Sunday, January 27, 2013

Apocalithic: Tribe Creation

That picture you have of the Lone Survivor, who wanders the post-apocalyptic landscape with a leather jacket and a dog kicking ass and taking names? Forget him. He died the first time he caught a cold, and his dog ate his corpse before running off to join a pack. In the feral future, no one survives without a Tribe. Your Tribe cares for you when you are sick, shares food with you when you can't find any, and provides you with companionship so you don't go painting faces on volleyballs. In return, a Tribe expects you to pull your weight, abide by the rules, and generally play nice with others in the tribe.

So whether you like it or not, every character in Apocalithic belongs to a Tribe, even the so called loners. The default assumption is that all the players are part of the same Tribe. This gives everyone a reason to cooperate right off the bat. It's possible to make characters who aren't part of the same tribe, but doing so robs you of the best parts of the game. Because in Apocalithic we put the same emphasis on advancing your tribe that many other RPGs place on advancing your characters. Much of the game revolves around improving your shared Tribe.

(A note before reading ahead: Apocalithic uses the Stuntless rules, and Tribal change contests use the Moving the Goalpost variant.)

Tribal Traits

In FATE parlance, your tribe is an Extra shared by certain characters. The most important tribe will be the one the PCs all share. Belonging to a community requires and aspect that states your membership, and every character, even NPCs, will have one such membership aspect on their character sheet. Of course, that aspect can also state a few other things about your character, such as "Chief of the water people" or "Village idiot of Springville." 

 The Tribe itself has Tribal Aspects, which every member of the tribe inherits through their membership aspect. These aspects may be invoked or compelled as if the character themselves possessed the aspect. These aspects may sometimes be locked in for effect, but doing so costs the character a point of refresh as normal.  The decision to lock in an aspect and what effect is granted, is left to the character. 

Unfortunately, you have to take the bad along with the good, and each community has three consequence slots. These might get used in any conflict involving the community. 

Additionally, a community has a Complexity rating, equal to the number of tribal aspects it currently has. This rating is used when organizing your community, which will be discussed later on. 

Tribes don't have their own skills because tribes don't participate in contests or conflicts. Even conflicts between tribes are played out on the personal scale of it's members, because tribes are small enough that it's always personal. If the tribe is known for being particularly skilled, that's an aspect. 

For the same reason, Tribes don't have any sort of stress track. There are no tribal-scale conflicts, and any sort of harm the tribe can come to is represented by consequences. 

Community Building:

Core Concept:

The most important Tribe in the game is the one the players belong to. To design this community, get all the players together and start talking. What kind of community are you interested in? A hunter/gatherer tribe that follows the wild cattle across the plains? A group of horse warriors descended from Biker gangs? A bunch of librarian/farmers preserving books only a few of them can read? Try to get a loose group consensus about the kind of tribe you're going to create. This is your core concept, and it guides the rest of community creation. This will be your tribe's first aspect, so sum it up in a short phrase. If this also gives your tribe it's name, so much the better.

This is probably the hard part, because you're stretching your imagination to think about how people might live in the future after industrial civilization is gone. The iconic communities provide a good starting point for such thinking. You can look to apocalyptic fiction for ideas, but remember that we're well past the actual collapse. You could take a group and imagine what they might be a century later. You might imagine some society from history that interests you, like the Native American plains tribes or the romanov gypsies, and figure how you might find a similar society in the future. You could also grab a subculture from the present day, perhaps even one you belong to, and imagine how they might survive and change in the collapse. They key to this process is having an open mind. With communication and travel more difficult after the collapse, Global society is gone. In it's place are thousands of local communities, each in contact with only a few others nearby. Each society will have the opportunity to get very different from the past and from each other.

Your idea doesn't have to be too detailed, a basic concept is enough to get started. You'll flesh it out as you go through the creation process, evolving the idea as you go.

For my Iconic community, I want something that hits the core of the game, that screams “Transhuman primitivism.” I also admit to wanting to take a friendly jab at the online community of primitivists. So I'm thinking of a group of people living like neolithic Native American hunter/gatherers, but who keep nanite cultures in jars. These nanites make solar-powered smartphones that form their own network, and the community uses them to coordinate. They've got a tribal version of facebook, a map of good hunting and gathering places they update in realtime, and a localized version of wikipedia. So Neolithic hunter/gatherers with wireless internet, that's my core concept. I sum it up as Children of the Web, decide that the spider is their totem mark, and I've got the first tribal aspect. I decide to most members lock it in to add computer use to the Lore skill of every child of the web. 


Like other characters, Tribes have their problems. These might be external, such as a war with a neighboring tribe or a drought that makes getting food a problem. It might be an internal problem, like a lack of skilled healers or two quarreling families. Maybe it's simply a common character flaw among your members, like "stubborn as a mule." Whatever it is, it's the greatest problem facing your community today. Name it and make it an aspect.

Like any character's trouble, make sure it's meaty and not easily solved. This problem should be a major driver of the plot, either because the players are confronting it directly or because it's making achieving their other goal harder. It's also much like the "setting issues" aspects of the core game, and benefits from the same advice. 

The children of the Web have one major issue: They spend all day playing with their comms and sometimes ignore their other chores.  They aren't going to starve to death from lack of hunting, but it sure makes organizing help for large tasks difficult. I call this tendency Comm Addiction. 

Other Aspects

In addition to the core concept and trouble,  each player at the table (including the GM) may add one aspect to the community. These aspects may be anything that further define the community, such as a well known specialty, relationships with other communities, or other problems facing your community (the GM's favorite thing to add, in fact.) Since each gets to pick an aspect, each player should have something about the community they like. Of course, each aspect you add also increases your community's complexity rating. For this reason a player can choose not to add an aspect if they don't want to. 

When choosing aspects for your community, think about what benefit you are giving community members. Are you adding a restricted trapping to a skill? Are you giving a bonus to a commonly used skill? Are you granting access to a resource that might otherwise be difficult to come by? Or are you giving members a way to earn beads by granting a compel-able aspect? Are you doing more than one of these? Is the effect of the aspect flexible or does it always grant the same bonus?

These aspects are going to further flesh out your community. Give special attention to answering the following questions
  • How does your community get food, water, and shelter? Are they hunter/gatherers? Fishermen? Farmers? Herders? Your primary source of sustenance has a great effect on your culture, determining if you're settled or nomadic, and showing up across your art and crafts in both material and subject. 
  • What Taboos does your Tribe have? What is forbidden? What is required? 
  • What rituals does your tribe go through to mark important passages through life?
  • What has your tribe preserved from the past?
  • What sort of relationships does your tribe have with it's neighbors? Are they friendly, or antagonistic? Do they regularly trade? 
  • What skills does the body of your tribe possess? Are you well known as the best weavers for a thousand miles? Have you preserved the secret of metalwork? 
The Children of the Web have several other Aspects. Their primary source of food is hunting dear in coordinated groups, and they respect the Spirit of Brother Dear in every part of their culture. The tribe also carefully tends to the Ancestor Jars, which contain Nanite cultures that produce the comms they all possess. Most members lock this aspect to provide themselves with a Comm. Finally, the tribe maintains a friendly relationship with a nearby murder of Corven Friends, who help scout for the tribe in exchange for handmade tools they can't produce themselves. 

Your tribe isn't just a list of aspects you inherit. It's also a group of people, who all share a culture, and economy, and a commitment to the tribe. They live together, work together, and deal with problems together. The tribe is a gestalt of the people who make it up, and you can't interact with the tribe except through it's people.

Faces are people in your tribe who exemplify one of the Tribal Aspects. They aren't the only characters that are part of your tribe, but they are important lynchpins of the community, the people that hold it together and make it function. Faces populate your tribe with interesting, motivated people to serve as allies and opposition to the player characters. They may be an important leader in the community, a troublemaker, or simply a definitively average member of the group, but they stand out as the person who has the most invested in that aspect.

Each tribal aspect gets it's own Face. Everyone participates when creating faces, not just the GM. This is everyone's tribe, after all. And if you have more than one good idea for a Face, go ahead and introduce them all! Each aspect needs at least one face, but nothing prevents you from having more than one face for an aspect.

Start by naming the character and giving a brief description of their place in the tribe. This core concept will suggest aspects during character creation later, most importantly describing their relationship with their community. This should put them in a position to represent their aspect well. The aspect “hidebound elders” would be well represented by someone with the concept “Obstinant chief of the tribe,” and when creating the character you'll have the aspects “Chief of the Tribe” and probably “Obstinant.” The same aspect could just as well be represented by a Shaman hung up on keeping the old ways, or the old woman everyone calls Auntie. It would not be well represented by a rebellious youth, even if he is defined by his opposition to the aspect. That character may exist in the tribe, but he's not a face.

Now ask yourself what motivates the character. Why do they represent their aspect, and what do they want? This is important because the purpose of the Faces is to provide allies and opposition for the PCs. In order to know which of those they'll be, we need to know what they want and what they are protecting. Then when the players start shaking up the Status Quo, they'll react appropriately. And if the players don't shake the status quo, your faces should be more than happy to do so, and the players can react.

For starters, a Face will want to protect the aspect they represent. If anything threatens to alter or remove the aspect they represent, they'll fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening. Motivations may extend beyond that, however. The following stock formulas may help you arrive at additional motivations.
  • The Face wishes to expand their interests at the expense of another. 
  • The Face wants someone else to do something they don't want to do. 
  • The Face wants something that belongs to someone else, who doesn't want to give it up 
  • The Face wants to stop someone else from doing something they plan to do. 
The general idea is that these motivations should elicit conflict. Faces for different aspects may have conflicting motivations, or they may conflict with others outside the tribe. The best conflicts are those that directly involve the PCs. Therefore you may wish to alter motivations during character creation, or wait until after character creation to flesh out your faces.

In our Tribal community, we have the aspects Spirit of Brother Deer and Comm Addiction. Both aspects need Faces. Spirit of Brother Deer is represented by a wise elder, named Leaping Stag but usually called Antlers. Antlers is past his own prime hunting years, but excels at teaching tracking, archery, and the proper ways to respect the spirit of your prey. Almost all the current hunters have been trained by him. He wants to make sure his knowledge is passed on to the next generations, but he also has an additional motivation; He wants the younger ones to stop using their comms to slack off so much. He'd rather they spent more time practicing the hunt and honoring the spirits, instead of playing silly games and updating their blogs.

Meanwhile, Comm Addiction is represented by Stalking Wolf. Stalking Wolf is a layabout with little motivation to do anything but play various games on his Comm. He's got the tribe's high score on all the games, and considers that a meaningful accomplishment. He's not motivated by much other than the desire to play all day, despite being in his twenties. However, he can be very eloquent when it comes to convincing others to see things his way, especially if it gives him more time to play, and some of the younger generation admire him for his gaming skill. He'll fight any attempt by Antlers to limit the amount of time people spend online. So even without the PCs getting involved we already have a conflict brewing.

Complexity and Integrating Change.

A large part of Apocalithic is growing and changing your tribe. You'll have an opportunity to change aspects of your tribe at major milestones. However, this isn't as easy as changing or adding an aspect and moving on. Communities have a certain inertia, a resistance to change that makes it hard to progress. This is represented by a tribe's complexity rating, which is equal to the number of tribal aspects it possesses. 

Adding, changing, or removing a Tribal aspect requires an extended contest. The opposition to change is usually the Face of the aspect being challenged. If simply want to add an aspect, the GM will find a character in the tribe who will oppose this change. Usually the players will be spearheading change, but sometimes the players may be the ones fighting to preserve an aspect! Characters will compete to win the tribe over through whatever sort of contest you can devise, usually some sort of debate or other political activity to convince others to your side. 

Like any other contest, both sides describe their action and make opposed rolls, then tally victories. The first side to achieve a number of victories equal to the tribe's complexity rating wins the contest. If the active party wins, then they get to make the change to the aspect they desired. If the conservative side wins, no change takes place. 

However, if you lose, you don't have to lose graciously. So long as they were within 3 victories of the winner, the loser may chose to inflict a consequence on the community. If within 3 victories, this is a minor consequence. If within 2 victories, it's moderate, and if they were only one victory shy, it's major. This represents the difficulty the opposition causes the tribe in integrating the new aspect, or the rebellious feelings of those who wanted change but didn't get it. Once a consequence has been proposed, the winner has the option of going through with the change, or backing down to avoid the consequence. 

1 comment:

  1. I really like how you've implemented the Tribes and the communities. You may or may not have heard of Tribe 8, which a post-apocalyptic game that has a slightly different bend (and less of a focus in community). How would you handle mixed-tribe aspects. For example, your implementation of tribes works really great for the base 7 tribes (called the Nation). But there are also four groups of outcasts, who under the original Tribe 8 rules keep one Tribal trait out of two, and gain one of two traits depending on the outcast group. It's an issue I've been trying to tackle to my satisfaction for a while. The traits (called Eminences) are easy to model as Aspects, but then the characters wind up with two additional Aspects (and not all characters have them, so it's a definite advantage). Having the Aspects hang on the Tribe level kind of mitigates that. It definitely gives me something to ponder.