Setting Generation for 700 Horsepower — Where, When How?

Building a setting in play still requires you sketch out some basics before the bodies hit the floor — er, page.


I set the premise of 700 Horsepower out in my previous post, now it’s time to throw down what the first cut at character generation will look like. I’m really fond of the Two-Hour Wargames mechanics for quite a lot, so we’ll be leaning heavily on setting up for After the Horsemen (AtH) and Machinas (MAC) for our first wave of character definition.

Before that happens, we need to talk a little bit about setting.

Wasted in the Wastelands

As much as I love post-apocalyptica and role-playing games, I’m not quite so far gone that I don’t know that you require some kind of setting to work through to create a character, otherwise you end up with a bunch of “people” with no connection to who they are or where they are and stories simply can't fall out of that kind of situation. Simultaneously, I don't want to assemble a full-blown setting up-front myself — part of the underlying idea of this matrix of games being that the setting gets built by everyone involved during an early session and expanded a bit at a time

Watch the World Die, one of the most upbeat cover designs and titles of all time.

To that end, one of the early sessions will be a game of Watch the World Die by As If Productions. At this point we don't even know how the end of the world came, bang or whimper — that’ll be for the session to determine.

But that’s OK, because that’s not important to where we're going with things at this point. A great advantage of knowing, up front, that you won’t be focusing on just one character during a series of sessions is the full awareness that you can start small and get bigger as things roll onwards. It’s incredibly liberating.

We do need to think about a few things, and as Facilitator (because I am certainly not a GM this go-around), I suppose I can be allowed to set a few things out.

Let’s cover the bare basics we need to know.

Where?

I’d really love to start in the Mad Max-esque American Southwest, with long rolling landscapes of desert red and yellow under an unrelenting, burning eye which watches everything with dispassionate distaste. That’s a great place to start! Rolling wastes, sometimes with nothing but the highway and the horizon and Hell in between. Post-apocalyptica writ large!

“I am the Night Rider!”

Well, OK. The original Mad Max was actually more scrub-land and only rural, not wasteland when you look back at it, but that’s a fair point. Not everything is dust and sand and sweat, some places are scrub and hills and small towns being savaged by murderers, rapists, and a whole lot of vehicles.

“Two men go in, one man comes out.”

Something between the outback and the deserts of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome would seem to be right where we want to live, visually. Not quite the dune buggies and disappeared roads of Thunderdome, not quite as populated and only run down as Max. Southwestern, ugly, and maybe with just a hint of the visual styling of the 70's about it.

Let’s look at the map.

Nevada looks really good, here.

Dust, scrub, highways, and Hell. Perfect.

The areas around Vegas look perfect for what we want. Small communities, clinging to the edges of one huge, glittering, horrific cess-pit. Some scrub, some trees, a lot of sand (and further northwest, you've got Death Valley National Park right across the state line from Toiyabe National Forest)— this looks ideal.

We’ll start out in the northwest periphery of the Vegas wastelands.

When?

This is where Max fails us, as it just seems a little too soon after the apocalypse, whatever it was. That applies to Thunderdome, too, since Auntie remembers the time before and the kids haven’t starved to death from sheer stupid yet. We need a time after some monumental changes, where civilization was surprisingly lost. At least three generations, which gives us a minimum of 75 years later.

Microscope. The best way ever created to figure out both, “What happened?” and “What next?”

Ah, Hell. Let’s go ahead and make it a rough 150 years, give or take. Since we don't know how the world came to its abrupt stop, or even how abrupt it was, that should give us a little more room than we might otherwise take. If it comes up that we want to know what happened during that space of time (and even on beyond), that’s just one more reason to set up a Microscope session and work it out!

So — our when is 150 years after the apocalypse.

Why?

Not so much the why of the world but the why of the characters. What are they doing? What are they wanting beyond mere survival?

Drive fast. Drive hard. The attractiveness of your corpse is optional.

I think I’ve got your hook-up.

Machinas: Death Racing in the Wastelands puts forth a really good excuse for a bunch of murder hobos to be travelling together, getting into trouble together, and following that up with some extra crazy: they're a racing team, salvaging wrecks, getting them running, arming them up, and throwing them down the road in an effort to win the appreciation of the local religion, the Oak Street Priests being the ones that decide who gets that most holy of libations, fuel, with the winner of the Circus Acceleratus being hailed as Champion and effectively having a lifetime supply.

Let’s scrap the Church bit, because that’s the kind of aspect I’m hoping we’ll develop in play, but it makes an important point. Gas is important to having a setting where driving fast and racing happens a lot. Beyond Thunderdome suggests all the vehicles are running on methane conversions, which is cool so far as it goes, but it’s kind of limited. I think a better solution for us is just to assume that sometime in the last generation or so, a cheap, relatively easy, straightforward way of distilling biofuel popped up, making returning rusting hulks to the wastes and making transportation of goods (through long, dangerous decaying highway drives littered with bandits, of course) possible once more. It’s a luxury trade good for most, but this is Vegas, baby, and there’s a subtext of gambling being the heart of the local culture.

Now there’s an excuse for a bunch of Raggedy Men and Women to be roaming the wasteland, scavenging and scrapping, and trying to join the Circus.

To start, folks will create characters that are part of a racing team, looking to make it big, along with good old-fashioned staying alive.

Now what?

After the Horsemen is after us now.

That’s the question, isn't it? But now it’s easy.

Our post-apocalyptic survival system game is After the Horsemen, which has all the mechanics for the day-to-day “what happens next” stuff that we might need. It also connects pretty seamlessly with Machinas, which handles the racing and driving side of things.

The next step is to start playing with the mechanics. We start building characters, or at least I’ll walk you through doing so with me.

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