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Pen & Paper Roleplaying Central => Pen and Paper Roleplaying Games (RPGs) Discussion => Topic started by: PencilBoy99 on September 17, 2022, 12:31:00 PM

Title: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: PencilBoy99 on September 17, 2022, 12:31:00 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).
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: ForgottenF 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: ForgottenF 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: PencilBoy99 on September 17, 2022, 02:12:39 PM
All makes sense.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Lurkndog 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Brand55 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Chris24601 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: PencilBoy99 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: jeff37923 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.

Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: PencilBoy99 on September 17, 2022, 06:32:40 PM
You can just hand wave it - that's cool. Still weird though.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: jeff37923 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Steven Mitchell 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.   
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Chris24601 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).
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Kyle Aaron 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 -   
"Indeed," says the DM, "it is a mystery why it was not cleaned out years ago. Perhaps you'll find out why... if you go visit."

Players are not entitled to any answers at all. Their characters can search out the answers, if the players choose.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Angry Goblin 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.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Chris24601 on September 19, 2022, 07:49:53 AM
there's the old favorite, where the ruins 1 day's travel north of here haven't been investigated recently, because -   
"Indeed," says the DM, "it is a mystery why it was not cleaned out years ago. Perhaps you'll find out why... if you go visit."

Players are not entitled to any answers at all. Their characters can search out the answers, if the players choose.
I don’t think anyone here is suggesting they have a problem with the players not knowing the answer.

I believe the issue is when even the GM hasn’t considered the question for there to even be answer and the “ancient monster-filled ruin a mile from town” is only there because the GM wanted a nearby adventure site, not because it makes sense for there to still be one next to a town of 4000 people that’s been around for hundreds of years itself.

For a GM in their early teens learning the game with their friends that sort of thing happens, but one expects more plausibility out of more developed GMs and certainly from published settings.

And it’s not like there can’t be dungeons that close by, but context is everything. I remember the Mentzler solo adventures in the front of the Basic player’s book.

Yeah, the dungeon was about a half day’s walk from town… but it also had just a handful of goblins, a large snake, rats, a rust monster and a couple of undead. The treasure is mostly some coinage carried by the goblins and a locked (and trapped) chest guarded by the goblins.

That’s not a continuously inhabited ancient ruin filled with its original treasures; it a snake and rat-infested tomb where a gang of goblin bandits have holed up with their stolen loot and someone disturbed some of the dead within (probably the goblin’s boss, the magic-user Bargle).
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Kyle Aaron on September 19, 2022, 08:12:44 AM
I don’t think anyone here is suggesting they have a problem with the players not knowing the answer.

I believe the issue is when even the GM hasn’t considered the question -
Why is that an issue? The GM doesn't need to consider it unless and until the players do, and more importantly, unless and until the players' characters are able to discover the answers within the game. This will give the GM plenty of time to roll some dice and make up something as they go.

Of course, this supposes a co-operative approach. The GM can always be adversarial about it.
"Why hasn't anyone cleared this dungeon out when it's only a mile from town?"
If a player's being a smartarse and trying to poke holes in your gameworld, they're being adversarial. It's only fair to be adversarial back.
"You arrive and find it cleared out. No treasure for you."
"..."
"On the plus side, you find hidden between cracks in the stones a map to another dungeon 112 miles away. You'll have to hire some porters to carry your stuff that far. Also I'll be doing regular wilderness encounter checks."
The other players will quickly silence the adversarial smartarse player and then everyone can get on with having fun.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Omega on September 19, 2022, 08:54:52 AM
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.

You'd be surprised at what people can and will overlook or just ignore for whatever reasons.
Example. A rather large unexploded bomb sat on top of a factory it had hit in WWII for a very long time.
A guy a few years back did not know he had a severe rat problem till a huge one gnawed a hole in his wall and came out of it.

A goblin infestation can just sit there and fester with no one knowing, or in some cases caring, till they actually do something to cause trouble. Theres a post-it on ye-ole bulletin board BECAUSE they caused trouble or someone finally noticed.

No ones been out to those ruins probably because someone went out there and either got sick and died, didnt come back, or came back and reported nothing of interest. Or maybe it was once radioactive or diseased and people just made a habit of avoiding the place. Eventually either those old warnings get forgotten or something happens to renew interest to go out and poke at it.

As for why theres build up in post-apoc/frontier settings. Depends on the setting.
In Gamma World there tends to not be much of those. And the ones that are tend to be either the outliers or maybe totally new construction and gatherings.
In After The Bomb theres alot of civilization left standing as the disaster was primarily a genetic one with some nukes tossed in as an afterthought. But it tends to be rather hit and miss.
In Star Frontiers its hard to say really as alot of the details were left blank for DMs to flesh out as they may. Some of the worlds seem less developed. But overall seems like the frontier is mostly about exploring out from built up worlds out into the unknown.
In Boot Hill its again all over the place. Some towns are rather small really and others are a larger. Which was how it was in the old west.
On Polaris its built up heavily as that is the only way to survive. Theres ruins around still due to the undersea environment and the limits it imposes.

Probably others but those come to mind right off. Rifts is an outlier because it is partially a patchwork of other civilizations. Some of which came across with whole cities in a rare few cases. Or in Japan's case, was locked off from the apocalypse until its reveal long after.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Venka on September 19, 2022, 10:59:03 AM
I ran a game where society had fallen and bounced back, but to nowhere near the level of power it had before.  The areas that were civilized didn't have anything right next to them, but some areas had been left generally uninhabitable, and the scavengers had been through places and picked everything clean that they could.  So how did I justify some things off the beaten path?

Well, there were some areas where the ruins were hard to cut through or destroy, but would lose cohesion if you did that work.  This meant that unlike, say, a big stone pillar, this type of partially magical substance was really unhelpful, and you'd only clear it out if you wanted land.  Of course it had some of the worst feral demihumans crawling around it, as it was an area where agriculture wasn't really going to help, so then I had a wildland with interesting enough ruins that weren't worth most people's time.  The deus ex machina there was the ruins themselves.

I had another area that had been a wonderful city, and unlike the place I just described, people still lived around there, and most of the annoying pieces of the structure had been carted off.  But because the formerly wonderful city was perceived (correctly) to offer even more secrets if explored the right way, it was a place where the nearby nations contested it from time to time, and deployed academians (or paid successful academic kooks who had discovered anything interesting).  As such, this was a place where the PCs could go and interact with eccentric people of different academic backgrounds who were all busy trying to understand different details of this place.  This was less deus ex machina and more proposing a social structure that I hoped sounded plausible.  I'm less sure I succeeded here, but I still like the idea well enough that I don't consider it a failure.  Certainly I feel if I had put more effort into it, I could have decreased the mental cost of buy-in.

In general, if you want something that's not too far from civilization and people don't explore it, there's a couple other things to use.  First, people could simply be scared of it with good reason- explorers either never make it out, or get injured by traps or monsters that groups either don't find, or disappear completely.  Second, you could have a powerful faction that believes it shouldn't be screwed with, for sentiment, religion, or superstition (you actually see this in the real world).  Third, gaining entrance beyond the long-stripped outer region of whatever your thing is could be something that is dangerous even to a medium sized army.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Zalman on September 19, 2022, 05:54:46 PM
In general, if you want something that's not too far from civilization and people don't explore it, there's a couple other things to use.  First, people could simply be scared of it with good reason- explorers either never make it out, or get injured by traps or monsters that groups either don't find, or disappear completely.  Second, you could have a powerful faction that believes it shouldn't be screwed with, for sentiment, religion, or superstition (you actually see this in the real world).  Third, gaining entrance beyond the long-stripped outer region of whatever your thing is could be something that is dangerous even to a medium sized army.

Good ones. Another nuance might be more nefarious: the local villagers know exactly what's there, but keep it mum because they benefit in some way from adventurers perishing exploring there.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 19, 2022, 09:20:31 PM
Why is that an issue? The GM doesn't need to consider it unless and until the players do, and more importantly, unless and until the players' characters are able to discover the answers within the game. This will give the GM plenty of time to roll some dice and make up something as they go.

That's why I want a semi-plausible reason.  I don't want to make it up on the spot, because it will probably be lame.  If I've got the barest thread of a workable idea, which might be no more than a phrase in my notes or even in my head, that I can run with. 

Also, I typically enjoy, and the players in my games typically enjoy, digging out hints before they go.  The hints might be misleading or even outright lies, but even that's fun in its own way.  I find it much easier to do such hints if I've got some idea of what is the reason.

Of course, the way I see it, that's only a special case of what you said.  Instead of, "They go there and find out," it's "First time they make an active effort to find out, like paying the seedy sage in the village to answer some questions about it." 
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: ForgottenF on September 19, 2022, 10:54:57 PM
Why is that an issue? The GM doesn't need to consider it unless and until the players do, and more importantly, unless and until the players' characters are able to discover the answers within the game. This will give the GM plenty of time to roll some dice and make up something as they go.

That's why I want a semi-plausible reason.  I don't want to make it up on the spot, because it will probably be lame.  If I've got the barest thread of a workable idea, which might be no more than a phrase in my notes or even in my head, that I can run with. 

Also, I typically enjoy, and the players in my games typically enjoy, digging out hints before they go.  The hints might be misleading or even outright lies, but even that's fun in its own way.  I find it much easier to do such hints if I've got some idea of what is the reason.

Of course, the way I see it, that's only a special case of what you said.  Instead of, "They go there and find out," it's "First time they make an active effort to find out, like paying the seedy sage in the village to answer some questions about it."

There's also just a benefit, paid in player immersion and investment, from a world that feels like it all makes sense behind the scenes (even if it actually doesn't). Just go look at the view counts on some Dark Souls lore videos, if you want proof of that.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Steven Mitchell on September 20, 2022, 08:48:29 AM
There's also just a benefit, paid in player immersion and investment, from a world that feels like it all makes sense behind the scenes (even if it actually doesn't).

It's an 80/20 thing, except in this case it's more like a 10/90 thing.  As in, 10% effort on my part will give 90% of the benefit.  GMs can quickly tie themselves into knots or even be counter-productive by overdoing rationales.  It's easy to drain the mystery out by putting in too much logic.  But that 10% is very much a safe, worthwhile effort for me.
Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: tenbones on September 20, 2022, 11:13:20 AM
As someone that recently wrote a post-apocalyptic fantasy (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/233187/Talislanta-The-Savage-Land-Original-Edition) game a couple of years ago... we took the exact opposite approach.

There IS no civilization. Part of the game are the Tribe Mechanics which let you build a tribe and create "civilization". To the uninitiated, it falls to Kyle's position of "Yep - there's some weird ruins and shit out there. What is it? Who the fuck knows?" But the GM is given all kinds of material he can draw upon to give "ruins" and "artifacts" any kind of significance that they want.

The players only need to go out and try and figure it out.

The goal of the game was to play in the barbaric shadows between two highly civilized, and relative "Golden Ages" (I'm being real loose about this). But to create the civilizations that would one day come forth in the original editions. We also create material where players could play races that were doomed to extinction - but could still have a hand in establishing the civilizations that would come later.

Title: Re: Why are Post-Apocalyptic / Frontier Settings So Built Up and Civilized
Post by: Angry Goblin on September 21, 2022, 03:52:06 AM
I watched some Reddit topics related to this a while ago from Youtube, I will post them here when I find them.

Yeah, my bad, the Reddit topics where mostly of "what would really happen in an apocalyptic situation"
Such as, the end of prescription medicine, infection being a major threat etc.

If interested, you can search for those from Youtube with keywords "post apocalyptic reddit"