily explored and settled, but that still doesn't make sense when you have satellite mapping technology available. I want to have my players "go where no man has gone before" and all that shit.

Thank Christ for Foreven Sector. Foreven Sector was set aside in the OTU as a Referee's preserve where there will never be an official canon sector published describing everything. So here is what I've done to tailor mine to my taste.

There is a large area of unsettled worlds because the Zhodani Consulate (taking up almost half the sector as its farthest reach) wanted a buffer zone between it and the Third Imperium. Any colonization effort was destroyed as soon as it was found by Vargr Reavers used as Zhodani catspaws. During the last decades of the Second Survey, the IISS did an exploration sweep through the sector with scout squadrons centered around the three Azhanti High Lightning Frontier Cruisers the service had just acquired. While there were many skirmishes with Zhodani puppets during this time, the sector was surveyed and a Deep Base was established on Hollis. Then following the Fourth Frontier War, a rogue Imperial Noble with an unusually large source of funding has been settling the area independently of the Third Imperium - even though most of the settled worlds become fiefdoms and client states of the 3I......

That is what my players are adventuring in.

I've got some other ideas for Traveller/Cepheus Engine long range and far-reaching exploration/colonization efforts. Lucky for me, space is big.

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PencilBoy99

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2022, 06:32:40 PM »
You can just hand wave it - that's cool. Still weird though.

jeff37923

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2022, 06:39:05 PM »
You can just hand wave it - that's cool. Still weird though.

Nah. That feels like cheating.
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Steven Mitchell

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2022, 02:52:43 PM »
Like a lot of things in a fantasy world, you don't need a great, perfectly plausible, rationalized explanation for everything that fits with everything else, at least not with most players.  You do need some semi-plausible, "if I don't think about it too hard it works," reason for anything serious, at least with most players I've encountered.

I think it's because interested players want to find the pattern, and for that, there has to be a pattern there to find.  For example, there's the old favorite, where the ruins 1 day's travel north of here haven't been investigated recently, because it was supposedly cleaned out years ago, and the nearby civilization has had other things keeping them busy.  But recently, something new moved in.  Or something new opened up.  Or awakened that was never found.  Doesn't really matter, and doesn't stand up to strict scrutiny, and that's OK.  That of course, presumes that the local civilization isn't a major city.

That kind of reason is enough for a player to make some deductions, once they learn the nature of why things have changed.  Learning the reason why there is something going on in those ruins now, might change how the party chooses to approach it.

If you want something more systematic, there are ways.  I did one campaign where a rather malevolent set of deities were going out of their way to introduce minor catastrophes any time civilization started to settled down or expand.  Not enough to knock it back to immediate apocalyptic effects, but enough to change that timeline Chris discussed from working out.  Civilization was still recovering, but it was more 10 steps forward 9 steps back instead of the more usual 2/1 ratio.  There's still an end state, but you can still plausibly keep that going for centuries, or even millennia if you stretch it.  Picture Western Europe needing 5 or 6 centuries to go make the same recovery from the Black Death that was done in 1 century.   

Chris24601

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2022, 04:06:47 PM »
The main way I dealt with my timeline of recovery in relation to the apocalypse was to choose and build around one of the more interesting points within the recovery process… right around 180 years after the Cataclysm.

That’s long enough for the “point of light” to have grown to the limits of its immediate environment’s resources (ergo a need to look outward) and for every survivor of the cataclysm and those who knew them to have passed from living memory (ergo everything known about “the time before” is second-to-third hand at best).

But it’s also still early enough that there might still something to find among the more durable ruins as the bravest of those looking outwards finally go to see what’s beyond the valley they’ve lived in for as long as anyone living can remember (at least within still intact sealed vaults and dry sub-basements… a little magitech Ragnorok-proofing by the precursor civilization doesn’t hurt either).

Kyle Aaron

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2022, 03:50:16 AM »
there's the old favorite, where the ruins 1 day's travel north of here haven't been investigated recently, because -   
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Angry Goblin

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Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
« Reply #14 on: September 19, 2022, 06:39:54 AM »
I watched some Reddit topics related to this a while ago from Youtube, I will post them here when I find them.